‘The Dark Knight Trilogy’ Villains: A Guide (Part 2)
In the previous entry of this limited series we analysed the comic and Nolan movie versions of Ra’s al Ghul, Carmine Falcone, Victor Zsasz and The Scarecrow. Now, with logic as our guide, we move on to the villains of The Dark Knight!
When Bruce Wayne donned his Batman persona he anticipated striking fear into the hearts of muggers and rapist, and rarely dealt with any major crime. It wasn’t long before something more challenging came into the picture: a madman. When Batman received word that a man dressed as a clown was going to poison the Gotham water supply he didn’t yet grasp what he had to contend with. The Joker is a pure psychopath, and he kills for enjoyment. And he will never stop.
Once a failed stand-up comedian, Jack Napier (rumoured real name) was ashamed that he could’ve provide a good place to live for his young wife and their expected child. Although she assured him that she loved him regardless, he would do anything to find them a home. His path led him to the door of some local thugs looking to him to help them break into the chemical factory he was once employed in. When his pregnant wife is killed in a tragic accident Jack tries to back out of the deal, but the thugs respond to this notion violently and force him into acting as an accomplice. During the break-in Batman arrives on the scene and the ensuring fight sees Jack Napier knocked into a vat of toxic chemicals. He survived the event, but his skin was bleached white, his hair turned green and his face distended into a demented smile. The real damage was done to his mind however – the combination of the chemicals and his recent losses had driven his irreversibly insane. Whether this account is true, however, is never made clear.
Known to Batman, the authorities and the public only as The Joker, he acts out his violent and demented plans and murders without any discernible motivation, making his actions extremely unpredictable. At best he seems to do whatever feeds his sick sense of humour. The Penguin once noted that, after The Joker entered his club and shot a couple who where ‘at his table’, that The Joker would pick a random couple every night and considered it a fine joke. Most of The Jokers attacks and schemes involve elaborate and deadly pranks, but he also acts very much on impulse and will kill indiscriminately. His crimes range from straight forward murder sprees to running for mayor and rigging the election. Sometimes he’ll work with a gang in his employ but he’s equally likely to work solo. In recent years he’s often accompanied by his obsessive girlfriend and partner in crime Harley Quinn. Although she is highly devoted to him, Joker is often physically abusive and manipulative.
The Joker delights in the presence of Batman and seems to feel that forcing Batman to break his strict moral code by pushing to the point that he’ll kill the Joker would be the ultimate victory over the caped crusader. To this end he has made several attempts to drive Batman to the edge that have included brutally beating the second Robin, Jason Todd, to death using a crowbar, shooting Batgirl in the spine, murdered Commissioner Gordon’s second wife and attempting to drive his friend Commissioner Gordon insane. Batman came close to beating The Joker to death after he murdered Wayne’s childhood friend Thomas Elliot before being stopped by Gordon, after which he learned that Joker had faked the murder thinking it would be a great joke if Batman got blood on his hands over a misunderstanding.
After protecting Gotham and stopping Ra’s al Ghul, Capt. Gordon explains to Batman that his approach to crime-fighting may lead to criminals reaching the same extremes. Across the city a dangerous new criminal wearing clown make-up had been robbing banks and mercilessly killing anyone who gets in his way. Upon investigating Batman learns that this new foe – known as The Joker – has been targeting banks owned by mobsters and arranging his heists so that he’s the only one in the gang walking away with the loot.
Before long The Joker makes his presence known the heads of local gangs, ensuring that they take him seriously by sporting a jacket full of grenades and claims that he will kill Batman in exchange for half of their money. At first one mob boss puts a bounty on the clown, but this plan backfired when the Joker murders him instead. Having consolidated his power The Joker begins spreading chaos around Gotham City, murdering Batman imposters and announcing that every day Batman refuses to come forward he’ll kill more people. While Batman tries to track him down he successfully murders the police commissioner, a high judge and James Gordon, who was blocking the bullet meant for the Mayor.
