INTERTEXTUALITY AND FIDELITY IN BATMAN MOVIE ADAPTATIONS
Author: David Hernando Serrano, Monday, July 18, 2005:
Intertextuality and fidelity are two of the most frequently discussed topics in adaptation studies. However, when these studies focus their attention on comic-book movie adaptations, the importance of intertextuality and fidelity increases because they can be found not only as active processes in contemporary film versions, but also as something active in the source text today. This is so because some comic-book characters have been published non-stop for a long period of time. This paper will analyse the importance of intertextuality and fidelity in Batman movie adaptations from that point of view, i.e. taking into account how Batman comics have shaped Batman adaptations and how those adaptations have influenced their source text.
In order to do so, this essay is divided into three sections. The first one is a general overview of Batman’s comic-book history, where important artistic changes are highlighted so as to understand later on the impact that they had on the movie adaptations. The second one is focused on intertextuality, especially taking into account its dialogic aspect. The third and final section deals with fidelity and how Batman movie adaptations cannot be faithful to their source text because the source text keeps changing every few years. Apart from this, the originality issue is emphasised in order to demonstrate how there is no such thing as an ‘original Batman’ in any of the two media.
As there are dozens of Batman adaptations, this paper has only selected five of them: Leslie H. Martinson’s "Batman" (1966), Tim Burton’s "Batman" (1989) and "Batman Returns" (1992), and Joel Schumacher’s "Batman Forever" (1995) and "Batman & Robin" (1997). At the end of the paper there is an Annex where a complete Batman filmography can be found.
BATMAN’S COMIC-BOOK HISTORY
A General Overview
June 1938 was the date when Superman appeared for the first time in "Action Comics #1," published by DC Comics. After its unexpected success, DC editor Vin Sullivan talked to Bob Kane and asked him to create another superhero. Kane, along with his friend Bill Finger, created Batman as a negative counterpart to Superman. While Superman was bright, optimistic, strong and endowed with superpowers, Batman was dark, gothic, pessimistic and had no superpowers. He was, from the beginning, a far more realistic character than Superman or any other superhero. Some of the features that shaped the realistic, ‘non-superpowered’ version of Batman can be found in the pulp hero, El Zorro.
Both Kane and Finger watched "The Mark of Zorro" (1920) with Douglas Fairbanks as the Mexican hero. That film is a very important intertext because the looks and history of Zorro can be compared to Batman. Zorro’s alter ego, Diego de la Vega, is a millionaire who lives in a manor on top of a hill, beneath which there is a cave that functions as Zorro’s headquarters. When looking at Batman, we find his alter ego to be Bruce Wayne, a millionaire who lives in a manor. Batman’s famous hideout, the Bat-cave, is located beneath the manor, just like Zorro’s. As a side note, the Bat-cave was first featured in the 1943 "Batman" movie serial and then it was included in the comic-books. This emphasises the importance of dialogic intertextuality in Batman comic-book movie adaptations and it is analysed in depth in the second section, though this movie serial is not studied.
Coming back to Batman’s comic-book history, after Robin appeared in "Detective Comics" #38 (June 1940), the mood of every Batman comic ever since was toned down towards a less violent and gothic setting. During his first year, Batman was represented as a detective and Robin added a happy connotation that was not present before. This affected Batman’s representation, transforming him from a creepy figure to a father figure.
In 1954, Dr. Fredic Wertham published his book "The Seduction of the Innocent," where he accused Batman and Robin of being homosexual. As a consequence of that, Batman comics were considered to be a threat to all American boys because if they read them, they could “become” homosexual. Apart from this, Wertham accused the comic industry in general of being a negative influence on boys and girls. He did succeed because everybody was ready to believe him as that was the time when Senator Joseph McCarthy triggered his Witch Hunt in the middle of the Cold War. The result of Wertham’s accusations was the Comics Code Authority, i.e. censorship. DC Comics, instead of cancelling the strip, reshaped it for a new audience. Batman’s father figure representation was highlighted as the only way in which he could be featured in any publication. Moreover, DC introduced Robin in 1940 and now he was joined by Bat-Girl, Batwoman, Bat-Mite and even Ace, the Bat-Hound, as supporting characters.
