Franchise Retrospective: How Batman Became DC’s Biggest Hero Pt. 2

In this installment, we examine the strong start to a new era of Batman with highly anticipated sequels to the video game and movies, and how Warner Bros. might have steered too far into the land of the Dark Knight by announcing a new Batman film series just a year after one ends.

Like how a Stark must always be on the throne of Winterfell, a Batman must always be in development at Warner Bros.

Batman: Arkham City, 2011

batman arkham city

At the height of this gritty darkness phase was the release of Batman: Arkham City, a sequel to the highly popular video game Arkham Asylum. Warner Bros. took out a massive marketing campaign for a year and spent $10 million dollars including two tie-in CDs with one featuring 11 original songs inspired by the game. The campaign looked to reach a wider audience outside of superhero stories catering to a wide array of gamers. With the public reaction of The Dark Knight still on audiences’ minds and the anticipation for The Dark Knight Rises set for release in 2012, it was a perfect storm to make Batman: Arkham City more than just a video game but a massive hit.

The game received universal acclaim when it was released and was praised for its gameplay and story. It was one of the fastest-selling games in history, selling two million units in its first week and it was tied for the highest-rated video game of 2011 on Metacritic with The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Arkham City’s massive success contrasted with DC’s failure to launch another one of their superheroes, Green Lantern. Released in June 2011, Green Lantern was set to be the DC version of Iron Man and kick-start a new universe. However the movie received poor reviews from critics, was a box-office bomb, and had a notoriously bad tie-in video game. This further cemented that Batman was the king of DC Comics and Warner Bros. was about to go all-in on Batman, not just the character but also tonally what he had shifted.

Batman: Year One, 2011

batman year one

October 18, 2011, was essentially THE Batman day, as Arkham City was released the same day the animated film Batman: Year One. Based on Frank Miller’s popular graphic novel of the same name, Year One has served as a major inspiration for creators of Batman media from Nolan on Batman Begins to Matt Reeves on The Batman. The direct-to-video adaptation would mark a recurring trend of DC, where Batman was the number one priority superhero for animated adaptations and they would begin a quest to adapt all the most iconic Batman storylines in animated form including Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (2012/2013), The Killing Joke (2016), Batman: Gotham By Gaslight (2018), Hush (2019), and The Long Halloween (2021).

The Dark Knight Rises, 2012

batman dark knight rises

For seven years, Christian Bale’s incarnation of Batman was THE Batman to the general audience. After The Dark Knight, even though everybody knew a third film would have to come, many were wondering what it would look like. Even Christopher Nolan was unsure exactly how to end this trilogy, as there was a four-year gap between this film and its predecessor, partially to allow Nolan to film Inception. Online speculation was abuzz with who the villain would be, with Riddler and Penguin being the number one names that kept coming up with wild fantastic ranging. The death of Heath Ledger ruled out the Joker appearing again, but also whatever villain was chosen would have some big shoes to fill. It was then announced that Tom Hardy would play Bane and Anne Hathaway would play Catwoman in the third film, The Dark Knight Rises.

Drawing heavily from Batman comics of the ’90s like No Man’s Land and Knightfall, as well as a fair amount of The Dark Knight Returns, The Dark Knight Rises does what no other version of Batman across comics, film, or television has been able to do, and that is to give him an ending. While a lot is said about Nolan’s films being dark, he is the filmmaker who gives the caped crusader a happy ending. One that does not need him to be Batman, but one where the idea of Batman as a symbol (a plotline first planted in Batman Begins) takes form in the final shot as someone rises to take on the mantle. This version of Batman gets a happy ending, and after the seven-year journey audiences took with this Bruce Wayne it felt right.

The Dark Knight Rises was a hit with fans and critics alike, although the reaction to the film was slightly more mixed than the previous two films. While the film is not as polished as the other two entries in the series there is a lot that still really works, mainly Tom Hardy as Bane and Anne Hathaway as Catwoman, both of whom stand as iconic versions of these characters. The film brought in $448 million domestically and $1 billion worldwide, but it was not the highest-grossing film of 2012.

The Dark Knight Rises likely would have been the biggest movie in any other year before 2012, but a franchise had been creeping up on the Dark Knight trilogy. The MCU and 2012 saw their grand experiment, The Avengers become a box-office sensation that grossed $1 billion worldwide, took the biggest opening weekend of all-time record, and was the highest-grossing film domestically and internationally. While The Dark Knight had beaten Iron Man in 2008, and the MCU follow-up films like Thor and Captain America: The First Avengers were moderate hits, the sheer spectacle of seeing various heroes unit brought audiences in, but the overall quality of the movie brought them back. Batman was still a major force to be reckoned with, but he now had some competition. With Nolan’s trilogy over, DC now needed a new major franchise and they figured it was time to infuse their other biggest hero with the winning formula that made Batman a hit.

Similar to The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises can’t be discussed without a level of tragedy. A midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises on July 20, 2012, saw 12 people killed and 70 people injured during a shooting at a theater in Aurora, Colorado. Warner Bros. decided not to report the box-office for the film until the weekend was over out of respect, and star Christian Bale visited the families of the victims. This tragic real-world event had an impact in a number of ways. Warner Bros. had theaters pull the trailer for Gangster Squad as it featured a scene where a group of gangsters shoots up a theater, and the film was delayed to 2013 to reshoot the sequence. The series Beware the Batman was delayed to make the firearms look less realistic. Following this event, midnight showings became a thing of the past and movies started their first screenings at 7 pm on Thursday nights. While that was never stated as the official reason, The Dark Knight Rises was one of the last movies where the midnight show was the first screening of a film.

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, 2012/2013

batman dark knight returns

Following Batman: Year One, The Dark Knight Returns was a major adaptation of a beloved graphic novel by Frank Miller. The Dark Knight Returns has essentially been THE source of inspiration for Batman filmmakers since it was published, as it has been cited for many as the moment where Batman shed the more goofy aesthetics of the 1960s (that isn’t true, the 70’s run by Denny O’Neil and Neil Adams was partially responsible there) but for many, this was ground zero for the modern notion of Batman. The adaptation was released in two parts, with Part 1 hitting on September 25, 2012, and Part 2 on January 29, 2013, with the two combined in one film on October 8, 2013. The storyline was about to get a major push of attention as in July 2013, Zack Snyder announced Batman V Superman using a quote from The Dark Knight Returns and the Batman logo was the same logo from the comic.

Injustice: Gods Among Us & Injustice 2, 2013 & 2017

batman injustice

Injustice: Gods Among Us was released on April 16, 2013, which was less than a year after the release of The Dark Knight Rises, and Injustice 2 was released on May 11, 2017, just a few months after The Lego Batman Movie and a few months before Justice League.

While the game features many DC heroes, Batman is arguable the center hero of the story. Even above Superman, whom Injustice imagines as breaking bad and succumbing to the ‘one bad day’ concert of The Killing Joke, DC and Warner Bros. go out of their way to maintain Batman as the moral center. His character always remains ‘good’ and on the morally right side, while Superman the ever-lasting symbol of hope and optimism is the one who becomes an evil dictator. There is certainly something to be said about how it sort of seems like the writers are breaking the characters when one imagines Batman’s status as a normal human would likely make him the one to go over the edge, but the goal is clear: make Batman THE quintessential hero of the DC Universe.

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