Ever since the Dark Knight returned in 2012, fans and critics have been wondering if Bruce Wayne’s time as Batman is over. Is the Caped Crusader retiring from crime-fighting? Has he lost the will to fight crime? Is he looking to spend more time with his family?
For years, Hollywood has toyed with the idea of a retirement for Batman. In the 1980s, Mark Hamill, who played the role of Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars saga, stated that he believes Wayne will eventually hang up his caped gear.
“I think that Batman will eventually retire. Not because he’s getting old, but because he’s spent so many years doing this job. It’s time for him to spend more with his family and let somebody younger carry on the tradition,” he said in an interview with Playboy in 1985.
But as great as Hamill’s portrayal of Luke Skywalker was, the Dark Knight couldn’t stay retired for long. With the rise of computer-generated imagery and practical effects, creating realistic-looking robots (think C-3PO or R2-D2), it was possible to bring the cinematic heroes to life once more.
Then in 2010, The Dark Knight returned with a bang. Critics loved it and so did the fans. It was a commercial and critical success, earning over $700 million at the box office. This renewed interest in Wayne’s mysterious life as Batman has led to a major 2019 reboot of the franchise.
And in a surprising turn, it appears that Batman might be putting his crusader’s cowl back on one last time. Rumors are beginning to swirl that Warner Bros. is developing a Batman vs. Superman joint franchise. If that’s true, it could mark the beginning of the end for Batman as we know him. But is it really over for the Caped Crusader? Let’s examine the evidence.
Despite what you might have heard, the Batman vs. Superman cinematic event isn’t the first time that Warner Bros. has rebooted the Dark Knight franchise. Back in 2005, Christian Bale assumed the role of Batman for director Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight. While the 2005 movie is generally regarded as a good Batman effort, fans were unhappy with Bale’s portrayal of the Caped Crusader. Some even went so far as to dub the actor Batfleck.
“I don’t think that he’ll ever be able to put into words how he feels about being compared to the great Jack Nicholson. It hurt,” Bale told Variety in an interview about his reaction to the comparison. “I mean, come on! It is what it is. It’s an honor to play such a legendary character but at the same time it can be a little daunting…”
Even today, five years later, many fans and critics still have problems with Batfleck. It’s not just that Bale wasn’t asked to reprise the role. It’s that he allegedly stole scenes from the comic book version of the character. According to a recent New York Times profile of the actor, Warner Bros. held back substantial portions of the Batman script so they could fill it with more scenes featuring Ben Affleck, who became Batman upon Bale’s exit.
If Warner Bros. was trying to create an equivalent to the Jack Nicholson comparison, they certainly succeeded with Batfleck. Christian Bale stole many scenes from the comics, as the Times article points out, but they were all ones that fans wanted to see. Unfortunately, it seems that Warner Bros. and director Zack Snyder decided to scrap most of the scenes that were so popular with the audience and replace them with their own, dull imitations. As a result, Batfleck was widely panned by critics and fans alike.
No More Mr. Nice Guy
In the same way that Batfleck stifled the classic Batman, so, too, has the Dark Knight Rises. In 2013, Snyder returned to direct the final installment in the series. It was the story of a retiring Batman, Bruce Wayne, as he turned his back on his career as the Caped Crusader and retreated to a life of civility and family. In the movie, Bruce decides to forgo Batman’s usual fashion choices in favor of comfortable, plainclothes. He even goes as far as to apologize to some of his enemies, admitting that he’s “no longer the man that [he] used to be.”
The 2013 movie was a major departure from the previous installments in the series. Not only did it feature a more conventional superhero story, it also attempted to humanize Batman. In short, Snyder tried to make it seem like Bruce Wayne was just another regular guy, doing good deeds and keeping his city safe, not some Supervillain hiding in plain sight.
While the majority of film fans and critics loved the new, more humanized take on Batman, others weren’t quite as enthusiastic. The movie received mostly mixed reviews and currently has a score of 60% on Rotten Tomatoes. Still, even those that didn’t like it claimed that it was a significant improvement over Nolan’s The Dark Knight. Most notably, Empire Magazine named it one of the best superhero movies of all time.
The Silence Was Just Too Long
When it comes to adapting comics, silence is often worse than noise. The less said about an issue the more likely it is that it will live up to your expectations. With that in mind, let’s examine the most recent Batman comics to see if they live up to the hype.
The New York Times did a double-take when it came to reviewing Batman comics in 2019. In an article about the new trend of reviewing comics prior to their release, the Times points out that “[t]he industry has been reluctant to adapt to modern readership, clinging instead to the formulaic, frequently bland and poorly illustrated stories of yore.”
To the contrary, much of the Batman comics published by DC in the last few years have been best-sellers. Among these titles are Batman: Year One, Batman: The Dark Knight, and Batman: No Man’s Land, all of which were published in the last three years. (The Dark Knight comics, which continue from their television counterpart, have also been best-sellers.)
The Times noted that it was difficult to discern “the difference between the good and the great” in the Batman comics because of this trend. The reason why these books have been so successful is that they finally listened to the readers and provided what they were looking for. The comics turned out better than anyone could have imagined, surpassing all previous iterations of the character in sales and popularity. Fans have even started a petition to have these stories adapted for the screen. (As of today, the petition has over 23,000 signatures.)
The Road To Reboot
It seems that every few years, rumors begin to swirl that Batman is either retiring or getting ready to pack up and head to Bizarro World. While these rumors never seem to materialize, it’s clear that Warner Bros. isn’t afraid to reboot the Dark Knight franchise. As we noted earlier, Hamill, who played Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars saga, stated that he believes Batman will eventually hang up his gear. This could explain why, when asked by IGN if he’d return for a 12th Batman movie, the actor’s response was “Maybe not. It’s an unfortunate situation because I really loved doing that character. But at the end of the day, your business is your business.”
It certainly is an unfortunate situation when a beloved character’s popularity begins to wane. But perhaps it’s time for Batman to relax a little and take a break. After all, what good is a vigilante if nobody is afraid to walk the streets?