Encyclopedia Batannica

Riddle me this: Who is your favorite Batman? For me it’s a toss up between the super cheesy Bat-dork of TV and the uber gritty reeeeally-needs-a-therapist types. For Batman Week my husband and in-house Batman expert, Matthew Dyer, helped me out with. . . dun, dun, dun. . . A Taxonomy of Batmen.

Use the following as your handy dandy Dark Knight guide and help us flesh out or create new categories. It’s a wild wiki world after all.

kitschy The Kitchsy Detective—Adam West, 60s TV, Scooby-Doo guest star; The Brave and the Bold animated series; Failed George Clooney

  • Typically has a sidekick to explain things to (Robin, or The Brave and the Bold guest star)
  • Full of bizarrely specific gadgets (usually named Bat-somethings)
  • Can deduce the strangest of mysteries from only a few small clues
  • The only Bat that smiles
  • Can be heinously cheesy—fun when it works (West) and awful when it doesn’t (Clooney)

The Hard-Boiled Bat—Early 1940s comic Batman

  • Before the myth, there was simply the Batman
  • Fought gangsters and criminals, carries a gun (and wasn’t afraid to use it)
  • Psychological state is less nuanced
  • Take away the weird outfit and he’s basically a tough 40s vigilante cop/detective

Deus Ex Batmachina—Star of DC Universe Animated movies; plutocrat and owner of the Justice League of America space station.

  • Always ready to swoop in with a literal deus ex machina: some bat-device that keeps the story moving
  • Faceless and cold
  • Never appears as Bruce Wayne—mask and man meld
  • Is really just there to explain billions of dollars of sciencey stuff
  • Often a paranoid loner, but always a key member of the group
  • Has sci-fi gadgets and power armor to keep up with cosmic heroes like Superman and Green Lantern
  • Were it Ocean’s Eleven he’d be Brad Pitt—cool, calm, hierarchically in the top 3

psychology Revenge of the Bat—Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns; Batman Beyond animated series

  • Cranky old man with an edge
  • More of his shadowy psychology is unpacked, detailed and expanded through these storylines
  • End of Batman’s life has him losing perspective on his own beginnings and his reasons for being Batman in the first place
  • Luckily, he usually has a protege around to remind him of his purpose and power
  • Like a worn out wrestler, he’s still a hulking force but slower, craggy, broken and world-weary

training Bat in TrainingBatman: Year One; The Batman animated show; Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight

  • Batman before he has all his moves down
  • Struggling to deal with his role as a vigilante
  • Hungry, he aims to educate himself on how to be a fighter, a hero, a person
  • You might see a Rocky-esque training montage and learn about the ridiculously long line of lionhearted justice seekers in the Wayne family tree (relatives who created a stop on the Underground Railroad?! Nolan, I’m looking at you)

Balanced Batman, the Dark KnightBatman: The Animated Series; Tim Burton’s Batman; the best parts of the comics authored by countless writer/artist combos

  • The modern archetype of the Dark Knight. An amalgamation of all of the above
  • Detective with psychological issues of his own
  • Realistic(ish) gadgets
  • A man with a complicated life, not completely hopeless, not cracking punny in clownish lycra
  • Good old regular Batstuff—the Batmobile; the Batcave with its trophies of past adventures; Alfred, Robin, and Jim Gordon

So Bat-readers, what did we miss? Is there an archetypical Batman story that you know and love that doesn’t fall into one of the above categories? Don’t agree with the archetypes we’ve laid out? Where do all the ladies of Gotham and beyond fit into the Bat Saga? Let’s argue about it in the comments, in true comic book nerd fashion.

6 Responses to “Encyclopedia Batannica”
  1. Gavin Craig says:

    You missed the 1950s Sci-fi Batman

    – actively looks to expand the “costumed adventurer working with the police” model of crimefighting (encourages, recruits, and/or trains people who seek to emulate him)
    – often has trouble communicating with his sidekick (many stories hinge on Batman or Robin being up to something different than what their partner thinks that the other is up to)
    – Extremely self-assured (knows the right thing to do and does it)
    – Occasionally superpowered due to chemical/energy exposure, unique circumstances, or interdimensional travel
    – Loved by the ladies (Batwoman, Julie Madison, etc.) but doesn’t have time for them

    • Gavin Craig says:

      And maybe the 1970s-80s “human” Batman (Might be close to your “Balanced Batman” but I read that one as the Batman: The Animated Series Batman, who has a different relationship with the law and police than the 1970s-80s comics)

      – Smart, but not a superhuman intelligence (that is, doesn’t solve a case if there aren’t any clues, and sometimes can’t find his man)
      – Operates largely within police procedural limits. Will confront suspects, but often not “arrest” them without proof
      – A skilled fighter, but not the martial-arts/ninja master of the 1990s and 2000s (When he talked about the possibility of getting killed by a lucky punk with a gun, it was a real possibility)
      – actually took his mask off in the cave, even if he left the tights on
      – stories often focused on personal relationships–Jim Gordon, Vicki Vale, Silver St. Cloud, other superheroes
      – For a time, actually left the cave in favor of a downtown penthouse, to be closer to the city (especially after Dick Grayson left to go to college)

  2. Kate says:

    Batman IS like Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler in Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, I didn’t even make that connection when I read it!

  3. ana says:

    i am not as bat-knowledgable as husband or gavin or other idlers. but i did come up with the wrestler comparison. i’m glad you agree!

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