Batman as a Reflection of American Culture

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Batman: A History of the Dark Knight of Gotham

Batman as a Reflection of American Culture

Batman is one of the most well-known and longest lasting figures of the comic book industry. With a life spanning over sixty years the Dark Knight of Gotham has seen a lot in his days. The things he has seen and what he has done over the past few decades has been a direct result of the actions taking place in the United States at the time. Since his creation, Batman has been a representation of American Culture.

He was born in the pages of Detective Comics in 1939. At the time of his creation comic books were going through a transformation. Superman had recently flown out into the world and was changing the face of the comic industry. Prior to Superman, a good comic book would sell anywhere from 200,000 to 400,000 copies. Each Action comic with a Superman storyline sold an average of 900,000 copies. The bi-monthly Superman comic sold an average of 1.3 million copies. In the wake of the Kryptonian revolution other comic companies tried to create their own ‘super’ heroes.
DC comics knew that a one trick pony wasn’t the way to run a successful business. Working off the success of Superman, they asked a young cartoonist named Bob Kane to create a second costumed superhero for the company. Did Kane jump at the chance to create his own new superhero for DC simply because it was his chosen profession? No, like many who live in America, Bob Kane created Batman out of greed. At the time he was asked Bob was making a mere $40 a week. Siegel and Shuster, the creators of Superman, were each making $800 a week. The upside of making a successful comic hero was very apparent. This is not a knock against Kane and his creative genius, just a portrayal of facts from the time. The motivation for Batman was based on a common American concept of greed.
Kane and writer Bill Finger designed a character inspired by pulp fiction heroes like The Shadow and Doc Savage along with movies such as the Mark of Zorro and a little known silent picture called The Bat. Batman was a worthy follow-up to Superman. Like his predecessor he wore a costume and maintained a secret identity, but Batman possessed no super powers. Instead, he relied on his own scientific knowledge, detective skills, and athletic prowess.
Some people believe that reviewing the psychological disposition of the creators of Batman and Superman reveals much about why the characters are the way they are. Unlike Siegel and Shuster, Bob Kane was a tall, handsome man who was comfortable about women. Kane’s own self-confidence might explain his conception of a superhero that did not need super powers to overcome his foes. Also, unlike Superman’s Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne was a known playboy who was always known as one of the most eligible bachelors in Gotham City.
The alter ego, handsome millionaire socialite Bruce Wayne, was not as essential to the character as Clark Kent was to Superman. But the explanation for Wayne’s crime-fighting career is particularly intriguing and disturbing. As a child he sees his parents murdered by a petty burglar. The severely traumatized Bruce inherits his father’s fortune, training his mind and body to the pinnacle of perfection, and devotes himself to a personal war against crime. He dons the bizarre Batman costume to strike fear into the hearts of cowards as he serves his own brand of justice.
Maybe it is Batman’s motivation that draws us to him. The tragic, senseless murder of his parents prompts him to undergo a transformation. His drive is to make sure that no one in Gotham City has to endure what he did as a child. Batman is like so many icons of American society. He is the lone man that will stand up against any odds using raw determination to overcome an overpowering evil. Batman embodies what many Americans believe they have or should have deep down within themselves.
The early Batman stories achieved a uniquely surreal quality. Fingers’ scripts drew heavily from lurid pulp fiction as well as Universal Studios’ horror films and Warner Brothers’ gangster movies. Kane’s inventive artwork made use of unusual angles, distorted perspectives, and heavy shadows to give the series a cinematic and almost expressionistic look. The comic had cutting edge aesthetic qualities.
Originally Batman was cast as a vigilante who was pursued by the police as he preyed upon criminals. In this manner Batman further demonstrated the appeal of a crime-fighter operating free of procedural and institutional restraints. As Batman himself once put it, “If you can’t beat them ‘inside’ the law, you must beat them ‘outside’ it…and that’s where I come in!” With the current trend in America depicting gangs and violence Batman was a fresh force in pursuing those that thought they were above the law.
Set in a claustrophobic netherworld, Batman’s adventures benefited from some of the most grotesque and memorable villains ever created for comic books: Penguin, Two-Face, Catwoman, and of course The Joker. The Joker was as much of a success to villains as Batman was to heroes. He was a wonderfully deranged homicidal maniac with a white face, green hair, and a ghastly grin who quickly became a favorite of both Batman’s creators and readers.
After the early success in 1939 and early 1940, Kane and company attempted to branch out a little by introducing another element. The brooding series was lightened a bit in 1940 with the addition of a teenage sidekick named Robin. The character was one with whom younger readers could supposedly identify versus the older, sophisticated and complex Batman. That was one of the first changes for the Dark Knight, but many more were to come as America slowly entered into World War II during the 1940s.
In response to World War II and the real violence that much of the nation heard about, read, saw, or experienced, the comic industry shifted directions. During the War many heroes found themselves helping stop Nazi plots or stamping out tyranny in various forms. The foes of America were the foes of American comic books as well, with many new characters created to fight the evil, along with classic characters such as Batman and Superman lending a hand where they might. But as much as the war itself changed comics during the time, the post war reaction to violence changed them even more.
DC Comic, one of the leaders in producing comic books relevant to contemporary issues, adopted a post war editorial direction that increasingly de-emphasized social commentary in favor of juvenile fantasy. It was dramatically evident in the changes surrounding Batman. His bleak and menacing world became a bright and colorful fairyland filled with none of the shadows and disturbing ambiguities that made the series so daring when it debuted.
No longer the mysterious vigilante who stalked the gloomy nights of Gotham City, Batman now worked fully within the law and took on paternalistic qualities – especially with Robin. Instead of being just a sidekick Robin became an “A” student who respected his elders and found time to mow the lawn when not crime fighting. Bruce Wayne was now more of a mentor and father figure to his young ward, instead of a driven taskmaster who would only accept the best. Even the Joker, once a singularly homicidal madman became another goofy crook with a predication for slapstick gags versus destructive crimes.
Can we blame the writers and creators for this shift in Batman’s character and nature? Unfortunately they were placed in a position that many artists and writers have found themselves in over the history of man. Should they continue with their work they way they would want it, or bow to the masses and follow the general acceptance of society along with its’ wants and needs? At that time America needed lighter, happier comics with more fantasy instead of the harsh realities of life which had just been brought to the forefront through the war. DC Comics and those in the industry understood that they had to adapt or find other work because as the nation moved forward after World War II, the pre-war themes were no longer in style.
By 1959 DC comic books were the perfect image of affluent America. All of the super heroes were handsome and maintained responsible positions within normal society. Batman and Robin were deputized members of the Gotham police force with a hot line to the commissioner. Superman regularly reported to the President of the United States and various members of the Pentagon. Society had shaped comics to be a representation of a comfortable norm that we wanted including even our comic books, a once source of adventure and deviance. Now heroes were always in control, rarely impulsive, and never irrational. Even the ‘Justice League’ that Batman and Robin were a part of derived its’ named as such because the word “league” implies a team contributing their individual abilities to a common purpose.
Moving in to the 1960’s comics maintained a calm status-quo. As such it was no surprise that what was once a dark, melancholy character named Batman was now suitable fodder to be transformed into a weekly television show. The Batman television series starring Adam West and Burt Ward was one of the most popular shows on the air from 1966 to 1967. Played strictly for camp, it was a parody of comic book superheroes. They made a joke of everything from the absurdity of the characters and villains to the goofy sound effects. Uncomfortably for comic fans, the show also made fun of people who read the books. The show was so popular that it aired twice a week on prime time and boasted an impressive cast of celebrities and notable actors who lined up to appear on the primetime favorite.
