‘The Dark Knight Trilogy’ Villains: A Guide – Part 1
So you’ve seen Christopher Nolan’s three epic Batman movies and you’re thinking: that was awesome. But who were all those bad guys? Sure I know who The Joker and Catwoman are, but Scarecrow, Bane and the others are new to me. I’d like to learn more!
Luckily for you House of Geekery is here to oblige. In this guide you’ll find a primer as to who the bad guys are in the comics, how they differ in the movies and where you need to go in order to enjoy more of their madness. Enjoy!
RA’S AL GHUL
When the name Ra’s al Ghul (in the original Arabic: رأس الغول,) is translated into English it reads ‘The Demon’s Head’, referring to his role as the head of the League of Assassins. He’s also referred to as ‘The Immortal’ as he has discovered the key to ever-lasting life through alchemy and magical locations around the globe called Lazarus Pits. Using such Pits Ra’s has been alive for over 600 years, constantly in pursuit of his life goal.
Ra’s al Ghul dreams of world in natural balance and views the human race and politicians as the biggest flaw in the system. He seeks to wipe out most of the human population in order to correct this imbalance, and has employed biological weapons to fulfill this goal. Ra’s has great respect for Batman, addressing him as ‘The Detective’ and wishes that Batman will ultimately become his successor.
Batman first meets Ra’s when the villain surprises him the Batcave after deducing that Bruce Wayne and Batman are the same person. He presents himself as an ally requiring Batman’s help in rescuing his kidnapped daughter, Talia, and Robin. Batman soon discovers that the ‘kidnapping’ was orchestrated by Ra’s al Ghul as a test for Batman to judge his worth as a heir. Talia al Ghul had already met and fallen in love with Batman. The Dark Knight rejects the offer (somewhat opposed to Ra’s attempt to ‘cleanse’ the world) and the two have been mortal, yet respected, opponents since.
Batman’s relationship with Talia has complicated the relationship between him and Ra’s. At times Batman has considered siding with Ra’s due to his attraction to his daughter, and sometimes Talia has been placed at odds with her father. Ra’s has become a more permanent fixture in Batman’s world since Batman and Talia have had a son together. Damien Wayne, trained as a cold blooded assassin since birth, is currently working as Robin with Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson trying to rehabilitate his into normal society.
Bruce Wayne first encounter Ra’s in an Eastern Asian prison where Ra’s, presenting himself as Ducard, invites Wayne to join the League of Shadows. Training in the art of ninjitsu and learning the ideologies of the group, Wayne is introduced to an imposter posing as Ra’s al Ghul. When Bruce Wayne is to be initiated into the League he is instructed to execute a man accused of murder. Wayne rebels and escapes the temple, burning it down and killing who he believes to be Ra’s al Ghul. Later, while operating as Batman in Gotham, Wayne is again confronted by Ra’s – another imposter. He learns that ‘Ducard’ is the real Ra’s al Ghul, using a series of imposters to create the perception that he is immortal. He has returned to Gotham to destroy the city using a fear inducing chemical agent.
In terms of adapting the character to the screen, the basic character and philosophies he espouses are lifted straight from the pages of the comics. Being set in a more realistic world the supernatural aspect of the Lazuras Pit is skipped over in favour of a more down to Earth approach. The use of imposters provide a neat little twist for the character. His skills as an assassin and foil/mentor for Batman is also largely intact in the cinematic version with Liam Neeson perfectly capturing the dual role.
Without question the definitive collection is Tales of the Demon. Denny O’Neil created the character in 1971 and this graphic novel contains the first story along with the best of his tales of the span of a decade. For those looking for the origin story the obviously titled Birth of the Demon will supply that sordid tale. For a greater insight into Ra’s and Batman’s rivalry you can check out Son of the Demon (notice a theme in those titles?) that sees them team up to pursue a mutual enemy. In this book we see Batman come seriously consider taking on the Demon’s empire and marrying Talia.
