Chris Clow is a recent Western Washington University graduate, and a comic book expert, retailer and contributor to Batman-On-Film.com and ModernMythMedia.com. You can find his comic book reviews for various monthly titles and his participated podcasts at BOF and MMM. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClow.
One of the things that Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy has really excelled at is calling on the source material to inspire a brand new story. While the broad strokes and general happenings in several Batman comics stories are apparent, the creative team chooses not to do direct adaptations, but instead allow the concepts of the source to chart new territory for the stories they’re trying to tell. A lot of people seem surprised when I tell them that Batman #1 from spring of 1940 informed a lot of where the script for The Dark Knight would take Heath Ledger’s Joker.
The trailers and promotional materials that have been released for The Dark Knight Rises show pretty strong signs of Nolan taking some broad strokes from some other comics stories. One of them is kind of expected given what he’s done with the past two films, the others come from a whole different type of Batman story: The apocalyptic, at least in terms of Gotham City.
Let’s begin with the piece that’s not altogether surprising.
The Long Halloween and Dark Victory
There were two major works from the comics that Nolan definitely borrowed from for the first two films as it relates to Bruce Wayne and the type of Gotham he wanted to create cinematically. The first was Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli’s Batman: Year One, which is a good place to start since Batman Begins played in similar territory. It was also easy to see that Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s The Long Halloween, basically an unofficial follow-up to Year One given its themes and timeframe permeated both Begins and The Dark Knight with far more emphasis on the latter due to the involvement of Harvey Dent.
Dark Victory is Loeb and Sale’s sequel to The Long Halloween, and in addition to telling the most streamlined, modern take on the origin of Robin, one of the main cruxes of Dark Victory lays in the fallout of Harvey Dent’s fall from grace and transformation into Two-Face. David Goyer, one of the creative minds to help craft the story of Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy laid out the importance of Loeb and Sale’s work on the films in his introduction to the recently released Absolute Edition of Dark Victory: “Taken together, [Loeb and Sale’s] books comprise one of the primary comic book influences for the Christopher Nolan films Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, and The Dark Knight Rises.”
He continued, “Loeb and Sale posit a kind of benevolent conspiracy between Batman, Gordon, and Dent. The three men collude with one another in order to tame Gotham City. Do the ends justify the means? Does Gotham become a better place to live in? Not necessarily. It was that careful and complex examination of vigilantism that first attracted Chris Nolan and me to the books when preparing the Batman films. We were interested in exploring the cost of Bruce Wayne’s insane endeavor. Clearly, Jeph Loeb was as well.”
Goyer goes on to say that particularly in Dark Victory, Batman and Gordon have to directly deal with the fall of Harvey Dent, which we may see traces of in The Dark Knight Rises. The other strong component that will probably have inspired the films is the presence of Catwoman in Loeb and Sale’s work as a primary character, making her inclusion in a Nolan Batman film all the more welcome. It’s likely that Catwoman, as shown in the work of Loeb and Sale, will make for a familiar, yet definitely unpredictable Selina Kyle via Anne Hathaway.
The Dark Knight Returns
As I pointed out in my final Dark Knight Rises Countdown, when I learned about the eight-year gap between Nolan’s second and third Batman films, it immediately brought up connotations of whether or not Batman would be well enough physically to continue being Batman. This was a primary theme in Frank Miller’s landmark 1986 comics work Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, where the rampant violence and gang-control in Gotham force a fifty-year old Bruce Wayne back out onto the streets as Batman. One of the elements of DKR that really showed throughout the story was Bruce Wayne’s physical condition both before and during his return as Batman. He was a battered, beaten old man that truly felt his city screaming for the creature of the night that kept order on its streets for so long. Miller treated the Batman persona almost as an alternate personality inside Wayne’s mind, reasserting itself and taking control in subtle ways before finally charring away the remnants of Bruce Wayne’s inaction so that Batman could once again take hold. “Smoldering, I burn you.”
In many promotional photos and some of the trailers for Rises, we see a robe-wearing, cane-wielding Bruce Wayne with a goatee stumbling around Wayne Manor. This immediately brought another component of DKR to mind. In some of those images where Bruce is wearing the robe with the goatee, there’s an interesting juxtaposition with some other images of Bruce back in his business suit sans facial hair. In DKR, Bruce sports a moustache at the beginning of the story that he shaves off at some point with no recollection of having done so. In the story, this was a subtle sign that Batman was slowly beginning to work his way back into Bruce’s mind. Now, while I don’t think Nolan is necessarily going to treat Batman as a separate neurological identity than Bruce Wayne, he may be taking that signpost from the book and spinning it in his own way.
