Superhero Top 10 - Batman

1 BATMAN

Created by: artist Bob Kane, writer Bill Finger
For: National Publications
Currently owned by: DC Comics
First appearance: Detective Comics #27 (May 1939 - Gained his own title in 1940)
Real identity: Bruce Wayne

If Superman is the basic goodness of the superhero dream, then Gotham City’s Caped Crusader is its dark and vengeful underbelly. After Superman’s success, the hunt was on for the next hit superhero. Artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger’s hero had no powers, but instead playboy Bruce Wayne fights crime as a grim lone vigilante amongst Kane’s thick noir-ish shadows – an archetype that each generation has spun in its own image for 70 years.

Minor details may have changed, but Batman’s core mythos remains the same – a young Wayne sees his millionaire parents murdered by a mugger before his eyes. Racked with sorrow, he vows to fight crime in Gotham City dressed as a man-bat, so as to strike fear into the hearts of criminals. By day Wayne was an idle and aloof billionaire but by night transformed himself in the Batcave beneath his dead parents’ mansion. His supporting cast has also remained largely unaltered since the early days: faithful butler Alfred Pennyworth, Police Commissioner Jim Gordon, and orphaned circus acrobat Dick Grayson, who became his colourful sidekick Robin.

After World War II, this hardboiled dark detective was forced to give way to cheery fantasy and, in the late ’50s, juvenile science fiction as DC shifted direction. Characters such as Ace the Bat-Hound and Bat-Mite appeared, the sinister streets of Gotham left behind in favour of light-hearted adventure. On the verge of cancellation in 1964, Batman underwent his first of many reinventions. Editor Julius Schwartz given the task of reviving the flagging title as he had done other waning superheroes. With Detective Comics #327 (1964), artist Carmine Infantino and writer John Broome ditched the silly and returned Batman to his detective roots, Infantino’s sleek draughtsmanship giving a contemporary edge.

Few people haven’t heard of or seen the infamous Batman television series from 1966, yet it was a two-edged sword for the comic. Circulation soared close to 900,000 copies but, quick to capitalise on the show’s success, the comics also imported its brand of unashamed ’60s camp. The series was cancelled in 1968 and circulation fell back, so when writer Dennis O'Neil and artist Neal Adams took over a year later, they made every effort to erase its influence and return Batman to his gothic pedigree. Their first story in Detective Comics #395 (1970) blew the Technicolor nightmare away to restore the hard-nosed starkness of Kane and Finger’s original vision, Adams’ work providing a cool depth that perfectly suited this new direction. The decline in sales, however, continued unabated.

Despite a number of well-received creative partnerships sales continued to plummet, hitting an all time low in 1985. It is therefore difficult to underestimate the importance of writer-artist Frank Miller’s 1986 opus “The Dark Knight Returns”. It not only marked a major resurgence for Batman but also, alongside Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ Watchmen, sparked the boom in “graphic novels” and challenged the false mainstream perception of comic books as juvenile rubbish. Portraying a 50-year-old Wayne leaving retirement in a hellish future America, Miller stressed Batman’s vigilante roots, posing him as a force of pure justice far removed from the police. With Year One (Batman #404-407, 1987), Miller turned his attention to Batman’s origins and with artist David Mazzucchelli redefined him still further, edging closer to Kane’s noir but with a modern, grittier edge that emphasised that thin line between Batman’s quest for justice and the law. The darkness descended still further when writer Alan Moore and artist Brian Bolland unleashed their 1988 one-shot “The Killing Joke”, which explored the cyclical, almost symbiotic relationship between Batman and his arch-nemesis, the Joker, who in the same year brutally murdered the second Robin, Jason Todd (Batman #426-429) – a storyline all the more shocking for DC’s decision to let readers vote for his fate. They chose death … by just 28 votes.