Hardly one of the most memorable of the Batman rogues gallery (it’s hard to make an impression when up against crocodile men and women dressed in catsuits), Falcone provides one of Batman’s first major foes in prequel stories. As a younger man Carmine Falcone was the target of an attack from the rival Malroni family. Fearing the consequences of taking him to a public hospital, his father Vincent takes him to Wayne Manor and pleads with Thomas Wayne to perform the life saving surgery. At Thomas Wayne’s funeral Carmine tells the young Bruce Wayne that he can always ask a favour of the Falcone family.
When Bruce Wayne becomes Batman, Carmine as risen to be the most powerful mob boss in Gotham and is now referred to as ‘The Roman’. Batman targets the gang leader by dumping his car in the river and leaving him tied to his bed in his underwear. Humiliated Carmine orders a hit on Batman. An unrelated attack by Catwoman then leaves Carmine with a distinctive set of scars on his face. The Falcone’s continue to battle against Batman, Gordon and DA Harvey Dent and when Batman and Dent torch a warehouse of cash owned by Falcone they drive the hoodlum to start recruiting ‘freaks’ to fight back. An assassination on Harvey Dent goes awry when Dent survives but is left scarred and psychologically damaged, adopting the name ‘Two Face’. Two-Face confronts Falcone in his home and, on the basis of a coin flip, murders him.
Although initially introduced as a completely original character, when he was later used by writer Loeb he was clearly modeled on Marlon Brando’s character of Vito Corleone in The Godfather. A ruthless criminal, Carmine Falcone took little hesitation in kidnapping or attacking the children of his rivals making his climb to power swift and bloody.
Carmine Falcone is the most powerful gangster in Gotham, first crossing paths with Bruce Wayne when Falcone has the murderer of Wayne’s parents assassinated to prevent him from testifying. When confronting the mobster, Falcone demonstrates his power in the city by threatening Wayne with a gun in front of police, judges and district attorneys, all of whom turn a blind eye. This makes Bruce Wayne understand how corrupt the city is, providing the next step towards becoming Batman.
Upon returning to Gotham Bruce Wayne makes his debut as Batman by attacking Falcone and his men while they receive a drug shipment, leaving Falcone strapped bodily to a spotlight for the police. After his incarceration he threatens Dr. Crane and his employer and, in order to protect himself, Crane uses his fear inducing chemical to drive Falcone insane.
It’s a straight-forward adaptation of the character, drawing from his original incarnation rather than the one influenced by The Godfather. Wilkinson, for an Englishmen, plays a surprisingly convincing Italian mobster. He oozes menace and power and ultimately makes a good first target for the new vigilante.
The original Carmine Falcone story is in the excellent Batman Year One, but Frank Miller, and is widely considered to one of the best Batman stories ever written. Year One should be essential reading for anyone looking to enjoy some Batman. The longest running story that most delves into the character of ‘The Roman’ is The Long Halloween, that sees Batman trading blows with the gangster, Carmine playing a part in creating Two-Face and his family coming under attack by The Holiday killer.
Zsasz is undoubtedly one of the most terrifying villains in the Batman universe, in part because he’s one of the most realistic. Being born into a wealthy family and the founder or a successful international company his world fell apart when his parents died in a boating accident when he was 25. Falling into a deep depression he became addicted to gambling. Eventually losing his entire fortune to the Penguin as Gotham Casino his depression deepened and he no longer saw any purpose in the world. When heading to Gotham Bridge to commit suicide he was approach by a homeless man who wanted money. Not having any left to give the vagrant came at Zsasz with a knife, which Zsasz turned against him. This began a long and seemingly endless killing spree where Zsasz murders people to ‘free’ them from the pointless world.
Although he usually targets young women Victor Zsasz does not discriminate when choosing victims. His MO is most often slitting the throats of his captives and posing them in life-life scenarios before scarring himself to tally his number of victims. Spending most of his time in Arkham Asylum, Victor Zsasz escapes at every opportunity to continue ‘liberating’ people from the world and he now counts his victims in the hundreds. Having been declared incurably insane he rarely plans further than capturing and murdering victims, whilst Batman’s other foes go for more complex schemes.
Due to his extremely vicious nature and total lack of morals Batman doesn’t pull many punches with Zsasz. Whenever there’s a breakout from Arkham (you know, every second Tuesday) recapturing Zsasz is often Batman’s first priority because he knows that the villain will waste little time in claiming innocent lives. With no predictable pattern to his attacks and little clues left behind he’s exceptionally difficult to track, and although wiry in physique he’s very strong and can go toe-to-toe with Batman.
