Tracing the evolution of Batman
Tracing the evolution of Batman
By Stratton Lawrence Special to The Post and Courier | Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Dark Night Marathon
Cinebarre, 963 Houston Northcutt Blvd., Mount Pleasant, will host a Dark Night Marathon tonight leading up to a midnight showing of “The Dark Knight Rises.”
The schedule is as follows:
6:30 p.m. “Batman Begins”
9 p.m. “The Dark Knight”
12:01 a.m. “The Dark Knight Rises”
The cost is $25. Find out more by calling 884-7885 or go to cinebarre.com.
Lindsay Coursey sits on a bench on East Bay Street at 7:30 a.m. checking his phone, waiting for his shift to start at the restaurant next door, Cesca. In addition to his black chef’s pants and white T-shirt he’s wearing a ragged old ballcap emblazoned with the classic yellow-and-black Batman logo.
“Yeah, I really dig him,” Coursey said with a laugh. “Batman is somehow in my life pretty much every day.”
Like many Batman fanatics, Coursey can discuss in detail the various iterations of the character, from the slightly misogynistic black-and-white 1940s serial version all the way to the mid-1990s animated cartoon (which many fans considered the most accurate screen adaptation of their hero, at least until a few years ago).
When director Christopher Nolan debuted “Batman Begins,” the 2005 film that launched the “Dark Knight” trilogy concluding this weekend, fans of the “real Batman” awoke from their caves and re-emerged in droves.
Even before its release, Nolan’s new film, “Dark Knight Rises” is garnering talk of a Best Picture nomination at the Academy Awards. In fact, it’s widely recognized that the Oscars’ oversight of the series’ second film, 2008’s “The Dark Knight,” contributed to the Academy’s broadening of the Best Picture category to as many as 10 films the following year.
Older fans found themselves overjoyed to again find a screen Batman that catered to their understanding of the character. After 1989’s “Batman” and the subsequent “Batman Returns,” directed by Tim Burton and starring Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader and Jack Nicholson as Joker, serious fans were largely disappointed by director Joel Schumacher’s subsequent take on the character. Although 1995’s “Batman Forever,” starring Val Kilmer, was a financial and moderately critical success, 1997’s “Batman & Robin” (with George Clooney in the title role) returned to the campy style of the 1960s TV series and flopped at the box office.
“Batman went from being dark and serious to just plain hokey,” Coursey said. “I don’t even consider those two films (the Schumacher directed versions) to be Batman movies. I watched them once and put them away.”
Christopher Nolan’s series, on the other hand, is far from child’s play. Although his Batman doesn’t use guns and never kills anyone (even Joker, when given the chance), his spirit and the Gotham he inhabits are dark in nature. Both the intense action and the mature script contribute to the excitement among comic and movie fans of all ages for this week’s release.
Hot on the heels of the record-setting “Avengers” and June’s box office busting “The Amazing Spider-Man,” 2012 is poised to be the summer of the comic action hero at movie theaters around the world.
First conceptualized in 1939 by artist Bob Kane, Batman emerged as an alternative to the pre-eminent comic book hero, Superman. The alter-ego of millionaire (and later, billionaire) Bruce Wayne, Batman developed his obsession with fighting crime after watching the brutal murder of his parents as a child.
Unlike other action stars, Batman possesses no super powers. There is no green Kryptonite to bring him down or radioactive spider that empowered him — Batman’s powers are derived from his own dedication, strength and an unlimited bankroll for tools from the Batmobile to “The Bat,” a flying car that’s debuted in the new film.
In 1943, Batman first jumped from the pages of DC comic books to the silver screen with the black-and-white release of a 15-chapter serial film. In 1966, a color television show and an accompanying full-length film were released starring Adam West as Batman. This era of “Holy Pancakes Batman!” and exclamations of “Pow!” and “Bam!” whenever the hero and sidekick Robin landed a punch persevered for decades, until artist and writer Frank Miller penned a comic series entitled “The Dark Knight Returns” in the mid-1980s, relaunching the character into the public eye as a brooding, complex man. Ever since, the Caped Crusader has remained steadfastly in the public eye and in the imaginations of children, young and old.
