Some days, you just can't get rid of a bomb. So laments Adam West as the not-so-dark knight in the 1966 film, spun off from his television series. Batman, comically large cartoon inspired bomb held aloft, frantically runs up and down the boardwalk, searching for somewhere, anywhere, to safely dispose of it and grows continually grows more frustrated before uttering that famous line.
It perfectly encapsulates the heart of this run of the caped crusader. I grew up watching this TV series and Star Trek; they're the earliest shows that I can remember (The Three Stooges was introduced to me not long afterwards). In this case though, I'm giving the nod to the film as best representative of the 60's character.
West plays Batman with a camp factor that goes beyond setting the dial to eleven. He hams it up in dance numbers, utilizes absurd devices that most times are just visual puns (great visual puns), and somehow never breaks his straight laced delivery. Certainly it was a product of it's time (and it's exactly the opposite of Nolan's version) but it has it's place, it's fondly remembered, and it was my first exposure to Batman at age three or four.
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm (1993)
Spun off from the very successful television program Batman: The Animated Series; Mask of the Phantasm takes the awesome elements of the show and ups the ante. The 1940's world of tomorrow, retro-noir stylings of Gotham have always fascinated me. In the transition from small to large screen, the exaggerated retro futurism is given a similar boost. The cars all exist in a strange land of aerodynamics waging constant war against style.
At no point is this more evident than during the climatic struggle between Batman (Kevin Conroy), The Joker (Mark Hamill), and the mysterious Phantasm, set in an abandoned miniature replica of Gotham. Though the film didn't do well at the box office, it did nothing to derail the excellent animated series; which would go on to cement Conroy as Batman and Hamill as the Joker of an entire generation. Wests, Keatons, Kilmers, Clooneys, and yes even Bales come and go; Conroy is Batman as far as I'm concerned. I subconsciously read all Batman comics in his voice.
Batman (New 52 run, 2011- )
The Batman franchise is a long and storied property, which can cause it to get stuck in ruts. His origin story has remained relatively consistent, with very little variation, for my entire lifetime and then quite some more. Writers for the various series combat this by making excellent use of colorful villains, clever conundrums, interesting gadgets and fascinating setting. Yet no one has taken Gotham City as deeply down that rabbit hole as Scott Snyder has. Working in concert with artist Greg Capullo, Snyder has elevated Gotham from a setting to a character; with a rich, mystery shrouded history. I found my self eagerly turning pages to learn more about the grimy history of this hundreds year old town.
With the Court of Owls arc just wrapping up after eleven issues, only time will truly tell if I'm presumptuously blowing smoke. Will this be remembered beside The Long Halloween and The Killing Joke? Perhaps not. Regardless, it reignited my long dormant love of comics and is a fantastic arc of Batman story telling.
Batman: Arkham Asylum (2009, video game)
They said it couldn't be done. The task was impossible. Nearly all super hero video games are terrible and Batman games are particularly so. Rocksteady Studios surmounted this mountain of nay sayers and, surveying all that lay below them, set about making not only the best Batman game ever, but also what would come to be considered the best comic book game in existence. They realized there where two critical elements that players wanted in controlling Bats: they wanted to feel like a brutally efficient combatant and they also wanted to delight in stalking thugs from the dark embrace of the shadows; toying with them as it always seems our hero does.
They accomplished with with a free flowing combat system which easily incorporated Batman's bevy of gadgets and by introducing a predator mode, where players where able to tactically approach an overwhelming force using guile and speed to strike fear into the hearts of foes.
Not willing to put all the coins in one piggy bank, bets were hedged by bringing on the voice talents of Kevin Conroy as Batman and Mark Hamill as The Joker. This single stroke of genius would bring to fruition the dreams of millions of Bat fans who grew up on The Animated Series. We could now be the Batman of our childhood. Rocksteady was rewarded with critical acclaim and financial success. They put out an equally successful sequel, but I still prefer the original's enclosed spaces over the second game's open city sandbox.
What's your favorite bat flavor? It doesn't have to be the version of Batman you think is the absolute best, just one you're overly fond of. I promise that I won't judge you about your obsessive Schumacher fetish (much).
Chuck Francisco is a columnist for Mania writing Saturday Shock-O-Rama, the weekly look into classic cult, horror and sci-fi. He is a horror co-host of two monthly film series at the world famous Colonial Theatre in Phoenixville, PA (home of 1958's 'The Blob'): First Friday Fright Nights and Colonial Cult Cinema.You can delve further into his love of all things weird and campy on his blog, The Midnight Cheese or hear him occasionally guesting on eminent podcast You've Got Geek.