Stay Geeky, My Friends #3: Jessica Mills Asks About ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ Villains

Last week, writer/actor/producer Jessica Mills (Twitter: @GeekyJessica) asked me about The Dark Knight Rises, the final film of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy featuring Batman. Specifically, she wanted to know how closely the film’s events resembled the comic book stories of Batman, which take place in the DC Comics universe (or “DCU”).

We had a nice chat and I rambled on about many things in the comics. Spoilers abounded there and there will be some of those here as well, so fair warning.

Now, Jessica and I continue our discussion. She wasn’t terribly impressed with the villains featured in The Dark Knight Rises and wanted to know how the backstories/motivations presented in the film compared to their comic book counterparts. As usual, I was happy to oblige.

As mentioned, this contains many spoilers so if you haven’t see The Dark Knight Rises and intend to, you should really stop right now.

No?

All right then. I take no responsibility for anything that happens next, you were warned.

JESSICA: Ok, so I felt the villains’ motivations were never that clear.  It never made sense that Bane wanted to just wreak destruction and anarchy. And then we find out he’s basically just doing it for Talia? Because that’s what her father wanted?

ALAN: Okay, just to clarify for folks who we’re talking about, the main villains of The Dark Knight Rises were Bane, John Daggett and Talia. John Daggett is really just a mobster and corrupt businessman who seems to be based on the character Roland Daggett from Batman: The Animated Series. So no real reason to delve into him. Catwoman was a criminal, but I wouldn’t classify her as a villain in the film.

That leaves us Bane and Talia. And since their motivations in this film are tied in with Ra’s al Ghul from Batman Begins, we should discuss him first.

JESSICA: Good, because Ra’s and Bane and Talia were all so destructive, it didn’t make sense to me.

ALAN: Okay, so let’s start the action and compare the movie versions with the comic book incarnations. Keep in mind, I’m going to leave some information out here and there either because A, it’s not really relevant to our conversation, or B, I don’t want to spoil certain comic book stories for people who may want to read about these people later.

Ra’s al Ghul (“The Demon’s Head”)

Dark Knight Trilogy Movies: His real name and origin is shrouded in mystery. He is in charge of the League of Shadows which, according to him, has been around since at least the days of the Roman Empire. Though some think that Ra’s al Ghul is immortal and uses supernatural methods, Bruce Wayne concludes that is an intentional deception, theatricality done to inspire fear in enemies. Ra’s al Ghul seems to confirm this with a thin smile. In any event, Ra’s seems to wish an heir of sorts and sees potential in Bruce Wayne, training him while using the alias “Ducard.”

Ra’s mentions to Bruce that he lost his wife and that this lead him to wish to fight against injustice. His League of Shadows is described as a cult of “vigilantes” that punishes criminals by its own standards and wants to improve the world by occasionally eliminating cities viewed as major sources of corruption and evil. They did this to Rome. In the 20th century, they tried it with Gotham. The first attempt was by causing an economic depression, but their efforts were thwarted by Wayne Enterprises. The second attempt was through more direct terrorism by driving the city mad with fear gas, efforts which were defeated by Batman.

DC Comics: Born in the Middle East roughly 700-600 years ago, a physician and his wife, a mathematician, discovered areas on Earth where one could mix the right chemicals with natural gases and create “Lazarus Pits,” pools that were lethal to healthy people but acted as seemingly supernatural restorative to the dying. After his wife was unjustly murdered by the rulers of their tribe, and after he himself was nearly executed for the crime, the physician gathered followers and wiped out the entire society out of revenge.

The physician decided that humanity on the whole was corrupt, causing harm not only to itself but to the planet he and his wife loved. He and his followers would wipe out 90% of the human race, allowing Earth to heal while the survivors (whom he would rule) would no longer need to fight for dwindling resources. Paradise would result. He used the Lazarus pits to keep him alive and his cult grew worldwide. He imagined his cult as a large demon with the agents and assassins acting as its hands. He would be the mind behind it all, earning him the name “Ra’s al Ghul,” Arabic for “Head of the Demon.” Some enemies simply called him the Demon or the Immortal. His followers were known as the “Society of Shadows” or the “Demon Cult” or the “Demon Society.” It’s most fearsome division was the League of Assassins.

