Batman and Robin on film
 

Originally inspired by - but not in tribute to - the recently concluded series of Bat-films, here's a look at the Dynamic Duo in various filmed incarnations.

Douglas Croft and Lewis Wilson

The 1940's gave us two looks at our heroes, both 15-chapter serials courtesy of Columbia Pictures. First to hit theaters was Batman, starring the otherwise forgettable Lewis Wilson and Douglas Croft.

Croft's tousle-headed Robin certainly differed from his counterpart from the four-color page, but wasn't nearly as distracting as Wilson, who was hardly the archetype of the athletic Dark Knight.

Once upon a time, AMC would occasionally run this serial.  Uncut.  That'll never happen again.

Why?  (Besides the fact that AMC has gone unforgivably downhill...but I digress...)

Today's politically correct times (a trend which I loathe), surely wouldn't allow it.  After all, when was the last time you saw Disney's Song of the South anywhere?  If a movie about a sharecropper isn't going to play in this country, in this time, there's no chance in hell a serial that uses the phrase "evil Jap" regularly - and praises the internment of Japanese-American citizens is going to be brought into American homes.  Even on basic cable.

Oh, the story?  I haven't seen it in a couple of years.  Can't remember it.  Something about Japanese spies, maybe?  Yeah, that sounds right.  Can't get any more specific than that.  Sorry.

John Duncan and Robert Lowery

The second go-round had a title you might've heard recently: Batman and Robin. Robert Lowery and John Duncan filled the costumes, which in the opinion of many, were superior to the attire in the first serial.

It's a pity that the story wasn't any better. In fact, I thought the story could've been wrapped up in a maximum of five chapters. The sheer ineptitude of the script made Lowery's Batman seem like he was working hard to NOT solve the crime. Made Nigel Bruce's Dr. Watson look like Sherlock Holmes in comparison.

Adam West and Burt Ward

Here's a pair whose contributions to Bat-lore seem to draw little middle ground: Adam West and Burt Ward.

Now, I'm not about to dispute the notion that the campiness of this TV series permeated the Bat-comics to the extent that the comics themselves were very nearly cancelled. However, in retrospect, I think this was hardly the worst-ever presentation of our heroes.

Slight digression here:  I recently watched an E! Entertainment Network special on Adam West's career.  If nothing else, it raised in my mind a minor question or two regarding Bat-history.
 

West/Ward screen test
West/Ward screen test

Note Adam West's costume above.  No yellow oval around the bat.  This was, if memory serves, around the time that Julius Schwartz took over the editorial reins of the Bat-comic books.  Legend has it that Julie put the oval around the bat just to make a change.  Speculation says the oval was DC's idea for copyright/trademark purposes.  I'm wondering now if perhaps the oval wasn't created by the TV production, much as Batgirl was.

Second digression:  It appears the only real changes made to either costume between the test and production were the oval and to make West's boots smaller.  My question:  Why?  The screen test boots look much more in keeping with the classic costume.  (Then again, I'm still trying to figure out Dean Cain's booties in Lois & Clark.  Never mind...)

The Dynamic Duo meets the Scooby Gang

Returning to possible worst presentations: Batman co-starring with Scooby-Doo and company?!?!?!?!?!?!?

Don't get me wrong; I think Scooby-Doo is one of the classic cartoons (especially the first couple of seasons). But like oil and water, these two worlds just don't mix well.  Additionally, I never really warmed that much to the voicework of Olan Soule and Casey Kasem as the Dynamic Duo.  Campier even than West and Ward, for my money.  Perhaps campy isn't the right adjective.  Still, those cartoons took the premise of Batman and sugar-coated it more heavily than your average bowl of Cap'n Crunch.  Not a good thing.  At least you can floss after eating Cap'n Crunch...

Would that I could say this was THE low point in Bat-history...

Michael Keaton

Sadly, as the years pass, this one gets better. Michael Keaton did, in all fairness, give us a very good Bruce Wayne. Unfortunately, I didn't believe his Batman for a minute. I could never get past the idea that instead of watching Batman, I was instead watching Michael-Keaton-in-a-Batman-costume.

Keaton's Batman never had a Robin, although Robin did appear in the first draft of both Keaton appearances. Actually, the part was cast for both films; a young British actor (whose name I do not recall) was tabbed for the first film, and Marlon Wayans was to have assumed the role in Batman Returns.

