This month, DC is celebrating the 80th anniversary of Batman with the landmark Detective Comics #1000. Since his debut in 1939, Batman has become the cornerstone of the DC universe. Arguably, he’s also the most over-utilized character in other media. Batman has had more adaptations than any other DC character. And unlike the Dark Knight’s live-action films, his animated adaptations have tapped fairly heavily into Batman lore.
However, there are still plenty of great stories to tell. The animation medium just happens to be one of the best ways to bring Batman stories to life. Aside from the original comics, of course. Live-action movies have to maintain some sense of reality, which often means sacrificing elements of the comics. Animation can capture the look of the comics while providing performances that simply can’t be captured on the printed page. Truthfully, some stories would simply be better served in animation than in live-action. If Warner Bros. and DC are going back to the well with Batman animated features, these are the five stories they should mine.
Batman: The Black Mirror
This was the final arc in the original run of Detective Comics before the New 52 reboot. Consequently, The Black Mirror was a superb end to the original comic from which DC gets it’s namesake. The story focused on Dick Grayson’s need to forge his own identity as Batman, while also exploring James Gordon Jr.’s return to Gotham. This is a hard boiled detective story in the truest sense of the word. It also added a tremendous amount of character depth to both Gordon Sr. and Grayson.
The wonderful juxtaposition of art by Jock and Francesco Francavilla would be hard to replicate in live-action. Art is an integral part of the comics medium, and the art in this book manages to create a crucially unique aspect of the story. A live-action movie just wouldn’t be able to capture that.
Arkham Asylum: A Serious House On Serious Earth
Simply put, Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth is easily one of the best Batman stories ever written. It deconstructs the twisted psyche of Batman’s rogue’s gallery, while holding a mirror up to the hero himself. The book’s extremely dark tone and psychological edge make it a classic that puts an emphasis on minimalism. Although Arkham Asylum served as a loose inspiration for many Batman adaptations, including the 2009 Arkham Asylum video game, there has never been a straightforward adaptation of this story. That’s probably because the book is nearly unadaptable, even in video game form.
Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s opus deserves an animated adaptation. But first, someone needs to translate the excellent characterization in Arkham Asylum into more of an expanded feature-length plot. Similarly, McKean’s work is uniquely abstract. Capturing that aesthetic in animated form would also be difficult. Still, there’s no reason why this classic story shouldn’t get an animated adaptation, it’s just a matter of finding the right person to translate it.
Batman: Earth One
While not an instant classic, Batman: Earth One is the best Batman origin story since Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One. Written by Geoff Johns with art by Gary Frank, Batman: Earth One takes place in a different continuity. That gave Johns and Frank the ability to stray fairly heavily from the character’s mythology. It’s essentially a one-off story that offers a different, more modern telling of Batman’s early years in the cowl. Earth One‘s fresh take on Batman’s origin is why it should be adapted.
The book feels very reminiscent of Casino Royale in terms of deconstructing a beloved character. But there’s also something about animation that feels right for this story in particular. There are certain subtleties to Frank’s art that would play out more effectively using animation.
Batman: The Long Halloween
The Long Halloween has been highly influential to Batman’s live-action adaptations, including The Dark Knight. Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s noir-driven story creates a complex mystery through a series of intertwining tales. The story’s use of small character plots to create a grander tapestry of Gotham’s seedy underbelly remains unparalleled. Sale’s moody, angular, and often semi-minimalistic art naturally lends itself to animation, But it’s the breadth of the story that makes it hard to adapt in any form.
If the rumors are true that a two-part animated adaptation of the The Long Halloween will arrive in the near future, then we’ll be very happy. However, the book tells a pretty sprawling narrative, so even a two-part adaptation has it’s own set of potential pitfalls. Regardless, The Long Halloween is an essential story that needs to be adapted. It’s just a matter of staying true to the elements of the comic that have made it a classic Batman tale.
Batman: Death of the Family
As the first major crossover event of the New 52, Death of the Family had the difficult task of re-introducing Batman’s most infamous foe into the new continuity. This full-fledged crossover spanned twenty-three different issues between nine separate series. It’s a pretty massive plot, but it’s also the first Joker story to truly incorporate nearly every member of the Batman family in an organic way. However, the core story between Joker and Batman is a tense and gripping character study that adds to their ongoing dynamic.
The tricky part in adapting Death of the Family would likely involve trimming the story down to its essential elements while also keeping the core of the story intact. Scott Snyder’s intriguing plot and Greg Capullo’s dark and gruesome art are a crucial part of the storytelling. That’s why animation is really the only option for adapting Death of the Family.
Which Batman stories do you want to see as animated feature films? Let us know in the comment section below!