Byron Brassballs is a minor character who first appeared on only two pages of issue #3 of Frank Miller's epochal Batman: The Dark Knight Returns limited series (DC Comics: New York City, 1986; pages 110 and 111 in the hardcover compilation). The character appeared again in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns #4 (pages 179-183).
Byron Brassballs was a Gotham advertising agent who, although a self-described religious person, pushed a crippled man onto a subway track, almost killing him. Byron apparently thought that the cripple was a beggar who was going to mug him or something. Byron was too callous and unfeeling to determine what the man really wanted or to calmly refuse the man's petitions without using force.
This vignette was told as part of a TV news story that reported the strange event that followed: an approaching subway train was suddenly stopped on the track before the crippled man on the track could be harmed. Although Byron, the crippled man, and others on the scene were apparently unaware of exactly what happened, it is clear that the TV anchorwoman reporting the story realizes that it was Superman himself who intervened.
The reporter interviewing Byron Brassballs and asking him about his own actions wondered how he could be so callous as to not help the crippled man after shoving him onto the subway track. The reporter asked if Byron was religious, perhaps feeling that only a truly non-religious man would demonstrate such a lack of compassion for his fellow human being, or perhaps simply asking this in response to Byron saying the beggar "prayed like an idiot." Byron responded by claiming that he was indeed "religious," although he followed this up by saying: "But I've got the decency to keep it in the church."
In a later interview (Batman: The Dark Knight Returns #4), Byron claimed that he had attended church every Sunday since he was a kid.
Because Byron referred to "the church" (rather than a synagogue, mosque, gurdwara, temple, etc.) as the place of his religious worship, one can be certain that author Frank Miller considered Byron's religious affiliation to be Christian (rather than Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, etc.). Byron says nothing to identify exactly what his denominational affiliation is, however, and it is not even clear if he is Catholic, Protestant, or something else. It is unlikely that any denomination will come forward to claim him, as he is such an uncaring jerk who is so un-Christian in his behavior. If anything, he seems like a man who gives lip service to his religious faith rather than true discipleship. Possibly he subscribes to the belief (held by a minority of Christians) that he has already been "saved" and is thus unaccountable for any further behavior on his part, regardless of how his acts line up with the teachings of his church.
Regardless of what Christian denomination he belongs to, Byron Brassballs here calls himself "religious," but demonstrates a rather poor understanding of "religion" (which was defined by Jesus in James 1:27 as "visiting the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world").
Byron Brassballs is a character whose very name seems to allude to his self-centered, hard-driving attitude. In this scene author Frank Miller illustrates the danger of "leaving religion in the church," or being a "Sunday-only Christian." One of the points of this scene (other than leading up to a meeting between Superman and Batman) is that the very essence of religion is the values that one takes out of the church and practices in one's public life. Miller here contrasts the selfishness of Byron Brassballs with the selfless charitable acts of Superman and the obsessive vigilantism of the Batman.
In the second appearance of Byron Brassballs (Batman: The Dark Knight Returns #4), Byron punches a woman bystander who approaches him in fear after an airplane collides with a skyscraper. Byron then takes the gun from a police officer who is killed or gravely injured by an explostion. Byron pistol-whips a Catholic priest who tries to prevent him from taking the gun.
It is impossible to determine whether Byron's violence toward the priest is partially a result of anti-Catholic prejudice on this part, or if he struck the priest purely because he did not want the priest to prevent him from having the gun. As dubious as Byron's religiosity is, he may well have been attending Catholic services "every Sunday since he was a kid," yet struck the priest, a representative of his own denomination, anyway. Byron says nothing to indicate that he is a Protestant who hates Catholics.
Byron used the gun to shoot a black man a few minutes after he struck the priest. Byron is careful to point out that he is not a racist, but that he thought the man (being black) might have a knife, so he shot the man to be safe. Byron's reference to a Japanese woman driving a Volkswagen as a "Jap bitch" also indicates that Byron probably harbors an unusually high level of racist sentiment. Readers might conclude that Byron's claim that he is not racist is just as false as his claim that he is religious.
