By Jonathan W. Gray
August 06, 2012 at 09:30 PM EDT

The Dark Knight Rises marks the end of a cinematic era, but not the end of films about Batman. Now that Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy is complete, it’s natural to wonder what comes next for the Caped Crusader. After an appropriate hiatus, Warner Brothers will return to the Batman franchise, but as Darren Franich’s cover gallery illustrates, Nolan’s approach to the final film has made following him increasingly difficult. Let’s put aside the iconic status of the Dark Knight trilogy for a moment and consider how Nolan used the source material to compose these three films.

Nolan fashioned Batman Begins (2005) primarily out of two graphic novels: Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s groundbreaking Batman: Year One (1987) and Dennis O’Neil and Norm Breyfogle’s Batman: The Demon’s Head (1992), which details Ra’s al Ghul’s connections to the Dark Knight. Nolan’s inspirations for The Dark Knight (2008) are easy to identify: Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s classic Joker story The Killing Joke (1988) and Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s wonderful Batman: The Long Halloween (1987), which covers Harvey Dent’s rise and fall from grace. Based on his judicious use of source material for these films, one would have expected Nolan to mine the controversial Batman: Knightfall (1994), which introduces Bane, and Batman: No Man’s Land (1999), which details Gotham’s descent into anarchy, for Dark Knight Rises. Instead he pulled material from almost a dozen comic arcs, (again, look at that cover gallery) a frightening burn rate that eliminates many of these stories for adaptation by whichever creative team accepts the unenviable task of following in Nolan’s footsteps.

First, lets stipulate that Batman does not need another re-telling of his origin story. Batman Begins is pitch perfect, even if the fight scenes left much to be desired. And, by ending Dark Knight Rises with Batman’s “death,” Nolan ensured that the next film cannot simply begin where the trilogy ends, since fans want to see Bruce Wayne and not the adventures of Det. John Blake. So what’s next?

I would recommend two complementary approaches. Since Nolan masterfully introduced Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Det. Blake as the inheritor of the Batman’s mantle, Warner should build on that with a Nightwing spin-off. This might even permit the introduction of Barbara Gordon as the paraplegic Oracle, since she and Nightwing were an item for years in the comics, and the main character of every superhero film needs a love interest. This would also give the studio a chance to develop a film around a character not named Batman nor Superman, something they have proved woefully inadequate at doing.

But that still leaves the question of a new Batman film. The answer here is obvious: the next Batman movie should be built around Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee’s Batman: Hush (2003).

Patrick Ecclesine/The WB; Bob D'Amico/ABC

This graphic novel is built around the villainy of the unfortunately named Hush, the scion of a prominent Gotham family with a historic connection to the Waynes. One subplot in Batman: Hush involves the rising tension in the relationship between Batman and Catwoman as she increasingly finds his rigid code of ethics tiresome. Using this text, one of the few left untouched by Nolan, would allow for some continuity with the Dark Knight trilogy while allowing the new creative team enough space to establish their own take on Batman’s past and present. Adapting Hush also allows for the introduction of other Batman villains like Poison Ivy and Harly Quinn. Short of basing a movie around one of the dozens of Joker stories available (and good luck finding an actor willing to reprise Heath Ledger’s performance) this seems the best path forward. That’s my take, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on the matter.

Follow Jonathan W. Gray @elmcitytree

Read more:

Entertainment Geekly: The epic ‘Dark Knight Rises’ podcast

Lisa Schwarzbaum’s ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ review

‘Dark Knight Rises’: 10 Comic Book Inspirations