The DC Universe is rebooting Batman. Again. On a certain level, it’s a little funny since one of the reasons James Gunn and Peter Safran were presumably brought in to right the ship of DC Studios is that Warner Bros. had let a situation occur where three popular actors were playing Batman at the same time: Ben Affleck, Michael Keaton, and the new kid on the block, Robert Pattinson.
The quasi-reset of the DCU that Gunn and Safran confirmed Tuesday has apparently done away with two of them. During a press briefing on the WB lot this week, the Guardians of the Galaxy director confirmed Affleck is done with the cape and cowl while Pattinson’s take is entirely separate from Gunn and Safran’s plans for the onscreen DC Universe going forward.
… And yet, there will be another Dark Knight who will take up the mantle, carrying it onward in the larger overarching story Gunn is aiming to build over the next decade of interconnected DC movies. This new Caped Crusader will make his debut in a film called The Brave and the Bold, which will also apparently introduce the extended Bat-Family. Gunn didn’t go into casting details except to confirm that “it is not Robert Pattinson [or] Ben Affleck.”
While Pattinson and writer-director Matt Reeves will continue building their own little insulated saga via the The Batman franchise, the DCU is about to introduce us to a very different type of Batman—and one who is seen through the eyes of his sidekick, Robin.
“This is the story of Damian Wayne, who is Batman’s actual son, who he didn’t know existed for the first eight to 10 years of his life,” Gunn explains. “He was raised as a little murderer and assassin. He’s a little son of a bitch. He’s my favorite Robin. It’s based on the Grant Morrison comic book run, which is one of my favorite Batman runs. And we are putting that all together right now.”
Gunn is alluding to comic book maestro Morrison’s seven-year run of writing Batman comics across multiple titles in the 2000s and 2010s, beginning with Batman #655 (2006) where Morrison and artist Andy Kubert introduced the world to Damian Wayne, the son of Bruce and Talia al Ghul. Morrison would go on to oversee some of the most popular Batman stories of the 21st century, including Batman and Robin which started in 2009 as the story of Damian taking up Robin’s mantle while Dick Grayson, the original Robin, claimed the Batman’s utility belt as his own.
The prospect of adapting these comics, if even only loosely, should be tantalizing for Batman fans, because for the first time in live-action cinema, filmmakers are going to attempt to seriously adapt the one aspect of the Batman character that’s gone otherwise ignored: his Bat-Family. As Safran told us at the event, “It’s going to feature other members of the extended Bat-Family just because we feel like they’ve been left out of the Batman stories in the theater for far too long.”
Of course, Dick Grayson’s Robin has appeared in movies and television previously, with Burt Ward famously playing the character opposite Adam West’s Bruce Wayne in the 1960s TV series Batman and its subsequent spinoff film. Chris O’Donnell, meanwhile, played Dick in two of the 1990s Batman movies, both directed by Joel Schumacher, via Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin (1997), the latter of which also introduced Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl, albeit with an entirely new backstory from her comic book counterpart.
None of these older big screen adaptations, however, attempted to sincerely interrogate the side of Bruce Wayne that comic book readers know all too well: that of the mentor, the leader, and perhaps an ultimately flawed surrogate father. (He does put his wards, sons, and daughter-figures in harm’s way before any of them turn 21.)
It is perhaps that last outlandish aspect which has caused the filmmakers of the 21st century to forgo Robin and the Bat-Family aspect of the character altogether. Christopher Nolan’s now legendary The Dark Knight Trilogy may be as close as we ever get to a “definitive” cinematic account of the character. Nolan and his collaborators tackled nearly every vital aspect of the character’s mythology: his origins; his relationship with allies in civic institutions like Jim Gordon and Harvey Dent; his twisted relationship with the Joker; his romantic one with Catwoman; even his old age and retirement, which is inspired by perhaps the one Batman comic saga most non-comic readers have perused, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.
But when it came to the Bat-Family, which is perhaps the closest Bruce Wayne ever comes on the page to finding reclamation and inner-peace, Nolan almost entirely looked away beyond an obligatory introduction of a successor, the cop named John “Robin” Blake.
Conversely, Zack Snyder’s now infamous reimagining of Batman onscreen wasn’t afraid to embrace the outlandish side of comic books, however Snyder seemed only concerned with emulating The Dark Knight Returns, where an old Bruce Wayne is haunted by the death of his second Robin Jason Todd… although in the Miller story Batman finds another Robin in a girl called Carrie Kelley.
Snyder just adapted the first part by introducing a Batman where Robin was already brutally murdered off-screen (though Snyder later confirmed it was actually the first and fan favorite Robin, Dick Grayson, who was apparently butchered by the Joker). Snyder then introduces no successor, focusing instead on Bruce’s loneliness and anger while turning his resentment of Superman into an outright xenophobic paranoia.
When Reeves, in turn, rebooted that version of the character, he returned yet again to the territory covered by Nolan’s first two Batman movies: Bruce’s early years as a vigilante where he works alone and miserable. And Reeves’ interpretation is great. Nonetheless, Bruce Wayne is not only isolated misery—even Nolan got that in the end, albeit by rewriting what middle age might look like for the character (much to some fans’ chagrin).
Batman is a character capable of growth and maturity, and finding a surrogate family to replace the wounded hole left by his parents’ murder is a foundational aspect that fans of the comics have long appreciated. To this day, many consider Batman: The Animated Series to be the definitive adaptation of the character in another medium, and that series likewise evolved to a point where Bruce Wayne was (the sometimes selfish and flawed) father figure of several Robins and Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl—an aspect that WB appeared ready to shy away from again last year when it unceremoniously shelved Leslie Grace’s film about the latter character. That Batgirl movie also starred Keaton as Batman.
The Brave and the Bold is apparently a chance to correct those oversights, at least for the character if not the talent who got slighted on Batgirl. Morrison’s long run on Batman makes significant use of Dick Grayson, Barbara Gordon, Tim Drake, Jason Todd, and a whole extended Bat-Family in addition to Damian Wayne.
Also by focusing on a Robin who is Bruce’s literal son, and in more ways than one as he turns out to be more vengeful and bloodthirsty than the old man, the filmmakers have a way to bring in the whole Bat-Family that is perhaps a little less absurd to watch than Batman brainwashing his newly orphaned ward. After growing up with the League of Assassins (the bad guys from Batman Begins and The Dark Knight Rises), Damian Wayne is already there. And, presumably, a slightly more fantastic tone, also in keeping with Morrison’s run in the comics, will make it all go down easier than it would in Nolan and Reeves’ interpretations.
We’ve already seen the mopey, broody Batman many times over. So perhaps it’s time to see him move on?