Friday, April 26, 2013

The Next Batman

In case my writing about why I'm naming my son Link wasn't nerdy enough for you, today I'd like to share my thoughts on what I'd like to see in the next series of Batman films.  It's kind of sad that my memory for dates and events in my life is so shoddy that I have to use the Batman films as reference points to when things occurred.  I'm serious.  (The James Bond films also serve the same purpose.)  If there were no movies about the Caped Crusader, and you asked me when I moved from my parents' house to a tiny basement apartment in East Stroudsburg, it would probably take me a good handful of minutes and maybe an abacus to give you an approximate date.  But there are Batman movies, thankfully, so I can tell you rather quickly that it was January of 2009, which I remember as the January after The Dark Knight came out.

A lot of my earliest memories involve Batman.  I remember begging my mom to buy a VHS copy of Scooby Doo meets Batman and Robin as a child.  I still have the first Batman toy I ever got, an 18 inch tall blue-and-gray masterpiece my mom bought for me at FAO Schwarz in New York.  And I can still fondly recall acting out scenes from the trailer for 1989's Batman in my friend's yard with such clarity that I could go to his parents' house now and show you where I was standing when I said, "Is there a six foot bat in Gotham City?"  Needless to say, Batman is, was, and always will be a big part of my life.  Naturally, I have opinions on what I'd like to see in the new film series, so now you get to read them!

The Sci-Fi Villains

I love the Christopher Nolan series of bat-films and his for-the-most-part feasible take on a Batman that could possibly existed in the real world.  The harder-edged 'realistic' Batman seems to be in vogue now, so much so that when the excellent cartoon series Batman: The Brave and the Bold was in production, adults were complaining on internet message boards that the show was bullshit because it would be too lighthearted and fun.  I didn't think I'd enjoy the show before it debuted, but I thought the arguments of these so-called grownups were ridiculous.  Without a Batman that's accessible to (and enjoyable for) children, there wouldn't be a next generation of bat-fans.  Once the show aired, I found myself enjoying the hell out of it and catching as many episodes as I could.

I think the next series of movies can find a middle ground between the two differing takes on Batman.  Part of what made the Nolan films so great was the focus on Bruce Wayne as a person who has to deal with the emotional, as well as physical, risks of donning the cape and cowl.  This kind of focus on character is a necessity, in my opinion, and the lack of it in the 90s Batman films is part of why they feel so hollow.  The recent slew of awesome Marvel flicks has proven that characters can be portrayed with realistic emotions and traits while existing in a world where fantastic things frequently can (and do) happen.

The Batman has always fought his fair share of Sci-Fi and fantasy type villains.  One of the earliest stories published featured Batman hunting down a vampire.  And much like every other action/adventure series from the 1940s, the comics featured lots and lots of mad scientists.  Considering the large list of rogues that Nolan couldn't work into his series and the technology available to modern filmmakers, I think it's high time we get villains like Man-Bat and Killer Croc into the films.  And how awesome would insane battles with Clayface be?

Since the new Batman will almost-assuredly be fit into the 'DC film universe' that will be starting with Man of Steel, and since that shared universe will also include sci-fi heroes like Green Lantern and possibly even a justification for Aquaman's existence, it wouldn't make sense to try to do another Batman film set in what could be our own non-super-powered world.  Plus, comic book/movie fans deserve a take on Mr. Freeze that doesn't make them want to violently puke.

Robin!  Robin!  Robin!

I know, I know, some of even the most hardcore bat-fans hate Robin.  But you know what?  He was introduced into the comics about a year after Batman's debut.  He's an undeniable part of the canon.  And personally, I think he's cool.  Not "let's make him 'hip' by giving him an earring" cool, but just a neat character.  Also, there's four Robins (five if you count The Dark Knight Returns).  I think the new series should include at least three of them.  I'm not crazy.

Everybody's familiar with Dick Grayson, the original acrobat-turned-sidekick.  I don't think the new series needs to rehash Batman's origin or even touch Dick's (yeah, I wrote it like that on purpose) that much.  In the last season of the super-excellent animated series from the 90s, Grayson had quit being Robin and struck out on his own as Nightwing.  In the films, he should already be Nightwing, and perhaps we could get a little of the backstory as to why through flashbacks.  In the cartoon, he quit after witnessing Batman aggressively interrogating a guy who had worked for The Joker in front of the dude's wife and kid.  Moments later, on a rooftop (of course), Robin socked Batman in the jaw, ditched his mask and utility belt, and took off into the night, a sidekick no longer.  The balls on that guy!  Most of us get a little nervous when we have to tell our current boss that we got a new job.  Can you imagine telling freaking Batman that you quit?  And punching him in the face while you're at it?

For those who are only casual movie bat-fans, you may not know that Gotham's guardian took a second Robin, Jason Todd, under his wing, only to have the loose cannon little shit get murdered by Joker.  As if Bruce didn't already have enough of a guilt complex, now he's got yet another reason to brood.  Jason's death is perhaps Batman's biggest failure, and as such it lends a lot to his character.  I don't think we need Todd as a main character on screen, but his death should be touched upon as part of Bruce Wayne's character arc, and a reason why he'd be reluctant to train another Robin.

