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Will Warners Reboot Batman?

My spidey-sense is tingling. Word on the rumour mill is that we’ll know next month if Christopher Nolan will be making a Batman trilogy, or simply leaving it at a duology. There’s all manner of discussion about what will happen if he isn’t back – but I think it’s looking increasingly like we may be moving away from the Zack Snyder’s The Dark Knight Returns approach, which means a new Batman movie relatively similar to the last two (because nothing succeeds like success). But part of me is wondering what the plan is beyond that. Are we going to see a direct sequel or a reboot? Would Warner Brothers reboot Batman so quickly?

Not only the director we deserve, but the the director we need right now...

Before you dismiss the notion as rubbish, keep in mind that Fox is already rebooting a superhero franchise kicked off this millennium, The Fantastic Four. And – though those movies sucked – they made a lot of money, so not commercial failures. The approach to the X-Men franchise is not quite a reboot, but you could term it a relaunch – the launching of separate, continuity-light films all but unrelated to the original trilogy. So there is precedent for that style of radical approach.

And, while losing a director doesn’t mean you can’t have a direct sequel – as Brett Ratner swapped out for Bryan Singer on X-Men III – I reckon that DC may acknowledge the difficulty their films have had with this approach. Not withstanding what happened to the Superman movies after Richard Donner left, even Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns didn’t function as the direct sequel to Donner’s work it had been intended to be. The Schumacher films (Batman Forever and Batman & Robin) live in infamy as successors to the Burton films (Batman and Batman Returns) for a very good reason.

There’s another factor which makes me curious about Batman’s future on film. It’s the recently announce “Earth One” series of graphic novels DC are launching. apparently DC have realised that a long convoluted continuity is alienating the sorts of people who would be interested in reading these sort of books – they feel locked out. Well, either that or DC saw the success of Marvel’s Ultimate line and wanted in. Anyway, the big thing about these titles is that they will be graphic novels rather than monthly comic book series. So, instead of buying twelve issues of a comic once a month, you’ll buy one twelve-chapter graphic novel once a year. Apparently it works for manga – which is what the kids are into these days, or so I’m told.

So basically, they plan to condense the stories down to a format which is big in scope, but doesn’t require encyclopedic knowledge of 75 years of backstory to appreciate – updating these heroes for the modern world. If that format sounds familiar, it’s because it’s the format of every comic book movie ever. While I think it’s great to launch a series of books with the characters which are accessible to new readers, part of me remains skeptical. The Marvel Ultimate line – essentially the same concept, but with monthlies as opposed to comics – has by this stage created a continuity almost as complicated as mainstream Marvel. Sales leave it somewhat ambiguous as to whether it’s even a move as newbie-friendly as this might reach new audiences or simply sell to the core audience. It has been suggested that the sales figures for Blackest Night might be a glass ceiling – an indication of the largest possible comic book audience. There are only so many geeks in the world.

Being honest, part of me wonders why – particularly if they are going to be graphic novels rather than comic books – they don’t just scrap continuity completely? Comics get entangled. It happens. And books being intertangled prevent people from engaging. Take, for example, the utterly confusing decision by DC to compliment the biggest comic book film of all time with a convoluted plot in which the character dies in the climax of a three-year on-going arc. Seriously – I see The Dark Knight, I want to check out a comic and that is what’s going on? Some of the best and most successful stories take place “out of continuity”, which is a fancy way of saying you don’t need to do a tonne of reading understand what the hell is going on. Think of The Dark Knight Returns or Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? or even Arkham Asylum.

On the other hand it’s simply possible that a lot of people who watch super-hero films will never read super-hero comics.

So, how does this tie back to the movies?

Simple. The other defining feature of Marvel’s Ultimate line, aside from the rebooting and updating, is the massive influence that it has had on the way that the films are brought to the screen. The Incredible Hulk borrowed from Mark Millar’s The Ultimates, Samuel L. Jackson was (ironically) the original model for that particular line’s version of Nick Fury (played by David Hasselhoff elsewhere, as a point of reference) and the Spider-Man movies borrow heavily from Brian Michael Bendis’ work on Ultimate Spider-Man. The transfusion works both ways, with Mark Millar’s Ultimate X-Men inspired by Bryan Singer’s X-Men more than anything else. This line has a much more fluid interaction with the movies than mainstream continuity would normally allow.

An "ultimate" line-up?

I mention this because of two things. It has been suggested that (similar to September’s restructuring) Warner brothers is helping DC get its ducks in a row with regards to movie adaptation – it’s an area in which they are way behind the curve and their major competitors. It has been smartly suggested that a relaunched Superman, written by BAFTA-nominated J. Michael Straczynski (the writer of would-have-been Oscar contender Changeling), might be the next logical step towards a movie adaptation with a clean slate.

The other aspect represents another area where DC would probably be looking to catch up with Marvel – a team movie. There are rumours of a Superman cameo in the upcoming Green Lantern, and it looks like DC may actually have a long-term plan with their films. To take this back to the central issue – that of Batman and his next film – it is worth considering that Christopher Nolan has explicitly stated that his Batman does not share continuity with other films; he explicitly lives in a world without superheroes. I honestly think that that represents the best approach to the character, particularly with a mainstream audience, but I can see why Warner Brothers would want that cinematic heavy-hitter in on the inevitable Justice League team up flick.

Which means they have to divorce Batman from Nolan. Part of me thinks that when Nolan leaves it might be just as easy to begin intigration with a wider DC universe then – so he starts overlapping in the fourth film, for example, which would imply that he actually predates the more spectacular DC characters. This has the added benefit of meaning that Nolan gets to be right about his character (he is the only superhero – while the films are set), but also meaning that it isn’t necessary to reboot the movies. On the other hand, a reboot may make more logic sense and do exactly what it’s intended to do: clear a cluttered continuity.

I don’t know, but I’m skeptical. It’s logical to assume that Batman and Superman are merely headlining the Earth One series because they are the two most iconic of the DC heroes, but there’s something odd about the timing of all this. It’s announced a month before Christopher Nolan tells us whether he is return to Gotham for a third (and likely final) time and while the next big DC film property – Green Lantern – enters production. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear a rake of movie announcements from DC in the coming months, including confirmation of the long-delayed Flash movie and possibly even a Wonder Woman project.

Though I may just be dreaming. I’m a guy who likes his connections and his logic and the idea that everything makes sense – it’s entirely possible, given the past of the company, that DC is moving around in disjointed movement like some sort of headless chicken.

I don’t know. At this stage, I’d be happy just to know if Nolan will be back – either way.

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