The world went Batman crazy in 1989 with the runaway success of Tim Burton's stylish movie. Directly influenced by Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers’ run in Detective Comics #471-476 (1977-1978), the film had huge returns and a massive knock-on effect – when the first issue of Legends of the Dark Knight was published the same year it sold close to a million copies. Still buoyed by this success and that of its sequel, Batman Returns, the 1990s saw a plethora of impressive but intensive “big event” crossovers beginning with 1993’s “Knightfall”, in which Wayne is forced to relinquish the cowl after being crippled by new villain Bane. While the movie franchise ground to an ignominious halt with Joel Schumacher’s woeful Batman & Robin, so the comic books ground out shocking climax after shocking climax; “No Man's Land” was a year-long event running through all the Batman titles, dealing with the consequences of a devastating earthquake in Gotham. But then writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale’s produced “The Long Halloween” (1996) and “Dark Victory” (1999), stylish retellings of the origins of several of Batman’s major foes with a heavy dollop of Godfather-style mafia dealings. Loeb, who would go on to work with artist Jim Lee on 2003’s disappointing “Hush”, redrew the landscape of Batman’s world with Sale’s thin linework and thick shadows again revisiting Kane’s original, though both story and art owed much to “The Dark Knight Returns”.

Whereas previous changes in direction sought to outrun Batman’s colourful past, Grant Morrison has taken a very different view – not only refusing to shy away from incorporating aspects of Batman’s sometimes-silly Silver Age adventures but practically revelling in them. Appearing to actually kill off Wayne in his sprawling “Final Crisis” crossover epic, Morrison replaced him with former protégé Dick Grayson in “Battle for the Cowl” (2009). Grayson is currently trying to fill Batman’s boots while struggling to train Wayne’s rebellious son, Damien, as the new Robin. Morrison’s innate feel for the character is producing some of the most hotly-awaited comics for years and, with the movie franchise now reinvigorated by the success of director Chris Nolan’s stunning Batman Begins and The Dark Knight (both of which draw heavily on Loeb’s work), Batman has entered a new chapter as one of the world’s most recognisable comic book brands.

POWERS
None. Part vigilante, part detective, Wayne is equipped only with his brains, his highly trained body, a burning guilt complex, a large fortune and a bewildering array of devices and vehicles stored in the Batcave beneath Wayne Manor.

The Batmobile: Batman’s ride has had even more makeovers than its creator, from sleek sedan to all-purpose off-roader and currently a high-tech hovercraft. It was quickly joined by an increasing number of ‘Bat’-prefixed vehicles such as the Batplane, Batboat and the Batcopter.

Utility Belt: Wayne’s much-copied belt was introduced in Detective Comics #29 (1939), stuffed with an almost infinite number of crime fighting gadgets it was swiftly followed by the boomerang-like Batarang

CAREER LOW POINT
Getting readers to vote on whether Jason Todd lived or died was pretty low but with the dynamic doggie “Ace the Bat-Hound” the prosecution rests, m’lud. It’s just as well that Miller’s mooted “Batman versus Al-Qaeda” never came to pass or we’d have a new champion.

SCREEN APPEARANCES
The Batman
1943
Director:
Lambert Hillyer
Played by: Lewis Wilson
Very much of its time, this 15-chapter serial from Columbia Pictures portrays Batman as a government agent attempting to defeat Japanese villain Dr Daka at the height of World War II.

Batman and Robin
1949
Director:
Spencer Gordon Bennet
Played by: Robert Lowery
Done on the cheap, Batman’s poorly fitting cowl makes him look a little forlorn as he and Robin battle the mysterious Wizard in this black and white oddity.

Batman (also known as Batman: The Movie)
1966
Director:
Leslie H Martinson
Played by: Adam West
Shifting from the small to the silver screen, this full-length movie features everything you’d come to expect from the high-spirited ’60s TV series: exploding sharks, pirate henchmen, a U-Boat made to look like a penguin, and a clunky moral tacked on to the end.

Batman
1989
Director:
Tim Burton
Played by: Michael Keaton
This stylish adaptation blended both the new, much darker Batman with a taste of the madcap, garnering massive box office returns and critical plaudits. Although not exactly known for his action man roles, Michael Keaton’s restrained performance contrasted nicely with Jack Nicholson’s exuberant Joker, and the high production values kept the camp at bay. It reinvigorated the character off the screen and established the Bat icon as a major cultural brand.

Batman Returns
1992
Director:
Tim Burton
Played by: Michael Keaton
Burton outdid himself in this gloriously gothic sequel in which Batman faced off against two villains, Danny DeVito’s Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman – though Harvey Dent and Robin were ultimately dropped from the script. The brooding atmosphere and violence of this nightmarish fairy tale Gotham, along with Pfeiffer’s leather-clad dominatrix, provoked a parental backlash but the movie was another hit.

