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Home » The Dark Knights Return : Why Multiple Batman Interpretations Can Coexist

The Dark Knights Return : Why Multiple Batman Interpretations Can Coexist

Few intellectual properties in entertainment have the value that Batman brings to the table. The Dark Knight has gone through various interpretations with some of the best actors in the world filling in the cape and cowl. From the iconic Michael Keaton, the brutal Ben Affleck, and the noir Robert Pattinson, Batman’s past, present, and future have always been strong. Now, all three of these Batman eras collide. The future of Batman on film looks bright but is quite different from the normal Warner Bros. strategy with the character.

During the “Multiverse 101” panel at DC Fandome, Jim Lee and Walter Hamada explained the multiverse concept that will reverberate across films and television, similar to how it already does in the comic books. The potential to tell stories that transcend continuity, existing plot threads and specific actors gives filmmakers unprecedented power to create their vision. The television crossover, Crisis On Infinite Earths, and even Todd Phillips’ Joker, helped to affirm this new vision as Warner Media restructures the way audiences will consume DC Comics content.

Over the next few years, DC fans have multiple different live-action interpretations of Batman to enjoy on film, streaming, and television. This is a sizable change from how Warner Bros used to control the character. Here’s a look to how the Batman IP was guarded and why the future is so bright for the Dark Knight.

Protecting Batman’s IP

Batman has always been one of the most guarded IPs in Warner Bros vault. The character is usually given strict rules of when he can, or can not, appear in different mediums. Protecting the IP of Batman and his surrounding characters have been of utmost importance since Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Trilogy.

2004’s The Batman animated series serves as an early example of how DC Comics protected the character from being watered down across mediums. Some iconic Batman villains were absent in the show’s five season run. This includes Ra’s Al-Ghul, Scarecrow, and Two-Face. The primary reason these characters could not appear was that each of them had major appearances in Nolan’s first two Batman films.

The “Bat-Embargo” existed to prevent multiple versions of the same character to appear in multiple areas, citing a potential confusion for audiences. This meant that if certain characters appeared on the big screen, their small screen appearances would be diminished or cut entirely. Between the small screen, this was also seen as Batman villains did not appear in Justice League: Unlimited.

“I don’t see the Bat-embargo lifting anytime soon but, to tell you the truth, as much as I love those characters, I don’t really miss them all that much. It’s not like we don’t have tons of other interesting characters to play with.” Producer Bruce Timm stated to Toon Zone while on Justice League.

While things have admittedly been more open for the character post-The Dark Knight trilogy, the character has always been kept at an-arms length for wider use across mediums. “DC doesn’t let you say Batman or have anything about Gotham — like it’s just off-limits,” Arrowverse writer Caroline Dries said in 2018. While Batman-centric shows like Gotham used many Batman characters, the word “Batman” and “Joker” were never actually said on air. These small restrictions seem to reverberate across television while Warner Bros. and DC Comics made sure that Batman was strictly kept to one primary iteration at a time, and strictly used on the big screen. That call changed when AT&T completed the acquisition of Time Warner.

The Return Of Multiple Batmen On Film

Restrictions around Batman seemed to let up after the restructuring of Warner Bros and Jim Lee’s continued rise to the top of DC Comics. In the years following, Batman has slowly shown his face more often than before, albeit still a little guarded away from a full appearance. He would appear as Bruce Wayne on Titans, CW’s Crisis On Infinite Earths, and be mentioned regularly on Batwoman. Short of the masked hero standing alongside other heroes, the Batman IP has been in use more often across television in the few years of Batman hiatus on the big screen after the 2017 Justice League debacle.

Fast forward to 2020 and the future has never looked more different, yet for better. Matt Reeves has assumed the control of Batman’s mainline future through his upcoming trilogy. The primary keys to the character are in the hands of the established and well-respected director as he takes Bruce Wayne back to his detective and psychological roots in 2021’s The Batman. In a normal Warner Bros. system, Robert Pattinson would simply be the only Batman on-screen during Reeves’ tenure with the character. But he isn’t, and two more Batmen still actively exist in Warner Media’s strategy for the Dark Knight.

Ben Affleck’s Batman was one of the most celebrated elements of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Regardless of where one rested their hat on loving or hating the movie itself, most agreed that Affleck played an excellent Bruce Wayne. While the character had a less-than-stellar showing in 2017’s Justice League due to studio mandated reshoots, Affleck’s redemption of the character is on the way. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is coming to HBO Max 2021 and will continue Batman’s arc from where Snyder left on in Dawn of Justice.

The sky is the limit for Ben Affleck in Snyder’s Justice League story.  Built as a five-movie arc for the iconic DC characters, pending the success of the miniseries and Affleck’s commitment to the character, there is always room for more Ben Affleck Batman. Regardless, fans will be treated to four more hours of Affleck’s Bruce Wayne in 2021, the same year they will be enjoying Pattinson’s portrayal on the big screen. 

The DCEU Multiverse Is The Key To Success

If Ben Affleck will be the Batman for streaming and Robert Pattinson will be the Batman for the big screen, that would be a welcome evolution for the character’s IP use. Yet, it does not stop there. According to The Hollywood ReporterMichael Keaton is returning as Batman for Warner Bros. and DC Comics’ upcoming Flash movie. Loosely borrowing from the Flashpoint storyline in the comics, the upcoming film from Andy Muschietti will feature Keaton’s first return to the cowl since 1992’s Batman Returns. Keaton’s role is not considered just a one-off special for the time-traveling, multiverse changing movie though, his future is much more layered. 

THR reported that Keaton’s role is being envisioned akin to Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury role in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. This means the character will be appearing in more than one film. The potential for Keaton to appear in future Bat-centric movies, perhaps even the heavily fan-requested Batman Beyond, would make everyone happy. 

But wait, there’s more. Vanity Fair reported on Ben Affleck’s return to the big screen as Batman as well. Affleck’s reprisal of the role is a huge sign of his optimism and good health following his departure from the role in 2017. 

“We are all human and go through great times in our lives and terrible times in our lives. Right now he’s in a place where he can actually enjoy being Batman.” Said producer Barbara Muschietti in the same story. “Plus, he doesn’t have to carry the entire movie. It’s a pivotal role, but at the same time it’s fun part.”

Affleck joins Keaton as the two Batman who will be accompanying Ezra Miller’s Flash in the upcoming film. The Flash movie will further change the way audiences see and consume their favorite characters. During a Q&A during DC FanDome, Muschietti had the following to say about how the DCEU multiverse will be shaped in this film. 

“But what I will tell you is that it’s a ride. It’s going to be fun and exciting and there are a lot of DC characters in it.” Muschietti said. “Flash is the superhero of this film because he is the bridge between all of these characters and timelines. And in a way, it restarts everything and doesn’t forget anything.”

Overall, the DCEU Multiverse has come a long way from the time when secondary Batman characters were barred from appearing in more than one place at a time. The fact that audiences will be getting Micheal Keaton, Ben Affleck, and Robert Pattinson as Batman at the same time should get any fan excited. The multiverse approach to DC on film extends beyond just any one film. 

Ben Affleck can have his adventures in Zack Snyder’s Justice League miniseries, Matt Reeves can develop a brand-new Batman trilogy with Robert Pattinson, and Michael Keaton can roam the multiverse as old-man Batman, all without any overall narrative interference or thread lines. For filmmakers, this is a superhighway to fulfill their respective visions. For everyone else, this is the absolute best time to be a fan of Batman.


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