WELL...having made my list of the Top Ten Jokers, and with the hype for "Batman vs. Superman" getting more and more prominent every passing second, I suppose it's time to take care of the Top Ten Batmen. Ever since leaping onto the screen in the 1940’s, the cape and cowl of Batman has been donned by many an actor, his voice growling its way through many a speaker. There are too many media versions of this character to count, from films, to television, to video games, but some are more interesting than others, ultimately.
Before I get into this list, though, there are two things I want to say: one, I am not including “non-Bruce-Waynes” into this list, what few there are, so you won’t be seeing Terry McGinnis from “Batman Beyond” on here. Sorry, I love Terry, I just didn’t think it would be totally fair. Consider that version an Honorable Mention. And, number two: after all the responses to my Top Ten Jokers list, I'd like to make a few things totally clear.
Firstly, these are MY opinions. If you disagree with them, that’s fine; I EXPECT YOU TO. No one can have the exact same opinion as another person; if everybody totally agreed with everyone, the world would be quite dull. So, if you WANT to disagree, please do, I LOVE to hear other people’s opinions!
HOWEVER, and secondly, PLEASE, do not be...well...MEAN, for lack of a better word, should you make a comment. Not just to me, but to each other. These are fictional characters, and I’m only picking ten portrayals of them; there are tons of Batmen to go around, and everyone’s going to have their own opinions on who is the best or the worst. So, kindly refrain from calling other people’s opinions “dumb,” or cursing at each other via comments. And if you make an argument about your point, kindly make sure it’s an argument that makes some logical sense.
Now, enough of this foolery! Throw on a mask, set your vocal range to maximum snarl, and get your bat-o-rangs ready, ladies, gentlemen, and geeks alike! Let’s begin!
10. Adam West
From the 60's Series
If you threw Will Shatner into a Batsuit, this is probably the result you’d get. As Batman, West was intense, constantly fidgeting and visibly thinking (partly due to how itchy his costume was, but that’s another story). He was a complete and utter gentleman, virtuous to a fault; preaching healthy living even as he punched the daylights out of some thug. With heated dialogue and a heart of gold, he left a big impact. West sank completely into the role, relished the absurdity of it, and, in a way, it’s hard to imagine him OUTSIDE the role of billionaire Bruce Wayne. He may be hammy, goofy, and about as mad as a March Hare, but whether you like him or not, his dedication to the part and the fun he had with it are undeniable and still iconic to this day.
9. Val Kilmer
From Batman Forever
And a thousand people prepare to type in various hateful comments.
Yes, a lot of people don’t like this movie. And a lot of people don’t like this Batman. And, to be fair, they have good reasons as to why: from the...weird costume, to the constantly pursed lips (seriously, was that Kilmer’s idea of what an “obsessed” person would look like?), to lines like, “Chicks dig the car”...UGH...yeah, this Bat-headed buffoon gets a lot of flak.
However, believe it or not, it’s not him as BATMAN that gets Kilmer onto this list. Nope, it’s him as Bruce Wayne.
Now, likely lots of you are thinking: “what do you mean by that? Aren’t they the same character?” Well, in a way, yes, but some actors will gravitate more towards one personality than another. Kilmer is essentially “Adam West 2.0” as Batman (you decide whether you find that funny or obnoxious), and he does have his moments here and there, but as Bruce Wayne, he truly shines. He brings a sense of unassuming vulnerability to the part, much like Michael Keaton before him, but also injects a good amount of charm and authority into the character; he may be a young playboy, but there’s no denying that, at Wayne Enterprises, Brucey-boy’s the man in charge. The flashback scenes throughout the film are also pretty good, in my opinion, and Kilmer sinks into them easily.
...But he’s still pretty ridiculous. So, as much as I, personally, enjoy his Batman, I don’t feel justified putting him any higher on the list at all. Still, it’s an underrated performance that I think gets too much hatred from fans, and I felt I should give it a quick appeal.
8. Diedrich Bader
From Batman: The Brave & the Bold
If you mixed Kevin Conroy and Adam West in a blender, the end result would be this version of Batman. The Brave & the Bold painted this Batman as something of a hero’s hero - a character every superhero seemed to look up to, for one reason or another, more of a myth than a man. With a deadpan and cynical sense of humor, Bader’s gravel-toned Caped Crusader harkened back to the goofier era of the Silver Age, with a vast array of wild gadgets, stories that teetered between the epic and the absurd, and a costume that was decidedly brighter and flashier than most, yet also had the militant and world-weary edge of a more modern Dark Knight, with a streak of inky darkness in his heart that was highlighted in several episodes. Ultimately, while Val Kilmer/Batman Forever ATTEMPTED to update the campier style of the 60’s, Bader’s Batman/The Brave & the Bold SUCCEEDED.
7. Anthony Ruivivar
From Beware the Batman!
