What if every era of Batman was really just one long character history? Dylan follows in Grant Morrison’s footsteps to give the Dark Knight a new biography.
The live-action Batman movies have infamously varied in quality. From the watermark of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight to the nadir of Joel Schumacher’s Batman & Robin, the tone of these visions could not be more different. As much as it pains me to say it, all of them are perfectly acceptable interpretations of the Batman mythos. The character has been portrayed in many ways by many different artists since his debut in 1939, from goofily bright and effervescent to brooding and pitch-black. Schumacher’s infamous turd might be considered bad but it isn’t illegitimate. Right or wrong, his films are forever (excuse the pun) a part of the character’s canon.
Now, almost two years after the last effort, Bruce Wayne is going to be rebooted again in Batman vs. Superman. Only this time, he will be placed in a world of aliens to further establish a DC Comics Universe on film. It is a super quick reinterpretation, clearly there to mimic Marvel’s Avengers-linked multiverse. There is also the danger that it is simply too much Batman too soon.
Having seen the supposed plot of next year’s X-Men: Days of Future Past, where the two different X-movie strands are being fused together (to the extent that stinker X-Men: The Last Stand might never have happened), I wondered if there was a way to make this Batman vs. Superman film not just another rethink but a culmination of all the Caped Crusader’s appearances on-screen. There are a surprising amount of similarities between the movies, from the killing of Wayne’s parents to the Joker, Bane, Two-Face, Catwoman and (arguably) Robin appearing in at least two films each. Could you create a world where the interpretations of Tim Burton, Schumacher and Nolan all become one meta-story?
This isn’t quite a novel idea, of course. Here’s a clip of the legendary Grant Morrison from Kevin Smith’s amazing podcast Fat Man on Batman discussing how you could make each era of the Dark Knight’s comics canon, be they Silver Age madness or Bronze Age grit. At least in the comics, there is a potential to make all of Batman’s guises important. This should clue you in on what I’m talking about:
But I accept that doing this in the films will prove difficult. From cast to cinematography, tone to credits, these flicks are from totally different people working from very different approaches, and all were, quite frankly, trying to make money in very different eras of cinema. But I have some ideas on how it could work. However, I am ignoring the 40s serials, sixties and animated series for the purposes of this argument.
The cop-out concept would be to claim they are all set in different realities under the umbrella of one “meta-universe.” Whether George Clooney or the inimitable voice of Kevin Conroy, there is no one true Bat but a collection existing at the same time. This is a pretty boring solution, one found within the comics for years.
So, instead, the shock of losing his parents not only made Bruce the Dark Knight but sent him off into a fantasy land. One where he is the ridiculous lunatic. He starts dressing up as a Bat to fight drug lords, despite how ridiculous this sounds. But he continues with his ideas by slipping into his own make-believe existence. An orphaned police officer becomes his boy sidekick. A psychopath becomes a clown. A terrorist becomes a psychotic wrestler. A burglar has a psychic relationship with cats etc. Compared to all of them, Batman is the normal one. While the reality follows a tangible timeline, the fantasy gets more surreal, eventually winding up in a world that is not even physically possible.
And so, in Batman vs. Superman, when an alien lands on Earth, Batman gets to see that he isn’t the only anomaly out there. As Kal-El comes to find him, Wayne realises that the “Shumacher years” are nothing more than a desire to find a world that accepts him. This is the two’s bonding attribute; both are outcasts striving for some sense of normality.
Another one of my ideas ignores a lot of the film facts themselves, and is more of an interpretation of the Batman character than the adaptations specifically. In Batman Begins, we have the moment where our hero gets a dose of fear gas to the face, is set on fire, and falls out of a window. Barely surviving, he discovers there is no cure for the spray (as clearly seen in the way it affected crime lord Carmine Falconi). Whenever he fights deranged if still perfectly normal villains, his infections kick-in and turn every conflict into a bizarre dream. With the infection getting worse, so much so that he can’t even remember how his parents died, he turns to a newly-found alien being for help with his problem.
Now, all of this is sheer fantasy, and I’m not speculating for a second that Batman vs. Superman will go into anything above. But with a reboot so recent to the last series, close enough that some have doubted it will be a reboot at all, there is a possibility to bring some legitimacy to the entire spectrum of the World’s Greatest Detective. Modern audiences can clearly handle more sophisticated links between movies than just sequels, and if you look at Nu-Doctor Who and the way it has embraced its history, it can certainly be achieved with a protagonist as beloved as Bruce Wayne.
What this would also do is take the existing movies to another level. Batman & Robin would therefore turn into a good film that doesn’t make you want to curse mankind. Bad puns, ridiculous effects, and weak storylines can now become a part of a fevered subconsciousness rather than an actual attempt to portray the character. Of recent studio acts of bravery, this would be the bravest of them all, and potentially the most exciting.