A new era
“I was always the biggest fan of the ‘The Animated Series’ in the 1990s for its balance of kids’ stories and adult themes,” said Mike Campbell, owner of Captain’s Comics and Toys on Sam Rittenberg Boulevard. “The new movies do a really good job of making Batman dark and relatable without making it gross and horrible.”
One major adaptation of the Nolan films is a mingling of the wholesome Batman era and the dark 1980s vibe. Whereas early Batman comics had the hero using a gun to take down mobsters (and even Tim Burton’s version had machine guns on the Batmobile), Nolan’s hero is distinctly gun-averse.
“Batman’s parents were killed by guns, so they’re a very negative image for him that’s jarring and shocking,” explained Campbell, adding that the original Robin was introduced in the comics by swinging into the scene on a rope with guns blaring, followed by a slap on the back by Batman and a “Good job, old chum.”
“The fact that today’s Batman doesn’t use guns is one of the few things that keeps him sane and from slipping into villainy.”
From comic to screen
Most serious Batman fans follow the hero’s comic books, judging the screen adaptations by how closely they adhere to or stray from the stories on paper.
Brandon Hare, a 25-year-old validation specialist (“Basically, I work with computers,” he explains), has nearly 600 Batman comics.
“My favorite Batman era is the late 1980s, when he got darker and grimmer,” said Hare, who’s most looking forward to the introduction of the villain Bane in the new film.
“It looks from the previews like they’re nailing him. In ‘Batman and Robin,’ Bane was big, strong and dumb. But in the comics, he’s actually very methodical. I think he’ll make a great nemesis.”
Hare’s one gripe about ‘The Dark Knight’ series is the gravelly voice Christian Bale uses when he’s wearing his suit, a concern that’s echoed by long-time fan and Verizon employee Derek Alverson, age 32.
“The voice does give a distinction between Bruce Wayne and Batman, but it’s a little over the top,” said Alverson, who has every Batman comic since issue 400, more than 300 books total.
“I’m definitely invested in the character. My uncle owned a drug store when I was a kid and he would always let me pick out a comic book or two.”
Alverson appreciates that Bale’s portrayal of Wayne shows off his billionaire arrogance, distinguishing the man from his “I’m going to punch you in the face” alter-ego. It’s the exact opposite of George Clooney’s version, Alverson said.
“I can’t stomach that,” he exclaimed. “Clooney even wore bat skates. Batman should never ice skate.”
Local musician George Fetner, age 26, recalls dressing up as Batman ‘every day’ as a child, complete with mask and six-pack breastplate.
“It’s who I was,” he said, laughing. “In fact, I went home recently and found a journal of pictures I drew in kindergarten. They all have Batman in them, doing things like swinging on ropes with Indiana Jones or hanging out with Civil War soldiers.”
Like many other super-fans, Fetner plans to “geek out” and attend tonight’s 12:01 a.m. showing of the film.
“His story is so human to me because he’s just a regular dude who saw something catastrophic and decided he was going to do something about it,” Fetner said. “He has multiple personalities, but pretty much everybody does. He’s human underneath his suit and he can still perish, yet he stands up against all these crazy villains.”
James King, a 29-year-old IT specialist for Goodwill Industries and a comic fan, appreciates how in “The Dark Knight” Nolan adapted a story that took 13 paper issues to tell into one film.
“It’s a way of being faithful in an abbreviated way,” King said.
With “The Dark Knight Rises” closing out Nolan’s trilogy, each fan echoes excitement about the “anything goes” nature of the storytelling.
Actress Anne Hathaway debuts as Catwoman, a feminine influence that’s sure to shake up the storyline and help to make up for the loss of the late Heath Ledger, whose portrayal of Joker in the last film is widely regarded as on par or better than Jack Nicholson’s take in the 1989 film.
Most of all, fans are excited to delve once more into the complex mental state and action-packed world in which The Dark Knight lives.
Like the James Bond franchise, the special effects and gadgets at Batman’s disposal keep getting bigger and better, but in the world of Gotham, there’s never a guarantee of a happy ending.