This “Batman Family” lasted for a decade. In 1964 the trend changed and Batman changed with it. Its authors wanted Batman to be a detective again and they constructed a new look for him. Since 1939, Batman’s outfit had consisted of grey trousers and T-shirt with a dark blue cape, cowl, gauntlets and boots. The Bat-symbol was featured on his chest as a black figure. In 1964, the grey colour remained but the dark blue was changed to a light blue and a yellow oval was added around the Bat-symbol.
This was the most famous representation of Batman for three decades, especially after the release of a TV series in 1966 that lasted for two years and featured Batman in that outfit. This series was responsible for the so called “Batmania” and general mass audiences kept in the back of their minds the image of actor Adam West performing a campy Batman in a world full of bright colours and naïve threats.
In 1969, writer Dennis O’Neil and penciller Neal Adams redefined Batman’s world once again. Trough out the seventies, the character was represented as a gothic, adult, serious detective superhero. Apart from the O’Neil-Adams team, there was another one of equal importance: Steve Englehart and Marshal Roger’s run in "Detective Comics" (August 1977-April 1978). This adult representation was taken to the extreme in the 1980s with Frank Miller’s "The Dark Knight Returns" (1986). That graphic novel added a new perspective on the Batman mythos by presenting him as a creature of the night willing to punish criminals at any cost. It was a big influence on Tim Burton’s adaptations and as such it is discussed later on.
From the 1980s onwards, Batman has been constructed as the best detective of all times, adapting itself to the trends that forced him to change in order to survive. Nowadays, his outfit is an exact copy of the first one he wore in 1939, highlighting a ‘back-to-the-basics’ trend where he is once again more a detective than a superhero.
All the information contained in this section must be retained and remembered trough the rest of the essay to understand the intertextuality and fidelity questions that Batman movie adaptations give rise to.
The most productive way of defining intertextuality in relation to Batman adaptations is by focusing on Mikhail Bakhtin’s “dialogism”. Bakhtin’s definition of “dialogism” is, as quoted by Robert Stam, “the infinite and open-ended possibilities generated by all discursive practices of a culture, the matrix of communicative utterances which ‘reach’ the text not only through recognizable citations but also through a subtle process of indirect textual relays” (2005: 27). While Bakhtin did not refer to adaptation studies, his concept of dialogism has been applied to them and it can be merged with Kristeva’s notion of intertextuality (as it in fact grown up from Bakhtin’s dialogism), giving as a result intertextual dialogism. As explained by Stam:
An adaptation, in this sense, is less an attempted resuscitation of an originary word than a turn in an ongoing dialogical process. The concept of intertextual dialogism suggests that every text forms an intersection of textual surfaces. All texts are tissues of anonymous formulae, variations on those formulae, conscious and unconscious quotations, and conflations and inversions of other texts. (Stam 2000: 64)
This dialogical process that takes place in film adaptations is expanded in comic-book adaptations. A novel can be read in multiple ways and that is the main dialogical process that occurs in those adaptations: a film can be approached as a new reading of the novel it is adapting while it takes into consideration other texts, either previous or contemporary, of the source text. Despite all the important dialogical processes that co-occur when dealing with novels (historical context, target audience, audience’s context and so on), the narrative source text is limited by its pages. Novels have a beginning, middle and ending within a limited number of pages. Therefore, all the intertextual relationships that can be established must come from secondary sources, i.e., previous and contemporary texts the author alluded to when writing the source text or any other later text that the film adaptation considers relevant when representing its reading of the novel.
When the source text of an adaptation is a comic-book character like Batman, the endless possibilities of this dialogical process become even bigger because that character has been published non-stop since 1939. The very source text has become an adaptation of itself through the years. In that sense, every decade’s historical context has to be taken into account in order to understand why the character was constructed in one way or another in a given historical period. Therefore, intertextual relationships in Batman movie adaptations have to highlight not only secondary sources such as the influences on Batman’s creators, critical essays or previous adaptations, but also all the intertextual dialogism that is established within the source text itself, as it has been constructed and represented from different angles since it was first published.
The importance of the influences on Batman’s creators gives rise to the question of originality. As it is widely known, some of the most famous stories of all times, like "Othello" or "Hamlet," were William Shakespeare’s adaptations of texts he had read, i.e. they were not written from scratch, but by taking into consideration intertextual references. As it has been discussed earlier, Bob Kane and Bill Finger were influenced by a film adaptation based on Zorro pulp stories that they had also read. Moreover, other intertexts are an “ornithopter” sketch by Leonardo Da Vinci, as well as other movies (eg "The Bat Whispers," 1930) and strips (e.g. Superman), as Kane himself confessed in a book written by him several years before he died (1996: 35-41).
