At a certain stage of Batman’s filmic evolution, Bruce Wayne explained that he chose the bat symbol not just because he wound up in a cave as an orphaned, traumatized child, but because he felt it could “strike fear” into the hearts of Gotham’s wicked. In this age of darkening fantasy properties to reflect the real world’s gritty gloom, Wayne’s objective has been repurposed by the makers of superhero films, who use their protagonists’ unmistakable, teaser-ready emblems to strike anticipation and apprehension into the hearts of fans and fanboys everywhere. The folks behind The Avengers have tried to employ this sort of tactic, but that whole brand is unfashionably streamlined, and it doesn’t boast a logo that’s built for both noirish dread and count-the-days excitement. Grim is in, and beyond the launchpad of showcasing creatures that naturally give people the creeps, The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises have parlayed an entire mood into simplistic and enormously effective poster designs.
The sharp decision to modestly light Peter Parker from above and eerily illuminate what he will become is a far cry from what Columbia Pictures opted for 10 years ago—a vibrant, glossy design whose dawn-of-the-superhero-renaissance style is largely adhered to by The Avengers. Coolly bisected by a dark, concrete corner that’s more an establisher of duality than setting, the new poster is decidedly stripped down, following in the footsteps of the film’s trailer and initial still by focusing more on Peter than his web-slinging alter-ego. Flaunting the tagline “The Untold Story” is a bit of a joke, as everyone knows this second-round origins film is in fact “The Retold Story,” but the poster otherwise continues what has been a truth-centric marketing campaign, which has no doubt taken a cue from the epic, urban verisimilitude that made The Dark Knight soar.
In keeping with the bat-shaped building destruction that marked its predecessor’s imagery in 2008, The Dark Knight Rises leads with a poster that makes truly brilliant use of negative space, carving its signature signal out of the crumbling towers of a dismal metropolis—an empire about to fall yet again. A fine candidate for one of the best film posters of 2012 (it was left off the House’s recent list, which stuck to 2011 releases), this image typifies what’s in vogue in superhero cinema, remaining stylish enough to dazzle the eye yet chipping away any and all fine edges to avoid that out-of-date luster, which certainly didn’t do any favors for movies like Green Lantern. The angle is perfect, for even in this foreboding cage of falling debris, Batman’s iconic image still flies aloft, providing that gravity-defying sensation that’s always defined comic book heroes (the Spider-Man poster achieves a comparable effect).
For all the similarities between these two posters, it’s important to note that their central logos are fundamentally opposite, with one given shape by light and the other by shadow. Theme is introduced via these symbols as much as mood. In The Amazing Spider-Man, a dark new challenge will invade Peter’s life, while, conversely, in The Dark Knight Rises, Batman will strive to return light to an imploding city that’s painted him an outcast (and, as the movie’s other poster promises, that won’t be a cinch). Both realize a common goal from different avenues. And if today’s best masked-crusader one-sheets are any indication, this is not a time of polish, gloss, or gray area, but of strong, stark contrast.