Make no mistake about it: We are living in the era of the superhero. Marvel is clearly the dominant force in regards to movies, but they aren’t the only one. Their most obvious competition comes from Warner Bros and DC Entertainment.
And in the Warner/DC realm, Batman is king. There’s not even a close second. Like James Bond, Star Wars, the Pixar movies, etc., Batman has become an American cinematic institution. A financial well for Warner to draw from.
Unless, of course, they screw it up. In 1997, Batman and Robin left such a bad taste in the public’s mouth that the well dried up for eight long years. Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy changed all that. But Batman v Superman didn’t exactly light the world on fire from a creative standpoint. The franchise’s next installment, The Batman, has also had to jump through some development hoops. Script rewrites, Affleck directing, then not directing, Matt Reeves’ involvement, etc.
Thankfully, unlike most of those other cinematic institutions, the Batman franchise has almost 80 years of source material to draw from. We’ve seen the features draw from stories like Batman: Year One, The Killing Joke, Knightfall, and The Dark Knight Returns.
Presented for you now are 10 modern stories Warner Bros and DC can draw inspiration from in the coming years. Not beat per beat, perhaps. But there’s great stuff in these pages, and they could make for great stuff on the big screen.
CREATORS: Jeph Loeb (Author), Jim Lee (Penciller)
(minor spoilers for Batman v Superman in this one)
In the wake of the creation of the DC Extended Universe (DCEU), the company’s equivalent to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, some world-building is needed. Particularly in Batman’s neck of the woods, now that the “Nolanverse” is no longer canon. For instance in Batman v Superman we learned that the Joker apparently once killed someone under the mantle of Robin. But that was never explored.
In the early 2000s, Hush served as a gateway for new readers into Batman’s modern status quo. Jeph Loeb, Jim Lee, and their team crafted a story in which the Dark Knight is targeted by a mysterious new villain called Hush. Wrapped in bandages and wearing a trenchcoat, similar to H.G. Wells’ Invisible Man, Hush crafts a plot that strikes Bruce Wayne on a personal level. It loops in both his closest allies and his most vicious enemies. The Joker, Nightwing, Poison Ivy, Robin, Ra’s al Ghul, Killer Croc, and a host of others. And amidst it all, Batman and Catwoman finally start to give into their feelings for one another and a relationship begins. But is that relationship real? Or just a product of Hush’s plan?
Just as the book did, a cinematic version of Hush would offer a fresh start for the Dark Knight. We’d set up a new status quo, and establish Batman’s relationships to the other characters in his world. We’d see an all-star cast of both characters and actors, all the while conducting an emotional character-study on one of the most popular and influential figures in all of pop culture. If that’s not a recipe for success, what is?
CREATORS: Mark Waid (Author), Howard Porter (Penciller)
This one has already been adapted into the direct-to-DVD animated movie, Justice League: Doom. But a feature would allow the story that much more grandeur, not to mention a longer run-time. Tower of Babel sees Ra’s al Ghul (Liam Neeson’s character from Batman Begins) gain possession of files Batman has gathered on his fellow Justice League members. He proceeds to use them, and Batman’s loyalty to the League is called into question. If that weren’t enough, Ra’s has also stolen the coffins containing Bruce Wayne’s parents.
I’ve often criticized DC Comics for placing too much emphasis on Batman in the context of their universe at large. Yes, he’s their cash cow. But from a story perspective, he’s hardly the center of the cosmos. That being said, Tower of Babel is a great Justice League story. If Warner Bros wants to attract moviegoers who might be less inclined to see a Justice League movie, but more attracted to a Batman movie, this would be the ideal choice. For many, it could serve as a “bridge movie,” which could prompt Batman fans to take an interest on other DC characters.
- Robin: Year One
CREATORS: Chuck Dixon (Author), Scott Beatty (Author), Javier Pulido (Penciller), Marcos Martin (Penciller)
At face value, the idea of Batman taking a child in to be his “partner” is ridiculous. For many, it’s what kills any suspension of disbelief regarding the character. And then of course, there’s the whole gay innuendo thing…
Robin: Year One manages to be a believable selling point for the Boy Wonder concept, as we see Dick Grayson’s first year as Batman’s partner, if for no other reason than it shows us Alfred and Jim Gordon asking Batman, “What’s with the kid?” It brings up all the moralistic issues of bringing a youngster into this violent crusade, what happens when it all goes terribly wrong, and why it’s ultimately worth continuing in the end.
