At this point, it is worth asking an important question: what should we do with this information? Why does it matter which character from Batman has the most in common with Trump?
But first: are there important Batman characters left to consider?
How much does Donald Trump resemble Lex Luthor?
Lex Luthor, while predominantly a Superman character rather than one of Batman’s friends or foes, resembles Trump in two significant ways: a) he’s a billionaire who b) runs for president (and, frighteningly, is elected) in the DC universe.
The two do share one other key characteristic: a hunger for power. However, Luthor is known for being two-faced, passing himself off as a thoughtful philanthropist (while secretly plotting and inventing.) As previously discussed in the Harvey Dent article, one of Trump’s traits, and potentially his only virtue, is that he is not duplicitous: he has repeatedly revealed his ugliness on the world stage. Continue reading “Which Batman Character Does Trump Resemble Most? Part 6: The Conclusion”→
The similarities between Trump and the Joker have been discussed here before, in response to an editorial by The Economist. But that was before the current series of “Which Batman Character Does Trump Resemble Most,” and was limited to the Joker as depicted by Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight.
Let’s take a step further and evaluate how much the Donald and the Joker (in all his various depictions) really resemble one another.
To begin with, both men have remarkably poor taste.
In what they say, in what they wear, in how they look and present themselves: these are crude, tasteless men.
The Joker drives a car with his own face on it, while Trump will brand anything with his own name. Both prove that taste does not accompany wealth.
He uses chaos and anarchy as a weapon, manipulating the weak and confused.
Shouting, punching, screaming, hysteria, name-calling: these are regular trappings at any assembly of Trump fans. Above this chaos stands Trump, fanning the flames and upping the ante.
It is a key element of Trump’s campaign and rhetoric. He brands himself as “anti-establishment.” Consider what the Joker says about establishment and order in The Dark Knight:
Introduce a little anarchy. Upset the established order, and everything becomes chaos. I’m an agent of chaos. Oh, and you know the thing about chaos? It’s fair!
“This has never been about who the nominee is,” Paul Ryan said yesterday, explaining why his party will fight any Supreme Court justice nomination made by Barack Obama in 2016, and why they are specifically going to fight the nomination of Merrick Garland.
This, from a party ostensibly dedicated to the Constitution. This response to the President’s nomination has proved something: the Republicans have lost all sense of identity, becoming the contemporary political equivalent to the villains that Batman fights daily in the fictional Gotham City.
How so? In Batman media – whether comic books, films, or television – there is a running theme that the Batman’s “rogues gallery” is defined only by being the yin to Batman’s yang.
This is the second installment in an ongoing series of articles exploring which Batman character Donald Trump resembles most. You can read the first installment here, in which I explain the impetus for this series and compare Donald Trump to Oswald “the Penguin” Cobblepot. Or if you’re interested in reading D. F. Lovett’s fiction, you can buy his books here.
Like many of Batman’s villains, The Scarecrow first appeared in the 1940s. His backstory has gone through some variations, but there are a few universal elements: his weapon is fear, he wears a Scarecrow mask, and he is a disgraced psychiatrist who worked at both Arkahm Asylum and Gotham University before his downfall into crime.
“I am fear incarnate.” – The Scarecrow in Batman: The Animated Series
Unlike most of Batman’s famous villains, Scarecrow had not been seen on film until the Christopher Nolan trilogy. Cillian Murphy portrays Jonathan “the Scarecrow” Crane in all three films, beginning with Batman Begins, in which Scarecrow works with Liam Neeson’s R’as al Ghul to poison Gotham with a weaponized hallucinogen.
One’s first instinct is to think that Trump and Scarecrow are an odd comparison. Trump is a brutish bully with cash, while Scarecrow is a delicate intellectual with a mask. But they have one thing in common: fear.
Both men use fear as their key instrument.
The Scarecrow finds out what you fear, and uses it against you. He does this is many ways. One is to plunge the city into darkness. Another is to use various fear toxins, frightening people to death or leading them to believe that their worst fears are becoming reality.
“He preys on the innocent and instills them with fear. When I chose to wear my costume, it was to prey upon the criminals and instill them with fear.
The irony is not lost on me…”
-Batman, describing the Scarecrow, in Jeph Loeb’s “Fears” (1993).
Trump’s entire campaign is based around fear. He tells people to fear immigrants. Fear refugees. Fear Mexicans. Fear Muslims. Fear ISIS. Fear “The Establishment.” Fear liberals. Fear women.
You either cede power to him because you are afraid, or he is what you fear. Both men have legions working for them, ready to rabidly attacked the next enemy. Scarecrow scares his opponents into not even engaging in a fight, just like Trump’s ability to scare away opponents from taking him on.
