What virtues does Batman represent

Shadows of the Bat - Constructions of good and bad in the Batman films by Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan

A battle of masks: In Batman, good and bad clash in the most varied of appearances.

The Legend Ends. The long-awaited finale to Christopher Nolan's brilliant Dark Knight trilogy has hit cinemas with THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. The final chapter of an epic story about a legend that has no end. In addition to HARRY POTTER, the Batman franchise is one of Warner's best horses in the stable. A new adaptation will not be long in coming, a reboot may be feared as early as 2016. Christopher Nolan: "Batman will outlive us all."For more than 70 years, Batman has been linked as a new American myth to the socio-cultural history of America, the schizophrenia of a character who reinvents himself for a new generation of readers, viewers and fans almost every decade. Born as comic noir in the neurotic 40s, Batman was vilified and deprived of his ambivalence by the popular psychologist Fredric Wertham in the mid-50s as the alleged seducer of the innocent youth of America, until he starred in the infamous TV series with Adam West in the following decade was completely stylized into a brightly colored campy pop icon including an implicit queer reading. Thanks to comic book authors and illustrators like Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams, however, the bat man returned after a loosening of the comics code in serious, dark detective stories. With the ambitious graphic novels THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS (1986) and BATMAN: YEAR ONE (1987) by Frank Miller and Alan Moore's THE KILLING JOKE (1988), the Dark Knight finally became the symptomatic anti-hero of the 80s, the epitome of the American Nightmares a society in a state of emergency, as a result of which the groundbreaking comic book adaptations by Tim Burton emerged.

I. Bat-mania

Bats among themselves: In the cartoon The Batman vs. Dracula (2005), Batman faces the prince of the vampires himself

Today Batman is everywhere; not only as the protagonist of countless comic and screen stories, but also as a playable avatar in various game adaptations. Similar to comics and films, the palette ranges from ironic, child-friendly fun (LEGO BATMAN - THE GAME) to dark, action-packed entertainment (BATMAN: ARKHAM ASYLUM, BATMAN: ARKHAM CITY). Those who can no longer expect the latest reboot of the Batman film franchise, however, can look forward to the DVD release of an animated film adaptation of "The Dark Knight Returns". As an animated character, Batman enjoys great esteem among fans of all ages in a number of animated series that are well worth seeing. Even in everyday life, the Dark Knight is omnipresent, his immortal Bat logo has degenerated into a trademark and adorns bed linen, coffee cups and belt buckles. Similar to his comics and films, Batman's merchandising series - just think of the various action figure editions - are constantly being reissued. There are certainly many reasons for the continuing fascination for this transmedia figure. A starting point for fans as well as for outsiders should be the multi-layered construction of good and bad, which - conveyed visually and narrative - surrounds the figure. In no other classic comic superhero are right and wrong, black and white so blurred into a world of unmanageable shades of gray; Long before the postmodern hero deconstructions of the 80s, Batman's original conception was designed as a subversive alternative to the myth of the superhero.

The BATMAN: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY readership voted: Robin Must Die!

Because Batman is not great. He has no superhuman powers, does not come from a strange planet, is not even a demigod. Admittedly, he has above-average skills - such as athletic endurance, technical inventiveness, detective instinct and advanced knowledge of applied martial arts. But it doesn't owe it to a mutation, the power of a magic ring or the bite of radioactively contaminated animals. Obsessive training, high-tech equipment and a billion-dollar legacy enable him to do the extraordinary - but he can't do the impossible. He's too human. Again and again he becomes painfully aware of the limits of his powers; he cannot protect his body or that of his entrusted from being harmed. It was precisely his impotence that called him to fight crime: Unable to prevent the robbery of his parents, he sees his second identity as a masked avenger as the only way to stop the injustice. But even as a newly-empowered one Caped Crusaderhe has to watch helplessly as his young companion Robin alias Jason Todd is brutally murdered by the Joker in "BATMAN: A DEATH IN THE FAMILY" (1988-89). The heroic desire to finally defeat evil turns out to be a futile effort, the captured villains like the Joker, Two-Face, Poison Ivy or Scarecrow break out of the local sanatorium and commit their psychotic crimes again and again. Arkham, the name of the institution, refers logically to the famous city at the center of the apocalyptic Cthulhu myth from the pen of the horror literary writer H.P. Lovecraft, always on the verge of total destruction. So as often as he tries, Batman will no more be able to save his parents from the madness of his adversaries than anyone else. In his masquerade, he does not overcome his trauma, but relives it night after night. In the tradition of ancient tragedy, Batman is less distinguished by his virtues than by his human flaw; a tragic hero who defines himself not in victory but in failure. Fallibility instead of omnipotence.