[A TV news anchorwoman cuts to a field reporter's interview with Byron Brassballs, who witnessed a strange occurence in a subway station that saved the life of a crippled man who he himself pushed onto the tracks.]
TV ANCHORWOMAN: Another bizarre incident -- this one in the South Street Subway Station. Advertising agent Byron Brassballs told reporters . . .
BYRON BRASSBALLS: I didn't do anything wrong. I was just trying to protect myself. The subways are dangerous. You don't need me to tell you that. So there I was, alone in the station except for this "beggar" -- I want that in quotes --
[FLASHBACK: Byron Brassballs, a man wearing a suit, can be seen using his briefcase to shove a crippled beggar off the platform and onto the track.]
BYRON BRASSBALLS: --What? . . . How was I to know he didn't have a gun? They never show you thatuntil they're ready to kill you -- What? . . . Oh, sure, the crutches. A lot of them use crutches. You know what I mean.
[FLASHBACK: We see the crippled beggar, his crutches on the ground in front of him, fallen on the subway tracks. The headlights of a subway train approach from the darkness. The crippled man reaches his hand in front of him, trying to reach up to somebody on the platform, pleading for Byron to help him up off the track.]
BYRON BRASSBALLS: Hey -- He started it. And it was his crutches that tripped him up, Babe -- What? . . . You bet he yelled. Wanted me to jump down and die with him. Of course I ran. Who wouldn't? Then something hit me hard -- in the chest--
[FLASHBACK: Byron can be seen in mid air, being shoved forcefully away from the track. Discarded newspapers and other pieces of trash fly around, as if caught in the slipstream of something moving at tremendous speed. Byron couldn't see it, but Superman was there, rescuing the beggar. Something wooshes stops the train suddenly. The crumpled front of the train can be seen.]
BYRON BRASSBALLS: --Haven't seen a doctor yet, but I'm sure I slipped a disc landing on the tracks . . . No, I couldn't see. Not a frigging thing. That wind kicked up too much soot. Spent a second listening to that beggar pray like an idiot. . . [The reporter asks Byron if he himself is religious.] Yes, I am religious. But I've got the decency to keep it in church. Then I heard the scream of twisting metal -- shouts from inside the train, people bitching. Finally the soot settled. . . . And there it was -- the train, I mean -- its front end crushed inward, like it ran into something . . . well, something . . .
ANCHORWOMAN (Lola): Something more powerful than a locomotive, right, Tom?
ANCHORMAN (Tom): Lola -- the last thing we need is trouble with the F.C.C. ... [Apparently any mention of Superman, who long since disappeared from public view, is prohibited or taboo in the network news media of this near-future time.]
Dialogue excerpts from: Batman: The Dark Knight Returns #3 (1986), DC Comics: New York City; reprinted in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns hardcover edition, DC Comics: New York City (2002), pages 179-183; written and pencilled by Frank Miller, inked by Klaus Janson, colored by Lynn Varley:
BYRON BRASSBALLS: Yes, I was shouting. What do you expect? I happened to be up against a bitch of a deadline. What? . . . Yes, of course I'd heard about the bomb. But I've got problems of my own.
I'm not crazy about getting out of my car in that neighborhood -- but I know I better call the agency and make sure my ass is covered.
[FLASHBACK: Byron Brassballs, wearing a business suit, is seen flying backwards away from his car door due to the force of a nearby explosion.]
BYRON BRASSBALLS: So I'm barely standing up when there is this explosion knocks me flat-- My ankle feels like it's broken -- Somebody is going to get sued-- I'm barely on my feet when that girl is all over me, talking about World War Three. I don't like being touched -- and like I said, I've got my own problems -- but she won't shut up.
[FLASHBACK: A woman who was walking on the sidewalk where Byron's car stopped approaches him. She is hysterical or upset about the explosion. She is much smaller than Byron and in no appears as she intends to assault him. Perhaps she just wanted help or assistance or a moment to ask him what was going on. Byron Brassballs punches her in the face, sending her sprawling.]
