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


Catwoman: The Dark End of the Street (2001)

For so long, the portrayal of Catwoman has always been someone who’s nowhere near as bad as any of Batman’s other villains, but still only does things for her own gain. In the rare instances where she’s part of the good guys, it’s because of her complicated relationship with Batman, rather than her own moral compass. This changed quite a bit when writer Ed Brubaker, with artists Darwyn Cooke and Cameron Stewart, started a long-running noir-tinged Catwoman series in 2001. In the first issue, we see Selina Kyle coming out of hiding and returning to Gotham without a purpose in life after having been legally declared dead. Wracked with a mini personality crisis, Catwoman has a talk with Batman, who urges her to recognize her potential to be a good person. After a bit of soul searching, Selina’s new mission as Catwoman is that of a protector to all the working girls and various residents of Gotham’s seedy East End district. Though abbreviated, this vaguely-reformed version of Selina is the one Anne Hathaway plays in The Dark Knight Rises; her helping of Batman to defeat Bane sets her apart from previous live-action interpretations of the character that only cast her as a sultry villain.

In this series, Selina is supported by her friend Holly Robinson and tough guy private eye Slam Bradley. Holly is a character created by Frank Miller in Year One to be Selina’s sidekick of sorts. There, she was an underage runaway taken in and cared for by Selina. When Brubaker reintroduced Holly and reunited her with her old guardian in the first issue, it was as an adult who serves as Selina’s closest friend and occasional accomplice in her cases. This adult version of Holly is the one briefly seen being played by Juno Temple in The Dark Knight Rises.



Knightfall (1992)

The scene in The Dark Knight Rises which got the biggest reaction from the audience I saw it with was, predictably, the breaking of Batman’s back by Bane. This is, of course, the most famous moment of the Knightfall storyline and a defining moment in Bane’s supervillain status. Ironically, it’s also the prime embodiment of everything that was wrong about this crossover. The entire Knightfall saga including its preludes, tie-ins and follow-ups lasted two years as DC milked it for all its worth, and made it a template for the direction of Batman comics all through the 90s—an era full of one crossover after another.

I hated Bane as a concept. At least, in his original incarnation in Knightfall. There was no real mystery or motive to him, and he seemed to have been created purely as a plot device. The Bat-office wanted a reason to sideline Bruce Wayne, so they created a new villain who’s both a tactical genius and ridiculously strong to facilitate this. Throughout Knightfall, Bane wants to break Batman and take over Gotham... just ‘cause. He leaves Bruce Wayne a paraplegic, ending his career as Batman, and then promptly gets beaten by Batman’s replacement to usher in a new era. That is the entire character’s reason to exist, as a stepping stone for another new character.

Knightfall saw the creation of Jean-Paul Valley aka Azrael, who starts out as a new ally being trained by Batman and Robin, but then assumes the Batman mantle when Bruce is recovering from his back-breaking outside the country. Certainly, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s John Blake character in The Dark Knight Rises is partially inspired by this, at least in the idea of someone else taking over, but there’s a significant difference. The movie’s passing of the baton is meant to be a bittersweet ending, while Valley was actually supposed to be the new Batman. A high-tech armored, nastier, and willing-to-kill version, whose tenure was promoted by DC as the new status quo. The Batman editors admitted later on that they experimented with this idea of a new Batman in order to adapt to the booming popularity of dark and ruthless heroes that was dominating American media at the time, like Arnold Schwarzenegger's movies, for example. Fan reaction to Azrael-Batman was negative, however, and so DC paved the way for Bruce Wayne to heal from his injury and retake the cowl.

One of the consequences of Bruce’s decision to return to Gotham is Alfred’s resignation, unwilling to watch Bruce destroy his body further. Though the timing is shifted, Alfred basically says the exact same thing in The Dark Knight Rises during his resignation when Bruce initially puts on the costume again after 8 years of being away.



Secret Six: Unhinged (2008)

For all the reasons that I found Bane to be a boring villain, it was a real delight when writer Gail Simone received an ongoing series for the Secret Six—a team of supervillains she previously put together for a miniseries—and wrote Bane as one of the members. It created an opportunity to give the character new purpose and a new personality, away from his singular obsession of besting Batman in combat. On this anti-hero team, Bane’s characterization is that of a noble warrior trying to overcome his addiction to the drug Venom, and often serves as comic relief because of his ignorance on social customs, a side effect of growing up in a prison. When Bane's teammates set him up on a date with a girl he likes, he gives her flowers and chocolates and goes, “I wish to mate. Here are bargaining tokens they told me to purchase.”