May 1939: Batman's first story, THE CASE OF THE CHEMICAL SYNDICATE, appears in Detective Comics. The character's inspirations range from DaVinci's bat-like flight construction to pulp figures such as The Shadow to the films THE MARK OF ZORRO (1920) and THE BAT WHISPERS (1930)

Batman is not a hero. When he first appeared in DETECTIVE COMICS # 27 in 1939, he was initially the exaggerated reaction to the superman Superman. With their new character, author Bill Finger and illustrator Bob Kane offered a departure from the naive, boyish omnipotence fantasies of the superhero genre by psychologizing him as a mentally broken justice fanatic. Batman is Superman's distorted reflection in the mirror. While the latter is in the middle of the day in the blue sky over the idyllic Utopia Metropolis, the Dark Knight swings through the narrow canyons of the filthy Moloch Gotham City on a deep black night. The American Dreamwho have favourited Superman in his successful battle for freedom, justice and the american wayembodied, Gotham City has degenerated into a nightmare. The great ideals have decayed, repressed fears and city neuroses have broken through the facade of the future metropolis and transformed Gotham into a pre-apocalyptic horror scenario. Justice has failed; in a state of emergency, the city ultimately gives birth to its “hero”, not a savior but an avenger - Batman. A pioneer of America in his own way: as a border crosser between civilization and chaos, he exchanges the heat of the sun and the horizontal of the prairie for the cold of the moonlight and the claustrophobic vertical of the big city. Deeply rooted in the American crime film, somewhere between the policeman, the avenger and the outlaw - a vigilante. There where the rays of the law no longer hold, in the darkest alleys, the most deserted corners, that is where its authority begins. A space beyond good and evil, in which light and darkness do not provide clear contours, but only create diffuse shadow structures.

Glen Orbik's cover art for BATMAN: SHADOW OF THE BAT # 82 (1999) shows Batman's psychotic adversaries doing what they do best - breaking out of Arkham

The mentally disturbed, schizophrenic, and sociopathic: Just as the Dark Knight isn't just good, neither are his opponents just bad. Batman's cabinet of rascals unfolds a panorama of tragic existences that have broken with reality, with themselves. Far from the simplified model of the Mad ScientistsNot infrequently found at Marvel, the Arkham Asylum's patient files include the most colorful cases of mental illness - from narcissistic personality disorder (Riddler) to excessive pyromania (Firefly) to advanced dissociative identity disorder (Ventriloquist / Scarface). At a loss as to how to deal with these individuals, society does not lock them up in a prison, but in a sanatorium. However, the ongoing optimism about rehabilitating Gotham's bad boys into model citizenship is broken by the sobering fact that the discharged patients cannot give up their compulsive crime. So can they be held accountable for their evil deeds? Ultimately, the villains don't have to answer to the city's law enforcement officers, but to Batman. Significantly, however, the question arises as to whether these creatures created their own nemesis with Batman, or whether the self-proclaimed avenger attracted or even created the disturbed spirits through his presence. One thing is certain: Batman's opponents are just as important for the stories as the main character himself.

In BATMAN, Bruce Wayne and the Joker are staged as mirrored doppelgangers

"I made you, you made me first", Batman growls at his eternal adversary Joker at the end of BATMAN (1989), "You complete me"19 years later he gets to hear the answer in THE DARK KNIGHT. Good and bad as two sides of the same coin. The psychologization of the Batman character and his complex opponents has hardly been as successful in an adaptation as in the film adaptations by Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan. BATMAN RETURNS (1992) and THE DARK KNIGHT (2008) clearly show that Burton and Nolan are profoundly opposing poles on the same scale; their Batman versions are a worthwhile complementary reading to the comic book stories. Both heavily influenced by film noir, one is experimenting with the fantastic melodramatic components of the epochal style on the verge of expressive gothic horror, while the other strives for a contemporary update in the tradition of neo-noir. Symbolism vs. hyper-realism.

II. Nightmares on Christmas: BATMAN RETURNS

The look of the outsider: The penguin is waiting for the people from Gotham with their own Christmas surprise

Christmas in Gotham City. A never-ending nightmare. Flanked by the over-dimensional statues of two muscle bodies, a gigantic Christmas tree lights up the crowded Gotham Plaza. A power allegory. Between the character codes of fascist monumental architecture, the Christmas tree proves to be the central image of mass slavery, the tyranny of department stores and false advertising dreams. Industry mogul Max Shreck steps up to the microphone, not without first throwing a few presents into the crowd, and speaks of world peace and the love he wishes to give the city as a Christmas present. He sprinkles and gives gifts to the masses to distract them from the fact that he wants to divert and sell all of the city's energy with his new power station. Behind the mask of “Gotham's Santa Claus” is a diabolical bloodsucker, as his name suggests - Max Schreck was the main actor in the classic silent film NOSFERATU, A SYMPHONY OF GRAUENS. The ubiquitous symbol of his merchandise empire is a cartoon-like cat face reminiscent of Felix the Cat. Burton's processing of his time as a subordinate at the dictatorial mouse company that has always dominated American everyday culture with its many images, conservative ideologies and merchandise.

