As immensely popular and ubiquitous as the Marvel Cinematic Universe is, at least there are a lot of different heroes to follow. As much as Iron Man and Robert Downey Jr. were the biggest figures in the franchise as a whole, the character’s place in popular culture has arguably not been overused. No one really talks heavily about the Iron Man comic series, there’s no television series that focuses on the hero either. There was an animated cartoon from back in 1994 and a young Tony Stark version in 2008. Aside from “Iron Man VR” in 2020, we haven’t even received an exclusive title for Tony since 2010. What I’m trying to say is that despite what many would expect, we haven’t exactly been over inundated with Tony Stark. I wish I could say the same about Batman.
Look, I love Batman; the Caped Crusader is one of my favorite fictional characters of all time. I’ve played and beaten virtually every major Batman game from the NES up to and including the Arkham series, most of my graphic novel collection is from Batman and Detective Comics, I own all of “Batman: The Animated Series,” “Batman Beyond,” “Justice League,” and “Justice League: Unlimited” on DVD. I think you can see where I’m going with this. Just the fact alone that there’s this much Batman media to consume is a problem unto itself.
On March 4th, Robert Pattinson will take his turn in the cape and cowl when “The Batman“ hits theaters. He will be the third actor in 10 years to perform the role in live-action films, within a third different universe. We had Christian Bale in the Christopher Nolan trilogy of films, Ben Affleck in the Zack Snyder DCEU, and now Pattinson in whatever Matt Reeves is cooking up. Additionally we have Michael Keaton set to return as Batman again in Andy Muschietti‘s “The Flash.”
During this time period, we also had Kevin Conroy playing a television version of Bruce Wayne in The CW’s Arrowverse, as well as voicing the character in the Arkham series of games. Then there was “The LEGO Batman Movie” with Will Arnett voicing him, and a number of other direct-to-video Batman movies. This isn’t even diving into the litany of Batman comic series and mini-series, or other related media like 2019’s “Joker,” “Batwoman,” “Gotham,” or “Pennyworth.”
On the one hand we can look at all this as a testament to how strong the character of Batman is that we can recognize and appreciate him through various portrayals and adaptations. It also speaks volumes about the characters that surround him that we can see them as well-rounded enough to have them get their own starring vehicles as well. Hell, that was the entire premise of “Gotham,” basically, letting the police department take the limelight against villains who would later be known as Batman’s Rogues Gallery. Even Harley Quinn has her own animated series, and was prominently featured in both “Suicide Squad” films and “Birds of Prey.”
On the other hand, maybe it’s time to step away and ease off this section of the DC Universe. That’s partly what made “Arrow” such a refreshing series. Sure there’s some correlation between the Dark Knight and the Emerald Archer in their backstories, but at least it’s a different setting, hero, and set of villains. And yes, even though “Arrow” did dip into the Batman universe a bit, it didn’t overdo it. It also helped launch other programs that revealed a lot more to the world of DC superheroes thanks to “The Flash” and “Legends of Tomorrow.”
When “Justice League Unlimited” was airing on Cartoon Network from 2004 – 2006, it ushered in a stylistic turn for Bruce Timm and his production team. Having previously worked on all the other DC Animated Universe projects, this show gave them a chance to open up and play with a lot of other characters that they normally wouldn’t be able to. They showcased Booster Gold, Huntress, The Question, Black Canary, Green Arrow, Doctor Fate, and so many others.
Part of this came from choice, the other from their hands being forced. For whatever reason, Warner Bros. put in place something known as the “Bat-embargo.” Essentially, WB execs were concerned that people, children especially, would be confused by multiple different Batman universes; the then developing Christopher Nolan films, and the DC Animated Universe. The end result of this was that it prevented Timm and his team from being able to use prominent Batman side-characters and villains. While this did complicate things to a degree, it also forced them to work around this and use other characters that they might not normally have resorted to.
Ultimately I’m not a fan of limiting a person’s creative freedom like this. However, necessity is often the mother of invention and when you’re forced to work within certain confines, it can create potentially interesting results. I don’t want to see another Bat-embargo, but I do think that it’s time for us to step away from Gotham and the surrounding area for a bit. I think I’ve had my fill of Batman for a while and I’d like to be able to digest all of this before being force fed another round. The DC Universe is rich with interesting characters and lore, there’s no real need to go dipping back into the Batman pool when you can find other waters to swim in.
You know what we need? Give us a movie about The Question and have Jeffrey Combs reprise his voice role in live-action alongside Clancy Brown as Lex. THEN we’ll have a movie really worth talking about. Even though it’s not REALLY Batman related.