The brick knight swoops into cinemas this week, with the arrival of The LEGO Batman Movie. The comic-book hero with the most screen iterations to date, Batman isn't quite the dark and brooding enigma he once was – but there's still much to learn about the caped crusader. We know the basics – the suits always suck and the actors always want more money – but what else can we learn about the man they call Bat? Let's find out!
1. The Batmobile is in Star Wars
Specifically The Force Awakens. Special Effects supervisor Chris Corbould, who helped build the almighty 'Tumbler' Batmobile from the Christopher Nolan movies, also worked on Star Wars Episode VII, so when it came to putting together the outer shell of the Millennium Falcon, Corbould hid a small scale model of Batman's ride in one of the ship's nooks. You can't see it on film but it's comforting knowing it's there.
2. Batman and Robin: an item?
The 1954 book Seduction Of The Innocent by Frederick Wertham suggested that Batman and Robin were more that just crime-fighting pals – they were crime-fighting pals with benefits: “Only someone ignorant of the fundamentals of psychiatry and of the psychopathology of sex can fail to realize a subtle atmosphere of homoeroticism which pervades the adventures of the mature 'Batman' and his young friend Robin.” Shortly after the book was published, the comics started portraying Bruce Wayne as a womaniser.
3. Hugh Hefner is the godfather of Batman
The Dark Knight's screen legacy is all down to one man: the Playboy-In-Chief. Hugh Hefner, a big fan of the Batman comics, held a campy, Batman-inspired party at the Chicago Playboy Club in 1965, playing old movie serials and providing 'Bam!' and 'Pow!'-style decorations. In attendance were executives from TV network ABC, who witnessed the massive response to the kitsch-era Batman; the Adam West series was released the following year.
4. Andy Warhol directed a Batman movie
For serious. And it was called 'Batman, Dracula'. Sure, it was a 1964 arthouse project, but it was made with the permission of DC Comics and ran to a 54-minute running time. Batman was played by Jack Smith, a popular performance artist of the era. The film is considered to be both the first official 'fan film' and the first portrayal of Batman as a camp icon. Batman, Dracula is not in circulation; the movie's IMDB trivia reads: “This film is presumed lost. Please check your attic.”
5. The world's biggest Bat-fan
Democratic United States Senator Patrick Leahy is one of the world's biggest Bat-fans and has a history of making cameos in Batman movies, starting with an unnamed cameo in Val Kilmer's Batman Forever. The politician played himself in Batman & Robin, then twice played a Wayne Enterprises board member in the Nolan films (he's the one who tells Heath Ledger's Joker “We're not intimidated by thugs”). He's even in Batman V Superman as a character named Senator Purrington. Leahy always gives his fee to charity.
6. The longest running Batman has never worn the mask
Although Adam West has been dining off of the Dark Knight for years now, the longest-serving Batman is voice actor Kevin Conroy, who has been providing the voices of Bruce Wayne and Batman for 25 years. Conroy first adopted the growl for the 1992 animated series and has returned for every animated iteration since, as well as spin-offs and videogames. He provided the voice of Bats for last year's straight-to-video adaptation of Alan Moore's The Killing Joke.
7. Batman has actually killed loads of criminals
“I won't kill you... but I don't have to save you.” Yeah, that won't hold up in court, mate. Batman's whole thing is that he supposedly doesn't kill criminals, but he has actually racked up quite the bodycount for a supposed pacifist. Even as far back as 1939, comic-book Batman would kill plenty of henchmen; Michael Keaton basically murdered the Joker; and don't get us started on Batfleck the Barbarian.
8. There are still loads of unmade Batman sequels
Wherever there's a Batman movie, there's a half-finished sequel just waiting for a decent opening weekend and a green light. That never came after the debacle of Batman & Robin, which is a shame, because Joel Schumacher's third Batman movie, tentatively titled Batman Triumphant, would have starred Nicolas Cage as the Scarecrow and Courtney Love as Harley Quinn. Would watch. Would watch indeed.
9. Robin Williams was technically cast as The Joker
The hyperactive funnyman was used as bait in the casting of Tim Burton's Batman, and was promised the role when Jack Nicholson was proving elusive to nail down. Williams accepted, only to later find out he'd been used as bait to secure Nicholson's involvement. Williams feuded with Warner Bros for years after the betrayal and wouldn't work with the studio until they issued an apology for his treatment.
