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    Posted March 22, 2014 by
    Granger, Indiana
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    Ever want to be Batman?

    It's all about Bruce Wayne, not "The Batman"

    My introduction to the character, like most baby boomers, was the ABC-TV show in 1966 - for me, this was the definition of “appointment TV.” Caped and vigilant, I guarded the circular 3-channel selector dial with a sober intensity worthy of the Dark Knight himself. When I watch the show now, I laugh at how silly and ridiculous the whole enterprise was, but my 8 year-old mind marveled at the fantastic imagery of Batman's world; the contrived, neatly-labeled gadgets, the bright, colorful menagerie of villains, and that pulsing, pseudo-surf rock theme song evoked all the excitement and mystery I craved. For me, Gotham City and Wayne Manor were contrasting symbols of fear and safety, disorder and peace, of shallow criminality and heroic nobility.
    Of course, the TV show never dealt with why Bruce Wayne fought crime; from the first episode, he's a fully-formed character, doing "Batman" stuff. It wasn't until years later, as a freshman in high school, that I discovered a hard-cover book in my local library that was a collection of the early DC Comics Batman issues. As I read those first stories, I was surprised at how dark and violent the character was - in one panel, he simply throws a crook out of an open window, obviously to a gruesome death - and then, I read the classic, 13-panel origin story, and I immediately understood that all of the motivation for everything Bruce Wayne does stems from that fateful night, when his parents were murdered by a common thief. He was obsessed - not with personal revenge, but with a deep, noble desire to keep others safe from going through what he went through. Wayne's actions seemed to exemplify the best response to tragedy that humanity might be capable of.
    As I grew older, my love and admiration for the character of Bruce Wayne grew; I followed the comic books, and was thrilled when Batman had a “re-birth” into the pop landscape in the late 1980s, sparked by the DC Comics stories by Frank Miller, The Dark Knight Returns and Year One. That cultural surge peaked with the 1989 Tim Burton film Batman, followed by the great Batman: The Animated Series, which remains one of the best, most thoughtful iterations of the character in his history. At some point in the mid-80s, I bought a Batman action figure, from the Kenner “Super Powers” line of toys; it sat on a shelf in several different houses that I lived in, and other toys were added, especially when the 1989 film hit, as the market was flooded with Bat-merchandise meant to capitalize on the phenomenon of “Batmania” that the movie created. Before I knew it, my collection began to outgrow a single shelf, and with the onset of the Internet (and especially eBay) in the late 90s, it kind of exploded. I have done partial displays at local libraries and at my high school, where I teach English, and everyone seems to enjoy seeing those. I have a lot of fun with my collection, and enjoy finding new items and working them into my displays. I suppose it is a way to stay in touch with my childhood, but even as an adult, I truly love the iconographic elements of the character: the dark symbolism of the shadowy crimefighter; the twisted, fun house mirror images of Batman that his enemies project; the loyal, equally committed vigilance of his allies; the fantastic settings and technological wonders of the Batcave, and Batman's arsenal of tools and vehicles; the heightened, melodramatic plot events that constantly push Bruce Wayne to the thresholds of his physical and emotional limits – the rich, endlessly variable world that the Batman mythos evokes is not rivaled, in my opinion, by any other fictional character in the history of literature.
    Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight film trilogy brought all of Batman's elements together in a complex, multi-layered way that honored the history of the character, but also placed him in today's real world, where our fears of terrorism, corruption, and chaos are not fantasy, but facts of modern life, documented daily in newspapers and television talk shows. Nolan's Bruce Wayne is a damaged, obsessed man who overcomes his pain through a selfless sacrifice of his soul and his resources, and, in a very satisfying and emotional finale, finally finds peace and happiness. In my sophomore English classes, I teach The Dark Knight Trilogy in the same fashion I might teach The Grapes of Wrath or other great novels; the epic, 3-part story presents powerful themes of moral choices between civility and savagery, what living heroically really means, and why we must act on our beliefs if we want to make the world a better place. As Bruce says to Rachel Dawes in Batman Begins, “it's not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.” In my own way, I've tried to emulate Bruce Wayne by positively affecting what I can in my life; encouraging my students to think of others before themselves, to decide what their values and beliefs are, and then to take actions, no matter how small, to promote those values – to make their classroom, their community, and ultimately the world, a safer, better, more just place for all – just as Bruce Wayne does in the brilliant world of our imagination.
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