In the wake of recent reports that director Matt Reeves will be basing the story of his upcoming movie The Batman on Frank Miller's classic graphic novel Batman: Year One, many are wondering if Warner Bros. is stuck in a rut. Certainly, if there is one superhero whose origin story does not need to be recalled to the public at large, it is Batman. And if there is one writer whose works don't require any further cinematic adaptation, it is Frank Miller.
Miller's work with Batman has been rightly praised for being revolutionary, restoring the public image of Batman as a Dark Knight rather than the Camp Crusader of the Swinging Sixties, when Adam West was dancing the Batusi. Unfortunately, Miller's revolution has come full circle and what was once daring has become dull, as various directors in the employ of Warner Bros. drained the wellspring of creativity dry. The need for directors to put their own spin on the origins of Batman officially became a joke several years ago, when the pilot episode of Gotham elicited groans for opening with Thomas and Martha Wayne's deaths in Crime Alley. Even outside of the Batman movies, the need for directors to rehash well-known material in superhero movies has gotten to the point where Spider-Man: Homecoming got praised merely for not feeling the need to show audiences Uncle Ben's death yet again.
Granting that it is only natural for every storyteller to want to put their spin on a classic tale, the fact of the matter is that the origins of Batman have already been done to death in the most recent batch of DC Comics' movies. Further, virtually every director to date has been paying tribute to the works of Frank Miller while crafting their definitive vision of the cinematic Batman. From over twenty years of movies, the creators behind the various Batman movies seem incapable of telling any story that doesn't involve the beginning of Bruce Wayne's war or crime or its inevitable end.
- This Page: The Two Stories Batman Movies Tell
- Page 2: Why Batman's Origin Is What Every Filmmaker Wants To Tell
Year One & The Dark Knight Returns Have Inspired Multiple Batman Movies
Virtually every Batman movie made in the last two decades has paid tribute to Frank Miller's comics in some form or fashion. Indeed, both Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns have been directly adapted into animated features by Warner Animation Group. The Dark Knight Returns even merited two films to recall every bit of its lengthy story.
While Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins was not a straight adaptation of Frank Miller's Batman: Year One, they both detailed the story of how Bruce Wayne returned to Gotham City after years of training abroad and featured many of the same themes. Miller's story did not include Ra's Al Ghul or any of Batman's costumed enemies apart from Catwoman, but it did involve Bruce Wayne's early attempts to bring down the mob families of Gotham City, including the kingpin Carmine Falcone. The two stories end with the same scene as well, with the first activation of The Bat-Signal and Batman meeting a newly promoted Jim Gordon on the roof of police headquarters to receive the first evidence of a theatrical serial killer who left a literal calling card in the form of a Joker playing-card. This is what Reeves is reported to also be going for in his upcoming film.
By contrast, Zack Snyder's Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice primarily drew inspiration from Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns. Both feature plots that center around an older, near-broken Batman who seems to have lost everyone important in his life, apart from his faithful butler, Alfred. In fact, many have commented that the film seemed to have been built outward from Snyder's desire to adapt one famous scene - the climactic battle between Superman and Batman, in which the Dark Knight proves that with careful planning (and Kryptonite) he could break the Man of Steel. While not as overt an homage, Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises also told the story of an older, worn-out Bruce Wayne coming out of retirement to save his city one last time.
Every Batman Movie Is Obsessed With Batman's Origin
It goes deeper than Miller as source, though. Upon viewing Batman v Superman for the first time, many fans are perplexed as to why the movie's opening credits were based around a sequence detailing the deaths of Thomas and Martha Wayne and how Bruce Wayne discovered what would become the Bat-Cave. Many would later mock the film for how director Zack Snyder sacrificed story for the sake of artistic license, with a young Bruce Wayne being literally uplifted toward the heavens by a flock of bats and the now infamous "Martha moment."
Even those Batman movies not exclusively focused upon detailing Bruce Wayne's history in vivid detail are, to one degree or another, built around offering new twists upon the story of how he became Batman. Perhaps the best example of this is the animated movie Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. This film explored a never-before examined chapter of Bruce Wayne's life and introduced the character of Andrea Beaumont - a young woman whose love for Bruce Wayne made him reconsider his plans to become Batman.
A similar subplot originally informed the story of Batman Forever, where Bruce Wayne briefly considered giving up being Batman to live a normal life with psychiatrist Chase Meridian. Bruce opened himself up to Chase with the story of how he ran away from his parents' wake and fell into what would become The Bat-Cave. Strangely enough, this scene was all that remained of a larger plot-line that would have seen Chase treating Bruce for repressed memories and the severe feelings of guilt he experienced at the revelation that it was his insistence that they go to the movies that night that resulted in his parents' deaths.
Even Batman and Robin - widely considered to be the worst Batman movie ever made - couldn't resist revisiting Bruce Wayne's formative years. One of the few elements even the film's detractors admitted worked well was a subplot involving Alfred Pennyworth coping with a serious illness and the exploration of the relationship between Bruce Wayne and his butler. There were a number of moments where a daydreaming Bruce thought back on his childhood after his parents' deaths and how Alfred went beyond the call of duty in raising him, being more of a father to him in many respects than Thomas Wayne ever was.
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