Monday, May 9, 2011

Batman's Greatest Hits

Batman is one of my favorite heroes and I got to thinking about some of the better things about the character. He's really had a lot of great moments and highlights, so I thought I'd cover a few of them.

Granted, this is purely subjective and you'll probably disagree on more than one of these, but these are what I consider top times for the Caped Crusader.

Video Game Moment: Arkham Asylum's opening scene
Batman Arkham Asylum: Game of the Year Greatest Hits

After years of struggling to get a good video game, Arkham Asylum came along and completely changed the playing field for Batman video games. If you haven't played this game, stop now and do what you must to get your hands on a copy. Clear your calendar, grab some Mountain Dews, lock yourself in your house and start playing. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill showed up to the do the voices of Batman and Joker, but this isn't the cartoon series.

The best moment for me comes in the opening cut scene from the game. As Batman is escorting the captive Joker to his (temporary) confinement in Arkham, they get into an elevator. On the way down, the lights go out and Joker starts laughing. At this point, you figure he's about to escape and the game will begin.

You will be wrong.

Instead, the lights kick back on and we find Batman standing there holding the Joker by the throat, patiently waiting for power to be restored while insuring the villain doesn't get away. It's the first few seconds of this clip:

The game itself is a lot of fun. You really get to be Batman, trying to scare your foes just as much as drop down and beat them up. But to me, that opening scene sets the mood for how this Batman really is.

Statue: Batman Museum Statue

I have over two dozen Batman statues (and an incredibly understanding wife), but the pride of my collection remains my birthday present from last year. It is the museum quality Batman statue.

This monster statue stands over a foot and a half tall, and has real material for the costume. The cape itself is a leathery material that has wires in it to allow you some posing with it. The statue is incredibly detailed and expensive, but worth the money if you're really into collecting.

While the Batman Black and White statue collection has some amazing contributions to the character, I have to say this statue remains my top choice.

Cartoon Scene Moment: Bruce Wayne's Miyagi Moment

While there are hundreds of various Batman animated cartoons out there, I have to say one of my personal favorite moments comes in the pilot episode of Batman Beyond. The cartoon is supposed to take place in the future after Bruce has retired from being the hero because he almost dies during his last mission.

After years of seclusion, we get a scene right out of the first Karate Kid movie. The teen hero is cornered by baddies who have chased him, and now he stands to be beaten down. Instead, an old man intervenes.

Out of the shadows, Bruce comes up with his cane and beats down the gang, showing age means nothing to Batman. Death wanted him years ago but has been too afraid to show up.

Couldn't find a clip I could embed, but here's the link if you want to see it. It starts at 1:20 of the clip:
Bruce Wayne Can Still Fight

Comic Book: The Dark Knight Returns
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (10th Anniversary Edition)
I will be the first to admit this graphic novel has been thrown into the spotlight a million times, but there's a reason for that. The storyline still grabs me every time I read it.

For many, this is considered the graphic novel that changed the face of the hero for them. That was the case for me. Years of growing up seeing him on Super Friends and in various comic books had given me an image of Batman as a casual hero. The Dark Knight Returns changed it all by showing a hero who would beat the living daylights out of bad guys and hurt them just because.

Giving us the final fight with the Joker, a new Robin, and the explanation for him wearing a bright yellow symbol on his chest (SPOILER: it's bulletproof), the comic book just kept getting better with each issue. The climactic fight scene between Batman and Superman just added to the cool factor because of how it ended.

To see the legacy of this comic, just watch the cartoon series from a few years ago. We were given a glimpse into this Dark Knight world. It didn't follow the comic book, but it did obviously pay homage to what Miller had done.

Miller's attempted follow-up years later confirmed a lot of suspicions that TDKR was just a lucky fluke for the writer, but the original remains a must-read storyline for any Batman fan.

Action Figure: DC Direct Modern Batman

Batman 13" Deluxe Collector FigureI have a lot of Batman statues, but my figure collection is much worse. I have over 125 different loose Batman figures on display in my house (again, my wife is the most understanding woman on the planet and indulges my quirky habit). After a LOT of personal debate on the issue, I've decided my personal favorite is the DC Direct Modern Batman 13 inch figure.

There have been 4 different 13 inch Batman variations (Classic, Modern, Dark Knight movie, and Alex Ross Justice) and I have them all, but this modern version seems to fit the character. Alex Ross' Justice figure really does look like he came out of a Ross illustration, but his face looks a little too strange to be considered the absolute look of the Batman.

This figure comes with a stand and interchangeable hands that let you put the Batarang in there and pose him as your heart desires. If I had to choose a figure that would show someone who Batman was, this would be the one I went with.

Movie: The Dark Knight
The Dark Knight: Collector's Edition (With 2-in-1 DC Comic Book and Two-Face Replica Collector Coin) (Full Screen)
So many Batman movies to choose from, but this one just remains Batman's greatest. The scene where he escapes from the tower using the balloon and the airplane? Tell me you weren't just amazed when you saw that for the first time? And hey, I'd bet money you walked out talking about the Joker's "magic trick".

Christopher Nolan created this beautifully perfect film that gave us a great clash between Batman and Joker. Unfortunately, even though the Joker lived through this film, we'll never see Heath Ledger get his rematch.

Was the movie perfect? No way. The absence of Katie Holmes really took away from the character's final fate in my eyes. I just couldn't get it through my head that Maggie was playing the same character because they look absolutely nothing alike. And Christian Bale's Batman voice? Cookie Monster all the way. But at least this Two-Face looked scary and acted more in line with the comic book, rather than Tommy Lee Jones' attempt to "out-Carrey" Jim Carrey's Riddler.

