Holy conspiracies, Batman!
Forget the Joker, the Riddler, Catwoman: Could the secret villain of The Dark Knight Rises actually be—gulp!—Mitt Romney?
That's what Rush Limbaugh seemed to be proposing after he ranted on his radio show yesterday about the similarity between TDKR's muzzle-bound villain Bane, which sounds just like the financial-services firm that Romney once ran, Bain Capital.
So does he just have Bain on the brain, or does he have a point?
"Based on what I've heard, I don't think there's a true comparison," says Basil Smikle, a Democratic political strategist who's worked with Hillary Clinton. "I think the comparison is being made because so many themes of the presidential campaign surround rich versus poor, one percent versus 99 percent"—themes that are clearly echoed in the TDKR's promo spots.
Indeed, the political subtext in director Christopher Nolan's Batman films is what has likely positioned the Bane-Bain conspiracy into the lightning rod that it's becoming in print and political talk shows. The previous film had some thinking Batman was a stand-in for George W. Bush, as well as created a boom in bootleg images of Barack Obama as the Joker.
"I do think there is political commentary in Christopher Nolan's movies, particularly in The Dark Knight," says ComicsAlliance.com's Chris Sims, who jokingly admits to being a self-described Batmanologist. "And there's a lot of political commentary in Batman as a whole—he's a profoundly rich man who essentially pits himself against criminals."
That said, Sims is far from convinced that Nolan's Bane is a subversive dig on Romney.
"I assure you there is absolutely no connection between Bane, the Batman villain, and Bain Capital," he says. "Chuck Dixon, who created Bane, is one of the most prominent conservatives in comics, so I doubt he'd created this thinly veiled antagonist to draw attention to Mitt Romney—20 years ago!"
Indeed, Dixon created Bane back in 1993, and the comic-book writer openly proclaims that his politics are hardly liberal.
"Graham and I are both staunch conservatives, so from our angle there is no liberal agenda," Dixon told syndicated radio program Schnitt Show, name-checking Graham Nolan, the artist who cocreated Bane with him.
Dixon also went on to shoot down theories that Bane is being used as a political mouthpiece in Dark Knight Rises, telling ComicBook.com, "The idea that there's some kind of liberal agenda behind the use of Bane in the new movie is silly," adding that he and his cohort are "as far from left-wing mouthpieces as you are likely to find in comics."
So why all the Romney theories?
Some observers propose that the film's genre makes it fertile ground for those who wish to see a political angle in it all.
"Comic books and science fiction are replete with good versus evil, of underdog versus the overlord," Smikle says. "With The Dark Knight, I think it's more about the bourgeois versus the proletariat. I don't see the reference specifically to Romney versus Obama, because I think a lot of people would argue that there are elements of Republicans and Democrats that can be viewed as being elitist."
Others believe that something simpler might be behind it all: good ol' rabble-rousing.
"I think Rush is a bit off on this one—it's just a little too far-fetched," says Jim Littler, founder of ComicBookMovie.com. "I tend to think it's just talking points for Rush's show at this point," adding that he doesn't believe Bane's raison d'être is so that "Obama could get a few political points."
For that matter, Limbaugh had backed off a bit on Wednesday, saying that he only meant that the Bane-Bain connection would be exploited by Democrats.
Fair. We'll take that. But as the flick trudges toward its opening weekend this Friday (or Thursday at midnight, for all you die-hards), Christopher Nolan and crew are no doubt hoping that TDKR notches one major campaign victory: winning the popular vote among its rabid, passionate fanbase.