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Batman Films

Entry updated 11 March 2024. Tagged: Film.

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The DC Comics character Batman has a long history in film, with six principal franchise strands: (i) the Columbia serials of the 1940s, 1-2; (ii) the 1966 Fox television series and its spinoff film 3; (iii) the Burton-Schumacher film cycle for Warners, 4-5, 7-8; (iv) feature-length animations spun off from Warners' various animated television series, 6, 9-11, 13; (v) Warners' Nolan-Goyer film cycle, 12, 14-15, 18; and (vi) DC's own animated features 16-17. The complex relationship between the later versions derives in large part from Warners' ingrained practice of internal competition between rival units and divisions, at times pitting rival versions of the same project against one another.

1. Batman. Serial film (1943). Columbia. Directed by Lambert Hillyer. Written by Victor McLeod, Leslie Swabacker, Harry Fraser. Cast includes William Austin (Alfred), Douglas Croft (Robin), J Carrol Naish (Daka), Shirley Patterson (Linda Page) and Lewis Wilson (Batman). Episode 1 26 minutes; episodes 2-15 14-20 minutes each. Black and white.

Batman creator Bob Kane was dismissive of this spirited but low-rent wartime interpretation, which presents Batman and Robin as Washington-instructed agents pitted against a Japanese masterspy running a network of fifth columnists in between his experiments in Disintegrator Ray Guns and electrically induced zombification (see Zombies). The Batman costume unflatteringly announces that Wilson's torso is rather less chiselled than his civilian features, and budgetary constraints precluded a Gotham distinguishable from midtown LA or a Batmobile that is not simply a chauffeured convertible. But Wilson is a game and amusing Bruce Wayne, the sf elements have a vigorous pulp charm which extends to the barely resistable episode titles ("The Electrical Brain", "Lured by Radium"), and the episode structure – always ending on a fight in costume leading to a cliffhanger – imposes a reassuring narrative rhythm. The topical elements offer a more starkly politicized (and racially loaded) appropriation of the character than the comics of the day, playing to fears of a Japanese radium-fuelled super-Weapon of mass destruction which resonate more strongly now than they could have at the time; while supporting characters from the comics are freely substituted to no obvious purpose. Surprisingly influential on later versions nevertheless, the serial marked the first appearance of "The Bat's Cave" (in this early version merely a cramped interrogation chamber) below Wayne Manor, and Austin's casting shaped subsequent representations of Alfred; but its major legacy came through the 1965 revival An Evening with Batman and Robin, which saw the entire four-hour serial screened as a single session, and directly inspired the 1966-1968 Batman television series, particularly in such elements as the cliffhanger endings and booming voiceover, Adam West's deadpan camp performance, and the knowingly creaky production values. [NL]

2. Batman and Robin. Serial film (1949). Columbia. Directed by Spencer Gordon Bennet. Written by Royal K Cole, George H Plympton, Joseph F Poland. Cast includes Jane Adams (Vicki Vale), John Duncan (Robin/Dick Grayson), William Fawcett (Professor Hammil), Robert Lowery (Batman/Bruce Wayne), Leonard Penn (Carter/The Wizard), Lyle Talbot (Commissioner Gordon) and Rick Vallin (Barry Brown). Episode 1 27 minutes; episodes 2-15 17 minutes. Black and white.

A masked master-criminal, The Wizard, steals Professor Hammil's new invention, the Remote Control Machine, which gives him the power to take over control of any moving vehicle within a 50-mile radius. Batman and Robin set out to right matters, but The Wizard proves resourceful, eventually developing the Technology for personal Invisibility. This leaden parade of gadgetry features car chases and fisticuffs galore, but little real excitement; the budget is visibly higher than for 1, but the cast much less vivacious and appealing despite the screen debut of established supporting characters Vale and Gordon. [JGr/NL]

3. Batman (vt Batman – The Movie; vt Batman '66). Film (1966). 20th Century-Fox/Greenlawn/National Periodical Publications. Directed by Leslie H Martinson. Written by Lorenzo Semple Jr. Cast includes Frank Gorshin (Riddler), Neil Hamilton (Commissioner Gordon), Burgess Meredith (Penguin), Lee Meriwether (Catwoman), Alan Napier (Alfred), Cesar Romero (Joker), Burt Ward (Robin/Dick Grayson) and Adam West (Batman/Bruce Wayne). 105 minutes. Colour.

