Sunday, December 25, 2011

Zsasz on Paper and Screen

Victor Zsasz is one of the villains created by the phenomenal duo of the late 1980s/early 1990s, Alan Grant and Norm Breyfogle. Some of the other great villains concocted by the two are the Ventriloquist/Scarface, Anarky, Kadaver and Cornelius Stirk. 
Zsasz appeared relatively late in the Grant/Breyfogle run, in 1992's story "The Last Arkham" published in Shadow of the Bat #1. This debut story presented the villain as someone already established, well known to Batman and Gordon and doing time in Arkham.

Zsasz is a very cruel and disturbing villain, even for the standards of the dark, Modern Age Batman and all the psychos he faces. He would perfectly fit in one of the David Fincher movies about the psychotic serial killers and could have a movie on his own.

When Zsasz is first introduced in the story, his appearance isn't revealed for quite some time and there's a considerable buildup to his reveal. He is right away presented as someone extremely dangerous, kept locked like Hannibal Lecter, and also shown as someone equally intelligent being able to mess with people's mind and manipulate them without them knowing it.

The signature trait in Zsasz's appearance are his tally marks. Everytime he murders someone, he marks his body with a scar. 

Another signature visual trait is the appearance of his eyes. He doesn't have any special eyewear, but his eyes look the way they do to visually express his insanity and twisted perception of life and world

His methods are quite brutal. He slits victims throats and is completely immune to cries or pleads, and doesn't care if it's a small child or a pregnant woman. He always smiles while doing his deeds and takes a tremendous pleasures in doing them. After the murder, he always leaves his victims in a lifelike poses and that's his Modus Operandi

The reason why he kills and why is he referring to all people as Zombies is revealed in his origin story in 1996's Batman Chronicles #3. He is another one of those psychos who had a tragedy in his life that pushed him into the dark corners of madness. He was a rich head of an international company but he suddenly lost his parents and soon after all of his money. While trying to jump off the bridge he gets attacked by a mugger and defends himself killing the oppressor with his own knife. He enjoyed the kill and from then on decided that life is meaningless and pointless and that everyone should be freed from this 'pointless' life. A knife became the weapon of his choice, but sometimes he uses anything that he has available

It is also worth mentioning that he is actually a physical match for Batman, an extremely good fighter whose cleverness helps him in the duel - he can often sneak up on Batman and surprise him

In the more recent years the comic books really toned down the character and made him into someone almost completely different, especially when it comes to his behavior, high energy and insanity


Due to the brutality of the character, he never appeared in any Batman related mass media until 2005's Batman Begins. Not announced by the media, he was a nice surprise and nod to the hardcore Batman comic book fans

Tim Booth: I have a tiny part, as a serial killer (IGN 2005)

Zsasz in the movie is called Zsaz and appears three times.

The first time during trial smirking after Crane saves him from prison time and testifies that he is insane and should be moved to Arkham. Soon after it's revealed that Zsaz is 'someone who butchers people for the mob' and is also referred to as "Falcone's thug". Those descriptions sound very different than the comic book version, however it's important to note that in the recent years Zsasz worked for the gangster Black Mask for money - not that he cared about monetary gain, but because he wanted money so he can realize his dreams - mass murder. It is a possibility that the movie Zsaz had the same motivations.

As oppose to his comic book version he seems quiet and reserved, even when he regains his freedom. As far as similarities, Zsaz has the signature physical traits of the characters like the tally marks on his body

As far as his personality, it seems like he also likes to use knives and looks like he's about to enjoy his deed

Monday, December 19, 2011

Watching The World Burn: The Legacy of 'The Dark Knight'

'The Dark Knight' is the kind of a movie that either most people saw, know someone who did or simply heard of it. This is a feat not easy to accomplish, and love it or hate it, The Dark Knight had been and stayed on everyone's tongues for one reason or another for quite some time, and became an almost universally praised surprising megahit at the time of its release.

The reasons for its commercial success can be debatable. There had been numerous theories as to how did the WB get people into theaters in the beginning, but whatever the initial marketing strategy was, and whether it was aided by the news of Heath Ledger's tragic death, it doesn't change the fact that the vast majority came out very satisfied, pleasantly surprised or shocked by the movie's adult oriented story. It also doesn't change the fact that the word of mouth carried the movie to such high position.

