How Dark Will the Next Dark Knight Be?

Dark Knight Moody

In the comics, the Caped Crusader does things no mainstream movie would portray

Can Ben Affleck play the modern Batman – not the Hollywood version of the Dark Knight, but the one currently appearing in the source material for the films?

The Batman of DC Comics was once just your run-of-the-mill superhero. He hit bad guys with his fists, feet and Bat-a-rangs. He had a Bat-hound. He appeared in print ads for Hostess Fruit Pies.  These days, he borders on the psychotic. He’s mean. He hates himself. And he’s been known to beat foes to a pulp, even if they aren’t as menacing as, say, The Joker or Bane.

In short, if Batman existed in the real world, he’d probably be locked up in a maximum-security prison, not cheered and called out for show with a yellow Bat-Signal.

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With his high-tech rubber armor and husky “I’m Batman!” voice, Christian Bale gave a reasonably comic-booky performance as a brooding Caped Crusader with enough of an arsenal to give the movie version of Iron Man a run for his money. But even he fell short of some of the stuff Batman gets away with in the four-color pages he calls his home.

Why? Since the 1986 publication of the four-issue miniseries “The Dark Knight Returns,” by Frank Miller, Batman has largely been portrayed as a nihilistic thug who does as he pleases, no matter the consequences. Miller’s series severed the character in blunt fashion from the campy images spurred by the 1960s ABC TV series in which Adam West portrayed Batman as a do-gooder Boy Scout who valued manners over punishment of criminals.

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In “Returns” and subsequent Miller “Batman” projects, the Knight is transformed from Dark to Unholy.  Take this example from “All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder,” a miniseries Miller started in 2005 (and has yet to finish): When Batman stops a would-be sexual assault, the criminal asks, “Why can’t I feel my hand?” Batman’s reply? “”It’s called a compound fracture, rapist. It’ll never heal. Not right it won’t. Not nearly right. You’ll remember me every time the air goes wet and cold.”

Not exactly the stuff of “Super Friends,” the 1970s Hanna-Barbera Saturday-morning kiddie cartoon in which Batman and Robin were prominently featured.

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Does Affleck have the stuff to take this on? Sure, he’s played Daredevil, a Marvel superhero who has his own horrific past, and he did a turn as a U.S. Senator with a dubious moral code in “State of Play.” But could he emulate these comic-book feats from recent Batman books?:

 *Batman and Nightwing #23: Grieving after the loss of his son, Damian (don’t ask!) Batman puts himself through four days of computer simulations of the fight in which the kid died and goes over and over all the alternatives he might have pursued to avoid the outcome.

*Batman #23:  Batman’s alter-ego, Bruce Wayne, loses a mismatch with The Red Hood Gang and is beaten with a mace, the blunt side of a pick-axe, and actual human fists (yes, some people still fight with those),and requires emergency stitching-up by his aide-de-camp Alfred Pennyworth.

*Batman Incorporated #11: Batman gulps down some Man-Bat serum (yes, it turns you into a human bat. Why do you keep asking questions?) and dons a massive metal exoskeleton in order to take on arch-villianess Talia Al Ghul and her League of Assassins.

Anyone who can do this stuff – whether it be Affleck or someone else – really ought to win an Oscar.

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  1. JoeR says:

    I should also mention that back in the late 30s, The Batman carried a a gun!

  2. JoeR says:

    I agree with Gary…Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams first returned Batman to his roots back in the 70s. And also made The Joker menacing again. (“5-WAY REVENGE”) Then there was the great run by Steve Englehart and the late, great Marshall Rogers. Batman has been “dark” for the past 40 years…longer than the kiddie-friendly period (primarily due to the Comics Code Authority) of the 50s and 60s

  3. Gary Ormsbee says:

    Get it right! The Batman was turned back into the Dark Knight Detective first by Dennis O’Neil & Neil Adams leading a host of other writers and artist portrayals of a street level Batman that wasn’t campy in the 1970’s.

  4. Gerry Wood says:

    Ben Affleck did not do justice to the Dare Devil role – that role is supposed to be a dark one as well. Batman is supposed to be well built, muscular, and very intelligent. That totally leaves Ben Affleck out!

  5. Wade Wilson says:

    I wish people would smarten up and realize how redundant a term ‘dark Batman’ is.

  6. G. Jardoness says:

    Just think of it!

