Saturday, April 5, 2014

Richard Coogan R.I.P.

Richard Coogan, who was the original Captain Video and starred in the TV Western The Californians, died on 12 March 2014. He was 99 years old.

Richard Coogan was born on 4 April 1914 in Short Hills, New Jersey. He worked as an announcer and news anchor on radio for a time before taking up acting. He made his debut on Broadway in Alice in Arms in 1945. In the Forties he went on to appear in the productions Skipper Next to God, Strange Bedfellows, S. S. Glencairn, and Diamond Lil. He made his television debut in 1945 in a production of The Front Page. It was in 1949 that he was cast as Captain Video in Captain Video and His Video Rangers. Mr. Coogan left Captain Video and His Video Rangers in December 1950, having become frustrated with the show's extremely low production values.

In the Fifties Richard Coogan was the star of the short lived TV series The Californians and a regular on the soap operas Love of Life and The Clear Horizon. He also guest starred on such shows as Robert Montgomery Presents, The Philco-Goodyear Television Playhouse, Suspense, Wichita Town, Bronco, Sugarfoot, 77 Sunset Strip, Maverick,  and Cheyenne. He appeared in the films Girl on the Run (1953), Three Hours to Kill (1954), The Revolt of Mamie Stover (1956), and Vice Raid (1960). He appeared on Broadway in The Rainmaker.

In the Sixties Mr. Coogan guest starred on The Loretta Young Show, Bonanza, Surfside 6, Perry Mason, Laramie, and Bonanza. He retired from acting in 1963. Afterwards he was both a professional golfer and a golf instructor.

Although Richard Coogan was perhaps best known for his heroic roles such as Captain Video and Marshal Wayne on The Californians, he was a versatile actor who play a wide variety of roles. He played a wide variety of roles in his guest appearances on various TV shows, from preachers to doctors to Cole Younger in an episode of Bronco. What is more, he did all of them quite well. Richard Coogan was quite simply an actor who defied typecasting. He had the looks of a leading man, but could play nearly any role given him.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Kate O'Mara R.I.P.

Kate O'Mara, who played The Rani on Doctor Who and was a regular on the TV shows The Brothers and Howards' Way, died on 30 March 2014 at the age of 74. She also appeared in such Hammer films as The Vampire Lovers (1970) and Horror of Frankenstein (1970)

Kate O'Mara was born Frances Meredith Carroll on 10 August 1939 in Leicester, England. She was the daughter of actress Hazel Bainbridge and RAF flying instructor John F. Carroll. Her younger sister, Belinda Carroll, also went into acting. Miss O'Mara attended art school for a time before taking up acting.

Kate O'Mara made her film debut in 1956 in Home and Away under the name "Merrie Carroll". She made her stage debut in 1963 in The Merchant of Venice. She made her television debut in an episode of Emergency-Ward 10. During the Sixties she appeared in such TV shows as Danger Man, Gaslight Theatre, No Hiding Place, Court Martial, Adam Adamant Lives!, Mogul, The Saint, The Avengers, Z Cars, The Main Chance, and Department S. She appeared in such films as Promenade (1968), Carnage (1968), Great Catherine (1968), The Limbo Line (1968), The Desperados (1969), The Vampire Lovers (1970), and The Horror of Frankenstein (1970). She appeared on stage in such productions as The Rivals at The Welsh Theatre Company, The Italian Girl at the Wyndham's Theatre, and The Spoils of Poynton at the Mayfair Theatre.

In the Seventies she was a regular on the TV show The Brothers. She also appeared on such TV shows as ITV Saturday Theatre, The Persuaders, Jason King, The Pathfinders, The Dick Emery Show, The Protectors, and Return of The Saint. She appeared in such films as The Tamarind Seed (1974), Whose Child Am I? (1976), and An Unknown Friend (1978) .She appeared on stage in such productions as Suddenly at Home at the Fortune Theatre, Blithe Spirit at the Bristol Old Vic, Loves Labour's Lost at the Thorndike Theatre, The Taming of the Shrew at the Ludlow Festival, and Misalliance at The Birmingham Rep.

In the Eighties she played the role of The Rani in the Doctor Who serials "The Marl of The Rani" and "Time and The Rani". She had regular roles on the TV shows Triangle, Dynasty, and Howard's Way. She also appeared on the TV shows Dempsey and Makepeace and Cluedo. She appeared on stage in such productions as Much Ado About Nothing at the New Shakespeare Company,  The Taming of the Shrew at the Nottingham Playhouse\New Shakespeare Company, Macbeth at the Mercury Theatre, King Lear at the Compass Theatre, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre.

From the Nineties into the Naughts she appeared on such TV shows as The New Adventures of Robin Hood, Bad Girls, Family Affairs, Crossroads, Doctors, and Benidorm. She played Patsy's conniving sister Jackie in two episodes of Absolutely Fabulous. She provided voices for the animated films Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. She appeared in the film The Road to Ithaca (1999). She appeared on stage in such productions as Cain at the Chichester Festival, My Cousin Rachel at the English Theatre in Vienna, Twelfth Night at the Haymarket Theatre in Basingstoke, Colombe at the Salisbury Playhouse, The Marquise at the Mercury Theatre, and Lord Arthur Saville's Crime at the Mercury Theatre.

Kate O'Mara wrote two novels: When She Was Bad and Good Time Girl

Kate O'Mara was best known for playing villainous characters. The Rani on Doctor Who and Jackie Stone on Absolutely Fabulous were typical of her output on television and in films She was very good at playing femmes fatales, but that was hardly the limit of her talent. On stage she played everything from Elvira in Blithe Spirit  to  Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. In 2008 she received rave reviews for her role as Marlene Dietrich in Lunch with Marlene at the New End in Hampstead, London. While film and television casting directors seemed content to cast her as vamps, Kate O'Mara was a talented actress who could play a good number of other roles as well.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Sir Alec Guinness' 100th Birthday

It was 100 years ago today that Sir Alec Guinness was born. Today many people are probably most familiar with Sir Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi from the original Star Wars trilogy. In some respects this is sad, as Mr. Guinness appeared in many other films in what was a very long career. He was a very talented actor who appeared in a large variety of films, from dramas to comedies to epics. Indeed, while he was great as Obi-Wan Kenobi, many other roles come to my mind when I think of Sir Alec Guinness.

Sir Alec Guinness was born Alec Guinness de Cuffe on 2 April 1914 in Maida Vale, Paddington, London. His first job was writing advertising copy. It was while he was still working in advertising that he studied acting at the Fay Compton Studio of Dramatic Art. He made his stage debut when he was only twenty years old in Edward Wooll's play Libel at the the old King's Theatre in Hammersmith. His film debut occurred in the same year, as part of a concert audience in the film Evensong (1934).  In 1936 he signed with the Old Vic in London. It was in 1939 that Sir Alec Guinness staged an adaptation of Charles Dickens' Great Expectations. During World War II Sir Alec Guinness served in the Royal Navy.

Sir Alec Guinness received his first credited role in Great Expectations in 1946. The film's director David Lean had seen Mr. Guinness' stage production of Great Expectations in 1939 and as a result cast Mr. Guinness in the part he had played on stage, that of Herbert Pocket. He then played Fagin in David Lean's version of Oliver Twist in 1948 and eight different members of the D'Ascoyne family in Kind Hearts and Coronets in 1949. Already established as an actor on the stage, Sir Alec Guinness was now an established film actor as well.

It should be little wonder that Sir Alec Guinness would have a film career as his talent was obvious from the beginning. One need look no further than Kind Hearts and Coronets for an example of just how great Sir Alec Guinness was. In the film Mr. Guinness played eight different roles, even that of Lady Agatha D'Ascoyne. While none of the parts were very large, every single member of the  D'Ascoyne family not only acted differently, but looked differently. Sir Alec Guinness gave bravura performances in the roles where many actors would have been intimidated by taking on so many parts.

Of course, Sir Alec Guinness' incredible acting in Kind Hearts and Coronets points to something that is often forgotten today. Mr. Guinness was a master of comedy. In fact, when I think of Sir Alec Guinness it is not as Obi-Wan Kenobi, but instead as Professor Marcus in The Ladykillers (1955). Mr. Guinness gives what may be his best performance of his career as master criminal Marcus, who becomes progressively more unbalanced as the movie unfolds. The fact that Sir Alec Guinness shines alongside such heavyweights as Herbert Lom, Cecil Parker, and Peter Sellers (who all gave incredible performances) is a testament to his gift for comedy. Sir Alec Guinness had given an equally fantastic performance in the earlier Ealing comedy, The Lavender Hill Mob (1951). Beyond the fact that both mastermind crimes, Henry Holland in The Lavender Hill Mob has very little in common with Professor Marcus. In fact, Holland is something of a milquetoast who is entirely dull and unthreatening. Sir Alec Guinness was wholly believable in the role, making Holland entirely sympathetic.