Joel Schumacher took Batman back to the colorful and campy tone of the 1950s and 1960s, exclaiming that a comic book movie cannot be taken seriously and that "it's called comic book, not tragic book". 

While the comic book fans of the dark portrayal and the fans of the Tim Burton movies didn't necessarily share those views, the general public's perception has been altered yet again. Batman movies were now a colorful and loud entertainment for the entire family to enjoy

Batman Begins set the tone and showed that Batman isn't beyond being taken seriously again. It also showed that a comic book/superhero movie can easily be viewed and enjoyed by people who dislike the genre and prefer dramas and crime action movies. It was a feat harder to achieve than one might think. After a decade of colorful, all age accessible entertainment that Batman was considered as within this time period, many thought the character can never be taken seriously again and can never became legitimately dark again. 

But just as in 1989 the Tim Burton movie showed that a blue tights wearing smiling hero can be turned into a Gothic and murky violent story, Chris Nolan showed that Batman can still become what he was before 1995, plus more

David Goyer: "Certainly darker than the Schumacher films," said Goyer. It treats the story seriously and it's also quite romantic. We were determined to create a new classic and we treated the subject matter seriously." (IGN)
My only thought was that it seemed to me that the latter ‘Batman’ films were diverging farther and farther away from how he was popularly being depicted in the comic books. That’s all I’ll say about that. (Rebecca Murray int 2005)

Christian Bale: I think that we’d seen what a comic book movie could be with the last two Batman movies, you know, and very definitely we were trying to create something completely different. ( 2005)

Batman Begins did very well in theaters, however it didn't catch the world's attention like its successor did. Still, it presented the mythology through the prism of real life world and characters, and also presented an interesting Elseworld outlook: what if Batman existed in real world?
The issue of realism itself has been greatly overanalyzed and there has been too much thought put into the premise of reality by some. What Nolan and Goyer meant by saying it's realistic is that they set it in real world and showed the reaction of common, everyday characters. They did not set out to make a full detailed recreation of reality, they set out to make the most grounded superhero movie set in our reality

Christopher Nolan: My job is to translate something abstract into something concrete (...) I wanted something serious that doesn’t take itself too seriously (Box Office Mojo 2005)
I wanted to try to do it in a more realistic fashion than anyone had ever tried to a superhero film before ( 2005)

The term “realism” is often confusing and used sort of arbitrarily. I suppose “relatable” is the word I would use. I wanted a world that was realistically portrayed, in that even though outlandish events may be taking place, and this extraordinary figure may be walking around these streets, the streets would have the same weight and validity of the streets in any other action movie. So they’d be relatable in that way. ( int 2012)

David Goyer: It’s definitely a depiction of Batman that…I mean, it’s all filtered through Chris’ vision and he is a very naturalistic director  (Rebecca Murray int 2005)

Nolan also specifically mentions heightened reality of his movies

Christopher Nolan: You’re working in a genre that is heightened reality. I like to talk about these films as having an operatic quality or being on a grand scale and a bit removed from the rhythms of real life, no matter how realistic we try to make the scenes themselves. In this scene, for instance, we went for the gritty realism in the textures of it, but it is a heightened reality. We’re trying to work on a more universal scale. If you get that right, people are going to be able to bring a wide variety of interpretations to it depending on who they are. It’s allowing the characters to be a conduit to the audience. Allowing an audience to sit there and relate to Batman and his dilemma Batpod1whether they are Republican or Democrat or whatever (La Times 2008)

Schumacher's movies represented Batman as more of a typical, cape flowing hero with a stance of Superman, with all the elements of the dark, shadowy bat taken out.

Batman Begins brought back the signature elements of the Modern Age character that were non existent in Schumacher's movies, such as Batman sticking to the shadows, moving on the rooftops, taking poses like a bat, the black color to the outfit (Forever mixed the its first suit with silver, then presented a silver blue suit, B&R was also a mix of silver and navy blue), the classic Batman imagery to name a few, and also brought back the anger and control issues to the character.

