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Comic Books that Inspired the Dark Knight Trilogy

Updated on September 13, 2013

Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight trilogy may garner attention for the gritty realism it brings to the world of Batman, but Nolan doesn't deserve all the praise. While many people may think he's created an original take on Batman, many of his plot elements and decisions have been done before. I'm not saying Nolan doesn't deserve praise for the films. He's found a way to adapt some great stories into movie form, something that hasn't happened in previous Batman movies.

In fact, the Dark Knight trilogy might be one of the few comic book series that can be seen as faithfully adapting original comic book tales. The Spider-Man and X-Men movies are good at bringing in elements of the comic books, but Nolan worked the very plots of these stories into his movies.

So, if you're a fan of the Dark Knight trilogy, these are the comic books for you. From familiar faces, plot strands and lore, these graphic novels should please even the casual Batman fan.


Batman: Year One

Inspired: Batman Begins
By: Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli

In 1987, Frank Miller wrote a Batman story that would define the character for decades. Seeking to return Batman to his darker roots, Miller set on a retelling of his origin story. The tale that follows is a look into what motivates Bruce Wayne into becoming the Caped Crusader. Along the way, we also learn the story of Jim Gordon becoming both an ally and a stand alone character. In many ways, this book is more of Gordon story that Batman's. Catwoman is along for the ride, as well, but her story is less interesting here than in other places.

Batman Begins owes it's very life to this book. Besides the obvious nature of telling Batman's origin, Batman: Year One helped make Jim Gordon the character that he is, providing a grounded character in the movies. Scenes such as Batman calling a colony of bats for backup or dealing with the crime boss Falcone are straight out of this graphic novel. Since this book is the basis of Batman Begins, it becomes the basis of the entire trilogy. In fact, both the comic and movie have the same villain teaser at the end, which leads me to my next story...


The Killing Joke

Inspired: The Dark Knight
By: Alan Moore and Brian Bolland

A year after Frank Miller left a defining mark on the character, Alan Moore wrote a Batman story that set the tone for his adversarial relationship with the Joker. While not my favorite story, it's an important piece of comic history and would later be the inspiration for The Dark Knight. The Joker, having shot Barbra Gordon, has hopes of driving Jim Gordon out of his mind. As he tells Batman, the difference between the sane and insane is "one bad day". The Joker recognizes that Batman had a bad day once, just like him.

The adaption of this story differs in The Dark Knight. The Joker's target for madness isn't Gordon, but Harvey Dent, yet his goal is the same. He hopes to turn Gotham's Golden Son into a madman like himself. Discussions with Batman seem straight out of this book, such as madness needing only a push or how connected the Joker is to Batman. This isn't a straight adaptation, but you can easily see how this comic influenced the movie. The book's line about Joker preferring "multiple choice" when it comes to his past should be familiar with anyone who's heard Heath Ledger talk about his scars.


The Long Halloween

Inspired: The Dark Knight
By:
Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale

Harvey Dent is just as strong a character in The Dark Knight as the Joker and might even be the true focus point of the film. The Long Halloween follows the journey of Batman's alliance with Dent as they battle the mod and hunt down the serial killer known as Holiday. Unfortunately for Dent, things spiral out of control and he soon becomes the villain Two-Face. Jeph Loeb's writing isn't always perfect, but as an almost direct sequel to Batman: Year One it's a great story. Tim Sale's art is as dynamic as they come, making every panel count. Catwoman is a much stronger character in this book and you can see why Batman would be both repulsed and attracted to her.

Characters in The Dark Knight, like Sal Maroni, come straight from this book, but so do many of the elements that made up the trinity of heroes. In this book, you can see the relationship of Batman, Dent, and Gordon build and break and the tactics they use to stop crime is familiar to any who have seen the movie. The Joker isn't as prominent in this graphic novel, but there are moments that connect him to Dent. As Batman: Year One was as much a Gordon story as it was Batman's, The Long Halloween belongs to Two-Face. The sequel, Dark Victory, is almost as good and if you like this one, you should definitely follow it up.


Batman: Knightfall

Inspired: The Dark Knight Rises
By:
An entire crew of writers and artist

This is the comic that made Bane famous. Like Doomsday, who is responsible for killing Superman, Bane is known for breaking the Bat. However, unlike Doomsday, Bane is more of a character than a plot device. He's a man with a plan, equipped with both muscle and brain. In many ways, he parallels Batman; both are trained and intelligent, they simply fight on different sides. The story follows Bane breaking the inmates of Arkham Asylum out and watching Batman wear himself down trying to catch the escapees. When Batman is at his weakest, that's when Bane strikes and the fight is as brutal as The Dark Knight Rises would have you believe.

If not for this story, Bane would probably not be the villain of the third movie. What he does to Batman and how he takes control of Gotham should seem familiar to anyone who's read this comic. In fact, the whole saga is told in a trilogy of graphic novels, with Bruce Wayne removed from the spotlight in the second book, similar to the second act of the film. The fall and rise of Batman is much like the movies take, only the comic completely falls apart after the first volume. If you're interested in Bane and his confrontational relationship with Batman, you should check this out, but stop after Knightfall. Bane isn't interesting again until later, which brings me to my last story...


Batman: Legacy

Inspired: The Dark Knight Rises
By:
An entire crew of writers and artist

I was hesitant to add this to the list but the connections seem too close to ignore. While the main plot has little to do with the movie, the themes and character connections are what hold these two together. The story follows Batman trying to stop Ra's al Ghul from unleashing a virus upon Gotham and the rest of the world. Batman soon finds out that Ra's has joined with Bane in his fight and has even promised his daughter Talia to him. The story, while not great, is the only piece of comic literature that I know of that connects Ra's and Bane.

