Looking forward to an upcoming comic book movie? Want to know what to read in preparation for the film? 24 Panels has you covered! In Three to Read, we will recommend three comic book collections for you to help you get ready for an upcoming film: a book that directly inspires a given film, a book that provides “secondary” inspiration, and a third that offers a different take on a film’s premise or idea.
In this inaugural installment, Dave recommends three works related to the upcoming Zack Snyder film Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.
With its first trailer out, we are finally starting to have an idea as to just what Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice will be about, and I have to admit that it isn’t exactly what I expected. Visually and thematically, Dawn of Justice is bolder and, to be frank, crazier than I imagined it would be, with images of what appears to be a wasteland Metropolis, religious worship of Superman, and a cinematic Batman who seems to have realized the value of using a voice modulator instead of speaking in hushed whispers or an incomprehensible growl. Whether any of this works or not is anyone’s guess, but I can’t fault director Zack Snyder for lack of ambition.
Of course, we have well over a year to go before this film hits theatres, which gives those looking to explore the source material plenty of time to get up to date on just what Snyder and crew are drawing from for their film. For those looking for where to start though, here are three books worth giving a shot.
The Primary Source
Might as well get the obvious one out of the way.
Dru and I talked at length about the animated adaptation of Frank Miller’s iconic 1986 comic The Dark Knight Returns on an episode of the show, but the short version of our take on the comic is as follows: slightly overrated, but undeniably influential. Certainly, director Zack Snyder and crew are looking to the comic for inspiration if the trailer for Dawn of Justice is any indication: along with the titular battle between Superman and Batman taking visual cues from Miller’s comic, the look of Snyder’s Batman is clearly modelled off of Miller’s older, punchier Batman, and specific shots, such as Batman standing on a Gotham tower with what appears to be a rifle, are direct lifts from Miller’s beloved book.
Beyond the influence on the visual design of Dawn of Justice, Snyder does seem to also be borrowing bleak tone of The Dark Knight Returns for his film. What does not appear to be making its way to the silver screen, however, is the comic’s story, in which an aging Batman comes out of retirement to battle the decay eating away at Gotham City. In part, this is due to Christopher Nolan having already raided the comic for a few story elements for The Dark Knight Rises, though the fact that Dawn of Justice is intended to launch the shared DC Cinematic Universe instead of capping off one character’s story like The Dark Knight Returns does no doubt plays a role in the choices being made. Indeed, from what is hinted at in the Dawn of Justice trailer, the film’s story appears to be mostly an original tale. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have roots in the comics, however…
The Secondary Inspiration
Perhaps the biggest surprise to come out of the trailer for Dawn of Justice is how it suggests the film will be directly addressing the theme of Superman as a figure whose sheer existence is enough to inspire people to religious devotion and condemnation. Those looking to see an earlier take on this idea need look no further than the recently published Superman: The Power Within graphic novel, which collects a series of late ’80s Superman strips in which Superman finds himself trying to protect a group of cultists dedicated to worshiping him from a powerful cabal that believes him to be the antichrist.
Written by Roger Stern and illustrated by legendary Superman artist Curt Swan, The Power Within offers readers a surprisingly sophisticated exploration of the dangers of religious fanaticism despite the restrictions placed on the comic due to its strip format. Of particular interest is watching Clark struggle to walk a fine line with a fanatic devoted to Superman as he tries to short out the situation, challenging the man’s beliefs and, at times, being forced to take advantage of them to try and get to the bottom of the cabal’s scheme. Dawn of Justice will likely take the idea in a different direction from Stern and Swan’s tale, but I wouldn’t be surprised if these comics were scattered around the production’s offices while prepping the film.
The Alternate Spin
While there are plenty of comic stories detailing the first meeting of Batman and Superman, the second volume of Smallville Season Eleven, subtitled Detective, is perhaps most comparable to Dawn of Justice in that the comic also serves as the introduction of its particular version of the Dark Knight. While the plot of Bryan Q. Miller’s comic is about what one would expect — villain team ups, misunderstandings between heroes, and yes, fisticuffs between Batman and Superman — the fun of the book lies in how Miller both reinvents Batman for the Smallville universe and weaves the character into the preexisting mythology of the series. Indeed, this particular incarnation of Batman is one I would actually enjoy reading more of, if only for the interplay between him and his partner Nightwing. And no, this version of Nightwing is not Dick Grayson…
Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice hits theatres on March 25, 2016.