In 1978, Superman: The Movie made us believe a man could fly. In 1989, we hoped that Tim Burton’s Batman film would make us forget the campy Caped Crusader of the 60s TV series. Never mind that the series writers drew inspiration from the comics, or that Bill Finger, who created Batman alongside Bob Kane, wrote a number of scripts. In honor of Batman’s 75th anniversary last year, DC Comics published Batman: The TV Stories, a collection of comics that inspired episodes. It’s well worth a read.
The Eighties were a strange time; I was there, and I still have no clue as to what was going on. When Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns came out in 1986, it took Batman to the logical extreme, and to new heights in popularity. This was a serious Batman for what some believed to be a frivolous time. The Sixties and the Eighties share some traits: Both decades had great music and questionable fashion trends. More importantly, the political climate was a source of constant and fervent debate.
Miller’s Batman was older, and he was pissed off at what Gotham City has become. He was a vigilante who meted out brutal, but nonlethal, justice against criminals. Meanwhile, Superman was a tool of the federal government; a “peacekeeper” if you will. The United States had outlawed vigilantes years earlier, so when Batman came out of retirement, the President was none too pleased. He sends Superman to deal with him, and the rest is comic book history.
Obvously, this is not at all what the 1989 Batman movie was about. While the film eschewed the campiness of the TV series, it wasn’t the full on Dark Knight some had wanted. To me, Burton’s film was tonally and aestetically like Golden Age Batman, or at the very least, the era before the Comics Code came along and comic books became all science fiction-y. It may or may not have been the Batman movie we thought we wanted, but it was the Batman movie we got. Prince soundtrack and all.