Brainiac On Banjo #089: Riddle Me This, Keaton!

“I’ve seen the future and it will be / I’ve seen the future and it will be / BATMAN, BATMAN / I’ve seen the future and it will be / BATMAN / And where, and where … is the BATMAN?” – Batdance, written by Prince, 1989.

I enjoy going to comic book convention trivia panels when Mark Waid is on the dais. Not just because Mark knows almost everything, no matter how obscure, but because he is actually embarrassed that his knows minutiae as well as he knows trivia.

But this question might blow his brainpan right out his neck. Therefore, this Spoiler Warning is just for Mark Waid.

Question: Name all the different actors who have played the part of Bruce Wayne.

Follow-up questions: If he signs the new multi-picture deal, should Michael Keaton be counted twice? And will Bruce Wayne meet Adrian Toomes? 

When Keaton was cast as Batman back in 1988, we-all said the nasty version of WTF. Some thought that meant the movie was going to be a comedy, and that was not an illogical assumption. At that time, the vast majority of humans knew Batman as the guy in that dopey sit-com, and Batman director Tim Burton as the guy who made of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure. Together, they spelled “Beetlejuice.” Two great movies, by the way, and that’s a fact that was overlooked back then.

At that time I was sharing an office at DC Comics with Bat-Master Denny O’Neil, and everybody on the floor came over to seek his opinion. None were happy about the casting. Denny and I were… well… confounded.

Hearing fandom’s concerns, one of the bigwigs involved with the movie — it might have been Co-Producer Michael Uslan, who deserves the credit either way — suggested we watch Clean and Sober, Keaton’s not-comedy about drug addiction. A U-Matic was made available to us, we watched it, and for most of us our minds opened up. In the context of Bat-fear, we probably sold a lot of tickets for Warner Bros. — for both Clean and Sober and for Batman.

Of course, you could have put Rin-Tin-Tin in that Batman costume, the one where Keaton really couldn’t turn his head, and it wouldn’t matter. But he played a great Bruce Wayne, and that’s what counted. The better the Bruce, the better the Batman.

And the movie did quite well. Good enough to reboot the franchise, which remains very strong 30 years later despite a lot of bad movies featuring even worse performances. And that, in turn, led to the creation of the Marvel movie mountain.

As is customary with such franchises, Keaton left after his contract was up and about two decades later he starred in the surreal superhero adventure Birdman (a brilliant movie) and in another as Spider-Man’s arch-enemy, The Vulture. As Ben Affleck’s under-cowl work made money but not friends, some fans suggested how neat it would be (“neat” making a brief comeback from the 1950s) if they would put Michael Keaton back behind the wheel of that big black atomic car.

The response was “well, yeah, but he’s too old to play Batman.”

Maybe that’s true. Probably that’s true.

But Michael Keaton most certainly is not too old to play the same Bruce Wayne that Ben Affleck played, only a few years older. He certainly has the acting chops, and he still looks great in a tux.

I haven’t heard anything about Jack Nicholson coming out of retirement, or Michelle Pfeiffer playing Bruce’s wife, but at least one of those might be fun.