The Dark Knight Turns 75: Retrospective of a Lifelong Batman Fan

Daniel Fiddler


All summer, DC Comics and Batman fans around the world have been celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Caped Crusader.

Holy regretful teenage decisions, Batman!
Holy regretful teenage decisions, Batman!

With the hype of Chris Nolan’s wildly successful Dark Knight Trilogy having only recently simmered, a highly acclaimed video game series on the shelves, and the anticipation for Ben Affleck’s upcoming portrayal as the dark knight in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, bat-fans have many reasons to celebrate.

I was born in the summer of ’89, just a few days before the release of Tim Burton’s Batman, starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson. The buzz surrounding that movie was so pervasive, the media referred to that summer as “Batmania.”

This is the world I was born into. It was my favorite movie before I was even forming memories. To this day, I have a nostalgic penchant towards art deco architecture and Prince.

My early childhood was steeped in Batman. Batman Returns (1992) was released on my third birthday. I’d race home after school to watch Batman: The Animated Series. When other kids were trading Pokémon cards, I was learning about the cold war from Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, I wore a cape from the time I was two until an age that I’m not willing to admit in this article.

In 1997, Batman and Robin came out. A movie rivaled only by Ed Wood’s Plan 9 from Outer Space (1959) in its crappiness. The movie’s flaws can be summed up in just a few words: “bad ice puns” and “nipples on the batsuit.”

It seemed as though Batman on screen was going to die with the VHS. Fortunately for Batman fans, practically every movie that comes out these days is either a remake or a reboot, and it would only be a matter of time before the Dark Knight would return to the silver screen.

Chris Nolan kicked off his three part saga with Batman Begins (2005). Still weary from Batman and Robin, I was nervous going into the movie. Loosely based off of Frank Miller’s Batman: Year One, a much darker and more realistic interpretation, this new Batman was dope! It had everything. It had a sweet new Batmobile, Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Gary Oldman, and it had ninjas! And at the end (SPOILERS), when Commissioner Gordon flips the Joker card, “Holy sh*t, Batman!”

As fans eagerly anticipated the release of The Dark Knight (2008), “Batmania”, as it seemed, had resurged in the comic culture zeitgeist. Comic and merchandise sales skyrocketed. Fanboys were drooling in their pants over each grainy image of the Joker taken with a cell phone leaked onto the Internet.

The buzz was especially tangible in Chicago, where the movie was filmed. Many people I knew worked on the movie as extras and crew. I even went down to the shoot where I watched the Batpod race down Lasalle Street as the Joker stood in front of the same building my brother once worked, the old Mercantile Exchange.

On the night of the premiere, I took lower Wacker drive to get to Navy Pier. The same road on which Batman smashed the Batmobile into the Joker’s dump truck. On that premiere night, as the credits rolled up the screen, a single tear rolled down my cheek—my lifelong investment in this character was vindicated.

In 2012, Nolan finished off the trilogy with The Dark Knight Rises. Despite the movie’s dumb name, it met, if not exceeded the near-impossible expectations following The Dark Knight. The Dark Knight was widely accessible to mainstream audiences, much to the credit of the late Heath Ledger’s portrayal of The Joker. But in The Dark Knight Rises, Nolan crafts a story where only a most dedicated Batman fan would be able to pick up on all the subtle nuances borrowed from Batman’s history in the comics.

If The Dark Knight Trilogy wasn’t enough, Batman fans have also been able to enjoy an award-winning video game series featuring stories written by Paul Dini, creator of the award winning TV show, Batman: The Animated Series, and voice acting by Batman fan-favorite, Kevin Conroy, along with Mark Hammil (of Luke Skywalker fame), as The Joker. The newest installment to the series, Batman: Arkham Knight is set to release in 2015 on the Xbox One and Playstation 4 consoles.

Before Christian Bale becomes a fading memory, fans don’t have to wait long to see Batman on the big screen again. In 2016, Ben Affleck will don the iconic cowl in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Batman and Superman have been battling for supremacy since the ‘30s. Neither one of them can claim the title of most popular superhero—too close to call.

It’s interesting though, in 1939, when Bob Kane and Bill Finger were approached by Detective Comics to create a new superhero in response to Superman, their vision of a superhero was a man with no powers, just an iron will and an unmitigated passion for justice. 75 years later, he’s still going strong, right up there with the Man of Steel. How has he lasted so long? Good writing, ample grit and so, so much ass kicking.