While I honestly believe Sir Alec Guinness' best roles were in comedies, he was one of those actors who excelled in drama as well. Indeed, even though William Holden and Jack Hawkins were billed above him, there can be little doubt that The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) is Sir Alec Guinness' film. Mr. Guinness was marvellous as the uncompromising, extremely disciplined Lieutenant Colonel Nicholson. So great was his performance in the role that Sir Alec Guinness won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

As great as Sir Alec Guinness' performance was in The Bridge on the River Kwai, however, it may be matched or even surpassed by his performances in The Scapegoat (1958).  Mr. Guinness once more played multiple roles, although it was only two this time. That having been said, the two roles were both leads. He played the hero John Barratt, a timid teacher on holiday in France, and the villain Count Jacques de Gué (who just happens to be Barratt's exact double). The two men could not be more different. Indeed, de Gué is as cold hearted and selfish as Barratt is kind hearted and charitable. Tasked with the job of juggling two very different roles, Sir Alec Guinness excels in both of them.

Of course, The Scapegoat points to the fact that Sir Alec Guinness could play villains very well, although he rarely did. One of his most notable roles would also be one of his earliest. As Fagin in David Lean's Oliver Twist Mr. Guinness was wonderful. His Fagin is suitably cruel and even threatening, yet at the same time Mr. Guinness endowed him with a pathos and humour sorely lacking in other portrayals of the character on screen.

Sir Alec Guinness' performance as Fagin in The Scapegoat points to a particular gift that the actor had which few others did. Quite simply, Sir Alec Guinness could transform himself into nearly any character he wished. Sir Alec Guinness was only 34 years old when he played Fagin, yet through a combination of make up and sheer acting talent he turned himself into a much older man. Sir Alec Guinness chameleon-like talent to turn himself into characters quite unlike himself served him well throughout his career. Over the course of five decades he played famous literary detective Father Brown (in Father Brown from 1954), the historical figure of Prince Faisal (in Lawrence of Arabia in 1962), Adolf Hitler (in Hitler: The Last Ten Days from 1973), and  John le Carré's fictional spy George Smiley (in television adaptations of  Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley's People). While many actors can only play a specific type of role, Sir Alec Guinness could play almost anything.

While he may now be best known as Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars, Sir Alec Guinness was so much more. In a long career he played several notable roles, most of them dramatically different from each other. Indeed, few actors could ever play multiple roles in a film and be as convincingly as Sir Alec Guinness was. Few actors could entirely change their appearance and give a great performance at the same time. If Sir Alec Guinness is still a legend 100 years after his birth, it is perhaps because he was a very singular talent.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Batman Turns 75 Part Three: Television, Radio, and Other Media

This past Sunday, 30 March 2014, marked 75 years since Batman's first appearance in Detective Comics #27, May 1939. Almost immediately following his first appearance he became one of the most popular superheroes of the Golden Age. His popularity would fluctuate over the years, but since the late Eighties it seems quite possible that he could be the most popular superhero in the world, having long ago surpassed Superman for the title. Batman would not only be popular in comic books,but would eventually conquer film as well. The movies The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises both rank in the top twenty of the highest grossing films worldwide. Not surprisingly, Batman would conquer other media as well, including radio, books, video games, and most notably television.

Indeed, many people may well remember Batman best from television. It was on 12 January 1966 that the TV show Batman debuted on ABC. It was a hit upon its debut receiving a phenomenal 27.3/49 rating in the Nielsens. In the following weeks its success grew until it was an outright fad. For much of 1966 it was impossible to not to go through a day without hearing something about the Caped Crusader.

Of course, what is not as well known is that the Batman TV series of the Sixties was not the first attempt to bring the Caped Crusader to the small screen. It was around 1964 that Ed Graham Productions (best known for producing the Saturday morning cartoon Linus the Lionhearted) bought an option on a Batman TV series from National Periodical Publications (the company now known as DC Comics). A Batfan in his youth, Ed Graham planned a straightforward adventure series for children starring Batman, not unlike the Fifties show The Adventures of Superman. Former NFL linebacker Mike Henry, who would go onto play Tarzan in three films, was even set to play the Caped Crusader. In March 1965 Ed Graham Productions very nearly closed a deal with CBS for the Batman series, but negotiations soon broke down. It would be Ed Graham's last real chance to launch a Batman TV series, as others would develop their own ideas for a TV series starring the Caped Crusader.

In early 1965 all fifteen chapters of the serial The Batman (1943) were edited together and released as An Evening with Batman and Robin. An Evening with Batman and Robin proved somewhat successful, playing at art theatres and in college towns alike. Among the places it was screened was the the Playboy Mansion in Chicago. It was at the Playboy Mansion that East Coast ABC executive Yale Udoff saw An Evening with Batman and Robin. A Batman fan when he was young, Mr. Udoff contacted  West Coast ABC executives Harve Bennett and Edgar J. Scherick. Messrs. Bennett and Scherick were already considering a television show based on a comic strip, comic book, or radio show. The three of them decided to go forward with a Batman TV show, which at the time they conceived  a serious but tongue in cheek series along the lines of the then popular Man From U.N.C.L.E.

ABC contacted the studio 20th Century Fox about producing a Batman series. 20th Century Fox turned to William Dozier and his company Greenway Productions to actually produce the series. Together they bought an option to produce a Batman series from National Periodical Publications. While ABC conceived Batman as a serious but tongue and cheek series, William Dozier developed other ideas. William Dozier read a few Batman comic books and decided that there was little chance of adults taking a show about a man dressed up as a bat seriously. It was then that he decided to take a different approach to the show. Quite simply, Batman would be a comedy.

To develop the show William Dozier hired Lorenzo Semple Jr. Mr. Semple developed Batman so that it would work on two levels. For adults it would be a spoof of superhero conventions, complete with extremely strait-laced heroes, over the top villains, and incredible death traps. For children it would be an adventure show, complete with, well, extremely strait-laced heroes, over the top villains, and incredible death traps. It was Lorenzo Semple Jr. who refined the show's pop art sensibility and high camp approach. In its first two seasons Batman aired twice a week (once on Wednesday and once on Thursday), with the Wednesday night episode ending in a cliffhanger that would be resolved on the Thursday night episode.

Adam West was cast in the role of Batman. Mr. West had guest starred on several Western TV shows in the Fifties and had a regular role on The Detectives Starring Robert Taylor. The role of Robin went to a total unknown at the time, Burt Ward, who had no experience acting. Other roles on the show would be filled by film and television veterans: Alan Napier as Alfred, Neil Hamilton as Commissioner Gordon, and Stafford Repp as Chief O'Hara. The villains on Batman would be played by some of the biggest names in show business: Frank Gorshin as The Riddler, Burgess Meredith as The Penguin, Caesar Romero as The Joker, Julie Newmar as Catwoman, and so on.

As mentioned earlier Batman proved to be a smash hit upon its debut and grew into an outright fad. For the week of 13 February the Thursday night episode of Batman was the number one rated show on television,with a rating of 28.5. The Wednesday night episode came in fifth with a rating of  26.5. Beyond garnering high ratings for ABC (always a constant third to CBS and NBC in the Sixties), Batman also proved to be merchandising bonanza has never seen before. There were Batman toys, costumes, games, Batman toothbrushes, Batman wristwatches, Batman mugs, a lunchbox, and many other items. Batman would account for $150 million worth of merchandise sold in 1966 alone.

It was the success of the Batman TV series that would lead to Batman's first feature film. Before the television debuted William Dozier had wanted to do a feature film to promote the show, a plan that was vetoed by 20th Century Fox. With the show a smash hit, however, a feature film seemed a good way to capitalise on the show's popularity in the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada, and s a means of promoting the show in foreign markets where it had not yet aired. The movie Batman premiered on 30 July 1966 in the United States and did respectfully well at the box office.

Unfortunately, like many fads the Batman fad of the mid-Sixties burned itself out very swiftly. A top ten show for the year in its first season, Batman did not even rank in the top thirty shows for its second season. In an effort to boost ratings the character Batgirl was added to the show, with Yvonne Craig in the role. Sadly, even Batgirl could not save the show. Batman dropped as low as 48th in the ratings. In January 1968 ABC cancelled what was the smash hit of 1966. Batman went off the air on 14 March 1968.

While Batman left the air after only a little over two years, it would persist in syndication ever since. It also had a lasting impact on the comic books. In the comic books the character of Bruce Wayne's butler Alfred had been killed off. His presence on the show resulted in him being resurrected in the comic books. Catwoman had not appeared in the comic books since 1954. Her appearance on the TV show resulted in her appearing in the comic books for the first time in 12 years. Because of the popularity of Catwoman on the show, William Dozier encouraged National Periodical Publications to introduce more female characters who could be used on the show. The result was that the comic book company created the character of Batgirl, who was later incorporated on the TV show.

Batman's next appearance on television would occur while the Batman TV show of the Sixties was still on the air. During the 1966-1967 season the production company Filmation had seen great success with a Saturday morning cartoon starring the Man of Steel, The New Adventures of Superman. They would follow this success up with The Superman/Aquaman Hour of Adventure during the 1967-1968 season. In the wake of the success of the live action Batman series on ABC, Filmation believed a Saturday morning cartoon featuring Batman and Robin could be a success.

It was then on 14 September 1968 that The Batman/Superman Hour debuted on CBS. The Batman portion of the programme consisted of two different sorts of stories. One roughly followed the format of the live action show, with a single story airing in two 6 1/2 minute shorts, with the first ending in a cliffhanger. The other stories were 6 1/2 minute segments. Unlike the live action series, the Batman segments of The Batman/Superman Hour were not played for humour. One classic villain from the comic books who did not appear in the live action show did appear on The Batman/Superman Hour. The Scarecrow appeared in one segment. For the 1969-1970 the Batman segments from The Batman/Superman Hour were repackaged as a half hour programme entitled The Adventures of Batman. It aired on Sunday morning on CBS.

