votw ii.25: Waiting For The Knight To Fall

“If Clark wanted to, he could use his super-speed and squish me into the cement. But I know how he thinks. Even more than the Kryptonite, he’s got one big weakness. Deep down, Clark’s essentially a good person…
and deep down, I’m not.”

Bob Kane’s Frankensteinian creature (a hollowed vessel infused with a monster that possesses something that is not quite a soul) has a few nicknames. His unrivaled powers of deduction has Ra’s al Ghul frequently calling him the World’s Greatest Detective. The Caped Crusader is the Dynamic Duo with the Boy Wonder. And this Friday, Bruce Wayne, he who was so tragically orphaned according to American mythology, returns to us in the form of his most telling moniker: the Dark Knight. Ladies and gentleman, I give you the Batman.

Aye, penguins and catwomen in the audience, it would be very easy for anyone to say that my favorite superhero is Batman. Why would it be so easy, you ask? Because anyone hazarding that guess would be correct — the Riddler’s query, shattered.

The Dark Knight is set to obliterate out of the Batcave this Friday. Already, it has reviewers and enthusiasts chiming in with “best picture of the year” and “Heath Ledger deserves an Oscar for his performance.” This is one of those moments in popular culture where everyone is waiting with bated breath for the instant when it all breaks apart, like gears ripping from the Batmobile. Let’s just hope it doesn’t come to that. Cesar Romero’s mustache’s ghost be damned!

It’s safe to say that we have all been salivating for this one for three years now — ever since Gary Oldman handed Christian Bale the joker playing card emblazoned with the promise of comic chaos. “I’ll look into it,” quipped Bale’s Batman, a hint of sarcasm and duty dripping from the words of the demigod.

But Batman isn’t a god at all — he’s not even a superhero. He’s just a man like you and me, born with an unlucky destiny. Basically, he’s a Ninja Turtle without the brothers. Sure, he can take as well as he can give, but he can’t really beat his rival, Superman. And that is the fascination that has held audiences and readers by the collar for the better part of a century: a fallible man who happens to take it upon himself to clean up his hometown. It’s not a very original idea. In fact, it was Bruce Wayne’s adoration of The Mark of Zorro that prompted his family to go out that tragic, make-believe night — from black comes black. (Side note: Batman must have a formidable jaw. Must.)

Somewhere in all that mess explains why I find the idea of Batman so fascinating. To a sense, he is an idealist shrouded in murky thoughts (like me!) — he thinks, nay, believes that by leading by example, his actions will influence his native city of Gotham to change its ways. Every night he goes hopping from roof to roof is a new night for him to show the people that they need not turn into diabolical clowns.

Lucky for us, however, Gothamites haven’t gotten the hint since 1939. Arguably, Batman sports the best rogues gallery (“bad guys”) in all of superherodom, and possibly all of fantastical make-believe, period. Sure, Superman has an arch-nemesis in baldie-gone-president Lex Luthor, but how memorable is he next to the acid-washed sneer of the Joker? Star Wars has Darth Vader, and even the Emperor, but just compound the Clown Prince of Crime by adding Two-Face, Catwoman, Clayface, Harley Quinn, Killer Croc, Mad Hatter, Mr. Freeze, Penguin, Poison Ivy, The Riddler, Scarecrow, Ra’s al Ghul, and Bane (the eloquent beast who finally curtailed the Bat’s quest by breaking his back). Feel bad for Batman? You should feel bad for the poor saps at Arkham Asylum!

You read most of these things and you nod, don’t you? You know what Oswald Cobblepot looks like (imagine Danny DeVito with pale skin and greasier hair — Penguin!), so it’s quite a small thing to say that the legend of the Bat is ingrained in our knowledge of the poptastic side of life. (Next week, I’m gonna do a blog dedicated to Soviet leaders just so you won’t think that I only focus on the frilly aspects of living in a terrible, terrible world.)

And then there’s Nightwing Robin. People love him (or the handful of people who have called themselves Robin) as much as they do the black cape and cowl. Hypothesis: Here’s this borderline lunatic punching madmen at 4:00 AM — how can I possibly relate to him? Oh, wait! Who’s that brightly-colored lad next to him? He’s saying cheery things, he is! It doesn’t matter just how much danger Batman’s putting this teenager in — we absolutely adore him!

Same deal with Batgirl, except male audiences (read: the majority of Batfans who get tired of staring at Robin’s tights) have something to fantasize about.

More so.

