It would seem that in the intervening period between this and the previous installment, the folks at Warner Bros. have illustrated better than I ever could the dependability of their Cash-Bat. On this the suits at WB and the MegaZord behemoth that is Disney/Marvel/Lucasfilm/YourChildhood seem to be in total concert, as they definitively prioritise what I hereby establish as Superheroes First Principle:
More on that in a bit. Right now?
Batman – The Un-Real World
While he will have the distinction of taking not one but two passes at the cinematic Caped Crusader, let us consider what has become firmly known as Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy.
To briefly recap the previous entries into this semi-historical survey, the only thing that remains common to Batman in the seemingly endless incarnations and reinventions has been the capacity for the writer, director or show-runner to invest the character with a unique personality.
Ok, that and the thing with bats. The bats have been the same.
And the story… that’s always pretty much the same.
But the Bat, just as the Devil, is always in the details, and let’s face it, details are Nolan’s strong suit. Being released in the online age, the Dark Knight Trilogy has been critiqued beyond all reasonable consideration – the combined run time of all reviews and editorials would rival the four seasons of The Animated Series – so let’s consider the details. What did Nolan and Bale bring that made the films unique in the Batman mythos?
With Begins, for the first time, Bruce Wayne’s years of wandering and oft referenced but vaguely defined “training” are given pride of place in the narrative. The man who moulded a young and angry Wayne is fleshed into a real character. The meticulous and gradual accumulation of the cave, the suit, the gadgets and, of course, the car, are explained – right down to giving real purpose to the pointed ears on the cowl.
The great film-alchemy that takes place here, truly, is in how Christian Bale perfectly embodies the character that Nolan is shaping out of the raw material that is Batman, and how perfectly that character reflects the way in which people perceive, receive, and respond to symbols. And for the purpose of crafting a film, those ‘people’ include Bruce Wayne himself.
What is the effect on a human being of being Batman? Plenty of the stories – in comics, tv & movies – have spent lots of time on the effect that a Batman has on the world around him, but I think the long-term effect of being Batman hasn’t really been explored as well as it has by Bale and Nolan. And as Nolan’s Gotham wrestles with the reality of a vigilante dressed as a bat making their city a better place, we the audience are challenged to consider our attitudes to iconic characters.
Put simply: Being Batman is deadly. While it’s already been mentioned by others that remaining in the suit is indicative of Bruce Wayne’s unbalanced psyche, if we’re being realistic, the human body just can’t withstand the stress of violence that Batman endures for long. Scientific America did an article on it here - simultaneously helping me demonstrate my point, and reigniting my passion for scientific theory.
So, Batman fans, let me ask you this: If this is what it costs a man to be Batman, what does it say about us that we want him to never stop?
Nolan’s contribution to Batman is to state that people must change or die, and that stories must end.
You see, Alfred was right in The Dark Knight Rises when he said that Bruce wasn’t the man he used to be, that Bane was beyond him. In fact, he was right in Batman Begins when he said “You’re getting lost in this monster of yours.” Bruce becomes Batman to make his parents death mean something, because his parents death has become his whole life. He never moved on from that moment. And as he builds a legend out of his psychological trauma, he convinces himself that the city cannot survive without him. Therefore he has convinced himself that he never has to change, he only has to be more forceful in what he already does. And if he dies in his efforts? Well, firstly it’s heroic, and secondly, it’s just an end to his pain.
But if we, the audience, are supposed to identify with characters in films, TV, or comic books, then how do we identify with this? If Batman is a child who refuses to grow up, and we refuse to watch him grow up…
The most common complaints I have read about Dark Knight Rises seem to revolve around the one statement: “Batman wouldn’t act like that.” The towering, dark and infallible hero wouldn’t disappear for years at a time, wouldn’t misjudge his own capability, wouldn’t lose etc.
I think Nolan and Bale have finally given us a complete character – one who grows, changes and is capable of moving on.
And that is a hero I can believe in.
Batman Born Again… And Again… And Again…
So we all know about this:
I have no problem with this.
I am curious as to how Batman will be portrayed in the upcoming money-machine (because, let’s face it, everyone is going to see this). Will he be the classic brooding vigilante – a one-man-army-corps of justice? Will he be a government agent – a throwback to the very first serials? Will he be primarily an urban legend figure – keeping the peace by sheer force of reputation?
I’m keen to find out.
But just for fun, there are some incarnations that I think I’d love to see from the Batfleck.
The Unseen Batman
It’s been referred to in the comics by a number of writers over the years (notably, in my eyes, by Grant Morrison on his epic JLA run), but surely Batman’s greatest weapon is that everyone thinks he is more terrifying than he is.
Criminals believe he may be an actual monster in the dark; cops only ever arrive in the aftermath of the chaos he causes; other heroes know nothing about him or what he’s capable of… and so they all assume the worst.
Wouldn’t it be cool to see almost nothing of Batman in the upcoming Superman vs Batman or World’s Finest or Whatever The Movie is Going to Be Everyone is Still Going to See It? Instead of watching him operate throughout the movie, we see the broken bodies of those who crossed his path; we meet the people who are afraid he might actually be able to walk through walls in the night; we watch Superman, unable to get a bead on the guy, become increasingly worried that this may not be a man, but some supernatural being that could end him.
At least, that’s what I’d love to see. Failing that, how about:
The Unhinged Batman
Who else wants to see Frank Miller’s Batman cranked up to 11?
This is the kind of man who enjoys going out of a night and beating criminals to a bloody pulp. This is the kind of man who dressed a pre-teen in a brightly coloured costume and sends him into a room full of men with guns to serve as a distraction. This is the kind of human being who honestly believes he has a chance at taking on an alien who is capable of breaking the moon in half.
Not so much a tame psychopath, but one who is pointed in a convenient direction for law enforcement.
Though that Batman may be better played by Nic Cage.
The Dark Road Ahead
So we finally come to the end of it: Batman through the ages. He’s been many things, but “popular” has been most consistent amongst them.
It’s inevitable we will see him on the big screen again (post Affleck), and the small screen, and hell, probably even in a podcast one day. The question is: Who will he be, and what will he have to say?
Well, actually, that’s pretty much writ.
A note of apology: I’m late, and I’m sorry. While there are probably very few left who feel the need to wrap this up, it seemed right to finish. A particular apology to my friend and editor, who has been waiting for this. Al, sorry – know that you inspired me to finish this though. Thanks to those who got through this.
What We’d love is to hear from you: What kind of Batman do you want to see come to life in the future?