As the third and final installment of the Christopher Nolan-helmed Batman films, "The Dark Knight Rises," is released the week of 19 July, already fans are speculating about the future of Batman in film and what direction the franchise may take.
The Batman character is among a handful of “super-heroes” that have transcended from popular culture into myth, joining the ranks of characters now forever linked to human culture. These mythic figures include the likes of Sherlock Holmes, Dracula, Robin Hood, King Arthur and Hercules. It’s no surprise that since the Batman’s debut in Detective Comics #27 in 1939, he has been interpreted by hundreds of writers, artists and filmmakers.
Here are my "Top 5" favorite versions the Batman in any medium:
#7 The animated "Batman: Brave & the Bold" Batman
In 2008, the Batman was on small screens once more with the animated series "Batman: the Brave & the Bold", which aired on Cartoon Network. The series followed in the tradition of the comic book "Brave & the Bold," which paired Batman with another hero from the DC Comics universe in every adventure. While the art and animation style was heavily based on the version of Batman from the 1940s comic books (drawn by artists like Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson and Dick Sprang), the cartoon also paid tribute to the more “pop culture” versions of Batman, including the live action series from the 1960s and Batman from the Saturday morning "Super Friends" cartoons. Consistently tongue-in-cheek from the beginning, this Batman is a legitimate and thoroughly satisfying interpretation of the caped crusader. Apart from the thrill of seeing favorite DC characters come to life every week, the voice talents of Diedrich Bader (Batman) and John Di Maggio (Aquaman) are simply brilliant. Watch the clip above for an example of the fun.
#6 The "Christian Bale" Batman
Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman is certainly the most financially successful Batman of all time, with his films "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight" (both directed by Nolan) being among the top grossing films ever. Bale’s take on Batman certainly brings us closer to Bruce Wayne’s origins and motivations (we’re halfway through "Begins" before we even see Batman in costume). The result is a Batman for the modern era with an armored Bat-suit and high-tech but believable gadgets.
Why is he only at #5? Bale is terrific but in the suit, he isn’t nearly as big and intimidating as my perfect mental image of the Batman. And his gravelly voice when the mask is on is too forced and often distracting.
#5 The "Michael Keaton" Batman
Of all the film versions of Batman, I love Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne. Keaton just seems more comfortable as Wayne, who comes across more as an eccentric loner than the contrived billionaire playboy. In costume, I also feel Keaton is too small and never quite lives up to how we picture the Batman from the comic books. Watching them today, "Batman" and "Batman Returns" feel more like Tim Burton formula (nothing sums that up better here) than authentic Batman. But Keaton’s Batman still makes it into my top 5 nonetheless.
#4 The "Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams" Batman
In 1968, DC Comics decided to bring the Batman back to his “dark knight” roots. This renaissance, led mainly by DC’s chief editor Julie Schwartz, provided a showcase for exciting young artist Neal Adams. But it was the partnering of Adams and writer Denny O’Neil that would truly redefine the Batman, bringing him away from the goofy crime fighter drummed into the public’s mind by the live action Batman TV series. Where that Batman relied on gadgets and gimmicks, the Batman by O’Neil and Adams relied on his training, detective skills and native cunning. This style would go on to influence Batman creators for decades to come, including ...
#3 The "The Dark Knight Returns" Batman
In 1986, DC Comics published "The Dark Knight Returns," written and illustrated by Frank Miller, a comic book creator who had made his name mainly working for rival publisher Marvel Comics. Set in an alternate future, TDKR tells the story of how a 50-something year old Bruce Wayne must come out of retirement to save Gotham from a catastrophic crime spree, climaxing in a battle with none other than his longtime ally, Superman. Miller’s Batman would mark yet another renaissance for the Bat, setting a new, grittier direction for the character, from his follow up "Batman: Year One" all the way through to the recent Nolan Batman films.
#2 The "Batman: The Animated Series" Batman
Readers of my blog will know that I am a huge fan of the Batman animated series, which first aired in 1992. Voiced by the incomparable Kevin Conroy, this Batman was a dark detective, yet he battled the colorful rogues gallery from the comics, including the perfect Joker voiced by Mark Hamill. The stories were cerebral yet achieved just the right balance of action. This animated Batman would live on in other animated features including the "Superman" and "Justice League" animated series, all of which were led by creator Bruce Timm. (This version of the DC Universe is sometimes referred to as "Timm-verse.") This version takes the best of all previous incarnations and brings them together in one perfect Bat-cocktail. He was a detective, swung across the rooftops of a film noir-style Gotham city, drove some of the coolest Batmobiles, teamed up with and led other DC heroes in the Justice League and was even having an (implied) affair with Wonder Woman. This Batman had it all.
#1 The "Arkham Asylum/Arkham City" Batman
This Batman first appeared in "Arkham Aslyum" (2009) and in the sequel "Arkham City" (2011), both developed by Rocksteady Studios. Why do I place this Batman at #1? Because he is, in my opinion, the same as the animated series "Batman" brought to life through live-action realistic CGI. The writing team for Arkham was led by Paul Dini (part of the creative team behind the animated series) and voice acting was by Conroy and Hamill as Batman and Joker respectively. (You can even purchase animated series “skins” of Batman, Catwoman, Nightwing and Robin as downloadable content for the game.) Drama, suspense, superhero-level action: everything comes together to perfection with this Batman. If I had a say in the next Batman full-length feature film, I would have Timm and Dini do the writing, put Conroy and Hamill in the mo-cap gear and do the movie entirely using CGI (ala Adventures of Tintin or Beowulf). Maybe Steven Spielberg could even direct it? Who’s with me?!
For more on Batman, read Batman: the Complete History by Les Daniels. The Dark Knight Rises opens in Singapore on 19 July 2012.
Grumpy Fanboy is still looking for the alien power battery, magic word or radioactive spider that will give him super powers. In the meantime, he writes about superheroes at Grumpyfanboy.com and @grumpyfanboy on Twitter.
Do you agree with the Grumpy Fanboy? Are you a Nolan die-hard? Tell us which Batman rocked and which Batman sucked in the comments below!