This year's trifecta of "The Avengers," "The Amazing Spider-Man" and "The Dark Knight Rises" is easily the most widespread saturation of superheroes in popular culture we've ever had.
Going into the season, I, like many, wondered if comic book movies would need a break. The over-familiarity of "The Amazing Spider-Man," especially in how it retells the origin story of Peter Parker, amplified a genre fatigue that has been growing from summer to summer.
"The Avengers" and "The Dark Knight Rises" at least provide a continuation of stories, and both do a good job of further developing the characters and conflicts in their respective worlds.
Still, on the eve of "The Dark Knight Rises" premiere, with the knowledge that director Christopher Nolan would NOT return for more Batman installments, I was ready for the superhero genre to take an extended vacation.
Then I saw "The Dark Knight Rises." Now I can't wait to see Batman on the big screen again.
It's not that I particularly love everything about Nolan's trilogy capper. It may be the biggest movie in the series, but it's also the messiest. The final act especially fails to control all the sprawling storylines and characters that are introduced over the course of its exhausting running time.
Nevertheless, the movie celebrates the influence and importance of Batman in our culture. He's a symbol for hope; something more than a single man can ever be. We need something like Batman to remind us that we can stand against evil and madness. Rather than succumb to fear, like Bruce Wayne, we must embrace the fear and use it as a tool against what frightens us.
The shootings in Colorado have understandably raised a lot of questions about violence in popular culture, gun control and the false promise of safety in America. The debate is worthwhile and hopefully progress can rise out of the tragedy.
Some, however, have misappropriated the influence of Batman on the shooter's intentions. There was Batman memorabilia in his apartment, and he dyed his hair red and told police he was The Joker.
This shooter was a madman. He was evil. He intended on killing a bunch of people, and the midnight premiere of the biggest movie of the year was a natural choice for him. He's not some rabid Batman fan. He couldn't even get The Joker's hair color right.
More importantly, Batman, like many superheroes, is of the anti-gun, anti-killing variety. He may work outside the law, but he stands for the preservation of life above all else. I'm not taking a hard-line, anti-gun position or anything, but it's important to connect the values of Batman before people draw hard-line conclusions about the content in "The Dark Knight Rises" and movies like it.
We like superhero movies because it's nice to think that a masked stranger can save us from all the pain and suffering in the world. That someone can swoop down at the last second and stop a mad gunman or a terrorist bomb.
Batman, of course, is a fantasy, and those people in Colorado stood alone in the face of terror.
But there are good people who often stand against these unspeakable acts. When I was present at a random shooting at a casino in Las Vegas a few years ago, an off-duty Marine tackled and subdued a madman while he reloaded. Four people were shot, but nobody was killed. Had he reloaded, he would have killed people, and he could have killed me.
People stand against terror every day; we all know that. Silly as it sounds, Batman is a strong influence on that. For many of us, he was the first hero we ever admired, wearing T-shirts and capes before we ever read a single comic panel.
We need more of that inspiration in our culture. Not less.
Nolan's "Dark Knight Rises" depicts the end of Bruce Wayne's journey as Batman. It spoils nothing to say the movie ends on a hopeful note - that the symbol of Batman is far more important than a single hero in a costume.
Warner Bros. will continue or reboot the franchise without Nolan. New people will depict these characters. There will be more cartoons and comics and many more confrontations with The Joker, Bane and the fantastical villains that sometimes mirror the very real threats in the world.
Batman will endure, and I'll be there for every single installment. Real or not, he's the hero we need now more than ever.