It was maybe going on four years ago now a friend and I were having a greatly heated discussion. The kind of discussion that only happens after someone makes an off-hand comment and, in all my wisdom, I challenged him to a verbal duel. A battle of wits. A kerfuffle of nonsense. The argument lasted all of the two hour car ride we were in, but every so often one of us would remind the other that we hadn’t reached a consensus, or would pipe up with some new dollop of information that would (ideally) sway the other to our cause.
Of course, like all great debates of our time, it stemmed from nerd-dom and superheroes. Surprisingly, I had all but forgotten about the debate until a wayward article numbering the top film and game Jokers of all time rekindled that debate in my soul.
For the sake of all humanity, I have yet to bring it up with my friend again. There may very well be no survivors.
The argument in question referred to the Dark Knight Trilogy; that Chrisopher Nolan brain-child that revived a somewhat stagnant DC franchise and presented the world of Batman to a darker world that most mainstream fans were not familiar with. Hell, most people, before this trilogy, had no idea that Batman could be as dark and visceral as this updated rendition. The idea of Batman still sat in their mind as the goofy Sunday morning “Baffs” and “Pows” that were iconic to the Adam West era, or the cartoon rendition from the 90’s series that, while dark, was still written for a young audience and, therefore, lacked a lot of the teeth that the comics of that time bore.
Good Gods, Self: you’ve spent about three paragraphs dancing around the topic now with cryptic and teasing mentions as to the argument. In the almighty words of Python: Get on with it!
In the trilogy: there were three main antagonists for Batman to out-battle and compete with. The first was Ra’s al Ghul, the super sneaky ninja mastermind whose national origins still baffle me to this day (more on that shortly). Then was the anarchaic and deranged Joker, as popularized by Heath Ledger; giving madness and violence a certain skin-crawling charm. Finally was Bane, the brutish member of the League of Shadows who delivered a reckoning to Gotham, and forced its peoples to look into their inner monsters and become the villains they were all aspiring to be.
Get on with it!
Ignoring that Ra’s al Ghul was a way less interesting villain than Scarecrow was (how I still dream to this day that the good doctor was given the leading villain part instead, but I digress), and that Talia al Ghul was actually the mastermind behind the whole movie and, frankly, was an anti-climatic plot twist that I’m still a little sour about. The debate raged on about who was, actually, the greater villain mastermind in the trilogy.
GET ON WITH IT!
I just mentioned it, actually; chill. My friend and I had bashed heads for a good long while about who the better super villain was. He was in favour of Bane, while I attested that the Joker was far greater in very nearly every aspect. And the debate got rather heated once or twice. And, as a point of clarification: the argument was exclusively about the characters as they were portrayed in their two respective films, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises; as well as it was about the natures of the characters in how they not only pushed Batman and the people of Gotham, but how they themselves represented very visceral aspects of humanity and the varying degrees of success for their plans.
Note from Self: and thank the gods we ignored the overall movies and just focused on the characters: the Dark Knight Rises was a hot mess of a movie and there are few too many leaps o’ logic in The Dark Knight to make any real sense anyway.
Of course, each of those topics could very easily be stretched out into a very long article on their own, and just going over the broad topics don’t really do the depths of these two characters any justice. That being said, I’m certainly going to do my best to make a good case for both characters and, if there’s enough interest, I can re-visit this all in greater detail.
Disclaimer: If there’s one lesson I managed to actually take away from my Writer’s Craft course from high school, it’s that we should be up front about our biases and honest about them. In this regard, I am almost 100% of the mind that the Joker is the much greater villain between the two. Honestly, if you read the article closely, you probably could have divined as much.
For the first part, let’s examine these characters as devices that move the plot forward
In both cases, both Bane and the Joker serve very well as an embodiment to focus Batman’s, or in many cases, Bruce Wayne’s attention towards for character growth and a baddy to beat-up. In the literal sense, both men are incredibly dangerous in very easy to understand ways. While Bane is certainly a much better fighter than virtually everyone, the Joker is more liberal in his willingness to throw away any and all human life simply to prove a point, and oftentimes in a very grim and grotesque manner.
