In two months, Ben Affleck is taking over as the latest live-action Bruce Wayne in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice - a role he’s already officially reprise for at least three more movies. For most of us, though, 2012’s The Dark Knight Rises is still a fresh memory. Following 1997’s disappointing Batman & Robin, director Christopher Nolan successfully rebooted the cinematic superhero in 2005 with Batman Begins, and after continuing the story in the enormously successful The Dark Knight, he concluded the Dark Knight trilogy in 2012 with The Dark Knight Rises. Although the movie earned many positive reviews from critics, it’s a mixed bag among fans - some feeling it was a lackluster conclusion to the overall epic trilogy. However, there’s one thing that can’t be denied: it’s one of the few Caped Crusader stories to give Bruce Wayne a definitive ending.
Because of Christopher Nolan wanting to tell a complete Batman story, as well as Warner Bros’ eagerness to kick off the DC Extended Universe, the Dark Knight trilogy is a shut book now. While there was talk shortly after the film’s release about whether the Dark Knight series could continue, be it in a John Blake-led Batman movie or a Catwoman spinoff, those ideas were quickly shot down. So unless DC decides in a decade from now that they want to do a comic book continuation, we’ll never officially know how this universe continued. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not possible to figure out what would have happened afterwards to lay the groundwork for a fourth movie.
Before we give our thoughts on the Dark Knight universe might have looked following The Dark Knight Rises, let’s first recap how the threequel ended…
The EndingAt the end of The Dark Knight Rises, with the help of Gotham City’s remaining police force, Batman was able to get control of the city back from Bane and finally defeated the breathing-impaired supervillain mano-a-mano - though it was Catwoman who delivered the killing shot. The problem was, the threat wasn’t over. That reactor set to explode and decimate the entire city was still somewhere out there, and although Commissioner James Gordon had prevented it from being remotely detonated, it was now in Talia al Ghul’s hands. Batman, Catwoman and Gordon were able to take out the truck carrying the bomb, but before she died, Talia destroyed the reactor so that they couldn’t put the core back into it for disarming. With no other alternative, Bruce was forced to attach the core to The Bat and fly it over the bay so it would detonate away from civilians. The problem was, the aircraft had to be flown manually, so in seconds, we watched Bruce Wayne seemingly perish saving everyone in his home city.
As the movie ended, we got our final taste of what life had ahead for the main players. Wayne Manor has been turned into an orphanage, while the rest of Bruce’s assets (that also weren’t seized to pay his debts) were bequeathed to butler extraordinaire Alfred Pennyworth. Commissioner Gordon continued his police work, but was surprised to see the Bat Signal back atop the GCPD rooftop. Lucius Fox discovered the The Bat’s autopilot issue had been fixed, seemingly by Bruce Wayne – suggesting that he actually survived the nuclear explosion. John Blake quit the police force, and after being left spelunking gear and a set of coordinates by Bruce, he found the Batcave. As for Alfred, he was understandably distraught over Bruce’s death, and felt that he had failed Thomas and Martha Wayne. However, when he went back to that cafe in Florence he mentioned earlier in the movie, he saw Bruce with Selina Kyle across from him, and with each giving a nod of recognition to one another, they went their separate ways.
Bruce Wayne’s FateIt’s left ambiguous in whether Bruce Wayne survived The Dark Knight Rises or if Alfred just hallucinated seeing him at that cafe. On the one hand, the autopilot on The Bat was indeed fixed, and the software patch had Bruce Wayne’s ID on it. Plus, just like in the comics, Bruce Wayne has a penchant for surviving seemingly impossible situations as long as he has the right tools.
On the other hand…this was a nuclear explosion! Even someone who trained with the League of Shadows and fought the worst Gotham City has to offer can’t just escape something of that magnitude with ease. Alfred was obviously overcome with emotion at Bruce’s death, as the man was practically his own son. So it’s possible he simply imagined he saw Bruce with Selina at the cafe, his desire for Bruce to have a better life briefly becoming his reality. Then again, like mentioned earlier, this is the Batman.He’s been known to surprise us.
Bottom line, if Bruce is still alive, he wouldn’t go back to being Batman. That part of his life is over. He dedicated years training his mind and body to near-perfection, and afterwards spent several years striking terror into the hearts of criminals. He was able to save his city one last time, and now that part of his life is over. He’s with Selina Kyle, and whatever is in store for their future, it won’t involve beating criminals up. Hopefully he realizes how lucky he is. Most iterations of the Caped Crusader go their whole lives dedicated to the mission, even if it means passing the Bat-mantle to someone else and staying on as a direct mentor.
John Blake’s FutureJohn Blake, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, made it clear to Commissioner James Gordon that he wasn’t planning on returning to the police force following the events of The Dark Knight Rises. He could no longer make peace with "structures becoming shackles." However, he still believes in justice, and Bruce recognized that spark in him - which is why he left directions for John to find the Batcave. So even though it’s not outright stated, the logical conclusion is that John will pick up where Bruce left off. It also helps that John is close with the orphanage, so he would be able to stay at the mansion and have easy access to the Batcave. Let’s just hope Bruce also left him the password to the Batcomputer, otherwise analyzing evidence is going to be hell.
