The long awaited climax to director Chris Nolan’s Batman trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises, is finally coming to theaters this week. While we’ll all have answers soon enough, the question on everyone’s minds during the advertising campaign has been “Does Batman die?”. It’s not so insane a question as it once was. I mean, the hero dying in the film? An icon falling? Certainly comic books have done this (and gone back on it almost immediately…) and movies have a long history of “killing” villains only to bring them back. But this is Batman! You can’t kill Batman!
Yet, the advertising and the general darkness of the films lead a lot of credence to the idea that the legend might actually end. In the trailer, Selina Kyle says that Batman has given Gotham everything, to which he morbidly responds “Not everything.” Will Batman die? I don’t know.
But I know he shouldn’t, and here’s why.
The death of a major character, or the main character, can often be an effective tool. It’s not generally one I’m on board with since happy endings are (personally) a bit better than downer endings. But sometimes it’s the right thing to do, it can be very powerful. However, killing off long running characters almost never ends well. Thomas Magnum was originally killed at the end of Season 7 of Magnum, P.I. Fans were so outraged that the character was resurrected for an 8th season that had a much happier ending. Same goes with the death of Sherlock Holmes – he was brought back after a fairly short death. Superman in the comics – a fairly epic failure. Captain America – dead for mere months. Batman, dead for a few weeks.
Never are the deaths well received, never are they permanent.
Death as a gimmick cheapens the experience. Some stories will never end – those that are great, and those that are profitable. We already know that Warner Bros. is planning on making more Batman movies in the future. We know that Batman won’t be gone from the silver screen. Whether it is a sequel of sorts or a reboot, either one is ruined by the death of Bruce Wayne. A direct sequel, provided Bruce Wayne died, would involve a new Batman. This never pleases fans. Look at the Superman debacle, the replacement Batmen in DC comics history, or Ben Reilly as Spider-Man. A reboot would likely just tell another Batman story with Bruce Wayne and as such his death in a previous installment was completely meaningless. We’re guaranteed another Batman film, and as such, any death of the character is false.
Further, Nolan’s Batman does not yet deserve to die. He has not earned it. In the comics, Batman has been fighting crime for a long time. His mission is to clean up the streets of Gotham. Unless somehow his death could end crime forever, there will always be a need for Batman. Wayne would gladly sacrifice himself to save other lives, but he would never simply give his life away. This Batman has not served Gotham long enough to have made a real difference, not compared to comic Batman.
On the page, Batman has done battle with gods and monsters, in the movies, he stopped a few criminals. On the page, Batman pounded fear into the hearts of crime year after year after year. He was there when Gotham needed him. Nolan’s Batman hasn’t yet established the kind of gravitas that marks the true death of a legend. At this point, he’s kind of just some guy who did some weird stuff. Even less so, as the end of The Dark Knight finds Batman purposefully losing the court of public appeals and apparently going into retirement for 8 years, not the Batman of the comics who was the utter definition of dedication to the city. If Batman dies, he can not serve the city. He would, in effect, be abandoning them. And the city might not care.
Lastly, Batman is not Christopher Nolan’s creation. He’s no longer Bob Kane’s creation or the creation of DC Comics. Batman is one of the most recognizable characters in the world. From California to Djibouti to Hong Kong to Auckland. Some characters outgrow their creators and become property of the public – it is the highest achievement a character can garner. To outgrow their creators, their format; to truly become legends. There are few, and they are highly regarded. Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, Mickey Mouse, the Star Wars universe, Star Trek. The greatest characters ever created.
Fans rebel when the characters they’ve adopted as their own are mistreated, written poorly, or abused. It explains why fans turned against George Lucas so viciously – he messed with what they loved. He mistreated the characters and he lost the support of the public. Sure, we still love Star Wars and spend our money on it, but we, at times, loathe the man.
Like I mentioned above, Thomas Magnum and Sherlock Holmes had their deaths flat out rejected by the fans and both were brought back to life with fictional defibrillators. The deaths or leavings of Superman and Spider-Man were likewise utter failures because the community demands their heroes remain their heroes. Ben Reilly is not Peter Parker. He was not Spider-Man. He was regarded as a massive failure and the status quo returned. Marvel once again tried to screw with Spider-Man via rebooting him in the “One More Day” storyline – this was again largely rejected by friends and was eventually undone.
Yes, Nolan is making his movie but it’s not his character. If Batman dies, it will be rejected. Rejected by the fans at large, not necessarily the critical community, feeding at the teat of Nolan and worshipping the ground he walks on. But the average viewer will hate it. They will disown it. A sequel with a non-Bruce Wayne Batman will be a comparative failure at the least. A reboot will sully the entire idea of the death in the first place.
In summary, knowing the franchise will continue makes the possible death of Bruce Wayne pointless. Plus, Batman has a place in our collective hearts, so none of us want to see him dead. Finally, this version of Batman has yet not earned the legendary status needed to die a legend. His death would be premature.
I do not know what will happen at the end of The Dark Knight Rises, but if Bruce Wayne dies I assure you I will go past my boiling point.