A camped-up tale based on the television series Batman (1966-1968) and guying, with cheerful unsubtlety, Superhero conventions and Comic-book pretensions (notably the heroes' ultra-wholesomeness). Credibility is thrown to the wind in a monumentally tortuous plot in which four prime Villains – Catwoman, The Joker, The Riddler and The Penguin – unite in a world-domination attempt. Batman flags about the halfway mark, but is still a better movie than generally granted – and certainly a pleasingly lighthearted contrast to 4 and 5. The novelization is Batman vs. The Fearsome Foursome (1966) by William Woolfolk writing as Winston Lyon. [JGr]

4. Batman Film (1989). Warner Brothers Pictures presents a Guber-Peters Company production in association with PolyGram Pictures. Directed by Tim Burton. Written by Sam Hamm and Warren Skaaren. Cast includes Kim Basinger (Vicky/Vicki Vale), Michael Gough (Alfred), Jerry Hall (Alicia), Pat Hingle (Commissioner Gordon), Michael Keaton (Batman/Bruce Wayne), Jack Nicholson (Jack Napier/Joker), Jack Palance (Carl Grissom) and Robert Wuhl (Alexander Knox). 126 minutes. Colour.

Gotham City has come to regard Batman as merely an Urban Legend, but then he apprehends Napier, treacherous sidekick of gang boss Grissom, who ends up in a vat of chemicals. Plastic surgery leaves Napier's face a ghastly mask crossed by a rictus grin – and so he recreates himself as The Joker, gathering circus-clown thugs around him and aiming to become criminal master of Gotham City. Journalists Knox and Vale, working on the Batman story, trip over reclusive millionaire Bruce Wayne, whom Vale beds; later she has rough sex with Batman, yet fails to identify the two. The Joker, too, lusts for Vale, and she becomes the real focus of the struggle between the Villain and Batman – which struggle Batman wins.

Batman owes much more to the dark, tormented soul portrayed in Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986; graph 1986) than to the simpler Superhero of the earlier Comics, the television series and 3. It is dour – often visually splendid – with pretensions to psychological depth. Through music, lighting, timing and surreal cityscapes Burton tries to invest his narrative with the weight of myth, yet the burden seems too great for the subject matter easily to bear; occasional flashes of realism make the rest seem suddenly kitsch. Yet the visual ponderousness of this Batman is, undeniably, impressive. The novelization is Batman (1989) by Craig Shaw Gardner. [JGr]

5. Batman Returns Film (1992). Warner Bros. Pictures in association with PolyGram Pictures. Directed by Tim Burton. Written by Daniel Waters; story by Waters and Sam Hamm. Cast includes Danny DeVito (Penguin/Oswald Cobblepot), Michael Keaton (Batman/Bruce Wayne), Michelle Pfeiffer (Catwoman/Selina Kyle) and Christopher Walken (Max Shreck). 126 minutes. Colour.

The sequel to 4. Thrown into the sewers by his parents – revolted by their half-bird, half-man offspring – Oswald Cobblepot is now the Penguin, whose thugs, the Red Triangle Gang, terrorize Gotham City. Kyle, secretary to corrupt businessman Shreck, discovers his crookedness and is defenestrated by him; she survives the fall, becoming the villainous Catwoman by night while retaining her mundane personality by day. Kyle and Wayne fall in love even as Catwoman, allied to the Penguin, is at war with Batman. But her real loathing is for Shreck, and finally Catwoman and Batman together destroy the Villains. Script (rewritten by an uncredited Wesley Strick) and direction are leaden, and Pfeiffer is incapable of projecting the feline sexuality required of Catwoman (Lee Meriwether did a much finer job in 3); since the Catwoman/Kyle dichotomy should be the movie's spine, the rest falls apart.

