Monthly Archives: July 2012

C is for Chopper

Marlon “Chopper” Shakespeare is the Judge Dredd series’s own rebel without a cause. Originally appearing as a graffiti artist in Un-American Graffiti (progs 206-207, 1981), for true Dredd fans it is this they think of whenever they see a smiley face, not Watchmen or acid house. He went on to become best known as a sky-surfer (literally, someone who rides on a flying surfboard fitted with an anti-gravity device) and the winner of illegal world championship Supersurf 7 (The Midnight Surfer, progs 424-429, 1986). Most stories since then have focused on the fictional sport of sky-surfing.

The Midnight Surfer was followed up by Oz (progs 545-570, 1987), a Dredd epic which is framed around Chopper’s escape from prison, journey to Australia to compete in Supersurf 10 and the contest itself (the story also focuses around an attack on Mega City 1 by the Judda, but I’ll cover that elsewhere). This story is cited as one of the reasons John Wagner and Alan Grant decided to end their writing partnership, which had begun towards the end of writing the Judge Child saga. In short, Wagner wanted Chopper to lose the championship but live, while Grant wanted Chopper to win the championship but die. Wagner got his way.

After Anderson, Psi Division, Chopper is the second Judge Dredd character to get his own spin-off series. The Song of the Surfer (progs 654-665, 1989) focuses on Supersurf 11, this time taking place in Mega City 2. The championship turns deadly when its organisers decide to make it more exciting by firing guns at the contestants. This time, almost as if to show Alan Grant how it should be done, Wagner let’s Chopper win – but apparently dies. The story also marks the first major collaboration between John Wagner and artist Colin MacNeil, who went on to draw America and a number of other classic Dredd stories.

And there is should have ended. Unfortunately, Chopper was then brought back with the launch of the new Judge Dredd Megazine, in a story called Earth, Wind and Fire (Judge Dredd Megazine vol 1, 1-6, 1990). This story was written by Garth Ennis (and drawn by frequent Ennis collaborator John McCrea), at the time still at the early stage of his career. Ennis has many qualities as a writer, but one of his weaknesses is a tendency to turn everything he writes into meandering bromances which focus more on drinking alcohol than on character or plot. Earth, Wind and Fire is a particular low point of his career – and one he appears to readily acknowledge himself.

Chopper, now a character who had entirely run out of a story to tell, limped on to appear in yet another story in 2000AD – this time written by Alan McKenzie and drawn by John Higgins (Supersurf 13, progs 964-971, 1995) – before the editor’s finally decided to give him a rest. Even then, Wagner himself attempted to revive the character in 2004 in a fairly forgettable story (The Big Meg, progs 1387-1394, 2004).

Chopper’s run therefore is a tale of two halves. His first four appearances are as great as his latter three are forgettable. It is easy to see how the readership easily identified with this character, a kid who was about the same age as most of the people reading his stories. The best Chopper stories are all about an ordinary guy achieving extraordinary things in the face of adversity, but there comes a point when there just isn’t anything left to kick against.

Highlights include:

  • Un-American Graffiti (progs 206-207, 1981). Reprinted in the Complete Judge Dredd Casefiles vol 4.
  • The Midnight Surfer (progs 424-429, 1986). Reprinted in the Complete Judge Dredd Casefiles vol 9.
  • Oz (progs 545-570, 1987). Reprinted in the Complete Judge Dredd Casefiles vol 11.
  • The Song of the Surfer (progs 654-665, 1989). Reprinted in Chopper: Surf’s Up.

C is also for…

Chief Judge Cal is an early antagonist of Dredd’s. The head of the Special Judicial Service – the Justice Department’s own internal affairs unit who dress like members of the SS – Cal uses his position to kill Chief Judge Goodman and brainwash the judges, leaving only a handful of judges – including Dredd, Giant and the tutors at the Academy of Law – left to fight a rebellion.

Originally drawn to resemble Pat Mills, Mills objected and as a result Cal was quickly changed to instead resemble John Hurt’s portrayal of Emperor Caligula in BBC TV’s adaptation of I, Claudius.

The Day the Law Died (progs 89-108, 1978-1979) was the basis of the Judge Dredd motion picture (1995), albeit with Cal replaced by Dredd’s clone brother Rico and loveable oaf Fergee replaced by the distinctly unloveable Fergie, played by Rob Schneider.