If you don’t remember this series...you aren’t alone. Despite only recently finishing its tragically short run, this show slipped under the radar of most people, largely due to its premise. Much like “The Brave & the Bold” did at first, this show emphasized more attention on lesser-known DC Characters; Katana, not Robin nor Batgirl, was Batman’s mighty sidekick. Alfred Pennyworth was transformed into a musclebound bodyguard as well as a butler. The villains Anarky and Professor Pyg were the major enemies of the show. But, while Brave & the Bold treated these characters with a sense of ironic humor, and added an edge to the kid-friendly silliness, with bright colors and an in-your-face sort of style, “Beware the Batman!” chose to take itself completely seriously, with CGI animation and a slightly darker tone, more reminiscent of the popular Nolan series. Perhaps it was both the similarities and the differences from “Brave & the Bold” that led to its eventual demise. Ruivivar’s Batman was a ninja of the night; much more thin and agile than most previous incarnations, a stealthy nocturnal predator. He played Bruce Wayne very “straight” and simple, so to speak, and for all the lore-based liberties this series took, he was still very much the Batman we all know and love. In summary, a tragically overlooked performance that will hopefully make a comeback in the future.
6. Rino Romano
From The Batman
Made by the same team responsible for “Samurai Jack,” The Batman attempted to show a younger, more action-oriented Batman, still fine-tuning his skills as the Dark Knight Detective, as the series allowed us to watch him grow as he faced villain after villain, and met hero after hero. The show tended to be hit-or-miss, in my opinion, but when it hit, it hit things right out of the black-caped ballpark. Romano also brought a sincerity and sense of humor to Bruce Wayne, still learning the ropes of his own company, and it was hard to tell where the playboy philanthropist ended and the Batman himself began; the two “sides” of the character were so vastly different, yet the transition was totally seamless. Whether he was trading blows with the Joker, outsmarting the Riddler, or challenging science and superstition alike against Count Dracula himself, this was a pretty fun Bat-boy to grow up with, and to watch him grow with us was a treat.
5. Christian Bale
From The Dark Knight Trilogy
I am already expecting tons of people to debate this choice, on some level or another. I refer you to my earlier plead regarding hateful comments.
Much like with Val Kilmer, Bale made a much better Bruce Wayne than a Batman. Granted, his Dark Knight wasn’t too bad...for the first two films anyway. Yes, we all love to make fun of that over-the-top roar of his he used in the part, but he tried his hardest to separate the two vocally and physically, even if it didn’t always turn out the way we all wanted. But it was as Bruce Wayne he really shined. Once the mask came off, it never really felt like it did, if that makes sense; Bale latched on to the idea that Wayne is the true facade, and the real person is Batman, through and through...and, even after apparent years of crippled retirement in the third film, that dark side still holds strong. In Batman Begins, we saw his journey from a scared little boy to a defender of justice and order; throughout the series, he faced madness, fear, and boundless corruption, in a suit of kevlar armor and with a rough style of combat and weaponry; Bale, you might say, was the Batman of the streets. And, when the mask came off, he still carried the looming shadows of the past. You could see why people wanted to be with him, but there was always something a bit “off” about him; like it was all a game of make-believe. Once he got back to the Batcave, he was in his element; eager and action-ready, his brain spinning with ways to solve a crime or catch a criminal, trying to fathom the way his enemies worked and predict their next move. And fans reacted to him in a throng; in short, he was the Batman many people felt they needed, and just as many people felt they deserved.
4. Benjamin McKenzie
From Batman: Year One
Who knew Commissioner Gordon once played such a good Batman?
Based on the prequel to Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns,” McKenzie's performance is essentially everything great about Christian Bale, but with two key exceptions: one, he’s animated. That doesn’t really affect anything here, but it’s still an obvious difference. Reason number two: his voice. Bale’s performance was great, but, again, EVERYONE loves to make fun of his easily identifiable Batman voice. Essentially, Bale’s problem was that he tried to hard to be intimidating and monstrous as the big, black Bat; it wasn’t TOO bad in the first movie, but that was largely because, if you watch that movie closely, Batman (as Batman, specifically) isn’t even in the picture for that long, and he speaks fairly little. In the second film, “The Dark Knight,” people REALLY began to notice the voice, but it still wasn’t too much of a problem; you could understand what he was saying. But “The Dark Knight Rises”? I for one couldn’t wait for the DVD to come out, because, by God, at least then I could add subtitles to know what the heck he was saying! McKenzie’s voice, between Wayne and Batman, barely changes; just a slightly lower, more “hissing” quality as the Cowled Crusader differentiates the two. But, really, he didn’t NEED much else...that was all it took, and it was definitely intimidating. I’m honestly surprised that I don’t hear much about this performance, or even this movie...perhaps people will disagree, but, personally, I thought both were expertly done. Let’s move on.
3. Bruce Greenwood
From Batman: Under the Red Hood AND Young Justice
One word comes to mind when regarding this portrayal: militant. Greenwood acts less like a detective, or even a “superhero” (think Adam West, and you’ll know what I mean by that), and more like a soldier or a weary veteran. This especially served him well in his appearances, since both “Under the Red Hood” and “Young Justice” deal, so to speak, with “heroes in training,” albeit in different ways. And this Batman felt like the perfect drill sergeant to whip these would-be crimefighters into shape. He controlled and intimidated through sheer force of his will, and treated everything like a mission of war. He didn’t always follow the rules, but he stood for order when Gotham needed it most, and he struggled to fight the demons within him to keep that same order intact. Whether he was facing old friends or new foes, he was the undisputed warrior of the night.