"You flush it, I flaunt it." The penguin collects the rubbish from the upper world in his underworld and recycles it - in his own way

Suddenly a huge red present with a green bow rolls up the ramp to Gotham Plaza. In a colorful confetti explosion, instead of the promised love, circus clowns with machine guns from the surprise package fly. Gotham Plaza is sinking into terror: motorcyclists with disproportionate skulls are trampling on hot dog stands, red fire devils set teddy bears on fire, a fat weightlifter is thrashing Santa Claus and amid mad laughter the circus director shoots the Christmas tree with his barrel organ mini gun. A rebellion of characters, kicked off by the bizarre penguin people from Gotham's sewers. Twenty years ago, as a misshapen baby, abandoned in the sewer by rich parents on Christmas Eve, the penguin takes revenge on the wealthy consumer society, which rejected him as a monster. He kidnaps her guru Shreck and blackmails him to help him on his ascent to the upper world. In doing so, he uses Shreck's dirty secrets that have washed up in his underground realm against him. From toxic waste to body parts - the by-products of ruthless capitalism.

Fall of Man. For her rebellion against male order, the curious kitten Selina is punished with death ...

Society forms its own demons. The whip-wielding Catwoman is also a product of a sexist macho society that women want to keep small as domesticated kitties with all their might. And if a female individual does penetrate into the center of patriarchal power, a powerful push is enough to make her tumble down the long way up in a matter of seconds. The over-ambitious Undersecretary Selina Kyle is pushed out of the window of his skyscraper by her boss Max Shreck when she accidentally discovers his machinations. In the gutter, however, stray cats give the dead new life in an eerily strange revival. The tables are turned, the helpless mouse, which Batman had to save from the bad boys, becomes a black beast, which is now showing its claws even to the world of men - "I am Catwoman. Hear me roar! "

... and returns as the wild beast Catwoman to take revenge on the patriarchal system of symbols.

In her emancipation against the chauvinistic world of entrepreneurs, she appropriates the symbol of oppression - the cat - and reinterprets it. The happy Cheshire kitten becomes an angry big cat that seeks its (sexual) autonomy in the animal wildness, in the destruction. But she initially directs her aggressiveness on herself. In a riot, she destroys all traces of the upright and childlike that get in her way in her pink apartment: stuffed animals, pictures, dollhouses. Freed from the insignia of slavery, Selina tailors the skin of her new identity - a body-hugging, leather dominatrix costume, the seams of which, however, remain all too visible. The emphasis on the fragmented self ultimately points to the construction and performance of the gender role; As a pop culture condensation of (post) feminist theories, Catwoman reveals the connection between sexuality, power and identity. But their rebellion against the masculine order is doomed to failure: Not only Shreck, but also the other two male protagonists - Batman and the penguin - will destroy Selina's nine cat lives one after the other. Catwoman exposes the unequal power relationship between man and woman on screen, but she can't change it. In the field of tension between the fetishized male fantasy and the feminist avenging ideal, Selina's self-search ends in a dead end, relegated from the male subject's gaze to an object, her revolt against the patriarchal system of symbols of Hollywood shatters.

The bat signal awakens Bruce Wayne from his blunt catatonia and finally lets him live as Batman

As the penguin and Catwoman plunge Gotham's streets into chaos, another beastman is sent into the race to restore order: Batman. Likewise damaged by psychological scars from the outside world, his revenge is not directed at the causes, but only at the symptoms of the pain - the criminals. He fights the freaks and monsters of the city, with whom he has more in common than with the healthy citizens from whom he protects them. Burton paints the psyche of the shattered Dark Knight as the hopeless case of a traumatized individual who has lost his own identity within the entire superhero masquerade.Not only as Batman, but also as Bruce Wayne, he seeks a life in the shadows; in the first shot, seen in BATMAN RETURNS of Bruce Wayne, he patiently waits in a completely darkened room for the rays of the Bat signal to finally flood the halls of Wayne Manor and bring him out of his petrification to the (night- ) Bringing life to life.

Body Armor: In Batman, the animal body protects the Caped Crusader from the bestiality of society.