Also, Batman Begins brought back the dark elements of Gotham which were completely abandoned in Schumacher's movies, like poverty and corruption

Most importantly, BB had a heart. It wasn't predominantly a colorful loud entertainment, it was driven primarily by a believable human story.  It was a rollercoaster of emotions, from anger to sadness to satisfaction, as the viewer is taken for an emotional ride along with the main character of Bruce Wayne. Wayne is much more humanized, showing to be a vulnerable man and a man that seems real unlike most of the superheroes. Also, in most superhero movies the audience feels safe when the hero appears on screen, but this time the fight was a real struggle for Batman and it wasn't something that came easily. Also, while he managed to save the entire city, his house got burned to a crisp, Arkham inmates got free and Narrows went to hell. And the hero should get a girl at the end right? Not here. He saves most of the city but looses his parents' house and the woman he has feelings for, its a tough exchange. The moment is beautifully accented by a great musical track Corynorhinus

Bale feels like a real person and thats why humanizing the character works so well in Nolan's movies. He acts like a real person and re-acts like a real person, going through real emotions that we can identify with. The juvenile confusion and anger,pain induced anger, desires etc.

The sequel went even further with this realistic portrayal of a human character, showing that in real life good doesn't always win and that life can bring the unexpected and many terrible sacrifices and outcomes. That's the reality of Nolan's Batman movies

Christopher Nolan: We try to ground it a little more in reality and so I suppose there's a sense there that might get under your skin a little more, if it relates to the world that we live in. (...) I think of any of the superheroes Batman is the darkest. There is an expectation that you're going to be dealing with more disturbing elements of the psyche. That's the place that he comes from as a character, so it feels appropriate to this character." (Rebecca Murray int, 2008)

The Dark Knight grounds the story even more and dives into darker corners of reality of life. Even visually, the colors were cold blue now. TDK pushed the envelope as far as it was possible for the PG-13 rating, stirring quite a controversy at the time of its release. History repeats itself. Once again, the Batman mythology got a dark and serious makeover and once again the sequel was a subject of controversy because of it's violence and dark tone.
Very soon after The Dark Knight premiered, the complaints from parents about the movie's rating started pouring in. "There has to be a way to tell parents that someone is going to get a pencil in the skull," said one of the parents to USA Today, who brought his 12-year-old son. "I'm not sure I would have brought him.". Most of the complaints pointed out to the pencil trick and the video of Joker "torturing" the Batman impostor. Such complaints mirror the criticism of the older Batman movies, in which Joker also used a writing tool to kill someone.

One would wonder why parents still haven't figured out that the current motion picture Batman is not an entertainment for a young audience, and it seems like despite Batman Begins released 3 years earlier, Joel Schumacher's movies were still imprinted in general public's mind before the TDK premiere

"I know it's a good movie, but it should have been rated R." said one of the parents to USA Today. It is no secret that The Dark Knight is a very violent movie, but it was never marketed as something else. "You have to do your homework," says Larry Olmstead, 38, of Dallas, who saw the movie with his wife but left their 10-year-old with a sitter (USA Today). However, it wasn't only the kids who felt appalled by the movie. published a letter from Jill, who said that "this movie needed an R rating due to the sadistic violence and disturbing images throughout. I wish I had not seen it. While I applaud the acting, parents need to be warned that the tone of this film is grossly sugar coated when it is referred to by reviewers as "dark". I would strongly encourage parents to not take children or young adults to see this film.".

Christopher Nolan: If you assess the film carefully and analyze it with other films, it's not a particularly violent film actually. There is no blood. Very few people get shot and killed, compared with other action films. There's plenty violence in the film, believe me. We tried to shoot it and dress it in a very responsible way so that the intensity of the film comes more from the performances and the idea of what's happening and what might happen. A lot of the intensity comes from the threat of those things that may happen that then don't. There's definitely an intensity to that. I think the MPAA were very responsible in their assessment of the movie. I made it very clear to them that I'd gone into this knowing that it had to be a PG-13 and every day on set when we were dealing with violent issues I would be careful to tone things down and say, 'Okay, we're not going to use any blood squibs. We're not going to shoot things that can't possibly be in the film.' So it's a very bloodless film. We're dealing with a hero who won't carry a gun and who won't kill people, which is almost unique in terms of an action film. It's a conversation that I've had with the studio, with the MPAA and everyone else at different stages to say that it's very hard actually making one of these huge-scaled films with a heroic figure who's not prepared to kill people. But I think it's an interesting challenge and I think that it takes the story more interesting places. (Rebecca Murray int, 2008)

