Many Faces Of... Batman
by Russ Dimino
a young boy, Bruce Wayne watched as his parents were gunned
down in front of his very eyes. He then made a vow to rid the
word of the evil that took their lives, and protect the innocent
people of Gotham City so that there would never again be another
tragedy like the one that he suffered through. Because criminals
are a cowardly, superstitious lot, Wayne knew that he could
play upon their fears, and took on the guise of The Batman.
In this edition of "The Many Faces of...", we'll take
a look at the men who have put on the cape and cowl and brought
Batman to life in the serials, TV, cartoons and movies.
made his first appearance in "Detective Comics #27"
in May of 1939. The character that Bob Kane initially created
was a bit different from the Batman that fans know today. In
the first few stories, Batman actually used a gun and killed
off the enemies that he fought. It wasn't long, though, before
the character evolved, swore off guns and vowed never to take
a life. Batman got his own series a year later, in April of
The first man to bring Batman to life was Lewis Wilson, who
played the caped crusader in the 15 part movie serial "The
Batman" in 1943. While his costume was laughable, Wilson
made a solid effort to distinguish the Bruce Wayne "playboy"
persona from the dark and brooding Batman. The serial was later
to VHS, but it is rarely seen in its original form. Filmed during
World War II, the original version featured dialogue that would
be considered politically incorrect by today's standards, and
an abundance of Japanese villains.
Batman returned to the serial screen in 1949 with the sequel
and Robin," which featured an entirely different cast.
This time out, Robert Lowery assumed the droopy-eared cowl for
another 15 episodes, in which the dynamic duo fought a mysterious
villain called The Wizard. This serial also introduced Vicki
Vale, Bruce Wayne's girl-reporter love interest (what is it
with superheroes falling for reporters?), who later appeared
in the comics and the 1989 "Batman" movie.
character was redefined for an entire generation of fans when
West took on the role in 1966, with the premiere of the
"Batman" TV show. This campy, tongue-in-cheek series
featured weekly cliffhangers, big-name guest stars as villains,
and made "Bam!", "Biff!" and "Pow!"
household words. West has since found himself forever tied to
the role (or, in his own words, "married to the cape"),
reprising the character in live-action "Legends of the
Superheroes" TV specials, and providing the voice of Batman
during the 1984-86 seasons of the "SuperFriends" cartoon.
He also lent his voice to the character of The Gray Ghost in
an episode of "Batman The Animated Series" in 1992,
and currently voices Mayor Grange on the WB's "The Batman"
series. He also guest starred in an episode of "Lois &
Clark," not as Batman, but as host of a sleazy TV tabloid
1968, Batman got animated in "The Adventures of Batman"
and "The Batman/Superman Hour." In both series, his
voice was provided by Olan Soule (it was not uncommon for actors
to voice more than one character... in this case, Soule also
supplied the voice of Alfred the butler!). Soule continued to
reign as Batman for many years afterward, lending his voice
to hero throughout the 1970's seasons of "SuperFriends,"
as well as Batman's famous guest appearance on "The
New Scooby Doo Movies"!
the vision of a campy crusader still ingrained in people's minds
years later, Tim Burton sought to bring the public's perception
of Batman back to his dark and gothic roots. In 1989, Michael
Keaton took on the role in Burton's first
"Batman" movie. Inspired by Frank Miller's "Year
One" and "The
Dark Knight Returns" comic book series, the film showed
a grittier, more vengeful Batman who was seeking justice after
the murder of his parents. Keaton played the contrast between
the bumbling Bruce Wayne and the driven Batman to perfection,
battling Jack Nicholson's Joker and smashing box office records.
Keaton reprised the role in 1992's "Batman
Returns," taking on Danny DeVito's Penguin and Michelle
the same year that "Batman Returns" came out, another
version of Batman appeared on the small screen. "Batman
The Animated Series," which would go on to spawn multiple
spin-offs and win six Emmy Awards, brought the dark world of
the Dark Knight to Saturday mornings and weekday afternoons.
Kevin Conroy gave Batman his unmistakable gruff voice, sending
chills down the spines of the production crew from the moment
he auditioned for the role. Mr. Conroy holds the title for the
longest streak portraying the character, voicing Batman/Bruce
Wayne throughout "Batman The Animated Series," "The
Adventures of Batman and Robin," "The New Batman/Superman
Adventures," "Batman Beyond," "Justice League"
and "Justice League Unlimited" (as well as several
animated Batman movies and crossovers with other shows like
"Static Shock" and "The Zeta Project"),
putting him at 13 years as the caped crusader and still counting.
(Super Trivia: Conroy attended Julliard with future "Superman"
star Christopher Reeve!)
1995, Tim Burton handed the directorial reins of the live-action
franchise over to Joel Schumacher, and Val Kilmer stepped in
for Keaton in "Batman
Forever." This time, Batman had to contend with Jim
Carrey's Riddler and Tommy Lee Jones's Two-Face, as well as
a new sidekick (Chris O'Donnell as Robin) and love interest
(Nicole Kidman). Reports were rampant of Schumacher and Kilmer
clashing repeatedly on the set (to the point of a "shoving
match"), and even of Kilmer accusing Carrey of stealing
the movie out from under him. Like "Superman II,"
many fans are interested in seeing a Director's Cut of this
film, since a considerable amount of footage was cut before
it ever made it into theaters.
and Robin," Schumacher recruited George Clooney to
fill the cowl after seeing the "ER" star's face in
a magazine, drawing the Batman mask over it and liking what
he saw. This time, it wasn't Arnold Schwarzenegger's Mr. Freeze
or Uma Thurman's Poison Ivy that did our hero in, but universal
panning from fanboys and critics alike over too much camp, neon
and Bat-Nipples. The live-action Bat film franchise ground to
a halt for years after this one.