Alfred (Alfred!) is the loyal butler-cum-confidant that has always stuck by Bruce Wayne’s delusions of grandeur, regardless of the medium. He’s a skilled medic, a supplier of reason, and an earnest, wise ear to gripe to — and he’s British! Lastly, we have Commissioner Gordon, the haggard police chief with a heavy heart and a firm belief in justice. Batman’s only true liaison beyond his ilk of vigilantes, the Commish is as trusted an ally as any. Fortunate for us all, he was finally properly handled in Batman Begins. (And catapulted to the stratosphere in The Dark Knight.)

And now, Batman’s (history) begins.

It all started with the Bat-Man, the brainchild of the late Bob Kane, who conceived his world-famous vigilante for the May 1939 issue of Detective Comics. Like the Last Son of Krypton before him, the Caped Crusader spread like wildfire in the imaginations of the war-ravaged West, becoming a symbol of good and righteousness against a backdrop of unspeakable evil.

Even I made that costume look better —
and I was a seven-year-old trick-or-treater!

By 1943, Hollywood studios were busy churning out pieces of entertainment to go along with the bouyant newsreels. Thus, in a move no one in this day and age can imagine, Batman, that impossibly popular character from the funnies, was imported to the big screen. The serial format was the tops in those days, and the Bat and his Bird got the same treatment. Sure, the villains were no-name gangsters atop runaway trains, but it’s just what the public wanted. In spite of the primitive transition to celluloid, the early Batman serials of the 1940s influenced the cheese out of the late ’60s TV show, to an embarrissingly fun (if not slightly racist) degree.

The 1950s were a lull for the winged rat in popular medium. Some say that Robin’s red costume incited cries of “communist pig” and “pinko.” Still, the future was shimmering brightly — holy wantons, Batman! It’s the 1966 TV series!

With one movie and a measly two seasons (120 episodes?), Batmania became part of the trifecta of B’s of 1960s popular culture, along with the Beatles and Bond. (Never mind bombing and biggotry.) No plot was too hammy, no line too corny. Any given Bat-Time, you would witness the “Dark Knight” foiling the Puzzler’s schemes with his patented Anti-Slinky spray, conveniently stored next to the batarangs in his utility belt.

Arguably, the image of homoerotic Bruce Wayne (Adam West) and his ward (Burt Ward) BAM-ing and ZOINK-ing pink henchmen named Fee, Fi, Fo, and Fum became the most recognizable legacy of the character for a long, long time. All that noise about exacting justice on a world that had taken a child’s parents away? Gone! It’s the ’60s, man! “Na na na na Na na na na BATMAN!”

All riiiiiiight, a fun night at Wayne Manor. ;)

Personally, I enjoyed the holy heck out of this TV series growing up. What could be more fun than watching Adam West’s stilted delivery match wits with “the count of criminal conundrums” (The Riddle-er)? So my mum (who watched it growing up, as well — her fave being “Batichica”) and I would sit together as Nick At Nite reminded us how Batman was really just a swinging bachelor with a penchant for fake punches and leggy sidekicks.

In the 1970s, Batman felt the full backlash of flower-empowered narcissism…or did he? Nah, he just got (even more) animated with his Super Friends, a ragtag team of superheroes rife with recycled footage and Hanna-Barbera laziness. If you’ve seen one episode of Super Friends, then it’s a safe bet that you’ve seen them all in that one sitting, including such fringe series as Aquaman (and his ambiguous partner, Aqualad — and their ambiguous seahorse), or that episode where The Flash fights a giant ant. I swear to you, there was but one animator doing all the work, replacing masks and reusing still frames ad vomitous. Nowadays, we do animation the even lazier way: we export it to the Far East — let 11 cents an hour do the work.

By the time the 1980s synthed its way onto MTV, Batman had about as much gravitas as George W. Shakespeare’s opus. And then it happened: Batman comic books started becoming relevant again. In fact, they became the focus of the media, something that never really happened. The culprit: The Dark Knight Returns, a gritty look at the cape and cowl way past his prime. Y’see, Two-Face (a.k.a. former District Attorney Harvey Dent, once a friend of Bruce Wayne’s) has been rehabilitated and released to the public. So it is up to the senior citizen that is the Dark Knight to babysit his old adversary in a plot that’s good, but not as good as people play it up to be, if you want my honest opinion. Still, it smacked the 1986 world into realizing that the story of Batman is not one of Scooby-Doo guest spots — it’s one of aching duty, of the duality of deception, of fear in the hearts of the superstitious ne’er-do-wells. Also, of kicking Superman’s Boy Scout ass.

The Dark Knight Returns was quickly followed up by Batman: Year One (same storyteller, Frank Miller, who would achieve further success as Hollywood’s grit-master of the 2OOOs with Sin City and 300), which hones in on Bruce Wayne’s formative transformation into the defender of Gotham. A much better narrative, this one is intricately tied to 2OO5’s Batman Begins, especially in terms of James Gordon’s characterization as a new-to-GCPD detective looking to clean up the body count.

