The Batman is a story of hope.
It may not seem like it at first. The very air is dark and oppressive from the moment the film begins. Fear hangs over the Gotham City streets like a cloak. Something terrifying waits in the alleys and shadows—but does it stalk the good people of Gotham, or the bad?
Darwyn Cooke explored the duality of the masked vigilante in Batman: Ego and the same theme is a vital element of the Caped Crusader’s latest epic adventure, now streaming on HBO Max. How can a Dark Knight also be a shining beacon of hope? The Batman masterfully shows us that transformation as it happens.
Spoilers for The Batman follow.
Batman does some of his best work in the shadows and clings to them like a protective shield to catch unsuspecting lawbreakers by surprise. In The Batman, Bruce Wayne has only been prowling the Gotham nights for two years. He’s more brute force than finesse, taught by a battle-hardened Alfred how to fight, and any criminals in his path are quickly KO’ed by the fury of his punches.
This Bruce Wayne feels even more at home in the dark. For the first time in film, we see the black eye greasepaint, a detail usually left under the cowl, smeared like a shadow across Bruce’s face. He covers his eyes with his mask, sunglasses and the dimmed visor of a motorcycle helmet because any light is almost too much to bear. It’s a blunt reminder that all Bruce sees around him in Gotham City is gloom. He witnesses the worst parts of the city and the pitch-black hearts of people that lurk there.
Selina Kyle recognizes that aspect of him. “You assume the worst in people,” she tells him, sensing a kindred spirit.
And he’s part of that darkness. Batman hunts in the night like a nocturnal animal to strike fear with the mere thought of his presence. In Batman: Ego—a work cited by director Matt Reeves as inspiration for The Batman—Bruce Wayne has an inner dialogue with Batman, who says it directly.
“We descended on this city like an unholy instrument of vengeance,” Batman tells Bruce in the book. “Relentless as a shark. Blacker than their dark hearts… Criminals were terrified of the bat and the city was a safer place to live.”
In The Batman, as in Ego, Bruce struggles with the idea that the city isn’t any safer at all since he started his vigilante career. But it’s not until Batman comes face-to-face with the Riddler, who remarks on their similarities, that Bruce fully realizes what he has become: the embodiment of vengeance and a blunt force of fury. And the worst of Gotham only responded in kind.
Bruce Wayne of The Batman and Bruce Wayne of Ego come to the same realization: Batman must be more than fear to overcome evil. He must be hope as well.
“As much as Batman is a terrifying symbol to the underworld, he is also a symbol to the good people of this city,” the Bruce Wayne of Ego decides. “A symbol of hope.”
In The Batman, our hero uses a dazzlingly bright flare to become a literal beacon for safety and hope in one of Gotham’s darkest moments. With it in hand, he leads the people of the city, injured and drowning in despair, toward the dawn. For the first time, Batman doesn’t shy away from the light. He stands tall in it. The Dark Knight ventures into the soft sunlight to give the people he saves some reassurance—not just that they’ll be okay, but that the city will as well. Gotham has a fighting chance because Batman is fighting for Gotham.
If it’s been a long time since you’ve read Batman: Ego, or you’ve never actually picked it up before, read it again after you’ve seen The Batman. You’ll find the heart and true essence of Bruce Wayne in both.
The Batman, directed by Matt Reeves and starring Robert Pattinson as Batman, is now in theaters and streaming on HBO Max. Not yet a subscriber? Sign up today to enjoy the best in DC movies and TV.
Batman: Ego and Other Tails by Darwyn Cooke is currently free to read (all you need to do is register) on DC UNIVERSE INFINITE. Click here to check it out!
Kelly Knox writes about all-ages comics, movies and animation for DCComics.com and her writing can also be seen on IGN, Nerdist and more. Follow her on Twitter at @kelly_knox to talk superheroes, comics and pop culture.
NOTE: The views and opinions expressed in this feature are solely those of Kelly Knox and do not necessarily reflect those of DC Entertainment or Warner Bros.