This argument has raged on for years, “why is Batman the best hero?” The common answer to this question is because Batman doesn’t rely on any super powers what-so-ever. He uses his strength and intelligence, as well as his limitless bank accounts, to overcome the corruption in Gotham. I think these traits are incredibly valuable to the strength of Batman’s character. But, I think we have a hard time relating to Batman because most of us are not billionaire playboys who are also great detectives and trained in the martial arts.
I think we can relate to Batman because of the way his heroic character is highlighted by the villains he faces. The most famous rogues that Batman faces feature aspects of Batman’s character or themes that he represents that are twisted and taken to the extreme. We see what Batman could have become if he wasn’t so noble and heroic. I think, to some extent, we all wonder who we would be if a single aspect of our character was changed or different. Batman and the relationships he has with his rogues gallery allow us to see character traits taken to their extremes.
Let’s take a look at the villains featured in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy and see what we can find. I just recently watched all three in a row and I believe Nolan does an incredible job of portraying this duality in Batman and his rogues gallery.
Scarecrow: One of the major themes seen in Batman is fear and the use of fear. Bruce Wayne conquers his fears and becomes Batman to inspire fear in the criminals of Gotham. In Batman’s world, fear is a powerful force that can motivate good and evil. Scarecrow uses fear as a tool, like Batman, but he takes it to the extreme; using it to spread corruption and inspire terror. Scarecrow is also used to reveal deeper aspects of each character’s psyche in the form of their deepest fears.
Ra’s Al Ghul: Batman has a strong sense of justice and fights to give hope to Gotham. Ra’s Al Ghul is what Batman would become if he lost all hope in humanity. Ra’s Al Ghul sees humanity’s fallen nature and believes that justice is derived from the natural order. He will stop at nothing to destroy the decadence of human society and reduce humanity back to it’s nature.
Joker: The Joker represents anarchy and chaos in the face of the order of Batman’s world. In fact, the Joker comes to define himself as the antithesis of Batman, the yin to his yang. The Joker also represents an escalation of the conflict in Gotham; a response to Batman and his ability to act outside the law.
Harvey Dent/Two-Face: Harvey Dent represents what Batman could be if he were a public servant working completely within the bounds of the law. As Two-Face, he faces great personal loss, like Batman, but takes vengeance to an extreme by hunting down everyone involved. Two-Face also takes justice to an extreme by reducing it to its most base form, random chance.
Catwoman: If Two-Face takes justice to one extreme, Catwoman takes justice to the other extreme. In Batman’s world of black and white, Catwoman represents infinite shades of grey.
Bane: Bane represents Batman’s greatest strengths taken to the extreme. He is stronger and smarter than Batman in every way. He also represents a fulfillment of Ra’s Al Ghul’s work to reduce humanity to its natural state and Jokers work to bring chaos to an ordered world.
Carmine Falcone/The Mob: Though he counts Jim Gordon as one of his allies, Batman has always worked outside of the law as a vigilante. Carmine Falcone represents what Batman might look like if he completely disregarded the law. Falcone actively corrupts those who uphold the law so that he is able to act outside the law. He believes that the law creates shackles and the more he is able to overcome the law, the more power he has to act. This theme is echoed in The Dark Knight Rises in John Blake’s character.
Mr. Earle/Mr Dagget: Though not direct villains to Batman, these corporate executives from Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises represent Bruce Wayne as a businessman taken to the extreme. They are ruthless businessmen seeking to gain wealth and power by any means necessary.