Sunday, July 06, 2008

The eagerly anticipated sequel to 2005's Batman Begins arrives in cinemas July 18! Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight promises to follow-up on the critically acclaimed grounding that made Begins and international success, and one of the most revered comic book adaptations of the past decade!

Key to the success of the new franchise was a process of design that took inspiration from some of Batman's greatest tales, and reconsituted them into a modern, streamlined retelling.
The Killing Joke, Dark Knight Returns, The Man Who Falls, and the original works of Bill Finger [and Bob Kane] have been some of the much appreciated namedrops, but more crucially evident on the screen are cues taken from Batman: Year One, The Long Halloween, and Dark Victory, all highly revered tales detailing the early parts of Batman's career.

The presence of David Goyer as script writer ensured many of these cues, but full kudos goes to Christopher Nolan for his deliberate approach and reverence for the material, and recognition of the need to recruit someone familiar with the source. In anticipation of this latest instalment, featuring the much publicized debut of the new Joker (Heath Ledger), we're running down some of the materials you might like to familiarize yourself before seeing The Dark Knight!

Batman: The Long Halloween #3 (February 1997)
"Christmas" Loeb/Sale

Previews suggest the Joker will be out to unify the criminal element in Gotham City, defiant in the face of changing winds brought about by Batman's stand against the city's corruption.

Looking back on Long Halloween, one can't help but wonder if that alliance between clown prince and mobster might not be destined for breakdown, as was the thematic throughline of the Jeph Loeb/Tim Sale maxi-series. Here, Gotham is divided by the defining rise of the "freaks" who eventually came to far outnumber the conventional gangsters that once made up Batman's villain base.

This particular feature highlights the tensions between Joker and one Harvey Dent - the man destined to become Joker's counterpart as Two-Face! Expect the rivalry to be retained as this dastardly duo comes to occupy split screentime in The Dark Knight!

Batman: Dark Victory #3 (February 2000)
"Toys" Loeb/Sale

With a throughline of fear giving Batman Begins a solid arc; Scarecrow debuted against all odds as perhaps Batman's greatest onscreen villain! Not bad for a character never before realised in live-action!

Nolan and Goyer borrow occasional visual cues from Tim Sale, ie; Scarecrow going horseback; but otherwise there's not a lot shared between the film and Dark Victory versions of the character.
Not that that's really a criticism given the very specific curiosities of Loeb's rhyming villain, and the tactile version seen in Begins.

Before you witness the fate of Cillian Murphy's character in The Dark Knight, check out how Scarecrow handles the chase when Batman comes looking for him one fateful Christmas!

Batman #619 (November 2003)
"Hush: The End" Loeb/Lee

Few could have anticipated the sheer accuracy with which actor Gary Oldman would portray his befuddled detective, James Gordon. The man destined to become Comissioner is given all the life necessary as the emergence of the Batman gives him hope in a city of corruption.

The relationship developed between Bale's Batman and Gordon becomes increasingly important as a triad of justice is formed between the Bat, Gordon, and newly appointed District Attorney, Harvey Dent [played through to it's logical conclusion by Aaron Eckhart].

While the details of Hush might not reflect the Long Halloween inspired relationship between Gotham's law enforcers, this Jeph Loeb story does bring home the intertwined relationship between three different men, all trying to make their world a better place in different ways, using different facades.

Batman: Gotham Knights #49 (March 2004)
"Fear is the Key" Johns/Castillo

Christopher Nolan's Begins universe has distilled the qualities, factors, and characters of the Batman franchise to some of their most admirable qualities, but that's not to say there aren't advantages to be found in the comic book medium!

It's my hope the mass acclaimed of The Dark Knight will attract would-be readers to seek out some of these more positive stories, although, one might argue the legwork will whittle their numbers!
Writer extraordinaire, (and Loeb studio-mate), Geoff Johns, explores another side of the Scarecrow character that's emerged through various modern incarnations. Here; Jonathan Crane is a man whose fascination with fear has stripped the emotion of it's mystique and visceral effect. A creature without purpose, the Scarecrow pursues the attentions of the Batman like an adrenaline junky!

Batman Begins (June 2005)

Finally, before you see The Dark Knight there's every chance you'll want to go back to where it Begins.

With the number of superhero adaptations still relatively few compared to their monthly sources, it's popular practise to rank them. For my money, Batman Begins has to just about be one of the best, even with it's arguable room for improvement. Other movies have captured the aura of their characters, or adapted story and visuals with faithful vigilance, but few have covered every base so well!

Among the film's many charms, the use of two previously unrealised villains; Scarecrow and Ra's Al Ghul. It's the latter that's featured in our previous review, which highlights the benefit of strategic adaptation. One wonders if Nolan will ever dare venture into the mythology of the Lazarus Pit; or if he'll simply leave the ambiguity of the death as license for those who would ask more.

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