Happy 80th Birthday Batman
– A Hero Corner Editorial By David 2
September 21st is Batman Day.
Created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, Batman made his debut in Detective Comics #27 in 1939, making 2019 Batman’s 80th birthday.
Batman Day is a funny thing. It’s not like the normal birthday, where you have a set date every year. Batman Day wasn’t even a “thing” until his 75th celebration, and then the date kept on shifting and changing. Last year it was September 15th. This year it’s September 21st. Next year… well, who knows? Only Batman, apparently.
While this fan of all things hero considers Superman to be his all-time favorite hero, I also grew up with Batman comics. He was the second comic I would be able to get, mostly because he would often team-up with Superman. One of the “neatest” things in the world that I remember from my early childhood was watching the live-action “Batman” movie with Adam West and Burt Ward. I grew up with Batman wearing the blue and grey outfit and working with the police without hiding in the corners and even having his own “red phone”. The idea that he could be a “duly deputized law enforcer” and work openly in public seemed perfectly fine to a child of 8.
Batman, of course, had all the toys. He always had a “bat-something” for every situation, no matter how unlikely. That utility belt was better than Santa’s knapsack. But he needed that because he was only human. Granted, the most physically fit and the most intelligent human there ever was, but he was still human. Oh, and he was rich. Filthy rich. Never-have-to-work-for-a-living rich. The kind of wealth that most of us could only fantasize about.
Over the 80 years, Batman has evolved from a gruff brawler vigilante with Da Vinci style wings to the “duly deputized” hero to the gruff and violent vigilante to someone who is almost an outright crime lord. He has been remade and re-interpreted by some of the great artists and writers of the time, including the late Stan Lee, who re-imagined him as an African-American boxer wearing a bat costume.
I can understand why DC loves Batman, even more than they do Superman, who has been literally the face of DC for decades. It’s not because Batman is better than Superman. It’s because Batman is far more marketable, especially when it comes to toys.
If arsonists burn a building, Batman puts on his fireproof Bat-Suit with breathing apparatus and fire extinguisher pellets that he can fire from his gauntlets. Superman just flies in and puts out the fire. If there is an avalanche in the mountains, Batman flies in with his Bat-wing and then descends with his arctic Bat-Suit with expandable snowshoes and rescue gear in his utility belt. Superman just flies in and saves people. If a Wayne Tech satellite falls out of orbit and starts to come down on Gotham, Batman could fly up there with his Bat-Shuttle, spacewalk out in his Bat-Spacesuit with boot jets, and fix the shuttle with the custom tools in his Bat-Gauntlets and utility belt… or he could ask Superman to just fly up there and fix it. Batman has a whole arsenal of devices and vehicles that he can use. That translates into a whole spectrum of toys for DC to market. Superman is just himself. Maybe he might wear a spacesuit. Maybe he wears Kryptonian armor. Maybe he needs a spaceship. But that’s really it. Not good for the toy division.
But for the rest of us, it’s not about the toys. It’s about the hero. And Batman is many things, but first and foremost he is human. Albeit the best side of human – except for the traumatized crime victim dysfunction – but he is still human. And it is the human story that makes for some of the best Batman stories in both comics and video.
There have been many Batman stories that stand out for me. I’m sure some of you would think “The Dark Knight Returns” series would be up there, but not really. For me it’s “The Killing Joke” one-shot comic (the animated movie was a disappointment), seconded by “A Death In The Family”. For live-action, it would have to be a three-way tie between the Michael Keaton “Batman” and “Batman Returns” movies and the Christian Bale “Batman Begins”.
The animated movies are difficult because there have been so many variations. Warner Animated Group has been trying to get a definitive “DC Animated Universe” storyline of late, so their reinterpretations of classic Batman stories have been filtered through that. The latest is “Batman: Hush” and that was something of a disappointment at the end (and worth a forthcoming review). But then they turn around and come up with all the other variant stories, including bringing in some classic 60’s-style Batman stories featuring the voices of Burt Ward and the late Adam West.
Having said that, here is my list of animated Batman favorites…
“The Fear” from “The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians” cartoon series. Voiced by the late Adam West as Batman, this episode dealt with Batman facing his “one and only fear”, which was the alleyway where his parents were murdered. When Scarecrow realizes that the “man without fear” actually has one, he tries to use it to bring down Batman. What makes this episode stand out is that we see Batman’s origins and how he become Batman that deals with more than just making devices.
“Batman: Year One”. Voiced by Bryan Cranston and Ben McKenzie (“Gotham), this animated movie focuses more on Jim Gordon’s (Cranston) rise in the police ranks as it mirrors the first year of Bruce Wayne’s war on crime as Batman (McKenzie). Some of the most memorable scenes in “Year One” (as taken from the original comic series) would be duplicated in “Batman Begins”.
“Batman: Under The Red Hood”. Voiced by Bruce Greenwood and Jensen Ackles, this adaptation of the comic storyline brings Batman face-to-face with a new villain who knows everything Batman does, and with good reason. The original story behind the “new” Red Hood was convoluted in the comics, partially because of the “Hush” storyline and also because of “Superboy-Prime punched the wall of reality”, but WAG actually came up with a coherent version of the story that was able to highlight everything Batman is.
“Batman Beyond: The Return of the Joker”. Set in the future, an elderly Bruce Wayne seeks to win back control of his own company. At the same time, his old enemy, the Joker, returns to cause violence and destruction. It’s up to Bruce’s latest protégée, Terry McGinnis, to deal with his greatest enemy. While the new Batman is pretty much a proxy for the elderly Bruce Wayne, we still get to the heart of who Batman is.
But perhaps the best Batman animated story, bar none, is…
“Batman: Mask of the Phantasm”. This 1993 animated movie based on the animated series on the WB network actually ran in theaters and did pretty well. In this story, Gotham is visited by a new vigilante, one that is killing mob bosses. At the same time, Bruce Wayne reunites with the woman that almost changed his life completely. The story and animation are without equal, as well as the vocal talents, which include Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Stacy Keach, Abe Vigoda, Dana Delany, and Efrem Zimbalist Jr.
All of these are currently available on the DC Universe streaming service, and I certainly recommend subscribing if you are a fan of Batman or just a fan of DC superheroes in general.