In my terminology, Batman had found the radical middle, but was not yet radically centered. I don’t often differentiate between those terms, but I will now. The radical middle is a tool for interpolation: given two partly-true poles, find the balanced perspective which affirms all valid truths and denies all invalid falsehoods. By contrast, the radical center takes two poles, and extrapolates a third pole containing truths both sides have completely missed. I illustrate it thusly:
In particular, the Batman in this movie is incomplete in the two areas I am particularly wrestling with:
Alas, the comic book (or movie) is unlikely to ever explore this territory, because either one would mean the end of Batman as we know him. If Gotham ever became a ‘redeemed’ city — with honest politicians, unafraid and involved citizenry, and reliable police — the only justification for Batman would be the self-perpeuating stream of equally neurotic “bad guys in tights,” thus losing the psychological grounding Christopher Nolan worked so hard to attain.
Conversely, if Batman himself ever matured enough to love a woman and raise a family, he’d no longer be able to live a double life. Yeah, I know people do it all the time, but not well: you can’t be a half-man and love a wise woman and raise whole kids. Yet, he would/could only give that up if a) Gotham became a safe place, and b) he conquered his own compulsions.
Which (at least to me) begs the question, “How could that happen?” What does it take to redeem a city, as well as a man? What is a sufficiently greater good that would allow a caped crusader to honorably hang up his cowl?
The answer, I believe, is Spiritual Leadership. In other words, the Dark Knight needs a Bishop. [Read More] for my three-volume “fan-fiction” impression of what that might look like; maybe I could get John Grisham to write a screenplay…
Jefferson Wayne was Thomas Wayne’s dissolute older brother, who was lost during an African Safari long before Bruce was born, and presumed dead. He shows up mysteriously one dark night demanding entrance (and a room) at Wayne Manor. He’s now an old man, and quite the curmudgeon — sort of a cross between Winston Churchill and G.K. Chesterton, apparently the opposite of his quiet, sensitive brother in every way.
Batman suspects him of being a fake and a spy, but can’t prove anything. Jefferson doesn’t help by acting mysteriously. He wanders around alone at night, diving into alleys even Batman can’t track him through. Batman catches glimpses of him returning from late-night meetings with other mysterious old men. Finally, he can’t take it anymore, and Bruce Wayne confronts “Uncle Jeff” which his deceptiveness (according to a ‘private detective he hired’). “Who are you really? What are you doing in Gotham anyway?”
Surprisingly, Uncle Jeff humbly admits to sneaking off, due to being embarrassed and not wanting to embarrass Bruce. He affirms that he is Jefferson Wayne, and that he was rescued by a Dr. Livingstone-like character who taught him “many strange things.” He worked with him for many years, completely out of touch with the world (which he felt was better off without him anyway). Eventually “Livingstone” died and he returned to the only other home he’d even known, unsure whether Thomas would welcome the prodigal. He hid his grief at Thomas’ death with gruffness, though he didn’t hide his anger at Thomas’ son becoming a similar wastrel.
He invites Bruce to openly attend one of his “secretive” meetings, which isn’t anything sinister, just cautious. He gives Bruce the time and location, and encourages him to invite as many detectives and policemen as he wants if he’s still suspicious. Bruce checks it out as Batman and… it is a prayer meeting! Astonished, Bruce comes back as himself, and Uncle Jeff tells him the whole story. Jefferson Wayne is really Bishop Wayne. “Livingstone” was a missionary, and Uncle Jeff is on a mission to save the soul of Gotham, while Batman saves the body. He is meeting with pastors and civic leaders in different parts of town, to raise community awareness, pray, and build unity. He didn’t tell Bruce for fear the sophisticated, worldly playboy would laugh at him. But, now he asks him bluntly: will Bruce use his wealth and influence to support the cause of the Gospel?
Book II: The Rise of
The next book is where Uncle Jeff, with Bruce’s sponsorship, penetrates the highest levels of Gotham society. Moreover, Jeff assembles a “core team” of influential believers for mutual support, sharing, and planning.
He invites Bruce, who declines since he has secrets he dare not share. Plus, he’s still not sure he trusts Jeff, or believes all this crap.
