THE centrepiece of the latest Batman film, The Dark Knight Rises, is a scene showing a villain blowing up a football match in New York - or "Gotham" - while a player scores a touchdown.
There may not be much blood shown, but the imagery is still shocking for its brutality. It feels as if the filmmakers had sat down and decided on the most cherished symbol of the US and the most sadistic way to destroy it.
But even that paled in comparison to the horror of real life when a gunman opened fire on customers in an Aurora, Colorado, cinema as they enjoyed a midnight screening of the blockbuster film on its opening night.
On Friday afternoon Australian time, James Holmes, 24, entered one of the three theatres screening the film at the Century Aurora 16 and began shooting people indiscriminately.
Armed with several weapons including a shotgun and a rifle, Holmes killed 12 people and injured 70. He was arrested by police in a car park behind the cinema.
Those reading and watching reports of the tragedy from Australia will no doubt be horrified by the massacre and feel deeply sorry for the victims, their families and the wider community of Aurora.
However, for many, the news will also prompt an uneasy feeling of familiarity. In the 13 years since the shocking 1999 massacre at Columbine High School - just 20 kilometres from Aurora - it seems that mass shootings in the US have become a disturbingly regular occurrence.
In 2007, a 23-year-old student shot and killed 32 people on the campus of Virginia Tech university. In 2009, an army major murdered 13 people and wounded 29 at the Fort Hood military base in Texas.
These killings are just some of the most infamous. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence lists more than 20 mass shootings in the US since the start of this year.
In the national debate that will no doubt follow the Aurora massacre, many people will be hoping that the US is able to separate fact from fiction when it comes to the topic of gun control.
It may be the case, as some commentators claim, that popular culture and other social factors play a part in inspiring mass killers. However, media is not the vital component in mass shootings - easy and widespread access to guns is.
Villains may always exist, but the amount of damage they are able to inflict can be limited by restricting their access to weapons designed for the sole purpose of killing.