An alternate Cal appeared in dimension hopping series Helter Skelter (progs 1250-1261, 2001).

Call-Me-Kenneth was the revolutionary leader of the robot rebellion in the Robot Wars, the first multi-part Judge Dredd story, which also marked a return to the strip by creator John Wagner after initially walking away due to conflict between him and commissioning editor Pat Mills (progs 10–17, 1977).

With clear allusions to Jesus, Call-Me-Kenneth is originally a carpenter droid who rebels against his brutal master. He is eventually brought to heel by Dredd and his sycophantic servant droid Walter, in what is a highly satirical story (a personal favourite).

B is for “Bad” Bob Booth and Beeny

Cover to Prog 1517Robert L. Booth – aka “Bad” Bob Booth – is, in Dredd continuity, the last president of the United States of America. Following a disastrous global nuclear war, he was overthrown by the Supreme Court, which invoked the Declaration of Independence:

But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Booth is not executed but, rather, held in suspended animation, which is how he manages to be not just a key historical figure but, eventually, a key antagonist.

Booth has only appeared three times in the series, once in a flashback (The Hunting Party: Fog on the Eerie, progs 1037–1040, 1997). His first appearance was in the Cursed Earth (progs 61-85, 1978), the first bona fide Judge Dredd epic. Written by Dredd’s first editor, Pat Mills, the Cursed Earth is important in several respects, not least of all because it established a number of aspects about the strip’s pre-history which have gone on to become central to numerous stories ever since.

Although Booth’s shadow falls across the entirety of the Cursed Earth (after all, the nuclear wasteland it is set in was created as a direct result of Booth’s policies and actions, and it concludes with Dredd fighting off Booth’s robot army), he only appears fleetingly. Kept in suspended animation in Fort Knox, the life support system has begun to malfunction and the robots in charge of ensuring he survive start preying on the local populace to keep him alive. Discovering this, Dredd decides to revive Booth and put him to work for the townsfolk.

At the time the Cursed Earth was published, both Dredd’s creators had an ambivalent relationship to the strip. Although John Wagner was still writing the strip, both he and Carlos Ezquerra were focused on making Strontium Dog a success for 2000AD’s short-lived sister publication Starlord. It is a tribute therefore to Pat Mills that, 30 years later, they both came up with Origins (progs 1505-1519, 1529-1535, 2006-2007). In many ways Origins is a direct sequel to the Cursed Earth, filling in the history (from Dredd’s personal perspective) and also set in the nuclear wasteland that is all that is left of central North America. And of course this is where Bob Booth makes his second significant appearance.

Origins revolves around the revelation that the body of former Chief Judge Fargo, the founder of the Judicial system and Dredd’s clone-father, has been found in the Cursed Earth and is being held for ransom. Unknown to all but a few, Fargo had not died in 2051, but had in fact been kept alive and kept in suspended animation. With the possibility that Fargo is still alive, Dredd is given the task of recovering him and, over the course of the story, reveals to his team of Judges the secret history of the Justice Department. Eventually it emerges that the body is in the possession of Booth himself, who is revealed as the leader of the New Mutants Army, a growing force in the Cursed Earth. Dredd defeats Booth, destroys the army and recovers Fargo.

It is interesting to note how the portrayal of Booth changes between the two series. While it is not spelt out, it is implied in the Cursed Earth that Booth is something of an incompetent. When he appears, he rather resembles Jimmy Carter (Carter himself appears in the Cursed Earth rather improbably as one of the faces on Mount Rushmore). By contrast, the portrayal of Booth in Origins borrows more than a little from George W. Bush.

Cadet BeenyIt is highly appropriate to write about Judge America Beeny in the same article as Bob Booth because in many respects the two characters neatly summarise the past and future of the Dredd strip. As you will know from reading my entry for A, Beeny is the daughter of America Jura and Bennett Beeny. First appearing in America II: Fading of the Light (Judge Dredd Megazine vol 3, 20-25, 1996) as a small child, that story concludes discordantly with her father dead and her being inducted into the Academy of Law.

Skip forward 10 years and Beeny reappears in America III: Cadet (JDM 250-252, 2006). Dredd tests her ability and commitment to the Justice Department by assessing her investigation into her father’s death. She passes the test and impresses Dredd sufficiently that after graduating from the Academy, she becomes a core member of the Dredd supporting cast and one of his most trusted colleagues.

