The Dark Knight Returns With Superman, But How?

batman superman logo

One of the biggest stories to come out of Comic Con this past week was the announcement that for the next Man of Steel movie, Superman would be sharing his title card with none other than Batman. Big news as is, but it got even bigger as Snyder brought actor Harry Lennix on stage to recite the following:

“I want you to remember, Clark…in all the years to come…in your most private moments…I want you to remember…my hand…at your throat…I want…you to remember…the one man who beat you.”

It’s Batman’s speech from the end of The Dark Knight Returns, Frank Miller’s classic Batman series, and possibly the character’s most famous comic book story. Snyder returned to say that while this new Batman/Superman crossover film wouldn’t be an adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns, it would be “inspired by it.”

Now we’re left to figure out what exactly that means.

batman horse

Batman on a horse. On a HORSE.

I recently re-read the entirety of The Dark Knight Returns to brush up for this article. For the unfamiliar, the book tells the story of a retired Batman, brought back into action at 60 years old when a gang called the Mutants threaten to turn Gotham into a lawless black hole in his absence.

Batman’s return is tough for him physically, but also ends up being hard for society to process as well. He’s hunted like a villain by the police, all the while facing off against old foes like Two Face and the Joker. Eventually, Superman is brought into the story, painted as a government stooge who does the bidding of the US without question. Eventually, his orders become to try and stop Batman, which leads to the famed speech mentioned above.

That’s a really, really brief summary, and I advise you to pick up a complete copy of the series and read it for yourself, as it really is an astonishing piece of work.

joker new

You sort of need this guy.

There are a few obvious aspect of The Dark Knight Returns that couldn’t make it into a movie if they’re attempting to follow Nolan’s trilogy plotlines to some degree. For example, Two-Face was killed in the second film, and really couldn’t appear here. And of course, no one is going to dare recast the Joker this soon after Ledger’s death (at least one would hope).

But let’s pretend they go with the core concept of the book. Older Batman in the future. What restrictions does this present, and what possibilities does it open up? Well, first of all, I find it sort of weird they’re drawing on TDKR (the comic, not the movie) at all for what’s supposed to be a Superman sequel. The book is about Batman, of course, so really, this should be a Batman movie with a guest appearance by Superman, not the other way around. Superman only appears in maybe 15% of TDKR after all.

If it is in the future, this could free Nolan/Snyder from abandoning Nolan’s Batman timeline, which I have a hunch they don’t want to do considering how respected those movies are. It’s almost certain that Christian Bale will not show up as Bruce Wayne/Batman again no matter how many millions they throw at him, and being in the future could allow that to happen gracefully. Rather, now an older actor would have to be cast as Wayne/Bats, though that’s a challenge in itself. Who would possibly play an older Batman? Clint Eastwood comes to mind, but I think he’s too old that this point. I’d say an actor like Powers Boothe would look the part of a grizzled Wayne, but I’m not sure he’s actually right for the role.


Any bulky stuntman could cram into the Batsuit while the Wayne duties are left the older actor.

The second option isn’t to make Batman old in the future. It’s just to have a new Batman. The end of The Dark Knight Rises puts Joseph Gordon-Levitt in that role, and though Bale is gone, I have a hunch Levitt wouldn’t mind taking up the reins as a new Batman. Most of us love the actor, but this move would go against the core concept of The Dark Knight Returns. The story is all about an aging Bruce and how he’s seen his city fall to ruin over the years. You can recast Bruce Wayne, but I’m not sure you can take him completely out of the story, replacing him with Thomas…whoever.

Then there’s Superman, who doesn’t age, but his loved ones certainly do. After only one movie, are we ready for an elderly Lois Lane and a dead Perry White and Martha Kent after these characters have barely been established? Fast-fowarding would help with the Batman mythology, but hurt Superman’s in this case. But as Batman is the more established franchise, they may have to bend to it.

