I love Batman. I’ve always had a soft spot for the Caped Crusader; whether it’s the Adam West Batman from the 1950s-1960s, the cartoons I grew up with, the Christian Bale ‘Dark Knight’, Lego Batman, the Batman of the Arkham series of games, or even, dare I say it, Affleck-Batman. I love the idea of Batman embodying his fears to strike fear into the heart of Gotham’s villains.
I love the complexity of Batman’s character and his relationship with the city of Gotham (as it has evolved). I love the idea that Batman is the real person and Bruce Wayne is the ‘masked’ alter-ego (as opposed, perhaps, to other heroes, with the exception maybe of Superman). I love that in many ways Batman is Gotham; for good and for ill, and that ultimately Gotham becomes ‘Batmanesque’… I love that in embodying the terrifying, Batman shapes Gotham in ways he might not have expected; where he first entered the scene to fight the organised crime in his city — of the sort that led to the death of his parents outside the theatre on that fateful night — Batman’s edgy-but-principled vigilante crusade in the mask and caped visage of the bat, spawns a series of outlandish and garish comic book villains — the Joker, Two Face, The Penguin, The Riddler, Poison Ivy… when you introduce a larger than life masked hero with all sorts of gadgets to an ecosystem like Gotham, he creates a new range of super-villains with their own gimmicks and gadgets. Gotham gets worse, not better. This is a point traded on for laughs in the recent Lego Batman movie, and grappled with more earnestly in the Dark Knight (both in graphic novel and movie form); the equal-but-inverse relationship between Batman and his coterie of villains is another consistent Batman trope, even Adam West Batman in all its kitschy/glam glory features similarly over the top iterations of these villains.
Batman embodies the problem his city faces in order to deal with the problem, yet he ends up frustrated (most of the time) because his embodying of the problems of Gotham actually perpetuate these problems. It’s interesting to think about our own approach to changing the world or fighting for a cause, and what we can learn from these stories (and interesting to ponder whether Batman might actually be better off investing Bruce Wayne’s billions into positive development initiatives for the city, like better street lights and employment programs that keep people out of gangs, or from having the sort of spare time to develop a criminal masterplan and associated gimmick). It becomes an intense arms race. A vicious cycle of destruction.
Jesus is like Batman, but better.
Jesus enters the world to fix the world. He knows there’s a problem that needs solving, and he embodies the problem. The story of the Bible tells us that the problem with the world is, fundamentally, a human problem. Sin. Sin is the name the Bible gives for not following God’s design for humanity; it’s the rejection of the manual for living in the world the right way, and so sin is what makes us trash the world; it’s why we re-shape the world in our own image, to share the darkness in our own hearts. It’s why Batman, in all its versions, is on to something — we do shape our environments, even as they shape us.
Jesus enters the story as a human; a descendent of Adam, and of David, of all the problem-riddled humans in the Old Testament story. He’s a different sort of human though; he brings something additional to the table. He’s unique in history in that he’s fully God, and fully man (perhaps Batman should try being fully Bruce, and fully Batman). He brings a new approach to sin, he rejects it and lives the pattern for humanity that God intended; and so begins re-shaping the world into what God intended it to be (he now does that through his followers as we rediscover what heroism looks like in the face of sin). There’s lots of ways Jesus is like Batman, even if he didn’t wear a cape and a mask; but here’s how he’s better (and a better example for us when it comes to tackling problems around us).
Jesus brings something newer and better to our world than Batman does for Gotham (and than our real life heroes do for the places they try to fix). Here’s what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17-21:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
God made him sin, Paul says… Jesus takes the problem onto himself, but rather than using this to create the same old pattern of something wrong; rather than perpetuating a new breed of super-villains, Jesus makes us righteous, he restores us to God and to his design for people and the world; he makes us new creations. He sees us as these new creations and frees us from the vicious cycle of inventing the new gadgets and gimmicks that we use to destroy ourselves and the world, and that other people invent to compete with us.