There are two novelizations: Batman Returns (1992) by Craig Shaw Gardner and Catwoman (1992) by Lynn Abbey (1948-    ) and Robert Lynn Asprin. [JGr]

6. Batman – Mask of the Phantasm. Animated film (1993). Warner Bros. Directed by Eric Radomski & Bruce Timm, with the voices of Kevin Conroy (Batman/Bruce Wayne), Mark Hamill (Joker), Dana Delany (Andrea Beaumont), Stacy Keach Jr (Carl Beaumont/Phantasm), Efrem Zimbalist Jr (Alfred), Hart Bochner (Arthur Reeves), Dick Miller (Chuckie Sol), John P Ryan (Buzz Bronski), Abe Vigoda (Salvatore Valestra). Written by Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Martin Pasko, Michael Reaves. 73 minutes. Colour.

This is a direct adaptation from the 1992-1994 animated television series The Adventures of Batman and Robin. Borrowing much of its visual style (notably the range of colour values) and musical ambience from 4 and 5, this animated feature is probably better than both. Much of the action happens in flashbacks to a decade ago when Wayne's parents had not long died, and he resolved to become a vigilante crimefighter. Around then he met and became affianced to Andrea Beaumont, the one woman he has ever loved; but she and father Carl fled the country when Carl's criminal associates turned the heat on him. In the present, a sinister, fog-enshrouded, masked figure, The Phantasm (whose mask and husking voice are like Darth Vader's in Star Wars), is killing those associates, and Batman is blamed; also, Andrea is back, and she and Wayne attempt to resume their former relationship. Enter The Joker: ten years ago he was the least of the gang threatening Carl; now he is a criminal mastermind intent on destroying both The Phantasm (before The Phantasm destroys him) and Batman. In due course The Phantasm, assumed to be Carl, proves to be Andrea. She and Batman seemingly kill The Joker, and Batman assumes that she, too, dies in the process; in fact she escapes to leave his life again, this time forever.

Much of the animation is technically not sophisticated, yet the limitations are cleverly exploited to contribute to an immense stylishness – to create the effect of an excellent Comic book brought to life. Many of the camera-angles and sequence-constructions owe more to live-action direction than to traditional animation. Batman – Mask of the Phantasm generates the thrill of a believed-in, and hence somehow credible, modern myth. The novelization is Batman, the Animated Movie: Mask of the Phantasm (1993) by Geary Gravel. [JGr]

7. Batman Forever Film (1995). Warner Bros. Pictures in association with PolyGram Pictures. Directed by Joel Schumacher. Written by Janet Scott Batchler & Lee Batchler and Akiva Goldsman. Cast includes Drew Barrymore (Sugar), Jim Carrey (Edward Nygma/Riddler), Michael Gough (Alfred), Pat Hingle (Commissioner Gordon), Tommy Lee Jones (Harvey Dent/Harvey Two-Face), Nicole Kidman (Dr Chase Meridian), Val Kilmer (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Debi Mazar (Spice) and Chris O'Donnell (Dick Grayson/Robin). 122 minutes. Colour.

The sequel to 4 and 5. A new director pitches a new Batman against a new pair of Supervillains. Perhaps truer to the earlier comics and television series, it sees the arrival of Dick Grayson/Robin. The foes are Harvey "Two-Face" Dent and The Riddler (a role originally intended for Robin Williams). Two-Face is an ex-DA turned schizoid; always in two minds, he believes the only true justice is luck and so flips a coin to decide whether his victims live or die – a habit established in comics long before Luke Rhinehart's The Dice Man (1971; rev 1983). He has two molls (the refined, virginal Sugar and the decadent, kinky Spice) and his abode is split into two opposing styles ("Heavy Metal meets Homes and Gardens"). The Riddler is mad scientist Edward Nygma, whose invention of an implement to utilize neural energy is dismissed by Wayne. As revenge The Riddler joins Two-Face and forms NygmaTech, selling a product to the public that animates their fantasies, projecting them onto a television screen, but also taps into their brainwaves and feeds information to Nygma. The love interest is Meridian, a criminal psychologist who becomes obsessed with Batman but falls for Wayne. Robin becomes Batman's partner after his parents are killed by Two-Face, thus giving the two a common cause.

