17 May 2016

Batman and The Gun

The following was previously published in Leo Johnson's pay-what-you-want Stuck In The Gutters:

I was eight years old when my grandfather was murdered. It was a week before Christmas 1994. My morning began with my aunt, uncle, cousin and grandmother gathered at my house because of a supposed power outage. Thinking it was weird but also being eight years old, I shrugged my shoulders and went off to school for the last time that year before Christmas break. Things continued to be odd when my grandmother took my younger brother and me to her house after school. Then our parents picked us up late that night and broke the news to us. In short, my grandfather was killed by a shotgun blast to the head. My dad’s half-brother pulled the trigger.

 A decade later, my mother told me about having to scrub my grandfather’s brains from the wall of his living room. “It looked like bad hamburger.”

I’ve always tended to internalize my emotions. Before that event, I never handled “real life” well. This was no different. I did what I tend to do still to this day: I hurled myself into comics. I was already a Batman nut. Bruce Timm and Paul Dini’s animated series was appointment viewing. I watched the Michael Keaton/Jack Nicholson movie so many times that I had broken the tape. I read a 350 page novelization of the massive Knightfall run my dad bought me because the book was cheaper than the fifty or so comics tied to the crossover. But a death in the family due to gun violence would go on to imprint the character on me for the rest of my life.

Nearly twenty years later, I woke up only to be blindsided by news from Colorado. Twelve people were slaughtered while sitting in a theater watching a Batman film thanks to a man with a gun. In the ensuing days, the media ran ad nauseam covering the killer they labeled ‘Joker’. Costumes were banned from midnight showings. Think pieces about violent entertainment and its impact flooded the blogosphere. An issue of Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham’s “Batman Incorporated” was delayed in order to avoid appearing insensitive. And when it came to the ability to gain seemingly unlimited access to weapons and ammunition, the politicians shrugged their shoulders and did nothing.

Eighteen months later, over two dozen people including twenty first graders were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School.. "We're going to have to come together and take meaningful action to prevent more tragedies like this, regardless of the politics,” President Obama responded. The NRA, led by a literally foaming at the mouth Wayne LaPierre, launched a “School Shield” task force whose ultimate conclusion was to arm teachers in schools. The man who led the task force, Asa Hutchinson, would go on to become my home state’s governor less than two years later. The House of Representatives didn’t attempt to broach the subject. The Senate’s watered down attempt to pass an expansion of background checks for guns failed to pass a 60 vote threshold with the result of 54-46. Both of my senators, one a Democrat facing a tough reelection bid, were among those who voted against the measure. (The senator went on to lose his seat).

The dichotomy of America is astounding. One man can fail in an attempt to blow up an airplane with a shoe bomb and every person flying has to take off their shoes for a TSA screening. Over seven hundred people can die in mass shootings during the last two years and people shrug their shoulders. There have been over 250 mass shootings in 2015 alone. 

One inspired a successful movement to finally put away the Confederate flag where it belonged: a museum. Several have inspired some powerful speeches that, when all is settled, seem to only amount to a brief moment of good feelings and hot air. But for the most part, liberals stare incredulously and rumble about doing something while the right wing yell that anyone calling for the lightest of gun control measures could not wait to politicize a tragedy. Then we all just wait for the latest inevitable mass shooting and repeat.

And when that happens, I’ll pull some TPBs out of my bookcase and dive into a different world. A world in which a man goes against a world of insane violence where men can shoot up a theater, blow up a woman on the subway and rain down violence on a city that’s given up. A world in which a man cannot take it anymore. A world in which a man preps his army by snapping a rifle in half and telling them that guns are a coward’s weapon. A world in which a man has had enough and forces the world to make sense.

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