[Spoilers for The Batman and Batman: Ego]
Did you know Batman grew up Episcopalian? Or that Superman was raised Methodist?
I’ll never forget when my opinion of Batman changed for me as a pastor. In Batman #53, the reader sees more Bruce Wayne than Batman as the former serves as a juror and gets into a quick conversation about his faith. He talks about how he once believed in God, but now knows a different one: One that wears a cape.
In the latest Bat-verse film, The Batman, the audience sees yet another side of Batman and Bruce Wayne. The journey Bruce takes from beginning to movie’s end has caused me to pause and reflect on some familiar themes of the Easter season and the following season of Pentecost.
Bruce Versus The Bat
Despite the plot of The Batman resembling graphic novel The Long Halloween, director Matt Reeves cited a different, shorter work as his real inspiration: Batman: Ego by Darwyn Cooke. I explored this inspiration further in my nerdy sermon on this film, but I’ll sum it up here.
In this quick read, Cooke guides the reader through a feud between Bruce Wayne and his subconscious, personified in Batman. Bruce decides to cast aside the Batman cowl and no longer do his vigilante work after a rough night on the job. His Bat-sona is not happy with this decision and the two hack it out before coming to the conclusion that they both are necessary and need to keep each other in check to do the most good.
With this in mind, it’s clear that Reeves’ The Batman is an exploration of the opposite situation. Bruce Wayne is hardly present in the movie at the beginning. He is obsessed with being Batman and unironically calls himself ‘Vengeance’ like an edgy pre-teen (and Robert Pattinson doesn’t do many favors for him by looking like one, as well).
Death in the Family
By the end of the film, Bruce has learned some dark secrets of his familial past and discovers that giving into the darkness of The Batman will never bring about the change he actually seeks to drive into the world. He dives so deep into the darker side of himself that it leads to The Riddler actually thinking that they are working together in the end.
This revelation from The Riddler (not to mention Alfred nearly dying) leads Bruce to do some introspection and question how much of his human side he should let show. This conflict of self is eventually settled at the end of the film when we see Batman and Catwoman decide to go separate ways: Batman towards hope in the city of Gotham and Catwoman fleeing to self-preservation (where Bruce has spent his time up until this point in the film).
Subtle Like A Batmobile
The journey that Bruce takes is similar to the ‘dying to oneself’ that we get to see in the Bible and the teachings of Jesus. Bruce’s transformation resembles that of Paul in the Bible: He goes from an aggressor doing what he thinks to be right until having the scales removed from his eyes. In the movie, Catwoman is seconds away from committing the great superhero no-no of murder, the observant Bruce sees the true despair of vengeance and realizes the errors of his ways. Twist the knife a little deeper with one of Riddler’s goons using his ‘I am vengeance’ line during a fight, and Bruce has no choice but to have a Damascus Road experience.
And it isn’t very subtle, to be blunt. If you’ve seen the film, you know the scene already.
During a series of unfortunate events that lead to a convention center flooding with water, Batman descends from the rafters into the darkness and literally lights a beacon to guide the citizens of Gotham out of the darkness into the light. “This little light of mine”, anyone?
Batman changed from who we first saw step out of the shadows to bash in the faces of some generic baddies into something more complex than before. The lone Sheriff Batman from the start of the film is no more as the Batman of Hope is officially born in the light of that moment in the waters.
New Wine, Same GCPD
That brings us to the bizarre scene at the end of the film. Catwoman is fed up with the city. In all fairness, she has just seen the death of her father, learned the truth behind her mother’s murder, and nearly died several times herself. It’s more than understandable that she is cynical at this point. She tells Bruce that he should run away from Gotham with her and go to Bludhaven and start a new life.
But things have changed for the relationship between Bruce and the Bat, as they did in Batman: Ego. The old is gone and something new has evolved within Bruce. He turns down Catwoman’s request and chooses to stay and fight for the people of Gotham.
But is Catwoman correct? Can anything actually change?
We learned in this movie that most of the Gotham City Police are corrupt. We got to see that The Riddler and The Joker are already colluding in prison. If Matt Reeves gets his way, we’re in for at least two more movies featuring this Batman that are sure to feature more corruption. Will Bruce be able to keep the spirit of hope alive or will he descend into the madness of the cowl once again?
These are the same questions that plague us as Christians during the Easter season. We’ve gone through a radical transformative experience. But the world hasn’t changed with us. In fact, John would go so far as to say the world might just hate us.
Considering his response, perhaps Bruce is more faithful than he even realizes. So what about us? Will we stay and continue to work for change, sharing the light of Christ? Or will we run away and bury our light under a bushel basket in Bludhaven?
As we contemplate the cross and the proceeding call of the Holy Spirit, I hope we all might have the faith of the Bat and seek salvation even still in the dark, gothic streets of Gotham.