I wasn’t going to write at all today. However the more words I put down, the more sane I am feeling. There is something absolutely surreal and unbelievable about the world right now. I know I’m not alone in feeling like I am living in the first few pages of a superhero’s origin story. If the news were presented in graphic novel form, it would be in the range of Issue #1 pages 1-8, the darkest moments before the dawn where all is death, terror, and mayhem. To quote the ever witty and geekily aware Kevin Ott: The world has basically turned into a shitty Frank Miller comic.
Speaking of exceedingly twisted works, one of the darkest one-shot comics will be coming to the big screen in a little over 2 weeks. Batman: The Killing Joke will be the first R-rated original movie in the DC Universe to be released in theaters. And as I was rereading it this week to make the events fresh in my mind for the screening I found hope in a work that even its own author has described as “too nasty…too physically violent.”
The Killing Joke is an origin story written by Alan Moore (V for Vendetta, Watchmen, From Hell) that shows how the events of one truly horrible day turned a reasonable man into the menace of Gotham City. Using this premise, the Joker seeks to recreate the formula and torment Commissioner Gordon until he loses his sanity as well.
In the midst of the torture he repeatedly presents Gordon the option of joining his acceptance of madness as an escape hatch to dealing with horror. The story also touches on the connection the Joker is constantly trying to make with Batman with regard to the psychotic break that an intensely traumatic event can cause. While it made one of them a notorious villain that haunts Gothamites dreams, the other turned into a vigilante lauded by the city he protects. But both are certainly somewhere in the damaged goods pile.
Even though this is designed as a Joker/Batman moment in time, my heart was captured this week by Commissioner Gordon. He has always stood out as the single most incorruptible crime-fighting character to grace Batman’s universe, even with the events of the Dark Knight trilogy. And I’m including Batman himself in that roundup as his constant struggles with a lust for vengeance bring Mr. Wayne to the brink for many a story arc. Over the course of the 64-page issue Jim Gordon is beaten, stripped, made to be a spectacle, and subjected to watching graphic images of the maiming of his daughter over and over again. When he is finally rescued by Batman, he urges the Caped Crusader to leave him alone to wait for the police and continue pursuing the Joker so that he can be brought in “by the book.” Ever the hedger, Batman says that he’ll do his best. Gordon’s last words of the issue are a parting plea to Batman: “We have to show him that our way works!”
Our way. The legal way. The sane way that does not accept terror as an answer to terror.
The real life events of this past week are a microcosm of the unrest that has been stirring for decades. It has been building in intensity for the last few years as greater access to means to share video and testimony have shed light on the dark underbelly of ideologies that systematically demonize and murder their fellow citizens. I am not just referring to the desperate need for reform in use of force in criminal justice, but to the across the board rise in xenophobia, white supremacy, and pervasive racism (which by no means is limited to white people). Devaluing the lives of others has moved from midnight rallies in fields and hushed conversations in hidden meetings to the front page of every news outlet and social media platform. And what will be the result?
If we apply the main story of The Killing Joke, it first seems like there are 2 choices: a generation of vile terror-spewing Jokers, Kingpins, and Magnetos, or of vigilante crusading Batmans, Daredevils, and very possibly Punishers. But I urge you to never forget the possibility of the Jim Gordons. Of those who internalize morality and hope to the point that though surrounded by seemingly insurmountable grief and violence, they remain unflappable in their quest for a better world. I do not view Commissioner Gordon as a lofty idealist. Rather, I see in him the stuff of Gandhi, MLK Jr., or Harvey Milk. Someone with unwavering faith in humanity and a belief that good people should never stop working towards justice no matter how the odds seem stacked against them.
Before I head out to tonight’s gathering of likeminded souls to mourn the lives lost this week, I’ll be indulging in much needed self-care. I’ve loaded up the ever-chill Tephlon Funk soundtrack, crossed my fingers that Pokémon Go has fixed its server issues, and look forward to taking a long walk in the Arboretum to search for some grass types to capture. I will not let my anger dictate my morals, nor will I optimistically pretend that this will definitely be solved in a night, a year, or even a decade. If you speak to anyone engaged in civil rights work they will tell you that pursuing justice is the work of a lifetime. But when I feel like it is dark and impossible I’ll think of Jim Gordon and his unwavering resolve to “bring him in by the book.” I’ll think of Utena Tenjou, my favorite pink haired orphan who was told “little one who bears up alone in such deep sorrow. Never lose that strength or nobility, even when you grow up.” I’ll think of police officer Brett Mahoney, fighting the tide of evil in Hell’s Kitchen within the system as Daredevil is relegated the shadows. And I’ll think on the future and the diverse crew of the Enterprise, who gave hope to my mother as a young Black girl in the 60s that eventually we all get there together. Because if I’m honest, the comic of my life doesn’t look like Misty Knight or Ms. Marvel. It looks like John Lewis’ March, and I’m still in Volume 1.
If you would like to get involved with those who are changing the system specific to police interactions, I urge you to visit Campaign Zero to learn about changes demanded at all levels of government that will allow for prosecution and oversight. What all of us are are asking for is accountability, and without a legal framework there is nothing to hold our persecutors up against.