Tuesday, 29 October 2013

It was a dark, Dark Knight...

With All Hallow's Eve, or Halloween as it is more commonly known, just around the corner it's time for my own spooky themed post of the year, methinks.  This time I'm going to take a slightly different but hopefully no less spooky tack, doing my first Pinterest-inspired post in honour of my one of my favourite pop culture characters - the (sometimes) dark, Gothic, unnatural, eerie and mysterious superhero that is:

Batman, as well as having that frightening other-worldly mysteriousness about him as already mentioned, is also deeply influenced by Gothicism.  Which is probably one of the reasons he is my favourite superhero; who doesn't like a bit of Gothic symbolism in their fictional crimefighter?  I happen to like bats too (excepting the time one nearly flew into my face while I was walking down a dark Devon lane) and what is Batman other than a man dressed as a bat?  And bats are a Halloween staple!

I think another reason I'm drawn towards Batman is that mysticism surrounding the character.  He fights crime from the shadows; no-one know who he is or whether he's even human and he uses fear and surprise to overpower his enemies.  It's still good versus evil, but the contrast isn't as great (and in the case of the Joker, it could easily said to be in reverse).  That's also why Batman and Batman Begins remain my two favourite Batman films, with the superstitious and eidolic aspect being played up to great effect.  Probably a great many other Batman fans feel the same way and it is undoubtedly these characteristics, this flip-side of a traditional superhero, that has allowed Batman to endure for 75 years and remain an incredibly successful cultural icon.

The history of those 75 years is fascinating as well, with the character's origins from the 1930s and '40s (and earlier) just adding more to his appeal.

Created by the comic-book artist and writer duo of Bob Kane and Bill Finger in 1939 Batman's first appearance in the May 1939 Detective Comics #27 is only eleven months after Superman's debut in rival Action Comics #1 (it was the success of the latter that spurred DC on to create a superhero of their own).  The idea of the superhero had gained currency in the 1930s and Batman was clearly influenced by the first, earlier prototypes of The Shadow and The Phantom.  Going even further back, Zorro has been cited as an influence, something writers worked into Batman's origin story (it was the 1920 Douglas Fairbanks Sr. The Mark Of Zorro that the Wayne family saw before the parents were murdered outside the theatre).  Bob Kane also took themes from popular culture of his youth - films like 1926's The Bat (and the 1930 remake/sequel The Bat Whispers) and Conrad Veidt's Gwynplaine in 1928's The Man Who Laughs.  (As a result of this there are some excellent vintage Batman parodies to be found on YouTube...)

In the 1940s Batman, like so many action heroes of the time, featured in a couple of movie serials - Batman in 1943 and Batman and Robin in 1949.  They're standard 1940s serial fare, very much of their time (especially the 1943 one, which features some very dubious propaganda) with pretty suspect costumes, sets etc.  I won't add them here, but they can be found easily enough on YouTube - here and here.  Again they have both inspired some excellent alternative thinking on the part of some YouTube users.

Glossing over the Sixties television series and film, which are good silly fun and set the tone for the next two decades but not the sort of Batman to feature here we arrive instead at the Tim Burton Batman films and DC Comics' attempts in the mid-1980s to return to a darker characterisation with graphic novels such as Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns.  The films Batman and Batman Returns featured this dark re-imagining to great success (and Michael Keaton remains, on balance, my favourite Batman/Bruce Wayne) but then Joel Schumacher took over - and the less said about that the better!

In the early 1990s, following the success of the first two modern Batman films, the cartoon Batman: The Animated Series appeared and this brings back many a happy memory of Saturday morning television, as well as furthering my interest in the character (the "Dark Deco" style in that series also helped!).  Then of course more life has been breathed into the character in recent years thanks to the "Nolan Trilogy" of films which culminated in last year's critically and commercially successful The Dark Knight Rises.  Thanks to these Batman's stock has never been higher - he still appears in DC Comics today, in numerous award-winning video games and fashioned onto (or into) almost anything you care to name. 

The Batman's next 75 years would seem to be assured, then, although rumblings continue over the decision to cast Ben Affleck in the role for the upcoming 2015 extravaganza that will be Batman vs. Superman.   However that turns out I'm sure the Batman will endure, continuing his adventures and forever striking a fearful and unnatural shadow over the cowardly and superstitious criminal.

*Below are the two "vintage Batman" videos mentioned earlier.  Who was your favourite Batman/Bruce Wayne?  Is Ben Affleck a good choice to play the next Caped Crusader?  Do let me know in the Comments section - and have a happy Halloween!


  1. When I first read Frank Miller's iconic graphic novel "The Dark Knight Returns", back in the '80s, I was greatly looking forward to Tim Burton's interpretation. However, the hype surrounding the release of "Batman" in 1988 was phenomenal and the film never lived up to the hype. I loved the world of Gotham City created for the film by the late Anton Furst, and Danny Elfman's music score has become classic. But I just could not ever buy Michael Keaton as Bruce Wayne. It was an odd choice of casting, which I think had more to do with Burton and Keaton being friends more than anything else. Bruce Wayne has a certain degree of suave and I don't think that Keaton carried that off very well.
    By the time Christopher Nolan arrived with his trilogy, I felt that the essence of the character had been better captured, and the second film in this trio is, once you remove Heath Ledger's brilliant portrayal of The Joker, a tightly written story that is a master class in screenwriting.
    As for Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne/Batman, well Christian Bale left some pretty big shoes to fill. But then, once Affleck slips into the bat suit, it won't matter. Audiences will want to see Batman, not Bruce Wayne.
    Just my 2c.

    1. Thanks teeritz!

      It's funny how one's perception of a character can differ depending on they approached it. I was only 6 when Batman came out so I didn't see it until much later when my view of the character had been established by the '90s cartoon (and an honourable mention to voice actor Kevin Conroy, who has played Batman for longer than any live-action actor and is a great Batman/Bruce Wayne in his own right). So I missed all the hype surrounding the film (although I know Keaton's casting caused a stir at the time, much as Affleck's has done - plus ça change eh?) and maybe that affected my perception of Keaton's portrayal.

      Oddly enough as well, I find that Nolan's The Dark Knight is my least favourite of the trilogy. While I agree with you on the scriptwriting I felt that Batman had lost his mystical, shadowy quality - the crims, knowing he was just a man in a suit, no longer really feared him and for me it boiled the story down to a man in suit fighting a man dressed as a clown. I also thought it was a bit too violent, even for a Batman film.

      I'm ambivalent about Affleck - yes, he made a hash of Daredevil and yes, I can't think of any film of his that I've watched and/or enjoyed but then no doubt the same was said of Keaton 25 years ago. I'm not sure how director Zac Snyder will handle the character either - I didn't think much of his Man of Steel - but I doubt that will bother modern audiences, as you say.

  2. I love the Tim Burton films. You've tempted me to look up the 1940s serials now!


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