After several centuries, Ra’s recognized that the Lazarus Pits were becoming less effective and one day would not revive him. He needed an heir. When Bruce Wayne was training around the world, some of his teachers were Ra’s al Ghul’s warriors, including the O-Sensei (teacher of Ra’s finest assassins), the hitman David Caine, and a bounty hunter named Henri Ducard. Ra’s watched from afar and was impressed by Wayne, whom he affectionately called “The Detective.” Not long after Bruce left to pursue his own path as Batman rather than join the Society of Shadows, Ra’s arranged for the hero to meet his own daughter Talia, hoping the two might be drawn to each other.

Months later, Ra’s finally met Bruce in person and, after testing the man, offered him a place as his heir and as Talia’s husband. Knowing Ra’s ultimate goals, Batman naturally refused. Since then, Ra’s has continued his operations and has hoped to either kill Batman or convert him, possibly by breaking his connection to Gotham City, which Ra’s knows he loves and is determined to “save.” He even once unleashed a strain of Ebola Gulf A virus into Gotham in an attempt to destroy it. At times, Ra’s has considered other heirs such as Jean-Paul Valley (Bruce’s temporary replacement Batman) and Bane. But Bruce keeps proving to be the most impressive candidate. Ra’s has sworn that if Batman does not join him, the he will die by Ra’s hand, as no one else is worthy to be the Detective’s killer.

Ra’s’ Cool Comic Quote: “I am cursed with a love for emptiness… desolation. It is a beauty to which my soul responds… as pure, as untainted as the deserts of my birth. I deem it my mission to purify this planet, to restore it to its former beauty… a mission I will brook no interference in.”

Bonus Cool Quote: “The advantage is mine. I have eternity… and Batman must win every single time… While I need win but once.”

Talia (A.K.A. “Talia Head”)

Dark Knight Trilogy Movies: Talia (sometimes called “Talia al Ghul”) is Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter. Although Talia is not seen in the film Batman Begins, she is mentioned in Ra’s al Ghul’s character profile in the movie’s DVD features. Also, the novelization of the film includes a part where Ra’s writes to Talia, who is said to be in Switzerland at the time.

In flashback, we learn Talia was born in a prison until she finally escaped as a young child, later finding her father and joining his organization. Following his death, she takes over the League. When we meet her in The Dark Knight Rises, she’s been operating in the corporate world as Miranda Tate for a number of years and has gained a seat on the board of Wayne Enterprises.

This turns out to be part of a long term deception (like, ridiculously long term) to manipulate Bruce Wayne, using his own company and resources to destroy Gotham City, finally defeating the one city that had resisted her father twice while getting revenge on Batman in the process.

DC Comics: Talia is Ra’s al Ghul’s most trusted warrior (though occasionally rebellious), trained since childhood and already a fierce assassin by the time she was 10-years-old. She was told her mother had died in childbirth but discovered this was a lie. Her father had refused to share the Lazarus Pits with her mother (as he had with other lovers), finally killing the woman after she attempted to reach out to young Talia. Though she served her father loyally, Talia resented this deception, as well as the fact that Ra’s insisted she needed a husband to rule the Society of Shadows, believing women were not strong enough to completely lead. She also believed that Ra’s ultimate goals might be too extreme and that the society could use better leadership in the future.

As an adult, Talia acted as Ra’s’ trouble shooter and helped organized many his legal fronts, becoming a major figure in the European business world as Talia Head (pronounced “Heed”). At one point, she was kidnapped by the terrorist Daark, a rogue member of the League of Assassins. Knowing Batman was already tracking Daark, Ra’s allowed the kidnapping to happen. Batman was captured by the terrorist himself, then he and Talia then teamed-up against Daark and were pretty impressed with each other. Months later, when Batman finally met Ra’s in person, he also learned that Talia was the man’s daughter and wanted him as her husband.

Bruce admitted he was very drawn to Talia, but refused to become involved with a woman who willingly helped Ra’s al Ghul, led operations for the League of Assassins, and  had no problem killing her enemies or people she deemed corrupt. Nor could Talia convince Bruce that her father’s organization could be a more positive force if the two of them ran it together.

Over the years, Talia would occasionally sabotage some of her father’s operations to ensure Batman’s survival and has repeatedly tried to convince the hero to join her and take over the Society of Shadows. On rare occasion, she’s even joined forces with Batman against one of her father’s operations, but don’t think she’s not a villain. For the most part, she still agrees with basic his goals. She just thinks her and Bruce would have a better way.

In recent comics, she’s left her father’s organization and now leads her own followers. She’s also organized operations with major super-villains and master criminals such as Lex Luthor.