Once The Adventures of Batman went off the air, the Caped Crusader would find himself without his own show for some time. This did not mean he was entirely absent from American airwaves. Batman and Robin (voiced by Olan Soule and Casey Kasem) "guest starred" on two episodes of  The New Scooby-Doo Movies on CBS in the 1972-1973 season. Starting in the 1973-1974 season Batman and Robin were part of the cast of Super Friends, along with Superman, Aquaman, and Wonder Woman. The series would go through various incarnations until 1986, with such titles as The All-New Super Friends Hour, Challenge of the Super Friends, The World's Greatest Super Friends, Super Friends: The Legendary Super Powers Show, and The Super Powers Team: Galactic Guardians. Throughout every title and format change Batman remained a part of the cast. Batman was voiced by Olan Soule until 1984's SuperFriends: The Legendary Super Powers Show, where upon television's original Batman, Adam West, took over. Both The New Scooby-Doo Movies and Super Friends were produced by Hanna-Barbera.

Curiously given the fact that Batman and Robin were appearing on Super Friends at the time, a new Batman cartoon was produced by Filmation debuted in 1977. The New Adventures of Batman reunited Adam West and Burt Ward as the voices of Batman and Robin respectively. The series also featured the character Bat-Mite from the late Fifties comic books. Bat-Mite was an imp from another dimension who adulated Batman, even down to wearing a similar costume. In many respects the show could be considered a continuation of the live action series, down to the same exaggerated situations and camp, although it was hardly as well done. While no new episodes were made after the 1977-1978 season, reruns would air as parts of other Filmation shows until 1981.

It was in 1979 that Adam West and Burt Ward once more reprised their roles as Batman and Robin for a pair of live action television specials produced by Hanna-Barbera. Legends of the Superheroes also featured Frank Gorshin as The Riddler, as well as DC Comics heroes ranging from The Flash to Green Lantern.  Unfortunately the two specials were played for comedy that was so bad that many consider the two specials to be among the worst television programmes of all time. The first special had a semblance of a plot, with the heroes trying to stop the villains from destroying the world. The second special was truly bizarre. It was a roast of the sort Dean Martin once did, only with superheroes instead of celebrities. Even given the poor quality of the movie serials of the Forties and the feature film Batman and Robin (1997), many fans consider Legends of the Superheroes the low point of Batman's career.

Beyond appearing in the various Super Friends shows, Batman would largely be absent from television in the Eighties. Fortunately, when Batman returned to television it would be in a show considerably better than Legends of the Superheroes. In fact, Batman: The Animated Series is considered by some to be the best interpretation of the Dark Knight outside of comic books. The series was developed by two veterans of Warner Brothers' Tiny Toon Adventures, Bruce Timm and  Eric Radomski. Messrs. Timm and Radomski drew upon the recent films Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992) and the classic Flesicher Studios Superman cartoons for the look of the series. Batman: The Animated Series initially aired weekdays on the Fox Television Network and was considerably more adult than previous superhero cartoons. Indeed, despite the fact that the character had first appeared in cartoons in 1968, Batman: The Animated Series was the first to portray Batman as a dark avenger of the night.

Kevin Conroy was the voice of Batman on the show and has gone onto voice Batman in animation and video games to this day.  The rest of the cast was rounded out by some well known names.  Efrem Zimbalist Jr. provided the voice of Alfred, while Bob Hastings provided the voice of Commissioner Gordon. Mark Hamill provided the voice of The Joker, a role he would reprise in video games and various other animated series. Loren Lester was the voice of Robin on the show.

Batman: The Animated Series proved highly successful and led to the theatrical film Batman: The Mask of the Phantasm, released in 1993. It would be followed by two more feature films based on the show, which were released direct to video: Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero (1998) and Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman ( 2003).  Batman: The Animated Series ended its original run on Fox in 1995. That having been said, The New Batman Adventures, which debuted in 1997 on The WB's Saturday morning schedule, could be considered a continuation of the show. Essentially the same production team worked on the show, with Kevin Conroy, Efrem Zimbalist Jr., and Bob Hastings returning as Batman, Alfred, and Commissioner Gordon respectively. Joining the cast were Mathew Valencia as Robin (Tim Drake), Tara Strong as Batgirl, and Loren Lester as Nightwing (Dick Grayson). The New Batman Adventures aired until 1999.  Batman would also make three guest appearances on Superman: The Animated Series.

Batman: The Animated Series would have a lasting impact on the comic books. The series gave The Joker a female sidekick called Harley Quinn, voiced by Arlene Sorkin. Harley Quinn was only supposed to appear once on the show, but proved so popular that she went onto appear several more times on the show. Eventually she found her way into the comic books, where she became one of Batman's major opponents.

Batman would next appear in 1999 in the animated series Batman Beyond, although it would be an entirely different take on Batman than had been done before. Batman Beyond was set in a future where Bruce Wayne had retired and given the mantle of Batman over to teenager Terry McGinnis. Kevin Conroy returned as the voice of Bruce Wayne, with Will Friedle providing the voice Terry McGinnis. Like Batman: The Animated Series before it, Batman Beyond was considerably more adult than superhero cartoons before it. Like Batman: The Animated Series it also received its share of acclaim. In 2000 a feature film based on the series, Return of The Joker, was released direct to video. For a time Warner Brothers even considered alive action feature film based on the show. Batman Beyond ran until 2001 on The WB.

It was about the time that Batman Beyond debuted that film director Tim McCanlies wrote a pilot for a show called Bruce Wayne that would feature the character as a teenager before he became Batman. The show would have essentially shown how Bruce Wayne picked up the skills necessary to become the Dark Knight.  The prospective series was killed when Warner Brothers decided to go ahead with another Batman movie.  Tollin/Robbins Productions, who would have produced the show, went onto produce a show about a teenage Clark Kent instead--Smallville.

Batman, once more voiced by Kevin Conroy, would appear in the animated series Justice League, which ran from 2001 to 2004 on the Cartoon Network. Kevin Conroy also provided the voice of Batman on the successor to Justice League, Justice League Unlimited. It ran on the Cartoon Network from 2004 to 2006. Batman, again voiced by Kevin Conroy, also guest starred in several episodes of the animated series Static Shock, which aired on The WB from 2000 to 2004.

Batman was not a part of the short lived show Birds of Prey that aired in 2002 on The WB, although the show was based in the Batman mythos. Based on the comic book of the same name, Birds of Prey starred Dina Meyer as Barbara Gordon, who retired as Batgirl after being paralysed by a gunshot from The Joker. Barbara Gordon then took the identity of Oracle and formed a team of crimefighters consisting of The Huntress (Ashley Scott) and Dinah Redmond. Bruce Wayne's former butler Alfred serves at the team's butler. Batman only appeared briefly in the first episode and had been missing from Gotham City for some time.

In 2004 another animated series debuted, The Batman. Batman was voiced by  Rino Romano, with Alfred voiced by Alastair Duncan.Mitch Pileggi voiced Commissioner Gordon. The Batman centred on the Dark Knight's early career, when he had only been fighting crime for three years.  The Batman saw the Dark Knight face many of his rogue's gallery for the first time, including  The Joker (voiced by Kevin Michael Richardson),  Catwoman (voiced by Gina Gershon),  Hugo Strange (voiced by Frank Gorshin), and so on. As the show unfolded Batman would be joined in his fight against crime by Batgirl (voiced by Danielle Judovits) and later Robin (voiced by Evan Sabara). The Batman ran from 2004 to 2006 on The WB and then from 2006 to 2008 on The CW.

The Batman would be followed almost immediately by the animated series Batman: The Brave and The Bold. Batman: The Brave and The Bold took its name from the comic book The Brave and The Bold, which ran from 1955 to 1983. From 1967 onwards The Brave and The Bold was a title in which Batman teamed up with other superheroes. Like the comic book, then, Batman: The Brave and The Bold featured Batman teaming up with other characters. During the run of the show Batman (voiced by Diedrich Bader) teamed up with such characters as The Green Lantern, The Flash, The Blue Beetle, The Green Arrow, The Atom, and so on. The over all tone was lighter than previous Batman animated series, Batman: The Brave and The Bold ran from 2008 to 2011.

The next Batman TV series would be the first to be computer generated. Beware The Batman was set during Batman's early career. He was joined in fighting crime by Tatsu Yamashiro, a swordmaster who as a superhero goes by the name Katana (she was a member of the DC Comics superhero team The Outsiders). The voices were provided by Anthony Ruivivar as Batman, J. B. Blanc as Alfred, Sumalee Montano as Katana, and Kurtwood Smith as Lt. Gordon. Beware The Batman debuted on the Cartoon Network on 13 July 2013. On 11 October 2013 the Cartoon Network put the show on hiatus. While no new episodes have appeared on the Cartoon Network since that time, new episodes of the show are airing on tvnz in New Zealand.

A new television series based in the Batman mythos is currently in production and set to debut in the fall of 2014. Gotham centres on Detective. James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) as he investigates the murder of prominent Gotham City citizens Thomas and Martha Wayne. The show will also feature David Mazouz as the young Bruce Wayne and Sean Pertwee as Alfred. Some of Batman's rogues gallery are already set to appear, with The Penguin (Robin Lord Taylor) as a low level gangster and Selina Kyle (Camren Bicondova), who is a street thief and yet to become The Catwoman.

