Now that The Dark Knight made eighty gazillion dollars at the box office, serious questions about a third movie are turning into Very Serious Questions about a third movie.
One of the most important ones is: who does Batman fight? How do you top the Joker?
Well, let me be the first to say this: you can’t. There is no topping the Joker. The Joker is the antithesis to Batman, is a super-villain bordering on uber-villain that cannot and should not be repeated. There is nothing like the Joker.
However. That doesn’t mean that there can’t be a third movie. There are still important and interesting issues, here. And there’s still a possibility for more brutal realizations of formerly idiotic comic-book characters.
So, let me make this suggestion, and let me elaborate my plan: The Riddler.
Okay, okay. The Riddler was a retarded character in basically every respect. He was actually kind of an anti-villain in the Old Days, whose largest contribution to the Evil Plan was giving Batman secret clues about how to stop it (on the Adam West TV Show, he actually WROTE THE CLUES IN THE SKY WITH GIANT MISSILES). The cartoons managed to rehabilitate him a little bit, making him, basically, a bank robber with a superiority complex, who kept needing to prove that he was smarter than Batman. That was okay, but it was kind of slapping a band-aid on a broken leg–they managed to make the character “not stupid,” but didn’t really solve the problem of “there’s not really a reason for this character.”
So, what does a third Batman movie contain? Go with me for a second: in the wake of the Joker’s reign of terror, Gotham has basically lost its shit. There are lunatics all over the place, dressing up like cats or crocodiles or characters from Alice in Wonderland, because the whole place is fucking nutso. Harley Quinn shows up, because the Joker is locked up in the basement of Arkham and they keep sending him therapists (this bears additional consideration; possibly a second post).
Into this comes the Riddler. The Riddler is a sociopathic systems engineer. He’s basically a criminal economist, and he moves into Gotham City to re-organize crime (generally: by killing people). He attempts to turn Gotham City into the worldwide hub for heroin smuggling, arms dealing, and kiddie-porn. His contribution is extremely clever, complex and brilliant plans that hide the organized criminal activity from the Batman.
And the thing about it is, it kind of works. Between Batman chasing after the nutjobs, the police chasing after Batman, and the Riddler building a functioning city out of Gotham, the place doesn’t actually collapse into anarchy.
This is the serious question that Batman faces, as action and tension builds to a head: the people of Gotham City would actually prefer a world that is corrupt and criminal but predictable to a world where Harley Quinn throws sarin nerve gas into orphanages. Batman is forced to confront the fact that the Riddler is trying to return Gotham to its status quo, and that’s kind of what everybody wants–a world in which Batman had never been.
There’s maybe a confrontation where the Riddler points this out: that no sane business invests in Gotham City anymore; the only enterprise in Gotham is criminal enterprise, and the Riddler is the only thing standing between the city and its absolute collapse into utter anarchy. This is what will give you the next step of Big Ideas to address: Why is it, exactly, that Batman is a force for good? How does beating up crazy fuckers actually solve anything?
In my imagination, the Riddler has a psychological condition called hypergraphia, which causes him, when stressed out, to feel the need to cover things with text. He writes in cryptograms and elliptically refers to things that he’s doing, basically because he can’t help it. His compulsive clue-leaving isn’t his “theme” so much as it is an essential weakness–without it, his plans would be too complex and obscure for Batman to glom on to. He’s a sociopath somewhere between R’as al-Ghul and the Joker–he doesn’t kill people out of some precise, obsessive approach to justice, and he doesn’t just do it because he thinks it’s funny. He kills because people are in his way, or because he gets angry and loses his temper, or to make examples of people.
And, that’s about it. He can wear a (dark) green suit, and should probably be played by Philip Seymour Hoffman.