If you’re a comic book nerd, love good cinema, or just like hearing Christian Bale talk in that oh-so-gravelly voice of his, you’re counting down the days until The Dark Knight Rises hits theaters. If you’re not a comic book reader, however, or you’re possibly intimidated by the sheer heft of the Batman graphic novel library, there are some particular story arcs that can give you a sneak peak at the story lines adapted into Nolan’s upcoming epic.
If you’re looking for the low down on how Catwoman got to be so awesome, or why Tom Hardy has to wear that funny mask over his gorgeous face, these graphic novels can inform you about the stories that got adapted together to make the upcoming Gotham masterpiece.
((As always, the warning: some comics included may give spoilers for the upcoming film. These comics have been out for years, but you have been warned.))
Batman Verus Bane (Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan)
This one is the no brainer if you’d like to prepare for the arrival of Bane. Back in the 1990’s everyone was obsessed over killing off or permanently scarring their superheroes. Superman had a deadly battle with a monster called Doomsday that turned into one of the biggest selling comic book events ever. At that point it seems DC decided, hey, why not bring that same kind of oomph over to Gotham? They wanted to provide a serious physical challenge for Batman in a way that his other supervillain’s just hadn’t been up to.
Enter Bane, the ’roid-rage monster that wanted to test himself against the best the Bat could dish out. Batman Versus Bane is the origin story of Bane that anyone going into Dark Knight Rises might want to know, and it also provides a good context on how difficult an enemy Bane really is for the Bat. However, nothing in Batman Versus Bane can really touch the next one on this list for sheer impact.
Batman: Knightfall (Various Writers)
Bane was set up to be the game changer for Batman fans and in the Knightfall storyline, it all comes to a head. Batman is pushed to the limits when Bane hatches a plan to overwhelm Batman by releasing all the prisoners in the city to wittle away at Batman’s strength. Then when the two face off, Bane defeats Batman and cripples him by snapping his spine. This jarring event set in motion a long, protracted story that spanned over a dozen issues (gathered into three graphic novels) in which Gotham was forced to deal with a new Batman in place of Bruce Wayne, and Bruce was faced with the long road back from the dark place Bane had sent him. While the ending gets a little dragged out, Knightfall’s impact on The Dark Knight Rises seems pretty clear.
Will we see the crippling in the film? We’ll just have to wait to find out, but the latest trailer did show Bane holding a cracked Bat-mask in the sewers of Gotham.
Batman: The Cult (Jim Starlin)
Speaking of the sewers, it looks like at least a piece of the setting of this 1988 four-issue story was borrowed for the upcoming movie. Batman: The Cult introduces Bat-readers to a faux religious leader named Deacon Blackfire, and you know with a name like that, he’s got to be a trustworthy, humble man of God indeed. In fact, he’s so interested in helping his fellow man, he gathers up the homeless and disenfranchised of Gotham and leads them into the sewers, where he brainwashes them to be his own personal army. Sounds a little bit like some of what we see in the Dark Knight Rises trailers, with events in the sewers and riots going on all over Gotham. Has Bane become that charismatic leader for the disenfranchised of Gotham? The Cult is also just a good read on its own, as Batman confronted by religious zealotry and the implications of why he became Batman in the first place.
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (Frank Miller)
This graphic novel by Frank Miller — considered one of the greatest in comics literature — may be an oddball choice for this list, but bears mention due to the title and content. Frank Miller’s run in the late 80’s depicts an elder Batman after he has long since retired. He must then return to the cape and cowl after a long time away, and what that takes is nothing short of epic. While I’m not always a fan of Miller’s writing on Batman, this was the comic that turned a lot of the Batman fandom on its head, and brought about a darker bent in the Dark Knight that was carried over throughout the 90’s and into modern readership. It could arguably be said that the most dark, cerebral of the Batman story lines would not exist without the work Frank Miller did to show us the inner workings of Bruce Wayne’s psyche. Considering that the film seems to deal with Bruce returning to Gotham and the cape and cowl after some time away, this might speak a lot to that psychological aspect of the narrative.
Batman: No Man’s Land (Various Writers and Artists)
This massive story arc (covering multiple books and over a dozen issues) may not have a direct impact on The Dark Knight Rises plot, but Christopher Nolan did mention he referenced the story line for the film. No Man’s Land stands as one of the biggest Batman story arcs with the widest implications for Gotham as a setting.
After a deadly plague and devastating earthquake collapse Gotham’s infrastructure, America turns its back on the city and cuts it off from the mainland U.S.. While most of the city is evacuated, thousands are stranded behind in a city that quickly falls to chaos. What’s left is a true lawless burg ruled by the gangs, the Gotham PD, and the remaining supervillains who fight for resources, territory and survival. Batman struggles in this plot to regain footing in a Gotham that begins to transform out from under him, and changes forever the way that Gotham and the Bat-family works. I’m interested to see what elements Nolan has pulled from No Man’s Land, as there does seem to be a lot of civil break-down elements to the film.
Catwoman: Nine Lives of A Feline Fatale (Various Writers and Artists)
This graphic novel has everything you might need to know about the supervillain/love interest known as Catwoman. While there’s no definitive collection for Catwoman story lines, this is as close as we get, with stories that go back to her introduction as the 1940’s jewel thief known as “The Cat” down the years to a Selina Kyle we’re all more familiar with.
As a Catwoman fan, I think this graphic novel gives readers a lot of aspects of Catwoman that later were evolved in her own comic series in the late 90’s, and that provide a peak into the heart of the character that Nolan will be translating. Special attention should be paid to the 1986 story “A Town On the Night,” which explores the relationship between Batman and Catwoman as they try to figure each other out in one evening around Gotham.
Catwoman: The Dark End of the Street (Ed Brubaker)
This storyline (Catwoman Vol 3 Issues #1-4) by Ed Brubaker picks up in the evolution of Selina Kyle where the work in Feline Fatale leaves off. Brubaker’s run on Catwoman saw the character evolve past her thieving ways into a staple of Gotham, a guardian of the East End neighborhood she called home. In this story arc, Selina has just resurfaced after being presumed dead and wants to become a protector in Gotham rather than just a criminal. It kicks off a change in the character, years in the making, that brings about some amazing consequences later on and brings her one step closer to Batman as an ally and a love interest. The storyline also gave comics a reason to readjust the Catwoman costume once more, a style that seems to be informing the Catwoman fashion choices for Anne Hathaway in the film. I would suggest this graphic novel less for its fashion forwardness, though, and more for the way it highlights the ethical thief aspect of Selina that seems to be Nolan’s direction.
So there are some ways to prep for the upcoming film. Other graphic novels I could suggest for some thematic goodness include also Batman: War Games, Batman: Hush, and Batman: Year One for any sort of origin information you might have missed. For everyone, there are five other great Gotham adventures, including the New 52 Scott Snyder Batman, but that is for more of a contemporary feel. For now, the above list should prepare anyone before they head to the movies for this trilogy’s end. How will it resolve? What will Bane really do? How much can Catwoman steal out from under Batman’s nose? We’ll just have to wait and see.
Shoshana Kessock is a comics fan, photographer, game developer, LARPer and all around geek girl. She’s the creator of Phoenix Outlaw Productions and ReImaginedReality.com