The movie's dark tone and pessimistic theme has also been a target of criticism:
Christopher Nolan panders to hip, nihilistic tendencies, forgetting that superheroes are also meant to inspire hope

This year's Batman is no kid flick and doesn't even try to be. Its PG-13 rating should be enough to warn parents that the content isn't suitable for young children (

We’re way beyond film noir here. The Dark Knight has no black-and-white moral shading. Everything is dark, the tone glibly nihilistic (...) But Nolan’s The Dark Knight has one note: gloom. For Nolan, making Batman somber is the same as making it serious. This is not a triumph of comics culture commanding the mainstream: It’s giving in to bleakness. Ever since Frank Miller’s 1986 graphic-novel reinvention, The Dark Knight Returns, pop consumers have rejected traditional moral verities as corny. That might be the ultimate capitalist deception. (

Though it is rated PG13, Dark Knight doesn't feel like a summer superhero movie. In tone and intensity, it feels like more like an R-rated crime drama. Unless they are teenagers, leave them at home.( letter)

The press is certainly right about one thing, and it's that this movie isn't what you'd expect from a superhero film. It's what you'd expect from a crime drama, meaning an adult meaty story of politics, corruption, relationships and terrorism. While being a Batman movie, it doesn't rely on what superhero movies usually rely on -  flashy heroic visuals, designs and thrills. If one would take Batman out of equation, the movie would still work. Some take it as a negative, however it's only a proof that the movie doesn't stand solely on the appeal of the character but rather on its story, at the same proving it can be as enjoyable and valid for those who are not into superhero and comic book movies at all.

The movie spends a great deal on characters, conversations and politics and dwells further into the drama of human stories. The hero is a loner who wants a normal life but his current personal life is a tragedy in itself. The woman he have feelings for and is ready to sacrifice everything for is with another men and reluctant to change her current path. He sacrificed his life to fight crime but gets no rewards or accolades whatsoever. The city soon betrays him and the woman is planning to leave him

Then he fails time after time and is even rejected by the city who wants to cast him out and blames him for the terror that overshadowed the city. We actually see a superhero broken spiritually and simply not being able to help no matter how much he tries. Joker's victims die one after another, the city's in terror and - the biggest hit and shocker - his childhood love dies tragically because she was involved in the twisted game Joker had planned for Batman. We see a doubled impact of Rachel's demise when it takes toll on both Wayne and Dent. We then witness the over the edge Dent who snaps psychologically and tries to murder Gordon's young son.

At the end, the city gets evacuated, paralyzed by terror, Rachel and Dent dies and Batman is casted out. All this is not what you would expect in a movie of that genre. Its all a dramatic and psychological journey which shows the opposite of what comic book movies usually show - a glorious and victorious ending for the character. TDK really shows what the most probable outcome would be in real life, the sacrifices, tragedy and half baked victory. The audiences watched the world burn
At the same time the movie touches upon some moral questions, such as with the scene on the ferries.

In short, the movie does not sugarcoat reality of fighting terror and cruel and sick individuals, and presents Batman as a real person who is simply not able to do everything himself.

It is often said that 'The Dark Knight' rose the bar as far as the comic book movies, but at the same time there aren't many superhero movies that would be of a similar subject. Marvel heroes and DC's colorful characters kept dominating the silver screen in years that followed, however Watchmen was a direct descendant of TDK. It dealt with human dramas and dark side of life and it was without a doubt influenced by TDK's success.
One thing for certain, TDK will often be cited as the pinnacle or one of the best comic books movies so far

'The Dark Knight' naturally impacted comic books as well. Here are just some examples:
The Joker in 2008's graphic novel looks exactly like Heath Ledger's version. However, the influence might have been the other way around since the artist, Lee Bermejo , claims that he came up with that look before Nolan and co. did. Some claim it;s a pure coincidence that the two look exactly the same. What's the answer? Take your pick

The regular continuity Joker got a Glasgow smile

Tumbler appears in Detective Comics #850

The growling voice is referenced as well. Note that Bruce resembles Christian Bale


To be continued...

