Batman: There Are So Many, And There Is Only One

Why Batman is still Batman, whether he’s fighting Superman, a campy ‘60s TV character or even a LEGO minifig.

The LEGO Batman Movie is coming out this week (buy your tickets here), and in celebration, we’re going to spend the week looking at the lighter side of the Dark Knight.

The version of Batman that we saw in The LEGO Movie was popular. So popular that his solo film The LEGO Batman Movie will hit theaters on February 10, 2017. Generally super-campy versions of famous characters will work as a cameo, but they don’t hold up for an entire film. Batman is a completely different story.

If you sit a group of superhero fans in a room and ask them which version of Batman is their favorite, you’re going to get a bunch of different answers. It might be the Frank Miller The Dark Knight Returns version. Maybe it’s the Michael Keaton Batman who was slightly bumbling but charming as Bruce Wayne. Maybe it’s the first-run 1939 murderous Batman. It could be the silly Adam West version from the 1960s TV series. It could be animated, modern or even LEGO, but the thing about this argument is, everyone is correct. Batman as a character is so well conceived and recognizable that it’s possible to do a thousand versions of him and have them all make perfect sense.

Something like this would be hard to do with, say, Superman. Superman as a character is wonderful, but as Man of Steel and the recent Batman v Superman version of brooding Superman showed us, not all fans are going to accept this version of him. He is what he is and that’s okay. Wonder Woman has reflected the era that she’s been written in, but there are certain things about her that can’t really change. Try to imagine super goofy Wonder Woman. You can do that in a comic run, but it probably wouldn’t be sustainable.

It’s so easy to do different interpretations of Batman, because he’s written and drawn in a way that’s recognizable and relatable. In a world of superheroes with powers, Batman has none. His strength comes from his intelligence and his discipline. His powers are gadgets and vehicles. He has nothing that he hasn’t gotten for himself. Sure, he was the heir to the Wayne fortune, but that fortune came with a terrible price. Part of the reason we feel for him is his origin, told so very many times. Bruce Wayne’s parents were murdered in front of him when he was a child. It defined who he became. Who doesn’t have the ability to identify with the loss of a loved one? It’s much harder to identify with having laser vision.

It’s also easy to connect with his double life. One could argue that Batman isn’t his alter-ego; Bruce Wayne is. Any study of Batman will tell you that that outgoing persona, the charming playboy is the cover he uses. The tortured man trying to do good in the world is who he really is. Anyone with a touch of anxiety can tell you about the brave, smiling face they put on for the world and the darkness that is there when they take it off at the end of the day.

Even his look is iconic. You can tell who Batman is with a simple silhouette or the sound of his voice. Look at Adam West, Ben Affleck and the Batman: The Animated Series caped crusader and they’re all alike. You know who this vigilante is.

Every version of Batman has certain attributes; They’ve got the costume, they’ve got the gruff voice. They’ve got the charming society man attitude as Bruce Wayne. They’ve got the Batmobile. They’ve got a tortured soul when the champagne goes away. Yes, even Adam West’s version. You can place Batman in the Victorian era (Gotham By Gaslight). You can see him as an older, crippled crimefighter (Kingdom Come). You can make him a vampire (Batman & Dracula: Red Rain). Fundamentally, he’s still the same guy. One of the best examples of how well this works is Planetary/Batman: Night on Earth: because of a distortion field, the members of Planetary end up in a number of different Gotham Cities. In this very short graphic novel, they encounter six versions of Bats; a modern version, ‘60s TV Batman, Frank Miller’s version, ‘70s Neal Adams crimefighter Batman, 1939 first-appearance Batman and a future version of Batman that the book invents. As different as they all are, it’s clear that they are all the same character.

As you listened to Will Arnett’s Batman sing lyrics like, “Darkness, no parents, continued darkness…the opposite of light,” in The LEGO Movie, did you think for a second, “This isn’t Batman?” Of course not. Watching the promos for the solo film, seeing him sadly heat up lobster thermidor for one in the microwave, you knew that was Bruce Wayne, tortured and alone.

Batman is recognizable, even in this guise, because he’s close to who we are. If we just had a little more money or a little more darkness, we might be able to be a superhero like Batman, too. Superman and Wonder Woman are who we aspire to be. Batman is who we could be.

Tickets on sale here.