How are Beeny and Booth connected? Well, Booth is quite literally the justification for the Judicial system which Dredd has sworn to uphold. The America stories which comprise Beeny’s origin represent a refutation of that system, explaining how the system works against the interests of ordinary citizens. Beeny herself is a reformer, but is committed to working within the system.

Dredd himself has flirted with the idea of reform himself. In the past, he has become so disillusioned with the system that he actually resigned and took the Long Walk (a self-imposed exile into the Cursed Earth), which eventually leads to the Necropolis storyline (progs 674–699) and a referendum on whether or not to restore democracy (democracy loses). Origins, in which Dredd discovers he has mutant relatives and is told by a dying Fargo that the system has failed, forces him to again re-evaluate his position. In this he finds a core ally in Beeny, another exile (this time not self-imposed) and the events which lead to the Tour of Duty storyline (progs 1650 – 1693, 2009-2010).

Without wanting to go into too much detail at this stage, in summary, Origins marks the end of an era for the Dredd strip. Ever since then, Wagner has been slowly but surely picking the world he created apart. The apex of this thus far has been the recent Day of Chaos storyline (progs 1743–1789, 2011-2012) in which the vast majority of the city’s population has been wiped out and the judges’ reputation is in tatters. Beeny represents the generation of judges that will inherit this brave new world. Left distraught at the end of Day of Chaos, I get the impression her story is not over yet.

Highlights – President Booth:

  • The Cursed Earth (progs 61-85, 1978). Reprinted in the Judge Dredd Complete Case Files Volume 2.
  • Origins (progs 1505-1519, 1529-1535, 2006-2007). Reprinted in Judge Dredd: Origins.

Highlights – Judge Beeny:

  • America III: Cadet (JDM 250-252, 2006). Reprinted in Judge Dredd: America.
  • Tour of Duty (progs 1650 – 1693, 2009-2010). Reprinted in Judge Dredd: Tour of Duty – Backlash and Judge Dredd: Tour of Duty – Mega City Justice.
  • Day of Chaos (progs 1743–1789, 2011-2012). Not yet reprinted.

B is also for…

Banzai Battalion
A team of tiny gardening robots who talk and act as if they are in a World War II film who end up foiling a number of crimes and being recruited by the Justice Department.

There have been four Judge Dredd – Batman crossovers to date, the most critically acclaimed of which was the first, Judgement on Gotham (1991), written by John Wagner and Alan Grant and illustrated by Simon Bisley, in which Judge Death escapes to the DC Universe, teams up with the Scarecrow, and Dredd, Anderson and Batman work together to stop them. A sequel, Die Laughing (1998) – in which the Dark Judges team up with the Joker – was commissioned to coincide with the release of the Judge Dredd motion picture but original artist Glenn Fabry ended up taking so long to paint the story that The Ultimate Riddle (1995) was commissioned to fill the gap. Featuring the Riddler, it also coincided with the release of the film Batman Forever (in which Jim Carrey played the Riddler).

A personal favourite however is Vengeance on Gotham (1993), which featured Batman villain The Ventriloquist, originally created by Wagner and Grant.

Oola Blint
A mass murderer, also known as the “Angel of Mercy” who would go door to door euthanising her unwilling neighbours. She was a recurring character in the late 90s and early 00s.

A is for Anderson

Judge AndersonPsi-Judge Anderson is probably the most popular Judge other than Dredd himself amongst the fan base. Anderson is a telepath and can read minds, read psychic impressions from inanimate objects and gets “psi-flashes” of things happening nearby (a souped-up form of clairvoyance).

She originally appeared in Judge Death (progs 149-151, 1980), which was also the first appearance of Psi-Division itself (which, as the name suggests, is a division of the Justice Department which trains and utilises judges with psychic powers). In accordance with the throwaway nature of the strip in its early days, Anderson’s first appearance could quite easily have been her last, as she sacrifices her life at the end of the story by allowing Judge Death to possess her and for her body to be encased in the airtight, rubber-like substance Boing®. Anderson and Death however both proved to be highly popular and both returned in Judge Death Lives! (progs 224-228, 1981) 18 months later. That creator Brian Bolland drew her as Debbie Harry in tight leather may have been at least a part of her appeal.

