He's the Joker. He's not very nice. He's the Ted Bundy Jack the Ripper kind of insane brain. But he's got a grand plan all set up and like many villains in modern literature, he has many gruesome things in store all leading up to the grand plan. He leaves a calling card, like the Zodiac, because even though he wants to be mysterious, he also wants to be well known.
Batman's popularity begins to plummet with the arrival of the Joker in Gotham. As he and Lt. Gordan's forces work together to try and thwart his devilish deeds, he proves to be an invincible antagonist not even Scooby Doo and the gang can track down. Once the clown prince of crime sets his green hairs in Gotham, strange and deleterious things begin to occur. Banks are robbed. Commissioners are killed. Bombs are set off. Service men are gagged. And District Attorneys go from beloved politicians to crazed TWO FACED mad maniacs. Not only does Batman fall in Nolan's second Batman installment, so does District Attorney Harvey Dent, who is known throughout Gotham as the white knight. Like Batman, he is a symbol of supreme hope and security and he even foiled his own assassination attempt in a courtroom. Batman and Dent are counted on for keeping Gotham at high levels, but the Joker tears them to smithereens with countless deaths and massacres. And when these terrible deeds unfold, the people wonder why Batman was not there to save the day. When Lt. Gordan "died", his wife screamed in agony at Batman for bringing this upon her and her family.
And Dent isn't much better. At every micro second, he struggles with his relationship with Rachel Dawes, his relationship with Gordan and the GPD, his relationship with Bruce Wayne, and his relationship with himself, something that plays in tremendously much later in The Dark Knight's story. So the Joker "plays many games" with the people of Gotham, lives are lost, and Batman and Dent are at the tippity top trying to make ends meet and restore order. But the Joker's relationship with Batman and Dent goes from plain sick to much more personal. As anyone who has seen The Dark Knight knows, the Joker kills on the streets of Gotham because he wants Batman to reveal his secret identity, feeling that Batman isn't making Gotham a better place. As Bruce Wayne tries to deal with the conundrum, his butler Alfred tells him to just endure the conundrum, for Batman may have to make the choice that no one else has to make. Bruce decides to reveal his secret identity to the public, just as Harvey Dent takes the rap for Batman's identity and is arrested. The gears shift as the Joker tries to kill Dent, and the real Batman arrives to aid in his arrest. Gordan, who faked his death to make the Joker's capture possible, helps Batman sweep the Joker away and he is put away in Arkam Asylum, the mad house to many of Batman's greatest foes.
Gordan's death is very symbolic to me, because it harkens back to old Christian tales of resurrection and sacrifice. It somewhat reminds me of Star Trek 3: The Search For Spock. In the film, the crew of the USS Enterprise embarks on a quest to resurrect their Vulcan friend, they run into a bunch of troubles, but in the end, Spock is alive and well to fight alongside of them once more. In The Dark Knight, Gordan is alive and well to fight alongside Batman once more, and to celebrate his victory and capture of the Joker, he is ranked to the big man's job of Commissioner.
But things are not quite fine and dandy yet....
Soon after, the Joker starts playing "games" again, this time, hard core heartless games. He implants bombs in people's stomachs and in some way or another, he captures Harvey Dent and Rachel Dawes and imprisons them in two different buildings rigged to explode. He forces Batman to choose between his good friend or his life long love and I can't help but feel this scene is familiar to the scene in the first Spider-Man film where Spidey has to choose to save Mary Jane or save the small children from the Green Goblin. It's the classic way a villain internally tortures the main protagonist, and in many ways, it defines who the main character really is. Never before (at least in the Nolan-verse) has Batman ever had to make a choice like this, and if he goes to save someone, it will totally cost the life of another. Never before has the Joker ever done something like this in the Batman storyline, and just think, if he went on to torment Batman some more in the Nolan-verse, he probably would have done this many more times down the road. This is more than just an average run of the mill scheme, this is something that strikes the hero's very soul. It's the pivotal decision that all great ones must make and little does Batman know that things are going to get very ugly no matter what decision he makes.
