20 Batman Stories Most Influential to "The Dark Knight" Trilogy


The Long Halloween (1996)

This story by Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale again, which takes place early in Batman's career (Gordon is still a Sergeant, and Dent is not yet Two-Face) makes for a perfect jumping off point for The Dark Knight, not only because of its setting, but also because of its serious, grounded, Godfather-influenced tone.

Say it with me now:

The Long Halloween is the modern canonical version of Two-Face's origin story, which has him, Batman and Gordon working together in secret as a trio to take down Gotham's most powerful mafia family. The book also contains several confrontations between Joker and Harvent Dent, both pre and post scarring, which is the inspiration for the idea of making Joker responsible for Two-Face’s creation, though this story sticks to the original origin story of mobster Sal Maroni throwing acid in Dent’s face during trial; an act referenced in The Dark Knight via a Maroni thug pulling a gun on Dent inside a courtroom.

The Long Halloween’s influence can even be seen in Batman Begins. Carmine “The Roman” Falcone is a major Gotham player in the story. At one point, he begrudgingly allies himself with supervillains like Scarecrow in order to get rid of Batman. This is certainly reflected in the movie, and an image of Scarecrow from the book makes it into the film.

Plenty more are seen in The Dark Knight. Though their contexts got shuffled around, the movie references a lot of the scenes in the book, like the burning of the mob’s money stash or the trio meeting on a rooftop to discuss how to best take down the mob.



The Killing Joke (1988)

When Alan Moore wrote this arguably definitive origin story for the Joker (he was a failed comedian with a pregnant wife who died in an accident right before his own), many fans did not appreciate the idea of giving the character a backstory—Joker's origin had always been kept mysterious, which adds to his unpredictability—a complaint they repeated a year later when Tim Burton’s movie came out and gave him the name Jack Napier.

Unlike Burton, however, Moore wrote himself an “out” in The Killing Joke, when Joker at one point claims that he doesn’t remember his life before his accident very clearly, and that if he were to have a past, he prefers it to be multiple choice. It’s a brilliant stroke that renders the flashback in the book unreliable and reconciles all the different interpretations of him. Was he a gangster? A poor sap comedian? A clown with an abusive father, as he told Harley Quinn in the graphic novel Mad Love? It doesn’t matter. Joker doesn’t care, and neither should you, because it has absolutely nothing to do with who the character is now. This interpretation is carried over to Heath Ledger’s Joker, who spins plausible lies in his “Wanna know how I got these scars?” anecdotes.

The plot of the book also figures into The Dark Knight. In it, Joker tries to prove that all it takes for even the most upstanding citizen to go mad like him (and Batman) is one bad day, by shooting Barbara Gordon in the gut and taking nude pictures of her to torture her father with. Joker has a similar logic in the film, when he uses the two ferries plot to prove that society will eat itself to survive. In both scenarios, the human spirit ultimately proves Joker wrong.



Batman #1 (1940)

To bring Batman's arch-nemesis to life, Nolan went all the way back to his first appearance ever, where he is a mysterious maniac who robs and kills for his own amusement. In this Golden Age story, Joker’s robberies hit the mob’s intended targets and he becomes a wanted man for them as well as the law. This rogue villain aspect is adapted into The Dark Knight, where Joker’s robberies directly target mob-operated businesses.

The story also has Joker fulfilling his threat to kill a Judge by disguising himself as the police chief, which the film pays homage to by having him wear a policeman's uniform while trying to assassinate the Mayor of Gotham.



The Man Who Laughs (2005)

A lot of the more brutal aspects of Ledger’s Joker, however, bears more similarity to this grisly “remake” of Batman #1, named after the great 1928 silent film in which the permanently-grinning main character Gwynplaine was the original inspiration for the Joker’s iconic look.

Telling the definitive modern-day first meeting of Batman and Joker, writer Ed Brubaker retells the same story with a level of violence we’re now used to with the modern version of Joker. The story does away with the robbery aspects of the original and instead opens with Gordon investigating an abandoned building filled with mutilated corpses—victims of Joker’s trial-and-error experiment in developing his signature laughing gas. The story then progresses with the same plot as Batman #1, with Joker threatening to kill prominent Gotham citizens one by one, but this time on TV rather than over the radio. The scene where Joker kills a newscaster on camera and introduces himself to the world is reminiscent of him doing the same thing in The Dark Knight.



Joker’s Five-Way Revenge (1973)

Batman #251 marked an important turning point for the Joker. The 1950s saw the character veering wildly off-course from his original intent, thanks to the era's painfully prude Comics Code Authority that very strictly regulated violence (among other things) in comic books. Joker became little more than a silly prankster who annoys Batman with goofy heists and traps. In the 60s, despite the popularity of Cesar Romero’s campy portrayal on TV, Joker was rarely used at all in the comics, before finally disappearing completely for several years. Dennis O’Neill and Neal Adams gave the character a deserving comeback with #251, in which Joker escapes from a mental hospital (Arkham Asylum was not part of Batman lore yet, at the time) and goes on a revenge-fueled killing spree against his former henchmen for rolling on him.

The Dark Knight’s opening where Joker engineers the deaths of his own henchmen is influenced by this story, but a more overt reference is made in the middle of the film, where Joker kills three people—Commisioner Loeb, a Judge and a Batman impostor—through drink poisoning, explosion and hanging; the same way he kills three of his henchmen in Five-Way Revenge. My only regret is that Nolan was not able to adapt Joker’s final kill in the story, which involves feeding a man to a shark, and sees Batman subsequently breaking said shark’s spine with his handcuffs.

Arya Ponto • Contributor

As former Editor of JPP, Arya likes to entertain peeps with his thoughts on pop culture, when he's not busy watching Battle Royale for the 200th time. He lives in Brooklyn with a comic book collection that's always the most daunting thing to move with, and writes for Artboiled.com.


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