Tuesday, July 24, 2012

How the Dark Knight Rose

So by now you've hopefully seen Christopher Nolan's superhero masterpiece The Dark Knight Rises. With TDKR completing the (originally unplanned) trilogy, there won't be a Batman film for sometime. Sure, they might go through with the Justice League film that appears to be moving forward, but Batman as a serious protagonist is done with for now.

What I have enjoyed most about Nolan's series is that he culls some of the best stuff from some brilliant Batman stories. Unlike the Marvel films which are largely adaptations of key story lines, while some of Chris Nolan, David Goyer and Jonothan Nolan's stories draw heavily on source material they most pinch hit ideas and even sub plots. It was an absolute thrill to watch the subtle hints to Batman's comic book history and this greatly added to my enjoyment. Since not everyone is familiar with the comics (which are best purchased as graphic novels/trade paperbacks), I'm here to help you get below the surface of the films and perhaps, give you some reading to fill the void before the bat-signal shines on the cinema screen again.

If you like this blog let me know and I'll do a follow up for The Dark Knight and Batman Begins!

The Dark Knight Returns
This book, by Sin City creator Frank Miller, reinvented Batman. Set in the future where a long retired Batman reemerges to right wrong's in Gotham. Nolan used the theme of Batman's redemption for a past wrong from this comic. Armed with a iron will to defeat crime this old timer retrains and punches the crap out of Superman. That alone is worth the purchase price. The sequel, The Dark Knight Strikes Again, is not nearly as good.

Bane's debut. There is a new release that contains the entire Bane portion of the saga in one huge volume. The first part gives extensive time to Bane's early life and arrival in Gotham. He is a calculating and physically imposing villian that was captured well by Tom Hardy in TDKR. While Bane's personality is very similar in this book, there is a difference in the use of his mask. I can't believe to tell you how much I reverted to a little kid when I saw the image below replicated on screen. There is a pretty good side story too featuring Scarecrow as a central figure, so if you liked Nolan's version of Jonathon Crane it is well worth checking out. The second volume (KnightQuest) covers Bruce's journey to reclaim the cowl from Azareal (who goes bonkers at the end of this volume).

Catwoman is easily one of Batman's most enduring and complex characters. While previous depictions have focused on her sexuality, rather than her psychology, Nolan seems to get the balance right. Fully expecting something more throwaway, Anne Hathaway manages to strike a balance between justifiable crime and a desire to do the right thing. I love that she still used guns, a sign that her alliance with Batman is actually as fragile as shown in the comics. In many ways she is his greatest love - and love was never easy. Hush is introduced as a new villain in a year long story. (Actually he would've been a good fit for Nolan's world). I won't spoil it but Catwoman plays a central role and the mystery of Hush's identity keeps the pages turning. Plenty of other rogues jump on for the ride too. You could also check out The Long Halloween or Catwoman:When In Rome for more Catwoman - especially if your only previous exposure was via Michelle Pfiffer or Halle Berry (both of whom played weird supernatural versions that missed Catwoman's humour).

No Man's Land
Gotham is hit by an earthquake and decends into warfare. There are different gangs - led by some of Batman's greatest villains. America gives up on Gotham but Batman has a little something to say about that. Catwoman plays a prominent role too, not unlike TDKR. This was a loooong arc though, and even with the newer releases there are still three volumes to get through.

The last two are spoilers. Stop now if you haven't seen the film since I'm giving away gold.

Talia al Ghul. 
I understand why Nolan chose to put in this twist (which for fans was ridiculously obvious and long rumoured) and I'll give it a tick because it brought a nice conclusion to the story he started in Batman Begins (as did Bane's League of Shadows affiliation - something that he only briefly aligned with in the comics). But Talia has a lot more going for her than revenge. Whilst I said earlier Catwoman is Bruce's true love, it is Talia who gives him a son. Damien Wayne has, in my opinion, revitalized the story line's as he brings a completely different vibe to the role of Robin. But I digress. Like Catwoman, Talia is a powerful woman who needs a powerful man. Who better than the world's greatest detective? Originally introduced alongside her father, who sees Batman as a worth successor, she spends much of her time engaging Batman in mind games and seduction. Grant Morrison's work - starting with Batman and Son through to Batman Incorporated has returned her to prominence as ally and obstacle in Batman's war on crime. Start with Birth of the Demon, a recent release that contains three Ra's & Talia stories. Then check out The Resurrection of Ra's Al Ghul and Batman & Son.

Robin "John" Blake
Now I hated that they put the name Robin out there. See that Batcave revelation in the closing moment doesn't work when the name Robin is attached. Robin is always Batman's second. ALWAYS. When Robin graduates beyond this role, as Dick Grayson and recently Tim Drake/Wayne did, they take on their own superhero codename. Grayson became Nightwing and Drake became Red Robin. While Grayson has donned that Batman uniform on two distinct occasions, including breifly while Bruce recuperated from Bane's beatings, Robin has never really been Gotham's sole protector. So instead, I choose to believe that Blake becomes the next Batman - something that fits in with Nolan's original mantra in Begins. Batman is an idea, a symbol, more than a man. If Blake continues the symbolism than that is fine. But again, I'm off track. What I did like is that the chat Blake has with Bruce is similar to Drake's origin. While Grayson's tale as a ex-circus acrobat was captured in Batman Forever (urgh) and is fairly well know, Drake's story is a less so. Drake deduced Batman's identity as Wayne in a similar manner to Blake in the film. In this light, it is a nice tribute to an awesome, but seemingly forgotten Robin. (Note - ALL of the books mentioned above actually feature Drake as Robin, not Grayson.)

Tim Drake's solo adventures took place as Red Robin. If you are interested in a book with both a different Batman and a new Robin than check out Grant Morrison's opening run on Batman And Robin. With Bruce Wayne believed dead (ring a bell?) Dick Grayson becomes Batman with Damien Wayne as Robin. The dynamic is reversed from usual as Dick lets fly with the quick quips and Damien is a little bit of a psychopath. Kind of like his old man!

If you have other suggestions let me know! And if you're in then I'll give you a trail to follow for the first two films.