Batman goes after Harvey while Gordan and his team go after Rachel. Unfortunately, Gordan and his team are too late and one of the buildings explodes, killing Rachel in the way of a great superhero tragedy. Everyone who is into comics knows of the tragic death of Gwen Stacy in the Spider-Man universe or the death of Jean Grey in the X-Men tales. This is somewhat similar to those deaths because it shows the downfall of a beloved heroine who was powerful in the story's folding out and development. She is Bruce Wayne's life long love and this all takes a stab to Batman as the deaths of Gwen Stacy and Jean Grey stabbed Spider-Man and the X-Men. And Batman soon realizes what must be done as Harvey Dent goes terribly disfigured after the building he was in explodes on his gasoline coded face. Harvey undergoes extreme drama and sadness after the death of Rachel just like Batman does, but as Batman comes through and continues his hunt to stop the Joker, Harvey, now under the name Two-Face, rises and becomes Gotham's next big criminal. The problem is that no one in Gotham would know that he is a criminal.
So the Joker blows up a hospital, threatens to take out two boats and Batman totally comes to take him out once and for all. As a small tribute to the 1989 film, the Joker falls feet below but instead of dying, Batman spares him with a small rope, leaving him for the GPD to pick up. Around the same time, Harvey Dent falls from what he once was as he goes on a rampage, taking out people who were involved in Rachel's death. This is a crucial moment in his character development as he looses his ability to make his own decisions, relying on his father's lucky coin to do all the decision making. Remember how I said that he had a terrible relationship with himself, well, I think this fits in perfectly with this concept. Harvey can't accept himself, so he instead opts to making something entirely knew of himself, a terrifying TWO-FACED psychopath with a loaded gun by his side. Harvey Dent has fallen tremendously since the beginning of the film. Like Batman, he rose to the throne as a great king but now, after the death of the woman he loved, he has made a great smash in the ground and intends to keep making more. Dent doesn't care about people anymore, he only cares about himself. He wants revenge, and as Rachel Dawes once put it....
Justice is about making the world a better place, revenge is only about making yourself feel better
So the wily Dent tracks down Gordan's family and threatens to kill them. Batman shows up and it's at this moment that Batman is about to fall from what he once was. After being a well respected vigilante for some time, he's about to become the most hated fugitive in all of Gotham. Similar to Greek heroes and masked crusaders of old time, Batman makes the ultimate decision, the life changing decision, the decision no one else will have to make. As Dent threatens to kill Gordan's youngest son, Batman hurls at Dent, saving Gordan's son and causing Dent to plummet to his demise below. It's also interesting to point out that Dent indeed shoots Batman before his death, showing that he know longer trusts him, just like Anakin never again trusted Obi-Wan in the Star Wars universe. But one thing Obi-Wan never had to do is take the blame for Anakin's atrocities. Batman, to cover up Dent's madness and keep his legacy smooth, takes the wrap for his deaths and tells Gordan to hunt him. It's a sad, yet bittersweet moment that goes to show what kind of guts Batman has, and it shows that corruption can lead to the demise of such beloved figures.
A perfect example of this is the recent Penn State child abuse sex scandal. As in The Dark Knight, cover ups were made, and men who were originally thought to be grand heroes turn out to be flawed beings who are punished for what they did. It also connects to the Harry Potter series in which Sirius Black must take the blame for what another flawed being did. The point I'm trying to establish here is that many of these tales, whether they be Batman, or Spider-Man, or Star Wars, or Harry Potter, are all related and similar in many fashions and they can relate to real life situations (like the Penn State scandal) and show how corruption can eat it's way up. Like I always say, look from a certain point of view and you can see many new glorious things.
Batman, The Dark Knight, The Dark Savior, The One Who Was Loved By All Gotham, FALLS far from what he started as. His symbol is destroyed (just like Joe Paterno's statue was taken down), for people now fear and hate him, and the GPD hunts for him like a wild beast. The Batman is now a wanted "murderer" and it will take them years until they see Batman RISE AGAIN to become Gotham's savior once more. For now, he must live in exile, awaiting the moment when he is needed and wanted again and it would take him 8 years before he could don the bat mask once more, for a new threat, the gas breather Bane, is planning on turning Gotham into a pile of ashes. It is inevitable that Batman will fly from what he is now, but at the moment, he is not a superhero, he is a mad man, and the people are out to get this mad man and lock him up just as they did with the Joker. In a turning point, in an instant, the superhero is made out to be the villain. In a classic comic book tale, the villain himself would directly frame the hero of being the ultimate villain, but it's not the case here. Batman, out of his own decision, decided to frame himself for Harvey Dent's crimes and that, in the Gotham people's eyes, is just as equal as any of the Joker's crimes.
Batman is the hero Gotham deserves but not the one it needs right now. Batman has FALLEN, but like our Lord and Savior, he will RISE to make things much much better.