10. Sean Young: the nearly-woman of Batman mythology
Blade Runner actress Sean Young twice missed out on starring roles in the Batman franchise. In the first instance, she was actually cast as Vicki Vale for Burton's 1989 movie, but injured herself practising horseback riding for a scene that was eventually cut, only to find herself replaced by Kim Basinger. In 1992, Young actively pursued the role of Catwoman, even turning up at Burton's production office unannounced, and in costume. Again, she lost out when the role went to Michelle Pfeiffer.
11. Batman fans are never happy
Now considered to be one of the better screen Batmen, nevertheless the appointment of Michael Keaton as the Dark Knight back in 1989 had fans of the comic-book steaming. The guy from Mr. Mom? Really? Incredibly, fans mobilised and sent 50,000 letters of complaint to Warner Bros Studios – quite the feat in a pre-internet age. Some fans also hated the casting of Heath Ledger as the Joker, but they soon got over themselves.
12. The Joker: keeping it in the family
Giancarlo Gianinni is a famous Italian voiceover artist and provided the Italian dub for Jack Nicholson's Joker back in 1989. In a neat bit of synergy, Giancarlo's son, Adriano Gianinni, provided the Italian dub for Heath Ledger's Joker in 2008's The Dark Knight. Like father, like son.
13. Will Arnett: the suit fits
We doubt he dressed the part to provide the voice of tiny LEGO Batman, but Will Arnett has donned the iconic costume before. When The LEGO Movie was Oscar-nominated for Best Original Song for 'Everything Is Awesome' in 2014, Arnett took to the stage with performers The Lonely Island and other singers, dressed in the very same bat-suit that Val Kilmer wore in Batman Forever.
14. Joel Schumacher shipped Batman and Robin
Allegedly, during production of Batman Forever and the ill-advised follow-up Batman & Robin, gay director Joel Schumacher had a large picture printed and framed on the wall of his office, showing an artist's impression of Batman and Robin, shirtless, making out with one another. Just for inspiration, like.
15. A-list actors who almost bagged Batman
Before Christian Bale grasped Batman by the bat-plums in the Nolan era, the director auditioned several young actors for the role, including Jake Gyllenhaal, Henry Cavill, Joshua Jackson (yes, Pacey from Dawson's Creek) and Cillian Murphy, who Nolan liked so much he cast him as The Scarecrow. Weirdly, before Michael Keaton took the role, Bill Murray was in the frame to play Batman.
16. A true riddler
Ever wonder who came up with The Riddler's actual riddles? Wonder no longer: Joel Schumacher hired a real expert for added authenticity. Will Shortz, the semi-famous New York Times crossword creator and self-proclaimed “puzzle-master”, was tasked with writing Jim Carrey's mystery riddles for Batman Forever in 1995.
17. Batman by way of Ridley Scott
Before he'd shot a single scene of Batman Begins, director Christopher Nolan gathered his entire workforce together for a pre-shoot screening of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, with the cast and crew none the wiser as to the choice. Once the film had screened, he spoke to them and told them: “This is how we're going to make Batman.” Actors and crew-members alike have spoken of that screening as a touchstone for the tone and feel of the Nolan Batman era.
18. Hans Zimmer: soundtrack riddler
Legendary composer Hans Zimmer is not content with crafting sumptous soundscapes for your favourite movies – he likes to have a little fun while he does so. The first letters of tracks 4 to 9 on the official Batman Begins soundtrack ("Barbastella", "Artibeus", "Tadarida", "Macrotus", "Antrozous" and "Nycteris") spell... well, you've probably already figured it out. Hint: it ain't Superman.
19. The Batman series was almost revived
Though the Adam West is remembered fondly, it only ran for three seasons back in the '60s before network ABC cancelled it. They did wait to see if any other studios were interested, and when it seemed like all hope was lost, they bulldozed the production's expensive sets. Only then did NBC show a late interest in picking the series up again, but when they learned they'd have to rebuild the sets at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars, they ultimately declined.
20. Ben Affleck: Origins
Kevin Smith is not only a writer of Batman comic-books, he's a soothsayer too. Smith's 1995 comic aficionado movie Mallrats starred Ben Affleck in a small role, but it proved to be a prophetic one: the opening credits feature the cast drawn as various superhero characters, and Affleck is dressed in full Batman gear.