In the summer of 1999, with Warner Bros’ feature film department struggling to reignite the Batman franchise in the wake of the catastrophic reception given to Batman & Robin, the studio’s television division decided to move forward with a project based upon the formative years of the Caped Crusader. Entitled Bruce Wayne, the proposed series was the brainchild of screenwriter Tim McCanlies (The Iron Giant), who devised a concept centring on the teenage billionaire and socialite as he secretly hones his skills and develops an understanding of the criminal mind in preparation for his eventual crusade against crime.
Meeting with Tollin/Robbins Productions, McCanlies was commissioned to write a pilot script for Bruce Wayne, with Warner Bros Television subsequently finalizing a deal to secure the broadcast rights for the WB Television Network. Completed in November 1999, the resulting script was narrated by Alfred Pennyworth and saw a headstrong Bruce Wayne returning to Gotham City just days before his eighteenth birthday to discover a city rife with crime and corruption. Intending to sign his family business over to board member Charles Palantine, Bruce comes to suspect that WayneCorp may be instrumental in the city’s decline and – with his own life coming under threat – he forges an alliance with Detective James Gordon; choosing to remain in Gotham, Bruce gains control of WayneCorp and takes the first steps towards his destiny as the Dark Knight.
McCanlies’ teleplay also incorporated a number of supporting characters from the rich history of the Batman universe in addition to Alfred and Detective Gordon, including best friend and law student Harvey Dent, WayneCorp intern Lucius Fox, mysterious partygoer Selina Kyle, budding reporter Vicki Vale and a juvenile Barbara Gordon, all of whom were intended to become recurring cast members. Envisioning the show as running for five or six seasons, McCanlies produced a show bible and planned to introduce a host of additional characters as the series progressed, such as the temperamental comedian Jack Napier (the future Joker), medical student Harleen Quinzel, psychology professor Dr Jonathan Crane, con-man Edward Nygma, mobsters Carmine Falcone, Rupert Thorne and Oswald Cobblepot, and a ‘strange’ farm boy from Smallville, Kansas, called Clark Kent.
By the turn of the millennium word began to spread that the WB Network was prepping a series based upon the adventures of a young Bruce Wayne, but this was quickly followed by reports of an internal struggle between Warner Bros’ television and movie divisions. Determined to revive the lucrative film series, the studio was exploring the possibility of reinterpreting the Dark Knight’s origins with a feature adaptation of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, for which they would secure the services of director Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream) in 2000. Amid casting rumours linking up-and-coming actors Shawn Ashmore (X-Men) and Trevor Fehrman (Odd Man Out) to the title role in Bruce Wayne, Warner Bros wanted to avoid any potential conflict and chose to put the senses on hold in favour of moving forward with their theatrical ambitions.
The decision to explore Bruce’s journey to the Dark Knight as a feature film was reinforced by the box-office success of Bryan Singer’s X-Men in the summer of 2000, which rejuvenated the superhero genre and effectively brought about an end to Bruce Wayne. Development on the series officially came to a halt in mid-2000, with Tollin/Robbins Productions then reworking the initial concept around another popular DC Comics character later in the year, hiring the team of Alfred Gough and Miles Millar (The Strip) to produce a pilot episode for Young Clark Kent. After undergoing a change of name to Smallville, the show premiered on the WB Network on 16 October 2001 and was an instant success, giving the network its highest ever debut with 8.4 million viewers.
Despite fervent speculation from fans about the possibility of a guest appearance in Smallville, the character of Bruce Wayne remained absent from the series, which ran for a total of ten seasons before finally drawing to a close in May 2011. At the height of its popularity, Alfred Gough and Miles Millar approached Warner Bros about resurrecting Bruce Wayne as a companion show to Smallville, but the idea was nixed by the studio as development got underway on Batman Begins. Tollin/Robins did achieve their goal of producing a Batman-related television show with the shortlived spin-off Birds of Prey in 2002, and in October 2008 Warner Bros also announced plans for a new Smallville-type series centred around a pre- Robin Dick ‘DJ’ Grayson entitled The Graysons, only to call a halt to the pilot before a script was written.
HOLY FRANCHISE BATMAN: BRINGING THE CAPED CRUSADER TO THE SCREEN:
Since the Caped Crusader first made the leap from comics to silver screen in the early 1940s, generations of audiences have been captivated by the screen adventures of Batman, establishing the celebrated comic book hero as a true icon of popular culture. Now, Gary Collinson traces the entire screen history of Bob Kane’s Dark Knight Detective, providing a fascinating insight into one of the most successful media franchises of all time.
Beginning with the early movie serials of the 1940s, Holy Franchise, Batman! charts the development of Batman’s many exploits across both live-action and animation, presenting a comprehensive overview of his illustrious screen career. From the classic 1960s television series starring Adam West and Burt Ward to the hugely successful blockbuster feature films from directors Tim Burton (Batman, Batman Returns), Joel Schumacher (Batman Forever, Batman & Robin) and Christopher Nolan (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises), as well as early Saturday morning cartoon outings through to the acclaimed ‘DC Animated Universe’, this book explores the evolution of Batman – a journey that has taken him from ‘camp’ crime-fighter to Dark Knight.
Holy Franchise, Batman! Bringing the Caped Crusader to the Screen – Available now via Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.