Bane is also shown to be deathly loyal to his friends, and has a special relationship with Scandal Savage, the estranged daughter of the vicious immortal Vandal Savage. While Scandal isn’t a character in The Dark Knight Rises, this relationship is transplanted into a different daughter of an immortal villain: Talia Al Ghul, daughter of Ra’s Al Ghul. Like Secret Six Bane's relationship with Scandal, Tom Hardy’s Bane isn’t romantically in love with Talia, but he protects her and would sacrifice himself for her like a father or a brother.



Daughter of the Demon (1971)

In The Dark Knight Rises, the identity of Talia is made into a plot twist, with the alter ego “Miranda Tate” created just for the movie to preserve the surprise. If you’re wondering why they decided to do this, it’s because it’s faithful in spirit to Talia’s introduction in the previously mentioned Into the Den of the Death-Dealers! and this story, in which Ra’s Al Ghul appears for the first time.

As told in Batman #232, Batman returns to the Batcave and is surprised to find an intruder calling himself Ra’s Al Ghul. Ra’s tells Batman that his daughter has been kidnapped by a death cult and he needs Batman’s help to rescue her. After a globe-trotting adventure, Batman correctly deduces that the kidnapping is a hoax and he’s walking into a trap set by Ra’s. What he did not expect is the fact that Talia’s in on it—the whole thing a test by Ra’s to see if Bruce is worthy to be his son-in-law. Up until then, Talia had not been revealed to be a formidable villainess herself; in her previous appearance, she was a college student and a damsel in distress, who was shown to be visibly shaken after having to shoot her kidnapper Dr. Darrk dead. Daughter of the Demon, however, shows a totally confident Talia and has her as a part of the League of Assassins after all. The comics had the advantage of her being a brand new character in selling her as innocent, but The Dark Knight Rises had to invent a new name to keep Batman fans from knowing Talia’s true nature.

Ra’s willingness to make Batman his heir to the League of Assassins in this story also contributed to their relationship in Batman Begins, as Ra’s/Ducard grooms Bruce to become a leader within the League even without Talia’s involvement. Bruce and Talia’s unusual love for each other is saved until The Dark Knight Rises, where Bruce and Miranda take each other as lovers.



Legacy (1996)

The 90s saw the comic book industry obsessed with mega-crossovers that required fans to buy a bunch of titles just to get one complete story, usually centered on a cheesy disaster movie plot. One such stunt was the story in which Batman and his allies have to contain the spread of a deadly virus called The Clench in an event that seemed to be capitalizing on the popularity of the movie Outbreak.

It’s revealed that the creator of The Clench is none other than Ra’s Al Ghul, who has teamed up with Bane to unleash the virus to the rest of the world in order to cleanse 90% of the Earth’s population and restart a better society in their image from its ashes. This is more or less Ra’s plan for Gotham in Batman Begins, only with Scarecrow’s fear toxin instead, while the idea of Bane helping the League of Assassins by carrying on Ra’s plan is saved untilThe Dark Knight Rises. In both that movie and this story, Ra’s ultimately rejects Bane and casts him out; in Rises because Ra’s considers him a monster, and here because Batman defeats him in combat.

In the one-shot titled Bane that serves as Legacy's final chapter, released in 1997 to coincide with his bastardized appearance in Joel Schumacher's Batman & Robin, a cast-out Bane takes over a ship's nuclear power plant and plans to detonate the nuke in Gotham City as revenge for Batman foiling Ra's Al Ghul's plans. This chapter serves as the basis for Bane's nuclear device plot in The Dark Knight Rises.



No Man’s Land (1999)

The biggest of all the 90s Batman crossovers was this event that tells the story of Gotham being cut off by the US government following a massive 7.6 earthquake that leveled most of the city. This story lasted an entire year and spanned all the Gotham-based DC books, which ended up taking over 80 issues in total. The whole scenario in The Dark Knight Rises’ second half, with Gotham’s bridges destroyed, the national guard preventing anyone from getting in or out, and Gordon leading the remaining members of the GCPD as a gang of freedom fighters, are all things that happen in No Man’s Land.