Anderson would go on to become a core member of the Judge Dredd supporting cast. She was rewarded with her own spin-off series, originally due to be published in the abortive Judge Dredd Weekly. This strip eventually wound up in 2000AD itself and, again, featured Judge Death and his Dark Judge cronies. Since breaking out in her own series, Anderson has only occasionally appeared in the Dredd strip itself, most notably playing a key role in the epics Necropolis (also featuring the Dark Judges) and Doomsday. She has not featured in the Dredd strip in a significant way in the last 12 years.

While technically of lower rank than Dredd, Anderson has never really played the sort of sidekick role which characters like Judge Giant and Judge Beeny do. She has always been portrayed much more as Dredd’s equal, even occasionally his friend (albeit never entirely convincingly).

Judge Anderson: The Jesus SyndromeShe has undergone several personality changes over the years. In the early days, Anderson was portrayed as a rather sassy, wisecracking persona, which contrasted well against the often dark themes in her stories. As the 80s drew on, and 2000AD got caught up in the post-Watchmen (and particularly in this case post-Halo Jones), “WAM! POW! Comics Grow Up” mindset, the Anderson strip got serious. Initially, this worked quite well but then-writer Alan Grant, not known for his subtlety, started making the series increasingly issue-focused and bleeding-heart in tone. The strip started to focus on the dark side of the Judicial system (which in Alan Grant’s hands was no more and no less fascism). Anderson got retrofitted as a victim of child abuse and gained a rival going by the incredibly literal name of Judge Goon.

What was no doubt meant as well meaning eventually lead to the character becoming little more than a weeping, passive victim in her own series. The strip’s low points were Postcards from the Edge (Judge Dredd Megazine vol 2, issues 50-60, 1994), in which Anderson travels around the galaxy having resigned from the Justice Department, and Crusade (Progs 1050–1061, 1997), in which Mega-City 1’s children all revolt and are nuked by the Chief Judge (an incident which the writers of both Dredd and Anderson have since conveniently forgotten). Since then, the strip has recovered somewhat and Anderson herself has reverted to being a somewhat older, and wiser version of the original inception (note that since Judge Dredd and its spin-off strips work in real time, Anderson herself is now well into her mid-50s, even if she doesn’t look a day over 30).

Anderson features heavily in the upcoming feature film Dredd 3D, played by Olivia Thirlby.


  • Judge Dredd: Judge Death (progs 149-151, 1980) and Judge Death Lives! (progs 224-228, 1981). Reprinted in the Judge Dredd Complete Case Files Volume 3 and 5.
  • Judge Dredd: City of the Damned (progs 393–406, 1984). Reprinted in the Judge Dredd Complete Case Files Volume 8.
  • Anderson, Psi Division: The Possessed (progs 468–478, 1986). Reprinted in the Judge Anderson Psi Volume 1.
  • Anderson, Psi Division: Triad (progs 635–644, 1989). Reprinted in the Judge Anderson Psi Volume 1.

A is also for…

Angel Gang

A criminal family of rednecks – Pa, Link, Mean Machine and Junior – who kidnap the Judge Child and are eventually executed by Dredd at the conclusion of the Judge Child saga (progs 156-181, 1980). It turns out they have a long lost brother, Fink, and the most popular member of the gang and Mean Machine (the one with the dial on his head) is brought back from the dead. Both Pa and Junior Angel also end up getting resurrected, but John Wagner appears to have concluded that was a mistake and they haven’t appeared in the strip for many years.

The Angel Gang appear in the motion picture Judge Dredd (1995). It’s portrayal of Mean Machine is widely considered one of the best things about it.


Regarded by many as one of the best Judge Dredd strips, America (Judge Dredd Megazine vol 1, 1-7, 1990) is the tale of America Jara, the daughter of immigrants who goes on to get involved in the Democratic Movement, a campaign to restore democracy to Mega City 1. Disillusioned by how the Justice Department crush the movement, Jara gets involved in the terrorist organisation Total War. To cut a long story short, she is killed but her body is saved by her childhood friend Bennet Beeny who, um, has his brain transplanted into it (the story is better than this sounds, I can assure you!).

