Comic book icon Frank Miller isn’t exactly known for sanguine storylines showcasing superheroes with perfectly white smiles, armed with invincibility and self-assuredness. However, the iconic artiste of hard politics, urban desolation, and generalized misery found himself in the rather surreal position of having his rendition of Batman be considered “too nice.”
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter, the eccentric modern comic book pioneer dropped a rather intriguing anecdote about a pre-Christopher Nolan attempt to revive the Batman film franchise. When the dormant Batman film IP was still searching for a new tone, Miller’s work on the seminal 1986 future-set comic series, The Dark Knight Returns, made him an immediate creative choice. Eventually, Miller found himself teamed-up with the brooding, atmospheric director, Darren Aronofsky.
However, Miller’s traditionally grim depiction of the Dark Knight was apparently too rosy for Aronofsky’s vision, which included sequences depicting Batman as a sadistic torturer. According to Miller:
“It was the first time I worked on a Batman project with somebody whose vision of Batman was darker than mine. My Batman was too nice for him. We would argue about it, and I’d say, “Batman wouldn’t do that, he wouldn’t torture anybody,” and so on. We hashed out a screenplay, and we were wonderfully compensated, but then Warner Bros. read it and said, “We don’t want to make this movie.”
As far as movies are concerned, Miller did have a frame of reference, having worked sporadically in Hollywood as a scriptwriter for Robocop 2 and other comic book films connected to his repertoire. He was also a director, adapting his own series, Sin City (and its belated sequel), and Will Eisner’s The Spirit. Thus, knowing the Batman character more intimately, Miller clearly understood how logistically infeasible Aronofsky’s ideas would appear to dollar-projecting studio executives. As Miller further explains of the unconventional project’s feedback:
“The executive wanted to do a Batman he could take his kids to. And this wasn’t that. It didn’t have the toys in it. The Batmobile was just a tricked-out car. And Batman turned his back on his fortune to live a street life so he could know what people were going through. He built his own Batcave in an abandoned part of the subway. And he created Batman out of whole cloth to fight crime and a corrupt police force.”
Of course, the Batman live-action franchise has been quite the tonal chameleon over the decades, having been a campy (but iconic) television series and spinoff film starring Adam West in the 1960’s to a slickly reinvented film franchise started by Tim Burton in 1989, a series that devolved into silliness with obscenely jam-packed casts in its latter two entries by Joel Schumacher in the late 1990’s. However, it seems that when Warner Bros. eventually settled on Memento director Christopher Nolan to carry out a new vision for 2005’s Batman Begins and its eventual sequels, he may well have been the proverbial porridge of Goldilocks that was “just right” as far as tonality and pathos was concerned.
As we ready ourselves for the next iteration by Zack Snyder in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice on March 25, we see that, while the tone has not completely gone full circle, the DNA of Miller’s “too nice” The Dark Knight Returns is firmly embedded in the new film’s plot. While Aronofsky’s extreme, over-the-top Batman pitch may never come to fruition, Miller jokingly responded to the question of whether he would adapt some of it for a graphic novel, saying, “Maybe I will.” Then again, he might not have been joking.