"This town deserves a better class of criminal," Heath Ledger announces as the Joker in the new Batman film, Dark Knight. The caped crusader, police captain Jim Gordon and district attorney Harvey Dent set out to stop the Joker. Much of the film is dedicated to exploring what kind of criminal and what kind of hero Gotham City deserves.
Everyone now knows that Batman is a kind of antihero, a "dark knight" who is allegedly a better hero than Gotham deserves but exactly the one it needs. But what about the Batman's alter-ero, billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne? Careful attention to the Dark Knight and its predecessor film, Batman Begins, seems to show that Wayne might be exactly the "better class of criminal" that the Joker describes.
After the jump, we explore the criminality of Bruce Wayne. (Very minor spoilers follow.)
Wayne's criminality is exactly the sort readers of DealBreaker are all too familiar with. He seems to be a white-collar criminal, engaging in the kind of corporate crimes that attract our real-life two-faced prosecutors. He takes corporate resources to pursue his own interests, uses underhanded means to acquire a majority stake in Wayne Enterprises after encouraging an initial public offering, and intimidates a potential whistle-blower.
At the start of Batman Begins, Wayne Enterprises is a private corporation controlled by William Earle, who is portrayed a the typical evil corporate titan familiar to anyone who watches Hollywood movies about big businesses. In order to gain control of the company, Wayne encourages the company to go public. Wayne then uses probably illegal chicanery and subterfuge to buy up a majority stake in Wayne Enterprises and ousts the board and management. Already Wayne seems to be violating federal disclosure and anti-take over laws.
In The Dark Knight, Wayne is discovered by an M&A lawyer to be using corporate resources for his own purposes. Specifically, Bruce has converted the R&D division into a research program to create cool equipment for Batman. When the lawyer approaches Wayne's handpicked chief executive (played by Morgan Freeman) with his discoveries, the CEO intimidates him by pointing out that unmasking a guy who spends his nights beating people to a pulp is probably not a great idea.
Bruce Wayne seems to feel no guilt about exploiting the minority shareholders in Wayne Enterprises or pillaging the corporate treasury for his crusade. How serious is this? Remember that recently prosecutors and business reporters across the country went on a jihad against a minor corporate misdeed called "backdating." If the typical backdating CEO could be compared to a mafioso underboss, Bruce Wayne is the Joker
Viewed in this way, Wayne, his CEO and their buddies in law-enforcement are corporate baddies engaged in a war against street criminals. We can't help thinking that this gives a very different meaning to the Joker's idea that Gotham deserves a better class of criminal.