Batman Mythology vs. The Dark Knight Legend

Batman Mythology vs. The Dark Knight Legend

An analysis of Christopher Nolan's under appreciated ultimate twist, and a look at a potential future direction for the Batman series

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By Viltrumite - 11/17/2012
One of the primary complaints I see made about The Dark Knight Rises is that the story differs drastically from that of the comics, specifically giving a definitive ending to Bruce Wayne’s story. In addition to feeling cheated out of the chance to see Nolan’s Batman pursue any of his other classic villains, the leading point of discontentment is that Bruce Wayne effectively was Batman for a year, quit because of the death of Rachel, and then returned as Batman three times in the span of several months before leaving the cave to Robin John Blake. What I’m offering with this editorial is a thesis on how this was, quite simply, the –only- direction the story could have gone in following the conclusion of The Dark Knight.

If you look at The Dark Knight Trilogy as one film, and each film functioning as one part of a traditional three-act structure, you begin to realize that Christopher Nolan pulled one of the single greatest plot twists in cinematic history. The genius of the twist is that it relies fully on the audience’s pre-existing knowledge of the Batman story and their expectations of where that story will go. Before I go in-depth on how he did this, I’m going to use a quick example to set up what I’m going to be saying. The recent Daniel Craig James Bond films serve as a reboot of the previous 20 films, from 1962-2002. It’s a whole new continuity, and the first two films, Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, exist for the sole purpose of introducing the character of Bond. If you haven’t seen the most recent film Skyfall, I’m hoping it isn’t a spoiler to say that by the end of the film, they have finally established Daniel Craig’s incarnation of the character as classic James Bond. Everything we know and love about the character is fully in place, but because we built up to it, it becomes that much more meaningful.

Hopefully by this point, you’ll see where I’m going with this. Batman Begins introduces us to the character of Bruce Wayne and his story, as well as to various important supporting characters, plot points, themes, equipment, and traits that are famous within the classic Batman mythology. By the film’s end, almost everything essential to the character and his story has been established, albeit not fully. Several important factors, such as Gordon’s position in the GCPD and Bruce Wayne’s full, life-long dedication to his mission have had their seeds planted, but they have not fully grown into the shape we know just yet.

The Dark Knight would then apparently serve two purposes: to show us what a fully unadulterated Batman story would look like in this universe, and to bring the rest of the mythology to the form we have recognized in the comics for decades. The Joker and his eternal battle against Batman is introduced, Gordon has been promoted to Commissioner, and with Rachel dead, Bruce sees no life for himself outside of Batman. Here is where Nolan pulls his genius plot twist, toying with our expectations of where the story should go based on our understanding of what it is: Batman taking the fall for Harvey Dent kills the Batman mythology as we know it just as it’s barely getting started, and instead replaces it with the Dark Knight legend.

Examine the evidence: Bruce, in Batman Begins, said he would only be Batman for as long as Gotham needed him, until it could fend for itself. He saw a life outside of the cave, specifically one spent with Rachel. Many complain that Rachel’s death is what compelled Bruce to quit in the 8 years leading up to The Dark Knight Rises, going completely against what Batman as a character represents. However, I think the trilogy is very clear that if anything, her death would lock him into Batman for life. He now sees nothing for him as Bruce Wayne; Batman is the only thing left for him. In addition to this, while hanging upside down, Joker tells Batman not only that the people of Gotham will soon start losing their minds, but also “I think you and I are destined to do this forever.” Viewing The Dark Knight Rises, we know this never came to pass, and because of how Batman and Gordon handled Harvey’s death, it never could have.

Up until the climactic scene with Two-Face, the entire Batman mythology has been fully established; everything is as we know it. Bruce is fully locked in not only because of Rachel’s death giving him no other options for life, but also because at that point, Gotham will always need Batman; he will never be able to leave. Imagine for a moment, an ending where Batman and Gordon instead decide to let Gotham know the truth: this would lead to the Gotham the Joker predicted, the Gotham everyone who knows the story of Batman is familiar with.

