The Dark Knight Returns

As superhero movies go, few have been as highly anticipated as Christopher Nolan’s final outing as captain of the Batman franchise. The Dark Knight Rises received a level of hype and hoopla second only to the superhero Cobb salad that is Joss Whedon’s The Avengers, and now, finally, the long-awaited Friday has arrived. So once you see the movie, what happens if your eyeballs remain unquenched of their thirst for Gotham’s caped protector? With the future of the franchise uncertain, might we offer the alternative of returning to some of the printed source material from whence it came?

I’m no comic book expert, that much is clear any time I speak with the true comic literati. However, Batman is the one character I’ve read in-depth and he continues to be my favorite hero. While watching The Dark Knight Rises, I became antsy to go home and read some of my favorite stories. Below is a list of Batman comics we highly recommend that you tear into should a similar inclination grip you.

Be forewarned: the reason this article is titled as such is that some of these stories will spoil elements that comprise the surprises of Nolan’s film. See the movie first, then read…

The Dark Knight Returns

The Dark Knight ReturnsFrank Miller’s iconic tale supposes a future in which political pressures, and his advancing age, have inspired Bruce Wayne to retire from the mantle of Batman. Years later however, he is forced to don the cowl once more and recommence his nightly heroism as an old man. Granted, Bale is far from elderly in The Dark Knight Rises and therefore the initial appropriateness of this selection may appear dubious.

However, what “The Dark Knight Returns” is really about is Gotham being separated from its greatest champion for years and how the city reacts to his return. Given that TDKR takes place eight years after The Dark Knight, and derives much of its first-act drama from Batman’s absence from Gotham, you can see how reading this book will provide a bit more of that thematic flavor.

Year One

At the risk of seeming overly reverent toward Frank Miller, “Year One” is one of the best Batman tales ever written. It’s essentially an origin story so, again, its initial aptness for this list could be called into question. And indeed, much of the material cinematically mined from “Year One” ended up in Batman Begins and not The Dark Knight Rises. However, there is also a Catwoman origin story in “Year One” that, while somewhat controversial, lends some insight into the character that is mirrored in the way Nolan conceives her in TDKR; the relationship with Holly for example.

Also, “Year One” provides evidence of the unrelenting badassitude of Commissioner Gordon, bred from his Chicago roots. Given that he turns out to be such a vital and impressive figure in TDKR’s plot, orchestrating much of the rebellion against Bane, it’s nice to have some artful background on this testicular fortitude.

Knightfall

KnightfallIt would be categorically impossible to talk about the Batman books that inspired The Dark Knight Rises without discussing “Knightfall.” This was Bane’s coming out party, the story that laid the groundwork for Batman’s epic fall. Bane blasts a hole in Arkham Asylum and watches as Batman runs himself ragged trying to recover all the lunatics. Then, when Bats is totally exhausted both mentally and physically, Bane shows up and challenges his sovereignty over Gotham.

This violent battle results in Bane breaking Batman’s spine. Wayne must relinquish the cowl to another, who proves unworthy, and then must climb back from his injuries and reclaim his role as the caped crusader. The moment in The Dark Knight Rises when Bane lifts Batman above his head and drops him across his knee was like seeing the iconic image from the book brought to life. The film then also deals with Bruce having to recover and, more literally the figuratively, climb out of the hole in which he’s been thrown by Bane.

No Man’s Land

Batman No Man's Land“No Man’s Land” is actually the concluding arc of a massive collection of stories I’ve dubbed the “Time to Move to Metropolis Trilogy.” It begins with “Contagion,” in which Gotham is besieged by a plague that kills a large chunk of its citizenry. This is followed by “Cataclysm,” in which the city is all but leveled by a massive earthquake. So you cure a plague and then get rocked by an earthquake, that’s got to be the end of the city’s bad luck, right? Not a chance.

We then arrive at “No Man’s Land.” The destruction from the quake leads the government to isolate Gotham from the rest of the world by destroying all bridges. The city is then carved into territories by the inhabiting criminal elements. That isolation, that hopeless divorce from the outside world, is echoed in The Dark Knight Rises when Bane blows all the bridges to Gotham and sets up a tyrannical society within the city walls with himself as dictator. The appearance of the Scarecrow as a judge in Bane’s kangaroo courtroom echoed the terrifying absurdity of seeing villains occupying various government and city buildings in “No Man’s Land.”

GCPD

Batman GCPDThough not a singular graphic novel, I nevertheless highly recommend reading at least some of the short-lived comic book series “GCPD.”

As you have probably discerned from the title, the series follows the officers of Gotham City’s police department as they tackle the more day-to-day villains. The Dark Knight Rises emphasizes the idea that while Batman is the famed, if self-appointed, law enforcer of Gotham, the GCPD tirelessly fights the good fight on the more legal side of things.

The movie gives Gotham PD a chance to shine in a way no other film has even attempted, especially in the wake of Batman’s multiples absences. The series, much like the film, stresses that not every hero wears a cape.

Hush

Batman HushBats goes on high alert when many of his familiar foes begin to behave even more strangely that usual. He begins to suspect that there is one architect behind this mayhem: a bandaged mystery man known as Hush. The central plot of “Hush” is not at all present in Nolan’s film, but that’s not to say this is non sequitur reading material.

The interactions between Batman and Catwoman in “Hush” is microcosmic of their overarching relationship within the comics, and why I love that relationship so much.

Their reluctant partnership and budding romance, featured prominently in “Hush,” are perfectly encapsulated in The Dark Knight Rises. It’s also just a great Batman story all-around that is more than worthy of your time and brain space.

Son of the Demon

Batman Son of the DemonAt last we’ve reached the third act twist of The Dark Knight Rises. I remember when Marion Cotillard was cast in The Dark Knight Rises, it was almost unanimously decided, though never confirmed by the studio for obvious reasons, that she would be playing Talia al Ghul. It was therefore unsurprising to me when she stuck a knife between Bruce’s ribs in the film.

However, Talia is not a character most people automatically associate with Batman, so if you want a little more insight into Talia,  and the al Ghul family, Son of the Demon is a great place to start. The origins of Talia and the tragic fate of her mother are explored, as were translated, if not directly, in The Dark Knight Rises. Son of the Demon also explores the turbulent, fiery romance between Bruce and Talia and the long-term consequences of their love.

Which Batman comics do you think pair perfectly with The Dark Knight Rises?

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