The villain in The Dark Knight Rises is Bane. He’s hardly the most famous of DC Comic’s supervillains, and in 1997’s campy Batman and Robin, he was reduced to a grunting heavy. But in the original comics, Bane’s not just a worthy adversary for Batman—he's his inverse. A
political prisoner, educated by a Jesuit, pumped up by chemical stimulants, and a veteran of prison fights, Bane loathes Wayne, a
privileged heir who adopts violence as a way of meeting his emotional needs instead of as a way to survive. And Bane, in the comics, does something shocking—he puts
Wayne in a wheelchair by breaking his back.
Most superhero stories chronicle the rise of heroes above their humanity. But were Nolan to import the
back-breaking narrative from the comics, his Batman story arc would raise Bruce Wayne up only to bring him crashing down. It would
be a sharp divergence from recent superhero movies, but one that’s completely in line with Nolan’s pessimism about what superheroes can
Superhero-movie precedent doesn’t require Nolan to end—or maim—Batman in order to end the series. Both Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man and the last crop of X-Men movies ran for three neat films before they were rebooted. There’s a third Iron Man
movie on the way for 2013, but after that, the character’s getting diverted into Marvel’s larger Avengers storyline. When the recent Spider-Man and X-Men trilogies came to a close, the main characters had suffered but were left standing. Peter Parker may have lost his
childhood best friend, Harry Osbourn, but his relationship with Mary Jane Watson was repaired, and he ended the movies with a new sense of how to use
his powers. Jean Grey died at the end of X-Men: The Last Stand, but Wolverine remained around to flash his claws, Storm kept the Xavier
Institute running, and Magneto seemed on the brink of regaining his powers. The superhero project goes on.
Nolan, though, very well may opt to close his franchise on a more chilling note. The Dark Knight is the most definitive artistic statement of
the current crop of superhero films—and the most financially lucrative, grossing more than $1 billion internationally. Nolan’s distinguished
himself from his contemporaries by taking a relentlessly dark view of classic comic characters and of humanity. Where Spider-Man 2 made Doctor
Octopus a soulful scientist to tell a cautionary tale about becoming too enamored of the power of technology, and Spider-Man 3 redeemed the man
who killed Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben, Nolan’s villains have been less forgivable: Batman Begins made the Scarecrow not just a straw
man but a grave-worm ridden ghost, and The Dark Knight turned the Joker from a badly made-up clown into a uniquely horrifying sociopath who
sews bombs into convicts and blows up hospitals.