Schumacher's vision is not so much brighter than Burton's, but is strewn with neon strips and fluorescent paints among Gotham's lowlife and supervillains; he combines the use of colour and the Gothic darkness effectively. The plot is confusing and manically directed. Batman is overshadowed by the leading villains, particularly Carrey. The novelization is Batman Forever: The Novelization (1995) by Peter David. [JT]

8. Batman & Robin. Film (1997). Warner Bros. Pictures in association with PolyGram Pictures. Directed by Joel Schumacher. Written by Akiva Goldsman. Cast includes George Clooney (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Michael Gough (Alfred), Chris O'Donnell (Dick Grayson/Robin), Arnold Schwarzenegger (Mr Freeze), Alicia Silverstone (Barbara Wilson/Batgirl) and Uma Thurman (Poison Ivy). 125 minutes. Colour.

Mr Freeze (Schwarzenegger) and Poison Ivy (Thurman) with her henchman Bane terrorize Gotham, but Batman and Robin are now assisted by Alfred's niece Barbara, who interpolates herself into the extended family as Batgirl.

Generally regarded as the nadir of the franchise (though this is too kind to 7), Schumacher and Goldsman's second stint on Warners' consciously lighter continuation of the Burton series was rushed into, and through, production after its predecessor's somewhat dispiriting box-office success. The franchise's reliance on overpaid guest villains and underpaid Batmen wore especially thin with Schwarzenegger's import of his trademark one-liners, and Thurman's geeky feminist eco-warrior (see Ecology) is uncomfortably treated, though Clooney himself is twinklier casting than 7's very unpersuasive Kilmer – channeling Adam West in line with the studio's aim to reinject some of the gaiety of the television series into Burton's stranger, darker, less commercial take. Silverstone, in a genealogically deviant version of the usual Batgirl, brings insufficient sparkle to the party to restore the franchise's fizz, and the film underperformed at the box office, leading to all-out turf warfare within Warners over the franchise's future (see 12). [NL]

9. Batman & Mr Freeze: Subzero. Animated film (1998). Directed by Boyd Kirkland, with the voices of Kevin Conroy (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Loren Lester (Dick Grayson/Robin), Michael Ansara (Mr Freeze), Mary Kay Bergman (Barbara Gordon/Batgirl), Efrem Zimbalist Jr (Alfred). Written by Randy Rogel and Kirkland. 64 minutes. Colour.

In this shorter, weaker second spinoff feature from the Adventures of Batman and Robin television series, Mr Freeze kidnaps Barbara Gordon to harvest her organs as a tissue match for his Cryogenically frozen wife – an element of 8 which was taken from the animated series in the first place – and her story is wrapped up in her successful revival at the end while Freeze, presumed dead, returns to the Arctic and is lost in the darkness and distance. It compares poorly with the theatrically-released 6, with less of the earlier animation's arresting Metropolis-inspired art deco noir backgrounds, though there is some stylish use of jazz standards on the soundtrack. [NL]

10. Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. Animated film (2000; vt Batman of the Future: Return of the Joker). Directed by Curt Geda, with the voices of Kevin Conroy (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Will Friedle (Terry McGinnis/Batman), Mark Hamill (Joker), Angie Harmon (Barbara Gordon), Dean Stockwell (Tim Drake), Tara Strong (young Barbara Gordon/Batgirl). Written by Paul Dini; story by Dini, Glen Murakami, & Bruce Timm. Original release 70 minutes; unrated version 71 minutes. Colour.

Tie-in to the adventurously post-canonical Batman Beyond television series (1999-2001), which extended the television version of the mythos into Bruce Wayne's old age in 2039, twenty years after his retirement as Batman, where he now operates as mentor to a new, teenage Batman who works with police Commissioner Barbara Gordon (the quondam Batgirl). The feature version reintroduces a mysteriously unaged Joker, who turns out to have possessed the Tim Drake incarnation of Robin as a technologically implanted alternate personality. The most interesting of the animated features, particularly in the uncensored version finally released in 2011, this dark, melancholic, and surprisingly violent exploration of the compromised end and long-term consequences of the Batman-Robin-Joker relationship (which ends with a Jokerized Robin shooting the Joker dead and the crime covered up) is only partly softened by its obligatory redemptive close. [NL]

11. Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman. Animated film (2003). Warner Bros. Television Animation. Directed by Curt Geda, with the voices of Kevin Conroy (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Eli Marienthal (Tim Drake/Robin), Kyra Sedgwick (Batwoman), Kimberley Brooks (Kathy DuQuesne), Elisa Gabrielli (Sonia Alcana), Kelly Ripa (Rocky Ballantine), Efrem Zimbalist Jr (Alfred), Hector Elizondo (Bane), David Ogden Stiers (Penguin). Written by Michael Reaves; story by Alan Burnett. 72 minutes. Colour.

