The Dark Knight Rises: 14 Essentials to Fully Appreciating the Bat Trilogy
*No Dark Knight Rises Spoilers ahead. Trust me*
Despite wanting to write a review as a tribute to the ultimate trilogy to hit the silver screen, there’re already a lot out there, and some excellent ones (Total Film, for example) too. Instead, I’ve decided to create a list to complement your Dark Knight Rises viewing experience. Essentially, this list is really for people who don’t get what all the fuss is about with Batman (or even comics in general) as well as those who cannot get enough of the Brothers Nolan Bat Trilogy and want to immerse themselves into it fully. To fully appreciate it, you have to go beyond the films and get into the source material, all that came before and made such an epic saga possible.
Written by Frank Miller (Elektra Lives Again, Sin City, 300) and illustrated by David Mazzuchelli (Asterios Polyp), this is one of the two must-reads on this list in order to truly appreciate the epic Dark Knight Rises and Brothers Nolan Bat Trilogy.
Batman: Year One opens with Bruce Wayne’s return to Gotham after eighteen years of preparation, simultaneous with Jim Gordon’s arrival after being reassigned to the Gotham Police Force as a detective.
Characters such as Catwoman (played stunningly by Anne Hathaway in The Dark Knight Rises) are largely based on how Selina is portrayed in this comic, and we see the relentless Harvey Dent suspected of being the Batman, and Maroni crime family both of which we later see in The Dark Knight. The artwork by David Mazzucchelli is simply perfect.
Frank Miller’s genius in recreating comic characters and breathing life into them, in such a way that readers see them in a totally new way without breaking from their character and storyline, is perfectly evident here. It was recently released as an animation in late 2011 by DC Comics Entertainment. See the trailer below.
If Joker is the moral opposite of Batman, and Bane is his physical match (or even superior) , Ra’s al Ghul is Bruce Wayne/Batman’s counterpart in every way. His name is Arabic for “The Demon’s Head,” and he is brilliant and wealthy, just like Batman. He knows his secret identity and sees Bruce Wayne as his protege (both of which we see in Batman Begins) and the perfect mate to further his bloodline with his daughter Talia. This collects the Lazarus Pit storyline which will give you an understanding of the relationship between Talia al Ghul and Bruce Wayne. Written by Mike W. Barr (Batman: Year Two, Batman: Son of the Demon) and illustrated by Alan Davis.
This collects the Vengeance of Bane mini series by writer Chuck Dixon. Here we are introduced to the terrifying venom-powered villain who was born and raised in hell on earth. Tom Hardy brings Bane to another level and is a worthy successor on a line of stellar performances: Jack Nicholson as the Joker, Danny DeVito as the Penguin, Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman, Liam Neeson as Ra’s Al Ghul, Cillian Murphy as the Scarecrow, and culminating with the late Heath Ledger as the Joker in The Dark Knight.
Written by Alan Moore (V for Vendetta, Watchmen, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, From Hell, etc) and illustrated by Brian Bolland (it took him two years to complete the artwork), The Killing Joke is the comic that is a milestone in the Batman omnibus.
The Brothers Nolan took Moore’s take on the Joker’s backstory and attempt to corrupt James Gordon and adapted it perfectly in The Dark Knight. Like Year One, Gordon is given equal importance to the Batman in this tour-de-force of a one-shot.
Written by Grant Morrison (We3, The Invisibles, Hellblazer, Batman RIP, etc) and illustrated by Dave McKean (Cages, The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish, Sandman), Batman: Arkham Asylum shows again why the Joker is not to be trifled with.
Not. One. Bit.
Here, the Joker has the Batman trapped in Arkham Asylum with all the other inmates he’s put away (Riddler, Ivy, Penguin, Clayface, Two Face, Croc, etc.)
Written and illustrated by Frank Miller, inked by Klaus Janson and colored by Lynn Varley, this occupies the top spot along with Batman: Year One for the position of Greatest Batman stories ever told.
The story takes place in the not-so-distant future. Bruce Wayne is in his sixties. Gotham is overrun by crime and corruption. Superman is a government agent, all the other capes are either exiled or in hiding. How can a sixty year old man in a mask clean up a city that likes to be dirty? No less go toe to toe with power personified? Sequences like the human bomb from The Dark Knight and the Gotham City power outage in The Dark Knight Rises were inspired by this award-winning comic.
