Where next for Batman on the big screen?

Which comic book stories would give Batman the best entry route back to the movies? Here are some suggestions...

There are big spoilers for The Dark Knight Rises in this article.

Now that Christopher Nolan’s Bat-trilogy has been laid to rest, there’s an air of uncertainty around where the next cinematic outing for the character will come from. Clearly, after the success and acclaim of Nolan’s trilogy, the last thing anyone wants to see is Batman put out to pasture for an extended period – but how can you follow such a tour de force?

There are several obvious directions Warner could take the franchise, but Nolan’s interpretation has proven so towering and wide-reaching that establishing a new face for Batman will be a tough job. A Robin spin-off starring JGL seems overly fanciful, and it wouldn’t really be Batman, would it? Another origin adaptation (like The Amazing Spider-Man) would cover ground that Nolan has extensively explored, and carries such a high risk of boring audiences that it’d be foolish to seriously entertain the idea.

So what stories could Warner do instead? Despite the character’s wealth of tried-and-tested material, this is a surprisingly difficult question to answer – not least because Nolan cannily incorporated the plot beats and central concepts from almost all of the best Batman stories across his trilogy. From Knightfall to The Killing Joke, from No Man’s Land to Year One and, of course, from The Dark Knight Returns, Nolan stripped them all for their key parts. There’s nothing left for whoever comes next!

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Well, almost nothing. We have some suggestions…

Batman: The Long Halloween

Nolan’s Batman was many things. A billionaire. A genius. An actual ninja. But there was one thing that Christopher Nolan’s Batman wasn’t, and that’s the world’s greatest detective. Not only did JGL spend most of The Dark Knight Rises doing the detective work that Batman would traditionally undertake, when Bats finally gets his hands on Bane his plan to figure out who has the bomb trigger is to repeatedly punch him in the face and shout “where is the trigger?” – hardly foolproof. Sherlock Holmes would be embarrassed by such amateur work.

Moving away from Nolan’s interpretation of Batman, we could see a version of the character slightly more interested in the details. The Long Halloween is a great long-form detective story (written by Jeph Loeb in his prime) which pits Batman against the mob, and sees him come face to face with a selection of psychopaths as he attempts to uncover the identity of the serial killer Holiday.

An adaptation of The Long Halloween would be able to ramp up the tension without making the stakes impossibly high, as Nolan’s films frequently did. It’d mean a Batman movie with a distinctly different flavour, more along the lines of a James Bond or Jason Bourne action thriller than a superhero action blockbuster. And most of all, it’d take Batman back to his roots as a street-level pulp detective who combines wits with fists, rather than spends all of his time in a prototype stealth helicopter.

And, hey, if you do The Long Halloween, you’ve instantly got a sequel possibility available in Batman: Dark Victory. Which brings us to our next suggestion…

Robin: Year One

Alright, now, hang on a second. We all know that many people who don’t read comics think Robin is stupid, and over the years, he’s proven a gift for comedians who want to make some lazy jokes about homosexuality. But hold up a second. Nolan’s Trilogy was dark, to the point where Batman ended up as a crippled, near-suicidal recluse who eventually needed someone – Catwoman, in this case – to give him a reason to leave the shadows behind and remember to live a little.

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In many ways, that’s Robin’s role in the comics. He’s not just a capable partner for Batman, he’s a way to counterbalance the grimness that being Batman entails. As long as Robin’s with him (or, at least, waiting in the Batcave for him to return) Bruce Wayne can’t run off on suicide missions. He’s got a tangible, very personal responsibility to come back alive.

Done properly, there’s no reason that Robin couldn’t be a legitimate co-star in a Batman film, and we don’t mean in the Chris O’Donnell role as a wise-cracking tool. Dick Grayson’s origin is a strong one that hasn’t been properly adapted to film, and it reflects Batman’s own, giving moviemakers a legitimate reason to revisit that event for the new continuity. What’s more, the story of Batman accepting Robin would mirror a doubtlessly sceptical audience’s.

And if you don’t think it can work, just ask yourself: who was the coolest character in Kick-Ass. Was it the Batman analogue, who burnt to death tied to a chair? Or was it the Robin analogue, who ended the film by defeating an entire family of mobsters several times her own age? Exactly.

World’s Finest

It’s looking pretty certain that the next time Batman appears on screen, it’ll be in a JLA film. But forget that for a minute. A Superman/Batman film would be a much better way for Warner Bros to bring its most recognisable names together – because let’s face it, who wants to see Aquaman and Wonder Woman chilling out together when they could have similar scenes with Superman and Batman?

Instead of trying to out-Avenger The Avengers, Warner should just pair up Batman and Superman in a kind of mismatched-buddy action film, like Lethal Weapon, or K-9 (ahem). The two have vastly different methods and philosophies, but they ultimately pursue the same goal: justice. Batman and Superman are the two most popular superheroes of all time, so put them in the same film and you could expect Avengers box-office numbers – but with the added bonus that you’ve only had to pay two lead actors!

Imagine the moments you could get. Batman figuring out Superman’s secret identity with his detective skills. Superman using his own powers to unmask Batman. The classic Hero Versus Hero misunderstanding fight scene. And, of course, Lex Luthor being thrown in an Arkham Asylum cell opposite the Joker. Don’t pretend your fanboy/fangirl buttons aren’t being pushed.

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Of course, despite the rumours of a film in development, it’s not entirely likely to happen, if only because if a bad film tanks it could hobble both franchises. But if it did work, it’d be a far better way to introduce a DC Cinematic Universe than kicking off with a JLA film would. Please, do us all a favour and save Aquaman for the sequel?

So, those are just three ways you could do a Batman film without resorting to the origin (again) or touching the stories that Nolan has already had his fingers all over. Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list, so if you think you’ve got a better idea, you know where the comments box is…

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