Entry for August 11, 2008: Why the Dark Knight shouldn’t return

Batman and Robin in one dark future
Frank Miller's Dark Knight

With this summer’s spate of mostly successful movie adaptations of comic book superheroes (Iron Man, Incredible Hulk, Hellboy 2: the Golden Army, and especially Dark Knight), many fans have demanded that Frank Miller’s dystopic Dark Knight Returns (DKR) be made into a live-action movie. However, here are my top 10 reasons why it shouldn’t be done:

1. It’s dated. Although Watchmen may prove that a film making sociopolitical commentary using metahumans set in an alternate 1980s can be successful, DKR is filled with parodies of people such as President Ronald Reagan that may not resonate with current audiences. Not everyone has fond memories of the end of the Cold War and urban vigilantes such as Bernie Goetz.

2. Its influence is already pervasive. As a move away from the campy Adam West television show of the late 1960s, DKR‘s grim approach to the caped crusader has been cited in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman, numerous comic books (especially Mark Waid and Alex Ross’ similarly apocalyptic Kingdom Come), and even Batman Begins. Comic book writers have broken Batman’s back and are about to kill or retire him, however temporarily. A live-action version would almost be redundant at this point.

3. It has already been done — in animation. Episodes of The New Batman and Robin Adventures and the more recent The Batman directly alluded to Miller’s work, and the cyberpunk Batman Beyond owed its aged but still-determined Bruce Wayne to DKR. The Dini/Timm cartoons successfully balanced the detective, martial artist, and superhero aspects of Batman.

4. It could be done better — in animation. Warner Brothers’ direct-to-video efforts, including Justice League: The New Frontier, Batman: Gotham Knight, and the upcoming Wonder Woman, have been faithful to the source material and not constrained by effects budgets or live-action’s need for realistic style. Also, they’ve been free to pick and choose from DC Comics’ admittedly convoluted continuity, while a blockbuster movie could define the character — for good or ill — for a generation of potential fans.

5. Frank Miller is overrated. Although DKR is widely regarded as a classic graphic novel, his sequel, DK2: Dark Knight Strikes Again, wasn’t as good, and his All-Star Batman and Robin has been misogynistic, over-the-top camp (ironically, what DKR was supposedly turning away from) and not shipped on time. We’ll see if his version of Will Eisner’s classic masked gumshoe The Spirit is more of the same or truly innovative storytelling.

6. Other Frank Miller works are better. I’ve been impressed at the faithfulness of the film versions of his original noir crime drama Sin City and quasi-historical epic 300, and I’d love to see cyberpunk samurai story Ronin done well.

7. It would conflict with Christopher Nolan’s films. In terms of box-office returns, Warner Brothers will likely weigh this over the other considerations. Although similar in many aspects to DKR, Batman Begins was more directly based on Miller’s restrained Batman: Year One, just as Dark Knight owes much Batman: The Killing Joke and Long Halloween. Nolan has constructed his own version of the Dark Knight that eschews camp for psychological sturm und drang.

8. Other superheroes deserve some attention. As much of a Batman fan as I am, I’d like to eventually see well-done versions of Green Arrow, Flash, Aquaman, and Green Lantern, among other DC heroes. Why should Marvel have all the fun?

9. Why destroy a universe when it’s just being built up? With live-action Superman, Wonder Woman, and Justice League projects stalled for the moment, a deconstruction of the DC pantheon before it has been filmed seems premature at best, and self-defeating at worst.

10. It’s not my favorite incarnation. As I’ve noted before, I’ve enjoyed various versions of Batman in comics, television, and film, but I’m particularly fond of the 1990s animated series led by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini. There’s certainly room for multiple interpretations of Batman, such as fan film Batman: Dead End (just as with his fictional precursor Sherlock Holmes), but we should remember that the hyperviolent, armored warrior on crime is but one of them.

This is just my personal preference, and I realize that many people will strongly disagree with me, but such passions demonstrate how much life the 70-year-old character still has!