Choosing A Batman That’s Right For You
Good afternoon Evil Chums! It’s no secret that we here at the Brotherhood of Evil Geeks have quite an affinity for all things Bat related. Hell, we even feature Bats as the background to this very website! From the time that we were just wee Bat-Mites romping around in our Batman pajamas, all the way up until now as I write this article (sadly, still in Batman pajamas), there is nary a day that goes by in which we don’t check in with Gotham’s favorite crime fighter in some form or another. In a perfect world, every incarnation of Batman would be precisely perfect and true to the comic books in every way, but we don’t live in a perfect world. We live in a world where Joel Schumacher directs superhero movies. We live in a world where movie Superman is allowed to have a bastard kid; a world where the Ryan Reynolds Green Lantern movie exists. It’s a world in which marketing matters more than story, so film and TV adaptations often end up as disappointing caricatures of their source material’s initial greatness. Batman has also fallen victim to this cruel world at times over the years, but FEAR NOT Evil Geeks! Today we’re going to go through some of the various incantations of the Batman over the years in order to help you come to grips with each one and maybe find something you might like in a version you previously hated.
1940’s Batman Serial
I honestly really can’t say much about this version of Batman because I haven’t been exposed to much of its material. I remember when they used to show these shorts on Saturday mornings on AMC for a while. I made an honest effort to watch them but I just couldn’t get interested. There’s not much in the way of special effects, there’s no super villains, and the action is very stage fighty. If you’re a complete die-hard Bat-Fan or a fan of old serials, then maybe you’d enjoy it, but it’s probably best to just skip this one.
Adam West – 1960’s Batman TV Show and Batman: The Movie (1966)
The 60’s version of Batman is a little… complicated, shall we say? On the one hand, it has a general mass appeal. It was huge a hit in its time and it continues to be re-run on TV today. This popularity has allowed the show to spread interest in the Batman character across borders and generations. Millions of people’s first exposure to Gotham was probably through this show, but the content of the program doesn’t really match up with the content of today’s comics and movies, which could be incredibly off-putting to newbies and REALLY riles up some hardcore Bat-Fans. The Batman we know today is a brooding, bad-ass, but the 60’s Bruce Wayne is a prissy, boy scout, who is questionably living with a young, college aged boy. Modern Batman punches mother f%#$ers in the FACE! 60’s Batman dances. Modern Batman bangs Catwoman. 60’s Batman espouses the benefits of a virtuous life in order to set her on the right path. He’s basically Superman in a Bat costume without all the powers. He’s a big Bat buzzkill.
Admittedly, this is where my Bat-Fandom began as a kid, with re-runs of the old Batman TV show. This is the perfect place to start out a kid who isn’t familiar with the Batman universe. With the wacky villains in crazy, colorful costumes or the goofy, cartoonish action and humor; it’ll appeal to them as a kids show in the vein of Power Rangers or any of the other live action superhero TV shows that would come along in the future. However, if the youngster ends up getting really into Batman, then be prepared for a Bat-Backlash later in life. There will come a point when they realize that the Batman they first knew is a clownish buffoon compared to the real Batman and they could end up really hating the 60’s Batman. I know that I fell into that camp as I grew older. How dare they sully the name of the Dark Knight by having him be reduced to a pair of clown shoes?!?! That’s not Batman!!!! I refuse to acknowledge it even exists!!!!! THIS IS BULLSHIT!!!!!!!!
You can’t let them get lost down that rabbit hole though, because there are some really good things about this campy version of Batman. Making the attitude turnaround all boils down to realizing one crucial point. This version of Batman is a comedy. When you’re younger, you tend to concentrate on the super hero action aspect of the show and the context of the rest of it gets lost. This isn’t supposed to be an authentic take on the character, it’s a comedic interpretation. Once you realize that this is being played for laughs, it’s easier to lighten up and accept it for what it is. After being averse to the show for years, I recently began checking out reruns on TV and I can say that I do enjoy it now. I can laugh at the jokes and be entertained by the campiness of it all without having it “ruin my childhood”, “destroy the character” or whatever knee jerk reaction many geeks initially have when you mention this version of Batman. It is what it is folks, you can either accept it and appreciate it for that, or you can go around being enraged at it’s very existence. It’s your call.
