So, the burning question rages on — who is the best Batman? Now, this question can throw up numerous possibilities. What does one judge their answer on? Is it whose Bruce Wayne is the perfect playboy? Is it which Batman balances the correct tone of intelligence, grit, determination and symbolism? Is the Batman in question judged by his script? Is it the ability to banter with supervillains? Is it a case of familiarity and what Batman you grew up with? Is it simply who has the better jaw? I’d like to think that the answer is made up of a nice amalgamation of all of the above and then some.
Firstly, this is merely my personal preference. Some people may agree with my choices, others may dispute each and every one of my picks. This is my list though, meaning my thoughts and my reasoning (I can’t promise that the aforementioned reasoning will be in any way rational). I’ve also decided that it’s going to work better as a top 5 type of list, building up to my number 1. I’ll do my best to describe the logic behind my picks, so try and stick with me as best you can. So without further ado…
5) Adam West – This is purely a personal choice based on the fact that as a kid I would spend hours upon hours watching the classic Adam West and Burt Ward Batman TV series whenever it was on. Sure, this version of Batman was as camp as Tom Cruise jumping up and down on Oprah’s sofa, but it was entertaining; it played on the kitsch factor. It didn’t take itself seriously in the slightest, poked fun at itself, and ticked all of the cheesy boxes required (see cliffhanger endings, rope walking up walls and giant ‘POW!’ signs). This was the version of Batman that brought the Bat into the public eye for a whole new generation of people. Granted, things like Aunt Harriet looking after Bruce and Dick were ideas that strayed from the original material, but this was the Batman of over-the-top cheese and campness. I’m not saying it was a great portrayal of the Caped Crusader, I’m just saying that it’s a Batman that resonates a lot with me as it’s the version of the Bat that I first came across.
4) Val Kilmer – Mr. Batman Forever himself. Val has played some of the all time legends on screen, mainly Batman, Jim Morrison, Elvis and John Holmes amongst others. That said, there’s likely something to be said about the fact that I classify Batman in a list with other actual real people. Back to the case on point, Val picked up the Bat mantle at a strange time. Tim Burton was originally slated to come back for a third film in his Bat-series but that fell apart. Step up Joel Schumacher and his vision of the World’s Greatest Detective. The film has its flaws – many of them – but Kilmer is a pretty badass Batman. His Bruce Wayne falters at parts, but his Bat is intimidating at the right times, and he is a bit more aggressive in the role than his predecessor, Michael Keaton. Similar to Keaton, he is an imposing, physical presence and he often shows the torment that Bruce/Batman is feeling. The film could have been so good, but due to the camp factor, script, and the tongue-in-cheek feeling at times, the film, and subsequently its hero, gets dragged down. The film also suffered from large cuts and rewrites, often losing scenes that further expanded the Bruce Wayne character and the torment he feels. It’s disappointing to think what could have been if Burton would have managed to stay aboard the project with Kilmer as his Dark Knight.
3) Christian Bale – Yep, third – I went there. This will likely be the part where most people huff in disgust and spit at their computer (much like Bale spitting his dummy with extras, soundmen and producers). I’m a big fan of Bale as the Bat; he pulls off the broody, selfless Batman, whilst also playing up the brash, flash, playboy lifestyle of Bruce Wayne in order to keep public suspicion from linking the two together. He differentiates the body language, the way he carries himself and, most noticeably, his voice and the way he projects it. He is physically intimidating as Batman, using the shadows and his environment better than any other live-action version of the Bat, as well as giving a glimpse into where he gets his ‘wonderful toys’ from. A lot of people classify Bale as THE Batman. Not me, sadly. The gritty, grounded in realism stories and films involving Bale’s Batman are arguably the best Caped Crusader stories and films that have reached the big screen. Still, I wouldn’t agree that he’s the best incarnation of the World’s Greatest Detective, though. His pure physical presence isn’t in doubt, but the two things that bother me about Bale’s Bat is his Batman voice/growl/primal noises, and, as silly as it sounds, his chin. Whilst I fully understand the logic behind giving Batman an animalistic, intimidating voice in order to distance himself from Bruce Wayne, I just don’t feel that Bale’s voice works in that sense. It may be down to the slight lisp he has, I don’t know. His voice just feels too forced and hard to understand for my liking. I understand that there’s a case as to why this is perfect for the desired outcome, but it just doesn’t work for me…. and it’s my list, so ner.
