It remains unclear if the suspect saw himself as the Joker or took some other cues from Batman myth.
Mourners left crosses, messages and flowers Thursday at a roadside memorial across the street from the Century 16 Theater in Aurora, Colo., where 12 people were killed by a gunman last week. A vigil also was held Thursday for college students shot by the gunman.
LOS ANGELES - Self-professed Bat-fan and comic book historian Arlen Schumer is worried. He fears the mass shooting at a midnight screening of "The Dark Knight Rises" in Aurora, Colo., will forever be associated with the legend of Batman.
"After mourning and feeling sympathy for the families, taking a step back as a Batman fan and historian, I'm concerned that this will taint what I consider to be an American treasure of not only popular culture but of mythology," he said. "I don't want it to be the second line of the Wikipedia entry, like Watergate is to Nixon."
The role that the Batman story might have played in motivating alleged attacker James Holmes in the theater shooting remains unclear nearly a week after the massacre, which killed 12 and injured 58. Although investigators reportedly found a Batman mask in Holmes' booby-trapped apartment, any connection to the storied comic character could be simple coincidence.
'Some kind of need'
Or it could be a chilling aspect of the murderous plot.
Schumer and other Batman devotees cautioned against drawing premature parallels between the massacre and the ever-evolving history of Batman, a flawed human superhero who had his pulpy inception in 1939.
"There are so many things that we don't know about [Holmes]," said Travis Langley, author of "Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight" and a professor of psychology at Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, Ark. "The degree that he might be lost in fantasy, we don't know. I think it's safe to assume he had some kind of need for others to notice him."
Reports surfaced after the shooting that Holmes, his hair dyed a reddish-orange, had told arresting officers he was Batman's rival, the Joker. Authorities declined to confirm that, but fans were quick to note that the Joker's hair is actually green and that the dazed 24-year-old sitting in court Monday hardly recalled Batman's arch-nemesis.
"Clearly, we are influenced by popular culture," said Langley. "The tricky part is quantifying it. There are millions upon millions of influences on us all the time. Our culture is one of those influences, but we don't know to what degree. Even if it turns out that Holmes is preoccupied with Batman and the Joker, there are so many other variables involved."
Questions about parallels
Still, questions persist about possible parallels. Why did the mass murderer target a midnight screening of the final installment in the Batman movie trilogy? What's appealing about claiming to be such an appalling villain?
"The Joker imposes his face on the world, so he can feel like it makes more sense to him," said Langely. "He tries to show the world it's as ugly as he is -- and he's always been doing that to make himself feel bigger in the world. That could appeal to individuals who want the world to fit around them."
As to the Batman franchise, the shooting might affect the tone moving forward.
"I suspect the stories were heading in an even darker direction," said Langley. "They are going to recognize that the public are looking at it differently now and might be ready for something brighter and more heroic."
After the words of comfort ended and the doves fluttered away, the mourners gathered at a college campus in Denver were asked to write messages for the victims of Friday's movie theater shooting. "To those whose candles were extinguished too soon," someone scribbled on the concrete in blue chalk, "may you find happiness and comfort." "Some flames can never be put out," another mourner wrote in green. The tributes were part of an afternoon vigil for three victims affiliated with the campus, which is home to three colleges. Jessica Ghawi, 24, was a student at Metropolitan State College of Denver. Alex Sullivan, 27, attended the Community College of Denver. And the youngest shooting victim, Veronica Moser-Sullivan, 6, went to a daycare on campus. Meanwhile, residents continued the grim task of attending funerals as Sullivan and Micayla Medek, 23, were remembered.