Batman is no longer the mask of Bruce Wayne, but Bruce Wayne is the mask of Batman. Burton's decision to cast Michael Keaton in the role of the bat man also proves to be spot on in his second Batman film. From the beginning, it was clear to Burton that you wouldn't buy the antihero number from a muscled action hero, the Schwarzenegger type - only someone with Keaton's physics and a tortured look can tell that he really needs the bat costume and modeled muscles. Burton's Batman is a deeply introverted character, trapped in his inner trauma. He puts on the mask of the monstrous to protect himself from the outside world.

Visual gag or a hint of hidden horror? In BATMAN, Burton visually relates the Dark Knight to the "axis powers" of World War II

So it's no surprise that the Batman in BATMAN RETURNS doesn't shy away from killing. But with a triviality and malevolence that makes you shudder: At the beginning he sets a poor fire devil on fire with the flame drive of his Batmobile, in a later scene he transports the weightlifter into the afterlife with a bomb plugged in and a diabolical grin. So Batman as a cruel sadist? Even in Burton's first Batman film, the dark tendency of the main character is hinted at in a very short shot - on the roof of the Axis Chemicals factory, the giant letters "Axis" shimmer over the figure of the Dark Knight while he watches over the area. If you put the codes together, you get the picture of a compulsive crime fighter who uses the harsh methods of a fascist surveillance state to guard the order of his city. A sinister interpretation that doesn't move far from Miller's Dark Knight variant.

In BATMAN RETURNS, mask and identity are entwined in a tight dance

"I am tired of wearing masks". In Batman Returns, good and evil do not appear as fixed, moral quantities, but as narrative constructions conveyed by the media, which can be varied and combined in their composition. Attributions, masks that you both raise yourself and get raised by others. They mean protection (Batman), but also freedom (Catwoman). This eternal role play is carried out until the mask becomes the skin, the skin the mask - Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle find themselves at a costume ball, they don't need a disguise. In the dance of identities, in the exchange of words that has already been conducted, they recognize each other's second face, see the mask behind the mask. "Does this mean we have to start fighting?"The advanced schizophrenia of their double identities prevents a reconciliation of their two personalities - both with themselves and with the other. Whatever the constellation, there is no happy ending.

Child violence: Selina blackens her cute naivete, while the penguin mourns a lost childhood with his infantile weapons

The motif of the masquerade becomes a free play of characters. As in his other films, Burton reinterprets existing coding - black becomes white and ugly is beautiful. Christmas, a leitmotif of the film, is dismasked as a mass commercial fraud. Instead of harmony and charity, it's the worst time of the year in Gotham City. Restless souls roam the snow-covered streets at night and feel even more lonely, while the next catastrophe awaits the battered citizens of Gotham under the Christmas tree. At the same time, the perversion of the Christmas festival suggests the protagonists' lost innocence; all too often the violence is either directed against signs of childish and cute characters or it arises from them - for example in the penguin's obscure toy guns. His childhood trauma goes so far that he wants the firstborn Gotham to share in his pain by planning to drown them all in his sewer realm.

Good and bad, normal and abnormal - it's all a question of perspective. There is something noble in every villain, something bad in every hero. Nobody is what they seem to be. Even the fate of the child killer Penguin can touch the audience. With his sharp teeth, the grotesque physique and a black, unclassifiable drool, staged as the scary monster of the 30s universal horror films, he goes in search of his humanity. Similar to Lynch's Elephant Man, he expects respect and understanding from society. However, the latter cannot accept its otherness and once again the penguin is driven into the sewerage system after a short flight at high altitude. The elephant man tried the exclamation "I am not an animal, I am a human being" To become part of society, the tormented penguin fits into the role of the monster ascribed to him: "I am not a human being, I am an animal!"

Burton's (post) modern monster cabinet and its classic models: Catwoman and Irena Dubrovna from Jacques Tourneurs CAT PEOPLE (1942); the penguin and the gruesome, unfortunate Count Orlok from F.W. Murnaus NOSFERATU (1922), Batman and Tod Browning's DRACULA (1931)

Sympathy for the misunderstood monster. Since his youth, Burton felt the freaks and shadow creatures from America's classic monster movies more connected than their human counterparts, the glorious heroes of the stories. Why not? For a teenager, the maladjusted individual who is sanctioned by the hostile collective for striving for independence must be the figure to identify with. Frankenstein's monster has always been more tragic than its creator. Only when dealing with the social order does the monster's purity turn into malice. In BATMAN RETURNS, none of the villains is unreservedly evil - with the exception of humans. Max Shreck is the devil. He seduces, manipulates, corrupts and kills. Its bourgeois facade belies the thoroughly rotten interior.

