Here we are on the first stop of our series examining Sybok and his quest to heal the pain of other fictional characters. And as such, it should come as no surprise that we encounter one of the other great fictional characters to capture my imagination, Batman.
It’s a special bit of sweet irony that these characters made their first grand impacts on my life in 1989. While I’d seen the Batman TV series from the 1960s on reruns hiding from summer heat, and I’d enjoyed stealing my brother’s comics to read them and crease the spines, 1989 was the summer that brought him to the big screen with all of Tim Burton’s quirky flair. Star Trek V, of course, was the first Star Trek movie I saw in the movie theater.
1989 was an amazingly impactful summer for my tastes.
When Batman Met Sybok
Anyway, it seems inevitable that Sybok would want to try to “help” Bruce Wayne/Batman if he encountered him. Batman is motivated by the loss of his parents – murdered in front of him as a child! – and carries that pain with him every day. He also has decided to use fear (and theatricality) to fight villainy.
Pain and Fear are those things in which Sybok is most interested in helping people alleviate. Remember, his special mental talent is helping people to uncover and deal with their inner conflicts. The ones that are buried in their core, that they hide in their hearts, are what Sybok wants to help erase.
But that’s the catch, isn’t it? Like Captain James Tiberius Kirk, Bruce Wayne isn’t limited by his fear and pain. He has embraced it and allowed it to be the thing that motivates him to make a difference.
The Horror of a Happy Batman
Imagine a Bruce Wayne at peace. The weight lifted from his heart, there seems to be little choice but to change him from the beloved “Dark Knight” to the less-intense “Caped Crusader.”
If he still wears the cowl, a Batman at peace with his pain and fear moves him much closer in tone to Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin. His existence is no more than a foil to the inevitable cadre of supervillains who are drawn to Gotham City as moths to a flame.
It would, therefore, be very easy to dismiss Sybok from helping Bruce Wayne. We like our Batman the way he is mostly interpreted now: brooding and discontented.
The Nolan Argument
The arc of Bruce Wayne bends toward a desire to live in a world where Batman isn’t necessary. This is most evident in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, where Bruce Wayne wears the cowl because he sees it as the necessary act to save the world (Gotham City).
He comes to see, eventually, that Alfred is correct that the city needs Bruce Wayne even more than it needs Batman. Bruce, of course, knows the truth. Gotham City needs both, and Batman should be greater than a single person.
He is, after all, a legend.
So while Bruce Wayne become a well-adjusted billionaire content to do his good work through philanthropy, Nolan’s arc for the character shows us that Bruce Wayne hanging up the cowl doesn’t mean Batman goes away or become some cartoonish imitation of himself.
The cowl simply passes to someone who is ready and willing to take up the challenge. And through the cowl, they too can discover who they are and how to conquer their pain while doing good in the world.
In other words, the persona of the Batman, the cowl itself, should end up being Bruce Wayne’s own metaphorical Sybok in the first place.
I just blew your mind, and you know it.