The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

Batman can juggle being goofy and edgy

Sometimes, he can even do both in the same series
Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin (Photo from 20th Century Fox)

Someone needs to protect the streets of Gotham City. It is home to hundreds of villains. However, one hero bears the weight of keeping the city’s most wanted in Blackgate Penitentiary or Arkham Asylum. You know him, you love him. 


Wait, no. Black Canary. Huntress. Red Robin. Batgirl. Oracle. Azrael. None of them, either. Gotham has a it too many heroes to keep up with, but perhaps the numbers are necessary thanks to the municipality’s infamous and numbered rogues gallery. Let’s talk about Batman.

Everyone knows who the Dark Knight is. Personally, I can’t remember my first exposure to Batman. He feels like Super Mario or Jesus. You just know about him. 

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The mainstream sees Batman as a dark, edgy character. Many people attribute this to Christopher Nolan’s 2005 film, “Batman Begins.” The movie received critical acclaim upon release, but I don’t think it’s entirely fair to say Nolan’s work made Batman the brooding man that he is.

Batman debuted in “Detective Comics #27.” In his original issue, the writers seem to be going for a darker tone. Two people are killed immediately, Batman carries a gun and he ends the issue by pushing someone into a vat of acid. Not the Joker, but this incident inspired his backstory.

For the next couple years, the Caped Crusader prowled the streets of Gotham, striking terror into criminals on every level of the command chain. He didn’t knock them out, though. His most frequent way of handling thugs was a quick cap from his trusty gun.

The Boy Wonder, Robin, joined the Dark Knight about a year later, debuting in “Detective Comic #38.” Robin, a.k.a. Dick Grayson, served as both a literal and metaphorical light to Batman’s darkness. His bright colors and childlike wonder juxtaposed Batman.

Around the time of Robin’s introduction, Batman was retconned to have never ended anyone’s life, and his famous “no killing” rule came into play. It’s not explicitly confirmed why, but it’s inferred that Robin is the reason Batman doesn’t kill. 

Killing in front of an 8-year-old can’t be good for their development, after all (look it up: Robin really was eight at the beginning).

The mainstream opinion of Bruce Wayne began to shift in 1966 with the “Batman” TV series. Starring Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin, the series focused on being campy and silly. R.I.P. to a legend.

I couldn’t find the quote, but many say West was cast because he was the only actor who auditioned capable of saying the lines with a straight face. My favorite is easily “Good grammar is essential, Robin.” Can you tell I’m an English major?

Some give the series flack for how silly it is, but these people are missing the point. None of the writers thought that paying the parking meter for the Batmobile or the Riddler tricking Bruce into a lawsuit was action-packed; they thought it was funny and campy.

1989’s “Batman,” starring Michael Keaton and directed by Tim Burton, did extremely well. Keaton is still considered to be one of, if not the, best portrayal of Bruce. Its 1992 sequel, “Batman Returns,” did not perform as well, but Keaton’s performance was still lauded.

Batman Forever” was released in 1995, starring Val Kilmer. It led to a sequel, “Batman and Robin,” in 1997. George Clooney took over as the detective, as Kilmer left the role. These movies were supposed to be campy like West’s series, but one couldn’t tell just by watching them.

George Clooney and Val Kilmer’s performances as the vigilante have received mixed reviews, but that’s not entirely the fault of the actors. Directing, writing and so forth had their parts to play as well. I never liked Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Mr. Freeze, but I’m sure I’m in the minority.

These movies led the mainstream to collectively go “huh?” Was Batman edgy, but just an idiot? Was he supposed to be goofy? Clooney and Kilmer left fans of Gotham’s most-known hero confused.

Let’s skip ahead to 2005, with the beginning of Nolan’s famous trilogy. It featured Christian Bale as Bruce and a cast including Gary Oldman, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson, Michael Caine, Heath Ledger and so many more A-listers.

If these movies weren’t amazing, it would be a disservice to everyone who worked on them both on and off the screen.

This portrayal of Bats is now considered to be the standard. Bale is another nominee for the best actor to don the cowl. Ask anyone to describe Batman and their response will likely match Bale better than any other portrayal.

Don’t get me wrong, these films are masterpieces. But they only focus on one aspect of the Caped Crusader’s character. In my opinion, his duality is highlighted the best in “Batman: The Animated Series” (aka BTAS).

The very first scene of BTAS shows Batman pursuing Catwoman after she has stolen a necklace. He’s the brooding type here. The next scene, however, shows Bruce at a charity bachelor auction. Women are literally throwing themselves at him, and he just brushes them off.

The women at the auction bid for the chance to go on a date with Gotham’s most eligible bachelor, but the winner is one Selina Kyle (Catwoman). She clarifies that she’s only paying $10,000 for the date for the sake of charity.

Bruce is absolutely smitten with Selina, who doesn’t reciprocate. She likes him, but she doesn’t seem to be attracted to him. This is because, as Catwoman, she has fallen in love with Batman. These two are unknowingly attracted to each other’s alter egos.

In 5 minutes, BTAS establishes Bruce as both a hardened vigilante and a goofball with a crush. It expertly juggles Batman between these two personalities. 

Kevin Conroy’s portrayal of the Dark Knight is the last of the three actors in contention for being the GOAT. This series gave us other iconic voices in the series, such as Mark Hamill as the Joker and Arleen Sorkin’s Harley Quinn.

Speaking of Harley, she has an eponymous show on Max. The show focuses on the other side of the franchise, leaning into the humor that DC is capable of showing. 

As always, I have so much more to say but a word limit to adhere to. I’ve barely touched on the treasure trove that is Batman media. Comics, TV, movies and video games have all interpreted both the character and series in different fashions.

I’m going to end this with quick recommendations based on what kind of tone someone wants. Dark and edgy? Nolan movies. Brooding Bruce with a focus on the cast of villains? Play the “Batman: Arkham” video games. 

For a family-friendly goofy experience, Adam West’s “Batman” of the 60’s will excel. If you want a more raunchy humorous experience set in Gotham, Max’s “Harley Quinn” is the show for you.

Tolbert can be contacted at [email protected].

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