The Year Of The Mask: From San Diego To Aurora


Dispatch: July 21, 2012

Last week, I was knee-deep in San Diego Comic-Con. I had been in sunny San D since Tuesday, July 10th. Throughout all the festivities, I felt a sense of…what is the word…objectivity about everything I saw. I just couldn’t let myself fall into the “wonder” of the pageantry before me —instead, looking at the whole shebang with the clinical eyes of a sociologist, not a fan.

I was like a heretic at Disneyland.

San Diego Comic-Con attendees wait in line, 2012

Maybe I was just too tired from my journey. Maybe I ate too much seafood. I didn’t even really drink a lot. I felt bad about my lack of zest, totally Charlie Browning the entire event. As I waited for the taxi to pick me up to go home, a traveling companion even whistled the “Christmas Time Is Here” song from the Peanuts special.

Anyway, I took about 200 photographs at SDCC, mostly not of cosplayers, celebrities, and various wonders—but instead, of long lines, advertising signage, people wearing giant billboard-like bags, protesters of various stripes, “Twilight Tent Cities,” and the like. I took these photos casually, not really with any end-goal in mind.

large banner ad for the movie “Looper,” San Diego 2012

People looked at me like I was crazy. Why was I taking in-depth photos of a group of tired, twenty- and thirty-something women with Robert Pattinson T-shirts slumped under a tent like refugees; sleeping bags, blankets, water-jugs and shopping carts filled with what looked like their life’s possessions strewn about? Why was I carefully photo-documenting the ads for new television shows and movies about the post-apocalypse that plastered the restaurants and sides of buildings…and even covered entire buildings, like the hotel I stayed in, and the one that loomed ominously across the convention center?

mural on bar window, San Diego 2012

Why was I taking photos of people cheerfully standing in line to be literally chained as zombies, or painted to look like zombies, or undergo a simulated alien violation of their body, or be packaged under plastic as an action figure? Didn’t I want a photo opp for myself, to share on Facebook?

Throughout it all, I had the following vague idea: our pop-culture both shapes, and reflects back to us, our own selves and the world in which we live in. (It also very occasionally—in some very strange, somewhat uncanny way‚ presages future events.)

mural on bar window, San Diego 2012

Now, in fan circles, the concept that comic books, movies, video games and the like might have any impact at all on a person’s emotions/actions/beliefs is highly taboo. We shan’t go into that concept here.

What I would like to talk about instead is my trip to San Diego, and what happened afterward. Indulge me, won’t you?

Diner menu, San Diego 2012

Anyway, I got home—and before I even really had a chance to recover from my trip, I had to make the painful decision to put our eldest cat down. Suffering from hyperthyroidism and rapidly losing weight, we had boarded Simon with a vet who could monitor his condition and give him steady nourishment and meds. Unfortunately, he not only didn’t gain any additional weight—he had a stroke.

Near-blind, unable to walk steady, and mostly skin-and-bones, it was clear what had to be done. But it was heartbreaking nonetheless. I felt like we had tried to save Simon, and failed. We shoved him in a fucking kennel cage and went to Comic-Con instead.


At the very same time, I received a promotional package for the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises movie. I was an editor for a large “geek” themed website (hence my fully-paid trip to SDCC), and such was the type of swag I received on a regular basis.

Throughout the last month, I had been reading/reviewing a large amount of Batman-related material. I worshipped Batman in my youth, but never really felt close to the character after that—with the possible exception of the “Batmania” of 1989 when the Tim Burton movie came out.

Recently, however, I was feeling that very same “Batmania,” the hype and ballyhoo surrounding TDKR whipping up the same sort of excitement. Looking over the promotional materials for the movie—thoughtfully packed for me in the type of black, nylon duffel bag a special-ops operative or terrorist might use—I made a decision right there to watch a screening this weekend, and catch up with the first two via On-Demand.


Admittedly, the recent stories about obsessive Batman fans ganging up in droves upon reviewers who didn’t like the movie—and going so far as to write death threats—sort of soured the festivities somewhat. But it was the Internet after all…

On the night of July 19th, I went to bed with my subconscious swirling in a stew of those pictures from SDCC, memories of my cat Simon, and Batman. And when I woke up, I found out that there was a shooting in Colorado at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises.


The hair of gunman James Eagan Holmes, 24, hair was dyed a bright red, and that—plus the fact he committed his crimes during a screening of a “Batman” film—has branded him a “Joker.”


Of course, the Joker had bright green hair—and a far more apt comic book movie villain to compare Holmes’ “look” to would be Jim Carrey’s Riddler from Batman Forever:


But that particular angle would probably not “sell” as well as a media narrative to the masses. So the “Joker” it is.

Immediately I flashed back to hearing the news “Joker” actor Heath Ledger had died; it was on a bus ride back home from somewhere, 2008.


Since that time, I had been collecting very bizarre news items regarding a sort of “Joker obsession” on the part of some of the public…including what I called “The Joker Crimes.” Again: it’s that intersection between popular culture—especially “comic book culture”—and “real life.” Or rather, where some people take that comic book culture into real life.

But I never expected something like this, that was so…”on the nose.”

Further: could this have been what I was picking up “in the ether” all through my San Diego trip?

Was this “the dread?”