Michael Keaton – Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992)
After a lengthy hiatus away from the big screen, Batman finally came back in 1989. This time, the world of Gotham was infused with Tim Burton’s vision, creating something of a whimsical, yet grim, Gothic cityscape. When Michael Keaton was first announced as Batman, many Batman fans reacted negatively. Keaton, who up to that point had mainly been known for comedic roles in movies such as Gung Ho or Mr. Mom, just did not seem like the right fit for debonaire, billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne. However, once images of Keaton in the suit began leaking to the public, the furor seemed to die down. Eventually the film would become a gargantuan hit, making Batman an iconic character in American culture and spawning a merchandising empire that still cranks out Bat products to this day. Keaton would also return for the sequel Batman Returns.
For the longest time, Michael Keaton’s Batman would be my favorite portrayal of the hero. His Bruce Wayne was a slightly eccentric, yet still down to Earth guy, but once he had the cape and cowl on; he was all business. It was the first non-cartoon portrayal of Batman since the Adam West days and it heavily downplayed the campy aspects of the character. He had a ton of cool gadgets, a worthy arch-nemesis in Jack Nicholson’s Joker, and a phenomenally designed Batmobile that was the envy of teen boys world-wide. I couldn’t tell you how many times growing up I’d go to the house of a friend and find that they had a poster of that Batmobile on their wall. Keaton’s portrayal wasn’t perfect though. As good as he was in the role, it’s still tough to see Keaton as an action star. When he fought, he was pretty much a stationary object, letting bad guys get close to him, then punching them in the face. He wasn’t very stealthy of ninja-like, he was just a brawler with some neat toys. Also, the latex Batsuit severely restricts Keaton’s movement, so in every scene he’s in as Batman, he’s unable to turn his head and comes off looking very stiff. Still, flaws aside, it was the best Batman we had for a good long while. Had we all known what would be in store for Batman in the future, I’m sure we’d have rather had way more Keaton than we ended up with. A solid Batman all around and a good transition for that teen who’s outgrown the campy Batman TV show.
Val Kilmer – Batman Forever (1995)
Ok, time for some harsh honesty. This is where things start to get pretty shitty as far as Bat cinema goes. While definitely not the worst Batman movie, it’s certainly not the best either. The story is just OK. It’s got Jim Carrey’s entertaining take on the Riddler and Tommy Lee Jones as Two Face, who also does a fair job of it. The problems with this movie start with Batman and the newly introduced Robin. Val Kilmer dons the cowl in this one and while he may look the part of a rich, pretty-boy, his performance is a little wooden. He gives Bruce no charisma whatsoever and his fighting style as Batman is even lamer than Keaton’s. Complicating matters further is Robin, who is played most annoyingly by Chris O’Donnell. Robin is supposed to be an orphan teen adopted by Bruce Wayne, but O’Donnell somehow looks older than Kilmer as Wayne. They are simply not enjoyable to watch as an onscreen, crime fighting team.
As bad as the heroes in this movie are, they are by far not the largest problem with this movie as well as the next one. The anchor weighing these ships down is the director, Joel Schumacher. Tim Burton set up a dark and gritty Gotham, the look of which was the complete opposite of the brightly colored, abstract looking TV Gotham. Schumacher wanted to restore Gotham to all of its campy glory in the most flamboyant of ways. Where as Burton’s Gotham embraced creepy darkness, Schumacher’s Gotham was ensconced in bright neon pastel hues. The Batsuit and Robin-suit had nipples emblazoned on the front of their shiny outfits. In the space between Batman Returns and Batman Forever, the city had gone from grim harshness to looking like Disney World on acid. The camp was back in full force with the script also. We’re treated to such gut-busting, knee slapping scenes like when O’Donnell takes the Batmobile for a joyride to try and pick up girls. Hardy har HAR! Give me a break.
I don’t hate this movie, but yeah… it could have been done way better. I won’t tell you to stay away from this one, if you’re a big fan of the TV show then this is probably right up your alley. If you’re looking for a darker take on the Dark Knight though, you’re in for a run of bad luck. Skip this one and pretend the next one doesn’t exist.
George Clooney – Batman and Robin (1997)
This is the worst thing that has ever happened to Batman. Even worse than his parents getting killed. This cinematic piece of shit nearly succeeded in killing the Batman franchise forever. It is a complete disgrace and shows absolutely no respect to any of the characters involved, including and especially Bane. There is no redeeming value for this monstrosity and it should be completely purged from the history books. All copies should be sought out and incinerated. The executives responsible for making this should be driven before the almighty to face their final judgement. NEVER EVER WATCH THIS HORROR!!!!!
