Brilliant, Brilliant Bane

This one, I promise, will be brief. I’ve intended many to be brief but they’ve gone longer than intended, but I will keep my promise this time. Maybe.

Recently I’ve had cause to mull over The Dark Knight Rises, the fascinating finish to Christopher Nolan’s Batman films. (I know it’s called The Dark Knight Trilogy on packaging and in “nerd” circles, but it’s really a Batman Trilogy since the first one was called Batman Begins, not The Dark Knight Begins. Maybe I’ll write one about that curious naming convention and what rules, if any, should govern these sorts of nicknames in the future.)

I, like many others, find myself gleefully enjoying the focused agent of chaos called Bane. He really is a worthy character to follow up the Joker as portrayed by Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight.

Like the Joker, Bane is an agent of chaos. Where they differ is their goals.

The Joker uses chaos to achieve power and to validate his existence. In a closer read, I maintain that The Dark Knight is a re-examination of some deep biblical themes, including an allegorical exploration of the Christian understanding of God evolving from Law Giver to the Absolver of Sins.

Bane is the selfless answer to the Joker’s selfish obsessions. He uses chaos to destroy the world. He has no goal but destruction.

Yes, they’re both focused on Gotham in the literal story sense. But Gotham is of course the metaphor for the world as a whole. I know you know that.

Bane leads a nihilistic revolution, seeking to burn it all to the ground to validate his view about the emptiness of it all. To Bane there is nothing good about the world as it exists. The revolution is the tool to the end. He rigs the entire contest so that no one can win.

Bane The Dark Knight Rises Screencap | kesseljunkie

So Why Do I Call Bane Brilliant?

By building a revolution with no end but death for all, Bane has figured out the only way to “win” is to accept that everyone loses. He has no escape plan, and he’s not trying to win an argument. He’s trying to end it.

If Batman never gets back from the underground prison, everyone still dies. Bane will still incinerate it all even after he’s taken over Gotham.

Bane knows the revolution will ultimately consume itself, and he has no vision of a future after it. He has learned from Robespierre that the bloodthirsty can never be satisfied truly or permanently. The only way to stop it is with fire.

It’s brilliant.

Batman + Sweat = Batsweat

This post is inspired by a conversation with none other than @TheInsaneRobin. He insisted that my recent post about Sybok from Star Trek preventing Thanos’ mass murdering impulses in Avengers: Infinity War was the nerdiest I’ve ever written, so I want to try to pick up that vibe again.

I mean, I’d offer that my analysis of how Darth Vader’s murder of Admiral Ozzel lost the entire war for the Galactic Empire in the Star Wars saga ranks highly up there, too. You could also probably pick almost anything at random that I’ve ever written about Star Wars, if you wanted to try to construct a psychological profile of what it’s like to live inside my head.

Homer J. Simpson, the J stands for Jay so Homer Simpson who has the middle initial J in Homer J. Simpson is named Homer Jay Simpson shortened to Homer J. Simpson.
Live shot of the author’s creative thought processes.

We were discussing the different physical effects of Batman’s suit on him as he wore it.

It’s a richer topic than you’d think, due to all the variations on the suite we’ve gotten onscreen over time. Technically we should even consider the one that appeared in the 1940s Columbia Batman serials even though, as much as I might respect that Johnny Duncan was technically the first on-screen Batman, no one really cares about that era.

I’m not going to turn this into one of my lengthy series, though. This will be one post because I think that there are some baseline “physiological costs” that apply across all the costumes. It’s really the level of the effects that are influenced by the materials used in its construction.

Overheating and Hydration

Overheating and hydration are likely the primary concerns with any iteration of Batman. Since they’re tied very closely together, I’m addressing them at the same time. They still have their own headers, though, to try to delineate where specifically they concern the health and well-being of the Dark Knight Detective.

Overheating

Even appropriately-breathable materials trap heat. It’s an inescapable concern for Batman especially, as physical exertion increases body heat. If that heat can’t escape, your heat basically gets trapped.

It’s a vicious cycle; even high humidity prevents adequate sweat evaporation and can lead to overheating. Imagine the issues if you’ve got a layer of material on top of your skin, and the only way for the heat to escape is through your eyes and the bottom half of your face.

This ties into hydration because sweating is how we cool off, but as we expend that water…we need more of it.

Hydration

Hydration is an issue regardless of the era we’re examining. Every suit we’ve seen Batman wear would trap body heat. That’s not a terribly difficult hurdle for the moments we see him idling, as he can just bring a big water bottle, presumably attached to his utility belt. Given the bursts of activity he endures, though, it becomes an exponentially increasing concern as it’s paired with the concern for overheating.

Batman would have to be constantly mindful about salt imbalances, and the deleterious effects of fluid loss. Batman would therefore need to carry a lot of water with him, or have water stations hidden all around Gotham so that he could grab a quick drink when he was feeling worn down by fluid loss.

You could argue that he could carry this in the Batmobile, but then we have to parse out which Batmobile we’re discussing.

