Out of the currently known lineup of upcoming films in the DCEU – which includes such heavy hitters like Aquaman, Cyborg, the Flash and even the Green Lantern Corps – few are as highly anticipated and universally recognizable as The Batman.
There’s just something about the Caped Crusader that has captured the public imagination since his debut in 1939. Perhaps it is his tragic backstory, one of the earliest in comic book history that served as a powerful introduction for readers to the darkness that lurks in the human heart. Maybe it’s the power fantasy behind the character, marked by Bruce Wayne’s bottomless wallet and Batman’s endless supply of cool gadgets, cars and battle armor. Of course, it could be the darker form of justice that Batman brings into the comics universe, a counterpart to other shining beacons of heroism that is a realistic response to the villainy around him while maintaining the steadfast belief in a better world. Or, you know, you could just like Batman because he’s such a freaking badass.
Whatever the case may be, Batman’s eternal popularity has kept fans on the edge of their seats for news about the latest reboot, even with all the roadblocks in its production thus far. It helps that director Matt Reeves loves the character as much as the rest of us, and promises to bring an emotional, “noir-driven, detective version of Batman” that we have never seen on the big screen before.
With the script for The Batman being rewritten from scratch and its storyline now up in the air, Reeves is completely free to develop a new cinematic take on the Dark Knight. And thankfully, he won’t need to look far to find inspiration – there are so many relevant and criminally underutilized aspects of Batman’s extensive comic mythos that Reeves can use to make The Batman shine as an addition to the Batman cinematic franchise.
Out of all the possible comic-book inspired things fans have wanted to see in a Batman film for years now, I’ve pulled together a list of what seems to be the top five loudest demands. Consider this list part comic book recommendations, part Batman analysis, and all parts lovingly pulled together to showcase the very best of this iconic hero to the rest of the world.
So, let’s begin with the question: what do we want to see in The Batman?
I ♥ Gotham City
First and foremost, Gotham needs to be a more prominent feature in any iteration of Batman. Most films are good at portraying the surface features: its dark and dirty ambiance, its crumbling architecture, its demoralized residents and a crime culture so deeply entrenched in the city’s operations that it makes both New York and New Jersey look like a particularly difficult level of Candy Land.
But there is so much more to this gritty city. As Bruce Wayne’s childhood hometown, it ushered him into a cruel version of adulthood through the murder of his parents by a petty criminal. And yet, the city also inspires him to defend and protect it at every turn – whether through his philanthropic endeavors to support the city’s poor and marginalized citizens, or through his vigilante activities. Its influence on the development of Bruce Wayne is so pervasive and important that it’s basically a character in its own right. We would not have a Batman without the city of Gotham and its people: no iconic imagery of him swinging through the sky on his grappling hook, no murders in an isolated alleyway, and certainly no heroes who have seen just how nasty people can be and still fight to protect the goodness in humanity.
The Batman comics have always showcased this relationship in heartfelt ways that resonate with even the most casual DC fan. To get a quick crash course on the people of Gotham you should try Gotham Central by Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka and Michael Lark, which focuses on the everyday lives of ordinary citizens through the perspective of the city’s police department. To see just how influential Gotham is to the construction of the Batman vigilante identity, I recommend The Court of Owls and The City of Owls by Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo and Rafael Albuquerque. In introducing a new threat that is as old and mysterious as Gotham itself, Snyder crafts a wondrously detailed sociological analysis of the city that shows its best and worst traits. At the same time, the affection that the Wayne family has always had for their hometown, and the betrayal Bruce feels at discovering a part of the city he’s never known about, enriches the emotional ties that bind the two.
Send in the Rogues
If Gotham birthed what Bruce Wayne would become as Batman, then his villains help shape how Batman operates every day as a hero – and how we as fans see him. These men, women and hybrid creatures are arguably some of the most recognizable enemies in cinematic history: they’re kooky, cocky and vicious, yet the Batman comics never let us forget their humanity. Not only do they exist at the intersections of various marginalized identities and mental illnesses, but they often share these traits and close histories with Bruce Wayne as well. The result is a more nuanced narrative conflict where the villains and heroes are intimate reflections of one another, which at times makes us question the appropriateness of the “good” and “evil” labels we ascribe to them.
The Batman franchise is often a hit or miss when it comes to portraying these villains on the big screen. The only character that has been a somewhat consistently good addition to a Batman film has been the Joker – except for Jared Leto’s version, don’t @ me – so I think it’s time to let other characters step into the spotlight as a Batman foe.
It was previously rumored that The Batman would feature several members of Batman’s rogue gallery, such as Deathstroke as played by Joe Manganiello and a new Scarecrow. Unfortunately, we’re not sure what will happen now that Reeves has abandoned the film’s original screenplay. In the meantime, we can look at this as an opportunity to take a deeper dive into the Batman mythos and introduce audiences to a new cast of interesting characters.
