Thursday, July 26, 2012

Close To Home

Two fisherman trawling the bay near a large American city pull their net out of the water and bring up a dead man's body. Examining the nearby water, they see three more bodies. It's later learned that smugglers bringing in workers from China for what is apparently slave labor, and throwing sick men into the water to drown. Grim business and not, probably, a fit story to tell children. But this story did appear once in Detective Comics. In the first issue, in 1937.

A week ago, an American carried guns into the premiere of The Dark Knight Rises and fired bullets into seventy of his fellow citizens, killing a small child and eleven others. He styled himself, it is reported, after the Joker. In many theatres, but not, it is said, that particular one, a trailer for the forthcoming film Gangster Squad showed gunmen shooting from behind a cinema screen into the audience. I was watching this at very nearly the time that the Colorado shootings took place, thinking of what the filmmakers intended: To make audiences think, this violence is coming for you. To break down the barrier between art and life and emphasize, "to you."

This week, the planned sales of Batman, Inc. #3 were put on hold due to a perceived similarity between a scene in the issue, almost certainly the panel which is shown above, and the events in Colorado. There's no denying a similarity. And yet, by the standards of this long-running story, the scene is mild. Even if the gun were fired, it would still be a far cry from the face-eating scenes in 2009's Batman and Robin #5 which coincidentally preceded a face-eating attack in the real world.

Comics have long intended to represent realistic tragedies, so their heroes might face them. Lex Luthor debuted in a story that depicted a fictionalized version of the German-Polish war that soon became World War Two. That war soon became part of countless comic stories, and no one can deny that its accumulated horrors make anything happening lately seem small in comparison.

But there's a disturbing circularity in the last week's events. The shootings in Colorado happened at a Batman film, and bore some similarity to events in previous Batman fiction, and then immediately an image in the comics bore some similarity to the real event. It could have been aligned even more strikingly if, say, Batman #676's "Green Vulture" had debuted this week, with a red-dyed hack of a criminal aiming a gun at a family, shouting "Body count!" and eventually giving himself up easily. There is no shortage of older scenes one might read and wonder if they inspired some details of the real-world tragedy. So many, in fact, that the possible connections get lost in the noise. Gangster Squad didn't invent the idea of a film showing the audience of a film being shot. A berserk gunman may imitate a work of art accidentally or quite on purpose, but the tragedy is simply the act and not the style. Acts like this have been periodic events in American life since one occurred in 1949. Months after America's first spree killing, a similar tragedy unfolded some 60 miles away. Life can imitate art, and it can also imitate life.

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