I can remember that my first experience with a comic book wasn’t Batman, but rather Superman. I had watched the old George Reeves television series (in black and white!) and while somewhere in the neighborhood of 4 years old I was taken for one of many haircuts at the barber’s shop my Grandpa Jack had taken me to. Needless to say like most 4 year olds I was up and running around trying to get into various things and my mother, being the wise person that she was distracted me with a comic book.
“Hey look, it’s a Superman comic book….” She said and I turned to see a comic book for the first time, I also remember that this was the first time that I realized that Superman’s costume was red and blue, a fact unknown to be because of b/w television! I hear stories about children at the age of 3 and 4 that can read, but that wasn’t me. What I did figure out in very short order was that if I followed the panels going from left to right across the comic book page then I could follow the story without being able to read the words. I was mesmerized by the story and it was in that moment that my lifelong fascination with comic books was born.
You would think that because Superman came first, that he would be my favorite. You’d think wrong if you did, while I have a deep, abiding love for the character and movies (Christopher Reeves is still the best….) my absolute favorite comic character of all time happens to be Batman. Is it the billionaire playboy status of Bruce Wayne, the ability to come and go like a ninja in the night or all of those wonderful toys that he uses to fight crime? No, I think that if I had to really sit down and analyze my love for the character that it would come from his no-nonsense approach to dealing with criminals and ability to operate outside the law in order to enforce it. Is Batman a masked vigilante enforcing his will on a chaotic world? Sure, he is and that’s part of the reason that those who follow his adventures love him.
I grew up watching the Adam West Batman and Robin series; I have no trouble admitting that. Most fans my age shy away from mentioning the series; they’re embarrassed by it or feel that it demeans the character somehow. What few realize is that it actually saved the character, circulation of the Batman comics from DC Comics had fallen off to a point that they were considering cancelation of the titles. Someone got the idea to do a Batman television series and through it bolstered the sales on the comics to keep them going for years. The tradeoff was that every time some legitimate news organization did any sort of newscast or even remotely mentioned comic books we were treated to ‘Pow’, ‘Bop’ and other spelled out sound effects as though we were six and could be patted on the head like the family dog.
My Batman, from the comic books at least, was formed by the great work of comic book artist/writer Frank Miller, a giant among the industry. Someone paid attention because Miller’s work is still being referenced three decades later and strip mined for the fodder of movies, cartoons and comic books still.
So let’s talk a little bit about the movies, the most commonly asked questions that I get from family and friends are ‘how accurate to the comic is it?’ and ‘Is it any good?’ As a writer I understand that what works on paper sometimes doesn’t translate so well into a different medium. I can spend three pages inside the head of character describing his thoughts and actions that you’ll never see on the screen or translated into a moving picture because it’s an internal struggle. Comic books work the same way, in most cases the movies are decent enough adaptions of the original source material in so much that they get the broad strokes right. Yes, the costume (sort of) matches and he or she is whoever in his or her secret identity is supposed to be, so on and so forth. Usually where Hollywood messes things up is when they try to make the movies funny (Daredevil, the movie), they change motivations (Elektra, the movie), dumb things down for the audience (Take your pick, X-Men Origins: Wolverine or Green Lantern ….) or just plain ignore the source material trying to make something that stands on its own (Mystery Men, X-Men: The Last Stand, Return of the Swamp Thing and many, many others….)
So how close are the Christopher Nolan Batman movies to the comics? Actually, they’re the closest thing I’ve seen to the actual comics in any medium, are they perfect? No. Are they good? Oh yeah!
The origins of Batman are retold and finally we get the explanation as to why of all things he picks a ‘bat’. Through these movies we get an exploration of the Batman as an object of fear, in the previous film adaptions the scariest thing we saw were the Bat-nipples. I mean if I saw George Clooney charging at me with giant-sized Bat-nipples I’d run too, but up until the Chris Nolan movies, Batman hadn’t been dark or remotely scary.
These movies deal with the life of Bruce Wayne and the toll the death of his parents has on him. We see his journey from shattered and lost billionaire playboy to dedicated crime fighter capable of taking on a small herd of criminals at a time. We are given reasons why Detective Lt. James Gordon (who eventually becomes the Commissioner we all known and love….) would trust a man in a mask to bring justice to Gotham City.
These three movies are beautifully filmed in the real world, far away from sets or movie back lots of some studio. Chicago stands in for Gotham City as Batman prowls the streets taking down the criminals. 9/10s of these movies are done with practical special effects, which means they built whatever you see in the frame and enhanced it a little with CGI. Think about that for a second, how often do you see that in movie these days? Not often.
The casts for all three movies are outstanding: Christian Bale, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Liam Neeson, Cillian Murphy, Anne Hathaway, Katie Holmes, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Tom Hardy, Heath Ledger, Aaron Eckhart, Eric Roberts, Rutger Hauer, Tom Wilkenson, and Ken Watanabe. These actors are what dream casts are made from and to have all of them in a trilogy of movies is outstanding.
If you avoided them, if you missed them or if you just passed them over for something else…take some time and track these three movies down and watch them in order. Not since the days of Christopher Reeves has someone take a series of comic book related movies so serious.
5 stars out of 5.
Keith Kilburn and his wife, Dawn, live in Leesburg with two cats and dog named Godzilla. He’s written for Herorealm.com before they were bought out by corporate interests and has written a novel that he’s working on publishing. It’s rumored that he’s seen more movies than Blockbuster rents in a year and knows more about comic books than Stan Lee himself!