After watching Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, you’re probably feeling a lot of feelings. You might be a little confused by the plot or annoyed at the details left out, but you’re probably also extremely excited about the mass of Justice League, Wonder Woman and other superhero films planned by comics giant DC in the coming years.
But how to deal with these conflicting, confusing feelings? We suggest you tuck into this comic-book reading list, which will hopefully fill in a few blanks about what was going on in Zack Snyder’s superhero epic while also whetting your appetite for the DC films we’ve got coming up.
Beginning with Batman vs Superman’s biggest influence…
The Dark Knight Returns (Frank Miller and Klaus Janson)
Frank Miller’s iconic 1987 miniseries is the primary influence behind Dawn of Justice’s titular brawl (especially visually), but there’s a lot more to it than the oft-cited duel of Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent. Featuring a bleak future with Batman as an ageing Dirty Harry figure, it’s a dense and striking story that’s been hugely influential within the comics industry.
The Death of Superman (various)
This one’s fairly self-explanatory if you’ve seen the film, but in case you’re confused this infamous 1992 storyline provided the basis for BvS’s tragic ending as Henry Cavill’s man of steel was cut down by rampaging monster Doomsday.
Wonder Woman: Spirit of Truth (Paul Dini and Alex Ross)
This 2005 story gives a bare-bones and beautifully drawn introduction to demi-goddess Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot in BvS, soon bound for her own movie) as she revisits her homeland and origin, foils a terrorist plot and tries to become more human.
Batman: Year One (Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli)
This 1987 retelling of Batman’s origin is great background reading for the Dark Knight, condensing years of backstory into a compelling narrative that feeds well into the older version of the character we meet in BvS.
Action comics (Grant Morrison and Rags Morales)
This 2011 modernized version of Superman’s origin also might be worth a read, though this is definitely lighter fare from Scottish writer Grant Morrison as Clark Kent finds his way towards being Superman while wearing a makeshift costume. Still, it’s a fun and offbeat look at the Son of Krypton as he finds his way in the world.
Also, scenes of humanity rejecting Supes as an alien in Batman vs Superman would seem to be drawn from this source.
The Circle (Gail Simone, various artists)
Featuring another look back at Wonder Woman’s beginnings, this run of stories by Gail Simone is a fun and involving take on the hero as she uncovers secrets about her birth, meets some intelligent gorilla warriors and deals with new developments in her secret identity as Diana Prince.
Whatever happened to the Man of Tomorrow? (Alan Moore and various artists)
Widely regarded as one of the best Superman stories ever written, this 1987 tale saw Clark Kent besieged by enemies, watch his friends die and break his own code by murdering an enemy (the current film version of Superman doesn’t seem to have this code, unfortunately). But despite all that it’s without the darkness that plagued Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman, ending on a positive note and giving a great overall look at the character.
Justice League: Origin (Geoff Johns and Jim Lee)
This is a modernized re-telling of how the Justice League came together to fight the threat of Darkseid, the villain hinted at in BvS. It also introduces the JL line-up as we will see them in the movies, minus Green Lantern—Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, and Cyborg (Cyborg was always part of the Teen Titans prior to this comic/a DC reboot called the New 52 “promoting” him).
Geoff Johns is also DC’s Chief Creative Officer, and Executive Producer on the DC movies. Ben Affleck alluded to working on something with Johns, which could very well be the rumoured solo Batman script, so this might be something of an insight into Johns’ style before that film happens.
Kirby’s Fourth World (Jack Kirby)
What were those flying bugs? What’s the deal with the Omega sign seared into the ground in Batman’s Knightmare? What was the deal with the fancy self-assembling box in one of the videos Wonder Woman watched? Who is the big bad to whom Lex Luthor is referring?
Well, all these Batman vs Superman mysteries are references to elements developed by comics legend Jack Kirby in his New Gods stories–motherboxes, parademons, anti-life equations and big bad villain himself Darkseid.
Injustice: Gods Among Us – Year One (Tom Taylor various artists)
This comic series accompanies the video game of the same name and has many beats that are repeated in BvS, right down to Team Batman versus Team Superman. Notably, in this comic Superman basically goes nuts after the Joker kills Lois Lane, which is similar to how the post-apocalyptic dream world in Batman v Superman is portrayed.
Suicide Squad: From the Ashes (John Ostrander and Javier Pina)
Before we have the Justice League and Wonder Woman films, we’re getting baddie-themed spin-off Suicide Squad, so this section of their classic run is the perfect way to look at the team’s comic book basis.
All the main story beats are here as villains like Deadshot and Captain Boomerang are recruited by government agent Amanda Waller (Will Smith, Jai Courtney and Octavia Spencer in the film respectively) to go on deadly missions in hope of early release, and it’s safe to say the movie will base a lot of its set up on this version of the team.
The team is a little different than the film version, sure (there’s none of Margot Robbie’s Harley Quinn, for example) but it’ll still get you in the mood for some bad guy action.
The Killing Joke (Alan Moore and Brian Bolland)
And if you want even MORE bad guy action, this 1988 miniseries by Watchmen and V for Vendetta creator Moore is more or less the definitive take on Batman’s nemesis the Joker, who’s set to have a major appearance in Suicide Squad played by Jared Leto (who seems familiar with the story based on some photos he’s released). The graphic novel also seems to have had some influence on Batman vs Superman, specifically scenes where Superman’s mother Martha is gagged and photographed, which is something the Joker does to police Commissioner Gordon’s daughter Barbara.
And while you’re in a Joker-y mood, it’s probably also seeking out Jim Starlin and Jim Aparo’s 1988-1989 storyline A Death in the Family, which details the murder of Batman’s sidekick Robin (aka Jason Todd, the second to bear the name) at the hands of the Joker. Batman vs Superman seems to have adopted this storyline as part of its backstory (see image below) – though of course some think the truth might be more complicated than that…
Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice is in cinemas now