These are dark times indeed for the DC Extended Universe. Well, I mean, it’s usually a pretty dark place anyway, but these days it seems to be beset by a whole series of external issues that fill it with even more difficulties than the usual killer clowns and gyrating witch-ladies we’ve come to expect. Difficulties that could spell the end for the DCEU in its current form – with Batman in particular.
Which, on the surface, would seem utter madness. Having only been existence for a mere four years (half the time of the rival MCU), and so far managing to make a tidy profit of $3.5 billion, you have to wonder what could be going so wrong that would even tempt Warner Brothers to want to even consider tearing it all down and starting again.
The first wave of DCEU movies landed to a reception that alternated between divisive and savage. They made huge profits, but were largely derided as being joyless and overly-brooding. This year’s second wave has now gone the other way, accused of being too light-hearted, and debuting to vastly reduced revenue. It’s got a lot of people attached to the project depressed, and none more so than Ben Affleck.
Affleck’s issues are not solely linked to his performances as the DCEU version of Batman. If anything, one of the few positives he’s had of late is the praise he’s received from the fans as being the best onscreen depiction of the character to date. Unfortunately, the fame and media attention that go hand in hand with the role have only magnified his ongoing alcohol and personal problems, leading him to publicly declare he would rather not currently be playing Batman.
With his duties on the planned Batman solo movie having had directing and also script-writing now removed, questions are being publicly asked about how essential he is to that project. Rumors have also begun to circulate suggesting that new director Matt Reeves has been quoted as eyeing up Jake Gyllenhaal as an Affleck replacement.
Whilst it’s always wise to take any information that Warner release in relation to a DC movie project (these things have a tendency to change multiple times prior to, and even during filming), there’s no denying that there’s something fundamental not quite working with the DCEU in its current form. At the time of writing this article, the official line on The Batman is that it’s not a reboot, and will be based in the existing DCEU, which raises the question how would the company get away with introducing a replacement Batman, if that was the decision felt best for the future?
Well, the one thing that DC has always had that competitors Marvel have not is the idea of the multiverse. The majority of the most successful and entertaining DC storylines have seen characters either travelling between parallel dimensions, or having to deal with different difficult versions of themselves from alternate realities.
So, working off the fact that the company has such a rich vein of source material that could be adapted to introduce a new Bruce Wayne, we combed through the DC canon, to find five ways in which Affleck and Gyllenhaal versions of the character could both exist at the same time, without simply (quite boringly) recasting the role:
Bruce Wayne has been killed off numerous times in the comics, and always seems to find some way of coming back. But Batman? He never dies. As soon as Bruce is off the scene, somebody else always steps in to care of the cowl in Bruce’s absence. The approach these various candidates have taken to donning the mantle of the Caped Crusader have sometimes proved controversial. No less so then when Azrael temporarily became Batman.
A trained assassin, freed from his brainwashing by Bruce Wayne, Jean Paul Valley turned to good, and stepped in during the Knightfall storyline when Bane broke Bruce’s back. His tortured past made him overly aggressive and violent, and his story would be perfect for an introduction to the DCEU. Gyllenhaal has already played a similarly athletic role in Prince of Persia, and the idea of a movie where Affleck saves him from becoming a murderer, and he ends up becoming the new Batman is an intriguing prospect.
A far easier and more straightforward fit for the DCEU storyline in terms of a replacement for Affleck would be for the introduction of one of the Robins to take up the role with Batman’s departure. Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice raised the issue that Bruce’s most recent companion was apparently murdered by the Joker, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a load more of them still off crime-fighting on their own somewhere.
Let’s hypothesize that the defaced Robin costume we saw belonged to the DCEU version of Jason Todd. Were something to happen to Bruce, what would stop Dick Grayson or Tim Drake coming back into town to preserve his legacy? After all, that’s kinda how the Nolan trilogy wound up proceedings. Gyllenhaal easily possesses the acting chops needed to tackle the role of an angry and former partner of the Dark Detective, seeking vengeance for his absent master.
3. Batman Beyond
Staying in much the same vein as the previous answer, the introduction of DC fan-favorite Terry McGinnis would represent a shrewd move for Warner Brothers in terms of their future-proofing of the DCEU brand. Sure, the age gap between the characters of Terry and Bruce would require some tinkering with, but it certainly wouldn’t be an impossibility to achieve.
There was even a rumor back in July that said the upcoming Batman trilogy set up Batman Beyond.
Affleck’s Batman is getting visibly older, almost more so with every movie, but he still has more than enough time to meet at least one more potential replacement before he reaches a point where he can no longer continue. And rather than a new Robin, why not a younger new Batman of the Future instead?
2. Earth 2
Far more radical, but with a much greater potential for entertainment, would be the introduction of a new Bruce Wayne from a parallel universe. All of the different dimensional versions of Batman are subtly different. Take, for example, the one from Earth 2. Whilst he also had to watch his parents gunned down in front of him, it didn’t put him off from carrying firearms. In fact, he carries quite a lot of them.
The prospect of a giant inter-dimensional Darkseid war throws up the possibility of two Batmen meeting up and having to team up against the iconic tyrannical villain. In that situation we’d get to see Affleck and Gyllenhaal fighting side by side. Though, they’d probably be falling out quite a bit over Gyllenhaal’s version being so prepared to shoot bad guys, rather than hurling batarangs at them.
By far the easiest and most likely way for the series to introduce a new Batman would be to use the Flashpoint storyline, something that producers have already hinted at when discussing the planned Flash solo movie. And this is by far and away one of the most interesting and entertaining variations of the character.
Because, you see, this version isn’t Bruce. It’s his father, Thomas. When Bruce was tragically slain during the robbery, his mother suffers a major breakdown and becomes the Joker. His father goes in a very different direction, undergoing all the training you’d expect to turn him into Batman, only brandishing a pair of handguns in the process.
He’s got no aversion to killing, likes a drink, and is simply a version that we HAVE to see a live action portrayal of – so why not introduce Gyllenhaal as this new, emotionally damaged and murderous Batman?
With Batman having been confirmed for a Flashpoint movie, it’s probably the route they will go – if Affleck is indeed done as Batman.