Normally, someone’s first exposure to something is what becomes their defining example of it. To put that less stupidly via example, there’s the idea that “you never forget your first Doctor,” in reference to the cycling of actors on BBC’s Doctor Who (11 actors have played the role so far). For most people, that’s entirely true; even if the subsequent actor does a fun and interesting take on the character, you might never see them as the “real” Doctor. Actually, I’ll keep going with this, because it parallels my experience with Batman.
I don’t remember what my first exposure to Batman was, but it was probably Batman: The Animated Series or a spinoff thereof. That’s based on remembering a Batman-themed plastic cup in our cupboard when I was little, though; I didn’t watch much TV at all when I was little. The first exposure that I actually remember is seeing part of the Adam West Batman movie (the silly, campy one) is my AP U.S. history class. I laughed my head off, but I didn’t see that as the “real” Batman.
At around that time, (middle school and early high school) my brothers and I couldn’t drive, but we had a lot of extracurricular activities, so our parents hired a college student named Kadee to drive us around and do her homework. They also didn’t trust us not to burn the house down when they were away on business trips, so she occasionally stayed overnight. On one of those nights, she brought the Fantastic Four movie along for us to watch. It was my first exposure to a superhero movie (this is when they started getting popular again), and I was thoroughly underwhelmed. Anyone who’s seen that movie probably knows why; it was pretty lame. The next time this happened, she brought Batman Begins. My brothers and I initially thought, “Wow, what a lame title. I bet it’s just as crappy as the last superhero movie,” but Kadee eventually won us over, so we watched it. And it was awesome. But still, not quite as I imagined Batman (particularly the silly voice that everyone has already made fun of). The Dark Knight was a similar story; Gotham seemed just as corrupt and awful as I instinctively thought it should be, and it was a great movie, but…I didn’t really like Heath Ledger’s portrayal of the Joker. He was psychopathic, but not in quite the right way, and he didn’t look at all intimidating, just like some guy with badly-dyed hair and badly done clown makeup. Please don’t hit me.
At approximately the same time (maybe a year later), the first season of the “new series” of Doctor Who was on at 11:30 pm on Sunday nights on PBS, right after Red Dwarf, a British sci-fi comedy that takes place on a mining ship millions of years in the future (and that’s a terrible description, but I’m digressing). Our parents, particularly our dad, liked it, so they’d let us stay up and watch it, but we had to go to bed right afterwards. In retrospect, we were unusually unrebellious teenagers.
Anyway, I came back upstairs one Sunday night to ask my dad a question, and noticed that he was still watching TV. There were bumpy, bronze-colored robots and a giant, tentacled alien thing that was yelling at a blonde woman, and there was also a blue telephone booth…yeah, it was the last episode of the first season of Doctor Who, with Daleks, Rose Tyler, the TARDIS, and Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor. Long story short, we ended up watching the entire season (it repeated itself afterwards, since we’re in the US) and I loved it. My previous exposure to sci-fi television was Star Trek: The Next Generation, and I loved how unpredictable and dangerous and funny and yet really, really depressing the series was. Some of it was incredibly silly, but it was still fun and awesome. So when Eccleston was replaced by David Tennant at the end of the first season, I thought that Doctor Who would never be as enjoyable again.
Boy, was I wrong. Tennant brought new life and excitement to the role, with his amazing ability to make a scene go from hilarious to terrifying in a matter of seconds. (Due credit should be given to the writers, especially Steven Moffat for the scary episodes). From scarefests like “Blink” and “Silence in the Library” to weird historical episodes like “The Unicorn and the Wasp” to everything-goes-to-shit-until-the-last-second-at-which-point-the-Doctor-saves-the-day…oh, wait. That’s every episode. The point is, Tennant quickly came to define Doctor Who for me in ways that Eccleston never did, to the point that I keep finding excuses not to watch the last few episodes of the last season he’s in because, while he’s probably great, Matt Smith just isn’t David Tennant.
What does this have to do with Batman? Well, I’ve been exposed to a lot of verions of Batman over the years. The video game Batman: Arkham Asylum came pretty close to defining the character and world for me. The Batman & Robin movie with Arnold Schwarzenegger (as Mr. Freeze, not as Batman. That would be pretty surreal) is so terrible that it’s practically a guity pleasure for me; it would always be playing on TV around my ski team’s Thanksgiving training camp. In reading the comics, I hoped to get a sense of what the “real” Batman and surrounding universe/characters are like, but everything seemed a little skewed one way or the other for any one storyline to seem like “quintessential Batman.” The Killing Joke is mostly about the Joker; we don’t really see Batman in it except as he relates to his arch-nemesis. Gothic is a little too supernatural to be believable as everyday in Gotham City. The Cult is an interesting psychological study, but it doesn’t feature any of Batman’s regular villains (it ends up so that nothing that happens in the storyline has any real impact), and besides, the ears on the Bat-cowl are pretty ridiculous. Then, I read Hush.
Hush is my “quintessential Batman.” Political corruption? Check. Crazy preparedness? Check. The Joker? Check. Complicated crime conspiracy? Check. Father figure to Robin? Triple check. Friends with Superman? Check. Dating Catwoman? Check. Something challenges his “no killing” rule? Check. Traumatic past and trust and parental issues? Checkity check. World’s Greatest Detective? In the grand tradition of Sherlock Holmes, check. This story has almost every major Batman villain, all intervoven in one crazy plot that Batman and his allies (but mostly Batman) have to unravel. Stay tuned for a review!