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Nick Rallo

2 min


A Dark Night In Dallas

Batman Begins and the sting of death

by Nick Rallo

The score thumps: a primal leg stomp, like a slowing heartbeat. A friend reaches over and places two comforting hands on my shoulders, as if the movie is a projection of what’s going on in my head.

A Dark Night In Dallas | Batman Begins and the sting of death

The bees came from the ground.

They fired out of the hole like fuzzy tennis ball bullets. I’d been jabbing their home, somewhere down there in the Baltimore earth, with a long stick. I was trying to find what lurked in the beyond, and bees shot up from the ground and encircled me. Somehow, I wasn’t stung.

I sat down to dinner with the family. Everyone was there, including my Grandma and Great-grandma, who was hooked up to an oxygen tank. That’s when I felt it: The bees were inside my skin. There was a dull buzz, like a sun-drunk fly against a window, and then a raging sizzle. I smacked at my body because I didn’t know what was happening. A bee arched out of the top of my shirt, writhed in midair, and landed on the dinner table.

My Grandma, weak her whole life from Lupus, removed her shoe and obliterated the bee on the table with a focus and strength that I’d never seen. My Great-grandma smirked behind the tubes running from her nose.

The night before seeing Batman Begins for the first time I get stupid-drunk. You know, the kind of wasted where your friends kick you down a rung on the respect ladder. They look at you different. I’m hammering back margaritas, and end up putting a glass down so hard that it shatters. I keep drinking, trying to push down a vague, growing sense of darkness. A sense that something shitty happened.

Early the next morning, my hangover slugging my brain from last night’s tequila, I wake up to several messages and phone calls: my Grandma has died.

Flashes of her destroying the bee. Bees licking up from the ground like fire. A glass breaking in my hand.

Flashes of me hammering back margaritas the night before, subconsciously repressing something tragic I didn’t yet know had happened.

As an enormous fan of Insomnia and Memento I’ve been anticipating the raw, primal beauty of Christopher Nolan’s Batman film for months. I’ve watched every trailer and devoured every piece of blog coverage. I’ve talked it up enough to convince friends to see it at the legendary Grauman’s Chinese Theater, a movie palace with teeth-chattering sound and a massive, vision-spanning screen. I want to immerse myself.

The lights go down at Grauman’s, and a blur of bats — a cacophony of screeches — forms the logo and dissipates. Young Bruce Wayne falls into a cavern. The bats explode around him. Young Bruce sees an opera, and the actors in creepy black costumes remind him of soaring bats. His parents are killed at gun point, and I well up. Bruce Wayne’s grief is my own, and his darkness explodes from the screen and I absorb it.

The score thumps: a primal leg stomp, like a slowing heartbeat. A friend, who’s sitting behind me, reaches over and places two comforting hands on my shoulders as it ends, as if the movie is a projection of what’s going on in my head and the credits are rolling.

One night in November, 2016, I’m headed out the door of my apartment in Dallas when I hear the thumping again. The screech of the bats. It’s coming from our living room — my girlfriend has flipped the TV on and caught the opening of Batman Begins. Washed in blue and black, Bruce Wayne tumbles into the cavern. The bats explode again, a cloud around him, and the soundtrack pounds. I haven’t seen it since Grandma passed — this mesmerizing film that refreshed a genre — and it immediately stirs something. That deep darkness, spiked with doom, rises again. The vague sensation that you’ve broken a glass in the night. I’m stepping into the movie again, but then I tear myself away to go get us food.

The moon in Dallas is round and cartoonishly bright. Commissioner Gordon’s rooftop signal. I drive through downtown, which is mostly empty except for rolling leaves. I boot up Spotify, and am cranking up the primal sounds of the Batman Begins soundtrack when I get the call: my grandfather, husband for decades to a woman who’d been wrought with sickness, has passed away. He was 92. He drifted off in his sleep after a rough week. The hair prickles on the back of my neck and I look up at the moon while consoling my dad on the phone.

I think I am expecting to see the silhouette of Batman up there, kneeling from the weight of grief, listening, the hum of secret animals in the ground beneath him — wondering what will shoot out next.

Like Batman? So does Chris Ryall.

As we age, comics — like music, like movies, like every pleasant diversion — become one more thing we slot into the open cracks of free time where we can find them. Gone are the days when it was possible to just sit and read for hours without anything on our minds besides What Happens Next? But memories of those times linger. We look for ways to recapture them when and where we can. For an increasing number of us, that means devouring comic book-based movies, video games, and the shared experience of attending one of the many comic book conventions.

The stories in the digital pages of Popularium is all about that same recapturing. About the moments we reserve to experience our favorite art, media, and products — and the momentous life events that are indelibly marked by those things we love.

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