Among the cruel twists in the Aurora, Colo., Dark Knight Rises shooting is this: It occurred during a screening of movie about one of pop culture's most famously gun-averse heroes.
"Batman's big thing is about the training and hard work…not taking the short cut, not taking the easier approach," says E. Paul Zehr, a neuroscience professor who made a study of the Caped Crusader's crime-fighting techniques for his book, Becoming Batman: The Possibility of a Superhero.
"The easier thing for Batman to do would be to use a gun, but that's not part of his mental landscape," Zehr says. "It's too easy to kill someone with a gun."
And in Batman lore no one knows that better than the man behind the mask.
"Batman is a character who...is born out of an act of gun violence; his parents are gunned down in front of his eyes when he is just a child," says Bruce Scivally, author of the on-screen Batman history, Billion Dollar Batman.
The Christopher Nolan Batman movies, Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, stay true to the mythology.
In Batman Begins, the young, tragedy-scarred Bruce Wayne (Gus Lewis) grows up to become a tormented man (Christian Bale) with designs on avenging his parents' killer in kind—with a gun. But when someone beats Bruce to the bullet, he is saved from becoming a killer himself, and the gun winds up in the waters of Gotham City. (In Batman's earliest comic-book appearances, the hero similarly dabbled as a gun-toter.)
In The Dark Knight, Batman's distaste for guns is so well-known to the people—and villains—of Gotham that copycat crime-fighters are easily distinguished from the real thing by their firearms.
The latest and final Nolan Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises features the most direct espousal yet of the hero's philosophy. "No guns," Batman tells Selina Kyle (Anne Hathaway), the cat burglar in whom he sees the potential for good: It's his first rule.
But as the rocket-launching Bat-Pod shows, the Nolan Batman isn't above weaponry, and the Nolan movies on the whole do not adhere to Batman's no-guns edict, either.
"The films still have plenty of gun-toting villains and a considerable amount of gun violence," Scivally says. "The Dark Knight begins with a series of killings, as the Joker [Heath Ledger] executes a bank heist while at the same time executing his entire crew of bank robbers."
Guns and the Nolan Batman come full circle in The Dark Knight Rises, when—warning: potential spoilers ahead—the hero whose childhood was shattered by bullets is himself saved by a gun, and that gun indirectly saves Gotham, too. "This is kind of a twist on Star Trek II's 'the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few' message," Scivally says. "In Nolan's Batman universe, the murder of one is preferable to the murder of millions."
In the end, the Nolan Batman, having exorcised his demons, is at peace, the cruel twist there being the carnage that befell the audience members at a midnight, opening-day screening in Aurora, Colo. —12 dead and dozens more wounded in the largest mass shooting in U.S. history.
The event was unfathomably unlike Batman, in any film, in any incarnation.
Says Zehr: "He'd rather die than kill somebody."