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A Knight by Any Other Name: Why We Don’t Need Nolan to Use Characters from the Comic Books…

Read our in-depth review of the film here.

There was a bit of a ripple on-line last week when it was announced that Marion Cotillard was playing a Wayne Enterprise employee by the name of Miranda Tate and Joseph Gordon Levitt was playing a cop named John Blake in the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises. Both actors had been suggested for various and established characters (Cotillard seems a perfect fit for Talia Al Ghul, while Levitt was linked to characters as diverse as Alberto Falcone and the Black Mask). Still, it’s surprising how shocked everybody seemed that neither high-profile actor would playing a character established in the Bat mythos. Does it really matter that much?

I can’t Talia if it’s really an original character…

Truth be told, I’m treating most major casting announcements with a grain of salt. Tom Hardy as Bane seems a nice fit, but Nolan is a director fond of his last-minute third-act twists and revelations. After all, Liam Neeson was famously cast as “Henri Ducard” in Batman Begins, only to be revealed as the true “Ra’s Al Ghul” at the climax of the film. Nolan’s films like The Prestige and Memento frequently hinge on a third-act revelation that a character is not necessarily who or what they appear to be.

So it’s entirely possible that Detective John Blake might turn out to be a murderous vigilante or a replacement Batman (twisted into it by the plot of the movie). Being honest, given the casting of a younger version of Ra’s Al Ghul, I expect the movie to tie back to the first film in the cycle – which give me reason to suspect the involvement of the League of Shadows and the Al Ghul family. Admittedly, Bane might turn out to have links to the League, and may be their soldier (serving as a dark mirror to Batman, who refused to cleanse Gotham for them), but I wouldn’t be surprised if Miranda Tate was “a cheap parlour trick” to conceal Talia’s identity.

Ghul-ish…

Indeed, if this turns out to be the case, I’d love to see Bruce figure out who she is and what she wants long before the reveal, and make it clear that he’s already several moves ahead. It might be nice to see some of Morrison’s “Bat God” on the big screen, complete with use of the line “Love? Congratulate Alfred on the acting lessons!” Boom! Owned! All of a sudden, Batman’s grown up, accepted that he can’t have an emotional attachment he desperately wants and still be Batman, all while demonstrating that he has learned a lot. Bonus points if, returning to Batman Begins, he manages to save Bane instead of letting him die – growing up from his pronouncement to Ra’s at the end of the first film.

Still, I don’t mind if Tate and Blake are entirely original characters. In fact, I kinda like it. A lot of comic book fans out there are probably wondering why Nolan simply couldn’t, for example, take any of the long line of women who have wandered into and out of Bruce’s life and used their name. Silver St. Cloud, perhaps, or Vicky Vale, maybe? There’s an even wider selection of Gotham City cops that could be used. For example, Levitt could be a young Harvey Bullock, or even Marcus Driver, Hugh Foley or maybe Jim Corrigan. Each character walks the line between “good cop”, “compromised cop” and “bad cop” – there must be a GCPD supporting character somewhere who matches the role Nolan has mapped out for this character.

Femme fatale?

However, perhaps that is the problem. Any comic book fan knows a lot about these characters – their positions and their philosophies. And, if one comic book fan knows it, you can be sure the entire internet will know instantly. Like with the obscure Johnny Blake who appeared once in a Batman comic, but was all over the web last week. And that means that, from a simple character name, the audience will know what to expect – and it will shape our expectations of the plot.

If the character were named after Bullock, for example, we’d expect him to break the rules – but eventually come to respect Batman. If he were named Jim Corrigan, we’d expect him to be either corrupt and dead or just dead (there are two Detective Jim Corrigan’s in DC continuity). Much like the fact that even mentioning Harvey Dent meant the audience spent the entire first half of The Dark Knight waiting for half his face to burn away, using an existing character comes with limitations. It not only fuels speculation and expectations, it also fences in the story you want to tell.

GCPD blues…

There’s a famous rumour which circulates the internet, suggesting that Detective Ramirez in The Dark Knight was originally going to Detective Renee Montoya. Montoya is famously the cop first introduced in Batman: The Animated Series who was subsequently introduced into comic book continuity – playing a major role in comics like the superb Gotham Central and 52, wherein she adopted the superhero identity of the Question. However, the fact that a twist in The Dark Knight relied on the character being a dirty cop, meant that there probably would have been outrage at using the character in such a manner. Just look at the controversy generated by Mission: Impossible.

Indeed, you could argue that it’s perfectly okay for a writer or director to do whatever they want with a character. After all, I’d argue freedom of adaptation allows a creator to do whatever they feel is necessary for a good story – I couldn’t care less whether a story is “faithful” to what happened in the source material, as long as its good. After all, if the change is too severe, I can always return to the source material for what I consider to be the “true” iteration of a given character. However, I’m in the minority on this, sadly. Consider, for example, how hugely divisive Tim Burton’s mutated Penguin was in Batman Returns, even though I’d argue he fit the themes of the story well.

Continuity cop out?

Perhaps Nolan and Warner Brothers don’t want to antagonise fans. It’s not even pandering or anything like that, it’s just realising that it isn’t an argument worth having at all. Plus, original characters mean that the audience has no idea what to expect when they sit down in the cinema, which is always a good thing. I’m not entirely convinced that these are completely original characters (whether in identity or concept), but I have no problem if they are. After all, surely Nolan has earned our trust at this stage.

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6 Responses

  1. Can’t say I disagree at all. One of the worrying things about the Bane casting is that one of the things everyone mentions about him is that he broke Batman’s back. Kind of a spoiler, don’t you think?

    It was the same with Alberto Falcone. Everyone kept on saying that Levitt was cast as “Falcone/Holiday Killer”. That’s like describing Bruce Willis is the Sixth Sense as Psychologist/Ghost.

    I’m looking forward to both these characters, though I’ll be pissed if Cillian Murphy doesn’t make a cameo appearance.

    • I am hoping for a Cillian Murphy cameo again, just for consistency and continuity. If they’re linking the film so thoroughly to Batman Begins (as the rumours suggest), it would be nice to see a character who also had a supporting role in the Dark Knight (but wasn’t a member of the core cast) make an appearance. I worry that The Dark Knight might strangely end up being the “odd one out” of the trilogy.

      And that’s incredibly irritating, castingly, though I suppose I did the same with Bane (even used the image from the comic book in the article). Unfortunately, I think that’s the problem with working in an established universe. It’s very hard to surprise people, because people are constantly discussing and debating what that character did in the comic books. Even if people don’t read the funny books, they’ll still stumble across it.

  2. Nolan kind of deserves free reign to introduce original characters into the Batman mythos if he so chooses, but like you I suspect more from the most recent casting announcements. If Cotillard doesn’t turn out to be Talia, I’ll buy a hat so I can eat it. Maybe the biggest surprise would be for Nolan to just let these characters be who they are instead of using duplicity to hide their real identities from us.

    • Yep, I agree. The bigger twist would be… not to have a twist. I’d love it (just a little) if Nolan set up a tonne of stuff hinting at any number of things… and then just offered a relatively straight-forward climax. The internet would explode.

      And, to be honest, while I’d love it, I’d also be incredibly ticked.

  3. Comic-book fans typically wig when anything is added or altered to the established universes. Is it really any different than when new story arcs or characters are created in ink?

    Nolan must remember the backlash Burton faced for tampering with Joker’s back story.

    • Forget about the Joker – just mention Burton’s Penguin in an on-line discussion and duck for cover. Which is a shame, because he’s a good character (and much stronger than any of Schumacher’s villains).

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