Batman is an icon, synonymous with the superhero genre and with comic books in general. However, unlike many comic heroes Batman has evolved, constantly changing to keep up with the times. With Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises coming to our screens in a mere 12 months WhatCulture! is looking back at the changing face of the beloved Dark Knight.
Detective Comics Issue 27 (1938)
The Case of the Chemical Syndicate, issue 27 of Detective Comics saw the début of a new character for DC, the Bat-Man. Following the tradition of pulp detective comics, the Bat-Man was a crime fighting detective who had no qualms in killing his adversaries.
Created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, the original basis for Batman was a combination of pulp and detective heroes The Shadow and Sherlock Holmes. Visually Kane was influenced by Leonardo De Vinci’s designs for a flying machine that was based on the wings of a bat. To make the character different to the Superman iconography, Kane and Finger decided to shade Batman in grey and black tones to give him a darker more predatory appearance.
Detective Comics Issue 38 (1939)
A year later and Batman had become established as a household name. Visually his costume incorporated blue for his gloves, boots, cape, cowl and briefs. This look was softer and was a sign of the evolution of Batman as a character and not a pulp archetype. The softening of his image was coupled with the introduction of Robin, his new teenage sidekick.
Finger suggested that Batman needed a Watson so that he would have someone to talk to. This began the process of Batman changing from a dark and gritty character into a more moral, upstanding and paternal character.
Batman (1943 Serial)
In 1943 Columbia Pictures released a 15 part serial starring Lewis Wilson as the Caped Crusader. The story featured Batman working as a government agent in a plot to foil the evil plans of Dr Daka a Japanese scientist at the hight of the Pacific conflict of the second world war. The serial introduced the Batcave, which was later adopted by the comic writers.
Batman and Robin (1949 Serial)
The success of the 1943 serial resulted in this low budget sequel. Starring Robert Lowery as Batman the 15 part serial had more over the top action and plot elements which audiences felt were silly and camp. However, when it was re-released in 1965 as An Evening with Batman and Robin, audiences embraced its camp elements and it became the inspiration for the hugely popular Batman tv series of the 60s.
Batman (1966 TV Series)
Starring Adam West as Batman and spanning 3 seasons, this camp and colourful interpretation of the Dark Knight was hugely popular with audiences and for a time was even the coveted show to cameo in, featuring wall climb cameos from stars such as Sammy Davis Jr, Jerry Lewis and Bruce Lee (as Kato).
The show was synonymous with the character for almost 20 years, even influencing Tim Burton‘s take on The Joker in the 80s. While the show represents little of the modern day Batman, it is iconic of it’s time and is responsible for the sustained popularity of the character throughout the 60s and 70s. The show also introduced Batgirl for better or worse.
Batman The Movie (1966)
The film spin off from the hugely popular show plays as the show did, featuring the same sets, props and actors. The higher budget allowed the film to take the ludicrous ideas further giving us the Bat-copter, The Penguin‘s submarine and and all star cast of the most popular villains in the show. It also gave us shark repellent spray and possibly the best scene involving a bomb in cinema history.
Detective Comics Issue 395 (1969)
Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams should be hailed as heroes. In 1969 they decided to move Batman away from the camp of the TV show and find his roots. What resulted was a darker and more gritty Batman, much like Kane’s original vision. Their work became popular with fans and their influence can still be seen in Batman today. While the more serious Batman stories faired well with fans, comic book sales were declining hitting an all time low by 1985 and it seemed that the night was very dark indeed for Batman…
The Dark Knight Returns (1986)
…but the night is darkest just before the dawn. Frank Miller breathed new life into the franchise by giving us, ironically, an old and retired Bruce Wayne. Miller’s bleak tale follows Bruce Wayne as he succumbs to his urges to don the cape and cowl once more. But time has moved on, Gotham has all but forgotten Batman, many believing him to be nothing more than an urban legend. This sets the stage for one of Batman’s most violent and shocking tales as he takes on the a local gang of thugs, proving that experience can win over youth any day of the week.
