Breaking heroes

Alyssa Rosenberg on The Dark Knight Rises and the possibility that Bane will break Batman’s back:

If Nolan does go there, I don’t think he deserves infinite credit — he would, after all, just be replicating the original storyline — but he’d be smarter than past interpreters of Bane. And I think it would be of a piece with Nolan’s extreme skepticism about the long-term viability of the whole superhero project. Ra’s al Ghul isn’t an entirely unsympathetic character in Batman Begins — he’s right that Gotham keeps breeding new and major governance and corruption problems, and neither his genocidal solution nor Batman’s proposal of constant struggle seems terribly appealing. In The Dark Knight, that ongoing struggle isn’t viable unless Batman makes certain ethical compromises that cost him allies — and even then, goodness from unexpected sources helps save the day. And maybe The Dark Knight Rises will be about the fact that no matter how much cool technology you buy, or no matter how far you venture into your own personal heart of darkness, if your strategy for fighting evil is to put yourself between your city and the people who threaten it, you become the target, and someone will come along who can break you. If you just have to flip Harvey Dent, if you just have to put Commissioner Gordon in the hospital, if you just have to put Batman in a wheelchair, that’s a fairly easy goal to concentrate a lot of super-villainous energy towards solving.

This sounds about right to me. Nolan’s Batman is a tragic figure in a sense. The hero is not infallible and his solutions always seem to lead to more violence, more conflict, more misery. The struggle cannot continue indefinitely. It never gets to the root of Gotham’s woes.

Though in movies, as in comics, there is always room for a second coming. Batman’s back is broken by Bane in the comics, but that is not the end of him. He’s back in black in future issues. I have no doubt in my mind that we’ll have another Batman franchise down the road, though it will be difficult to top the Nolan films.

Erik Kain

Erik writes about video games at Forbes and politics at Mother Jones. He's the editor of The League though he hasn't written much here lately. He can be found occasionally composing 140 character cultural analysis on Twitter.


  1. Isn’t this supposed to be the last of this series? Assuming that they DO include it, I wonder if the movie would cover several months and allow Batman to make his comeback or would it end with him in a wheelchair? Interesting…

    I just hope they leave out Robin and Azrael.

    • “I just hope they leave out Robin and Azrael.”

      I just hope, if it turns out not to be the last, they leave out Joel Schumacher.

    • If his back gets broken, I would expect it to happen towards the beginning or middle of the movie. The recovery being a part of the storyline. A Batman Begins Again. I doubt he gets his back broken, though. They’d probably just have him really, really hurt.

      It would be nice to see a good characterization of Bane. B&R was, of course, atrocious. The Animated treatment was itself uncharacteristically bad (probably because they forced Dini to introduce him).

  2. Much of what made the Bane story work the first time is the two or three weeks of chaos created by a concert of villains. Joker and Scarecrow took the Mayor hostage and had him screw around with the Police and Fire departments, for example. Batman had to deal with the bad guys *AND* crime *AND* fires and all sorts of chaotic stuff… and, at the end, Bane just had to mop him up.

    On top of that, Bane’s backstory was (fairly) interesting and, on top of that, the story of Venom (the enhancement, not the character) was fairly interesting.

    You can take Red Hood away from Joker and you’ve still got an interesting character. I don’t know that you can take Santa Prisca away from Bane and then take their shared experience of Venom away and end up with someone who can get into Batman’s head as much as Bane did in the book.

    I think you’re left with a roided up guy who is good at being a criminal.

    That said, the first two movies were good beyond what they had any right to be, I hope this one follows suit.

    • I remember reading Dennis O’Neil saying the Knightfall series was due to the Stallone, Schwarzenegger action movies of the 80s, where it became cool in stories for heros to indiscriminately mow down people who were not good guys. The Knightfall story was attempt to see how that would work in the Bat-verse; apparently there was some talk of having Azrael be the ongoing Batman if the readers loved seeing Batman as a vengeful killer.

      • I have never been more proud of the DC fanbase than I was when I heard their collective “WHAT THE HELL?” when they saw the direction Batman was pointed in.

          • In *SPACE*.

            I think that that particular reboot won’t work, for the record.

            Superman works because, deep down, he’s Clark Kent.

            We already have a supermanesque space alien superhero. His name is Martian Manhunter. A second would be redundant.

      • apparently there was some talk of having Azrael be the ongoing Batman if the readers loved seeing Batman as a vengeful killer.