Burton's animals spend their solitude with their kind in self-designed interiors: Breaking out of her apartment, which has degenerated into a personal hell, Catwoman shares her nightlife with stray cats; Batman retreats to the bats in his rugged Bat Cave; the penguin commands a whole army of penguins in the Gothic halls of his subterranean arctic world

Monsters, cat women and bats - BATMAN RETURNS is pure black romance, modeled after the cinematic retelling of classic Gothic stories. Burton avidly avails himself of the heavily symbolic images of the horror film, the quotes range from NOSFERATU to CAT PEOPLE. Following the tradition of Expressionism, Burton externalizes the ambivalent mental states of his protagonists in an overwhelming design. In the bizarre overdrawings and expressive color contrasts of the set design as well as the gloomy lighting and, last but not least, the costumes, the characters' repressed subconscious turns outward. Their surroundings are designed into psychological dioramas which, when lined up, ultimately create the image of a multi-faceted theme park. Burton's Gotham is a world of scenery with no neutral space, no outside, no escape. A postmodern no man's land in which the signs of light and darkness, reason and madness, reality and fiction are turned into their gruesome opposites.

III. Not the hero the city needs ... THE DARK KNIGHT

Back to the sources: Nolan's Batman reboot BATMAN BEGINS is based on Miller's "BATMAN: YEAR ONE"

Burton's version of Batman is dark, defeatist, depressing. Batman loves the shadowy existence so much that he refrains from being in the light of attention. Instead, the dazzling villains take center stage, displacing the protagonist from his own story. With BATMAN BEGINS, Nolan set a clear contrast - for the first time Batman was allowed to be the hero of his story again. After the notorious Schumacher fiasco, in which the Dark Knight in the brightly colored, over-the-top sequels BATMAN FOREVER and BATMAN & ROBIN, similar to the Adam West series, once again degenerates into a parody of his own, Nolan does everything in his restart to block the beginnings of Batman explore. In addition to answers to more pragmatic questions such as “Where did he get his combat skills from?” Or “Who actually gets him his nifty gadgets?” Nolan focuses primarily on questions that relate to the core of the character: What does Batman stand for? What is his motivation for terrorizing Gotham's underworld night after night in a bat costume? Why a bat at all? After 134 minutes of self-search, at the end of the film Batman is finally ready to take on a worthy opponent (again) in THE DARK KNIGHT: the Joker.

A touch of science fiction: matching its James Bond-like technical equipment, Batman's makeshift Bat-Cave in THE DARK KNIGHT evokes associations with the work of the famous set designer Ken Adams

Gotham City has now been completely overhauled. Instead of a timeless, eclectic bricolage with art deco-decorated skyscrapers, monumental Gothic cathedrals and cat department stores, the architecture at Nolan is shaped by the current zeitgeist of America. In keeping with his authentically withdrawn staging style, Nolan, in contrast to Burton, dares to step outside; In addition to studio recordings, his Gotham City is made up of the real cityscapes of Chicago and London (BATMAN BEGINS, THE DARK KNIGHT) as well as New York, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh (THE DARK KNIGHT RISES). A big US city like any other, just a little dirtier. Because even if the city has been cleansed of any traces of the supernatural, the fantastic or the comic - crime, violence and corruption keep Gotham City under their control, perhaps more than ever.

The three-way alliance of prosecutor, cop and masked vigilante is based on the plot from the comic BATMAN: THE LONG HALLOWEEN (1996-97) by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale.

If one had to describe Nolan's approach in a few words, it would be Michael Mann. THE DARK KNIGHT RISES is a comic film adaptation with clear references to various Graphic novels, but the film looks like a typical police thriller à la man. With cool precision and a well-crafted staging, Nolan creates a game of cat and mouse between law enforcement officers and organized crime. Even if they are diametrically opposed to each other, they share a perfect professionalism. Gangsters as well as criminal hunters have dedicated themselves entirely to their calling, and success in their job often fills the void that their repressed private life has left behind. After all, the characters have to take a moral standpoint within the corrupt society; the struggle between good and evil becomes a conflict between different principles, abstract ideas and philosophies. Nolan's Batman trilogy is pervaded by a clear ethic of action, the act alone decides. So Lieutenant Jams Gordon and District Attorney Harvey Dent are willing to take up the fight against the crime. Her secret weapon is the vigilante Batman, who is not tied up by institutional structures like she is. In fact, the unequal triumvirate manages to clean Gotham's streets without breaking its own rules. Batman may act beyond the law, but he sticks to his iron maxim never to kill. The last frontier that separates him from the usual criminals. A moral stance that Batman developed a long way in BATMAN BEGINS in the dialectical confrontation of two opposing principles, which are symbolized in Bruce Wayne's (substitute) father figures: On the one hand, there is the mild commandment to allow grace to rule before justice , represented both by Bruce's biological father, the murdered philanthropist Dr. Thomas Wayne, as well as the loyal butler Alfred. On the other hand, there is the hateful urge to have to take the retribution of right and wrong into one's own hands, personified in Bruce's teacher, the misanthropic extremist R’as al Ghul. The synthesis of the principled avenger Batman emerges from the thesis of empathic understanding and the antithesis of absolute justice.

