Editorial: Does A Best Batman Exist? And Who Is It?

By Scott Kurland

With the recent boom in comic book films, and the pure fact that Marvel is the undeniable winner, it got me thinking. What is the best loved comic book character? We can all agree Superman will be on a lot of people’s list, as well as Iron Man, but in my most humble opinion since you’re reading this, it’s Batman. He’s not mine, that would be the Flash, but Batman is number one in a lot of people’s eyes. The Bat has been depicted on film and television for over 50 years. We’ve had Adam West in the 60s. Michael Keaton in the 80s. Unfortunately we were “treated” to Val Kilmer and George Clooney in the 90s, I like to call this time period  “the dark ages”. 

However, most people think that with it being 2015, and the fact Christian Bale was amazing in Nolan’s trilogy starting in 2005, Bale is the ultimate Batman. I think this argument is being made because from 1997 until 2005 Batman was turned into a campy joke of a series. I mean it was so painful to watch Batman in a film, anything to dull the pain was a welcomed change. 

With last years announcement of Ben Affleck as the new Batman, and the delay of “Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice” it really got me thinking. Who truly is the best Batman? Some say Keaton, some say Bale, and others don’t ask me why say West. For me as much as I love Keaton and Bale, the ultimate Batman for ME, please keep that in mind (it’s just a opinion) is Kevin Conroy. Conroy has been Batman for almost 23 years when the show “Batman: The Animated Series” started in 1992. Since that time Conroy has voiced Batman in animated films like “Batman: Mask of The Phantasm”, Video games like “Batman: Arkham Ayslum”, and was even the old version of Bruce Wayne for “Batman Beyond.” Trust me that’s a lot of Bat voicing.

Here’s why Conroy is king, one word “humility”. Unlike other Batmen, Conroy doesn’t say he’s the best at playing the role. If you watch Bale’s interviews and his views on playing Batman, he says he’s the best. Bale even  goes on to admit jealousy for Affleck getting to wear the cape and cowl. Bale isn’t the only one claimingsupreme ownership on the Batman list. Michael Keaton is equally as guilty of show boating. In recent interviews to promote “Birdman” he’s been known for saying there are no other Batmen just him. Conroy has never done this, he’s been humble and grateful for the opportunity to play such an iconic role. In the documentary “I Know That Voice” Conroy talks about playing Batman, and how every time he does charity work, helps out at a food pantry, or serves food at a homeless shelter people recognize him as Batman and applaud as he tries to focus on getting people food. I know what you’re thinking that’s all very nice Scott, but what does that have to do with being Batman? Nothing!!! I just thought it was a nice story he told. Let’s get to the meat of the issue, performance.

We have six Batmen West, Keaton, Conroy, Kilmer, Clooney, and Bale. Arguments can be made for Jason O’Mara who has voiced Batman a lot lately, but in my opinion he’s still novice at being the Dark Knight. Granted O’Mara is very, very, very good at playing the part he hasn’t earned his wings yet. Let’s start with the three weakest performances, starting with Clooney. Clooney never wanted to be Batman, he thought it was a great offer and jumped at the opportunity to play Bruce Wayne. Still, if you knew the story of how he was cast it’s kind of pathetic. Clooney was called into Warner Brothers, met with the head of theWB and was told “you’re playing Batman”. End of story, no audition, no previous experience he was just cast. For that Clooney is the worst Batman, he didn’t play Batman as Batman nor did he play Bruce Wayne. He was playing George Clooney and in 1997, playing George Clooney was seen as charming and winning. However, to be a superhero, hell to be Batman you have to balance two identities Batman and Bruce Wayne. Clooney didn’t do that, and he even admits he was the worst Batman. 

Val Kilmer is right behind him he wasn’t Batman. He was Bruce Wayne though, he was good at being Bruce Wayne not so great at being Batman. His Batman wasn’t Val Kilmer, it wasn’t Bruce Wayne either. It almost felt like he was still stuck in Jim Morrison mode, after playing him in Oliver Stone’s “The Doors”. Batman Felt like that tortured soul from “The Doors” and not that tortured soul from “Batman Forever.” Kilmer tried and for that he gets a pass, but it’s a low pass.
Adam West needs to be somewhere in the middle, he’s bad as Batman, but it’s like cult film bad. He’s literally so awful at being Batman that he’s so good. It’s not West’s fault, he was part of that generation of Shatner acting where it was ok to over act... it was ok to over act A LOT!!! West didn’t know any better at this point in the Batman folk lore the Caped crusader was not yet defined. So television decided to define him, granted it was poorly defined, but it was defined nonetheless. West isn’t the worst Batman, he wasn’t the best, he just was there.

Ok, let me be frank with you, here is the reason why Bale will always be runner up to me. He’s too cocky, he was a great Bruce Wayne in “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight”. You may be wondering why I didn’t say “The Dark Knight Rises”, well if I’m be perfectly honest, Bale was no longer Bruce Wayne at this point he was full Bat at this point. Which leads me back into the cockiness, Bale truly believed he was Batman. He was so deep into character he made himself believe he was a vigilante and protector. Just like how Heath Ledger couldn’t escape his Joker nightmare, and it lead to his demise. Bale didn’t escape he went full embrace, he bathed in the Bat-fame. I’m getting off topic here, let’s get back to the matter at hand Batman. As Bruce Wayne Bale is great, as Batman he’s intimidating. So why isn’t he in the top two? It’s that voice. It’s so gritty and sounds like gravel. Granted, he tried hiding his alter ego to protect his loved ones, but it’s a bit much.
I can’t say Keaton is the Best, and as I think about it even though I believe Conroy is the King they both compliment each other. I stand by my claim that Conroy is the best Batman. Yet, Michael Keaton is right behind him. Keaton is the best live action Batman, because he balances that fine line of scientist billionaire and dark brooding vigilante. Keaton knew how to play Bruce Wayne and made Batman intimidating with the right tone. Kevin Conroy on the other hand is Batman, because he’s voiced him in multiple mediums like film, television, and video games. Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel praised “Batman Mask of The Phantasm” as one of the greatest Batman films ever made, and that is in part to the work of Kevin Conroy. 

I think Batman actors are going to be like James Bond actors. Everyone has their favorite, and for that there is no best Batman, you the watcher make your choice. Some people will say Bale or Keaton, others say West. I personally think it’s Kevin Conroy followed closely by Keaton, but remember those who tell you George Clooney is the best are just grasping at straws.

Got questions or comment hit me up: kurlandonfilm@gmail.com
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