A year after that, the harrowing glimpse into the Joker’s past was given in The Killing Joke. This comic book in particular seems to have a lot of weight within the story of this Friday’s The Dark Knight, given the Joker’s partialiaty to random evil with a side of chuckle. The most lasting impact of that story, I think, is the fate of Barbara Gordon (Batgirl), who is crippled by the Joker’s handgun. It almost seems like an afterthought in the panels of the comic, but it sets up Ms. Gordon as Oracle, the trusty HQ voice for Batman’s future exploits — it also expertly showcases that the Joker isn’t just whoopie cushions and gag guns, but truly the deadliest of maniacal enemies.

By the end of 1988, the Batman comic book phenomenon hit its zenith with the Death In The Family story arc, which produced the carcass of the Boy Wonder. 1-900 numbers were set up for fans to vote for his fate, ultimately choosing his execution at the hands of none other than the Clown Prince of Crime himself. However, this did not sit well with the general public that had grown up with Robin — death threats were lobbied at DC Comics, even. What people did not understand was that this was the second Robin, Jason Todd, a character who was never really accepted by the fandom (clearly). The original Robin, Dick Grayson, became disenchanted with his second-fiddle status and turned into Nightwing, with his own city to oversee. This particular graphic novel was a pleasure to read, especially given the almost ridiculous notion of the Joker becoming an ambassador to the United Nations by authority of Iran (how topical!). (And like I stated in a previous blog, I do not read comics — I’ve only meticulously pored into these funny pages this week, both in anticipation for the movie and as research for this very blog.)

And with 1989 came Tim Burton’s Batman — and wasn’t everything leading up to this? Here at last was the Batman everyone had been hoping to see on the big screen, although reservations came in droves. Tim Burton, the director of Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and Beetlejuice, was to orchestrate this thing? And Betelgeuse himself, Michael Keaton, would star? But the nay-sayers were quickly hushed that summer of ’89. It goes without saying that this movie is still the best one from the Burton/Schumacher legacy/debacle.

First of all, Gotham City never looked so alive. Glowering gargoyles, simmering frost, unwelcoming alleyways — this was the Gotham you never want to visit, much less live in. Batman himself is a towering legend come to spandex life — cold, calculating, ruthless (to a fault — since when does he kill unto others?). And the Joker! Jack Nicholson fluidly pulls off the flamboyant murderer, giving it his all as he prances and pummels. His plot, quite simply, is to kill everyone in Gotham City with a soundtrack provided by Prince. The Batmobile has never been slicker, Alfred never more marginalized, and Bruce Wayne never more meh. If he’s doing this because the Joker killed his parents, one cannot really tell from the tortured Michael Keaton. Most significant of all, perhaps, is the fact that Oingo Boingo’s Danny Elfman made a career out of composing music because of this film — the same freakish man who was singing about loving little girls because they made him feel so bad.

Just shy of three years later, the ante was upped with Batman Returns, which exists only in contrasts of black and white. I still use the bedsheets from that movie, and I am constantly reminded of Michelle Pfeiffer’s smokin’ leather outfit in that film — prrr, meow, wet dreams! If Catwoman was a kitten-raped S&M fetishist, then Danny DeVito’s Penguin was an ogreish blob of pale black ooze. Stir that in with Christopher Walken’s zombie acting, Michael Keaton’s hair, a giant rubber duck, and Tim Burton’s obsession with The Cure, and you have a 1992 blockbuster that is still an enjoyable, if not creepy, film to watch to this day. Now just imagine Marlon Wayans as Robin, as Warner Bros. originally intended. Holy —-!

I remember the Chri’mas of 1992 — I got Batman, Catwoman, and Penguin dolls. Yes, dolls — more Barbies in size than G.I. Joes (which I never liked), making their non-opposable arms very oppose-able. I also got a Batmobile…One day, before Christmas, my dad sent me to fetch something from the glove compartment. Being the 5-year-old tyke that I was, I went for the trunk instead, and there it was, shining so pretty in its box: the Batmobile I had so lovingly asked Sandy Claws for. I ran to my parents with the glee of all the Toys “R” Us’s in the world…and how cruel that world became when my dad snatched the prize away from me, claiming that it was some other kid’s and that Santa would be bringing mine on Christmas morning. The tears, kids, the tears! (On Christmas morning, I didn’t really care that my Batman Returns dolls couldn’t fit inside my Batmobile, or that my Batmobile didn’t even have an opening for a regular action figure. Hey, I was the kid that put toilet paper around the neck of a black ninja and dubbed him the Shredder. All this, and I didn’t realize the Santa Fable until I was 8.)

