Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice has landed in theaters with all the grace and subtlety of a coked-out-its-mind bull in a china shop. Critics hated the film. And the odds are that you hated it even more. That’s totally fine. You’re entitled to your opinion, and in spite of the vitriolic responses on Twitter to the film by people who write as if Zack Snyder killed their dog, there are some people out there who have more rational frustrations with the movie.
But there is one argument against the film that is downright moronic. It’s a type of argument we’ve been seeing for way too long. And it needs to stop. Yesterday. Here’s an example of this stupid argument in action.
That’s what makes Batman the best ever. That he can rise above his enemies and not stoop to their level. Batman doesn’t use guns or kill.
— Danny (@DManthetruth)March 25, 2016
Now, I get where these people are coming from. The overall generally accepted version of Batman we agree is what defines the character is his commitment to never killing people or using guns. Just look at this frame from The Dark Knight Returns, written by Frank Miller in 1986 and widely agreed upon as a definitive Batman book.
I’ve seen this panel a lot bandied about on Twitter and used to illustrate why Batman V. Superman was so wrong with understanding the characters. But also observe this frame from the exact same book.
This article isn’t supposed to be about whether or not Batman using guns and killing people is a betrayal and misunderstanding of the character: it’s not. Batman has killed. He has used guns. And for what its worth in Batman V. Superman he uses a very specific gun with a very specific type of ammunition. I won’t say more than that except that he’s not out there with an AR-15 mowing down criminals.
Now that’s not to say the best Batman stories are when he uses guns. That conflict between Batman’s moral code and those who push him to the limit are a central conflict to the very best Batman stories. He’s a mentally unstable schizoid who dresses like a Bat and willingly picks fights with dangerous individuals. Yet he doesn’t use guns? There is a lot to explore there.
But that’s not what this is about. What this is about is the argument that something portrayed on screen never occurs in the comics. You know why? Because unless the comic is brand spanking new, odds that character has done the very thing you deny happened at one point or another.
Batman is an easy one to tear apart in this way. The character was created by Bob Kane in 1939. This means Batman is older than World War II, the iPhone, the Civil Rights Movement, and more. The original Batman did kill people. But the reason the concept of a PTSD-ridden billionaire orphan is still the most popular comic character to date (arguably) is because the character has evolved. And will continue to evolve.
On the one hand, having a panel to point to is good. You want to be able to back up your argument. Unless your name is Trump you can’t pull facts out of thin air. But with comics, these characters have been around for decades with authors constantly coming back and reinventing the character or doing something different with them. Batman has been reinvented and reinterpreted more times than I can count.
This is the exact same logic as when religious conservatives point to a particular Bible phrase that backs up their point. I think It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia perfectly illustrates what I’m trying to say.
People who point to a Bible phrase are citing a text that is most likely going to have contradictions and inconsistencies. And you know why? Because the Bible is old as shit. And, much like comics, it has been reinterpreted and translated and adapted from its original source material over literally two thousand years. Having gone to Catholic School, and having studied the Bible in an academic setting, well, I’ll let Geoffrey Rush say it better.
“Guidelines thatn actual rules.” To be clear, I don’t love a Batman who kills. And Batman using guns I find uninteresting. But that’s not to say he hasn’t. And anybody who says he doesn’t is just wrong. What’s worse, when we start arguing over specifics, we miss the point.
Ultimately this comes to language in our conversation. Stop saying “He doesn’t use guns.” Try and understand that this is an interpretation of the character. Director Zack Snyder had every opportunity to make his Batman identical to Christian Bale’s Batman (who totally let this guy die). He deliberately did something different. Whether you agree or disagree with Ben Affleck’s Batman, this iteration is one who brutally beats down criminals and has guns on his Batmobile (though I choose to believe the Batmobile’s weaponry is probably nonlethal).
Zack Snyder has been open about referencing The Dark Knight Returns for his iteration of Batman. And he’s not citing an obscure non-canon comic, he’s citing one of the comics. No matter what, he’ll always be able to defend his iteration as being faithful to the source material. Just as anybody else who cites some different comic where Batman flatly doesn’t kill people also will be able to defend their argument. See the problem?
By citing the comics as literally as this, nobody will make any progress. And there’s a good debate to be had in all of this! That’s the problem. People are too desperate to prove that they are right, and nobody wants to actually discuss this. Here are some questions I have after seeing BVS.
- What happened that Batman doesn’t care anymore?
- Did Affleck’s Batman once have a code and he’s ignoring it now?
- Has this Batman always held such a contemptible regard for human life?
- Does this Batman resonate more in our current geopolitical landscape?
There’s an actual conversation to be had out of this. Listen when Snyder speaks. Maybe he’ll incriminate himself with another quote as being a hack like Michael Bay who glorifies the character for all the wrong reasons. Maybe he’ll end up having a compelling argument for his interpretation of the Dark Knight. But as long as we so desperately cling to the idea that no matter what, “this comic panel proves my point and there is no room for discussion”, then we get nowhere and rob ourselves of some actually intriguing debate. And remember, if this Batman didnt kill and was a carbon copy of the character, most people would instead be complaining about how this isn’t anything we’ve seen before.