Across the decade-spanning iconic history of DC Comics’ Dark Knight, there have been more versions of Batman than you could throw a batarang at.
But not to worry, we’re here to breakdown the top ten best interpretations of this legendary Caped Crusader.
From the colourful to the dark and gritty, Batman has — shall we say — ‘two-faces’… Bad villain pun aside, let’s jump into the Batmobile and take a ride through the streets of Gotham as we delve into the legacy of one of pop culture’s greatest superheroes — exploring comic books, live-action and animated TV, all the way to the realm of film as the Bat-Signal lights up the silver screen…
10. Adam West’s Batman
Bringing all the fun-loving charm of ’60s super-heroics, this rendition of the not-so-Dark-Knight has stood the test of time to claim his spot as a pivotal part of Batman history.
Suited and booted in the emblematic tights of the era, this is one of the more bombastic versions of Batman and a far cry from the armour-clad character we know today.
Instead of the well-known brooding and the cough-inducing gravelly voice of Christian Bale’s Batman, Adam West’s version of Batman leans towards the more pedantic escapades of early Golden Age comic book adventures.
From brandishing shark-repellent to having a surf-off with the Joker, this is a version of Batman for a generation of hope and optimism. Realistic melodrama goes the way of the Bat-bin and is pushed aside for wacky antics in an eccentric series stuffed to the brim with charm.
9. Michael Keaton’s Batman
The star of Tim Burton’s 1989 Batman film and its sequel, Batman Returns, Michael Keaton kicked off the Batman franchise of the ’90s and provided a new direction for this superhero icon.
No doubt pushed on by Burton’s creative vision, Keaton’s Batman makes it on to this list by being one of the most essential versions of Batman in the character’s long history.
With Keaton’s Batman being surrounded by fellow stellar performances from actors Michelle Pfeiffer (Catwoman) and Jack Nicholson (Joker), it’s hard not to come out the other side feeling satisfied.
8. Red Son Batman
This next entry comes from outside the sphere of Batman-centric media, with Red Son Batman finding his origins in the comic book mini-series Superman: Red Son.
Forming part of the DC Comics Elseworlds imprint, Red Son presents a world where Superman’s pod landed in Soviet Russia instead of modern-day Kansas, being raised as a loyal communist and becoming ‘champion of the common worker’ under the thumb of Joseph Stalin.
Red Son presents one of the most inspired versions of Batman, embodying the extremist counterpart to Superman’s political affiliation — after watching his parents being gunned down by Stalin’s police force. This leads him on a path of direct confrontation with the Man Of Steel as the most wanted fugitive in all of Russia.
Red Son Batman is less of a hero and more of an urban terrorist. But who doesn’t love seeing these dramatic interpretations of some of our favourite characters? After decades in the spotlight, our heroes need to remain fresh. And Red Son accomplishes this in waves — giving its version of Batman a particularly Russian-inspired hat to boot.
7. Earth One Batman
Regarded as one of the seminal works of veteran comic writer Geoff Johns, Batman: Earth One crafted a universe intended to present one of the more realistic versions of Batman.
This Batman is far away from the crime-fighting veteran seen in most Batman storylines, being more likely to fall off a building than catch a criminal.
Trained by the legendary butler Alfred Pennyworth, now envisioned as an ex-military man, Earth One Batman is a naïve and inexperienced vigilante, barely fit to bear the name superhero.
It’s easy to disregard this version of Batman as being an uninspired attempt at putting in realism where it’s not wanted, but Earth One Batman is anything but an insult to the character’s more illogical elements. He still wears the iconic cape and cowl, and his extensive rogues gallery is reimagined in a way that feels authentic to this world.
6. The Batman Who Laughs
Conceptualised by the creative team of writer Scott Snyder and artist Gregg Capullo, The Batman Who Laughs is one of the best villains to come out of modern DC comics… Yes, you heard that right, I said villain.
A distorted hybrid of Batman and Joker, The Batman Who Laughs hails from an alternate reality called the Dark Multiverse.
Materialising after Bruce Wayne was infected with a form of Joker toxin, this iteration of the Caped Crusader takes the cake as one of the most malevolent versions of Batman, harbouring no moral code.
Built with all the psychopathic tendencies of the Joker and harnessing the many skills of Batman, The Batman Who Laughs is a force of nature not to be reckoned with.
Becoming a breakout character in the long-running roster of Bat-men, The Batman Who Laughs has gone on to have his own comic book series and a vast collection of inspired merchandise.