While Batman has appeared frequently on television, he has also appeared in radio shows. In 1943 a Batman radio show was proposed, but it never materialised. All that survives is a script entitled "The Case of the Drowning Seal". It is unclear whether it was ever recorded.

While Batman did not receive his own radio show in 1943, he did appear somewhat regularly on the radio show The Adventures of Superman. It was in the 1 March 1945 episode of the radio show that Superman met Batman and Robin for the first time. Batman and Robin would go onto appear on The Adventures of Superman in 12 more episodes, at times carrying the show all by themselves without the presence of the Man of Steel.

In 1950 a pilot for a radio show called The Batman Mystery Club was recorded. The pilot's title was "The Monster of Dumphrey's Hall". Despite its name The Batman Mystery Club actually had little to do with the comic books. Batman ("also known as Bruce Wayne") is not a grim avenger of the knight, but instead an investigator who debunks reports of supernatural activity. "The Batman Mystery Club" of the title is a group of kids with whom Batman and Robin meet, with the mission "to prove ghosts and apparitions are only figments of man's imagination". Not only did the radio show pilot depart entirely from the comic books, but it was not even very interesting. It should be little wonder it did not sell.

While Batman never received his own regular radio show, two radio dramas would air in the United Kingdom. In 1989, in honour of the character's 50th anniversary, radio producer Dirk Maggs directed The Lazarus Syndrome. It aired on BBC Radio 4 and featured Bob Sessions as the voice of Batman and Michael Gough reprising his role of Alfred from the movies. Dirk Maggs directed a second Batman radio drama in 1994, an adaptation of the comic book storyline "Knightfall". It serialised on BBC Radio 5 as a segment of The Mark Goodier Show.

Batman would also appear in a number of audio dramas released on vinyl records over the years. The first were the result of the success of the Batman TV show in 1966 and were released on MGM's "Leo the Lion" label. In all two vinyl LPs were released, each with three adventures each. In the Seventies Power Records would release audio dramas featuring Batman, both with and without comic books included. They released both 45 rpm records and 33 1/3 rpm records featuring Batman. In all about fifteen records were released.

More recently GraphicAudio has released audiobooks featuring Batman. They have released adaptations of the novels  Batman: Dead White by John Shirley,  Batman: Inferno by Alex Irvine, and Batman: The Stone King by Alan Grant.

Batman has also figured in popular music. In 1966 the Batman Original Soundtrack album was released, featuring music from the 1966 television show. The Batman theme, written and performed by Neal Hefti, was released as a single and went to #35 on the Billboard chart. The cover version by The Marketts went even higher, all the way to #17 on the Billboard chart. The Ventures, The Standells, and even David McCallum (from another fad show, The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) also produced their own cover versions. The Who recorded a cover of the theme for their Ready Steady Who EP. In 1966 Jan and Dean recorded an original album, Jan and Dean Meet Batman, featuring a cover of the TV theme and original songs inspired by the character.

Jan and Dean were not the only musical artists to try to capitalise on 1960's Batmania. Peggy Lee released a single called "That Man" in 1966. Although the song does not mention Batman by name, it makes several references to the character and includes such comic book onomatopoeic words as "zowie". Members of Sun Ra and The Blues Project recorded an album entitled Batman and Robin using the name "The Sensational Guitars of Dan and Dale". The album featured a cover of the Batman theme as well as original compositions. The British satirical band The Scaffold released a song entitled, "Goodbat, Nightman". The cast of Batman even released a few novelty records, including Burt Ward with "Boy Wonder, I Love You", Frank Gorshin with "The Riddler", and so on.

Of course, comic books originated as reprints of newspaper comic strips, so that it would be natural for Batman to find his way into several newspaper strips over the years. The first newspaper strip was Batman and Robin. The comic strip was distributed by the McClure Syndicate and first appeared in October 1943. Batman co-creator Bob Kane served as the penciler on the strip, while Charlie Paris inked it. Interestingly enough, while the Batcave (called "the Bat's Cave") first appeared in the 1943 serial The Batman, it first saw print in the comic strip. The newspaper strip Batman and Robin would not last long. It ended its run in November 1946 after only a little over 3 years.

A second Batman newspaper strip appeared in 1953 as part of the Sunday newspaper supplement Arrow, the Family Comic Weekly. Arrow, the Family Weekly only lasted a few months before folding. The scripts for the 1953 Batman comic strip were written by none other than Walter Gibson, best known as the creator of the pulp magazine The Shadow.

Another Batman newspaper strip would appear in 1966 in the wake of the success of the TV show Batman. Batman with Robin the Boy Wonder was distributed by the Ledger Syndicate. Batman with Robin the Boy Wonder started out with the same campy style as the TV show, but turned more serious once the show went off the air. It was originally scripted by Whitney Ellsworth, then by E. Nelson Bridwell. The Sunday strip ended in 1969, although the daily strip would run until 1974. Interestingly enough Batman and Robin would disappear from the strip towards the end of its run due to a dispute between the Ledger Syndicate and DC Comics. Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson would continue to appear in the strip, though only as supporting characters to a hero called Galexo.

Batman would appear as one of the cast of characters in the newspaper strip The World's Greatest Superheroes in the early days of its run. First appearing in the strip when it debuted in 1978, he last appeared in it in 1981.  It was distributed by the Chicago Tribune/New York News Syndicate.

It would be the 1989 movie Batman that would lead to Batman's next and final newspaper strip. It was distributed by the Creators Syndicate and debuted on 6 November 1989. Batman would not prove to be a success. It lasted only a little under two years, ending its run on 3 August 1991.

Batman would also appear in a few books over the years. Not surprisingly, the very first were published in connection with the television show in the Sixties. Signet released collections of reprints from the Batman comic books (Batman vs. The Joker, Batman vs. The Penguin, et. al.). The New American Library published an original novel based on the TV series, Batman vs. Three Villains of Doom, as well as a novelization of the 1966 feature film (under the title Batman vs. the Fearsome Foursome).

Batman would also appear in a few more novels over the years. In 1995 the novel Batman: The Ultimate Evil by  Andrew Vachss was published. It was followed by Batman: Dead White by John Shirley in 2005, Batman: Inferno by Michael Reaves and Steven-Elliot in 2006, and Batman: Fear Itself by Michael Reaves and Steven-Elliot in 2007. The 2009 novel Enemies and Allies featured both Batman and Superman and was set in the United States during the 1950's. There have also been novelizations of the feature films.

Over the years several video games based on Batman have been released, to the point that there are far too many to list. The first was Batman, released in 1986. Every Batman film released since the 1989 feature has had video games based upon it, usually more than one. With Batman Begins in 2006 there have also been several games for mobile devices based on the character.

Almost immediately following his debut in 1939 Batman became one of the most popular superheroes in comic books. Within four years of his first appearance in comic books Batman was already appearing on movie screens and in newspapers. Over the years Batman would expand into other media, including radio, television, books, video games, and so on. In the end it is quite possible that Batman has appeared in more individual products of the media than any other superhero, even Superman. Indeed, since the Eighties it seems quite possible that Batman has become the most popular individual superhero in the world. That being the case, it seems likely he will continue to appear in media other than comic books.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Batman Turns 75 Part Two: The Movies

Yesterday was the 75th anniversary of the first appearance of Batman in Detective Comics #27, May 1939. The character was almost an immediate success, quickly becoming one of the most popular superheroes, surpassed only by Superman and Captain Marvel. He would maintain his popularity over the years, becoming one of the few superheroes to survive the Golden Age of Comics. Since the late Eighties it is quite possible that Batman could be the most popular superhero in the world, surpassing even Superman.

Given Batman's popularity it should come as no surprise that the character would appear in several media other than comic books over the years. In fact, it is quite possible that over the years Batman has appeared in more media than any other superhero, even Superman. Over the years Batman has appeared on film, in television, on radio, in newspaper comic strips, on several animated series, and even in video games. Since the Sixties there have probably been very few times when Batman was not appearing in at least one other medium besides comic books. Aside from comic books, it is quite possible the Caped Crusaders' biggest impact has been in film.

Indeed, while Superman would be the first superhero published by DC Comics to appear on film (in the classic Fleischer Brothers animated shorts), Batman would be the first superhero originally published by what would become DC Comics to ever appear in live action films. Namely, in 1943 Columbia Pictures released a 15 part serial featuring the character entitled The Batman. The Batman starred Lewis Wilson as Batman (and his alter ego Bruce Wayne) and Douglas Croft as Robin (and his alter ego Dick Grayson). William Austen played Bruce Wayne's butler Alfred. It was directed by Lambert Hillyer, who had previously directed the Universal horror movies The Invisible Ray (1936) and Dracula's Daughter (1936).

To say that The Batman  was poorly made is perhaps an understatement.  Like most of Columbia's serials it had a exceedingly low budget. The costumes worn by Lewis Wilson and Douglas Croft were ill fitting and poorly designed. The production could not afford to build a Batmobile, so a plain black Cadillac was used instead. There are also continuity errors throughout the serial as its budget would not even allow for scenes to be reshot if a mistake was made. In one fight scene Batman's cape is torn off, only to reappear back on the Caped Crusader moments later. In another scene Alfred fires a revolver eight times without ever reloading.