If we’re just doing a very, very “loose” inspiration from The Dark Knight Returns, I think the dichotomy of Superman being a government tool and Batman doing what he believes is right now matter the cost or authorities he defies is a good conflict. As for Batman and Superman duking it out on the streets of Gotham, I’m not sure how that will play out onscreen, even if Batman gets his armor plating upgrades. The fighting styles of Batman and Superman in their respective movies are so dramatically different, it’s hard to see them possibly ever meshing well.

batman new


All of this just seems like a weird situation. When I first heard about a Batman/Superman team up for this next film, I immediately thought it was being done because A) they’ve decided that Superman is too weak to stand on his own (which is its own sort of tragedy) and B) they’re setting up for an eventual JLA movie. The Dark Knight Returns takes place after the JLA has disbanded, so this would have to be a very loose interpretation indeed. It’s why I think they probably will NOT fast-forward into the future, because this is attempting to position the DC universe for the JLA once Flash, Wonder Woman, etc. finally land their own solo features.

But this is a strange way to do it. I fully believe that after JLA has been made, someone should do a fantastic full adaptation of The Dark Knight Returns, but whatever this “inspired” version is, it’s hard to see it working in this context.

Nolan’s Dark Knight series has already drawn much from The Dark Knight Returns. The vigilantes who dress up like Batman and attempt to fight crime, the tank-like Batmobile, the fact that Batman gets villainized by the media and hunted by police. But I’m not sure what this Batman/Superman crossover could actually take from the rest of it when the two central villains in the story are unavailable. Just the Superman/Batman rivalry alone?

man of steel

Core components of Superman now: Truth, justice and Batman.

Obviously we’re going to need a lot more detail to make any firm judgments about where all this is heading. I’m really not convinced that making Superman’s second feature a Batman vehicle was the best idea. I think they gave up on Snyder’s vision of him too soon. If they are doing this, I still think this should be Superman’s story more than it is Batman’s, though being “inspired” by The Dark Knight Returns says it’s probably the other way around.

What do you think? Is a crossover a good idea? What should they take or leave concerning The Dark Knight Returns? What’s the best way to set up for JLA?

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  1. I think one thing to really keep in mind is that they seem like they are 100% separating themselves from Nolan’s trilogy. With that being said, the fighting style you saw Bats have in TDK trilogy is non-existent hence you could have him fight more closely related to TDKR comic and be able to compete against Superman. I also again think that because they may do their best to separate from Nolan’s TDK world that JGL wouldn’t and shouldn’t be considered for the role. They could also bring back Two Face and the Joker (thought I’m not sure I would want that to happen) since it really is a different world from the one that we know from the past 10 years of Nolan’s Batman.

    I do agree that it will be interesting to see how they are going to play out the movie since it really is a Supes sequel and should be focused more on him and have Batman come in and play more of a supporting role. Who knows, I am definitely looking forward to it and really interested to see where they take it.

  2. This is just stupid. Too soon to even be thinking about another “Batman” film at all – just let Supe have his day in the limelight for a while and develop his new cinema presence before throwing Bats in the world again.

    DC and the producers behind this film are just coming off as stupid and money grubbing.

  3. I agree with Lucas. It seems that after Green Lantern Warner is putting off any superhero that isn’t Superman or Batman for the near future. It just seems like money grubbing,we had a Batman movie last year,for God’s sake. I would prefer a solo Superman sequel,actually,and/or Flash,Wonder Woman,anything.

    But,who am I kidding? I’ll watch this in the first day.

  4. It seems like they will end up doing a classic “heroes get pitted against each other, then join forces to take out a bigger threat” type of story, and the use of the Dark Knight Returns quote was just to get people pumped for it. Like you said, it would make no sense for the Superman franchise (or the DC movie universe for that matter) to jump ahead in time like that to a post JLA setting.

    Also, “The Dark Knight Returns” was made into a pretty faithfully adapted animated set of films last year. The Superman fight was awesome in it.

  5. I would have preferred a direct sequel to Man of Steel but come on. Its Batman and Superman in the same movie!!!! Ive wanted to see this since forever. Hopefully it will be good.

    I doubt they are going the old batman route ala Dark Knight Returns. Zack even said they are not adapting it. Im thinking more of a focus will be on Supes while they introduce a new Bats. They will fight initially then come together in the end to take down the villain.

  6. The cynical side of me thinks that this movie is “inspired by” DKR because a) it’s one of the biggest books ever to feature these two and b) it’s got that super-awesome hell-yeah gritty thing going on that DC (and, to be fair, a lot of the fans) seems to be infatuated with right now. Right now, I will be going with my cynical side.