5. Flashpoint Batman
If you’ve previously dipped a toe into the time-altering escapades of the Flash, you may be familiar with the DC Universe mega-event Flashpoint. If not, the basic premise is that Barry Allen (Flash) royally screws up the timestream by travelling back to his past and saving his mother from being murdered at the hands of the Reverse-Flash.
In a series of universe-defining changes, Batman is no longer Bruce Wayne. In the darkness of Crime Alley, it was Bruce who was killed at the hands of the infamous Joe Chill, leaving his mother and father alive.
Bruce’s father Thomas takes on the responsibility of the Batman. And, in a sick twist of fate, it is Bruce’s mother Martha who becomes this world’s resident Joker.
Adorned with a cowl of red eyes and two hand-guns strapped to his thighs, he most certainly isn’t joining your grandad’s nostalgic versions of Batman. No, Flashpoint Batman is gun-slinging killer as willing to take a life as he is to save it.
4. Batman Beyond
Of the many versions of Batman, the emergence of Batman Beyond in 1999 quickly became one of the most well-known.
Set decades in the future and spanning out from legendary creator Bruce Timm’s iconic DC Animated Universe TV shows, Batman Beyond depicts a retired Bruce Wayne handing over the mantle of the Bat to a young Terry McGinnis.
Initially a novel concept reliant on the intrigue of its futuristic neon setting, Batman Beyond became an entity unto itself with a loyal fanbase who embraced Terry as a worthy heir to the cowl — a difficult task when you consider how defensive Batman fans can be with Bruce’s legacy.
Since his initial appearance in the original Batman Beyond animated TV series in the late ’90s, Terry has made the shift to the mainstream DC comics, cementing this character as not only an inspired Elseworlds iteration of Batman but an essential part of the Bat-Family and wider Batman mythology.
3. Frank Miller’s Batman
One of the most influential interpretations of Batman on this list, Frank Miller’s Batman — from the critically-acclaimed The Dark Knight Returns comic book mini-series — took the comic book community by storm in 1986.
Redefining future versions of Batman, Miller transitioned the tight-wearing Bat into the dark and profound character that he is today. This gritty world-weary examination of Bruce Wayne follows the aging crime-fighter as he returns from retirement to save Gotham from an uncontrollable crime wave that threatens to overwhelm the GCPD.
Having retired following the death of his previous Robin — Jason Todd — Miller’s Batman marks the appearance of Carrie Kelley, taking on the mantle as sidekick. A now-beloved fan favourite, this aided in setting apart Miller’s Batman from the extensive list of Batman films, TV shows, and comics.
On top of all this, Miller’s Batman set the stage for a long-running frenemy relationship between the Caped Crusader and his fellow superhero Superman. This would become a staple of future tales, featuring in classic comic book stories, such as Batman: Hush, and even playing out on the grand stage of the silver screen in Zack Snyder’s 2016 blockbuster Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.
2. Christian Bale’s Batman
It cannot be denied the significance of Christian Bale’s Batman — the Batman that brought the character kicking and screaming into the modern era of superhero film.
This was before the days of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), in a time where superheroes were still a relatively infantile medium and film-makers were still hitting their stride, with titles such as Bryan Singer’s X-Men and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man leading the charge.
Hot on the heels of director Joel Schumacher’s critically-panned 1997 release Batman And Robin, new director Christopher Nolan stepped in to reinvigorate the Batman franchise for a modern audience of film-goers. And he succeeded spectacularly, releasing the fantastic Batman Begins in 2005 and spawning a trilogy of movies that would go down as not only great superhero material, but undeniably great cinema.
Presenting a realistic take on a character defined by outlandish concepts, Bale stood leagues apart from his more flamboyant predecessors, ascending to the prestigious status as one of fans’ top versions of Batman.
1. Animated Series Batman
And here we have it: our number one spot on this list of iconic Bat-men. From the genius mind of visionary creator Timm, I present to you none other than the Batman of the DC Animated Universe (DCAU).
Brought to life by the incredible voice-acting talents of Kevin Conroy, this series gave birth to the instantly recognisable voice of a character defined by the written word. None have come close to accomplishing Conroy’s unmatched level of authority and sincerity.
Sorry Bale; we do truly appreciate you sacrificing your vocal cords for us in the Dark Knight Trilogy.
Leading the charge in 1992, Batman: The Animated Series established the ongoing continuity which would become the expansive DCAU.
Featuring such hit shows as Justice League: Unlimited and Batman Beyond, the mythology of both Batman and his fellow DC Universe heroes would be explored on a scale unseen outside of comics.
This Dark Knight is the true hero of Gotham and a worthy champion in our list of the best versions of Batman.
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