For this reason, the economy-of-motion Batman we saw in Tim Burton’s 1989 masterpiece seems a much better approach for the caped crusader than the higher-energy versions we encounter in other iterations.

Batman Adam West as Batman in a still for Batman about Batman the TV series about Batman with Adam West as Batman who could beat Craigula.
Terror: Possibly the best choice for costume is this one.

 

Chafing and Other Skin Issues

Chafing and skin issues are unquestionably more serious issue for the “rubber-suit variants” to which we’ve grown accustomed in the modern age. The aforementioned trapped sweat – a part of our overheating concerns – could easily combine with the rubbing of the material on the skin, and cause abrasions, cuts, or even infections.

Chafing

You could ostensibly avoid these sorts of things with baby powder, but we’re talking a fair amount of it. There would have to be enough that it would slow down Batman on the way out, and in cases where he was unable to slather himself in baby powder, even putting the suit on becomes a difficult task.

(I have a personal grudge about baby powder, but I promise I’m not taking that into my reasoning. It’s a weirdly personal thing, too, and I’d appreciate it if I stopped talking about it. It’s none of your business.)

You could reason that he has a suit that functions like a diving suit, but that would arguably multiply the concerns of overheating and even fluid loss/imbalance.

Other Skin Issues

When I mentioned “abrasions, cuts, or even infections,” I should also have mentioned “rashes.” Ingrown hairs would also be a potential side effect, as would boils. Basically, Bruce Wayne would be able to be a recluse because his body odor and apparent lack of hygiene would drive people away from Wayne Manor.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, it’s pretty much just fall and spring where Batman would be the most effective “on the ground” crime fighter. Those seasons alleviate some of the suit concerns by virtue of lower humidity and more moderate temperatures.

They don’t remove them completely, though. For this reason, it would follow more that Batman would be active only for short bursts every few days. Christopher Nolan seems to address that idea with an exchange in The Dark Knight that Batman doesn’t always show up for the Bat Signal, and by implication isn’t out on the streets every night.

The whole reason I write these sorts of things, honestly, is to remind myself of how absurd it is that we look for “realistic” explanations to fantastical things. He’s Batman, he’s a vigilante, and we don’t need to care about anything else. Otherwise we run the risk of becoming insufferable bores like “real life scientists” on a Twitter rant about the scientific accuracy of Star Trek.

Help us all if that’s the road we go down.

The Last Movie

Recently I was asked, if you were about to be put to death (let’s just say that in my case it’d likely be for thoughtcrime), what is the last movie you’d request to watch?

It’s a riff on the more-traditional “what would be your last meal” sort of question (short answer: Brinner), but it stopped me in my tracks.

My initial response was “something really long” and a hearty chuckle was shared. I’m one of the great comedy minds of my generation, as evidenced each week on Words With Nerds™.

I couldn’t decide, though. I had to beg for an evening to consider.

So Many Factors

After all, there are so many questions that the basic premise raises!

In a situation like that, you’d feel arguably obliged to choose your favorite movie of all time. It follows that if this is the last piece of entertainment you’ll ever see., it should presumably be the favorite one, a teddy bear experience that soothes and lets you lose track of the running time so that you lose track of what would undoubtedly be a stressful watching experience.

Because otherwise, these sorts of questions rely on the thought that you’re at peace with being killed to begin with. I can assure you that if I knew the time of my final moment, I’d be distracted by that fact.

And I Wonder

So I wondered how I could choose. There’s the inevitable mental conflict between selecting a Batman movie and a Star Wars film. As an odd side note, I never considered Burton’s 1989 Batman, though it’s probably the moment I started down the path of being a “geek.”

The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises, with their themes of heroism and rebirth, could easily distract me from thinking incessantly about the final question of my faith put to the test. I adore both films, and they’d be a reassuring pat on the butt, as it were.

Both move me to that moment of heroic emotion as well, that great feeling of victory for the righteous. Which, when I meet God, is what I hope the general feeling to be. Because the opposite would suck.

For heroism as well, I could choose The Last of the Mohicans by Michael Mann, with its bittersweet ending wrapped in both victory and sorrow. The soundtrack alone is something marvelous and the cinematography in the film is some of the best you’ll ever see.

Then my mind wandered back to Star Wars as a whole and Revenge of the Sith, my favorite of favorites, in specific.

But then I’d be ignoring The Godfather Part II! Which got ruled out immediately, because I don’t
want to go out on a down note.

And though Revenge of the Sith ends with a note of hope still, I realized I’d have to rule it out as well. There’s a lot of darkness there. And so long as I’m ruling out darkness, I have to disqualify the original The Godfather as well as Vertigo.

Citizen Kane would seem apropos, but I’d prefer not to go out with a message of how small even the greatest of us are.

Musicals!

The only problem with indulging my love of musicals is, how to select a favorite? The field is littered with larger-than-life options that have a special place in my heart.

Singin’ in the Rain, The Music Man, 1776, Godspell (maybe it counts as an extra little prayer at the end?), my treasured Guys and Dolls.

But then I know, if it’s a musical, it has to be Scrooge with Albert Finney. It’s the one version of A Christmas Carol that makes me weep still, and reminds me of warm Christmases with my family and especially my dad singing along with “Thank You Very Much.”

