There has been a lot of news surrounding whether or not Ben Affleck will return to the role of Wayne for the Michael Reeves directed The Batman. This of course is couched in the many and diverse criticism that Justice and League and Batman v Superman have taken. I for one truly hope that Affleck returns because I am of the opinion that Affleck is doing truly amazing things with this character. In fact, I might say he’s one of the greatest screen adaptations of the Bat ever.
A lot of time and energy has been put in by people with a lot of time and energy to discern who in fact the best cinematic Batman is. Now, I am not even going to touch on the many animated versions of this hero and I will keep my hands out of the comic book universes as well. For our intents and purposes, let’s stay focused on the dark knight on the silver screen. Even though we will be focused on the theatrical Batman, it is only fair to say that no matter what we look at, a live action Batman has always been compared to the late great Adam West. Wherever that particular iteration of the caped crusader lies in your rankings, the West version of this character has been and will always be the benchmark that we return to.
It was the absolute reversal of this camp-tastic show that Tim Burton’s peculiar POV captured in 1989 with Keaton’s Batman and again in ’92 with Batman Returns. Perhaps we weren’t ready to go down the psychological leather-fueled romp that was Burton’s imagination because he was replaced after a short bat-hiatus by an overcorrection to campy in Schumacher’s Batman Forever and Batman and Robin (’95 and ’97 respectively). The outcry over the nipples on George Clooney’s suit was enough to send the hero back to the animated world where at least people were getting it right. Huge shout out to Bruce Timm and Paul Dini for the animated series and Batman Beyond. But I digress.
We didn’t see another big budget live action take on the hero until 2005 when Christopher Nolan began his inspiring take on a Batman that lived in the real world and took us into a grounded, suspenseful, and genre-legitimizing direction. That trilogy showed us a true and troubled version of The Batman that nerds everywhere have been waiting for. He showed us a dark world where evil wasn’t flimsy and gimmicky, but serious and with real consequences. When it was over it left us wanting more. This was a world that Batman fans everywhere would have been happy to park their nerdmobiles in for the foreseeable future. And then…there was Ben.
Now I’ve taken a while to get here but we have arrived at the crux of this article. In my humble opinion I believe when we look at Ben Affleck, we are looking at the greatest cinematic versions of the Bat.
I have a theory, so just hear me out (said every comic reader ever while the other person simply nods and waits their turn to say why you’re wrong). Batman v Superman may not have been a great movie. Snyder may have packed way too much in and the writing may have been a little film school-y, but I am not talking about the movie as a whole. Separated from the film as a whole, the older, broodier, reclusive Bruce Wayne is a man more reflective. It is the first time that we have a Batman with a history and a past that exceeds the origin story we have seen ad nauseam. It’s because we have a more seasoned gent behind the cowl that I propose we don’t need to throw the Bale out with the bathwater.
What if, and I mean WHAT IF, we are looking at this all wrong. What if we are not looking at two separate universes? Sure, Bruce and Selina disappear into a life of well-deserved peace and love after the events involving Bane and Talia (I know the auto-pilot was broken but please. He’s Batman. He survived the blast). The other thing we see at the end of The Dark Knight Rises is Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character who we are literally told goes by Robin, discovering the Bat-Cave. The only other evidence we see of another member of the Bat family in Snyder’s take is the classic glass case containing a spray painted Robin uniform. The theory goes like this: Bales’ Bat takes off leaving the city in the capable hand of young and spirited Blake (Comic fans will recognize this nod to Tim Drake, the third sidekick to take the Robin after Jason Todd’s death) or “Robin”. Instead of just assuming the role of Batman or Nightwing, who Levitt has mentioned he would love to play, he takes the mantle of Robin, or even the more independent alter ego of Red Robin. The career ends at the hands of an insane Joker who Bale let live in The Dark Knight. Don’t forget that Joker still lives in that universe despite the tragic loss of an amazingly talented Ledger. The guilt over this brings Bruce Wayne, now played by Affleck, out of retirement and back into the streets of Gotham and into a world changed by flying men, ancient Amazonian civilizations, and super speedsters.
I love this take on Batman so much. It leaves us with a man that isn’t trying to create a myth for himself or to make sure his myth is carried on. He is no longer the borderline ego-maniacal narcissist with control issues. It has ended badly for him. He knows his way is coming to close. His brushes with death getting closer and closer. This is a man who plans for everything and a contingency for any given event. His JLA isn’t being formed for him to lead. It’s being formed for him to leave. The formation of this super team indicates that the future is protected at the cost of his legacy. It is a step out of the darkness. Every moon has to set sometime.
But hey guys, it’s just a theory. The big takeaway here is that they are all Batman. And like every fictional character, we see ourselves in them. Each and every one of these iterations create this story that we as fans can play with, dive into, and break down. Whether you enjoy the camp of Clooney or the psychosis of Keaton, they are all a part of the myth that makes up the Dark Knight and they are diverse as all the fans who dig it. So next time you get in a heated comic debate, instead of nodding your head and waiting to tell your friend they are wrong, just listen. They are trying, in some small way, to tell you something about themselves. There are a million Batmen, and million ways to know him.
For more fun on this I can’t recommend reading Glen Weldon’s book, The Caped Crusade, enough. It’s super. Feel free to post about your favorite Batman in the comments.