While DC Comics benefited in the short term from the exposure of the television show, in the long run it did more harm than good for the entire comic industry. The show reinforced the silliness and irrelevance of superheroes in contemporary culture. Also, by implication, comic books insignificance in the publics’ mind. While there was a general movement for peace within our culture, the actions of masked marauders held no place except in the hearts of the loyal comic book readers of the time.
Unfortunately, yet again comic books followed the general wants and needs of our American culture. In 1968 superheroes endorsed liberal solutions to social problems while rejecting the extreme violent responses of the left and right wings. In a particular Batman issue, Batman and Robin had to stop protestors at the college Dick Grayson attended. In a nice little speech Batman told them that while he understood their reasons and actions, it was still against the law and they had to be arrested. Batman had been reduced to stopping college students from protesting. The once mighty detective that had a mind like a steel trap and a physical presence that rivaled any athlete had become a costumed security officer.
In 1969 DC attempted to revitalize their comic book lines. Batman made a deliberate effort to separate the comic book character from the television show personality. The writers returned Batman to his original incarnation, as a grim avenger of the night. He was once again an agonized soul who reaps justice on those who deserved it. In 1970 the first collaboration of Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams graced Detective Comics number 395. Batman had finally moved back into the shadows of the comic world.
At the same time, Batman’s public image was still maintained in another manner. While the comic book reverted to its roots, many new fans of Batman saw him as an offshoot of the campy television show. This was reinforced to multitudes of children by the numerous cartoon shows airing on CBS and ABC from 1967 to 1977. Batman was portrayed as the smart crime-fighter who worked within the law. Along with the other ‘Super Friends’ they promoted good values, manners, and proper behavior.
A few years after the ending of the Super Friends and the Batman cartoon show, Batman underwent a rebirth. Frank Miller came on board and changed the direction of Batman forever. No writer since Stan Lee has had a greater influence on American comic books than Frank Miller. In his own words his childhood was “maladjusted’ and ‘miserable’. Maybe that it what led him to be such a creative force in the comic world. Some have used the words ‘maladjusted’ and ‘miserable’ when describing the emotions characters emulate from his comics.
Frank Miller started his special brand of work on the Marvel series Daredevil from 1979 to 1982. Daredevil and Batman share many similarities, including emotional scarring at an early age and reliance on hand to hand combat prowess in confrontations with villains. Miller took Daredevil into a deeper level than the character previously attained. He portrayed him as a deeply tortured soul, torn apart by his own violent contradictions.
Miller’s plots were tight and absorbing while his scripts were terse and ironic. Characters performed unbelievable physical acts, but evinced believable human traits and motivations. Violence was always a key feature in comic books, but Miller moved it to a different level. In his stories fists wouldn’t just punch someone in the face, they would break a jaw. Ribs would be cracked, crowbars crushed skulls, and knives ripped flesh in Miller’s world. His violence was much more graphic and real than other comics. If someone went down in Miller’s comic world, he stayed down. If he got up, it was to go to the hospital. The work that Miller put into Daredevil made him a very large industry star.
In 1983 DC Comics contacted Miller to do a limited series. Based on its success they approached him again in 1986. But this time they wanted him to pen a limited series for Batman. It was called Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. Miller recast Batman as an older and slightly crazy right-wing moralist in a dystrophic Gotham that had been slowly gutted by corruption and vice. The series was an overwhelming success. Miller’s plots and dark, moody writing delved into Batman’s soul. The result brought attention to the Dark Knight like never before.
The series completely sold out. DC comics then issued the series as a paperback ‘graphic novel’ to be sold in conventional bookstores. In this format it became the first, original superhero work to be reviewed seriously, and often favorably, by the mainstream press. Moreover, The Dark Knight Returns sparked a major resurgence in Batman’s popularity that eventually led to the release of the movie entitled ‘Batman’ a few years later.
Comparing the resurgence in Batman’s popularity to the social trends in America at the time, it comes as no surprise. The United States was in the middle of the Regan years with the economy booming. More money was leading to higher crime rates and drug problems throughout America. Social structures were slowly diminishing and standards were being skewed by the children and young adults. American culture was again ready for a dark hero to emerge from the night to give swift justice to those who cause harm to others. Miller’s twist on the traditional story only lead to more embracing the character because he was the same, yet markedly different.
Miller followed up his incredible Dark Knight Returns with Batman: Year One in 1987. It was a brilliant revision of the origin of Batman. Bruce Wayne would eventually become one of the most dangerous men on the planet, but he didn’t put on a cape and cowl and start out that way. Like everyone else, he had to get his start. So too did Lieutenant James Gordon, a Gotham police officer dealing with corruption on the force and this new costumed vigilante. It was another overwhelming success that propelled Batman to new heights as a superhero.
The resurgence of Batman’s popularity lead to many new things. In the eighties he became an American icon, appearing on lunch boxes, children’s pajamas, and as Halloween costumes. This was all a reflection of the baby boomers and a massive economy. Businesses were searching out more ways to make money and even comic book heroes were being showboated like movie stars. Kenner Toys released the first line of Batman action figures in 1984. Then in 1988 the first Batman movie was released to an overwhelming success. It became one of the highest grossing films of all time.
During this time the comic book stayed true to its’ course and creators’ original intent. Batman was a driven crime fighter, helping to stem the tide between justice and lawlessness in Gotham City. The comic book attempted new concepts and daring ideas to keep readership high. Besides Miller’s second outing on Batman, the comic book finally lost control of the Joker in 1988 resulting in the death of Robin. It was a major shift in the series, causing Batman to undergo further development and changes that crossed over into other types of media including books.
Unfortunately American had gotten a hold of a comic legend, and they were loath to let him go. As the 1980’s rolled into the 1990’s the United States was full of money-grubbers and ‘me-firsters’. Batman was spun into multiple movies, each getting worse than the previous. While the comic book remained true, his image in the average Americans eyes became eerily like that campy Adam West from the late sixties television show. DC Comics made a better attempt to stem the tide through the creation and release of new Batman cartoon shows targeted at the youth of America.
Batman the Animated series and its follow-up The Adventures of Batman and Robin had a very successful run for cartoon series. Amassing eighty-five episodes, the cartoon followed the adventures of the Caped Crusader much like he was portrayed in his comic books. For fans of the comic book it was a very refreshing turn of events. The cartoon was dark and the action was solid, without any camp or flash attempted in the movies or television show. While most plots followed actual comic plot lines, some original material was created for the cartoon. The success of the series led to Batman’s first animated movie, Mask of the Phantasm, which was released nationwide in the theatres.
As the nineties rolled to a close, so did much of America’s fascination with Batman. Much of Generation X was into things more exciting than comics and their characters. Many of the timeless things had been put aside for the next big thing. As society jumped from the next thing to the next thing some icons began to fall by the wayside. Add to that the 1997 failure of Batman and Robin at the box office and it is easily understood why corporate America was willing to release the purse strings that had held the Bat instead of flaunting him to the public as they had done in previous years.
So while the comic book Batman continued to march onward, twisting plots and action together into a dark combination, the Dark Knight took a brief respite from the public eye. Besides a quiet resurgence in 1999 when the Batman Beyond cartoon portrayed a futuristic time where a new man takes up the mantle of vengeance, the cave has kept quiet. Now there a slight ripples amongst the fans of Batman that he will make another attempt upon the big screen. The current debate lies in whether it will be the anticipated Batman: Year One project that will be completed or something less than true that fans will not appreciate.