Talia’s Cool Quote from Arkham City: “Just imagine it. You, me… a better world… You must show you are willing to take a life to save the world… We are fated to rule this Earth, to wipe it clean of the scum of humanity. Only WE can do this. My father is old, his time is over. Our is just beginning… Accept your destiny. Accept OUR destiny.”

Bane

Dark Knight Trilogy Movies: Well, we were told he was raised in a prison, but that turned out to be a lie. So it seems he was a prisoner who then helped free Talia when she was a child. He joined the League of Shadows but was excommunicated, then took over with Talia after Ra’s died and, loyal to her, agreed to help her long-term plans of completing her father’s only failure and also getting revenge on Batman.

Also, he sounds faintly British and has a weird thing on his face that makes me wonder how he eats. Or drinks. Or brushes. Flossing is obviously out of the question.

DC Comics: Bane’s father was the British assassin King Snake, an enemy of Batman and Robin. King Snake committed crimes in Santa Prisca, a tiny Central American island near Cuba. Though he escaped the country, their laws said his son could serve time and it was discovered that he had fathered a child during his time there. The boy was born in the prison Peña Duro and kept in isolation with his mother, learning to view and act in the world by prison rules and philosophies. When he was about six or seven, his mother died and Bane (named by the warden) was released into general population. A couple of prisoners sympathized and protected him. In years to come, these prisoners would become Bane’s henchmen.

Bane decided he would not be ruled by fear but would become fear itself and make others afraid of him. He had books smuggled in, learning as much as he could about strategy, martial arts, politics, athletic training, warfare. During his meditations, he imagined his fear as a great bat that he hunted and destroyed. He later became part of a military experiment to increase strength and resiliency with a drug called Venom (Batman himself had used an early version of this years before, when he’d temporarily believed he needed superhuman strength to be more effective). After stealing samples of this chemical, Bane and his crew escaped the prison and went to Gotham City, where crime was abundant, making it a place the young villain understood. He asked who ruled the city, so he could prove his strength by defeating him. Bane was told that if ANYONE ruled Gotham, it was the Batman.

After briefly confronting Batman and declaring his intention to beat him, Bane arranged for a break-out of Arkham Asylum, arming many of Gotham’s worst villains and letting them run free. As Batman tracked down each criminal, Bane watched from afar, studying his methods, learning enough to realize that he was Bruce Wayne. After two weeks, Bane confronted the exhausted Batman in Wayne Manor and quickly defeated him, thanks to the help of the Venom drug and the fact that Bruce could barely stand. When Batman refused to yield or admit defeat, Bane broke his back, wanting the Dark Knight to live with the knowledge of his defeat. But Bane was later defeated himself by Bruce’s stand-in Jean-Paul Valley, who cut the villain off from the drug he’d become dependent on.

After Bruce returned to his superhero career, Bane has tried to beat Batman without the help of Venom (usually). At one point, Bane became Ra’s al Ghul’s new choice as heir and was promised Talia (though she disapproved of the man). But Bane’s continued defeats by Batman changed Ra’s’ mind. Bane has his own sense of honor and so, on rare occasion, he and Bruce have made truces and worked together towards a common goal. Despite these truces, they’re not allies. Bane once told Batman that he doesn’t even consider genocide to be a crime if you’re on the side that wins.

These days, Bane is more focused on personal power rather than a strict vendetta against the Dark Knight, but he does see the Batman as a spiritual rival that he’s fated to one day defeat.

Bane’s Cool Comic Quote: “I was damned to my role. I was condemned before my first cries of life. The world is my prison. I will rule it or die.”

JESSICA: That is SO interesting! Well, now I’m kinda pissed at the movie.  There is so much GOLD here, especially with the back and forth relationship Batman seemed to have with Talia AND Bane in the comics.

ALAN: If you think about it, Bane is very much an Anti-Batman. Bruce lost his parents to crime, but was rich and had great resources/freedom. Bane lost his mother (and freedom) to the law, had NO personal belongings beyond a teddy bear. While Bruce had a legacy he inherited, Bane didn’t even have a name for himself or any knowledge of his father. Bruce travels the world to train, while Bane’s education happens while he’s confined in a prison. Both turn their fear into weapons and become creatures that inspire fear, one hoping to terrify criminals, the other hoping to rule them.

He also speaks with a strong Central American accent since that’s where he’s from, not a weird, muffled British accent.

JESSICA: And Bane didn’t have that thing on his face in the comics?  Soooo… they basically just added it in to make him look… um… WEIRD OR WHATEVER?!  The whole time watching, I was like, “What does that thing do?”