If ever you read two comics to understand the whole Dark Knight Rises mythology and storyline, this along with Batman: Year One should be one of them.
Released in 1989 Batman was directed by Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, The Nightmare Before Christmas, James and the Giant Peach, etc) and starred Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader and Jack Nicholson as the Clown Prince of Crime. Jack Palance, Kim Basinger, and Robert Wuhl are great in this one too. The fantastic score is penned by Danny Elfman (a frequent collaborator of Burton and the one who wrote the Simpsons theme) and the soundtrack includes Prince. Unexpectedly, it works perfectly. The Brothers Nolan are able to more than match this with the duo of Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard.
After seeing Adam West and Burt Ward slug it out with campy special effects, embarrassing costumes, cheesy villains and gadgets and even cheesier storylines, Tim Burton decided to take a page out of the Batman’s evolution in comics and do the same for the film. Now it’s still a bit campy, but there are a lot of moments of genius in this movie. The scene where Joker stands in the middle of the highway waiting for Batman to come to him is paid homage to in The Dark Knight.
After the success of Batman, Tim Burton does the dreaded sequel and comes away with a win with Batman Returns. Although he didn’t really go anywhere, the title is probably is a tribute to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.
The World’s Greatest Detective faces off against businessman Max Schreck (Christopher Walken), the Penguin (Danny DeVito), and Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer). The haunting performances by the aforementioned showed the actors’ and director’s deference to the Batman universe, and sets the tone for the performances in the Brothers Nolan Bat trilogy.
Then the unthinkable happens. DC/Warner get greedy and basically spit in the face of Batman fans the world over. I won’t get into that or name he who must not be named.
Goes without saying.
Goes without saying as well.
Now you might be thinking, dear reader, “What? Comics and movies are fine, but an actual book? Screw you reviewer!” but seriously, this is essential to fully appreciating the epic that is The Dark Knight Rises.
Bat trilogy co-screenplay writer Jonathan Nolan handed Christopher Nolan the book A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens when they were setting out to write the story for TDKR with co-writer David S. Goyer. Read this classic and then watch the film, or vice versa, it doesn’t matter, you’ll be glad you did.
Most of the items on the list are for mature readers (a very vague and contradictory designation since we’re talking about comics) and I wouldn’t recommend parents to gift their twelve year old with copies of the items listed above just yet. I mean, go ahead and buy them, but don’t give it til they’re a bit older and can appreciate the book and not just have nightmares or delusions of grandeur. Especially if they’re boys. The last thing a parent needs is an emo prepubescent looking for tragedy in order to have an excuse to be a vigilante.
But a good way is to start them off with the animated series released in 1992. Created by Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski, the animation and art deco designs were ground breaking, and the voice casting was perfect. Kevin Conroy as Bruce Wayne/Batman (he’d change his voice just like Christian Bale would later on) and Mark Hamill as the Joker suited their characters to a T. After exploding into the hearts of geeks for playing Luke Skywalker, Mark Hamill revealed an astounding talent for voice acting and would be later cast in Avatar: The Legend of Aang.
The success of the animated series led to this animated feature. A brilliant story including a brand new villain and a backstory on how Bruce Wayne nearly did not take on the cowl. It features the voice cast of the animated series as well as a brilliant score by Shirley Walker.
Set in the distant future, Batman Beyond takes an alternate route from The Dark Knight Returns. Here, an aging and ill Bruce Wayne (still voiced by Kevin Conroy) takes a young hothead named Terry McGinnis (voiced by Will Freidle) under his wing after the latter discovers his secret and steals his hi tech bat suit.
The series lasts for three seasons and really pushes the sci-fi limit in the Batman universe. It’s also really cool to see the new Batman join the Justice League of the future. The series is later followed by other successful animated series in the franchise: Batman & Robin as well as Gotham Knights which includes Robin, Nightwing, and Batgirl. Pick those up too if you’ve still not gone batshit crazy.
For those who really want to really go above and beyond and truly RISE to the occasion of preparing for TDKR, three supplementary readings, Batman: Black & White, Batman: No Man’s Land, The Dark Knight: Featuring Production Art and Full Shooting Script and Batman and Philosophy: The Dark Knight of the Soul are worth picking up.
We in Manila salute the Brothers Nolan and everyone involved in the production of the Bat trilogy.
Got anything to add to the list? Leave a comment below.