Intertextual dialogism, then, is one of the main relevant issues in Batman history from its creation until today. Batman’s success led to some early adaptations in the 1940s, from movie serials to guest appearances in Superman radio shows, that began adding new ways of representing the character for mass audiences. Moreover, some of the movie serials’ additions, like Alfred or the Batcave, were featured in the comics after they appeared on the screen. As the source text has been active ever since, it has enjoyed the possibility of appropriating some of the changes the adaptations deliver on the screen. This establishes a direct communication between both media and it helps to understand the importance of intertextuality in Batman movie adaptations.
In the five films that are discussed in this essay, there is a strong presence of intertextual dialogism between all of them but also between them and the comic-books they take as a starting point. Before analysing these movies, it is important to make the distinction between early and belated adaptations. Belated adaptations are those adaptations that have been produced since the 1970s. They are often conscious of previous adaptations, i.e. early adaptations. Only one of the five Batman movie adaptations analysed in this essay is an early one: Leslie H. Martinson’s "Batman" (1966).
Martinson’s Batman was produced due to the success of the TV series "Batman" (1966-1968) were Adam West performed the role of Batman and Burt Ward the role of Robin, while both of them fought against an array of coloured villains brought to life by some of the finest actors of that decade (e.g. Burgess Meredith, Julie Newmar, Vincent Price and Cesar Romero, among others). The movie is an adaptation of that TV series as it features four villains instead of one, as it was the usual in the TV episodes, and functions as a TV episode with extra running time and a big budget.
In terms of comic-book adaptations, Martinson’s "Batman" was inspired by the 1964’s “New Look” that Julius Schwartz and Carmine Infantino constructed in order to avoid the 1950s sense of the bizarre that dominated every Batman comic-book. This “New Look” gave Batman a blue and gray suit and it was the first time the Bat-symbol on his chest was surrounded by a yellow oval. This costume design was reproduced in the TV series and the movie, without taking into consideration previous versions of it in the two movie serials. This colourful image of Batman was used to add a “camp feeling” to the show that was not present at all in the “New Look” from the comics but was generalized in the 1960s context of United States popular culture.
Batman’s representation as a “camp hero” helped selling more comic-book copies than any other media formula tried before and it even saved Batman comics from being cancelled, as they sold more than one million copies every month, as reported by Les Daniels in his book "Batman: The Complete History" (1999: 115). Furthermore, the TV series was a great success all over the country, as explained by Mark Reinhart:
"Batman" quickly became much more than just a hot new television show, it became a national craze. Throughout 1966, “Batmania” swept the country – Batman seemed to be everywhere. The television theme song was a huge radio hit, he was on the cover of "Life" Magazine, and countless kids were running around with capes tied around their necks. Plus, thousands of products bearing his likeness (toys, dolls, model kits, books, bubble gum cards, clothes, etc.) were available for purchase. (2005: 123)
The “Batmania” expanded thanks to Martinson’s "Batman," where the sense of camp was established since its main credit sequence with a dedication to lovers of adventure, pure escapism, unadultered entertainment, the ridiculous and the bizarre. All these adjectives are perfect definitions of the movie’s mood and what it tries to convey.
Martinson’s "Batman" is not a self-referential film about adaptation or a deep psychological interpretation of the main character: it is just camp adventure and pure escapism where Batman is a tool used to explain ‘something else’ unrelated to the character. The villains’ plots are based on Batman comic adventures, but they are altered to reflect a campy comedy.
This representation of Batman was adopted by comic-books as an intertext because the “Batmania” was so intense that it was compulsory for comics to reflect the same stories the TV series and the movie produced. Therefore, the source text was changed because of the adaptation’s success, an example of the specific intertextual dialogism that takes place when dealing with comic-book film adaptations.
