It’s no secret that Ben Affleck’s Batman/Bruce Wayne is, along with Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman, one of the brighter aspects of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, which is saying something considering the somber and dreary coloring of the film perpetually existing in the twilight hours of the DC Cinematic Universe. So of course no one was surprised when it was announced that Affleck would be starring in a Batman solo movie. Better yet, Affleck is also co-writing the script with President of DC Entertainment, and DC Comics writer, Geoff Johns as well as directing the film, which again makes sense given Affleck’s rise in Hollywood as a director for critically acclaimed films like Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and the Oscar award-winning Argo.
With Affleck’s deep and unabashed affection for all things Batman, this seems like the perfect fit. The only thing standing in the way of success for the film is what story Affleck and Johns want to tell and how they plan to move the character forward after the still lingering fallout from BvS and whatever happens in Justice League. Recently, Affleck leaked test footage for the Batman solo film featuring Deathstoke, a villain who’s had several run-ins with the Justice League and the Teen Titans in the comics and cartoon. Additionally, there was the series-changing appearance of Manu Bennett’s version of Deathstroke/Slade Wilson during Arrow‘s second season that likely put him in the sites of WB executives. Earlier this month it was announced that Joe Manganiello (True Blood, Magic Mike) would be playing Deathstroke, likely making him at least one of the main villains going up against the Dark Knight, if not a challenging opponent for the burgeoning Justice League.
— Joe Manganiello (@JoeManganiello) September 27, 2016
Bringing Deathstroke into the DC Cinematic Universe is an interesting move considering he was mainly a Teen Titans villain, but his inclusion does open up some possibilities for Batman and the greater DC universe of films. So, using the information provided by rumors, speculation, and actual confirmations, I’m going to walk you lovely readers through how I would approach the Batman solo film. And if someone working on the film happens to read it **cough**Ben Affleck**cough** all I ask is a story credit because that’s how that works, right?
Also, remember that this is the roughest of ideas. Just thoughts that have been rattling around in my brain. So…
Being true to itself, the internet is full of speculation as to which storyline(s) Affleck and Johns could pull from the comics. One theory is an adaptation of Grant Morrison and Dave McKean’s Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth, which would give the film room to include a ton of cameos from Batman’s rogues gallery as the Caped Crusader fights his way through a riot at the questionably effective psychiatric facility. More recently, it’s been rumored that Deathstroke could take the place of Bane as the main antagonist of a Knightfall adaptation. The story by Doug Moench and Jim Aparo is most well-known for the moment Bane breaks an exhausted Batman’s back, leaving the vigilante paralyzed from the waist down and Gotham City without its guardian. You’ll recall The Dark Knight Rises used aspects of the story as well, which could deter the solo film from using it. The third big contender is the Hush storyline by Jeff Loeb and Jim Lee that features a lot of cameos by prominent characters in the DCU. Like, a lot of characters. The story, however, generally follows a noir narrative as Batman tries to uncover a plot by a villain only known as Hush who seems intent on taking the Dark Knight down.
None of these books would be a bad choice for an adaptation. They all require Batman to have been operating for a significant amount of time, which the previous films already established with Bruce’s 20-year long crusade, and they feature a large supporting cast of well-known and not-so-well-known allies and villains. What makes the possibility of one or all three stories providing some structure to the movie so exciting is how they could easily tie into the previous films and service the character going forward. Batman may be a loner, but he’s the most sociable recluse in the DCU.
For the sake of argument, I’m going to proceed with the idea that the Knightfall storyline would be the backbone of the movie’s narrative. Deathstroke is either hired to take out the Bat or he takes it upon himself to go up against the Dark Knight based on pure ego. Bane’s original plan was rooted in besting Batman on all fronts, mind and body, so it wouldn’t be too out of left field to say that Deathstroke’s reasons have a similar basis. His tactical prowess, intelligence, and enhanced skills make him a formidable opponent, so pitting him against another man at peak physical condition and extreme intelligence would make for some killer fight scenes.
