Because, really, it can’t be both.
Just before the weekend — and right after Warner Brothers had rocked DC fanboys’ world by announcing no less than ten superhero movies over the next five years — the rumor mill got churning once again as an extra on the set of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Ridiculous Movie Titles leaked to a local reporter that Hunger Games star Jena Malone had been cast as Robin in the 2016 blockbuster, reuniting her with Sucker Punch director Zack Snyder. Though it has yet to be confirmed, the internet lit up with excitement at the prospect of seeing the first female Robin1 depicted on the big screen.
While I’m all for more gender diversity in what is so far a very testosterone-heavy cast, the fact that Carrie Kelly may end up in the movie is actually really disappointing to me. Mainly, because I’m tired of Frank Miller.
Look, I know The Dark Knight Returns is one of comics’ sacred texts. Fans have been clamoring for a live action adaptation of this influential story for decades. And Miller’s other seminal mid-80s Batman tale, Year One, is probably my favorite Batman comic ever. Still, in the last three decades since the twin towers of TDKR and Year One were published, we’ve had seven live action Batman movies, and to paraphrase this brilliant piece by Abraham Riesman on Vulture, each of them “has paid fealty to Miller’s ’80s tales.” And frankly, I’m ready for someone else’s version of Batman2.
Ever since Batman v Superman was first teased at San Diego Comic-Con in 2013, Snyder and company have been adamant in saying that they were not doing an adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns. But then they brought out Harry Lennix (General Swanwick from Man of Steel) to read this passage from The Dark Knight Returns — in the same announcement — and then revealed a pretty Miller-esque Bat symbol as part of the logo:
If that weren’t enough. One year later, Snyder returned to San Diego, this time with actual footage from the movie. And wouldn’t you know, it was like a Frank Miller comic come to life yet again:
If it turns out that Jena Malone really is playing the Carrie Kelly version of Robin, then further denials that Snyder is straight up doing a Dark Knight Returns movie won’t just be annoying, it’ll be dishonest because they’re totally doing a Dark Knight Returns movie. And if that’s the case, I don’t understand why they don’t just own it. Stop with the obfuscation and just rename the thing. Literally no one likes the current title anyway. I mean, DC already gave Snyder the keys to Watchmen, the other holy book from 1986, and they clearly believe in the guy enough to entrust their cinematic universe to him.
But the reason that the movie isn’t being called The Dark Knight Returns is because Warner is going all in on the fact that Batman v Superman is supposed to be dawning all of the justice and introducing all the superheroes. Despite being first to blaze the trail of comic book superhero movies — 1978’s Superman the Movie birthed the genre and 1989’s Batman revolutionized how these movies were marketed and consumed — DC has been playing catch up to the new superhero movie paradigm, i.e., the interconnected, multi-film, mega-franchise — ever since Sam Jackson’s Nick Fury showed up in Tony Stark’s living room after the credits rolled in 2008’s Iron Man.
And in this context, steeping BvS so heavily in Dark Knight Returns is even more of a head-scratcher. For starters, Returns is ostensibly a story about the end of Batman — at least until he “Strikes Again,” which he did in the book’s very underwhelming sequel published in 2001 — in which an elderly Bruce has to come out of retirement to deal with new menaces that have overrun Gotham City, but mainly because Bruce doesn’t know how to be retired. It’s like when Michael Jordan played for the Washington Wizards.
Anyway, the whole climactic confrontation between Clark and Bruce in Crime Alley actually means something in the comic because it’s wrapped up in decades of friendship, mistrust, regret, and opposing ideologies. That fight — Batman vs. Superman — meant something because it was going to be the end of the both of them. Bruce even says so as he’s pummeling Clark.
So having Harry Lennix come out to the rapturous throngs of the Comic-Con faithful and read that passage didn’t make sense then and still doesn’t make sense now. How do you use a story about the end of Batman as a launching pad for the birth of the DC Universe? It’s bad enough that the Batman they’re introducing in this film has no meaningful history to the viewers. Just because Affleck has been cast as an “older, more seasoned” Batman, his take on the character will still be completely new and will have to be introduced as much as anyone else in the film.
I’ve already discussed how the studio has already missed the opportunity to really deepen their cinematic universe by not tying Man of Steel into The Dark Knight trilogy, so I won’t go into that again here.
But mostly, I’m just ready for a different interpretation of Batman to be on the big screen. We’ve already had Christopher Nolan and Tim Burton give us variations on the Frank Miller Batman — even Joel Schumacher and the folks on Fox’s Gotham are presenting Miller’s Batman, just mashed up with the 1960s/Adam West-inflected version. Isn’t it time for different storylines and interpretations of Batman to take center stage? There are plenty of great writers and artists who have redefined the character in the three decades since Miller was the be-all3.
Why not give Paul Dini and Bruce Timm a shot at bringing a live action Batman to the cinema? Hell, Batman Begins only scratched the surface of Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams era Batman before diving headlong into Miller. Why not adapt the sprawling “Knightfall” story arc from the early 1990s? Or how about anything from Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker’s run on Batman or Detective Comics (you know, because adapting a Brubaker arc did pretty well for Marvel)? How great would Scott Snyder’s Black Mirror or Court of Owls arcs be as a standalone Bats movie?
The point is there is more to Batman than two comics that came out thirty years ago. And many of them would make way more sense to launch a cinematic universe than Dark Knight Returns.
- First historically, if not canonically. ↩
- Michael Keaton recently said he’d be willing to don the cape and cowl once again if Tim Burton were brought back to direct. So why not give them the TDKR adaptation instead? It’s the only way that Dark Knight Returns makes sense. Meanwhile, I’ll take literally any other version of Batman in my movies, thank you. ↩
- The other thing that’s changed in the last three decades is that Miller was revealed to be a racist jerk. So there’s that. ↩