(Warning: I will be speculating about the end of The Dark Knight Rises in this article. I haven’t seen it at this point, so I can’t really spoil anything per se, but just be warned, this may be spoilerish speculation.)
Back in 2009, Batman and Detective Comics came to an end after a long, illustrious publishing career. Batman himself was long gone due to the events of Final Crisis, and the end of these two issues turned out to be a sort of a eulogy for the Dark Knight. Neil Gaiman was pretty much given free rein to bring these titles to a close however he wished, and so the story known as “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader” was born. Well, here we are in 2012, and another Batman saga is coming to an end. Christopher Nolan is bringing his own take on the Batman mythos to a close after a seven year journey that started with Batman Begins in 2005, rose to a crescendo in 2008 with The Dark Knight, and now is coming to a definitive (and hopefully appropriately epic) conclusion with The Dark Knight Rises. After this movie, Nolan says that Warner Bros. will have to continue their Batman film franchise with some sort of “reboot” because this will be an ending with no opening for further sequels for this particular take on Batman. I love that idea of bringing this trilogy to a firm conclusion, but if there’s one thing I learned from Gaiman’s “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader,” there’s only way to bring any Batman story to a true, definitive, conclusion: Batman has to die.
Because of all the talk about how The Dark Knight Rises is the final movie for Nolan’s trilogy and how it brings this story full circle and to a true, firm ending, speculation has run rampant on what that means for the fate of Batman. Will Batman die? He is facing Bane, the villain that broke his back and put him out of commission for a time in the comics. Will Bruce Wayne die but will the legend of Batman continue? Will someone take up the mantle of the Bat and carry on Bruce’s quest after he’s gone? Those questions won’t be answered until the film’s release later this week, but I just have this feeling that in order to truly end any sort of Batman story, it must end with Batman’s death. I think it’s very probable that’s what happens in The Dark Knight Rises. Either that, or Bruce Wayne is killed but someone carries on the legend of the Batman to continue to inspire the citizens of Gotham City. I just can’t see any other way of really ending any sort of Batman saga, and part of that is due to the insights of Gaiman’s excellent ending to Batman’s story in the comics.
In “Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader”, an ethereal Batman gets to attend his own funeral. As he watches, he sees allies and villains alike come forward and share a few thoughts about Batman, who he was and how he died. All of these stories are different, but they all hold one common element; the fact that Batman does indeed die. When asked what he’s learned by watching these events, Batman says, “The end of the story of Batman is, he’s dead. Because, in the end, the Batman dies. What else am I going to do? Retire and play golf? It doesn’t work that way. It can’t. I fight until I drop. And one day, I will drop.”
There isn’t a retirement plan for Batman. Being the Dark Knight isn’t just a hobby that Bruce Wayne can give up when he tires of it. No, being the Batman is a lifelong commitment, and the only way it ends is with death. This is why I think The Dark Knight Rises in some way must feature the death of Batman. Christopher Nolan says this is the end of his Batman story, and the Batman’s story can’t truly end any other way but with his death. He’s not going to give up, he’s not going to stop, he’s not going to surrender, and so the only way Batman ends is with his death. Now, that’s not typically the way super hero movies wrap things up, but then, Batman has never been the typical super hero.
There are a lot of things I admire about Batman, but chief among them has to be this fierce commitment; this fact that in life he can’t really be anything else and the only way he’ll stop is when he dies. I think more Christians need that kind of mentality; I know that’s the kind of mentality I want as a Christian. None of this “just giving it a try” stuff, or any of that “I’ve stopped being a Christian because…” stuff. Being a Christian isn’t a hobby, an activity, a set of religious duties; it’s a life. The only way one should ever stop being a Christian is death. Aside from that, there should be the same drive, the same determination to never give up, give in, ever. Why? Because Jesus revealed to us Truth; and that’s worth dedicating a life to stand for. He bought our lives at a price, saved us for all eternity from hell and sin, gave us purpose and reason for life and existence; and that’s worth proclaiming and sharing throughout an entire lifetime. Jesus conquered Satan, won the battle against evil with his death and resurrection, and then he offers us a chance to stand with him in that victory. He’s empowered us to take that victory and shine its light into all the darkness and evil of this world. That’s not always easy, the battles will often be fierce and difficult, but Jesus has already won the war. That’s something that’s worth fighting for, and it gives us every reason to never, ever give in or give up. After all, if victory is assured, why would we give up in defeat? No, it’s not always going to be easy, but instead of giving up at the first sign of adversity, we need more Christians with a Batman mindset; one that says “I won’t stop; ever. I don’t give up; ever. One day I will die, but until then, I fight, I stand, I endure, I thrive in the name of Jesus Christ.” I want my story to end the way Batman’s does; with me never stopping to be who I am in Christ until the day I die.
Will The Dark Knight Rises bring Nolan’s saga to satisfying ending? Will it bring it to a proper ending? It will if Batman dies. Yet even if he doesn’t, if Nolan somehow is able to just make a really good third movie and therefore a trilogy with no weak links, he’ll still have done something remarkable. However, without Batman’s death, the trilogy will lack genuine finality because Batman’s story truly shouldn’t end any other way; nor should the saga of any Christian. As Paul put it so well, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21)