The Evolution of Batman in Cinema: From 1939 to Present

Bob Kane cre­at­ed Bat­man in 1939 as a way to ful­fill the public’s need for more com­ic book super­heroes in the wake of Super­man. And, by 1943, Bat­man made his way from pulpy print to the screen for first time.

In this video trib­ute to the many looks of Bat­man through the ages, Jacob T. Swin­ney advances chrono­log­i­cal­ly, but also the­mat­i­cal­ly, focus­ing on the inter­play between Bat­man and his side­kick Robin; the fetishiza­tion of Batman’s tool belt; and the evo­lu­tion of his cos­tume from fab­ric (his clas­sic look up through the ’80s) to the BDSM-inspired rub­ber out­fits that have last­ed since Michael Keaton donned the sol­id black get-up through Chris­t­ian Bale’s inter­pre­ta­tion. (It does seem that Ben Affleck’s ver­sion will not devi­ate from this course, but add some armor. He will also con­tin­ue to perch on top of spires and tall build­ings and stand watch over the city.)

The oth­er evo­lu­tion worth notic­ing is in Batman’s voice, and what it says about America’s rela­tion­ship with author­i­ty. In the ear­ly seri­als up through Adam West’s icon­ic TV ver­sion, Bat­man speaks in clipped but enun­ci­at­ed tones, some­where in the region of news­cast­ers and G‑men. This con­nects Bat­man to the detec­tive part of his char­ac­ter and telegraphs his innate good­ness. But once Keaton takes on the role, Bat­man speaks in a low, grave­ly tone to suit his vig­i­lante ethos, designed for meet­ings in dark alleys. This is how we want our heroes now.

This “seri­ous” shift takes its cue from Frank Miller’s ground­break­ing The Dark Knight Returns com­ic book, which is ground zero for every super­hero film since that wears its grit­ty real­ism on its sleeve. This affect­ed speech reach­es its fair­ly ridicu­lous apoth­e­o­sis in Christo­pher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Ris­es, where both hero and vil­lain are incom­pre­hen­si­ble. The only thing left is par­o­dy, and that’s how we end this video, with Will Arnett’s voice ani­mat­ing the Lego Movie’s ver­sion of the super­hero: affect­ed, nar­cis­sis­tic, and believ­ing too much in his own myth.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Bat­man Stars in an Unusu­al Car­toon Adap­ta­tion of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Pun­ish­ment

Slavoj Žižek’s Pervert’s Guide to Ide­ol­o­gy Decodes The Dark Knight and They Live

The Dark Knight: Anato­my of a Flawed Action Scene

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the FunkZone Pod­cast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, read his oth­er arts writ­ing at and/or watch his films here.

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  • MLB says:

    You are not qual­i­fied to write arti­cles on Bat­man if you would men­tion Bob Kane as cre­ator with no men­tion of Bill Fin­ger. Almost every­thing you men­tion in this arti­cle relat­ed to Bat­man has been attrib­uted to Bill Fin­ger, btw. Do you not know who he is??? Lame.

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