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[Article] – Why Batman Is Forever: The Many Genres Of the Dark Knight

 

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Posted October 21, 2017 by

 
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Batman made his debut around almost 80 years ago and has consistently been an icon of pop culture pretty much since his debut. Very few fictional characters have had such longevity or have enjoyed as much success as The Dark Knight. His fanbase is vast and loyal, I myself have been a writer for various websites for over five years and in all honesty, 50% of my work has probably been about Batman. I find the character fascinating and every day it seems I learn something new about his past, present or future.

So why has he enjoyed so much acclaim over the years? I believe it has something to do with the fact that he can adapt to pretty much any genre. Everyone has their own favourite Batman, and I thought it would be interesting to take a look at the various styles the caped crusader as cast his shadow over the best part of a century.

Action/Adventure

Pretty much all of Batman’s incarnations use Action and Adventure as a main template. Be it for laughs, scares or intrigue a typical Batman story normally involves punches being thrown, traps being escaped from, and an evil mastermind’s villainous plans being thwarted. First and foremost Batman is a superhero and at the end of the day, every adventure is the classic tale of good vs. evil.

Children’s/Comedy

Batman’s first primary audience was children. In the early forties with the debut of Robin and the early fifties with the introduction of the comic code of authority Batman took a lighter, more jovial tone, one that was captured perfectly in the sixties tv show starring Adam West. Despite the return to darkness in the seventies and eighties, there has always been room for more fun, colourful adaptations. This notion that is explored in the brilliantly poignant final episode of Batman: The Brave and The Bold.

For the sake of the children watching, a violent mobster crime boss can easily be translated to an eccentric with a bird fetish. A psychopathic killer clown and his mentally abused ex-partner can easily become a wacky prankster and his ditzy ex-girlfriend, but even in his darker guises, Batman can produce great comedy. Acting as a sinister straight man to more cheerful, good-humoured characters such as Nightwing, The Flash and Harley Quinn, Batman can actually be quite hilarious.

Sci-fi/Fantasy

“Batman in Space” is a concept most Bat-Fans dislike. A lot of Batman’s appeal is the fact he has no powers and is set in a more grounded reality unlike his contemporary’s such as Superman and Wonder Woman. His villains also echo this sentiment being mostly psychopaths with no real meta abilities, like the Riddler and Two-Face. However one cannot deny the appeal of the more outlandish and extraordinary members the Gotham’s rogue gallery, like Killer Croc, Man-Bat and Clayface.

Sci-Fi Batman probably works best not in his own stories, but when acting as part of a team such as Justice League. It gives us different dynamic to the character. Batman tends to assume the role of a general when battling intergalactic foes such as Darkseid and Brainiac, letting other superheroes take care of the (sometimes literal) heavy lifting. Gods and monsters being foiled by single human being just add to the badassery of the Dark Knight.

Detective/Noir

My personal favourite type of Batman comic are the mysteries, the ones where Batman has to unravel a crime before running off and punching the baddy in the face.

This sadly has yet to be properly translated to a live-action Batman movie, namely because the big bad is almost an essential part of the marketing as The Batman himself. We’ve had twists and turns, mostly in the Nolan movies, but you can’t really have a good “Who Dunnit?” if you know whom the main culprit is even before the release of the film.

Still, it would be nice to see “The Dark Knight Detective” do some detective work. The character even debuted in a publication called “Detective Comics” and throughout the years with have been treated as readers with crime sagas such as The Long Halloween and haunting noirs such as Gotham by Gaslight (a Batman tale set at the turn of the century). Matt Reeves has said he wants to bring the case cracking element of the mythology in his upcoming film and I for one applaud that notion as I honestly think we have yet to have a true interpretation of the character until that happens.

Horror/Gothic

Another weapon in the Batman storytelling arsenal is that of horror. Gotham is a scary place, both in terms of horrific crimes and ambience. Villains that represent warped childhood ideologies like Mad Hatter and Solomon Grundy, nightmarish killers who murder without remorse such as Joker and Zssas, and of course villains who use fear and terror as there main weapons, like The Scarecrow.

Even the physical city itself can create an unnerving environment, with gargoyles on every major sky skyscraper, dark alleyways where anything can pop out and of course the most fearful structure in all of comicbook land, Arkham Asylum. Books such as Grant Morrisons “Gothic” and Scott Snyders “Court of Owls” have utilized the shadowy streets of Gotham to great effect, and placing Bruce Wayne in in situations where he himself is unsure of what lurks in the darkness can be unnerving. We haven’t really experienced this in notion in cinema. It can work though, examples can be found in fan films and the Arkham video games.

Having said that, Batman’s first costumed scenes in both Batman Begins and Batman V Superman uses horror movies tropes to great effect to capture the fear that the Dark Knight tries to utilize against his enemies by using quick cuts and jump scares. A true horror feature-length Batman film may never happen because of marketability, but adding a few Gothic undertones to settings and scenes could really create an atmosphere no one has really explored since the Tim Burton days.

Batman has crossed genres more than any other character, which probably explains why his fanhood is so vast. In fact, off the top of my head, I can think of only one other fictional icon that comes close. Someone who also shares the moniker of “Worlds Greatest Detective”, but that is another case for another day…

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Tim Buckler
@BlockBusterMan
Tim’s Fortress Of Solitude
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