Dark Knight Rising…

This Friday sees the release of Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises. To get in the mood, FACT screen the first two of the trilogy tomorrow… 

In 1939, a new character referred to as The Bat-Man made his debut in Detective Comics #27. Created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, he would of course go on to evolve into plain old Batman; a hero fit for our darkest thoughts, who was forged in the aftermath of an evening out with the folks, wealthy industrialist turned philanthropist Thomas Wayne, and his wife Martha.

Batman’s origin story revolves around this evening, when Wayne Sr attempts to engage a small-time crook, who murders the couple leaving young Bruce an orphan. One with great means at his disposal, but an orphan nonetheless. From that day forth, having had the merits of justice instilled into him by his fallen mother and father, Bruce vows to avenge their deaths by striking a blow at the heart of the criminality running amok inside an increasingly bleak Gotham City.

And that Bat motif? In early comics, young Bruce awoke one night to see a bat spiralling around his room. In his latest incarnation, it is his own pathological fear of bats he exploits and turns on the cowardice of his intended prey. But how did a boy, practically scared of his own shadow, come to be known as the caped crusader? For starters, and unlike the majority of superheroes, Bruce Wayne has no superpowers. He can’t fly around the Earth, nor can he teleport or walk through walls. Batman is a product of tragedy allied with an indomitable spirit and vast reserves of wealth at his disposal.

“Batman is a product of tragedy allied with an indomitable spirit”

Of course, the story of Batman has been played out in a plethora of different ways, with many guises tried on for size. Many remember him best in the campy, vivid colours of the 60s TV show, when he was played by Adam West; this was an image which endured for years, the show being subject to constant re-runs, both here and across the pond. It took a return to comic books and something of a concerted effort by different writers to restore the character to his dark roots…

It’s pretty much acknowledged that in the end it was three titles in particular that reintroduced critical credibility to Batman. 1986’s The Dark Knight Returns, by Frank Miller, Batman: The Killing Joke by Alan Moore two years later and then in 1989, Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth was released.

In the same year, Tim Burton’s big screen big budget version, Batman (starring Michael Keaton in the title role), seemed to confirm the rehabilitation of one of the great dark and brooding characters, a notion further emphasised with a Burton-helmed sequel. But it turned out the camp element which Burton, Miller, Moore and co had worked so hard to shed, was more enduring than it had at first seemed. Joel Schumacher would make a further two sequels in Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, depreciating the brand both commercially and critically. After which Bruce Wayne and his cowl were once more sent packing into the night.

But as with the character himself, Batman isn’t one to stay down for long. Fast forward eight years and Christopher Nolan brings the franchise back in 2005’s Batman Begins. It marks a return to a more troubled and brooding Batman (Christian Bale introducing a nuance to the role not seen since Keaton’s donning of the mask), dealing with dark psychological themes, explored further still in 2008’s sequel.

Of course, this instalment also reunifies Batman with his nemesis The Joker. The pair, like two sides of the same coin, driving each other on to ever greater heights of heroism and depravity. In Heath Ledger, the world found its perfect incarnation of The Joker, but in The Joker, Heath Ledger not only found his greatest role but, it is suggested, he also found his undoing, the psychological undertaking of the character apparently costing too high a price.

Ledger’s death, while obviously tragic, serves in a way to add to the lore of Batman; ensuring this generation’s associations at least will rarely stray into high camp, lycra-clad territory. Not if Christopher Nolan has any say in the matter, at least.

Batman Begins / The Dark Knight double bill screens tomorrow @ FACT from 6.15pm 

Posted on 18/07/2012 by thedoublenegative