The Lego Batman Movie is now out in theaters, and by most accounts it is at least decent. While the weekend is almost a guaranteed success for Lego Batman, Warner Brothers’ eyes will quickly turn toward the future and focus again on the studio’s upcoming slate of films based in the ongoing DC Cinematic Universe. There’s a good reason for that–it still appears the films are in trouble.
While Justice League production seems to be plugging along, we haven’t heard much from Wonder Woman. Now, new reports have begun to indicate that the next film on the slate, The Batman, may experience rewrites. While these reports haven’t been confirmed (during the writing of this piece, a conflicting report says there is a script everyone is happy with), the idea isn’t far-fetched. Ben Affleck had previously said he would direct the film “if it had a good script,” and then it was made clear he wouldn’t be directing. To even some of us writing on this site, that didn’t exactly sound like good news, especially since Affleck himself revealed at least one villain for the film–Deathstroke the Terminator.
If The Batman is getting a rewrite that drastic, where does it go from here? Well, while the DCEU for the most part has avoided doing full adaptations of material; I offer this supposition: go back to the source. The best part of this is that the DC Films team doesn’t even need to look far for the perfect option, because DC Comics started publishing All-Star Batman. Rebooted and brought into continuity as a part of its Rebirth marketing, All-Star Batman tells in-continuity stories set alongside the core Batman books. The first arc of this book, called “My Own Worst Enemy” and written by Scott Snyder with art from John Romita Jr., is one of the most movie-ready Batman premises I’ve ever read in any Bat book.
Spoilers for All-Star Batman #1-5 Ahead!
The premise for “My Own Worst Enemy” centers around well-known Bat-rogue Two-Face. After getting captured once again and taken to Arkham for causing acid rain to fall over Gotham, Batman discovers a message meant for Bruce Wayne left by Harvey Dent, the “good” side of Two-Face. Harvey explains that during the times he is in control he was using the time to create a means to finally put an end to the dual nature of the Two-Face persona. Unfortunately, in order to keep it from Two-Face, Harvey had to hide in a place only Bruce could find. Despite the danger, Batman decides to take Two-Face to the location of the supposed cure, approximately 500 miles outside of Gotham City.
Two-Face, clearly against the idea of being wiped out, has set his own plan in motion. He’s put out a hit on himself and the Batman, promising the fortunes of known crime families. Also, just to make sure the offer is irresistible by revealing that he’s used surveillance technology to gather compromising information on as many of Gotham’s citizens as possible and will dump that info should they reach the destination. That all sounds convoluted, and it is; welcome to comic books. In reality, this is just the means to the end, as Batman’s plane is shot out of the sky and the two are forced to make the trek on foot.
This is where All-Star begins proper. Batman is now forced to drag Two-Face nearly 500 miles on foot while fighting off C- and D-list rouges and regular citizens desperate for the cash. He’s assisted only by Alfred and new ward Duke Thomas (who is, the book asserts, is not a Robin), but things get complicated there when Duke discovers that something might be wrong with the cure and is forced to try to catch up. As for Alfred? Well, he’s the one who blew up the plan. He apparently once did something that allowed Two-Face a way to deduce Batman’s identity and has that information ready to be giving to Gotham Police under the same conditions. All of a sudden, both the dual natures of Batman and Two-Face come into the spotlight.
As such, the trek is juxtaposed with flashbacks explaining exactly how and why Bruce Wayne would be the one to know where Harvey hid his cure. Back during their childhood, they found themselves in a boys home for a time due to traumas they had suffered. There, they didn’t know each other’s names but bonded over their anger at their situations. We find out that Harvey was beaten as a child, while Bruce was still extremely angry at losing his parents. Two-Face’s iconic double head coin gets a backstory from this too. As it turns out, it belonged to his father, but it was a double tailed coin. He had it reforged as a double head coin to symbolize his change of heart. Naturally, Harvey’s father didn’t really change, but the coin makes several appearances throughout the book. Multiple times, Batman throws the coin away on the trek, only for one of the hunters to create an opportunity for the coin to “come back.”
Admittedly, this would be a significantly lower-stake affair, at least when it comes to effects. Whereas most superhero fare tends to focus on bombast, this would require instead a bit more narrowed focus. The fights that do occur are more close-quarters, though one does occur on a moving train for a bit. Some of the actual good stuff from BvS came from the more physical performance of Affleck, so I don’t think this would be too much of an ask. Having an established history between Bruce and Harvey makes sense as well, given that the DCU Batman is intended to be a long-term role at this point. Two-Face himself hasn’t properly led a film since Batman Forever, but thanks to The Dark Knight, he’s completely recognizable and wouldn’t require setting up. In fact, a particular blurb from Two-Face almost pitches this story as a spiritual successor to Dark Knight:
What about Deathstroke already being in this movie? I did think about that too. See, Two-Face offered up the fortunes of Gotham’s crime families, and they aren’t too pleased about it. To deal with this, they hire the KGBeast to take care of Batman. He serves as the primary action conflict, as he’s skilled enough to survive a Batman beatdown and keep coming at him. While I’d miss the thick Russian accent, Deathstroke could easily double into this role and take up the hunt for Batman and Two-Face. As much as some fans like him as a Teen Titans villain, Deathstroke really doesn’t have enough going for him to carry a movie proper anyway, but fitting him into this role is perfect for the character. On top of that, all of these different hunters could make appearances in, say, a Suicide Squad sequel?
Now, while this idea all sounds good, it doesn’t really matter if it doesn’t pay off in the end. It isn’t a shock to say Batman reaches his destination, pretty worse for wear, but he does. What is a shock is the inevitable twist: there is something hidden at the boy’s home, but not a cure. Instead, it’s a serum capable of doing excessive damage to the parts of the brain that activate when Two-Face is in control of the body. Or, it may do the same to the Harvey parts. Okay, so it isn’t really scientific but it does set things up in a nice bow, namely the idea of the 50/50 chance. Though, the point is that there isn’t one. Remember the double-headed coin, the iconic item of Two-Face? It’s the tell here-while there is a 50/50 chance, the result is the same. The cure isn’t going to work, because Two-Face and Harvey Dent are two sides of the same person. Since all of Batman’s rogues exist to reflect him in some way, you can do the math there.
“My Own Worst Enemy” is a great story and a great introduction to an ongoing comic book series. It has a simple premise that it does great and surprising things with, and truly feels like a story ripe for adaptation. There are all kinds of references and nods to decades of Batman’s legacy. Now, with Matt Reeves set to take over the director’s chair, and the script not getting fully rewritten, I doubt we’ll see it happen. Except there is one thing I’d like to see make it into the movie regardless. In the first page of issue one and the last page of issue five, Batman turns to the audience and winks. The winks are designed to bookend the arc and set a tone for All-Star Batman. While there is plenty of violence, some death, darkness, and more of what has become synonymous with modern interpretations of the character, he has actually adapted and grown into it. This Batman still has damage, but he’s dealt with it. That’s why he even embarks on the trek to try to save Harvey.
That Batman sounds far more interesting than what we’ve seen so far in the DCU, and it would do a world of good see the All-Star Batman become the definitive Batman.