But Then…

A musical is fine, but I don’t know if it can deliver the type of spiritual oomph I’d need.

I wonder if, knowing it’s your last film, you could really enjoy it?

Is this all an argument against watching bad movies since, theoretically, each one could be the last one you see?

The Batman Blogs: The Car

When you hear the name “Batman,” perhaps the first thing you think of before Gotham, The Joker or killing off Robin is the Batmobile. The one and only stock car of heroism.

Superman may be able to fly, but he’s never had a rad car like the Batmobile. Much like the average male, Batman makes up for what he lacks by having a fly ride.

And who can blame him? What better way to let criminals know that they’re about to get a legendary beat-down than to roar onto the scene with a car that roars, “I am severely maladjusted socially and looking for someone on whom to lay the smack down.”

At the very least, it lets them know that you’ve got massive funding. Odds are they’ll get the point that you’re well-equipped to counter whatever they might throw.

So let’s look at the Batmobile through the ages.

TV Batmobile

The Batmobile in the 1960s was the type of car you’d expect to see cruising the beach. Open top, rad paint job and low riding. It didn’t really look like much of a crime-fighting vehicle so much as an attention getter. And with how low it was to the ground, thank goodness there were no speed bumps back then.

But it did have the jet engine. Who knows where they got enough intake to initiate a jet process? High quality Detroit engineering, that.

1989/1992 Batmobile

This redesign was fantastic. It turned the Batmobile into a sleek gothic missile, and added a turbine so that the jet engine made sense. It looked polished, new and lethal. Though the stop-motion shield animation looked like a Beetlejuice FX-reelcast-off, the end result of the shielded Batmobile was awesome.

And it had freaking machine guns to blow apart obstacles. And apparently they were capable of really fine motor control since they could cut a perfect Batmobile-sized entryway in Axis Chemical’s dock entry doors. And did I mention the bombs? Because it could totally drop bombs, and it was remote-controlled by voice.

I remember obsessing over the Batmobile with the 1989 film. It was hands-down one of the coolest redesign elements of the whole film; I’d argue that it elevated Batman himself from cool to awesome.

As another blogger elsewhere has pointed out, though, when you go back to the car chase scene…it’s painfully slow. This Batmobile moves like a snail; it makes sense because of the armor, but you’d think a jet engine would have helped it move a bit quicker than that. Still, they took a good concept and made it great.

There were some minor tweaks to the design (and shielding animation) for Batman Returns, which were good. They also managed to make it move quicker. I’m not sure if they figured out how to lighten the frame, or if it’s just because they had a long section of straightaway to let it get up to speed in that scene. Either way, it was just a bit better.

1995/1997 Batmobile

Funky neon explosion. 1950s retro as imagined by a hyperactive.

Fitting, for the way the character functions in Batman Forever and Batman & Robin.

The strange thing is, I want to like the design. It’s fresh, it’s original, and it’s bold. Unfortunately, it takes that initiative into a direction that makes the Batmobile less a symbol of justice and more a symbol of pimping. Which, from what I understand, isn’t easy. But it certainly doesn’t inspire fear. Except possibly in the hearts of prostitutes.

In the words of Forrest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that.

2005/2008 Batmobile: “The Tumbler”

Obviously inspired by the tank-like creation for Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, the Tumbler (they never call it Batmobile in the film, which is in line with the move away from corniness under Nolan’s watch). We all know it’s the Batmobile, so we don’t need to call it the Batmobile.

And what a Batmobile it is. This is a Batmobile that says, “I’m not f***ing around.” If Batman needs to drive through a wall to kick your ass, he will. He’s the only one who can get into or out of the Batcave because he’s the only one with the equipment to do it.

To be honest, I was in love with it for those reasons. While it met its end in The Dark Knight, spawning the equally awesome “Batpod,” it was fun while it lasted. I believed in this Batmobile, that it would get the job done and repel everything short of nukes. If you’re going to make a habit of going into harm’s way, why not be as armored as possible?

And it’s a far cry from the television show with its airy, surfer styling. This Batmobile shows that Batman regards the world as a place fraught with brutal, forceful danger and he’s going to stack the odds however he can.

Side note about the Batpod. I think there’s a theme through the film that Batman gets stripped down to his core, the basic truth of himself, and as a result like Luke losing R2, he loses his biggest piece of technology at a crucial moment and still comes out victorious. I think there’s something to that.

Conclusion

Of course, the gas mileage on all of these is probably terrible. Greenpeace really should protest the Batmobile and the message of oil consumption it promotes. For that matter, PeTA should put out messaging that bats have just as many rights as people and encourage Batman to be a spokesman for their rights.

In fact, maybe that should be the next reboot! Batman as an animal rights activist, who uses only green technology to fight for the rights of animals marginalized by industrialization. That would make a ton of money, and you could show it in school to get extra funding from the Department of Education!

DC Comics and Warner Bros. can send me a check now for that awesome idea.

The Batman Blogs: The City

And now we turn our eye on the most critical design element of any Batman story. Gotham City.

