As the Nolan era of Batman comes to a close this weekend, lets take a look back at the Dark Knight’s journey from comic book to silver screen.
The Creation of an Icon
Batman was created by artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger. Kane noted especially the influence of the films The Mark of Zorro (1920) and The Bat Whispers (1930) in the creation of the iconography associated with the character, while Finger drew inspiration from literary characters Doc Savage, The Shadow, and Sherlock Holmes in his depiction of Batman as a master sleuth and scientist. The character first appeared in the story “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate,” in ‘Detective Comics’ #27 (May 1939), and since then has appeared primarily in publications by DC Comics.Batman became a very popular character soon after his introduction and gained his own comic book title, ‘Batman’, in 1940.
Batman on the Big Screen
In 1943 the character was adapted in the 15-part serial Batman, with Lewis Wilson becoming the first actor to portray Batman on screen.While Batman never had a radio series of his own, the character made occasional guest appearance in The Adventures of Superman starting in 1945 on occasions when Superman voice actor Bud Collyer needed time off. A second movie serial, Batman and Robin, followed in 1949, with Robert Lowery taking over the role of Batman. The exposure provided by these adaptations during the 1940s “helped make [Batman] a household name for millions who never bought a comic book.”
Holy Campiness, Batman!
The Batman television series, starring Adam West, premiered in January 1966. Inflected with a camp sense of humor, the show became a pop culture phenomenon. The series ran for 120 episodes, ending in 1968. In between the first and second season of the Batman television series the cast and crew made the theatrical release Batman: The Movie (1966). The popularity of the Batman TV series also resulted in the first animated adaptation of Batman in the series The Batman/Superman Hour; the Batman segments of the series were repackaged as The Adventures of Batman and Batman with Robin the Boy Wonder which produced thirty-three episodes between 1968 and 1977.
Batman stars Adam West, Burt Ward, Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, Frank Gorshin, and Lee Meriweather.
Bringing Back the Dark Knight
Starting in 1969, writer Dennis O’Neil and artist Neal Adams made a deliberate effort to distance Batman from the campy portrayal of the 1960s TV series and to return the character to his roots as a “grim avenger of the night.” Frank Miller continued this idea through the ’80s. His limited series ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ (February–June 1986), tells the story of a 55-year old Batman coming out of retirement in a possible future. ‘The Dark Knight Returns’ was a financial success and has since become one of Batman’s most notable series. The series also sparked a major revival in the character’s popularity.
The Burton Era
In 1989, Batman returned to movie theaters in director Tim Burton’s Batman starring Michael Keaton as the title character. The film was a huge success; not only was it the top-grossing film of the year, but at the time was the fifth highest-grossing film in history. Burton’s decision to take the campiness out of Batman proved to be the right one.
Gotham City: dark, dangerous, ‘protected’ only by a mostly corrupt police department. Despite the best efforts of D.A. Harvey Dent and police commissioner Jim Gordon, the city becomes increasingly unsafe…until a Dark Knight arises. We all know criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot…so his disguise must be able to strike terror into their hearts. He becomes a bat. Enter Vicky Vale, a prize-winning photo journalist who wants to uncover the secret of the mysterious “bat-man.” And enter Jack Napier, one-time enforcer for Boss Grissom, horribly disfigured after a firefight in a chemical factory…who, devoid of the last vestiges of sanity, seizes control of Gotham’s underworld as the psychotic, unpredictable Clown Prince of Crime…the Joker. Gotham’s only hope, it seems, lies in this dark, brooding vigilante. And just how does billionaire playboy Bruce Wayne fit into all of this?
Batman stars Michael Keaton, Jack Nicholson, Kim Basinger, Michael Gough, Pat Hingle, and Billy Dee Williams.
Having defeated the Joker, Batman now faces the Penguin – a warped and deformed individual who is intent on being accepted into Gotham society. Crooked businessman Max Schreck is coerced into helping him become Mayor of Gotham and they both attempt to expose Batman in a different light. Earlier however, Selina Kyle, Max’s secretary, is thrown from the top of a building and is transformed into Catwoman – a mysterious figure who has the same personality disorder as Batman. Batman must attempt to clear his name, all the time deciding just what must be done with the Catwoman.
The Schumacher Error
In 1995, the Batman franchise was continued by director Joel Schumacher. With the replacement of Batman (now Val Kilmer) and the addition of nipples to the Batsuit (why?), the popularity of Batman started to decline.
The Dark Knight of Gotham City confronts a dastardly duo: Two-Face and the Riddler. Formerly District Attorney Harvey Dent, Two-Face incorrectly believes Batman caused the courtroom accident which left him disfigured on one side; he has unleashed a reign of terror on the good people of Gotham. Edward Nygma, computer-genius and former employee of millionaire Bruce Wayne, is out to get the philanthropist; as The Riddler he perfects a device for draining information from all the brains in Gotham, including Bruce Wayne’s knowledge of his other identity. Batman/Wayne is/are the love focus of Dr. Chase Meridan. Former circus acrobat Dick Grayson, his family killed by Two-Face, becomes Wayne’s ward and Batman’s new partner Robin the Boy Wonder.
Batman Forever stars Val Kilmer, Tommy Lee Jones, Jim Carrey, Nicole Kidman, Chris O’Donnell, Michael Gough, and Pat Hingle.
