Where Do We Go From Here: The Future of Batman
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Warner Bros. and DC Comics. Staple of the comics publishing industry and arch nemesis of Marvel Enterprises. Like Marvel they have an extensive cast of characters and properties beloved by eager fans. Unlike Marvel, they kind of suck at making movies. They had Superman back in the 80s, and then the sequel-sorta Superman Returns which was entertaining enough when Kevin Spacey or Parker Posey were on screen but overall wasn’t great. They had Green Lantern, which sucked in all the ways a movie can suck, and yet still apparently a sequel is happening so what do I know? For better or worse, and mostly on a high note, the Nolan Age of Batman has come to an end and with that comes the inevitable reboot that Warner Bros. and DC will need in order to maintain some presence in the world’s cinema screens; but you know what, I’m so over constant origin stories, particularly of characters we know back to front like Spider-Man, Superman, Batman and so on.
Batman Begins was great. It was a tried and tested tale but the way Nolan handled it made it real, and that helped the story of a crime-fighting billionaire stay grounded. The new Spider-Man worked for me, because they switched things up a lot. The new Superman movie Man of Steel looks boring, at least from the two trailers released so far. Boring even for a film about an invincible superhuman with vulnerability only to glowing rock and an arch villain in the form of a bald real estate agent. Who the fuck wants to see Superman fishing? Fishing?
So I propose when the time comes for a new Batman series to begin that we do away with the modern day retelling of the Batman saga. We do away with Alfred Pennyworth and Jim Gordon and Selina Kyle and move all the way forward to the not so distant future.
I propose we move to the amazing universe of Batman Beyond. As you’ll read in my review (which will be up in the next week or two) Batman Beyond is one of my new favourite animated television series. It’s perfectly dystopic and has a cyberpunk flair that really suits Gotham of the future. The writing is great, the voice acting is great too and well, I think it’s the best next place for the Batman series to go.
We’ve done origins; who on Earth isn’t aware of how Batman came to be? We’ve also covered his main enemies, in some cases many, many times on television and on the big screen. What we haven’t covered is the future of Gotham, the future of Batman. The Kingdom Come series of graphic novels (with truly amazing artwork by Alex Ross) gave us a glimpse of an aging Bruce Wayne, along with the other members of the Justice League. Scruffy, weary and never wavering in his dedication to his city, the future of Neo Gotham in both Kingdom Come and Batman Beyond truly is a spectacle worthy of cinema.
But how would we do it? Well I propose a new trilogy of films, based on the core concepts of Batman Beyond, with a few alterations to allow for new audiences and a more cohesive narrative. We begin this trilogy with:
Legend of the Dark Knight
An aging Bruce Wayne, long the protector of Gotham has evolved the Batman persona over the years and remained on the cutting edge of science, detection and the criminal element of the city. A complete recluse by day, Bruce has ceded power of Wayne Enterprises, known for years as Wayne-Powers, to new CEO Derek Powers, a ruthless businessman and power hungry corporate shark. By night, Bruce remains Batman; although his abilities are lessened by age. Alfred is long dead, and Batman no longer has a Robin to help him. Tim and Jayson have moved on. Dick is dead.
Terry McGinnis is a high school senior whose father works for Wayne-Powers. He isn’t the most popular kid, but he has a good heart and frequently stands up to the Jokerz, an illegal biker gang that prowls Gotham. When his father is killed under mysterious circumstances, Terry is left as man of the house and takes a job with Wayne to help his mother provide for him and his young brother.
The villain Shriek is terrorizing the city, filling his pockets with the money from others and generally causing havoc. While Batman prowls the streets at night, hunting Shriek, Terry investigates his own case and discovers links between Wayne-Powers and the murder of his father. Enraged, he plans to enter the building and find evidence.
Instead he ends up facing Batman in the offices of the company headquarters. With the elderly Bruce an even match for the untrained Terry, the two are ready to withdraw when Shriek, working for Powers, attacks and they must work together to defeat him. While Bats defeats Shriek, Terry pursues Powers and learns that he is selling a deadly, mutagenic nerve gas to foreign enemies and dangerous gangs. He confronts Powers about the death of his father, and in the process Powers is exposed to the gas forcing Terry to flee.
When Terry later encounters a battered Bruce Wayne, he becomes suspicious and investigates the mansion, discovering the Batcave. Clearly Bruce isn’t up to the task anymore, and Terry has a perfect replacement in mind.
