NOTE: It should be obvious, but this story contains spoilers for The Dark Knight Rises.
Over the weekend a conversation began to brew regarding the excitement and/or lack thereof for more superhero movies in my posting of the teaser trailers for Zack Snyder's Superman feature, Man of Steel. The statement that got it all started came from someone asking, "Will audiences EVER tire of watching the same damn thing again and again and again and again?" Another followed up by another asking, "Am I the only one tried of the superhero genre craze?! Can it just go away already?!"
For them, this conversation may not be up their alley, but for me, I think Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises elevated the genre above what we traditionally think of when the word "superhero" is tossed around.
Take a couple of comments from my review of The Dark Knight Rises for example. One asking me to compare the film to The Avengers, another asking about a specific portion of my review writing, "Why is it a good thing that Selina Kyle is not referred to as Catwoman? Is it really anymore weird than calling someone Batman or the Joker in the Nolan grounded universe?"
As for the comparison to The Avengers... there is none. Tonally, visually, thematically... entirely different.
As for the other question, YES! One thousand times, yes there is a difference! The fact Selina Kyle is never referred to as Catwoman goes to everything that makes Nolan's Batman trilogy so great, and why Warner Bros. should consider continuing where Nolan left off rather than rebooting the franchise in a few years.
Why is it a good thing Selina Kyle was never referred to as Catwoman? Because she's Selina Kyle. She has a name, and we get to know her as Selina. Had she been referred to as anything else you lose that bit of reality. She loses that piece of her that was human... sort of like... I don't know, Bruce Wayne when he became Batman. Her identity as a struggling citizen of Gotham would have been lost in a story that is already focusing on a character searching for his identity and Nolan was right to keep her as a character the audience could connect with... after all, she is the film's closest representative of the 99%.
As for wondering if there is any difference between calling her Catwoman and referring to Heath Ledger's character from The Dark Knight as The Joker. YES! again. Catwoman and The Joker, in fact, have nothing in common. What do we know about The Joker? Nothing. He's a psychotic madman that wants to watch the world burn. Yet, as he says in The Dark Knight, he and Batman aren't so different. To the citizens of Gotham, both are men with no name. Why do they do what they do? It's inexplicable. It's what makes The Joker that much scarier and Batman that much more confusing to the citizens.
Why would someone dress as a bat, protect the city from evil and yet never reveal his identity? It goes against everything we're used to in society and it's the number one reason we so easily accept Gotham's response to the belief Batman killed Harvey Dent. We as an audience know better, but we can see how a society would easily believe a masked vigilante killed the only beacon of hope they'd seen in a human in some time.
Nolan maintained this level of humanity throughout his Batman franchise, doing everything he could to keep his characters grounded in reality, with heroes and villains that embody both the light and the dark side of the soul. Not many superhero franchises have managed to do that if any. I'd argue The Avengers has done its best given what they're working with -- Tony Stark revealing himself to be Iron Man and the entire team becoming visible to the world in the Avengers finale. They lose a bit of that with the alien aspect, leaving Nolan's Batman as a unique vision in a genre where heroes and villains are infrequently presented without special powers, barring a few lackluster exceptions.
Batman may have gadgets and the technology in the films is certainly accelerated, but no one can fly; Bane isn't a giant, radioactive monster; Ra's al Ghul taught deception and theatricality as opposed to magic and mysticism; Jonathan Crane developed a toxin; Talia al Ghul was someone's daughter; and The Joker... well, there is no explaining him, but he is just as much an exploration into the human mind as any of them. His power came from his faith in humanity, a faith in the ugliness of humanity, a faith that soon backfired showing humans are more than what he believed them to be.
Now, Nolan has left the franchise. Where has he left us?
In the eyes of Gotham, Batman is dead, but Wayne did not destroy the legacy of this hero. He left behind a savior for Gotham and a way for someone to pick up where he left off should a director be so bold and daring as to attempt to follow in his footsteps.
Interestingly (perhaps only to me), Nolan left the franchise exactly where I theorized he might back in February 2011. While Joseph Gordon-Levitt didn't go by the name Dick Grayson in The Dark Knight Rises, late in the film we realize he is Robin, or at least some variation of the character and it looks as if he may be ready to pick up the Batman mantle.
In DC's "Nightwing" comic series, following Bruce Wayne's apparent death, Grayson became the new Batman. I'm not a comic book reader, but a trip over to Wikipedia reveals a plethora of information featuring Grayson as the new Batman, and while the story has changed there are surely enough themes and storylines to explore and maintain that level of reality Nolan started.
The question now lay with Warner Bros. Where do they want to take the character?