Modern viewers familiar with movie serials, particularly those produced by Columbia, might be willing to forgive The Batman for its shoddy production values. Unfortunately The Batman was produced during World War II and as a result a good deal of wartime propaganda was incorporated into the serial.  The villain is a Japanese scientist and secret agent named Dr. Daka, played by J. Carrol Naish. Much of The Batman then appears shockingly racist to modern eyes. Such phrases as "shifty eyed Japs" and "Jap devil" occur throughout the serial. The serial even goes so far as to refer to the government as "wise" for interning Japanese Americans during the war. There can be little doubt that the filmmakers were to blame for the propaganda elements in the serial, as such wartime propaganda was uncharacteristic of the comic books of the time (Batman and Robin spent the war as they had before, fighting supervillains and gangsters). Regardless, from a modern point of view The Batman is exceedingly offensive.

Despite its many shortcomings, The Batman would prove important in the development of the character. Unlike many other serials The Batman was rather faithful to the comic books, only departing in a few ways. Namely, Batman was portrayed as an agent of the Federal government instead of as a civilian crimefighter associated with the Gotham City Police. While in the comic books Batman often worked side by side with Commissioner Gordon, Gordon does not appear in the serial. The Batman would have a lasting impact on the comic books. The serial introduced a secret headquarters for Batman called "The Bat's Cave". It would be incorporated into the comic books as the Batcave. The slender, moustachioed William Austen would give Alfred,  originally overweight and clean shaven, his appearance in comic books for the past 71 years.

Strangely enough The Batman would impact the history of the character Batman twenty two years after its initial release. In 1965 the serial's chapters were edited together and released as An Evening with Batman and Robin. An Evening with Batman and Robin was screened at the Playboy Mansion in Chicago, where East Coast ABC executive Yale Udoff was present. Mr. Udoff then suggested to ABC a primetime Batman TV series might be a good idea. The end result was the famous Batman TV show that debuted in 1966 (more on that in part three).

The Batman would be followed in 1949 by another 15 chapter serial, The New Adventures of Batman and Robin-The Boy Wonder. The New Adventures of Batman and Robin-The Boy Wonder starred Robert Lowery as Batman (and his alter ego Bruce Wayne) and Johnny Duncan as Robin (and his alter ego Dick Grayson).  In many respects The New Adventures of Batman and Robin-The Boy Wonder was more faithful to the comic book feature than The Batman had been. Batman was no longer a government agent, but instead a civilian crimefighter associated with the Gotham City Police as he was in the comic book. The serial would also be the first time that the characters of Commissioner Gordon (played by Lyle Talbot) and Vicki Vale (played by Jane Adams) appeared on film.

The New Adventures of Batman and Robin-The Boy Wonder had a much more standard plot than that of The Batman, with none of the jingoism or racism of the earlier serial. Instead the Dynamic Duo faced a rather typical hooded villain known as The Wizard. If anything the production values of The New Adventures of Batman and Robin-The Boy Wonder were even lower than those of The Batman. The costumes were again poorly made and this time the Batmobile was an ordinary 1949 Mercury convertible!

Batman's next appearance in film would be made without the permission of National Periodical Publications (now known as DC Comics). Pop artist Andy Warhol was a fan of the Batman serials, so he paid homage to the character with the unfinished film Batman Dracula in 1964. The film is believed is to be the first intentional portrayal of a campy Batman on the screen. It was only shown at Andy Warhol's art exhibits and never in theatres (as blatant copyright infringement that wasn't a possibility). Batman Dracula was long thought lost, but recently resurfaced. Scenes from Batman Dracula appeared in the documentary Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis (2006).

 Batman's next appearance on film would also be his first feature film. It should come as no surprise that it would be an outgrowth of the wildly successful television series that debuted on ABC in 1966 (more on that in part three). In fact, William Dozier, the executive producer of the Batman TV series, had wanted a Batman feature film to be released before the television series as a means of promoting the show. This idea was rejected by 20th Century Fox for two reasons. First 20th Century Fox would have to shoulder the entire burden for the budget of the feature film, while ABC would help with the costs of the television show. Before they would even consider a Batman feature film, 20th Century Fox wanted to know that they had a hit on their hands. The second reason was ABC's scheduling. Batman had been scheduled to debut in the fall of 1966, which would have given plenty of time to make a motion picture. When the fall of the 1965-1966 season proved to be one of the worst for ABC in its history, they moved the debut of Batman TV show up to January 1966. There would not have been time to produce a feature film.

It was largely because the Batman TV show had turned out to be a smash hit that William Dozier's plans for a feature film came to fruition. That having been said, for 20th Century Fox the Batman feature film was not simply a way of capitalising on the TV show's success in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom where it had already aired. It would also be a means of promoting the show in other parts of the world as well.  Batman had yet to air in Europe, Japan, or Asia, places where people might not be familiar with the original characters from the comic books. 20th Century Fox then saw the film as a tool with which they could introduce the characters to foreign markets.

Batman (1966) was shot on a budget of $1, 377, 800, which was much larger than that of the television show. It starred the cast of the TV show (Adam West, Burt Ward, Alan Napier, Neil Hamilton, and so on), and was shot  in between the end of shooting for the first season and the start of filming for the second season. Naturally the Batman feature film had to have a bigger plot than the average television show episode. To this end the movie movie united four of Batman's rouge's gallery from both the comic books and the television show. Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, and Frank Gorshin reprised their roles as The Joker, The Penguin, and The Riddler respectively. Julie Newmar had a back injury which prevented her from doing the movie, so Lee Meriwether took over the role of Catwoman. The plot centred on the four villains kidnapping (and dehydrating) members of the United World's Security Council. The Batman feature also introduced two whole new vehicles, the Batcopter and the Batcycle. The Batboat, which had appeared in the comic books, made its film debut in the movie.

 Contrary to popular belief, 20th Century Fox actually did a good deal of promotion for Batman (1966) in the United States. Unfortunately the film opened to mixed reviews and only did moderately well at the box office. Based on the smash hit television series of 1966, Batman (1966) was then a bit of a disappointment to 20th Century Fox upon its initial release. Since then its reputation has improved considerably to the point that it is considered by many to be a cult classic.

It was in 1978 that the big budget blockbuster Superman was released. With the enormous success of Superman it would seem reasonable to think that a similar film featuring Batman would follow in its wake. In fact, it was on 3 October 1979 that producers Michael Uslan and Benjamin Melniker bought the film rights to Batman with the intent of portraying the original Dark Knight of the comic book on the big screen. They were joined on the project by producers Jon Peters and Peter Guber in November 1979. The prospective Batman feature film was shopped around to various studios (including Columbia Pictures, United Artists, and Universal), all of whom rejected it. It was only after the project was announced at the Comic Art Convention in New York City that Warner Brothers  came on board.

Unfortunately the prospective Batman film would undergo a protracted time of development. Tom Mankiewicz even finished a script for the film in June 1983, and a mid-1985 release date was even announced. A number of different directors would also be attached to the project. Finally in 1986 Tim Burton was hired as the director. A good deal of controversy erupted among fans when it was announced that Batman would be played by Michael Keaton, then best known for his work in comedies. The rest of the cast included Jack Nicholson as The Joker, Kim Basinger as Vicki Vale, and Pat Hingle as Commissioner Gordon. The film's production did not always go smoothly. Its budget  grew from $30 million to $48 million and the Writers Guild of America strike prevented writer Sam Hamm from doing any re-writes of his screenplay.

Despite its somewhat troubled production,  Batman received positive reviews and was a smash hit at the box office. Ultimately it was the second highest grossing film worldwide of 1989, surpassed only by Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Its success guaranteed there would be a sequel. Batman Returns (1992) was once more directed by Tim Burton and featured Danny DeVito as The Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman. Batman Returns received largely positive reviews and many today regard it as being better than Batman (1989). Unfortunately, while Batman Returns made a good deal of money (it was the 6th highest grossing film for the year), Warner Brothers thought it was a disappointment at the box office. Warner Brothers blamed this perceived underperformance of Batman Returns at the box office on its dark tone and decided to take the Batman films in a lighter direction.

Before the release of the next live action Batman feature, however, there would be an animated feature film. Batman: The Animated Series had debuted on the Fox Network in 1992 and proved to be an enormous success, both with critics and in the ratings. Batman: Mask of The Phantasm was originally meant to be released direct to video, but Warner Brothers decided early in its development to release it to theatres instead. It was made in only eight months and was released on 25 December 1993.

Batman: The Mask of the Phantasm received largely positive reviews, with many critics believing it to be superior to the live action films. Unfortunately Batman: The Mask of the Phantasm would do poorly at the box office, perhaps because Warner Brothers rushed it into theatres. It would perform much better on home video and would be followed by several more direct to video, animated Batman feature films. Batman: Mask of the Phantasm has also maintained a good reputation among critics and Batman fans. It is still regarded as one of the best Batman films ever made.

