Batman: A Look Back On The Dark Knight's Journey
As I write this, I am counting down the hours until the “Dark Knight Rises” finally opens at midnight. Probably the most highly anticipated movie of 2012, and certainly near the top of the list for the last decade, this Christopher Nolan film has been making entertainment headlines ever since the viral marketing campaign began in May of 2011.
Expected to break all manners of records in the box office, it has already accumulated $25 million in advance sales. In other recent news, Rotten Tomatoes was thrown into chaos when the first negative “Dark Knight” review came in from Marshall Fine. The post was ravaged with enraged comments from geeks far and wide, some of which even contained death threats, forcing Rotten Tomatoes to disable comments for “Dark Knight” reviews. However, with the film receiving largely positive reviews, the geek citizenry of the world can continue to place their trust in Nolan as he catches the batarang he first threw in 2005 with “Batman Begins.”
That batarang was first thrown a long, long time ago, when Batman first appeared in an issue of “Detective Comics” in May, 1939. (This is a metaphorical batarang, of course. The actual weapon didn’t appear until September of the same year.)
Prompted by the success of the Superman comics, the young artist Bob Kane and writer Bill Finger created a hero who was darker than his predecessor, and did not possess any superpowers. Instead, he donned a bat-themed suit and single-handedly fought crime. Soon after his debut, Batman’s origins were revealed: as a small boy, Bruce, the son of billionaire philanthropists Thomas and Martha Wayne, witnesses the murder of his parents at the hands of a mugger. At that moment he declares a life-long war against crime. Having put himself through intense physical and psychological training, Bruce Wayne then searches for the finishing touch that will help him strike true fear in his enemies; as he brainstorms, a bat happens to fly in through the window, inspiring Bruce to take on the secret identity of Batman.
Throughout the years various characters were introduced, killed off, revived and killed off again––sidekicks and villains both. Batman’s friends and helpers––Robin, Alfred the Butler, Batgirl, Commissioner Gordon, Lucius Fox, and others––provide the warmth and familial support that Batman’s origin and lifestyle have robbed him of. The gallery of rogues––composed mainly of the Riddler, Two-Face, Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, Catwoman, the Penguin, Ra’s al Ghul, Mr. Freeze, Bane, and the infamous Joker––is one of the more colorful ones in the genre, lending itself to countless puns and humor but, when used properly, striking fear in the hearts of readers and watchers.
After his creation, Batman joined the comic book industry as it underwent drastic changes throughout the decades. From his darker origins as a masked avenger of the night, he went on to be a paternal and upright figure, then on to a campy and outrageous one, and finally back to an even darker and more psychologically complex superhero than ever before.
Actor Adam West was the first of many to portray Bruce Wayne and his alter ego in a feature film. He starred in the 1966 film “Batman,”and the following television series of the same name, both of which became infamous for the outrageous camp they embodied.
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Next to don the cowl was Michael Keaton, in the relatively darker portrait of the caped crusader in 1989 and its sequel in 1992, both directed by Tim Burton. Batman’s cinematic portrayals took a plunge in the eyes of both fans and critics with Joel Schumacher’s sequels, “Batman Forever” (1995) and “Batman & Robin” (1997), in which the superhero was played by Val Kilmer and George Clooney respectively.
Having reached rock bottom, the Batman franchise lay untouched until Christopher Nolan came to the rescue in 2005, with help of the excellent Christian Bale. Nolan took the character––backstory, legacy, and all––and made him his own. He ingeniously tweaked the origin story to make Bruce feel personally responsible for the death of his parents. His fear of bats caused them to leave the opera house and enter that fateful dark alleyway, in which Mr. and Mrs. Wayne were attacked and killed by the mugger. Had he controlled his fear and stayed through the entire show, they would have left safely with the crowd. This small but essential detail strengthens Batman’s motives tenfold, bringing a new understanding to the character and his fixation with the flying rodents. This moment also defines what becomes Bruce Wayne’s real power: self-control.
Unlike most other superheroes, Batman has no supernatural powers bestowed unto him; he becomes who he is solely through his own self-discipline and unflinching drive. In the end, it is not his gadgets or costume that define him, but his actions. As he himself says in “Batman Begins,” “It’s not who I am underneath, but what I do that defines me.” Thus, he becomes neither millionaire playboy nor silent guardian of Gotham: he becomes a human being, doing whatever he must to protect what he knows is right.
We have Nolan et al. to thank for this deeper understanding of one of America’s most culturally significant superheros. We have him and the sorely missed Heath Ledger to thank for the most arresting portrayal of the Joker to date. And tonight, I am confident that we will have him to thank for a film both highly entertaining and profound; for a fantastic Catwoman (Anne Hathaway) and Bane (Tom Hardy); for salvaging the cinematic reputation of a superhero thought lost to the camp of previous decades; for giving us an epic finale for an epic trilogy.
And with that, I depart for Gotham City. I’ll see you all on the other side.
“Why do we fall sir? So we might learn to pick ourselves up.”
––Alfred Pennyworth, “Batman Begins”
Reach Staff Reporter Sara here.