People tend to think of cosplay as something that happens at comic book conventions, but you’d be surprised the amount of Supermen and Wonder Women you see at marathons and other races.
Batman, The Flash, Green Lantern, Spider-Man, Captain America, even The Punisher. Superhero iconography is present in abundance at races. And yet, if I asked the runners in Batman shirts what they thought of DKIII so far, or if I asked the runners in Punisher getups about whether they thought Lexi Alexander would be involved with the latest onscreen iteration of the character I’d be willing to be they wouldn’t have much to say. Which isn’t a bad thing, mind you. It doesn’t mean they aren’t true fans, rather, it means the iconography of superheroes has far surpassed its humble, comic book beginnings. The bat and the skull and the S and the W have meaning beyond comic shops. They’ve become meaningful to the culture at large, symbols in a sort of modern, mythological vocabulary.
Author Paul Dini deftly wields that vocabulary in his new autobiographical graphic novel, Dark Night: A True Batman Story, which he co-created with artist Eduardo Russo.
Dark Night is a coming-of-age story unlike any other. It takes place well into Dini’s adulthood, shirking the idea that we’re done developing after some seminal moment in our early twenties. It pivots on an act of hauntingly random violence, following the aftermath of a brutal mugging Dini fell victim to in nineties. And, most notably, it walks the reader through the stages of that aftermath using the aforementioned vocabulary of superheroes, in this case Batman and his gallery of rogues.
I recommend Dark Night to anyone. It is in turns deeply upsetting and inspirationally uplifting. And that’s to say nothing of how fascinating Dini’s use of Batman and company is.
The conversations Dini imagines himself having with the likes of Batman and The Joker and Poison Ivy are imaginative and well written, but even without the specifics of Dini’s intelligent dialogue the reader can surmise a great deal about his emotional state at various points in the story based on the characters he’s interacting with. Even for those unfamiliar with Batman’s B-list villains the Dark Knight and the Joker immediately evoke specific connotations. Despite being corporate intellectual property and a cog in a billion dollar entertainment franchise, at the the end of the day the bat symbol does communicate something to the culture at large, be it fearlessness or prowess or just general badassery.
Dark Night is an excellent read and a prime example of why there are so many Supermen and Wonder Women at marathons. When you push aside toy sales and box office performance and comic book reviews superheroes do mean something. Their histories reach back far enough and their cultural impact has been effective enough that whether they’re “important” or not, they can effectively symbolize and communicate cultural ideals that are.