Chris O'Donnell and Val Kilmer

Robin did finally make his modern-day cinematic debut in Batman Forever, in the person of Chris O'Donnell. O'Donnell's entry into the series was the only bright spot in the only Bat-flick to star Val Kilmer, who unlike Keaton, was a very credible Dark Knight.

Unfortunately, Kilmer's Bruce Wayne was as interesting as a cardboard cutout.

George Clooney and Chris O'Donnell

At long last, the wait for an actor who could merge a believable Bruce/Batman into one whole ended in the current Batman and Robin with the arrival of George Clooney.

Unfortunately, and with the notable exceptions of the scenes between Bruce and Alfred (played throughout the series by the wonderful Michael Gough), this thing is a mess. Start with the fact that Robin is inexplicibly wearing Nightwing's costume (the current comic persona of Dick Grayson) without adopting the name, to the unbelievable magnitude that the film was over-produced. Special effects aren't special if they distract from the story (which needed a lot of work, BTW).

To put how strongly I objected to this travesty in another light (and I'm attempting to clean this up for any young visitors); if this production was equivalent to a more intimate form of human interaction, this behavior would be unwise in this day and age - and possibly a felony in several states.

You may be asking yourself now, "So, is there a version of Batman and Robin that this guy DOES like?" The answer is an enthusiastic "YES!!!"

Fox's animated Caped Crusaders

The Fox Network cartoon alternately titled Batman - The Animated Series and The Adventures of Batman and Robin (and now showing at times on the Cartoon Network) is hands down the celluloid presentation most true to the spirit of our heroes. As voiced by Kevin Conroyand Loren Lester, B-TAS has been a model of consistency in its faithfulness to the legend of Gotham's Guardians.

In fact, I would say - and have said - that the ill-promoted feature based on this series, Batman - Mask of the Phantasm is the finest big-screen appearance of Batman ever. Without reservation or qualification.  But no Robin, so no pics here.  Sorry.

Kids' WB's Dynamic Duo

When the series became part of The New Batman Superman Adventures on Kids' WB, the saga continued, albeit with some notable changes. Costumes were redesigned, as were the models for virtually every character in the series, to mixed review by fans. The greatest change was who wore the Robin costume. Dick Grayson moved on to the mantle of Nightwing, leaving the red suit open for orphan Tim Drake, as voiced by Mathew Valencia.

This Robin was actually an amalgam of two comic-book Robins that succeeded Grayson. The origin most closely parallels the street kid origin of the late Jason Todd, but with the name of the current comic Boy Wonder. Let's just hope that the animated Tim doesn't suffer the less-than-elegant fate suffered by Jason: Following a phone-in vote that may as well have been set up as 1-900-KILL-ROBIN, Jason was killed by The Joker. If that wasn't pleasant enough, this occurred just as the lad found his long-lost mother - who, having a checkered past herself, betrayed him to the Clown Prince of Crime.

I wonder now why I didn't quit collecting Batman at that point...as I sit here and think of it, that whole business seems even more disgusting now than it did then.

Anyway, let's close here on something a bit more pleasant. The final season of the Kids' WB series produced what I consider a classic episode of this or any other Bat-series. Not so much for a stirring storyline, but for adapting several notable comic stories and styles into one flat-out fun half-hour of television.
 
 

50's era Dark Knight Returns style

Straight out of the 1950's comics written by Bill Finger and drawn by Dick Sprang is the scene above left from "Legends of the Dark Knight". Given voice by former voice of Space Ghost and Laugh-In announcer Gary Owens, this already is one of my favorite animated depictions of Gotham's Guardians.

From the pages of "The Dark Knight Returns" (above right) is Frank Miller's version of an aging Batman and his Girl Wonder. Michael Ironside, who currently voices Darkseid in the current animated Superman, gives this Batman an appropriate air of menace.

Great stuff. This episode alone is almost enough to make up for all that Bat-fans have endured over the years.

(For all of those wondering where the Batman Beyond coverage is, there isn't any.  No Robin/no coverage here.  Sorry.)
 

You're Visitor No.  to my own little Batcave.
 

Last updated: March 25, 2003

The characters displayed on this page are copyrights of DC Comics, Inc., Warner Brothers, Hanna-Barbera and probably someone else for all I know, used on this page for educational and historical purposes only.  No challenge to copyright is intended or inferred.

This page created June 22, 1997

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