2) Kevin Conroy – Those of you that say “Who?” need to go and have a word with yourself. Conroy is not the most known of Batman to some, but he’s played the Dark Knight for more time than anybody else. In case you haven’t guessed by the above picture, Conroy played Batman for the Paul Dini/Bruce Timm animated series. The series started to air in 1992 largely based on the success of Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989. Burton’s film had generated mass interest in the character once more, and Warner Bros. saw fit to cash in on this with the animated series. The series was dark, brooding, edgy, and flushed out the Batman/Bruce Wayne character more than we’d ever seen, later elaborating on the Bat Universe and bringing in a vast array of his rogues gallery as well as familiar faces such as Dick Grayson, Barbara Gordon, Jim Gordon and Tim Drake. Anyways, I’m drifting off point just a tad. The point is Batman. Conroy gives his Bruce Wayne a stern, flash public image, whilst also offering the warmth, trust and leadership qualities to those around him, such as Dick. He also brings a genuine sincerity and compassion to his Batman that is rarely seen in any other incarnations of the Dark Knight. It simply comes down to the fact that he is the voice of Batman to me. If I read a Batman comic then that’s the voice in my head; he’s the voice jumping from the panels and pages of the book. There have been several people voice Batman in animated form since Conroy but all pale in comparison to the dulcet, smooth tones of Kev… even Billy Baldwin.
1) George Clooney – Hold on there! Clooney’s Batman is seriously underrated. He brings a humour to the character that is desperately lacking in any of the previous instalments. People can rip on the Bat-nipples but it’s just the character’s way of showing that he is comfortable with his sexuality. The film is often called campy, flash and overindulgent — I just think it’s simply unadulterrated fun. Clooney’s Batman is involved in numerous large set-pieces, showing off the Dark Knight’s fighting ability. There’s also the expertly executed tension with Robin over the affection of Uma Thurman’s Poison Ivy. As for Clooney’s Bruce Wayne, he plays the perfect father figure in the way that he ends up fighting with Dick over Poison Ivy, leading by example in how to control one’s emotions…
In fairness, I don’t actually mind Clooney’s Bruce at times, mainly the public appearances his Wayne makes, but I really hope that anyone reading this is fully aware that George at number 1 is never going to happen unless you’re talking in From Dusk Til Dawn terms. Clooney is nowhere near my top 5 when the Bat is involved. Now for the real number 1, my personal favourite Batman, my favourite incarnation of the Dark Knight…
1) Michael Keaton – Of course the number 1 on my list of favourite Batman was always going to be Keaton! Whilst my first taste of Batman was Adam West, the Batman that I truly embraced was Michael Keaton in Tim Burton’s 1989 film. At the time, Keaton was coming off Mr. Mom and Beetlejuice — not exactly the type of roles you’d associate with the brooding character that saw his parents shot down as a child. As it happens, the casting of Keaton turned out to be a masterstroke. Burton saw something in him that many others didn’t; he saw the complexity that he could bring to both Bruce and to Batman. The one thing that really stands out and resonates with me about Keaton’s portrayal is that you always feel as if he’s playing Batman. Bruce Wayne is the façade, the mask, the cover-up; Batman is who he really is. There’s a constant anguish and troubled look in Keaton’s eyes whether he’s Bruce or the Bat, particularly during the scenes where he’s in his own comfort zone in Wayne Manor, with those aware of who he truly is (basically Alfred). You really feel his anguish at what he has had to go through. You feel his pain where the Joker is concerned; his worry that he can be be held partly responsible for the creation of the madman that is terrorizing Gotham. Michael Keaton, to me, is at the top of the list as far as on screen Batman goes. He was the first Batman I saw where I thought he just looked badass. He’s clinical in the way he takes down the bad guys, he’s thorough in his thought process, his suit and utility belt look the coolest, he has the best “I’m Batman” delivery and, more importantly than any of the above, Keaton has the required jaw needed to pull off the cape and cowl look. Mr Keaton, I salute you.
Notable mentions go to Lewis Dean for playing the first live action Batman in the 1940′s series, Peter Weller in the brilliantly adapted Batman: The Dark Knight Returns two-parter, William Baldwin for doing a surprisingly good job in Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, and Ben McKenzie in Batman: Year One.
Agree? Disagree? Who’s your personal favourite Dark Knight?
And yes, this is a reprint of sorts, that I thought was worth a tidy-up and refresh.