Or, “Stop Calling Them Gunmen and Start Calling Them Terrorists”
One of the most notable elements of Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is that, despite being made by a British writer and director and set in the fictional Gotham City, the films capture the zeitgeist of the post-9/11 America in a frightening, realistic way.
But there’s one lesson in these films that we don’t seem to have retained: terrorism can take many forms.
Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises, the first and third films in the trilogy, show evil as an extensive international network motivated by belief in a higher cause: the League of Shadows, led first by Liam Neeson and later by Tom Hardy’s Bane. It’s an evil organization which resembles Al-Qaeda or IS/Daesh in its reach and tactics.
Unlike the other two films, in The Dark Knight our villain is Heath Ledger’s Joker: a criminal who seemingly materializes out of nowhere. His background is unknown, with no criminal record or history of violence. He operates as a loner, with a few followers but no peers. He believes not in fundamentalism but in anarchy and chaos. He prefers easily-obtained weapons: in his words, “a few drums of gas and a couple of bullets.” He kills with abandon, targeting mob bosses, murdering his own followers, burning corrupt businessmen alive, turning civilians against one another. Throughout it all, he operates without loyalty and welcomes death.
He gives a speech, in one of the more famous moments from the film, explaining why people are so frightened of him. Because he disrupts expectations. He disrupts “the plan.” Because anyone can be his victim, not just “a gangbanger” or “a truckload of soldiers.”
The mass waves of shooters (most of whom are white and “Christian”) overtaking America resemble the Joker in every way: they kill innocents, make spectacles of their crimes, and fear nothing, including death. The American mass shooter is almost always suicidal. There are few mass shooters who begin their killing sprees expecting any outcome aside from death or life imprisonment.
Like the Joker, they cannot be “bought, bullied, reasoned, or negotiated with.”
If you haven’t heard, the latest complete failure at the box office was the flaccid reboot Pan, an attempt to create a franchise out of the Peter Pan story by starting with Mr. Pan’s origin as a young boy on an adventure to Neverland. In which the villain is Hugh Jackman as Blackbeard and Peter’s best friend is a guy named James Hook.
That’s right: in the new version of Peter Pan that you didn’t see, Pete’s best friend is a young, two-handed, two-eyed Captain Hook in his pre-pirate days. Meaning that the narrative is an origin story that includes a tragic bromance in which we watch one of the central characters become a villain.
This is the exact reboot/origin story/cheesy narrative that we do not need. And it’s a strange trend, with examples including the Star Wars prequels, Wicked, and a variety of superhero films and television shows in which the villain first appears as a classmate, friend, or family member of the hero.
It’s redundant and unoriginal and redundant.
As stated above, there is very little original left in the idea of “let’s imagine what happened in the part of the story before what we’ve seen,” whether its Pre-Pan or Not-yet-sleeping Beauty. It would perhaps be more interesting if it wasn’t so common, but there’s no longer anything unique about the idea that “what if Poison Ivy was a little girl before she became a bad guy” or “guys, maybe the wicked witch wasn’t always wicked?”
It’s sad and disturbing, but not in a compelling way.
There’s something very sad about a narrative in which we see a kid become a villain. There’s a reason that no one has made a summer blockbuster about Adolf Hitler as a kind little boy who becomes corrupted by evil. It would be disturbing and awful and sad. Although, based on the trends, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone creates an gritty origin story in which Jesus of Nazareth and Pontius Pilate are classmates who fight a battle against Herod before Pontius becomes a villain and Jesus becomes a hero.
The only good example of this trope is Rob Zombie’s Halloween reboot, because at no point is Michael Myers an innocent young boy awaiting corruption. He’s evil from the start, killing animals in his bedroom and classmates after school. This works because it’s an over-the-top absurd slasher film in which Zombie’s endgame is overwhelming the audience with a visceral, brutal experience.
Other than that, this cheap trope of the eventual villain beginning as a child is too brutal for a children’s story and too obvious for adults. Even the Sam Raimi Spiderman trilogy was weakened by the hackneyed writing that turned James Franco from Peter Parker’s bff into Green Goblin Junior.
It paints the world in unrealistic terms.
Here is the narrative we’re given in this unneeded origin stories: “He was good, and then he became evil.” The one exception is probably that of Darth Vader, in which the narrative is “He was good, and then he became evil, but then he became good for a second right before he died and then he went to Star Wars Heaven.” Either way, it declares that the world is good guys and bad guys.
The worst part is that these narratives often pose as “darker interpretations” or act as if they’re asking poignant questions about morality and heroism, when really the only question they ask if “what’s an easy way to show a good person become a bad person?”
It eliminates suspense from the story.
