Bruce Wayne and the Batman may or may not die in BATMAN: ARKHAM KNIGHT.
(Google that and the volume of fanboy speculation will make your head implode).
But he’ll die soon enough. It’s guaranteed.
So will Superman, Spock, Wolverine, Captain America, Sherlock Holmes and 93 other major fictional characters you know and love.
Why will Batman and other great characters die when Jar Jar Binks is apparently invincible?
Because of reasons.
Let’s get into the guts of why this works while still Bothering you, and the answers will involve dead poets, the suspension of disbelief, the quarterly earnings reports of corporations and The Three Movies = Reboot Rule of Superheroes.
6) Killing off heroes generates ink and interest
Batman has died before.
So has Sherlock Holmes, Superman, Wonder Woman, Captain Kirk, Captain America and other Captains I don’t know squat about, like Captain Marvel, who is apparently a she. I HAD NO IDEA. Captain Marvel could run me over in her Marvelmobile and I wouldn’t know her from the dude who delivers whatever I order from Amazon Prime, who I think of as a true superhero.
Unknown Delivery Dude, I heart you.
Dying is as sure-fire way to generate new interest in something as boring as a poet who never sold a thing and had to work as a janitor his entire life, despite his master’s degree in fine literature and his doctorate in the literary train wreck that is Gertrude Stein, but bam, the second he got hit by a bus, his obscure unpublished poems are suddenly published and de rigueur, even for people of society who don’t even know how to spell de rigueur and only pretend to know what it means.
So death sells. We wonder how they’ll die and which arch-villain does the deed.
And after the writers paint themselves into a corner, how will the character cheat death and get resurrected? (Hint: if it’s Batman, a Lazarus Pit may be involved. Captain Kirk? The magic blood of Khan, except that one time with Professor X at that desert planet. Sorry, Kirk.)
The hero can also fake death, a la Sherlock Holmes at the end of Season 1 or whatever on BBC, which was actually well done, or at the end of THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS, which was kind of a Cheaty McCheatypants move by Christopher Nolan, since he had the camera on Batman in the Batwing far too long for him to safely eject and swim away and such before the nuke went off. Nolan, y u not play fair?
Rocksteady already showed they’re happy to kill off major characters, like the Joker at the end of Arkham City, with the clown prince deader than Justin Bieber’s music career.
5) Show me the money
If you haven’t noticed, every single movie about Marvel superheroes, Star Trek, Star Wars, Batman or Wolverine makes more than the gross domestic product of Paraguay. (Note: that’s more than you think.)
These aren’t fictional characters. They’re cash cows owned by corporations, and those cows are gonna get milked. Hard.
Killing off a big hero, even temporarily, or flirting with the notion, means money. So they’re gonna keep doing it.
4) Why this hits you in the feels, even though you KNOW IT’S FAKER THAN MILLI VANILLI
Fanboys are already mad at Rocksteady for possibly killing Batman at the end of ARKHAM KNIGHT. Why get mad about a fictional character dying?
Simple: the complicated, confusing notion of suspension of disbelief, which actually means “you agree to sort of believe this fake stuff.”
You watch a movie, play a book or control Batman on your Xbox and part of you buys that it’s really happening. The more of you that buys into it, the more fun it is.
That’s why anything that pierces your willful suspension of disbelief is a bummer, such as typos in a book, glitches in a video game or obvious screw-ups in a movie that cost $268 million to make.
Being a fictional creation means these characters are really ideas and legends, which can’t really die. But they can’t really live, either, without you giving them life.
So yeah, if Rocksteady does kill off Batman, millions of fans will happily buy the game, then get royally pissed off if it happens, even though they know Batman won’t really die since Ben from Boston will play Batman in the movie where he kicks Superman’s behind, plus more Justice League movies. And all the while more comic books and video games will keep coming out. Yet they’ll still be hacked off, because they invested a piece of themselves to bring Batman to life via suspension of disbelief during all those hours controlling and being Batman, on screen, as he tried to keep Gotham safe. You become intertwined, even if it’s just a little bit.
And if you’re suffering and sacrificing to save Gotham only to have some dipstick writer kill you off after all those hours of work and sweat and digital blood, then yeah, it’s not going to thrill you. This is how 50-inch plasma televisions get thrown around living rooms.
3) You can’t keep doing this forever
There have probably been 8,409 billion comics, cartoons, movies and novels featuring Superman, Batman, Sherlock Holmes, Kirk and Spock, the X-Men and other stories. In all of them, heroes tend to die, then get resurrected or rebooted.
Part of this is great, because rebooting a series and character often ends a Hot Mess and brings us back to the fun, clean beginning where the hero isn’t super cool yet, and we get to see them suffer and sacrifice and enter this crazy new world for the first time.