In 1992, we also got what is most certainly the best incarnation of the Batman in the ’90s — Batman: The Animated Series. Aimed at kids (supposedly), this adult-themed Saturday morning cartoon brought the dark streets of Gotham to life with dark-deco and Depression-era sensibility. It wasn’t a loud or annoying animated program like the ones from today; it was a quiet, self-contained drama that did not treat the demented in a mocking manner, and Batman’s force was never brutish or bullying; instead, his approach was as somber as the whispered denouement of every episode. The main characters were all decidedly nuanced and balanced, given rich life like no other moving medium before it (Robin was actually a likable asset here, not just a hindrance with no foil value). Why, the best Batman voice ever is that of voice-over artist Kevin Conroy, who would go on to portray the Bruce Wayne/Batman persona for more hours than Adam West, Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, George Clooney, and Christian Bale combined. And the list of baddies were no pushovers, either: the Joker was superbly portrayed by Mark Hamill — it’s Luke Skywalker gone clownish!

The 14-year legacy of Batman: TAS is a daunting one, what with its rewriting of bios (Big Bad Harv was the precursor to Two-Face, brilliant) and its enrichment of the mythology with new adversaries (Harley Quinn — Joker’s squishable love-me-don’t girlfriend — where have you been all our lives?). Not only was every episode packed with no-holds-barred action and noir, but it also set the stage for an entire generation of DC Comics animation. Alongside the elongated adventures of Batman and Robin(s) and Batgirl (oh, my!), there was Superman: The Animated Series (the team-up with Bats in “World’s Finest” — which also saw the union of the Joker and Lex Luthor — is still an exemplary marriage), Batman Beyond, and both Justice League shows, all furthering the simple myth introduced in the little Batman show that was supposed to cash in on the movies’ popularity, not outdo it. Certainly, it is one of the most sprawling continuities in the television wasteland, comparable to Star Trek (blech).

If you think you’re above watching a cartoon about a man and his cape, think again — the Batman: Animated Series films are the most lauded of Batman adventures, besting the likes of even Batman Begins in reviews. In 1993, before camp was reintroduced in Batman Forever, Baman: Mask of the Phantasm made few ripples at the box office, but, boy, was its storytelling superb. A lush story about Bruce Wayne’s past and a new adversary picking off gangsters, Mask of the Phantasm is heralded as one of the greats. The same can be said about Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker. Set in the future backdrop of Batman Beyond (wherein Bruce Wayne of 2O5O is retired but overseeing the rise of his new apprentice, Terry McGuinnis, the Batman of the brave new world), Return of the Joker details the old Batman’s last confrontation with the Joker and how it affected the sanity of the second Robin. Both of these films come highly recommended (by me!), so go seek them out. (Spoiler warning: Robin kills the Joker. Pass it on.)

Approaching the 3000th word, I finally make it to 1995’s Batman Forever. After two very dark films and a TV series that was equally serious and genre-defining, there could be no way, no how that the story of the Bat could take a dip back into villains on tiptoes and out of this world puns. Lucky for you non-believers, “director” Joel Shumacher brought in Jim Carrey to, you know, Ace Venture things up a bit. Genius, no? As The Riddler, JIm Carrey introduced his very popular character, the Mask, to the Batcave. Along with him came Tommy Lee Jones as Two-Face, which, on paper, sounds like a great idea, right? Tommy Lee Jones is already a creepy guy to begin with, so how can he not pull off Batman’s most schizo-dangerous gangster? We finally (!) get Robin, by way of teen heartthrob (?) Chris O’Donnell — and his career is doing just fine, thanks. Finally, Batman’s lips have never been poutier than with Val Kilmer behind the eye slits. Yup, the “actor” from Willow would be portraying one of the most conflicted characters of the 20th century.

Growing up with cable television, Batman Forever is probably the Batmovie I’ve watched the most (and drank from — McDonald’s mug, jeah, boi!). How can it not appeal to a pre-pre-teen with nothing to do on a Saturday afternoon (besides Nickelodeon)? By rights, it’s an enjoyable, comedic fare with overall likable (albeit broad) characters. And, hey, they even attempt to explore Batman’s origins and his dark past. Kudos, yes? Riddler’s back-and-forth rapport with Two-Face was the best part, which is more than I can say about the exchanges between Dick and Bruce (which one is the gayer name?). And I must say, Nicole Kidman never looked hotter than she did perched on that rooftop, breasts ablaze. Had I been capable of a woodie as an eight-year-old in that movie theater, I would have surely pitched a tent. Why, Schumacher even managed to make Drew Barrymore look good. I know!

