Anyone who followed the press regarding the movie knows that the two main comic book inspirations for it are The Dark Knight Returns miniseries and The Death of Superman storyline. They both are mushed together inelegantly through an erratic Lex Luthor whose unexplainable behaviour will probably be retconned/justified in a future movie. But that is besides the point. The how and why is not important here, only the what. And there is so much more down that rabbit hole.
The Dark Knight Returns
The premise of an older Bruce Wayne back in action is lifted from here. DKR’s Batman, just as BvS’s, has a storied career; he lost allies, friends…faith. Time and loss turned him crueler. Many of the scenes with Bats in costume are lifted from here, albeit completely recontextualized.
The movie opens with Martha Wayne’s pearl necklace broken in slow motion by a gun’s recoils. This sequence is slavishly recreated from the comic, without the crosscutting to Bruce Wayne in the present.
In DKR Batman stands on a tower holding a gun, which shoots a grappling hook. With a similar composition, in BvS Batman stands on a crane holding a gun to shoot a tracker on a truck.
The brawl between Batman in an armored Batsuit and Superman is a scene adapted from the comic with many liberties taken by Snyder. A few compositions are similar, as is the idea that Batman uses an exoskeleton to inflict damage on a Superman weakened by kryptonite. But they pan out differently.
In a short scene from the the comic Batman corners a gang of kidnappers in a room, busts through a wall, gets hold of one of their machine guns and shoots the “mutant” who holds the baby hostage. Almost the same sequence is repeated in the movie, only this time with Martha Kent, Superman’s mother, held hostage by mercenaries hired by Lex Luthor.
Both have a scene where Superman is hit by a nuke, survives, and regenerating he has an emaciated and skeletal body.
They both end with a funeral, Batman’s in the comic, Superman’s in the film, the promise of a new generation to replace the old … and a heartbeat.
Death of Superman
Death of Superman is barely a story. It is a vehicle for putting Superman out of commision and replacing him with four other heroes. But a few important elements manage to infiltrate themselves out of it and into the BvS.
Doomsday first of all. Even if a bit different in origin, both are boring looking huge monsters that Superman sacrifices himself to kill. In the comic it’s an ultra-adaptable species, while in the film it is the reanimated corpse of General Zod, unleashed by Lex Luthor in order to destroy Superman.
The fact that the film presents us with Alexander Luthor, the son of Lex Luthor is probably explained by an impulsive casting decision by Snyder. It so happens that at the time of The Death of Superman storyline there was a younger, fully haired, Lex Luthor. Which was actually the old Lex Luthor inhabiting a cloned body, posing as his own son. I was actually hoping this would be the case in the movie as well since it would explain so much about Lex’s character and actions.
But Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is also inspired by, or at very least resembling, a few other less known stories.
Mark of the Bat
The fact that Batman brands his villains is one of the weirder aspects of the film — and it has plenty of those in stock. It shows a degree of sadism, but also of desperation, that replaces the methodical brutality of Frank Miller’s old Batman. In no other comic Batman goes to such lengths, other than in Josh Simmons’ self-published underground comic Batman (republished by Fantagraphics as Mark of the Bat inside The Furry Trap). Both versions of Batman are exhausted by the sheer number of criminals, comparing them to weeds or bugs and resort to extreme measures. Simmons’ Batman takes this extreme route because of his idiosyncratic code of ethics that forbids him from killing, while Zack Snyder’s doesn’t show any qualms about it.
While waiting for some files to be decrypted Bruce Wayne has a vision of a grim future that might or might not come to pass. In it he wears a suit resembling that of an adult Damian Wayne who also appeared in a grim vision of a future that might or might not come to pass.
Legacy (Superman TAS) / Earth One / Injustice
(also Kingdome Come, Injustice, Red Sun)
The Knightmare sequence is a gift that keeps on giving. While not being lifted explicitly from any one comic this short sequence brings to mind a plethora of stories where trauma and loss (usually Lois Lane related) turn Superman into an authoritarian figure.
The vision shows a future evidently ruled by Darkseid. His brand is scorched upon the skin of the earth, his Parademons fill the sky. And Superman is his agent. As is the case in Superman The Animated Series’ finale and New 52′s Earth One.
There are military troops bearing Superman’s symbol doing his bidding. Superman impales Batman through the chest — apparently because Batman killed Lois or let Lois die. This bring to mind the universe of Injustice: Gods Among Us, especially that of the comic book adaptation by Tom Taylor, Mike S. Miller and others.
Crisis on Infinite Earth
When the vision seems to end, a portal (possibly a boom tube?) opens in front of Batman through which Flash could be seen carrying a cryptic warning from the future. This somewhat resembles a scene from the beginning of DC’s 1986 crossover, when, while chasing the Joker, Batman meets a phantomatic Flash who traveled in time while sacrificing himself in a future issue..
Superman: For Tomorrow
Although not explicitly referenced, there is no closer version of Superman to that in Batman v Superman than that of Brian Azzarello and Jim Lee’s story arc.
Both versions are somewhat aloof, disinterested in humanity, other than as a responsibility and burden. Both versions struggle with the weight of it all, the consequences of their decisions and consider the fact that it might be for the best for Superman to not be at all. Both are comparing Superman with God and pondering his capacity for good. Both are paying visual homage to the composition of religious works of art. Both the film and the comic have a storyline sparked by Superman’s intervention in a Third World Country.
I just think that Mahnke draws Superman a lot like he’s portrayed in the film, especially when firing his heat vision.
The Arkham [Stuff] Games
Batman’s fighting style closely resembles the one from Rocksteady’s video game series. He disrupts his opponents with gadgets, then engages them in close combat moving with both speed and weight from enemy to enemy, applying powerful, incapacitating blows, mixing various forms of martial arts. The Batmobile also resembles that from Arkham Knight, both in design and in weaponry.
This, together with the Injustice similarities, If there isn’t an effort from WB to keep some sort of brand unity, I think this shows that Zack Snyder’s sensibilities are closely aligned to those of action games developers.