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Impact of 'Batman'

Up until 1989,  the general public's perception on Batman was that of a smiling, blue/gray hero in tights, mainly due to the 1960's TV show and the cartoons that followed which featured Batman.

The TV series has been immensely popular when it hit the screens in January of 1966. It was called "the biggest TV phenomenon of the mid-1960s" in Pioneers of Television. At the height of its popularity, it was the only prime-time television show other than Peyton Place to be broadcast twice in one week as part of its regular schedule

While campy and light hearted, the TV show closely reflected the comic books at the time with thorough accuracy, sometimes even adapting stories from particular comic book issues. It made Batman and the Bat symbol recognizable names/images, at the same time cementing general public's view on mythology as being a colorful and camp filled fun  As in the comics at the time, Batman was a blue-gray, tights wearing honorary member of the police force, working during the day with his ever present young partner Robin

The series has been in rereuns ever since [the last episode aired], and it has had a lasting effect. It set up a naive concept of comic books that remained lodged in American minds for decades (Batman: The Complete History)

Paul Dini: I think Batman had been haunted by the 60's show. For years after that show had ended. And i don't think there was anyway to shake that in the public's mind. (Legends of the Dark Knight doc)

The first Batman cartoon, The Adventures of Batman, which aired in 1968, was also virtually a continuation of the TV show with the same look, feel and adopted plenty of the same elements

A decade later in 1977 Batman series graced the silver screen again in The New Adventures of Batman, but despite major changes in tone and look in the comic books it  remained very consistent with his "public" image that the 1960's TV show imprinted in the world's mind. 

Batman and Robin also made two guest appearances in The Scooby Doo Show in the late 1970's, naturally in the same incarnation

The cartoons weren't the only ones keeping the image in public's eye. Adam West and Burt Ward returned as Batman and Robin in 1978's NBC Special Hanna-Barbera's Legends of the Superheroes 

The SuperFriends animated series which continued the same portrayal and which run from 1973 to 1986 (occasionally changing names)

While the 1978's Superman made the world look at comic book movies slightly differently and paved the way for big budget and big screen adaptations, it was still a colorful, lighthearted and family friendly entertainment. It also had little bearing and impact on the quality and tone of his immediate successors. The only superhero movies that came out after Superman were its sequels, Flash Gordon, Disney's CondorMan and SuperGirl

The last incarnation of the SuperFriends series was 1986's The SuperPower Team: Galactic Guardians. It was in this series where the impact of the dark makeover that the mythology received in the comic books could be somewhat felt, even if in very small dozes. While now overlooked, this series dealt with Bruce's memory of the murder of his parents and , while very rarely, it did contain some dark Batman imagery

Rich Fogel (writer): DC particularly felt that they'd like to bring it more in line with what was going on in the comic books 
That was a landmark episode, because Batman have been around for close to 50 years at that point and in any TV incarnation, in any movie incarnation, in any sort of a radio incarnation Batman's origins never really been touched on (...) Thats sort of heavy material for the 1980s cartoon show (SuperFriends Redux: Galactic Guardians Featurette)

Alan Burnett (writer) It was as far as you could take superheoroes on Saturday morning television
I look upon the Galactic Guardians as the last part of an era (SuperFriends Redux: Galactic Guardians Featurette)

Mark Vaid (DC writer & historian): It certainly upped the stakes on the characters (SuperFriends Redux: Galactic Guardians Featurette)

However, despite some of the comic books darkness creeping into the character, the character was still much more in line with his previous incarnations from mass media

By 1989, the general public who didn't follow the comic book world had one and one only image of Batman in their mind. It mostly evoked the word fun, and also meant cheery, colorful and heroic. While there's certainly nothing wrong about this version of the mythology, it did not represent what the character started off as and got back to by late 1980's in the comic books.

