Without A Net | Pop culture from Southern California and beyond.

The dark rises: is our culture getting darker?

A man purchases his ticket for the latest Batman movie in Hollywood, on July 20, 2012 in California.
A man purchases his ticket for the latest Batman movie in Hollywood, on July 20, 2012 in California.

This is an awkward thing to write.

Seeing the giant neon of the Century 12 Theater rendered CNN-style -- hand-held camera, ticker across the bottom -- marks pretty much the first time a random act of violence (on a major scale) has cut into my everyday life.

My parents live in Denver; we've been to that theater (their popcorn sucks), and that screening would be the exact thing I would have gone out of my way to see. I am a nerd.

Only a nerd would spend $150 on a ticket. Only a nerd would go out of their way to see a film they could easily see in the afternoon for a reasonable price. I can relate.

Nerds and the media (and there's a lot of overlap there) are already wondering whether the mindless violence in Aurora last night means comic books culture will be viewed negatively like heavy metal was in the 80s - a pop culture scapegoat. I spent hours in college defending video games from those who drew a parallel between Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris' first-person shooter collection and their Colorado rampage.

And yet Batman is different. It always has been. Every comics person knows that Batman (the franchise and the character) is unique from the rest of the Holy Trinity (Superman and Spidey). It is more than possible to have a Batman fan who hates other comics, turning up his nose at the "fluffiness" there. Batman doesn't crack corny one-liners while popping acne. Batman doesn't fight for the American Dream with an ever-changing rainbow of superpowers.

Batman is The Night.

Ever since the 1980s, Batman has always been the comics franchise that was, in essence, its own gritty reboot. Gotham is the dark side of the Every-City: a Chicago or New York on acid where thugs lurk in dark alleys and mobs run the town. The villains are ridiculous and varied and neverending, but they're still (mostly) human despite being weird and warped and and disfigured thanks to vats of radioactive goo. 

And the Batman of Chistopher Nolan's movies is dark. He's a monotoned, shadow-faced, machine of perpetual darkness. And that, of course, is part of Nolan's point. The trilogy's purpose has always been to marry reality to the Batverse (coating all of it with a layer of dark blue and smoke machine). That's what fans -- comics fans and mundies alike -- love about them.

There is a reason we associate the terms "gritty" and "dark" with Realism. In the post 9/11 "Occupy" generation we consider dystopian futures realistic, if not straight-up reflections of an already dystopian present. People scrawl Joker smiles on politicians and bankers; Guy Fawkes plasters crowds at Occupy rallies. Darkness is the newest, hippest selling point, used to describe everything from The Hunger Games to vampire romance to deodorants to gum.

Reviews at the time the Dark Knight was released extolled the Joker as the Ultimate Villain, terrifying because of his direct correlation with the kinds of events purely engineered to make us terrified. Blowing up hospitals. Shooting into crowds. Random acts of violence. "The Dark Knight Rises" continues that theme.

Do I think darkness, in our culture, in our comics, caused the Aurora shootings? I don't know. But I do think Holmes took advantage of that darkness. And I do think these are very dark days made darker by a mad man who probably cannot blame goo for his evil.