Which Way Forward For The “Batman” Movie Franchise? Take Three : Setting The Tone


They just don’t draw Batman like that anymore, do they? These days, he’s a “ripped” steroid freak in a high-tech suit of armor who’s usually either thrashing someone to within an inch of their life or brooding silently. Ever since Frank Miller’s legendary Dark Knight Returns story — which, I’ll grant you, is still probably the single-best Batman story ever — he’s been getting increasingly somber, morose, and violent. Miller himself even portrayed him, essentially, as a child-abusing psychopath in All-Star Batman & Robin, The Boy Wonder. The films,  Joel Schumacher aberrations aside, have been getting increasingly darker over time, as well. People thought Tim Burton’s Batman flicks were a little too dark, so Warner went to Schumacher for a “course correction” that fell flat on its face, and then Christopher Nolan came along with the most popular, and darkest, cinematic version of Batman yet.

Then came the midnight premier of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado.

I would argue that even before that tragedy, this whole “increasingly dark” thing had run its course, but now I think a change in tone is positively essential. Which is not to say that Batman should ever go back to the light-hearted goofiness of the 1960s TV series. Modern audiences like a Dark Knight who is — well, dark. But I think the right tone was struck in books like the one pictured above, by the legendary 1970s Batman creative team of writer Denny O’Neil and artist extraordinaire Neal Adams. Their Batman was a serious, determined, perhaps even obsessive guy, but he was as much a man of intellect as of action, and at the end of the day he was a hero first and foremost, and could always be counted on to do the right thing. I think modern audiences are ready for that again after seeing Bruce Wayne essentially degenerate into basket-case status by the beginning of Nolan’s third flick, only to heroically redeem himself at the end. Let’s pick any new series up from that point — not storywise, mind you, but tonally.

To be a bit more specific about what I have in mind — think maybe a little more Michael Keaton and a little less Christian Bale. I liked Keaton’s take on the character — you felt like he was a decent guy at heart who just had this fundamental inability to resolve a gaping hole left in his life by his parent’s murder and had enough money and free time to channel that pain in a really — well — weird  direction, but would give all that up for a normal life in a heartbeat if he could just, ya know, figure out how to. Keaton;s cracking of the Joker’s poison code in Batman was also one of the few instances in any of the 1989-and-onwards Bat-films where we actually saw the Caped Crusader putting to use something that his name has always been, and always should be, synonymous with, namely his detective skills. I think it would be a great step in the right direction to see the next version on Batman on the big screen be just as at home in the Batcave’s crime lab or poring over information on its super-computer as he is kicking ass in a rainy alleyway.

I don’t think there’s any need for Schumacher camp, much less 60s-style uber-camp, but by all means, you can lighten things up a bit and still give us an essentially dark and mysterious character. 1970s Batman was pretty much all about that. And any Batman that’s going to “work and play well with others” in the inevitable Justice League movie DC’s cooking up will have to be at least a little more of a “joiner” than Bale and Nolan’s take on the character was.

To that end, I propose giving Bruce Wayne some actual friends apart from Alfred, a love interest who doesn’t get murdered, and an actual social life that’s not an OTT front from his crime-fighting activities and nothing more. But I promised to stay focused, and will get a bit more into the details of that tomorrow, as I examine the relationship that I think should be at the core of the next bat-series, and how it ties back into the rooftop scene from The Long Halloween that I started this whole thing with. I’ll also be getting into why I think a trilogy should be the plan for the next series from the outset — I know, I know, I said one thing at a time, but trust me, the “two” topics really are one and the same. In the meantime, of course, if you think I’m barking up the wrong tree with those whole “tone down the darkness a notch” stuff, now’s the time to say so!

7 responses to “Which Way Forward For The “Batman” Movie Franchise? Take Three : Setting The Tone

  1. Each time I see an old comic book, I feel overwhelmed by nostalgia.
    I admit it, I’m a 70s & 80s nostalgic. At those times colour wasn’t digitally added, superheroes did not look like a bunch of body builders and they did not hold ridiculously oversized weapons. Actually, they didn’t need any weapon at all: when they had to solve a problem, they used their brain instead of violence.
    The stories were better as well – of course we can find something good and something bad in each era, but at those times there was more irony, more deepness, and, most of all, more hugely talented authors. Nowadays, even if you find an ironic author, he’s ironic in a Tarantino way, like Garth Ennis. And even if he/she is talented, he/she will never reach the level of authors like Frank Miller or Chris Claremont.
    Anyway, the 10s started in a very good way. Both Marvel and DC are printing some high quality stuff: Marvel has Waid’s Daredevil and the brand new Hawkeye, while DC has some wonderful series, like Animal Man and Blue Beetle. Even the other publishers, like Image and Dynamite, are regularly offering something intriguing.
    P.S.: I love single stories as well, and Batman is particularly suited for them. Think about the unforgettable “Seduction of the Gun”, or “The Meaning of Life” (Shadow of the Bat # 72).


    • I love single-issue stories, and feel like these sweeping, massive “arcs” are nothing but a method of hustling loyal readers out of extra cash. Plus, not much more actually happens in them, they just spread things out in a “decompressed” manner. I have to admit to not following modern superhero stuff much at all — I’ve been picking up “BEfore Watchmen,” though I don’t know for how much longer as those have been at least as lousy as I’d been dreading if not moreso, but I have been enjoying Dynamite’s line of books re-launching several of the minor Jack Kirby characters like Siler Star and Captain Victory. Talk about good, old-fashioned fun, those books have it in spades! I have fairly huge ethical issues with both Marvel and DC, but I’ve been hearing some pretty good things about the new “Hawkeye” book and may just give that a go.


        • One other things I forgot to agree with you on — I really miss the look of hand-colored comics. Digitally-colored stuff may offer a “wider palette,” but it sure results in a sameness of look and feel that old-school hand-coloring never did. People “ooohhh” and “ahhh” about the re-colored versions of “Watchmen” and “The Killing Joke,” for instance, but I think both look like shit compared to the original, hand-colored versions.


  2. You touched on my biggest complaint about the Nolan franchise, not the darker tone, but re-envisioning Batman as a ninja instead of a detective. “The Dark Knight Rises” would’ve (and should’ve) been over in 20 minutes had Batman been scripted with a brain.

    “What? The bad guy’s wearing a respirator? Well I’d better not punch him in it, ‘cuz that would just be too obvious.”


    • I believe both Nolan and Burton have given short shrift to Batman’s detective skills. This is the guy who’s supposed to be the greatest detective since Sherlock Holmes! I’m still working out the plot structure of my little “soft reboot” idea, but rest assured, as things become more clear in the days and weeks ahead as this series of posts continues, you will see that the plot outline I have in mind relies on Batman’s detective skills much moreso than anything we’ve seen on the silver screen to date.


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