The story had two sequels, in the first of which it is revealed that Beeny also conceived a daughter (his sperm, her eggs). America Beeny goes on to become one of Dredd’s most trusted colleagues.

Introducing Judge Dredd

Judge DreddThe new Judge Dredd motion picture will be released in the UK on 7 September. Word of mouth has thus far been exceptionally good after screenings at both Cannes and the San Diego Comic Con. Even Dredd’s main writer and co-creator John Wagner has given it his blessing.

As all Squaxx will know, this blog’s name was inspired by 2000AD (if you don’t know what a Squaxx is, you aren’t one), so I thought I ought to spend the next few weeks marking the release of the new film by writing a number of Judge Dredd related posts. I’ll be starting this by attempting to write an A-Z of Judge Dredd, featuring some of the main characters, concepts and themes of the 35 year old comic series.

But before I do this, I should really begin by writing a few things about Judge Dredd and his world, without which the rest of my articles won’t make much sense.

Judge Dredd the comic strip, first appeared in the second issue (or “prog” – short for programme – as I will refer to them from here on in) of British weekly anthology comic 2000AD. It was created by John Wagner and Carlos Ezquerra; however the influence of inaugural editor and early writer Pat Mills cannot be overestimated, nor can the visual style of early artist Mick McMahon (this isn’t to dismiss Wagner and Ezquerra’s impact on their own creation, merely to emphasise that it was the result of a number of brilliant creative people).

The basic idea of Judge Dredd is about as high concept as you can get: Judge Joseph “Joe” Dredd is a cop who has been empowered to act as judge, jury and, where necessary, executioner. He is, as he has been known to say himself, the Law. He operates in a place called Mega City 1, a megalopolis of hundreds of millions of people which stretches across the eastern seaboard of North America, in the late 21st and early 22nd century (unlike most US comic strips, Judge Dredd continuity happens in real time: the strip is set roughly 122 years after its publication date making the current year 2134). Most of the rest of North America, and indeed the world, is an irradiated nuclear wasteland.

He is not the only “Judge” – there are tens of thousands of them and an entire Justice Department which provides them with resources and auxiliary support. Indeed, the Justice Department has full control over the city. Following the Atomic War of 2070, the Justice Department invoked the Declaration of Independence as a pretext for overthrowing the president and taking control of the entire country. Citizens get to elect a council and a mayor, but they have no law-making powers and are responsible for little more than administration.

Judges have lots of toys with which they use to fight crime. Every Judge is issued with a Lawgiver, a handgun which fires six different types of bullet. They typically ride around the city on Lawmasters – incredibly powerful motorcycles which are armed to the teeth. They have handheld lie detectors, riot control gas and respirators, “day sticks” (essentially, baseball bats which they use to beat the living daylights out of people) and lots of body armour.

From the age of 5, they are trained for 15 years at the Academy of Law. Many do not survive this process.

Joe Dredd himself is a clone of Judge Fargo, the first Chief Judge. Dredd had a clone brother, Rico Dredd, but he was corrupt, leading to Dredd to sentence him to 20 years on the penal colony of Titan (one of Saturn’s moons) and eventually execute him. In current continuity, Dredd is 68 but the miracle of modern technology means that he is still pretty nimble.

Is Dredd a fascist? Not precisely. The judicial system is certainly authoritarian and has many features that are common with fascism, but it does not revolve around a charismatic dictator and the rule of law is held up as being the most important feature of the system. As a system it is certainly vulnerable to sliding into fascism, and that is a theme which the strip has repeatedly explored.

Is Judge Dredd satire? There is no doubt that a vast number, possibly the majority, of Dredd strips are either overt satire or feature heavy satirical elements. John Wagner himself however is too good a writer to let us off that simply: frequently, he invites the reader to ponder if the system really is as bad as all that, and whether it might be the best system under the circumstances. At its best, Dredd is not mere satire but works as a thought experiment in the best tradition of science fiction: inviting us to ponder how we would organise a society as broken as the one portrayed in the strip.

Judge Dredd was made into a film in 1995. Most fans of the comic do not like this film very much.

That should be all you need to know, at least for now. Any questions? Ask them in the comments below.