Characteristics of the Dark Knight

What is involved in the make-up of a truly great comic? Fantastic story lines? Usually. Good artistry and coloring? Most of the time, yes. But what truly drives the readers to involve themselves with a comic book so that they want to buy the next one? It is the characters found within the book. Not just the hero either. The entire cast of hero, sidekick, supporting roles, and most importantly villains must all be exceptional to make a comic book great.

One thing that has set Batman apart from many other comics over the years has been the originality of the characters in the stories. Batman himself would be enough to carry most comics for many years. The Dark Knight is the darkest hero of the comic world, and perhaps his popularity is due to his lack of special abilities or super powers other than his intelligence and drive to work hard and train himself to the utmost of human perfection. Perhaps also it is his dark nature that we all admire, the obsessive behavior that gives us a glimpse of what could happen if our own obsession were let into reality.
But throughout the lifetime of Batman, Bruce Wayne has not been the only person to slip on the cowl of the caped crusader. Many people have donned the mantle of the Dark Knight over the years. They include: Thomas Wayne, Roy Kane, Dick Grayson (Robin/Nightwing), Jean-Paul Valley (Azrael), Alfred, Superman, Jasper Smively, Rodney Random, Jim Gordon, Detective Hawk, Luis Peralda, Jerry Weller, Farley Harden, Great Verreau, Hebert Hall, King Eric of Norania, Batman Jones, False Face, Elongated Man, Atom, An unnamed crook, An unidentified blind man, E.G. Never, Howard Haynes, Sy Semple, Tom Fagan, Jerry Randle, Hugo Strange, Anton Knight, Tommy Carma, Duece Chalmers, Ned Judson, Tom Wiley, Tomas Wayne (of Batmaniacs), Herbert Small, Jan Paxton, Allan Trevor, Lieutenant Bucky Dunlop, Jerome Courtney, Michael Courtney, Robert Courtney, Sneaky Danton, Bruno, Byron King, and The Joker. At least forty-six different people have worn the cape and cowl throughout the life of the Dark Knight.
“Mother… Father… your lives were sacred, your murders profane. Your fate shaped my destiny…as your end charted my beginning. Your deaths were violent. Your resting place must remain inviolable… so long as I shall live, you will be safe in death.”
Batman was created by two bullets; the bullets that killed his parents when he was only six. Bruce decided that no one should ever have to undergo the loss of those they love to crime. As he grew up, Bruce spent his time first learning criminology. After finishing school at the age of twelve, Bruce spent the next twelve years of his life traveling the world, visiting the best universities and auditing courses related to crime fighting. At one point he even worked for the FBI.
While traveling the world learning about crime and its’ nature, Bruce also learned numerous other skills from various masters. He studied numerous martial arts, various types of weapons, escape artist and lock-picking, and anything else that would help make him a more potent crime fighter. It was eighteen long years after his parents were murdered that Bruce finally tried to start fighting crime. His first foray into the night was a disaster. Bruce got into a fight with a pimp and a prostitute, was stabbed by the prostitute, shot by police, and barely escaped to make it home. As he was sitting at home, contemplating his failure and upcoming death, a bat flew through his window, helping spawn the idea of something dark and sinister that would rule the night. After this, he began fighting crime in Gotham as Batman.
In the DC Universe Batman is considered to be “The most dangerous man on Earth.” That is quite an impressive title, especially when given by Superman. Many of the other members of the Justice League or Superheroes in the DC World could probably be dangerous as well, but they don’t have the same drive to. Bruce Wayne, unlike other comic heroes, has been driven to be Batman by something that happened to him, not because of the powers he was born with or what was given to him. Per haps the best explanation for Batman can be found in this quote from Alan Grant, one of the original Batman writers:
“He (Batman) is perhaps the only genuine hero amongst them. People say Batman is this dark, vengeance-driven, obsessed character, but that’s not Batman to my eyes. That’s just the fuel that drives Batman. The trauma of his parent’s death is what motivates him and forces him to go on, but what makes him Batman is a decision. He took a decision to be a good guy, which is a decision in life not too many people make. He is a self made character. He didn’t get superpowers, he’s not a cyborg, and he made a choice to be what he is. He is motivated by the terrible thing that happened to hime when he was a kid, but that’s not the thing that defines his character. What defines his character is the decision to do something.”
Another of the impressive things about the Batman comic was that besides the main character, the supporting cast members all had deeply involved characters that rivaled Batman himself at times. Other comics have developed one or two other people to add depth to the storyline, but Batman moved a step beyond that. Obviously, with a timeline spanning sixty years, you have more time to delve into other characters, and they did explore.
First and foremost, when you think of Batman you also think of Robin. The youthful sidekick of the Dark Knight has gone through as many transformations as his caped benefactor. The first Robin was played by Dick Grayson. His character was evolved from a youthful sidekick into a dark adult, acting much like his mentor in some ways, but with the ability to show more empathy towards others. Dick’s parents were killed in a circus act and Bruce, feeling a kindred twist of fate, took him in as a ward. After Dick was almost killed during one adventure, Batman decided it was unfair for him to risk another’s life and he would not be responsible for any needless deaths. Dick left Batman and adopted the Nightwing persona to fight crime with a group called the Teen Titans. Later in the series Nightwing reunited with Batman and for a short period even donned the cape and cowl of the Dark Knight.
