This Friday (March 4), Matt Reeves brings his interpretation of Batman to screens in the gritty reboot The Batman, starring Robert Pattinson as the Caped Crusader (you can read our spoiler-free review here). Earlier this year, Random House Children’s Books released a companion novel called Before The Batman: An Original Movie Novel that dives into character backgrounds before we meet them in The Batman. Reading more like poorly written fan-fic targeted towards pre-teens, the novel isn’t great, but there are some interesting tidbits that shed some light on the events of the movie. Plus, it is officially cannon, so if you want to go into the movie knowing absolutely everything, you should check out the book.
We’ll detail some of the key moments in this article, so be warned there are spoilers for both the novel and The Batman starting now!
Summary: The novel takes place before the events of The Batman–in fact, Batman doesn’t even exist yet. Throughout the course of the novel, we watch as a young Bruce Wayne struggles to find his purpose and seek vengeance for the death of his parents. At the same time, we discover how Edward Nashton, tired of being ignored and made fun of, transforms from weird loner to sadistic psychopath. We also witness the discovery of the batcave, creation of the batmobile, and learn more about how Bruce started his journey to become the Dark Knight.
The batcave is at the bottom of Wayne Tower, not Wayne Manor.
In every iteration of Batman on film (except for The Dark Knight), the batcave is a literal batcave that exists underneath the foundations of stately Wayne Manor. In the novel, we learn that Bruce and his family left Wayne Manor, turning it into an orphanage, and moved into Wayne Tower in the heart of downtown Gotham. After his parents’ death, Bruce discovers a cave in the basement of the tower that leads to an underground rail station that used to service the tower. Turns out, the Waynes of old used to be able to ride a private train to a special, secret station underneath their home. This abandoned train station is where Bruce builds his batcave.
In the movie, not much is said about why or how there is a train station under Wayne Tower, but we do get a glimpse of the train tracks during one of the scenes where Bruce is returning from a night out Batman-ing.
Bruce and Edward shared a home.
At the beginning of the novel, Bruce and his parents visit their old home-turned-orphanage where Thomas Wayne announces his candidacy for Gotham Mayor, but before he does so the Waynes are treated to a performance by the orphanage’s choir. There is one kid who never breaks eye contact with Bruce Wayne, an awkward looking kid with clear-framed glasses. It’s none other than Edward Nashton, an orphan living at Wayne Manor, who from that day forward harbors a hatred for Bruce Wayne and the wealth and opulence his family represents.
This is mentioned in the film, once Batman figures out the identity of the Riddler and is taken to a burned down Wayne Manor; no longer an orphanage and just a burned out husk of its former glory. Speaking of the fire that burned down Wayne Manor…
The Riddler burned down Wayne Manor.
A few years later, Edward is graduated and working as a forensic accountant, pouring over numbers and ledgers to try and find any evidence of financial wrongdoing. Bored of his job and still ignored by everyone around him, Edward remembers how much fun he had years ago making the rich street racers pay for their callousness, so he decides to pay a visit to his old orphanage. After setting off the fire alarm so that everyone would be evacuated from the building, Edward sets fire to Wayne Manor, burning down the home where he was so miserable and alone.
In the movie, one of the Riddler’s clues leads Batman right back to Wayne Manor, the home he ‘shared’ with Edward. The mansion has not been repaired since Edward burned it down and there is passing mention of someone starting a fire back in the day.
Edward has terrorized Bruce before.
One night while Bruce and his new friends were racing on the streets of Gotham City, they almost ran over a food delivery person on a bike. That person? Edward Nashton. Furious that a bunch of rich kids would be so carefree and dangerous with their own lives and the lives of others, Edward makes a plan to teach them a lesson. He places a flash bomb in the tailpipe of one of the racers cars, and watches while the bomb goes off, causing the car to crash and explode, but not before Bruce is able to rescue the driver.
While not referenced in the film, the events of this crash simultaneously creates a need in Bruce to rescue people and a desire in Edward to punish those who care so little about people lesser than them. It also leads to Bruce’s fascination with forensics as he turns to science and detective work to try and figure out the cause of his friend’s car crash.
Bruce and Edward share a love of journals.
As Bruce starts to develop his idea of becoming Batman, he begins journaling his thoughts and his progress on what he comes to call his Gotham Project. Similarly, throughout the novel, Edward takes his love of puzzles and riddles and starts making his own, jotting them down in countless journals.
The Batman is narrated by Bruce Wayne himself as he reads the audience his thoughts from his Gotham Project journals. It’s a lovely framing device that helps us get in the mind of one of the most reclusive and introverted heroes to ever exist. Edward’s journals make the jump to the big screen, too, with GCPD officers finding all of his puzzle journals in his apartment towards the end of the film.
Bruce hates his Wayne identity.
Over the years, I’ve always thought that Batman wore a mask to protect his loved ones from retribution as well as strike fear into the hearts of criminals, but there is another, more practical reason Bruce starts hiding his identity in this novel. He spends most of the book tinkering on an old muscle car, making it ever lighter and faster, and eventually turns to street racing. He quickly discovers that everyone recognizes who he is and doesn’t take him seriously, so he starts to disguise himself to shed the celebrity that comes with being Gotham’s wealthiest son.
We see this in the film as well, as Bruce neglects his responsibilities at Wayne Industries with visible disdain for everything that the company and his family name represents. This all comes to a head when, thanks to the Riddler’s machinations, the Wayne family and Arkham family are pulled into the spotlight for supposed corruption, leading Bruce to question if he should really idolize his parents as much as he did.
Anonymity is key to both Batman and the Riddler.
As discussed in the previous section, the Bruce of The Batman and the prequel novel hates his Wayne identity. But more than that, he sees a need for anonymity, leaving the house wearing one disguise with a different disguise in his backpack that he wears when he is fighting crime. This anonymity allows him to get into places he shouldn’t be and helps him to pass by unnoticed. Similarly, Edward uses his anonymity as fuel for his crusade against the Gotham elite. Every time he is shunned or ignored, he uses his sadness and hurt to help him design elaborate plots to bring punishment to those around him.
We see this take place in the movie, as well, with Bruce leaving the house wearing his Bruce disguise, but carrying his Batman costume in a backpack for when he needed it. For Edward, anonymity was the cause that brought together the ignored and neglected of Gotham at the end of the film, turning his followers into Riddler-clones who were eager and ready to do his bidding even when he was behind bars.
Bruce discovers a need for a partner-in-crime-fighting.
Once Bruce starts his Gotham Project full time, he discovers that the criminals of Gotham have started using military grade explosive powder that is easy to conceal and extremely deadly. Bruce quickly learns that he is in over his head, and therefore turns to GCPD, tracking down a cop he can trust.
In the film, we are two years into Batman’s career, and he as already developed a friendship and partnership with Jim Gordon, who is by his side often, discovering and deciphering clues left by the Riddler.
Though not a fantastic novel, it is a quick read and it really did give an extra layer of depth to what was happening on screen. It took me half a day to read it, so while I can’t say I recommend it for the quality of the book itself, I can say that you should read it if you are a die-hard fan and want to have all of the background story in your head when you see the movie.
I’m curious, if you’ve seen the movie without reading the novel, did the revelations in the movie hold more weight? Or do you wish you would have known this background going into the film? Let me know in the comments below!
Mark Pereira is a senior writer for Boss Rush Network. He loves all video games, but his top three favorites are Skyward Sword, Super Mario 3D World and Batman: Arkham Asylum. You can find him on Twitter where he’s usually talking about Nintendo, video games, movies, and TV shows.