Dark Knight Rises: the threequel we needed but not the threequel we deserved (SPOILERS)

Let me begin by saying that, on balance, I quite liked the Dark Knight Rises. Overall, I think it stands up and has something interesting to say. I don’t agree with its politics (which are not that coherent in any case as I will explore), but you have to be fairly insecure in your views to not like a film simply because you don’t agree with the ideology behind it. A well executed film has a point of view, even if that point of view is tosh. The Dark Knight Rises certainly has one, which is better than most Batman stories which simply glide over the pro-capitalist, authoritarian wish-fulfilment which is at the core of the character.

As a geek, the film was also fun in terms of spotting all the references. One of the most fun aspects of the Nolan Batman films is spotting all the references and nods to some of the best strips we’ve had over the years. Batman Begins mashes up Year One with Ra’s al Ghul lore and some of the Long Halloween; The Dark Knight has a lot in common with Dark Victory (especially the fall of Harvey Dent), but with lots of nods to The Killing Joke and the other better Joker stories. The Dark Knight Rises, of course, is a mash up of Knightfall and The Dark Knight Returns. But for me, the nods I most enjoyed were references to lesser known bits of the canon such as the underrated No Man’s Land and Year Three (the bit when Blake declares he as always known about Bruce Wayne being Batman is clearly a nod to the revelation by Timothy Drake, the Robin he most closely resembles in terms of temperament).

Threequels which satisfyingly tie up the series are a distinct rarity (yes Spider-Man 3, I’m looking at you), so the fact that this film manages to take the series back to the beginning, as well as satisfyingly coming to a full stop, is something to be grateful about. Ra’s revelation in Batman Begins about wanting to revenge the death of his wife now looks, in retrospect, as if the Nolans had planned this all along. The direct comparison to the prison and the old well Bruce falls down as a child, was also particularly enjoyable. Overall, I can’t say I was disappointed; this is a solid piece of work I’m sure I will get more out of on repeat viewings.

And yet.

I can’t help feeling it missed a few tricks. It was a worthy follow up to Batman Begins, but as the sequel to the Dark Knight it was fairly underwhelming. We get to see that Gotham has prospered under a lie (that Dent is a martyr and Batman a traitor), but the film utterly fails to spell out how that decision leads to Bane’s eventual success. The Dent Act would appear to be some way of keeping the gangbangers under some kind of permanent detention, horrific from a liberal point of view but also quite expensive and impractical. Are we really meant to believe that this hasn’t lead to lots of innocent people being locked up and that, with all this unaccountable power, the police have become less corrupt, not more? It’s a situation that doesn’t satisfy either the liberals or the authoritarians: the authoritarians can’t be happy that this approach is seemingly responsible for the eventual destruction of the city; the liberals can’t believe it could possibly have lasted as long as it did.

I didn’t like the way they handled Bruce Wayne at the start of the film. Part of the problem was that they were going, very self-consciously, for a mirror image of the start of the Dark Knight Returns. While the Gotham of Returns has sunk to a new low, the Gotham of Rises is experiencing a renaissance. Similarly, while the Bruce Wayne at the start of Returns is a philandering playboy, the Bruce Wayne of Rises has become a recluse (both of which evoke different faces of Howard Hughes, but that’s another matter).

I understand why they took this choice, but it didn’t work for me. Essentially, we are being asked to buy into the idea that Bruce Wayne has sat in the same room for eight years; it doesn’t ring true, and it makes it pretty likely that Wayne is Batman (even if you hadn’t figured out that he must be a billionaire with access to military technology by that point). This isn’t a fallen Dark Knight, this is a Dark Knight in suspended animation. Worse than being unconvincing, it’s boring.

Because his fall from grace amounts to little more than a stumble, it makes his rise far less interesting. Indeed, it’s barely noteworthy at all. Possibly, this is deliberate because Nolan wanted to make the broken bat subplot that much more impactful later on, but it means the first act never really gets moving.

The film’s portrayal of Catwoman is… mixed. On the plus side, this is clearly relatable to the Selina Kyle of the comics. However much I might love Batman Returns (and I do), Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman takes as many liberties with the source material as, well, Danny DeVito’s Penguin.

It is interesting that they chose to dress her in the same way she is depicted by Julie Newmar, Eartha Kitt and Lee Merriweather in the 60s TV series and not, say, as designed by Darwyn Cooke in the iconic 2004 reboot – a vastly more sexy (and less exploitative) version. As it stands, at time her character seems quite out of place in a film which is struggling to retain a cynical and gritty vibe: I kept expecting the POW!!s and WACK!!!s to appear onscreen the first time she fights Bane’s henchmen with Batman.

