Grant Morrison's Guide to Batman on the Big Screen - Rolling Stone
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Grant Morrison’s Guide to Batman on the Big Screen

‘He’s got everything,’ says auteur

batman the dark knight rises

Scottish comic book auteur Grant Morrison is convinced that Batman is the medium's greatest character: "He's an outlaw. He’s an inventor. He’s a detective. He’s got better gadgets than James Bond and he looks like Dracula. He's got everything." As Morrison researched his superhero history book Supergods, he sat through every minute of Batman's TV and movie incarnations. Here is Morrison's guide to Batman on film.

batman serial

Courtesy Everett Collection


1950s Batman Serial

"Diehards should go and check these fucking things out. It's weird. It's seeing Batman done by art students on no budget. Because nothing happens. It's like the cinema of the underground. It was so indicative of the time, also, it's like Batman on a budget . . . There's an incredible moment where he's climbing up his bat rope and Robin's helping him up and it takes like ten minutes — this kind of slightly in-shape guy hauling himself up a rope, when he could just as easily have gone upstairs. They don't know kung fu. They just throw themselves at these hoodlums and punch each other and hit each other with chairs until someone's dead. It's really strange. They don't have many redeeming features except if you want – it's like an Andy Warhol Batman – utterly mundane, awful, crushing. This is what Batman would be like with not a lot of money and commitment."

batman 1960s

Courtesy Everett Collection


1960s TV Show

"The Sixties Batman works because when you're a kid you take it really seriously and when you're an adult, you think it's pretty funny. But when you're an adolescent and you're getting into Batman as an idea of something cool and mysterious and reflection of your own darker moods – that's when you really hate that Adam West stuff. It's anathema to the adolescent concept of Batman as a tortured, angst-ridden loner. But obviously the older you get, the funnier it gets. Like the fact that they almost never mention Batman's parents had been killed. There was no real explanation that he had suffered any trauma at all. I kind of love that idea that, just because he has loads of money, why the fuck wouldn't you?

"The characters are easy to understand. The set-ups are clever. The villains are cool and weird. It hit on a lot of levels, and I'm sure hippies were enjoying it, people who were tripping were enjoying it, little kids were enjoying it. This is what people thought of that franchise for a long, long time. It was so powerful. Color TV was new, and it made a big impact. It really took the Frank Miller Dark Knight to break that image."

batman 1989

©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection


Tim Burton’s 1989 ‘Batman’

"Tim Burton's version is nothing like Frank Miller's Batman, but obviously it happened because of what Miller did in changing the consciousness of people towards Batman as an icon. It kind of shocked people – it allowed for Batman, at least, not to be treated as a purely camp or comedic or vaudeville type. That's what a lot of fans didn't like in Michael Keaton. He was a comedian – so, again, it was going be another cartoonish performance, and it kind of was – but it was a really Goth cartoon. What Michael Keaton brought to it was more in the Bruce Wayne role because, with Keaton, you really felt that Bruce Wayne was this damaged child. He was constantly bewildered. I thought it was a great performance. After you saw him as Bruce Wayne, you were willing to just buy the guy as Batman."

batman returns

©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection


‘Batman Returns’

"I like the second Burton film. The whole film was about the effect Batman has had on everyone else. And I think that he gave people who might otherwise have been locked up in prison license to just put on a top hat or a latex suit and call themselves a fantastic name. I like it better than the first one, and I think Michelle Pfeiffer was really good. But on both movies it's a closed set, so it's models and, like, 30 people in Gotham, and only one street corner, and I find them quite claustrophobic. In retrospect, you have to watch them as if they're stage plays rather than movies. I think at the time I wouldn't even have noticed, but they really feel cramped – this really tiny fairy-tale world. But at the time they were groundbreaking – suddenly this Batman stuff could all be taken seriously."

batman forever

©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection


‘Batman Forever’

"I don't particularly like Val Kilmer in the leading role, but Bob Kane himself said that Kilmer was his ideal representation of Batman. But I was never quite convinced. I did like the color and the fact that Gotham felt bigger again, but it was obviously a whole mid-Nineties recapitulation of the Sixties. So it was superficial. It's like one of those Oasis cocaine songs – it can be funny if you're sitting there, watching TV late at night. Joel Schumacher just takes the Batman franchise back to Adam West again, which was almost a brave and funny and bold move. But it was a cartoon. It felt like Schumacher hadn't bothered to look at anything since the Batman TV show for inspiration. And it really showed. The whole thing's incredibly fetishistic, and that's what makes it funny, but terrible for the Batman brand."

batman and robin

©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection


‘Batman and Robin’

"This was super camp ­– Batman collides with Studio 54. Aesthetically, it's kind of mad, and not good for Batman's health. George Clooney is a patrician version of Batman, and Chris O'Donnell is a weird kind of Robin. He plays it just slightly too old for it, and you can't imagine how he could get caught up in this at all. I think the Schumacher films almost fill that space. The next generation of Batman filmmakers after Chris Nolan, I think, will find inspiration in these movies, although not necessarily the general tone of them."

batman cartoon

©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection


1990s Cartoon

"The Batman animated series by Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski in the Nineties came out when Schumacher was camping it up. Those cartoons were taking it very seriously. It was very considered – it wasn't pretentious. It was just doing Batman as quite an adult character for kids to watch on TV. He seemed like a grown-up. He didn't seem like a psycho, and that opened up the character."

batman begins

©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection


‘Batman Begins’

"It seemed obvious to go back to his origins, because I think anyone who's thinking of telling stories after 9/11 noticed that, at that moment, the real world became horribly fictional. All of our fictions seemed to spiral towards realism suddenly. And so out of that you got great works of art, and I think these Batman movies are the best expression of Batman that's been done so far. Christopher Nolan built the whole idea of Batman being a soldier. But Batman is a bit more of a detective, a bit more vigilante, too. I just felt it was the perfect Batman. Batman's a soldier, and his war is the war right here on the streets against crime."

dark knight

©Warner Bros/Courtesy Everett Collection


‘The Dark Knight’

"Everything's so beautifully composed. They're trying to be a little more literary than movies we usually see. The structure of it is brilliant – split down the middle, based on the idea of Two Face's coin. Everything's upbeat in the first half of the movie, and then when you think, really, the movie should be over, the bad guy's captured, a whole new movie starts and everybody dies. The White Knight is Harvey Dent, and then he becomes the Dark Knight – a good man who's turned into a monster by the machinations of the Joker. Everything doubles, and it's constantly moving – it's a really great piece of cinema. I haven't quite seen anybody reaching this high. And I do not think it is going to be topped until the third one comes out."

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