The second Robin was a new twist in the Batman story. After the hole created by Dick leaving, it was filled by a boy named Jason Todd. Batman met Jason when Jason was trying to steal the wheels off the Batmobile. Jason’s parents had been killed in a similar situation to Dick and Bruce’s, so again Batman took someone under his wing. Jason’s life with Batman was much shorter than his predecessor, as he only lasted five years before being killed by the Joker in one of the most surprising turns in comics. The decision to kill Jason was made by a phone-in poll conducted by DC. Jason’s untimely death moved Batman into a very dark time, which for readers like myself, was a very interesting and creative turn of events. Batman has a memorial to Jason in the Batcave, with his Robin costume and a plaque that reads, “Jason Todd – A Good Soldier.”
It was only a year later that the role of Robin was filled again by Tim Drake. As with the other Robin’s, his character and life have as much personality as found in Bruce Wayne/Batman. Tim discovered that Bruce Wayne was Batman. Unlike the previous Robin’s, Tim had to plead, with the assistance of Alfred and Dick, to become the next Robin. Grudgingly Batman allowed it, but only under the stipulation that Tim prepared for a long time to ensure he did not meet the same fate as Jason.
As important as Robin is in the Batman storyline, Alfred finishes a very close second in matters of importance. While hardly ever donning the tights and cape, (except upon the rarest of occasions), Alfred is instrumental in keeping Batman the crime fighter he is. It is Alfred who looks after so many details of Bruce Wayne’s life so that he can find the time to focus on Batman. Alfred also serves as Batman’s closest friend and confidant, not only keeping Batman from going off the deep end, but also sounding out his ideas and theories. Alfred is the rock of stability in the very dynamic life of the Dark Knight. Additionally Alfred has proved to be very extremely valuable serving as a medic and mechanic when the need arises.
Another important character in the life of Batman has been James Gordon. Gordon first appeared in Detective Comics #27 in 1939. Gordon, a former Chicago cop, has often provided information to Batman to help with his criminal investigations. His character has developed over time, showing his struggles with the bureaucrats that tie his hands from fighting crime, and the ethics of working with a vigilante who helps so much. Later in the story, James’ daughter, Barbara, becomes Batgirl. After having her spine shattered by the Joker, Batgirl was retired, but Barbara has made occasional appearances as Oracle, keeping the Gordon family well entwined with Batman.
A few other noteworthy people have made appearances within the life of Batman. Parts of their lives have been shared, but not to the same degree as Alfred, the Robin’s, and the Gordon’s. Jean Paul Valley, also known as Azrael, has made many appearances. A vigilante and sometime employee of Wayne Corp, Azrael also took the mantle of Batman for a brief period when Bane broke the Dark Knight’s back. One of the more useful associates of Batman is Harold. Harold is a little fellow who was a former employee of the Penguin. He is a genius that has helped develop many of the gizmos that the Dark Knight uses in his crusade against crime. There is also Lucius Fox, the man who runs Wayne Corp. Lucius runs the business even though he knows that Bruce isn’t the idiot he pretends to be in public, but he doesn’t know that Bruce is Batman. Rounding out some of the regulars are Detective Renee Montoya and Sergeant Harvey Bullock. These two are excellent officers who are always in the thick of any Gotham police investigation.
As compelling as Batman is as a character, no hero is complete without a villain to oppose him. In the Dark Knight’s case he has been blessed, or cursed, with an incredible array of original, creative masterminds which he must battle against in the alleys of Gotham. In all groups there is always a number one, and in the villain department that would be the Joker. Originally appearing in Batman #1 in 1940, the Joker is one of, if not the best villain in all comics. While the Joker’s origin is open to interpretations, (he constantly tells different stories of his life), it is possible that he was a down and out comedian who joined a gang using the moniker Red Hood. Red Hood fell into a vat of acid during a robbery that Batman broke up and then his physical transformation, coupled with his wife’s electrocution during a freak accident pushed him of the edge of sanity. The Joker is completely psychotic, making his crimes and motives very difficult for Batman to predict and react to. Batman’s original writers listed the Joker as their favorite villain to use in a storyline for that reason.

Another comic favorite, for more reasons than just her skin-tight costume, was Catwoman. Selina Kyle first appeared in Batman #1 in 1940 along with the Joker. At the time, Catwoman was a breath of fresh air in the comic world. She was a sexy, vibrant, liberated woman who has her own agenda. Selina in listed under the villains because first and foremost she is a thief. While her escapades do occasionally help out Batman, she admits that she is in it only for the money. Catwoman was taught how to fight by a former boxer, Ted Grant, who was later revealed as Wildcat.

