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What makes a hero and what makes a villain are not original concepts to Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight" trilogy. But damn, can he make them interesting. As The Dark Knight Rises looms over the world, promising an epic end to seven years of pop culture reverence, we take a look back (and a glance forward) at the main players involved in Nolan's epic and how they relate to their comic roots. At least as best as two film freaks (with limited comic knowledge) can.
We'll start with the heroes or the "good guys," if we can even use such black-and-white descriptor's in Nolan's Bat-verse. Perhaps it would be best to call them "the one's who have not lost faith in humanity/believe in its capacity for good."
Bruce Wayne/Batman (Christian Bale)
“As a man, I’m flesh and blood. I can be ignored. I can be destroyed, but as a symbol? As a symbol I can be incorruptible. I can be everlasting.”
We could debate until the end of time what makes Batman one of, if not the most engaging hero for the masses. Despite having no legitimate powers (other than being a billionaire), Batman continues to stand apart from most comic-based heroes in terms of depth thanks in part to his fractured psychology — a field Nolan has proven he loves to explore as seen in his other films such as Following, Memento and Inception.
The Batman comics have taken Bruce to many different areas of the mind, ranging from solitude, doubt, rage, disillusionment and conviction. Unlike past film adaptations, where Batman (be it Keaton, Kilmer or Clooney) was one-note (if at all), Nolan and Bale have spent a trilogy of films crafting an arc for Batman that is less about revenge and more about combating the injustices of the world, starting with Gotham City.
In terms of influence, the first two films took aspects of his journey from Batman: Year One, The Man Who Falls and Batman: The Long Halloween, all of which deal with his earlier crime fighting days and Batman’s rise from masked vigilante into legend. With The Dark Knight Rises finally on our doorsteps and looking to use material from The Dark Knight Returns, Knightfall and No Man’s Land stories, we expect Nolan and Bale to delve further into the mind of Batman’s motivations, goals and lasting impression on Gotham. Whether he comes out the other side in one piece remains to be seen, but it promises to be a deep, dark ride. ~Max
Commissioner Jim Gordon (Gary Oldman)
“He’s the hero Gotham deserves but not the one it needs right now. So we’ll hunt him. Because he can take it.”
A longstanding figure in “Batman” comics, Jim Gordon’s support of the Dark Knight could be rivaled only by Alfred. He comes in a variety of forms, but nearly all of them list him as an honest cop and family man who shares Batman’s mission in ridding Gotham of crime and corruption, despite his reluctance for some of Batman's tactics.
Long left on the sidelines with virtually nothing to do in prior “Batman” films, Nolan brought Gordon front and center by way of Oldman, acting as the bridge between the audience and Nolan’s dark, immersive (but still comic-based) world. Acting as the conscience of the first film, Gordon is not only the audience’s “everyman,” he’s also the observer mapping out the themes to come in Nolan’s trilogy — notably that Batman's very presence could result in escalation, or sending Gotham into darker times (and boy, did it).
Gordon’s history in the comics changes depending on who’s telling the story, but he's mostly been kept at a distance from the Wayne name until Bruce returns to Gotham ready to fight crime. Not the case in Nolan's world. Nolan matches Gordon’s arc to Bruce’s, rising from a beat cop to police commissioner as Bruce goes from orphaned boy to masked vigilante. In fact, their paths first cross the night Bruce's parents are killed. He’s just as human and capable of causing pain; he faked his own death (even to his family) as well as took his share of responsibility for the death of Rachel Dawes as well and the rampage of Two-Face. Through it all, Gordon remains one of the few foundations left keeping Gotham (and Batman) standing. We’re fully prepared to see him in Bane’s crosshairs. ~Max
Alfred Pennyworth (Michael Caine)
“You are as precious to me as you were to your own mother and father. I swore to them that I would protect you. And I haven't.”
