When Alex was barely two, he scratched off a lottery ticket my dad bought him, as we loved to scratch away the metallic film with pennies while we waited for Dad to fill up the gas tank. Alex’s ticket was a $500 winner, and with that money my dad bought our family’s camcorder. We were definitely the first family on the block to have one, and while I and the rest of the neighborhood kids were always trying to come up with a new schtick for the camera, Alex only ever had one thing to say when the giant lens focused on him. “BATMAN!” he’d say, in the same sing-songy way the Adam West series theme song went. Sometimes he would preface this declaration with the, “na na na na na na na na” part of the song. Sometimes he would get distracted during the “na na na na na na na na’s” and keep going while pushing a toy car across the living floor, climbing up the tree house, or coloring a stack of computer paper. Focused on the task at hand, “na na na na na na na na-ing,” my dad would wait patiently for him to look up and finally notice he was being filmed. When several minutes would go buy, Alex still singing monosyllables, Dad would give up and call to him. “Alex!” He'd look up and grin. “Say hi, buddy,” Dad would ask. “BATMAN!” Alex would exclaim, before going back to that world inside his head that always seemed very busy and very far away.
His Batman obsession continued into our childhoods, with Batman themed birthday parties, batman pajamas, a massive wooden bed carved into the likeness of the Batmobile by my grandfather and painted shiny black with the signature signal by my mother, Halloween costumes, bed sheets… We even called the nebulizer machine he used to inhale his asthma medication the “Batmask,” so he’d actually sit still and use it. In the beginning, I think he loved Batman for all of his gadgets. Alex loved to build things, so the Bat Cave, full of intricate tools, utility belts, the Batmobile, Batboat, Batcopter, Batcycle, and Batplane, was his idea of heaven. Not to mention all the corresponding toys. I’m sure when we moved out of that house, the new owners found tiny missiles and barbs shot from the Batmobile he got for his third birthday, stuck in the carpet, wedged inside light sockets. When Tim Burton took over the franchise, the villains became Alex’s favorite. Jack Nicholson’s Joker was endlessly fun to impersonate, while Danny DeVito’s Penguin used to keep us up at night. When Alex wouldn’t stop bugging me, I’d threaten to bite his nose off like Penguin did to that image consultant who implied he was ugly. The fear-factor those movies provided was a far cry from the campy Adam West days, but they also introduced a side to the caped crusader we hadn’t seen before. Batman wasn’t just a nocturnal hero with an endless supply of grappling hooks (I always wondered how he sat down in the Batmobile with those attached to his belt), he was Bruce Wayne; a depressed orphan who sought revenge with a side of adrenaline. He was a lonely, friendless (save for an aging butler), misunderstood, mortal man. Alex particularly loved Christian Bale’s interpretation of Bruce. Instead of the brooding, intellectual business man Michael Keaton portrayed him to be, Bale made him an insufferable brat, a drunk, a spoiled party boy who squandered his father’s money and legacy. He made Bruce despicable, so no one would question if it were he who was out saving the world every night. This is the idea I think Alex related to in the end. That everyone had both a Batman and Bruce Wayne inside of them. Everyone was capable of being the hero and the villain, and the choice of which one to be isn’t a clean one. You have to sacrifice a part of yourself to be one or the other.
When we were very little, he started to call me “Robin,” after Batman’s fellow orphaned sidekick. In fact, I don’t remember him using my real name until he was at least seven or so. I should have been irritated that I got the role of the wimpy sidekick with a horrible costume of garish green underpants, since I was the oldest sibling and therefore had all rights to front seat claims, PG movies, and pretend character assignments, but I never said boo. I guess it just made sense to me that Alex would be the Dark Knight. I mean, I couldn’t go anywhere without my baby blankets (still can’t), while Alex regularly demanded to sleep outside in our treehouse. By himself. All night. Without a flashlight. It took me 30 years to build up the courage to sleep outside at night (camping, some call it), but there are other things some may consider daring that come naturally to me. Drinking beer and gin in the same night, for one, but also getting tattoos. I’ve always admired them on other people, and when I started getting them myself, I began to love the process. I love the very sensation of getting tattooed. It makes me feel peaceful and calm. It’s the closest thing I have ever felt to what I’ve read meditating feels like. When Alex died and I racked my brain of things that would make me feel something other than his loss, getting tattooed topped the list. I ran the idea by my mother, knowing full well she would think I was kidding and change the subject. Turns out I know nothing, because when I suggested that during her next visit we get matching Batman tattoos for Alex, she said, “Okay, what time?”
The most recent installment in the Batman movie series, The Dark Night Rises, ends with Batman carrying a lethal reactor away from Gotham with The Bat (another great flying contraption of his) to detonate it over the sea. While he saves the city he loves so much, he makes the ultimate sacrifice to do so. Or so we think. With the presumption of Bruce Wayne’s death, Wayne Manor is turned into an orphanage, Alfred inherits the Wayne fortune, and John Black, a good cop who helped Batman, is given spelunking gear and a set of coordinates, left to him by Bruce. John, whose real name is, you guessed it, Robin, swings through a waterfall and into a massive cave, where a swarm of bats immediately encompass him and a platform rises from the deep, taking him to where it all began. This is the job of the sidekick. When our hero dies, we don’t wallow. We don’t give up. We pick up his emblem and finish what he started.