As yet another comic superhero determined to save the world hits the big screen, Bruce Manners looks at a hero who is bigger than them all.
Batman is not your regular superhero. He’s no Superman with powers brought from another planet. He’s no Spider-Man with accidental powers—in this case from the bite of a radiated spider. He’s no X-Man with genetic advantages.
Except for his incredibly wealthy parents, there was nothing out of the ordinary about Bruce Wayne. Batman Begins, the latest Batman movie, introduces him as a child and aims to show what made him into a brooding dark knight. It also shows his super abilities as a combination of intense training, a cave full of hi-tech gadgetry and a nifty utility belt.
The bat connection comes from a fall down a bat-infested well as a boy. The darkness in his life comes from seeing his parents gunned down by a thief.
After the death of his parents, Alfred—the loyal family butler—raises Wayne. His life is driven by rage at the death of his parents, yet tempered by the legacy of decency he received from his father. This leads him to shed his identity and roam the planet studying criminal behaviour.
He returns home to Gotham determined to stamp out crime in the city. He’s aided by Lucius Fox—a scientist and long-time employee of Wayne Enterprises who kits him out with crime-fighting gear—and, of course, Alfred.
To cover his alter-ego identity as Batman, Bruce Wayne acts the playboy who lives on his inherited wealth and income from Wayne Enterprises. His plan, as Batman, is to reclaim Gotham from criminal elements destroying the city: “I seek the means to fight injustice, to turn fear on those who prey on the fearful.”
Batman And Jesus
Batman is another in a long and growing line of superheros determined to save the world, or at least their part of it. Born as a comic-book hero in 1939, Batman has had a number of reincarnations. Several of them, according to the purists, particularly in the 1950s and 1960s, were a parody of the original.
Batman Begins presents a “schlock-free Batman chronicle,” reports reviewer Jason Silverman.
Wayne has a conviction that his city can be saved. He says at one point, “Gotham isn’t beyond saving; there are good people here.” As Batman he takes on the role as a crime-fighting saviour.
Superheros are meant to be saviours even if they never use that term. It’s part of their job description, part of the role they take on. But what about the One called the Saviour—Jesus Christ?
It may seem odd to introduce Jesus into the equation, for any comparisons with Batman start with immediate and huge differences. Batman is fictional, a comic-book character. Jesus isn’t. No matter what any may believe about Jesus and His role, there is no doubt He was real, a historical person.
What is not so odd is to ask whether we need a Batman approach to society’s problems or whether Jesus holds a better answer. Who can help Gotham most? The one who says he will “turn fear on those who prey on the fearful” or the One who offers peace of mind and heart for all who will receive it (John 14:27)?
Jesus Is No Superhero
Jesus is no superhero. He doesn’t use their street-fighting techniques to achieve the results He wants. His focus is on establishing a new realm, the kingdom of God, calling people to turn from evil and take on the good news He represents.
Where Batman fights to make Gotham safe for decent people of the city, Jesus aims at making decent people through the good news He presents. He tells His followers to be like salt to enhance the flavour of the earth. He tells them to be light, letting their good deeds shine out (Matthew 5:13-16). They are to turn the other cheek and go the second mile (Matthew 5:39-41).
Batman uses force and violence to save Gotham. Jesus taught His followers to love their enemies, to pray for those who persecute them (Matthew 5:44). He presented an example of nonviolence in the way He allowed Himself to be taken to His own death.
One of the lessons Batman Begins attempts to drive home is found first after Wayne experiences a crisis as a boy. His father says, “Why do we fall? So we can learn to pick ourselves up.” This is a regular refrain during the movie.
While there is a case for picking ourselves up, with Jesus there’s an understanding that humanity is fallen in such a way that we can never really make it by ourselves. This is why it’s important to know who Jesus is.
Jesus is introduced to shepherds in the field on the first Christmas as Saviour and Messiah (Luke 2:10-12). John the Baptist calls Him the Son of God, as does a Roman officer at His crucifixion (John 1:34; Mark 15:39). The apostle Paul says His death makes us right with God and gives us life—eternal life (Romans 5:18-21).
Jesus is no superhero. He’s so much more.
When Batman’s childhood friend Rachel Daes, the Assistant District Attorney of Gotham, tells him, “It’s not who you are underneath, but what you do that defines you,” she has it only half-right. It’s who you are underneath that drives you to do what you do.
And who you are is driven by your life philosophy. Batman enters Gotham to right wrongs and to defeat crime with weapons of force. Jesus offers a new philosophy of life, one based on love, respect and equality. His approach changes people from the inside.
“What’s always been fascinating about Batman,” says the film’s director, Christopher Nolan, “is that he is a hero driven by quite negative impulses. Batman is human. Batman is flawed. But he’s someone who has taken those very powerful, self-destructive emotions and made something positive from them. To me, that makes Batman an extraordinary relevant figure in today’s world.”
Silverman goes further and suggests that Batman is “fuelled by anger.” In contrast, Jesus is fuelled by love. In His Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), He turns recognised life approaches upside down. The meek inherit the earth, the pure in heart will find God and the merciful are applauded.
Jesus calls the meek and the weak to establish His kingdom of grace. In Gotham it’s the strong and those willing to fight who attempt to establish their own small empires.
Where Batman Fails
One area where this Batman and Jesus agree is when Batman refuses to kill a criminal. “I’m no executioner,” he says. He seeks justice, not revenge. He’s committed to not killing his enemies.
But Jesus goes further. He’s the Life-giver. The consistent message of the New Testament is that Jesus died to give us hope beyond the grave. What’s amazing, adds the apostle Paul, is that while you might find someone willing to die for a good person, Jesus died for us while we were still His enemies (Romans 5:6-10).
“For God so loved the world,” adds Jesus, “that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NLT).
In his living, Batman continues his fight against crime. By His dying, Jesus won the greatest victory of all—the victory over death. Easter Sunday, the empty tomb and His resurrection are guarantees of the life eternal He offers.
Batman Begins adds an earlier chapter into the life of Batman. It helps us understand more of the character of Bruce Wayne that led him into his crime-fighting career. Gotham is a safer place because he is there.
Jesus invites us to add a new chapter to our lives through the realities of His actions on earth that promise a future beyond it. That hope will eventually leave even Gotham without the need of a Batman.