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 Frank, whom you may recognise from the DE Podcast.
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 dialogue 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!”
Gotham Central (2002-2006)
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 40 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 appear feel as jarring as the Battlestar Galactica crashing into the set of Growing Pains. This contrast magnifies the struggles on both sides of the divide, fueling an interesting meditation on crime and vigilante justice.
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 (that’s Batman: The Animated Series obviously), 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 the villain’s 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.
Absolutely Nobody’s Pick:
Batman and Robin (1997)
Neither serious enough to make for an effective super-hero thriller nor funny enough to be called a super-hero comedy, Batman and Robin belongs to an often neglected subgenre known as the super-hero mess. As bold as it is misguided, the film dives head first into synergistic incoherence, pairing every bad idea with an even worse one. Take, for instance, the producers’ decision to bring back director Joel Schumacher, who admittedly gave Batman Forever (1995) a distinctive look, but leave every design choice to a toy company. Better yet, consider the slew of broad, ill-defined characters introduced to emphasise the theme of family, while George Clooney insists on playing Batman as a bland everyman because “it’s time to move on” from the loss of his parents.
On the subject of quotes that hilariously miss the appeal of Batman, no piece on Batman and Robin would be complete without a few extracts from Arnold Schwarzenegger’s pun-tificous dialogue as Mr Freeze: “Allow me to break the ice”; “Tonight’s forecast: a freeze is coming”; “What killed the dinosaurs? The ice age”; “Stay cool, bird boy”; “I’m afraid that my condition has left me cold to your pleas of mercy”; “You are not sending me to the cooler”; “Let’s kick some ice”; “Cool party”; “It’s a cold town”; “All right, everyone, chill”; “Winter has come at last”; “Revenge is a dish best served cold”; “Chilled to perfection”; “Can you be cool, Batman?”
To answer that last question, yes, he absolutely can. Just not in this movie.