Denver Dark Knight shooting recalls scene in Batman graphic novel

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By now, you've heard about the tragic shooting at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in suburban Denver. My heart goes out to the families who are grieving and the lives that have been forever changed, in particular the young children who were reportedly in the audience at the Century 16 Movie Theater in Aurora, Colo.

According to the Denver Post, 12 are dead and 50 were injured in a shooting rampage that recalls the Columbine Massacre. The Post reports:

James Wilburn was sitting in the second row of Theater 9 after midnight, when the emergency door to his right opened and a man entered.

"He was dressed in black," Wilburn said, "Wearing a flak jacket and a gas mask."

The man was carrying a shotgun and had a rifle strapped to his back, Wilburn said. Then the man dropped a canister to the floor and a noxious gas spewed out. He raised the shotgun and repeatedly fired toward the back of the theater.

Wilburn and three friends dove to the floor, hiding behind the seatbacks in front of them. The gunman was only five or six feet away, the Aurora resident said. Everyone was running while the movie, which had only started a few minutes before, played on.

While no motivation has been given for why the suspect opened fire on the crowd, when I heard the news, I immediately thought of a similar scene in Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, a ground-breaking 1986 graphic novel which transformed Batman from a campy, costumed crime fighter into a brooding, face-bashing fascist vigilante, at least when it came to the public at large.

In one particular montage in The Dark Knight Returns, Miller (300, Sin City) details how Batman's re-emergence inspires the masses to begin doling out justice on their own and outside the law. Of course, whom they perceive to be criminals differs drastically.

A shop owner defends a mugging victim. A career criminal dresses as Batman and tries to get money from the mobster who owes him money. And, lastly, a mentally ill man who believes Led Zeppelin is trying to kill him opens fire in a movie theater, killing three.

I've never forgotten that scene in the movie theater. It has stuck with me since I first read it years and years ago. More often than not, when I'm watching a film in a darkened theater, I think of that scene and how helpless and trapped everyone in the audience is. Sometimes it's just a passing thought. I dismiss it. But other times, it doesn't go away. It lingers. It seeps. It takes hold. And I do my best to acknowledge the fear and let it pass. Regardless of whether it's just a fleeting thought or it triggers a momentary panic attack, I try to stay aware of my surroundings.

And it's in those moments that I remind myself that just because something could happen, that doesn't mean that it will. A fear is just a figment of your imagination. That is until it becomes a reality. And for the movie-goers at the Century 16 multiplex, that reality is a part of their lives for now and evermore.

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