Le Rouge et le Noir: La Danse Macabre & Die Fledermaus

By Quinn Hopkins

Batman and Death. When Bruce’s parents were gunned down in front of him he suffered his first ego death. The safety of Mother and Father—of the triadic family—was taken, the bonds snapped, pearls spilled on blood and concrete. The Red and The Black. No more pearly-white necklace—no more of mommy’s smile—no more mommy—no more love—no more light in the world, only the Red and the Black. Life in Sin or Life in Death, the boy chose an alternative.

Art, the axis of meaning and the meaningless, would be his parents’ departing gift: Alfred Pennyworth. The Bell. A vibration across time and space signifying something in the absence of anything: the cry of a bat, directing it through the darkest of night. A former stage-actor and secret agent, richly cultured, Alfred would serve as Bruce’s mentor in the theatric paradigm he assumed on that night in crime alley.

Years later, sitting bloodied and beaten in his Father’s armchair, Bruce faced his second ego death. Red and Black. He could let himself go, or he could ring the bell. The bell—music—art—the theater—Zorro: “Yes, father. I shall become a bat.

“Criminals are a terror. Hearts of the night. I must disguise my terror. Criminals are cowardly. A superstitious terrible omen. A cowardly lot. My disguise must strike terror. I must be black. Terrible. Criminals are a superstitious cowardly lot. I must be a creature. I must be a creature of the night. Mommy’s dead. Daddy’s dead. Brucie’s dead.

– Grant Morrison, Arkham Asylum

Batman. Robin. The Joker. Catwoman. Pop-Crime! Bruce’s life was transformed into an operatic tour de force—an archetypal spectacle performed on the World’s Stage. Bruce had been through the ultimate childhood tragedy and survived, making everything afterwards seem comic by comparison. And so life became a game. A mission. A goal. In The Red of rage and revenge, Bruce became his obsession. He became his desire to become the ultimate man, beginning a years-long journey to become perfect in mind, body, and soul. He became The Best in revenge against Life’s worst: Bruce Wayne to Life’s Joe Chills.

But that wasn’t enough. The horror of Life wasn’t just that everything dies, but that some things kill. Life necessitates death, but life could never necessitate murder, not for Bruce. To right a wrong with another wrong—or to seek Red in response to Black—is to perpetuate the cycle and, in doing so, become it. Face to face with Joe Chill, he was forced to overcome his bloodlust—to show compassion. The Red was not enough. But the Black… Draped in the shadows of mythology and spectacle, Bruce showed Gotham darkness darker than its own: a darkness that, in rejecting the ego-satisfaction of lex talionis revenge, brought order into a world of chaos. The darkness could be good too.

If Bruce Wayne was the response the criminals of Gotham expected, Batman was the response they deserved.

An avatar of Death that doesn’t kill—that’s Batman.

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