So Christopher Nolan has started the hype machine for his next Batman movie. There's a title (Dark Knight Rising), and the Riddler won't be the villain. Good. The Riddler is dumb.
Apparently, it also can't be the Joker, because the star-whackers got to Heath Ledger. (Randy Quaid jokes are always funny! Always!) And it can't be Two-Face, because spoilers. Thanks, guys. Anyway, movie Two-Face always seems to be in the process of becoming rather than being.
So who will it be? Not Mr. Freeze or Catwoman. Seriously. Did someone have to say that out loud? Did they rule out Batmite while they were at it? The title implies a fall before a rise, so the insightful are suggesting Bane. Oh my God! Bane is so cool!
(Image secondhand from TVTropes.)
Well, okay, but only if the Ten-Eyed Man's already got work.
Actually, thanks to a Wikipedia list of Batman enemies, I quickly find that, not surprisingly, I haven't even begun to explore the depths of stupid Batman antagonists when I mention the guy with eyes on his fingers. And it turns out that many of the lamest have been reinvented by assorted nostalgia miners, anyway.
That said, the problem here is not that the Batman lacks good villains and stories worth mining. There's story enough for everybody. This guy's arc finishes as a Batman story, for example. The Bat-guy even beats a "corrupted" old friend to death in the story. Or close to -it's been a long time.
The problem starts with what I've already said about Two-Face. There's lots of comics context for good stories in which Two-Face is the villain. But we're not talking about comics, here. We're talking about movies, and the movie Two-Face does not act. His arc is the arc of becoming Two-Face in the first place. It's an existential tragedy that begins, enacts (Two-Face does something bad in the course of the movie), and ends. The writers who've made the story of Two-Face part of the story of other villains have it right. That's how he works.
And, more generally, that's how comic book heroes work in the public consciousness. They have a story arc that we never get past, just like daydreams and other fantasies exist in the moment of when they are enacted. We can always fantasize about winning the lottery, but is there really a point to extending the fantasy to the moment 20 years later when we're sitting in the den of that fabulous mansion we'll buy, managing our mutual funds and wishing we were somewhere else? By definition, not. That's how life is, and fantasy is not life. Now, it is satisfying in its own way. We would like to live a good life and have a good death and take pleasure in each instant. Perhaps we throw up a new vision. We've just finished that bit of bond juggling, and we take a look around the impossibly tasteful room that we have complete executive control over, and look out at the autumn garden and watch the rain drip from the evergreen trees onto the brilliant, emerald lawn, and get ready to go down to dinner and meet our perfect, adoring future family.
And it's still a fantasy. We're going to stop at the moment before we meet our beautiful future daughter's new boyfriend.
That's a good idea, right?
Comic fans love their heroes, and wish that they could have lives. In theory. In practice, approximately a billion years of trying to sell comics on this theme demonstrates that they don't sell even if the character is sympathetic, and at worst, they produce crimes against humanity. Spider-Man can get married, grow old, have a beautiful daughter, who hopefully never brings Morgan Warstler home to dinner, even in her early 20s rebellious phase, when she drops out of Empire State University to be a performance artist/aluminum siding saleswoman. But we don't want to imagine it in the way that we imagine Spider-Man swinging over the rooftops and fighting the Green Goblin. And we certainly don't want it of the Batman, because if we're attached to Bruce Wayne at all, what we really want him to do is to get over it and move on, and maybe fight evil with the power of ethical investing.
What we want is that moment eternally re-invented, with another figure in the place of the Green Goblin. (Or, if we are nostalgia miners, we want the Green Goblin brought back again and again and again and again and again.) That's why comic book movies get reboots instead of successful third movies. Reinvention, please.
You know who'd be a good Joker? Randy Quaid.