Batman has had a very long history on our screens, making his first appearance in a 1943 serial, over 20 years before Adam West would pull on the purple Batman costume. As such, we’ve had a veritable slew of actors portraying the likes of Batman, Robin, The Joker, and other characters from the Batverse over the years. But just who are our favorites, and who should never have been?
I’ll take a look at the Batmans of the last 60 or so years, as well as a random assortment of villains and heroes that joined Batman along the way. I will say though, that to do justice to the 1960’s Batman TV series would take a lot longer than I have, given that Wikipedia has over 35 listed villain guest stars, including John Astin as the Riddler, Eartha Kitt as Catwoman, and Vincent Price as Egghead. You really can’t beat them for campy, but they don’t really match up to reality.
The battle for best Batman has long been fought, but only recently decided. Prior to Christopher Nolan‘s 2006 Batman Begins, my personal favorite (and many others would agree) was Michael Keaton. In tandem with Tim Burton, they portrayed a dark and surreal Batman that I loved. However, soon came Val Kilmer and George Clooney, who made a mockery of one of the greatest characters ever.
However with Nolan’s Batman Begins came Christian Bale, who for most, has taken the mantle as best Batman ever. He was realistic, gritty, young, and has an acting talent unlike any of the others.
But all of that being said, my title still goes to another man: Kevin Conroy. Or, maybe I should be giving the award to producer Bruce Timm, the man who is responsible for the animated version of my favorite superhero. Conroy’s voice is perfect for the role, and I still can’t get past the sheer amount of the animated Batman that I have seen.
Arguably Batman’s most fiercest villain, the Joker, appears in more comics than any other Batman villain. He has been depicted throughout comics and on screen in a veritable plethora of forms, from inhuman to a scarred malformed human.
Jack Nicholson portrayed the Joker in the 1989 film Batman, directed by Tim Burton. But he was more of a clown — the uncle you don’t like to have round at Christmas — than the Joker really was. He shot people, killed people, laughed, but he wasn’t… the Joker.
Now the only real choice we have, in my opinion, is once again laid at the feet of Bruce Timm, but this time voiced by none other than Mark Hamill. That’s right, for those of you not aware, it was young Luke Skywalker — or actually an older version, really — who voiced the maniacal villain in Timm’s animated TV series, and for many his voice, and in particular his laugh, has been the perfect combination.
However, I think that no one will doubt the fact that, come July 16 (for we Australians), or whatever date The Dark Knight hits your cinemas [July 18th in the U.S], Heath Ledger will soon become the best Joker we’ve ever seen. Until then, it’s Mark Hamill.
This category won’t go on for long, as it exists mainly to ensure to the world that Halle Berry should not be considered even as part of the DC Universe. Her rendition of Catwoman is, in all reality, horrible, and a real black mark on DC’s record. The real competition only exists between Adrienne Barbeau who played Catwoman in the animated series, and Michelle Pfeiffer. For me, my money rests on Pfeiffer, for her fantastic, portrayal in Batman Returns. It was realistic, funny, cruel and passionate, and they are four attributes that Selina Kyle exudes.
Without a doubt one of the most pivotal characters in the Bat-verse is Alfred the butler, who has been portrayed by a veritable mass of men. William Austin was the first to portray Alfred, and if not for a following role, he could take the win simply for the fact that Austin’s portrayal changed the way that the comic version of Alfred was drawn.
Skipping over the ’60s and into the ’90s movies, my winner is Michael Gough, who portrayed the aging butler to perfection in the four movies. An actor who has appeared in over a hundred films, Michael Gough was trustworthy and loyal to a tee, and really exemplified the father-figure that Alfred should be.
Two notable mentions are Michael Caine, from Nolan’s pair of movies, and Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., from the animated series. Both are much better representations of their characters than many other characters were given, and show a deep respect for the character.
Another actor who, though remaining much in the background, is pivotal to the Batman story is that of Commissioner James Gordon. Absolutely central to many Batman comic arcs, Gordon has been commissioner of Gotham for longer than there has been a Robin. I will admit that I am only looking at Gordon for the sole purpose of expressing my undying love for Gary Oldman.
Though there have been others — such as the only other actor to portray the same character in all four Burton/Schumacher films, Pat Hingle — Gary Oldman portrays one of my favorite characters to a perfect tee. And though Bob Hastings from the animated series is top notch, Oldman simply cannot be beat.
There are masses of other characters in the Bat-verse, but very few who have doubled up in actors. For example, Chris O’Donnell made a complete cock-up of Robin in the last two films in the ’90s. And Danny Devito was a great Penguin, but has no one to go up against.
So for now, let us just say that Christopher Nolan and Bruce Timm have managed to pin down most of the awards, and that Tim Burton always knew what he was doing and should have been left in charge.
Got a different opinion on any of my choices? We want to hear them, so comment away people!