[The Week in Geek is a weekly Tuesday column that plunges headfirst into a deep pool of genre geekiness without ever coming up for air.]
This is the way the internet works: someone makes a hopeful, educated guess about an ultra-popular franchise, then a handful of sites run with that guess as if it's rumored news, then the next thing you know, I'm at the comic book store, buying back issues of 'Batman: Legend of the Dark Knight.' In this specific case, it was Total Film, who jumped on the story of Tom Hardy being cast in 'The Dark Knight Rises,' Christopher Nolan's third and last Batman film, and filled in the blanks from there.
Their guess (or hope) is that the film will follow 'Prey,' a five part storyline from 1990 (written by Doug Moench, with art by Paul Gulacy) that ran through issues 11-15 of 'Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight.' It's an educated guess -- 'Prey' features a storyline that fits nicely with where 'The Dark Knight' left off. Batman is still fairly inexperienced, and he's on the outs with the Gotham City Police Department. Batman puts it best, "I can't go on like this, Alfred...Not against criminals and the police. I've got to find a way to make this game less draining."
Jim Gordon is put in charge of bringing Batman into police custody by the Mayor, all the while secretly feeding him information on the side. He handpicks a mediocre cop, Max Cort, to serve as his second-in-command, but doesn't realize that Cort houses a deep-seated hatred for Batman. Psychiatrist (and bearded weirdo) Hugo Strange also enlists himself as part of the Mayor's Vigilante Task Force, poring over police files to root out Batman's identity, but spends most of his nights dressed in his own homemade Batman costume and screaming at a lingerie mannequin. The boy ain't right, and he's got a serous case of Batman-envy.
Strange finds a friend in Cort, and manipulates Cort into becoming a masked vigilante called Night Scourge. Unlike Batman, Night Scourge has no problem killing to get the job done. Together they kidnap the Mayor's daughter and pin the kidnapping on Batman. When Batman confronts Strange, he's gassed with a hallucinogen that brings all the memories of his parents' murder right up to the surface, allowing Strange final piece of the puzzle he needs to put together that Batman is Bruce Wayne.
Batman escapes Strange, and drags himself to Wayne Manor, still struggling with the hallucinations. He finds that Strange has been in his home (that was fast), and has planted mannequins of Thomas and Martha Wayne, along with Strange's own pre-recorded taunts, in his dining room. This sends Batman over the edge in the best of ways. He holes up in the Batcave, builds himself a new car, and decides that his best option is to work with the police to prove his own innocence.
Upon his second confrontation with Strange, he manages to get a taped confession that clears his name as a kidnapper, but Strange escapes Batman and the police and disappears into Gotham Harbor. Batman goes after Cort/Night Scourge, and a long brutal battle ensues before Cort is gunned down by GCPD. The series ends with the Mayor's disbanding of the Vigilante Task Force. While Batman isn't exactly condoned, he's free to continue his work -- which is now seen as more of a help to Gotham than a hindrance.
'Prey' serves as a quasi-sequel to Frank Miller's 'Batman: Year One,' and provides a background for many firsts in the vigilante's history -- including Gordon's first use of the Batsignal and Batman's first drive in the iconic Batmobile. The oddest addition to 'Prey' is the inclusion of Catwoman, who doesn't serve the story in any significant way. In most of the issues, she is literally shown in one or two of the panels reading a newspaper. Exciting. If Nolan is looking to 'Prey' as a springboard, I would imagine it would be easier to remove Catwoman from the story altogether than it would be to try to and give her something interesting to do here.
In fact, after reading the five-part arc, I'm not 100% convinced that 'Prey' should be the last Batman story from Christopher Nolan. Besides the inaction of Catwoman, there's problems with both villains as presented in 'Prey,' that would lead me to believe that Nolan's working on something more original. For starters, Hugo Strange is quite a bit like the Scarecrow, personality-wise, as he's been portrayed in the films, even down to his hallucinogenic gas. He just doesn't seem different enough for the movies (although one solution there might be to eliminate the Max Cort character and have Strange become Night Scourge himself).
As for Max Cort, he's not even a blip in Batman's rogue's gallery. Would Christopher Nolan really want to end the trilogy with Batman fighting a no-name ninja? I doubt it. Moench's story may be one of the best he's ever written, but, cinematically, there are just too many unexplored villains for Nolan to use in his swan song. There's a persistent, loud rumor that Talia Al Ghul (the daughter of Liam Neeson's character from 'Batman Begins') will be introduced as a villain, and if that rumor is true, then I don't see how she fits into 'Prey' in any conceivable way.
Mostly, I think Total Film is dreaming big. Would Tom Hardy make a good Max Cort? Sure, and he'd also make a good Hugo Strange. The man is a great actor. While I'm glad someone out there had a sharp enough memory to realize that 'Prey' could make a tidy "Part Three," I still think there's greater cinematic potential in a different story. Ultimately, 'Prey' just doesn't feel big enough, and considering how big 'The Dark Knight' was, Nolan will need to go really big for 'The Dark Knight Rises.'