I've had that blog title sitting in my head for months if not years now. I think I've been putting off writing it for so long simply because I feel like I can't possibly put everything I'm feeling into words. However, I don't think it's right to start off my recurring Batman posts without at least first giving you an idea of where I'm coming from.
I'm not sure if there has been any pop culture icon who has been reinvented and changed in so many ways over the year as Batman has. His compatriot Superman has seen a lot of adaptations, but beyond tweaking his powers here and there, I don't think the character varies all that much. Mickey Mouse is drastically different from the original prankster he started out as, but the squeaky clean reinvention of his personality has largely stayed the same, even if the way he's drawn changes. Every character changes at least a little bit with the times, but Batman seems to take it to a whole different level.
The early Batman comics were targeted towards children, and the movie serials that ran at the same time were also for kids. The sixties television show rocketed Batman to greater fame than he had ever achieved before, and it is best known for being overly campy and silly. By the eighties, we started to see a grittier side of Batman, particularly in the comics with Frank Millar's The Dark Knight Returns and the many others it influenced. Tim Burton's Batman films were similarly gritty and dark, though they had a larger than life, cartoonish feel to them as well. When Joel Schumacher took over, he clearly tried to inject a feeling a little more similar to the sixties television show or the four color comics that proceeded it though in nineties DayGlo tones. Not long after the Burton films began, Batman: The Animated Series was created. It also had a dark tone but treated Batman just a little more seriously, and introduced many more characters than the movies had time for. Batman & Robin's failure killed the movie series until Nolan came along with his reboot, Batman Begins, that took Batman a little closer to the real world. It took themes that had been used in the comics and put them into movies that even people who didn't previously care for superheroes could enjoy. And of course all during this time Batman evolved in the comics, even letting other people take on the role, to the point that we now have Batman, Inc. where multiple people are all Batman at once. Until the September reboot, anyway, where Bruce Wayne will be the only person left under the cowl again.
These drastic changes combined with the immense popularity of the character means most people have their own favorite version. It stands to reason that if the sixties show was your first experience with Batman, you may not enjoy the seriousness of The Dark Knight. It's kind of amazing to think that Adam West and Christian Bale are playing the same character. Sure, you can see similarities in the costume and the names are the same, but it ventures off pretty far otherwise.
So how do I like my Batman? Thanks for asking! Like most children of the eighties I first watched Batman through the Tim Burton film. (It's hard to say the first time I heard about him.. Batman as an icon is just sort of ever present in at least Western culture.) I remember most of my younger brother's friends praising it immensely. We eventually borrowed a copy of the film from someone and honestly I didn't see what the big deal was. I didn't hate it but I didn't love it either. Like a lot of stuff around that time period, I had more fun playing with the action figures with my brother and the stories we would make up for them instead. I got excited for Batman Returns because of Catwoman's appearance - I've always had an interest in females in action roles for as long as I can remember, but I didn't actually see the film until it came out on video. Before that video release, Batman: The Animated Series premiered on television and changed everything for me. Since the X-men cartoon had just come out, I was aching for more superheroes, and this show delivered.
I originally loved Batman for most of the reasons that we all love Batman. He's intelligent, strong, and although he has no superpowers he is able to get himself out of any difficult situation. He has a tragic past and uses that as fuel to make a difference and stop criminals.
What really appealed to me though was that the show really took itself seriously, especially for something shown at a children's level. Much like the X-men cartoon, it understood that children didn't need to be talked down to in their entertainment. You can limit the violence and sex without sacrificing good storytelling. You could also tell that the creators were familiar with the comics and knew that Batman himself was not just kiddie stuff.
While I would eventually see all the movies, the sixties television show, and even dabble in the comics, the animated series remains my golden standard for what Batman should be. There's no doubt in my mind that the reason I find Nolan's movies to be far superior to Burton's is related to this, and the fact that the Batman: Arkham Asylum game was utter joy for me to play has a lot to do with the fact that I got to hear the voices of Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, and Arleen Sorkin in their proper roles once again.
I made a list of potential Batman related posts, and it is very nearly 50 items long. It includes movies, television shows, video games, comics, novels, and some character spotlights. I hope to do at least one a month, so it should be going for quite a while!
So now I'll ask you. How do you like your Batman?