From Hush to The Long Halloween, we pick seven detective stories we’d like to see inspire the noir film.
There’s finally new momentum on The Batman, the next big-screen, live-action Batman movie. Director Matt Reeves has revealed that the plot will diverge from past Batman projects by focusing more on Batman’s detective abilities, emphasizing a rogues gallery and offering a more mystery, Noir-influenced take on Gotham City.
Just how closely The Batman — the movie’s title for now — will draw from DC’s Batman comics remains to be seen. However, we can think of several classic detective stories that check all of Reeves’ boxes.
Here are seven Batman comics that could wind up inspiring the new movie. Check out our slideshow or scroll down to see our picks.
Hush is one of the definitive modern Batman stories, one that features a winning combination of a murder mystery, a wide cast of heroes and villains and some gorgeous artwork from comics superstar Jim Lee.
Hush introduces the titular villain, a mysterious, Aristotle-quoting figure shrouded in bandages and who sparks a complex, winding murder mystery. As Batman struggles to deduce Hush’s true identity and his relationship to Bruce Wayne, he clashes with just about every major villain in Gotham. If we’re ever going to get a Batman movie where the Caped Crusader battles Joker, Killer Croc, Poison Ivy and Ra’s al Ghul, it would be this one.
Hush is also notable for focusing a great deal on Batman’s romance with Catwoman, something that could play well with Reeves’ stated desire to frame the story from Batman’s personal point of view.
The Court of Owls
When DC relaunched their flagship Batman comic as part of 2011’s New 52 relaunch, the result was a sprawling epic called The Court of Owls. In this story, Batman is forced to come to terms with the realization that he doesn’t know Gotham as well as he thought. As it turns out, there’s been a secret society called the Court of Owls ruling Gotham from the shadows since long before there was a Batman.
A Court of Owls adaptation would allow for plenty of detective elements as Batman hunts for clues about the organization’s existence and the role it may have played in shaping his own life. The conflict between Batman and the Court takes a very personal turn in the climax of the story, resulting in a villain who would be very unlike any other we’ve seen in a Batman movie before.
A Court of Owls adaptation also allows for plenty of sequel potential. The original comic spawned a massive offshoot series called Batman Eternal, as well as fueled the events of a major Batman vs. Joker story called Batman: Endgame.
The Long Halloween
Before writer Jeph Loeb created Hush, he crafted another yearlong Batman epic that featured numerous rogues, a central murder mystery and a noir-heavy take on Gotham City. That story was The Long Halloween.
The Long Halloween introduces a mysterious enemy called the Holiday Killer, one who claims a new victim on each major holiday. That villain’s murder spree comes even as Batman, Captain Jim Gordon and new District Attorney Harvey Dent try to clean up Gotham and halt a destructive gang war between the Maroni and Falcone crime families. Batman’s hunt for Holiday puts him in the path of numerous villains, including icons like Joker, Scarecrow and Catwoman and relative unknowns like Calendar Man and Solomon Grundy.
Based on Reeves’ comments so far, we get the impression The Batman is meant to be set early on in Batman’s career, at a time when the Dark Knight is still finding his place and coming to terms with the true nature of Gotham City. That’s very much the Batman of The Long Halloween. This is also another comic with strong sequel potential, as Loeb and artist Tim Sale followed up the original story with another murder mystery-driven tale called Dark Victory.
Writer Grant Morrison has proven to be one of the most influential Batman creators of all time. While Gothic isn’t Morrison’s most famous Batman work, it does provide the right foundation for the sort of Batman movie Reeves is looking to create.
Gothic introduces a new villain named Mr. Whisper, a seemingly supernatural killer targeting members of the Gotham mob,. Batman is forced to intervene and protect the very criminals he despises. However, this new mystery takes an unexpected turn when Batman realizes he too may have encountered Mr. Whisper as a young boy at boarding school.
With its emphasis on Batman’s childhood trauma, a Gothic adaptation could easily provide Reeves with the more intimate, personal story he wants. It doesn’t hurt that Gothic draws heavily from classic noir films like M and the opera Don Giovanni. Reeves can mine all the noir imagery he needs out of that source material.
The Black Mirror
Prior to revamping Batman for the New 52 and introducing the Court of Owls, writer Scott Snyder first cut his teeth on a Batman story called The Black Mirror (not to be confused with the sci-fi anthology series). The Black Mirror is a two-pronged story wherein Batman confronts a group of black market dealers who specialize in trophies from Gotham’s worst villains and the Gordon family contend with the return of James Gordon, Jr. That latter story is where The Black Mirror particularly shines. Snyder and artists Jock and Francesco Francavilla took a forgotten character introduced as a young boy in Batman: Year One and re-imagined him as a dangerous sociopath of the sort only Gotham could create.
The Black Mirror actually features Dick Grayson in the Batman role rather than Bruce Wayne. We imagine it would be easy enough to rewrite the story with Bruce in the lead role, though it might actually be an interesting choice if Reeves were to make Dick the focus of his movie instead. Whatever the case, The Black Mirror certainly has the right visual and tonal sensibilities for Reeves’ The Batman.
City of Crime
If The Batman is looking to draw from any noir-influenced, mystery-driven Batman comic of the past couple decades, City of Crime may be the ideal starting point. This story sees Batman plunged into a complicated new murder mystery. After failing to come to the aid of a troubled young girl and faced with the deaths of six others, Batman is thrust into one of his most complicated and troubling investigations of his career.
City of Crime features many familiar Bat-villains, but it’s a story that’s more concerned with the psychology of the Dark Knight himself and the economic inequality plaguing Gotham. We don’t know if a City of Crime adaptation would be the most mainstream-friendly Batman movie ever conceived, but it would be a way for reeves to distinguish his movie from those that have come before. And DC is trying to emphasize the director’s personal vision these days…
The Case of the Chemical Syndicate
“The Case of the Chemical Syndicate” is notable for being the very first story to feature Batman, appearing all the way back in 1939’s Detective Comics #27. This story’s central murder mystery is sparked when a man is stabbed to death and his son’s fingerprints are found on the knife. As the rookie Batman investigates the killing, he hones in on three suspects tied to the Apex Chemical Corporation.
Granted, this story is far too short and self-contained to spawn an entire movie. Still, it might be fun to see The Batman draw inspiration from the very first Batman comic, one that hails from a time where the Dark Knight’s exploits were dominated by detective work rather than battles with supervillains.
It’s also worth noting that other comic creators have expanded on “the Case of the Chemical Syndicate” in the decades since. In one case, writer Brad Meltzer even altered the plot to also serve as the potential origin story for the Joker.
Jesse is a mild-mannered writer for IGN. Allow him to lend a machete to your intellectual thicket by following @jschedeen on Twitter, or Kicksplode on MyIGN.