Nolan’s final Bat-film has come and will soon be gone. At the end of this trilogy we have a sense of closure. He has said he will not be returning to the director’s chair for a fourth film so there is also a sense of finality. His name and the accompanying gravitas are now in the Executive Producer slot for DC’s “Man of Steel” next summer but he has expressed that he would enjoy seeing someone make a fourth movie that picks up where Rises ended. Well Mr. Nolan, Warner Bros. and DC Comics, I have detailed a plan that would allow for not just a fourth Batman film without rebooting the franchise again, but a Justice League movie that exists within the same universe and a way to tie it all back into the comic books so that every medium remains accessible.
In Rises we are introduced to a young police officer named John Blake who sees the benefit of Batman as a symbol. Because of his own past he has figured out that Bruce Wayne is Batman and approaches him to convince him that Gotham needs him again. By the end of the film he is forced to make a tough decision about the failings of “the system” and in his disillusionment he quits the force. In a wink to the audience Nolan reveals to us in the last minutes of the film that Blake’s given name is actually Robin John Blake. I personally believe that this was the only way Nolan felt comfortable referencing the character of Robin without telegraphing the ending; had he named the character Richard Grayson or Tim Drake, the finale might have been ruined for anyone who knows the comic books. In the wake of Bruce Wayne’s “death” he is gifted the legacy of Batman; the final shot of the film shows Blake atop the Tumbler platform in the cave as it rises out of the water. Clearly we can infer that in Nolan’s universe Batman is the symbol movie-Bruce Wayne set out to create, and he even tells Blake that anyone can be Batman. As mentioned above, Nolan has said he would be happy to see someone make a “John Blake as Batman” film. Warner Bros. would likely be resistant to this idea because Blake is not an established comic book character and this makes the comics less accessible to any new readers who aren’t serious fanboys.
So this is how you solve it: taking a popular character from another medium and putting them into the continuity of the comics is not without precedent, both Harley Quinn and the modern iteration of Mr. Freeze began in the 90’s “Animated Series” and were adopted into the Batman comics while Lois Lane’s cousin Chloe was introduced in WB’s “Smallville” and adopted into the Superman comics. Therefore, introducing a character such as Robin John Blake into the comics as a potential replacement for Bruce Wayne as Batman can be done. There are plenty of talented writers out there who could not only make it work, but make it compelling as well. Before we go there though, let’s briefly look at the how this would allow for a Justice League movie.
Next summer Chris Nolan & Zack Snyder bring us the latest Superman reboot, “Man of Steel.” All we know for now is that it features General Zod as the villain and that according to the teaser trailers, Clark/Kal may be suffering an identity crisis while he tries to reconcile his alien nature with his human upbringing. This is how you tie it into Nolan’s already established universe. Though it never need be stated, the film might imply that part of Clark’s impetus for putting on a costume and fighting for “truth, justice and the American way” is the urban legend of Batman. This also would be sufficient to explain why no one but Batman came to Gotham’s aid during the crisis; prior to Bruce becoming Batman, there was no one else. What I would like to see is a shot of Clark on his quest, pre-cape, watching the news on television in a truck stop diner or something. No mention of Bane, no mention of Batman, just “Gotham Under Siege” beneath an aerial shot of the city on the screen, a simple and elegant way to establish the larger universe outside of the film. This is the advent of unbelievable, extra-planetary and supernatural events in the formerly “based in reality” world of Nolan’s films. At this point you can choose to build toward a Justice League film the way they did with Avengers, one superhero at a time and then assemble the cast for a giant threat or you can jump right into a Justice League movie and spin off the characters from there. It really can go either way.
