Everyone is pretty whipped up about the release of The Dark Knight, which shattered Spiderman 3’s record for largest first-weekend box-office draw over the weekend.  Unlike Spiderman 3, The Dark Knight is actually a very entertaining film.   Christopher Nolan’s Batman franchise is darker, more serious, and, consequently more frightening.  It also captures the  psychological complexity of the titular character in a way that the more stylized vision of Tim Burton – not to mention the dreck produced by Joel Schumacher – never could.  

BatmanNolan’s vision is inspired by the Golden Age Batman, who was a different breed altogether.  Batman of the early 1940s, for example, shot people, tossed them off rooftops, and had few reservations about killing criminals.  He menaced murderers, gangsters, and thugs, not overgrown graffiti artists.  Early Gotham was a dark and scary place, the sort of place that might inspire people to, you know, dress up like a giant bat.  So what happened?  Why did the dark and menacing Batman of 1940s become the lame and tame Batman of the 1960s?  

Much of it has to do with changing national mores and an evolving economic and social landscape.  In this sense, Batman’s story is a microcosm for what happened throughout the entire comic book industry during that period and, to a lesser extent, some of the changes that swept across the nation.  One of the most important episodes in Batman’s metamorphosis centered around the startling accusation that Batman and Robin were gay and might seed impressionable youths with homosexual fantasies.  Silver Age Batman was indelibly shaped by the gendered expectations of the era and his failure to adhere to those expectations incited criticism, predictably, that called into question his sexual identity.

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The Bilerico Project

The Bilerico Project