He's a moving shadow, formless and stealth as the night; a cyborg vigilante, built from the ground up with advanced robotic technology; a literal man-bat, a mutant killing machine with fanged teeth and giant wings.
In "Batman: Gotham Knight," the new direct-to-DVD animated film that takes place between "Batman Begins" and "The Dark Knight," Batman is all that and more, thanks to six different interpretations of the character from six highly renowned Japanese anime directors: Yoshiaki Kawajiri, Shojiro Nishimi, Yasuhiro Aoki, Futoshi Higashide, Toshiyuki Kubooka and Hiroshi Morioka.
It's a tribute to the character that producer and "Gotham Knight" mastermind Bruce Timm — perhaps best known for his groundbreaking work on "Batman: The Animated Series" — calls "the most versatile comic hero of all-time."
"[There] is no one true defining version of Batman. There's so many different ways you can take him, from Adam West to Frank Miller, and all shades in between," Timm said. "That goes right to the core of what this movie's about. One of the things we wanted to do with this movie was to come up with a framework where we could get six really different ideas of Batman all in one film."
Those six stories range in content and tone from a light adventure in which young children recollect their memories of seeing Batman (one remembers him as a cyborg, one a shadow, etc.), to brooding tales in which the Dark Knight recalls his earlier training in India, to out and out action extravaganzas featuring Batman in the middle of a mob war or fighting super-villains like Killer Croc, Deadshot and, of course, the Scarecrow.
"We wanted to come up with six wildly different looks from all the different shorts so that we could kind of let the Japanese guys go to town on how they saw Batman," Timm said.
But no matter the story, the style or the director, there's one thing all the vignettes have in common: They have director Christopher Nolan's blessing and will become part of the reinvented Dark Knight's canon.
"Somewhere along the development process, somebody had the bright idea of 'Hey, wouldn't it also be cool if we could get Christopher Nolan's involvement?' " Timm recalled. "So we met with Jonah Nolan, Christopher's brother, and he actually wrote the story springboards for all of the six episodes. So, it's anime, but the physics work here. The laws of physics do apply. No monsters, no impossible feats of superheroics. Everybody had to at least be able to rationalize the fantastic."
That meant transforming Killer Croc, a minor Batman baddie whose appearance has grown more and more grotesque (and more and more cartoony) over the years, into a villain that could easily find himself in "Batman 3." How did Timm do it? With a little assist from another, and more familiar, Batman villain.
"Croc's a monster, but he's not a radioactive or chemical lab experiment gone wrong. He's basically a guy that was born with this freakish skin condition and he's extra strong," Timm said. "["Batman Begins" screenwriter] David Goyer figured out that the Scarecrow was a good way of actually making Killer Croc even more of a monster, because Batman gets poisoned by the Scarecrow's gas, and then suddenly it's Batman's messed-up perception of him. It all sort of dovetailed nicely."
But at the end of the day, "Batman: Gotham Knight" is all about, well, Batman himself. So just who is this Batman character anyway?
"He's spooky, mysterious; he's Dracula Ninja. He's the Shadow and Zorro. But he's also a human guy who is both the savior of the citizens of Gotham City and the guy who kind of scares them a bit," Timm said.
"He's just cool."
"Batman: Gotham Knight," which includes all six vignettes as well as bonus material, is released on DVD Tuesday (July 8).
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