The culmination of all this effort is a Gotham Prayer Breakfast, with all the influential men and women of the city — including, ironically, many criminals and corrupt officials, who come for the prestige. Knowing Jeff as he does, Bruce expects him to lash out at the hypocrites like a modern day John the Baptist. But he doesn’t. Instead, Jeff shares the depth of his own brokenness, addiction, loneliness and shame. How he lived life as if wearing a mask, as if he was really two people: the happy guy everyone saw, and the dark shadow that lived alone. He describes his humiliation and desperation, and how “Livingstone” saved his life and soul.
Then, shockingly, he tells about his own fear and shame at returning to his own boyhood home, and confesses his anger at Bruce’s apparently similarly wasted life.. With tears in his eyes, he publicly asks Bruce for forgiveness for condemning him, when he himself had done the same things. He then praises Bruce for taking him into his home, though he had no right to ask anything. Jeff then uses that as an illustration of the gospel, how God welcomes us all back home. He then goes so far as to issue an altar call — but nobody stirs. Until, way in the back, a lean figure rises, walks slowly to the front, and kneels down. It is Bruce Wayne.
Book III: The
Revelation of Jefferson Wayne
With Bruce “on board” (though still keeping secrets), many other public figures repent of their sins and join the crusade to save Gotham. The D.A. is busy taking down voluntary confessions from evildoers; so busy, Harvey becomes more irregular in his attendance at small group. Every day hundreds accept Christ at street-corner revivals, sponsored by neighborhood churches; they are quickly enrolled in Alpha Course programs, partly sponsored by the Wayne Foundation.Third-world churches even send missionaries to help disciple their countrymen, as well as learn about what’s being called The Gotham Revival. Momentum builds for a massive citywide crusade at the end of the summer.
Yet, curiously, during what should be his time of glory, Jefferson Wayne becomes increasingly disturbed and remote. Bruce, still not attending the small group, doesn’t know exactly what’s going on. He asks Alfred, who merely smiles and murmurs ‘What happens in small group, stays in small group’, and tells Bruce not to worry, but to trust God. Bruce returns to his earlier fears that Jeff is a cult leader out to take over the city, though how he can do that through the decentralized leadership structure in place is beyond him.
Disaster strikes a week before the Crusade, when Dent is attacked with acid, scarring his face. A 24-hour prayer vigil is held for him, but he becomes increasingly delirious and psychotic. Then, suddenly, he appears to come to, and get well enough to attend the Crusade. He is seated on the podium next to Jeff, despite his bandaged face.
Just before Jeff goes on stage, he calls Bruce aside. He confesses to having secrets of his own (implying he knows Bruce’s), and one of those is dreams and visions. He fears he will not last the night, and asks Bruce to promise to lead this effort forward if anything should happen to him. Bruce is still not sure what to believe, but when he sees all the good that has been done — the blind see, the lame walk, the dead raised — he agrees to carry on the work.
The crusade is powerful, and Jeff appears illumined with superhuman intensity as he preaches the gospel. But then, just before the altar call, Dent rips of his bandages revealing his ugly face. He accuses Jeff of lying about God’s goodness, and pulls out a gun and shoots him.
Bruce, also seated on the stage, is not in time to act. He flashes back to his parents death, and in an impotent rage rushes Dent and starts to choke the life out of him. Nobody is strong enough to pull him away, but somehow he hears Jeff calling to him. Dropping Dent, he rushes back to his still (barely) living Uncle. Jeff tells him, “Bruce. Forgive him. He knows not what he does. Forgive me, for leaving you this way. Know that I forgive you, for not being fast enough to save me. God knows — everything. Don’t try to be god anymore. Don’t blame yourself — or Him. Forgive yourself. Forgive your father, both my brother and your father above. Trust in him. Don’t grieve for me. I am going to see my brother and my Father. I will tell him… I am proud of you.”
The scene ends with Bruce on stage weeping over his dead uncle’s body, while police cars arrive to carry away the still-livng Dent.
The small group, now short two members, sits in a circle praying. Batman glides in from above and stands before them. They look up. Deliberately, he takes off his mask, and kneels. They all kneel, join hands, and pray.
The final page shows a bat-gloved hand reaching for a phone. It pauses, then removes the glove. A mask is sitting next to the phone. The hand dials. After a pause, Bruce speaks. “Hello, Rachel? An ‘old friend’ has just returned to town after a long absence. I was wondering if you’d like to have dinner with him…”