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!