Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Batman and Mrs. Lee

Sharon Wildwind

Last weekend was a Batman marathon at our house. Between Friday evening and Sunday night, I watched Batman Begins, Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, and Batman & Robin. What brought this on was a prolonged heat wave and a desire for some summer mind candy.

Even as a kid, I was fascinated by the Dark Knight. He was sinister and spooky, with a harder edge than his pal Superman, and a lot more complicated than say, The Fantastic Four. While the others had supernatural powers, caused by accidents of birth or exposure to cosmic rays, Batman had angst, incredible wealth, a neat house, a cool car, and an obsession with vigilante justice.

Sorry, folks, no matter how you slice it, he started as a vigilante. Nobody gave him a badge or administered an oath exhorting him “to protect and preserve.” And, as one of the characters says in Batman Forever, “What kind of a grown man goes around dressed like a bat?”

A man who shared a simple philosophy with a nineteenth century Chicago heiress: convict the guilty, clear the innocent, and find the truth in a nutshell.

While I thought Tim Burton/Joel Schumacher’s 1995 Batman Forever best captured the comic books’ flavor, the movie that really fascinated me was Christopher Nolen’s Batman Begins. Okay, so there were those inevitable thirty-four minutes of training in the secret ninja dojo, and the requisite car chase, a la O.J., near the end. But, Christian Bale portrayed a superbly-tortured Bruce Wayne and the almost-Apocalyptic Gotham felt greasy enough to have spawned Batman all by itself. That scene of the adult Wayne, standing with his arms outstretched in the bat cave—a real cave full of bats, not the electronic gizmo house it would become—absorbing the power of being a bat took my breath away.

Batman alone—no, that’s not the name of a movie I missed in my marathon, though it would make a terrific title—anyway, Batman alone spawns some terrific questions for character development. Does might make right? Does wealth make right if it’s used for the common good? Should Batman be allowed to have a normal life, say get married, raise a family, carpool his kids to soccer practice, or is a twisted lone wolf the only one who can save humanity? Considering what the criminal element of Gotham was like, is the humanity in Batman’s world worth saving?

Writing quote for the week:
Convict the guilty, clear the innocent, and find the truth in a nutshell.
~Frances Glessner Lee, (1878-1962) 19th century Chicago heiress, forensic dollhouse maker, and amateur criminologist.
To learn more about Mrs. Lee’s life, visit http://www.nlm.nih.gov/visibleproofs/galleries/biographies/lee.html
The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death by Corinne May Botz, a Brooklyn photographer, has beautiful photographs of these miniature crime scenes and interviews with people who knew Mrs. Lee.

1 comment:

Elizabeth Zelvin said...

What a tease, Sharon! I hope you're going to tell us all about Mrs. Lee in a future blog. :)