The DCEU has struggled to figure out what to do with Batman, and one of its biggest weaknesses is continually focusing on the wrong part of the Dark Knight’s universe. Debuting as the crimefighter in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Ben Affleck revealed an impressive take on the character, but Zack Snyder’s particularly violent approach to Batman proved divisive. Five years on, Warner Bros. is yet to confirm with which Batman they are moving forward in the DCEU.
Michael Keaton returns alongside Affleck in The Flash, but Warner Bros. clearly has tremendous faith in Robert Pattinson’s younger incarnation. Matt Reeves’ The Batman will dive into the hero’s twisted relationship with his villains, with the trailer hinting at an alliance with Catwoman, and the Riddler exposing a dark secret about the Wayne family. Meanwhile, an HBO Max spinoff centered on The Batman‘s Penguin (Colin Farrell) is already in development, showing that Warner Bros. is wasting no time in further exploring this universe. Reeves’ vision is undeniably compelling, but solely focusing on villains is the wrong approach.
Batman arguably has the most infamous villain line-up of all superheroes, so, understandably, The Batman wants to capitalize on this. The DCEU has also spotlighted the rogues’ gallery but at the expense of an equally, if not more, interesting aspect of the Batman mythos. The Bat-Family has always been a core element of the comics, yet is rarely seen on film. Warner Bros. has a tumultuous history with adapting Robin but, when handled correctly, Batman’s sidekicks have provided some of the greatest stories to date. Batman’s relationships with allies, including multiple Robins and Batgirl, are critical, and the DCEU is missing the opportunity to truly expand his universe.
Batman Movies Keep Ignoring The Bat-Family (In Favor of Villains)
Batman’s villains are fascinating reflections of his psyche. He often sympathizes with their tragic origins, and the duality of Batman and the Joker defines one of cinema’s most beloved rivalries. It’s inevitable The Batman and its two HBO Max spinoff shows will tease sequels and introduce more foes. However, Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Barbara Gordon, Tim Drake, and Damien Wayne also act as extensions of Batman’s personality, while retaining their own distinctive and compelling identities. Reeves’ film sees Pattinson’s Batman in only his second year, which limits the potential to explore relationships with the Bat-Family. It’s possible Robin could eventually appear in a sequel, but his character might be underdeveloped in favor of expanding Batman’s rogues’ gallery. Consequently, it’s a glaring missed opportunity that the DCEU has, so far, neglected to exploit its later time period. Affleck’s older Batman has been active in Gotham for 20 years, which opens up this universe considerably, yet only villains have been teased.
Warner Bros.’ hesitance to incorporate the Bat-Family into more projects likely stems from the mistakes of the Joel Schumacher era. Although Chris O’Donnell’s Dick Grayson remains one of the better elements of Batman Forever, the follow-up, Batman & Robin, was a disastrous misfire that strangely reimagined Batgirl’s (Alicia Silverstone) origins. Consequently, plans for a Nightwing spinoff were scrapped and the Bat-Family was once again consigned to the comics. However, it was misguided for the ensuing live-action outings to completely ignore these characters.
The Robin tease with John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in The Dark Knight Rises would have worked far better had the film properly adapted a Robin story. Christopher Nolan’s attempt at forging a meaningful connection between Blake and Batman (Christian Bale) to end with a passing of the torch fails to resonate because it bypasses an obvious opportunity to utilize an actual Robin. Nolan chose to exclude the character in favor of a multiple villains formula, introduced by Tim Burton after he abandoned his plans for Robin in Batman Returns. Unlike Schumacher, Nolan shied away from juggling numerous villains and sidekicks, crafting a more streamlined but colder trilogy.
Why Ignoring The Bat-Family Hurts Batman Movies
Unfortunately, Affleck’s canceled Batman film halted the development of Gotham and the Bat-Family along with it. One of the most memorable images from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice shows Bruce staring at a defaced Robin suit. Although Snyder and Warner Bros. have different views on which Robin was murdered by the Joker– Dick Grayson or Jason Todd – this references a much sought-after storyline that may never materialize onscreen. Affleck’s Batman was hugely impacted by his failure to save Robin, making it a massive disappointment if the DCEU doesn’t explore his partner’s death. This would not only enhance Batman’s arc but redefine Jared Leto’s Joker as a truly sadistic threat.
Zack Snyder arguably understood the importance of the Bat-Family better than Warner Bros. Snyder was inspired by The Dark Knight Returns, in which Batman retired following Jason Todd’s murder before reappearing as a merciless avenger. The loss of his sidekick absolutely could push Batman over the edge, and the comics have repeatedly shown the Bat-Family to be the reason he cannot stray past the point of no return. The Robins highlight Batman’s humanity as his grounding force. They expose the best and worst of him, from being an adoptive father to endangering his soldiers’ lives.
