The Dark Knight Returns... Or At Least His Car Does

MoviesOkay, for all the criticism I regularly heap onto the “fanboy” population, I hereby prepare to show my own membership card. I’ve been a fan of Batman pretty much my whole life. As a child, I would read the comic books constantly — I first learned to draw by trying to copy those artists. I used to watch the old Adam West/Burt Ward television series (in reruns, thank you — I’m not that old) religiously, and even caught the associated movie on the big screen (at the little theater on the Air Force Base where I used to live). I made sure to wake up bright and early every Saturday morning to watch Superfriends (never realizing that “Robin” and “Shaggy” were one and the same). I remember reading in high school about the intention to make a new Batman movie — bringing the character more into line with the darker image of the character from the 1970s — only to see those plans fall flat.

And then came Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. I remember seeing the ads for the new “graphic novel” miniseries, and not being particularly excited about it. After all, I was about to head off to college — I thought I’d long since outgrown my superhero phase (okay, so I still harbored a none-too-healthy Star Wars obsession, but I eventually got past that as well). My younger brother, however, picked up the first two issues, and started raving about them. My curiosity got the better of me, and I gave them a read.

Oh, my god. Here was a creator who had taken what was a completely two-dimensional character — the stuff of children’s fantasies — and given it adult depth. Of course, he also perfectly captured the essence of the Reagan era, with satire that became all the more evident in hindsight. No longer was Batman a carefree billionaire playing at being a superhero, but a psychologically scarred, obsessive lunatic — as vicious (if not as lethal) as the “criminals” he pursued (Miller was the first to draw attention to the inescapable fact that Batman is himself a criminal). Gone were the silly gadgets and outlandish plots; the theatrical had been replaced with the practical — if still a tad larger than life.

Miller followed his tale with his vision of the character’s “origin story,” Batman: Year One, but by now, the ball was rolling again in Hollywood. Tim Burton built on the groundwork Miller laid to craft his own vision of the character — and with the mind-boggling success of Batman, the character had successfully been revived in the public consciousness.

But, of course, it was at best an unfinished job. Burton took substantial liberties with the character, even more so in his follow-up effort, Batman Returns. And then, as if completely forgetting what had led to the character’s resurgent popularity, Warner Bros. handed the reins to Joel Schumacher, who proceeded to turn Batman back into a campy joke with Batman Forever, and finally killing any commercial viability the franchise may have had with the crapfest that was Batman and Robin.

Well, as it turns out, Warner’s thinks there might be some life in the old boy yet. And — wonder of wonders — it looks like they’ve decided to do it right, or at least try. They started by bringing in Memento director Christopher Nolan to helm it, from what sounds like a well put-together script by Dark City scribe David S. Goyer. The cast includes Christian Bale as the titular hero, with Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, and Gary Oldman along for the ride.

I’ll admit to being more than a tad skeptical, but I am looking at this with... guarded optimism. They’ve effectively decided to go back to square one, rather than building on the Burton and Schumacher films. And as such, they’ve opted to title their new project Batman Begins. A little cheesy, perhaps, but we’ll see what they come up with. Details are few right now, but the movie’s official site has just opened. At the moment, the only thing on the page is a corroded-metal bat logo; beyond that, the only actual content is two photographs of the new Batmobile. I won’t say it’s perfect — I will confess to a particular affinity for the late Anton Furst’s designs for Burton’s first Batman movie. But it’s clear that they’re thinking about how a practical Batmobile would come into being. Basically, Bruce Wayne has “appropriated” a prototype military vehicle from his own company. A little far-fetched? Maybe. But a hell of a lot less implausible than pretending he built the whole thing in his Batcave garage. And it’s clearly more influenced by Frank Miller’s “urban tank” design than the 1960s “tail-finned” look.

They’ve still got a long way to go, but I’d say they’re off to a promising start.


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