Which leaves the hanging question of who the villains are going to be. Joker's...unavailable, and it seems unlikely that they'd go back to the Scarecrow or Ra's Al Ghul wells. I've read repeated interviews from the people involved expressing hesitance to use any of the villains from the previous movie series (except Joker, obviously, but as usual Joker's a special case), and the realistic motif of the "Dark Knight" series rules out some of Batman's more supernatural foes. What I'd like to do here is riff a little on which Batman enemies I'd like to see in the next film, and who I think is likely to show up.
- Hugo Strange: Frankly, I'll be surprised if Hugo Strange isn't the villain of the next film. He's got a lot going for him: he's not well-known to the moviegoing public, he's down-to-earth, he doesn't have crazy superpowers that would be at odds with the current Batman mythos, and he fits nicely into the post-Dark Knight status quo. The last film left Batman a fugitive, on the run from the police as he still tries to wage his one-man war on crime. Cue Dr. Hugo Strange, an FBI profiler and prominent criminal psychiatrist, to work with the Gotham City Police Department in their attempts to bring down the Bat. Batman faces pressure from both sides, fighting criminals and cops, knowing that every appearance brings Strange closer to unraveling his secret identity. Meanwhile, Commissioner Gordon is caught between a rock and a hard place, forced to chase Batman and assist Strange, even though he knows that Batman is the best asset he has against the criminals of Gotham. About the only knock against Strange's involvement is that we already had a psychiatrist as a villain in "Batman Begins," but I think recasting him as a criminal profiler creates enough difference and fits in well enough to work well despite that. So, Goyer, Nolan: make this happen.
- Two-Face: As with Strange, I'd be surprised to not see Two-Face in the next film, since he pretty clearly was left alive at the end of the last movie. Two-Face is a great counterpart to Batman in this universe, and it'd be nice to explore Batman's attempts to both fight and redeem Dent. It also allows for a lot of continuity with the last movie, which I think is another benefit; regardless, Batman 3 is going to have to address what happened to Harvey Dent, and "he's currently making his way through the heads of the various crime families" seems as good an update as any. I guess the biggest downside of this is that it might cause the next movie to seem too much like the last one--but then again, is that really such a bad thing?
- Harley Quinn/The Royal Flush Gang: How do you have the Joker without the Joker? Copycats, that's how. After the Joker's rampage, it's easy enough to imagine various anarchist groups (a la Project Mayhem) popping up, committing crimes in the Joker's manic, haphazard style, if not with the same foresight and nuance that the Joker had. But when the groups suddenly get more organized, suddenly get less derivative and more original, and suddenly find a new leader to guide their insane quest, all signs point to the Joker--who is still locked in solitary confinement in Arkham. His lead psychiatrist, Dr. Quinzel, has been behaving erratically, though. Batman finds that the Joker is dangerous even from his padded cell, while Dr. Quinzel leads the gangs of Gotham in a quest that could burn the city to the ground. The downside is similar to Strange, in that we have another psychiatrist-turned-villain. It also might be tough to keep it from feeling like they're specifically trying to have Joker without the Joker, or from making the film largely a rehash of the last one--particularly if the other major villain is Two-Face. This might be a good one for "Batman 4," though.
- The Black Mask: The Black Mask is a great option because he combines the two main flavors of Gotham criminals: supervillainy and organized crime. This makes him a nice figure for the third film, since he's the inevitable evolution of the Gotham City criminal--"Batman Begins" had the rise of the supervillains and their conflict with the crime families, "Dark Knight" had Joker and Two-Face intersecting with the crime families and asserting a kind of dominance, and Black Mask would be the dominant supervillain over the Gotham mobs. His ruthlessness and impersonal brutality would make him a nice escalation of the Batman movie villain, and he'd fit in nicely as a counter-villain to Two-Face. On one hand you have the supercriminal who's trying to take over the crime families, and on the other hand you have the supercriminal who's trying to take them down--and in the middle, Batman. There are also lots of costume-related things one could do with Black Mask (dressing up henchmen as Batman to confuse the police, introducing the Terrible Trio, marking his victims with Halloween masks, etc.) that could potentially add story and theme elements. I honestly can't think of much in the way of downsides to Black Mask, except perhaps the design and explaining why the guy looks like he just has a skull-head.
