If They Must, Six Batman Movies That Hollywood Should Adapt After Nolan Finishes Showing Everyone How It's Done
While many of us were stuffing ourselves into digestive comas, the Philippine Daily Inquirer was out doing real journalism and interviewing Christian Bale. Pointedly, he talks about very recently wrapping Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises, and how that will be the last moment he'll ever take don or doff the famous Bat-cowl. It's an interesting enough read if you enjoy puffery, but it's really just a reminder that while Nolan puts his finishing touches on their last foray in Gotham City, Warner Bros. is most definitely looking into the franchise's future monetization. We've already seem reports that confirm a promise of more Bat-films after Rises, so even as Bale swoops into multiplexes in June 2012 for the final time, we'll still be left to wonder what direction the studio (and the character) will go next. Since a new Batman film is definitely, 100% going to happen sooner or later, it's best to just go limp and hope for the best. And offer some brief suggestions on where the studio ought to look for inspiration...
The Six Batman Stories That Should Be Adapted Into Films After The Dark Knight Rises (Note: You won't find either of Frank Miller's seminal Batman books -- Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns -- because Nolan already borrowed heavily from both in Batman Begins and, I imagine, The Dark Knight Rises. Also, Frank Miller is an ass.)
The Long Halloween by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale
Nolan borrowed some elements for his trilogy from this 12-issue maxi-series, specifically Tom Wilkinson's Carmine "The Roman" Falcone and Eric Roberts' Sal Maroni, the relationships between Batman, Jim Gordon, and pre-Two Face Harvey Dent, as well as the generally realistic take on Gotham and its protector. But one thing Long Halloween has over every Batman movie to-date is a solid mystery that takes Batman a year to solve. Adapting this story would also curb mouth-frothing fans from wondering which Rogues Gallery villain will make an appearance because they all do. Put this script in the hands of someone like David Fincher, who could bring his grunge noir sensibilities to bear and give us a treat none-too-far removed from Nolan's vision, but still unique enough to stand on its own.
Gotham by Gaslight by Brian Augustyn and Mike Mignola
A short story that answers the dual questions of, "What if Jack the Ripper moved to Gotham City, and the Batman fought one-man war on crime when the 19th century turned into the 20th?" The answer: That'd be pretty radass. Batman, cobblestones, and vague steampunkery are concepts that mesh so well together, it almost makes you wish Bruce Wayne was always a Victorian fop. Like Long Halloween, Gotham by Gaslight is another murder mystery, but trades complexity for atmosphere, mood, and occasionally dark bits of humor. Looking to Sleepy Hollow and Sweeney Todd for inspiration, this would be the perfect opportunity to bring Tim Burton back into the Bat-franchise that he initially saved from being too campy. As long as he promises not to make it in 3-D nor cast Johnny Depp in the lead role, which would preferably return to the capable hands of Michael Keaton.
Batman and Son and Batman and Robin by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely
The only thing these comics have in common with Joel Schumacher's last Bat-movie is the name, otherwise Morrison's and Quitely's Batman and Robin couldn't be more different. For one, this Batman is actually Dick Grayson, the original Robin, and this Robin is actually Damian Wayne, Bruce's illegitimate son with Ra's Al Ghul's daughter, Talia. If that's too convoluted for the start of a new franchise, then Bruce could easily re-replace Dick (as he has in the comics), because it isn't so much the stories that would make great adaptations, it's the Robin. Damian Wayne is a hot-tempered, foul-mouthed, ninja-assassin-trained sociopathic ten year old boy, who just so happens to be the son of the smartest man alive and the sidekick for the best superhero ever. As long as you get the right kid actor to take on Damian/Robin, everything else about this would be gravy. Someone like Joss Whedon could handle the banter and the action, without turning the film into a safe-for-kids-and-old-people romp.
Arkham Asylum by
Activision Square Enix/Eidos Paul Dini, Paul Crocker, and Rocksteady Studios
Similar to Long Halloween, adapting Activision's best-selling, award winning Batman video game would be a grand excuse to cram as many of the caped crusader's Rogues Gallery into one film. The difference is that instead of methodically solving a complex crime spree, Batman would methodically beat the shit out of all the inmates who have taken over Arkham Asylum. Basically, imagine Bruce Lee's Game of Death, where the martial arts master spends upwards of 90 minutes literally going from stage to stage to engage in minutes-long fight scenes. Now imagine Bruce Lee is Batman. In that spirit, Takashi Miike would direct the most brutal Batman movie ever.
"Batman: The Animated Series" by Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, and the rest
Of course, it would be impossible for one movie to adapt the bulk of the 1990s cartoon, but this entry is even less about a specific storyline than Batman and Robin, and more about the world created within three stellar seasons of episodic television. The Gotham City here was basically originated in Tim Burton's 1989 Batman, but much of that art nouveau was lost in favor of something more gothic. Bring back the period noir aesthetic, while maintaining relatively modern technology, and suddenly even more fantasticalcharacters like Mr. Freeze and Poison Ivy can make some sort of sense without being ridiculous. And that's really what this movie would be about, a way of allowing Batman's cheesiest bits to fit logically into the same paradigm as mobsters and police corruption. Basically, if Warner Bros. wants a franchise with legs beyond a trilogy, then "Batman: The Animated Series" is the model they should follow -- and like with James Bond (or, to a lesser extent, Harry Potter), bring in new writers and directors (and actors when the time is right) with each installment, enabling them to tell as many different kinds of Bat-stories as possible, all without having to Batman's damn origin story with each new reborquel.
Detective Comics: Batwoman -- Elegy and Batwoman by Greg Rucka, J. H. Williams III, W. Haden Blackman, and Amy Reeder
Obviously, this is a cheat, because Batman himself has very little to do with (or in) the pages of the Batwoman comics. Other than inspiring listless ex-soldier Kate Kane to continue fighting the war on crime and evil on her own terms, after falling victim to the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, Batman doesn't even make an appearance here. But that's okay, because Batwoman is every bit as interesting as her male counterpart, and she has the added bonus of taking on more supernatural/paranormal creatures. As an added bonus, her comic is unquestionably the most beautiful super hero book on the shelves and would be thrilling to see done in live-action. Julie Taymor may have shit the bed with her attempt to turn Spider-Man into a Broadway classic (though others seem to be having better luck with it), but her eccentric visual style would be the best way to translate J. H. Williams' artistic flair to the big screen. The image above is from issue #1 of the new Batwoman, and in the scope of two pages Williams establishes the three distinct styles he uses to tell Kate's story: the sketchy, sepia-toned past, the stark flatness of the "real world," and the lush, painterly elegance that being a super hero must feel like. Seeing that type of storytelling brought to life with cinematography would put every other action movie ever made to shame.
Rob Payne also writes the indie comic The Unstoppable Force and tweets on the Twitter @RobOfWar, and you can help support indepedent creators by buying his wares here. He would have recommended that WB try to recapture the brilliance of the 1960s "Batman" TV show starring Adam West, but the porn industry has already done that perfectly.