But reluctantly, training another Robin is what he ended up doing.  A Batman needs a Robin!  Tim Drake became the third (and my favorite) Robin.  Not being an acrobat, he was much less physically apt than Dick Grayson, but more importantly, we wasn't an overly-aggressive punk-ass like Jason Todd.  His greatest asset was his skill as a detective.  He could be just as much help to Batman manning the computers in the Batcave as he was helping him out in the field.  He took to his training well, almost always played by Bruce's rules, and even brought down The Joker by himself in Batman's absence.  Quite the lad!  I'd love to see the movies introduce Drake and show us his progress as he becomes Batman's protege.  His introduction into the films could serve as the catalyst to let the audience in on what happened with the past Robins, as well as give the filmmakers the option to explore the father/son relationship that develops between Bruce and Tim.

The costume designers of the next round of bat-films should feel free to do some tweaking of the Robin costume.  I love the way the costume looks in the comics, but watching a teenaged boy in live-action dodging rounds of machine gun fire wearing only a domino mask on his face might be uncomfortable.  The kid needs some head protection!

In the comic books, Drake eventually becomes Red Robin as a young adult, continuing to fight crime and apparently also opening a chain of burger restaurants with massive sandwiches that are delicious but usually give me a tummy ache.  This paves the way for the next Robin, Damian Wayne.  Notice the last name there?  It's not a coincidence; the boy is the son of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul.  That's right, ol' Bats knocked up the daughter of one of his greatest enemies.  The Vicki Vales and Julie Madisons of the world can vie for Bruce's affection all they want, but if you're not clad in a skintight costume and you don't occasionally try to kill him, Batman just won't be that into you.  Sorry, ladies.  He's a weird guy.

The inclusion of Damian would probably be one Robin too many in the new Batman film arc, and it wouldn't work at all if the filmmakers didn't plan on including the al Ghul family in the mix.  Obviously, if the film series continues on past a few entries they could choose to explore this part of Batman's story, but I feel that building up the Bruce/Tim team would be the way to go.

(I have about a years worth of Batman comics to catch up on, so if any of this Robin-realted information is outdated, I apologize.)

Supporting Cast of Characters

One of the elements of the Nolan series that I loved was that Jim Gordon, Alfred Pennyworth, and Lucius Fox were included as important characters.  These were fully fleshed-out supporting characters that functioned as members of Batman's team in his crusade against crime.  It also didn't hurt that such amazing actors (Gary Oldman, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman) portrayed the characters.  The films also included movies-only characters like Rachel Dawes and John Blake, which fit into Nolan's vision just fine, but also deprived us of other comics characters that I'd love to see on the big screen.

With Rachel, moviegoers did get to see a hint of Bruce trying to balance a relationship with his 'night job', but she was all about Harvey Dent, so we pretty much knew it wasn't going to happen.  I'd be interested in seeing the next silver screen Bruce Wayne trying to maintain a full-fledged romantic relationship while attempting to keep his secret life from interfering.  Someone like reporter Vicki Vale or even Bruce's fiancee from the earliest days of the comics, Julie Madison, could fill that role.  Obviously, such a relationship would never work out in the end, but would teach Bruce important lessons about the path he's chosen and the sacrifices that must be made.  Maybe he could even quit being Batman (which he's done about seventy times in various comics/cartoons/films) to try and save his relationship, leaving Nightwing and Robin (and Batgirl?) to try and fill the void of his absence until he inevitably returns.

I liked the MCU characters that were given some focus in The Dark Knight, but I'd really love to see my favorite Gotham cop, Harvey Bullock, on film.  Bullock is a rough-around-the-edges slob, gets frustrated with the restrictions of being on the side of the law-abiders, and also is not fond at all of Batman.  Overall, though, he's one of the good guys and quite an interesting one, at that.  Stick a good actor in this role and I'm sure he could do great things with it.  Whether he's used as comic relief or a more serious character to fuel conflict between Batman and the police department (or both), he'd be a welcome addition to the series.

One more supporting character that could/should be used is Dr. Leslie Thompkins.  In the 80s/90s series of bat-films, Bruce never seems to get injured that badly.  In Nolan's version, Alfred often stitches him up or, much to the trusty butler's chagrin, Bruce does it himself.  In the 70s run of Detective Comics, Dr. Thompkins was introduced as a friend and colleague of Bruce's parents.  She was there to comfort Bruce the night his parents were murdered, and she was aware that he became Batman, often helping him when for obvious reasons he couldn't go to a hospital to be treated for various bizarre injuries.  If Alfred is Bruce's father figure, Leslie was his mother figure.  She was always there to aid Bruce, but like most of our moms, was consistently warning him about the dangers of his lifestyle.  She also became inspired by Bruce, not to lean towards vigilantism, but to do her best to help out the impoverished children of Gotham in order to prevent them from leading a life of crime and in turn creating more victims for Batman to feel obliged to protect and brood over.  Her character could be used to show the ripple effect that crime and desperation, and Batman's role in Gotham City, has on the ordinary citizens.

These are just some of my thoughts on what could make the next series of Batman movies as good as the Nolan series, yet different enough that fans aren't subjected to imitation.  Agree or disagree, I'd gladly chat with anybody for hours about future bat-films.  Conversation is really all we have right now, because from what I've read, we most likely won't be getting another Batman film until at least 2017.  As eternally popular Northeast Pennsylvania favorite Tom Petty sang, "The waiting is the hardest part."  Yes, the wait can sometimes be excruciating, but it can also be a lot of fun.  The anticipation for the next big Batman blockbuster is part of the experience.  Until then, I've got comics to catch up on, toys to play with (uh... I mean... collect), and an ever-expanding shelf of Batman movies and TV shows to watch.  Now if only I could get my fiancee to set up an elaborate death trap for me every so often, I'd be set.

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