Now, Batman fights around a lot, so his enemies list is ridiculously long and any one comic book story cannot capture them all. So, at least for this list, let’s stick to the best ensemble stories featuring the classic comic villains. You should read Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth by Grant Morrison and Dave McKean in order to revel in a fucked-up examination of Batman’s relationship with villainy… or at the very least, you should play the video game that was inspired by this comic. You could also try reading The Long Halloween and Dark Victory by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale, which I again recommend later in this article as top examples of Batman dealing with his rogues. There’s also Batman: Hush by Jeph Loeb, Jim Lee and Scott Williams, a great arc that also puts a spotlight on Gotham’s female villains. Then, follow the gals and their wickedly awesome crimes in Gotham City Sirens by Paul Dini and Guillem March.
Finally, if you’re still holding out hope for Deathstroke, immerse yourself in some of his early stories like The Judas Contract arc in Tales of the Teen Titans #42 – 44 and Teen Titans Annual #3 by Marv Wolfman and George Perez, as well as the City of Assassins arc in Deathstroke the Terminator #6 – 9 by Marv Wolfman, Steve Erwin and Will Blyberg. Manganiello looked amazing in the brief test footage Ben Affleck released for the character, and it would be a shame if his rendition of the role never saw the light of day.
All in the Family
It’s been about 20 years since we’ve seen a Robin appear in a live-action movie, and it’s time to break this unfortunate and clearly illogical creative decision in the Batman franchise. Whether a perky ten-year-old in short pants, or a brilliant teenage detective in their own right, Robin is supposed to be Batman’s partner in his vigilante affairs and a light in the darkness. Not only does Robin offer a fresh and often key perspective on Batman’s cases, but the role itself also reminds Bruce Wayne of the kind of innocent people he has sworn to protect. Sure, Robin has at times devolved into a useless gag character in previous film adaptations, most egregiously in Batman & Robin, but there’s a way to strike a balance between the character’s conceptual goofiness and his serious contributions to Batman’s crusade for justice. If The Lego Batman Movie could do it with freaking Michael Cera, there’s no reason on Earth that the DCEU can’t do it too.
Thankfully, the DCEU is out here trying to grant our prayers – somewhat, anyway. At the very least, we know that the second Robin, Jason Todd, was part of the cinematic universe. His defiled costume is prominently featured at one point in Batman v Superman, and Harley Quinn’s introductory sequence in Suicide Squad calls her out for her role as “an accomplice to the murder of Robin.”
With the film going back to the drawing board, we have no clue as to where The Batman will fall in the DCEU timeline. We’ve already glimpsed Batman’s origin, but we don’t know whether this film will take place in Batman’s early crimefighting days or after this year’s Justice League ensemble film. Given the already established importance of Jason Todd to the DCEU’s Batman story, we’ll probably see a film that settles comfortably in the middle of Batman’s vigilante history, either immediately before or immediately after Jason Todd’s death. So, you should familiarize yourself with the second Robin’s comic book run as Batman’s partner, which I feel is best captured in his post Crisis on Infinite Earths introduction from Batman #408 to the classic Death in the Family arc in Batman #426 – 429.
Since Batman appointed Jason Todd in order to subconsciously replace his first Robin, Dick Grayson, there’s a good chance we’ll see a grown-up Dick trying to find his place in the world as Nightwing. Just in case this happens, I recommend Nightwing: Year One by Chuck Dixon, Scott Beatty, Scott McDaniel and Andy Owens as an introduction to his new persona (even though I feel like the first meeting between Dick and Robin!Jason is better handled during Jason’s Robin run in Batman #416, White Gold and Truth). However, if the film follows Batman in a brave new post-Jason Todd world, we might be fortunate enough to see a young man with a camera stalking the Caped Crusader and his exploits. That would be Tim Drake, the eventual third Robin, in which case you should read A Lonely Place of Dying by Marv Wolfman, George Perez and Jim Aparo, collected in Batman #439-441, to learn more about him.
And maybe I’m being optimistic, but check out Batman: Under the Hood and Red Hood: The Lost Days by Judd Winick, with Doug Mahnke as the first book’s illustrator and Jeremy Haun as the second illustrator. There’s always a chance we see Jason Todd’s lingering presence in future Batman films…
Whatever Happened to the World’s Greatest Detective?
Time and again Batman makes the list of top detectives to ever appear in fiction, for various reasons that extend beyond his above-average intelligence and sharp investigative skills. In the comics, he is also an expert in espionage and a master escapologist; skilled in numerous scientific, mathematic and anthropological disciplines; and fluent in many modern, ancient and alien languages. It certainly doesn’t hurt that he has the monetary resources necessary to access a wide variety of cutting-edge technologies, which supplement his understanding of even the most seemingly minute of clues.