If anything, the Gotham City you get is the biggest indicator of what you can expect from any iteration of Batman. Dark and Brooding Gotham begets Dark and Brooding Batman, Garish Gotham begets Campy Batman, Rea–World Gotham begets Realistic Batman.

And so the nature of Gotham has led to some interesting production design choices. I’m not going to bother going through the history of each, or even try to delve into the “depth” of each vision. Just examine how Gotham itself has often been our most revealing and ambitious character in any of the Batman movies.

Batman

First of course is the 1989 film.

In it, production designer Anton Furst established a very gothic Gotham. Just as importantly, the cinematography by Roger Pratt turns a studio lot into a grim, shadowed pararllel-universe New York City of the pre-Giuliani era. Full of rich menace and fear when the sun goes down, regardless of who you are. Looking at this Gotham, it looks like the type of place where muggings are not only common, they’re expected. Hell, it looks like you’d be disappointed if you weren’t mugged once in a while, as if it were a statement about you.

So this is totally in line with what they were hoping to portray on the whole for Batman in this film. Brooding, gothic and gritty. Also, apparently it rained all the time there when the cameras were turned off; I have trouble recalling a scene where the streets don’t look like a street–sweeper just rolled through. However, it really works to the advantage of the film as the streets look slimy most of the time. I think that’s really neat.

And to be honest, it’s the image of Gotham I latched onto through the next three films. Mentally, I refused to let go. Now let me tell you why.

Batman Returns

Batman Returns is where the production design started to slip and Tim Burton’s stranger sensibilities started to creep in through the margins. After the success of Batman I suppose it makes sense he got a little more creative control, but the road Burton would travel through Edward Scissorhands led to the redesigned Gotham City.

It makes sense that the look would be similar, because the same cinematographer for Scissorhands and Ed Wood, Stefan Czapsky, takes over from Roger Pratt. Why? I don’t honestly know. Maybe Pratt was forced on Burton the first time around and they didn’t get along. It happens after all; George Lucas and Gil Taylor notoriously disliked working together, and Taylor was reportedly a hedge from the studio to try to ensure the investment on a strange film.

Production design was taken on Bo Welch, who worked with Burton on Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice. Sadly, that’s probably due to the fact that Anton Furst died in 1990.

But the point is, Gotham changed. Instead of a very realistic–yet–Gothic city, we got our first taste of giant statuary populating the film. Combined with some off moments of cinematography, the back–lot set looked considerably less convincing. This Gotham presented a little more of a twisted and cartoonish take on the character, which definitely bears out in how the characters themselves are treated.

Don’t get me wrong, I like Batman Returns just fine, but it’s certainly a let-down after the first film. The production design and photography have a lot to do with that.

Batman Forever

Then the madness started.

Gotham City devolved in Batman Forever into a neon hodge-podge looking like Tokyo had sex with New York and made Fritz Lang the caretaker. Honestly, while it may have looked neat for a few frames, it was a definite step away from the dark reality of the first two into the fevered dream of a 5 year old with crayons. Interesting, but not functional for reality.

And while I’m a huge fan of “interesting,” this Gotham looks like it belongs more in Star Trek III (watch that scene with McCoy in the bar again) than a Batman film. This is, of course, fitting because this Batman film aspires to nothing greater than forgettable entertainment. At least, I wish it was forgettable.

The point, though, is that this Batman is starting his divorce from reality. Scaling vertical walls in cars? No problem. Shouting your secret identity in a room full of people and not being heard? No problem. Batman possessing ray-shield technology on his suit to withstand a fiery explosion? No problem.

I suppose fans sort of lost their right to be surprised after the first few shots of the credits, when Gotham City telegraphed this particular punch. And like I said, I am a big fan of “interesting,” so I’m not bashing Barbara Ling‘s design itself. I’m just saying that like the first two films, this Gotham City told us what to expect.

Shouted it, really.

Batman & Robin

And then it fell into the pit of despair with Batman & Robin. Anything redemptive about the Barbara Ling’s first designs of Gotham are gone. Completely and utterly devoid of anything except camp and giant naked statues. Honestly, the place looks like an Ayn Rand novel as interpreted by Andy Warhol.

The neon’s amped up, the statues are bigger, the geometry of the city makes less sense than Lost Highway and did I mention the black-lights that populate the entire city to make paint glow? And it fits with this incarnation of Batman and his villains. Hollow flesh automata randomly stringing sentences together and occasionally conflicting.

I’m typically a positive guy. I look for the good in people and experiences. I try to see the silver lining. I believe that, even if I didn’t like a movie, there’s typically something about it that was pulled off successfully. Usually for me, design is that thing.

Usually.

Batman Begins and The Dark Knight

I combine these two because they’re the first f*ing time in the entire series they used the same people in the key design and photography roles. And it shows.

They used a real city to film these two, so maybe Chicago shows through too strongly in some moments. But by and large, the use of a real city – albeit with a heavily altered skyline in establishing shots – give us a route by which we can recognize this Batman and therefore his world. Whereas the previous films varied from heavy gothic sensibilities to cartoonish nightmare, these films offer a subtle visual reassurance that dismisses the need for establishment. We know this world because it looks like the one in which we’re living.