Early in the event, Bruce Wayne leaves for Washington DC to beg the government not to cut Gotham off, and fails. Bruce’s spirit breaks as he thinks he has failed his city, and it takes him three months before he gets his act together and returns to Gotham to do whatever he can. In his absence, others try to maintain order and tags walls with the bat symbol to feed the legend of the dark knight, warning criminals that the Batman will return. The Dark Knight Rises does the same, but uses Bruce’s back injury as the reason for his three-month absence. The spray painted bat symbols in the comic, which replaces the bat signal as Batman’s calling card, shows up in the movie in the form of chalk drawings, and in one flashy scene, as a giant burning symbol in the sky.

What No Man’s Land had the luxury of exploring that The Dark Knight Rises only briefly covered is telling the story of Gotham’s residents during this period of isolation, from the supervillains to the minor supporting characters, and even random citizens. With such a huge event, it’s a given that not all of the stories are worthwhile and fillers abound, but some of them did stand out.

One of my favorites was Scarecrow’s tale, in which he’s taken in with a bunch of refugees in an abandoned church. It’s a great showcase for Crane as it proves that he became a master of fear not by cooking up a special gas, but by being a brilliant psychologist. Stripped out of his fear gas, Crane still manipulated refugees into a paranoid frenzy just by talking, completely in his element with people who are already somewhat afraid to begin with. The Dark Knight Rises doesn’t go into it all that much, but it does hint at this by having Crane show up in a cameo as the judge in a kangaroo court set up by Bane. Though his power is largely from having Bane’s army behind him, Crane is still seen taking pleasure in eliciting fear, by making them walk on thin ice across the Gotham river.



The Dark Knight Returns (1986)

When details of the third movie was scant, fans speculated that we could see an adaptation of Frank Miller's most famous work—the whole reason he is still being hailed as a genius despite his downward spiral—this beast of a story that was never intended to be canon (and isn't) but is nevertheless so influential to Batman stories for the decades since. That includes Nolan's, even back in Batman Begins, when he designed his Batman's Tumbler to resemble the tank-like monstrosity in The Dark Knight Returns.

The incompetent Batman impostors seen in The Dark Knight are also from this book. A band of former thugs inspired by Batman’s actions forms a group called Sons of Batman and uses guns to attack other criminals, which Batman quickly puts a stop to. The difference is that in the movie, Batman tells them to scram, whereas in the comic, he actually offers to train them as his disciples.

Miller's story concerns Bruce Wayne as an old man in his mid 50s, living in a future Gotham that has grown worse in the decade since he's retired as Batman, following the death of Robin. The Dark Knight Rises also starts with a retired Bruce Wayne, who hasn't been Batman for 8 years, following the deaths of Rachel Dawes and Harvey Dent. In a potent twist, Nolan's version of future Gotham isn't a dystopia, but actually prospering (in the surface, at least).

The main problem in The Dark Knight Returns is a new gang of brutes calling themselves Mutants, whose youthful strength provides a challenge for the aging Batman. Although Bale’s Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight Rises isn’t nearly as old, Nolan maintains that same challenge for Batman’s fight against the physically dominating Bane, by giving Bruce an unexplained leg injury that robs him of his peak condition.

The ending of The Dark Knight Rises immediately became a topic of debate among fans, some of whom insist that Bruce should have died at the end instead of pulling a fakeout. What do you know—the decision to have the last minute twist of Bruce being alive comes from The Dark Knight Returns, as well, though with a pretty interesting distinction worth discussing: Frank Miller wrote a happy ending for Batman, whereas Nolan gave the happy ending to Bruce Wayne.

Throughout the comic, Bruce keeps saying “This would be a good death... But not good enough,” which partly drives his return as Batman and subsequent punishment of his own aging body. At the end of a climactic fight in which the US government pits him against Superman, Batman suffers a heart attack and dies. Later at the funeral, though, a guilt-ridden Clark Kent catches a heartbeat on his superhearing and smiles, realizing that Bruce faked his death somehow and is now dedicating his life to being Batman 24/7, with his very own underground army to continue the fight. The comic ends with Bruce remarking, "This would be a good life. Good enough."

The set up to the death scene in The Dark Knight Rises is nowhere near as poetic, but it is there, in the form of Bruce’s death wish (“No, not everything. Not yet.”) and Alfred’s talks with Bruce about his hopes for a happy ending. Ending the film with an actual death may be the perfect way for the Batman's story to end, but for those who care to see Bruce Wayne finally win against the anger and responsibility that he's been struggling with for three movies, is it so bad to strike a compromise and let the hero die, so that the man may begin to live?



Batman the Movie (1966)

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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