Batman Through the Decades: From Campy Ham to Dark Knight and Back Again?

Mar 22, 2016

This weekend Batman and Superman will face off in multiplexes across America. It will be, as the trailer promises, a classic set-up.

In the battle of "god vs. man," if you choose to side with man, that'd be Batman. But which Batman? The scrappy guy bent on avenging the death of his parents at the hands of criminals? The smarmy playboy? The brooding dark knight growling his way through the 1990s?

In nearly 80 years of fictional life, batman has reflected the aspirations and anxieties of America's changing culture. He is, as Glen Weldon observes, a bat-shaped Rorschach inkblot for us to project meaning upon.

Glen Weldon is a panelist on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour. His new book The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture charts the evolution of Batman along with the growing influence of nerds on mainstream pop culture.

Listen to the full interview.

In order to bring you up to speed on Batman's storied history, here's a compilation of some of his most famous incarnations. 

"Batman" (1966): Adam West

The campy playboy from the 1960s television show gets a lot of flack from fanboys, but Weldon says it's the version that he cherishes (as do many who grew up with it).   

"Batman" (1989): Michael Keaton

Fans sent over 50,000 letters to the studio protesting Michael Keaton's role as Batman, but the movie still ended up a box office hit and went on to inspire several sequels. 

"Batman: the Animated Series" (1992): Kevin Conroy

After voicing Batman for this animated telelvision series, Conroy became the unofficial voice of all animated 'Batmen' - he has since voiced the character in 8 different series. 

"Batman and Robin" (1997): George Clooney

According to senior producer Taylor Quimby, this is "the widely agreed upon worst Batman." 

"The Dark Knight Trilogy" Christian Bale

Christopher Nolan's trilogy defined Batman for a decade and may have brought us culturally to "peak grit."   

"The Lego Movie" Will Arnett

While not usually included in on-screen portrayals of Batman, Weldon says Will Arnett's turn as  over-the-top Batman in The Lego Movie is an indicator of things to come: if the natural 30 cycle of gritty-Batman-versus-goofy-Batman holds true, audiences may be ready to return to the days of Adam West's interpretation. 

Who is your favorite Batman? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook and Twitter