Bruce then recruits his defeated gang of yobs and creates, along with a new female Robin Carrie Kelly, to take on his old foe the Joker as well as none other than Superman himself. Miller’s controversial take on the Dark Knight is seen as an alternative take on the character rather than a canon entry into Batman mythos however, the series created a huge resurgence of interest in the character, introducing Batman to a new generation, a generation that could disassociate the character from the camp.
Batman: Year One (1987)
Following Miller’s success with The Dark Knight Returns Dennis O’Neil took over as the editor for Batman and decided to re-brand the Dark Knight. This resulted in Batman: Year One, a four issue origin story that collected the pieces of Bruce Wayne’s past and consolidated them into the definitive version of events. Written by Frank Miller and drawn by David Mazzucchelli Year One was the polar opposite of The Dark Knight Returns, featuring a classic art style much closer to Kane’s original drawings and featuring a young Bruce Wayne. Miller’s contributions to the Batman franchise were substantial, paving the way for classics such as Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke and the ground breaking A Death In The Family in which Jason Todd (the second Robin) was murdered by The Joker.
Batman: The Killing Joke (1988)
Alan Moore is a name that is hailed as legendary among the comic community and one of the UK’s finest talents in the field. The Killing Joke was a one shot that proved to be one of the most influential graphic novels ever produced. The Joker captures Commissioner Gordon and subjects him to a carnival of horrors. He also shoots Barbara Gordon AKA Batgirl leaving her unable to walk.
While many one shots do not overtly effect the canon of the serial Batman comics, the aftermath of The Killing Joke is still felt today as Barbara Gordon is still very much wheelchair bound. However, Barbara didn’t give up, she is now a stronger and more powerful hero than ever before in the form of The Oracle. The Oracle is now a key figure in the DC Universe, supporting many of the top heroes. Her use of computers and information trafficking is unrivalled. Still it was this dark and twisted tail that really opened the door to the possibilities of The Joker, which directly led to the loss of Jason Todd.
The renewal of interest in Batman and the success of the Superman films led to Warner Brothers (who at this point owned the rights to the franchise) to push forward with a Batman feature. The relatively new director Tim Burton was hired to direct the picture and Michael Keaton was cast as Batman.
Fans feared that Keaton and Burton would do a camp, comedy take on the franchise due to their collaboration on the film Beatlejuice. However, Burton’s take on the Batman franchise was true to the recent re-branding of the comics, following the dark tone of writers such as Miller and Moore. Keaton’s unconventional casting turned into a master-stroke as he brought charm and wit to Bruce Wayne and lent a strong jaw and a gruff voice to the rubber muscle suit.
The film cemented the rising success of the comic franchise and became a massive hit, making Batman a house hold name again. It also gave us the classic “I’m Batman” line. A star turn from Jack Nicholson as The Joker also led to the trend of Batman’s enemies being far more interesting than Batman himself, a curse that was only momentarily lifted with Batman Begins.
Batman Returns (1992)
The success of Burton’s Batman made a sequel almost inevitable. Burton was given carte blanche and as a result Returns is far closer to Burton’s other films than the predecessor. The art direction took a full 180 resulting in a gothic, christmas fantasy style compared to the art deco look of the previous Gotham City. This in turn reflected on the costumes in the film, Catwoman sporting a hand sewn PVC body suit that looked like a cross between a panther and a zombie.
Again Batman was outshone by his foes, Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman adding some badly needed sex appeal that Kim Basinger seriously lacked in Batman. Amongst other things, Returns is notable for Batman’s first undeniably intentional killing (strapping a bomb to a clowns chest and punch him down a man hole) which as a true Batfan will know is against his moral code. Still Batman Returns is by no means a bad film, easily on par with Batman, both films have a serious, dark tone that is perfectly accentuated by Danny Elfman’s fantastic scores.
Batman: The Animated Series (1992)
Widely regarded as the best adaptation of the character outside of the comics (at least until Nolan came on the scene, but even that is debatable) The Animated Series was hugely popular. From the art deco 40s design and chiaroscuro lighting to the fantastic cast of voice actors, everything was of the highest quality.
