A number of really good actors have played The Caped Crusader over the years.  Some pulled it off, some did it brilliantly and some fell way short.  Few actors have been able to pull off the duality needed for the role; having to play Bruce Wayne and Batman as totally different characters.  In this new reader poll I’m asking you, the readers, who’s the better Batman?

Adam West – We all remember Adam West from our childhood as he brought Batman off the pages of the comic books and into the spotlight of prime time television.  West’s portrayal was a campy, almost satirical version of Batman that even though seen today as silly, was for some our first memories of the comic legend.  He brought a smooth, James Bond quality as Bruce Wayne that could almost pass today.  Supported by an equally campy Boy Wonder (Burt Ward) and a host of guest stars making up the rouges gallery, Adam West donned the cowl from 1966 to 1968 and one feature film.  West also provided the voice for Batman in later incarnations of the Super Friends and a Filmation animated series.

Michael Keaton – In 1989, director Tim Burton brought us his vision of Batman for the first time to the big screen.  In a somewhat surprising move, comedian Michael Keaton was chosen for the role of Batman.  To the surprise of everyone, Keaton pulled it off with a convincing portrayal of both Bruce Wayne and Batman.  With Jack Nicholson who got top billing in the film as The Joker, the movie was an overnight success, but lacked a certain chemistry that could have made it better.  There was very little interaction between Joker and Batman that could have made all the difference.  Keaton put on the cowl again for the sequel Batman Returns in 1992, but hung up his cape after.

Val Kilmer – Director Joel Schumacher took over the Batman movie franchise which led to 1995’s Batman Forever.  This time a more seasoned dramatic actor was chosen for the role of Batman, Val Kilmer.  Val brought a vulnerable quality to Bruce Wayne but made a much better Batman than his predecessor.  This installment introduced Robin (Chris O’Donnell) to the series and the two played well off each other.  With Jim Carrey, Tommy Lee Jones and Nichol Kidman co-starring, Kilmer’s performance was over shadowed by colorful imagery and over the top performances.  Kilmer would not return for a sequel.

George Clooney – Probably one of the most unfortunate movies ever made, Batman & Robin in 1997 was hyped for months with the casting of Arnold Schwarzenegger as Mr. Freeze and the introduction of a new Bat-brat in the form of Alicia Silverstone as Batgirl.  Clooney’s performance as Batman was the only bright point of the entire film.  In spite of all the film’s shortcomings, he was able to pull off a convincing performance as Bruce Wayne and Batman.  Riddled with ridiculous dialogue, over the top performances and campy humor that made me long for West and Ward, the franchise was certainly in trouble and the movie was a flop.  Clooney took personal responsibility for killing the franchise and it looked like we would not see the bat signal shine in the sky for some time.

Christian Bale – To pull the bat from the fire, director Christopher Nolan brought a fresh approach to the Batman franchise with a total re-imaging.  In 2005, Batman Begins gave new life to The Caped Crusader as it told the origin of the character in full dramatic detail.  Bale gives a brilliant performance of the troubled young Bruce Wayne who avenges his parents’ murder by creating the incorruptible alter-ego of Batman.  The story leads you through Bruce’s tragic childhood, to training with a secluded band of ninja assassins, to the transformation into Gotham City’s Dark Knight.  This was by far the best of the series, led by an all-star cast of actors who along with Bale gave it a sense of believability that the other films lacked.  Bale would return again in the extremely successful sequel The Dark Knight and a third installment soon to go into production.

Kevin Conroy – In 1992, Warner Bros. redefined the animated series for the next decade.  Based somewhat on the Tim Burton style, Batman The Animated Series premiered in a prime time Sunday night slot.  Although it was directed at kids, the series was a success to adult fans and critics.  Kevin Conroy was cast to voice the character of Batman/Bruce Wayne.  His portrayal quickly became the standard by which all other Batman performances were and will be compared to for some time to come.  Conroy would continue to provide his unique and unmistakable voice through two incarnations of the Batman series, Batman Beyond, Justice League, Justice League Unlimited and seven animated feature length movies.

So there you have it.  Now you decide who’s the best Batman.  Will it be West, Keaton, Kilmer, Clooney, Bale or Conroy?  The results will be posted in the 10/14 edition of The Word.  Same bat time, same bat channel.

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