As mentioned earlier, Warner Brothers had decided the next live action Batman film, Batman Forever, would be lighter in tone. To this end, Joel Shcumacher was hired as the film's director. Before it even went into production, however, it lost its leading man. Michael Keaton did not care for the film's script, and as a result left the film. Val Kilmer was then cast as Batman. Chris O'Donnell joined the franchise as Robin. Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones were cast as The Riddler and Two-Face respectively. Batman Forever performed better at the box office than Batman Returns. Batman Forever received mixed reviews upon its release, although for the most part the reviews were positive. Since then its reputation has declined, with critics pointing out that Jim Carrey and Tommy Lee Jones play their roles over the top and the script is often uneven.

Given the success of Batman Forever, there would naturally be another sequel. Batman and Robin (1997) featured  Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl, with Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze and Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy. Val Kilmer did not return as Batman, so that George Clooney was cast in the role. Chris O'Donnell returned as Robin. While Batman Forever did well at the box office, Batman and Robin did not. While the film earned $42,872,605 in its opening weekend, its box office receipts plummeted in the following weeks. In the end Batman and Robin earned a meagre $107.3 million at the box office.

Given its reviews it should perhaps be little wonder that Batman and Robin failed at the box office. The vast majority of critics panned the film, attacking it as outright camp. Since its release Batman and Robin has even occasionally made lists of the worst films ever made. It seems likely that audiences disliked the film as much as critics, and as a result word of mouth could have killed it at the box office.

Warner Brothers had planned a fifth film, Batman Triumphant with Joel Shcumacher once more in the director's chair, but the box office failure of Batman and Robin dashed any hopes of another film in the series. In the wake of the failure of Batman and Robin Warner Brothers looked at other options for Batman films. Over the next few years a live action version of the animated television series Batman Beyond was considered, as was a film adaptation of Frank Miller's comic book limited series Batman Year One and a film entitled Batman vs. Superman that would have featured both the Dark Knight and the Man of Steel. None of these projects would come to fruition.

Ultimately Warner Brothers hired Christopher Nolan, then best known for his films Memento (2000) and Insomnia (2002), was hired to direct the next Batman film. To write the screenplay the studio hired David S. Goyer. Mr. Goyer had worked in comic books, most notably on the title JSA (featuring the Golden Age superhero team the Justice Society of America). He also wrote the screenplays for such films as Dark City (1998), Blade (1998), and Blade II (2002). Rather than continuing the previous series of Batman films, Mr. Nolan decided to start fresh with a film that would tell the origin of Batman. While the murder of Bruce Wayne's parents had been portrayed in Batman (1989), Batman's complete origin had never been portrayed on film.

Christian Bale was cast in the role of Batman, with Michael Caine as Alfred, Gary Oldman as Commissioner Gordon, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox, and Cillian Murphy as Dr. Jonathan Crane (AKA The Scarecrow). The film would mark the first live action appearance of Batman's enemy Ra's al Ghul. A more realistic version of the Batmobile was made for the film, as was a new Batsuit that owed more to Batman's Golden Age costume than the one from the Sixties.

Batman Begins premiered on 15 June 2005  in the United Kingdom and on 17 June 2005 in the United States. The film received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics. While it was the number one film at the box office in its first weekend, its gross of $48,745,440 was considered disappointing. Fortunately it would go onto earn enough to be the second highest grossing Batman film at the time, surpassed only by Batman (1989). Its performance guaranteed a sequel would be made.

The sequel to Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, was historic in not only being the first Batman film not to have the name "Batman" anywhere in the title, but in possibly being the first comic book superhero film period not to have the hero's name in the title. The screenplay was written by Christopher Nolan and his brother Joanthan Nolan, based on a treatment by David S. Goyer. For inspiration Mr. Goyer looked to the very first two Joker stories published in Batman #1; the limited series Batman: The Long Halloween; the story The Joker's Five-Way Revenge!" from Batman #251, September 1973; and the graphic novel The Killing Joke. , Heath Ledger was cast as The Joker, and Aaron Eckhart as District Attorney Harvey Dent  (who would become Two-Face).

The Dark Knight premiered on 14 July 2008 in New York City and went into wide release in the United States on 18 July 2008. The film received overwhelmingly favourable reviews and could well be one of the most critically acclaimed superhero film ever made. Heath Ledger's portrayal of The Joker was often singled out for praise. The film was nominated for several Academy Awards and won the Oscars for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role (awarded posthumously to Heath Ledger) and Best Achievement in Sound Editing. It also did phenomenally well at the box office. The Dark Knight was the highest grossing film for the year 2008 and is still the fourth highest grossing film in the United States and Canada.

The Dark Knight was followed by The Dark Knight Rises in 2012. The screenplay was once more written by Jonathan Nolan and Christopher Nolan and based on a treatment by David S. Goyer. Anne Hathaway was cast as Selina Kyle (AKA The Catwoman), while Tom Hardy was cast as Bane and Marion Cotillard in another significant role. Like The Dark Knight before, The Dark Knight Rises appears to have drawn significantly from the comic books, namely from the story arc "Knightfall" that unfolded in issues of Batman, Detective Comics, and other titles in 1993 and 1994; the limited series The Dark Knight Returns; and the story arc "No Man's Land" that unfolded in Batman, Detective Comics, and other titles in 1999.

The Dark Knight Rises premiered in New York City on 16 July 2012 and went into wide release in the United States on 20 July 2012. Although not as critically acclaimed as The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises received largely positive reviews. The Dark Knight Rises also did very well at the box office. It would become the seventh highest grossing film in the United States and Canada. Worldwide it would even out gross The Dark Knight.

After making three Batman films (collectively known as "The Dark Knight Trilogy"), director Christopher Nolan elected to make no more. It was in June 2013 that Warner Brothers announced that they were considering a follow up to the Superman film Man of Steel (2013) that would include both Batman and Superman. Warner Brothers later confirmed this and in August 2013 announced that Ben Affleck had been cast as Batman. The casting proved to be a source of controversy among many fans. Regardless, the film (unofficially called Batman vs. Superman or Superman vs. Batman) will be directed by Zack Snyder (who directed Man of Steel) with a screenplay by David S. Goyer. It is currently set for release on 6 May 2016.

Arguably Batman is the single most successful superhero to appear on film. Both The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises rank in the top twenty highest grossing films worldwide, while Batman (1989) ranks as the 174th highest grossing film of all time. Even given the box office of the various Marvel superheroes on screen, no other single superhero has seen the success that the Dark Knight has. Of course, in his 75 year history Batman would not only conquer film, but other media as well. Batman has appeared on radio, in books, video games, and most notably television. Part Three will examine his appearances in other media.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Batman Turns 75 Part One: The Comic Books

It was 75 years ago today that Detective Comics #27, May 1939 hit newsstands. It proved to be one of the most important issues of any comic book ever published for the simple reason that it featured the very first appearance of The Batman. It was not long before the Caped Crusader became the second most popular superhero (after Superman) published by what would become DC Comics. In fact, it is quite possible that Batman was among the three most popular superheroes of the Golden Age of Comic Books, alongside Superman and Captain Marvel. Following the Golden Age Batman's popularity has fluctuated, but since the late Eighties it seems likely that the Dark Knight has surpassed even Superman in popularity. Quite simply, 75 years after his first appearance, Batman may be the most popular superhero in the world.

That having been said, the creation of Batman was tied directly to the success of Superman, who had become a phenomenon in the months following his first appearance in Action Comics #1, June 1938. It was in a meeting that editor Vin Sullivan told artist Bob Kane of the money that the Man of Steel was making for his creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster. Bob Kane then decided to create a superhero of his own. Precisely what transpired afterwards is somewhat unclear as Bob Kane told many different versions of Batman's creation, some of them wildly inconsistent with others. It seems obvious from the original appearance of Batman and interviews Bob Kane had given over the years that the character's appearance was probably inspired by the Hawkmen of Alex Raymond's comic strip Flash Gordon. Indeed, as comic book illustrator Arlen Schumer revealed in an issue of Alter Ego several years ago, it appears that the cover of Detective Comics #27, with Batman swinging on a rope with a criminal in tow, was actually swiped from panel 5 of the 17 January 1937 Flash Gordon Sunday page, in which Flash is shown swinging from a vine. Bob Kane often claimed to have been inspired by Leonardo da Vinci's sketches of a "flying machine" in creating Batman and, while some doubt has been shed on Mr. Kane's claim, it cannot be ruled out entirely.

Regardless, we know from interviews with the various parties invovled that Bob Kane later took the sketches of his new hero to writer Bill Finger. We also know that Mr. Kane's sketches featured a character wearing a small domino mask and a red, Superman-like costume with stiff, bat-like wings attached to his back. It was Bill Finger who suggested that Batman have the now familiar cowl with bat ears and a darker costume. Bill Finger is also credited with suggesting that the awkward bat-wings be replaced with a scalloped cape, although for his first several appearances Batman retained his original bat wings. Bill Finger also made several other contributions to the character beyond his appearance. It was Bill Finger who devised the name "Bruce Wayne" for Batman's secret identity. It was also Bill Finger who created the character of Commissioner Gordon and created  or co-created such characters as Catwoman, Robin, Bruce Wayne's butler Alfred, and others. While Bob Kane may have thought of the initial idea for Batman, Bill Finger must then be regarded as his co-creator.

Other writers and artists would also contribute to the development of Batman in his early days. It was legendary comic book writer Gardner Fox (who created or co-created such characters as The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, and so on) who introduced Batman's utility belt (in Detective Comics #29, July 1939) as well as the first of Batman's many gadgets (the Batarang and the Batgyro in Detective Comics ##32, October 1939). It was artist Jerry Robinson who created Batman's archenemy The Joker and co-created the characters of Robin and Alfred.

