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How Dark Will the Next Dark Knight Be?

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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