Battle of the Bat: Who’s the Best Caped Crusader?

So, I watched Batman Begins and The Dark Knight over the last few nights. And, because my awesome brother got me the series for Christmas, I’ve been watching Batman: The Animated Series like crazy. So it’s kind of inevitable that I’d have Batman on the brain right now.

After enjoying the gloriousness of Chris Nolan’s movies and the Paul Dini-directed mini-masterpieces, I got to thinking: Who did it better?

Without further ado, here is my comparison of some of the major characters between Nolan’s films and the animated series and which ones I think are best. You might not agree with some of my choices, but I hope you’ll find my answers interesting.

Enjoy!


Jim Gordon

Personally, I find the physical presence of the two different versions of Gordon very different. The art style of the animated series lends itself to broad-shouldered, barrel-chested male characters, and the animated Gordon is no exception, despite his age. This physically commanding presence that the animated Gordon has contrasts sharply with Gary Oldman’s Gordon, who is wiry and unassuming in appearance. The thing is, that’s exactly why I like Oldman’s Gordon better. He’s less of a badass grandpa and more of an everyman, a dedicated public servant with a wife and kids.

Also, it doesn’t hurt that Oldman is an endlessly compelling actor who never fails to give a powerful performance. In fact, my favorite scene of The Dark Knight is the final encounter between Gordon and Dent, where a tearful, desperate Gordon softly pleas for the life of his son. The scene is incredibly tense and heart-wrenching, thanks in no small part to Oldman’s moving performance.

Point goes to the live-action Gordon.

Harvey Dent/Two-Face
Here, we have to consider the fact that one Two-Face is a villain from a very intense PG-13 movie and the other is from a cartoon show aimed at kids. That being said, the animated series’ take on Harvey/Two-Face avoids gore and is extremely stylized in a clashing, gothic way. The harsh contrast of his half-black/half-white suit, the shock of white hair against his original black, and the misshapen perma-sneer that mars half his face makes him quite a sight. However, while he is undeniably an interesting character to behold, he has nowhere the tragedy and depth of Aaron Eckhart’s Two-Face.

In The Dark Knight, a great deal of time is spent developing the character of Harvey Dent. Eckhart’s Dent is a white knight character who crusades tirelessly for a safe, just Gotham. Eckhart’s earnest fervor as the straight-arrow D.A. makes his gruesome transformation into Two-Face all the more tragic while the animated series focuses mostly on Two-Face the villain. In The Dark Knight, Nolan manages to make Dent’s unique deformity simultaneously plausible, grotesque, and pitiable.

Aaron Eckhart’s Two-Face is the clear victor here.

The Joker
Again, we have to keep in mind the stipulations of a cartoon villain; when the target audience is children, the villain can’t be too horrifying.

The Joker of the animated series is voiced terrifically by Mark Hamill. Hamill’s Joker is a psychotic clown while Heath Ledger’s Joker is more of a straight-up psychopath in clown makeup. The subtle difference is that the cartoon version focuses more on the clown aspect of the character (more clown gags, jokes, and creative weapons) while the live-action version is more about portraying the character as an anarchistic force of nature. That’s why it’s hard to choose the “better” one: they’re very different takes on the Joker.

If you like a more clown-like Joker, Mark Hamill’s Joker is best. This is a villain who’s completely deranged and is having a cackling good time unleashing mayhem on Gotham. He also has the greatest evil laugh I’ve ever heard. I always looked forward to his face-offs with Batman, as the clown’s gleeful menace clashes so well with the stoic, honorable hero.

Ledger’s Joker, alternatively, is a ruthless terrorist bent on unleashing chaos on innocent lives. Ledger is incredible here; never before have I beheld such a frightening, complex onscreen villain. The fact that this Joker seems to have no motive other than upsetting the established order in Gotham makes him all the more terrifying. He’s unpredictable, unreasonable, and fairly unstoppable.  In the end, both Jokers are extremely effective for the kind of villain the creators were going for. It ultimately comes down to which one you personally prefer.

The result: Tie.

Batman
And now we come down to the Caped Crusader himself.

Both the animated Batman (voiced by Kevin Conroy) and the live-action Batman (Christian Bale) play the complex character well. Both appropriately convey the fact that Batman is haunted by his past and channels his anger and grief into creating his crime-fighting vigilante persona.

However, there are subtle differences between the two portrayals that make me favor one Batman over the other.

Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne is a billionaire playboy who, when in the public spotlight, purposefully projects a vapid, shallow personality. This is a common take on Batman’s alter-ego, which makes the animated Bruce’s departure from these character traits all the more notable. Kevin Conroy’s Wayne is a functioning member of society and the responsible head of his company. And frankly, the Bruce Wayne of the animated series comes off as a much more likeable character as a result. I know likability isn’t the point of Bruce Wayne, but I like seeing an incarnation of the character that blends in rather than draws attention to himself.