If Gordon is the conscience of Nolan's Batman films, Alfred is his heart. Appearing in nearly all “Batman” stories (in one form or another), Alfred has consistently acted as the father figure to Bruce since the death of his parents. Having come from a family in the service industry with a background in medicine, Alfred has often been critical in not only maintaining Wayne Manor and the Batcave, but also Batman himself, serving as a medic when Bruce has taken one too many hits, dog bites, etc.
Of Batman’s many secondary characters, Alfred is the one who has been given the most love in past adaptations. His failing health even played a bigger part in the “story” of Batman & Robin. Michael Gough (who played the part since the ’89 original) gets his share of love from fans, but it was Caine and Nolan who brought the depth to Alfred and Bruce’s relationship. Less a pushover than his predecessors, Caine’s Alfred will chastise a young Bruce for denouncing Wayne Manor, knock out one of Ra’s Al Ghul’s thugs in a fire and advise Bruce to endure the chaos spread by The Joker.
In Alfred, Nolan keeps a lifeline to Bruce’s humanity and past, reminding him of what it is he is fighting and working towards. In an increasingly unstable landscape leading into The Dark Knight Rises, Alfred is all the family and support that Batman has. ~Max
Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman)
“Mr. Wayne, if you don't want to tell me exactly what you're doing, when I'm asked, I don't have to lie. But don't think of me as an idiot.”
Lucius Fox has been a key supporting member in Batman’s comics ever since his introduction in 1979. Originally introduced to save a financially disastrous Wayne Enterprises, Fox's presence would not only stabalize and stimulate the growth of Bruce's company, but it would lead to several designs and innovations used in Batman's war against crime. As a result, Wayne gives Fox unbridled power and control over the company, but otherwise, little is known of Fox's past.
Having not appeared in prior Bat-films, Fox made his big screen debut thanks to Nolan's direction and the talent of Morgan Freeman, who elected to alter Fox's story. He is less a business mastermind (though he does it well) than an inventor; he is the black sheep of Wayne Enterprises with a connection to Bruce's father and his charity/innovation work.
Freeman's Fox lives up to his name as a sly, intelligent and resourceful member of Batman's team. He's sharp enough to maintain plausible deniability while developing new suits and vehicles for Wayne's night activities. He's also not afraid to keep Wayne in check when it comes to the power bred by their company's innovations, making him a stalwart supporter who is not afraid to tell Batman when he's crossed a line. Thanks in part to Fox's inclusion in the "Dark Knight" trilogy, we would expect to see this character exapanded on further in future media, be it comics or film. ~Kieran
Selina Kyle/Catwoman (Anne Hathaway)
Part of Catwoman's appeal (and inclusion on this list) is that it is often debated if she is a hero or villain at all. The safe thing to call her is an enigma: she's certainly played the role(s) of villain, hero and anti-hero from time to time. Her own motivations are rarely revealed and by the time you've figured it out, chances are you've got a stiletto boot in your ass. She has been portrayed as everything from a wealthy executive to a street-tough prostitute. No question her relationship with the World's Greatest Detective is a complicated one, ranging from adversaries to lovers. She's the Irene Adler to his Sherlock Holmes.
What makes Catwoman appealing to many goes beyond her sex appeal. She's a puzzle that not even the Riddler could fully understand, let alone the audience. She keeps her cards close to the chest, has her own style of tactics and plays the game by her own rules. All of these traits can eaisly paint her as a villain but for the fact she almost always retains a sense of humanity (dare we say honor?) that keeps her within an arms reach of being truly evil.
As The Dark Knight Rises marks Catwoman's first entrance into Nolan's universe, it's hard to tell how she'll be pulled off. The marketing for the film has her taunting Bruce Wayne that his comeuppance is near while fighting off thugs alongside Batman. The iconic whip is gone, replaced by a gun. She clearly has her skills as a thief in good working order and can handle herself on the Bat-Pod. Whether her relationship with Batman leads to a romantic relationship or not remains to be seen, but she is the closest chance to a capable sidekick we're ever going to get in Nolan's vision. What makes her a better choice than Robin, for one, is we're never sure she'll stay in the light by the end of the fight. ~Kieran