Please put down your torches and pitchforks. The intention of this article is not to get a rise out of you (see what I did there?). It’s just that, like many of you, I’ve had The Dark Knight Rises on my brain nonstop since seeing it at a midnight showing opening night. It also doesn’t help that I’ve been writing nearly every article I’ve done over the past week to the movie’s official soundtrack. I have Bat-fever, to say the least, and that fever has given birth to a simple question that’s been gnawing at my brain for the last few days: is Christopher Nolan’s THE DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY the definitive Batman story?
If you have not seen The Dark Knight Rises, read no further. Spoilers ahead!
It’s a daunting question, for sure. With 70+ years of stories under his belt, most of which are written and drawn by some of the best our fine industry has to offer, the Batman has been privileged with some of the best comic stories around. But after seeing The Dark Knight Rises twice now and reminiscing fondly about Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, I believe Chris Nolan has crafted a saga that ranks as one of the best Batman stories ever told, if not the best.
My main argument roots itself in the fact that Nolan’s Batman trilogy actually gives Bruce Wayne a definitive ending to his time as the Caped Crusader. Better yet, Bruce gets a happy ending, something that’s pretty much impossible to do in his comic interpretation. Let me explain: Chris Nolan actually allows Bruce to move on past his parents’ death and begin living and enjoying life again. Whereas in the comics, Bruce Wayne will forever be tormented by the death of his parents to fuel his war on crime. Because a status quo must be upheld for future generations of readers to be able to pick up a Batman comic and understand it, Bruce Wayne will always be Batman and, as a result, he will always be a miserable human being.
The idea of Bruce Wayne actually being able to get over his parents’ death allowed Chris Nolan and the rest of the crew working on THE DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY the opportunity to really play up one of Batman’s defining themes -- legacy. In the comics, Bruce Wayne has drafted many people into his continual war on those who pray on the fearful. We’ve had five Robins, three Batgirls, a Batwoman, and a large number of other colorful characters carrying on Batman’s tradition of stomping the faces of criminals. However, as long as Batman is around, these characters will always feel secondary, no matter how many mini-series and ongoings they each get to tell you otherwise. Batman will always overshadow all of them and there will never be a true passing of the torch.
In the Nolan-verse, things are different. For starters, we don’t have a bunch of little boys running around in pixie boots. Instead, Batman is left to inspire ordinary folks to stand up against injustice, a theme started in Batman Begins with Jim Gordon, then played with more heavily in The Dark Knight with the impostor Batmen, and finally concluding in The Dark Knight Rises with the entire Gotham City police department and, more specifically, John “Robin” Blake quitting the force because the “structural shackles” of law enforcement permit him from delivering true justice.
The mantle of the Batman is not reserved for Bruce Wayne alone. It can be argued that Christopher Nolan's underlining thesis on Batman is that anyone can serve as Gotham's Dark Knight as long as they have the motivation and dedication to stopping injustice. The position isn't reserved for only orphaned boys, although they seem to gravitate to the role like a fly towards light. As Bruce states in BEGINS, Batman is not a man, because a man can be corrupted or killed. Instead, Batman is an ideal, a symbol that anyone can aspire to, even men wearing hockey pads, though their life expectancy is much shorter.
The idea of Batman being more of a catalyst to inspire those fed up with how the system is operated has always fascinated me more than just seeing Bruce Wayne under the cape and cowl on repeat. I don't see it written anywhere that just because Bruce Wayne donned the costume first in 1939 that he should forever be under it. Isn't it a more powerful statement to the character's value that even when Bruce Wayne is gone, the legend of the Batman lives on?
Now, while Chris Nolan’s Batman films clearly nail the thematics that drive Batman to do what he does, they don’t hit every note perfectly. If there’s one part to Batman that the Nolan-verse films fail to put on proper display it is the actual detective aspect of the character. Nolan’s version of Batman is more a ninja than a super sleuth, content with searching for something on Wikipedia and calling it a day.
Furthermore, the Nolan-verse Batman is more reactionary than preemptive; something goes terribly wrong and Batman has to deal with it. In the comics, especially those of Grant Morrison, Batman is a man that has countermeasures to his countermeasures. It’s borderline psychotic how many angles he’s thought of to prevent every possible scenario. The Bruce Wayne of the movies is not like that, outside when he creates the sonar computer to track the Joker.
Those two issues aside, I feel like I could go on for another 2,000 plus words on the subject of what’s absolutely incredible about Chris Nolan’s Batman films -- the supporting cast, the unique takes on iconic villains, the music, etc. But let me bring this to a close by readdressing my original question: is THE DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY the definitive Batman tale? Some might feel differently, but due to the trilogy’s finite (happy) ending for Bruce and the fact that every major theme that makes Batman Batman is present and accounted for, I’m going to say yes.
Chris Nolan and everyone else working on the DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY should be elated with the work they’ve done on these films. They’ve given us a definitive take on the character that doesn’t just rehash exactly what we’ve already read in year’s prior. The films aren’t perfect, but they’re pretty darn close. And if I ever need to prove to someone why Batman is a great character, I can hand him or her these three movies and the point should be made with an exclamation mark.
Erik Norris is a freelance writer for sites such as ComicVine, IGN and CraveOnline.com. You can stalk him on Twitter @Regular_Erik.