The Batman is one of the most iconic and recognizable superheroes of all time. His unique combination of intellect, physical prowess, and extravagant costumes have made him a household name across the globe. It seems like just about everyone has heard of the Dark Knight, but how much do they actually know about him? Let’s take a stroll down memory lane and explore the origins of Batman and how his stories and adventures compare to those of the campy original movie of 60 years ago.
The Classic Comics
The first recorded appearance of Batman was in the comics in the 1930s. The character quickly became a sensation and spawned several comic book series’ in the following decades. While some were darker than others, they all featured the famous vigilante in some capacity. It wasn’t until the 1960s that Batman shifted to feature film mediums and the animated TV series that premiered in 1966 that audiences started seeing the character in a whole new light. This new Batman was brimming with adolescent angst and pent-up energy, perfectly complementing the rebellious attitudes of the decade.
If you’re unfamiliar with the comic book medium, a typical issue of Batman will typically consist of a story told in a sequential narrative. These stories are composed of several chapters, each one focusing on a specific character or event. Each chapter will end with a cliffhanger, piquing the interest of fans who read the book (and irritated the nerves of those who didn’t have the patience to finish it.) These stories are what made the Batman character so popular and established his place in pop culture to this day.
Batman Versus Superman
The original theatrical run of Batman was a landmark event for the character, as it was the first time that he had ever been featured onscreen. The campy nature of the film and it’s special effects had nothing on its promotion, as trailers for the movie were shown to audiences years before the premiere. This was followed by a brief period of TV airings of the movie, which were then compiled and released as the 60th anniversary special in 1966. This was a time when superhero movies were at the height of their popularity, and Batman was keen to cash in on this newfound fame. However, not all was well in Gotham City, as Superman had other ideas. He arrived in town and set about saving the day, with Batman reluctantly tagging along for the ride.
The climax of the film finds the two titans facing off against each other, pitting their combined might against the bad guys. The showdown is a battle of wits, with Batman playing the part of the smart aleck and Superman that of the brawn. Ultimately, it is the Man of Steel who comes out on top, leaving us with a happy ending and a sequel in the works.
Batman TV Shows
After the success of the classic film, Batman took the comic book format and applied it to television. Several TV series based on the character have graced our screens over the years. While they’ve varied in quality, they’ve all been successful in capturing the magic of the source material and bringing it to life for audiences across the world.
The first ever Batman series was launched in 1966 and ran for three seasons, totaling 70 episodes. It wasn’t long before fans started clamoring for a modern interpretation of the character, and in 1969, another series was launched. This new series, also called Batman, debuted with a bang, airing an entire season in just ten episodes. The following year, a third series was launched and continued the trend of limited airtime, only airing three episodes from season one and then canceling the rest of its season. While the show was never officially given a formal ending, it was clear that the series creator, Dick Grayson, had other plans. He later formed the short-lived Batman & Robin with his sidekick partner, Robin, who was originally devised for the Batman TV show but was never actually used in it. This led to the creation of the first ever transgender superhero, who was eventually given the name Caitlyn.
After decades of successful television shows and numerous comic book series, Batman finally made the big-screen transition in 1989 with the release of the Batman movie. The film ushered in a new era for the Dark Knight, as it was the first time that audiences could see the character in his entirety. Everything from the suit to the mask were revamped for the silver screen, and a darker tone was applied, setting a trend that later films would follow.
The first two films in the Batman franchise were directed by the legendary Michael Curtiz, who is most well known for his work on the 1927 film, What Price Glory?. What Curtiz did for the first two films is invaluable. Not only does he capture the spirit of the original stories, but he also gives them a unique cinematic flair that still remains today. In many ways, the Batmans that appear in these films are an extension of Curtiz’ own style, applying it to a character that he created.
The third film in the series, Batman Returns, was released in 1992 and was another major turning point for the franchise. Its plot revolves around the Gotham City police department’s baffling failure to arrest the Penguin for a crime that he committed. The film starts out light-hearted but culminates in one of the most disturbing displays of violence that the Dark Knight has ever laid down. The violence in the movie was so graphic that it was largely cut from the American theatrical release due to time constraints, though it still appears in today’s Ultimate Edition. The inclusion of this scene was a major contributing factor to the film’s Rotten Tomatoes rating of just 22%, as critics were deeply divided on whether or not they thought that it was a necessary inclusion. However, many did agree that it heightened the movie’s dramatic impact and made it all the more memorable.
The Dark Knight followed a year later and received a generally favorable critical response. It was the first Batman film to be released in theaters and was touted by many as being the character’s “mature” approach to crime-fighting. The film’s ending was also met with universal acclaim, as many felt that it successfully resolved all of the narrative threads that it had set up over the course of its 2½ hour running time. Not only does The Dark Knight present a more mature take on the Batman character, but it is also the first film to employ the three-point stance, a fighting style that would later become synonymous with the character.
The success ofThe Dark Knight emboldened Warner Bros. to continue expanding the Batman film universe. The following year, 1995’s Batman Forever was released. The film started out great, but then took a sharp turn for the worse, as it was plagued by terrible writing, terrible special effects, and terrible performances. The character’s first onscreen couple, Harvey Dent and Julie Newmar, were particularly memorable for their awful acting, with the latter being so bad that she was supposedly paid off by the studio to keep her mouth shut.
The Dark Knight Rises was released two years later and was another watershed moment for the Batman franchise. Not only does it feature one of the most anticipated cameos in cinematic history, as we finally get to see the caped crusader challenge Superman for supremacy, but it expands the universe of the Batman films, introducing us to a younger, hipper Batman (played by Ben McKenzie) and a new, post-apocalyptic Gotham City. The inclusion of this material wasn’t just to cash in on the hype surrounding the Man of Steel and his battles with the Dark Knight, as it also provided Warner Bros. with an opportunity to further develop and expand the Gotham City setting and its inhabitants. The Dark Knight Rises is widely considered to be the best of the Batman movie series and a triumph for both Nolan and the character.
In the decade since Batman’s first appearance in the dark, the character has gone from being a cultural icon to a pop-culture phenomenon, finding a home in the hearts of fans around the world. While some might think that the character’s popularity has declined, this couldn’t be further from the truth. He has transcended generations of fans, with the most recent evidence of this being the sheer number of original characters that have appeared in the Arkham series, which began with Arkham Asylum in 2009 and is now poised to enter its fourth installment later this year. The popularity of the character is so great that even the most iconic symbols and costumes associated with him have spawned multiple products that exist solely to capitalize on the Batman brand. For example, the utility belt that the character is known for wearing has been reproduced in numerous forms, from watches to shot glasses. This, in turn, has led to an entire industry that provides fans with personalized products, ranging from T-shirts to pillowcases, featuring the Dark Knight’s iconic logo.