    I’m grumpy about the decision because it seems like a transparently economical one. There’s no reason to make Superman a co-star this early, ESPECIALLY since Superman didn’t become “Superman” until the last ten seconds of Man of Steel. If someone can really, REALLY justify the artistic necessity of telling this story, right now, I’ll buy it, but at the moment I just don’t see it.

    Between the Nolan movies, the Arkham games, the myriad animated features, and now this, the Batman character is getting dangerously overexposed and I’m honestly kind of sick of him. Maybe if they took a different tack it’d be different, but the grim-n-gritty version of him is wearing out his welcome fast.

  7. Gotta agree with the most of you here. This is way to soon. Man of Steel was good on it’s own and should have a stand alone sequel. I know Batman is by far the biggest moneymaker but it seems more of a shoe horn than anything else.

  8. They should make this movie from Superman’s point of view. He should meet Batman and not know him at all, be skeptical about him and underestimate him. Sinse we will never see Batman’s plan, he will be portrayed in mysterious and unpredictable way. They also need to make him and his gadgets more sci-fi, so that he can match other superheroes. Don’t show Bruce Wayne and don’t show Batman’s origin story,

    I would also like to see Superman receiving request to pay back satellite damage from Wayne Enterprises :)) just for fun

  9. Dude, they haven’t even developed the new Superman as a character yet! Cramming a new Batman’s introduction into the sequel is just going to make that problem worse. Establish Superman before you start some half-assed team-up. They already adapted TDKR in animation so doing a live action version would just be redundant. They’re jumping to gun on this, for sure, but if Snyder is directing he may be able to pull it off. I mean, the guy remade Dawn of the Dead decently, gave us the first good Superman film in decades, made a film so geeky even most geeks couldn’t handle it, AND successfully adapted the “unfilmable” Watchmen. Let’s see what happens.

  10. I have no problem with this idea, personally. I think it could be gangbusters IF it’s done right (and “if” is always the operative word). I do know that Wolfgang Petersen (I think it was) was heavily into developing a Batman vs. Superman film from a few years back, and I have to wonder if the WB hasn’t dusted off that script, realizing that maybe it was a good thing, and decided to give it another rewrite by incorporating some of Miller’s TDKR for good measure.

  11. Uh, Paul…. both Nolan and Snyder have stated plainly that the Dark Knight Trilogy isn’t the same film universe as the new one that started in MoS. Seems a bit silly that in your research for this article about the new film, you reread DKR, but you didn’t read any of the information about the movies.

  12. I think that the plot points for the movie would be somewhat like this:
    – Bruce Wayne thinks that the Alien who literally destroyed Metropolis is a menace and must be dealt with
    – Lex Luthor will be introduced as a friend of Bruce who thinks the same BUT he wants to kill Superman
    – Bruce realizes that to fight Superman he himself has to become a symbol
    – After the first Battle, Batman will realize that Superman is not so bad at all
    – Bruce will have to choose between Lex who finds a way to kill Superman and to let Superman Live BUT in a true Hollywood cliche we find out that though Lex can kill superman but it will somehow also kill thousands and thousands of people. Which Lex is OK with
    – Batman and Superman defeat Lex and respect each other in the end
    – If they want to throw a bone to the comic geeks in the end, then Batman and Superman will mention that they know each others secret Indentities

    Anyway, does anyone agree that Jonathan Banks would make a great old Bruce Wayne? Or is it just me still not accepting that I won’t see him in the rest of Breaking Bad’s Season 5

  13. Comonnnn man, this is a great idea. They can introduce a new Bruce while avoiding another backstory movie, maybe at the least revealing in conversation over the course of several films Bruce’s tragic walk down the alley. Find a couple of villains connected in some way, and make sure both heroes are skeptical of one another. The interplay of both of their personalities and values would make for an almost Xavier/magneto dynamic that could span several movies. As great as Nolan bats was, they feasibly closed the door on any lasting stories (short of having a new Bruce return from Paris or, god forbid, jgl officer “robin” whatever his name is being bats, which would be awful. The ship will sail on the superhero movies and third tier characters and Dc should see what they have with this momentum. It wasn’t terribly long ago we had ice skating batman and robin.

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