    A sensitive Batman. A forgiving Batman. A pseudo-intellectual thinking-man’s Batman. A health-conscious, politically active, and environmentally-aware Batman. A Batman in a twelve-step program, seeking daily affirmation, hoping to spread nothing but love to all of Gotham. A Batman who sits down with Oprah or Dr. Phil, to discuss his feelings and the error of his ways…

    So send up the Bat-signal, your hero’s on his way.

  7. The mark of distinction between director Christopher Nolan’s “take” on Batman that which cast Ben Affleck in the role: Nolan’s Batman is “the Dark Knight” and Ben’s, “the Caped Crusader”. This seems small (even petty) but discursive.

  8. Jon Femser says:

    I couldn’t disagree more with your observations:

    “he borders on the psychotic. He’s mean. He hates himself. And he’s been known to beat foes to a pulp”

    None of the examples you cite from recent comics show Batman as ‘nihilistic,’ ‘self-hating,’ or, least of all, ‘thuggish.’ I think it’s a bit unfair to call the character ‘psychotic’ based on a storyline featuring the death of his child as the major plot element. Even in these stories he’s shown reviewing mistakes and planning and executing an attack against overwhelming forces. Hardly the behavior of a ‘thug.’ And I’m assuming the ‘beat foes to a pulp’ refers to his battle against the enemy who KILLED HIS SON!

    “I cite the comments/anecdotes from Miller’s work because – canon or no – it has come to be taken as representative of the character”

    Frank Miller’s portrayal of the character is an outlier. I can’t think of anyone else who’s characterization comes anywhere close to ‘thuggish.’

    ” I don’t think casual readers distinguish between “canon” and “non canon.” They just know about the stuff that gets the most media attention.”

    I agree, but ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ came out over a quarter of a century ago. Since then, Batman has been handled prominently by Paul Dini in the 90s cartoon and the last two video games,Tim Burton and Christopher Nolan in the movies, and Scott Snyder in the comics, and I don’t think any of those portrayals could be called thuggish or self-hating (Tim Burton’s Batman might well be borderline psychotic).

    And nihilistic? Never. He doesn’t kill, (except, again, in Burton’s movies) and strives for justice, even when it seems hopeless against Gotham’s corruption. If anything, he’s often shown as far more idealistic than he has any reason to be.

    And as one Twitter commenter observed, people should be less worried about Affleck’s selection, and more worried about the lack of a script.

  9. Brian Steinberg says:

    @fullmooncraze, I have been reading comics since 1975. I cite the comments/anecdotes from Miller’s work because – canon or no – it has come to be taken as representative of the character. Miller’s “Dark Knight Returns” has had repercussions on everything from the appearance of Carrie Kelley in recent issues to the way Green Arrow has come to be depicted. Why, the entire concept of Superman vs Batman comes out of the ending of “Dark Knight Returns,” I don’t think casual readers distinguish between “canon” and “non canon.” They just know about the stuff that gets the most media attention.

  10. I think Hugh Jackman, Ryan Reynolds, Deny Charlie, or even Ben’s buddy Matt Damon would do well. I like Ben I don’t think this role fits him.

  11. PS says:

    Why do you quote “All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder”? That series isn’t canon, it’s merely a re-imangining. As is Millers Dark Knight, that one is also not canon and merely a “what if” future scenario. Also Batman doesn’t just bet criminals to a pulp. He he has a moral code. He doesn’t torture or kill people. He doesn’t even let them die. Not even the Joker, his biggest enemy, the one who killed (at least for 20 years) Robin. You really should read a lot of comics before analyzing Batman. And not just the new 52 ones… read through his 75 year history to get the full picture.

  12. Andy Derksen says:

    Mr. Steinberg writes, “Since the 1986 publication of the four-issue miniseries “The Dark Knight Returns,” by Frank Miller, Batman has largely been portrayed as a nihilistic thug who does as he pleases, no matter the consequences.”

    I’m afraid Mr. Steinberg doesn’t know Bat-guano! Batman isn’t nihilistic, because nihilism is purely negative, without regard to actual justice, and expecting only destruction. That isn’t Batman; he’s actually pro-justice. His problem on a psychological level is that he’s become very cynical due to the underworld scum as well as the corrupt establishment he has to deal with. And he’s also become desperate to get criminals off the street. That cynicism and desperation lead him to extremes of violence which *he* doesn’t consider extreme but which, say, a police detective would be fired for committing.

  13. Arnie Tracey says:

    So so (can you say hackerino) prose : With his high-tech rubber armor and husky “I’m Batman!” voice, Christian Bale gave a reasonably comic-booky performance as a brooding Caped Crusader with enough of an arsenal to give the movie version of Iron Man a run for his money.

    What does that even mean?

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