Batman’s origin is the best known in comics. But how many bad things can happen to one guy in a bat costume?
Another Origin Story
When a new superhero appears on film for the first time, the audience is usually treated to an origin story to establish how this character came into his or her powers and what motivates them to use their powers for good. People might know Spider-Man got his abilities after being bitten by a radioactive spider, but they don’t necessarily know that the death of his uncle and the lesson of “with great power, comes great responsibility” is what truly inspired him to help others. Superman’s alien biology may be the source of his powers, but his Smallville upbringing and loving parents are what make him fight for truth, justice, and the American way. A guy who’s great at archery needs less explaining than a guy with a nuclear reactor for a heart, but Avengers: Age of Ultron still provided a glimpse into Hawkeye’s family life and what motivates him. He probably just practiced a lot with the arrows.
An origin story makes sense for a first outing, when audiences are largely unfamiliar with a particular character. 2008’s Iron Man was most people’s introduction to Tony Stark, so his powers and personality needed to be established. But some origins are easier explained than others.
No character has been adapted more than Batman, and arguably, no character has a simpler origin story. A criminal killed his parents, so he hates crime and crusades against it with his massive inheritance. Say what you will about suspension of disbelief, but it’s an easier sell than laser eyes or a magic hammer. Which is why it doesn’t need to be rehashed.
The Batman of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a veteran crime fighter who’s been in the game awhile. Jeffrey Dean Morgan has been cast as Thomas Wayne so, parallel earths notwithstanding, Dawn of Justice is going to include the death of Batman’s parents in some form. Again.
Tim Burton touched on the death briefly in his 1989 Batman.
Christopher Nolan devoted more time to the relationship between young Bruce Wayne and his father in Batman Begins.
Audiences know the death of his parents is what sets Bruce Wayne on the path to becoming Batman, and for those who don’t, a few lines of dialog and a quick flashback are enough to deliver these elements of Batman’s history. 2008’s The Incredible Hulk started with an abridged origin story during the opening credits, allowing any unfamiliar viewers to catch up before jumping into a story where the Hulk already exists.
Dawn of Justice is a prime opportunity to utilize other major Batman storylines and introduce movie goers to less familiar aspects of the character. The film already appears to be borrowing heavily from the The Dark Knight Returns, with Ben Affleck playing an aging Batman. But with the spraypainted Robin costume, as well as the apparent Suicide Squad tie-in, Dawn of Justice appears to be adapting aspects of A Death in the Family as well.
A Death In The Family
A Death in the Family is a Batman storyline most famous for the death of Jason Todd – the second Robin – at the hands of the Joker (and comic book fans, who actually voted in favor of killing the Boy Wonder off). Following Todd’s death, Batman chose to distance himself from his friends and allies, becoming even more of a loner as he channeled his guilt and anger against criminals more obsessively than ever before. Adding the death of a Robin to Batman’s backstory in Dawn of Justice offers an explanation for why the Dark Knight prefers to work alone, and the destruction in Metropolis following Man of Steel gives him a reason not to trust Superman. The death of his parents started Bruce Wayne on the path to becoming Batman, but the death of Robin led to him becoming a different kind of Batman.
Dawn of Justice is likely to touch on Batman’s origin through flashbacks, and while the film doesn’t necessarily need to devote much time to the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents, the less familiar aspects will need elaboration. A Robin costume spraypainted with the message “HA HA HA JOKE’S ON YOU BATMAN” and set up as a memorial warrants explanation, and isn’t a plot point that can be so easily dismissed with a few lines of dialog. It’s a fresh addition for a film version of Batman, and with the influences from The Dark Knight Returns and A Death in the Family, the Batman of Dawn of Justice will provide a unique take on a familiar character.
The Wild Card
Some fans even suspect that Jared Leto’s Joker from Suicide Squad is actually the former Robin from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. While this is just speculation, Batman is slated to cameo in Suicide Squad and the two films will take place in the same universe, a universe where The Joker and Batman have a deadly history. After coming back to life courtesy of a dunk in a Lazarus Pit (chemical baths used by Bat-Villain Ra’s al Ghul to maintain his immortality), Jason Todd became The Red Hood, a murderous vigilante riding the line between hero and villain. A former Robin going rogue would provide another twist for subsequent DC films to build off of. If he were to assume the mantle of the Clown Prince of Crime, the dynamic between Batman and his arch-nemesis would be completely changed, with a Joker that is not only a monster, but a monster Batman indirectly created and is responsible for.
A veteran Batman offers many opportunities for film makers to draw from his history, without having to start from scratch. It’s unlikely that the Joker was the only criminal with a gimmick in Gotham, and if Batman has spent years fighting crime, he’s also spent years building an extensive rogues gallery. Once again there is the opportunity to use villains who don’t need to be built from the ground up. Once the Riddler leaves a few riddles at a few crime scenes, the audience will catch on. Batman has some of the greatest supporting characters and villains in comics, and while audiences have seen the Waynes get shot about a dozen times now, there are plenty of other great characters who can contribute to Batman films without having to die first.