BATMAN - FROM 1943 TO PRESENT DAY February 17 2002

When running a site about obscure cultural phenomena, one has to ask oneself many questions. One of them is of course "In the name of all that is good and holy, why am I doing this?", another is "Is this one obscure enough?" I have always wanted to write an article about Batman the Movie (1966), but it's just too well known to be featured as an obscuricon. But after I did some further research, I found that an article about Batman adaptions in general would fit nicely within the limitations I have given myself.

The evolution of Batman

This far, six people have played Batman over the seven productions the franchise spans. Many people would say this is a lot, and compared to James Bond, where five people played the title character in over twenty productions, it is. And it does give the caped crusader a pretty flimsy personality and appearance. But if you compare this with the example of Harvey Dent/Two-Face, it's not that much: From appearing in Batman (1989) to resurfacing two movies later, he managed to metamorphosiate from Lando Calrissian into a deformed Tommy Lee Jones:

Well, let's forget all minor inconsistencies and look at the early Batman adaptions.


"Dammit, I can never get this slant-eyed Japanese piece of crap running. Always buy American cars, Robin!"
BATMAN (1943)
Batman: Lewis Wilson

Considering the year of production, I guess respectful treatment of Japanese culture would be too much to ask for. Pearl Harbor was still smoking, and who other than Batman could possibly be better at feeding propaganda to kids? This series (shown at cinemas in weekly 15-minute episodes) is so chock-full of racist comments that later releases are cut down drastically.

Not that it matters, the series is incoherent enough as it is. In fact, they pretty much put their costumes on, started up the camera, managed to get to the cliffhanger ending building up to the next episode, and went home. An infamous example: During shooting one of the episodes, a nearby train slowed down, and the entire cast & crew ran up to it and created a train scene there and then.

Oh, right, the plot: The evil Japanese scientist Dr. Daka is turning Americans into zombies using a radium gun (Operation Doom of the Rising Sun).


BATMAN & ROBIN (1943)
Batman: Robert Lowery
In the days when you could sport a beer gut and still be a super hero

Dr. Hamill has created a diamond-fueled device that allows people to control their cars by remote. Of course, the device is stolen by The Wizard, who uses it to steal a train filled with explosives.

Batman and Robin need almost four hours (15 episodes, 15 minutes each) of screen time to solve this one. If MacGyver ever found himself in the middle of this plot, he would stop The Wizard using half a jar of mayonnaise and a pine cone, and still have time to get laid within 45 minutes.


Robin auditions for the 'fourth stooge' role
BATMAN THE MOVIE (1966)
Batman: Adam West

Now we're talking! This movie (and series) is the definition of 'camp': There is no limit to the silliness, and the words 'but' and 'why' seem to have been surgically removed from all members of the crew. The star himself, West, must be one of the most underrated comedians of all time: This far, he is the only Batman to ever utter the phrase "You dumb fuck," and the bomb scene is one of the funniest comic achievements in cinema history.

The plot: The Joker, Catwoman, the Riddler and the Penguin team up to steal a device that dehydrates people into piles of dust that later can be rehydrated. They use this to kidnap all the UN representatives, thus taking over the world... Finding Waldo in a Calcutta market is easier than pointing out any logic in this movie.

Batman the Movie does not by itself qualify to be listed in the Encyclopedia Obscura: It was immensely popular, and the series that was created along with it ran for several seasons and was watched by both kids, parents, and in my case, grandparents. This version of Batman simply has no equal (or category, for that matter), and should be watched by everyone.


From there, we all know what happens. Burton directs the gritty Batman and Batman Returns, and then Joel Schumacher takes everything Burton has built up and dips it in fluorescent candyfloss with the mediocre (but entertaining) Batman Forever. Then he directs Batman & Robin, which is the worst movie anyone has ever seen (for more info, read this update's editorial).

"Fear not, we'll get the nazi Japanese commies out from your hayloft in no time!"

"We'd better stop by your mom and thank her for the costumes, Robin."

Not very many people know that Mr. Potatohead was Lewis Wilson's stunt double
Well, what have we learned? Nothing much, really. Batman is not the first pop cultural icon to be used for propaganda purposes and will not be the last: During World War II , every DC superhero joined the fight against the nazis, Woody Woodpecker starred in a series of anti-Soviet cartoons during the cold war (not kidding you here), and Superman fought Saddam Hussein when the Gulf War was starting up. Nothing new there.

If there is any conclusion to this article at all, it would have to be that anything that tries to be up-to-date or contemporary and cool at the same time will eventually be eaten by time or itself. How long will post-modern quasi-self-ironic horror movies survive? That even the semi-parody Scream is spoofed in Scary Movie is a sure sign that the trend is dying (unless someone makes a Scary Movie parody, which of course would contain at least three Matrix spoofs).

I'm losing my thread here, but the point I'm trying to make is that if the writers of 1943 Batman (and 1997 Batman & Robin for that matter), would sit down for a goddamned minute and consider the fact that Japanese people just might not be the enemy numero uno in a couple of years (or in B&R's example, that post-modern self-ironical humour will be considered passť within a month), they would realize that what they are writing is absolute muck. But of course, artistic integrity is not what they are aspiring for.

Well, I'm ranting and should wrap this up: Finding the 1942 production would be like locating a needle in a mermaid's seaweed stack, but the 1949 sequel is still available on VHS. The one you want to find however, is the 1966 movie, which has been released on DVD. And to all my friends and aquaintances out there: For the last time, my copy of Batman & Robin came with the player, alright?!
Links:
- The Original 1949 Robin - A must-see!
- Holy Web-Page, Batman!
- IMDb entry for Batman (1943)
- IMDb entry for Batman & Robin (1949)
- IMDb entry for Batman (1966)
- IMDb entry for Batman (1989)
- IMDb entry for Batman Returns (1992)
- IMDb entry for Batman Forever (1995)
- IMDb entry for Batman & Robin (1997)
- Buy the 1949 Batman & Robin VHS at Amazon.com
- Buy the 1966 Batman DVD at Amazon.com