A Batman for All Ages

I’ve been a Batman fan for most of my life. Some of my earliest memories of the character include watching the 1960s TV series with Adam West, or various cartoon versions with Batman and Robin working alone or as part of the Super Friends. There were Batman comic books, coloring books, action figures, Halloween costumes, pajamas, and whatever else a young boy could get his hands on, all while quizzical parents watched and wondered what was so fascinating about a guy fighting crime in his underwear.

As I grew older, my interest in the character began to wane. I’d long since stopped watching the cartoons or reruns of the 60s series, and I fell out of reading most comics, Batman’s included, by the time I was in my middle to late teens. I finished high school and entered the military, figuring that I was finally a “grown up.” Then, two things happened.

The first came in 1986, with the wildly marketed and anticipated comics mini-series by Frank Miller, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. The second was the 1989 Batman film. Both of these stories helped re-energize my appreciation for comics in general, and Batman in particular. I realized that I could enjoy the character just as I had during my childhood, only now I was reading him in stories written for adults. Batman was no longer the guy you invited to the party so he could show you a funky dance. No more “BAM!” or “BIFF!” or “ZOWIE!” He was a dark, cynical figure, who had no reservations about breaking bones if that’s what was required to corral a criminal.

Wow. Go figure. This was a side of the character I’d never seen, nor one I would’ve been able to appreciate as a young boy. But now? Bring it on. Gimme more! Of course, as I dug deeper, I saw that in his earliest portrayals, Batman was a pulp-fiction hero and that’s how he was written, with those stories offering a much rougher, tougher character who not only beat up his opponents, but sometimes even killed them. He was a far cry from the guy with the cape, mask, and “Bat-gadgets” I remembered from Saturday morning TV, and I began to understand that he had been subjected to numerous, often conflicting depictions over the decades; “re-imaginings,” if you’ll allow. Now armed with this newfound knowledge, and while I preferred my Batman to be grittier and edgier, I could appreciate that he was the sort of character who could be presented as different things to different age groups, and that no one version need be the “right” one.

Fast forward almost twenty years. By now, my love for comics as well as characters like Batman and Superman (and Captain America, just to throw some love in Marvel’s direction) exceeds any interest I’d held in my youth. Comics, movies, television series, and novels have succeeded in providing us with all manner of stories featuring these characters. While many of these tales are without question aimed at adults, there also is a large, age-appropriate selection available for younger readers. That made sense to me, as it was as a kid that I first learned to love the characters in the first place. With that in mind, perhaps you, like me, have been surprised and even amused by those fans who always seem to decry these “watered down” stories featuring their beloved characters. “Batman’s not for kids!” and variations of this battle cry are not uncommon among some segments of hardcore Batman fandom.

Not for kids? My six or seven-year old self would definitely have taken issue with that. My four-year old daughter would have something to say about it, too.

One of the things my daughter likes to do with her daddy is watch Batman. In this case, it’s a version of the Caped Crusader that’s appropriate for someone her age. Together, we watch Batman: The Brave and the Bold, which I absolutely love for its fun, retro approach, with art that reminds me of the Batman from the 1930s and 40s as drawn by the late, great Dick Sprang. I’ve heard fans argue that this portrayal of the character is “ridiculous.” He travels to other planets, or through time? What the heck’s with that? I just shrug and point to the various flavors of Super Friends cartoons from the 1970s and 80s, which often were inspired by those wild, fun stories from the Silver Age comics era, when the Justice League and everybody else was jumping into space for one reason or another. My daughter loves those, too, along with those episodes of Scooby-Doo where Scooby and the gang meet up with Batman and Robin.

I can hear the fanboy teeth clenching from here.

My daughter’s interest in the character extends to other media, too. She has issues of the Batman: The Brave and the Bold comic that spins off from the cartoon, and one of her favorite books is Batman: The Story of the Dark Knight, written and drawn by Ralph Cosentino. She wears a T-shirt with the “Bat-logo” to school. I’ve had to get her action figures of her own to play with, so that she’ll leave my “collectibles” alone on the shelf. She has her eye on my scaled-down replica of the 1960s Batmobile, but so far I’ve managed to protect it from her. Not sure how much longer it’ll hold out, though.

The point is, I have my Batman, and my daughter has hers (though I get to enjoy that version, too). I can sit down with her and read her a Batman comic or storybook, or we can watch a Batman cartoon. After she goes to bed, I can spin up The Dark Knight on DVD, or reread The Killing Joke or Hush, or something like Andrew Vacchs’ The Ultimate Evil or even Kevin J. Anderson’s Enemies and Allies.

So, yeah: Batman can be for kids, be they the real, honest-to-goodness little guys and gals, or those of us who are still kids on the inside.

That said, I’m gonna pass on the Batman undies this time, if that’s okay with everybody.

Dayton Ward is a freelance writer living in Kansas City. Even Batman comes here when he wants some good barbecue.


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