When playing Batman, both Bale and Conroy alter their voices to protect the identity of Bruce Wayne. However, I think Conroy does a much better job of it. His Batman voice is deep and gravelly, but it’s a voice that sounds natural and easy to maintain. His voice for Wayne is slightly higher pitched, friendlier, and more conversational; the difference between the two voices is subtle but significant enough that it is effective.

Bale’s Batman voice (particularly in The Dark Knight) is much-maligned for its severity. Its sounds as though Bale smoked a few packs of Marlboros before donning the cape and cowl. The voice sounds like it takes a significant effort to maintain; it’s distracting and occasionally difficult to understand. This is a big annoyance for me, as I’m sure it was for many viewers.
All in all, Kevin Conroy’s Batman is what I think of when I think of the famous masked vigilante. He embodies the characteristics of the character so well that I have yet to see another Batman that I like better.

Point goes to the animated Dark Knight.

 
And that’s my side-by-side look at some of the major characters from The Dark Knight and Batman: The Animated Series. Thanks for reading– I hope you enjoyed it! Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to watch me some more Batman episodes.

-Alyssa

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About I've seen that movie, too

I'm just a girl who loves talking about music and movies. And music in movies.
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4 Responses to Battle of the Bat: Who’s the Best Caped Crusader?

  1. Patrick says:

    I agree with your blogs, Allie. I, too, believe that for the most part Christopher Nolan’s take on the characters were much more 3-dimensional. However, Kevin Conroy’s Batman seemed more subtle, in terms of voice-changing, but I still enjoy Christian Bale’s performance as the dark knight. At least he’s better than the others from the late 80’s and 90’s.

  2. John Kelly says:

    Alyssa,

    For the most part I have to agree with you, but in regards to the voicing of the batman characters I think we will have to disagree. Yes, Christian Bale has a much harder tone that absolutely loses clarity at times. However, think of the moments when this is true- At the beginning of the dark knight, Batman has been bitten and beaten and is having to deal with mobsters, crane, and copybats. As he leaves he mutters a response to one of the copy bats that is all but indistinguishable, but think- if you were wounded, tired, adrenaline running through your veins what would your voice of choice then be? Would it be a soft but subtle change to your normal vernacular (a la Conroy)? No, in those moments your brain says to you two things- 1) I cannot be discovered, for discovery would threaten all I love most. 2)I have to speak. In acting the easiest voices to maintain require the most practice to perfect. The batman character would have needed to put the same care into his persona’s voice as any actor in hollywood would for their role. So yes the Conroy voice is perfect, it is soothing and yet still strong, smooth enough to make you think its natural but just jagged enough to emphasize the might of batman, and that is why it is too perfect. Yes, yes for the ideal batman, the one we WANT to go see I suppose it really is a perfect voice. However, the point of Nolan’s Batman and in my humble opinion the primary reason for its success is the humanization of the characters-When thought of that way Bale’s rocky, grinding, pained, and forced voice is flawless. The Dark Knight closed with one of the greatest monologues in modern film (spoken by Oldman). Just prior to this speech batman talks with Gordon and Bale’s dialogue is very hard to understand, but what do we expect? The man went to hell that night and danced with the devil (yes I did just quote Jack Nicholson), but whats more he won. But after his love was murdered and he was helpless to save her, after he finally caught the menace responsible does the real blow sink in. The man whom Batman believed was the ONLY one who could lift his burden, was now his responsibility to fight (Harvey), and in going to save Gordon and his family he had to march not only back through Hell but had to dig up every one of his own demons to stare Dent in the eye, and then after dealing with him, after being shot, he tells Gordon to turn the city upon him, and we wonder why he could not speak clearly in that moment. I wonder how the character could speak at all.

    • John,

      First off, thank you for taking the time to craft such an eloquent response! You make excellent points that I definitely agree with. Gordon’s monologue at the end of the film is one of my absolute favorite moments in The Dark Knight, and yes, I think that part of its greatness can be credited to Bale’s haggard delivery. I definitely see the value and reason behind the voice Bale used throughout the film, especially in moments like the ones you mentioned (being bitten by dogs, beaten, shot, etc.). All I wished to convey is that on a purely surface level, I liked Conroy’s delivery better, and that’s just my own biased opinion. I appreciate all the thought you put behind your opinion- the movie is definitely worthy of such a close analysis!

  3. Pingback: Batman: The Four-Word Film Review | alyssagrimley

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