When the TV series came to an end, Batman comics became an adaptation of the stories published in the 1930s. Bill Finger and Bob Kane’s gothic detective approach was resurrected at the end of the 1960s and emphasised throughout the ‘70s due to the task of Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams. Adams represented Batman as a dark detective in a way that challenged the general perception that audiences had following the campy TV series. The elimination of that representation in the comic-books was completed in 1986 with the release of the "Batman: The Dark Knight Returns" graphic novel by Frank Miller. Its own title seems to claim this ‘back to the basics’ phenomenon. Comic-book writer Alan Moore echoed this change in the comic construction of Batman by examining the meaning of the character for mass audiences, as quoted by Will Brooker in his essay “Batman: One Life, Many Faces”:
A character who, in the view of the wider public that exists beyond the relatively tiny confines of the comic audience, sums up more than any other the silliness of the comic book hero. Whatever changes may have been wrought in the comics themselves, the image of Batman most permanently fixed in the mind of the general populace is that of Adam West delivering outrageously straight-faced camp dialogue while walking up a wall thanks to stupendous special effects and a camera turned on its side. (1999: 189)
As Booker states early on in the same essay, “It is thanks to those films and the television series of the 1960s, not the comics, that everyone knows something of the Batman ‘mythos’” (1999: 185). Therefore, despite the transformations, modifications and adaptations that the Batman character experienced in the comic-books of the 1970s/1980s, the general perception was still the campy TV series.
A new movie adaptation was needed to eradicate any trace from the 1960s interpretation of Batman. Tim Burton’s "Batman" was released in 1989 and it took as intertext Miller’s "The Dark Knight Returns" and Alan Moore and Brian Bolland’s "The Killing Joke," a re-telling of the Joker’s origin. The source text’s changes since the 1966 film adaptation were of great importance when bringing the character to life once more because it was not the same Batman at all. Moreover, Burton’s "Batman," as a belated adaptation, was conscious of the 1960s TV series and one of the main concerns was not to repeat the same formula again.
Burton’s intention was not to continue the trend established by the 1960s TV series, but the casting of Michael Keaton as Batman led to some misunderstandings. Keaton’s baggage as an actor was a very important intertext in the perception of the movie by comic-book fans. As Keaton was best known for his roles in comedies like "Mr. Mom" (1983) or "Beetlejuice" (1988), the whole comic-book community thought Burton was going to produce a campy Batman. As Batman comics were presenting by then a darker character, comic-book readers were afraid. They thought that if a new campy movie revealed itself as a box office success, this representation of Batman would come back to the comics. This intertextual dialogism between the source text and its film adaptations is constantly present in Batman and even Burton describes it in the following extract:
Batman began as a dark detective before he was later given all kinds of gadgetry to help fight crime. He finally ended up as a camp figure who took off on adventures which never even occurred at night. Unlike Superman, who has remained pretty much true to himself, Batman has changed quite a bit. (Marriott 1989: 20)
Tim Burton’s aim to challenge previous representations of Batman on screen is established from the very beginning of the "Batman" credit sequence. It begins with the Warner Bros logo, the classic ‘WB’ surrounded by a blue sky and white clouds. The sky becomes black, Danny Elfman’s creepy "Batman" theme begins to be heard and the camera moves between rocky corridors. The image is not clear and that creates a sense of dislocation for the audience, who keeps wondering where the camera is. When the credit sequence ends, the camera moves away from the corridors and then the object can be seen: it is the Bat-symbol upside down. It positions itself correctly and then an establishing shot of Gotham City is shown.
This credit sequence is used to demonstrate that this Batman is nothing like the previous versions of it. The camera moves through the Bat-symbol but it does so in a way that makes it difficult for the audience to realize what they are seeing. When it is unveiled to be the Bat-symbol, a sense of defamiliarisation is provoked because the audience knew what they were watching, but it was shown in an unrecognizable way. The message is established: this movie is about Batman, but it is going to construct him as no one has done before. This is Burton’s challenge to Martinson’s "Batman" and that is how the film conveys a new Batman representation for mass audiences, who embraced it and transformed it into a big box office success.
In the sequel ("Batman Returns," 1992) Tim Burton produced a typical ‘Burton movie’. Batman, Catwoman and the Penguin were again used as tools in order to portray Batman’s world differently from before. They had been used in the 1960s TV series for campy purposes and Burton created a gothic fable with a bat, a cat and a penguin so as to construct the kind of narration he is best known for: a critical vision of society and the rise of marginal figures as true heroes among the citizens of that society.
