All the comics you should read before seeing The Batman

All the comics you should read before seeing The Batman
The Batman: Trailer released for new film starring Robert Pattinson
Warner Bros

The Batman, one of the year’s most eagerly-anticipated movie releases, finally arrives in UK cinemas on 4 March.

Starring Robert Pattinson as a more youthful Caped Crusader than we’ve seen before and directed by Matt Reeves, who shot the acclaimed recent Planet of the Apes trilogy, the new film also features Zoe Kravitz as Catwoman, Paul Dano as the Riddler and Colin Farrell as the Penguin in what promises to be the darkest descent into Gotham City since the Tim Burton era.

Incredibly, it’s already ten years since Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises concluded his own Christian Bale-led series, with only Ben Affleck’s appearances in Zack Snyder’s uneven Batman vs Superman (2016) and Justice League (2017) filling the void in the interim.

The commercial and critical failure of that extended universe saw Affleck’s planned solo outing axed and a new project commissioned under Reeves, who cast former Twilight idol Pattinson as Bruce Wayne following his incredible run of performances in indie dramas like David Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis (2012), Josh and Benny Safdie’s Good Time (2017), High Life (2018) by Claire Denis and Robert Eggers’ The Lighthouse (2019).

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Reeves and Pattinson have cited Nirvana frontman, Kurt Cobain, as an unlikely inspiration for their vision of Batman, scoring the film’s trailer to a brooding version of “Something in the Way”, while its plot draws on San Francisco’s notorious real-life Zodiac serial killings of the 1970s, enabling the pair to focus on the hero’s skills as a detective in pursuit of clues, an aspect of the character too often overlooked on screen.

Given that Batman first appeared in the primary-coloured pages of Detective Comics No 27 way back in May 1939, the filmmakers had over eight decades of mythology and backstory at their disposal, so here’s a look at the key comics Reeves and co-writer Peter Craig chose to inform their approach.

Batman: Year One (1987)

Batman: Year OneDC Comics

Having turned the DC world upside-down in 1986 with The Dark Knight Returns, in which an ageing Bruce Wayne emerges from retirement to fight cyber-punk criminals in a dystopian Gotham, Frank Miller set about reimagining the character’s noirish origins with the help of artist David Mazzucchelli.

Essentially revisiting creators Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s original Batman storyline and greatly expanding its ideas, Miller and Mazzucchelli recount the billionaire playboy’s first year as a crime-fighter, tackling organised racketeering and institutional corruption as he forges alliances with future police commissioner Jim Gordon and promising young district attorney Harvey Dent.

Hugely influential, Year One was also a crucial source for Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005), which likewise dwelt on the character’s earliest days and his battles with Carmine Falcone and Sal Maroni’s warring mob factions.

Batman: Year Two (1987)

Batman: Year TwoDC Comics

This sequel, written by Mike W Barr, follows Miller’s timeline and finds Batman as an established force for good in Gotham but still struggling to come to terms with the murder of his parents as he fights a homicidal vigilante known as the Reaper, whose brutal methods pose troubling questions about Bruce Wayne’s own self-appointed quest for justice.

Batman: The Long Halloween (1996-97)

Batman: The Long HalloweenDC Comics

Written by Jeph Loeb and drawn by Tim Sale, this magnificent series finds the Great Detective investigating a sequence of murders being orchestrated once-monthly by a mysterious killer who calls himself only “Holiday”.

Batman interrogates other criminals in his search for answers, including the time-fixated Arkham Asylum inmate Calendar Man in scenes reminiscent of Silence of the Lambs (1991), as he seeks to unravel the truth and bring an end to the atrocities before the next public holiday rolls around.

A truly epic saga, The Long Halloween seamlessly weaves together almost the entire rogue’s gallery of Batman antagonists across its pages, bringing their traits into play at precisely the right moment in a manner the new film would do well to replicate.

Batman: Dark Victory (1999-2000)

Batman: Dark VictoryDC Comics

A sequel to The Long Halloween from Loeb and Sale, Dark Victory again features a serial killer plot with another shadowy antagonist known as “The Hangman” on the prowl and bumping off cops as gang warfare erupts between Two-Face and what remains of the Falcone syndicate.

Interestingly, the book also re-examines Robin’s origin story and makes a persuasive argument for the Dark Knight, famously a haunted loner, taking on a juvenile sidekick.

Reeves does not appear to have included a Robin storyline in The Batman but perhaps that could be a fruitful avenue for a further instalment.

Batman: Ego (2000)

Batman: EgoDC Comics

An ingenious psychological examination of the character, Darwyn Cooke’s one-shot graphic novel finds Batman so traumatised by the suicide of one of the Joker’s henchmen after he pressures him into betraying his boss that he suffers a breakdown and a dialogue ensues between his rational super-ego (Bruce Wayne) and his rampant id (Batman).

Ego is said to be a major influence on Reeves’ film in its interrogation of the complex, dual nature of its protagonist.

Batman: Hush (2002-2003)

Batman: HushDC Comics

Another whodunit-style approach from Jeph Loeb, this time drawn by the great Jim Lee, Hush centres around a bandage-faced mastermind who goes by that name and appears to be conspiring with the Dark Knight’s many foes against him. But just who is Hush and what does he want?

Without giving too much away, the Riddler turns out to be a pivotal figure here and is treated as a more sinister presence than the comedic eccentric he has often been portrayed as by the likes of Frank Gorshin and Jim Carrey, providing a possible cue for Dano’s performance in The Batman.

Batman: The Court of Owls (2011)

Batman: The Court of OwlsDC Comics

Pattinson has already entertained the idea of making a sequel to his new film, telling Den of Geek he would be interested in a follow-up centred around the Court of Owls, a sinister secret society first developed by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo a decade ago as part of DC’s New 52 revamp of its marquee titles.

The group consists of Gotham’s wealthy elite who have ruled the city for centuries on the quiet, meeting in private and wearing blank barn owl masks to conceal their identities (think the Illuminati by way of the Anonymous movement), who employ a legion of undead assassins known as the Talons to do their bidding.

They sound like an ideal fit for Reeves’ universe based on what we’ve seen so far and would have the huge benefit, as a fairly recent addition to the Batman canon, of not having been portrayed on-screen endless times before.

Batman: Earth One (2012-21)

Batman: Earth OneDC Comics

Another modern repositioning of Dark Knight lore, this time by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank, Earth One has been suggested as a possible influence on Reeves given that the Riddler is reimagined in volume two as an anarchistic serial killer with a penchant for bombs who terrorises Gotham by leaving a trail of puzzles for Batman to solve.

While this sounds like another likely reference point for Dano, his director has insisted The Batman is not based on any one comic – and he does not appear to have reworked Farrell’s Oswald Cobblepot into a mayoral candidate, as is the case in Earth One (and, indeed, Batman Returns).

“I went on a deep dive again revisiting all my favourite comics,” Reeves said in 2019. “Those all inform by osmosis. There’s no continuation of the Nolan films. It’s very much trying to find a way to do this as something that for me is going to be definitively Batman and new and cool.”

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