Oswald Cobblepot, also known as the Penguin, first appeared in Detective Comics #58 in 1941. The Penguin is considered a criminal mastermind in Gotham City. He plans crimes, but usually doesn’t commit them himself, making it difficult for Batman to prove that the Penguin was the culprit. His mother’s fanaticism is the reason that he always carries an umbrella, but his criminal background dictates that it also can be used as a weapon of various sorts.

Harvey Dent was the District Attorney of Gotham City and a close friend of Bruce Wayne. During a trial, Boss Maroni threw acid in his face, causing physical and emotional scarring. Two-face was born in the pages of Detective Comics #66 in 1942. The odd psychosis of Harvey dictates that all decisions are made by flipping a two-headed coin that is scarred on one side. Every victim, every crime, every decision is based on the flip of that coin.

Edward Nigma, also known as the Riddler, first appeared in Detective Comics #140 in 1948. He is a man who delights in the setting up of a crime and then forewarning the police and Batman of his upcoming crimes in the form of a riddle. Discovering how fun and challenging puzzles were when he was a young boy, he gradually turned to crime as he got older in attempts to satisfy his ego, testing his wit against others. Batman has always provided his greatest challenge.
There have been many other notable villains in the years Batman has fought crime. Pamela Isley, Poison Ivy, first appeared in Batman #181 in 1966. Her body manufactures deadly toxins to which she is immune, but can kill with a kiss. Victor Fries was a child who was fascinated with freezing animals. An argument that caused disaster in attempts to prolong his dying wife’s life lead to Victor being exposed to a coolant that lowered his body’s temperature. The result was a special refrigeration suit and a nasty streak that made up Mr. Freeze. Other villans include; Ra’s Al Ghul, Bane (the man who broke Batman), Scarecrow, Firefly, KGBeast, Zsasz, Mad Hatter, Killer Croc, Clock King, Klarion, Clayface, and the Ventriloquist.
Batman on TV and in The Movies

Batman (The Television show and follow-up Movie)
I refuse to even talk about this sad chapter in the life of one of the greatest comic book heroes. It shouldn’t have been done and other than watching Catwoman parade around in a slinky, skintight suit, I would have to say that the television show and movie have absolutely no positive points. The show and movie portrayed the heroes and villains as slap-stick characters and spawned unwanted memories involving “Pow!”, “Bam!”, and of course “Holy (fill in the bad pun) Batman!”
Batman (Feature Film)
"I'm Batman!" And yes, he was. Michael Keaton proved thousands wrong (including me) with his dark, brooding portrayal of the Dark Knight. Director Tim Burton brought the Bat back to his original dark form in this terrific film.

Set in an ageless time period, we find a crime-ridden Gotham City that is overran with mobsters and street punks. Two reporters, Vicki Vale and Alexander Knox are hot on the trail of a story on the mythical "six-foot bat." Meanwhile, high-level mobster Jack Napier, the "number one guy" to boss Carl Grissom, secretly plans on stealing away the boss' job--and his girlfriend. When Napier's intentions are discovered, Grissom plans a set-up at Axis Chemicals. Tipped by the crime-boss himself, both the police and the Batman move to capture Napier and his gang. While trying to escape, the Batman corners Napier and through accident and fate, Napier falls into a vat of acid...and the Joker is born!

The Batman's alter ego, Bruce Wayne, soon falls for reporter Vicki Vale; as does the Joker who is now waging an assault on Gotham. The Joker has planted a nerve toxin, "smilex," in everyday grooming products striking terror throughout the city. The Batman soon discovers the secret of the Joker's plan and supplies it to police and the press--thus saving the city. Revenge on the Bat now becomes the Clown Prince of Crime's number one goal. When Bruce discovers a dark secret in Napier's and his past, a final confrontation between the two is on.

Overall, Burton does a great job bringing Batman back "to the dark." Up until this film, many people's idea of the character was the 1960's TV series. The picture does have its' problems. As always, the casting of a drawn character is a difficult decision. Keaton played a better Batman than most would have thought. Obviously his size, both height and brawn, are sorely lacking. It would have great if Keaton would have taken time to bulk up for the role as many other actions stars have done for various roles. Also, the portrayal of Bruce Wayne was dark when it needed to be, but Keaton was never able to show the “playboy” side of Bruce that would charm the ladies and act as a bumbling fool in front of others to protect his alter-ego. Lastly, it would have been nice to show some brief snippets of Bruce’s driven life between mourning child and avenging vigilante.

Commissioner Gordon's relationship with Batman is never developed as much as it could be, and the actor didn’t look a thing like Gordon as drawn in the comic book. Batman is shown shooting guns from a plane and killing thugs, which is something that he would actually never do. Also, at times, Batman is a secondary character to the Joker; being overshadowed by Nicholson’s persona. To the horror of many fans, Vicki Vale is let into the Batcave and discovers Bruce's secret. Burton's direction is classic Burton: dark, off-beat, and moody. Nicholson is great as the Joker--a bit over-the-top at times though. Otherwise I felt this was a great return to Batman, one that followed the comic well without being a carbon copy.

Batman Returns (Feature Film)

The storyline is pretty basic. The "Red Circus Gang," led secretly by the "Penguin," is wrecking havoc on Gotham. Batman sets out to protect the city from this mayhem. In the meantime, three other storylines develop. In one, we see a secretary, Selina Kyle, and her metamorphous into the Catwoman. The second sees businessman Max Schreck trying to build the ultimate power plant. The third involves the mysterious Penguin, somewhat of a cult hero to Gothamites, running for mayor with the help of Schreck. For a feature film, this many storylines can prove to be a problem. This mess then progresses to a storyline in which we see the Penguin and Catwoman become allies and set out to frame Batman. Then there is the mandatory love story involving Bruce and Selina/Batman and Catwoman.

