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Did Batman Comic Book Inspire Aurora Theater Shooting?

'Dark Knight Returns' From 1986 Shows Lone Gunman Attack Crowded Movie Theater
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A scene from Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns" comic book in 1986 shows a gunman attacking a crowded theater, after which the media blame Batman's influence. (credit: DC Comics)

A scene from Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” comic book in 1986 shows a gunman attacking a crowded theater, after which the media blame Batman’s influence. (credit: DC Comics)

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HARTFORD (CBS) – In light of the tragic shooting at a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises” at the Century 16 theater in Aurora, leaving more than a dozen people dead and three dozen more injured or hospitalized, many thoughts turn to motives behind the shooting.

There are haunting similarities between Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” one of the most iconic modern Batman comics, and the real life tragedy.

One sequence in the graphic novel involves a mentally unstable man named Arnold Crimp who, inspired by the Batman, enters a crowded movie theater with a gun and proceeds to kill three victims in the ensuing shoot-out.

This scene is one of many in the graphic novel which revolve around the public’s reaction to Batman in his native home of Gotham City as the hero comes out of self-imposed exile to once again deliver his unique brand of vigilante justice.

Since the graphic novel was first published, debate over scenes showing mentally unstable and socially troubled citizens inspired to become vigilantes are a commentary on the influence of media on violence in society or a satire of this notion.

The question of the impact of media on violence has been an ongoing debate for decades, dating back to Albert Bandura’s “Social Learning Theory” and often resurfaced in the public eye in the wake of shooting tragedies. After the Columbine massacre, pundits questioned what role shock rocker Marilyn Manson and other “angry” music played in the high school shooting. Similar questions arose regarding the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, when it came to light that the suspect was an avid video game fan whose tastes skewed to many violent shooter-based games.

Comic books themselves have been labeled a source of societal troubles as well. Psychiatrist Frederick Wertham’s 1954 book “Seduction of the Innocent” was based on his thesis that comic books are a danger to children. His criticism of comics inspired a U.S. Congressional inquiry into the industry and lead to the genesis of the Comics Code Authority, which banned overly violent and horrific comics, leaving only code-approved “safe” super hero books available to the general public for almost 50 years. Wertham’s book also inspired parents to confiscate their children’s comics collections, and even lead to mass comic book burnings in some communities in the late 1950s.

Regardless of the actual influence pop culture media may have or not have had on the gunman, the similarities between Miller’s 1986 novel and last night’s shooting are compelling and sure to spark the latest round of finger-pointing for this violent tragedy.

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