DKR also has within it a large, physically imposing threat that brings into readers’ minds the question that asks, “even if Batman is back, can he overcome this new threat?” While in DKR that threat came in the forms of the Mutant Gang, the Joker, and even Superman, Rises may simply be substituting Bane and his legion of followers. It’s a powerful question to have, as the one major difference between DKR and Rises is apparent: Dark Knight Returns was a story about a new beginning. The Dark Knight Rises, conversely, is about bringing the legend to an end. But, by drawing from this highly celebrated work featuring the character, Nolan may be giving us his version of The Dark Knight Returns in the context of the story he’s aiming to tell. Batman’s been gone for a while. This new threat is enough to bring an older man back to the streets of the city he loves in order to save it once again. I think that description can be equally applied to both Dark Knight Returns as well as Dark Knight Rises, and that definitely makes for an interesting scenario regardless of the medium.
No Man’s Land
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. The bridges to Gotham are blown up, cutting off access to the city. Batman is nowhere to be found. The people of Gotham speak of him in hushed voices, wondering if he’ll ever come back to help them once again, in their darkest hour. People tag the sides of buildings with his symbol, further feeding his legend and inspiring the people of Gotham and the police into action.
No, this is not a trailer description for The Dark Knight Rises. This is a description of just some of the Batman mega-story known as No Man’s Land.
In NML, Gotham City has been ravaged by a devastating earthquake that cripples the city beyond repair. Although Bruce Wayne has gone to Washington, DC to try and convince the federal government that the city is worth saving, it’s instead declared a “no man’s land” because of what it would take in both public and private money to rebuild the city. It becomes restricted to everyone, closed off from the United States and leaving scores of helpless people to fend for themselves in a city-sized wasteland.
Batman spends the beginning of the story planning his next move, staying underground and out of sight while wondering if he could ever do enough to save Gotham this time. As a response, even though no one can see him, his legend begins to inspire more and more people. While the police have their own faction to help keep the remaining innocents safe, the gangs and supervillains are moving into what was once safer territory. The GCPD begins to send messages to other gangs by spray painting, or “tagging” their acronym on buildings under their protection. It’s not long afterward that a tag appears in the city in the distinct shape of a bat.
I think that No Man’s Land was at least glanced over by the creative team in order to craft the situation in Gotham City itself. One of the most striking sets of promotional banners released showed Gotham as a warzone, with Bane and his followers on one side, and Batman and the police on the other. The tag, at least in chalk, has made an appearance in a lot of places. The bridges to Gotham are being destroyed. Gotham looks as if it’s going to be a no man’s land at some point watching the new film, and I doubt these similarities between that story and much of the striking visuals we’ve seen in the trailers is far from a coincidence.
I think it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to not make the connection of The Dark Knight Rises to Knightfall given the villain of the film. Knightfall was a comic book story arc in the early 1990’s that basically introduced the world to the new villain Bane in a big way: By having him demoralize, humiliate, and literally break the Batman. When Bane burst onto the scene, he immediately wanted to conquer Gotham City and its masked champion, and the only way he saw to do that was through a methodical approach that brought Batman to his lowest point. At that moment, Bane broke Batman’s back, took him into Gotham, and threw him into the street for hundreds of onlookers to see.
The thing to me that’s striking about Batman at both the beginning of Knightfall and what I assume will be the beginning of The Dark Knight Rises is that they’ll both be in similar mindsets as broken men. There are some notable differences, particularly when seeing that Batman is active on the streets of Gotham at Knightfall’s start and he likely won’t be at the beginning of Rises. Even taking that into account, the thing that will enter into both characters’ heads is the same: Bane.
In Knightfall, the way that Bane broke down Batman to make it easier for him to move in for the final blow was in releasing all of his famous rogues from Arkham Asylum, giving Batman one of the longest nights of his life. When he finishes the exhausting mission of putting them all back in their cages, Bane is in his house, and Batman has no chance. Bane fights him into the Batcave, and breaks his back.
There are several released images that show Bane and Batman battling in what may be the Batcave, though I don’t know for certain. I think it’s the same location as when Bane is walking away with the broken cowl in his hands that he drops unceremoniously. If so, then that shows that Nolan is really pulling out all the stops to present the largest threat possible to Batman in the film by drawing from what is arguably his greatest defeat.
Hopefully, that gives some of you an idea of what the comic influences might be for The Dark Knight Rises. If the film has you amped up enough to dive into any of these stories, I’d be remiss in not telling you to support your local comics retailer. Rises will not be a direct adaptation of any of these stories, but what it likely will be is a tale that borrows concepts from each of these works of merit to craft as best a Batman story as this team can. When you’re talking about making a film of one of the comics medium’s greatest characters, that’s definitely not a bad route to take.
The Legend Ends when The Dark Knight Rises on July 20th