The Joker left traditional crime irrelevant, and so people like Black Mask and the Penguin would start a new age of supercrime. People like Victor Fries and Pamela Isley would look at how their white knight Harvey Dent was pushed over the edge and corrupted into Two-Face; if even he couldn’t fight back the corruption of his soul, what cnace would they have? They would follow his example and give into Mister Freeze and Poison Ivy. People like Edward Nigma would see the Joker as an example of expressing who you really are by refusing to restrain your psychopathic tendencies, and follow this example by becoming the Riddler. Batman would constantly be needed to stop this slew of supervillains, and since Batman would always be there, Joker would continue to plague his existence; meaning batman would exist just in case the Joker escaped custody again. Bruce would be at this for years, fully locked in because Rachel’s death left him with nothing else, because Gotham won’t stop needing him, and because he holds himself responsible for the further corruption of the city. The Dark Knight showed him already heavily injured only 6-12 months into the mission, meaning after a few years he would be more than happy to train a partner (Robin) to fight in the field, while he used ridiculously hi-tech equipment and developed his detective skills to the zenith they are in the comics in order to make the job easier for himself.

Essentially, classic Batman. As for why Bruce wasn’t Batman at the start of The Dark Knight Rises, well… he was. He had been Batman, repressed and unable to do anything for 8 full years. Alfred even said something to the effect of “You’ve been sitting here, waiting for things to go bad.” It’s not that he doesn’t want to be, and he most definitely did not quit because of Rachel, he simply can’t; he’s no longer needed. Organized crime has been completely eradicated due to the Harvey Dent Act, the citizens of Gotham, ignorant to Dent’s corruption, have not lost their minds or their faith, and there’s nothing for Batman to do. He would arguably make things worse by continuing to operate, as his presence would simply stir up unrest and paranoia. Nolan built up the classic Batman mythology, and like Joker did to everyone’s plans in The Dark Knight, “turned it on itself”, creating something wholly new and unique. The resolution he reached at the conclusion of his trilogy was the logical next step from Batman and Gordon’s decision, as the comic version of the story would no longer make sense following that moment. Nolan did, however, incorporate everything I feel is essential to a true Batman story and gave a fitting conclusion to Bruce Wayne’s journey, in the process creating something different than what we’re used to or expected, but on its own every much a definitive take on the character.

The last part of this editorial/analysis (this ran away from the original length I had intended) is meant to address where the series could go from here, based upon the Joker’s future than never came true and continuing with Nolan’s legacy. While picturing what the series could have been like (indefinitely continuing, comparable to James Bond), I found myself slightly disappointed that we would never get to see that world. However, based upon what we’ve heard about the Batman reboot, I think we will. If the Warner Bros. executives were smart (to be fair, they’ve made numerous idiotic decisions recently, so that’s up for debate), they would build up the reboot to act as a spiritual successor/continuation to that imaginary conclusion to The Dark Knight. It’s been said that the film will start with Batman’s second year in Gotham, which lines it up extremely well with that particular timeline. The reboot will likely initially feature a similar tone, style, and feel to Nolan’s films (similar technology, Gotham, etc.), but will gradually allow the more fantastical aspects to take root and develop, leading to a series comparable to the one I described above. At the very least, that’s what I’m hoping for, and I feel that would be the most logical and exciting route for them to take. Anyways, I apologize for the length of this editorial for those of you who made your way through the entire analysis. Here's to the continued success of Batman on screen.
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Tainted87 - 11/17/2012, 8:58 AM
I'm not buying it. I'm just not.
The "Harvey Dent Act" is total bull, - an easy and overly convenient plot device that magically solves all of Gotham's problems.

I'll compare it to Mass Effect, because I'm that kind of person.

Commander Shepard, the most famous human in the galaxy, has been "killed" by an unknown ship sporting advanced technology - her ship, the Normandy, never stood a chance. Shepard was famous for uncovering a plot by a sentient race of machines to exterminate the entire galaxy, and defeating the Reapers' herald.

Two years later, a terrorist group called "Cerberus" pours limitless funds into recovering Shepard's body and use cutting edge technology and cybernetics to bring the Commander back to life - to fight a war.