"Introduce a little anarchy": In all of its allusions, the Joker is staged by Nolan as an almost unstoppable force of destruction

But then a joker happens. One single person is enough to shake nothing less than the order of things itself with a few bullets and a little gasoline. He moves outside the usual game between robbers and gendarmes, is not interested in money, power or revenge. He does evil for evil's sake, just wants to see the world burn. He is Satan in person, the no-sayer, the annihilator, the great adversary. In his first appearance, he stands with his back to the camera on a street corner, as if materialized out of nowhere. An elemental force, the nameless evil, entered this world to let it go up in flames. In desperation, Gotham's underworld turns to him, of all people, to respond to Batman's threat without really understanding his real intentions. The Joker cannot be used as an instrument; conversely, he uses the Mafia to realize his visions of a new era of crime, a world without rules, pure anarchy. Even locked up, his passive aggressiveness alone makes him a threat, similar to Hannibal Lecter in THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS or Benjamin Linus from LOST. As an evil genius, he keeps all the strings in hand and is three steps ahead of Batman and the police every time. Violence does not get against him; on the contrary, he seems to be feeding from her. Again and again he tries to trick his opponents into breaking their own rules. In the end, the confrontation with the Joker, in view of the growing number of victims and the sheer powerlessness in the face of his boundless malice, becomes an ordeal for the good. What else can a person oppose to such a force?

Perfidious power game: even at the mercy of the Dark Knight's rough fists, the Joker has the upper hand

Nolan's Batman adaptations are post 9/11 films. His Gotham City becomes a stage for current American social fears, a processing of the as yet unspeakable traumas of recent years. Above all, it is the confrontation with terrorism that comes to light again and again, the inexplicable evil that modern America feels exposed to. An enemy without a face, with whom neither can be negotiated nor dealt with by means of violence. "You have nothing, nothing to threaten me with. Nothing to do with all your strength ", the Joker counters the hard as well as desperate punches of the Dark Knight with roaring laughter. The interrogation scene in Gordon's Police Department is the climax of the argument between Batman and the Joker. For a moment, Batman lets go of all scruples in order to coax the Joker into the whereabouts of his two hostages - Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes - in a "rescue torture". The case of Deputy Police President Daschner echoes all too clearly in the mind of the German viewer. The topic of the state threat or use of force and the discussion about the permissibility of torture are not unknown in the USA either. Ultimately, the question arises in Gotham City: Why doesn't Batman kill the Joker? Nolan's answer is simple: Because that's exactly what the Joker wants. Batman subscribes to a Kantian ethic of duty, under no circumstances does he deviate from his guiding principle of not killing. This allows him to maintain his own humanity even in times of extreme unrest. But the price of such action is high, in the end Batman not only loses his great love Rachel, but also his ally Harvey Dent. Batman, as a personified principle, can bear the consequences, but for the person behind the mask this burden is getting heavier day by day.

The Man Who Laughs: Unlike in the model of the silent film of the same name from 1928, the origin of Joker's diabolical permanent grin has not been clarified. Instead, the Joker sticks to Moore's THE KILLING JOKE: "If I have a past, please do it with multiple choice!"

"Why so serious?" or: the harlequin principle. There has always been a special attraction in contrasting the extremely serious character of Batman with an eternally grinning clown as an archenemy. While with Burton the Joker celebrates madness as a postmodern death artist as liberation, with Nolan the archetype of the fool is traced back to its order-breaking roots.With twisted bodies, grotesque grimaces and nonsense tirades, the fool already criticized the social status quo in the Middle Ages from the perspective of the outsider, turned courtly church norms on their heads in his diabolical antics and exposed the wrong game of society with his masquerade. He was the ambassador of another world, the other world, in which man finds his way back to his natural, chaotic origin, beyond rules and morals. The harlequin as the genius of life.

A world upside down: is the Joker the only one who sees things the right way round?

Heath Ledger's Joker joins this tradition, and he also sprays as agent of chaos Disorder to demonstrate the fragility of ideologically formed world views. In the last encounter with Batman, he dangles overhead on the Dark Knight's rope. While he is playing his last trump card against Batman, the camera slowly rotates 180 degrees until the Joker is upright again and Gotham's night sky is upside down. The joker turns everything that is into its opposite. In the moment of weightlessness, the anarchist freedom that lies in madness is expressed. The Joker is a master of the bizarre mask game - with or without make-up, as a corpse or as a nurse. In his strange way of speaking, his gestures, his gait, he seems to be out of this world. Again and again he draws attention to his mouth, repaints the scars with red lipstick, smacks, clicks, grins and holds him clearly in the picture. In the inverted theatricality of the carnival, the whole concept of the grotesque body is concentrated in the open mouth, according to literary theorist Michail Bachtin, the symbol of the "Devouring soillessness of the body". Joker's mouth gapes in his face as a great wound; by conjuring up the same smile on people's faces with his knife, he lets them participate in their own, limitless blackness.

