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Batman. A character with a fairly well defined origin. Parents murdered at a young age, raised by his families butler, Alfred. He soon learned of the dark and seedy underbelly of his home city, Gotham. As he grew he felt convicted that he needed to rid his beloved city of evil by donning the symbol of his own fear, the bat. Thus becoming a figure that stalked the skyline and the shadows of Gotham striking fear into all those with villainous intent. First introduced into comic culture in 1939 - from that point on Batman would become legend and also fodder for all other 'super' heroes seeing as he has no supernatural powers. Regardless of your opinion on his heroic status, Batman is a character that has remained viable to many generations. As the generations changed so did his character, to match the times. Characters are always being created and revised and then recreated throughout cinema: especially when it comes to comic characters. Batman has gone through a myriad of changes over the past 70 years: in comics as well as in film and television.
Come with me if you will on a journey through film history, as we travel back to a time when things were simpler. A time when Batman was less brooding and more pleasant.
The year is 1943
We find ourselves in the theater anxiously waiting for our feature film, when there he appeared for the first time right before our eyes: Batman. The character that we have been feverishly reading about in Detective Comics is there in glorious grey color fighting against the insidious Dr. Daka at the height of World War II.
Wait? What!!? Dr. Daka? World War II?! What is this madness?
Batman. The caped crusader hit the world by storm in 1943 as a 15 part serial release starring Lewis Wilson. For those who either were not around in 1943 or are not well-versed in cinematography history, a serial was basically the form of film that evolved into recurring television series. Before TV syndication - and episodic television, Serials were the short form of movies showed as a 'preview' of sorts before the matinee films that the audience came to see. Batman was one of the first of it's kind as the serials were often Westerns. Low budget, short with a basic story line: hero fights evil to rescue the damsel in distress.
Not really the Batman we're used to, but it's the beginning of his film story at this point.
Lewis Wilson, as I stated earlier, was the first actor to don the cowl of the Batman in the 15 chapter release that was shown over a span of usually 4 chapters a year, each growing the story and the legend of Batman.
Flash forward: 1949
Another iteration of the caped crusader, still in it's glorious grey monotone is released in serial format. We wait anxiously again, almost as much for Batman as we are for the feature that we came to see. We've grown to yearn for more Batman, not getting our fill of masked hero who always seems to save the day. We discover a new villain, The Wizard. A villain cloaked by his hood with a device that can control cars. The Wizard in intent on stealing the diamonds necessary to power his device.
Still evolving the Batman, although it's not quite the vision we imagined.
Robert Lowery portrayed the newest rendition of Batman, which was also released as another 15 chapter series that once again brought new life to the Batman character. Robert's version led to the creation of the next iteration nearly 15 years later, so let's take a longer leap through time together.
BLAM!! It's 1966
Here we are in the mid 60's with yet another Batman evolution. This evolution differs from all the others. This batman strays even farther from the dark, brooding gloom that we know as The Batman. We find ourselves plopped down in front of our GoldStar television waiting patiently to see the caped crusader make his television debut on Batman. We are met with the face of Adam West.
Zock! Pow! This newly envisioned Batman has all the action placed with overarching drive to be youth-appropriate with a solid moral imperative that could be learned from the masked hero.
Thwarting villains such as we are used to seeing: Catwoman, The Penguin, King Tut, The Riddler and The Joker along with their thugs and goons. Batman and his sidekick Robin as well as Batgirl making her appearance fight evil with a well timed utility belt gadget and of course a well placed KAPOW!
Nearly 20 years pass with the occasional Bat-sighting here and there although none stay long enough to catch our attention as we fly through time and space on our journey to reach the next major iteration of the Batman.
Straight to 1989
The dark detective makes his triumphant return to the theater's big screen in the movie sharing his name, Batman, this time in the hands of quirky Michael Keaton as he dons the cape and cowl of our favorite heroic bat. We return to a darker Gotham City; dangerous and protected by the corrupt officers. The efforts of the commissioner and district attorney prove to be of little avail until the Dark Knight rises from the shadows to strike fear into the darkness sweeping over Gotham.
There we go, that's the Batman I read in the comics. That's my Batman!!
We meet the caped crusader and watch him fight against the homicidal Jack Napier as he, through a chemical factory accident, evolves into the most dangerous and insane villain and stalks the streets of Gotham. Michael Keaton strikes with a vengeance and strikes often as he battles the conscious-less villain.
Returning in 1992
We find Michael Keaton again claiming the mantle of the Batman in the followup film: Batman Returns. Gotham still remains a dark and dangerous city, in some ways more so than its predecessor. Batman's efforts to clean up the city is met with more villains taking the place of The Joker as we are introduced to both Catwoman and The Penguin in this new addition to the Batman legacy. Batman faces a different sort of villain and is forced to come to grips with the reality of who he is and what is required to be the Batman.
Moving right along, this is what I'm used to! Dark. Grit. Vengeance.
