Who Is Batman?

Batman 1995-2008

Less artistically successful were the following two Batman movies, 1995's Batman Forever and 1997's Batman & Robin, both directed by Joel Schumacher.

Who Is Batman? CONTINUES...

"I want to create a living comic book, and I think the word comic is important." 

—Joel Schumacher, director, Batman Forever (1995) and Batman & Robin (1997)

Less artistically successful were the following two Batman movies, 1995's Batman Forever and 1997's Batman & Robin, both directed by Joel Schumacher. Much closer in sensibility to the sixties television series than the darkly adult-oriented versions of the recent past, the Schumacher films are garish, hyperkinetic camp spectacles that, while full of energy and shiny things to look at, were roundly panned and credited with nearly killing the franchise. Val Kilmer and George Clooney, who respectively played the Caped Crusader in the films, emerged relatively unscathed, despite the addition of rubber nipples to the costume. Yes, rubber nipples.


"If it had been up to me, I would have set it literally in 1939." 

—Bruce Timm, animator, Batman: The Animated Series

Happily, 1992's Batman: The Animated Series, developed by artist Bruce Timm, hit all the right notes, setting a foreboding Batman against a noirish backdrop that combined elements of thirties and forties design with modern technology to create a timeless, self-contained universe that perfectly suited the character. The show was a visual feast, with moody backdrops and strong, graphically severe figures that, when combined with intelligent storytelling, perhaps came closer than any previous screen incarnation to replicating the experience of reading the comics.


"You can't hang out in that suit. You have to be in control. You have to be focused."

—Christian Bale, actor, Batman Begins

Batman made a triumphant return to the cinema with 2005's Batman Begins, directed by Christopher Nolan and starring appropriately intense British actor Christian Bale. Nolan hewed closely to another seminal Miller text-Batman: Year One-charting the crimefighter's first, uncertain forays into battling evil. Dark in tone, full of brooding atmosphere, and featuring a Batman more fearsome than flippant, the movie was manna to the faithful and a huge hit. Anticipation is high for the sequel, and the legend of Batman shows no sign of abating.

Its sequel, 2008’s The Dark Knight, was a full-fledged cultural phenomenon, breaking box office records and earning critical hosannas that proclaimed the “super hero movie” had graduated from genre entertainment to legitimate dramatic art form. The magnetic young actor Heath Ledger, playing Batman’s arch-foe the Joker, received the lion’s share of press attention, both for the startling savagery of his performance and his tragic death shortly after completing filming. But the film’s success can’t be explained away by the public’s fascination with a charismatic young star gone before his time; The Dark Knight is an insistently contemporary thriller, with an air of chaotic menace worlds away from the standard “super villain plots to rule the world” perfidy. The Joker aims only to sow terror and chaos, and can not be negotiated with, bought off, or placated by ego-stoking victories.  In a time of terrorism, unending war, and economic and ecological calamity, such unreasoning malice feels queasily relatable.
And, as always, Batman, the Caped Crusader, the Weird Avenger, The Dark Knight answers the challenge. Who is Batman? He is whatever we need we need him to be, and thank goodness for that. 


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Photo credits: Batman & Robin and Batman Begins: © Warner Bros.; Batman: The Animated Series: Batman: The Complete History