The Animated Series offered a huge rogues gallery, and even introduced new characters such as Harley Quinn. The best thing about it is the timeless quality, it never looked new, always feeling vintage. It’s a love letter to the best moments of the franchise and easily one of the best American animated TV shows ever created.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
For a long time Mask of the Phantasm was considered the best feature length adaptation of the Dark Knight. Batman finds himself being framed for a series of gangland executions due to a series of incorrect witness reports. In fact the murders are being carried out by the mysterious Phantasm, a masked vigilante whose tattered black cape is similar to Batman’s own. Meanwhile, Bruce is distracted by Andrea Beaumont (an ex girlfriend, who he almost gave up crime fighting for) returning to Gotham.
A series of flashbacks detail Bruce and Andrea’s relationship as well as Bruce’s early costume-less attempts at fighting crime. With elements taken from Year One, there is a genuine chill when Bruce’s heartbreak at the loss of Andrea becomes the final push towards becoming Batman. The tragic climax at an abandoned theme park serves as one of the all time great Batman Vs The Joker battles and leaves you feeling a little cheated by the live action efforts (until Nolan that is).
Batman Forever (1995)
And the headache begins. Though Returns was a big success, WB decided that it should have made more money and as a result decided to make the franchise more child friendly. Burton was replaced by Joel Schumacher, with Burton taking up the role of the producer. Even so, little of Burton’s Batman survived the transition. Keaton turned down the lead to pursue more interesting roles (hindsight is a bitch aye Michael?) and was replaced by Val Kilmer.
Once again Batman is faced with two super villains, Two Face played by Tommy Lee Jones and The Riddler, played by Jim Carey. A loose sequel to Burton’s films, Batman Forever stands alone featuring short flashbacks of Bruce’s past as well as Robin’s origin story. Schumacher re-introduced a lot of the camp that had been all but stamped out back into the franchise with his fetish for neon and nipples.
Sadly, the film was a big hit, breaking opening weekend records. The film introduced a new younger audience to Batman, and also prompted reruns of The Animated Series (so not all bad) but Batman Forever’s true legacy is and always will be Batnipples. *Shakes fist*
Batman: The Long Halloween (1996)
A limited series of 13 issues released every month from Halloween 1996 to Halloween 1997, Jeph Loeb’s The Long Halloween was an ambitious project. The tale picks up where Year One left off, chronicling the early months of Batman’s presence in Gotham. A serial killer called Holiday is committing murders on holidays such as Halloween and Independence Day.
While Batman hunts the Holiday Killer we also witness the evolution of Harvy Dent becoming Two-Face and Batman’s foes going from simple mobsters to supervillains. What makes The Long Halloween work so well is the scope of the piece. It looks at a year rather than a day or a week. Throughout that year we see the highs and lows of Batman’s war on crime in a way that is seldom seen in one piece of writing. The story is brave and continues the fine tradition of Frank Miller’s work on the franchise.
Batman and Robin (1997)
Firstly, let me just say that for all its neon and nip……….you get the idea, regardless of that, Batman Forever is a MUCH better film than Batman and Robin. Batman and Robin makes Batman Forever look like Citizen Kane. Firstly, Batman Forever was the kind of camp you can tolerate, like musicals or Dale Winton. Batman and Robin is the kind of camp you get on Big Brother, it saps the will to live from your bones. As an avid Batfan I feel it is my civic duty to spend a little time ripping this film a new one. Firstly, Arnold Schwarzenegger plays Mr Freeze, bringing to the character the depth of a melted Mini Milk. Lines like “you’re not sending me to the cooler” and “Ice to see you” do not represent the melancholy of one of Batman’s most tragic foes. Mr Freeze commits crimes to fund research that will save his wife’s life, this is touched upon in Batman and Robin but where is the tragedy, where is the cruel and twisted fate? It is down Joel Schumacher’s toilet apparently.