Now suppose Shepard hadn't been dead for two years, just retired. Imagine that the Reapers just took off, and remained in stasis in dark space for all of eternity, because Citadel Space, the Terminus Systems, the Attican Traverse... all banded together to place sanctions, patrols, and "eradicated" any possible way for a galactic invasion.

Where would the game be?

Now for Batman, it's a bit different, but the difference is really in the shape of things that couldn't be explored because Batman was able to retire. Gotham isn't a city that can solve half of its problems with the judicial system. There's going to be crooked cops, criminals who are connected to said cops, who are connected to larger mob figures. There's going to be the untouchable criminals who have their own goals but aren't afraid to lend their expertise to certain mob organizations.

Those are the ones who lie in waiting, waiting for the opportunity to seize control. That is what Bane did, but for completely different reasons. Bane and Talia infiltrated Gotham to destroy it, not to rule. It goes full circle, perhaps, but it is also just another reinvention of Batman Begins... absent any other enterprising agent of crime.

Going by your idea of building up - it had to have been the worst climax ever.
Viltrumite - 11/17/2012, 9:27 AM
The Mass Effect comparison doesn't really work, because the thing is, Batman is entirely different. Remember that the Joker played a large part in dismantling the system of organized crime that had been so widespread throughout Gotham; they were in shambles by the end of the movie. If the truth about Dent had been revealed, his work would have been undone and people would have lost hope like Gordon said, and lost their minds like the Joker suggested. The Dent Act merely allowed Harvey's work to remain intact and gave it a way to continue after his death. At the beginning of The Dark Knight, they were making heavy progress. In addition, it kept anyone from picking up the pieces and continuing from where Falcone and co. left off. Batman simply wasn't needed.
comiccow6 - 11/17/2012, 10:16 AM
Under appreciated? I'd say that it's the opposite.
Viltrumite - 11/17/2012, 10:27 AM
I know the trilogy as a whole is lauded as the greatest comic book film series, but I don't think a lot of people really realize the way he played with expectations and why the changes he made make logical sense. There are still people who wonder why he was out of action for eight years or feel there should have been more villains in existence of the series' continuity. Just the aspect of how he built up to something and flipped it in an instant like that that I feel isn't really mentioned too often.
comiccow6 - 11/17/2012, 10:32 AM
I understand that. I think the whole build up was wonderful, and the psychology of it all was great.
calin88 - 11/17/2012, 11:06 AM
I think people who don't appreciate TDK trilogy now will think different once a new Batman will be on screen
Viltrumite - 11/17/2012, 11:14 AM
At no point did I say The Dark Knight Rises was under appreciated...
That is not what I was referring to, whatsoever. At all.
Tainted87 - 11/17/2012, 11:35 AM
Except that the "Harvey Dent Act" isn't around until THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, which means the movie is entirely self-contained in its decision to advocate a Gotham without a Batman.

Could have gone in any direction. Studio wanted Riddler. I wanted Hush.

Also, the driving point of "The Long Halloween" (which The Dark Knight was mostly based off of in spirit) was that Harvey betrayed his ideals, destroyed the mob by murdering Falcone, and left the "freaks" (aka Joker, Ivy, Scarecrow, etc) to take over. It was an indirect sequel to Year One - a sophomore approach to Batman, just as THE DARK KNIGHT was. Maroni is dead. Falcone is dead. Holiday is behind bars. Gotham no longer belongs to the mob.... but a greater evil.