The fact that this movie has too many characters and storylines is just one of several flaws with this film. Basically, Batman is reduced to a supporting character who never really emphasizes the qualities exhibited in the comics. He has nothing going on except chasing after the Penguin, fighting with the street gang, and frolicking with Catwoman. Again, Keaton does a good job in the role despite what the script gives him. Pfeiffer is excellent as the Catwoman and really stands out. Along with the Joker, this is probably the only Bat-villain done right in all four movies. DeVito does a good job in the role that was written for the movie; but this is not the Penguin. His whole origin is idiotic and taken way of base from the comic. Having been raised by Penguins in the sewers of Gotham is more of an excuse for the way is supposed to look than anything else. This character is way too "Burton" and just does not fit into a Batman film. Yet again, Batman is shown killing people.

There are some good parts in this film. The Penguin does follow his normal villainous style in the way he controls the gang and their crime spree from afar. Also, Keaton did a good job playing the moody and tortured Dark Knight. The Catwoman role was written well and Pfeiffer's performance was excellent. However, I would have liked to see her as the semi-hero/cat-thief she is portrayed in the comics instead of a lost soul whose main focus was revenge instead of profit. The role of Alfred was expanded a bit and done quite well. The sets were good, including the Batcave, Batmobile, and all of Bruce’s toys. The Bat-costume was another improvement from the first film.

Bottom line is that this film just has too many characters with too much going on. While the potential is there for an excellent continuance of the Dark Knight saga, it is too dark, macabre, and downright weird at some points. Also, sometimes it just doesn't make any sense with things like an army of angry penguins and Batman pleading with Catwoman about their similar fates. It seems that after the success of the original film, WB let Burton do whatever he wanted on the sequel. This was as much "over the top Burton" as the fourth film was "over the top" Schumacher. This is one strange, bizarre, film that had a chance to capture the Batman character, but flew a bit to the outside instead.

Batman Forever (Feature Film)
It is lighter, a bit brighter, and a whole lot more colorful than before. In the third installment of the Batman series, we have a new lead actor (Val Kilmer) and a new director (Joel Schumacher). As a result, we have a different, yet the same Bat-film.

Set about three or so years after the previous film, we find Batman in the middle of things from the very beginning. Former Gotham City D.A. Harvey Dent, now known as Two-Face (Tommy Lee Jones), has escaped from Arkham and is out to wreck havoc on the city and kill Batman. The opening sequence is exciting and grabs the viewer's attention from the beginning. We also get to meet both Bruce's and Batman's love interest, Dr. Chase Meridian (Nicole Kidman); a psychiatrist specializing in split-personalities.

In the meanwhile, Edward Nigma (played by Jim Carrey), a fired worker at Wayne-Tech, has sworn revenge on Bruce Wayne. Nigma has invented a box that allows the user have images projected directly into the brain. When Wayne refuses to back Nigma's plan, Nigma is involved in an accident and becomes The Riddler. Later he partners up with Two-Face forming a great evil team. With revenge in mind, the two super-villains terrorize Gotham. Jones (in a role originally played by Billy Dee Williams in the first Batman) is decent as Harvey/Two-Face. Played a bit over-the-top, the character starts out strong, then sort of fades away once Carrey's Riddler is on the screen. And Carrey is great as the Riddler. Next to Nicholson’s Joker, Carrey gives us an excellent Bat-nemesis.

Batman/Bruce Wayne gets his third love interest as in many movies in Chase. Kidman does a fair job as a police psychiatrist obsessed with The Batman. It also gives the film an interesting love triangle similar to the one depicted in SUPERMAN: The Movie. Chase loves Batman, but doesn't like Wayne. We also finally see the long awaited screen debut of Batman's partner Robin (Chris O'Donnell). Robin's screen origin is almost a carbon-copy of his comic book version. He is though portrayed a bit older in the form of actor O'Donnell (probably more the age of Nightwing). Nevertheless, the part is well written and played well by O'Donnell.

As was noted earlier, the film gives us a new director and lead actor. Val Kilmer replaces Michael Keaton as Batman/Bruce Wayne. Originally I had high hopes for Val in this role. His natural stature is taller, with broader shoulders than Keaton. Again, it would have been wonderful if Kilmer would have spent time preparing for this role in gym, much like Will Smith did in adding forty pounds of muscle to play Muhammad Ali. His Batman is very similar to that of Keaton's, the only change being his sympathy towards his old friend Harvey. It is his portrayal of Bruce that is markedly different. Val is not as quirky as Keaton's version. He is personable, in-the-news, and even a bit bumbling at times. He is the billionaire playboy Wayne is supposed to be. Yet it is still the mask and his soul is still tortured. Schumacher makes subtle, yet evident changes to the series. His Gotham is still bizarre and larger than life, but brighter and presented on a larger scale.

I felt the character of Chase was really unnecessary to the entire film, and the time spent on her character could have been used better elsewhere. Whereas Batman’s love interest in the first movie was needed, and the second followed a bit of the comic book as for Batman’s relationship with Catwoman, in this movie it wasn’t realistic to the true character of Batman. With the advent of the Robin character and the support of Alfred, Bruce shouldn’t feel the need to confide his secret in another. Also it would have been better to cast Robin as someone a few years younger. While Chris O’Donnell did a good job in his role, the first mention of Robin in the series should have been a younger, twelve to fifteen year-old range.

Overall, it was an excellent movie. WB wanted to make changes to out the franchise back on its feet. In my opinion they should have kept the series more dark than light, but again, the studio failed to ask me for it. Batman Forever succeeds on the scale that it is a little different, but still has a lot of Batman in it, giving us a very enjoyable two hours at the movies.

Batman and Robin (Feature Film)
Holy Bat-astrophe! The Batman film franchise as we know it is dead, thanks to Batman and Robin, director Joel Schumacher and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman's campy and most disrespectfully lighthearted reinterpretation of Bob Kane's Dark Knight.

To most clearly and thoroughly address all that is wrong with this Bat-flick, I will first review the film character by character:

Bruce Wayne/Batman (George Clooney): Clooney has gone on record that his aim in taking on the role of Batman was to wipe off the scowl from under the cowl and lighten up the Caped Crusader. This was his first big mistake. What seems to be lost on Clooney, Schumacher, and Goldsman is that angst and brooding is what makes Batman the hero that he is. When you remove that you have in effect stripped away the meat of the character, not to mention the whole motivation behind millionaire Bruce's nocturnal adventures in a rubber rodent suit. So what Clooney serves up is a not-too-interesting guy with a grin perpetually glued onto his face. He is a flat, distant character we have absolutely no insight into whatsoever. I will say that he does have the good looks and natural personality to portray Bruce Wayne and an excellent jaw line to fill out the Bat costume.