And that’s fitting here because this Batman deals with the same issues we face. We demand a higher sense of reality in our fantasy now. We don’t want just to accept that a thing exists, we want to know how it works. And if we find out how it works, we need to know that it’s in line with our expectations of science (as most of us understand it). Just look at a Star Trek technical manual, or guidebooks to fictional places, to see our new demand to see how it can be explained and believed.

So in a sense, while Nolan’s Gotham delivers a believable Gotham for Batman, it also anticipates the need for the nerd audience to believe that it’s a world in which they could live, too. This is present in the comics, why not in the films now as well? We all want more reality in our fantasy, for better or worse.

I suppose that’s a good thing overall. Tolkien labored to make his worlds believable enough to have us buy into Hobbits, elves and orcs, why not make Batman’s reality just as rich?

The Batman Blogs: The Villains

Is there anything better than a great villain?

Batman has had his share of terrific villains. Anticipating a certain commenter’s video reply, Egg Head does not count in that list and never will. I’m a reasonable man, but I’m not budging on that.

Batman’s villains are reflections back on the main character, showing what he could be if not for a few different decisions or circumstances. When you’re dealing with a character already straddling the line between law and anarchy, you get some interesting results.

The most interesting thing about Batman villains is that, whereas our hero wears a costume, they often wear their psychological issues as physical attributes. Two–Face wears his black–and–white view of the world on his face; he can never get the two to reconcile. The Riddler is an egomaniac with great intelligence; he is a scrawny wimp, the prototypical nerd. Catwoman is voluptuous and sensual; she is the feminist using sexuality as a weapon.

So after looking at what the different iterations of Batman tell us about our mind-set through time, can his villains do the same?

While it would be fun to continue run through the whole roster, I’m going to focus instead on the two best villains to demonstrate the evolution of our perceptions of evil. It’ll keep things brief(er) and they’ve both been reborn in Nolan’s reinventions, making them the most relevant to the conversation.

Joker: 1989

The Joker is the exception here; he puts on paint.

I’ll be fair to the 1960s show from here on out, and at least mention it. The Joker in the TV show wasn’t frightening; he was a challenge to be overcome. Perhaps that is a larger statement of the cocksure nature of our society at the time: we needed to believe no one could ever pose an insurmountable challenge to us.

Later re-imaginings of the character have deformed him. The comic books in the 1980s had him become a failed comedian turned to criminal acts to pay the bills, the “victim” of a heist gone wrong at the hands of Batman. This was the first time the character became physically deformed (at least that I know of) and made it not paint, but chemical staining that turned his skin white; the 1989 movie picked this up and ran with it. The Joker became a narcissistic career criminal who lose his sanity in the face of his deformity (get it?). The deformity was expanded by having his face get torn by a bullet and a permanent smile grafted onto him.

Jack Nicholson’s Joker was Moriarty to Batman’s Holmes. They were engaged in a game of wits motivated as much by pride as competition. the game itself was thrilling, regardless of the outcome. This pairs with the interpretation of Batman for this time, a man sure of his role as the hero strong enough to withstand his schemes.

Joker: 2008

Twenty years later, Nolan’s treatment of The Joker returned to the paint but retained the deformity, but it simply is. As our world has become more sinister and chaotic, reasons for evil have become secondary. We’re all accepting that even if we get an explanation of causation, there are some levels of evil we can never comprehend truly.

Whereas Nicholson’s Joker was evil, he had cartoonish methodology. Deadly hand buzzers, conversations with corpses and mime-act assassinations had a dramatic flair to them that showed us evil as frightening, but recognizable.

By contrast, the newest imagining of The Joker is anarchic. He relies on subtler machinations, using charisma to appeal to the baser emotional sensibilities of people, his philosophies spreading like an infection from within. It’s not any accident that in The Dark Knight, The Joker is referred to as a terrorist. Much like al Qaeda leaders like bin Laden, he gathers his followers from among the disaffected, themselves unaware that they’re nothing more than fleshy tools. He has sold them on the idea of a greater cause, when the cause itself is merely a talking point for his own gain.

And of course, there’s the layer where The Joker here actually is a solid representation of the Devil. But I’ve spoken about that before.

Two-Face:1995

And then there’s Harvey.

I have to admit that growing up, Two–Face was more of a personal favorite than The Joker. The character always seemed so sad; by his nature, he was aware that what he was doing was wrong. But his anger at his shattered sense of what justice cripples him as much as his scarred visage.

I remember a story where he had his ex-wife in their burning home, and wound up with her and Batman dead to rights. Mrs. Dent (and Batman) escaped. The last panel showed Two–Face holding the scarred side of the coin; he’d broken his rule because he couldn’t kill his love. That’s powerful, man.

So when Two–Face was finally slotted as a villain for Batman Forever, I was thrilled. When the heady fog of Ace Ventura: Riddler Villain wore off, the sins of the character’s interpretation were overwhelming.