And then at the end, “Oh, it delivers air and painkillers? That makes no sense.” And now I find out it was just for looks?  That’s super annoying.

ALAN: Yeah, when I saw it in trailers and images, I thought that maybe they were revising how he used the Venom drug. That it would be a gas he inhaled rather than a chemical he injected into his brain. But no, it was just a weird, filter mask. Odd.

JESSICA: Also, his development in the comics that he was raised among the criminal element and needs to be the biggest badass in the land… his motivations for coming into Gotham and defeating Batman make sense. In the film, I kept asking myself, “What is he gaining from all this?” He didn’t seem interested in money or power. He just seemed to want to scare people and blow stuff up. Then we find out he’s a devout follower of Talia.

ALAN: Yeah, that came a little too late in the game for you to really get a strong handle on Bane’s goal. What do you think about giving his origin story to Talia in the film?

JESSICA: I thought the twist in the film of Talia being the child was really interesting, but we didn’t get any time at all to see her as the girl who conquered her fear. I think they really did that character a disservice by not exploring her more thoroughly. If she’d been introduced as Ra’s al Ghul’s daughter, they could have really gotten into a lot of this stuff because she was so complex and powerful in the comics.

They basically wasted the complexity of her character, simply so they could have a “HAHA, GOTCHA!” moment, which is pretty stupid. I know Hollywood is all about appealing to the lowest common denominator, but I maintain they would be better served by expecting better of people.  That’s an argument for another day, however.

ALAN: Yeah, we could chat about that all night. And for those of us who knew the comics, it wasn’t even a gotcha moment. We knew Miranda had to be Talia, so we were just waiting the whole time. And giving her Bane’s origin to us wasn’t a big reveal, it just made a lot of us think, “… um, okay?” Her revelation was so late, we barely got to see her true self, we just saw the deception. Would’ve been nice to not only see that she was running Ra’s al Ghul’s league but also to see whether or not she changed it, altered how it operated. Was she her own woman or just completely a shadow of her father?

I also really wanted a scene where she tried to bring Batman to her side, that’s always been such a big part of her character to me. She can decide LATER, “You’ve rejected my offer, so I must destroy you.” But let’s explore their connection. Otherwise, she’s just using him throughout the film.

JESSICA: That’s so interesting, that Batman has teamed up with both Bane and Talia in the past, and that the only thing keeping he and Talia apart was that he disagreed with her on a fundamental ethical level. That’s fascinating, and about one thousand times better than the shallow characterizations represented in the film.  I know you can’t get into all of that in just two hours, but it seems it could have been used much more effectively.

ALAN: What you say about the ethical argument is such a key part to Batman, too. He’s ultimately separated from so many enemies by just a basic argument of ethics or morality. He’s met lethal vigilantes and has fought them, because killing criminals is not an acceptable method to him, it makes you another criminal yourself that he has to put down. A few of Bruce’s enemies can be described as “Batman if he went too far.” Two-Face, for instance, often seeks what he considers as justice, but uses lethal measures, steals from criminals for his own gain, and allows chance/coin-tosses to dictate his actions rather than morality. Batman has a code he adheres to and makes his own odds.

So I agree, it’s a shame we didn’t get to see that moral argument play out. Especially when that was a big factor in the first two films. Which also leads to another issue I had. In a series, I don’t mind retreading old ground from time to time. In a movie, I want each chapter to up the stakes or go into new territory. I had a fun time during the movie and I think they had some good scenes, but the fact is, Bane and Talia didn’t seem like new brands of evil. They were following Ra’s al Ghul’s idea so closely, they almost became cyphers.

JESSICA: Yes, exactly! That hits it just right. Thank you SO much for this information.  It’s fascinating.  REALLY fascinating. I love talking to you about this stuff!

ALAN: Well, let’s do it again soon!

And rest assured, we will. Stay geeky, my friends.

 

Thanks to Jessica Mills for suggesting I post this and for convincing me to start a blog again. You can find her work and projects at GeekyJessica.com.

In other news, you can still pick up my The Unofficial Batman Trivia Challenge to learn more about the Dark Knight and his friends, enemies, equipment, world, etc.

THIS WEEK’S SUGGESTED READING: Batman and Psychology: A Dark and Stormy Knight by Dr. Travis Langley

THIS WEEK’S SUGGESTED VIEWING: “The Booth at the End” (Hulu exclusive series)

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “How do I know you’re not the Devil?” “You don’t.” – from “The Booth at the End”