When director Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins (which you can watch here) came out in 2005, it was instantly beloved by both critics and audiences, and turned the Batman franchise, and comic book movies as a whole, completely around. Christian Bale's take on the Caped Crusader ended up being the definitive screen Batman of his generation, and Nolan brought a level of reality never before seen to a comic book adaptation.
Because of the game-changing nature of Batman Begins, it's safe to say that expectations were quite high when its sequel The Dark Knight (watch it here) was released some three years later -- again reteaming Nolan and Bale, and this time adding the pivotal element of Heath Ledger as the Joker. Now, a decade later, it's clear that The Dark Knight not only met those expectations, but totally shattered them upon its release in 2008.
Although the casting of Heath Ledger as Batman's arch nemesis the Joker was controversial when it was announced, upon the film's release, the late actor's performance proved to be one for the ages. Ledger gave us the definitive live-action portrayal of the Clown Prince of Crime; no small feat when the previous actor to play the part was Jack Nicholson.
The Dark Knight would have gone down in the history books for Heath Ledger's Joker alone, but it's not the only reason many regard it as one of the greatest comic book movies ever made. The Dark Knight is a fantastic Michael Mann-style crime opus with a tight script and an impeccable cast, including Aaron Eckhart as Harvey Dent/Two-Face, Maggie Gyllenhaal as Rachel Dawes (replacing Batman Begins' Katie Holmes), and the returning Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth, and Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon.
By using the real streets and locations of Chicago, Nolan made Gotham City, for the first time on screen, a real, living city. But for all its grittiness, Nolan understood the comic books that Batman originated from, and how key they were to forming his mythology. Because of this, The Dark Knight pulls from many different Batman comics from throughout the character's history. Here are several examples...
Batman: The Killing Joke
This 1988 one-shot special by writer Alan Moore and artist Brian Bolland is still considered the definitive Joker story. The Clown Prince of Crime presents his full origin here for the first time. Although, as the Joker says in the story, he's not sure if his memories are correct, and if he's going to have a past of any sort, he would prefer it be "multiple choice," a preference Heath Ledger's Joker shares in The Dark Knight.
The Killing Joke also has Joker spend much of the story trying to drive a rational man, Commissioner James Gordon, insane. By crippling and tormenting his daughter Barbara, and forcing Gordon to witness it, he hopes to break him mentally. In an effort to prove all a virtuous man needs to lose his mind is "one bad day." While he doesn't do this to Gordon in The Dark Knight, he does do it to Harvey Dent. And in The Dark Knight he succeeds in pushing one sane man over the edge.
Batman: The Long Halloween
The main plot of this 1997-1998 limited series is about a serial killer who murders someone once a month on that particular month's most prominent holiday. But the secondary plot is about how the criminal freaks take over from the mafia in Gotham City, a theme that runs heavy in The Dark Knight. The other major story element of The Long Halloween concerns how the trinity of Lt. Gordon, Batman and Harvey Dent form to save Gotham, and the eventual transformation of Dent into Two-Face. This saga is an even more prominent influence on The Dark Knight than The Killing Joke.
The Stories of Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams
In the early 70's, after the cancellation of the 1966 Adam West TV show, Batman's popularity was in decline. Writer Dennis O'Neil and artist Neal Adams took Batman back to his roots as a dark avenger, and he's stayed in that mode ever since. One of the aspects of Batman that came from these stories was the Dark Knight's status as a globe trotter (read one example here), with adventures in a myriad of exotic locales.
Batman was such a world traveler during this period, it's hard not to think of those comics as Batman glides over Hong Kong in The Dark Knight. Also in the 70's, Bruce Wayne lived away from Wayne Manor for the first time, in a swanky playboy's penthouse in Gotham, another element reflected in Nolan's second Batman film.
The OMAC Project
A much more recent addition to the Batman mythos in the comics is Bruce Wayne's creation of the OMAC Project, an orbiting satellite system created to watch and observe (or, in other words, spy on) every metahuman on the planet. This was introduced in the prelude to 2005's Infinite Crisis series. Although not quite as sci-fi leaning in the movie, The Dark Knight's Batman creates a similar invasive monitoring system in Gotham, much to the disgust of Wayne CEO Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman).
Christopher Nolan and the makers of The Dark Knight understood that Batman's longevity is primarily due to the comic book stories crafted by so many great creators over the decades. Without those stories, most every iteration of the Dark Knight, in any media, would be so much lesser. For Batman, like every DC Comics Super Hero, it begins on the page.