Holy perfunctory hype article, Batman! With The Dark Knight Rises (2012) dominating this week’s box office, four of our contributors give their ultimate bat-recommendations. Incidentally, the group includes newcomer François, whom you may recognise from the podcast.
I posit that Batman, like Wolverine and Taylor Kitsch, suffers from overexposure. The character works best as the eye of a storm, a cipher around which everything else spins. Not surprisingly, the “everything else” part has become the most interesting over the years, from the rogues gallery to the different Robin incarnations to my recommendation: Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker’s Gotham Central, which spanned forty issues between 2003 and 2006. The DC imprint reads like a real-world Ed McBain police procedural, except that the crimes the hard-working men and women of the GCPD are sent to solve sometimes overlap with the cape-and-cowl crowd’s antics: open the door to a domestic disturbance, and Mr Freeze might turn you into a popsicle!
Gotham Central emphasises the uneasy relationship between its by-the-book detectives and the Dark Knight’s larger-than-life turf. The gritty art and excellent character work make each scene in which DC’s more colorful heroes and villains step into the panel feel as jarring as the Battlestar Galactica crashing into the set of Growing Pains (hopefully taking Kirk Cameron out in the conflagration). This contrast magnifies the struggles on both sides of the divide, fueling an interesting meditation on crime and vigilante justice.
Batman: The Movie (1966)
You won’t find the landmark television series on home video, but the classic 1966 movie that launched Batman onto the big screen lives on via DVD and BluRay. The brilliant, brightly lit, pop-art masterpiece transcends its sixties camp roots to firmly establish in the minds of millions not merely the character itself but the very cornerstones of his universe: the innumerable bat-gadgets, the technological marvels of the Batcave, the sleek black-finned Batmobile (a heavily customized Lincoln Futura), and the Caped Crusader’s famous rogues gallery, brought to life in grand fashion by the likes of Cesar Romeo, Lee Meriwether, Burgess Meredith, and the incomparable Frank Gorshin.
One cannot help but be stirred by Adam West’s operatic performance or astounded by Burt Ward’s intense athletic feats and dialog delivery. Besides, the sheer energy of the production ought to win you over, with its timeless battle sequences wherein improbable martial prowess breaks through the screen in a mesmerizing smorgasbord of visual onomatopoeias to the tune of manic surf music riffs. To the arrogant, black-hearted movie critics who fear tarnishing the Dark Knight’s current image, who would claim the movie an exercise in ludicrous excess, who bemoan its timeless quality, who wish the world would forget about this moderate flop, I say, “Some days, you just can’t get rid of a bomb!”
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
Since Batman: The Movie in 1966, the caped crusader hasn’t had much opportunity to flex his mystery-solving muscles on the big screen. This strikes me as a bit of an oddity, given he’s known in the comics community as “the world’s greatest detective”. For this reason, Batman: Mask of the Phantasm stands out not just as the basis for some of the best scenes in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005) and The Dark Knight (2008) but also as a riveting whodunit that kept me guessing until the final act.
Spun off the series that revolutionized Saturday morning animation in the nineties, the film tells of a new vigilante knocking off Gotham’s crime lords. The Phantasm’s brutal methods puts him at odds with Batman (Kevin Conroy), but it’s his connection to Bruce Wayne’s past that drives most of the story, revealing how our hero lost his first love, Andrea Beaumont (Dana Delany), and came to marry the cape instead. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm also features my favourite take on the Joker (Mark Hamill), the only one to convey the comic book villain’s full range. Yes, that’s counting Heath Ledger’s gripping rendition, which merely captures his dark side; Cesar Romero’s portrayal, which merely captures his light side; and Jack Nicholson’s performance, which largely captures Jack Nicholson.
Since Dimitri so callously stepped on my turf and recommended a video game in the last contributors’ pick, I feel that I too should get to switch gears temporarily and discuss, of all things, a rock band. In the eight-bit era, programmers had very little with which to work in composing atmospheric scores, yet many console games from the eighties have such memorable soundtracks that they spawned an entire genre called “chiptune” or “nerdcore”. Among the most famous representatives of this movement are the Minibosses, who focus exclusively on Nintendo music.
Ever wondered what the soundtracks to your favorite games would sound like played on electric guitar and bass? The Minibosses’ first widely distributed album, Brass, can be downloaded for free at their website. It includes classic tunes from Castlevania, Mega Man 2 and Double Dragon. The band’s most recent release, Brass 2: Mouth, features tracks from Super Mario Bros 3 and The Legend of Zelda as well as multiple (not to mention hilarious) covers of the Excitebike theme. Any self-respecting Nintendo fan must check them out, less they want to be kicked out of the club, and, if you’re wondering what any of this has got to do with the caped crusader, the Minibosses also performed music from Sunsoft’s Batman for the NES, so there.