The Enduring Popularity of Batman
There is no doubt that if you happened to see just about any video game store last Tuesday night you saw people lining up for one thing; Batman: Arkham City. Out of all 52 titles DC Comics published last month three books sold over 200,000 copies and two of those books features none other than the Caped Crusader himself, in fact all four titles starring the pointy eared vigilante all placed in the Top 10 of best selling comics of the month. It is no doubt that next year a certain Christopher Nolan movie called, The Dark Knight Rises, will put more butts in seats than any other movie since the last Batman movie. Also next year Cartoon Network will be launching a new programming block dedicated to DC Comics properties; and what series do they pick as the flagship show for this; another Batman series, this one called, Beware the Batman joining the already tremendously popular Batman: Brave and the Bold. At this rate you have to have been living under a rock if you have not noticed that Batman, is incredibly popular for being seventy years old.
But this is not a recent development; throughout the years as many fictional characters have risen and fallen in popularity Batman has remained; beloved by people of all different backgrounds with very different tastes in entertainment. Developed by the often forgotten Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson along with Bob Kane, as a dark mirror image to the politically aware Superman, whereas the Man of Steel brashly fought corruption and gangsters in the open, Batman fought crime while hiding in the shadows. Despite starting off in the position of an imitator he became a trailblazer for the other super heroes by being the first to have a rogues gallery and a teenage sidekick. When Frederick Wertham and the prudes of America tried to destroy superheroes the Dark Knight was one of only three characters to survive. He reemerged in the 1970’s with a new ease on life returning to his dark brooding ways and in the 1980’s showed the doubters that comics could be important works of literature in The Dark Knight Returns. When the great comic book artist Jim Lee returned to the industry in 2002 he chose Batman to be the character he came back with. Currently the writer many have hailed as one of the next truly great comic writers, Scott Snyder, is leaving his mark on the famed hero.
Throughout the decades the Dark Knight has been one of the most bankable characters on television, whether he looks like a campy Adam West or has the sharp designs from the pencils of Bruce Timm and his crew, Batman guarantees ratings success. It’s almost generational in how the cycle works, no doubt most of you reading this religiously tuned into Fox as kids in the afternoon to see the cartoon which revolutionized animation and pushed the bounds of what could be done in cartoons. This is in the same fashion as their parents thrilled when Batman punched a nameless henchman or a celebrity dressed as a villain in order to see a big work balloon burst onto the screen with a sound effect. And the tradition continues as kids today (and a lot of adults) thrill as a Dark Knight drawn in a Dick Sprang-esque fashion teams up with other DC heroes in his battles against evil.
In cinema the Batman movie franchise is one of the tentpoles of Warner Brothers and has been for quite a while since Tim Burton crafted the movie that launched his career into the stratosphere with, Batman. The film was a massive success and spawned a series of sequels until it died with the universally reviled, Batman and Robin. But as the Joker, Two-Face and many others can tell you; there’s no stopping Batman. In 2005 the Batman franchise reemerged with a brand new attitude in Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, starring acclaimed actor Christian Bale. The movie was a critical and financial hit reaffirming Batman’s position in cinema. Following that came the sequel, The Dark Knight; one of the most successful films of all time with Heath Ledger turning in one of the most acclaimed performances in film history as the Joker. And while next summer’s anticipated The Dark Knight Rises will be the last trip to Gotham for Nolan and Bale there is no doubt that Batman will continue to stalk the cinema for many years to come.
Over the past seventy years Batman has become one of the most recognizable characters of all time and his popularity shows no sign of slowing down. People have wondered why he has lasted as long as he has, his origin is often cited as one of the key aspects of his popularity, it is a tragic event that everyone can relate to. I am aware that not everyone is a multimillionaire who saw their parents killed, but everyone has suffered a tragedy and injustice which has impacted their life, it would be easy for anyone to shut down and give up in the face of adversity but like a young Bruce Wayne we must all find what it takes to get back up and not only press on but ensure that nobody else suffers what they have. True nobody in real life puts on a visually amazing costume and fights crime with high-tech gadgets; and nobody knows the feeling of stalking their city and having their enemies cowering in fear of them, but they can fee that way on the inside. Throughout the years we have seen heroes like Robert Kennedy and John Walsh who have emerged from personal tragedies with a passion to change the world for the better. To go a bit further, perhaps Batman’s greatest appeal is the fact that he is an ordinary man; and like all ordinary men he fails. Bruce Wayne failed his parents, he failed Jason Todd, he fails everyone who loses their life every time The Joker or The Riddler escapes from Arkham and goes on a crime spree. And who among us has not failed, but as if there is anything Batman has taught us is that it is not your failures that define you; it is how you recover from them.