While I'm not sure how different The Dark Knight Rises would be without this story, it seems like someone in charge of the film has read this comic. The discussion of legacy is in any story with Ra's and this is also the rematch issue for Bane and Batman, with the Dark Knight being the victor. I read this because I wanted to read more Ra's al Ghul stories, but it's less important then I had hoped. Still, if you've seen the last movie of the Dark Knight trilogy, you should check this out and see how these characters fit together. Unfortunately, the trade is rare so you'll have to look around for an affordable copy.


Too Many to List

Of course, with a character who's been around as long as Batman, there will be plenty of material to find in terms of influence. The massive sage that is Batman: No Man's Land, which is one of my favorites, can be seen during the second act of The Dark Knight Rises, though on a smaller scale. You would have to read some of Dennis O'Neil's Ra's al Ghul stories to see his influence on the the entire trilogy, specifically Batman: Tales of the Demon. If you've wondered where they came up with the redesign of the Batmobile in the first movie, be sure to check out The Dark Knight Returns, another Frank Miller story that set the tone of things to come.

If you saw any other comic book inspired elements in the movies, let me know. I would love to read them!

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    • Nathan Kiehn profile image

      Nathan Kiehn 2 weeks ago

      The only one of these I haven't read is Legacy, so I'll have to keep an eye out for that one.

      Nice list, bringing in all these inspirations and tying them together. I've always loved The Long Halloween (it's gotta be my favorite comic story line of all time), so I definitely agree about all the connections with Nolan's films there.

    • Siclone profile image

      Simon 2 years ago from NSW, Australia

      Nice hub, I will have to look out for Legacy as I've not read that book. Some good connections. I agree there are also strong echoes of No Man's Land too.

    • Eric Mikols profile image
      Author

      Eric Mikols 3 years ago from New England

      I had only read Legacy right before the movie and was surprised to see the connection too. It's fairly rare, as far as I know and I'm not too sure Nolan and the crew were looking right at it, but the similarities are interesting.

    • profile image

      rmcmillen 3 years ago

      I can't believe I missed Legacy in my reviews of the trilogy!.......

      GREAT article!

    • Eric Mikols profile image
      Author

      Eric Mikols 4 years ago from New England

      True, the Danny O'Neil stories were great for getting Batman back to the good stuff. His work with Ra' and Jason Todd really help define his era.

      Thanks for the comment!

    • nuffsaidstan profile image

      nuffsaidstan 4 years ago

      Nice hub, and of course we can trace these influences back even further to the time of Neal Adams and Denny O'neil when Batman became darker again and moved away from the Zap, Kapow ,Wham camp stuff of 60s.

    • Eric Mikols profile image
      Author

      Eric Mikols 5 years ago from New England

      That rule seems pretty true. Though it didn't seem to hold to Jon Favreau with Iron Man 2, but I think Marvel has learned their lesson and Whedon will get more creative with Avengers 2. I'm glad Nolan got to work it out from day one, as well!

      Thanks for reading!

    • Geekdom profile image

      Geekdom 5 years ago

      That was a great read. It was nice to see Nolan faithful interpretation right out of the gate. I find that the studios control the first film and then the directors get to put their love of the character into the second after they have proven themselves. Sam Raimi in Spiderman and Bryan Singer for X-Men.

    • Eric Mikols profile image
      Author

      Eric Mikols 5 years ago from New England

      I've read the Cult! I enjoyed it for the most part except that it seemed to be trying to copy the success of The Dark Knight Returns a little too much!

      Thanks for commenting!

    • profile image

      Clint 5 years ago

      Hey Eric, Think you were on the right track with 'Legacy', I was able to chase down a copy of the one-shot 'Bane', which is the closing chapter to the 'Legacy' story. I think this was a huge influence on Bane's plot in the latest movie, even more so then the 'Knightfall' story, except for the climatic final pages of part: 1 of course.

      Another story 'The Cult' is worth checking out also for fan's of the latest movie, features an army of homeless in the sewers, Batman visiting Gordon in hospital, people hanging in the streets as warnings to the public and the only other story besides 'Knightfall', that Batman was broken mentally and physically...

    • Eric Mikols profile image
      Author

      Eric Mikols 5 years ago from New England

      Yeah, most of them are worth reading. Long Halloween is one of my favorite Batman stories ever and the art is phenomenal. If you liked the movies, odds are you'll like these books!

    • CrazedNovelist profile image

      A.E. Williams 5 years ago from Hampton, GA

      Awesome hub, Eric. I really enjoyed reading this and seeing where the new Batman films are rooted. I have never read any of those particular works, but I'm intrigued to say the least. Cool read. :)

    • Eric Mikols profile image
      Author

      Eric Mikols 5 years ago from New England

      I wanted to limit it to five choices, and I thought Legacy had more of an impact in terms of character connections. I mentioned Dark Knight Returns and No Man's Land, but I felt the five I picked effected the overall series more.

      My friend just bought the Bane of the Demon trade, so I'm going to check it out, thanks for the suggestion!

    • profile image

      Clint 5 years ago

      'No mans land' and 'The Dark knight Returns' should definantly be on the list... Instead of 'Legacy', 4 issue story arc 'Bane of the Demon' is more appropiate, it's a lead up into 'Legacy'.