Today marks the 80th anniversary of 'Batman' appearing in comics.
Since then, the character has become as readily identifiable as any comic-book character can be, and much of this is down to the successful performances by the likes of Adam West, Michael Keaton and Christian Bale in the role of the Caped Crusader.
But which was the best? Well, we've only gone out and ranked them in order of preference, and given you the opportunity to vote at the end.
We begin with...
9. Lewis G. Wilson and Robert Lowrey - 'The Batman'
You'll only ever see these two names mentioned next to Batman in articles like this. These two guys were the first actors to play Batman on screen, appearing in serials in the '40s. Lewis G. Wilson's 'The Batman' was made at the height of World War II and saw Batman taking on a ring of Japanese saboteurs and was SUPER RACIST. Yes, really. The narrator used racial slurs to describe the Japanese and praised the US Government's internment of Japanese civilians. So, yeah, right at the bottom of the list, quite frankly.
8. George Clooney - 'Batman & Robin'
Let's be clear about this - apart from those Nespresso adverts, this is the most embarrassing thing in George Clooney's career. You can't really put the blame on him because Joel Schumacher was essentially trying to recreate the silliness of Adam West's Batman and it just didn't work. George Clooney, who can do funny, tries to straddle a line between self-aware and self-effacing and just ends up looking ridiculous. Nowadays, it's the movie you watch half-wasted for a good laugh.
7. Val Kilmer - 'Batman Forever'
Val Kilmer was, at the time of 'Batman Forever', considered a very serious actor who had starred in the likes of 'Tombstone', Oliver Stone's 'The Doors', and was and is to this day, a very gifted actor. So why do this? You get the sense that Val Kilmer's commitment and Joel Schumacher's vision were completely at odds. Schumacher wanted a rock-opera style movie, and even used actual lighting rigs from concerts in his scenes. Val Kilmer desperately tried to channel the pathos and angst of playing a man who has given his life to fighting crime and injustice. Simultaneously, the two were never going to work together, but 'Batman Forever' does have its moments and shouldn't be neglected just because of... (sigh) the Bat-nipples.
6. Will Arnett - 'The Lego Batman Movie', 'The Lego Movie', 'The Lego Movie: The Second Part'
Yes, we're including Will Arnett's Lego iteration because it's an on-screen version, he does have the cape and the cowl, and yes, it's the Caped Crusader. It says a lot about not only the ubiquitous nature of the character, but just how resilient it is that he's survived George Clooney and being turned into a Lego figurine. Will Arnett's raspy voice is perfect for Batman. The standalone movie was enjoyable enough, and Arnett and the writers understand the laughably emo-dramatic nature of Batman to a tee.
5. Ben Affleck - 'Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice', 'Justice League'
Ben Affleck, or Batfleck as he became known, was one of the most interesting portrayals of Batman / Bruce Wayne in recent memory. What Affleck did that others didn't was really try and use the character's impotent rage and obsessive nature as a way to inform the character. When you come right down to it, he's a messed-up guy who thinks he knows better than anyone. That was the central crux of 'Batman v Superman', that no all-powerful being was going to tell him what to do or how to dispense justice. Now that Affleck has hung up his cape for good, you get the sense that he never truly got the chance he deserved.
4. Adam West - 'Batman: The TV Series'
Most of you reading this probably grew up watching Adam West dancing across brightly colored and very obvious sets in the '60s to slanted camera angles. The ZAK! POW! CrrrrAAASH! special effects aside, Adam West was so clearly having a ball playing Batman that you really can't help but be carried along by it. It was so earnestly camp and so delightfully stupid that it just never fails to make you laugh in the most innocent way possible. Why doesn't Batman dance anymore? Remember the Bat-tusi?
3. Christian Bale - 'Batman Begins', 'The Dark Knight', 'The Dark Knight Rises'
Christian Bale is currently the actor who has played the role the most in feature-length movies. Obviously, Adam West played him the most as he played him in 110 episodes. The general consensus is that Christian Bale got Batman, but he never got Bruce Wayne. Bale's Batman was an angry, violent vigilante who had no problem breaking the law and extradition treaties to do what he thought was necessary. He had no qualms about beating a confession out of a criminal. If he needed to, he'd spy on every man, woman and child in Gotham to do what he felt was right.
Bale's performance was about rigid, moral authority. You can look at it from a political standpoint and suggest that, yes, he was an avatar of government super-surveillance and that he did things democratic society was unable or unwilling to do - all for the greater good. But does that make him right? The writing in all three movies seemed to think so.
Regardless, Christian Bale gave him a harder edge than Keaton and was less concerned with the psychology and more involved with the presence. When he hangs a guy upside down in 'Batman Begins' and roars "DO I LOOK LIKE A COP?!" in his face? That was Bale's iteration in one scene and all you needed to know about him.
2. Michael Keaton - 'Batman', 'Batman Returns'
Michael Keaton's portrayal of the character stands at a fault line for the character. Before him, it was cheesy and overtly racist serials and Adam West dancing with Eartha Kitt. During and after him, the character was a vengeful demon who stalked the night and preyed on the wicked. The opening scene of 1989's 'Batman' sees him throw a man off a building, who then believes that he was a paranormal creature. The special effects of the day really leaned into this, and Keaton's whispering voice just added to the mystery.
'Batman Returns', sure, it plays out like a weird psycho-sexual melodrama - but Keaton's understanding of the character is still as rigid and fixated as ever. The fun of 'Batman Returns' is seeing him squirm around Catwoman, and Keaton got this point very well. He made him visibly uncomfortable around Catwoman, but knew just how to handle himself around The Penguin. He can beat the crap out of bad guys all day long, but trying to have a relationship is something else entirely.
That Michael Keaton never went beyond these two movies is a shame, but it's added to the mystique around it. They're preserved in time and not subject to constant reappraisals like Christian Bale's portrayal. That it defined so much of how we now accept and understand the character can't be understated.
1. Kevin Conroy - 'Batman: The Animated Series', 'Batman: Mask of the Phantasm'
As much as the writing and direction of Bruce Timm, Paul Dini and so on defined 'Batman: The Animated Series', it was Kevin Conroy's voice-acting that sold it all. You could hear the anger and the sorrow in every line he read out, and truly made it the defining iteration of the character across TV or movies. Conroy's voice-work, combined with the art-deco inspired drawing style, made for a deeply resonant and gloriously dramatic series - far beyond what you'd expect for what was essentially a children's TV series.
Episodes like 'Heart Of Ice' explored the pain of loss and redemption, 'Feat Of Clay' acted like a horror movie - and Kevin Conroy's stalwart performance anchored them all. More than that, his performance as Bruce Wayne was equally as good - something almost no characterisation or portrayal has gotten right. His Bruce Wayne was a sheepish playboy, unsure of his wealth and status, but as Batman, he was exactly where he should have been and knew himself.
What Kevin Conroy and 'Batman: The Animated Series' got right better than any other portrayal of the character was that this was his real identity, and that Bruce Wayne was the mask he wore to hide his face.