30 Apr 2015
He’s A Detective, He’s A Brute, He’s Batman
Everyone has a back-story, whether you are an important CEO who came from nothing, or the person who started at the top and ultimately fell below the expectations. This back-story, or origin story is essential in identifying who that person truly is. In regards to superheroes, some might find the origin stories to be the most important aspect of a good superhero. One superhero who has lasted the test of time since his introduction is Batman. Batman has been a dominant figure in the comic book industry and even in present day the following for Batman is immense. There seems to be a pattern that is traceable throughout Batman’s history and that is because through the years, as Batman has become more powerful, he has become more influential. In comic books, graphic novels, and films origin stories dictate everything from the setting of the story to the colors used in the illustrations or images. Because of Batman’s long and everlasting existence, there have been various graphic novels and films produced about his character. The three origin stories I would like to focus on are Batman’s original introduction in the Detective Comics, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Rises, and Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Without the evolution of the origin stories of the three, the Batman of present would not exist and therefore would not have become the mainstream influence that it is today. While comic books are still relevant, the top signifier of pop culture is film. Film is the greater medium and through that Nolan was able to create the Batman more true and significant.
Batman was introduced in the Detective Comics #27 in 1939. At this time his character was introduced as a character that possessed all. Born into a wealthy family Bruce Wayne was the heir to a dynasty. After witnessing the murder of his parents, he swears revenge and dreams of the say when he would rid Gotham of all of its filth. His character is shown bored and wanting to accompany the police commissioner on missions in search for thugs to capture. Batman in his beginnings was brutal and disobeyed the law by acting as a vigilante. Naturally this initially bothered the Gotham City Police Department but eventually he became an honorary member of the force. Missions would consist of searching for thugs around Gotham, but not yet any major villains. I find this version of Batman very interesting because he represents the original starting point for this beacon of a franchise. Part of what makes the Batman from the Detective Comics more faint is that at this point in time there had been other superheroes that were already established. This Batman was entering a realm of already conventional superheroes and there was yet any real substance to his background. In an article entitled “Batman – An American Mr. Hyde?” author Andreas Reichstein states, “He did not only carry a gun; in the first issue of his magazine, Batman even killed a criminal with it” (Reichstein 332). This is interesting as this is one of the first appearances of Batman and already there are attributes found in his character that contrast the common values of the present day Batman. This Batman in the Detective Comics seems to be lackluster, especially when comparing to the Batman’s of Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” and Christopher Nolan’s trilogy.
Within the forty-seven years between them, the Batman franchise had been building its production and fan base and with that came substantial material on the Batman and his origin. By the time Miller’s mini series was introduced there was so much material on Batman, he immediately felt like a more complete character than the less exciting Batman from the Detective Comics. Through the sixties television was starting to take a boom, as so was the Batman. The animated series of Batman aired in the sixties and gave way to a new level of Batman popularity. The Adam West version of Batman in the TV series was well known to be a very campy character. By the time the eighties came around there were more comics being released as well as films. Of the comics that were surfacing one of the more notable was “The Dark Knight Returns” by Frank Miller. It was in this mini series of comics the audience followed a new kind of vigilante. Frank Miller’s dark knight set a new tone as well as a new origin story in this mini series that many thought was quite extreme. The comic begins observing a fifty five year old Bruce Wayne who is frustrated with the outcome of his Gotham as it is just as corrupt, if not more than when he decided to retire from the crime fighting days. Throughout The Dark Knight Returns, the audience observes as the aged Bruce Wayne begins to channel a personality trait that, up until now, had remained unseen. The emotions that lead Bruce Wayne to leave retirement are directly linked to this inner thirst for revenge and for justice against evil. This Batman seems very determined to inflict pain to whomever stands in his way, even if it meant using lethal weapons or firing off rounds from tanks. This Batman wanted to free Gotham from its corruptive state of being with excessive force and almost as if he had a sickness. Miller’s Batman added to the characters already established shadow like persona but with it also came a Batman who possessed a psychotic and criminal like mind. The setting of Miller’s mini series also accompanies Batman’s dark personality as William Uricchio, author of “The Batman’s Gotham City: Story, Ideology, Performance” states, “…Gotham is explicitly modeled on the ‘dark and brooding’ aspects of New York City’s architecture and atmosphere” (Uricchio 121). In the same article Uricchio mentions that both Dennis O’Neil, long time editor of Batman, and Frank Miller opened up to him about their views of Gotham. O’Neil compared Gotham to “Manhattan below 14th street at eleven minutes past midnight on the coldest night in November” (Uricchio 122). The already aggressive Batman is subconsciously perceived as even darker due to the portrayal of Gotham in this mini series. In the Detective Comics, Gotham was still a place of corruption but not crawling with extremely dangerous villains like the mutant gang. In Frank Miller’s portrayal, Batman became a product of the corrupt and disoriented Gotham. Though the mini series seized a great deal of attention many agreed that the character was much less repulsed in the idea of using excessive force against his enemies. This Batman is hardly the hero that many would want to meet for lunch, for he is essentially a criminal and not a nice one. This Batman represents a more outlandish vigilante who possesses much less of the Bruce Wayne/ Batman dynamic than previously. Consumed by his drive to rid the city of its corruption he seeks to accomplish his goal, no matter the costs. Even with the franchise of Batman continuously growing, this older Batman was the most aggressive and brutal representation yet.
