Batman, he watches over Gotham in the shadows. The Dark Knight hiding from the moonlight, finding other creeping things in the night. I finished the Knightsend story arc and wondered when will Batman learn. Ok I get it. Batman doesn’t kill. It’s basically his defining feature. But at some point you have to wonder, like the Joker does, is he not the cause of his own problems. Maybe even Gotham’s at that. He could literally end the terrors that are being plagued on his city and people, yet he swears by a moral code which says nay to killing.
Taking the higher ground is not unfamiliar to Jon Snow either. Jon Snow from Game of Thrones is also one who watches over the realm. He is a Knight, like Batman, on guard against the enemy approaching the barrier between them and the rest of the population Snow has sworn to protect. Yet his own moral code has place him in trouble’s tracks quite a few times. He watched thousands of innocent people burn in the name of the woman he swore was his allegiance to. Even when she deliberately slaughtered surrendering soldiers and promised to continue doing so, Jon struggled with the moral dilemma. Does he stick to his promise of allegiance to her or stop her from continuing on in her rage. He chooses the wiser option, but after much anguish and poor writing. But that’s another topic.
This idea of ‘doing the right thing’ is such a repeating trait in characters we love. Even Rick from The Walking Dead leaves Negan in prison instead of killing him, even though he has done atrocious crimes against his people and the leftover living world. I will admit I am thankful for that, but only because Negan is the shit. It reminds me of the scene in Austin Powers, I believe the second one, where Seth Green yells at Doctor Evil for not killing Austin Powers.
It seems simple, whether you are a good guy or bad guy in a story, just end your problem now. Leave no loose ends, no opportunity for response or revenge. But no, we love the characters who seem to be the better ‘us.’ The one who does what needs to be done but we couldn’t do. These characters become icons, figures we desire to be like. The same as religious figures, spiritual leaders or popular cultural leaders. Yet, characters like Negan are still highly likable characters. So much so, that in each issue of The Walking Dead fans write in asking when he will appear again.
I think what is happening here is we project what we are and what we want to be into the characters we read about and see on the screen. How you view characters and storylines is dependent on your philosophy on life. These characters are substitutes in our mind, standing in for how we would respond in the same situations. This might be an unconscious activity or an active one, I’m sure it varies. But, some of the time we relate to the character who does what is right. Either because we view ourselves the one who would be or is that way, or we aspire to be like them now.
The thing about characters like Dexter, Negan or the recent Brandon Breyer from Brightburn is they strike a chord within us. The nature we all know we have. Brandon Breyer is the prime example of a what if scenario. What if Superman was bad? What if he wasn’t so normal? What if he was like one of us? You know with a temper, a hunger for vengeance, an insatiable appetite for acceptance. What if he couldn’t obey and follow the moral guidelines laid out for a superhero. These characters also resonate with us. Because they are who we really are. We find ourselves not within the boundaries of who we ought to be. We are usually, we wish we weren’t. It seems just as inspiring to want to be one of these characters. One who fully understands who they are and doesn’t try to be something they aren’t. Sees the list of requirements of who they ought to be but doesn’t see it as law. As much as we like to know there is someone out there like Batman, someone obeying their own code, sometimes I wish he would just kill someone already.