        I’ve heard that, but even before it started, O’Neill was on the record as saying that the point of the exercise was to demonstrate why you don’t want someone like JPV to be Batman. They might have kept Valley if it turned out that O’Neill was wrong, maybe, but given the effort they made, I would say that it was always unlikely.

    • It’s amazing how well they planted the seeds in the book, right? I mean, a disappointing “Batman only appears in two pages, WTH!” one-shot, a LotDK storyline, a miniseries introducing a new guy named Azrael… a not-exactly-novel storyline of Batman getting exhausted, and then the glorious threading of it all together. It was exquisite.

        • My friends and I sketched out what a Knightfall movie would like. It’s doable, but tough. The first 20-30 minutes is a series of vignettes, watching Bane, Bruce, and JPV grow up (Bruce so that the viewer contrasts his luxurious isolation with Bane’s populated hell). Giving enough information for background, but doing more showing than telling. The details aren’t as important as the environs*. Bane’s story ends with throwing the warden off with the teddy bear. Bruce’s trying to figure out a way to become faster/stronger/better, and JPV figuring out Bruce’s identity (most likely).

          The next 30-40 minutes is Bruce vs Bane. JPV is a part of the bat-crew, but doesn’t wear a costume. He’s helping Bruce overcome withdrawal from Venom (withdrawal replacing fatigue as the reason Bruce is off-kilter). He is not officially designated as Bruce’s successor, but rather takes it up himself immediately after Bruce’s fall when he sees it as his calling. Bruce then decides that Gotham does need a Batman and lets it be.

          The next 50-60 minutes is JPV as Batman, going after Bane and maybe someone else (his father would be a possibility, alive and well and likely to know Batman using The System when he sees it), and Bruce, working with Shiva and recovering (from what is obviously less than a broken back). Maybe replace Shiva with Richard Dragon, who has a healing side to him.

          The last half-hour is the big battle, Bruce taking the mantle back, and conclusion.

          A lot of it is Reader’s Digest Version, which would leave a lot of fans disappointed. And it’s a very rapidly developing plot, which the movie-makers seem to appreciate. I should add that this was written with regard to the previous Batman series (Robin written off, with Dick making no more than a cameo). If you were doing a Batman vs. Bane story with the current series, you might be able to cut Jean-Paul out entirely.

          Knightfall would make an absolutely awesome animated serial. A single, 26-episode series. That would be awesome.

          * – JPV’s environ changes, though. He is being taught the System from a young boy in order to take his father’s place as Azrael down the road. He has a crisis of conscience when he sees what his father actually does and runs away, ending up in Gotham on a Wayne Foundation scholarship and eventually working for WayneTech as a chemist in charge of the supersoldier serum project (Venom). He becomes acquainted with Bruce Wayne through Bruce’s interest in Venom, figures everything out, and is allowed into the Bat-Tent to help Wayne with the Venom.

          • Sounds pretty awesome to me.

            The animated Batman movies (Red Hood, etc) have been pretty well done but I would love to see them visually look like Star Wars: The Clone Wars and be a regular series.

          • You and your friends have better conversations over beers than me and mine.

          • I forgot to mention one other possibility we had for Jean-Paul. Rather than a religious sect/cult, Azrael is the tool of Krasna-Volney or some eastern European country to keep the population in line. Jean-Paul’s resolution could then become the protector of the Krasnian people or something.

  3. If they do it at the beginning, then it’s “didn’t we already see Bruce Wayne learn to be Batman?”

    If they do it at the end, then it’s “what? We watched three movies only to see Batman die at the end?”

    If they do it in the middle, then it’s “okay, Batman had his back broken, but he just had to take a day off and now he’s all better?”

    I think that the whole Bane thing is just not a good fit for where Nolan’s “Batman” series currently sits. If they’d introduced a sidekick character in the second movie, then yeah, maybe. But an important part of the “Batman Dies” story is the idea that someone else puts on the mask afterwards, and that it’s significant because that person was well established as being not Batman.

    • I agree there – if Batman is out of commission for awhile then there has to be someone to step into the void during his absence because that way key in the comic storyline. I guess they could introduce a new good guy to do so but that would be outside of canon and not really keeping with the other two movies being fairly accurate. If we throw canon out, I would do it this way:

      Have Bane take out Batman and then have a few good-but-not-great vigilantes step up. Maybe a non-canon Nightwing or Red Hood with alternate backstories or even a reluctantly-good Catwoman.

      If DC was tighter with their movies the way that Marvel has been in prepping for The Avengers then they could even pull in some JL folks to protect Gotham. Someone like Green Arrow or Green Lantern.

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