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What You Should Read Before Seeing "The Dark Knight Rises"

I was just surfing around online yesterday and I saw this trailer for this movie that looks kind of cool. It's called "The Dark Knight Rises." Anyone heard of it? Is it supposed to be good?

Less than 3 weeks remain before the ridiculously-hyped and highly-anticipated final installment of Christopher Nolan's critically-acclaimed Batman trilogy reaches theaters. In my final installment of the "What You Should Read" series for summer 2012, I have prepared a few titles that could enhance your experience with The Dark Knight Rises. These should help familiarize you with some of the stories and characters that may have inspired TDKR. Or, perhaps you're like me and just can't wait.


Knightfall

Knightfall

Writers: Chuck Dixon, Jo Duffy, Alan Grant, Dennis O'Neil, Doug Moench
Artists: Jim Aparo, Jim Balent, Eduardo Barreto, Bret Blevins, Norm Breyfogle, Vincent Giarrano, Tom Grummett, Klaus Janson, Barry Kitson, Mike Manley, Graham Nolan, Sal Velluto, Mike Vosburg, Ron Wagner

This is the definitive Bane v. Batman story, and it's widely believed that The Dark Knight Rises will be heavily inspired by this Bat-verse crossover event. Knightfall (1993-94) introduced Bane to the Bat-verse as a brand-new physically and intellectually threatening villain. After escaping Peña Dura prison in Santa Prisca, Bane travels to Gotham City after hearing legends of Batman and vows to break him to establish dominance over the criminal underworld. Bane deduces Batman's identity and outsmarts him by tiring him before confronting him and breaking his back. The story takes place over 6 months in continuity, and largely deals with the repercussions of the broken Bat. After Batman's resurgence in The Dark Knight Returns (1986), Batman: Year One (1987) and seven years of grim and gritty noir-inspired Batman stories, Knightfall is proof that even the badass Batman can be beaten.

This is a highly-regarded Batman story, and is well worth reading for its importance to the extended Batman mythos. It best serves readers who want to know about Bane as a character, his motivations and his capabilities as a Batman foil. Tom Hardy's interpretation of Bane will likely be heavily inspired by Knightfall, so this is essential reading.


Catwoman

Catwoman: The Dark End of the Street

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Darwyn Cooke

Dark End of the Street (2004) is one of the last stories Ed Brubaker wrote for DC before jumping to Marvel for an exclusive contract and a critically-acclaimed 7 year (and counting) run on Captain America. Brubaker is known for hard-boiled crime and espionage stories and this is perfectly represented in Dark End of the Street. The story follows Selina Kyle trying to leave her life of crime behind after her apparent death, but an ambitious GCPD detective looking for Catwoman's body and a prostitute-stalking serial killer force her back into the game. This serial introduced her modern costume rendered by fan-favorite artist Darwyn Cooke and demonstrates Selina's turn from villain to anti-hero. This story proves the quality of the Catwoman character as far more than a "female Batman." She's rounded with complex motives, a thrill-seeker, selfish, loves stealing, yet has a heart of gold.

Dark End of the Street will best serve readers who are looking for an introduction to Catwoman and her complexities. There aren't many "top Catwoman stories" lists out there, but this would definitely be included if there were. Not much is known about Anne Hathaway's interpretation of Selina Kyle, but her costume appears to be inspired from the modern Catwoman getup and it's likely that Hathaway will draw from Dark End of the Street era Catwoman characterizations.

Note: Dark End of the Street was reprinted as Trail of the Catwoman in January 2012. I promise it's the same story.


TDKR

The Dark Knight Returns

Written and drawn by Frank Miller

What else can I say about The Dark Knight Returns (1986) that hasn't already been said a million times in the last 25 years? This is (arguably) the best Batman story ever told. Frank Miller's interpretation of the Bat is responsible for bringing Batman to modern audiences by returning him to his gritty roots, stepping away from the camp popularized by the show starring Adam West.

The Batman mythos from 1986 to now has been (unofficially) defined by Miller's gruff, deliberate, and slightly psychotic interpretation. The story follows Batman on his first outing in 10 years in a dystopian Gotham, when he tries to finally rid Gotham of its crime roots. We see clearly the strength of his convictions, his dedication to his mission over personal health, and how far he's willing to push the line that he'll never cross. Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises will take place 8 years after The Dark Knight, so there are some similarities in the circumstances of these stories.

This will best serve readers both new and old to comics or the Bat-verse. It's a classic story that deserves re-reading if you're a comic veteran or a first shot if you've never read it. If you've never read Batman before, The Dark Knight Returns is about as good as it gets.


Notably absent from this list is Batman: Year One, which is one of the primary sources for Nolan's interpretation of Batman. It's definitely worth reading if you haven't, but it has much more to do with Batman Begins.

Read up, do your homework and I'm sure that The Dark Knight Rises will be an even better experience for you. And I promise I'm going to write something that doesn't pertain to comic book movies sometime soon.

Stay nerdy, my friends.