Batman’s famous faces: The Dark Knight celebrates his 80th birthday.
PUBLISHED: 19:59 31 May 2019 | UPDATED: 12:58 01 June 2019
Welcome to Batman’s Birthday. The Caped Crusader is 80 years old and we take a look at his long and eventful life both on paper and on screen
He's the crime fighter with the best chin in the business - and the gruffest, most taciturn voice you could wish for. Batman, aka The Dark Knight, this month is 80 years young. He's been through the wars a bit over the years, but he's emerged battered and bruised (unlike his colleagues he has no superpowers) but he's still determined to clean up the mean streets and dark alleys of Gotham City as a one man avenger trying to lay to rest the ghosts of his murdered parents.
Batman is a resilient character, someone used to living two lives. One on paper in comic books like Detective Comics and Batman, which set out the ground rules, and the other on-screen, translating the original creator Bob Kane's vision for the crime fighter into a larger-than-life hero for our times.
Whereas most comic superheroes have always been clear-cut champions of truth, justice and the American way, Batman's appeal has always been in the fact that he just as tortured, just as messed up as the people he is fighting. He is just one step away from crossing the line and becoming the very person he despises. He is a complex character, a character who was forced to grow up quickly and confront the dark side of life when he witnessed his parents being gunned down in a dark alley when he was just a boy.
His life is now dedicated to trying to rid the world of these malevolent psychopaths with their flamboyant schemes, which fuel their quest for power or desire to exact revenge on society for some imagined past injustice.
Batman, aka multi-millionaire Bruce Wayne, first appeared in Detective Comics issue 27, published in May 1939, and was an immediate hit. At this time he was a solo crime fighter patrolling the streets of Gotham City fighting hoodlums rather than larger-than-life super criminals.
The character was such a success that Batman (or The Batman as he was then known) was given his own comic book in the spring of 1940, which also carried his adventures while Detective Comics continued to run separate Batman stories.
By the spring of 1940 Batman all ready had Robin, The Boy Wonder, as his sidekick, and that very first issue also introduced a pair of villains who would become the bane of his existence: The Joker and Catwoman.
The Joker would become Batman's nemesis, a mirror-image of the Caped Crusader, but Catwoman, aka Selina Kyle, the prostitute turned jewel-thief, would have a far more complex relationship with both Wayne and Batman as an adversary and lover.
In the 1960s, America's fear of the corrupting influence of comic books triggered a drastic change in the look of Batman. Much of the darker material, which had made Batman so distinctive, had been jettisoned. Dark, film nor-type tales had given way to bright, colourful fantasy stories. This was reflected in the Adam West TV series with it's kitsch, cartoon-like, speech bubble sound-effects: "Crackkk!" and "Blammm!!" along with the pantomime performances of its stars.
However, as TV and the spin-off movie took Batman and Robin into increasingly camp territory, the 1960s turned into the 1970s and newly appointed writer-editor of the comic books, Dennis O'Neal, decided to reclaim Bob Kane's original vision and return The Dark Knight to his Gothic roots. He dispensed with Robin, toughened up the storylines and brought in a new raft of artists, like Neal Adams, to give his Batman a grittier, more dangerous look.
It's a style that has stayed and even gained a darker hue when graphic novelist Frank Miller reinvented Batman for the 1990s with his Dark Knight Returns and Year One mini-series. This dark approach not only continues to this day it also was a huge influence on the Batman movies which returned to the big screen in 1989 with Tim Burton's hugely influential Batman.
Batman At The Movies:
Batman on the silver screen has lived a double-life with his far more complex paperbound alter-ego. Although, hewn from the same dark streets, the on-screen Batman has largely been far more straight-forward, if a little less vocal when it comes to letting the audience know what is going on.
So who are the big screen Batmans?
Michael Keaton: Batman (1989) Batman Returns (1991): dir Tim Burton
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Batman's first adventure into the world of cinema since the 1966 TV spin-off movie with Adam West. Michael Keaton played Bruce Wayne as a quiet, thoughtful person, a total contrast to his forthright, determined, aggressive Batman fighting The Joker (Jack Nicholson) in the first film and The Penguin (Danny DeVito) and Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) in the sequel.
Keaton was the actor who developed the Bat-Growl, to disassociate his voice from that of Bruce Wayne. He was the first to utter the guttural: "I'm Batman" before hoisting some lame gangster up onto a street lamp or fire escape.
He also showed that Bruce Wayne/Batman did have feelings. He enjoys a romance with Vicky Vale, played by Kim Bassinger, in Batman and has a number of romantic rooftop encounters with Catwoman before Wayne and Selina Kyle become aware of their alter-egos while dancing together at the Mayor's Ball.
Val Kilmer: Batman Forever (1995): dir: Joel Schumacher
After Tim Burton's Batman movies proved to be too dark for Warner Brothers, Joel Schumacher was hired to provide a lighter, brighter, more family friendly franchise. Accordingly, Val Kilmer softened his Batman to make his portrayal fit in with Schumacher more cartoon-like approach. Chris O'Donnell was introduced as Robin while Jim Carrey starred as The Riddler and Tommy Lee Jones was twisted former district attorney Two-Face.
While the fans felt the film didn't reflect the Batman world as they saw it, the child-friendly presentation and the tons of merchandise made the studio accountants very happy.
George Clooney: Batman and Robin (1997): dir: Joel Schumacher
Val Kilmer decided not to return as The Caped Crusader, so George Clooney became the now super smooth Bruce Wayne and director Joel Schumacher took the series into full day-glo camp. Instead of dark and brooding streets, Gotham became a florescent, neon wonderland and the Batsuit, for some reason, acquired some much-mocked nipples. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Uma Thurman played Mr Freeze and Poison Ivy, two cardboard cutout villains which could have easily stepped out of the Adam West TV series. Alicia Silverstone joined the team as Batgirl another throwback to the TV series. The film did not do well critically or commercially and essentially killed the franchise.
Christian Bale: Batman Begins (2005), The Dark Knight (2008), The Dark Knight Rises (2012): dir: Christopher Nolan
Toughest, gruffest Batman of them all. Joel Schumacher's camp excesses have been banished forever as Christopher Nolan takes The Dark Knight back to his roots. Gotham is once again a nightmare landscape with Christian Bale playing the beefiest Batman of them all. It's a compelling story which brings The Dark Knight back to the world organised crime rather than emphasising cartoon-like villains. Michael Caine is superb as ex-SAS butler Alfred, who is now much more Wayne's confident and advisor than he is a servant and Morgan Freeman is the head of research and development supplying all of Batman's wonderful toys. Thankfully Robin is nowhere to be seen in any of these films.
Ben Affleck: Batman Vs Superman (2016) and Justice League (2017)
Ben Affleck was briefly Batman in two back-to-back ensemble films designed to mirror the cross-over movies which were happening in the Marvel universe. Affleck played an older, more world-weary Batman, a man prone to depression and a cynical view of the world - although much of his attitude is later explained away by the fact that he had been under the influence of Superman's arch-enemy Lex Luthor. Neither film was a runaway hit and only received mixed praise from critics.
Robert Pattinson: The Batman (2021)
Allegedly, Batman is to return to his detective roots...