If he didn’t like the result of a coin flip, he’d simply flip it again until he got the result he wanted. This is hugely and grossly wrong. That violates the core of Two–Face’s character, and makes any decision to controvert the coin later completely pointless.

But it is an accurate reflection of the prevailing social attitudes of the 1990s, when we learned that even the definition of the word “is” is flexible. If you just want to play games of semantics, then nothing is outside the scope. In fact, rules themselves would appear to become completely meaningless then, if all you did was ignore them when convenient. This Two–Face was more 1960s Joker than anything else. Which, given the sensibilities of the director, makes sense; unable to use the Joker, he approximated a stand–in.

Two-Face: 2008

Then once again, the character was brought back by Nolan and ironically enough, tied to the Joker. Interestingly this time, he served as a very important foil.

The Joker’s anarchy creates Two–Face, who is too rigid in his pursuit of fairness. After his tragedy, he sees only one result or another, with no room for mercy or hope; still the lawyer, he has justice that’s either enforced or not. It’s just that his rules have become simpler.

Dent becomes an expression of the old school vigilante at that point. I invite you to watch Death Wish, a film rooted in the frustration with crime. Personal vengeance becomes the motivation; this is where Batman has always been set apart. He’s not seeking revenge on those who have wronged him; he’s seeking to change lives and spare suffering. He carries a code of ethics – his own legal system – with him; by contrast, Dent’s legal code merely shrinks. There are no more bargains, no more deals and no more appeals. There is only Either/Or. And the judgment is brutally enforced.

And here’s where Harvey becomes a reflection on us. Broken by tragedy, it’s easy for someone to turn to despair, to lose faith and hope and treat the world as nothing more than a random series of unfortunate incidents. As Nietzche said, looking into the Abyss carries a price.

Maybe that’s why I see the character as so valid. I think he’s the most understandable, the most human. He’s not motivated by pride, but by pain. We’re all still scarred by September 11, and how hard has it been not to rationalize torching the world for the sake of our hurt?

Conclusion

So I guess I realize also that I picked Two–Face and Joker because they were always my favorite Batman villains growing up. I can say that I’m interested to see what happens with Bane in the next film, since so far as I’m concerned he hasn’t really existed before on film. What happened in 1997 was a mass hallucination.

Here’s hoping 2012 carries a little more of a dream come true.

The Batman Blogs: Batman vs. Batman vs. Batman vs. Batman

So here we are.

For the first entry in our series, I decided to examine the different portrayals of The Caped Crusader. The Dark Knight.

The evolution of the Batman character itself has been fascinating. As mentioned in the Introduction blog, Batman speaks to certain identity issues that my generation currently is experiencing.

Batman’s gone from brooding, serio-comic figure to seeker of pop psychobabble, to an aimless half–wit, returning to a brooding seeker forced to be a stalwart in a world defined by its lack of definition.

Michael Keaton: 1989 & 1992

The summer of 1989 was an exciting time. We still believed in heroes.

For me, it was the summer between freshman and sophomore years in high school, and I had made no real new friends outside of Mike. I still hung out with my younger cousin Ron a lot, which..hey, wait. I still do that.

Then Batman came out. It’s the first movie I really remember as being a “must see” event and to a lesser extent, a “must like.” It seemed that everyone saw it and everyone that saw it loved it. There were good reasons why.

Unlike Superman, the previous gold standard for comic book movies, there was no tongue-in-cheek chiding of childish fantasy. These characters were treated as real (if bizarrely real) people. There was tremendous theme music, Batman in armor (to up the believability factor) and Jack Nicholson playing Jack Nicholson’s version of the Joker. Most importantly, though, it treated our childhood fantasies with serious veneration, not ironic amusement.

Michael Keaton’s Batman is sure of himself, strong and focused. Whether in the armored suit or tailored coat, this guy is singularly aware. And why wouldn’t our heroes be this way? We were in the heady days of the Fall of Communism, when we believed in strength and the need to be protectors for all the helpless who were victimized by the corrupt and manipulative.

This expression of the character extended into Batman Returns, though it did express Bruce Wayne as the alter ego and Batman as the real man. At the end of the film, when he’s trying to talk Catwoman out of her nefarious plot (to…um, die…again?), there’s an attempt for him to disavow Batman. But we all know that Batman is the real self, and walking away is never a choice. If anything, Bruce Wayne would have to dissipate. The hard choice to make was not to be the hero, but to be anonymous.

Then Batman Forever veers sharply left and accelerates into the era of pop psychology.

Val Kilmer: 1995

Oh, Val. Val Kilmer. The man who gave us a brilliantly fairy tale version of Jim Morrison. The man who made Doc Holliday awesome. Who would also appear in Heat later this same year, in yet another brilliant performance.

He tried to bring the same sort of weight to Batman that Michael Keaton invented. But he’s playing straight man in a very twisted funhouse. He also participates in the first great swell of a sea change in the character.

Batman loses his sense of surety in Batman Forever, the meticulously constructed sense of purpose established by Michael Keaton. He is haunted by dreams of a red book (?) that was a diary his father kept. He is a tentative Batman, acting as hero out of a sense of meekness instead of strength.