While Blake showed talent, he was nowhere near as good a fighter as Bruce in The Dark Knight Rises, so he’d certainly need to train more before kicking off his vigilante career. Since there are no League of Shadows members around to give him pointers, this would be a significantly more difficult task, but with enough time, he would get to the point where he could take on the criminal underworld with just his fists and the right tools (more on that in the next section). Technically he could even keep a gun on him, since he clearly doesn’t have the same aversion to them that Bruce Wayne does, but that wouldn’t feel right.
As for his crimefighting identity, frankly, we doubt he’d go by Batman. Even if he put on the cape and cowl, he wouldn’t be able to frighten criminals the same way. It’s for that reason that we expect it’s much more likely that he would go by another name from DC Comics: Nightwing. We can’t really explain how he might get to that name, but if you spray paint some of the Batsuit blue, take off the cape and give John some protective eyewear (the traditional domino mask wouldn’t fly in this universe), then that would be a much more fitting image and a pretty good representation of the costume worn by the older Dick Grayson in the comics. Or maybe he’d pick another codename. We just hope that he wouldn’t wind up going by "Robin." For the love of everything that’s decent in this world, John, do not go by your actual first name!
John Blake’s Potential AlliesWhether he’s Batman, Nightwing or goes by some other moniker, John Blake wouldn’t able to tackle this "mission" on his own. Just like Bruce, he would need a support team helping him out. The first person to join is obvious: Commissioner James Gordon. Despite turning in his badge, Blake holds no ill will towards Gordon by the end of The Dark Knight Rises, and would surely turn to the commissioner for assistance in rooting out the criminals of Gotham. Just because Gotham’s new hero isn’t a cop anymore doesn’t mean he can’t appreciate the good officers of the law… well, those who aren’t corrupt, anyway. In Gordon’s case, while he primarily believes in upholding justice legally, he’s seen what good can come with the right costumed ally by his side. Since he worked with John before, he would likely be game with striking up another alliance. Bruce must have sensed that Gordon would be willing to keep going on this path, otherwise he wouldn’t have left a new Bat Signal for him. Just make sure to keep any and all axes away from it.
Then there’s Lucius Fox - Batman’s gadget supplier. Without him, Bruce Wayne wouldn’t have had his armor, grapple gun, cool rides, etc. Admittedly, it would be harder for Lucius to give John Blake the hookup compared to how it was with Bruce, since, loosely speaking, everything at Wayne Enterprises "belonged" to the son of the company’s founder. That said, once Lucius learns that Blake is the Bat-heir after the events of The Dark Knight Rises, one could easily see him being open to providing the young hero with tech. He wouldn’t want Bruce’s successor to go into the field unarmed, and since he’s still CEO, he can still pull some strings to make this happen. Some of you may point out that Wayne Enterprises isn’t as powerful as it once was following everything that happened in Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster, but we think Lucius would still able to tuck a few things away. At the very least, John needs his own Tumbler - black paint job optional.
There’s also the possibility that John Blake would bring Father Reilly into the mix. After all, he is overseeing the Wayne Manor orphanage, and there’s always the chance he could come across one of those secret entrances to the Batcave. Maybe he could act as a counselor for John in the same way that Alfred Pennyworth was for Bruce Wayne. Everyone who’s been Batman has always needed someone to talk to, even if it takes some prodding.
Where Does This Leave Gotham City?Despite Bane being defeated and the reactor core not blowing everyone up, Gotham City isn’t in great shape by the end of The Dark Knight Rises = and not just because all but one of its bridges were destroyed. Now that the public knows about Harvey Dent’s fall from grace, they’re less likely to trust the police. On top of that, many of the criminals Bane freed from prison are probably still on the loose, boosting Gotham City’s crime rate significantly - though perhaps not to pre-Batman Begins levels. In other words, Gotham City still has a lot of trouble to deal with, and the remaining police force isn’t going to enough to handle it. Which is why it’s necessary for John to pick up where Bruce left off. He can be the hero the city needs and deserves.
It’s not going to be an easy task cleaning up Gotham . Depending on your outlook, the gritty metropolis may never be fully "healed." That said, John Blake can keep it from plunging back into complete chaos, and any good he can accomplish is welcome. More importantly, keep in mind what The Dark Knight Rises showed: Batman’s presence inspires others. If the citizens see that they still have a watchful protector looking out for them, maybe some of them will try to make a difference in their own community, provided they’re not wearing hockey pads.
In terms of the threats John Blake’s Caped Crusader would be dealing with on the streets, it would presumably be the same brand of criminal scum that Bruce Wayne had to go after night after night , a.k.a. the superstitious and cowardly lot. That said, it’s not at all outside the realm of possibility that he’ll encounter other Dark Knight versions of classic Batman rogues. Penguin, Harley Quinn, Riddler, Hugo Strange… the list goes on. But the point is that just like his predecessor, John Blake will find himself dealing with a better and more colorful class of criminal from time to time.
When you boil everything down, John Blake has a difficult path ahead of him - but with the right training, tools and allies, he’ll be able to continue Bruce Wayne’s mission to save Gotham City, be it as Batman or as a differently named superhero. Would this have made good material for a fourth Dark Knight movie? Perhaps, although depending on who you ask, they may be happier that we’re getting a hero more directly faithful to the comics coming our way. As mentioned earlier, maybe someday DC Comics will revisit the Dark Knight world in a comic book, but for now, this is where we imagine this particular Batman world going.
As always, if you have your own ideas, make sure to leave them in the comments below!