The Ten Most Influential Stories to Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy.

Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy is quite unlike anything else in the history of cinema. His massively ambitious piece of work seamlessly blended existing Batman mythology with his own personal vision of how a Superhero could work in the real world. This allowed him to pick and choose each piece of Batman lore and mythology that he thought should be included in the story.

What eventuated was a smattering of hand picked Batman moments and themes picked straight from the comics spread out throughout the film trilogy and Batman fans finally got a Batman movie based on the comic’s that they love.

Officially there were only three stories (Year One, The Long Halloween, and The Man Who Falls) that were said to be used as an influence for Batman Begins, but influences from all of these stories can be seen throughout the entirety of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy.

These are the ten trade paperbacks that every single Batman fan should read, in roughly chronological order.

WARNING:SPOILERS GALORE AHEAD

1. Year One (1987)

Batman Year One

Chapter One: Who I am. How I come to be.

This is where Batman Begins.

One of the most influential and important comics of all time, and widely regarded as one of the best Batman stories ever written, Year One recounts Bruce Wayne’s first year as Batman in an even more corrupt version of Gotham City than the movie’s portray. Its brutal, noire type story is the perfect place to begin your Batman journey. Though you should be warned, this book was massively popular, so much so that most of it has already been absorbed into the public consciousness, so quite a lot of it may seem familiar.

The movie adaptations owe so very much to Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s reinvention of a modern Batman and it shows. There are quite a few scenes from all of Nolan’s movie’s that are taken directly from this book, from the ending of Batman Begins where Commissioner Gordon is telling Batman about the arrival of the Joker on a rooftop, to the fight scene with Batman and Catwoman on a luxurious rooftop in The Dark Knight Rises.

2. The Man Who Falls (1989)

the man who falls

This story might be a mere 16 pages long, but this was the structural basis for Batman Begins, and remains the official canonical Batman origin story. The story centers on Bruce Wayne’s training and time travelling around the world after the events of his parents murder. The non-linear story telling from this comic was also mirrored fairly heavily in Batman Begins.

3. The Long Halloween (1996)

Batman The Long Halloween

This series continues the story of Year One. It is chock full of in depth character studies of Batman and how many of his famous villains turned from normal goons into fully fleshed super-villains.

The Long HalloweenThe Long Halloween also contains the modern origin story of how Harvey Dent turned from a D.A. into the psychotic Two-Face.

 

This was one of the three comics that was said to be a direct influence of Batman Begins, but I have a feeling that we can safly throw some Dark Knight in there as well.

The crime family headed by Carmine Falcone and Sal Maroni which featured heavily in the first two movies was also taken from The Long Halloween and its sequel Dark Victory.

4. Killing Joke (1988)

The Killing Joke

Written by Alan Moore, this is the origin story for the Joker, and is the definitive basis for the Joker in The Dark Knight. Christopher Nolan even gave Heath Ledger a copy of this book when they started work on the movie.

One Bad DayThere might not be anything in the way of direct plot lifted from this story to the movies, but thematically this is huge.

The Joker’s scheme in the Killing Joke is to try and prove that all it takes to drive a man to madness is one bad day. Though  in the movies his focus is Harvey Dent, in The Killing Joke the Joker sets his sights on  Commissioner Gordon. The Joker shoots the Commissioners daughter Barbara and take nude photos of her to try and snap Gordon’s mind.

Makes that cover seem a whole lot more creepy now doesnt it.
The Killing Joke does actually give the story of how the Joker turned from a normal citizen into the psychopathic maniac that we all know and love, though at one point he states that he doesn’t remember his life before the accident that made him insane and that:

“If I’m going to have a past I prefer it to be multiple choice! HA HA HA”

Which is directly reflected with the Jokers “Wanna know how I got these scars” stories in The Dark Knight.

5. A Death In the Family (1988)

Batman_Death_In_The_Family

If you have looked at the cover for A Death In The Family or even read the title then it is safe to say that I don’t think I am giving too much away when I say that this is the story about the death of Robin.

This might seem to some to have only the most tenuous link to the Dark Knight trilogy other than one of Batman’s companions dying in a warehouse explosion just as Batman arrives on the scene, but there was more to it than that.

This is a story of the effects that being Batman has on Bruce Wayne’s life and the life’s of those around him. It might not be the most well loved of Batman stories, but it still should be read.

When A Death in the Family was written, fans had the ability to directly infulence the story by voting via a phone poll. They voted almost unanimously to kill Robin off (Reader Greg points out that this is dead wrong. It was far from a landslide decision, the vote to kill Robin off only won by a margin of 72 votes- 5343 to 5271.Thanks Greg). So this would be also have been used as a cautionary tale for Nolan not to include Robin in the films simply because he feels that he must.

Also, it may have absolutely nothing to do with the movies, but Batman breaks some knuckles punching Superman in the face and the Joker is appointed Iranian Ambassador to the U.N. which in itself makes this worthy of a read.

 

6. A Loneley Place of Dying (1989)

Batman: A Lonely Place of Dying

This is the story that introduced Tim Drake as the third Robin. Drake manages to install himself in the role by figuring out Batman’s true identity. Sounds somewhat familiar no? Some may argue that this in itself is not enough to place it on this list, but Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character, Blake, was based heavily on this piece of work.

 

7. Arkham Asylum – A Serious House on Serious Earth (1989)

Batman: Arkham Asylum - A Serious House on Serious Earth, 15th Anniversary Edition

Some may say that there is very little linking this book to the movies other than one homage in the movie where Jonathan Crane enters   the Asylum with Rachel Dawes mirrors perfectly the Joker’s entrance with Batman in the novel. It is also said that Arkham Asylum was passed around the set of The Dark Knight.