The good times (um…) did not last, however. No one had done it before — not Joker, not Bane, not even the entire Justice League (including that worthless Plastic Man) had been able to defeat Batman, but somehow, someway, the cruel malice of Joel Shumacher managed to destroy the Batman. And as the world wept after Batman & Robin, all that was left behind was a wardrobe full of Batnipples and cod pieces. Run at us, Caped Crusader, and never come back! [Oh, don’t be so dramatic. Chill out.]

I suppose the only reason Arnold “watch-me-ruin-a-state” Shwarzenegger was given the part was because no one could deliver such terrible lines without feeling at least a little guilty. (Also, the former Hitler admirer Mr. Universe could take on the 70-pound Mr. Freeze suit, no prob.) I can somewhat imagine Governor Shwarzenegger being an intimidating villain. After all, he was a Predator-killing silent commando in his heyday, verily, a formidable Stallone-mauling terminator. But no…as Mr. Freeze, he has a legion of ice-skating henchmen from hell, culled from the annals of Adam West nostalgia. Remember when he sang “I’m Mr. White Christmas” a la The Year Without A Santa Claus? Me neither. Lucky for us, when we see it on TV, we treat this movie like (warning! warning!) Kryptonite. (Warned ya.)

Uma Thurman wasn’t a terrible choice at all to portray that most enchanting of female opposites, Poison Ivy. Sure, she’s not the best looking knife in the drawer (by a wide margin), but she sure did prove her mettle. No, Batman & Robin didn’t show that — Kill Bill did, doi. They gave her such a rubbish job (watch out! Batman and Robin are no longer on speaking terms because of her perfect kiss!), it really is a waste of potential energy. Acting as the deceitful girlfriend of the allegedly tortured Freeze is so…sigh…uninspired.

If Robin was a tool in Batman Forever, then he was…a wet match in a dark room in this one. You haven’t seen such dead weight since the 1988 elections. Hey-yo! Such an ineffectual character, my Jebus. And what’s the deal with Batgirl? Let’s cash in on the dying Alicia Silverstone money train! Yes, Clueless was a great movie. I repeat: Clueless was a great movie. Nothing there about no danged she-bat. I’ll admit, seeing the lifesize window cutout of Ms. Silverstone at my local Taco Bell got me all a-tingle, but when she’s been rewritten as Alfred Pennyworth’s niece, then it’s all…whatever

Lastly, we come upon the eponymous hero (even if he does get second billing): George motherdeflowering Clooney. How dare you. It’s not enough to desecrate our women’s imaginations with your youthful exuberance, but you also have to throw feces at our testosterone role models, too? Your unassuming, inflated ego that manifests itself as a bobblehead is offensive enough (especially when you get Oscar noms for playing what is essentially the same role every time), but I will not have you strut about pretending to be Bruce Wayne in name. When the movie came out, I got a talking Batman bank, and let’s just say that the plastic figurine guarding my quarters emoted his lines (“Hey, Freeze! The heat is on! I’m Batman!”) more than Clooney did in his entire run on ER. As Bruce Wayne, Georgie-boy projects no angst, no tortured polarity, nothing resembling a guy who believes in the justice his murdered parents believed in. He’s just playing Clooney, dammit! It just makes me so damn mad!

What else irks me about Batman & Robin? Besides its existence? Probably the aforementioned Batnipples (boohiss!), as well as the Batcredit card gag. The plastic lips. The eye-retching colors. Bane, the imbecil, which starkly contrasts the real Bane, the wordsmithian businessman. Yeah, he’s a gigantic juicer, but he’s very tactical, that one. Like I mentioned, he derailed Batman by breaking his back, akin to when Superman died in the comics. It was an experience that always weighed Batman down, the physical version of Robin’s death or Batgirl’s disability. But Batman & Robin‘s Bane is none of that. He’s a green trunk that grunts and sells fewer action figures than John Kerry. (On the DVD commentary for this atrocity, the director himself apologizes profusely. Not kidding.)

Thus came death to the Batman. There’s blood on your hands, Ms. Thatcher. There’s blood on your hands!

After 1997, the world would not be ready for another big-screen Batjaunt for the better part of a decade. Ironically, there was another film about Mr. Freeze that was all set to be released alongside the theatrical turd. However, upon witnessing the dismal reaction to the abysmal movie, the good folks behind the goodest Batman anthology of the era were wise enough to release it a full year later. Not as uber-culazo as Mask of the Phantasm, SubZero does manage to tell a formidable Mr. Freeze tale that won’t have you recoiling in Scarecrow’s fear toxin.

