R**** or R*****? Part 2: Who Is BATMAN Really? [Spoilers]

The following story once again discusses The Dark Knight Rises in very, very specific detail. If you have not yet seen The Dark Knight Rises and do not wish to be exposed to any plot details as they pertain to the future of the Batman franchise on the big screen, you’ve been spoiler-warned … again.

Go on. Git. You cannot legally or ethically hold us responsible if you’re reading these words, much less the ones right below.

So, Bruce Wayne is Batman, you say.

Launch a $200 million dollar Batman movie that does not include his origin as a central plot element, you argue.

That summarizes not all but a great deal of the reader response to our thoughts Monday on how Warner Bros. should approach the post-Christopher Nolan/next phase of Batman’s life on the big screen, with the majority opinion seeming to answer our question – “Robin or Reboot” – with the latter.

But we do see eye-to-eye on some things. Most comics readers seem to agree Nolan has told a Bruce Wayne-Batman origin story (if not the “definitive” one) and that likely no one wants another Bruce Wayne-Batman origin story in our world’s cine-mega-3D-IMAX-plexes for the foreseeable future.

But this is where our common ground turns into a fork in the road. Some seem receptive to the idea we advocated in part 1 – a new film series set in Nolan’s version of Gotham, telling the story of “Robin” John Blake’s journey as Gotham’s new Batman (or Nightwing as a compromise … but that’s a discussion for another day).

  Most others, however, seem to prefer to dismiss the closure to the Bruce Wayne story Nolan’s Batman trilogy provided (poor, poor Alfred) and reboot, with Bruce looped back into service as Gotham’s protector in perpetuity, in new feature-length adventures that mostly ignores why Batman is Batman.

Or in other words – a movie with Batman instead of about Batman. More on that in a bit.

Now that’s not to say there’s anything wrong with stories that feature Batman as the central character as opposed to being about Batman. Batman inhabits a vast, rich world built over decades featuring dozens of worthwhile supporting characters and antagonists, with enough familiar toys and trappings to literally fill encyclopedias. His origin is a part of our pop culture lexicon and certainly people can bring that knowledge to any story featuring the character.

But we also have literally thousands of stories just like those in comic book form, and hundreds more from various animated series, a live-action TV show, multiple video games, and even a few feature films.

The question is, can Warner Bros. center a new tent-pole movie franchise expected to generate over a billion dollars an installment worldwide around an episodic story approach?

They could in theory. James Bond – a comp often cited by ‘Bruce Wayne is Batman’ advocates as the model Warners should follow – has followed that formula to varied success since the 60s. The problem, however (and no offense, 007 fans), is James Bond has never really been a flesh and blood character. He has little by the way of “origin” other than a seeming unwavering dedication to Queen and Country. The franchise has always been about girls and guns, villains du jour and their evil plots.

To Batman fans, we say, be careful what you wish for. Isn’t Batman more than a cowl and a car … much more than just a foil to Clayface and Killer Croc?

How can one champion a big-screen Batman story without his origin? Batman is nothing if not all about his origin. More than “being” Bruce Wayne, Batman is in his essence a man driven by his parent’s death by the hands of criminals. Without that element central to any story, he’s just a guy in crazy costume, regardless of name.

Removed from his origin he’d no more be the focus of a story any more than the detectives and prosecutors of your various Law & Order are to theirs. What Nolan understood is the protagonist must enter and exit a story fundamentally affected and changed by its events. His Batman story featured a beginning, middle and end (like all good stories should) for Bruce Wayne.

Batman is too great and valuable a fictional figure to be bound by dogma and sentenced to meander through countless (and weightless) episodic “adventures." At least the feature film version of him is; where the stakes are bigger, audience expectations are different and a pay-off is required.

What this all means is Warner Bros. has at their fingertips a means to continue to tell true stories about Batman … about a tortured soul driven to fight the forces that took away his life… and the events that lead him to his ultimate damnation or salvation. Wholly new and unique stories that would be 100% Batman, that don’t simply remix Nolan’s epic or the countless versions of the familiar story we’ve all heard a thousand & one times before, or ignore those stories and come off as somehow smaller and lesser for it.

So the question is this: is Batman really best realized in a feature film as a familiar figure whose every reason for being can and should be left unspoken, and whose own fans never want to see changed? Or is the Batman all about that moment that drives his purpose and his journey to overcome the forces that control his life?

  So Bruce Wayne or Robin Blake?

We can revisit Bruce's story again and again at any time, in countless forms. We already know the ending of his story, and/or cherish his lack of one.

The story we don’t know, however, is Blake’s. We don’t know where it goes, who it involves, or how it ends.

And isn’t that really the point of a story..?

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