In a 1998 episode of "The New Batman/Superman Adventures"
called "Legends of the Dark Knight," the producers
paid tribute to other versions of the character. In the episode,
which revolved around a group of kids discussing what they think
Batman is really like, Gary Owens supplied the voice of a "1950's
Batman" (heavy on the "old chum" one-liners),
and Michael Ironside voiced the "Dark Knight Returns Batman"
(older, grizzled, and straight out of Frank Miller's comic book
series of the same name). Owens actually narrated the original
1943 serial starring Lewis Wilson, and "Smallville"
fans will recognize Ironside as having played General Sam Lane,
1999, Kids WB tried a bold new experiment with the Batman legacy.
Set some 50-odd years into the future, the animated "Batman
Beyond" was the story of a long since retired Bruce
Wayne (still voiced by Kevin Conroy, natch) training a new,
younger Batman named Terry McGinnis. Will Friedle, popular for
playing Eric Matthews on "Boy Meets World," provided
the voice of Terry. "Boy Meets World" even made an
in-joke reference to Friedle's animated counterpart, when Eric
revealed his biggest secret to his confused girlfriend: "I'm
2002, the producers of "Smallville" tried their hand
at another live-action comic book series. "Birds
of Prey" centered around three female crimefighters
in New Gotham (Helena Kyle/The Huntress, Barbara Gordon/Oracle,
and Dinah Lance), who protected the innocent in the wake of
Batman's apparent disappearance. Batman only appeared in a very
brief flashback in the pilot episode, where he was played by
Bruce Thomas. Thomas had previously played Batman in a series
of OnStar commercials, which featured Batman using OnStar in
the Batmobile to track down criminals. Unfortunately, "Birds"
was canceled after only 13 episodes, meaning the plot about
Batman's disappearance would be left unresolved.
since the first season of "Smallville," fans of the
show clamored for a crossover between the pre-Superman Clark
Kent and a young Bruce Wayne. Sadly, due to a "Year One"
type Batman movie being in the works for years, Warner Brothers
nixed the idea (in fact, a "Young Bruce Wayne" TV
series was planned long before Smallville ever came about, but
never got off the ground for the same reason). However, many
fans believed that Adam Knight, a character who appeared during
Smallville's third season, was going to turn out to be Bruce
Wayne. Between the character's name (rumored to be a derivation
of "Adam West" and "The Dark Knight"), his
mysterious past, his fighting skills and moody demeanor, internet
rumor sites were abuzz for months, trying to figure out if this
new character really was the future Batman. In the end, the
plot ended up taking a different direction, but series creators
Al Gough and Miles Millar have since admitted that Adam Knight
was originally intended to be their take on Bruce Wayne. Knight
was played by "Lost" star Ian Somerhalder. (Interestingly
enough, a gag headline in KryptonSite's
2003 "April Fool's" edition reported that Somerhalder
would be playing Bruce Wayne on Smallville!)
2004, Kids WB debuted a new animated take on the hero, called
Batman." The series centers around a younger Bruce
Wayne, and has a strong focus on the technology that he uses
to hunt down the criminals of Gotham City. The series features
Rino Romano as Bruce Wayne/Batman. No stranger to heroes who
don masks and tights, Romano also voiced a certain Web-Head
in the cartoon "Spider-Man Unlimited," and in several
video games that featured Spider-Man.
This summer, Batman will make a leap back to the big screen
in Christopher Nolan's "Batman Begins," a film that
will explore Bruce Wayne's training and evolution into the Dark
Knight. Christian Bale, whose credits include "American
Psycho," "Equilibrium" and the Samuel L. Jackson
"Shaft" remake, takes on the mantle of the Bat as
he tries to reclaim Gotham City from the clutches of criminals
like The Scarecrow (Cillian Murphy), Ra's Al Ghul (Ken Watanabe),
and Carmine Falcone (Tom Wilkinson). The film also stars Gary
Oldman as Lt. Jim Gordon, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, Liam
Neeson as Henri Ducard, and Katie Holmes as Bruce's love interest,
Rachel. (Smallville fans, take note: Rutger Hauer, who played
Morgan Edge in "Exile" and "Phoenix," also
has a role in the film.) The
WB will be showing a 10 minute preview of the film during the
90 minute Smallville season finale on May 18th.
Though the way that Batman has been portrayed ranges from a
campy, tongue-in-cheek do-gooder to a dark, brooding and violent
vigilante, there is one thing about him that has never changed.
Beneath the tights and the cape, he is just a man. He can't
leap tall buildings in a single bound. Bullets don't bounce
off him. He's not from another planet. He is a man who pushes
himself to his limits to protect the innocent, and punish those
who prey on them. That theme has captivated audiences for years,
and surely will continue to for a long time to come.
The views of Russ Dimino don't necessarily represent the thoughts
and feelings of everyone at KryptonSite.
some of Russ's other columns! Many Faces Of...: Lana
Lang - Lucy Lane
- The Kents - Lex
Luthor - Lois Lane
- The Flash - Jor-El
and Lara - Mxyzptlk
- The Other Women Of Clark