Okay, moving on!
With Batman’s lengthy timeline of operation in tact the solo film would get a lot of leeway when it comes to bringing new characters into the fold. This works in Batman’s favor because, according to BvS, Bats has been on a bit of cruelty streak in the wake of the destruction in Metropolis and the loss of a building and some people he may have cared about. Possibly. We could also lump in the death of a Robin acting as lingering trauma on top of the ever-present Mommy and Daddy issues Bruce has bouncing around in his head. This all goes to say that by the end of BvS, and most likely after the Justice League two-parter has concluded, Batman’s attitude towards teamwork will have shifted in a more favorable direction. Eager to mend fences and reestablish old connections, a significant chunk of the story could be devoted to building the Bat-Family, or rebuilding it where the characters are concerned.
One of the more frustrating things about being a Batman fan is the lack of Bat-Family within the film adaptations. Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy only made the slightest of nods to Robin in the final moments of the third film and the less that can be said about the Joel Schumcher version of Dick Grayson the better. There’s an aversion to including the extended Bat-Family in the film adaptations, which I can mostly understand but still find aggravating. Yes, a teen sidekick brings up a whole slew of issues – mostly the lack of child protective services in Gotham – but the purpose of Robin, Nightwing, Batgirl, etc. is how they contrast and compliment Batman in his endless war on crime. Just having Alfred around to chastise or wax poetic keeps Bruce in a strangely infantilized state where he’s constantly answering to his surrogate father. By giving him a sidekick, or a partner, Bruce is now the father-figure doling out advice, training his “children,” and making tons of mistakes along the way.
And it’s those mistakes, plus his renewed appreciation for teamwork, that lead him towards reconciliation in the solo film. If we make the assumption that the Robin suit featured in BvS belonged to Jason Todd, it would go a long way towards establishing the additional trauma Bruce has experienced in losing a surrogate child. That loss would feed his rage and guilt, which would then cause him to push away anyone else he feels could be harmed because of their association with him.
Enter Nightwing! There have been quite a few retellings of the hows and whys of Dick Grayson’s transition from teen sidekick to standalone hero. Sometimes the split is amicable, a natural progression as Dick matures into a young man, and other times their fighting causes a rift that takes years to repair. In the case of the solo film, why not combine both? Prior to the events of BvS, perhaps Dick decided to become his own man and help Bruce as Nightwing, leaving the position of Robin open to a new recruit, Jason Todd. Jason’s death at the hands of the Joker (sneaking in a Death in the Family reference) would then cause Bruce to take his rage out on Gotham’s criminal underground. Dick being the out-going and sympathetic guy that he is tries to help, but Bruce pushes him away. Instead of sticking around to receive more of the same, Dick leaves Gotham City for the equally corrupt Blüdhaven, barely talking to or seeing Bruce for several years. When Bruce arrives to make amends, it adds a layer of tension to the characters that could be worked out over the course of the film or carryover into the inevitable sequels.
The presence of Deathstroke could even build off the tension between Batman and his fractured family. In the comics, Slade was also the father of three children – Grant, Joseph, and Rose – all of whom could join him in his fight against Batman. It would actually go a long way to show how off his game Batman is if Deathstroke and family (at the very least Rose and Grant who shared the name Ravager) overwhelmed him. A first encounter might send him towards Blüdhaven to recruit Dick and upon returning without any allies in tow, because Dick isn’t going to forgive him or help out immediately, a second encounter would result in Deathstroke delivering a nearly fatal blow. Barely escaping with his life, and probably with the help of some gadgets, Batman is defeated and exhausted in body, mind, and spirit. What can he do now? Who can he trust to help?
