Editor's note: With Batman Begins now showing in theaters, we thought we'd take a closer look at the man Bruce Wayne—and what makes him tick. This chapter is abridged from H. Michael Brewer's book, Who Needs a Superhero?: Finding Virtue, Vice, and What's Holy in the Comics (BakerBooks). The book is available at Christianbook.com

The well-dressed couple and their son emerge from the movie theater and amble into the autumn evening. They stroll away from the marquee lights, treading on their own elongated shadows. The crowds thin and the streets darken as the Wayne family chats about the movie they have just seen, The Mark of Zorro.

Young Bruce is particularly impressed by the adventures of the masked avenger. The boy strikes heroic poses with an imaginary sword and chatters on about the swashbuckling crusader, unaware that his own belief in justice is about to be tested in the crucible of suffering.

A hollow-eyed figure lunges from an unlit alley. The thug brandishes a gun and demands money. The moments that follow sear Bruce's memory forever, snapshots in a family album of horror.

A flash from the gun barrel. His father toppling to the dirty pavement. A second muzzle flare. His mother's collapse. The mugger fleeing. A broken necklace scattering pearls into the gutter.

Bruce is the only survivor of the assault. Physically, the boy is unharmed, but all sense of order and reason bleeds from Bruce's life as he kneels beside his slain parents. At that moment Bruce makes a decision that will shape his future. He refuses to accept this violation. He will never allow this loss to heal. He will spend his life avenging this brutal atrocity.

And so Batman was born.

Eighteen years passed before Bruce Wayne donned the grim cowl and cape ...

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