Since the release of Batman v Superman, there have been rumors of a Nightwing movie, or the incorporation of Nightwing into the DCEU. A film based on Robin: Year One would serve as a natural introduction to the DCEU incarnation of Dick Grayson, and open the door for the character’s inclusion in future films.
- Under the Hood
CREATORS: Judd Winick (Author), Doug Mahnke (Penciller), Paul Lee (Penciller), Shane Davis (Penciller)
(minor spoilers for Batman v Superman in this one)
This one was also a direct-to-DVD animated release, and would be a natural direction to go in, given what we seemingly learned about the Joker and Robin in Batman v Superman. There have been a lot of presumptions that the dead Robin that was alluded to was, in fact, Jason Todd. Todd was famously killed off by the Joker in the 1988 storyline, A Death in the Family.
Under the Hood sees Jason Todd resurrected via one of Ra’s al Ghul’s Lazarus Pits. He takes on the identity of the Red Hood, which the Joker famously used before he went insane, and starts wreaking havoc in Gotham City. It all leads to one final confrontation between Batman, Jason, and the Joker. Nightwing also makes an appearance in these pages.
Jason Todd’s death was a pivotal moment in Batman’s life, and the lives of everyone in his surrogate family. Examining such a moment on the big screen would provide an insightful and heartbreaking look at the high stakes that come with the Dark Knight’s war on crime, and what that war has cost him. Also, as Jim Gordon says in the Justice League trailer, Batman apparently doesn’t “play well with others” anymore. The death of Jason Todd would explain why, wouldn’t it? That’s how it was in The Dark Knight Returns, after all…
- The Long Halloween
CREATORS: Jeph Loeb (Author), Tim Sale (Penciller)
We’ve seen pieces of The Long Halloween pop up in Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. If you’ve read it, you know there’s a reason for that. The Long Halloween is a gorgeous and thrilling modern take on the early days of Batman’s career, and the origin of Two-Face.
A serial killer called Holiday is murdering members of Gotham City’s two prominent crime families, the Falcones and the Maronis. Over the course of a year, Batman, Jim Gordon, and Harvey Dent, desperately try to uncover this killer’s identity. In the process, Harvey Dent becomes the maniacal villain known as Two-Face. But was he already on the path to the dark side beforehand?
Like Hush (also by Loeb), The Long Halloween is a big ensemble piece, featuring almost all of Batman’s iconic rogues gallery. More importantly, it’s a thrilling mystery that would finally give us a solid cinematic take on Two-Face. Part of me is skeptical about how well the book would translate on film, as Tim Sale’s art is so amazing, but an attempt could give us one of the best, if not the best, Batman movies ever made.
- Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on a Serious Earth
CREATORS: Grant Morrison (Author), Dave McKean (Artist)
The appeal of an Arkham movie should be rather obvious given the success of the Arkham video games, the first of which was loosely based on this story. But this book’s legacy goes far beyond that. In addition to helping cement Arkham Asylum as a definitive part of Batman’s world, it played a significant role in shaping the way villains like the Joker and Two-Face are portrayed in the modern era. They’re not simply criminals, they’re “criminally insane.”
After a riot breaks out in Arkham, the Joker and the rest of the inmates have one demand: Batman. Once inside, the Dark Knight must ask himself a horrifying question: Is he every bit as insane as the villains he fights? The main story is juxtaposed with flashback scenes following the asylum’s founder, Amadeus Arkham, as he descends into madness.
Arkham would be a tricky story to translate on to film. The book is as much a moody, psychedelic tone poem as it is a story about heroes and villains. That’s not necessarily something you want to take your kid to see. (Then again, neither were Batman v Superman or Suicide Squad.) But a story about Batman being trapped in a prison full of supervillains has a lot of commercial promise. Especially if they do opt to dive into some of the more psychological elements of these characters.
- I Am Suicide
CREATORS: Tom King (Author), Mikel Janin (Penciller)
One of the more recent editions to our list, and again we have a prison story. Only instead of trying to break out of a prison, Batman’s trying to break in. And he’s not alone.
