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August 15, 2010

Versus: Batman vs. Batman vs. Batman

Versus is designed to compare two or more similar movies or characters in order to determine who or what is the best version. I break it down by category and score each one on a scale of 1 - 5. The highest total score in the end wins. Even I don't know who will win until it's over. This is my game played by my rules. If you don't like it, tough noogies.

Batman has taken on a few incarnations on the big and small screens. He started out in theaters in short serials that you might have seen on cable or the Internet somewhere. These were fun, but not what people remember. Most of us can look back and break Batman's film history into three distinctive segments. After recently watching the feature starring Adam West, I started to dissect things, and this is what I found.

The Series

The Adam West Era

Kitsch and comedy filled this 1960s series and movie that featured a wholesome dynamic duo. Though the TV series didn't last long, it spent years in syndication and can still be found on television today. The movie featured such ridiculous camp as shark repellant and an old timey round bomb with a wick. My personal favorite is the signage all around the Bat Cave that let you know what everything was. No matter what you say about this era, you always knew what you were getting and it was always consistent.

Score: 4

The Burton/Schumacher Era

While this was most definitely the worst era for Batman, it still led the way for the modern dark and moody superhero. Tim Burton left his mark on the series with cartoonish sets and gloomy yet colorful costumes and surroundings. When Joel Schumacher took over the second half of this stretch, his big contribution was to slap nipples on the heroes' costumes.

Score: 2.5

The Nolan/Bale Era

This started with great promise. Batman Begins was the best comic book movie I had seen to that point. It showed a Batman origin that we had never seen. It featured villains that were far from the usual fare. Instead of silly sets, Christopher Nolan used Chicago, the real life Gotham. Jim Gordon was not commissioner yet. It was exciting and different. All was right with the world. Anticipation was high for The Dark Knight. Unfortunately, phoned in acting performances from almost everyone in the cast and a rushed throw away appearance from Two-Face ruined what could have been a great sequel.

Score: 3.5

The Batmen

Adam West

What can you say about a man whose acting is like cardboard? West's Batman was corny. He gave lessons about wearing your seatbelt and doing the right thing. He was not exactly what you'd call in shape and filled that blue leotard like a sack of wet concrete. His romantic scenes in the movie as Bruce Wayne were so awkward that you'd swear he was still a virgin. His awful portrayal was always part of the fun, but if I were attacked in a dark alley, I'd never want this Batman to show up to save me.

Score: 2.75


I know I'm in the minority when I say this, but Michael Keaton was my favorite Batman. Even though I didn't like this stretch of films, Keaton was a standout, and the producers should have seen this and given him more room to spread his wings, so to speak. He was replaced for one film with the horrendous Val Kilmer, who makes Adam West look good. George Clooney followed him in the fourth movie. He was bad too, but I respect his portrayal. First off, he knew the movie was going to be bad and only took the role so he could say someday that he was Batman. Clooney was also the only modern day Batman to avoid speaking in gravelly voice when donning the suit.

Score: 4

Christian Bale

I was thrilled to see Bale take the reigns here, and the first movie was amazing. His Bruce Wayne was tortured and emotionally confused. He was far from being in control and had to learn his way. I don't understand why Bale reprised the role with one of the laziest performances I have ever seen. It ruined The Dark Knight for me and makes me leery of the upcoming third film.

Score: 3.25

The Weapons

The batarang, shark repellant and cartoon bombs were just the beginning. This series showed us the classic Batmobile, which included a car phone in 1966, the Bat Boat and the Bat Copter. No matter what the dynamic duo needed, they could pull it out of their utility belts. Rabid chincillas attacking? Thankfully we have this rabid chinchilla trap right here in the belt. Let's not forget the Bat Cave full of signage. That place had everything.

Score: 4.75

There was nothing specifically special about the weapons in this series, but everything was modern and high tech. The Batmobile started out looking slick and cool, but unfortunately evolves in every movie until it eventually looked like a cross between a dildo and a Christmas tree.

Score: 4

Bullet proof suits, a cape that allowed gliding and a full on military arsenal set this Batman apart. This version of the Batmobile was a flexible tank with a drop down motorcycle that has fat tires and a machine gun. Include citywide surveillance and this Batman becomes almost unbeatable.

Score: 5

The Villains

We got all of the classics here. The Penguin, The Joker, Catwoman and The Riddler were frequent antagonists in the television series, and they all ganged up on Batman in the movie, but they weren't the only criminals in Gotham. There was King Tut, a professor that switched personalities when he was hit in the head. We even got Vincent Price as Egghead. There were several more, making for a variety in the crazy show.

Score: 4.5

We got Jim Carrey in Spandex, Arnold Schwarzenegger with a fishbowl on his head and Uma Thurman covered in weeds with her double beehive hairdo. Bad lines and worse acting plagued the villains of the 1990s. Even Nicholson's Joker was bad. The two exceptions were Danny DeVito's Penguin and Michelle Pfeiffer's Catwoman. I did appreciate Christopher Walken as an alternate version of himself.

Score: 3.25

The newest series started in grand fashion with enemies we've never seen on the big screen. Scarecrow made frequent appearances in the 1990s cartoon series, and he was due for his theatrical debut. Throw in Ra's Al Ghul and a little bit of backstabbing, and we have a great story. Too bad the sequel returned to old hat with The Joker and a quickie creation and death of Two-Face. At least Heath Ledger's Joker was entertaining, and this is the only group that can boast an Oscar winner.

Score: 4.75

The Jokers

Cesar Romero brought The Joker to life like nobody else could. His maniacal laugh and absurd sense of humor mixed with frantic movements made him the best villain of the 1966 series. He wasn't just silly. He had a mean streak, and when it showed, you could easily understand anyone's clown phobia. The funniest thing about Romero was that he refused to shave his trademark moustache. If you pay attention to close-ups, you can see it under the makeup.

Score: 4.5

People loved Jack Nicholson in this role, and I still don't get it. This is the only Joker that was not masked by his makeup. Nicholson is Nicholson, and he was nothing special. He seemed more like he was trying to be Michael Corleone than a comic book super villain.

Score: 1.5

Heath Ledger won an Oscar for this role, and it was deserved. In spite of the bland performances by the rest of the cast, Ledger was manic, creepy and absolutely without morals. His ever changing stories of how his mouth got sliced were each more disturbing than the last. He didn't care about having money. He just wanted to cause chaos. This Joker was a true Anarchist, and was obviously set to return. Unfortunately, Ledger will be tough to replace.

Score: 5

The Final Score

The Adam West Era

This series will always be a part of pop culture and geek legend. It's still fun, always silly and makes you feel like a kid again. In spite of how bad it really is, it's still worth that half hour in front of the television.

Score: 20.5 out of a possible 25

The Burton/Schumacher Era

This is obviously the worst of the bunch. It was a disaster pretty much from the start and definitely through the finish. I can't think of anything that makes this memorable, except for a good laugh.

Score: 15.25 out of a possible 25

The Nolan/Bale Era

The winning Batman barely edges out his campy competitor. The series started strong and took a slide in the second film, however, story, special effects and the overall look of the films remained strong. Rumors have The Riddler entering the third film, but I'd really like to see Christopher Nolan dig deeper into the catalog. Maybe we can have a tag team of Egghead and King Tut. One can dream.

Score: 21.5 out of a possible 25

The Winner: BATMAN!

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