Zack Snyder’s Justice League contains easter eggs and references to numerous comic books from which the movie was inspired by as well as previous Batman, Superman, and Justice League adaptations. The creative minds behind comic book movies and TV shows always like adding references that can either be traced back to past stories or set up future installments and episodes. And when it comes to the unofficially titled DC Extended Universe, fans are constantly looking for connections between the DCEU and the CW’s Arrowverse – but what if everyone’s overlooking the obvious connections between the DCEU and Tim Burton’s Batman movies?
Ben Affleck’s Batman is the oldest live-action iteration of the Caped Crusader to date. The idea was to have an older, jaded, and more experienced Batman go toe-to-toe with the Last Son of Krypton in 2016’s Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, which would justify his reluctance to reason with the alien “invader.” What’s more, when they finally come together to form the Justice League, Superman would effectively look up to Batman, even though Batman sees Big Blue as a beacon of hope for the world – and for the newly-formed superhero team. That’s why Affleck’s Dark Knight already spent 20 years fighting crime in Gotham, though it’s something audiences know very little about.
So far, the most prominent detail disclosed about the DCEU’s Batman is that the Joker (Jared Leto) murdered Jason Todd, the second Robin, at some point prior to the events of Batman V Superman, and that’s in part why the DC superhero is at the end of his rope in that film. Another aspect of Batman’s career is that he previously fought Deathstroke (Joe Manganiello). The two characters most likely faced off somewhat recently considering the supervillain’s inclusion in Justice League‘s post-credits scene – and possibly in Justice League 2. Moreover, a major nod to Batman’s past as well as Burton’s films was Alfred Pennyworth talking about simpler times when his and Batman’s biggest concerns were “exploding wind-up penguins.”
Batman and Alfred’s conversation about the “good old days” is a nod to Burton’s early movies, specifically 1992’s Batman Returns, in which the Penguin (Danny DeVito) deployed an army of the aquatic birds throughout Gotham, affixed with exploding rockets – but what if the nod was more than just that? Considering how little is known about the DCEU Batman’s past, the fact that he fought a supervillain with “exploding wind-up penguins” could be DC’s attempt to round out Batman’s career by suggesting his crimefighting history was actually Michael Keaton’s Batman’s doing all along.
Another indication that Burton’s movies are canon stems from Danny Elfman’s use of Batman’s original theme song at various points throughout Justice League, though he also included John William’s Superman: The Movie theme for Henry Cavill’s Superman as well (during Supes’ brief fight with the Flash). So, it’s certainly possible Elfman is simply trying to pay homage to the characters’ past live-action adaptations, but his comments about maintaining continuity in music themes and scores with regard to DC’s superheroes could be a subtle implication of them bridging the storylines between Burton’s films and the DCEU. Elfman told THR:
“The whole concept that every time a superhero franchise is rebooted with a new director, then you have to start the music from scratch is a bullshit idea. It’s only for the ego of the director or the composer. They need to learn the incredible lesson that Star Wars and James Bond have known for ages, which is that keeping these musical connections alive is incredibly satisfying for the people who see those films.”
The biggest blow to the theory that Burton’s films are canon in the DCEU is the Joker’s (Jack Nicholson) death in Burton’s 1989 Batman movie since the Joker (Leto) is still very much alive in Warner Bros.’ newly-formed shared universe, at least as of his appearance in David Ayer’s Suicide Squad. However, the cinematic universe can clear up that discrepancy by borrowing elements from the comics and revealing that there could, in fact, be three Jokers that exist in the DCEU (could that mean Heath Ledger’s Joker is canon as well, thus making Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy the equivalent of Batman’s Year One?). That would lend credence to the idea that Burton’s films are canon without contradicting the DCEU’s established narrative.
Canonizing Burton’s films makes sense narratively for the DCEU and negates the need for a Batman prequel. After all, recent rumors suggest that Matt Reeves’ The Batman standalone film will be a continuation of the Justice League iteration of the character, not a prequel or a reboot – even if Affleck chooses to exit the role and is subsequently replaced by another actor (perhaps Jake Gyllenhaal?). The point being, should Burton’s films be canon, the studio can continue to build off Batman’s history without having the need to directly explain or reveal the character’s past to general audiences, since they may have already seen his past on-screen. What’s more, this would allow Reeves to tell new stories that haven’t been told on-screen before. However, we also might be getting ahead of ourselves.
While it’s an intriguing idea to consider Burton’s films canonical in the DCEU, the aforementioned nods and references may be nothing more than mere homages to past adaptations, most notably to Burton’s Batman movies. But, with the DCEU Batman’s history still a mystery, as well as the inclusion of specific references to his past, it’s certainly possible that the original Batman movies inhabit the same world – or, at least, exist within the DCEU’s Multiverse, which would be a tantalizing thought if the creative minds behind DC’s film universe ever consider adapting Crisis on Infinite Earths onto the big screen.
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