Dick Grayson/Robin (Chris O'Donnell): I am not a big Robin fan, in the comics or otherwise; I never have been, and I probably never will. However, despite a shaky, whiny beginning, O'Donnell made me tolerate the Boy Wonder by the end of Batman Forever by simply calming down. In Batman and Robin, though, Dick and Robin are back in complaint mode, playing up the petty jealousy and brash youth and naiveté which are the very characteristics which annoy Robin-haters the most. Presumably, the audience is supposed to sympathize with Robin's frustration with not being treated as an adult by Batman, but based on his behavior in the film; there is no reason for Batman to treat Robin as anything but the whiny kid he comes off as. It seems like they tried to borrow a concept from the comic here, but it didn’t work well in the movie. The growth of Robin into an adult isn’t something to be covered in two hours.

Barbara Wilson/Batgirl (Alicia Silverstone): The big problem with Batgirl is that no one figured out how to fit her into the storyline. Unlike the introduction of Robin in Forever, which tied directly into the storyline with Two-Face, Barbara simply turns up on the Wayne Manor doorstep in act one and, in a most superfluous subplot, is revealed a closet biker chick in act two. I was disappointed that Barbara was made into Alfred’ niece for convenience instead of staying true to the comic series where she is the daughter of Commissioner Gordon. There is an attempt at convergence in act three, when Barbara becomes Batgirl (though her ear-less getup makes her more resemble Robingirl) and aids the dynamic duo in their cause, but her most significant contribution is pulling an Ariana Richards in Jurassic Park (that is, hack into a computer). The zaftig Silverstone is a good enough sport, but she never appears completely comfortable as either biker Barbara or brainy Barbara (or, for that matter, in her rubber costume).

Mr. Freeze (Arnold Schwarzenegger): The filmmakers seem the most confused with how do deal with Dr. Victor Fries. Schumacher and Goldsman use the tragic origin for the character from Batman: The Animated Series. Dr. Fries experimented with cryogenics in an effort to save his terminally ill wife, Nora (played by supermodel Vendela), but a lab mishap made him unable to survive in non-freezing temperatures. Instead of leaving it at that, in an apparent concession to the casting of Schwarzenegger in the role, Mr. Freeze is a wisecracker, which is totally at odds with the tragic depiction that is also presented. What results is a most jarring mess of a character. Case in point: one early scene shows a somber Freeze wistfully watching old home movies of him and his wife. Suddenly, an underling comes in and interrupts his viewing with some important news. Freeze turns around in his chair, freezes the guy with his freezing gun, and quips, "I hate it when people talk during the movie." Just what exactly are Schumacher and company going after here? Originally Patrick Stewart was slated for this role, which would have been a better fit for both physical appearances and acting ability. In the end Mr. Freeze belongs back in the television show that plagues airwaves in the sixties.

Poison Ivy (Uma Thurman): The one character that is the slightest bit done right is that of seductive eco-terrorist Pamela Isley--but it's more due to Thurman's lively performance than anything done by the filmmakers. Like Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman in Batman Returns (though not nearly as good), Thurman has a firm grasp on the key to her character: she's not a vamp, she's natural wallflower acting like a vamp--thus the act is that much more extreme. Thurman pulls it off beautifully, but, in the end, even she's not immune to Schumacher and Goldsman's camp. For a gifted scientist, her master plan--to populate the world with toothed, tongued plants that come straight out of Little Shop of Horrors is idiotic. Also her costume was a bit too campy for my tastes and less sexy than it could have been.

Bane (Jeep Swenson): Idiotic doesn't quite cover what is done to the character of Bane, who definitely is the most ruined character in this film treatment. In the Batman comics, Bane is Batman's ultimate challenge. Not only is he physically stronger than Bruce Wayne, he is also smarter. The problem is that the venom which courses through his veins makes him crazy. In Batman and Robin, the only thing left of Bane comic fans know and love is his bulk and the venom. Bane is nothing more than a generic, grunting, intelligence-impaired, muscled henchman to Poison Ivy. The saddest thing about the raping of Bane, he being a rather recent addition to the Batman comic universe, is that most mainstream moviegoers won't even know that anything has been done wrong.

Schumacher and Goldsman's wrongdoing do not end with the characters. Their most heinous crime is the overwhelming atmosphere of camp, from Batman pulling out a Bat-credit card during an auction to Mr. Freeze's bunny slippers, polar bear pajamas, and freezer full of frozen dinners. Schumacher has said that he wanted to "put some 'comic' back in comic book," but he forgets what comic book he's dealing with--Batman, which is a "comic" book in name only. In camping everything up, Schumacher, who claims to be a comic book fan, just reinforces the most widely held stereotype about comics--that they're just for kids. The irony is, of course, that the film Batman and Robin is more juvenile than any Batman comic you'd find on the stands today.

I can go on about what is wrong with Batman and Robin, but I must give some credit where credit is due. The movie does boast the most impressive visual effects of the series; effects supervisor John Dykstra (of the recently closed Warner Bros. effects house) comes up with some very convincing for Freeze's freezing weapons and Ivy's pheromone dust. Production designer Barbara Ling provides another striking vision of Gotham, with its towering buildings and statues. And, yes, I guess I can say something "positive" about Schumacher's work--he's an equal opportunity exploiter. Not only are we treated to a Batman and Robin suiting-up sequence filled with butt, crotch, and chest shots, their female counterpart is similarly exploited when she gets her chance to suit up.

The most telling indication of Batman and Robin's shoddiness is the audience reaction at the screening I attended. When the lights dimmed and the curtain rose, the crowd cheered, and it applauded the names of the five main stars. When the film ended with the image of Batman, Robin, and Batgirl running in front of the Bat signal, there was a smattering of tepid applause, but mostly boos. Let the Bat-lash begin.

The final problem I have with this movie is that Batman is as much a detective as he is a crime fighter in his comic books. That aspect of it is never explored here, even though opportunities abound.

