For 81 years, the Dark Knight has been published in comic books, and appeared in TV, film, and video games. In fact, no comics characters has had as much success in popular culture as Batman has. But what makes him the best of the best? After all, he is kind of a big moody jerk. Anyone would much rather be like (or hang out with) Superman, Spidey, or Wonder Woman.
Simply put, Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s creation is about much more than just himself. We love the adventures of Bruce Wayne because his entire world is so compelling, along with everything that goes with it. As the Joker once put in Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film, he’s got the “most wonderful toys.” And so on this official Batman Day, we present the seven greatest aspects of the Batman mythology that make the character truly rise above all the rest.
Every good superhero has their own unique locations where the bulk of the action takes place. The Marvel heroes have the advantage of a realistic New York City backdrop, while Superman’s mythos has cool locales like the Fortress of Solitude to play in. But Batman just has everyone beat when it comes to iconic stomping grounds. That’s because the gargoyle-laden Gotham City is an incredible world upon itself, filled with a metric ton of iconic environments within.
From stately Wayne Manor, to the Batcave underneath it, to Crime Alley, all of these places are vital ingredients in the recipe of Batman. The best of all of these is Arkham Asylum, the sinister fortress and proverbial haunted house that contains (or fails to) the most deranged of Batman’s foes. When you add in Blackgate Prison, the Axis Chemical Factory, and Gotham’s notorious boroughs like Blüdhaven, there’s no arguing the Dark Knight’s kingdom of Gothic gloom rules.
The Alternate Futures
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Most ongoing superhero comics are perpetually in the middle of the story. In other words, we’re well past the character’s early years, but still in the timeframe where the heroes are young enough still to keep fighting the good fight. But all superheroes worth their salt have some kind of alternate future story about their final battles—one that tells how their heroic careers will come to an end in a proper way, and how their legacies will find a way to live on. Once again, Batman’s future-set stories are the very best. Whether we’re talking the game-changing nature of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns or the animated futuristic world of Batman Beyond, the stories chronicling the Caped Crusader’s twilight years are the cream of the crop.
The Media Adaptations
Batman’s first TV series in 1966 might have been a strictly campy affair, but it was a sensation that changed TV forever. And that was just the beginning of Batman’s amazing career on television and film. Batman has conquered almost every media adaptation he’s ever starred in. There’s eight Bat-films so far, many of them classics. And Batman: The Animated Series remains the greatest animated superhero series of all time, nearly 30 years later. The Arkham games have been popular for over a decade as well. But these aren’t just adaptations of preexisting source material. Almost all of them contribute to the lore in key ways. After all, there would be no Barbara Gordon Batgirl or Harley Quinn without their respective offshoots.
Wonder Woman has her invisible jet and the X-Men have their Blackbird. Now, all of those are indeed cool. But when it comes to badass rides, no one in the superhero game has got the kind of vehicles that Batman has stashed in his garage. The Batmobile alone has gone through dozen of iteration across the comics and other media. Just about all of them are memorable in their own way. The Batmobile has been everything from a regular old sedan in the ‘40s Batman serials to a hot rod to a freakin’ tank in the Nolan films. But it is always the most tricked out car on the streets of Gotham City, and one of the most amazing cars in pop culture. Add to that the Batplane, the Batboats, the Batcycles, and on and on. Simply put, no one beats Batman’s arsenal of mean machines.
The Origin Story
A superhero is only as good as his origin story. Superman’s is Biblical, while Wonder Woman’s is mythological. But Batman’s is the simplest, cleanest, and most relatable. And this can simply be attributed to the fact that most of us grew up with parents or parental figures. So it’s not hard to relate to the concept of having them ripped away from you in front of your very eyes as a small child, and the trauma inherent to such an experience. The tragedy of the Wayne Murders is the purest and most identifiable superhero origin story in all of comics. Having said that, we really don’t need to see it play out in any more films for at least the next 20 years.
Once you get to a certain level of iconic status as a superhero, you start to get yourself a ton of spin-off characters and sidekicks. But no one has as many “inspired by” heroes as the Batman. And every single one of them is awesome, and worthy of their own comics and ancillary media. Nightwing, the Robins, Red Hood, Batgirl, Batwoman, Batwing, Azrael, Spoiler, Huntress, the Signal—all of these acolytes of Batman have proven worthy of their own stories. And although they are more than just extensions of the Dark Knight, they simply don’t exist without him.
But it’s not just his costumed compatriots that count as heroes in their own right. Police Commissioner James Gordon has gone from just being the cop who lights the Batsignal to the headliner of his own comic books and TV series. Even trusty old Alfred has a background as a secret agent, which has now become the subject of the TV series Pennyworth. That’s right, even Batman’s butler is a badass. The characters who surround the Dark Knight are just as cool—if not cooler—than the Dark Knight himself. And they all make his world that much richer.
Without a doubt, Batman has the greatest assortment of villains in comic book history. They’re all visually interesting, psychologically compelling, and more often than not just plain terrifying. From live-action television to animation to feature films, this legendary assortment of bad guys represents the crème de la crème of pop culture evil. And they remain the most iconic parts of the Batman lore.
Unlike many of his long running comic book contemporaries, Batman gets a new iconic addition to the Rogue’s Gallery at least once per decade. The ’40s gave us Riddler, Penguin, Catwoman, Two-Face, and Scarecrow, of course. But the ’50s gave us Mister Freeze; the ’60s—Poison Ivy; the ’70s—Ra’s al Ghul; the ’80s—Killer Croc and Black Mask; the ‘90s—Bane; the ’00s—Hush; the ’10s—the Court of Owls. And that’s just scratching the surface.
What makes the Bat-rogues so great is that they are all in some way a mirror image of the Batman. Penguin and Hush represent the dark side of Bruce Wayne’s life of privilege, while Two-Face symbolized his struggle with a dual identity. The Riddler and Ra’s al Ghul show what happens when someone with Batman’s incredible intellect use their powers for evil. Catwoman represents the thin line that Batman walks between heroism and being a criminal himself.
And then, of course, there’s the Joker. Since Batman #1 in 1940, the Clown Prince of Crime has been not only the greatest Batman villain, but one of the greatest villains in pop culture, period. It’s no small thing that two actors have won Academy Awards for portraying him on the big screen. Alternately presented as a mobster, a prankster, and a vicious killer, the Joker is nevertheless always the agent of chaos to Batman’s agent of order. Just the inclusion of the Joker alone could make Batman’s Rogue’s Gallery the best in comics. But when you add him into an already legendary grouping, it solidifies these criminals as the best aspect of Batman’s long history.
Featured Image: DC Comics