So a little movie opened this weekend. You maybe heard about it. It’s about knights or nights, or something. There’s something about the dark in there, I remember that much.
No, but seriously, “The Dark Knight” is out, and it’s clearly going to be the biggest movie of the year. Haven’t seen it yet myself — hope to soon — but I’ve followed the production and the press surrounding it enough to know what kind of movie it’s going to be. I can tell you two things with absolute certainty: it’s going to be really good. And it’s going to be really dark.
There’s nothing wrong with that, of course. Batman was created as a dark character, he’s been written that way pretty consistently for the last twenty years or so, and he’s been portrayed that way in media since Tim Burton’s movie in ’89. These days it seems like you can’t play Batman in movies or on TV, even in animation, unless your voice causes grown men to crap their pants with fear.
But my favourite Batman in movies or TV is Kevin Conroy, and he didn’t always play it that way. Conroy’s Bruce Wayne was haunted and brooding, yes, but he was human. Especially by the time the Justice League series rolled around, Conroy’s voice had evolved to the point where he didn’t sound like a gruff, growling loner, but rather a man — a hard-ass, maybe, but it never sounded like a put-on or an act. Conroy’s Batman was a real person first, and a quote-unquote dark avenger second.
Christian Bale’s Batman, by comparison, barely sounds recognizable as a human being.
I’m reminded of these things as I see new promo art for the upcoming Batman: Brave And The Bold cartoon. It promises to feature a kinder, more kid-friendly Batman, and the art style certainly seems to bear that out. While I haven’t checked the message boards to see what fans are saying about the series, I would bet that very few of their comments could be repeated in polite company. “Batman has to be dark!”, they would shout! “He’s supposed to be a bad-ass! He shouldn’t be nice to people!”
But this is the attitude DC Comics adopted for a while, and they eventually thought the better of it. DC Comics superheroes — the big guns especially — need to represent the best of ourselves. They need to inspire us, to make us want to better ourselves. They should make kids want to become good, moral people that give of themselves and help others. They’re our modern mythology, and myths are supposed to teach us things about our own lives and help us live them in better ways, after all.
I can’t see Christian Bale’s Batman accomplishing that, can you?
I’m reminded of what Denny O’Neil has often said about Batman: there have been many different versions of Batman, and all of them are correct. Batman reinvents himself with every decade because he, like Superman, like Wonder Woman, needs to speak to all of us, now, in the present. Every generations of kids needs their own version. My dad had the George Reeves Superman, I had Christopher Reeve, today’s kids have Brandon Routh. My dad had Adam West, I had Kevin Conroy, and today’s kids should be allowed to have Batman: Brave And The Bold.
If you try to shove the entirety of Batman into the square hole of the violent, vicious vigilante, you’re doing a huge disservice to a hugely important character. If a kid wants to laugh with Batman a little, I think we should let him.
Even Bob Kane knew that Batman needs to smile.