BATMAN ON FILM, since June 1998!


BALE: A Cape and Cowl over other Bat-actors
Saturday, October 1, 2005
Author: Cary Ashby

The October 18th release of the “Batman Begins” DVD (and special editions of the previous franchise) has inspired me to rank the seven most well-known actors to portray Batman and Bruce Wayne:

1) Christian Bale (“Batman Begins” — 2005): A cape and cowl above the rest — and not just for novelty's sake.

Seeing Bruce Wayne first donning the Batsuit about one hour into the film is a big treat because the audience first witnesses Wayne training to become the greatest street fighter ever. Bale hits it out of the park as both characters. He perfectly balances a smooth, debonair, charming millionaire with being a mysterious, tough, compassionate crimefighter.

The Welsh actor told MTV before the film’s release that he wanted Batman to be more than “Bruce Wayne in a Batsuit.” “(He should) become a creature...that can channel his rage and his grief and his anger, so that as Bruce Wayne, he is able to function in life without being absolutely psychotic,” he said.

Confirmation of Bale’s Batman taking on The Joker (a role that hasn’t been officially cast) in a yet-unconfirmed sequel can’t come soon enough.

2) Kevin Conroy (voice actor, “Batman: The Animated Series,” etc.): You might think, “Who is this?” Trust me; you'd know his voice.

Conroy's rich baritone is the perfect match for the Dark Knight, a voice sure to strike fear into the hearts of Gotham City's criminals. The talented Conroy uses a slightly higher inflection for Bruce Wayne, which makes him sound both sophisticated and educated.

“Wizard” magazine credits Conroy with posting the most hours of portraying Batman with 90 and counting. Not only has Conroy done four animated series, he also voiced six movies and two video games. He’s also reprised the role in various “Justice League” animated incarnations.

The next three actors are a close call, but if I had to rank them, here's how it would go:

3) Val Kilmer (“Batman Forever” — 1995): Director Joel Schumacher hired Kilmer when he took over the original franchise from Tim Burton. Kilmer proves Bruce Wayne doesn't need the Batsuit to kick criminal butt. His portrayal of Wayne is a satisfying mix of social klutziness, disturbed psychosis and millionaire class. It's unfortunate that creative differences drove Kilmer from the role.

4) Michael Keaton (“Batman” — 1989, “Batman Returns” — 1992): Keaton's interpretation of the Dark Knight is undeniably groundbreaking. His unique, gravel-like “Batman voice” inspired three subsequent actors: Conroy, Kilmer and Bale.

Keaton never flinches as Batman, bringing a focused and crazed edginess to a man inspired to fight crime dressed as a bat. Despite the actor's slight built, it's exciting to see Batman dispatch the Joker's and Penguin's henchmen and tangle with Catwoman in martial arts combat.

His Bruce Wayne portrayal, however, leaves a lot to be desired — putting him in the middle of the Bat pack. Keaton falls short there both literally and figuratively, as seen in “Returns.”

Is Wayne a clueless goofball (his scenes with Michelle Pfieffer)? A detective who doesn't trust the Penguin's dream to be reunited with his birth parents? Maybe a business man unafraid of standing up to the corporate tough guy played by Christopher Walken? Or is the millionaire a facade for the vigilante waiting to respond to the Batsignal? Since Keaton is unsure how to handle the elusive role, the audience is never going to suspend its disbelief.

5) George Clooney (“Batman & Robin” — 1997) Four words: terrible movie, good Batman.

Clooney continually gets a bad wrap for the despised “B&R.” He freely takes the blame for killing the first franchise. But in his defense, Clooney had a terrible script working against him.

Although he doesn’t play a gloomy Caped Crusader, Clooney brings a sense of previously missing altruism to the dual role. He is believable when he thinks his surrogate father, Alfred the butler (Michael Gough), is dying. Clooney's chemistry with Chris O'Donnell brings a nice touch to the strained relationship with Dick Grayson/Robin.

6) Adam West (“Batman” TV series 1966-1968, “Batman: The Movie” — 1966): West, now 75, is most likely THE Batman for the Baby Boomers who don't like the subsequent “dark” interpretations. His Bruce Wayne is so smooth, he's nearly hard to trust. West nails the straight man to the hyperactive Burt Ward as Dick Grayson/Robin.

Unfortunately, West played the campy role so well nobody can think of him as anything more than Batman. After the series was canceled, he did a fair amount of Batman-related cartoon voice work in the 1970s and 1980s.

My favorite appearance is West voicing The Gray Ghost in a classic episode of “Batman: TAS.” The Gray Ghost was a TV super hero and the childhood idol of Bruce Wayne. In an erie parallel to West, actor Simon Trent can’t find work outside of his once popular series and must sell his memorabilia to pay the rent. Trent later dons The Gray Ghost outfit to help Batman bring down a terrorist committing vandalism based on old episodes.

West is still involved in the Batman universe; he's the voice of Mayor Grange in "The Batman," an animated kid-friendly take on the Dark Knight's early years.

7) Lewis Wilson (“The Batman” — 1943): Costume design is Wilson's downfall as the original cinematic Dark Knight. The low-budget costume, especially the mask, is ill-fitting. The bat ears resemble devil's horns. Wayne is a straight-shooter and Wilson's dedicated Batman is tough in a brawl. Fun, but not terribly memorable.

There are three other actors who played the dual roles. The late Robert Lowery starred in the 1949 feature, “Batman and Robin.” There is also voice actor Rino Romano in “The Batman.” And who could forget the big voice of the late Olan Soule in the various “Super Friends” series starting in 1973?

BOF contributor Cary Ashby writes a twice-monthly comic book column for the "Norwalk Reflector." He is also the newspaper’s crime and education reporter. Cary has an extensive collection of Batman comics and has been an avid fan for nearly 30 years. He can be reached via e-mail at

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