In I Am Suicide, Batman needs to gain access to a super villain called the Psycho-Pirate. The problem? He’s being protected by Bane in the depths of a prison on the Carribbean island of Santa Prisca. The same one, in fact, that Bane grew up in as a child. To infiltrate this prison and extract the Psycho-Pirate, Batman teams with Amanda Waller to form a makeshift Suicide Squad. Among the members of this new squad is Catwoman, who has her own unique relationship with Batman.
At the heart of I Am Suicide is the relationship between Batman and Catwoman, how they relate to and understand one another, and how they ultimately come together for a common cause. There’s obviously tremendous opportunity for character exploration there. But it also serves as a nice little tie-in with the Suicide Squad. Hell, they could even tweak the story and insert Harley Quinn and the gang! In theory, everybody wins!
- My Own Worst Enemy
CREATORS: Scott Snyder (Author), John Romita Jr. (Penciller)
I’ve had my issues with the way Scott Snyder writes Batman. But I can’t deny that My Own Worst Enemy manages to be fairly unique. Two words: Road trip!
The duality of Harvey Dent takes centerstage here. Harvey’s “good side” reaches out to Batman, telling him about a secret in his childhood home that holds the key to getting rid of Two-Face for good. But Two-Face fights back, putting a price on Batman’s head that numerous villains attempt to cash in on. Thus, the Dark Knight has to travel hundreds of miles with one of his most dangerous rivals, all the while having eyes in the back of his head!
My Own Worst Enemy would need some tweaking for the big screen. What Batman and Harvey actually find in his childhood home is a little convoluted. There’s also a supporting character named Duke Thomas that might need to be swapped out for Robin. But as this era of superhero movies progresses, it becomes more important to give the audience something they haven’t seen before. A spin on Midnight Run starring Batman certainly fits that bill.
- The Court of Owls, Night of the Owls
CREATORS: Scott Snyder (Author), Greg Capullo (Penciller)
Go figure. I mention I’ve had issues with Scott Snyder’s portrayal of Batman, and yet he ends up on this list twice.
But to his credit, he earned it. In The Court of Owls, he and Greg Capullo made their own unique addition to Batman’s rogues gallery. Batman discovers the titular group, a secret society that has secretly been influencing Gotham City for centuries. Naturally, Batman takes step to oppose them. But he has no clue just how unmatched he is, or how the Court’s deep-rooted connection to Nightwing. The stakes are upped in Night of the Owls, when the Court declares war on the city, and Batman’s surrogate family is dragged into the conflict.
The Court of Owls may not have the name recognition of a Joker, Two-Face, or Catwoman, but they’re every bit as formidable. In this first outing, almost all of Batman’s allies are needed to defeat them. So we’d get appearances from Nightwing, Robin, Batgirl, etc. The Court also has a great look, between the white owl masks and the body armor that their assassins wear. Night of the Owls also has a pretty big reveal at the end, if they choose to go that route. This isn’t the route many would expect the DCEU to go in, but it would work.
- Batman and Son
CREATORS: Grant Morrison (Author), Andy Kubert (Penciller)
Bruce Wayne, when it comes to 8-year-old Damian…you ARE the father!
Batman and Son kicked off Grant Morrison’s renowned run on the main Batman title, revealing that Bruce and Talia al Ghul conceived a child years ago. Damian Wayne turns out to not only be an arrogant, entitled, smug little brat, but one that’s been trained by the League of Assassins. Naturally, Damian’s presence rub’s Robin (Tim Drake) the wrong way, and the two wind up brawling in the Batcave. Our primary villain is Talia herself, but we’ve also got Kirk Langstrom, a.k.a. the mutated Man-Bat, thrown in there. For the animated adaptation, Son of Batman, Deathstroke was thrown in to provide a climactic battle sequence. They could easily go that route here too.
The idea of someone as damaged as Bruce Wayne trying to raise and relate to a child is fascinating. Throw in the fact that it’s a child that’s been molded into a violent murderer, and the intrigue escalates tenfold. Comic book fans know Damian eventually teams with his father as Robin. Going the redemption route, and having Damian win over Bruce, Alfred, Tim Drake (or Dick Grayson/Nightwing if they want to go that route) would make for a hell of an ending.
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