‘Batman & Robin’
Batman and Robin are back working side-by-side to stop the villains of Gotham City, but is there tension appearing between them, especially when one villainess who calls herself Poison Ivy can make anyone fall in love with her…literally. Along with Poison Ivy, the icy Mr. Freeze is freezing anything which gets in his way from achieving his goal.
Batman & Robin stars George Clooney, Chris O’Donnell, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Uma Thurman, Alicia Silverstone, Michael Gough, and Pat Hingle.
Believe it or not, Schumacher had plans for a fifth Batman film, Batman Triumphant. But since Batman & Robin failed to outgross the previous Batman films, Warner Bros. Decided to cancel the planned film, and place the film series on hiatus.
The Nolan Era
After a series of unsuccessful projects to resurrect Batman on screen following the critical failure of Batman & Robin, Christopher Nolan and David S. Goyer began to work on the film in early 2003 and aimed for a darker and more realistic tone, with humanity and realism being the basis of the film. The goal was to get the audience to care for both Batman and Bruce Wayne. The film relied on traditional stunts and miniatures – CGI was used minimally. A new Batmobile (called the Tumbler) and a more mobile Batsuit (thankfully minus the nipples) were both created for the film. Batman Begins was both critically and commercially successful. Critics noted that fear was a common motif throughout the film, and remarked that it had a darker tone compared with previous Batman films.
As a boy a young Bruce Wayne watched in horror as his millionaire parents were slain in front of his eyes, a trauma which led him to become obsessed with revenge but his chance is cruelly taken away from him by fate. After disappearing to the East where he seeks counsel with the dangerous but honorable ninja cult leader known as Ra’s Al-Ghul, he returns to his now decaying Gotham City overrun by organized crime and dangerous individuals manipulating the system whilst the company he inherited is slowly being pulled out from under him. The discovery of a cave under his mansion, and a prototype armored suit leads him to take on a new persona, one which will strike fear into the hearts of men who do wrong – he becomes, Batman. In the new guise, and with the help of rising cop Jim Gordon, Batman sets out to take down the various nefarious schemes in motion by individuals such as mafia don Falcone, the twisted doctor/drug dealer Jonathan ‘The Scarecrow’ Crane, and a mysterious third party that is quite familiar with Wayne and waiting to strike when the time is right.
‘The Dark Knight’
The 2008 sequel to Batman Begins introduces the character of Harvey Dent, Gotham’s newly elected District Attorney, who joins Batman and the police in combating the new rising threat of a criminal mastermind calling himself the “Joker.” Nolan’s inspiration for the film was the Joker’s comic book debut in 1940, and the 1996 series ‘The Long Halloween,’ which retold Two-Face’s origin. The Dark Knight was filmed primarily in Chicago, as well as in several other locations in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Hong Kong. The film received highly positive reviews and set numerous records during its theatrical run.
With just one year having passed after taking out Ra’s Al Ghul’s plan to have Gotham eliminated and the mysterious disappearance of Dr. Jonathan Crane AKA the Scarecrow, and after the city was nearly plundered with his toxins, Bruce Wayne and his vigilante alter-ego the Batman, continue the seemingly endless effort to bring order to Gotham, with the help of Lt. James Gordon and newly appointed District Attorney Harvey Dent. But a new threat has now emerged into the streets. The Dark Knight faces a rising psychopathic criminal called The Joker, whose eerie grin, laughter, and inhuman morality makes him as dangerous than what he has yet to unleash. It becomes an agenda to Batman to stop the mysterious Joker at all costs, knowing that both of them are in an opposite line. One has no method at all and seeks to see the world plunge into the fire he has yet to light. One represents the symbol of hope and uses his own shadow to bring the peace and order he has yet to accomplish doing.
The Dark Knight stars Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Aaron Eckhart, Heath Ledger , and Morgan Freeman.
‘The Dark Knight Rises’
Nolan was initially hesitant about returning to the series, but agreed to come back after developing a story with his brother Jonathan and David S. Goyer that he felt would conclude the series on a satisfactory note. Filming took place in various locations, including locations in Jodhpur, London, Nottingham, Glasgow, Los Angeles, New York, New Jersey, and Pittsburgh. Nolan utilized IMAX cameras for much of the filming to optimize the quality of the picture.
Eight years after Batman’s disappearance, a new terrorist leader, Bane, overwhelms Gotham’s finest, and the Dark Knight resurfaces to protect a city that has branded him an enemy. Despite his tarnished reputation after the events of The Dark Knight, in which he took the rap for Dent’s crimes, Batman feels compelled to intervene to assist the city and its police force which is struggling to cope with Bane’s plans to destroy the city.
That wraps it up. 73 years of Batman in one article. This past weekend will be bittersweet for fans like me. I know it’s not the end of Batman – there’ll be plenty more comics and the inevitable reboot. But the way Nolan made Batman so down to earth, so… human – I don’t think any other director can do that as well as he did. And I don’t think any other actor could play Batman and Bruce Wayne the way Christian Bale did. For me, writing this article has been like saying goodbye to a friend; you look back at all the fun memories you’ve had together, and you know that one day (maybe in the near future, maybe further down the road), you’ll see them again.
Infographic by New York Film Academy.