As Batman fans we all love a good mystery. When I saw that Colin Farrell came out of a Barnes & Noble holding a Bat-book, I had to know which collection it was. So after some deep digging through the trove of available collections starring the Dark Knight, I uncovered that the striking red and yellow cover belongs to a deluxe edition of “Batman by Francis Manapul & Brian Buccellato” which collects their short run towards the end of the New 52 Detective Comics series. What could this mean?
Well, directors often give cast members suggested reading lists when they star in superhero flicks. This collection seems a great fit for Reeves’ vision of Batman. There are a few key beats that could turn up as well as some very good theory fuel.
A Street-Level Batman Battling Corruption in Gotham
When I spoke to Reeves about his version of Bruce Wayne, he was keen to explore an unseen side of the hero through a story about someone still reeling from his parents’ death, but that the director categorically told me wouldn’t be an origin story. Reeves could easily retrofit Manapul and Buccellato’s arc for that purpose. A lot of this series centers on a more street-level version of the hero taking down a street drug as well as a trafficking ring. Those kinds of crimes fit with Reeves’ other key interest in Gotham: the corruption that defines it.
Gotham has always been a hotbed of corruption and crime, and this arc leans into that. There’s even a rather interesting dirty cop arc that we won’t spoil, but could easily become a big part of The Batman, or even the recently announced HBO Max GCPD-set series.
Gentrification in Gotham
Bruce’s wealth has long been key to both his heroism and his flaws. In this arc we see Bruce support a community initiative to redevelop Gotham’s waterfront. He finds encouragement from a local activist named Elena Aguila who convinces him to turn down the billions in profit that he could potentially make by developing the area commercially.
It would be incredibly cool to see Reeves’ Batman deal with the concept of gentrification in Gotham and even potentially help play a part in ending it. But if the comics are anything to go by this will likely end badly. Aguila is murdered for her good work. The police tie Bruce to the killing, which actually connects to a street drug called Icarus. Though we’re not desperate to see Batman do a tired street drug story, the exploration of Bruce’s corporate ties and lack of community work could be really exciting.
Has Bruce Lost Someone Important in His Life?
DC Comics, Art by Chris Burnham
One of the things that I’m immediately most intrigued by here is that Damian Wayne is dead during this arc so Bruce is in mourning. I would love to see a version of Batman where he has already loved Talia and has potentially lost his son. Maybe his parent’s death was not the inciting incident and, in fact, Bruce’s drive to truly become a vigilante comes from the death of his son.
In the comics, Damian died at the hands of a clone of himself; in classic comic book style, he later resurrected thanks to the Gods of Apocalypse. We can assume that is not going to be the case in Reeves’ more humanist and realistic take, but losing a child could be an interesting new way of exploring Bruce’s grief and what drives him.
A Penguin / Falcone Crime Family War
There is not much more than a reference to this idea here, but the previous arcs of the series build on the concept of Penguin as a crime boss and politician. Basically, whatever happens with his role, he will likely be playing the criminal mastermind version of the Penguin, one who has a tight grip on his turf in Gotham and is unwilling to let anyone else move in on it, whether that be the Falcones or the Riddler, and definitely not Batman or Catwoman.
Emperor Penguin / Mayor Penguin
DC Comics, Art by Jason Fabok
Since they announced Hollywood’s hot dad Colin Farrell would be the Penguin, people have asked… in what world? Well, this comic doesn’t have too much about the Penguin aside from the formerly mentioned gang war. But the Detective Comics run a couple of arcs before this–so is Farrell just continuing his reading?–did introduce an interesting take on the character which could come into play.
Ignatius Ogilvy is a henchman of the Penguin who takes over the rogue’s gang and later re-imagined himself as Emperor Penguin, a far more muscular and stylish vision of the iconic villain. This would be a particularly interesting route as Ignatius has some similarities to Bruce Wayne, with his own parents’ murder outside of a theater. That mirroring already worked well in Batman Returns, which Reeves told me was his favorite Batman film.
The other option here is that while Ignatius Ogilvy took over the Penguin’s gang, Oswald became the Mayor of Gotham, which means we could see Farrell taking on that role which is far more of a complex anti-hero than the Penguin that most fans are familiar with. But even if that’s the case, it’s likely he’ll take a little bit of Ogilvy’s more stylish and cool look.
Though no one has been cast as Gotham’s most corrupt cop, he is a key player in this arc and has long been one the most well-known parts of GCPD lore. In this run he’s essentially a secondary main character, and while not committing any obvious financial crimes, he acts as a sort of Punisher-esque cop who likes to beat up the bad guys in the streets of Gotham. Though this isn’t a story I’d want to see with Gordon in that role, there is potential. Reeves’ film could be a double-hander with both Wright and Robert Pattinson taking co-lead roles to protect Gotham.
No, this isn’t a Watchmen reference; though now Doomsday Clock exists who could ever be sure? Although The Batman has some seriously famous villains with the Riddler, Penguin, Catwoman all cast in the film, the comic has a pair of criminal brothers who play a key role. I likely wouldn’t have included this but the IMDb page for the movie lists a pair of twin brothers who have undisclosed roles who are really high in the credits. The Squid is a hood in Manapul’s arc that works out of Gotham Aquarium and who has a brother named Jonny whose indiscretions lead him to a run-in with the Bat. It’s all a little street level, but with John Turturro already playing iconic Batman mob boss Carmine Falcone, we think organized crime will once again play a huge role in the upcoming Batman flick.
Could Jeffrey Wright Get a Run in the Batsuit?
Fans of the New 52 Batman run were likely confused when they saw the costume on the front of this cover. It looks like the costume Jim Gordon wears when he takes on the mantle of Batman. Well, that is part of the story here as we get to see Gordon in the so-called Bat Bunny, which is a high-tech armor that the commissioner wears during his stint. We have yet to have a Black Batman and this would be a great way to introduce the concept cinematically. Also who wouldn’t want to see Jeffrey Wright as Batman??? This is a definitely an outlier of a theory but really isn’t that wild, especially as this is an established part of the Bat-lore at this point and Reeves clearly isn’t afraid of bringing sci-fi aesthetics into grounded human storytelling.
Tone, Lighting, and Aesthetic
Whatever the film does or doesn’t take narratively from this book, Reeves and co. would be smart to take aesthetically from the beautiful art of Manapul and Buccellato. This is a stunning series that takes noir and paints it with brightly-hued colors and unexpected tones. Their world is both brutal and beautiful, action-packed without ever feeling tropey. There’s also the steampunk-inspired addition of the Bat-Blimp; the kind of technology and juxtaposition of noir and high-tech has long been something fans have been dying to see brought to the big screen. Imagine the world of Batman: The Animated Series rendered in a more realistic comic book style and you’re halfway there. Basically, if this was a style bible for The Batman then we’d all be lucky.
The Batman is currently due out on October 1, 2021.
Header Image: DC Comics