With all the news and hype surrounding The Dark Knight Rises it’s been tough to avoid spoilers, extended trailers and news articles that give away way too much of the movie but here I am ready to see if Christopher Nolan can pull off the superhero movie trifecta. A task that eluded the filmmakers of Superman, X-Men, Spiderman and the original Batman run and made even more daunting by the fact that The Dark Knight is one of the best sequels I’ve ever seen, period. The fact that it happens to be based on the collective stories of one of my first literary heroes just happens to be a bonus.
The earliest anthology I ever devoured was the copy of Batman From The 30’s To The 70’s, a hardcover reprint of select Batman stories, my mother bought for me when I was about seven. Alongside the accompanying Superman anthology, this became my fantasy lit bible as I came into literacy. Both gave me a sense of history, how these two characters origin stories came from one set of creators’ imagination, and how subsequent writers dealt with the challenge of broadening that storyline without betraying the fundamentals of the character. Not only did the writing evolve but also the art advanced and I also learned a lesson not every artist applies — that evolution and technology do not always equal improvement. Even at seven I could see how narratives were becoming bigger and not better, just more ridiculous.
I could see this much clearly in the more reality based Batman over the fantastic Superman, who represented so many lofty ideals but was somehow never as cool as the millionaire vigilante who relied on his intellect and athleticism to avenge the death of his parents.
Well, at least until Robin came along and then Batman also had to be a surrogate father of sorts. And then came Alfred, which meant Batman also had to be a head of the household. And then came Batwoman, Batdog, Batmite, Batgirl, the Batman with the crazy color costume from an alternate dimension, and in all this we lost the millionaire vigilante and instead got the guy from the campy TV series who solved crimes because he got a call on a phone and not for any other reason. (Funny how the TV show never did go into that dead parent thing.)
Then came my next literary lesson: Retroactive continuity, a pretty meaty academic phrase usually called ‘retcon,’ which means you can strip the excess and bloat of the last forty years and just keep the good parts. Holy editing, Batman, you mean we can start fresh! Oh, yes you can! And in the 70s Batman returned to a darker grittier primal version of himself thanks to sharper art and more focused storylines thanks to some great retcon courtesy of Neal Adams.
For those who don’t know, Neal Adams is to comic art Batman what Christopher Nolan is to cinematic Batman, the artist who saved an icon by going back to the source material allowing the Caped Crusader to become the Dark Detective. It was even cooler to bounce through the pages of my anthology and see how this Batman was more true to the noir stories of the 30s then the pseudo sci-fi of the 50s.
Sadly, kids grow up and put away childish things, and my beloved Batman anthology was set aside for a new group of contemporary heroes, the X-Men and their Marvel cohorts. Eventually all I was reading was Marvel and dismissed Batman and DC as those comics kids read. Luckily, I would grow up enough to learn to love Batman again.
The 90s was a time of big excess, for the country, comic books and me. I was making some good money and looked at comics as not only a hobby but also as an investment, so not only was I on the hunt for new comics but also ones that might become collectibles in the future. This led me to picking up comics not just from my beloved Marvel but also the newly glamorous Image, the gritty and well named Dark Horse, upstart Valiant and a return to the stalwart DC especially with their two high profile storylines: the death of Superman and a new Batman.
The Batman story originally put me off because of the introduction Bane, a new villain with a lucha libre look that had me thinking I was looking at one of my Batman reprints from the 40s. A quick read through Bane’s story quickly changed my mind and I was intrigued by this brawny character who had a political agenda and utilized a completely modern approach to dealing with the Dark Knight. Knight Fall, as the story would be known, proved to be a great reintroduction to Batman and his supporting cast of characters that helped to flesh out Bruce Wayne as opposed to tying him down.
This boom period in comics didn’t last long for me or the industry but Batman became one of my must-reads and stayed so even through the god-awful movie period that set a new definition for overwrought, trite, excessive fantasy yarns with not only a nippled Batman but also a Bane that was beyond laughable. Ironic for me that in the same way the cartoonish Bane character symbolized Batman’s movie fall, this version of Bane will define Nolan’s cinematic take on the Bat.
Christopher Nolas not only resurrected the Batman franchise, he changed the way critics and casual audiences viewed a “comic book” movie. The days of wanton CG and weak scripts were set aside (Sorry Green Lantern!) in favor of realistic effects, developed characters and tight pacing for both the action and character evolvement. My excitement over Batman Begins and The Dark Knight still carries to this day and I am intrigued as to Nolan’s final Bat film. Dark Knight played out a risky move for screenwriter Nolan, a total deconstruction of his new Batman mythos. At the end of Dark Knight, Bruce Wayne decides he must retreat Batman to the shadows and away from civilian eyes, that if he stays too long in plain sight, more lunatic copycats like Ledger’s Joker will emerge and who will stop them? The final scene of Batman in the mists left me puzzled, sad and applauding Nolan’s daring as a writer and director who could undo all his work, even as casual fans were cheering on what they thought was a triumphant Batman.
So what next? How does Nolan bring Bruce Wayne back? How has Gotham changed? Will the Gotham citizenry embrace the returning Detective or revile him? What lengths will Bane go to in order to draw out Batman from retirement? Can Tom Hardy bring the same intensity to Bane that Heath Ledger brought to the Joker? Will this movie live up to the hype?
Again, Nolan has painted himself into a deep corner especially since this is the movie fans will judge his run by. For context, see The Matrix trilogy and The Godfather.
Here are my expectations: I’m hoping The Dark Knight Rises is as good or better than Batman Begins with a deep explanation on the Bane character, background on what Bruce Wayne’s been doing in his “retirement,” a Gotham catastrophe of Biblical proportions, and Christian Bale finding a deeper level to Wayne/Batman other than just grunting through scenes. If all this comes through, we’ll have a great end to the Nolan trilogy. If it fails, then critics and casual fans will rip Nolan to shreds. If he can do it even bigger and better than Dark Knight, Nolan will get his Academy Awards.
Alright, bring on the movie!