In two thousand and five the first of the Christopher Nolan trilogy films was released. This film was intended to provide the viewers with Batman’s origin story influenced mainly by Frank Miller’s earlier works. The film begins with the introduction to Bruce Wayne and his family before their unfortunate deaths. After their murder the audience follows along as they watch Bruce attempt to discover himself while traveling around the world. Eventually Bruce meets his mentor and ultimately main rival Ra’s al Ghul. It is through Ra’s al Ghul that Bruce begins to learn how to fight and become a stealthy, deadly weapon. Ra’s al Ghul is the head of the assassin clan, the League of Shadows. It is clear from the start of the film that Bruce has the desire to both exact revenge on his parent’s murderer and to right the injustice in the world. Upon learning about the Ra’s’ plan to destroy Gotham, Bruce decides to escape the League of Shadows and return home to utilize his newfound fighting skills to protect his home town. Like previous Batman stories, this film focuses on his characters search for revenge. The difference in this Batman’s character is that from the start it is clear that Bruce is a noble man and there is much time devoted to observing him solely as Bruce Wayne and not Batman. This is a dynamic that was lacking in Miller’s miniseries as well as the early Detective Comics. Unlike the Batman from Miller’s works who seemed to only be concerned with fighting crime to the point of leaving his victims paralyzed, the Batman played by Christian Bale is driven by honest intentions to save Gotham from its potential damnation. During his conversation with Alfred, Bruce states, “ People need dramatic examples to shake them out of apathy and I can’t do that as Bruce Wayne. As a man, I’m flesh and blood, I can be ignored I can be destroyed but as a symbol, as a symbol I can be incorruptible. I can be everlasting” (Nolan Batman Begins). This Batman unlike the previous ones is more concerned about standing as a symbol of justice to the people of Gotham and beyond. He is not solely looking for revenge on the murderer of his parents, nor does he want to go gallivanting in the night looking for someone to beat to a pulp. The overall impression of Bruce’s personality appears to be much softer and sophisticated then ever before. He is more dignified and a more realistic interpretation of what people expect the modern hero to be. As soon as he becomes Batman the audience begins to see the other side to his personality. Though Nolan’s Batman appears to be the most intimidating Batman yet, as he is covered head to toe in black and has perks on his suit like a voice scrambler he remains to be anything close to the Batman of the early Detective Comics or the blood thirsty beast from Frank Miller’s miniseries. Nolan’s Batman introduces the revolutionized Batman in that he is the hero that appeals to all demographics and as a result the franchise only grows faster.
The influence that Nolan’s Batman had over the franchise was immediate and extremely noticeable. It seems as though most of the Batman memorabilia nowadays is representative of the Nolan films. This influence was not just present in the gift shops, and costume stores but also in other films. The Lego Movie was released in 2014 and is a prime example of how the character of Batman is perceived. In the movie the Batman character not only has a very deep voice, very similar to that of Christian Bale’s character but also states, “I only work in black. And sometimes very, very dark grey” (The Lego Movie). Though previous Batman costumes have been darker in color, the suits in the Nolan films seem to be the only suits that contain absolutely no contrasting colors. The standard has become the Batman hero that is seen in the Nolan films and what is most interesting is how, even now, when a new Batman film is in the making under new direction and cast critics still hope for a similar tone and look as the Nolan films.
It is easy to see the significance of Batman’s character when observing the development his character has had over the years. Some critics may argue that the earlier portrayals of Batman are more accurate than Nolan’s. But, what is lacking in the earlier Batman and Frank Miller’s dark knight is present in Nolan’s Batman, and that is his ability to appeal to every demographic. The Batman in the films was able to introduce a complete character that is witty, noble, and intimidating; all of which stem from the previous origin stories. Nolan was able to combine these attributes into one character ultimately introducing the world to the real Batman.
- This conclusion is very choppy and needs fixing as I am still developing some ideas. *
- I also am trying to find more quotes to use as support
- Thank you for reading and I look forward to your comments
Batman Begins. Dir. Christopher Nolan. By Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer. Prod.
Larry J. Franco. Perf. Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Liam Neeson, and Katie
Holmes. Warner Brothers, 2005.
Finger, Bill. “The Batman.” Detective Comics. 27th ed. Vol. 1. N.p.: DC Comics, 1939. Print.
The Lego Movie. Dir. Chris Miller and Phil Lord. Warner Home Video, 2014.
Reichstein, Andreas. “Batman — An American Mr. Hyde?” Amerikastudien / American
Studies 43.2 (1998): 329-50. JSTOR. Web. 10 Apr. 2015.
Uricchio, William. “The Batman’s Gotham City: Story, Ideology, Performance.”