Enter Tim Drake! There was a video going around of actor Ryan Potter (Big Hero 6) “auditioning” for Ben Affleck with a choreographed fight scene. At the end he entreats Affleck to consider him with the closing line of, “Batman needs a Robin.” Potter isn’t wrong and using one of Tim’s lines from the comics works in favor of at least considering the importance of Robin’s place as Batman’s partner-in-crimefighting. Again, using the angle of the fractured family of heroes versus the united family of villains, Tim’s role is elevated by his drive to see Batman and Robin back together. Timeline wise, Tim’s a young man – probably mid to late teens – so he’s grown up with the Dynamic Duo as a constant presence in Gotham. And because Tim is a studious person with plenty of ambition, it would make sense that he’d try to seek his heroes out. An early encounter with Batman could start the film, showing off Tim’s martial arts skills, as well as his talent for technology, but Bats discourages Tim from being like him. Tim counters that he doesn’t want to be Batman, he just wants to work with him. Typical Batman, “I work alone.” Tim fires back, “You didn’t always. And you shouldn’t now.”
Is it subtle? Nope, but it works to establish where Batman is and why Tim becomes a much more important character as the film progresses. By the time Batman has reached his lowest point, Tim returns to help the Bat-Family reunite. Comic book Tim already figured out the secret identities, so movie Tim could as well, seeking out Dick Grayson or communicating with him via the Bat-Computer and filling him in on what’s happening in Gotham. As Bruce prepares to go back out into the fray of Gotham City, now overrun with criminals from Arkham Asylum that Deathstroke released (moving parts of Knightfall around here for my own purposes), Dick shows up to join the fight, standing by Bruce as his ally once again.
Fight, fight, fight. Heroes win, Bruce is as happy as he can get, and Tim is eventually recruited as the new Robin with Dick’s approval and Alfred’s endorsement. Not everything between Bruce and Dick is resolved, nor is it the last they’ll have seen of Deathstroke and family (because superheroes!), but it’s a step in the right direction with plenty of story fodder for the sequel.
You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned Barbara Gordon/Batgirl yet. This is a trickier subject because Babs could be utilized in a couple of ways. In one scenario, she’s still Batgirl. With Batman still playing the loneliest loner type, we could see Batgirl operating solo or introduce the Birds of Prey as a splinter group trying to pick up the slack around Gotham despite Batman constantly telling them stop. Things could come to blows when Batman threatens to tell Barbara’s father, Commissioner Gordon, about her nighttime activities and she in turn threatens to reveal his secret identity to the world. She’s also good with technology, she helped build the latest version of the Bat-Computer, the one that broke into Luthor’s super secret thumb drive in BvS, so it wouldn’t be hard for her to plaster his face all over the internet and the nightly news. She’s not proud of the threat, but again, Bruce is pushing her into a corner. It eventually culminates with the Birds of Prey or, at the very least, Batgirl showing up to help.
In the second scenario, she’s Oracle. For this to happen, there would have to be some acknowledgement of The Killing Joke, or a new backstory created to explain her forced retirement as Batgirl. Being Oracle has its advantages within the story. It would add another example of the Joker’s mark on the Bat-Family in the wake of Jason’s death and serve as a constant reminder to Bruce that he failed another person he loves. The connection between Babs and Tim in the realm of technology, however, would be useful in giving the supporting cast more interactions with each other. Babs could even be living with Dick in Blüdhaven (Babs and Dick shipper for life!), helping him fight crime as a nascent Oracle, which pits her against Tim as she blocks his attempts to hack the Bat-Computer from afar. What’s important, and necessary, is that Babs is a character in her own right. She fights regardless or her circumstances and she lets everyone know it. Even as Oracle she can get some licks in, so the wheelchair shouldn’t feel like a limitation. Would it be simpler to start her off as Batgirl? Yes, but there would be just as much meat to her character as Oracle if handled correctly.
So those are my lengthy thoughts and ideas about where the Batman solo film could potentially go. Like I said, WB and Ben Affleck, a story credit will suffice. And maybe a set visit…