Batman’s Biggest Bard
June 2nd, 2015 | by Jonathan Thompson
Who were the greatest Batman bards of all-time? Which storytellers had the biggest influence over the Batman mythos and how are we to to choose from such an embarrassment of riches?
Every Batman fan knows the story of Bruce Wayne and his transformation into the Dark Knight. Throughout all the narrative changes, something that often depends on when the Batman myths is being explained or who is explaining it, the single constant is that young Bruce is left standing all alone after a figure from the night kills his parents Thomas and Martha Wayne in Crime Alley.
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It doesn’t matter if it’s a faceless criminal, the infamous Joe Chill, or a man in shiny shoes, that single act defines the man that Bruce Wayne will go on to become. That night sends him down a path to understand the criminal mind, in order to stop those that would prey on the weak. Behind a mask, Bruce Wayne will become a symbol of justice and hope, not just for the citizens of Gotham City, but for our world as well. He is the Dark Knight.
He is Batman.
The character of Batman has become one of the most recognized comic book heroes in the world. Beyond the pages of his many different iterations, he has become an American cultural icon that’s been adapted into a wide range of formats the world over. Batman has been reimagined and redefined so many times that analyzing a specific event or time in his long, real world history to truly define the character can be difficult. Difficult but not impossible.
You see the Warner Bros. logo change to a police blimp and the camera pans down, showing the skyline of a dark city. Two men stand outside of a bank and, just as the bank explodes, the light trumpets and drums are introduced and the call to action goes out. The Batmobile roars to life and speeds it’s way to Gotham City. Batman chases the crooks, puts them down, and leaves them tied up for the GCPD. Lightning cuts across the sky, lighting up the man fighting an endless war in Gotham City.
Batman: The Animated Series was a ground-breaking set of Batman stories told in 30 minutes. For many, it wasn’t just their first glimpse into the world of Batman, it was also a look behind the curtain and into the psyche of Bruce Wayne. Tim Burton and Michael Keaton did a good job of bringing Batman to theatres (along with Jack Nicholson who we’ll discuss later). Unfortunately for Burton’s version of Batman, he had Keaton portray Bruce almost as intensely as his alter ego.
Back in the cartoon world, Kevin Conroy took the voice of Batman and gave it a deepness; commanding fear and attention. He gave the voice of Bruce Wayne a bubbliness that hid his true persona. With Conroy, Bruce Wayne and Batman were essentially, two different men. The playboy millionaire that let someone else run Wayne Enterprises and the caped and cowled vigilante that prowled the streets looking to deliver justice with his fists.
The show didn’t fully centre on the actions of Batman. Bruce Wayne wasn’t reading a book in his personal library until a certain red phone rang. Bruce was dating women, getting involved with charities, and acting like a complete doofus under the big top of the circus. Not only did the show dive into the mind of Bruce, it also portrays him as a wounded man. In one episode, he asks a disgraced doctor who was friends with Thomas Wayne to simply tell Bruce about his father, a man he never got to know. Similarly, in one of the best episodes, both Batman and Bruce push a former actor into helping solve the case of the Mad Bomber. The Grey Ghost was the show Bruce watched with his father, bringing the chance for Bruce to work with his childhood hero.
Bruce wasn’t the only one being displayed without the armour, so to speak. We see into Batman’s mind and we see why he fights a battles he knows he can’t win. When Batman’s closest friend, James Gordon, gets injured because of Batman being late to a police raid, Batman takes the blame all on himself. If not for the words of Commissioner Gordon, he may have given up. Those words from Gordon were followed-up by Dick Grayson.
Dick Grayson. The first Robin. He is portrayed as a partner of Batman with a independent streak in him. Which is shown when he leaves the Batcave to become Nightwing. Loren Lester gives him a sensible and level-headed voice that not only aids Bruce in his crusade but encourages his mentor. It was a modern take on Robin that left many young men wanting to be Batman’s sidekick.
When you discuss Batman, the Joker will come up sooner or later. The Animated Series turned Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamil) into a maniacal madman who wanted nothing more than to cause chaos. While Jack Nicholson made the Joker a crazy ex-gangster with an axe to grind against against Gotham City, Mark Hamill made him sound like a man that would kill everyone with a joke pie or poisoned fish at any moment.
At Joker’s side was a new character; a former Arkham Asylum psychiatrist who was pulled and twisted by Joker to don a red and black outfit with a white face, like a harlequin. Dr. Harleen Quinzel was born from the brains of Bruce Timm and Paul Dini with some of the personality of the woman who would give her life – Arlene Sorkin. Soon she had become an integral part of the DC Universe, from sharing books with Joker and Poison Ivy to having her own series. Harley Quinn will also make her debut on the big screen in 2016’s Suicide Squad played by Margot Robbie.
Kevin Conroy’s Batman would go on to join the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited. He would also mentor Terry McGinnis in Batman Beyond. From 1992, Bruce Timm’s version of Batman influenced many heroes and helped form many shows.
If there was no Batman: The Animated Series, no Kevin Conroy, would we have the Batman we know? Would the Nolan-directed movies exist? Is the Suicide Squad still the same without Harley Quinn?
Thankfully, we don’t have to find out and we have the amazing series to go back to to scratch our nostalgic itch.
It was one of Batman’s defining moments.
Long may it be so.
Jonathan Thomson is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @Jon_Toast