BYRON BRASSBALLS: Nobody told me about any airplane. The cars were popping off like firecrackers -- everybody screaming -- it was evey man for himself.
Oh, right. The cop. Listen, I've never broken the law -- not in any way that counts. And it wasn't me who told him to try to help that Jap bitch out of her Volkswagen.
[FLASHBACK: Byron Brassballs recalls seeing a police officer killed or gravely injured when caught in a large explosion from the exploding gasoline engine of a car he was trying to help a woman out of.]
BYRON BRASSBALLS: Grow up. Somebody was going to get his gun. He sure didn't have any use for it. That priest, he didn't see it my way . . .
[FLASHBACK: Byron Brassballs recalls grabbing the fallen police officer's gun. A Catholic priest grabs Byron's hand to try to prevent him from using the gun. Byron struggles with the priest, pulling the gun away.]
BYRON BRASSBALLS: He wouldn't let go. Wouldn't listen to reason. I've been to church every Sunday since I was a kid. But when push comes to shove . . .
[FLASHBACK: Byron Brassballs uses the cop's pistol to strike the priest in the face.]
BYRON BRASSBALLS: Hey -- you weren't there. Could barely see through all the smoke -- was sure I heard shelling. It was the end of the world-- and I had a gun. Wouldn't take a genius to realize that the only other thing worth a damn was food. I wasn't alone, either.
[FLASHBACK: A mob of people, led by someone with a gun, apparently Byron himself, walks through the city against a backdrop of flames.]
BALDING BUSINESSMAN WITH BROKEN GLASSES: There's no excuse for what we did. We weren't crazy. We were just an ugly bunch of stupid, selfish bastards. There was the priest, a bloody mess. I didn't care . . . No excuse . . . I was in with the rest of them, shoving, yelling about food and guns . . . There was no plan, nobody fighting the fire.
BYRON BRASSBALLS: Fires are for the Fire Department. That's why I pay my taxes. We had ourselves to look after. We were heading east on Chelsea -- Hit the Grand Union parking lot . . .
[FLASHBACK: The mob of people led by the gun-wielding Byron Brassballs encounters the mob led by the businessman with broken glasses,a group of people carrying bags and pushing carts full of stolen food from a grocery store.]
BYRON BRASSBALLS: . . . when we ran into another crowd that'd gotten the same idea. Looked like they cleaned the whole store out -- and wanted it all for themselves. One of them made a move for the gun. He was black -- I'm no racist, but I thought he might have a knife. I did what anybody would've.
[FLASHBACK: Byron Brassballs shoots the black man from the mob with food. He shoves another man. A fight breaks out between the two groups.]
BALDING BUSINESSMAN WITH BROKEN GLASSES: I still can't believe it got as bad as it did. You'd never have known that just a few minutes earlier we'd been . . . I was strangling somebody when I heard the horses . . .
[FLASHBACK: Batman and Robin arrive on horseback, leading an army of former members of the "Mutant" gang, young people who now call themselves the "Sons of the Bat" and who, at least for now, are following Batman's lead in trying to render aid and control the violence breaking out throughout Gotham.]
BYRON BRASSBALLS: Like the Gestapo, they moved in on us -- Batman and that brat army of his -- you'd have thought we were criminals. I tried to defend myself -- he singled me out--
[FLASHBACK: Batman, on horseback, rides up to a fleeing Byron Brassballs and grabs him by the collar of his suit coat. Batman lifts Byron up and throws him.]
BYRON BRASSBALLS: Broke three ribs -- and this brace isn't for laughs. Whenever they catch that lunatic, he'll hear from my attorney. Who gave him the right?
BALDING BUSINESSMAN WITH BROKEN GLASSES: When he talked -- Batman, I mean -- it was . . . It's hard to describe . . . There was something in his voice . . . Anyway, he told us we could spend the night tied up -- or help fight the fire . . .