BATMAN: The Dark Knight Recalled Part I

by Jake on November 15, 2012

Christian Bale BatmanThis summer, Christopher Nolan wrapped up his Batman trilogy. Of course, Warner Brothers enjoys milking their pointy-eared cash cow far too much to let sleeping bats lie for very long, so we can expect another Bat-movie within a few years.

But what’s all the fuss about?

Why has this character endured for over 70 years in all forms of mass media? Who knows? It’s as mysterious and strange as the original Bat-Man himself. But the Caped Crusader has had a long career in front of the cameras. Let’s take a look at the many faces of Batman.

Batman and RobinThe character was an instant success in comics, and it didn’t take long for the merchandising to get underway – this Superman character had been a gold mine, and Batman was next in line. The Bat had the advantage of a new concept: a kid sidekick! Yes, Robin, the Boy Wonder, a character to whom children could relate, imagining themselves fighting crime alongside Batman, working out in the gym with Batman, living with Batman, then at the end of a long day, settling down for a nice relaxing evening with Batman. Maybe a back rub, just to bring relief to muscles stiff from meting out justice…

Yeah, the Batman and Robin thing has always been just a little weird.

Anyhoo, in 1943, the first Batman serial was released. In the old days, going to the movies was an all-inclusive experience! You got news reports, a cartoon and a chapter of a serial PLUS a motion picture. These serials were roughly 10 to 15 minutes per chapter and often ran for ten to twelve parts, and sometimes even more! So they were essentially motion pictures themselves, divided up into short parts. Usually, each episode would end with a cliffhanger, the heroes threatened by some danger – you’d have to come back for the next installment to see if they lived or died.

They lived, by the way.

But it was HOW they managed to escape that was half the fun.

Serials were usually done very cheaply and quickly, with lesser-known actors and either reused sets or really lousy ones! They were very much the B movies of their era, but a lot of fun, and Batman’s was no different.

Batman and Robin 1949This being the 1940′s, Batman (played by Lewis Wilson) is a government agent, rather than a vigilante. The villain is the evil Dr. Daka, who is Japanese. There is a LOT of anti-Japanese sentiment in this; in fact, one could just say racism. The serial introduced the Batcave, but instead of a Batmobile, Batman and Robin just rode around in a black car. Alfred chauffeured them, both as Batman and Robin AND as Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson!

This serial was successful enough to warrant a sequel, 1949′s ‘Batman & Robin’. Still no Batmobile in this one, but the story elements are more like the comics by this point. Sadly, the budget had gone way down for this sequel, and the fact that it’s kind of silly didn’t help. The villain is the Wizard, and really, this whole thing comes off as an unintentional comedy – which gave William Dozier an idea.

Jump ahead to the 1960′s. Comic books are seen as cheap kid’s stuff. The old superhero movie serials and radio shows are perceived as hokey melodramas that only play for laughs anymore. In 1966, this led to an absolutely brilliant TV show: ‘Batman’!

Read Part II here

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