year is 1939. (Actually it's not, but you'll have to suspend disbelief
for this to work.) Superman has taken the world by storm, in the
process spawning a host of carbon copy imitators. DC Comics decides
to take a different direction with the superhero genre, and tasks
a teenager named Bob Kane with creating a more normal, accessible
and down-to-Earth hero than the Son of Krypton. Kane, a functional
illiterate who didn't understand what the words "normal,"
"accessible" and "down-to-Earth" meant, instead
came up the story of a millionaire with a bat-shaped car who drove
around in his underwear beating up clowns.
of course, was Bruce Wayne, aka The Bat-Man
(later changed to the simpler "Batman"
following a lawsuit from the hideous Bat-Boy
of West Virginia cave fame). The premise of Batman has since endured
to the point of being iconic, so that it's rare nowadays to find
someone willing to step back for a second and realize how incredibly
stupid it is. Even taking into account the time period (the 1930's,
when everything was stupid) and the target market (kids, who have
always been stupid), one still has to wonder exactly what Bob
Kane was thinking when he gave us the idea of a man dressed in
a bat costume who not only fought crime, but was a scientist,
a detective, a black belt in karate andfollowing the addition
of Robin to the series in
1940a suspected pederast.
resurfaced in the 60's as a campy television series starring Adam
West. Though briefly popular, the show has since been denounced
by Batman fans, who alleged the series was "too silly,"
making their hero look ridiculous. Fans craved a return to the
"ultra-realistic, noir beginnings" of the comic. I've
illustrated a few of these here,
for those of you unclear as to what ultra-realistic noir looks
In an effort
to take Batman back to his dark roots, Warner Brothers enlisted
Tim Burton to direct a feature-film version of the popular character.
Known for his dark work in Pee-Wee's
Big Adventure, as well as for his hilarious hair, Burton
seemed the perfect choice to reinvent Batman as a gritty noir
hero and have hilarious hair while doing so.
And so, in
1989 the Batman franchise
entered box office lore to a media frenzy. Controversy raged over
the casting of Michael Keaton as the titular detective crimefighter;
at the time, Keaton was known mostly for comedies, as opposed
to now, when he's known mostly for... well, something. What few
realized, though, is that Burton purposely cast the role
with a controversial actor, so as to draw attention away from
the tie-in Batdance video,
in which Prince expresses the struggle of Batman and the Joker
with the most homosexual interpretive dance allowed at the time.
Those of you who don't remember this video are among the truly
blessed; those of you who do remember it most likely share the
trauma I have of sitting bolt upright in bed in the middle of
the night shrieking, while visions of a hermaphroditic half-bat
half-clown sashaying after me still linger in my subconscious.
any rate, the dark Batman
was a huge success. Burton was tasked to direct a sequel, with
the goal of making it twice as dark as the first one. In this
he succeeded; fully 70% of the action in Batman
Returns is obscured in darkness and completely unrecognizable.
Returns was also notable for
the inspired decision to cast a skintight PVC catsuit in the role
of Michelle Pfeiffer's body, and for managing to somehow make
Danny DeVito look even more freakish and disturbing than usual.
With two successful
entries in the Batman franchise under his belt, Burton decided
to leave the series to devote more time to avoiding shampoo. In
his place, Warner Brothers needed a director willing to sink the
franchise into the depths of the ocean; they found that director
in Joel Schumacher. The next two films under Schumacher, Batman
Forever and Batman &
Robin, are almost unanimously believed to be among
the most awful movies ever made. Despite this, however, both made
hundreds of millions of dollars each, proving that there is nothing
so awful that people won't pay money to see Jim Carrey in.
and B & R are mostly known
for returning Batman to the campy 60's feel the films were created
to dispel in the first place. However, it's notable that when
Adam West pulled bat-shark-repellent out of his utility belt in
Batman: The Movie, it was
meant to be wink-nudge ridiculous; whereas when George Clooney
and Chris O'Donnell yell "Batskates!" in B
& R (ejecting voice-activated bat-skates from their
boots), then jump out of a plane and skate vertically down a frozen
building, there isn't enough irony on the
fucking planet that would make the scene anything other than embarrassing.
George Clooney later apologized publicly for Batman
& Robin. Ironically, the only man to take the time
to say "Sorry about that" was the only one who wasn't
either a) spouting ice-related catchphrases, b) getting out-acted
by Alicia Silverstone's rubber nipples, or c) being Chris O'Donnell,
who is in a position to apologize for pretty much everything he's
Batman & Robin, the Batman
franchise was declared officially dead, giving Hollywood executives
the opportunity to immediately begin plans for reviving it. At
one point there was talk of a Batman
vs. Superman project, which was abandoned (see our
casefile). Other potential ideas for a fifth installment included
Batman during his first year of crime-fighting; Batman as an old
man; Batman as a teenager; Batman eating bugs for money; Batman
in space; and some stupid ones.
Memento's Christopher Nolan
is slated to direct Batman V,
with Christian Bale taking on the starring role. Given the campy
excess of the last several Batmans, the pendulum has once again
swung back to making the movie "gritty" and "dark,"
like... well, like Tim Burton already did.
the makers of Batman V are
reading this, I'd really like to clear this up to avoid further
difficulties with what should by all rights be an enjoyable franchise.
