SDCC 2014 (San Diego Comic-Con, the ultimate marketing megaphone, for any non-conventionist readers) gave us a taste of Batfleck. Feeding us a helping of the Justice League by plating Ben’s beefed up frame with a leaned out Henry Cav-El and a garnish of Gal Gadot (of future Wonder Woman fame). Pics of the panel went up alongside pics of people’s suppers and the public commenced judgement like they alone held the secrets to a successful superhero movie recipe.

To counteract all the insatiably negative Batman-casting critiques I surfed through during some 75th year anniversary commemorating, here are some of the acting ingredients that worked for the Caped Crusader’s nine incarnations on film.


Homo Habilis: primitive face, rudimentary speech, first builders

 

 

Lewis Wilson - Batman Serial (1943)

Lewis Wilson – Batman Serial (1943)

1. Lewis Wilson was the first filmed Batman in the aptly named 1943 serial, Batman. Panned by critics for being overweight and accented, he was also credited with an energetic kind of enthusiasm that transcended the low budget production in which he starred. Wilson put a spotlight on his high-waisted bat-belt, even though it was bereft of tools and Bat-toys. And he can take a beat down better than any of his successors. Unfamiliar? Check out this compilation of gracefully executed Bat-beatings:
Home Erectus: more advanced speech, improved tools, still no chin

 

 

Robert Lowery - Batman and Robin Serial (1949)

Robert Lowery – Batman and Robin Serial (1949)

Full disclosure, I’m no septuagenarian. I’m too young to have seen the original screening of the serial and its sequel, Batman and Robin (1949), starring Robert Lowery.

 

2. Robert Lowery was credited for being slightly less overweight than Wilson and for wearing the Bat-belt at a more youthful height. The B&W footage suits Lowery’s theatrical portrayal of a privileged, indifferent Wayne (even after his limo from the early 40s was downgraded to a less-stately Mercury). He proceeded with a confidence that worked overtime to counteract the sag in his hand-me-down Batsuit. Watch him transition from Batman to Bruce Wayne in this chinless, Homo Erectus stage of Batman evolution (whilst simultaneously practicing Spanish):

Home Sapien: thinking, high forehead encasing, sophisticated tools, “spiritual” development

 

 

Adam West - Batman TV Series (1966-1968)

Adam West – Batman TV Series (1966-1968)

A resurgence of the franchise in the colourful 60s brought with it the masterclass in camp that is Adam West.

 

3. Adam West ushered in a polarizing depiction of the comic crusader; foolish, fun, and flippant. Critics, at least, approved of his lean frame. Conventions continue to hold him up as cult royalty, so he’s at least been successful in making his portrayal memorable. West’s intense Bruce and swinging portrayal of Batman delivered both puns and punches with a POW! He debuted the first in a long line of iconic Bat-cleft-chins, and a smooth, low Bat-voice with a cadence as animated as the light blue eyebrows drawn onto the Bat-mask. He begins the Homo Sapien stage of Batman evolution, with his new cranium/cowl, Bat-toys, and sense of “spirtuality”. Feel the essence that is West, here:

 

 

Michael Keaton – Batman (1989) & Batman Returns (1992)

Decades later, with the goal of bringing a haunted intensity to the both Bruce and Batman,

 

4. Michael Keaton was cast as the lead in Batman (1989) and Batman Returns (1992). Keaton toned down the vapid playboy persona, opting for a more accessible straight man in Wayne, and a hero with equal parts humour and a weird explosive scariness in Batman (remnants of his 1988 biopic, Beetlejuice, perhaps?

. And while he didn’t have a particularly prominent chin, he achieved his gritty, darker edge with a more raspy, whispered Bat-voice. Keaton was the first actor to give Batman a real depth and an aura of shadow. He remains a successful depiction of all of Bruce and Batman’s psychological complexities without adhering to the predicated physical bulk and pretty boy looks.

 

 

Val Kilmer - Batman Forever (1995)

Val Kilmer – Batman Forever (1995)

When the next production, Batman Forever (1995), took on a new director it also enlisted a new golden-haired lead.

