The TOP 13 BATMAN Countdown — #9: BATMAN ’89

Gotham City reborn…

In celebration of Detective Comics #1000 and Batman’s 80th anniversary this month, we’re counting down the 13 GREATEST BATMAN STORIES EVER — from all media — as selected by a panel of 16 experts, including such luminaries as former DC publisher Paul Levitz, legendary Batman artist Neal Adams and Batman: The Brave and the Bold producer James Tucker. For a complete rundown of how the vote was conducted and the full list of panelists, click here. The countdown will run daily across 13 days and culminate in THE ULTIMATE BATMAN READING AND VIEWING GUIDE, which will feature every single Batman story cited by our panel.

PICK #10 was Batman ’66: “Hi Diddle Riddle/Smack in the Middle.”

Next up on the countdown:

9. BATMAN (1989)

Written by Sam Hamm and Warren Skaaren. Directed by Tim Burton

One of the things we’re trying to convey in the TOP 13 BATMAN COUNTDOWN — beyond just how great these stories are — is how much the selections influenced Batman’s larger universe.

With Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman, the impact has been immeasurable even if the movie itself doesn’t quite hold up as well as other screen adaptations. (It’s fun to watch, sure, but the film’s not exactly the most tightly plotted narrative.)

Most importantly, Burton and screenwriters Sam Hamm and Warren Skaaren — not to mention stars Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson — proved that a darker version of Batman could work on the big screen and that audiences would eat it up.

“One of the most stunning achievements in the history of the Batman character,” wrote panelist Mark Reinhart, author of The Batman Filmography. “Batman’s release will forever stand as the first time a worldwide audience appreciated Batman in the way Kane and Finger had intended him to be appreciated. For the first time, millions upon millions of people around the world saw Batman as the dark hero we serious fans loved.”

Fellow panelist Christy Blanch, added: “Michael Keaton is my favorite live-action Batman. Simple enough. It was, and is, a wonderful movie,”

Yet there’s something else that stands tall amid the wonderful toys, great Danny Elfman score and dramatic climax – Gotham City itself.

Before Burton and production designer Anton Furst got their hands on Batman’s hometown, Gotham City was consistently shown to be a New York City analogue – a familiar-looking East Coast metropolis.

But Burton and Furst famously envisioned what New York might look like without a planning commission and the result is a mirror-cracked version of the Big Apple — a gothic monstrosity of sky-piercing spires and twisted pipes that’s always covered in steam and grime.

Concept by Anton Furst. Illustrated by Nigel Phelps. This version was used for the 1991-92 DC Comics arc Destroyer. Which just proves the point!

It didn’t take long for the comics to follow suit and while some versions remain rooted in the real world – see Christopher Nolan’s patchwork of New York, Chicago and Pittsburgh – Gotham is now almost always shown to be what Burton and Furst showed us in 1989 — a horrible, beautiful mess.

No wonder the film won an Oscar for art direction.

NEXT: The #8 PICK is…



13 Things I Still Love About BATMAN ’89 (Mostly)

Author: Dan Greenfield

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    • Burton’s Batman provided just the right amount of whimsy or “camp” for the fans of Adam West’s Batman to enjoy. But as the article points out, the real or “serious” batman fans realize that Bruce Wayne/Batman came from a dark place of senseless murder and childhood trauma. For those who always want to see Batman as the 60s TV show Batman, may as well take The Shadow and convert him into an Inspector Clouseau ( from the Pink Panther movies ) type character. Batman will for me always be a character whose darkness of the night defines him just as the light of the sun defines Superman. The Yin and Yang, Hawk and Dove, superpowered Boy Scout and Ninja, the World’s Finest of characters.

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  1. A couple small mistakes, that Gotham skyline at the bottom is the 1992 DC Comics version, from Destroyer. Nigel Phelps penciled all those charcoal building drawings, he worked at Furst’s company. Phelps did all the building drawings for the movie too.

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  2. I like Keaton’s Batman. His Bruce Wayne, not so much. Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne was more what I expected Bruce Wayne to be like. Kevin Conroy’s Bruce Wayne is much better also. I don’t see Bruce Wayne so absent-minded or disconnected as Keaton comes across. Bales Wayne conveys the “shallowness”… I read somewhere that Keaton had wanted to do a Batman Begins…

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  3. Batman 1989 is an enjoyable movie and an important one. However, it has not aged well and has its flaws – it did not make my personal “Top 13” list. So far, only one of the panel’s choice is on my list (“Heart of Ice”). That’s what so great about Batman – so many choices.

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