Some people love Arkham Asylums art style, some people hate it, I personally love it, and I feel it shows off the pure despondency and insanity associated with Arkham Asylum.

8. Knightfall (1992)

Batman: Knightfall, Vol. 1

Knightfall would have to be one of the most obvious influence on the Dark Knight Rises, as Bane, in his most famous moment of his super villain career breaks Batman’s back over his knee. But it must be noted that the Bane from the Comics and the Bane from the Movies are two very different animals. In the comics Bane seems to have no real motive for being evil and wanting to take over Gotham, other than the simple fact that he is able to.

I will be perfectly honest and say I think that Nolan’s Bane is the better of the two, and I wasn’t much of a  fan of Knightfall at all. But I felt it had to be included as an influence for three simple reasons:
1: Bane’s breaking of Batman’s back
2: The theme of Batman being pushed beyond his point of endurance.
3: When Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham after recovering his injuries, Alfred retires, refusing to stay and watch Bruce destroy himself. Which was lifted almost verbatim from the comic into the movie.

9. No Man’s Land (1999)

Batman: No Man's Land, Vol. 1

This was a huge series that ran for the entirety of 1999. In No Man’s Land Gotham City was struck with an earthquake which destroyed much of the city, leading to the U.S. government evacuating the city and declaring it No Mans Land.

Batman No Man's Land GothamBatman then goes to Washington D.C. to try and convince the government not abandon the city. His failure leaves him deeply depressed and it takes him months to get his shit together and return to Gotham City to help where he can.

The portrayal of a Gotham City cut off from the rest of the world, reduced to chaos and rubble and over run by criminals is an obvious influence for The Dark Knight Rises.

 

10. The Dark Knight Returns (1986)

Batman: The Dark Knight Returns
It might not be considered to be part of any official Batman canon anymore, but this story from Frank Miller in 1989 is so influential to the entire Batman universe that it feel perverse putting at the bottom of any list, rather than  at the very top.
This is the comic that really pulled Batman from his campy 60’s comics to the modern Batman that we know and love. Before The Dark Knight Returns there were very very few dark, gritty, violent worlds written about in comics, after The Dark Knight Returns, they were the rule rather than the exception.
This is the story of an older Bruce Wayne, retired as Batman after the death of Robin (see A Death in the Family above), living in a Gotham City that has progressively gotten worse since he hung his cape up.
This is a story of how our perceptions of what constitutes justice and retribution, crime and punishment, and simply what is right or wrong make us who we are and ultimately decide our place in society.
The influence of this book is clearly evident in many forms in The Dark Knight Rises, from the idea of an older, less physically capable Batman coming out of retirement, the almost identical designs of the Bat-mobile and to the ending, where Batman dies so that Bruce Wayne may live.
If you read one thing from this list, make it The Dark Knight Returns.
Edit:
Some people argue that Brian Azzarello’s graphic novel Joker (2008) is closer to Heath Ledgers portrayal of the Joker, it must be noted that Joker came out after the release of The Dark Knight. It is a fantastic piece of work and absolutely should be read, but the fact remains that Killing Joke is the far more influential of the two.

 

  • Stevo

    Great List.Though I think it is very mean of you to recommend anyone read Knightfall. Good lord I hated those books.

  • Greg

    While this was a decent article and well thought out, you should probably do a little fact checking:
    A Death In The Family wasn’t a landslide decision, in fact robin was voted to die only by a margin of 72 votes- 5343 to 5271.
    The Dark Knight Returns was published in 1986, before Year One. And the run by Dennis O’Neil in the 1970’s actually began to turn Batman dark again.

    • Well, that’s embarrassing. You are dead right to say that the vote wasn’t unanimous, I had not actually seen the numbers before, so thanks for putting me straight on that one.
      I am aware that the Dark Knight Returns was published before Year One, but the events of Year One took place well before The Dark Knight Returns, which is why it was first on the chronology.
      You are again right in saying that the Dennis O’Neil run was the first efforts to remove Batman from the 60’s style camp, but there were still many elements of buffoonery that remained in the series, like punching sharks and whatnot, that many people these days would simply not recognize as Batman. Though to be fair I probably should have included him on the list somewhere.
      Thanks for your input, I really do appreciate it.

  • Clint

    Pretty good list… But may I suggest taking away the tittles ‘A death in the family’, ‘A lonely place of dying’ and ‘Arkam Asylum’.

    Due to the fact this article is called ‘the ten MOST influential stories’ to Nolan’s trilogy and unlike those three titles I’ve mentioned, when you read the other stories, you stumble across material that was directly used in the films.

    I would replace them with these three instead…

    ‘Fears’… A legends of the dark knight: halloween special, that features in ‘The Haunted Knight’ collection by Loeb and Sale who also did ‘The Long Halloween’. This story features the scarecrow and alot of material used in “Batman Begins”.

    ‘The Cult’… The whole Bane’s army of homeless and taking over of gotham, aswell as imprisoning Batman seems to have influenced and been blended with ‘No man’s land’ for the new film ‘The dark knight rises’. There are some others references, but don’t wanna spoil it for others.

    ‘Batman: Bane’… This was a one-shot story, that was the final chapter of the story arc ‘Legacy’.
    The whole nuclear threat and finishing Ras Al Ghul’s destiny comes from here. Blend in this story with ‘the dark knight returns’ mutant leader and add a pinch of the final chapter of ‘Knightfall’ part one… And you are sipping on the cocktail of Nolan’s Bane.

  • This list isnt bad, but A Serious House is seriously warped, and can be incredibly hard to actually read. I would replace that with “Joker”.

  • Alfred Spatchcock

    Boooo, I LOVED Knightfall. It showed off how imperfect batman actually is. He’s still no Iron Man but still, he has his moments.
    Tony Stark would kick his ass.