Op/Ed: What Catwoman & Bane Tell Us About DARK KNIGHT RISES

Op/Ed: Catwoman, Bane & DK: RISES

It was recently announced that The Dark Knight Rises, Christopher Nolan's breathlessly-awaited third Batman film, has cast Tom Hardy as Bane and Anne Hathaway as Selina Kyle, the Catwoman of the comics.

We've still got a ways to go before we see the actual film, but this casting -- and more interestingly, the identities of these characters -- have given cause for speculation as to The Dark Knight Rises' storyline. Most of this has involved some rather off-color jokes about the title and Hathaway's presence, which do not bear repeating.

The third film in a superhero trilogy is a crucial one, namely because past third legs have mostly come off as, well, mediocre. Perhaps harsher words have been uttered in reference to the likes of Spider-Man 3 or X-Men: The Last Stand, but they were not without their merits. Though there's a reason both franchises had to reboot, and it wasn't just star salaries.

So the question is: Can The Dark Knight Rises present a storyline that successfully builds on the Oscar-winning-ness of The Dark Knight, and serve as a successful conclusion to Nolan's trilogy that offers both new perspective and additional insight into what has gone before?

Let's look at the characters to guess what might happen – not just with the plot, but with the film’s themes.

Selina Kyle (note she's not referred to as “Catwoman”) is usually portrayed as the classic thrill-seeker -- sometimes an out-and-out villain, sometimes a hero, but always someone who lives life on the edge. Bane sort of had a moment in the 1990s when he broke Batman's back (he got better) and Batman got temporarily replaced by the Joe Quesada-designed Azrael, but for the most part, he's been an also-ran.

(One can only hope that in their marketing push to tie into the film, DC doesn't yank Bane out of Gail Simone's excellent Secret Six to build him up as an ubervillian. He's quite fun as a daddy-figure in the dysfunctional group.)

I was a bit suspicious that Selina/Catwoman would show up in the third film after the exploding of Rachel Dawes in The Dark Knight. Really, when your childhood sweetheart gets exploded before your eyes and the whole city thinks you killed the saintly DA who was really Two-Face, you're sort of at a low point. You know what's good for getting you over a bummer? Chasing a pretty girl around the rooftops.

Prurient interest aside, the great appeal of Catwoman is that she's a fun, chaotic element in Batman's world, which is likely why he's gallivanting around with her in Grant Morrison’s Batman, Inc. You're dumped through the timestream and pitted against a psycho immortal relative...person...thing or whatever Doctor Hurt was, you're gonna want to take some time off to hang with Catwoman. It's just therapeutic.

But on a deeper level, Selina Kyle's presence suggests that The Dark Knight Rises might deal with class issues. Hold on. This will make sense. I think.

The Nolan films have reflected real-world issues in their reinvention of Batman as a mythological figure for the modern age. Batman Begins dealt with terrorism, zealotry and fear as weapons for shaping the world. The Dark Knight took this to a more metaphorical level, asking viewers to examine their capacity for good and evil when faced with moral choices in the face of extreme terrorism.

What's the biggest issue on everyone's minds these days? The economy. More importantly, the line between the haves and have-nots, that fundamental fear that the world is falling apart. And anger at the system, and the threat of that anger exploding into violence…which we’ve seen happen just recently.

Selina Kyle and Bane, upon close examination, have the potential to tie into this issue.

Various origins have been given for Selina Kyle over the years, and even discounting the “Batman: Year One” bit where she was a hooker, it's generally accepted that she came from the more downtrodden side of Gotham, stole her way to the top, and reinvented herself as a sort of fringe figure in Gotham society.

(The casting of Anne Hathaway works well here. Hathaway has just enough classic glamour to suggest a society type, and has shown just enough edge from the likes of Rachel Getting Married to suggest someone who may have come from more humble, darker roots.)

That's an interesting issue, exploring Selina as an opposite number to Bruce Wayne, a have-not who deals with the streets -- and her own interests -- in a manner that contrasts with his rich-boy resources and M.O.

But Bane's presence reinforces this even further. The central concept behind Bane came in Denny O'Neil's “Venom” storyline from Legends of the Dark Knight, where Batman takes a super-strength inducing steroid to improve his abilities. Bane is the ultimate addict to this, but he's also an example of a third-world refugee, and a character posited as both an opposite number and a direct contrast to Bruce Wayne/Batman.

Ignore the fact that he looks more like he should be fighting El Santo or Rey Mysterio than Batman, and you have another character representing the underclass, a style of life that Bruce Wayne likely knows nothing about, and another way to achieve his goals. Remember the key line in The Dark Knight , regarding the Joker: “I've seen what I'd have to become to fight men like him?”

Well, what happens when Bruce Wayne tries to become like that? If he fully embraces the Dark Knight, does he risk losing his soul?

There is speculation that Bane might represent the heir of Ra's al Ghul, a role he briefly assumed in the comics. But the character has plenty of potential as a demagogue in Gotham, the product of a hellish system where fear and violence ruled.

Let’s look back at his first appearance in Batman: Vengeance of Bane#1, which I coincidentally found for $2 in a bin last fall. Bane is the son of a revolutionary in the corrupt nation of Santa Prisca, where as a child he’s forced into a life sentence in prison in place of his fugitive dad.

Training and educating himself, he’s top dog before being subjected to inhuman experience that make him all steroid-y on Venom. He heads off to Gotham with his runnin’ crew, convinced that a city that runs on fear and corruption is just like his prison hellhole, and he’s destined to beat Batman because of some weird bat-nightmares from his childhood. Batman was a bit disgusted to find this last part out, but hey, Bruce, you’ve got your own issues.

So let’s scrub away the fact that Bane is mostly used in cartoons/video games as a big damn punch-hit-kill-kill kind of character, and look at his roots – a dark mirror to Bruce Wayne, and the product of an even more brutal Gotham-type environment. Essentially, he sees Gotham as one maximum-security prison, and he wants to take it over using the same principals of assertion through violence.

In his earliest appearances, Bane even has a group similar to Alfred and Lucius Fox helping him with his li’l scheme. Rather than emphasize the ‘roid-rage, Bane’s ruthless cunning could allow him to be portrayed as a more extreme take on the Dark Knight, someone who believes in order to stop crime, you must first control crime.

Whether it's as a leader of the underworld or as a vigilante rabble-rouser, Bane might not only wreak havoc in Gotham, but become terrifying in a way he hasn't been in comics for years. And hopefully his creators will get a nice chunk of change from Warner Brothers to boot.

Might Bane represent a revolutionary figure, someone offering an opportunity to overcome the inequities of Gotham City through violent force, almost an anti-Joker? And might Selina Kyle come to represent a mixture of cynicism and idealism -- opportunistic, to be sure, but opposed to the sheer nihilism that Bane might preach? And, as an opposing force, might the Dark Knight rise?

Might the newest battle in Gotham involve a side that Bruce Wayne might not understand, and require him to embrace his human side as much as the Bat?

Or might all this idle speculation be completely off base?

Or might it just be best to wait for the movie to actually come out, and not build up hugely unrealistic expectations by imagining hundreds of potential before a frame of footage is even shot?

Whatever. I'm just pissed they didn't go with Killer Moth.

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