Jon Peters (producer): I'd say I was doing a Batman film and people would laugh. They saw him as a guy in tights, and unlike Superman, he didn't fly (Time Magazine 1989)

When the film was announced and in development, lawyers for DC Comics forbade Adam West from wearing his Batman costume for public appearances, in fear that his performance would be confused with the movie.
It was made clear from the beginning that this is going to be a drastically different take than any else in the mass media, a much darker one reflecting the feel of the comic book storylines of the time. Tim Burton was chosen as a director for his unique, dark and expressionist imagery displayed in 1988's  Beetlejuice

Jon Peters (producer): This Batman would be a comic book Gothic, a dark fable that would restore Bob Kane's original gloomy luster (Newsweek 1989)
People laughed at the idea in the beginning. They thought Batman was just a comic character in tights (USA Today 1989) 

One of the earliest proposed artworks for the poster

The character goes back to roots and presents not a typical hero, but a Gothic character who truly is insane, has a split personality disorder and doesn't mind killing, as his original version. Burton’s Batman is the Batman Bob Kane first envisioned when doing the early, pre-Robin issues with a bit of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns Batman also in for good mix.
Burton and his creative team really pushed the envelope as far as they could at the time, and brought him back to the roots while adding original ideas such as the suit being a black armor, the sculpted expression on the mask, the grappling hook gun and the black makeup around the eyes (a very signature and common trait in Tim Burton's characters)

Tim Burton:  [the costume] was less an outfit, more a complete body suit. It isn’t tights and underwear worn on the outside, but a complete operatic costume to overstate the image ‘Batman’ has of himself. (AMC)

Bob Ringwood (costume designer): blue knickers - I hated those. Bats are black, of course – not blue (...)  [The ears] had to look tall and elegant, as if they were aerodynamic. Otherwise, they were just ludicrous things with no function – like in the TV program, where ‘Batman’ wore those silly little mouse ears (AMC)

Back in the late 1980s, Tim Burton took [Alan] Moore to lunch to pick his brains about making the first Batman movie. Moore's advice was "get Gotham City right".(  int.2002)
Alan Moore (The Killing Joke writer): I told them [Tim Burton and Samm Hamm] to make it dark and serious and exorcise the ghost of Adam West (Ian Winterton Interview 2002)

Tim Burton: Darkness seemed very inherent in this piece from the start, when (writer) Sam Hamm and I were going over the script. Batman lives by night, and we wanted to explore the man behind him, Bruce Wayne, who really has a dark past to confront. It's a tale of primal emotions. (The San Diego Tribune 1989)

While the return to the dark approach was applauded by the Batman comic book fans, some of the original ideas weren't met with positive response at first. For example, the idea that Batman will not be wearing spandex created a stir at the beginning, with some fans and journalist exclaiming that Batman should not be wearing a body armor and criticized his look comparing him to RoboCop. Example:

Keaton's Batman costume--it looks more like Robocop's armor than Batman's traditional gray cloth (The Boston Globe 1989)

When he puts on his Batmuscles and his Bathat, his Batjock, his Batgauntlets and his world heavyweight's Batbelt, almost nothing is left of him but glitteringly blue-gray eyes and a voluptuously full mouth (LA Times 1989) 

Adam West: Batman isn't RoboCop or Dirty Harry, Batman is a fun character.(The Toronto Star 1988)

Also there was some backlash about the lone Batman and Robin not being there. Even the dark mood and tone met with some criticism from those who were accustomed to the previous portrayals 

Is it fun? Not much, Gotham City fans, not much. It's a murky, brooding piece, set in a twisted city almost choked with evil and inertia, and Bruce Wayne, half of its hero's dual identities, is very nearly in the same fix (LA Times 1989)

Also,while changing voice may sound to many nowadays that its just a natural thing to do, it was never mentioned in the comic books before 89 and not used in any of the serials or the TV show or any of the cartoons and radio shows before 89

Tim Burton: “We’d try all sorts of movements. Then we’d say, ‘How about changing your voice?’(AMC)

The Tim Burton Batman was a stark contrast to the previous public image of Batman in many ways, sending shock throughout the audiences for its darkness and approach and satisfaction to the comic book fans, at the same time retaining some of the wackiness of the TV show

Tim Burton: My tone fell somewhere between the TV series and the new dark comics (The Boston Globe June 1989) 

Bruce Timm: Thank God for the Tim Burton movie because it was so extremely darker than anybody had seen Batman before in any kind of mass media (Wizard 2006)

