This article was updated on 29th March 2016, and now contains spoilers for Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice.
Published by DC between 1996 and 1997, Jeph Loeb’s 13-part Batman series The Long Halloween could be the perfect starting point for a new solo Batman franchise (which is surely something Warner Brothers are aiming to do now that Ben Affleck has earned a fair bit of praise for his debut as Bruce Wayne/Batman in Batman V Superman).
The tone of this celebrated comic run is known to have influenced Christopher Nolan’s world building in Batman Begins, but the actual plot and structure of the story could be an excellent way to launch a new series with Affleck’s middle-aged and very experienced Batman at the helm.
As Warner Brothers continues to re-establish The World’s Greatest Detective (no, not Sherlock) as a seasoned crime-fighter who has been active for several years, a text like this filled with pre-established versions of popular characters could be a unique, attention-grabbing way to give Batman a solo film once again…
The plot follows a year in the life of Gotham’s Dark Knight as a string of murders on national holidays leave him stumped and push his detective skills to the limit. The victims are all linked to the Falcone crime family, and The Bat must become fully submerged in the dark underbelly of Gotham to seek out the killer.
Proudly displaying Batman’s skills of detection would be a welcome change to the Nolanverse, where one of the few common criticisms was the fact that Batman’s espionage attempts mainly included punching people in the face and shouting questions at them. Batman V Superman hinted at Batfleck’s superior detective skills, with Bruce Wayne infiltrating a fight club and Lex Luthor’s big party in a bid to gather information. This is promising, and could suit a story like The Long Halloween very nicely.
A chapter near the end of The Long Halloween, where Batman is undercover as a prison security guard would be particularly thrilling to watch unfold on the big screen. I could totally see Affleck pulling this off, with that glaring rage that he teased us with in Batman V Superman bubbling to the surface once again. “We’ve always been criminals”, he told Alfred in that movie, and now he’d have to get very close to other crooks to try and find answers.
Following Batman through this yearlong investigation would also be a welcome change to the usual closing act epic punch-up which is quickly becoming a super-cliché. Batman V Superman already gave us this, as did Man Of Steel before it, and now it’s time for a different take. Not all superhero films have to end with big bust-ups and explosions, as we’ve chatted about at length before.
The plot of The Long Halloween also allows for cameos from villains, which could be an effective sounding-board for Warner Brothers (as in: if a baddie goes down really well here, perhaps they could anchor a movie later on). In the comic, Batman’s search for the murderer known as Holiday leads him to the Riddler, who previously survived an encounter with the serial killer. Catwoman and Poison Ivy are also involved, opening the doors for some great female performances. And even the Joker appears at one point, to attack Gotham Square on New Year’s Eve and distract Batman from his investigation. Jared Leto cameo, anyone?
At the same time, Harvey Dent begins to think that Bruce Wayne might be the killer, due to a link between his father and the murder victims. This leads to a court case scene, which could allow Affleck some time to further prove himself outside of the cowl. Trips to Arkham also allow appearances from enigmatic imprisoned suspect Calendar Man and a break-out attempt by Scarecrow.
Seeing as Affleck’s Batman has been fighting crime for years, the idea that all these costumed psychopaths exist already would surely be more believable than attempting to reintroduce any famous villain another origin story. Having them all in this world, and having Batman turn to them for help, could be an interesting twist on the formula.
Despite the presence of all these established villains, there is one villain who gets an origin story in The Long Halloween which would cause problems for a direct adaptation, and that’s Harvey Dent’s transition into Two-Face. Aaron Eckhart’s version of this story in The Dark Knight is still pretty fresh in the memories of movie goers, especially considering that Two-Face’s legacy was also a key narrative point in 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises.
Any attempt at recasting the Two-Face origin story on screen at the time that the next standalone Batman film hits screens (2018, maybe?) would undoubtedly seem like a rehash compared to the 2008 version. Ten years is a long time, but when Sony rebooted Spidey so soon after Maguire, many fans were not best pleased. The same thing could happen here if Warner Brothers try to churn out Two-Face’s origin again.
This isn’t a completely unavoidable problem though; there’s a lot crammed into this 369 page comic and the story would still hold up without the Two-Face factor, although more emotion might need to be injected in other areas to make up for it.
Also – the comic is actually set fairly on in Batman’s career, despite all the villains. It would only take a few changes to resettle the narrative a bit later in his life, though. The main bulk of the story – Batman investigating a mysterious killer whilst surrounded by the ongoing threat of his rogues’ gallery – is a solid enough concept to re-establish Batman’s solo movie credentials.
We’ve already seen hints at Batfleck’s origins and his long history in the cowl thanks to Batman V Superman, and now it’d be great fun to see him in full flow on an epic investigation. I for one would love to see him bouncing around prisons, Arkham and Gotham’s criminal community in a bid to stop a killer, especially in a world where he’s been established as a really brutal and fear-inspiring presence.
Another slight problem is how Warner Brothers and Affleck would manage to fit this in. Coming out of Batman V Superman, it’s fairly clear that Bruce Wayne’s currenly number one job is to assemble the Justice League and prepare for an alien invasion of some sort. Affleck is signed up for two Justice League movies on his slate. But with a bit of luck, and perhaps the added incentive of letting him direct a solo Batman movie, perhaps Mr Affleck could be convinced to squeeze this one in…
Will it ever happen?
Batman V Superman is already making lots of money at the box office, and Warner Bros has scheduled a packed slate of DC Comics movies up to the year 2020. None of these officially announced films, thus far, are a solo Batman film. But there has been talk…
In March 2016, Affleck told Entertainment Weekly that “There’s definitely willingness and a will and a desire to make a [standalone] Batman movie on the part of Warner Brothers […] It’s in development, and right now I’m really focused on finishing [directorial project] Live By Night. That’s where my focus is, and I tend to be a one movie at a time guy. So, when I’m finished with this movie, I’ll then focus on my next movie and figure out what that will be”.
Once Live By Night is in the can, then, perhaps we’ll see Warner Brothers press ahead with a solo Batman film. And if they’re looking for inspiration, they could do a lot worse than plumbing the depths of The Long Halloween for ideas. Seeing as their new Batman is a seasoned crime fighter with a proven interest in detective work as well as face-punching, this comic book arc – with its manifold pre-established villains and an intriguing new mystery – could be an ideal fit.
This writer’s money is on a 2018 release at very the earliest for the next solo Batman film, probably with Affleck in the director’s chair. But I’ve been wrong on these things before.
What do you think? Let us know your thoughts on what big screen Batman should do next in the comments…