Batman looking as cheerful as ever, yesterday (Photo courtesy of marvelousRoland on Flickr)
I'm a massive Batman fan. I care about how the franchise is treated, and its subsequent cultural reputation. So when Joel Schumacher went to the toilet on the Caped Crusader's chest in 1997, I was furious, even though I was only 14 at the time. So hurrah for Christopher Nolan, for rehabilitating Batman, saving him from the garish campness of the original Adam West series, and taking Batman back to his dark roots.
But far from being a nostalgic harkening back to the original Bob Kane comics, these movies very much feel like they could only have been made today. Both The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises were released in sombre, post-credit crunch years. For instance, when Bane incites Gotham's downtrodden underclass to riot against the mega rich, there are overtones of the 2011 UK riots.
Parallels with Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities have also been drawn, not least by Nolan himself. The themes prevalent in that novel: the dangers of revolution without viable solutions, nihilistic martyrdom, letting the darkness in one's soul stopping one from living, are masterfully updated so as to be recognisably 21st century.
Photo courtesy of Craig Elliott on Flickr
Think also of the unpredictable anarchy of the Joker in The Dark Knight. For me, the defining moment comes when he talks to a disfigured, restrained Harvey Dent on a hospital bed in Gotham Central Hospital. Distinguishing himself from "schemers who try to control their little worlds", he points out to Dent how no one panics if things go according to plan, "even if the plan is horrifying". When he introduces his unpredictable brand of anarchy, though, "everyone loses their minds".
We live in very uncertain times. Today, the news came through that the UK GDP has dropped by 0.7% in the last three months. Political instability and civil war ravages many countries. We all face the future filled with dread and doubt. And this makes us uncomfortable indeed: what plans can we make? Only horrifying ones, most likely.
Not even Batman can transcend his cultural, social, political and economic surroundings. But for all the darkness in his heart, he is a flawed emblem of hope. He doesn't go round dropping cheesy one liners when he offs the bad guys (well, not very often). He has to deal with the unbearable heaviness of being a troubled hero in troubled times. In these dark days, the dark knight is the hero we need and deserve.