The phrase “Dark Knight” might be familiar to you if you’ve ever seen the Batman series. You may even know the name The Dark Knight because of the movie franchise. But did you know there was a time before The Dark Knight when Batman only wore black and didn’t go around fighting crime? Or that one of his earliest appearances was in a children’s book? Find out the differences between these iconic characters here.
The Early Years
Before there was The Dark Knight, there was Batman. The Caped Crusader first appeared in Detective Comics #27 in 1939. At the time, Batman was the masked vigilante known as “The Batman.” The character first appeared with his sidekick Robin in Detective Comics #28. In those early days, Batman worked alone. He primarily fought organized crime and helped victims of crime with his expertise as a detective and lawyer.
In 1940, DC published a six-part story arc titled “The Batman Story.” In it, Batman defeats his archenemy at the end of each story. It was then that the character gained his iconic status and became known as “The Dark Knight.” The final story in the arc features a confrontation between Batman and the Joker. It ends with the Joker shooting and killing Batman’s ward, Dick Grayson (Robin’s brother). This event caused some fans to question whether or not Batman was actually dead. The character would later wake up from the coma laid down by the Joker and resume fighting crime. (The six-part story arc is available through the ComiXology app or online retailer.)
The Movie Kings
Even before the television show, Batman had been appearing in movies. The first feature-length Batman movie was The Dark Knight. Released in 2008, the Batman movie is the sequel to the 1989 film Batman. Unlike the previous installment, The Dark Knight Rises, this installment of the Batman movie franchise explores the origins of the Joker. This film also marks the first appearance of Thomas Wayne Junior (the second Dark Knight), who is also known as Batman’s son.
The Dark Knight Rises is the fourteenth film in the Batman franchise and the final film in the trilogy that began with The Dark Knight. It was directed by Christopher Nolan and released on July 20, 2012. The film is also known as Batman Returns in some countries. Like its predecessor, this film explores the origins of the Joker. The film also marks a turn towards a more adult tone and theme as it delves into the psychological motivations of the characters rather than relying on action scenes for entertainment. It is the second part of a trilogy that began with The Dark Knight.
Since Batman’s inception, the character has been portrayed by many different actors and actresses. In fact, the first actor to play Batman on screen was an obscure Russian named Boris Karloff. He had a two-part film debut in the classic 1920s silent film, The Mystery of the Puppet People. (Boris Karloff’s son, William, also starred in the film and took over the role of “The Great Detective.”) Since then, the character has been portrayed by several different actors and actresses, including:
- Willie Reich as Batman
- Peter O’Toole as The Joker
- Terence Stamp as The Penguin
- Arnold Schwartzenegger as The Riddler
- Michael Keaton as The Joker (and Batman)
- Val Kilmer as The Riddler
- Kim Basinger as Killer Frost
- Carrie Anne McDonald as Harley Quinn
- Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon
- Jackie Chan as The Chinese Dragon
- Morgan Freeman as Dr. Crane
- Lucy Liu as Madame Rouge
- George Clooney as The Joker (and Batman)
- Tom Hardy as Harvey Dent
- Liam Neeson as Ra’s al Ghul
- Michael Caine as Alfred Pennyworth
The various actors who have portrayed Batman have been nominated for several awards (such as the Academy Award and Golden Globe), and have gone on to become popular culture icons. Along with Sherlock Holmes, James Dean, and Elvis Presley, Batman is one of the few characters to have his own wax statue hanging in Madame Tussaud’s Egyptian Hall. (He also has his very own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.)
Changes On The Scene
It’s interesting to note that, even though the character has been around for nearly 80 years, the way we experience Batman today is still largely thanks to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Before the MCU, Batman mostly appeared in movies. However, in the last few years, the video game industry has produced some pretty memorable incarnations of the Dark Knight. These games are often based on the previous movie or television show tie-ins, and feature the same villains and costumes as the source material.
Some of the video game adaptations of Batman are:
- Batman: Arkham Asylum
- Batman: Arkham City
- Batman: Arkham Knights
- Batman: Brave and the Bold (working title)
Although the game mechanics of these titles are mostly unoriginal (the graphics and music are often spectacular, however), the stories and narratives are often quite interesting. The best example of this is probably the Batman: Arkham Asylum game. Set in a world where supervillains are considered celebrities, the game explores the concept of celebrity psychopaths and how they often become famous. (Spoiler alert: It’s often because of terrible crimes that they are either incarcerated or commit.) This game also features the famous ‘Batarang’, the dual-wielded weapon that was first introduced in the 1960s TV show, Batman! (This weapon was also featured in The Lego Batman Movie.)
More Than Meets The Eye
Batman is an interesting character because he often goes above and beyond the call of duty. When people think of superheroes, they often think of people who act only in the best interests of others. However, in the comics, Batman has repeatedly shown that he will actively pursue his goals, no matter what. (In fact, one of his most iconic images is the cover of DC’s Yearbook 75 where he is seen reaching out with a gun to stop Catwoman.)
Batman is depicted as being much more than the sum of his parts. He is a character who has stood the test of time due to his many contradictions and multifaceted nature. It is a testament to the enduring popularity of Batman that, even eighty years after his creation, there still isn’t a definitive answer to the question of “What is the difference between Batman and The Dark Knight?” It’s not that there is no consensus as to what makes up the difference; it’s just that there are as many opinions as there are stars in the sky. (Much like our own Galaxy.)