But instead of introducing new villains who worked outside of the traditional mob, what we got was some bogus "Harvey Dent Act" - infinite redundancy.
tonytony - 11/17/2012, 11:43 AM
awesome thread, someone who finally sees that each part of the story presents growth and serves to show his evolution from vengance seeker and in the second movie, through the Joker he realises that he cant win the battle through fists that rather the change needed to be bigger and hence why he chose to take the fall for dent rather than let his name and all his good fail.
There is development all the way to the conclusion, which again is about symbolism to inspire the common man to be better.
The 3rd propably could have been better but its a fitting conclusion
Viltrumite - 11/17/2012, 12:17 PM
@Tainted87, the Harvey Dent Act wasn't passed in The Dark Knight Rises, it was shortly after The Dark Knight and had been in full effect throughout those entire eight years. The thing is, The Long Halloween sets up the Batman mythology that we all know, The Dark Knight only does that up until Batman and Gordon conceive of their conspiracy. It's at that point where TDKR becomes the only logical continuation; nothing else would have made sense.
@TheYoungMan, it's been really irritating looking at everyone saying Bruce not being Batman during those eight years was completely against character because he was "hung up over some girl." Alfred straight up says that he's wanted to be, but can't, and has instead been sitting around waiting for something terrible enough to happen to warrant Batman's presence.
Tainted87 - 11/17/2012, 12:44 PM
Semantics aren't reinforcing your point. The Harvey Dent Act is a creation of the third movie, regardless of when it takes place.

I reason that Batman could have been a hunted criminal and shown his prowess not only as a protector of the city, but as an inspirational figure. In fact, with all of Gotham thinking that Batman has killed Harvey, criminals would be pretty scared of him... an obvious advantage.

It would have been a PERFECT set-up for No Man's Land, especially with Bane's inclusion. Have Bane not only cripple Batman, but Gotham as well (as he does in the movie), but as a twist, he is dispatched by the only cop wise to his act - John Blake. This would be roughly the first half of the movie, with a concentration on Bruce recovering during a time where Gotham is attempting to rebuild.

Problem of course, is that the wrong people are in charge of reconstruction - there are delays, there are quarantines, and Gotham is falling apart as its psychopaths run wild on the streets. Appearances from Scarecrow, Penguin, and Zsaaz would be awesome. Batman returns after a year and cleans house, with some help from Gotham's finest, and those loyal to his cause.

Oh, and Talia would be the one helping him recover, as well as pushing him back to Gotham. That would actually be in-character.
Minato - 11/17/2012, 1:59 PM
Good article

My question is if Batmans sacrifice stopped organized and unorganized crime for 8 years, What would happen after TDKR seeing that Bane told the truth to the public?

Shouldnt the same psycopaths mentioned above try to take over the city? Batman is gone now right?
Preston - 11/17/2012, 2:57 PM
The Nolanites suffer from herd mentality: Nolan can do no wrong, his movies are perfect, and "resistance is futile." Those of us that disagree are basically freedom fighters; we like freedom of thought.

Nolanite Nutjobs - Demotivational Poster

Listen to this:

Jollem - 11/17/2012, 4:29 PM
@Preston - there's nolanite and marvel studioite nutbars and all kinds of nutbars
WorldsGreatestdetective - 11/18/2012, 9:32 AM
This is a great editorial. I saw this movie 10 times in theatres and analyzed all the lines and I fully comprehend what you are saying. People who say Bruce only stopped being Batman over a girl, missed the whole series. Rachel was Bruce's one way out of being Batman, his "one hope of normal life." In TDKR, Alfred clearly brings up the point that Bruce "use to talk about life outside the cave" and that Bruce wasn't moving on because he wasn't living but instead "just waiting for things to go bad again."
The Harvey Dent act is the attempt of Bruce and Gordon trying to "out smart the truth." With out smarting the truth Even Alfred admits he was wrong for burning the letter. There was never a way out for Bruce to not being Batman after TDK. Escalation had occurred and Bruce was stuck and unsure what to do. And I think people missed this, Bruce was not in exile for 8 years only Batman. Miranda/Talia brings up that Wayne was further wounded after the energy reactor started to have problems 2-3 years before the events of TDKR, "went into hiding." So Bruce did his best as both Batman and through his wealth to save Gotham. But ultimately the only thing that could save Gotham was the removal of organized crime with the restoration of truth. In the Bane/Talia Revolution the truth was revealed and Batman had returned to save the city. The city of Gotham was free from its own abyss. The city had rotted since the depression that Bruce grew up in. For over 30 years the city was tortured. Bruce had completed the mission that was passed down to him that night in crime alley.
Tainted87 - 11/19/2012, 6:11 PM
Again, if the Joker can mix things up, why can't anyone else?