- Calendar Man: At first, Calendar Man seems like an eccentric choice, but I think he could really work as a serial killer. It would almost force "Batman 3" to be "a year in the life," but I'm not sure that would be such a bad thing. Watching Batman grow increasingly more harried and sloppy as he goes through a year, trying to track down the mysterious "Calendar Killer," who murders one person each prominent holiday, while also fighting other crime, trying to stop Two-Face, and trying to avoid the police, would make for some intriguing drama, and would show that Batman isn't entirely invincible and godlike. It'd also give Batman a reason to expand his operations, potentially bringing in a Robin in the next film...which I honestly wouldn't mind. In a similar way, they could make the next movie a sort-of adaptation of "The Long Halloween," with again, similar results.
- Scarface and the Ventriloquist: Scarface presents many of the same benefits as Black Mask, but with the added downside of potentially being too goofy for the current franchise.
- Zsasz: Zsasz had a small role in "Batman Begins," so it wouldn't be too difficult to bring him back and make his self-mutilation serial killings a focal point of the film. On the other hand, there's not a lot to him as a character, really, and he certainly couldn't carry the A-plot of a film. He'd work as a brutal MacGuffin for Batman to chase while running from the police, and he'd have a nice tie-in to the series continuity (recall that he tried to kill Rachel Dawes and he was probably driven mad by the fear toxin), but he's not enough of a threat on his own.
- Ra's Al Ghul/Talia: Okay, I think it's unlikely that they'll use Ra's again, given his prominence in the first movie. But it certainly wouldn't be impossible--especially depending on how deep down the Ra's rabbit hole the film is willing to go. At the most realistic end of the spectrum, it'd be easy enough to say that Ra's survived the train crash just as Batman did, and has been working behind-the-scenes on rebuilding the League of Shadows. On the more fantastic side of the continuum, the Ra's Al Ghul backstory has resurrection built right into it, via the Lazarus Pits and so forth, and there are a number of options in-between. Taking the story down a different route, Talia Head could emerge as a new love interest for Bruce Wayne--a shoulder to cry on after Rachel's death--while she slowly tries to dismantle the man who murdered her father and rebuild Al Ghul's legacy by destroying Gotham City once and for all.
- Maxie Zeus: Zeus, like Scarface and Black Mask, would be a way of uniting the mobs and the supervillains, but he's probably the silliest and least threatening of the bunch. It's perhaps more realistic to have a mob boss with delusions of godhood than to have one with multiple personality disorder that manifests as a ventriloquist dummy, but there's nothing particularly scary about a man in a toga.
- Killer Croc: Croc, like Zsasz, doesn't have enough depth to carry an entire film or A-plot. I think the best avenue for Croc would be to go the way Azzarello and Risso did in "Broken City," making him just a big human bruiser/henchman with a nasty skin condition and filed-down teeth. Croc appeared briefly in "Batman: Gotham Knight," the animated film that bridges Batman Begins and Dark Knight, so he already has a bit of an anchor in continuity. Unfortunately, there he was about as close to the line of realism as I think the movies are willing to get, and while it would be easy enough to write off a lot of that as artistic license, it may make the filmmakers less willing to put him in the live-action flick.
- Deadshot: Another character who would cross over from "Gotham Knight," Deadshot has a little more potential than Croc, but really doesn't seem like more than a hired gun. Deadshot would be good for some fight scenes, and would be useful as an extension of one of the major villains--taking out mobsters for Dent or politicians for someone else, for instance--but not really as a villain of his own.
- Bane: Bane brings us to the list of villains who have already appeared in Batman films, and has a further knock against him in that he really skirts the line of what could be considered realistic. Venom has the potential to be just a very potent quick-acting steroid, or it can be magic juice that turns men into hulking monsters. I don't think the latter would fit into the universe established for the Batman films, but Bane as the brilliant tactician who just happens to be addicted to a super-steroid which makes him more than a match for most enemies, would be a pretty good Bat-villain. Unfortunately, I can't imagine what the story would be with Bane, and I have a hard time seeing him carrying an A-plot that bears any resemblance to what the movies have established so far.