So while our Caped Crusader experienced a Hollywood-induced lull, it still chugged along brilliantly on TV (continuing in Batman Beyond and as a founding member of the too-good-for-you Justice League). In the realm of its native format, el libro comix, Batman was getting the royal treatment with such stellar fare as The Long Halloween, which deals with the origin story of Two-Face (this one is probably my favorite Batman comic ever — I read it every day after finishing my classes in my Freshman year of college, waiting in the bookstore for my dad to drive up in the rain), and Hush, an exhaustive collabo within the ranks of the Batbaddies, all leading up to the ghost of the dead Robin. (There’s also a great graphic novel in the form of Arkham Asylum: A Serious House On Serious Earth, which was released in ’89, but I did not mention it because of the movie hooplah. It’s deliriously painted, with every page splashed with echoes of your sanguine dreams. Muy bueno.)

I even read a novel released in 2OOO (albeit a few years down the line, post-Batman Begins hysteria). That’s when you know Alfred’s hit a curious threshold with his fandomonium, when he starts treating the spectacle as literature. (The only other time this really happened, beyond built-in values of reading The Lord of the Rings, was in middle school when I read dozens of Star Wars novels. Does Harry Potter count? Nome.) The novel was No Man’s Land, a nihilistic, blood-drenched look at Gotham City gone to the dogs. After a calamitous earthquake, the island of Gotham is declared no man’s land, meaning that the U.S. government broke all ties with it, leaving it to its own devices. Naturally, the nuthaus of Arkham Asylum spreads to the streets, and every demon you’ve ever feared takes up a turf. Batman isn’t so much the central figure as are the desperate citizens of Gotham, who are forced into loyalty either to Two-Face or the Joker, whose orchestral manoeuvres in the dark lead to a heart-breaking climax that will have your mama bawling.

While all this jazz was going on, you have to know that Warner Bros. was not idling by while its most treasured property sank into theatrical despair. (Just forget Superman IV ever existed, mmmmkay?) Shumacher was all set to go forward with Batman Triumphant, which would have had a worse actor than George Clooney, if you can believe it, don the emblem. There was also Batman: The DarkKnight, which languished in development hell up until 2OOO. Stuff was even written by the showrunners for Batman Beyond, which is something they should definitely retry sometime. Then there was Batman: Year One, the project that most assuredly gave the OK for Christopher Nolan’s masterpiece. Lastly, Batman Vs. Superman was given considerable thought.

Batman Vs. Superman is a no-brainer. Why not have the most popular comic book wiseguys (Spider-que?) go at it on the big screen. It’s not like they like each other very much, and they’re usually found bickering an awful lot. One’s a vigilante on rooftops, the other an adored Boy Scout. Their methods are quite distinct, but their mutual respect goes without question. Talks of Caped Crusader Versus Kal-El were given serious consideration post-Superman Returns, now that Warner Bros. had two faces with which to sell the movie. I would actually vote for an adaptation of the “World’s Finest” episode — warring Bats and Supes team up against love-hate Lex and Jokes, easy enough. Of course, that fell apart, in favor of a Justice League movie, actually. Naturally, that fell apart, too, so for the forseeable future, all we will have is The Dark Knight on DVD. And maybe Wonder Woman.

In 2OO2, hot on the heels of everyone’s fave TV show, Smallville, the Birds of Prey series debuted to decent numbers and worthwhile demos. Set in the Gotham universe, the episodes followed Huntress, the daughter of Batman and Catwoman, along with her lesbian lovers allies, Oracle (still in a wheelchair because of the Joker) and some other chick who probably was a lesbian. Sure, it fandoogled the hell out of the mythology, but I watched it every week…until it was canceled. If you want to see what you’ve been missing, then check out the newly-released DVD set (cash-in kaching!). In 2OO4, Oscar-winner and terrible Bond girl Halle Barry starred in Catwoman, but there’s no need to delve into that. At all.

…Which finally, finally brings us up to speed with 2OO5’s Batman Begins, the holy grail of Batman’s Renaissance. It’s what every kid who bought a black mask growing up wanted. This wasn’t just an origin story told in the opening credits, or an origin story that really didn’t say much (I’m looking at you, both Hulk movies), but rather an origin story that tells us everything about Bruce Wayne, and then some. It so eloquently establishes him as the hate-filled twenty-something looking to channel his anger into something better, looking to drive that fear of bats into fearlessness.

I must admit something here: I was not looking forward to Batman Begins all that much. Yeah, it was a new Batman and all, but I just didn’t feel the surge of energy that was waiting at the movie theater, and I’m sure a lot of you were like that, too. Hell, it didn’t even boast the cream of the rogues gallery. Scarecrow? Ra’s al Ghul? What gimmick were they throwing at us? Of course, we were treated to the finest Batman film of all time, as well as the finest Batactor of all time. Christian Bale is Batman as Bruce Wayne, which we have never really seen before. You know, his anguish, his thirst for justice, his life for Gotham. Every Bruce Wayne before him was just an arrogant jerk, more playboy than thespian. With Bale, we finally got the three faces of the one man: Bruce Wayne the determined misanthrope, Bruce Wayne the playacting, frivolous socialite, and Bruce Wayne the Kevlar enthusiast.