Maroni is supposedly dead (I don't buy off-screen deaths, but sure), Falcone is either dead or out of his mind... but what of ALL THE PEOPLE WHO DID THE GROUND WORK?

And no, they are not all locked up, because both Maroni and the Chechen have mooks.

Why couldn't anyone else rise up? Answer: Nolan didn't feel it was worth telling.

My idea, which is admittedly confined, is that Batman recuperate from his wounds in The Dark Knight, but not give it up. Batman is not all that Bruce Wayne can afford to be, after all. He returns not long after to terrorize the left-overs, and lead them to Gordon, as they are all now afraid he is a murderer. It would be Flass and "WHERE WERE THE OTHER DRUGS GOING?!!!?!?!" all over again, but with more terror.

He would be more effective, especially when he doesn't get around via the Tumbler or the Bat Pod... not alerting the police to his location. Yet as it happens, not everyone buys the story that Gordon is selling - and one in particular is on the police force.

Suppose that John Blake took it upon himself to be something of a costumed vigilante, just like a Batman impersonator from The Dark Knight, but not bothering with the "bat" attire. The police eventually arrest him as he's making a bust, and he is believed to be Batman.

Yet again, not everyone is sold - especially when Gordon isn't up for the investigation. Believing the cops won't solve the mobs' problems for them, someone from out of town hires BANE to bring out the real Batman and kill him.

At that point, Batman would attempt to smuggle Blake out of police custody - the bait... where Bane would unleash just about every prisoner from Blackgate and frame Batman for it.

Bane would use the distraction to do pretty much exactly what he did in The Dark Knight Rises - blow the bridges, bomb the streets - turn Gotham into ground zero. Eventually, there would be the big curbstomp battle that we saw in the sewers, with Batman being more or less crippled. Blake would save his life, however, and perform something along Catwoman's super anti-climatic gunblast - killing Bane in cold blood with a mere pistol.

Enter No Man's Land, where the second half of the film takes place.
Tainted87 - 11/20/2012, 2:14 PM
It already jumped the shark when Harvey had a Disney death at the end The Dark Knight, and Batman retired for eight years. What I propose was improving upon the ideas without Batman retiring, as well as introducing John Blake as "believer".... something that would become very important in the second half of the movie.

No Man's Land may not be your favorite story considering how many different writers put their trash into the crossover, but it does have a lot of spirit and atmosphere.

The basic idea is that Batman has left Gotham while it is in ruin, with the authorities hopelessly outnumbered, and the city divided up in districts (much like Arkham City) controlled by gangs. Gordon and a few other honest cops have stuck around with some hope of regaining control, while Batman finally returns (because Talia slaps around enough) to discover that the people of Gotham are no longer afraid of him - they've hit rock bottom.

It becomes an open war in the streets, with very little reliance on gimmicks, and more poetic justice. Even Scarecrow doesn't have his fear toxin, but proves effective at manipulating the fears of others.

In my proposal, Batman would leave for medical treatment, and be kidnapped by Talia. Talia would assist in his recuperation while the two get to know each other, their motivations, etc... and she would understand what Gotham, what BATMAN means to him. There would be some serious sexual frustration going on. At last, Talia would help Bruce return to Gotham to kick ass, or die trying.

Meanwhile, there would be an added focus on the Gothamites who are living in ground zero, and how they contend with the criminals who run rampant on the streets. There would be heroes on each side, with the hope of "reform" guiding their every action.
theplotmaster - 11/24/2012, 2:43 PM
I agree with the points this editorial made, you guys have to remember the dent act denied bail for previous offenders and blackgate was designed for the worst criminals alike. In a sense batman and Gordon created a world where batman was no longer needed, I love the conclusion because he wasn't just batman he was a person, batman was just a symbol he created made to inspire good, this trilogy did what most trilogies don't they stay true to the story. Great article bro

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