Unable to find any links to The Jokers real identity and with the bodies piling up, District Attorney Harvey Dent claims to be Batman in order to lure Joker into a trap. The trap is a success and although the Joker and Batman meet face to face in an interrogation room, The Joker successfully stages an escape while killer Bruce Wayne and Harvey Dent’s love interest Rachel Dawes and disfiguring Dent. By this time he feels that Batman is to interesting to kill, so he threatens to blow up a hospital unless someone else can kill the man who could reveal who Batman is. Before blowing up the hospital he explains his philosophy to the disfigured Harvey Dent and sets him on the lose.
The Joker then makes a final play, threatening the people of Gotham that if they don’t want to be caught up in his ‘games’ they need to leave town. Those who try and escape on the ferries wind up as part of his scheme to prove to Batman that people are inherently evil by trying to force them to kill each other.
This version of The Joker differs in many respects from his comic book counterpart. He retains the stylistic appearance of the purple suit and clown motif but instead of being permanently deformed in the same way. Nolan’s Joker has dyed his hair and wears make-up, with his ‘smile’ being the result of deep scars running up the sides of his face from him mouth. His driving nature is also different while the Joker of the comics does what he does for fun, The Joker of The Dark Knight espouses an anarchistic philosophy and is intent to prove to Batman that all people are on some level like him. Regardless of their psychology, both are cold, homicidal maniacs.
The most important two books concerning The Joker is Ed Brubaker’s The Man Who Laughs and Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke. The former is a modern retelling of Batman’s first encounter with the clown, and his first case dealing with a maniac. The latter supplies the Joker’s backstory being told alongside a narrative about The Joker trying to get to Batman by targeting James Gordon and his family. Both are written by some of the best minds in comic writing today and stand out among the dozens of other great Joker stories available.
Before the ‘freaks’ like The Penguin, Black Mask and Maxie Zeus took over organised crime in Gotham City, the mafia called the shots. The Falcone family wielded the most power, but the Maroni crime family where their most dangerous rivals. During the killing spree of serial killer ‘Holiday’, who targeted members of Gotham’s crime families, both Falcone and Maroni accused the other side of being responsible for the attacks. During this time Salvatore’s father, Luigi, was the head of the crime family and Sal was involved in a secret love affair with Carmine Falcone’s daughter, Sofia.
When Luigi Maroni is murdered by Holiday, Sal goes to Harvey Dent and offers proof against the Falcone crime family in exchange for leniency. While in prison Sal is visited by Sofia who convinces him that Dent was responsible for the Holiday killings. When Sal is called to court to testify he throws acid in Harvey Dent’s face, turning him into Two-Face. The bailiff shot Maroni twice in the chest, although he survived only to be killed by Holiday when being moved to a different cell.
Salvatore Maroni is the head of the Italian mob, one of the gangs taking over organised crime in Gotham after the incarceration of Carmine Falcone. With Batman cracking down on crime, DA Harvey Dent building a case against them and The Joker robbing their banks business is not going well. At the beginning of the movie Maroni is in court, about to be testified against by one of his gang when it is revealed to be an assassination attempt on Dent. Maroni gets of the hook when he isn’t testified against.
When the Joker offers to kill Batman he’s one of the mobsters who is interested in the proposition. The plan backfires when Batman brings in Lau, allowing Maroni and all the gangsters in Gotham to be arrested. Making bail he eventually sees the chaos caused by The Joker and reveals the clowns location to Gordon. When Maroni attempts to flee Gotham he is confronted by Dent – now Two-Face – and it’s implied that he died in the encounter.
Sal Maroni in The Dark Knight is portrayed as a more modern gangster than Carmine Falcone. He’s dressed in slicker suits, frequents night clubs and sits back to observe while Falcone flaunted his power. He acts with a quiet confidence while his rivals are much more outspoken. The relationship between the movie and comic version is slim, only the name indicates any influence.
The most important story concerning Sal Maroni is The Long Halloween, and since we’ve recommended that one check out Batman and the Monster Men.
