Batman. Everyone knows the name. Everyone knows the character. And what is interesting about Batman, is that even if you haven’t seen his movies, read his comic books or bought his action figures, you probably know the story. Batman is not only the most influential comic book character of all time, he is the most well-known. Even the people I work with, here at The Group Real Estate, know who Batman is.
I remember when I first fell in love with Batman. We hadn’t moved to Idaho Falls yet. Before I lived here, we moved around quite a bit as my dad was in college. My mom had grown up on the 1960s version of Batman. Which at the time was more of a parody of the character that was already so well-known. The original Batman character was created in the seedy 1940s gangster era, filled with a character that loomed with scare tactics and a .45 barretta. So, in the 1960s, they created this parody of the character and had fun with it. It was all done to be silly. Adam West portrayed the Caped Crusader, and his alter ego Bruce Wayne. When the mayor of Gotham needed help he rang the “Bat Phone.” Bruce answered the call and he and Dick Grayson would swing down fireman’s poles and when they reached the cave, they were fully clothed. When they fought, the sound effects would come up on screen as if they were in a comic book. Words such as “bamf” and “zing” would light up the screen during these action scenes.
In the 1970s and 80s, the comic book life came back up full swing. DC comics was flying with multiple characters now, darker toned stories, that weren’t just for kids anymore. Stories took place that brought death into Batman’s life, a Robin that quit to become his own character later, and a darker take on the Batman than we had ever seen in a comic book called “The Dark Knight Returns.” Dark Knight Returns took place in a dystopian future where Bruce Wayne was almost 70 years, Gotham was plagued with a gang called The Mutants, and there was a net over the city keeping the villains in and the other out. A young girl named Carrie decided to take up the mantle of Robin, knowing somebody needed to do something. This caused Batman to come out of retirement. What ensues is a very dark story, hard hitting writing, and what is considered the greatest Batman epic of all time.
At this same time, in 1989, Tim Burton, hot off the press with hits such as Beetlejuice, was about to make a Batman live action movie. The first, big budget superhero movie since Superman at the end of the 70s. Tim Burton wasn’t the main choice for a lot of nerds, at the time. Even worse, at that time, for nerds was the casting of Michael Keaton, a comedic actor known for Mr Mom, Touch and Go and Beetlejuice, as Bruce Wayne and Batman. This would go down in history as one of the greatest Batman films of all time, and a very specific cult classic in the comic book movie world. It kept a very 1940s gangster noir, but took place in the 80s. Following in the footsteps of the original comic book where Batman killed bad guys and had a very dark, more surreal (less action and kung fu style) look, and feel, about him. For a lot of us that grew up in the 80s and 90s, this is “our Batman.” One of the main parts of this film was Jack Nicholson as The Joker. Bringing a crazy, funny, yet hauntingly dark, take to the Clown Prince of Crime. This is the movie that truly gave me a love of Batman, getting his action figure back in the day, loving the Batmobile, and having a favorite take on the character.
Shortly thereafter, the masterpiece of all masterpiece media for the Batman came out in Batman: The Animated Series tv show. This took a darker tone, even for a kids show, and gave us the most iconic voice for Bruce and Batman, Kevin Conroy (who has since voiced the Batman in many spin off movies, other cartoon variations of the character and the popular Arkham video games). The most iconic voice acting came from Mark Hamill, though. Luke Skywalker himself would turn in as the greatest Joker of all time. Doing the same thing as Conroy and voicing the character multiple times over in his future. This is not only the cartoon that helped me in my childhood, but I watch this, still to this day, with my daughters. Not only does it touch on specific mounts of nostalgia for me, but still holds up as a time stamp for cartoons of today’s world, with wonderful storytelling, great character work, wonderful voice acting, and amazing animation.
The comic book story lines would eventually bring us the “Broken Bat” story line where a character named Bane came into the mix, wore down Batman, and eventually broke Batman’s back. A character named Azrael would come into play, taking over for Bruce. In the meantime, Bruce got better, Azrael became a darker, bad Batman and Bruce has to take him down. The story doesn’t quite hold up to this day, as far as storytelling goes, but the idea of it and what it did for the comic book world, was a big deal of comic books and the character of Batman.
Fast forward to 2005, after many popular stories, writers and artists tackled Batman in the comic books, bringing us compelling story after story. In 2005, we got a real-world style take on the character in Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece Batman Begins. Christian Bale stars as the titular character and brings such a wonderful take to Bruce Wayne. Someone who was much more relatable, someone who was tortured more with his parent’s death, with training to be Batman, who he wanted to be, what he wanted to do with Wayne Enterprises. This brought an entirely new take on the character. It was truly an experience, watching Bale train to be Batman for nearly an hour of film time before we even see anything that has to do with Batman. This brought us into the realistic side of it, begging the questions, “What if batman lived in our world?” Nolan would up the ante in his Batman stories by giving us The Dark Knight, a sequel to Batman Begins, that has been heralded as, not only the best comic book movie of all time, but in the top 10 (depending on your list) greatest films of all time. A crime drama at heart, Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker, that he won a posthumous Oscar award for Best Supporting Actor, and a story that is full of, almost, too much emotion.
Batman has continued to be the most popular character in comic books and in the known world today. Knowing that the Ben Affleck version of the character was taken directly from The Dark Knight Returns, or that Batman Begins was based off of another master work comic book called Batman Year One (interestingly enough, written by the same writer who gave us The Dark Knight Returns), he is a character who has stood the test of time. Whether it’s watching the Animated Series with my girls, watching the Michael Keaton Batman at least once a month, due to nostalgia and pure love, or reading the comic books still to this day, Batman is a character that I love so much!