Batman and Robin are assisted against Bane and the Penguin by the enigmatic Batwoman; the puzzle of her identity is (somewhat prematurely) resolved, after a trio of candidates have been individually eliminated, when the position turns out to be a jobshare between all three.

A belated feature spinoff from The New Batman Adventures (1997-1979), a followup series to The Adventures of Batman and Robin focusing on a more extended Bat-family, this serviceable but formulaic adventure was a disappointingly tame and conservative instalment after 10, pitched more directly at a juvenile audience, and marked the end of the cycle of television series spinoffs (aside from 13, from a different television incarnation and team); subsequent animated features would be standalones, generally adapted directly from existing DC storylines. Batman continued to be voiced by Conroy in the television series Justice League (2001-2004) and Justice League Unlimited (2004-2006), though there were no feature-length spinoffs from this incarnation. [NL]

12. Batman Begins. Film (2005). Directed by Christopher Nolan. Written by David S Goyer and Nolan. Cast includes Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Michael Caine (Alfred), Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox), Katie Holmes (Rachel Dawes), Cillian Murphy (Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow), Liam Neeson (Henri Ducard) and Gary Oldman (James Gordon). 141 minutes. Colour.

Nolan became a major Hollywood player with his straight-played reboot of the live-action franchise, which retold the story of Bruce Wayne's emergence as the Batman by tapping the stories of Ra's al Ghul and the League of Shadows, with the Scarecrow as secondary villain. Though Clooney had been contracted for a sequel, a third Schumacher instalment, featuring the Scarecrow, was abandoned after the poor reception of Batman and Robin, and Warners looked to a number of possible resuscitators for the live-action franchise: (i) an origin-story reboot, with Darren Aronofsky assigned to an adaptation of Frank Miller's Batman: Year One (1987; see 17), for which Miller wrote a script and the Wachowskis an alternate treatment; (ii) a television series about a young Bruce Wayne, which died and was reborn as Smallville (2001-2011); (iii) a live-action version of the Batman Beyond series; and (iv) a team-up film Batman vs Superman to be directed by Wolfgang Petersen (see Enemy Mine). The last of these won out and was put into production, but when Petersen signed on to direct Warners' other studio project Troy (2004), Nolan was engaged instead to do a new version of (i). The script, built around the spine of Miller's story but with significant new outworks and a more conventionally hierarchical model of comics evil, was essentially Goyer's work, and gave little intimation of the heights of ambition ascended in its sequels 15 and 18; but its determination to sell audiences on the oxymoron of a realistic Batman nevertheless marked an important development in the figure's cultural history. Bale, who had already been sought for the Aronofsky and Petersen versions, delivers strongly, and Nolan discovers a flair for spectacle and a personal affinity for the cinema of the expensive that would go on to play interestingly against his formalist preoccupations. The novelization is Batman Begins (2005) by Dennis O'Neil. [NL]

13. The Batman vs. Dracula. Animated film (2005). Directed by Michael Goguen, with the voices of Rino Romano (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Peter Stormare (Dracula), Tara Strong (Vicky Vale), Tom Kenny (Penguin), Kevin Michael Richardson (Joker), Alastair Duncan (Alfred). Written by Duane Capizzi. 83 minutes. Colour.

A plague of Vampires strikes Gotham when the Penguin accidentally revives Count Dracula, whose remains have been transhumed to Gotham Cemetery; the Count mesmerically enslaves the Penguin, vampirizes the Joker, and kidnaps Vicki Vale in order to reanimate his bride using her soul, but Batman synthesizes a cure for vampirism from the Joker's blood, restores Dracula's victims, and burns up the Count with a solar ray emitter.