The Cartoons
The three-headed monster of the Superfriends/Adventures of Batman/Batman-Superman Hour that began airing in the late sixties and early seventies provided an opportunity for many younger viewers to get their first taste of the caped crusader. While I was one of those tikes glued to my television Saturday mornings to watch my favorite super heroes battle evil-doers everywhere I can’t stomach watching them now. For kids, they were great cartoons. They were colorful and action packed without much violence. There was always a happy ending and even sometimes they tossed in a good message for children. For an avid Batman fan it was just a continuation of the downturn the comic book had taken and more similar to the campy television show instead of the true Batman. How can you take a hero seriously when he and his partner team up with Scooby Doo and the gang?

If I have the chance to watch any of the Dark Knight’s animated shows or movies I always prefer Batman the Animated Series/Batman and Robin/The New Batman and Superman Adventures. These cartoons were released in successive years in the nineties and were all very good for both new young viewers and Batman fanatics. Batman the Animated Series started it all off taking Batman back to his originations. The series draws upon the original Batman comics for storylines, villains, and characters along with atmosphere. When Robin makes appearances it is the young adult Dick Grayson. There is violence, but not in the same excess found in the Frank Miller period. It is dark and you see Batman’s pain and what drives him. The animation was great and whenever I think of Batman I usually picture the animated version in my head.

The Batman and Robin animated show was a bit of a change of pace from the first animated series. The storyline involves Tim Drake as Robin and has the occasional appearance by Nightwing. The artwork changed a bit with the colors being darker and drabber and the characters drawn slightly different. Again, as with the previous series, it uses the comic as a guideline for plots and characters including their backgrounds. After a short period the show was changed into The New Batman and Superman Adventures. Taking a page from the comics fans were lucky enough to get a few crossover episodes where Superman travels to Gotham and the Dark Knight ventures to Metropolis.
Batman Beyond is the most recent cartoon version of the Dark Knight. I must say that I really like it. The animation is good, much like the previous animated cartoons of the nineties. I think the plot stays true to what Batman would be like in a futuristic setting. Bruce has gotten older and cannot fight crime anymore. The mansion is old and decrepit because Alfred has passed on; Wayne Corp isn’t his anymore, lost from too much time being Batman. Crime has worsened since the Dark Knight has retired and Bruce is a bitter, cynical man who has a new protégé fall into his lap. With the technological changes in this futuristic series there are a lot more options for the writers to work with. Unfortunately, where the previous animated series had hundreds of pre-made plots from the comics, this series has to have each storyline written.

Timeline of the Dark Knight
1939 – Batman first appears in Detective Comics (later renamed DC Comics) #27.

Batman’s origin is revealed in Detective Comics #33.

1940 – Robin was introduced and his origin provided in Detective Comics #38.

Batman #1 is issued; issue contains the introduction to the Joker and Catwoman.

1941 – Detective Comics #59 features the introduction of the Penguin.

1942 – Two-Face is introduced in Detective Comics #66.

1943 – Batman and Robin make their first film debut in ‘Batman”, a 15 part movie serial (series) from Columbia Pictures. Lewis Wilson starred as Batman and Douglas Craft as Robin.

October 25th marked the first appearance of the Batman syndicated news strip in the McClure news syndication, which ran until 1946.

1945 – Batman makes a guest appearance on “The Adventures of Superman’ radio program.

1949 – ‘Batman and Robin’ movie serial is released by Columbia Pictures starring Robert Lowry as Batman and Johnny Duncan as Robin.

1964 – Detective Comics #327 unveils a “New Look” Batman featuring the yellow oval around the Bat symbol on his chest and a slight color variation on the rest of the costume.

1966 – On January 12th the Batman television show aired on ABC. It was the hit of the season and spanned 120 episodes until 1968. Adam West, starring as Batman, was propelled into fame and even landed on the cover of Life magazine as a result.

Batman the Movie, based on the television show, was released.

Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder was introduced as a syndicated news strip that lasted until 1974.

1967 – The animated ‘The Batman-Superman Hour’ by Filmation debuted on CBS Saturday Morning.

1968 – ‘The Adventures of Batman’ animated series debuts on CBS Saturday Morning.

1970 – Detective Comics #395 encompasses the first collaboration of the definitive Batman Team (combining writer Denny O’Neil and artist Neal Adams).

1973 – The animated ‘Super Friends’ featuring Batman and Robin debuts on ABC Saturday Morning. The series ran until 1977.

1983 – Batman #357 features the introduction of Jason Todd as the new Robin, taking the place of Dick Grayson who adopts the identity of Nightwing.

1984 – Kenner Toys releases the first Batman line of action figures. As of 2000 they had released his 200th, giving Batman the most action figures of any character.

1986 – Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller, Klaus Jansen, and Lynn Varley is released.

1987 – Batman #407 begins the cross-issue storyline Batman: Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli.

1988 – Jason Todd is killed by the Joker in Batman #428.

1989 – In Batman #442 Tim Drake assumes the mantle of Robin, becoming the third to bear that title.

‘Batman’ premiers nationwide starring Jack Nicholson as The Joker, Michael Keaton as Batman, and Kim Bassinger as Vicki Vale. The movie goes on to become one of the highest grossing films of all time.

1992 – ‘Batman Returns’ debuts nationwide starring Keaton as Batman, Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman, and Danny DeVito as the Penguin.

‘Batman: The Animated Series’ debuts on Fox with its’ successor The Adventures of Batman and Robin combining for an 85 episode run.

1993 – ‘Batman: Mask of the Phantasm’ animated film premiers in theatres nationwide.

1995 – ‘Batman Forever’ starring Val Kilmer as Batman, Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face, Jim Carrey as The Riddler, Nicole Kidman as Dr. Chase Meridian, and Chris O’Donnell as Robin premiers.

1997 – ‘Batman and Robin’ debuts starring George Clooney as Batman, Chris O’Donnell as Robin, Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze, Uma Thruman as Poison Ivy, and Alicia Silverstone as Bat Girl.

‘The New Batman and Superman Adventures’ debuts on the WB network. The series lasted 24 episodes.

1998 – ‘Batman and Mr. Freeze: Subzero’ animated film is released directly to video.

1999 – ‘Batman Beyond’ animated series is released on the WB Saturday Morning.

2000 – 109 episodes of ‘Batman: The Animated Series’ premiers on Cartoon Networks’ Toonami program block.

‘Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker’ animated film is released directly to video.

© Infinity Publishing 2003

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