In one key scene, he immediately capitulates to Two Face (again, played horrifically by Tommy Lee Jones) and disavows his “alter ego” for the sake of not the greater good, but his own conscience. And as my pal Joey points out, how the Hell anyone missed him shouting out that he was Batman in a crowded room?.

There’s even a psycho-babbler played by Nicole Kidman, who guides him to get in touch with his feelings about the red book.

And is it a surprise? The 1990s were a corner turned, when we learned to “Feel Your Pain” There was a self-help book explosion. The best was written by Dr. Denis Leary, and everyone should have bought it, including me. (warning: NSFW)

By the end of it all, we have well-resolved man dressed in a bat suit, who’s more concerned with making sure everyone feels content than correcting a system or leading. He’s a short-term thinker, focused only on the present. And this continued into the next iteration of the character.

George Clooney: 1997

Batman & Robin. Clooney’s wooden performance is almost an afterthought, but I will say that he’s quite charmed to have been the only one to come out of this mess with an intact career.

We see glimpses of a happy childhood in the loving care of Alfred. Gone are the pain and desolation that formed him. Instead, all that remains is for Batman to become a gentle den mother to Chris O’Donnell and Alicia Silverstone.

I’ll go ahead and say it. This is a non-manly Batman. He’s not even a father figure; he’s a Mommy. He is not troubled but caring, so sensitive that he has to put on a cape and armor and clean up silly messes in a disco nightmare.

And that’s about all I can bring myself to say about it. The late 1990s, though, were a lot like the Roaring 20’s, so it makes a bit of sense. The dot-com bubble was still forming to give us all a falsely-inflated sense of prosperity, our foreign policy was ignorant of a growing threat even after WTC 1993. This treatment of Batman is completely in line with the thinking that there are no real “problems” in the world. Instead of battling a corrupt system, Batman is now an arm of the system (like the 1960s show) and the outside threats are not so much threats as inconveniences from people who just need to be hugged a little harder.

Christian Bale: 2005, 2008, (2012)

Then the real world hit us all in the face a few times and we needed our heroes again.

Batman was reborn as an avatar of our times yet again, a leader bent on showing us how to defeat an outside enemy that had worked its way into our society: by being brave and standing tall. By fighting back. Even though the odds are stacked against people, they are good at their core and able to be awakened to bravery if only someone shows them how.

This speaks definitely to the dormant desire in the hearts of people who feel powerless in the context of an insane world where one human can so callously brutalize another, for no other reason than to generate a video on YouTube. Where bystanders watch and film instead of trying to help.

Bale’s Batman speaks to the desire to inspire people to be better. To raise themselves up. To acknowledge the good and improve the world simply by being the people we know we’re supposed to be. This Batman is a leader by example, not someone who will be at our beck and call; he wants to help those who help themselves. He believes in the individual to make this choice, not the imposition of the choice about what to do. Besides, in a corrupt system, how can those imposed rules be trusted?

This Batman also wrestles with issues of torture. He struggles with his principle of life’s sanctity, growing from a willingness “not to save” a villain to working to save even the most vile. I wrote about it in great detail before, so let’s just say that this Batman is rooted in the great spiritual crisis facing us all right now: how far are we willing to go, for the sake of protection and safety? What are we willing to do and sacrifice for the sake of principle? Is there a core inside us all that shines like a beacon, simply waiting for us to turn it on?

If we’re to accept the answer of this version of the character, evil is contagious and does exist, but good can and must overcome it. But we all have to be willing to take that leap of faith and risk it all to prove that it can.

Conclusion

I know I’ve gone on a while, but I feel that this was worth it. Batman has always been the most fascinating of the superheroes to me because he’s the most human.

That humanity has been what’s made it possible to see ourselves in him. We’ve grown and we’ve changed, but if the development of our hero story here is any indication, we’ve found our way back to what can make us great again: accepting the burden and doing what must be done not just to survive but to deserve our lives, our principles and our souls.

The Batman Blogs: Introduction

Not too long ago, I blogged about reboots. Naturally, Batman came up in the course of conversation; I’m pretty sure that the first time I heard the term “reboot” was in conjunction with Christopher Nolan’s reinvention of the character’s life on screen.

Now, everyone knows how much I loved Batman Begins and even moreso The Dark Knight. They’re deep, symbolic films rich with meaning and expertly constructed.

But naturally, as I watched Batman Begins again recently, I wanted to exercise some analytical thought about these films and what they represent, since Batman has been such an enduring character.

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The Devil and The Dark Knight

It’s no secret that I love the movie The Dark Knight.  I’ve loved it since I first saw it, and I’ve only grown to love it more.  It’s been a couple of years since its release, but it resonates with me on a lot of levels still.  If anything, I enjoy it even more now than I did then.

It goes without saying that Heath Ledger’s performance as the Joker is electrifying.  Many people have spent a lot of time expounding on that.  Others have spent time unfairly mocking Batman’s vocal inflection, kind of not getting why he speaks with the intonation he does.  That’s fine; it’s one of those choices where if he didn’t make the voice as over the top as it was, people would complain that he didn’t sound different enough.  People find a reason to complain no matter what choice a director makes.