I'm still waiting to see what Nolan does with the last film, but I remain optimistic.

Cartoon Series: Batman The Animated Series

When I first saw the concept drawings for this series in the early 90's, I thought it was going to be stupid. He didn't look like a real person, but a caricature instead. I still tuned in though, and soon my Saturday evenings were spent watching the episode I'd taped on the VCR that morning.

Bruce Timm brought us a version of Batman that had elements of the light-hearted fare we'd grown used to from the 70's, but kept this grim edge from the comic books that made it appealing to adult viewers like myself.

Though the series began to wear out a little in later years when Robin joined the show, those first seasons kept me very happy. Even now the theme music from this show remains a favorite in comic book shops everywhere.

Comic Book Artist: Neal Adams

Oh, this will start a fight I'm sure and I've already covered this in the past. Jim Aparo did amazing things with him. Alex Ross made him look real and gave his costume wrinkles. Jim Lee made him gritty, while Frank Miller made him tough. Ethan Van Sciver gave him menace. All of these guys were amazing and had their moments, but I have to give the biggest moment to Neal Adams.

Oh, I know he gave a possibly-fatal blow to his Bat-cred with the Batman: Odyssey maxi-series that was recently killed by DC Comics, but during the 70's and 80's this man did some awesome work. I was just a child during his Batman time and had no idea who was drawing the book...I just knew the pictures were incredible.

I was able to attend the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con (thanks, Khristian!), and meeting Neal Adams there was one of the high points of that trip. I'm sure he didn't necessarily feel the same way, but I got so many books signed by him that I don't care.

Neal illustrated a lot of heroes over the years (his Deadman is usually the one you'll see on tee shirts even today). It would be hard to pigeon-hole him into one character, I know, and yet it's hard to think of Batman without seeing him drawn by Neal in my mind's eye.

If you're interested, Jim Aparo would be my second choice of top Bat-artist. He very narrowly lost to Neal.

Now fire away! What would you consider better moments than these I mentioned?


Jay Amabile said...

I'm totally with you on the Gyllenhal thing. That really killed the continuity for me. And Neal Adams does indeed rule! I'm a huge bat-fan as well but believe it or not I still haven't bought the Arkham Asylum game! I rarely play video games but I've been meaning to purchase this one!

William said...

Yes! I dug the Arkham Asylum game and I am greatly looking forward to the sequel this fall.

I also love BTAS. It's one of my all time favorite comic related things. So, I have to agree with you on that one too. The only Batman statues I have are from the animated series, both the regular Batman and Batman Beyond from the old WB Store. I also own an original production cel as well.

As for the Dark Knight movie, I liked it, but I didn't love it like everyone else seemed to. I thought it was just too dark and depressing for a comic book film (even for Batman). It really crossed the line in that department and left me feeling like crap when I left the theater. It's one thing to go dark, but that movie went pitch black. However, the scene where he escapes the tower was pretty cool.

No one can argue that Neal Adams is a great artist, but I was never a rabid fan of his. I don't know what it is that I don't really care for about his art. I think maybe it's because it's a little too technically perfect and realistic for my tastes. I prefer art that is a little more on the cartoony side, like Jack Kirby, Bruce Timm, Art Adams and John Byrne (who mixed realism and cartooning beautifully).

As for Frank Miller's "Dark Knight Returns"... I'm sorry, but I just don't get everybody's love for this thing. I think it' must be some sort of mass insanity brought on by the power of suggestion. I have read it more than once, just trying to understand what others are seeing in it, and I absolutely don't get it. I freaking hate that book. I really do. When you think about it it, it's just some crappy cyber punk, Mad Max version of Batman. The whole thing was just so weird and depressing. I know I'm in the huge minority on this, but I will never understand the praise TDKR received at the time it was published and still continues to receive.

Brian Reaves said...

William, I think the appeal of TDKR comes from when I read it and what it meant at the time. I have literally hundreds of Batman comics and stories, so I'm not following a power of suggestion, but really have some valid reasons to love it. Remember, it came out over 20 years ago, and at the time we'd been treated to a Batman who was mostly always just a step behind the villains and finding a way to stop the Joker's plots and such.

TDKR gave us a tough Batman. I remember the first time I read that scene where he grabs the guy through the door and pulls him in as his introduction scene to the book. That was a mean Batman! Followed by the death of the Joker (finally) and the first real time Batman and Superman went one-on-one and Batman beat him with his new armor.

Remember, at the time we were seeing these things for the first time. Now Batman and Superman have gone at it a dozen times or more, and we've seen enough Elseworlds stories with Joker dying to dilute the whole idea.

I will admit there are parts of the storyline that seem Mad Max to them, but for the time it came out it was ground-breaking for me. It's been imitated so much it's almost a parody now though, and Miller's follow-up story was absolute rubbish.

William said...

Thanks for the response. Re-reading my original post, I realize I might have been a bit harsh concerning TDKR. As for the "mass insanity" comment, I was really just trying to be a smart ass. :)

I have to agree with that the book did have it's moments, and I did like the way that the bad-assness of Batman was notched up a couple of levels. I guess if it had never been we may still have "Super Friends" Batman running around in the DCU. So, I do appreciate it somewhat for that alone. And I did rather like the art.

I will agree that the sequel was nearly unreadable though. Hmm, you know, when I think about it, I have never really liked MIller's handling of Batman. As stated, I didn't like Dark Knight Returns 1 or 2. I hated the Batman/Spawn team-up that Miller wrote a few years ago, and I detest All-Star Batman and Robin as well. Which is really weird because Miller's Daredevil is one of my all-time favorite comic series, and the two characters are very similar. Go figure.

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