As originally conceived,  Batman resembled the modern day character a great deal. The Batman was an at times brutal vigilante who operated primarily at night. By day he was Bruce Wayne, a wealthy playboy who had witnessed his parents' murder at the hands of a mugger. So traumatised by the experience was young Wayne, that he vowed vengeance on criminals. Training physically and intellectually from a young age, he eventually donned a bat like costume to battle crime. In his earliest days Batman could be absolutely ruthless with criminals. He actually carried a gun and even used it on occasion. Quite often his opponents died by accidents of their own making. Other times (such as the vampire called The Monk in n Detective Comics #31, September 1939) they might even be killed by Batman himself. Even today's Dark Knight could be downright gentle when compared to the original Batman.

It was two events that occurred when Batman was around a year old that would result in the feature lightening considerably in tone. The first was a code created  by co-owner of National Comics and Detective Comics (two of the companies that would become DC Comics) Jack Liebowitz and editor Whitney Ellsworth as to what would be permissible in their comic books. The two men had wanted to prevent their comic books from coming under attack from moral watchdogs much as pulp magazines had earlier in the Thirties. Because of this code none of their heroes would ever willingly kill another human being. And because of this code Batman stopped carrying a gun and stopped killing criminals.

The other event that would cause the Batman feature to lighten a good deal in tone was the introduction of Robin in Detective Comics #38, April 1940. Robin was created by writer Bill Finger and artist Jerry Robinson for two very simple reasons. One was to give Batman someone with whom to talk. The second was to give boys a character with whom they could identify. Jerry Robinson was the one who named the character. He had loved  The Adventures of Robin Hood as a child. As a result, not only would the character be named "Robin", but the character's costume would have a medieval look. Robin was a professional acrobat, part of the family acrobatic act called "The Flying Graysons". It was after his parents were murdered by gang lord Boss Zucco that Bruce Wayne took legal custody of Grayson as his ward and trained the boy to fight crime. He would remain a part of the Batman feature for the next twenty nine years.

While the Batman feature would become lighter in tone following the creation of Messrs. Liebowitz and Ellsworth's code and the introduction of Robin, it could still be fairly grim when compared to contemporary comic book features. While Batman no longer carried a gun or killed criminals, he still operated primarily at night and many of his opponents could be downright frightening. The Joker, Two-Face, The Scarecrow, Clayface, and some other villains Batman faced in the Golden Age of Comic Books had appearances that would be quite fitting for horror movies. Not only did many of Batman's enemies look frightening, but many of them could quite rightfully be described as homicidal maniacs. In the very first story in which he appeared (in Batman #1, spring 1940) The Joker alone killed four people.

 Regardless, Batman became the second most popular superhero published by National Comics and Detective Comics, surpassed only by Superman, and he may well have been the third most popular superhero during the Golden Age of Comic books after Superman and Captain Marvel. So popular was the character that at times Batman appeared in four different titles during the Golden Age, including Detective Comics, Batman, World's Finest, and Star Spangled Comics. The character also appeared in other media (more on that in part two) and would be the first character published by Detective Comics and National Comics to appear in a live action film, the 1943 movie serial The Batman. Batman also appeared in a newspaper comic strip (from 1943 to 1946), on the radio show The Adventures of Superman, in the 1949 movie serial Batman and Robin, and in an unsold radio show pilot in 1950.

Even as the Golden Age of Comic Books progressed during the Forties, the Batman feature began to change. Some of these changes came about due to the 1943 serial The Batman. The serial introduced  "The Bat's Cave", which would find its way into the comic books as "the Batcave". The Batman would also be responsible for a change in Batman's butler Alfred's appearance. When Alfred was introduced in Batman #16, April–May 1943 he was clean shaven and overweight. In the serial, however, Alfred was played by slender, moustachioed actor William Austen. Starting with Detective Comics #83, January 1944, then, the comic book version of Alfred was also slender and bearing a moustache.

Over time the Batman feature would change even more, drifting further away from the original concept of "a terrible creature of the night". The introduction of Robin had already changed Batman into something of a big brother or father figure. In Batman #49, October-November 1948, a new love interest was introduced for Bruce Wayne in the form of Vicki Vale, a nosy reporter very much in the Lois Lane mould. Batman's various gadgets and vehicles played a greater role in the feature. Star Spangled Comics #89, February 1949, featured a piece on "Batman's Utility Belt." Detective Comics #151, October 1949 introduced the "Batmobile of 1950". Batman #61, October-November 1949  marked the debut of  a new Batplane.  It was during this period that the Batman comic strip would make its first excursions into pseudo-science fiction. "Batman, Interplanetary Policeman!" appeared in Batman #41, June-July 1947. Batman #78, August-September 1953 featured Roh Kar, the Manhunter from Mars--a prototype for J'onn J'ozz of Justice League of America  fame, who would make his debut in Detective Comics two years later.

While the Batman feature became lighter with the passage of the late Forties and the early Fifties, the character still fought crime primarily at night and faced some very dangerous villains. It would be the Fifties that would see massive changes that would entirely change the nature of the feature. The late Forties and the early Fifties saw comic books under increasing attack by moral watchdogs. At the forefront of these attacks on comic books was psychiatrist Dr. Fredric Wertham. Dr. Wertham believed that children were harmed by the content of what he called "crime comics", a heading under which he also included superhero and horror comic books. In 1954 his book about the alleged detrimental effects og comic books on children, Seduction of the Innocent, was published. Among the characters he criticised in the book were Batman and Robin.

In Seduction of the Innocent Fredric Wertham stated that, "Only someone ignorant of the fundamentals of  psychiatry and of the psychopathology of sex can fail to realize a subtle atmosphere of homoeroticism which pervades the adventures of the mature 'Batman' and his young friend Robin." He also attacked The Catwoman, one of Batman's archenemies during the Golden Age, as "vicious" and noted that she "...uses a whip." Dr. Wertham claimed that in Batman comic books, "If the girl is good-looking she is undoubtedly the villainess"  (apparently Dr. Wertham did not find Bruce Wayne's girl friend Vicki Vale attractive...). Today Dr. Wetham's attitudes would be considered both homophobic and sexist, but his accusations toward the Dynamic Duo could not have been made at a worse time. Homosexuality was still listed as a mental disorder in the the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders and the early to mid-Fifties were the height of the Lavender Scare, when homosexuals within the Federal government (and often in the private sector as well) were persecuted.

Fredric Wertham also attacked the violence within Batman comic books. He notes that "They constantly rescue each other from violent attacks by an unending number of enemies" and that Batman and Robin "..are captured, threatened with every imaginable weapon, almost blown to bits, almost crushed to death, almost annihilated." Dr. Wertham wrote of the Batman feature, "Violence is not lacking in these stories. You are shown Batman and Robin standing in a room with a whole row of corpses on the floor."

It would be Fredric Wertham's Seduction of the Innocent and other similar attacks on comic books in the late Forties and Fifties that would lead to the creation of the Comics Code. The comic book industry described the self-censorship code at the time as "...the strictest in existence for any communications media (sic)." This was no exaggeration, as in its original form the Comics Code was exceeding strict. It forbade everything from  "lurid, unsavoury, gruesome illustrations" to vampires and werewolves. It was perhaps because of the Code's strict rules on the portrayal of women, as well as the fact that Dr. Wertham had singled her out for attack, that The Catwoman would not appear in comic books from 1954 to 1966. It may have been due to the Code's ban on anything gruesome that Two-Face, half of whose face had been damaged by acid, would not appear from 1954 to 1971. The Joker continued to appear in the Batman comic book feature, but was reduced from homicidal serial killer to a practical joking nuisace.

It was perhaps because of the Comics Code, and most likely Fredric Wertham's attacks on the character as well, that the Batman feature would change dramatically after 1954. During the Golden Age and the early Fifties Batman and Robin had fought gangsters, hired killers, and a rouge's gallery that included such outright psychopaths as The Joker, Two-Face, The Scarecrow, Clayface, and so on. After 1954 pseudo-science fiction stories began to proliferate in the Batman feature. The Dynamic Duo faced aliens, travelled to other planets, and travelled through time. Their rogue's gallery from the Golden Age began to appear less and less, and any new supervillains introduced in the feature tended to be science fiction oriented: Mr. Zero (later renamed "Mr. Freeze" on the TV show), a new Clayface (this one capable of changing shape), and Dr. Double X.

As the Fifties progressed the Batman feature began to resemble Superman more and more, with the Caped Crusader picking up an extended family not unlike those of Superman or Captain Marvel. Perhaps to advert any suspicions that Batman and Robin were gay, two new female characters were introduced: Batwoman, who debuted  in Batman #105, January 1957, and Bat-Girl, who first appeared in Batman  #139, April-May 1961 (not to be confused with the Batgirl of later Sixties comic books and the TV show). Just as Superman had Krypto the Superdog, so too did Batman have Ace the Bat-Hound. And while Superman was plagued by the imp Mister Mxyzptlk, so too was Batman was sometimes helped or hindered by the imp Bat-Mite.

