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For Immediate Release
April 9, 2013

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Janet Roy
(585) 395-2267

The Dark Knight Evolves

A look at the development of the superhero character in film

Brockport, NY — As a senior history major at The College at Brockport, Brian Fitzgerald ’14 brings a different perspective to the analysis of film. In his paper, “The (Cinematic) Dark Knight: A look into the development of Bruce Wayne, Batman and the characters around them,” Fitzgerald shows how the characters of Bruce Wayne and Batman have evolved over the years.

“An idea is something that can change over time,” said Fitzgerald, who presented his paper during the College’s Annual Scholars Day. “My analysis shows that as the United States and our society has changed from 1939 to the present, so have the characters of Bruce Wayne and Batman.”

The brain child of comic artist, Bob Kane, Bruce Wayne and Batman premiered in Detective Comics #27 (DC Comics) in May 1939. In his early years, the character was dark. “Batman took the law into his own hands, often killing his enemies in the end or throwing them off a ledge, leaving the reader with their imagination to decide what happened to the villain,” said Fitzgerald.

According to Fitzgerald, Batman had a backstory that resonated with audiences. Readers learned of Bruce Wayne’s tragic life, including how he witnessed the death of his parents – propelling him to train himself to become a physical and mental genius. These attributes aided his alter-ego Batman and provided a darker tone, as the crime-fighter had motives of revenge and justice.

Over the years, the popularity of the character grew. New Batman products were introduced, and the character was brought to the “big screen,” with the first movie adaptation developed in 1943. The film took place during the height of World War II, as the nation focused on buying war bonds and funding the army. The movie mirrors this sentiment by portraying Batman as a patriot, and in its opening as the narrator says that Batman and Robin “represent American youth who love their country and are glad to fight for it.” The villain in the movie is a Japanese super spy, who wants to control Gotham City.

After dwindling popularity in the late 1950s to early 1960s, DC Comics reinvented the character and story lines with a more detective-oriented theme. The new contemporary Batman appeared in the 1966 movie and television series (1966 -1968), starring Adam West and Burt Ward. According to Fitzgerald, “The campiness of the 1966 film reflected most of the entertainment of the day, which often sought to distract viewers from the issues of the real world, providing an escape from the Vietnam War, race riots, and the Cold War.” However, Fitzgerald also points out that the new characters didn’t completely avoid the social realities of the day, as a continuing theme was about “getting along with one another.”

After the television series was cancelled, Batman did not return to the screen until director Tim Burton revived the character in Batman Returns, which had two sequels Batman Forever and Batman & Robin. This depiction of Batman was more closely related to the original comic strip, with a “darker tone and shadowy scenery.” The series played up the conflicted character, showing the arrogant and proud character who struggles with the death of his parents and the knowledge of who killed them.

In 2005, Christopher Nolan re-imagined the character, yet again, in Batman Begins (followed by The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises). Nolan took the dark character and “twisted and turned it a bit” by tapping into the billionaire side of Batman and further developing the intensity of the characters. These most current portrayals create a “perfect difference between the two characters of Bruce Wayne and Batman.” Bruce Wayne is the billionaire playboy, industrialist, and philanthropist with a seemingly arrogant and self-centered demeanor (in the eyes of the public). However, Batman is a dark character who will fight his enemies to near death, often showing his ruthlessness.

“Each of the Batman films presented a different interpretation of the original character from the 1939 comic strip,” said Fitzgerald. “Some were more accurate and some gave a completely different view of the character. The films were greatly different from each other, giving the audience and representation of the events and attitude of the decade.”

Fitzgerald emphasizes that research can take on many perspectives, including his historical approach. His paper was written for a world film class, which provided the opportunity for him to stretch his mind and come up with a topic that marries both his love of history and film. “If you open your mind, research can be fun and informative – even a catalyst for conversation.”

The College at Brockport, State University of New York
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