This would give us a nice introduction to the world of Neo Gotham. It lets Bruce bow out of the spotlight naturally and gives us a film to get to know Terry. The second film in the series would be:
Terry McGinnis is the new Batman, having taken over the cowl. Bruce now serves as cave-bound assistant and mentor. A new enemy has entered Gotham, the supremely powerful Blight and only Batman can stop him.
Terry is still in training, and faces enemies like Spellbinder and the Royal Flush Gang; costumed heroes who have re-entered the public eye in response to Blight. He’s also juggling a private life and struggling with the dual identities the cowl requires. His girlfriend feels neglected, his family misses him and his friend Max is pretty sure she’s figured out who Batman really is.
When Derek Powers is revealed to be the man responsible for the murder of Terry’s father, the new Batman goes on a personal quest of revenge; confronting Powers and revealing him to be Blight before a crowded press conference.
Bruce makes his disappointment clear, and Terry feels ashamed for his actions. Instead of taking down his father’s killer he has released a relentless supervillain on the city, one with nothing left to lose. With Bruce’s help he confronts Blight and defeats him, but with the body lost there is no guarantee that the villain is truly dead.
A new Batman, with new villains. The series ends much like the original cartoon series did with:
The Return of the Joker
It’s been two years since the defeat of Blight and Terry has mastered his new persona as Batman. He has graduated high school, now attends Gotham University and by night he protects the streets from villains regular and enhanced.
But there is a new villain in town, a clown-faced criminal who has assumed control of the Jokerz and is causing more mayhem than Terry has ever experienced. For Bruce, however, there is something all too familiar about it.
The Joker is back, somehow, and he’s hell-bent on destroying Gotham. Is it the real Joker, or a copycat assuming his identity? In fact, The Joker himself seems unsure about his origins, and his answers to such questions are vague and elusive.
Either way, Terry will need all of Bruce’s help to catch this Clown Prince of Crime before he destroys Gotham completely.
The trilogy would end with the death of Bruce and would feature other characters like Commissioner Barbara Gordon who would serve as a foil to the vigilante duo and Nightwing, who has long since moved on from Gotham. It would be adult and high tech. Gotham would be a combination of the art deco city we know and love and the futuristic metropolis of Blade Runner.
For the batsuit itself there have been a few ideas over the years but I personally favour the use of performance capture. There is something beautiful about the sleek, perfectly smooth, full body cowl, which covers Terry completely but still allows for his mouth to move. Having this done with modern performance capture technology would mean the suit could to all the things it need to do, without looking clumsy.
Casting would be a challenge.
For the aging Bruce we need somebody older and suiting the physical stature of a man we know to be the Bat. He needs to be frail at times, but still capable of action. Personally I like the idea of George Clooney as an older, Kingdom Come era Bats (Batman and Robin notwithstanding) but I’m not sure he’s quite old enough for this series.
Terry needs to be young, and physically fit. He needs to fill out the Batsuit and be capable of casting a stunning silhouette. He also needs to be able to pass as a teenager. I’d like Josh Hutcherson, or somebody similar, in the role.
Derek Powers / Blight would also be rendered largely in performance capture. His glowing green form is a mesmerising and intimidating sight. Someone like Ralph Feinnes.
Barbara Gordon, daughter of prior commissioner Jim Gordon, is a silver haired and capable woman. Former Batgirl she knows the truth behind Bruce Wayne and Batman and struggles at times to marry her former identity with her current responsibilities. She is younger than Bruce.
Max, Terry’s closest friend and eventual ally (once she figures out that Terry is the new Batman) is a young, spunky African American geek with amazing computer skills and a no-nonsense approach to fighting crime. She does occasionally help Terry out, mostly when Bruce is unavailable.
Shriek is the villain of the first film, a sound engineer working for Powers who creates a suit capable of using the power of sound to deal incredible damage to his surroundings. In the third film, he would return as a brief villain, blaming Batman for the loss of his hearing and vowing revenge.
Spellbinder. As we never see Spellbinder’s face (he is always hidden behind a black and orange spiral costume, similar to a morphsuit) the actor here must be able to present his character through body movement and voice alone.
Joker would be based on the traditional comics joker, not the reimagined Nolanverse rendition. He would be loony, crazy, vicious and unpredictable.
All in all, this is a movie series that needs to happen. Batman Beyond is a perfect new direction to take the series – in fact prior to the moratorium on Batman live action series and the decision to go with the Christopher Nolan trilogy alone, there were plans deep inside the cavernous offices of WB to make a live action Beyond movie.
I think now is the time.
You can harass the author of this post via twitter: @CAricHanley