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All sorts of stories have seen their fair shares of gritty reboots, and the classic Batman comics are no exception. Though the story of Batman was grim in some aspects of its original telling as a Detective Comics series, for the most part it remained a pretty cartoonish and at some times comical aspect through most of its retellings and various iterations. In the early 2000s, though, director Christopher Nolan took on a whole new kind of Batman film adaptation: The Dark Knight Trilogy. The last two films The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises featured entirely unique interpretations of two of the series’ villains: the Joker, and Bane. The Joker was reworked to be a mysterious and chaotic madman with a very disturbing edge added to his character, and Bane was altered to be a similar class of terrorist mastermind, rather than his original comic appearance as a raging Spanish beef-head beyond human proportions thanks to the steroid chemical “Venom”. Throughout the two films, Bane and the Joker share similarities as antagonists. They obviously steer the movie in a destructive and troublesome direction, like all villains do. The Joker, though, stands out as a separate class of villain- one which proves to be more effective at terrorizing Gotham City and the Batman as well. Due to his lack of distinct backstory, absence of ulterior motives, and maniacally simple methodology for attacking the Batman and Gotham City, the Joker is a much more effective and ultimately evil villain than Bane.
Gotham City is known for many things- being one of the only movie cities that is based on Chicago rather than the 800th carbon copy of New York, its uniquely cost efficient inner city transportation system, and of course, rampant crime. Seriously, the city would probably cease to function if there were not at least six muggings occurring on every block. However, despite the fact that the ominous caped crusader is always hard at work, the city is content with the fact that there is more crime than can be stopped by a billionaire martial artist dressed up as a flying rodent. The point at which people must become concerned seems to only be when there is a slightly more ridiculous criminal standing just barely taller than the rest of the other thugs. A themed attire and estranged manner of speaking is preferred, but not totally necessary. The Joker and Bane both shared the common goal of destroying Gotham when all the bells and whistles are removed from their story arcs, but where Bane sought to destroy Gotham so he could carry out the League of Shadows’ desire to cull Gotham to purify civilization, the Joker simply sought after chaos. Bane utilized chaos as a weapon, one with which he spurred a riot of cops against prisoners, one with which he successfully stole Bruce Wayne’s entire arsenal out from under his own two feet. The Joker, however, wanted the world to reflect how sadistic he was. He wanted Batman to break his one rule, to drive Batman to murder. Bane wanted to level Gotham with a nuclear weapon, but the Joker wanted Gotham to eat itself alive. Where Bane had a plan that used terror and suffering to fulfill his goal of vengeance upon Gotham, the Joker had literally no ulterior motive outside a blatant desire to see the world become as crazy as himself. The Joker burns a man alive atop a pile of all the money he stole, making it apparent that he was never after the riches. Rather, the Joker had stolen that money to fuel the fire of economic collapse- to starve the mad dogs of organized crime into hysteria.
Second to his lack of any external influences, the Joker also highly benefited as a villain by not tying himself to a backstory. Now, to be fair, Bane did not necessarily disclose his backstory, since that was revealed by Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter. However, the Joker chooses not only to remain so distant that nobody knows his real backstory, but he actively lies about it. There are two stories the Joker tells to explain his scars, both of which serve a different purpose. In one telling, he explains to a crime ring leader that his father sliced his mouth open at the corners, and that this particular man reminded him of his father. This telling is very, very suspenseful and highly suggestive of what the Joker intends to do to his victim- which plays on his love of fear and chaos that will be touched on later. Later, though, while crashing a dinner party in Bruce Wayne’s mansion, the Joker explains a different story behind his scars to Rachel Dawson. For this story, he has a much larger audience of victims he assumes will survive to tell the tale, so he has to change his aim for the story. He tells Rachel that his scars are a result of self-mutilation, done to make his wife feel less alone when she was cut apart. This story portrays the Joker as a man who is quite obviously very mentally unstable, something which the rest of the crowd will pick up on and develop his public reputation with. This assumption benefits the Joker, as he tries to come across as a lunatic without a plan, when he actually seems to be a sadist with a thousand plans- just no discernible goal. There is even a third telling of the story the Joker attempted to use on Batman himself near the end of the movie, but he was cut off before we saw it unfold. The Joker uses his lack of distinguished backstory to his advantage, whether it be for tactical advantage or to instill more fear in his victims before he kills them. Bane, on the other hand, has a backstory that ties him to the League of Shadows- wherein his ties to Ra’s al Ghul explained his motives, his plans, and to some small extent his relation to other characters in the movie’s plot. None of this information being released could benefit Bane, at least not anywhere near the way it does for the Joker.
Finally, there is one last act the Joker and Bane split upon: Breaking the Bat. Both villains have a severe effect on the Batman, but they differ in form. Bane physically breaks the Bat, literally snapping his back like a twig over his knee. From there, he places Bruce Wayne in a prison at the bottom of a hole on the other side of the world, forced to watch a live television broadcast of Gotham city being run into the ground by Bane’s plan. The Joker, on the other hand, decides to mentally break the Bat by killing his love interest in a vicious oil fire, and by turning Harvey Dent over to a criminal, who is ultimately murdered by commissioner Gordon in a life or death matter. With Bane’s methods, Bruce has to physically recuperate and become stronger, as his only way out of the hole is to overcome his shattered spine and to leave his inhibitions behind- which, in the end, only serves to make him a stronger and more brave fighter when he makes it back to Gotham. The Joker’s methods, on the other hand, leave Bruce Wayne so distraught that he cannot even keep up his role as the Batman. When the commissioner is forced to shoot Dent to save his son, Batman tells him to make it seem like he was the one who killed Dent in cold blood. This, of course, was to make sure Gotham could idolize Dent as a martyr for social justice rather than to see him as the monster he became- all while Bruce has to put away the cowl and let misery destroy his life. The death of Rachel puts Bruce into such a deep seeded depression that he becomes a recluse, and the Batman is marred as a cold blooded killer. In fact, the Joker’s actions put such a lasting effect on Bruce Wayne and his alter ego that it carries on into the next movie and sets up the underlying plot for The Dark Knight Rises.
When both the movies reach their denouement, it comes as no shock that one villain has done more damage than the other, both in the lasting and the short term. When the Joker is captured by Gotham city police, he has already destroyed Gotham city economics, kidnapped and burned alive a foreign dignitary, burdened the Batman with tremendous grief, mentally broken Gotham’s finest attorney, viciously murdered many political officials, cops, and civilians with the most violent and cruel means possible, and proven himself a villain only able to be fought by being left alone. Bane, on the other hand, set up a plan that was ultimately thwarted by Batman. With his bomb thrown into the bay, the city set at peace, and Bruce Wayne free to pursue a life beyond the cape and cowl, Bane died a martyr for a failed cause. In the end, the Joker sort of proves that terrorism, in all of its innumerable wasted lives and unparalleled cruelty, works. That fact is something that hauntingly holds the Joker over Bane most of all, and might just be the worst trick he ever played.
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