Every year at this time, the wait for the next installment of the Batman movie franchise becomes more intense. We can’t help but wonder: will this year’s release live up to our expectations? For those of us who have been eagerly anticipating the arrival of this year’s film, the wait is finally over. And what a wait it was! The movie released yesterday, and, as you might suspect, it did not disappoint. But that’s a discussion for another day. For now, let’s take a look at the latest in a long line of cinematic interpretations of arguably the greatest comic book character of all time: Batman.
The Early Years
It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost 70 years since the very first Batman movie was released. Back then, the character was just getting started, and this first entry helped to create a film series that has continued to this day. But if you think back to those early days, the character certainly did not exist in his current form. Indeed, as the late great Paul Thomas described it in his book, The Horror of Comics: “At the time, the caped crusader was a concoction of newspaper articles, police box interviews, and colorful adventure stories told by reporters who had covered those exciting by-products of the Great Depression: machine gun fights, gangsters, and the occasional madwoman with a knife.”
It wasn’t until the early 1950s that the idea of a dark, moody avenger came to life. The two characters that would become iconic of this new Batman were named Dick Grayson and Julie Wilson. The character Grayson first appeared in Detective Comics #233, and his partner, Wilson, first stepped into the spotlight in Strange Tales #157. In that issue, an author named Bill Finger shared an unpublished story about a conflicted superhero called the Joker. The character’s story would later be adapted, with some changes, into the Batman mythos. In this early version of the character, the Joker was a terrifying amalgam of circus performers, including some funny guys who were inspired by the Joker personality. These were the clowns who would become the Joker’s victims. But it was this combination of tragedy and comedy that made the Joker one of the most compelling characters in comics. The character eventually became so popular that he even got his own series in the late 1950s. And since then, the Joker has appeared in every Batman movie and almost every issue of the comic book.
Another important turning point for Batman came in the form of a writer named Bill Finger. While still working for DC Comics in the 1950s, Finger came up with the idea for Batman, and it quickly took root. After several more years working on various characters for the company, Finger wrote the groundbreaking 1960s series Batman. In this series, the Joker would become a permanent fixture in the Batman mythos, and his popularity in the process skyrocketed. With its darker themes and graphic violence, the early issues of the series are considered by many to be among the best American comic books ever published. The series also featured the first appearance of the Riddler, another iconic adversary who would go on to appear in every Batman movie.
Along with Batman, other characters from the 1960s included Robin, a Boy Wonder, and the Penguin. These characters continue to resonate with fans more than 70 years later. It was around this time that the costume and styling of the Caped Crusader changed forever. In the 1960s, Batman had a more contemporary look, and it stuck. And speaking of styling, did you know that artist Lee Brown helped to give the Batman series a unique look? Before working with Bill Finger on Batman, Brown created one of the most memorable looks in comics when he stylized the character for an adventure comic he wrote for Marvel. While he did not directly assist in the creation of Batman, it’s fair to say that Brown’s unique vision and artistry definitely helped to give the character a distinctive flair.
During the height of the Cold War in the 1970s, a lot of high profile escapades were attributed to Batman. The vigilante superhero’s work as an agent of law and order made him an important figure in American culture during that time. However, after spending decades as a symbol of stability and virtue during a period of cultural upheaval, the moral ambiguity of the 1970s would ultimately be the final nail in the coffin for Batman’s popularity. The 70s also saw the return of the Joker, and this incarnation was darker and more nefarious than anything that had come before. At this point, the clown prince of crime was basically an adult metaphor for social ills. In other words, it was a bit of a political diatribe disguised as a superhero story.
One of the most defining images of the 1970s is Robert Kennedy getting shot. We couldn’t help but watch in horror as the politician’s murder at the hands of a crazed gunman shocked and saddened America. It was this tragic incident that gave the Joker the notoriety he now enjoys. But this was also the start of a new era for the character. Up until this point, the Joker had always been a fairly distant figure in the Batman mythos. But after the murder of RFK, the Joker would become an integral part of the story. However, even this would not be the last time the Joker would take the spotlight. Several more tragedies and heroic acts would follow, and the villain would once again become a household name.
The past few years have seen a bit of a resurgence in the popularity of Batman. And much of that can be attributed to the groundbreaking 2017 movie, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. In the D.C. movie, Batman plays a more prominent role than he has in a long time. Indeed, the Caped Crusader is finally given the spotlight he deserves, and the movie’s marketing department was certainly not lying when they said this was “The Beginning of a New Era.” While the movie was a critical and commercial success, it probably did more harm than good. The D.C. universe is one of the most recognizable and recognizable fictional universes in history, and trying to explain to people that this is not actually the real world can be rather challenging. Even hardcore fans of the character have expressed concerns about the movie’s impact on the general public.
While much of the backlash directed at the movie can be attributed to it being a D.C. film, there is also the fact that it was the first feature length Batman movie in over 10 years. Since the early 2000s, the character has been a peripheral figure once again. Not many people knew who he was, and those who did usually had a good laugh at his expense. But the last few years have seen a change. And for good reason. Even the biggest D.C. fans have admitted that the character looks the same but feels quite different. The jokes have stopped, at least for the time being, and Batman has been given the chance to shine once more.
And that’s great. Because at the end of the day, it’s what the fans want. When Chris Hemsworth (the guy from the Godfather Saga) played Thor, we didn’t worry about how many people could actually name all the characters, or knew what the symbols on Thor’s hammer meant. What we worried about was whether or not we liked the movie. And for the most part, we did. So let’s give the man his props. Because what we have here is something special. For those who love the character, and there are many, this is a film series that should not be missed. For those who want to give the character a whirl, the Batman may be a bit much. But for fans, it’s worth the price of admission alone.