Another thing that truly sucks is the treatment of Bane, one of few people smart and strong enough to go toe to toe with the Bat is reduced to a mindless thug. Bane was smart enough to know that a one on one with Batman could end in his defeat. Leaving nothing to chance he releases all the criminals from Arkham, hitting Batman from all sides for days. When Batman is both mentally and physically exhausted Bane strikes. Having figured out Bruce Wayne and Batman are one in the same, Bane ambushes Wayne on his way to bed of all places. Bruce suffers a crushing defeat that results in his back getting broken. That is Bane, not a hulking mess who is reduced to a quivering turd without his venom.
Uma Thurman makes a sexy but camp turn as Poison Ivy but she does her best with what she is given. Alicia Silverstone’s Batgirl should have stayed at home. George Clooney’s charm and wit was not suited to Bruce Wayne or Batman and Chris O’Donnell was the same brand of crap he was in Batman Forever. Even the CGI was exceptionally poor.
Batman Beyond (1999)
In an attempt to recapture the glory of The Animated Series, Batman Beyond rebooted the franchise 20 years after Bruce Wayne retired. Terry McGinnis is taken under the wing of a retired Bruce Wayne. Wayne teaches him the ways of the Bat and also finances his one man war on crime. While there were some fresh ideas, McGinnis’ Batman always felt like a Robin to me, never filling the shadow left by Bruce Wayne.
Batman Begins (2005)
Everything that has ever been wrong with the Batman movies was fixed with Batman Begins. Directed by Christopher Nolan and starring Christian Bale as Batman, Batman Begins completely rebooted the franchise, taking the character back to his origins. Nolan took great effort to make Bruce Wayne an interested and developed character that is enjoyable to watch when he is outside of the Batsuit. In fact it is a full hour before Batman is even seen. We join Bruce in a Taiwanese prison, incarcerated for a robbery on Wayne Tech stock. Bruce has been travelling the world in search of an insight into the criminal mind. It is in prison he meets Henri Ducard, a member of The League of Shadows. Ducard arranges Bruce’s release and leads him to a dojo high in the Himalayas where he learns the art of the ninja. When Bruce is forced to execute a murderer he rebels against the League, destroying their dojo but saving Ducard’s life. Bruce returns to Gotham with the aim of using theatricality to become more than just a man. The first act of Batman Begins is a fantastic combination of a training montage and flashbacks which gives a depth to Bruce Wayne that has never been seen, even in the comics. Batman starts a one man war against Gotham’s criminal fraternity, attacking the Falcone Family as well as coming face to face with his first super villain, The Scarecrow.
Taking inspiration from Year One as well as Jeph Loeb’s The Long Halloween, Nolan crafted a rich origin tale that returned Batman to his gothic roots while simultaneously modernising the franchise. Nolan grounds Batman in the real world, using science as the basis for Batman’s suit and equipment as well as giving him truly human enemies. Nolan opened the franchise up to a more mature audience while staying within the 12A certificate which allowed the film to reach a mass demographic.
Batman Begins (Multi-platform, 2005)
As with most movie licences Batman Begins was rushed and lacked the impact of its film counterpart. For one thing, narratives that work well in films do not work well in games. Even short games are much longer than films, and who wants to play a Batman game as Bruce Wayne? What you are left with is a game that is trying to follow the theme of the film (fear) and turn that into a gameplay mechanic. You must use intimidation to strike fear into the hearts of your enemies otherwise they will shoot you. The problem is that you never feel empowered as Batman, there are no moments where you drop down in the middle of ten men and proceed to teach them about the word pain. By enforcing stealth and fear tactics you are basically suggesting that Batman cannot take down a few thugs and that does not fly with me!
Batman: Gotham Knight (2008)
Gotham Knight consists of 6 animated shorts each in a different style of Japanese anime. The shorts fill in the gap between Batman Begins and The Dark Knight but only offer superficial details rather than genuine plot points. Kevin Conroy (The Animated Series) reprises his role as Bruce Wayne but due to the varied art styles used to draw Bruce Wayne his voice rarely fits the character. The highlight is “Have I Got A Story For You” where three kids tell wildly different stories about an encounter with the Dark Knight. The exaggerated tales offer a new perspective on the character that says as much about Batman’s effect on people as children’s wild imaginations.