Ultimately these changes would have a deleterious effect on the Batman feature. While sales may not have dropped as low as many histories would have us believe, sales for Batman comic books did appear to have been lower than they had been in years. It was then that National Periodical Publications (the company now called DC Comics)  assigned Julius Schwartz to edit the Batman feature. Julius Schwartz was already responsible for new versions of such Golden Age characters as The Flash, Green Lantern, the Atom, and Hawkman. Indeed, the reboots of The Flash and Green Lantern had been particularly successful.

Julius Schwartz would make drastic changes to the Batman feature, not the least of which was called "the New Look". Artist Carmine Infantino, who had designed the new version of The Flash, was brought in to give the Batman feature a more modern appearance. Unlike previous artists who had drawn Batman, Mr. Infantino made no effort to emulate Bob Kane's style, but instead used his own sleek style on the character. Indeed, Batman's  costume was overhauled, with the inclusion of a a yellow oval around the bat-insignia on his costume's chest. The Batmobile and other Bat-accoutrements were also redesigned. 

The appearance of the Batman feature was not the only thing to be changed. Julius Schwartz jettisoned the supporting cast Batman and Robin had picked up in the late Fifties, so that Batwoman, Bat-Girl, Ace the Bat-Hound, and Bat-Mite were all gone. He did away with the pseudo-science fiction stories entirely. Instead an emphasis was placed on Batman's skill as a detective, so that many of the stories would be mysteries. To advert any accusations of homosexuality, Julius Schwartz killed off Bruce Wayne's butler Alfred (who had been part of the feature since 1943) and had Dick Grayson's Aunt Harriet move into Wayne Manor. The "New Look" of Batman was introduced in World's Finest #141, May 1964 (while the cover featured Batman in his old costume, the interior featured him in his new one), Detective Comics #327, May 1964, and Batman #164, June 1964.

Following the changes that came with the "New Look" for Batman sales for the Batman titles increased slightly from what they had been; however, there would soon be something that would happen that would send sales of Batman comic books through the roof. Namely, on 12 January 1966 the TV show Batman debuted. The show was a smart parody of superhero conventions, and many fans at the time were disappointed that it was not a loyal treatment of the character. That having been said, the show would have a huge impact on the Batman titles (there will be more on the TV show in Part Two).

The TV show Batman not only proved to be a ratings smash, but it also proved to be an outright phenomenon. Its Nielsen ratings were incredible, pulling in an extremely high Nielsen rating of 28.5 for the week of 13 February 1966 alone. It also produced more merchandise than any other television show before, dwarfing even the "Davy Crockett" fad from over ten years before. Batman would account for $150 million worth of merchandise sold in 1966 alone. The show also inspired the 1966 feature film Batman. Quite naturally the success of the Batman TV series would affect sales of the Batman comic books as well. The Batman titles became the top comic books on the market, with 900,000 copies per month sold.

Beyond an increase in sales the Batman TV show would have other effects on the comic books as well. In the short term the comic books emulated the camp style of the TV show, with similarly exaggerated situations featuring various members of Batman's rogue's gallery. The Batman titles' turn towards camp only lasted about a year, after which they would turn serious again. While the Batman comic books would turn to camp for only a short time, the TV show would have a lasting effect on the comic books in other ways. Indeed, it was because of Alfred's presence on the television show that he was brought back from the dead in the comic books. Alfred has remained a part of the Batman feature ever since.

It was also because of the TV show that Catwoman appeared in the comic books for the first time in twelve years. Prior to the TV show The Riddler had been a very minor villain in Batman's rogue's gallery. In fact, during the entire Golden Age he had only appeared twice and was then absent from the feature for 17 years.  It was largely on the strength of Frank Gorshin's performance that he became a major villain in Batman's rogue's gallery. The Batman TV show would also be responsible for the creation of one Batman's major opponents, although she never appeared on the show. The Catwoman proved to be one of the most popular characters on the show, so that Julius Schwartz, artist Carmine Infantino, and the other staff on the Batman titles then started to think about new female characters who could be incorporated on the show. As a result Robert Kanigher and Sheldon Moldoff created the supervillain Poison Ivy. While Poison Ivy never did appear on the show, she proved to be one of Batman's most popular opponents over the years.

The popularity of Catwoman on the TV show would also lead to the creation of Batgirl (not to be confused with the earlier "Bat-Girl"). . Batgirl was Barbara Gordon, the daughter of Commissioner Gordon. The head librarian of the Gotham City Public Library by day, she fought crime by night as the mysterious Batgirl. Batgirl made her debut in Detective Comics #359, January 1967 (although it hit newsstands in November 1966). Batgirl would be incorporated into the TV show for its third season.

Like most fads the Batman TV show eventually ran its course after about a year, so that ratings for the TV show dropped. It went off the air on 14 March 1968 after only a little over two years on the air. Sales for the Batman titles would drop as well. By 1969 only 356,000 copies per month were being sold, even fewer than had been sold immediately prior to the New Look.

To counter the lower sales a conscious decision was made in 1969 to return Batman to back to being a grim avenger of the night in effort to distance the character from the TV show. Editor Julius Schwartz, writer Dennis O'Neil, and artist Neal Adams then made changes to the Batman feature. Dick Grayson went off to college, so that Batman was once more operating alone. Bruce Wayne moved out of Wayne Manor into a penthouse atop the Wayne Foundation building in Gotham City. Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams created a new opponent for Batman in the form of Ra's al Ghul, a virtually immortal master criminal. After last appearing in the comic books in 1969, The Joker returned to the Batman titles once more as a homicidal psychopath in 1973.

Some of the changes made to the Batman feature in the late Sixties and late Seventies would not remain in place for long. Bruce Wayne would eventually return to Wayne Manor, while Robin would rejoin Batman from time to time. That having been said the image of Batman as an at times brutal vigilante has persisted ever since. That is not to say that the Batman feature has not changed over the years. In a run on Detective Comics that ran from May 1977 to April 1978 writer Steve Englehart and pencilers Walt Simonson and Marshall Rogers further fine tuned the Batman feature. Messrs. Englehart, Simonson, and Rogers made Batman even more of a grim vigilante, putting him at odds with the law (or at least the Gotham City political machine). They also made use of Batman's classic rogues gallery, even reviving villains not seen since the Golden Age (Hugo Strange and Deadshot). In Mr. Englehart's hands The Joker became even more a madman, killing on a mere whim. It would be Steve Englehart who revived the use of the nickname "the Dark Knight" for Batman, not used since the Golden Age. Reportedly Steve Englehart's run on Detective Comics would inspire much of Tim Burton's 1989 feature film Batman.

The Eighties would see  further changes to the Batman feature. Dick Grayson ceased being Batman's sidekick Robin and took the new name Nightwing in 1984. In Batman #366, December 1983 an orphan named Jason Todd became the new Robin. Jason Todd would not remain around for long in the Eighties. He was killed off in four-part story "A Death in the Family" in 1988. He would later be revived in the Naughts, although as a villain and later an anti-hero. In Batman #442, December 1989 Tim Drake assumed the role of Robin and remained such until 2009, when he went out on his own and assumed the identity of Red Robin. More recently it has been retconned so that Tim Drake served as Batman's sidekick under the name Red Robin.

The year 1986 would see the publication of Frank Miller's highly influential limited series The Dark Knight Returns. The Dark Knight Returns was set in an alternate future where Batman has been retired for several years and then returns to fighting crime. Violent and very dark, The Dark Knight Returns would take Batman even further into being a ruthless vigilante. In the graphic novel Batman wore an updated version of his Golden Age costume, which over time would become the hero's dominant look. Ultimately The Dark Knight Returns would have a lasting impact on the character.  The Dark Knight Returns was followed by Alan Moore's graphic novel The Killing Joke in 1988. The graphic novel provided a possibly apocryphal origin for The Joker and presented him as an even more dangerous, psychotic, and homicidal than before. The Killing Joke would have a lasting impact on the comic books. Among other things, in The Killing Joke The Joker shot Barbara Gordon. The injury resulted in her being paralysed and as a result she had to give up being Batgirl. She later assumed the identity of Oracle and appeared for many years in the comic book Birds of Prey. Barbara Gordon's mobility would be restored in in 2011 and she resumed her career as Batgirl afterwards. Both The Dark Knight Returns and The Killing Joke would provide some of the inspiration for the 1989 Batman film, as well as director Christopher Nolan's "Dark Knight Trilogy".

Since the late Eighties Batman has rarely been out of the media spotlight. In 1989 the film Batman, directed by Tim Burton, was released. It would be followed by Batman Returns (1992), Batman Forever (1995), and Batman and Robin (1997). In 2005 the character of Batman was revived with the film Batman Begins, directed by Christopher Nolan. The film was followed by The Dark Knight (2008) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012). The animated television show Batman: The Animated Series was largely inspired by the 1989 film. Since its debut in 1992 it has been rare that Batman has not been featured in some sort of animated show on television.

Batman became one of the most popular comic book characters almost immediately upon his first appearance. During the Golden Age it seems quite possible that his popularity was surpassed only by Superman and Captain Marvel. Following the Golden Age Batman's popularity would fluctuate although with the Eighties he would once more become one of the most popular characters in comic books. Since then it seems quite likely that Batman is the most popular superhero in the world. Seventy five years after his debut Batman remains more popular than ever. Indeed, as will be examined in part two, Batman has appeared in many different media over the years.