Francis, Addis and Chi said they were all struck by the parallels between the extreme act of violence in the latest Colorado shooting and the comic book-inspired villains becoming increasingly vicious on the silver screen.

"That's just sad," Addis said.

Still, Addis said, he doesn't think the shooting will tarnish the Batman brand: "It could have been any big box office movie."

Katherine Newman, a Johns Hopkins University sociologist and dean of the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences, said that while details about the shooting and the suspect are still emerging, themes from past rampages could apply.

"Fundamentally, shooters like this are trying to recast themselves as notorious and antiheroes," Newman said. "They have, unfortunately, many popular culture models to draw on."

Newman, a co-author of "Rampage: The Social Roots of School Shootings," said rampage shooters typically have experienced friction in their lives and may define themselves as "losers" or "social outcasts."

Often, she said, the shooters are less driven by anger and more by the idea they can change their public image into that of someone who is feared or recognized as powerful, rather than inconsequential. The shooters are often prepared to die for their action, as in the "suicide by cop" scenario, she said.

"It's not unusual that they are trying to go out in a blaze of infamous glory," Newman said. "They long to be a superhero."

Jeffrey Lating, a psychology professor and director of clinical training at Loyola University Maryland, said shootings in public settings shake people's fundamental need to feel safe. Theater management and law enforcement should be vocal in the aftermath of an such incident to help relieve the public's anxiety, he said.

"I think we have an inherent desire and need to feel the world is a safe and just place," Lating said. "When that gets shattered, it can be pretty devastating. You don't expect to go to a movie, or work or school and have terrible things happen, and when it does, it strikes at core values for us."

Lating said the Colorado tragedy would be compounded if societal lessons do not emerge.

Bruce Wimmer, director of global consulting for Pinkerton, a division of Securitas Security Services, said the lesson to be learned is that training and emergency response plans are needed. Such plans help to minimize panic and keep people safer, he said.

"You can't expect a theater or a restaurant or a hotel to be Fort Knox, and probably people don't want to go to a hotel or cinema that is like that, but there is a balance," he said. "The key is, how do you react under pressure? You don't react well if you're not trained."

Baltimore Sun reporter Justin Fenton contributed to this article.