- The Riddler: I like the Riddler a lot, but I really have a hard time seeing how he'd fit into "Batman 3." Typically, the Riddler isn't a murderer, just a clever petty thief with various compulsions. I can't imagine any use of him that isn't a de-escalation of what has come before. This doesn't mean that E. Nygma can't rear his derby in the films, I'm just not the person to come up with that story, and I can't imagine what kind of payoff would be worth it.
- The Penguin: The Penguin would offer similar storytelling options to Black Mask, being a supervillain who comes out of the Gotham mobs, but has the downside of not being particularly threatening. I can't see him working in the movie universe without ditching the Burton-era deformities and the West-era obsession with umbrellas, and probably toning down the bird motifs (at least, toning them down from "Penguins with jetpacks"). And at that point, what we're left with is a chubby aristocrat with mob dealings, and we're back to a more friendly Black Mask. Like the Riddler, I'm a fan of the Penguin, I just don't see a good reason to use him in the current series.
- Catwoman: Catwoman's name is bandied around more than any other in rumors for "Batman 3," with everyone from Megan Fox to Cher rumored to be wearing the catsuit. I, for one, sincerely hope Catwoman's not in the next picture, and I suspect quite a lot of folks at DC/Warner are thinking the same thing. After Halle Berry, I imagine the Catwoman property is a bit radioactive, and I doubt they'd want to chance tarnishing the current series with a callback to that flop. All of that is kind of incidental to who Catwoman is as a character, I suppose, which is what we ought to be looking at with regard to story potential, but there's no denying that Warner has good reason to be wary of a Catwoman-centered movie. All that being said, I think Catwoman fits better into the current movie universe than just about any of the previous series' villains (Joker excepted). She doesn't have (or at least, doesn't need) any special abilities, she can be foil, counterpart, and love interest for Batman (and he's missing a bit of all three), and especially if they follow from the Brubaker/Cooke incarnation of the character, there's plenty of good story potential and a great costume to boot. Introducing Catwoman would be easy enough--just as the Joker could inspire copycats, so could Batman. Selina Kyle is a bored socialite looking for excitement and for revenge (for whatever reason) against the Gotham mobs--or maybe she's trying to get close to the Bat, or maybe she just wants some shiny things and it escalates to crimefighting, anything would work. She crosses paths with Batman and Bruce Wayne, getting involved with both, but also getting closer and closer to danger and death. Batman, still distraught over the death of one love interest who tried to fight Gotham's criminals on her terms, is torn between wanting the companionship and camaraderie of someone who understands his mission and could share his burden, and wanting to keep the people he cares about safe. And so on. The biggest problem I see is that I can't imagine a good Catwoman story where she's just a straight villain--at least, not one where she isn't, like Riddler, a de-escalation of the previous film's baddies. In order for Catwoman to work, I think she has to share some of the heroism and spotlight, and that leads to either her death, or the next movie being "Batman and Catwoman."
- The Joker: There's one way I can see to do the Joker in future Batman films, but I think it'd require some explanation, some commitment, and some courage...and some acceptance on behalf of the audience. There's no way to replace Heath Ledger, so I think the only solution is not to try. The filmmakers could embrace the Joker's status as a force for chaos. In "The Dark Knight," he gave multiple conflicting stories for his origins, changing who he claimed to be based on who his audience was. The natural extension of that would be to make his personality, his mannerisms, his fashion sense and modus operandi similarly fluid and chaotic. Cast someone new as the Joker, give them the same glasgow smile scarring, but then put a new spin on the makeup and wardrobe and methods, showing that one can't even count on the Joker being consistently crazy, consistently anarchistic, but that he's always changing. The commitment would have to be that each subsequent use of the Joker would also have to be a new actor, a new set of methods, a new motivation, and so forth. The danger is that this kind of thing is pretty advanced, pretty cerebral stuff, and could lead to a lot of misunderstanding about what they're trying to accomplish. I think it'd be better and safer to try to break from the Joker--certainly acknowledge his existence and impact, but let other villains take the spotlight for at least a couple of movies, until there's a good reason to bring him back. But if they do bring him back, I think this way would make the most sense.
That's my long rambling take on things. What do you think?