The Justice League universe from Warner Bros. goes into high gear on March 23rd when its two biggest mascots, Batman and Superman, resolve their differences with gentlemanly fisticuffs. Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice isn’t adapting any specific adventure page-for-frame, but it is offering up a smorgasbord picked and chosen from a variety of storylines.
If you want to walk into Batman v. Superman armed with knowledge to impress everyone at bar trivia (Fun fact: You won’t), then read the following DC comic books which Dawn of Justice is taking inspiration from.
The Dark Knight Returns
So much of Frank Miller’s landmark 1986 series The Dark Knight Returns is being channeled into Dawn of Justice it’s kind of a wonder Zack Snyder just didn’t do a straight adaptation. (Okay, there are reasons, but still.)
In Dark Knight Returns, an aged Bruce Wayne returns from retirement as Batman to fight a new, violent criminal gang running amok in Gotham. It’s only the pregame as Batman eventually confronts Superman, now working for the U.S. government and participates in a mission that could potentially ignite World War III. Along the way, a teenaged girl named Carrie Kelley takes up the Robin mantle.
Whenever there’s talk about reinventing Batman, Miller’s Dark Knight Returns is shorthand for pulling it off. Zack Snyder hoped to reintroduce the definitive Batman, so it’s little surprise he took inspiration from Frank Miller.
The Batsuit, the armor to fight Superman, and a more grizzled, seasoned Batman as opposed to another origin makes Dawn of Justice an unofficial Dark Knight Returns for the screen. There’s no Carrie Kelley to become Robin (that we know of?) nor is Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne in retirement. He’s just old…er.
Batman: A Death in the Family
Jim Starlin’s 1988-1989 storyline A Death in the Family killed off Jason Todd, the second Robin. The decision stemmed from fan criticism regarding the character (Basically, he was an unlikeable twat). In fact, DC Comics gave readers the power to let Jason live or die by dialing into two 1-900 numbers they set up since Twitter wasn’t a thing yet, and readers let Jason have it.
Or they let the Joker have it, rather. Let loose from Arkham Asylum once again, Joker somehow obtains nuclear weapons to sell to Middle Eastern terrorists. While in Ethiopia, Batman and Robin meet an international aid worker, Sheila, who reveals herself to be Jason’s mom. Their reunion is cut short when the Joker, after brutally beating Jason with a crowbar, leave Jason and Sheila trapped in a warehouse with a time bomb. The bomb goes boom, and Batman isn’t the same again.
In Dawn of Justice, Ben Affleck’s Bruce alludes to a storied history with the Joker, and an ominous, defaced Robin suit hangs in the Batcave. It isn’t likely that Jason Todd will be in the movie, but it’s very possible he left behind a heartbroken, war-torn Batman.
The Death of Superman
Did the Dawn of Justice trailers give away too much? Zack Snyder says nah, but fans were stunned to see Doomsday in the latest trailer. The first impressions of Batman v. Superman was that it was just a one-on-one throw down, but then it began to include Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor, Aquaman somehow, the Joker, and now Doomsday.
Doomsday comes from The Death of Superman published in 1992. It’s exactly what the title says: Superman is killed, and the culprit is the juggernaut killing machine Doomsday who looks like the Hulk humped an ankylosaurus. Killing off Superman was a desperate move by DC to reinvent Superman, a boy scout values suffering an image problem in the radical ‘90s.
The Death of Superman is notorious because in one move DC 1) way overhyped its collector value and 2) ruined death as a storytelling tool in superhero comic books forever. If you have 16 minutes to spare, screenwriter Max Landis explains the whole thing pretty well.
Batman: Under the Hood
Speaking of not keeping death permanent, in 2005 Judd Winick resurrected Jason Todd and had him become the new Red Hood in his series Under the Hood.
The Red Hood, initially an obscure Batman villain, was taken up by the man who would become Joker in a heavy origin story told in Alan Moore’s celebrated The Killing Joke from 1988. As the Hood, Jason Todd sheds his restrained Robin tactics in favor of saving Gotham as a gun-toting vigilante.
Winick’s comic is okay, but in 2010 Warner Bros. adapted his story into the awesome animated movie Batman: Under the Red Hood.
While Jason Todd may not be the Red Hood or even in Snyder’s film at all, DC is trying to make the Red Hood a “priority character” via Dawn of Justice according to ScreenRant.
Batman/Superman/Wonder Woman: Trinity
In 2003, DC enlisted Matt Wagner to tackle the first meeting between Batman, Wonder Woman, and Superman, together known as DC’s Trinity. Taking place before the Justice League’s formation, Trinity follows the three as they put aside egos and philosophical differences to save the world from total destruction.
No doubt the plot is the same from a million other superhero stories, but Trinity’s richness comes from the three superheroes clashing over their ideologies before uniting as one. Zack Snyder’s movie has Dawn of Justice in the title for a reason. Though Wonder Woman probably won’t join the fray until the movie’s third act climax, at least you’ll know how the comics did it.
Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice will be released theatrically on March 23.