The Dark Knight (2008)
Every now and again a film will come along that will just explode. Jaws, Star Wars, Jurassic Park, Titanic, these films capture the hearts and minds of a generation. In 2008 Nolan’s follow up to Batman Begins, The Dark Knight did just that, breaking box office records like planks of wood at a Tae Kwon Do display. Sadly the films success was in part due to the tragic loss of Heath Ledger who’s masterful performance of The Joker would be the young actor’s last completed role. While the press attention surrounding Ledger’s performance and death was certainly a factor in the success of The Dark Knight, it was in no way the only contributing factor. I’ll get it out of the way now, yes Heath Ledger was absolutely fantastic as The Joker, proving wrong everyone who doubted that he could match Jack Nicholson’s performance in Batman. Ledger pissed on Nicholson and made his make up run. That said, The Dark Knight was no one man show.
Once again Christian Bale donned the cape and cowl as Batman and while his character was not as developed as it was in Batman Begins he still delivered a solid performance. However, it was Aaron Eckhart who was the unsung hero of The Dark Knight. Batman and The Joker are really just two opposing forces throughout the film, this is Harvy Dent’s story. Hailed as Gotham’s White Knight, Dent is as much a hero to Gotham as Batman, fighting the good fight on the right side of the law. Harvy’s downfall was inevitable, he is after all Batman’s biggest regret. The love triangle between Bruce Wayne, Harvy Dent and Rachel Dawes comes to a horrific conclusion as Batman must chose to save either Rachel or Harvy in one of The Joker’s sick traps. Batman decides to save Rachel but is in fact led to Dent. Batman manages to save Dent but not prevent the gasoline that has drenched half of Harvy’s face from igniting. Both men lose the one they love and Dent loses his sanity. Eckhart’s two face is a combination of a fantastic performance and horrific (yet excellent) CGI and while he only appears in the final act of the film he makes as strong an impression as The Joker.
Nolan’s The Dark Knight is more than a comic book movie, it is a crime thriller and an action drama. It is also easily the most successful adaptation of Batman that has ever been attempted. The critical and financial success is a testament to Nolan’s deft direction as well as strong performances from every actor involved. A film that truly ascends above its genre, The Dark Knight is a film of such quality that it can honestly be placed among the greatest moments in film history.
Batman: Arkham Asylum (Multi platform, 2009)
When Rocksteady Studios were commissioned with producing a Batman game they had two options. They could do a tie in with The Dark Knight and capitalise on the success of Nolan’s adaptation or take a risk and create a new franchise. Thankfully Rocksteady bucked the trend and took a risk. Rocksteady took their time and did their research and the result was to comic book games what The Dark Knight was to comic book films.
Batman: Arkham Asylum takes place entirely on Arkham Asylum, which happens to be an island off the coast of Gotham. Batman is bringing The Joker in personally, wondering just why it was so easy to trap the Clown Prince of Crime so easily. Well it turns out The Joker has planned a full scale takeover of the madhouse and Batman is trapped right in the middle of it. That said, I can’t think of a place he’d rather be. As Batman you are equiped with just about everything you would expect. The game has a combat system based on a combination of two key buttons, attack and counter. By timing counters and attacks you can deftly crush a legion of The Joker’s best men. The combat is fluid and stylish and utterly satisfying. You are also armed with an array of gadgets including grapple guns, explosive gel, Batarangs and a handy zip wire.
Batman’s tools are primarily used for level progression however, some tools can be used in combat, adding to the options available when faced with a fist fight. The other application of Batman’s utility belt is during the predator sections where Batman faces armed opponents. As Batman isn’t bullet proof, armed psychos need to be picked off using stealth. However, stealth isn’t hiding and sneaking so much as pouncing and striking fear into the hardest of souls. The stealth sections are just as satisfying as the combat sections but utilise a completely different skill set. The two forms of action in the game are consistently mixed up and continue to feel fresh even after hours of play. In fact the better you get and the easier you find it to crush your foes the more you feel like the Bat. It is an empowering experience and serves as the best realisation of the character in any form of media.