But, in less literal terms, both of these villains serve as emotional and philosophical hurdles that Bruce Wayne must overcome. Trust plays a large factor for both villains, as well as understanding the limitations of what one person can accomplish on their own (it’s easier to tear down than to build, as it were). There are fairly overt differences in the broader aspects of what each sort of threat each villain poses to society in general, and in ways that terrify us as individuals. And on that note:
The threats that both these characters pose to our own rational minds
This is where things split for the two villains in quite radical ways. Starting with Bane (because that happens to be the BGM I’m listening to right now), he represents very methodical and deliberate destruction. It’s large-scale and targets very foundational organizations that we, as a society, place a great deal of faith in. Governments, military and law enforcement, and corporations are the targets of Bane’s destruction; as well as the stripping of power from those who possess it. While it doesn’t necessarily empower those of the lowest classes, it enables those of looser moral scruples to act as they see fit with fewer consequences. It’s total liberation from social conventions, and rapid changes like that are dangerous to civilizations en mass.
The Joker, however, represents fear in the individual. His methods of terrorism and destruction hit everyone on a very personal level. Mutilating civilians, blowing up public services and encouraging the deranged and the violent tendencies, that many people have buried deep within, to be brought forth as a result of desperation. It’s indiscriminate and unbiased fear; a kind of fear that will affect anyone and everyone. Because no matter whom you are or what securities are in place, it’s yourself that is at risk. And when comes down to personal safety and security, or a matter of life and death, nothing can tear down a social hierarchy faster than the fear for the individual’s life.
The execution and accomplishment of “the plan”
It’s reasonably safe to say that both Bane and the Joker’s meta-plans failed as a generalization. However, if that were really the case, Gotham wouldn’t have changed, and neither would our dark and brooding main character. The plan for the Joker was… well, actually: was there even one at all? Contrary to his statement that he was a guy without a plan, he wasn’t lying, strictly speaking. He didn’t have one; he had dozens. Little plans and schemes that sometimes related to one another, and sometimes didn’t. But, if we were to choose his primary goal from the smorgasbord of choices, it was the mass spread of fear that was his greatest ambition. To rip open the weak seams that held public security together and to unleash the city upon itself in mass hysteria. Traditional terrorism, really.
As for Bane, his objective was a lot more straight forward. To continue the work of his predecessor, Ra’s al Ghul and have Gotham tear itself apart at the core. Because the opulence and corruption of Gotham had become so deep-seated within its nature, it was to serve as a world-wide symbol of a return to balance in the nature of things. To reset the clocks, in a way. This, however, wasn’t going to inoculate the human ego from the corrupting influence of power and wealth; but it would serve as one hell of a cold medicine.
In both cases, though: the plan was not (completely) achieved. In the Joker’s case, while the town didn’t exactly succumb to total fear, it certainly did brew up a sense of unease and insecurity in established conventions that would lay the groundwork for Bane’s ambitions to follow. And in the case of our favourite brutish mute-turned gentleman: Gotham did in fact rip itself apart… to an extent. The dregs of the social pyramid pillaged and plundered until they basked in a kingdom of hedonism and fear. But, it would require the aide of an atomic bomb to finish the deal, which proves that the basic concept behind the plan was a little more than flawed. But, to his credit, Bane did instill a more balanced sense of public justice afterwards. So, y’know how it goes.
In conclusion: I have way too much spare time to over-think this stuff
When you really break it down to the nuts and bolts, these character renditions are fascinating on a multitude of levels. Both Mr. Hardy and the late Mr. Ledger breathed an incredible amount of life into their characters, and with no small measure of help from not only the directors, but the writers as well for concocting the script and lines that we know and love today. And if nothing else, it gives us nerdy folk something really fascinating to dig our talons into and pull apart, all in the name of fandom.
For those who watched these movies and simply enjoyed them as movies: ain’t nothing wrong with that. I’m sure these kind of folk enjoyed different villains for far different reasons that are no less valid than the in-depth reading and thinking I tend to perform to things I enjoy just a little too much.
And at the end of the day, there is one unanimous rule that pretty well everyone can agree upon: Batman’s villains are WAAAAAAAY more interesting than the “villains” that Superman deals with. Because Superman is dumb and everything about him is garbage. /tiny-rant