A band of thieving criminals flee to a cornered alleyway, running from the stalking specter descending upon them. As they run they turn around a sharp corner and stumble into a dead end where they hear the faint whooshing of an unknown creature flying above their heads. Neither of these men can see what it is that’s haunting them, and neither do they want to, and then, in a series of split but crucial seconds, a darkened force snags them where they stand leaving only silence in their wake and a message to those reading: this is indeed a scary comic book.
Sounds frightening, doesn’t it?
Sounds like something you might perhaps see in a horror film or television series?
No, this is but one of many common scenarios captured by some of the best Batman narratives of today and years ago. The reason for this use of fear is because of what Batman is built upon, this idea of imparting fear onto those who prey on the fearful. It also solidifies the belief that the world of Batman is one plagued with darkness and one that lacks the contemporary light found in the dozens of other superhero books. Gotham is a city constructed and dependent on the presence of the Batman, a vigilante who lurks, studies, observes, and waits for someone to seek out his assistance so he may preserve the safety of the city and ensure that all criminals are brought swiftly to justice.
The incorporation of terror does not make Batman a pessimistic or brutal character, which is an element that some people tend to misunderstand. They feel that because Batman encounters enemies who are fairly darker than those featured in other stories, then that somehow makes Batman equally dark and equally psychotic.
However, nothing could be further from the truth.
Batman might be a superhero who uses tactical fear to frighten his enemies, but he himself is not the source or the reason for it. For Batman, he is merely the carrier, but more so than this, he is the hero who knows how to handle the darkness, how to rise above it, and, if necessary, how turn it against those who depend on it. As a result, the Batman comics take a different shape than other superhero comic books do. There is a noticeable element of horror in these stories and it serves as an effective piece to Batman’s mythology. Thus, when trying to better understand the role that the horror genre plays within Batman’s world, it is vital to explore the potential and reasons for why this genre is included.
Most horror comics are difficult to come by. There are only a select number of creators who are talented enough to create genuine fear within the comic medium. Lock and Key is but one example of a book that has found new and compelling ways of integrating horror into its form and has succeeded in making it a respectable, chilling tale. Nevertheless, the goal of creating a successful Batman story is not to simply categorize it with the other horror works. It is to acknowledge the new depths that the genre can bring and the benefits it can give to its readers.
This was a prominent feature in the Batman comics written by Frank Miller and Lynn Varley; two artists who prided themselves on establishing that the world that Batman exists in is both a scary and uncertain one. When there is murder in the city of Gotham it is one that is shocking enough to rattle its citizens and send a strong message to the police as well as the heroes who protect it. Certainly this is not something that should be considered gruesome or excessive, but it should be noted that these are the kinds of crimes Batman is exposed to on a daily basis. Writers and artists and editors and readers cannot run from this fright and surely should not deny that The Batman himself can sometimes be quite the scary character. This is a powerful element in Batman’s world and can offer game-changing opportunities that completely alter and reinvent aspects of the hero that some may have not considered before. And, if such qualities are applicable to Batman then they are, by relation, applicable to the villains that oppose him.
Recently comic book fans and frequent readers of the DC books were previewed to the launch of the highly anticipated “Rebirth”; a new initiative conjured by Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns. Its purpose: to implement vital storylines from the past and ensure that the heroes continue their strides towards optimistic futures and joyous resolutions. And, in the case of Batman, this idea of hope as well as optimism is shaped by the hero’s ability to see light in a world that seems so often to be riddled in darkness. And while The Dark Knight may use the shadows as his signature tool for preying on the bad guys, he himself is not the source of this darkness, rather the force that lifts it. Therefore, when arguing for the need for horror in a Batman comic, the reason is not combat the optimism and hope that runs through the mythology, but to make it more specific and to make readers of all ages see that even if the darkest corner of the worlds, there is a source of light, and even if that light is dimmer than others, there is still glow bright enough for people to see.