And for the first time ever, all of Batman’s alliances feel just right: Alfred Pennyworth (Sir Michael Caine) is the concerned parent figure with a sardonic tongue; James Gordon (Gary Oldman) is the disheartened good cop given life anew by Batman’s quest for justice; Lucius Fox, a bit player and the black dude who knows the ins and outs of Wayne’s billion-dollar conglomerate, even he gets a tremendous push by Morgan Freeman. And then there’s Rachel Dawes, she who is now the dearly departed Katie Holmes, actually adds something by being the idealistic district attorney. (Sure, she was dismissed for Maggie Gyllenhaal…1 Up?) Even Thomas Wayne, the deceased papa, got some tangible recognition, and he had always been so marginalized, in spite of his significance. (The same cannot be said about Mama Wayne, although I give props to her pearl necklace.) (Don’t think of it as dirty, perv.)

And much to our wonderment, the evildoers were real people, not cut-outs from In Living Color. Dr. Bob Crane, the Sleepy Hollow’d Scarecrow, was murderously achieved by Cillian Murphy. Yeah, his stage exit left a foamy taste in my mouth, but you heard Gordon — he’s still running wild in the Narrows, hint-hint. And then there was Liam Neeson, that jack of all trades actor who always finds a way to be the wise statesman who takes on a willing learner, whether it’s The Phantom Menace, Narnia, Kingdom of Heaven, Batman, or even Schindler’s List. As the dual-faced Ra’s al Ghul, Neeson is self-righteous and knowing, willed to cleanse the world of the treachery of Gotham’s hedonism. Remember, in the lore, Ra’s al Ghul utilizes the Lazarus Pit to lengthen his life over the centuries — The Dark Knight may tell us what happened to Mr. Neeson…

Director Christopher Nolan is one of the best directors of this generation — not just for the batty hijinks, but also for Memento and The Prestige. In Batman Begins, he gives life to Gotham — no, not just gothic mirages culled from The Nightmare Before Christmas, but actual life. It’s a city people would actually live in, a metropolis in everything but in proper name. It’s also a degenerate toilet splashed in browns, decadent yet deadly. Nolan doesn’t just reinvent the Batman mythos, he makes it seem like it’s something actually going on in the news. The Burton films were comic book spectacles for the Invader Zim crowd; the Schumacher films were episodes from tonight’s Cartoon Network lineup; the Nolan films (with the new one included) are operatic dramas that happen to center on a legend as old as World War II itself.

So much ado, so much ado! That brings us to tonight, to The Dark Knight. Wheels of anticipation have been turning at full throttle — I watched a slew of Batman: The Animated Series episodes and Batman Begins last night, along with premiering Gotham Knight, the anime collection a la The Animatrix, voiced by Mr. Batvoice himself, Kevin Conroy. I haven’t been this excited for a film since the last Star Wars film, I’d say, which came out just before Batman Begins. Everyone’s back (minus Mrs. Cruise, duh), plus we get two stellar additions: Aaron Eckhart as the man who would be Two-Face and Heath Ledger as the most wizard villain in recent memory. You and I both know it will be a glorificent, bittersweet experience, watching a masterful performance that will be his last one. (Let’s not rule out the minor crush I have on Donnie Darko’s sister, Maggie Gyllenhaal. She’s like an attainable pretty — who happens to look like her male sibling.)

The hype is monstrous. “I Believe In Harvey Dent.” “Let’s Put A Smile On That Face.” On Sunday, I purchased a poster of the Joker writing “Why So Serious?” in blood on glass, and it looms over me as I type, a chilling reminder of how something so right can go so tragically wrong. We wanted to watch this momentous film in an IMAX theater (seeing as how it’s the first Hollywood film to be shot in that format), but it’s sold out for the weekend in the tri-county area. I guess we’re just gonna hafta camp out at our local mall, thirsting at bits of excitement, letting the thrill of a motion picture engulf us just as it did back when Edison turned the projector on for the first time.

And as I near the 6000th 7000th word (holy typographical errors, Man-Bat!), I have had enough of so much children’s fantasy. I just want this damn movie to be over and done with to get on with some semblance of a life. I’ll have a date by this decade, I assure you. (I’m not referring to the decade that ends in 2010 — I’m talking about the one that begins right now. 2016 looks good, baby!)