Many viewers were alienated by the initial brutality of the DCEU’s Batman. However, the idea behind this controversial interpretation is that Batman wouldn’t compromise his morals if Robin were still alive. This was explored in the animated film Batman: Under The Red Hood, which demonstrated that the hero’s dynamic with his sidekicks can be just as exciting as Batman’s relationship with the Joker. The guilt-ridden vigilante is pitted against the Clown and his resurrected adoptive son, Jason – the wild card’s reincarnation as murderous vigilante Red Hood forces Batman to confront his temptation to kill.
The tension between the hero and his sidekicks had previously been addressed in the 1990s-early 2000s with the DCAU. Batman: The Animated Series and The New Batman Adventures gradually expanded the Bat-Family, glimpsing Dick’s growing frustration with his mentor and their eventual fallout over Batman’s increasingly violent methods. Batgirl and Tim Drake’s Robin experience the excitement and peril of working alongside Batman, with Dick’s evolution into Nightwing foreshadowing the disenchantment they all eventually experience. Batman’s strained relationships with his allies have become a fundamental aspect of his character by the time of Batman Beyond – which The Flash might set up – and underscores both his feelings of abandonment and his desire to isolate himself from his loved ones.
There is a deep history with each one of Batman’s allies that could enrich the DCEU’s version of Gotham, even after Justice League restores the Dark Knight’s sense of hope and trust in others. Warner Bros. reacted poorly to criticism of the DCEU’s overly somber tone and attempted to suddenly alter their heroes’ personalities by injecting unnecessary comedy. Had they begun incorporating the Bat-Family, this would have naturally lightened the universe, creating a necessary balance without completely removing the inherent darkness associated with Batman. The DCEU’s timeline allows for a variety of projects to depict the present or explore the vigilante’s past. Batman’s actions in his prime have yet to be seen, giving no concrete indication of his previous outlook on crimefighting, nor precisely when he began killing. J.K. Simmons’ Commissioner Gordon hints at previous alliances but appears so fleetingly that much is left to the imagination.
How Future Batman Movies Can Fix The Bat-Family Problem
Pattinson’s Batman, although much younger, already demonstrates an untamed rage to match Affleck. Depicting him as a young and reckless hero is exciting, but taking on a sidekick would be the best way of forcing him to mature, and shift from a vengeful Batman into a more defensive protector. The Batman’s crimefighter appears to enjoy looking for trouble, but him later witnessing this pattern in the Bat-Family and trying to curb their wildness offers a promising path for Pattinson’s arc that would set him apart from all previous iterations of the character. Batman wants successors like Dick to be better than him and, in doing so, he can grow as a hero while still confronting his own failures. The fine line between teaching victims to overcome tragedy and training soldiers is something Titans strives to tackle, albeit separate from the DCEU and lacking a proper Batman to fully explore his familial bonds.
Warner Bros. is finally making the long-delayed Batgirl film, which will release on HBO Max. The chance to delve into Gotham with Leslie Grace’s Barbara Gordon can establish her own attitude towards Batman, as well as his reputation in the city. The film is supposedly set within the DCEU continuity, with Simmons confirmed to return as Commissioner Gordon. Batman will also appear, although which version is frustratingly unclear. Batman is paramount to Batgirl’s story and removing the film’s connection to the established DCEU would lose the mystique surrounding a potential Bat-Family. Of course, the Dark Knight shouldn’t detract from Barbara’s compelling story; HBO Max’s Batgirl has the potential to focus on a father-daughter relationship with Commissioner Gordon while referencing how Batman has drastically changed both their lives.
The Bat-Family can absolutely carry films on their own. Batman and Mr. Freeze: SubZero let Dick and Barbara come to the fore, showcasing a romance that would soon break down because of their involvement with Batman. The fallout and subsequent alliance between Batman and Nightwing offer ample opportunity to expand the Batman mythos on screen. This can be accomplished without relegating the rogues’ gallery, as Batman’s partners are closely tied to his enemies. Just as Jason seeks revenge on the Joker, Damian Wayne’s lineage could provide a logical way of introducing the League of Assassins and Ra’s al Ghul. The DCEU has been preoccupied with multiple projects tailored around villains, but it’s a mistake to ignore the sidekicks who comprise the other half of some of the most interesting relationships in Batman’s universe.
- The Batman (2022)Release date: Mar 04, 2022
- DC League of Super-Pets (2022)Release date: May 20, 2022
- Black Adam (2022)Release date: Jul 29, 2022
- The Flash (2022)Release date: Nov 04, 2022
- Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom (2022)Release date: Dec 16, 2022
- Shazam! Fury of the Gods (2023)Release date: Jun 02, 2023
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