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Batman Begins


A note on fear & justice

Everyone who knows this story knows that Batman fights evil men & that Bruce Wayne is afraid of bats. The two things seem completely unrelated. Bruce Wayne’s father tries to explain to the boy that the bats attacked him because they were afraid: All creatures are afraid. Aggression is defensive in purpose. But not all fearful creatures attack. The man is refuted in fact: His boy does not believe him; & he himself cannot defend himself & his family from murder.

The boy learned from his father’s death: He learned to fight & to live among murderers. He is not likely to suffer the fate of the liberal, who thinks to generosity & ignores the uglier requirements of justice. The boy’s learning to defend himself, however, does nothing for his sense of purpose. He tells the assassins that he wants the means to fight evil.

The master assassin teaches him that hatred of evil can make a man into more than a man, a legend. He says great & terrible things come from anger. The assassins call themselves ‘the league of shadows.’ It first seems the boy ran from the city; the chapterhouse of the assassins is an Asian mountaintop retreat. But his teacher is his fellow citizen & the vengeance he seeks is their city’s destruction. It seems the city is everywhere.

This teacher says men are controlled by fear. His teaching does not consist in all the pain incurred, but in the ugliness he displays. The teacher knows him well enough to insist that the will to act is everything. People who fear you are minded of death. People do not want to die. But they have no idea how to stay alive. He implies the only way to ensure justice is terror, or terrifying punishment. The shadows want to save the city from inevitable destruction.

The boy wanted to kill his parents’ murderer. He confessed to the girl-prosecutor, who slapped & shamed him with his father’s memory, after setting the murderer free for betraying some criminal to the government. Of course, the criminal has no such compunctions & kills the murderer. He humiliates the boy, however, without destroying him. He misunderstands fear because he takes the laws for granted, hoping they would survive his corruption.

Batman misunderstands legitimacy. But he understands that fear holds men back from doing their worst. To say why he is scared of himself is to say that the city is perishable. It may not offer the answers he needs, but without the city, there is no humanity. Justice must center on saving the city. Batman thinks he can do it. He has faith in the city: He believes it rules itself.

The beginning of a grimmer, more serious, very popular Batman.