However: You can’t keep killing off characters and bring them back forever. Not simply because people get tired of that trick, but because it’s gets harder and harder to suspend disbelief every time writers and corporate big shots decide to do this. There’s a limit to this whole dying trick.
2) Yet sometimes, it’s a good thing
Part of the problem with iconic, beloved characters is novel after novel, movie after movie, they win. Every. Time.
When was the last time you saw a 007 movie where James Bond died in her Majesty’s Secret Service? Yeah, hasn’t happened. Probably never will.
But sometimes, when a character has been around long enough—and if you do this trick sparingly—it’s okay to kill off a great hero. Even if you bring them back in some cheesy way.
Because then people will at least worry, in the next movie, that the hero will get hurt or killed. Otherwise, it’s just another romp where the only people who in danger are minions and the villain. And that can get boring after 50 years.
1) Only one person has the power to truly kill a character, and he’s usually dead
We don’t really believe it, these days, when somebody like Wolverine dies, not simply because of (a) time travel and (b) multiple Marvel universes and (c) the fact they’ll resurrect and reboot him sooner than Kim Kardashian will post a selfie.
There’s a good reason we don’t believe it. Only one person has the power to absolutely, positively kill an iconic fictional character: the creator.
When you’ve got a franchise owned by a corporation, you’re not gonna kill a piece of fiction that lets you make movies that gross one billion dollars, plus six billion in action figures, lunch boxes, video games and pajamas. (Have to admit Batman pajamas are pretty sweet.) Your quarterly earnings guy would freak, your stock would tank and Wall Street reporters on the television would wonder what hallucinogenic drugs you ingested on the business trip to San Francisco.
Then you’d get ousted by the board of trustees and forced to sell off one or two of your vacation mansions. You might even get divorced and forced to slum in your second yacht while you write a business memoir with the best and longest title of all the self-help business memoirs which have never helped anyone in history: LEANING INTO SUN TZU’S ART OF GUERILLA WAR WHILE WEARING BROOKS BROTHERS AND DRIVING A PORCHSE, WHICH STOPPED BEING COOL IN 1985, BUT WHEN YOU’RE A MASTER OF THE UNIVERSE, WHATEVER YOU DO IS COOLER THAN THE OTHER SIDE OF THE PILLOW.
The only person who can truly and absolutely kill a fictional character is the creator who still owns the rights and is still above ground.
Those last two points are key.
The man who invented Batman is dead. Since he never decided to killed off Batman in 1949 or 1964, Batman is invincible and immortal. Your grandchildren’s grandchildren will read Batman comic books on their cerebral implants and watch Batman movies on Imax screens the size of Kanye West’s ego.
Gene Rodenberry is dead, so nobody will really believe it if the director of the latest Star Trek movie tries to kill off Spock, Kirk, Bones, Sulu, Scotty or anybody else not wearing a red uniform.
This isn’t a question of talent. J.J. Abrams has more film moxie in the cuticle of his pinkie than George “Jar-Jar Binks” Lucas has in his entire beard, a beard that I still don’t understand. Not shaped write. Yet since J.J. Abrams didn’t create the thing, he’s never allowed to have the same jedi powers as the creator and isn’t supposed to truly kill off iconic characters off. Sorry. Even though I know Han or Luke or somebody will probably die in the next one, people will freak out, because J.J. technically isn’t supposed to do it, only George.
Arthur Conan Doyle created Sherlock Holmes and actually did kill him off. Got sick of him, really. Sent old Sherlock over the falls with Moriarity and was all, “I’m gonna swim in my piles of money and do other stuff now, kthxbai.”
The internet fanboys of his day freaked out so much on their version of reddit (it used telegrams and such) that Doyle relented and brought Sherlock Holmes back to life, just to shut them up.
Note: Kirk actually died in one of the Star Trek movies, the one where Jean Luc Picard met up with Kirk in some wormhole or whatever. Except nobody really noticed. Then Shatner wrote novels that resurrected Kirk and such, and still nobody noticed. By contrast, when Spock died in WRATH OF KHAN: FINE CORINTHIAN LEATHER IS NOT ACTUALLY A THING, Kleenex stock went through the roof from people weeping for months. Spock and the Nimoy will be forever beloved.
Also: Though Batman doesn’t have any powers, especially compared to the invincible Superman (laser eyes, flies, bulletproof, super speed, can go back in time), he’s still the best, and the Correctness blog had a hilarious series where they answered the question of who would kick who’s butt among all the super-heroes and super-villains. Then they did action heroes. They’re really into it, and insanely funny. Read them.