A spin-off from the animated television series The Batman (2004-2008), though considerably darker in tone, this oddity finally gave an official DC imprimatur to the bat-on-bat mythomachy previously filmed, in disdain of copyright, by Andy Warhol in 1964 and by a 1967 Filipino exploitation quickie. The considerable challenges of accommodating the undead into the Batman's gadgetized universe are addressed, somewhat imperfectly, by downplaying the supernatural elements; there are no stakes through hearts, and the vampirized Gothamites are restored by modern-day haematology. A less completely desperate effort than it sounds, it nevertheless struggles to find a tonal and narrative balance between the cartoon villainy of the traditional Bat-nemeses and the Count's much more sombre strain of superior menace. [NL]

14. Batman: Gotham Knight. Suite of six animated short films (2008) by various hands for Warner Bros. Animation, with the voices of Kevin Conroy (Bruce Wayne/Batman), David McCallum (Alfred), Jim Meskimen (James Gordon). Written by various screenwriters; stories by Jordan Goldberg. 73 minutes total.

Following the success of The Animatrix (2003), Warners attempted to repeat the formula with a cycle of Anime shorts to tie in with the release of The Dark Knight (2008), and set between the events of Batman Begins and The Dark Knight, featuring revoiced animated approximations of the Nolan versions of the characters and a relatively brutal approach to Batman's physical damage (which would become an issue in The Dark Knight Rises). The animation is stylish enough, if lacking the range and occasional edge of craziness found in the more ambitious of the Animatrix films, but the studio-made storylines (by regular Nolan production associate Goldberg) are pedestrian, and where The Animatrix has a dense yet unexplored mythology to establish and populate, the Nolan-Goyer Batman universe is not notably enriched by a series of comics-style short adventures, notwithstanding a Scarecrow episode scripted by Goyer which fills in some of that character's activities between the two films. Despite some continuity in personnel, the series is not formally connected to the television incarnation The New Batman Adventures (see 11), confusingly sometimes known as Batman: Gotham Knights. [NL]

15. The Dark Knight. Film (2008). Warner Bros. Pictures in association with Legendary Pictures presents a Syncopy production. Directed by Christopher Nolan. Written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan; story by Christopher Nolan & David S Goyer. Cast includes Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Michael Caine (Alfred), Aaron Eckhart (Harvey Dent), Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox), Maggie Gyllenhaal (Rachel Dawes), Heath Ledger (Joker) and Gary Oldman (James Gordon). 145 minutes. Colour.

The Joker terrorizes Gotham, uniting organized crime in the face of its near-extinction at the hands of crusading district attorney Harvey Dent, and carrying out an audacious scheme to turn Dent into a villain and Batman into a public enemy.

Widely regarded as the finest Superhero film ever made, this hugely ambitious sequel to 12 saw the Nolan-Goyer partnership at the top of their game, possessed by the unreasonable conviction that Comics tropes, particularly the model of Superheroes and Villains within an organic urban socio-political system, had the potential to explore good and evil in the American city in ways that lay outside the reach of more realist genres. For this instalment and its successor Nolan and Goyer devised a detailed outline which was given to Jonathan Nolan to work up into a first draft, after which the brothers would alternate stints on the full screenplay as they had on The Prestige (2006). The film's central flaw is Dent's boldly promised but in the event undermotivated transformation from Gotham's white knight to the supervillain Harvey Two-Face (seen earlier in a cartoonish interpretation in 7); but Ledger's Joker, which won him a posthumous Oscar, draws on Alan Moore's The Killing Joke (graph 1988) for a powerfully written and played interpretation of the character as a psychopathic urban terrorist of the most literal kind. The novelization is The Dark Knight (2008) by Dennis O'Neil. For the sequel see 18. [NL]

16. Batman: Under the Red Hood. Animated film (2010). Warner Bros. Directed by Brandon Vietti, with the voices of Bruce Greenwood (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Jensen Ackles (Jason Todd/Red Hood), John DiMaggio (Joker), Neil Patrick Harris (Dick Grayson/Nightwing), Jason Isaacs (Ra's al Ghul), Wade Williams (Black Mask). Written by Judd Winick. 73 minutes. Colour.

Five years after the Joker killed Jason Todd, Dick Grayson's successor as Robin, a new version of the mysterious Red Hood resurfaces and launches a turf war with the Black Mask for control of Gotham's drug gangs. With the help of Nightwing (the adult Grayson's post-Robin superhero identity), Batman establishes that this Red Hood is a morally damaged Todd, resurrected by Ra's al Ghul, and confronts him in a three-way showdown with the Joker.