For some reason, live-action versions of the Caped Crusader have very rarely tapped into his true intellectual potential. We see a little sleuthing here and there, but usually the Batman franchise resorts to the brute force solution that has increasingly characterized the superhero genre. It’s especially awful when these films rely on a horrible misunderstanding or some other lack of communication between its characters to drive the entire plot… not to call out any recent DCEU films or anything, but it’s definitely time to embrace a new vision of the Dark Knight.
It wouldn’t be difficult to sprinkle in Batman’s investigative skills more explicitly throughout his films, and it would certainly bring an exciting narrative element that goes beyond the epic fight scenes and flashy gadgets. Good detective stories in the comics offer readers a cerebral journey into the heart of human society, where so many interesting mysteries and conspiracies await to be solved. With Gotham as the main setting, and The Batman hopefully bringing back Commissioner Jim Gordon and the Gotham Central Police Dept., we could have a superhero/mystery film as darkly thrilling and iconic as The Maltese Falcon.
If Reeves wants to finally bring back the World’s Greatest Detective to the big screen, he has his choice of great material: The Long Halloween and Dark Victory by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale will forever be considered classic Batman mysteries, and since they delve into his early days of casework they’re good starting points to see the great detective that Batman will become. I’ll also recommend The Black Mirror by Scott Snyder, Francesco Francavilla and Jock, even if it’s technically cheating as the Batman of this arc is Dick Grayson. Nevertheless, it perfectly weaves a murder cult conspiracy with serious ruminations on morality and the human psyche. It shows what the Batman could become at his most gruesome in the pursuit of justice, and thus this story shines as one of the best Batman mysteries of all time.
Will the Real Bruce Wayne Please Stand Up?
There’s been a decades long debate in comic fandom about the role Bruce Wayne plays in the Batman mythos. Many people see him as nothing more than a mask, an identity that Batman uses to survive during his daylight hours and hide his true nature. This theory posits that the young Bruce Wayne suffered a metaphorical death in Crime Alley along with his parents, and that a premature form of Batman emerged from the shadows to take Bruce Wayne’s place.
It’s certainly a compelling interpretation of one of DC’s most tragic backstories, and a valid one at that given all the comic evidence that seems to support it. But after a few live-action movies, animated cartoons and video games that heavily favor the costumed identity that is the Dark Knight, I’m starting to see the benefit in keeping Bruce Wayne around.
For one thing, respecting Bruce Wayne as a character in his own right opens The Batman to nuances in tone and characterization, which will be much needed alongside its heavy noir theme. Ben Affleck has already shown us a purposely sarcastic and somewhat sleazy Bruce Wayne in his DCEU appearances so far, and I’m excited to see how far he take this portrayal once his character returns home. We could see a Bruce like Michael Keaton, desperate to secure his family’s legacy as Gotham’s saving grace both in business and in crimefighting as he also tries to bolster his lonely private life. We could see Bruce the playboy in full force as well; Christian Bale gave us a mere taste of this potential, but I’m talking about a Bruce as sexually enticing and hedonistically indulgent as Bruno Mars in That’s What I Like. This is not to say that the personality differences need to be so sharply divided between a totally carefree Bruce Wayne and a deadly serious Batman. At the very least, we deserve to see a Bruce Wayne that feels like an actual human being outside of the cowl.
My ideal situation would be a Batman film that shows Bruce Wayne and Batman as exaggerated aspects of a whole person, with both identities influencing and feeding into the other throughout the titular character’s daytime and nighttime activities. This kind of relationship can best be seen in Batman: The Telltale Series, a simple video game stylized like a “choose your own adventure” comic book in art and gameplay. You’re forced to spend significant time being Bruce Wayne as you face off against the various representations of Gotham’s criminal element, and in doing so you meet a man who is struggling to reconcile the different impulses that Bruce Wayne and Batman hold while navigating the complicated politics of the civilian and superhero worlds. What results is a fraught, frustrating and delicious tension that truly makes for a great character.
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This list merely skims the surface of comic-based ideas that should be incorporated into the current Batman cinematic franchise, and I’m sure all of us geeks have plenty of thoughts on what we want to see. If anything, consider this an introduction to the richness of the Batman universe and all the wonderful things a good film could give us. I’m confident that Matt Reeves and Ben Affleck will deliver something special, even if nothing I’ve hoped for ends up in The Batman. And if this means waiting until 2019 for this film, it’s only a small price to pay to finally see a great Batman in action.
In the meantime, we’ll always have the comics to entertain ourselves and each other. So let’s share; what are some of your favorite Batman stories? What do you hope to see in the film? Let us know in the comments, and stick with Geeks of Color for all the latest superhero news.