The 17th of September is Batman Day (Seriously. Google it) and there's so much to celebrate it's hard to find a place to start. We could look at the cinematic history and ever-changing incarnations of the character over the last 56 years. But we won't.
We could talk about the 77 years of incredible comic book story arcs that Batman has been a part of - the iconic imagery of the legendary artists and the endless storylines that the writers have created. Their unique ability to merge a gritty noir detective novel with an outlandish comic book world and as a result, create stories you won’t be able to put down.
...But we won’t do that either.
Why? Because Bob Kane and Bill Fingers’ creation has effects beyond the portrayal on screen or the page. Bruce Wayne says it best himself - Batman is more than a man, it’s a symbol. Whether they’ll admit it or not, every man wants to be Batman, and every child wants Batman to be their Dad (I don’t know why - he’d probably recruit you, dress you in a lame red suit and put you in the firing line of a maniac, but that’s by the by. It’d be cool, ok?)
So put your fanboy boots on, and let’s have a quick look at some of the great things that Batman is responsible for, outside of Gotham City.
The Resurgence Of Comic Book Films
The comic book film genre is one that has been tried (and failed) numerous times in the past. Often times they were just never quite right. Tim Burton did a great job with 1989’s Batman, with an arguably better sequel in 1992 with Batman Returns, but things were marred (sic: massacred) by the subsequent films. Val Kilmer and George Clooney collectively put the comic book genre into a coffin. It all really went to shit with a drastic change of tone, batsuit nipples and the famous line ‘Holy-Rusted-Metal, Batman’. Thankfully, in true comic book style, when something dies...it doesn't stay dead for long.
In 2005 Christopher Nolan brought us Batman Begins, and in doing so he paved the way for the cinematic landscape we have today. Some of the biggest cinematic events over the last 12 years have been comic book inspired movies, and this was all set about by the critical success of Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Fox had been chipping away at the genre with the X-Men movies but hadn’t quite reached the critical success that Nolan’s Batman series gained. With this, the studios realised it was a viable path to tread, with so many years of cannon at their fingertips, and so many fans (of all ages) willing to put their money through the box office - they were sitting on a gold mine.
Today we have studios planning superhero movies up until mid-2020’s, with online hype and speculation filling the downtime between releases. We have dark and gritty TV series, like Daredevil and Jessica Jones arriving with huge success, and like Nolan’s films, they’re more character driven than anything seen before them. We’re harking back to the Golden Age of cinema, where actors sign on to studios for 10+ films at a time. These actors really are committing their lives to the characters, and in return, the comic book artists change the characters appearances to match their onscreen counterparts. Hugh Jackman will have played Wolverine for 20 years by his next film, and Robert Downey Jr directly refers to himself as Iron Man on many occasions.
Like it or hate it, comic book films are here to stay - and we have Batman (and Christopher Nolan) to thank for that.
Batman exists as an outsider, never really allowing himself to connect with anyone except his butler, Alfred, and usually his sidekick, Robin. Amongst his questionable actions as a hero is his penchant for creating child soldiers. Not once, twice, but 5 times (!!) Bruce Wayne has recruited a young protégée into the ‘Bat Family’ (GEEK ALERT: More if you include ‘non-cannon’ Robins). We’ll overlook his tactics in recruitment, by emotionally manipulating wayward youth and vulnerable children...because as the characters grow under his watchful gaze, they become stand-outs in their own right. When a generation's Robin flies the nest, we are presented with a character that carries with it the essence, ideals and style of one of the world's most beloved superheroes, and pull along it’s own loyal fanbase.
The most notable standouts are Dick Grayson (Original Robin, then Nightwing, then Agent 37, then Nightwing, then Batman, now Nightwing again), and Jason Todd (former Robin, then bad Red Hood, now good Red Hood).
These two exports of the Batman universe legitimately stand alone as interesting, engaging characters in their own right. In the new DC comics ‘Rebirth’ series, both of these character arcs are shaping up to be the freshest and most engaging of the whole reboot. And there’s more! Batwoman, Batgirl, Red Robin (Tim Drake), Oracle, Damian Wayne, Cassandra Cain, The Robins, Azrael...The list goes on.
What other superhero series gives birth to so many complete characters that are able to step out of their creator's shadow? Batman isn’t afraid to pass the mantel. The Bat Family's extended universe sees some of the best storylines in comics today - most without a Batman in sight.
The fate of the DC cinematic universe
Batman is entirely responsible for the fate of DC’s cinematic universe - a linchpin in a currently very shaky construction. Ben Affleck turned a Superman sequel into a Batman film featuring Superman. Fans were more excited about his brief appearance in DCU’s latest release Suicide Squad, than seeing the squad itself.
Despite dodgy reviews, the fan’s came out in force and kept Suicide Squad (And the DC Cinematic Universe) afloat, but they won’t do this for long. Everything is riding on the hotly anticipated Batman solo film, which is to be co-written and directed by Ben Affleck. Rumours so far suggest the film will be in a similar style to martial arts epic The Raid. But instead of cops working their way up a tower fighting onslaughts of gangsters - Batman will work his way down Arkham Asylum, fighting floor after floor of imprisoned Batman villains.
Batman now carries the weight of a multi-billion dollar endeavour on his shoulders. But that's nothing for Batman, right? (Maybe a little too much pressure for Ben Affleck though!)
In my humble opinion, this is the greatest thing the icon of Batman has ever achieved. It shows the undeniable effect that Bats has on the real world. Yes, we need to hand a lot of credit (Ok...All the credit) to the Make a Wish Foundation for their incredible efforts in putting this together, but without Batman, this child would never have felt so powerful, so heroic, and so alive. 5 Year old leukaemia patient Miles Scott (who is thankfully now in remission) had a wish - He wanted to be Batman! For a brief moment, he was unstoppable...and it’s the most powerful thing Batman has been able to do to date.
The mantel of Batman will change hands (and then no doubt change back), The writers, artists and filmmakers will change too, but the icon will live on. An icon that will continue to inspire generations, giving hope, strength and joy, and always bring smiles to faces young and old. Here’s to the next 77 years, Bats.