With Hollywood turning more of its attention to the world of graphic novels for inspiration, I’ll cast the spotlight on a cool comic book each week that has the potential to pack a theater or keep you glued to your television screens. At the end of some “Adapt This” columns, you’ll also find thoughts from various comic creators and other industry experts about the books they’d like to see make the jump from page to screen.
This Week’s Book: Batman and the Monster Men by Matt Wagner
The Premise: Set just after Batman’s first year as Gotham’s shadowy protector, Batman and the Monster Men has him investigating a rash of cannibalistic murders in the city that eventually lead him to the lair of Dr. Hugo Strange, a psychiatrist with an affinity for human experimentation. Faced with a threat far beyond that of normal men, Batman must learn how to fight a new kind of criminal — and make the transition from hero to superhero.
The Pitch: With the end of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy of Batman movies imminent, there’s no reason not to speculate on the next chapter of the Dark Knight’s big-screen legacy. Given the placement of Batman and the Monster Men in the character’s continuity, Matt Wagner’s 2005 series offers an excellent opportunity to kick-start the franchise with an early (but not too early) adventure from Batman’s career.
This six-issue limited series is set not too long after Batman’s first year as a masked hero, and though it falls before his first encounter with The Joker, one could easily shift the story in time a bit to allow for some familiarity with the existing cast of characters in Batman’s cinematic universe.
Probably the most important element of the story, however, is that it offers a new villain for Batman to take on, as well as a few new wrinkles in Bruce Wayne’s personal life that will help set the adaptation apart from previous films.
Much like “The Dark Knight,” a film based on Batman and the Monster Men offers a foil for Batman that provides ample material for a talented actor to make his own. Hugo Strange is a sinister psychiatrist who holds the distinction of being one of the few villains clever enough to deduce Batman’s secret identity, and his ability to challenge Batman on a psychological level has a lot of potential. On top of all that, the “Monster Men” of the story (inmates of Arkham Asylum that Hugo Strange “modified”) offer a nice layer of physical threats for the film’s hero, too.
As with any film in a franchise, success generally depends upon how the main character is changed in each installment, and what he or she learns from the latest chapter. A film based on Batman and the Monster Men could serve as a bridge between the Batman movies and the rest of Warner Brothers’ properties — like Superman, for example — by elevating him from a character battling gun-toting thugs to a hero capable of defeating super-powered enemies.
The Closing Argument: At this point, it’s uncertain whether Warner Brothers will opt to relaunch the Batman franchise from the beginning after Nolan’s departure or continue on where “The Dark Knight Rises” leaves off. Batman and the Monster Men could actually fit in either plan for the character, serving as either an early, post-origin adventure or (with some slight tweaks) a story that occurs later in Batman’s career.
Anyone who’s played the “Batman: Arkham City” video game is already familiar with Hugo Strange and his potential as an alpha-villain in the Dark Knight’s rogues gallery, so it’s only a matter of time before Hollywood makes the same discovery. Batman and the Monster Men not only offers a great place for the studio to start looking, but a ready-made story that will take the Dark Knight to the next level.