This was the first Batman feature (as opposed to the compilation 14) in a new series of DC standalone animations for DVD, adapted more closely from comics stories than their earlier television spin-offs had been. Here the "Under the Hood" arc from 2005-2006 is diligently adapted, even down to the incongruous filler episode (one of several in the lengthier source storyline) featuring giant multi-superpowered Android Amazo; but the original issues' protracted tease over the identity under the hood is dissipated at the outset by a prologue condensing the 1988 arc "A Death in the Family", which preempts the mystery that was the story's principal hook. [NL]

17. Batman: Year One. Animated film (2011). Directed by Sam Liu & Lauren Montgomery. Written by Tab Murphy, based on Batman: Year One (February-May 1987 Batman 404-407; graph 1988) by Frank Miller & David Mazzucchelli. Cast includes Jeff Bennett (Alfred), Bryan Cranston (James Gordon), Eliza Dushku (Selina Kyle), Ben McKenzie (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Jon Polito (Commissioner Gillian Loeb), Alex Rocco (Carmine Falcone) and Katee Sackhoff (Sarah Essen). 61 minutes. Colour.

Lieutenant James Gordon arrives in Gotham and wages a lonely but successful battle against systemic police corruption, while Bruce Wayne's unfocused aspirations to vigilantism find their iconic form.

This strangely flat adaptation of its famous source is faithful to the original's script and panel designs, but the Anime-style minimalism of movement and expression looks merely cheap (which it evidently was), and the artwork is incongruously bright and clean for Miller's Gotham, quite different from Mazzucchelli's expressive, painterly lines and night-tones in the comic, while the voice performances are stilted and artificial. After the collapse of Darren Aronofsky's live-action version a decade earlier, the story was so heavily ransacked for 12 that its presentation in this low-budget DVD form seems belated, superfluous, and rather sad. [NL]

18. The Dark Knight Rises. Film (2012). Warner Bros. Pictures in association with Legendary Pictures presents a Syncopy production. Directed by Christopher Nolan. Written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan; story by Christopher Nolan & David S Goyer. Cast includes Christian Bale (Bruce Wayne/Batman), Michael Caine (Alfred), Marion Cotillard (Miranda Tate), Morgan Freeman (Lucius Fox), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (John Blake), Tom Hardy (Bane), Anne Hathaway (Selina Kyle) and Gary Oldman (James Gordon). 165 minutes. Colour.

Eight years on from the events of 15, when the Dent Act has broken organized crime and Gotham is enjoying a prolonged peace, a remnant of the League of Shadows renews the assault on Gotham through Bane by isolating the city physically and politically while secretly turning an experimental Power Source to the city's destruction, opposed by Batman and associates, and complicated by the independently aligned figure of Selina Kyle/Catwoman.

Nolan's farewell to Batman is a mad farrago of epic ambitions, ill-assorted ideas, and obligatory canon leftovers that only sporadically gels, despite some sensationally effective sequences and admirable cast work (Hathaway is a particularly fine Catwoman). If anything still more ambitious than 15, the film turns its thematic attention from crime to inequality, with Bane here a demagogic populist who transforms Gotham into a tyrannized failed city-state by manipulating existing class tensions to the destruction of all; the politics are interestingly confused, and invite plangently contradictory readings. Nolan's exhilaration for the cinema of spectacle is amply displayed, and the wanton incoherence of the film's plenitude of mismatched elements amounts to an encyclopedic summa of the Batman mythology's transformational plasticity as a historically engorged signifier containing multitudes. The novelization is The Dark Knight Rises: The Official Movie Novelization (2012) by Greg Cox. [NL]

Batman also appears in the animated team-up features Superman/Batman: Public Enemies (2009), Superman/Batman: Apocalypse (2010), Justice League: The New Frontier (2008), Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths (2010), and Justice League: Doom (2012) – but not in Warners' notoriously misconceived live-action Catwoman (2004), which began as a spunky, Burtonesque 1995 sequel about Selina Kyle scripted by 2's Daniel Waters, only to develop through many, many later hands into an ineptly spayed story about an unrelated new character possessed and empowered by an Egyptian cat-goddess, with no franchise elements involved.

see also: Joker.

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