Frank Miller’s status as a legendary comic creator was locked in stone 30 years ago, with character-defining work on Daredevil and his industry changing The Dark Knight Returns (with Klaus Janson and Lynn Varley). So much so that the mixed reactions to his more recent work on Batman, such as the possibly unnecessary sequels to The Dark Knight Returns or the unintentionally hilarious All-Star Batman and Robin (not to mention the tone deaf Holy Terror, which was bizarrely intended to be a post-9/11 Batman story before thankfully becoming something else) will never be able to tarnish that.
But make no mistake, Miller still knows his Batman, and he recently revealed where he thinks the Batman franchise should go in order to evolve and set itself apart from the pack.
“My dream would be to make it much smaller,” Miller told Variety. “To lose the toys and to focus more on the mission, and to use the city a great deal more. Because he’s got a loving relationship with the city he’s protecting. And unlike Superman his connection to crime is intimate; it has been ever since his parents were murdered. And he defeats criminals with his hands. So it would be a different take. But it will never be in my hands, because it would not be a good place to make toys from. There wouldn’t be a line of toys.”
He may have a point. Bruce Wayne’s endless resources, coupled with studios’ similarly endless expectations for what makes a blockbuster superhero movie, have resulted in a cinematic Batman who has become impossibly removed from his street level, ‘world’s greatest detective’ roots. Instead we get endless variations of armored Bat-costumes that don’t seem particularly suited to hand-to-hand combat, along with bigger and flashier Batmobiles and Batplanes. You don’t need to spend $200 million to make a Batman movie, and we have yet to get one where there’s a genuine mystery to be solved. Perhaps the closest we’ve come to this was Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.
Miller once collaborated with Darren Aronofsky on a Batman: Year One movie that never materialised, which eventually fell apart and became Batman Begins. That screenplay made some strange choices in regards to Batman’s origin story and his supporting cast, but was certainly more grounded than what we’ve come to expect.
It’s not clear what the story, tone, or scale of Ben Affleck’s upcoming The Batman solo movie will be, and the script is still in progress. But with any luck, Warner Bros will indeed look to tell a different kind of Batman tale this time around.
When asked if he had seen Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice which took considerable visual inspiration from Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, he gave a wry response. “I’ll just say: ‘Thanks.’ What can I say?” Miller laughed, “No, actually I’ll withdraw that; I’ll say: ‘You’re welcome!’”