Should Batman have taken the rap for Harvey Dent?
In The Dark Knight we find our brooding hero face to face (no pun intended) with the Joker, who has decided that he’ll stand for chaos where the Bat stands for order. The Joker rains chaos on the city with explosions and car chases and various murders, so Batman teams up with Bruce Wayne’s friend and newly elected District Attorney Harvey Dent to stop him. Eventually, Joker kidnaps Dent and his girlfriend Rachel (who Bruce/Batman is/are also in love with) and hides them in two buildings across town from each other, both wired to explode. The Clown Prince of Crime gives Batman the choice of who to save, Harvey or Rachel. Batman (who in the Christopher Nolan trilogy is really not the world’s greatest detective) tries to save Rachel, only to realize that the Joker has executed a dastardly trick on him and lied to him about which prisoner is where so Batman ends up being slightly too late to totally save Dent whose face is scared in the explosion and Rachel dies. Bruce becomes mopey and Harvey goes crazy as a result. Dent, now Two-Face, goes on a murder spree and kills a couple of mobsters and kidnaps Commissioner Gordon’s family before being brought down by Batman and Gordon. Batman then laments that by turning Dent into Two-Face he won because if the city ever finds out that Dent was a murderer the hope he inspired will be lost and the criminal he put away as DA will be released. So Batman decides that he’ll take the blame for Two-Face’s murders and have Gordon declare him an outlaw. When faced with the facts of the movie and the law (pun intended that time), does Bat’s decision make sense?
In true lawyer fashion the answer is, it depends. It depends largely on what Batman’s goal was be for taking the blame for Two-Face’s murders. If his aim is to help his friend Harvey Dent avoid a messy public downfall then it might make sense for Batman to publicly take the blame, or at least try to. That way he can be the fall guy for Harvey and hopefully keep him from most of the consequences he might face if he’s ever cured of his Two-Face persona (though that cure never does seem to stick): like disbarment, losing his office, and going to prison. Having Batman as a scapegoat might help frame the public narrative in Harvey’s favor. This really only makes sense if Harvey died at the end of the movie, which is unclear. If Dent is alive then they’re going to have to come up with some very convincing reason why he’s no longer DA (because I’ve seen some bad DA’s in my career but that’s jumping the shark without your Bat-Shark-Repellent). The other major problem with Batman and Gordon crafting this narrative is that they ultimately have to contend with the public understanding of Batman that already exists. At this point Batman is already well known enough that he has copycats and is largely accepted as a figure for good in the public eye and one that doesn’t kill. So there’s a better than even chance that the people of Gotham won’t accept that Batman has suddenly become a murderer. Though even if they don’t accept it, it does still call suspicion off Harvey.
If Batman’s aim is to protect his friend Harvey from any kind of legal consequences then Batman taking the blame for the murders may really work out for him. Dent was a beloved figure in the police department and justice system. He was a crusader of a DA who championed the police department in the Courtroom and he ran for District Attorney with the slogan Take Back Gotham (the subtext being from the mobs that have overrun it).
Batman is right when he describes Dent as someone that the city’s law enforcement need as a light against the corruption that had threatened to overwhelm it. Having Batman as a scapegoat would likely provide all the political and legal cover that the Gotham PD and DA’s office need to never bring charges against Dent. As an aside, it is unlikely that the Gotham City District Attorney’s Office would be involved with this case. To avoid the appearance of (or actual) bias, an outside DA’s office would be the ones to actually prosecute Dent if charges were ever brought. The same thing is done in the real world when a police department has to investigate one of its own officers. You can look at some of the high profile officer shootings that have been in the news lately for how this plays out. Suffice to say, if Batman and more importantly Gordon decide this is the way to go then it will probably work. Gordon would be the one writing the official report and if there’s nothing in that report to implicate Dent, then the Gotham DA’s office could stay on the case. This would not be a difficult cover-up, all things considered. That is, unless Dent lived. If Harvey/Two-Face is still alive they’re going to have to figure out how to deal with that. Even Gordon and Batman would have to admit that he shouldn’t be DA anymore and that’s going to lead to some questions that may best be addressed in their own post.
But the ultimate question that stands out at the end of the movie is should Batman have taken the fall for Two-Face? I say no, he shouldn’t have.
We have to look back at the origin movie for this iteration of Batman and consider why Bruce Wayne put on the cape and cowl in the first place. In Batman Begins we see Rachel throw Bruce’s rich kid pain in his face by introducing him to the corruption in Gotham via a nightclub and a mobster named Falcone. Falcone has been buying up judges, the DA, and cops so he can run the city’s drug trade without fear of the law. Young Bruce confronts him but realizes he can’t win the fight in the open so he becomes the Batman in order to fight criminals that the Justice System, because of its internal corruption, couldn’t touch. So we know that from his beginning Batman has been trying to clean up Gotham’s justice system and to make sure that outside influences didn’t have a place in how justice was done.
Harvey Dent as Two-Face killed at least 3 people that we see in the movie then he kidnaps Gordon’s family and threatens to kill them. He has broken the law. He may have defenses to his crimes, lack of capacity due to mental illness for example, but that should be up to the justice system. By taking the blame for him, Batman becomes what he set out to stop. In his own way, he’s as bad as Falcone. He may not be paying bribes, but he does use his position and friendship with Gordon to help his other friend Dent get away with murder (literally). He’s taken the system into his own hands to protect his friend and confidant. Yes, he does it because he thinks it will help the system, but Batman is not known for making exceptions in his war on crime.
Batman is traditionally seen as having a single minded devotion to justice and being willing to sacrifice almost anything to see justice done (including his health, sanity, and occasionally a kid sidekick, poor Jason). In every other iteration of Batman he has committed Harvey to the justice system to get help, in Arkham usually, though there’s a legitimate debate over whether anyone can find help in Arkham. Point is, Nolan’s Batman sets out to clean up the system, to make sure that money and power can’t protect people who break the law. Harvey Dent breaks the law and Batman, because of Dent’s power and influence, uses his own power to make sure Dent never faces justice. It doesn’t match up with the character of Batman as a whole and more annoyingly it’s internally inconsistent with this Batman in particular.
So, all things considered the answer to the question is no, Batman should never have taken the rap for Harvey Dent/Two-Face’s murders. It likely doesn’t help Dent in the long run and it really isn’t in keeping with the character of Batman that we’ve come to know over the last 80 years or with this Batman that we’d gotten to know over two movies. Batman is champion of justice, in the DC cannon he may be even more a champion of the justice system than any other character. For him to decide that the system shouldn’t prosecute Dent is totally out of character for Bats. I guess the Joker won this one after all.