We’re all friends here. We can admit something to each other. Who among us hasn’t occasionally said, “I’m Batman” in a gravelly voice? I mean, it’s just so fun to say. But you might not realize how far back Batman goes. You are probably familiar with the 1980s Batman, or even possibly the 1960s Batman. But Batman goes back about 20 years before that.
The original Batmen
Batman was a creation of Bob Kane and Bill Finger, who first created the comic in 1939. This was only a year after the creation of Superman started a revolution in comic books.
Batman wasn’t a superhero. Like other heroes of the day such as The Shadow, he was a regular person who happened to learn how to be a hero. In Batman’s case, and in the words of Ben Affleck many decades later, his real superpower was being “really really rich.” Batman wasn’t originally an acrobat, or a muscleman. He was a regular guy who could afford neat gadgets.
Batman made the jump from comics to movies pretty early on. As far as I can tell Batman was a part of the movie experience as early as 1943. In those days it was common for a short film to come before a longer one, and superhero films were common subjects for these “shorts.”
In the early days, Batman was just a guy with gadgets and boy does it show.
The mid-1960s were a time of great experimentation in television. As baby-boomers started to grow into adulthood, they enjoyed watching all sorts of TV about semi-mystical creatures. Unlike the 1950s which was largely populated by real-seeming people, 1960s TV had monsters, witches, spacefarers, talking horses and cars. In 1966, Batman came in as well. This version of Batman was intentionally “campy,” a then-new word intended to mean “so-bad-it’s-funny-and-you’re-in-on-the-joke.” This new version of Batman was a short-term success, but long-term the brand was poisoned. Once “camp” went out of style, so did Batman.
Influenced by Frank Miller’s seminal graphic novel “The Dark Knight Returns,” Batman started to get cool again, and very dark. This is the Batman of Michael Keaton and beyond. Except for a short trip back to the world of “camp” in the late 1990s, Batman remained a dark and disturbed figure.
2000s Batman and beyond
The 2000s brought quite a renaissance for Batman. Christopher Nolan produced a trilogy of films that used the Batman mythology to discuss themes of fear, privacy, and domestic terrorism. A series of very well-reviewed animated features introduced the bat to a new generation.
The next step for Batman is even more bizarre. There’s a new film, called The Batman, due next year and it promises to be an even more twisted take on the caped crusader. Then, an upcoming film featuring The Flash promises to somehow unite several generations of Batmen in some sort of “multiverse.”
In the meantime…
Here’s a collection of all the actors who have portrayed Batman in live-action films. You can really see how originally Batman was just a dude in a costume and the character grew from there.
You can find out more, if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t think reading is a waste of time. There’s a cute little article on Den of Geek that chronicles these men.
And, if you really enjoy the bat-mystique, you might want to check out this Fun Friday article from last year.