Batman's armed copycats at the beginning of THE DARK KNIGHT are a reference to the Sons of Batman from Miller's THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS

The face as the leitmotif of the film. One feels reminded of the early film theory of Béla Balázs ‘, who phenomenologically describes the face in the close-up as a landscape. The faces in THE DARK KNIGHT also have a lot to tell. While one threatens to lose oneself in one's infinite malice at the sight of the Joker's grimace, the masked face of the Dark Knight, similar to the Guy Fawkes mask from Alan Moore's V FOR VENDETTA (1982-89), becomes a symbol of resistance, an immortal ideal, that moves people. Just as the Anonymous movement has made the Fawkes mask its own for its hacktivism, at the beginning of THE DARK KNIGHT you come across some imitators who were inspired by the black avenger and come up with a self-made Batman mask and a rifle take action against Gotham's underworld on your own. But this bourgeois militancy is not in the spirit of the spiritual father Batman - the freedom of interpretation of his face also allows for misinterpretations.

"I believe in Harvey Dent". The slogan adopted from THE LONG HALLOWEEN is just as double-faced in THE DARK KNIGHT as the face of the person to whom it refers.

Finally, there is a third face: Harvey Dent. His angular, all-American face becomes a projection surface for the city's hopes and optimism. "Look at this face. This is the face of Gotham’s bright future " Bruce Wayne proudly announces at his fundraiser in honor of the district attorney. Dent is Gotham's radiant White Knight, a hero with a face who would lead the future of the city and - finally - remove the need for a masked Dark Knight. But like his plans to inspire the people of Gotham to act, Batman's hopes for Harvey Dent as his law-abiding successor are doomed to failure. He didn't expect the second face to be hidden behind the facade of the shining knight - Two-Face.

The motif of the face finally becomes the image of the coin; in THE DARK KNIGHT there is a second face for each face, the other side. Dent's fault is his moral perfection, his unwillingness to compromise. Starting as an investigator for the internal police department, he has developed an extreme fanaticism of justice. For him, the world is divided into two clearly separable sides, good and bad. In his ethical black and white painting, the absolutely (self-) righteous do-gooder cannot admit his dark side. He suppresses it until it comes to light in occasional outbursts of anger and acts of desperation - for example in the deadly game with one of Joker's henchmen. He is a modern day Dr. Jekyll trying at all costs to hide his Mr. Hyde from the public, not to recognize him as part of himself. So a little nudge from the Joker is enough and Harvey's world is upside down. Robbed of the love of his life and left behind with severe physical and mental wounds, his moral double-faced character is cruelly written on his face in the shape of the Janus-headed Two-Face. His troubled mind sees the only consistent option after turning away from good to be to join evil: "Either you die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain."

Heads or Tails - Harvey Dent / Two-Face's dual worldview is not only evident in his face, but also in his coin.

So at the beginning Harvey Dent saw himself as an infallible accuser (and judge) in the name of justice, an autonomous determiner of his fate and that of others, but now as Two-Face he has lost faith in the right decision and his ability to make decisions himself. Instead of being the forge of his own happiness, he despairs of the cruel arbitrariness of human existence. This is symbolized in his coin, which he always flips when making vital decisions. But while the coin still has two identical sides at the beginning, so he had one hundred percent control over his decisions ("I make my own luck"), she is in the explosion that killed his fiancée Rachel, as he himself was injured on one side. Unable to come to an agreement with his evil self, which has now taken half control over his face, his life, he now leaves all decisions about life and death to chance, his new god of justice: "The only morality in a cruel world is chance. Unbiased. Unprejudiced. Fair." For Two-Face every decision has exactly two equally valid, contradicting alternatives: yes or no, win or lose, light or dark, life or death. No in between. No compromise. In a psychology opposite to Freud's, the tossing of a coin does not help him to gain clarity about his feelings through his reactions to the result, but actually relieves his deeply divided mind from the responsibility of reaching a judgment. He is dependent on the result of the coin. In addition, Two-Face's obsession with coins is part of a rich film tradition. Since George Raft's portrayal of the coin tossing mobsters Guino Rinaldo in Howard Hawks ‘SCARFACE (USA 1932), the coin-throwing villain is an iconographic motif throughout the history of the American gangster film; besides Anton Chigurh (Javier Bardem) from NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN (USA 2007) by the Coen brothers, Two-Face is likely to be the only villain who takes the coin game seriously.