Eric Radomski (BTAS co-creator): The previous incarnations of Batman I'd seen growing up, the Filmation animated version, that series they did with Adam West, they were all just a bunch of goofs. They were dopey versions of a character that could be really strong and dramatic, and when I saw Tim Burton's movie, I thought that was a good way of looking at this character (Animation World Magazine)

Mark Hammil: [The 1989 film]  was dark and sophisticated completely the opposite of the television show.(Legends of the Dark Knight doc) 

Tim Burton: I was lucky when I made Batman because, at the time, it felt like new territory. We went back to the traditions of the comic and they were usually light and cartoony. It was exciting. (Total Film 2007)
Currently everybody is trying to go back to the roots of a comic book when making a movie based on it, but back then the studio's weren't used to that

While today the movie isn't shocking with its dark tone and approach, and the Gothic macabre and some camp is more lighthearted, one must look at the right perspective and remember the superhero movies that came before the movie. All very colorful, lighthearted and family friendly movies. Batman was the first superhero movie which showed a gun pointed at a child, charred corpses, implied torturing and its visual results (Alicia) and even visible shotwounds to the face

“Batman” was aesthetically and thematically so dark that on the eve of release in Belgium, a few months after its stateside release, it was banned. Children under 16 weren't allowed to see it. Despite the fact that the Board had recently approved the “Rambo” movies and “License to Kill,” they held to their guns. “Batman” was perceived as much more dangerous than those other violent films dark tone and sensibility were more frightening than violence. The Belgian Police was actually present at cinemas to enforce the ruling
The 1966-1968 “Bat-Man” TV series destroyed the comic book hero in general, leaving in its place campy and glorified superheroes like Christopher Reeves's “Superman” of the early 1980s, 1989's “Batman,” in turn, destroyed this second phase.
(NY Times writer Emanuel Levy)

The movie also showed Gotham City as a city filled with thugs, prostitutes, poverty and corruption

While the TV Show put Batman amongst one of the most recognizable comic book heroes, the 1989 movie made Batman a household name and an icon. Rarely does it happen that the movie becomes such a culture phenomenal, and even before its release for that matter. The fans camped out for about 5 days in front of the theater for the premiere.

Batman was like nothing that's come before or since. And that's taking into reflection the immense hype that led up to The Phantom Menace ten years ago which itself was a one of a kind event but still not on the same level as the critical mass that Batman '89 had achieved. Have you forgotten the buzzcuts of the Bat-symbol that people were getting shaved into the back of their hair? Do you remember when you could walk into a theater and see a sea of teens wearing Batman t-shirts? Back in December 1988 people bought a ticket to see the Batman trailer playing in front of Tequila Sunrise and then left after it was shown. Batman posters were consistently stolen from bus shelters (how the thieves sold them in the days before eBay still remains a mystery to this day.) DC Comics recorded its best year ever for the sale of Batman comic books that year and the movie's soundtrack (with it's 9 songs written and performed by Prince) became number one hits. And this was before there was a World Wide Web and the rise of sites that report the latest movie news scant moments after it breaks. Burton's Batman was one of those ultra-rare pop culture phenomenas when the hype for a movie and its merchandise both became white hot at the same time. The kids that love Twilight have nothing on what went down in the summer of '89. (Coming Attractions)

Michael Uslan (producer Batman-The Dark Knight Rises): When the first Batman movie came out in 1989 it was revolutionary. People really can’t grasp that. There was nothing like this ever before. And it not only broke all the box office records, but it really impacted the world culture. You could not walk through Times Square that summer, seriously, fifty steps, without seeing someone in a Batman t-shirt or a Batman hat. People were breaking into bus stops to get the posters. People were going to see movies, paying full price, that were showing the Batman trailer. And then they would leave after the trailer. It was amazing what was going on. ( int)

The premiere was attended by some of the biggest stars at the time, such as Sylvester Stallone, Eddie Murphy, River Phoenix and Tom Seleck