Having said that, if you ever want to laugh your arse off at possibly the worst movie ever made, then check out Batman & Robin. Arnold Schwarzenegger is LEGENDARILY bad as Mr. Freeze and spends the entire movie spouting punny one-liners that you will find yourself using on an almost daily basis.
Now that this description is over, let us never speak of this hideous affair ever again.
Christian Bale – Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), and The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
FINALLY, after a torturous era of sub par Bat movies, the fans were rewarded with the hero they deserved. Christian Bale brought a near perfect Batman into the 21st century. He could play the pretty boy billionaire extremely well, then don the cape and turn into the gruff voiced, intense, bad ass Batman that we’d all been waiting for. We’ve all heard tons of praise for the Nolan movies and they’re all still fresh in our memories, so there isn’t much more I can say without being redundant. Bale brought a Dark Knight to the screen that was about as faithful to the comic as you could get (except for the taking 8 years off thing). These three movies are an expert level class on how Batman should be done on-screen and for sure will be hard to top in the next iteration of the character that is due out with the new Justice League movie. Personally, I think that they’re going to have to stray away slightly from Nolan’s hyper-realistic take on the Batman mythos. I’d like to see a Batman story with a tinge of the supernatural added to it done for the next solo movie. Maybe a story about Clayface or the one I’d REALLY love to see done: an adaptation of Batman and the Monster Men by Matt Wagner.
As good as Bale is in the role, he’s not perfect. There’s one thing that always bugged me about his Batman and that was the gruff, scratchy Tom Waits-ian affect he gives his voice when in costume. It just sounds stupendously goofy, especially in The Dark Knight Rises after Catwoman disappears as Batman is talking to her and he says “So that’s how it feels.” You’re alone man, you don’t have to talk like that. You’ve spent millions on cars and planes, you can’t drop some coin on a voice changer for the costume?
The Nolan/Bale films would be good for an adult who may be unfamiliar with Batman. Show them these movies and get them hooked before moving them on to other incarnations of the Batman.
Kevin Conroy – Batman: The Animated Series (1992), The Adventures of Batman and Robin (1994),The New Batman Adventures (1997), Batman Beyond (1999), Justice League (2001), Justice League Unlimited (2004), Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993), Batman: Sub-Zero (1998), Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker (2000), and Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman (2003), The Adventures of Batman and Robin (Video Game) (1994), Batman: Vengeance (2001), Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu (2003), Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009), and Batman: Arkham City (2011)
There’s one more Batman out there that doesn’t get as much play as the other movie Batmen, which is a complete crime because I think he’s the best Batman of all. That is the one done by voice actor Kevin Conroy in the majority of the Batman animated movies and TV shows. Conroy has been doing the character for over 20 years now and he is simply unparalleled when it comes to bringing Batman to life. He knows the subtle differences between Batman and Bruce. He knows how each one would think, how each one would talk, and what each one would do in any given situation. He knows the character perhaps better than anyone else out there! Conroy is the quintessential Batman. His voice is the one that’s been burned into my head.
Aside from having the actor that best captures the character of Batman, the various incarnations of the Batman animated series are by far the truest to the original comic source material. The series tell new stories as well as some of the classic stories from the comics over the years. They are also rated for family entertainment, so they are great for younger Batman fans, but also complex and well written enough for adults as well. I also guarantee that there will be one or two episodes that will make you shed a tear. If you want the full Batman experience then you need to check out any Kevin Conroy Batman project. You don’t need to know a lot about the character in order to enjoy the stories either as the story arcs of the series and the movies are self-contained and stand on their own. This would be the perfect gateway to extreme Bat-fandom for any age.
That is going to conclude our tour of history’s various Batmen! We’ve taken you from the Caped Crusader, to The Dynamic Duo, and straight through The Dark Knight. There’s a ton of Batmen out there and they all have their ups and downs. Except Clooney, nothing good can come of that disaster. Some people like their Batman funny, some folks prefer it when their Batman sticks to kicking ass. Whatever your preference, there’s a Batman out there for you. There’s even a few that we didn’t get into in this article!
You can’t have a hero without a greatest nemesis to do battle with, so check back in tomorrow Evil Geeks, as we examine the various portrayals of The Joker across different mediums over the years!
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