While Burton’s "Batman" was a film controlled by the producers, "Batman Returns" became an ‘auteur’ production where the director established every detail that was shown on screen. It can be affirmed that Batman Returns is a Tim Burton movie, while the first one was not. That statement can be confirmed by looking at the credits list at the beginning of each movie. In "Batman" the credits are listed as follows:
"Warner Bros presents; Jack Nicholson; Michael Keaton; Kim Basinger; a Peters/Guber Production; a Tim Burton Film; 'Batman.'"
In "Batman Returns" the credit list is the following:
"Warner Bros presents; a Tim Burton Film; Michael Keaton, Danny DeVito; Michelle Pfeiffer; Christopher Walken; 'Batman Returns.'"
As can be seen, Tim Burton appears in the sixth place in "Batman," after the producers, while he appears at the very beginning in "Batman Returns." This was not only because he had become a better known director than he was when "Batman" was released, but because he had more control of the "Batman Returns" production.
In terms of intertextuality, "Batman Returns" is the darkest representation of Batman on screen and it can be said that it even challenges the construction of the character that was presented in Burton’s "Batman." There, Batman was characterised as a human hero based on reality and verisimilitude, but the "Batman Returns" world was a dark, gothic fairy tale taking place in a fantastic setting. The performances of Keaton’s Batman, Pfeiffer’s Catwoman and DeVito’s Penguin were quite strong and achieved what Burton had wanted since the beginning: changing the general audience perception of those characters as they were portrayed in the campy TV series.
As the box office for "Batman Returns" was not the success that "Batman" was, Warner Bros decided to offer the franchise to another director: Joel Schumacher. His two films, "Batman Forever" (1995) and "Batman & Robin" (1997) must come along Martinson’s "Batman" because they re-create the campy feeling of the 1966 production. Instead of following Tim Burton’s movies, Schumacher focused his work on constructing a bright and colourful version of Batman, especially in "Batman & Robin," where the hero was no longer the dark creature of the night that he was in Burton’s adaptations, but a smiling superhero that could show his Bat-Visa when required. The production design of Schumacher’s adaptations rescued the 1960s TV series from the back of audience’s minds.
The intertextual dialogism present between Martinson’s "Batman" and Schumacher’s "Batman & Robin" is the main reason for the box office of the 1997 adaptation. Schumacher tried to tell a 1960s story in the 1990s, without taking into account that the historical background was not the same, not to mention the source text. Batman comic-books had become even darker after Tim Burton’s movies. Therefore, "Batman & Robin" lacked a target audience because both comic-book readers and general audiences were not predisposed for a 1960s version of Batman any longer.
Will Brooker defines this intertextual dialogism between the ‘60s and the ‘90s adaptations in his 1999 essay:
"'Batman Forever' (like 'Batman & Robin') is actually a very close adaptation of an earlier text: the 1960s TV series. From explicit in-jokes like Robin’s exclamation ‘Holy Rusted Metal!’ in 'Batman Forever' to the eye-watering gaudy costumes, the emphasis on spectacle and the very style of performance from the guest-star villains, Schumacher’s is a big-budget revisiting of the Adam West aesthetic. 'Batman Forever' and 'Batman & Robin' are ‘adaptations’, then, but adaptations from the small to the big screen, bypassing the comic book: adaptations of what was then an adaptation." (1999: 196)
The best way to sum up the evolution of the 1990s four big-budget productions of Batman is by focusing on David Goyer’s argument about them: “The Batman films got further and further away from how he was depicted in the comics, and started feeling like the old ‘60s TV show. They started getting campy, using more garish, ‘comic-book’ primary colors. It wasn’t the Dark Knight anymore” (Ho, 2005: 70). David Goyer is the writer of 2005’s "Batman Begins," a new adaptation where intertextual dialogism is highlighted again as "Batman Begins" adapts some storylines, like “Year One”, from the comics and makes a conscious effort to represent Batman differently from what has been done before.
However, there is still one intertext present in "Batman Begins": Batman’s costume. Its fabric is very similar to the one featured in the 1990s adaptations: a rubber, armour-like suit rather than the tights that Adam West wore in the ‘60s. Therefore, although Burton’s and Schumacher’s interpretations are quite the opposite, both of them share some intertexts, like the costume and some actors (Michael Gough, Pat Hingle) present in the four films. The "Batman Begins" costume association is just an example of how the process of intertextual dialogism is always present in adaptations, despite the director’s will of not wanting to reflect previous interpretations of the same material.
