This Batman article contains spoilers.
Tim Burton’s original vision for Gotham City and the Dark Knight are returning to the forefront of the DC Universe in more ways than one this year. Not only is Michael Keaton back in the cape and cowl for The Flash movie, which is currently filming in the UK for a late 2022 release, but DC is also releasing a sequel comic to Batman ’89 this week. No, this isn’t Batman Returns but a brand new continuation of the Burtonverse from Batman ’89‘s original screenwriter Sam Hamm and artist Joe Quinones that “pulls on a number of threads left dangling” by Burton, all while recreating the singular look and feel of the movies, down to Keaton’s iconic Batsuit and Batmobile as well as all of the cool gadgets and Gothic architecture.
This six-issue miniseries is a big deal — not just for fans of the Burtonverse and Keaton but for the creators themselves. You may already know the story of how “Batman II” eventually became the divisive Batman Returns: after delivering a box office smash, Burton and Hamm were quickly tapped to make a sequel, but the filmmakers disagreed on the direction the next movie should take, leading to the director replacing Hamm with Daniel Waters (Heathers), who churned out something much darker and sans Robin, the Boy Wonder. With the Batman ’89 comic, Hamm gets to finally deliver his own take on what happened next.
As for Quinones, this comic wouldn’t exist without his designs for the book, which he originally pitched to DC in 2015 with writer Kate Leth. Revealed on his blog in 2016 were designs for Harvey Dent’s transformation into Two-Face, the debut of Batgirl and Marlon Wayans’ Robin (finally!), and even the return of Catwoman — all of which will finally come to pass in the new miniseries, according to DC Comics.
But how are all of these big moments set up in the comic? Batman ’89 #1, out this week, begins to set the stage for an interesting new future for the Burtonverse. Spoilers ahead…
Batman ’89 picks up after both Burton movies, effectively the director’s “Batman III” if such a wonderful thing existed. After the Joker’s death and Penguin’s demise, things in Gotham City are worse than ever, as the Dark Knight’s crusade seems only to lead to more crime. We’re treated to chaos on the streets from the opening panels of the book, which are set on Halloween night, as the remnants of the Joker Gang and Penguin’s Red Triangle Gang loot stores, mug citizens, and attempt to hijack two armored cars full of cash with a cargo helicopter. In fact, it’s after the Caped Crusader thwarts the Joker Gang’s helicopter, sending it crashing into a building, and leaving several citizens dead or critically injured and millions of dollars in damages, that Gotham DA Harvey Dent decides he’s had enough.
Meant to evoke the endless charm and swagger of Billy Dee Williams, who played the character in the first movie but didn’t return for the sequel, Dent is finally given the spotlight he deserved decades ago. In Batman ’89, he’s a man on his own crusade.
As he watches the destruction and chaos of the opening panels from the streets after a romantic dinner with GCPD Sergeant Barbara Gordon, whom he’s just proposed to (!), Dent decides it’s actually the Batman’s reign of terror that needs to be stopped. Dent thinks it’s a vigilante operating outside of the law that has bred even more crime and death in his city. Although Batman swore to protect Gotham in his letter to Dent at the end of the first movie, the violence that’s erupted in his wake has left the city under siege, forcing the National Guard to come in to patrol the streets. A curfew has been put in place, while the soldiers hunt down the Batman.
The first issue raises some big questions about Keaton’s Batman that would have made for captivating big-screen drama. Early on, the comic asks whether the Dark Knight is ultimately doing more harm than good in Gotham, where citizens now dress up as Batman or the Joker and fight each other in the streets. But a grumpy Bruce Wayne (he’s also graying) stubbornly stands by his convictions during a meeting with Dent, who visits Wayne Manor to ask for Bruce’s help in taking down the Batman. Like in the movies, the duality of the character of Bruce Wayne is front and center in the comic, with the billionaire befriending people in power during the day while working against them as Batman at night.
The book also plays up Wayne’s friendship with Dent because it will likely be a key factor in Dent’s transformation into Two-Face. While the beloved district attorney is still one of the good guys by the end of the first issue, the ingredients for Dent’s fall from grace are already in place. There’s the trick coin he uses to make his own luck (given its own origin story that beckons back to Harvey’s childhood in the streets of Burnside), his marriage to Barbara Gordon that will likely never come to pass, his anger at Batman and Bruce (who is hesitant to help Harvey), and the way he threatens two Joker thugs with a gun — although he’s only trying to scare them, we see that the district attorney is willing to get his hands dirty, not unlike Christopher Nolan’s own version of the character.
How does Dent’s war on Batman begin? By deposing the Caped Crusader’s greatest ally in Gotham City, Commissioner Jim Gordon (resembling Pat Hingle). Gordon faces a vote of no confidence after the violence on Halloween, while Dent and Detective Bullock try to lure Batman into a trap with the Bat Signal, which has to be repaired every couple of weeks because beat cops keeps smashing it. No, Batman doesn’t have many friends left without Gordon. We do see their friendship flourish after two movies-worth of crime-fighting, though. The comic even addresses Gordon’s connection to Bruce’s origin story, which feels like a nod to what Keaton hoped would be the subject of Batman III if it had happened.
By the end of the issue, Batman is once again a wanted man in his own city, and when he runs afoul of another major character, he finds himself directly in the National Guard’s crosshairs. Yes, the issue sets the stage for the debut of the Burtonverse’s Robin, who ambushes the Dark Knight while protecting another kid who stole diapers and baby food for his little sister.
Here is the most direct connection to Hamm’s script for Batman II and what would have been Marlon Wayans’ portrayal of Robin, as well as the book’s most intriguing reinvention. In Hamm’s screenplay, Dick Grayson is introduced as a young Black orphan surviving in the streets with the help of his martial arts skills. In the comic, Robin is a new character named Richard Drake, who has donned his own disguise — a hooded black cape and a yellow face mask — to help the poorest of Gotham. There are some interesting elements at play here that I would have liked to see on screen, especially the depiction of Robin as a hero trying to save those that the Batman seems to forget while fighting flamboyant villains and stopping heists in Gotham’s more affluent neighborhoods.
Some readers have long criticized the character as not only an example of “copaganda,” despite all the crooked police officers working in the GCPD, but also of a very wealthy guy beating up and maiming poor people. Robin’s debut as someone fighting for those Batman’s war on crime neglects seems like a way to talk about (or at least acknowledge) some of the deeper systemic issues in Gotham that the Caped Crusader can’t fight with his fists. This examination, coupled with Dent’s own crusade, even as he worries that he needs to “hide his real face” to fit in with the elite and affect change for places like Burnside, would have been revolutionary back then and feels more relevant than ever now.
It remains to be seen whether the six-issue miniseries will really lean into this type of commentary, but issue one is a promising start for a modern reinvention of the Burtonverse, even as it packs in the nostalgia and imagines what could have been had Keaton’s Batman been given a trilogy.