The Dark Knight Returns….but what comes next? We’ve got a few ideas.

News recently broke that Warner Bros. would be shifting their schedule by pushing back two of Ben Affleck’s upcoming projects: the Gavin O’Conner directed The Accountant and Affleck’s next directorial effort Live By Night. The Accountant‘s release has been bumped back from it’s original release date of Jan. 29th, 2016 – to a more box office friendly Oct. 7, 2016. Where as Live By Night, which was slated to start shooting this November, has been pushed into 2017 with no concrete date revealed.

This announcement comes on the heels of a supposed crew screening for Batman v Superman, in which director Zack Snyder was said to have been met with a standing ovation. If this is to be believed, it’s not a stretch to assume that WB wants to lock Affleck down for more Batman projects, beyond his confirmed stand-alone film. Hence their announcement that his other commitments have been pushed back to potentially allow him some time to wallow in Gotham’s underbelly.

We know little about Affleck’s new Batman film aside from the fact that it would draw inspiration from co-writer Geoff Johns’ (also currently the DC Chief Creative Officer) Batman: Earth One graphic novel. The Earth One imprint exists outside of the current comics continuity, allowing creators to tell a wide range of stories without fear of stepping on other writer’s toes, as well as sidestepping the buildup of mythology that may seem too intimidating for new readers.

In that vein, Johns’ Batman: Earth One is very much a new take on the classic origin, featuring a more grounded and interconnected Gotham. We’ve already seen elements of this story infiltrate the current DCEU, as BvS‘s Alfred, played by Jeremy Irons, is seemingly directly lifted from this story, both in look and in back story.

Affleck’s age and his status as the Dark Knight imply that perhaps this story will have to be presented in a different light and set farther down the timeline. So don’t expect a direct adaptation, but rather a recreation of the graphic novel’s connected nature. This sounds potentially frightening, as we’ve seen with the rise of films whose villains and plot are forcibly linked to their protagonist, ie. Amazing Spider-man 2. But if executed properly we might witness a very different sort of Batman story. And that’s what we want, right? But then- what comes next?

A good friend of mine pointed out that eventually, like Marvel, DC will have to resort to adapting classic story-lines rather than just presenting a mash-up of familiar elements. We saw this done with Winter Soldier, which was integrated seamlessly into the MCU without losing the core elements of the original story. So I figured I’d examine a few notable arcs from Batman history that might hold the key to Batman’s cinematic future.

But I did so with specific criteria in mind:

1. They have to be different- containing elements we haven’t seen before. Sorry Harvey and Bane.

2. They must fit the direction of the DCEU. This is less about wish fulfillment, and more about the state of the characters and the history established.

3. They can’t be the Killing Joke. Because fuck maiming Barbara. And the text is viewed by some as both the first and last Joker story so it doesn’t quite fit. Although evidence, mainly teased images by Jared Leto, suggest that material from the Killing Joke is very much in continuity.

The Good (Fight)

Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 4.58.47 PM
Batman: The Court of Owlswritten by Scott Snyder and drawn by Greg Capullo.

Note: For simplicity’s sake I’m condensing both parts of this story under the banner of “the Court of Owls”, despite the second volume being titled City of Owls.

What it’s about: The Court of Owls was the first Batman story-line at the time of DC’s newly launched “New 52”.  It features the Dark Knight forced into a corner upon the discovery of a secret organization whose presence and power in Gotham have gone untouched for hundreds of years. It’s a tale of fear, whispered rumors and what happens when both Batman and Bruce Wayne become targets of something they don’t understand.

Why it works: This arc works within the context of the DCEU because it’s very much about the history of Gotham and it’s relationship with Batman. We know Affleck will have already spent a considerable amount of time under the cowl when we meet him in BvS, so what would be more frightening than the realization that he hasn’t been in complete control the entire time. Court of Owls is also very much a detective story, cutting to the essence of the original character and secluding him within the walls of his own paranoia. Court would also allow for some great new locales around Gotham that we haven’t seen realized on screen. It has action, suspense and formidable new villains. Which would be the greatest pull for a cinematic entry in the Batman franchise. And like the Marvel films, it would display a unique tone that would allow each subsequent Batman film to feel worthy on it’s own.