As I said, having a Batman movie character whose name never appears in the comics would not be something Warner and DC would allow. There are several valid ways to handle this, we could take the Terry McGinnis/Batman Beyond route where the Nolan-verse is an alternate reality, or we could simply introduce a GCPD officer named Robin John Blake who purposely goes by John because of the connotation of the name Robin in Gotham. His motivations would be identical to those in film and he could even have figured out that Bruce is Batman, which also has precedent in the comics: Tim Drake did the same thing before he became Robin. At this point you can write any path you want to get him from cop to proto-Batman. Another option is for Dick Grayson, who was at one time a Bludhaven cop, to have used the name Robin John Blake once while undercover leaving the possibility of a retcon in the fourth film of John Blake being the adopted name of an abandoned infant named Richard Grayson, which ties in easily to his growing up in a boys’ home.
Now, here is how I would do Batman 4; I eliminate the character using already established characters. Let’s call the film “Knightfall.” Introducing Jervis Tetch, CEO of Mad Hatter, Inc. a competitor of Wayne Corp. He intends to use his vast fortune to remake Gotham into a futuristic utopia, referred to in blueprints as Wonderland. Using the memory of Bane’s five month siege to his advantage he claims such a thing could never happen again in his utopia and gains popular support for the renovation (as a manipulative and charismatic politician might as opposed to real “mind-control”). Further, he demonizes Batman’s methods, claiming him to be a vicious vigilante for which the city no longer has a need and further reinforcing the desire of the people of Gotham to give in by asserting that Batman is also directly responsible for the Narrows fire, Scarecrow’s gang of Bat-thugs, the Joker’s rampage and the crisis of Bane’s marshall law. Batman’s presence makes Gotham a target to every nut with an agenda. Blake/Batman attempts to break into Tetch’s building to see the plans and look for some kind of hidden agenda and is goaded into a fight Tetch who records the whole thing and uses it to claim that Batman feels threatened by another who might “control” Gotham. All the while Blake shows real difficulty carrying on Bruce’s legacy. Blake realizes he only option is to destroy the Messianic image Tetch has created for himself but no one, including Jim Gordon and Lucius Fox, can find any dirt on him. Ultimately Blake discovers that Tetch’s is simply a desperation-fueled plot to please his beloved Alice, a childhood friend with whom he always associated Louis Carroll’s stories. Blake manufactures evidence of her death, the real person actually living in Metropolis (seen here as just a name on a computer screen or file folder). In his rage Tetch uses his influence over the people of Gotham to mobilize against Batman and Batman’s only option is to somehow publicly humiliate him. Obviously a screenwriter would punch up the story, pace it better and add more weight to the finale. A post-credits sequence would reveal a young man in the Wayne Boys home named Richard Grayson discovering the cave and overhearing a conversation between Blake and Lex Luthor. Luthor had been manipulating Tetch from the start and we learn here that Blake is a zealot named Jean-Paul Valley.
Finally, this leads into my ideas for the Justice League film while providing the impetus for Bruce to return to Gotham and retake the mantle of Batman. Over the course of a series of solo films for Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lanter, Green Arrow or whatever JL line-up you want to use we learn Luthor has been pulling the strings on a worldwide plot to discredit the genuity of Superman and indeed all superheroes, using Tetch as a template for how a negative PR campaign might work, meanwhile Blake/Valley renames himself as Azrael. Batman 5 could show us that Selena returns to Gotham’s East End to defend it from the brutality Azrael has begun inflicting upon its citizens which forces Bruce to admit that he cannot trust anyone else to carry the weight of Batman but he doesn’t necessarily need to operate alone either. At this point we can also introduce Dick Grayson as Robin or Nightwing, which could then potentially be used to spin him off into his own franchise.
Now, this is strictly my idea and just a basic outline of a plan and not necessarily the only way to keep Nolan’s vision of the Batman intact while opening it up to the larger DC universe. Batman 4 & 5 could be just as easily a soft reboot where everyone is recast and it’s up to the audience whether you want to link it back to Nolan’s films. What I would like to see is an idea such as this one gain enough popular support so that we don’t get a hard reboot 4-6 years from now and keep the thematic elements and continuity of the Nolan Bat-films going.
I would especially like to hear anyone else’s ideas on the matter or how my idea does or does not work.