Much like James Bond, Batman has become a role defined in part by the ever-growing list of actors who have answered its call. As of Thursday night, that list has another name: Ben Affleck . The Academy Award-winning screenwriter and critically acclaimed director will suit up alongside Henry Cavill’s Superman in 2015’s still untitled “Man of Steel” sequel — a film casually referred to as “Superman/Batman,” or vice versa. This latest actor switcheroo — following Christian Bale’s definitive retirement from the role — brings to light one longstanding Bat-fact: The Batman changes.
From his pulp serial roots in 1939 to Grant Morrison’s recent psychedelic take on the detective, Bruce Wayne has weathered shifts in time, tone and temperament to become one of the most iconic pop culture characters of all time. With this in mind, here are five different Batman flavors that could combine to create … the Batfleck.
Grumpy Old Batman
Director Zack Snyder used a passage from writer and artist Frank Miller’s seminal comic book “The Dark Knight Returns” to announce the Batman and Superman team-up movie at San Diego Comic-Con International, leading many to believe that the film would draw on this source material. In the comic, a retired, 55-year-old Bruce Wayne takes up the Bat-mantle again to fight back a growing wave of horrific crime. This Batman is a physically imposing force of unrelenting vigilante justice, one that doesn’t take too kindly to Superman’s Boy Scout routine. Despite early assumptions that this would inspire the new film’s Batman, Affleck’s casting throws this a little out of whack. It would take heavy makeup to transform Affleck into the hulking mountain of vengeance Miller depicted in his 1986 limited series, and even then Affleck’s eternally youthful look would probably shine through.
The tonal opposite of “The Dark Knight Returns,” the Batusi Batman appeared in the caped crusader’s 1950s comics and heavily informed the ’60s “Batman” TV show starring Adam West in the title role. The show was heavy on puns and catch phrases, which earned the series an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Comedy Series in 1966. Sure, it’d be hard to explain Batman trappings like Shark Repellent Bat Spray and Batman’s signature dance move — the Batusi — in the realistic world of “Man of Steel,” but Affleck could excel in a role just under this level of levity.
Filmmaker Christopher Nolan links “Man of Steel” and the recently completed “Dark Knight” trilogy together, a connection that resulted in a Superman film that felt almost as much Gotham City as it did Metropolis. It wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that Affleck is flat-out replacing Christian Bale in the role he played from 2005’s “Batman Begins” to 2012’s “The Dark Knight Rises.” This version of Batman was closer to Grumpy Old Batman in demeanor, while still maintaining Batusi Batman’s likability and youth. Even if Nolan’s trilogy starred a determined Batman with a gruff voice, Bale Batman possessed one trait that differentiated him from Grumpy Old Batman: He wanted to give up the fight, and he did — twice. If Affleck is playing Bale’s Batman, he’ll be playing a character that’s coming out of retirement yet again, making this Batman a bit wishy-washy.
Even though director Snyder’s initial statements regarding Affleck’s casting peg him as Bruce Wayne, it’s not far-fetched to speculate that that could be a red herring. Yes, Affleck could be playing a Batman in the same universe as the concluded “Dark Knight” trilogy, but he also could be playing someone other than Bruce Wayne. Nolan’s trilogy dealt heavily in the notion of Batman as an idea, one that could be adopted by anyone to use in the fight against evil. This was followed through in the very final shots of “The Dark Knight Rises,” in which Robin John Blake (played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt) first steps into the Batcave. Affleck could be playing Gordon-Levitt’s character, just a decade later to cover up for the two actors’ age difference. And with a decade of crime-fighting under his belt, maybe Affleck’s John Blake could also share some traits with Grumpy Old Batman.
There is an ideal Batman, one that mixes humor, drama, determination and impeccable detective skills, and it’s one that we’ve only seen once before — in “Batman: The Animated Series” from the early ’90s. Voiced by Kevin Conroy and brought to life by animator Bruce Timm and writer Paul Dini among others, this Bruce Wayne was capable of weaving through tones the way the Batplane wove through Gotham skyscrapers. Affleck’s demonstrated similar diversity throughout his career, one that has seen the actor grow from sophomoric comedies to schlubby everyman characters, all the way up to his inspirational leading-man performance in “Argo.” This is the hardest type of Batman to nail down as it requires a creative team able to incorporate disparate pieces of Bat-mythos into one whole, but Affleck could be the man for the job.