If you think this manifesto was comprehensive, you should check out the bit of writing I did for the Ninja Toitles last year. A doozy, that one.

EDIT: Well, my worst fears have been realized: this damn blog post took so long to bring to life that I already watched The Dark Knight. Crazy, huh? You’re expecting my review, I reckon. Well, here it is, as spoiler-free as a toy without pee…This movie does not disappoint. If you think the hype was gargantuan, that your own expectations are too inflated to be realized, then just you wait: all of the excitement was a kiddie pool compared to this 100-story high-diving extravaganza.

It takes the raw energy and true-to-life bravado of Batman Begins and lights a flamethrower under its ass. After having seen so many spoilers (blast!), I thought I would be jaded by the whole affair, but it was so fresh, so jaw-dropping, so unequivocally wowing. It is not a superhero movie by any stretch of the imagination, and it’s much more than just a drama with moralistic overtones — it’s a horror movie because it seems so real, and nothing’s scarier than reality.

Everyone is sublime, everyone. Bale confronts his ambivalence about his role the way he ought to, with trepidation and remorse, like Christopher Reeves in Superman II, that is, if Supes had been faced with a terrorist that echoes the panicked oblivion we live in. Oldman as Gordon also went above and beyond everything ever given to the good cop, and you’ll be cheering for him throughout the film. Eckhart as District Attorney Harvey Dent is a force of likable — questionable? — hope, and although I had doubts about his prophetic metamorphosis…well, those doubts were obliterated. Once again, co-writer/director Christopher Nolan does not sacrifice Gotham City as a character — it is rich, powerful, full of mistrust and deception, yes, but also embodying the goodness we all one day hope to live up to.

It’s not just all prolific rhetoric — the action sequences, even the smallest of frames, are astounding. No facet of this movie suffers (the plot, the characterization, the mythology), and this goes especially true for the next-gen “superhero” action you’ll see in this film. And thus, we come to Heath Ledger’s Joker. It’s a primal tour de force, a daringly maniacal take on a character we all thought we had known all our lives. He deserves a standing ovation for turning chilling, tongue-lashing malice on its head (quite literally, wink), and this is, quite simply, the actor’s grand overture, the one he will be remembered for after a dozen more Batman movies get made. My friend says that Javier Bardem’s Chigurh in No Country For Old Men was better, but I have to object: yeah, Bardem did something creepy with an unknown movie, but what Ledger does with a film with so much hype, with a character so established, it’s really nothing short of devastating.

(Let’s not be too hard on my friend, Topher, though — he enjoyed Hellboy II: The Golden Army more, which was a really good movie, yeah, but this is the Batman. The quintessential Batman. Batman: The Godfather Part II version.)

So it goes, citizen. So it goes.

After so many words about glum and blah (and three four days of the same), I can only let you go with this week’s Video (but of course!). What would be the most punny video to showcase? a-ha’s “Dark Is The KNight For All“! What says The Dark Knight more than a song and video practically tailored for the occasion some 15 years prior?

All this talk of crazies in costumes is sure to go hand-in-hand with a-ha’s bizarre imagery in the music video — people having sex with stilts, holey spheres falling from the heavens, Mags checking himself into a sepia mental institute. But it would not be enough to give you just one music video on this grand occasion, no, no! I am bringing you both the censored and uncensored versions! Why did it have to be censored at all? I suppose the suits at the U.S. MTV didn’t take kindly to men being born on stomachs of other men (or the same man, for that matter), or the freaky dude sexing with timber. “Dark Is The Night For All” is something right out of MirrorMask, I tell ya.

So I thank you, dear reader, for tuning in to this. Ever wonder what it feels like to dance with the devil in the pale moonlight? It’s as fortuitous as it sounds.

“I never said thank you.”

And you’ll never have to.

The classic, censored version:

The Italian TV uncensored joint:

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~ by Alfredeus on July 18, 2008.

3 Responses to “votw ii.25: Waiting For The Knight To Fall”

  1. thanks for the comprehensive 6000+ word guide to the batman. wikipedia couldn’t have done better, no sir.
    two other things you absolutely need to know (as in not at all):
    1. i’m glad to have my suspicions about tim burton and the cure confirmed.
    2. my favorite star wars novel was shards of alderaan. although that may have only been because it was the only manageable one for 10 yr. old me.

  2. I have Bell’s Palsy and enjoy your blog very much. First time I’ve commented, but have been reading here and there.
    Great blog. I enjoy reading it every chance I get and value your opinions!

  3. i still wish Katie Holmes had stayed on board as Rachel Dawes for the Dark Knight; it was like the time spent getting familiar with her character in Batman Begins was wasted…

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