This is the Batman we are more accustomed to as he is evolving more in line with the comics. This iteration holds a much darker and grisly feel throughout, especially near the end of the battle between Batman and The Penguin as his true motives are revealed.
Growing old in 1995
Val Kilmer takes over the mantle as Batman in the latest rendition of the Batman story in the movie, Batman Forever. His legend is catching up with him, and it's taking its tole on his body and his mind. Plagued with nightmares of his parents murder and the weight of wearing the cape balanced against being the billionaire Bruce Wayne.
Here we go... The inner emotional turmoil.. Bring it on Batsy!
We meet two comical villains, Two Face & The Riddler, who hold Batman & Bruce Wayne respectively at fault for their decent into being villains. This Batman delves much deeper into the heart of Batman as throughout the movie he is trying to teach his new, albeit coerced, sidekick in Robin that vengeance against Two-Face for killing Robin's family isn't worth the weight that it burdens you with. We start to see the toll that being a hero has on Bruce as he realizes that he does have purpose in protecting Gotham and that his time is not over.
Sliding into 1997
We return to the theater unsure what we will find as we wait for the newest movie adaptation of Batman to begin, Batman & Robin. Batman further evolves as we meet George Clooney behind the mask as the newest encore. Now we find ourselves slipping ever farther from the gritty Michael Keaton or even the aging Val Kilmer to the nipple-plated George Clooney facing off against Arnold Schwarzenegger as the latest supervillain to attack Gotham City, Mr. Freeze.
Did you say nipple plated? - Why yes I did fair readers!
Seen as the death of Batman in film by some, Batman & Robin took a travel towards the campiness that we thought we left in the late 60's with Adam West. This film was full of tacky one-liners and overdone stunts that it seemed as though we had truly found the end of our journey with the Batman.
Beginning in 2005
Eight years later, we find a new film has been created. We're hesitant, still wounded from the previous installment, but we venture out to the theater to see what is toted as being an origin of sorts. A reboot to the story that we lost faith in through the previous installments. We sit in the theaters as we question Christian Bale's Batman physique and presence only to have all our fears dismantled through the film as we are taken back to our dreams and visions of who Batman is. A man seeking to find vengeance for his slain family and purge the city of the evils that hide and scurry about in the night.
Here's the gritty detective and vigilante that we've read about! Welcome home Batman, please stay a while!
Christian Bale brings new life to Batman in Batman Begins, it's full of grit and action, but also looks to show the emotional turmoil that Bruce and his heroic persona Batman endures through their trials and struggles to rid the city of Scarecrow and Ra's Al Ghul as a new class of villain emerges from Gotham's underbelly.
Moving on to 2008
Christian Bale reprises his role as the violent vigilante in the followup, The Dark Knight. Equally as gritty - and ultimately more violent than its predecessors. The Dark Knight raises the bar against the war on crime in this movie, which proves successful in the short term and leaves Bruce to wonder if he could retire the cape. Soon enough we discover a new villainous mastermind entering Gotham, named The Joker.
Here it is! The climax! The dark, brooding, gritty Batman that we all know and love!
The Joker takes Batman down a road that he hasn't gone before, questioning the legitimacy of killing The Joker. After countless skirmishes Batman wrestles with the turmoil that he is facing because of the Joker's sinister plot that ultimately turned Batman into the fugitive being hunted by the Gotham City Police.
Rising again in 2012
Christian Bale returns for the trifecta in, The Dark Knight Rises, after 8 years of being a recluse and avoiding the cowl of Batman a new villain emerges. Bane. A former member of the league of shadows from which was founded by Ra's Al Ghul, who has planned to continue the work of his former leader in the effort to destroy Gotham City.
The beginning of the end?! Batman vs. Bane ... I know this storyline..
Batman is broken mentally and physically by the onslaught of this new villain, Batman must come to grips with what it truly means to be the cities hero and savior, not just it's protector.
Finding Justice in 2016 and beyond
Ben Affleck now dons the cape in the post-production, filming and outline stages of Batman V. Superman: Dawn of Justice, Suicide Squad & Justice League Part 1 and Part 2. Little is known about the Bat that we will see outside of the fact that he and Superman are going to duke it out as Batman is unsure about the 'hero from another planet'.
We've finally found traction and are on track to see Batman in all his glory as the character we know and love. Dark. Brooding. Determined to bring justice to anyone who can bring death or destruction to the world, not only Gotham.
Well, there is our our journey through time is over. We've come along way in the 8 minutes that it took you to read this article. We've found Batman at his earliest origins in an outfit obviously not tailored for him and unlikely to stop any weapons, to the intentionally campy hero in blue tights. We watched as he transitioned to a slightly brooding Batman as he struggles with love and a legacy, to the Batman that questions retiring as the weight is taking its tole. We've seen his beginning as he trained and learned that he was to be a puppet used to destroy his beloved city, and seen his assumed end as he risked his life to safe his city. And shortly we will see the detective once again as he seeks to bring justice once again.