I’ve been a Batman fan for as long as I can remember. When I was a wee boy, I dressed up as the Caped Crusader to go to a Halloween party at scouts. I had the full mask, made of a black, felt-like material. When the Falklands War ended, the BBC interrupted the Adam West Batman movie that was showing with a newsflash. I was livid.
I was excited by the prospect of the Michael Keaton movie, even if I was a little disappointed in the end. When one of my cousins was clearing his room of childish things, I came into a collection of DC comics that included copies of the classic Batman runs from the ’70s written by Denny O’Neil and brilliantly drawn by Neal Adams. The Comic Book Database describes them as follows:
“…getting back to the character’s darker roots after a period dominated by the campiness of the late Golden-early Bronze Age. He particularly sought to emphasize Batman’s detective skills…. [O’Neil] would influence later incarnations of Batman, from the seminal comic “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns” by Frank Miller, to the movie Batman Begins in 2005.”
Sure enough, when I returned to comics in my mid-late teens, under the spell of the Jamie Delano’s mind-blowing establishing Hellblazer run (which could not be less like the awful Constantine movie), The Dark Knight Returns and The Killing Joke were vital. After too many movie disappointments, Batman Begins was a big hit with me. The Dark Knight on the other hand, notwithstanding its rapturous reception and Heath Ledger’s glorious performance as the Joker, was meandering, bloated, and over-long.
The Dark Knight Rises, though, was everything I had hoped it would be. It progressed like, and replicated the experience of reading, what a nerd like me would call a “graphic novel”. Particularly the touchstones that Gotham’s hero had inspired, from The Dark Knight Returns to The Killing Joke to Kingdom Come to The Hiketeia.
A number of these include clashes between The Batman and Superman, often to interesting effect. So, as talk of the Zack Snyder Batman vs. Superman movie slated for 2015 has gathered pace, I’ve been fairly interested. Last week, Comic Book Guy was up in arms about the news that Gotham’s Guardian is to be played by Ben Affleck. First up, I don’t have any problems with Affleck. He seems like a decent enough bloke, and interviews well. I’ve not seen Argo, but The Town was a good movie, well directed and acted. Sure, it sounds like Daredevil was pretty rotten, but I don’t have any problem with messing up a Marvel character, and by all accounts he indirectly did one of the DC Trinity justice in playing Superman portrayer George Reeves in Hollywoodland.
But it’s not necessary to go into that level of detail to get comfortable with Affleck as The World’s Greatest Detective.
If Comic Book Guy is up in arms about a casting decision, it’s probably a good one. Billie Piper as The Doctor’s companion? Daniel Craig as Bond? Ben Affleck as Batman? Sure. I think it was Rebel Inc. founder, Kevin Williamson, who had an appropriately laid-back and snidey reaction on Twitter, to the effect that anyone who has a problem with Bruce Wayne being played by a rich, dilettante-ish pretty boy hasn’t been reading their comics closely enough. This turned into a discussion as to why anyone would be interested in following the exploits of a 1%-er like Batman anyway? My question was a little different: Why does Bats inspire such interesting work?
As Strokiversary approaches, and I contemplate the origins of Stroke Bloke, I suppose it must be because Bats has an interesting origin story. He has a scary run-in with some bats as a kid. Then he goes through the trauma of seeing his parents shot. Eventually, Bruce Wayne re-surfaces in Gotham as the fully-formed Batman, having gone through the training outlined in Batman Begins.
Stroke Bloke’s story has some parallels. As a kid, certain touchstones are established. The miners’ strike. The Smiths. Oscar Wilde. There’s a louche, suit-wearing, well-to-do period in Gotham. A traumatic incident gives rise to a reinvention. So, I’ve been re-visiting the Batman origin story as Strokiversary approaches. My story from September 2012 to today seems pretty seamless. But how does young master Bruce get from the death of his parents to donning the cowl? Batman Begins tells some of the story, but even there, there are gaps. Denny O’Neill’s The Man Who Falls, “a series of concentrated retellings of previously published Batman stories” (including Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One) and the structural basis for Batman Begins, fills some of them in. (More here.)
The “mature” apoplectic.me is much concerned with questions of identity. Perhaps one of the reasons Batman reverberates with his fans is because this is an interesting topic, and he provides an interesting arena in which to explore it. As Scott Beatty writes in The Batman Handbook: The Ultimate Training Manual, modern recent versions of Batman “tend to portray Bruce Wayne as the character’s facade and the Batman as the truer representation of his personality.” I certainly feel more comfortable in my post-stroke skin, even if the stroke was the theatre shooting, and the development of Stroke Bloke was already in process by then.
Or maybe that’s a load of bollocks, and kids and comic book fans like darker characters because appreciation of such characters marks one out as mature and sophisticated.
Me? I like Manhunter (2004-2008 version).