Saturday, May 29, 2010

Hero of the Week 2010 #21: Batman

BATMAN (DC) (2009)
Real Name: Bruce Wayne
First Appearance: Detective Comics #27 (May, 1939)
Group Affiliation: Justice League
Gaming Credentials: Batman (1986); Batman: The Caped Crusader (1988); Batman (1989)Batman (1990); Batman: Revenge of the Joker (1991); Batman Returns (1993); Batman: The Animated Series (1993); Adventures of Batman & Robin (1994); Justice League: Task Force (1995); Batman Forever (1996); Batman & Robin (1997); Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000); Batman: Gotham City Racer (2001); Batman: Vengeance (2001); Batman: Dark Tomorrow (2003); Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu (2004); Batman Begins (2005); Justice League Heroes (2006); Lego Batman (2008); Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe (2008); Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009); Batman: The Brave and the Bold (TBR/2010)DC Universe Online (TBR/2010); Batman: Arkham Asylum 2 (TBR/2011)
Infinite Wars Ranking: #1

It'll be a busy few years for the famed Dark Knight Detective, with a full slate of video game titles like the highly anticipated unnamed sequel to Arkham Asylum (2011), the cartoon-inspired Batman: Brave and the Bold in September (2010), and full MMO duty as a feature hero nestled in the story-driven interactive world of DC Universe Online, also scheduled for the end of 2010. The big announcement spurring the Bat-franchise onward as our Hero of the Week must be a third and final feature film from director Christopher Nolan, who will juggle his time between overseeing production of a new Superman film, while closing the saga of Christian Bale's Batman.

It's interesting that, in announcing the new film, director [Christopher] Nolan felt the need to stress the finite nature of his vision of The Batman. I think it's fair to say there was always a sense of a short term bond between the filmmaker and this new interpretation of The Dark Knight -- which he so successfully brought to life in the film sequel of the same name. It has obviously been a very fruitful collaboration for creator and character, but it's in that sense of controlled distance that the strengths of Batman Begins and it's sequel have lied. Nolan -- the first to admit his ignorance of the complexities of Batman canon -- outsourced perspective from writers like David Goyer, who helped corral references from some of the best Batman stories, such as Batman: Year OneThe Long Halloween, Dark Victory, and The Man Who Falls.

With his collaborators in tact and a growing familiarity with the Batman world he himself created, Nolan moves forward with a confidence no doubt gained from the unprecedented success of his Bat-filtered crime thriller inspired in part by the canon of the stories mentioned above, and film sources such as Heat. The question now begs -- where does the Batman's creative custodians look to in their third and final instalment? I'm beginning to think it might be the most obvious, but least likely of places!

The influence of Frank Miller on the Batman character can be seen readily in both comic book and film, his stories Year One and The Dark Knight Returns rating among the most revered texts in the seventy year history of the legend. The latter can be described as having the most influence on the demeanor of the Batman, whose meticulous detective mind and ultimate human physique was taken to gruff, grim, and gritty new extremes, emphasising the internal aspects of Batman, his perspective of a literal war on crime, and bastardly penchant for out-thinking even the great Superman to morally victorious ends.

The difficulty of adapting the layered text of The Dark Knight Returns for film lies not in the Reagan-era politics that runs throughout the story, it's references to a DC Universe that were elaborated upon in it's comic book sequel, or even the splashes of uncompromising violence that would push the boundaries of the bloodless PG rating The Dark Knight was able to achieve.

As a direct adaptation; the story of DKR requires casting Batman in an almost villainous outsider role. It is a tale set in the twilight of Batman's career, continued in 2001's long promised sequel, The Dark Knight Strikes Again, but ultimately a story of the end of Batman, a Clint Eastwood inspired Dirty Harry-type in his golden years, fighting with very little to lose. For it's decidedly uncommercial and unfriendly perspective, it's the type of story that would rarely be accepted through the many tiers of red tape Hollywood films need to conquer to be written, produced, and advertised in the many franchised venues that inevitably follow. Nolan's Batman isn't just any franchise, however, and in stressing the next film as the end of his vision, I'm beginning to wonder if the sequel to The Dark Knight might not utilize it's financial and creative cache to bring the intent of The Dark Knight Returns to the film, if not the specifics of it's dressing.

The Dark Knight leaves us with a Batman wanted for the apparent death of Harvey Dent (a detail not quite set in stone by his literal and metaphoric fall from a great height) and willfully established as the outsider. In name and context, The Dark Knight readies audiences for a DKR-inspired film that might just achieve the impossible of realising this great story in a cinematic fashion. Superman is unlikely to appear. The Joker, established before his death by Heath Ledger, has been said to be omitted from any sequel plans, meaning that sub-plot of the comic might also have to be adapted in other ways, but the intent may remain the same. Which has me very excited about what might lie ahead, even if this is purely speculation. Whatever lies ahead almost certainly promises a big bang to close what has been the benchmark of these comic book adaptations.

The Dark Knight watches over Arkham Asylum with Gotham City looming ominously in the background.

Gamers no doubt look forward a very different sequel, one baring more in common with it's comic book counterparts, in the as yet unnamed follow-up to Arkham Asylum. The former game brought an even darker vision of Batman to home consoles, borrowing from a variety of sources, including another of the great Batman comic book tales unlikely to reach the big screen, Grant Morrison and Dave McKean's psychological thriller, Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth.

"Arkham 2" promises to bring Two-Face to the fore in a Gotham City bound dash for justice with the same hyper-stylized pseudo-realism of the first game. It's a steady contrast to stories unfolding in the comic books right now, where the afforementioned [Grant] Morrison takes Batman through the ages in Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne -- a follow-up to the apparent death of the character at the hands (or eyes) of New God of evil, Darkseid, in the end of DC's universe-spanning Final Crisis. In truth, Bruce Wayne was sent hurtling through time by the mysterious "Omega Sanction," the death that is many lives, each destined to end in ambiguous frivolity -- the ultimate punishment for a hero as controlling and obsessive as Batman!

These indulgent references, which typify Morrison's treatment of the character right through a run that features embellished tales inspired by the fifties bizarre of post-Comics Code Batman, are much more in keeping with the fantastical elements sure to be found in the Nintendo-exclusive adaptation of Batman: The Brave and the Bold. The game, based on the animated series of the same name, takes similar cues from the fifties, notably the garrish designs of many classic heroes and villains, sourced directly from the art style of early pencillers such as Dick Sprang -- who also influenced Frank Miller's burly visual take on the character in the Dark Knight Returns. Which brings us full circle, from film speculation, to comic book storylines, and the video games they have spawned!

If you're at all overwhelmed by this spiralling HOTW adventure, be sure to investigate the Batman's recent plight through, where you'll find information about the Return of Bruce Wayne and the still running exploits of former-Robin, Dick Grayson, who has filled in as Batman for over a year's worth of stories now. Likewise, follow links throughout this article to find more information on 1UP about each of the games discussed.

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