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Batman: Reaching The Limits of the Comic Book Epic4 min read

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I’ll admit it – I am NOT a fan of comic book movies. I don’t hate them, they are just uninteresting to me. Recently, for The Dark Knight Rises, I wasted 3 hours of my evening, and $45, and I wish I could get them both back.

Let me rant, er, explain.

Epics are Too Much Work

What is the appeal of epics?

Sure, they are often riddled with allegorical and archetypal significance – you know, exploring themes of love and loss, war and forgiveness, death and rebirth, etc. Sure, they are often intricately and intelligently woven adventures beyond the pale of modern life. And sure, they provide an escape from the banality and cruelty of everyday living.

But here’s my problem with all that.

I have limited time and energy to try to keep track of their elaborate histories and lineages, not to mention elfin languages and such. The payback for my energies spent tracking the lengthy unraveling of inter-generational mayhem seems small – I mean, sure, it’s an interesting curiosity, but so what?

As a theologian and writer, I work my brain hard all of the time, and to work that hard merely for some intellectual titillation is not worth it – it’s like going to the all you can peel and eat shrimp bar –  I get tired of peeling way before I get tired of eating.

Epics are A Substitute for Reality

Such involved escapism reminds me of unhappy housewives wrapped up in other people’s lives in the soap operas. Trust me, I like to get transported to great imaginary worlds through science fiction, and I love archetypal thems, but beyond a certain point, involvement in these imaginary worlds just becomes a waste of time, if not a pathological escape from self and reality.

I would much rather see something from real history, like Schindler’s List or The Stoning of Sorya M., than try to imagine why some dude with a mask is bent on destroying Manhattan.

Modern Comic Book Movies Try Too Hard

We’ve all enjoyed the more gritty tone of the comic book remakes, but there’s a problem with this – I think they are over-reaching their genre by attempting  too much gravitas – it feels manipulative and over-acted. You can’t turn what are essentially caricatures into real people – the supernatural quality of the villains and heroes is a magic that belongs to the pre-teen world, not to adults who know better.

If you want to explore deep evil, you’ll have to resort to the place where it really lives – in real human history and drama, not in archetypal fantasy stories. With movies about Nazis and Islamists and evil capitalists.

Real Epic, Real Evil, Real Heroics

I know, that’s what some will think. I don’t really understand comic book movies. Epics are so worthy. Star Wars, Narnia, Potter, The Rings, they are all such important literature written by people smarter than me. I just have issues.

Granted. But just like my dislike for the idolatry of sports, I have an objection to these epics that borders on being of moral consequence. The real epic, depicted in Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ (also accused of emotional manipulation and over-reach), is that of the descent, birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

Because it’s not just fantasy or metaphor. It’s REAL life and death. For the entire world. In real history. And it’s not an escape from reality, but an escape into it. Batman? Not real. Not truly inspiring. Just a comic book trying too hard to be self-important and weighty.