2. Michael Keaton
From Tim Burton’s Batman AND Batman Returns
Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I think it's safe to say that, over time, Keaton’s Batman has lost popularity. People have complained about several things they find wrong with his Dark Knight - first, the fact his costume didn’t allow him to turn his head, and fit him rather snugly, creating a rather unnatural way of moving around. Second, his Batman was a ruthless vigilante; he killed criminals, and didn’t care a bit about it, and many people believe that Batman shouldn’t kill. The third point people have brought up, incidentally, is also a point that people worried about when these films came out. Michael Keaton is a funny guy, and when you look at him, I don’t think “Batman” is the first thing that would come to mind. Heck, after seeing his performance in “Beetlejuice,” most people would probably think he’d make a better Joker!
First of all, regarding his...well...being Michael Keaton, THAT’S WHAT MADE HIM SO GREAT! As fantastic as Val Kilmer and Christian Bale were at playing Bruce Wayne, if you told someone from their worlds that they were Batman, I think their immediate reaction would be, “Yeah, I always thought he was hiding something.” With Keaton, his Wayne is so unassuming, in both appearance and personality, you would NEVER guess he was stalking the city at night taking out criminals one by one. And, much like with McKenzie, his voice barely changes, but it changes JUST enough to create an intimidating, and even slightly psychotic edge that works perfectly. Batman and Bruce Wayne feel like two totally different people, which, in this case, is a good thing. Second of all, regarding the whole “Batman does not kill” thing...yeah, I have to admit, I’m sort of on that bandwagon as well, but this Batman was specifically based on versions that DID kill, and given the more dangerous edge Burton and Keaton both injected into the character, it works. Plus, he never killed anyone outright; he just sort of let things fall into place, and if they died, they died. In a way, some might argue, that’s even worse, but I think it adds a gray area to his portrayal’s morality that’s pretty interesting. Third and finally, regarding the “unnatural” way he had to move, I’d say that worked in his favor; it made him have to stand straighter, and move more stiffly; it made Batman feel like he WAS unnatural, not entirely human - like a stone gargoyle that came to life and fought crime-hold on...DISNEY, YOU FIENDS!!!
Ah, well. Popularity drop or not, Michael Keaton is still an iconic take on Batman. But there’s one actor who might top the bill…
1. Kevin Conroy
Surely you all saw this coming. For the record, someone on my list of Jokers left a comment suggesting I make this list, and asked me to put Conroy here. I am NOT doing both these things for them; I was already working on this list when they posted their comment, and the choice between Conroy and Keaton was an EXTREMELY close call. Ultimately, there are two things that pulled Conroy to the top: one, his amount of time. It doesn’t really matter how much time a performer gets as a character, as long as they use that time wisely, but playing Batman in several different incarnations for about as long as Mark Hamill has played the Joker still definitely gives him an edge over some others on this list, one cannot deny. The second thing that puts him over Keaton, in particular, is that he has NO limitations: as a voice actor, the only limitations of movement and power his Batman has are what the animators choose to put to him. But this only explains why he’s over Keaton...what made him win out over all the rest? Well, frankly, Conroy’s Batman - particularly in the classic DCAU version - is, in a way, every great Batman there is sort of rolled into one. There’s the menacing night stalker, the crafty detective, the flamboyant superhero, and the tragic, near-operatic hero of the streets somewhere in his performances, his animation, and his stories, all rolled into one. And, in more recent takes, he’s gotten a chance to explore separate parts of the Dark Knight - the Arkham games and “Injustice: Gods Among Us” definitely have a grittier, more “streetwise” side that Conroy’s able to pull off, while the DC Universe Online version has more of a militant and investigative edge, and the version from “Batman/Superman: Public Enemies” seems definitely more in the vein of a towering hero than anything else. There’s an old saying that characters like this “always work” - if you handle them just right, you can make them fit into just about any setting, with any tone, be it comical and ludicrous or dark and gloomy. The same goes for Conroy’s voice as the Caped Crusader; he can adjust his knowledge of the character and vocal range for the part by this point to fit just about any situation Batman might find himself in. And his portrayals of Bruce Wayne are just as varied - from the more lighthearted, vaguely Adam West-ish (at times) version from “Batman: The Animated Series,” to the more mysterious version found in the Arkham games, he can work the pretty-boy just as easily as the caped crimefighter.
And why? Because he is Vengeance...he is the Night...HE! IS! BATMAN!
Do you agree? (Probably not.) Disagree? (VERY likely.) Any versions of good ol’ Batsy you think I left out? (Oh, tons of ‘em.) Go ahead and leave a comment...but remember what I said! Thanks for reading.
Now, if you’ll excuse me...I have to get some drive-thru.