The game isn’t entirely perfect, the boss encounters are disappointing which somewhat cheapens enemies like Bane or Poison Ivy. That said this is a minor issue at best and really just highlights how good the rest of the game is. Arkham Asylum puts you in the boots of the Dark Knight and for the first time lets you truly experience how empowering that is. The experience is extended by a well conceived challenge mode that gives you the opportunity to beat your own times and high scores as well as show your ranking against the rest of the gaming community in a series of rooms dedicated to either stealth or combat.
The game was a huge success and to be frank, if you are reading this and haven’t played it you need to sort your life and and buy it now. Then pre-order the sequel.
Batman: Year One (2011)
DC Universe Animated Original Movies is a series that has been going for a few years now. The straight to DVD animated features are based on popular story arcs from a range of DC series. Scheduled for release on October 18th 2011 Year One will (hopefully) be a faithful rendition of Frank Miller’s seminal origin story. Other Animated Original Movies have suffered from a watering down of the source material to fit into the time frame of a feature however, with Year One being only 4 issues long such problems should not be an issue. Check out the trailer and see just how bad ass this is shaping up to be.
Batman: Arkham City (Multi platform, 2011)
Due on October the 21st 2011, Rocksteady’s follow up to Arkham Asylum looks epic. The inmates of Arkham have been contained in a sectioned off area of Gotham and once again Batman is right in the middle of it. Everything from Arkham Asylum is back however, this time it is bigger and better. For a start the game map is over twice the size of Arkham island and the main campaign is quoted at 30 hours (compared to the 10 hour original). It isn’t just scale that has been added, you can now play as Catwoman during certain parts of the game as well as Robin. The different characters have unique fighting styles ensuring a diverse experience that will hopefully be carried across to the challenge maps as well.
Arkham City is set to be bigger and better than Arkham Asylum which is an exciting prospect for any fan of the Dark Knight, or games in general. Check back in a couple of months for what will be a legendary video review of this game!
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Trilogies are always a proving ground for a director. Often what was once so fresh and original is stale by the time a third film is made. Even franchises as enduring as Star Wars have suffered from a poorer third effort (before you direct the hate, all I’m saying is that Jedi is the weakest of the three original films). However, sometimes the third film is the best, Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad and The Ugly is a fine example. However, for every The Last Crusade there is a Spider-Man 3.
The challenge faced by Nolan is not just topping a fantastic original, or even topping The Dark Knight. Nolan must top our expectations, which are nigh on biblical. The Dark Knight was more than anyone expected and expectations were high, but can he do it twice? Really it comes down to two things at this point, will Batman continue to grow as a character and reach a satisfying conclusion and will Bane live up to The Joker. I’m not saying that Tom Hardy (Bane) has to deliver an Oscar worthy performance, far from it. It is Bane that has to deliver. If Bane is not Batman’s biggest challenge yet, then he is going to disappoint. As I said in my scathing criticism of Batman and Robin, Bane is not mindless muscle but someone of similar intelligence to Bruce Wayne. The Joker was the polar opposite of Batman, the unstoppable force to Batman’s immovable object. It isn’t The Joker’s physicality that makes him dangerous, at least not to Batman, it is his disregard for everything. Bane is a totally different enemy, for a start he is totally sane which makes his brand of evil more unsettling. Bane is tactical and forces Batman to react and he also uses others to achieve his goals. All of Batman’s other foes are generally egomaniacs who try to prove themselves superior against Batman. That is generally how they lose, they are not superior to Batman. Bane is totally different, he knows his enemy is formidable which is why he has chosen Batman as his enemy. For The Dark Knight Rises to succeed, Bane must be the final test for Batman, which is a huge challenge for Christopher Nolan.
Personally I have faith in Nolan. He was right about Ledger (come on, you all thought Ledger was a ridiculous choice when you first heard the news) and I think he will get this right too. I think Nolan’s trilogy may well set the bar for what a trilogy can achieve. It has the potential to be Nolan’s magnum opus and cement him as one of Britain’s greatest filmmakers.
Did we miss anything out? Let us know in the comments bellow!