- "What kind of damage are we looking at?"
- ―Carl Grissom[src]
Carl Grissom was the most powerful crime lord in Gotham City, with some or even most of the GCPD on his payroll, including Lieutenant Eckhardt. When the recently-elected District Attorney Harvey Dent began to make connections between Grissom and Axis Chemicals, Grissom panicked, and knew that the evidence that was stored at the plant was enough to have him either sent to prison for life or sentenced to the death penalty.
Grissom also found out somewhere along the line that his mistress, Alicia Hunt, had an affair with his second-in-command, Jack Napier (it's implied that he may have found out from crooked GCPD Lieutenant Eckhardt due to the latter's asking under his breath "Where [has Jack Napier] been spending [his] nights?"). In revenge, Grissom sent Napier and his men to Axis Chemicals to seize the evidence before Dent could. At the same time, Grissom called Eckhardt and ordered him to lead a team of police officers to kill Napier. The plan failed when Commissioner Gordon intervened to take Napier in alive as a potential witness. Eckhardt then attempted to escape, but was shot in the chest and was killed by a vengeful Napier. Napier was then confronted by Batman, but fell into a vat of chemicals, and left Grissom to believe that he was dead, much to his delight.
The next night, after a shower, Grissom had a visit from Napier, who survived the ordeal and wanted revenge. Grissom feigned relief, but Napier scoffed him, and played wise to his moves. Grissom also subtly attempted to reach for his gun, although Napier told him not to even bother reach for it. Grissom then pleaded for his life by offering to cut a new deal with Napier, but Napier refused and instead revealed his new identity: The Joker, with white skin, green hair, and a widened and permanent red grin. At that point, Joker shot Grissom to death and took over his criminal empire.
After Grissom died, Joker manipulated the mob kingpins into believing that Grissom was in hiding and that Grissom left him in charge. Rotelli was suspicious of the Joker because of his bizarre grin and did not want to take orders from him. As a result, Joker electrocuted Rotelli to death with his joy buzzer and then, the following day, he assassinated Vinnie Ricorso on steps of City Hall when Ricorso tried to use law and manipulation against the Joker by filing a false affidavit that stated that Grissom had instead handed Ricorso all of his operations. As for Alicia, she would fall to her death later on either due to suicide from the macabre lifestyle that Joker introduced her to or it would be murder as Joker now had affections for the photojournalist Vicki Vale rather than her.
Grissom's death would be avenged later on when the Joker falls to his death from a helicopter while trying to escape from Batman. Grissom's creation of the Joker would pave the way for numerous criminals who are similar to the Joker such as the Penguin, Catwoman, the Riddler, Two-Face, Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy and Bane. An entrepreneur named Max Shreck would try to take advantage of the madness by manipulating Penguin, opposite of how Grissom failed to manipulate the Joker, into terrorizing Gotham City for selfish reasons. Similar to Grissom, Shreck would die at the hands of Catwoman, a villain that Shreck created similar to how Grissom created the Joker.
According to the novelization, Carl Grissom enjoys the finer things in life, such as his mistress Alicia Hunt, whom he felt looked so good hanging from his arm and his penthouse, which had the best view in Gotham City in Grissom's opinion.
Grissom had an excellent relationship with Jack Napier, prior to his transformation to the Joker, until Grissom learned from Lieutenant Eckhardt that Napier was having an affair with Alicia behind his back. Napier mentioned that Grissom was a tired old man who "couldn't run the city without [Napier]", which indicated that he was treacherous against his boss and was content with waiting until the mob boss died before he could take over the mob. Enraged, Grissom worked with Eckhardt to engineer a scheme to have Napier assassinated by removing the records connecting Axis Chemicals to his empire and sending Napier to Axis Chemicals to steal the evidence before Harvey Dent could. Grissom knew his employees that well as he anticipated Napier would suggest to break into Axis Chemicals, take the records, and manipulate the public into believing it was industrial espionage. Grissom is an expert manipulator as he was able to hide his anger towards Napier and manipulate him into falling for a trap.
It seems unclear what Grissom's relationship with Alicia was beforehand, but Grissom did treat her as if she was property and was very controlling towards her. According to the novelization, Grissom gave Alicia permission to go shopping. Although Grissom forgave Alicia for her infidelity, he did not forgave Jack out of jealously which is why Grissom engineered the scheme to have him killed. Alicia somewhat feared Grissom as she knew Grissom would have Jack assassinated if he ever learned about the affair, indicating that Grissom and Alicia knew each other that well. Despite this, Grissom did love Alicia which is why he always bought her expensive presents, such as an coffee table, which Napier would consider as "expensive junk".
According to the novelization, Grissom had guilt in setting Jack up to die only for that guilt to dissolve quickly since Grissom felt this was something he had to do. When Napier turned out to be alive and succumbed to insanity because of his disfigurement, Grissom tried to manipulate Jack by feigning relief that he was alive only for Napier to play wise to Grissom's moves. Grissom expressed anger at Jack for his affair with Alicia that his life wouldn't be worth spit. When Grissom realized Jack wasn't intimidated by, Grissom tried to make a deal with him only for Napier to refuse and gun Grissom done in cold blood.
Behind the Scenes
- Grissom is based on Rupert Thorne and was previously identified as such in earlier drafts of the script by Steve Englehart. In that version Thorne sent Joe Chill to murder Thomas Wayne, who ran against Thorne for City Council. When Sam Hamm was hired he "normalized" the name and removed the Wayne murders connection. Hamm also changed Silver St. Cloud to Vicki Vale for similar reasons.
- Carmine Falcone may have also been the inspiration. Like Falcone, Grissom appeared to be a very powerful mob leader who had some control over Gotham.
- Similar to Max Shreck, Grissom was not adapted from on any particular character from the comic books, but shared many similarities with him, such as playing a role in the rise of the film's primary villain and then becoming the villain's target.