“Oh, his name is James Hook? So what, he’s Captain Hook? Yep. Okay. Wait, I need to watch him become Captain Hook for the next two hours? Great. This is exciting and suspenseful.”
This is the trouble with prequels and origin stories. They’re often yawn-inducing, because we know exactly what’s going to happen. Even Better Call Saul, a show I kinda like that provides some good laughs, suffers from the flaw that it’s completely unnecessary and we know what the ending will be. I mean, the ending already exists. It’s called Breaking Bad.
With Pan, we have reached peek reboot. And it’s a good lesson for anyone who has plans for an upcoming reboot or origin story or prequel, whether it’s the Adventures of Young Jesus and Pontius described above or the inevitable Back to the Future reboot.
There is only one way to make a reboot work now: you need to make anything possible. Don’t write the story into a corner in order to match the original plot points or the expectations that the audience has. Ensure suspense by making anything on the table. This is some work and some don’t. Batman Begins and its sequels gave us moments we’d never seen; Craig’s Casino Royale killed the villain and the love interest surprising, unexpected scenes; Man of Steel, on the other hand, failed because it opened with the exact same Superman origin story that we’d seen a million times, in which the baby Superman is put into a spaceship and sent from Krypton to Earth.
So, please, if you are currently hard at work on a gritty reboot in which we see a familiar villain begin life as an innocent, a hero, or a child: ask yourself if you are providing us with anything new and anything that anyone wants to see.
The Economist (and this blog) might liken him to The Joker, but Trump disagrees. I am Batman, he told a young boy and the world.
The obvious response is to say that Trump isn’t Batman. Or, there are those who have said that yes, he kinda is Batman.
I won’t point out the obvious, like that they’re both billionaires who polarize the public, own skyscrapers, and have a tragic lack of self-awareness.
When I consider if Trump resembles Batman, I’m reminded of the characters who show up at the beginning of The Dark Knight, wielding guns but dressed as poor man’s Batmans. Or the “Sons of Batman” who show up in a variety of Batman comic books and graphic novels, including Frank Miller’s acclaimed The Dark Knight Returns.
People like to predict that Ben Affleck will fail as the Batfleck. But what this blog post presupposes is, maybe he won’t?
The fact is, Ben Affleck is a good actor who is actually positioned better than any of his predecessors in terms of his ability to play Batman. Here are some of the reasons why.
It’s easy to forget that Ben Affleck was in comic book movies when no one cared about comic books. He starred in several Kevin Smith films during the ’90s and ’00s in which the characters were either readers or writers of comics.
This includes Affleck as Holden McNeil, a New Jersey comic book writer in Chasing Amy. It’s not a great movie, but it’s a good reference point if you want to see that Affleck knows a thing or two about the comic book world. He also plays the villain in Mallrats, another comic-centric movie by Kevin Smith.
You may have seen a sad news story about Lenny B. Robinson, a Maryland man who impersonated Batman to bring joy into the lives of children. Many referred to him as “The Route 29 Batman,” as he could often be seeing driving his Batmobile down this road, including when the police pulled him over and the moment was caught in a video that became viral. Several other news source have properly eulogized him, but I found it worth pausing to consider this legacy.
A few years ago, I wrote about the phenomenon of men in our world dressing as the hero of Gotham. I suggested that perhaps the greatest thing that makes someone Batman is tragedy, citing specifically the example of Zoltan Nohari, a man living in poverty, hoping to help the police in Slovakia.
Mr Trump’s lust for attention, combined with his fortune, seemed to be all the explanation needed. “Do I look like I have a plan?” says the Joker in “The Dark Knight”. “I’m a dog chasing cars. I don’t know what I’d do if I caught it”. Mr Trump’s havoc-spreading run seemed to share this improvisational spirit.
They go on to argue that yes, Trump has a plan, and yes, there’s a good chance that he is a dog who has caught a car and knows what to do with it: “sell it for profit.”
While The Economist moves away from the Batman metaphors and focuses on the politics, it’s worth dwelling for a moment on this comparison. This is not to say that Donald Trump is a villain. But he is one third of a complicated, shifting cinematic circus of three-directional conflict.
The Dark Knight is a film of three-way conflict. All great films are. Consider Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (HAL v. Humanity v. The Monolith) or Raiders of the Lost Ark (Nazis v. Indy v. The Ark) or The Departed (Jack v. Leo v. Damon). In The Dark Knight, our initial conflict is that The Joker is stealing money from the mob and cornering them, drawing Batman into the fight. Batman goes after the mob, thinking The Joker can wait. “One man or the mob…” Continue reading “How accurate is The Economist in comparing Donald Trump to The Joker?”→