Anne Hathaway’s casting made people nervous, even 7 years after Brokeback Mountain (if you can’t get over the fact she was in the Princess Diaries, that’s your problem), but she delivers all anyone could have expected of her. The problem is, she isn’t given much to do, and this is a real problem for me. Given the very obvious influence the Jeff Loeb/Tim Sale iteration of Batman has had on the films, it was surprising they didn’t tie her back to the Falcone family who were such a central part of Begins and the Dark Knight. Without such an arc, she ends up as a femme without the fatale – indeed, someone who is destined to become little more than Bruce Wayne’s wife (I’ll come back to that ending later). In this respect, the Catwoman of Batman Begins is a far more interesting character, one who has far more less reason to walk away and yet does anyway. It was downright cruel to offer us the glimpse of an interesting, kick-ass Catwoman only to spend three hours taking her away from us in slow motion.

I read a lot of people say that Gotham is a character in her own right in Nolan’s films; personally, I’ve always been disappointed by his portrayal of the city. Admittedly, to an extent I just have to get over the fact they didn’t reuse Anton Furst’s designs or get another artist in to reimagine the city from the ground up. But for me, Nolan’s Gotham just looks like a generic urban sprawl: on location shots of New York and Chicago with all their iconic buildings strategically avoided or digitally removed (which is exactly what it is). If you want to give a city a personality, you have to give it a face.

But more than that, the populace of Nolan’s Gotham don’t seem to have much of an identity either. The Spider-Man films invest New York with so much personality that the point in which the ordinary people help Spidey out has become a cliche (it was quite wearisome in Amazing Spider-Man – you could see it coming a mile away). The people of Gotham, by contrast, are just used as fodder in this film. At least at the end of the Dark Knight, the people on the ferries have a Noo Yawk moment of their own (oh yeah, about that bit when the prisoners refuse to kill the citizens: how does that square with the city going on to pass the Dent Act); in Rises they don’t do anything at all.

Again, as a sequel to the Dark Knight, this sucks. We are invited to think of the Joker’s reign of terror as a sort of 9/11, so why doesn’t Rises explore that at all? Instead, once again we’re in suspended animation territory, with the huddled masses sitting around waiting for either the police (who spend three months underground yet emerge neither deranged or even noticeably unshaven) or Batman to come and save them. Are we meant to believe no one, apart from the police and a few business executives, would do anything to resist Bane? It is at this point that the film slips from authoritarian wish fulfilment and into swivel-eyed Atlas Shrugged territory. As I said, this doesn’t fit with the setup of the Dark Knight at all.

I’ve been harsh here. I’m not a fan of Bane, but I did like Tom Hardy’s portrayal and the way they integrated his backstory quite cleverly with Ra’s al Ghul’s. Anyone who knew the comics could see the Talia reveal coming a mile away, but even with that said it was well done. If you focus on the Batman bits, and ignore the frankly confused story about Gotham, it’s a neat little story. The only bit that really struck a wrong note for me in terms of the Batman story was the final shot in the film, which had been foreshadowed earlier in the film, in which Alfred spots Wayne and Kyle in a Parisian bistro.

This was a horrifying way to end the film, and quite odd for Nolan, the king of ambiguity, to finish off his series. It is a bit like him deciding to end Inception with the spinning top falling over. If the film had ended with a close up of Michael Caine’s face, his eyes lightening up, I would have been entirely happy. But that final shot of Bale and Hathaway diminishes their characters. The strong implication was that, after an adventure, they were looking forward to a life of conventionality and mediocrity. I know they could have just been dressing up for Alfred’s benefit and that in reality, Wayne was now Selena Kyle’s gimp who she lead around on a leash, but that final shot meant the film ended on a full stop and not a question mark. However much Nolan wanted to make it clear he would be making no more Batman films, this was a bad note to end it on.

So in the end, while the Dark Knight Rises delivers in ending a series in a perfectly workmanlike way, it is clear that it could have been so much more. The politics, as rightwing as Batman has ever been, ultimately undermine a film that had a lot of more interesting avenues to explore than this frame could allow. The quest for the perfect threequel continues.