Sunday, July 24, 2005

On the "New" Batman

As an avid comic book reader and collector in my youth, the story of Batman and his adventures figured prominently in many idle hours past.

Furthermore, as a serious pencil sketcher or drawer in that same milieu, Batman also figured prominently because the drawings of Bob Kane, the original illustrator, were easy to draw and duplicate, aided of course, by the fact that the face of the masked crusader was quite simple in line and design. A mask with protruding bat ears, squared jaws, and nothing much more.

The original storyteller was one named Bill Finger and he started his series in 1939 without much fanfare. It was only later on that the "origin" of Batman was detailed in a rather short episode. He was witness to the robbery and murder of his parents, on a night out to the movies. Young Bruce vows to fight crime in memory of the sad plight of his parents. That's all. I remember that the comic book that had this episode devoted only maybe a dozen panels about the incident.

And back then, any signs of the "darkness" now popularly associated with Batman were limited to the facts that he took on the persona of a bat, which we all know is a nocturnal animal; that he was always summoned using a bat signal that lit the inky night sky. Or that the Wayne manor was depicted as a dimly-lit place which housed the equally dimly-lit bat cave, where most things associated with Batman were kept. But not much references to the darkness of his character, melancholic moods, or other dark human qualities.

I've personally kept a copy of Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns (1986) not because I like it but because it is a constant reminder for me how starkly different the Batman is now portrayed as compared to the Batman of my youth. And I do not mean just on the artwork. The simpler and easy to unravel masked Crusader with no dark sinister secrets bottled up or constantly conflicting him.

And thus, I often wonder how this metamorphosis came about. I doubt if the original creator, Bill Finger, had these now-accepted trivia stored up somewhere in the back of his mind waiting to be revealed and released at some future date. And this doubt extends to the original illustrator, Bob Kane, who probably was limited to the artwork.

Who started this gradual conversion of Batman into some kind of complex and inscrutable individual, confusing one whether he really stands for good or for something evil?

But definitely the movies and comic books about him now regularly portray him in this somber light. This most current movie, Batman Begins, which I have not yet seen, is touted by its makers and actors to become the definitive movie on Batman. The one that will come to mind first when movies about Batman are discussed.

Is it really? Or is it maybe, the definitive movie of the "new" Batman, sculpted to this dark image by some imaginative writers and equally creative screenplay-writers.

You know we are now a very complicated, conflicted, and at times sinister, society, so this simply may be a reflection of the current milieu. And a thirst-quenching product of our avid hunger for things front and center in our lives. Hollywood is arguably very adept at this.

A very far departure from the simpler and uncomplicated times of yesteryears.

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