But a train of thought that has started gaining traction, that’s really been the root of my respect for this film, is the allegory of God and the Devil.  On the surface, it’s a very obvious good and evil morality tale with Batman fighting the good fight against the inexorable evil of the Joker.  That’s the universally accessible part.

However, intended or not, there is a decidedly Judeo-Christian aspect to the tale, and even a specifically Christian concept of God expressed in its resolution.  Read no further if somehow, you haven’t yet seen this movie and don’t want it spoiled.

The first movement of the film shows The Joker doing exactly what the Devil does.  He sows discord and mayhem for nothing more than his own pleasure.  Technically, he barely gets his hands dirty.  He lets the sinners around him destroy each other and then the only ones he has left to destroy are those that thought the riches he promised had worth.  In a particularly beautiful and malicious moment, he places a grenade in the mouth of a mafia accountant…that does nothing more than spew out smoke.

If I don’t need to kill you, The Joker lets us know, then I’m just as happy to break you.

The Joker also is a malevolent force for those that invite him into their lives.  After a demonstration of power, the mob (a synod of evil deeds) invites the Joker into their lives.  And through the course of the film, they find that this deal they’ve made with the Devil costs them everything they had as he continues to promise more.  Of course, at the end, the only one left standing is the Joker.

Reinforcing this thought is that when he takes the last vestige of territory from the mob bosses, he does it against a backdrop of flames.  There is no one else in control now except the Joker (the Devil).  He has literally killed (consumed) everyone who bargained with him.

We’re introduced to Batman as and “Old Testament God” figure in the beginning of the film.  He is a symbol of fear and respect.  People refrain from dealing drugs or making mayhem (sin) because they’re afraid of potential repercussions.  You may never see him, but he is there and he will punish the wicked.  The Law is not to be broken, nor are the rules to be enforced by any but those he ordains.

That’s just the obvious surface allegory.

The Book of Job finds an echo through The Dark Knight.  Harvey Dent, a good man, lives a righteous life following the law and building a better world.  He is constantly tested; people around him don’t like him because he is not flawed as they are.  Is he just another politician or does he really believe in doing the right thing?

We know him to be a truly righteous man because we see him judged by Batman — though he doesn’t know it — and pass with flying colors.  Batman, for lack of a better word, blesses him with his grace and promises of success and support.

Batman/Bruce Wayne acts much the way God does in terms of the sanctity of life.  The Joker promises the city death targeted at the most helpless unless people take the life of a single man.  One life, weighed against hundreds.  Does Batman allow the one man to die?  No, he moves to preserve that one life.  The message is plain: one life, any life, is worth saving.

The Joker, meanwhile, sows merry chaos and offers seductive logic to explain it.  If anything, the scene in the middle of the film highlights the Joker’s Devilish nature.  He offers explanations for his actions that make sense.  But for his complete lack of compassion, the Joker is a fully functional soul.  However, he lacks any desire beyond inflicting pain for the sake of bringing people down to his level.

Again, as he says repeatedly, he didn’t do anything.  He merely offered people choices.  They could have said no.  Their acceptance of him and his ways is what leads to the mayhem.  The Joker tells Dent the strict truth after he’s taken love and pride from him: he didn’t do anything.  He just sets the pieces up and then follows where they lead (“a dog chasing cars”).

His overall mission is to prove to Batman (God) that people are destined to be just as ruthless, cruel and fallen as he, which Batman won’t accept. He is willing to stake everything on the idea that people will do the right thing when shown the path.

He’s proven right, of course, to the surprise and amazement of The Joker and even the audience.  When presented with the opportunity to kill others to their own lives, two groups of people – one convicts, one average people – choose instead to save their souls instead of their lives.

What follows is the most poetically Christian allegory of the entire film.  Batman, with the dead and broken Dent before him, realizes that Harvey’s evil actions (sins) will condemn him and destroy people’s faith in the goodness of the world, a goodness proven just that night.

Batman absolves Dent and takes his sins upon himself. He tells Gordon to tell the world to blame him. He even turns his face, burned (!) into a ‘good’ and ‘evil’ side, so that the scars are no longer showing.

In so choosing, Batman is no longer simply a judge but a force for redemption and salvation.  He evolves from the understanding of God as Law Giver into a Jesus-like figure who forgives through love and faith while retaining the established law.

He is willing to take the sins of a man on his shoulders to preserve his living memory – his soul – so that people will remember the good that he’s done.  In transferring the burden of guilt from the man, redemption is always an option even if people never asked for it.  Forgiveness will always be there.

I’m hoping that in finally committing this to writing, I can give my friends a much-needed respite from my endless ramblings on this topic.  It’s doubtful.  Because it strikes such a resonant, harmonious chord that is frankly surprising from a superhero movie.

And this doesn’t even delve into the issues of freedom and security in the modern world about which it challenges the audience to think! Maybe somewhere down the line I’ll write about that one….