At the age of 26 Harvey Dent had become the youngest distract attorney to ever serve Gotham City, his clean cut image earning him the nickname ‘Apollo’. Unbeknownst to his peers Harvey Dent spent much of his young life suffering at the hands of his abusive father, who would use a trick coin to decide if Harvey deserved a beating. This leaves Dent with a buried rage that he kept at bay in order to pursue his career. When his face is dowsed in acid during a trial the dark side of his personality comes the surface. Harvey ‘Two-Face’ Dent now relies on his father’s damaged coin to make decisions for him as he follows a path of crime and homicide, beginning with attacking the Falcone crime family and being locked in Arkham.
As he was allied with Batman and Gordon, and friends with Bruce Wayne, Batman feels a tremendous amount of guilt over what happened to Dent and often seeks to rehabilitate him. In spite of this Dent and Batman have frequently clashed. Two-Face abducted the original Robin, Dick Grayson, and left his traumatized after thrashing him with a baseball bat. It’s later revealed that Dent murdered Jason Todd’s father. Most of his crimes revolve around thefts and murder, frequently with a dual theme to it.
During No Man’s Land Two-Face escapes from Arkham and establishes an extensive gang. When the gang is destroyed by Bane, Two-Face is left to fend for himself until he meets Detective Montoya. Renee Montoya manages to reach the Harvey Dent of his split personality and for a while he manages to do some good. Harvey winds up in love in Montoya that leads to some dangerous attempts to win her over after Two-Face takes over again.
Through therapy and surgery Harvey Dent did manage to return to his normal life and attempted to atone for his crimes. When Batman takes a sabbatical from Gotham he leaves Dent operating as the cities vigilante crime fighter. Eventually the Two-Face side of his personality re-emerges and forces Dent to burn his own face, recreating his scarred visage.
Harvey Dent is the white knight of Gotham, leading the city in a campaign to eradicate organized crime. Confident yet modest, he fearlessly goes after the leaders of the mob, cooly dismissing an assassination attempt in a court room to continue the trial. He’s of particular interest to Bruce Wayne because of his relationship with Rachel Dawes.
Knowing that he can’t take on the mob without help he recruits James Gordon and Batman to his cause. They both begin to trust Dent (Batman because of the trust Rachel has in him). When Batman delivers Lau, Dent makes the case against the mobsters and manages to clean up the streets – with the exception of the Joker. When Joker threatens to continue his murder spree until Batman comes forward Dent claims that he is Batman in order to flush out the madman.
The Joker takes his revenge by abducting Dent and Dawes and strapping them to time-bombs. Rachel dies but Batman reaches Dent in time. He’s not completely clear when the bomb detonates and half his face has the flesh burned off leaving him disfigured. Blaming the mobsters, Gordon and Batman for allowing Rachel to die and, driven by Joker, he escapes the hospital and seeks out those who he believes deserves his vengeance. In each case he allows the flip of a coin to decide if the person should live or die, giving them the same 50-50 chance Rachel had been given.
With the exception of some details in his origin, this cinematic incarnation of Two-Face in The Dark Knight stays pretty close to the source material. He’s a powerful DA whose adamant pursuit of the mob leads to an attack that physically scars him and leaves him insane. It’s the actions of the Joker and corrupt cops that leads to his disfigurement, not the mob, and it’s achieved with fire and not acid. His appearance and methods remain more or less intact as well, except he doesn’t talk to his split personality.
Two-Faces origin story has been done multiple times, but his re-emergance as Two-Face after being rehabilitated is a different story. Face the Face tells this story brilliantly, largely from the point of view of Dent himself. To get away from the background stories and seeing Two-Face in all his psychotic glory it’s worth checking out Gotham Central: In the Line of Duty, a series focused on the police of Gotham when he seeks to win the love of Renee Montoya (check out the series anyway, it’s bloody fantastic).
Don’t forget to keep watch for the third and final part of this series – detailing the villains of The Dark Knight Rises!