Batman Forever
1995
Director:
Joel Schumacher
Played by: Val Kilmer
Batman Returns didn’t make enough cash for the studio’s liking, so the third movie moved into the mainstream as Schumacher ditched the dark in favour of an over-the-top plot and exaggerated characters. The big-name cast – Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey, Nicole Kidman and Chris O'Donnell – say their lines and collect their paychecks. The film isn’t without its charms, though Kilmer’s Batman is stiff to the point of rigor mortis.

Batman & Robin
1997
Director:
Joel Schumacher
Played by: George Clooney
The film that nearly sank the franchise. Schumacher ended up having to apologise for this awful mess that brought back the ’60s camp but forgot to keep the irony. Pantomime performances from Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr Freeze and Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy barely distract from Clooney’s tongue-in-cheek Batman with his daft suit nipples and the awful nonsensical plot. Critically panned and only a moderate box office success, Warner Brothers saw sense and cancelled the planned sequel, Batman Triumphant.

Batman Begins
2005
Director:
Christopher Nolan
Played by: Christian Bale
Fast forward eight years and Nolan’s clever, visually stunning reboot goes back to basics, drawing on the comic book to retell Batman’s origin story with a much darker tone. Bale’s Batman is both mysterious and human while the story has enough of an edge that it keeps the attention without becoming convoluted. Proof that reboots can work, if handled correctly.

The Dark Knight
2008
Director:
Christopher Nolan
Played by: Christian Bale
Already hotly anticipated, Nolan’s box-office-record-breaking follow-up became the subject of intense public interest when Heath Ledger, who had completed filming his scenes as The Joker, died suddenly from a toxic combination of prescription pills. Based on Loeb’s “The Long Halloween”, The Dark Knight pulled out all the stops to create what critics felt was a more “realistic” and gritty Batman, who fought against time to stop the Joker while his friend Harvey Dent went from heroic district attorney to the disfigured Two-Face. Ledger was awarded a posthumous Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his unsettling portrayal.

TRIVIA
• In his 1954 book on how comics were corrupting America’s youth, Seduction of the Innocent, psychologist Fredric Wertham attacked what he claimed were “homosexual overtones” in Batman, arguing that the Dynamic Duo were actually portrayed as lovers
• Gotham was a term originally applied to New York by Washington Irving
• Batman’s classic gold ellipse chest logo did not debut until 1964
• The Joker was originally based on a photograph of heavily-made-up actor Conrad Veidt in the 1928 silent film The Man Who Laughs
• The Batmobile in the 1966 television series was built from a Lincoln Futura concept car
• Mel Gibson, Kevin Costner, Charlie Sheen, Pierce Brosnan, Tom Selleck and Bill Murray were all considered for the role of Batman at one time or another
• Bob Kane signed away ownership of Batman in exchange for, amongst other things, a mandatory credit on all Batman comics. Bill Finger did not and at the time of his death in 1974 DC had still not officially credited him as Batman’s co-creator

RECURRING ENEMIES
The Joker: The very antithesis of Batman, the Clown Prince of Crime is a psychotic, sadistic homicidal maniac whose bleached face is permanently twisted into an evil grin. Becoming something of a clown during the ’50s and ’60s, as Batman became darker so did his arch-nemesis – he brutally slew Jason Todd and later captured and viciously tortured Commissioner Gordon.

Riddler: Obsessed with riddles, puzzles, and word games, the ingenious but quite, quite mad Edward Nigma (E.Nigma, get it?) leaves tauntingly complex clues about his crimes for the police and Batman. In Jeph Loeb’s “Dark Victory”, Batman tries to use Nigma’s clue-solving compulsion.

Catwoman: A wisecracking whip-wielding costumed cat burglar with a taste for the high life, Selina Kyle has gone from lycra-clad supervillain to leather-bound anti-hero. Created to inject a little sex appeal into Batman’s world, she is one of his longest love interests.

The Penguin: Cast out by his high society family because of his squat deformity, the self-styled “gentleman of crime” Oswald Cobblepot became a master criminal boss with a love for weapons-bearing umbrellas and, in his top hat and tails, has a startling resemblance to an Emperor Penguin.

Two Face: Becoming an insane Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde-style crime boss after the left half of his face is hideously disfigured, former Gotham District Attorney and ally of Batman Harvey Dent chooses to commit good or evil based on the flip of a coin.

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