Batman isn't a great character because of the camp value. Batman
isn't a great character because he's dark and gritty. Batman
is a great character because he's batshit-bat-fucking-crazy.
Nobody identifies with Batman. He's a billionaire. He owns collapsible
bat-themed hang-gliders. He can only solve crimes if the criminals
leave rhyming clues while wearing question mark-covered unitards.
He beats up mutant penguins and lives in a cave with a ten-year-old
boy. If anybody in the real world knows anyone remotely
like Batman, I can assure you we avoid them like lepers, let alone
identify with them spiritually.
the reason we come back to Batman as an icon again and again is
because the title character, like most entertaining people, is
so clearly a barking lunatic. Unlike Green Lantern or Wonder Woman,
who at least have the pretense of powers to justify their
lunacy, Batman is just some guy who dresses up like a bat every
Friday and beats up criminals while Robin holds them down.
Batman's haunting ground, Gotham City, is a psychotic nightmare.
Criminals attempt to poison the revervoir more often than city
officials bother to chlorinate it. Gotham City museums actually
have things worth stealing in them, but have yet to install any
kind of reliable anti-theft device despite weekly break-ins. The
police are unable to close the simplest of cases without sprinting
up to the roof and shining an emergency "Get The Guy Who
Dresses Like a Bat Over Here" floodlight into the sky. There
are evidently so many aviaries and circuses in Gotham City that
there are over a dozen abandoned ones handy for rental as lairs
wholeheartedly support Gotham City's enthusiastic support of bird
and circus-based attractions, but it's still clearly a town packed
to bursting with the mentally disturbed. Only in a place that
crazy could a Bat-Man ever even exist, let alone thrive.
the simple beauty of Batman's enduring legacy. We don't identify
with him. We don't laugh at him. Mostly we just marvel at him,
I think. In most movies, the villains get to have all the fun,
and the heroes tend to be fairly bland. Batman's one of the few
characters I can think of who's as monumentally fucked up as the
criminals he's chasing. Tim
Burton and Michael Keaton understood that. I'm optimistic that
Nolan and Bale understand that too. I'm going to go out on a limb
in saying I don't think there'll be a bat-skate in sight.
Behind the Scenes...
Story of Batman, With The Cast & Crew of The Batman Series
Burton (Director; Foe of combs):
brought in Batman and Robin as consultants on the first
Batman to make sure I got the details right. For the most
part, it went really well. They'd walk through the sets
and say, 'Oh, the bat-computer had a bigger screen,' or
'The entrance to the Batcave was through the grandfather
clock.' But this one time, it was on the Batcave set I think,
I remember Robin said, 'Tthere should be a mattress here,'
pointing at this alcove behind the batmobile, right? And
Batman, wow, he gave him this look, and Robin didn't
talk for the rest of the day. Did I suspect? Yeah, I think
we all did."
grown up with Batman comics as a kid, so to actually meet
the man it was this huge honor. He and I hung out
a lot during pre-production on the first Batman. He'd show
me how he threw a punch, and how to run so your cape isn't
getting caught up in your calves. I do remember this one
time, though we were in this club on the Strip, and
Batman was in full get-up, so he was getting all this attention.
And he'd been drinking a fair bit, too. So anyway, suddenly
he nudges me in the ribs and nods over my shoulder. 'Check
out the ass on that,' he said. So I look around, and all
I can see is this fifteen-year-old busboy. So I turn back
and say, 'Where is she? I don't see who you're talking about.'
He looked over, then looked at me, then looked over again,
then just changed the subject. I didn't think anything of
it at the time. After I'd heard some of the stories, though..."
Joker (Psychotic Killer):
Well, I've turned my back on a lot of that now. Actually,
you should hear Samantha, my wife, harp on me about that.
[laughs] Don't mention my mass murders in front of her, that's
all I'm saying. I never hear the end of it. I run a bait and
tackle shop in Miami Springs. I pretty much live and die by
the tourist season now. I also do some marlin charters on
the side if it's slow, just get some tourists out there with
some poles int he water. You don't make a lot, but it's a
fun time. So, but, yeah yeah, I used to be a pretty
big in the crime thing. I think me, Lex [luthor], maybe Brainiac
we were the big names back then. Did I know about what was
going on with Robin? Well, I always kind of figured. Penguin
used to tell me all sorts of stories when they'd caught himcongratulatory
ass-pats, 'Grab onto me for safety!', that kind of thing.
I never saw much, though. Keep in mind I was killing hundreds
back then, so I had my plate full. But sure, I heard the stories."
"After Robin came forward, we were all in shock. The
press had a field day. I couldn't leave my house for weeks.
That it was going on that whole time under our noses was
the worst part of all of it. I mean, sure, we all kind of
joked about it. But we never thought... it was just horrible.
And the trial just went on and on. It got so every superhero
in the business got a little uncomfortable talking about
their sidekicks. Suddenly the microscope was on them where
it wasn't before. Everyone was under fire."
Robin went public, the Batman franchise was dead. Just...
dead. I'm surprised they're bringing it back now. But I
guess enough time has passed on it. I still talk to Robin
occasionally. Great kid. I gave him a bit part in Sleepy
Hollow. It was nice having him around on the set."
did some time with Batman. They ate him alive in prison.
He came to me looking for protection, because I was one
of the top guys inside. I didn't even look at him. I hear
he got it really bad in the shower room. They don't look
well on that sort of thing inside, I'll tell you."