As a consequence of his right action, Batman is allowed to look down on a world in ruins in THE DARK KNIGHT.

Harvey Dent's story forms the backbone of THE DARK KNIGHT. His fall into sin raises the age-old question about evil: Does evil exist as an extra-human, independent force, or is it only defined by the absence of good? If you first look at the figure of the Joker, you actually believe in an outside, dark power. Two-Face, however, represents the second concept - the evil that arises from the free choice of human will itself. He is part of the many sadistic games and social experiments that the Joker undertakes to show people their inherent badness. The Joker is a Hobbesian: in the natural state, man is man's wolf. But then the Joker himself would not be a representative of sovereign evil, but only a particularly vicious wolf. Be that as it may, the result of THE DARK KNIGHT is definitely sobering: whether it exists or not, evil triumphs. The Joker brought down the best and turned them into the insane copkiller Two-Face. Batman is well aware that people must not lose faith in the great narratives like Dent. The good must not lose, hero stories must have a happy ending. So the result is skewed, Batman takes on the crimes of Two-Face, Harvey Dent is said to have died a heroic death and ultimately becomes the legend Batman always wanted to be. The peace of Gotham is preserved, but it is built on a lie. A clear reference to John Ford's late western THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE, in which a heroic legend based on a lie has also become the truth that constitutes society. "Sometimes the truth isn't good enough. Sometimes people deserve more. " Even if Nolan leans on Ford's pathos in his finale, it basically remains a pessimistic ending. The deontological idealist Batman has become a follower of pragmatic ethics after the fight against the overpowering evil. A realist who, like Two-Face or Joker, has recognized the cruelty of the world but does not accept it. So the good citizens of Gotham continue to put on good faces to the evil game until one day the brutal truth finally flies around their ears.


In THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, revolutionary Bane confronts Gotham City with the truth about Harvey Dent - and nobody seems to care. Did Batman end up doing the crimes of Two-Face in THE DARK KNIGHT for nothing?

Endure the unbearable. Both Burton and Nolan looked into the endless abyss of the figure in their Batman interpretations, with the difference that Burton could endure the hopeless blackness of the Dark Knight and maintain it throughout his films, but Nolan unexpectedly found the reconciliation at the end of his trilogy seeks. In fact, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES tears down almost everything with its happy ending that Nolan has painstakingly built up in terms of ambivalences in Batman Begins and especially in THE DARK KNIGHT. The unlikely salvation of an anti-hero, who is considered to be lost by nature, is just as annoying as the implausible motivation of his one-dimensional opponent Bane, who finally loses his impressive threat due to an unnecessary twist at the end of the film. Nolan's attempt to write THE DARK KNIGHT RISES with a plot inspired by Charles Dickens ‘A TALE OF TWO CITIES (1859) as a political allegory of contemporary America comes to nothing. Bane shatters the false peace that politicians and law enforcement officials have built in Gotham City since THE DARK KNIGHT ended by showing the public the real face of Harvey Dent. However, the consequences of this community-shattered dismantling of key figures such as Dent or even Commissioner Gordon do not materialize. Bane calls to arms, in a revolution from below he calls for the redistribution of goods - but Gotham does not follow suit. During all the time that the city has become a lawless place, none of the supposedly two million residents seem to be interested in Bane's political agenda; besides Bane's mercenaries and one or the other freed convict, there is no trace of the citizens of Gotham on the barricades. What could have become an interesting reference to the insecurities within America due to the financial crisis and Occupy has withered into a half-baked script idea. After all, ultra-terrorist Bane doesn't even believe in his revolution himself - he's just using it as a cover to cover up his real plan to atomize Gotham (and himself!) For unspecified reasons. Any political and social relevance in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES turns to dust on closer inspection. Instead of Michael Mann, the spirit of James Bond rules, the super villain is faced with an omnipotent hero whose triumph over evil is a foregone conclusion. If the heroes in THE DARK KNIGHT are still shattered by their moral skepticism about having chosen the right methods in the fight against incomprehensible evil, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES removes all self-doubts - in the end the world is only black and white, the (American ) Society is back on its fixed course, the complicated conflict of good and evil is resolved in a simple mass tussle between terrorists and police violence. The law of the school yard: the last one standing wins! It remains interesting, however, that in THE DARK KNIGHT RISES Batman has to rely more than ever on his gadgets in the fight against evil; his flying device, The Bat, which is often used, becomes the literal Deus ex Machina.

The disappointment of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES can be learned an instructive lesson: As much as you might wish the opposite, if the many transformations of the Batman character over the decades have made one thing clear, it is that the Dark Knight is a happy one Salvation does not stand.