The Bluffer’s Guide To … BATMAN

Ever wondered what all those geeks in the corner were talking about? Sick of missing out of the sly references and obscure injokes? Never Fear! The Bluffers Guide is here to help.

So, how’s about them superheroes, eh?

 Sorry?

I was making conversation. Superheroes. How’s about them? I mean, everyone knows about them, and the costumes and catchphrases and so on. Whats the attraction?

That’s a big subject. Perhaps something narrower? Which superheroes have you heard of?

Batman?

Alright, let’s start with him then. This could get complicated so I hope you’re taking notes.

Why is dressing up like a Giant Bat and fighting crime complicated? A bit mental, yes. Complicated … not so much.

You’d be surprised. The history of most of the big superheroes is pretty complicated; it’s in the nature of the medium. Batman’s publisher, DC Comics, has become fond of multi-universe reboots of late and trying to explain which bat-continuity you’re in for any given Batman story can make your eyes go crossed. At the moment we have post-52, post-infinite crisis, post blackest night, back from the dead batman, which is not to be confused with…

WAIT! Maybe I don’t care that much. Can’t we just stick to the basics?

Detective Comics 27Fair enough. Batman was created by Bob Kane in 1939 and is very much in the style of Golden Age comics – light on superpowers and big on two-fisted urban crime fighting. Rich socialite Bruce Wayne by day, he stalks the mean street of Gotham City by night as “The Batman”, driven by the murder of his parents in front of him when he was a young boy.

Dark. I like it.

A lot of people did. Batman is one of the most enduring superheroes in comics – appearing in live action and animated TV shows, computer games of widely varying quality, and at least three separate movie franchises. Each has taken their own spin on the same core characters and concepts, ranging from the bright and campy to the more recent “rooted in realism” movie series from Christopher Nolan.

But with so much, how do I look cool without spending half my life catching up?

Well “looking cool” may be overstating it, and there will always be someone who disagrees with you anyway, because there are so many versions of Batman and everybody’s perfect version is different. The current films are very popular at the moment, and are rooted in the sensibilities of Frank Miller’s “Batman: Year One” and Jeph Loeb’s “The Long Halloween”, both of which are worth a read as good introductions to a darker Batman. Loeb also wrote the more traditional “Batman: Hush” an excellent story in its own right that manages to include pretty much every major hero and villain from Batman lore.

In that version of the bat-continuity?

See! You are getting it! But yes, although for all the messing about Batman’s world does tend to gravitate towards a “core” setup. What varies in the relationship between Batman and Bruce Wayne, for instance, or the various Robins, and so on.

Death In The Family“Various Robins”. See, you’ve lost me again.

Right, sorry. The first Robin was Dick Grayson, son of murdered parents and probably the most famous in the wider non-geek world. Eventually he grew out of wearing tight pants to fight crime, left home and called himself Nightwing, and was replaced by Jason Todd, a character so popular with fans that when his fate was put to a public vote in the 1980s, they voted to have him murdered by the Joker.

Nice.

On the bright side they brought him back from the dead in the end, because, well, comics. At least once. Even I’m confused by it. Anyway, After Jason we get Tim Drake, another long serving Robin, then in recent years we’ve had Stephanie Brown (who also got killed off and then ret-conned (retroactive continuity) back to life) and Damien Wayne (Bruce’s son – its complicated). Oh and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns has another female Robin, Carrie Kelly, but that’s in the future, or a possible future of a parallel dimension or something or other.

Riiiight.

You should totally read The Dark Knight Returns though.

I’ll add it to the list. Any other noteworthy Batman versions I need to know about?

In the wake of the cross-cultural marketing triumph that was Tim Burton’s Batman movie, Warner Brothers (who own DC Comics) commissioned a cartoon series, known under various names but mostly just Batman: The Animated Series. This ran for years and also led into a Superman Animated Series, a Batman of the Future series, and the excellent Justice League series, as well as several TV movies. It also has two outstanding vocal performances in Kevin Conroy’s Batman and Mark Hamill (yes, that Mark Hamill) as the Joker, a striking art-deco inspired visual look and even introduced several characters – most notably fan-favourite Harley Quinn – into the mainstream comics continuity.

And the Burton film itself? 

It’s become a little fashionable to knock it, partly due to resentment of how dreadful that run of films became by the time Batman and Robin limped into cinemas, and partly because they now feel very much of their time and haven’t aged that well in places. Jack Nicholson’s hugely over the top take on the Joker particularly pales in comparison to both Hamill’s portrayal in B:TAS (and the two recent computer games Arkham Asylum and Arkham City) and Heath Ledger’s creepy, mesmerising turn in The Dark Knight.

Dark Knight RisesAlright then. So anything else before I go and start reading and watching all this stuff?

Well we haven’t got to talk about the strong line-up of villains, not the wider supporting cast. For the sake of brevity I’d mention Two-Face as great example of tortured, tragic villainy, and Barbara (Batgirl/Oracle) Gordon as a great example of a character almost casually thrown away by a writer (Alan Moore, in The Killing Joke) only to be picked up and wonderfully developed into one of the great female comicbook characters.

Okay, but…

And! there is also all the non-Batman books set around Gotham and environs: Barbara Gordon and others in Birds of Prey; the excellent Cop-Show-a-like Gotham Central; Dick Grayson’s stand-along Nightwing series; Teen Titans and The Outsiders…

…I only really wanted…

Not to mention the number of times Batman has been used as a tool for deconstruction of the genre. I already mentioned The Dark Knight Returns, but he turns up thinly disguised in a lot of other works…

…do we really need too…?

…and the whole series of big arcs like Knightfall, where he got his back broken, and the period where…

…oh I give up

– Matt Farr
Geek Syndicate Magazine Issue 8

This Article was originally published in Issue 3 of Geek Syndicate Magazine. The magazine is our free quarterly publication and it’s jam packed with features, interviews, previews and more. Check out the back issues here.

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