In this sense, and as a final note, the very titles of the film adaptations are relevant. Following Genette’s definition of “architextuality” or, as quoted by Stam: “the generic taxonomies suggested or refused by the titles or subtitles of a text” (2005: 30), some associations are emphasised between the five films analysed in this essay and even "Batman Begins." Tim Burton’s sense of dislocation in "Batman," discussed earlier on, is highlighted from the very title. It reminds audiences of the 1966 adaptation, also called "Batman," but once they see the film there is no reference to the campy version. That is Burton’s way of playing with audience expectations.
Burton’s second title, "Batman Returns," is not as ambiguous as the first one: it announces the return of the same kind of Batman that was seen in the immediately previous one. The title of Schumacher’s "Batman Forever" calls for tradition and the 1960s TV series is an example of that tradition in Batman movie adaptations, thus the movie recaptures the 1960s mood again, overshadowing Burton’s gothic mood. "Batman & Robin" is definitely a revision of the "Batman" TV show because Burton’s films had no Robin in it because the movie had to be as far away as possible from the series. Schumacher’s decision to name his second movie "Batman & Robin" is a warning of what audiences will found in it: the 1960s TV series with a 1990s budget. Finally, Christopher Nolan’s "Batman Begins" is a perfect definition of the film’s intentions. Nolan is not naming it "Batman," so there will be no misunderstandings in the spectator’s mind, as it happened with the titles of Burton’s first movie in relation to Martinson’s one.
As intertextuality presents endless possibilities when adapting a comic-book character like Batman, the fidelity issue should be almost non-existent. The non-stop publication of the character is one reason to think about the different interpretations that Batman has gone through since 1939. The large number of versions based on him within comic-books avoids any notion of fidelity in movie adaptations. As Robert Stam describes it:
Words such as infidelity and betrayal in this sense translate our feeling, when we have loved a book, that an adaptation has not been worthy of that love. We read a novel through our introjected desires, hopes, and utopias, and as we read we fashion our own imaginary mise-en-scène of the novel on the private stages of our minds. When we are confronted with someone else’s phantasy … we feel the loss of our own phantasmatic relation to the novel. (2000: 54-55)
This reflexion on fidelity is extended in the following quote, also by Stam:
The shift from a single-track, uniquely verbal medium such as the novel, which “has only words to play with”, to a multitrack medium such as film, which can play not only with words (written and spoken), but also with theatrical performance, music, sound effects, and moving photographic images, explains the unlikelihood –and I would suggest even the undesirability- of literal fidelity. (2000: 56)
Both quotes deal with novel to film adaptation, not with comic-book adaptation, but the issues presented are worth mentioning in this field. Stam refers to the mise-en-scène constructed in the reader’s minds when they read a novel and how this can be altered by the director’s interpretation of that same mise-en-scène. The obvious argument when the director’s idea does not match the reader’s one would be “It’s a different reading” and, as such, it is acceptable. However, comic-books share something more with cinema than novels do. Comic-books are composed not only of words, but of words and images.
In comic-books, the mise-en-scène is not something created in the reader’s mind. It is something visible on the page itself. The setting, the character’s actions and the physical aspect of everything is represented within several panels per page. Therefore, fidelity issues may arise between comic-book readers because Batman’s physical aspect is present in every comic and the actor portraying him on the screen must be similar to the standard established visually on the page.
In that sense, fidelity seems to be an issue more relevant in comic-book adaptations than in novel to film adaptations because there is a visual reference. When Tim Burton’s "Batman" was released, many comic-book readers objected to with Michael Keaton’s performance because he didn’t match the playboy connotations that the character has in the comics. When George Clooney brought Bruce Wayne to life in "Batman & Robin," the general reception was positive because Clooney was considered to be handsome enough to perform the playboy role.
However, when Michael Keaton’s performance is compared with George Clooney’s, the former is more accurate, according to long time readers of Batman. How can it be if Keaton is not like Bruce Wayne/Batman? Because the character has been pencilled by hundreds of authors since 1939 and, therefore, his physical appearance is not as important as the character’s attitude. Keaton’s performance connects with the dark, gothic mood established in the 1980s, while Clooney was acting as a 1960s Batman in the mid-1990s. Clooney might have been a greater Batman if "Batman & Robin" had been released in 1968.
