Andrew Kannegiesser returns to 24 Panels Per Second this week to join Dru and Dave on another road trip to Gotham City! This time out, the trio will be taking a look at Christopher Nolan’s 2008 effort The Dark Knight, the smash hit which dominated the box office.
Like in the preview post for Batman Returns, we’ll skip by the history of Batman himself to look at the villains and overall stories which directly influenced the film. To this end, there is no better place to start than the Joker! The character first appeared in the first issue of Batman’s own monthly title in 1940, and is the creation of Jerry Robinson, Bill Finger and Bob Kane. As originally devised, the Joker was a serial killer and thief, though due to his popularity, his continued appearances in the comic resulted in the character’s murderous instincts being toned down.
Unlike most comic super villains, the Joker has never had a definitive origin, with various possibilities having been suggested over time by different creative teams. The only point upon which they all agree is that the Joker had a confrontation with Batman in a chemical factory, and fell into a vat of chemicals during this confrontation, bleaching his skin and turning his hair green. Beyond this, the Joker’s life prior to becoming the clown prince of crime differs wildly, from one origin suggesting that he was a violent mob hitman, to another which suggests the character was a tragic everyman. Just as these accounts of the Joker’s origins differ, so too has the character’s behaviour over the decades, moving from being a serial killer to a prankster figure, only to move back to his violent ways in the late 1960s.
As one of Batman’s earliest villains, the Joker has made perhaps the most frequent jump from the comics to other media, being famously portrayed in the 1960s television series by Cesar Romero…
…and by Jack Nicholson in Tim Burton’s 1989 film Batman…
…and Mark Hamill in the famous Batman: The Animated Series.
Of course, the Joker isn’t the only villain in The Dark Knight, with Harvey Dent, aka Two-Face, also figuring into the film (though his status as villain here is a bit questionable). The character first appeared in 1942 in Detective Comics #66, and was originally named Harvey Kent, a name that would eventually be changed due to Clark Kent sharing the same last name. Gotham’s district attorney, Dent is hideously scarred by sulfuric acid during the trial of Gotham’s major mob boss Sal Maroni, which coupled with prior psychological issues results in Dent becoming Two-Face, a villain obsessed with duality who can only make a decision based on the flip of a coin.
While one of the earliest villains in Batman’s history, the character did not really appear in other media until the 1980s, making his debut in Tim Burton’s 1989 film Batman, though only as Harvey Dent. Here, the character is played by Billy Dee Williams, and is Gotham’s newly elected District Attorney.
Reportedly, Williams was under contract to reprise his role as Dent in a sequel, but the role was scrapped from appearing in Batman Returns. The character would next appear in Batman Forever, this time played by Tommy Lee Jones in a slightly more, um, camp performance.
Thankfully, for those who did not enjoy Jones’ take on the character, Richard Moll voiced a serious performance in the role in Batman: The Animated Series. Here, Dent is Bruce Wayne’s friend who is dealing with issues of repressed anger, which are coming to the surface due to the stress from campaigning for his job while also targeting mob boss Rupert Thorne. The famous scarring of his face does not happen in court, but results from an explosion during a backroom meeting where the mob trying to blackmail Harvey over the state of his mental health:
But what stories directly influenced The Dark Knight? As with Batman Begins, the film draws upon several different sources for its narrative, although unlike that film, The Dark Knight draws more upon ideas from the comics and less upon direct images and plots.
At the smallest possible level, the film addresses the destruction of the Bat-Cave and Wayne Manor in the prior film by looking to the late 1960s and early 1970s comics. In particular, the film draws upon Batman #217, in which Batman decides he needs to be closer to his city and shuts down both Wayne Manor and the Bat-Cave, moving into a penthouse apartment at the heart of the city.
Likewise, the film’s plot point about Batman inspiring gun-carrying copycats is taken from Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.
However, in terms of the Joker’s methods of operation and behaviour, the primary influence upon the film is Batman #1 from 1940. In the comic, the Joker announces his murders before they happen, and sets about killing his targets through trickery despite the police presence protecting the victims. Among the victims is the chief of police and a judge, the latter of which is killed while the Joker pretends to be a police officer. Furthermore, the Joker’s actions (briefly) whip up public panic. Those who have seen The Dark Knight will likely recognize all of these plot points and concepts as appearing in the film in one form or another.
Additionally, major plot elements are taken from the limited series Batman: The Long Halloween. While the series is ostensibly a murder mystery, the comic also traces the fall of the traditional organized crime families in Gotham and the rise of costumed maniacs, including the mob turning to some of these villains as they become increasingly desperate. Again, these plot elements make it into the film in a highly modified form.
So does The Dark Knight live up to its reputation? Tune in next episode at the same Bat-place, and same Bat-blog to find out!