Victor Zsaz (with a different spelling) along features briefly in the film trilogy, in a non speaking role. He appears in court as a ‘butcher’ for the Falcone mob family. He appears pleased his description and sharp eyed viewers will have noticed his tally-shaped scars on his neck and chest (see image above). When Ra’s causes a break-out from Arkham Zsaz escapes and threatens Rachel Dawes and a young child with a large knife (given that the kid would later become King Joffery of Westoros, maybe Rachel should’ve let Zsaz take care of him). In the websites promoting The Dark Knight Zsaz is revealed to be still at large a year later.
Aside from using a knife and having his tally scars, the brief non-speaking role doesn’t give much opportunity to do anything other than name-check the villain. He is a scary looking character though, played strangely enough by the lead singer for the band James.
Zsasz isn’t often used as an arch-enemy in Batman stories, often being included as a wildcard or additional threat. His first appearance in Shadow of the Bat is his most notable role as the main foe to date, but his stories in Knightfall (taking a group of girls at a boarding school hostage) and No Man’s Land (being a patient in Dr. Leslie’s clinic) are worthy checking out.
Jonathon Crane was frequently bullied as a youth due to his lanky frame and bookish bahviour, likened to Ichabod Crane from Sleepy Hollow by his peers. After being humiliated by a school bully and rejected by a girl, he wanted to get back at people and arrived at the school prom dressed as a scarecrow and brandishing a gun. Looking to frighten those who had bullied him his action resulted in a car crash that killed the girl who’d rejected him and paralyzed the bully. Upon seeing the effects of fear Crane studied psychiatry and taking a job at Arkham Asylum. Here he would induce fear in the inmates as part of his experiments.
His obsession with inducing and studying fear lead to Crane acting in an illogical and unpredictable manner. After discharging a gun in a crowded classroom while teaching he was fired. Unwilling to stop his experiments he turned to crime as a way to fund his research, using his fear inducing toxins and Scarecrow persona to carry out his heists.
Having a slight frame and detached mind (he his sometimes depicted as speaking in nursery rhymes) Batman often has little trouble physically overcoming Crane. His mind-altering attacks are another story, however, as even Batman cannot fully protect his mind from Scarecrow’s attacks. Working alone Crane does little than rob banks and expose people to his fear gas, but he is often recruited by the more powerful criminals of Gotham in their larger schemes. Working with Falcone, The Joker, Penguin, Black Mask, Mad Hatter, Midnight, Hush (who was once his student), The Riddler and others he plays a part in manipulating others to submit to a grander plan.
Like Zsasz, The Scarecrow is initially in the employ of Carmine Falcone, although he answers directly to Ra’s al Ghul. Like in the comics he has developed a potent fear toxin that causes hallucinations. Instead of being a disgraced psychologist he works in a high position at Arkham Asylum where he testifies in favour of an insanity plee for Falcone’s thugs to keep them out of prison.
As Rachel Dawes and Batman investigate into his activities they find that he’s dumping large amounts of the fear toxin into the Gotham water supply as part of Ra’s al Ghul’s plan to destroy the city. When confronting Batman the second time (the first encounter Batman was caught unawares and set ignited) Crane receives a heavy dose of his own gas. During the destruction of Gotham he’s seen as having embraced the Scarecrow persona and leads the escapees in an attack on the public.
Scarecrow briefly returns in The Dark Knight partaking in street crime, specifically supplying his fear toxin as a drug to local gangs.
The basic concept of the character is kept true to the source material, but the personality of the character is greatly changed. Instead of the nervous, lanky figure familiar to readings Dr. Crane is confident and confrontation. He responds calmly to threats from mobsters and Batman and even shows a sadistic side at times.
Batman/Scarecrow: Year One is a great place to read the full origin story of The Scarecrow but for the best experience of the character one needs to turn to different media. The video game Arkham Asylum has a much more terrifying depiction of Scarecrow and allows the player to experience the effects of his abilities first hand.
Stay tuned folks…The Dark Knight will soon follow and The Dark Knight Rises won’t be far behind!