Adam West’s Batman is very different from Keaton’s Batman, but it works because that was the dominant version of the character in 1966. Clooney’s performance, if analysed as an homage to the ‘60s Batman it is correct. However, taking into account the evolution of the character from the 1970s, Clooney’s interpretation does not fulfil the expectations of readers and of a general audience used to Keaton’s version of Batman.
In that sense, there are some fidelity issues that cause the approval or rejection of certain performances, but what cannot be stated is that Clooney is not Batman, as some readers argued when "Batman & Robin" was released. Clooney was Batman, but the problem was he interpreted the character in a way most comic-book readers are no longer used to nowadays. "Batman & Robin" was a different approach from Tim Burton’s version, but it was not unfaithful. It was an adaptation made out of context.
As Stam claims, “The question of fidelity ignores the wider question: Fidelity to what? Is the filmmaker to be faithful to the plot in its every detail? That might mean a thirty-hour version of 'War and Peace'” (2000: 57). In those terms, it is impossible to imagine a faithful adaptation of Batman because there are thousands of stories where he has featured as the main character.
Must the filmmaker be faithful to all of them, from "Detective Comics" #27 (May, 1939) to "Detective Comics" #806 (May, 2005)? It cannot be possible and the very credit sequence of each movie supports this argument. In the 1966 "Batman" movie, just before the end of the credits, the following message appears: “Based upon the characters created by Bob Kane appearing in "Batman" and "Detective Comics" magazines published by National Periodical Publications, Inc.” There is no reference to any actual storyline, as novel to film adaptations generally do (e.g. “Adapted from the novel by Jane Austen”), just a general note that the movie’s plot is based on the characters and that is the starting point also for Burton’s and Schumacher’s adaptations. After the title of each of those movies is featured on screen, the following message appears: “Based upon characters appearing in magazines published by DC Comics”. After the rest of the film crew gets credited, a second note appears: “Batman created by Bob Kane”.
The “Based upon…” credit is what reinforces the sense of fidelity as a difficult issue to take into account. Despite having the physical image of everything we see on the page, a truly faithful adaptation cannot take place due to the character’s transformations since 1939. That is the reason why those movie adaptations reinterpret, not one or two comics that can be easily indicated on screen, but a large amount of them. Therefore, there is no literal fidelity to be found because each adaptation is translating different ‘Batmans’ from different periods into a two hour movie version.
Martinson, Burton and Schumacher approached the material from their own point of view and in doing so the directors translated their personal visions of the character onto the big screen. Someone could argue that none of them are faithful and, at the same time, all of them are, as the following picture demonstrates:
This picture is the dustcover for the anthology "Batman: Cover to Cover," where DC Comics collected several covers from different Batman comics published from 1939 until today. As the image itself reflects, which is the Batman filmmakers have to be faithful to? There is no possible answer because all of them are part of Batman’s history.
If Batman is capable of adapting himself within comic-books, there is no pivotal reference to which movie adaptations have to be faithful to because every few years, the ‘canon’ established with the character changes so as to adapt itself to the general public’s needs. Then, the intertextuality phenomenon is what makes fidelity an unrelevant issue in Batman adaptions.
Intertextuality and fidelity are two of the most important issues adaptation studies deal with and in comic-book adaptations it is not an exception. Through this study of Batman movie adaptations it has been demonstrated how both issues are complex when dealing with characters published non-stop in a magazine that has been present in the market for almost seventy years. This ‘never-ending’ condition transforms the source text into an infinite intertextual network for filmmakers.
Batman movie adaptations, therefore, have to be approached as new interpretations that increase the enormous amount of intertexts that are present in Batman comics today: from Kane’s sources, like the Zorro, to the different movie adaptations. All of that is contained within a character that has truly become a cultural icon and, as such, can be adapted to any possible reading in any historical moment. Just as what it has been since his first comic-book published in May, 1939 and what he will be in the many years to come.
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Ho, Richard. June 2005: “Bat Out of Hell”. Wizard: The Comics Magazine #164. New York: Gareb Shamus Enterprises, Inc. 70-76.
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