The evolution of the Caped Crusader
The Dark Knight has seen many faces since his first appearance in Detective Comics #27, published in May 1939.
Since his debut, Batman has become one of DC comics’ flagship heroes — spawning movies, TV shows, animated series and a handful of games.
With what will be the final chapter in Christopher Nolan’s movie series coming out this week, it seems like a perfect time to look back at Batman’s past.
Soon after he first appeared in Detective Comics, Batman received a comic of his own in 1940. This early Batman follows the same motivation of the current Batman: His parents are murdered in a senseless crime, so he decides to bring justice to an apparently lawless Gotham City.
The main difference between the current Batman and the original is the degree of violence. The contemporary Bruce Wayne will beat people to a pulp, but he would never kill them because that’s against his moral code. The original Batman didn’t have such hang ups and would stop criminals at any cost.
Everything was going great for Batman until his sales started to decline near the beginning of the 1960s. Most comic book characters face quite the “Sophie’s Choice” when they aren’t bringing home the bacon for the publisher.
One, they can be killed off in a fantastic fashion never to be heard from again. Or two, they’re reinvented in hopes to grow with the changing times. Only the strongest will survive here, and most will try but end up getting killed.
Reinvention was the path of the Caped Crusader, and he moved into the 1960s with a fresh coat of paint and a TV show.
A lot of Batman’s newfound success can be credited to Adam West. He played the Dark Knight in the 1960s television series, which gave a much campier atmosphere, moving away from the gritty pulp-style revenge stories Batman was known for. Batman was back on top with a new batmobile, new suit and a television series. Things were looking up.
Moving through the 1970s, people started to want their dark Batman stories back. By the 1980s, Frank Miller and Alan Moore brought the gritty Batman back with a bang in their respective series, “The Dark Knight Returns” and “Batman: The Killing Joke.” These are highly influential and have helped create the Batman many people today have grown up with.
Starting from 1989, Batman could be seen in numerous movies, an animated series and a spin-off series. Tim Burton’s 1989 film “Batman” perpetuated the dark — albeit zany — mood that fans have come to love.
Michael Keaton played a raspy-voiced caped crusader that clearly influenced Christian Bale’s performance 16 years later.
Michael Keaton played the Bat again in “Batman Returns.”
The early ’90s was a time of Batmania. The animated series was released in 1992, and with it came a whole new generation of Bat-heads.
This show was indoctrinated into the Caped Crusader’s quest. It was dark enough to keep the young ones awake at night but not so much that parents would keep their children from watching it.
Then came the George Clooney version in “Batman & Robin” — which wasn’t the best in the series. What it does have, though, makes it worth a watch: rocket boots and Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze.
Who can beat that?
With the recent reboot of the series, Nolan took the darker story line from Miller’s Batman and put Bale in as Bruce Wayne. Starting from the beginning in his aptly titled “Batman Begins,” Nolan’s gritty retelling has garnered mass acclaim and led to a sequel, “The Dark Knight.” This retelling of the classic Batman vs. Joker is a classic in itself.
And all of this has led us to now — “The Dark Knight Rises.” All signs point to this being the end to an amazing era of Batman, with him taking on one of his strongest foes, Bane.
It should be interesting to see who will try to top this Batman and to see what the future has in store for the Caped Crusader.
Either way, I’m excited to see the outcome of this thrilling trilogy.