 

5. Val Kilmer‘s casting brought back a sensual, debonair playboy as Bruce Wayne. His square jaw and large, hearted-shaped mouth filled out the lower half of Batman’s mask (and the top half of my dreams). And what he lacked in gravelly baritone, he more than made up for with the oceanic cleft in his chin. It was the combination of his suave and serious energy that allowed Kilmer to dawn the Bat-nipples so confidently (in the dawn of the Bat-nipples, not to mention the many other sexually moulded details of Bat-anatomy introduced with this edition of the Bat-uniform). He also really knows how to nail the mid-era Batman post-joke smirk. Case and point:

 

 

George Clooney - Batman and Robin (1997)

George Clooney – Batman and Robin (1997)

6. George Clooney. I really like George Clooney. Other people really like George Clooney, and his announcement as the next Batman was well-received (due in part, perhaps, to his endearing portrayal of a psychopath in From Dusk Til Dawn). Fast-forward to post-release (focusing on everything but anything else to do with the Batman and Robin (1997) film) and Clooney was still a highlight. He was a dashing Bruce, infused with the famous charm d’George. He had a smooth, low Bat-voice that was in perfect ratio to the prominence of his chin (i.e., big chin = smooth Bat-voice, regular chin = raspy, low Bat-voice). He filled out the costume at least as well as his predecessors, and he moved gracefully within its plastic and drapery. Clooney handled the inflated Bat-nipples as well as he delivered the foolishness of the ’97 Batman. All things considered he approached the character tactfully and with an on-point Bat-smile . Really. He even managed this line professionally:

 

Christian Bale - Batman Begins (2005), Dark Knight (2008), & Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Christian Bale – Batman Begins (2005), Dark Knight (2008), & Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Then the franchise got Nolanized and broody for 3 flicks (Batman Begins 2005, Dark Knight, 2008, and Dark Knight Rises 2012); a la 7. Christian Bale. On the heels of his deep, haunting performances in The Machinist and American Psycho, Bale portrayed the first genuinely dark Caped Crusader. His Bruce was successfully duplicitous, confident, handsome, and shredded. He was particularly successful at playing a bratty Wayne when the need to clear a room or create a diversion arose. The transition into a sombre, effective Batman was equally believable, traversing torment, anger, and a brawling intensity that felt legitimately dangerous. To match the serious tone, Bale injected the inevitable Bat-jokes with an appropriate heaviness and furrowed his brows on overtime under an equally angsty Bat-mask. And the canonized growl for the Bat-voice? Memorable, if nothing else. Successful in drawing attention away from his normal-sized chin, at the very least. You be the judge:

 

Ben Affleck - Superman vs. Batman (2016)

Ben Affleck – Superman vs. Batman (2016)

And so, soon begins the age of Batfleck. Amidst the bursts of fury and fainting spells of disapproval, 8. Ben Affleck’s casting matches many of the successful attributes of the Bat`s previous incarnations. He beefed up impressively (see SDCC 2014), knows how to furrow his brow (see Argo), knows how to deliver a joke ( (see Gigli), and is practiced in the ways of superhero fighting and fashion (see Daredevil – or just take my word for it). In fact, having completed his dry run as a poorly received Marvel character, Affleck will pursue his Batman portrayal with a focused drive in search of redemption. This veteran air accompanying his salt and pepper scruff will underscore the grizzled and wisened depiction anticipated for the Bat in Superman vs. Batman (2016). Can he pull off the Bat-voice, as Kevin Smith suggests here:
? Inconsequential, in my opinion, ’cause that man has got a mesmerizingly deep cleft on that mountainous chin in which to harbour all Bruce and Batman’s heroism.
In this modern age of Batman, there are commonalities we have come to expect and appreciate in our Caped Crusader. I like to believe that we hit the modern evolutionary stage with Adam West and have been slowly moving towards the Homo Sapien that we all want Batman to be – a thinking, spirited user of complex tools… with the appropriate chin to rasp ratio. 

Chin-chin!

Thanks to our friends at Two Geeks Talking for letting us share this content.

Two Geeks Talking is a partner in Crossroads Alpha along with Comics Bulletin.