Sunday, July 13, 2008

With two of Batman's greatest arch-rivals revealed in The Dark Knight - anticipation already turns to a second sequel, and follow up to the successful realization of Ra's Al Ghul, Scarecrow, Joker, and Two-Face!

One can't help but feel the untimely passing of Heath Ledger might have otherwise put the kibosh on any kind of supporting role taken by the Joker, as suggested by early theories of a continued Harvey Dent/Joker rivalry in a third film.

Through preview screenings and eye-witness accounts, it quickly became apparent that the fate of Harvey Dent becomes uncertain, but fortunately for movie-goers, that conclusion could not be more textbook if it wanted to be. With Nolan and Goyer drawing heavily from influences like Dark Victory, I'm inclined to expect Two-Face to continue his war on Gotham from a hidden lair in the city sewers, but it'll be at least a few years before we get any kind of answer.

Despite Nolan's rising star, the subdued director has shown great openness toward continuing Batman, not just as a trilogy, but as a serialized anthology of films. And, when once upon a time the constraints of a trilogy were a welcome curb to Hollywood's money counting; Christopher Nolan (his brother Jonathan, and David Goyer) offer hope for success in just such a concept.
Still; while Nolan humbly offers few assumptions about future films, The Dark Knight runs in cinemas devoid of any tantalizers akin to the Joker tease at the end of 2005's Begins - an unfortunate reminder for fans, new and old, of how difficult it can be to align the necessary parts to successfully orchestrate a feature sequel.

It was Tim Burton who set a similar precedent, bowing out of the director's chair after mixed reactions to his 1992 blockbuster, Batman Returns. Joel Schumacher was effectively forced out after his two films, the latter which many consider a near-fatal blow to the Batman franchise. A blessing in disguise, to be sure, given the glorious rebirth of Batman as he was arguably, always intended!

In looking to a potential future for the Bat-brand, one doesn't necessarily see a need for a parade of successive, villainous introductions. Batman's decisions in The Dark Knight build to a renewel of conflict with the Gotham City Police Department - arguably providing a logical continuation of the series on the merits of that alone. Of course, if these repercussions were to be the thematic resonance of the film, there are any number of ways other foes might return, Dent top of the list.

It wouldn't be much of a C2C recap if we left things as is, so consider this an indulgence, on our part, of the vocal desires of fans to pinpoint new blood for the series. Below are just five potential candidates, each embroiled in a concept to take the Batman beyond!

Suicide Squad #2 (June 1987)
"Trial By Fire" Ostrander/McDonnell

Coinciding with the release of The Dark Knight is a Japanese DTV anthology following in the footsteps of 2003's, The Animatrix.

Among the collection of short stories is a feature written by Alan Burnett and animated by studio Madhouse, called Deadshot. Perhaps the best received of the collection; the tale introduces the DC staple of the same name, as an assassin hired to kill hero-cop, Jim Gordon.

The marksman, who first appeared as a rival crimefight in 1950, represents an argument different to Batman's, and more deliberate than the gradual crossing of lines undertaken by Harvey Dent. Unprovoked, Deadshot is an assassin whose motivations are selfish and impure, making him a stark contrast to the unarmed Dark Knight, if thematically redundant to the diverged themes of choice and escalation, already explored with Joker and Two-Face.

Batman #621 (January 2004)
"Broken City" Azzarello/Risso

The gradual transition from shadowy adventures against mobster, to full blown confrontations with themed villains, has been popular described in stories like The Long Halloween and Dark Victory, which detail the ascension of the freaks, and the end of conventional crime in Gotham City.

Personally, I see absolutely no reason, or plausible resonance, in eliminating the criminal element from the feature films. Even as Joker instigates organized chaos from within their ranks, the likes of Falcone and Maroni have provided a recognisable humanity to the villainous deeds of men like Ra's Al Ghul and the garish Joker.

Though as freakish as Batman villains tend to get, Killer Croc presents the opportunity for more conventional opponents, even if with a harder edge than the suited villains already seen. Maybe a Mickey Rourke type?...

Detective Comics #796 (September 2004)
"... And Red all Over" Gabrych/Woods

With all the excitement surrounding Heath Ledger's Joker, Two-Face, and a cameo by the Scarecrow; few have stopped to recall the spooky presence of Arkham inmate, Victor Zsasz, in Batman Begins.

Though not widely recognised by mainstream audiences, Zsasz has become one of Batman's deadliest foes. Deeply rooted in the psychology of Batman's universe; Zsasz becomes as complex, and abstract a figure, as the Joker; following his own erratic patterns, the once suicidal gambler became a self-righteous serial killer, intent on liberating the worthless from the prison of their lives.

The vagueness of his appearances helped Zsasz fit seemlessly into Begins, allowing a natural return after Arkham's mass breakout. Something perhaps funded by the Joker's promotion of violent crimes in Gotham City -- a challenge waiting to be taken up by another!

Batman #648 (February 2006)
"All They do is Watch us Kill" Winick/Mahnke

Looking, once more, to the grounded villains in Batman's rogues gallery, we find yet another lesser known, but thoroughly plausible entrant based upon established history.

Roman Sionis was born to an upper-class family of self-absorbed wealth, suffering many injuries idnignities in a childhood built on presentation, rather than love. When an adult Sionis eventually took a job with his family's cosmetics company, he was responsible for clearing untested goods that disfigured thousands, and brought an end to his family fortune.

Unlike many more popular villains, Black Mask potentially provides a foil for Bruce Wayne, based on his history as a businessman. Furthermore, with a few tweaks, Black Mask could easily be retooled as an alias for a former disgruntled Wayne employee - William Earle (Rutger Hauer) - whose subsequent positions may have included similar failings, and a mounting grudge.

Checkmate #12 (May 2007)
"Corvalho" Rucka/Defilippis/Scott/Richards

Finally, a far more recognisable villain, albeit, one who arguably carries too much baggage to facilitate integration into the hyper-realism of Nolan's film universe -- Bane!

Famous for breaking Batman's back in 1993's Knightfall; Bane represents the type of character associated with time period with chagrin. Manufactured for a singular purpose, Bane has struggled to develop fully into a more viable character, wavering between ideals of back-breaking villainy, redemptive penance, and political rebellion.

Like Deadshot; Bane is relatively easily boiled down to much less fantastic parts. Drug abuse and the lengths Batman is willing to go to could easily become thematics undercurrents of a feature where Batman has condemned himself to be on the run. Better yet, Bane could easily be adapted into a Task Force set-up to track the bat, recalling instances from the comics, such as Year One. Such a story could very easily facilitate the entry of many characters, villainous, or otherwise.

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