We all have that one story that changed our lives. It could be a book, a movie, or a song. Sometimes it can even be just the one element from a whole story that stays with us. For example a character, whose will and bravery makes us believe we can also be daring and courageous even when we doubt ourselves.
Stories come to us when we least expect it. They knock on the doors of our hearts when we lock ourselves in our rooms and shut out the world, when we feel alone and homesick, when we start to think that our dreams are out of our reach. They comfort us, give us hope, and tell us that if that guy could do it, then so can we.
But even once we overcome whichever issue we had, these tales don’t leave us. We might not think about them for a while, but they’ll remain in our subconscious and hearts to keep reminding us of how far we’ve come.
In 1986, for the 400th issue of the Batman comic, Stephen King wrote an essay to introduce the anniversary edition of the DC hero. Though the title of the piece is “Why I chose Batman,” he tells the story about his lifelong relationship with the Caped Crusader who reaches out through the pages of a graphic novel to take the reader on a journey.
The essay begins with King answering the lifelong question most comic book fans have had at one point in their life, and even non-comic book readers can identify this question due to the big screen now being full of superheroes. Even though there are several heroes out there, the answer to this inquiry always seems to be analyzed like some categorization of our true personality: Batman or Superman?
By now, I guess you have assumed who Stephen King selected. However, the reason why his childhood self looked up to the Dark Knight is quite relatable.
“Batman, however, was just a guy. A rich guy, yes. A strong guy, granted. A smart guy, you bet. But… he couldn’t fly.”
There have been numerous reinterpretations of Bruce Wayne’s alter-ego, and yet none of them overlook the one trait: his utter human mortality. Batman is a mortal facing villains with super-human and even extraterrestrial abilities. He didn’t put on the suit because he acquired special powers. He did it because he wanted to do something for his city.
“I could believe in a Caped Crusader who swung on ropes, threw boomerangs with deadly accuracy, and drove like Richard Petty getting a pregnant woman to the hospital.”
Anyone writing for young readers will tell you, kids are hard to fool. They’ll sense a phony from miles away. While their imagination has yet to be weighed down by the world, they can identify this sort of condescendence. This is not to say that heroes with super strength or powers are phony, but maybe the young Stephen King was drawn to Batman’s determination to act even if left to his own devices.
“Batman lived by his wits, dueled, and disarmed—sometimes brilliantly—some of the greatest villains ever created, foiled everything from massive jewel heists to dognapping schemes, and managed to live another life at the same time, that of Bruce Wayne, prominent socialite. He raised money, in the sixties he raised his consciousness, and he even raised a ward, Dick Grayson.”
The Caped Crusader is a jack-of-all-trades, protecting Gotham from any time of danger, but also being the figure his city needs him to be. And unlike other good guys, he’s not afraid to be seen as bad guy at times. Because he knows that it’s not him the people despise, it’s the embodiment of justice he wears. Justice that is not always easy to swallow, it’s not always pretty. It’s as gritty as the environment it was born in.
“Maybe the real reason that Batman appealed to me more than the other guy. There was something sinister about him. That’s right. You heard me. Sinister.”
Batman is not a perfect human. He’s a broken man with issues and trauma, which makes him quite relatable. He’s seen the horrors of the world and, instead of turning his back on them, he chooses to face them in order to prevent them from destroying the lives of others. Bruce might be one of the wealthiest men in the world, but he still has nightmares. He still feels lonely. He’s even attracted to femme fatales, one in particular, with some strange hope that they’ll turn good.
“I’d like to congratulate the Caped Crusader on his long and valiant history, thank him for the hours of pleasure he has given me, and wish him many more years of heroic crime-busting.”
Batman is the character for the young and old who’ve witnessed evil in the world yet choose to not let it take over their lives. This can be anything from depression, violence, bullying, poverty, racism, illness, etc. I’m not claiming that those who love and identify with other characters have not endured these types of horrors. But just like their favorite hero, they’ve probably have learned to combat them in a different way: with pacifism, optimism, seeking truth, or through friendship even. Finding our hero is hard stuff, because we might want to be like a certain brave guy who cracks jokes as he hands bad dudes to the police, but in our hearts we know we’re more like the gloomy, stubborn, angsty loner. We don’t even have to swing from buildings to identify with our heroes. Our relationship goes deeper than that.
“And please, never come busting through my skylight in the middle of the night. You’d probably scare me into a brain hemorrhage… and besides, Big Guy, I’m on your side. I always was.”
Characters and their stories have a way of weaving in and out of our lives. They stand with us as we face obstacles, hold our hand when we suffer pain or loss, and cheer us on as we hold on to our dreams.