Sunday, August 30, 2015

Definitive takes on my favorite comic book characters: Batman

My series on what I consider the definitive takes on my favorite comic book characters continues — with my all-time favorite superhero, Batman. (There will be a separate entry for his alter ego, billionaire Bruce Wayne, which also includes definitive takes on Bruce Banner, Captain America and Daredevil.)

As I've already said here, there's no doubt actor Ben Affleck's upcoming tenure playing the Dark Knight will leave an impression and impact on the character we have yet to see, but for this op-ed, I'm focusing on the comic books and film animated incarnations that have left the biggest impression on me. In short, these are what I consider "My Batman."

Batman – 1970s comics: This is a pretty broad time frame, but it overall defines “my Batman.” This covers when Batman is known as “the Darknight Detective” who uses his vast intellect to piece together clues. He also spreads fear and terror in members of the criminal underworld who call him “the Batman,” as he puts a whoopin’ on anybody who crosses him. The 1970s epitomizes what I’ve coined “the compassionate Batman” as the Caped Crusader never loses empathy for victims and the downtrodden in his never-ending crusade for justice.

Batman by actor Christian Bale and director/writer Christopher Nolan: Bale’s Batman (the best yet we've seen onscreen — so far) says he has no limitations and throughout Nolan’s brilliant, hard-hiting trilogy, the Dark Knight pushes himself to — and beyond — the expectations of himself and others. This never-give-up Batman doesn’t care about his reputation with the public, public officials and psychos alike in his obsession to keep his beloved Gotham City safe. Bale’s controversial Batman growl aside, this is the closest Hollywood has come to comicdom’s Batman and to date is the best live-action version of the character this lifelong Batfan has seen.
Batman by writer Dennis O’Neil and artist Neal Adams: With O’Neil’s beautiful prose setting a moody tone and an imposing Batman by Adams (who remains the master of drawing all facial expressions), why wouldn’t you call this the definitive take on the Batman?

This is the splash page for BATMAN No. 362
by artist Don Newton
Batman by artist Don Newton: The late Newton’s Batman rivals Adams’, but the late Don Newton always is sadly overlooked and underappreciated. He draws the Caped Crusader as an imposing, broad-shouldered man with the physique of a Greek god and gave Batman’s cape a life of its own. (Writer Gerry Conway, who wrote many issues of BATMAN and DETECTIVE COMICS that Newton drew, talks about the artist in Part One of a lengthy and exclusive CCC interview I did in 2009.) 

Batman by voice actor Kevin Conroy: His distinct take on the animated Batman’s voice is so influential, it has become the standard by which other voice-actors (and Hollywood actors like Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer and Bale) are graded and judged. Conroy’s hefty baritone gives the Dark Knight just the right mix of menace and huskiness — and he even pitches Bruce Wayne’s voice slightly higher. There’s a reason I’ve called him Kevin Conroy “The Batman Voice” for many years.

Batman by writer Jeph Loeb and artist Tim Sale: This one-two punch of a creative team has created their own library of must-read Batman stories: THE LONG HALLOWEEN, DARK VICTORY and various Halloween-related LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT specials. Moody, entertaining, mysterious, humorous, readable — in a word: perfect.
Batman meets with Lt. Jim Gordon and assistant D.A. Harvey Dent on the rooftop of the
Gotham City Police Department in this moody piece by artist Tim Sale from THE LONG HALLOWEEN series.

The late Jim Aparo drew and inked this cover
of BATMAN NO. 294.
Batman by artist Jim Aparo: If you’ve picked up a Batman comic book between the 1970s and 1990s, chances are you’ve seen Aparo’s iconic grim, long-eared Batman. (Aparo's lanky and maniacal Joker, as seen here to the right, is just as memorable and iconic.) He’s drawn (lettered and inked! — a triple threat of talent that is unheard of these days in the comic book business) some of the most memorable and important issues and moments in comicdom — and certainly in the Dark Knight’s history. Who can forget Bane slamming Batman over his knee to break his back or the haunting image of the Caped Crusader cradling the battered and bloody corpse of Jason Todd as Robin in his arms?

Batman by artist Norm Breyfogle: His Batman is a fluid, muscular badass — and downright scary. Breyfogle's Batman — much like Adams' and Newton's — is one big dude and like Adams in the late 1960s and 1970s, Breyfogle is a master of choreographing a visually intriguing fight sequence. Similar to Newton and Aparo, Breyfogle’s take on Batman never has gotten the accolades it deserves. Breyfogle puts the “dark” in the 1990s Dark Knight, a menacing creature of the night. (For the exclusive, multi-part CCC interview I did in 2009 with Breyfogle on many, many topics, click here.) 

Norm Breyfogle's cover for
is nothing short of iconic.
Batman in DETECTIVE COMICS by writer Steve Englehart, artist Marshall Rogers and inker Terry Austin: Without a doubt, this creative team rivals, if not tops, O’Neil and Adams. Batman has never been as striking — or as human. The late Rogers drew some of the most dynamic looking capes ever to grace the Gotham skies (see below), not to mention his amazing attention to detail (thanks in no small part to his background in architecture) and facial expressions. Englehart wrote a Batman who is complicated and intriguing, without overdoing the angst we saw throughout the 1990s. If I had to choose only one version of the Caped Crusader to read for the rest of my life, it would be this one — and that’s saying something in this esteemed company!

Some links to some Englehart-related posts that might interest you: Check out this tribute I wrote for the awesome and all-encompassing Batman-on-film website in April 2007, soon after Rogers' unexpected death. In the last several years, I've befriended Englehart via email — and got a chance to chat with him at a Cleveland comic book convention; he talked about working with Rogers during a Q&A session. During the fall of 2008, Englehart agreed to do a lengthy email interview with me; here he looks back on his Batman stories and the 2005 DARK DETECTIVE limited series in which he worked again with Rogers and Austin for a sequel to their ground-breaking 'TEC run.

Batman in YEAR ONE by writer Frank Miller: Despite this being the quintessential Jim Gordon story, YEAR ONE delivers the most believable Batman ever. He strikes fear into the very being of the Gotham mob scene, takes down an entire GCPD tactical squad (while injured!) and saves a cat’s life — all while still trying to get the kinks out of being a masked vigilante. (When the animated “Year One” movie came out in the fall of 2011, I did a four-part comparison/analysis review, which compares the trade paperback/limited series to the animated film by co-directors Lauren Montgomery and Sam Liu. But sadly, the original home of CCC and its links has gone kaput, through nothing I did. *Siiiighs...*) 

“Batman: The Animated Series”: Fun for kids and kids at heart, B:TAS hits every possible angle of Batman’s various characterizations spot-on: Avenger, loner, mentor, lover, crimefighter, partner, detective and brawler. Every episode brings as much joy and excitement on your latest view as it did the very first time. Even Bale and Nolan can’t top this.
Kevin Conroy (middle) has voiced Batman in many animated projects and video games.
Is it any wonder I've called him "The Batman Voice" for many years?
Keep reading CCC for more installments of "definitive takes on my favorite comic book characters." Part One was about The Avengers and next came comicdom's most alluring and ass-kicking redhead, Barbara Gordon aka Batgirl (and her second replacement, the appealing Stephanie Brown).

Up next? The First Family, a bruiser I often call the Big Green Guy and the Armored Avenger!

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