What would have to change: Honestly, not that much. Certain characters would have to be changed, and perhaps the more comic-book heavy elements would be subdued, but the story as a whole is very solid. Although you wouldn’t be able to call the film Batman: Court of Owls, so a new title would be needed.

Standout scenes (spoiler free): Batman at the edge of sanity, forced to walk through a subterranean labyrinth and confront past and future horrors. A massive siege on Wayne Mansion that culminates in the depths of the bat-cave.

The Bad (Guy)Screen Shot 2015-08-13 at 5.01.07 PMBatman: Under the Red Hood – written by Judd Winick and drawn by Doug Mahnke, Eric Battle and Shane Davis.

What it’s about: Jason Todd, a former Robin, returns after previously thought murdered at the hands of the Joker. His reappearance pulls all those previously involved back into a mystery of chaos, consequence and the event that started it all.

Why it works: The more I thought about it the more I realized that this would be the perfect Joker story to tell given the events that have already transpired in the DCEU. By adapting Under the Red Hood you’d be able to also tell the “Death in the Family” story and have it’s events directly pay off in the present. Jason Todd aka Red Hood is the living manifestation of the war between Batman and the Joker, and ultimately is reborn their bastard son. We already know Harley Quinn in Suicide Squad feels remorse for her involvement in Robin’s death (we don’t know which Robin though) and has become estranged from the Joker.

Bringing the Hood into the fray would be a great way to effectively utilize all these pieces. It would shake the status quo and call into question Batman’s brand of justice.

What would have to change: It’s still unclear as to which Robin is dead in the DCEU but I think either would work effectively for this story. Also take out Ra’s al Ghul, been there and done that.

Standout scene: A role reversal that would be chilling to see on screen.

The Ugly (Truth)BVSJLA: Tower of Babel – written by Mark Waid and drawn by Howard Porter

Note: Okay, it has JLA in the title, but hear me out.

What it’s about: Tower of Babel details the fallout of what happens when Batman conceals records on all the Justice League’s strengths and weaknesses in case he were forced to face them. These records are then stolen and used to dismantle the League and leave them power-less.

Why it works: This one needs a little explaining and admittedly would need to come after the Justice League films, logistically. But I’ve always loved the concept that despite being a part of the League, Batman is still very much a loner, and understands that his teammates could at any time present a problem, not only to himself, but to humanity as a whole. Obviously the material here could just as easily be at home in a Justice League film, but given how the story hinges on Batman’s paranoia, I think it would make for a terrific tether to the DCEU as a whole while remaining a Batman-centric story. This could arguably be DC’s Civil War , with Batman on trial for his alleged crimes against the League. It would also present the perfect excuse for the inevitable question of “Why didn’t you just call the Justice League” with them out of commission for a portion of the story. The results would impact the status quo and call into question Batman’s place on the team.

What would have to be changed: Again, the villain here is someone we’ve already seen on screen in the Nolan films. Though this story-line could easily be adapted for most villains. And some of the ways the League is dismantled could be references to events or instances in the earlier DCEU films.

Standout scene: The Justice League seen through the eyes of Batman.

Obviously there are plenty of Batman stories beyond the three mentioned above that could serve as adequate adaptations. Part of building a successful cinematic universe is accepting the audience will invest themselves in the world building, and having the material echo that same level of confidence. Above all else I hope that these upcoming Batman films distinguish themselves from Nolan’s work, offering a different look at the character from a focal point that hasn’t yet been explored.

As always we would love to hear your thoughts and ideas for the stories that you think would make great adaptations. Please do so in the comments below or contact us on twitter!