Christopher Nolan: The 1989 Batman film that Tim Burton did, that tone has defined comic book movies (BO Mojo int.)
I think the first film has its place in history; what Tim Burton did could certainly be considered visionary (...) The thing with Burton is that he had the challenge of convincing a cinema audience that you could have a ‘cool’ Batman film. Convincing an audience who remembers that the TV show was ridiculous. And he did it, he succeeded (Batman Begins published screenplay) 

The movie also created a new template for Hollywood studios and filmmakers, who never looked at comic books quite the same way (LA Times) 

It's impact and influence was felt instantly, when it was followed by such superhero/comic book movies as R rated The Punisher, much darker than expected TMNT and Darkman. Even the 1991's Robin Hood depicted Robin Hood not in green thighs but in studded black leather instead, and was the darkest and most violent version at the time

The public image of the mythology was now changed as well, and it was darkness and Gothic themes that registered in public's mind when thinking of Batman. The influence on the perception was made even clearer when the first Batman animated series that came out after Tim Burton's movie was the darkest cartoon ever at that point, featuring bullets for the first time (it was previously shown as lasers) and having very adult and sophisticated storylines - a lot of time inappropriate for children.

The Batman: Animated Series was, in a way, an extension of the Tim Burton movies and featured similar design directly inspired by the movie, same timeless feel (1940s world with modern elements), similar designs and characters, soundtrack made in the same style and even borrowing the main theme

Eric Radomski (BTAS co-creator): Literally the first piece that I did [on BTAS] was lights of a city reflected on a wet pavement, and that was also inspired by the drama of Burton's movie. (Animation World Magazine)

Paul Dini: When Tim Burton's Batman came out, that was the way to go (

Bruce Timm: We were actually quite lucky, when that show was being developed we were coming off the heels of the Tim Burton Batman films, which were very dark in tone (TMT 2010)

Vintage Press:

The Joker, with his gruesome death dealing, is also the cautionary figure for parents of young children. Take that PG-13 very seriously; this is where bad dreams are born (LA Times 1989)

"We both like to push it," says Keaton, speaking of himself and Burton as they sat on a sofa in a North Hollywood hotel. Their take on Batman is a dark one, befitting an age that looks upon heroes as flawed, or dubious, or both. (...) It's an oppressive story, a dark story with operatic images, set in a sort of fantastical caricature of New York" (The Boston Globe June 1989)

Burton made Batman a triumph of dark, throbbingly industrial style, with a multiplaned Gotham City of shadows that is like Fritz Lang Revisited (The San Diego Tribune 1989)

Dark, haunting and poetic, Tim Burton's Batman is a magnificent living comic book. From its opening shots, as the camera descends into the grim, teeming streets of Gotham City, the movie fixes you in its gravitational pull. It's an enveloping, walk-in vision. You enter into it as you would a magical forest in a fairy tale, and the deeper you're drawn into it, the more frighteningly vivid it becomes. (...) When Batman makes his entrance, unfurling his cape to display its full wingspan, the image carries a charge of supernatural grandeur. In black from ear-tip to toe, this Batman is truly a larger-than-life figure, potent and terrifying, and the flourish with which he's brought onstage allows him to rise to his full superhero stature. (...) In some ways, it's a masterpiece of pulp, the work of a true artist. (The Washington Post 1989)

Batman is comic-book mayhem come to life. It's simultaneously real and surreal, overwhelming the senses as it plunges to psychodramatic depths devised by director Tim Burton and screenwriters Sam Hamm and Warren Skaaren. (Newsweek 1989)

"I've seen the film twice and I liked it, I enjoyed it," says Frank Link, 41, the owner of Comic Universe stores in suburban Philadelphia, who has been reading Batman comics since he was a kid. "I was one of the first to be on the other side of the coin--the anti-Keaton side--but after seeing it I came away, ironically, feeling that they didn't give me enough of him. It left me wanting more of Batman, more of Keaton.

"Everybody's talking about it. It's been great. . . . Over-all, everyone was quite pleased with it and we were afraid we wouldn't be, considering all the hype."

Jason Gingrich, a 33-year-old investment banker from Wilmington, Pa., exiting Fat Jack's Comicrypt in Philadelphia last week with a fat stack of new issues, also applauded Keaton. "He pulled it off and then some. I found myself wanting more of Batman, more about his secret life."

Even Harlan Ellison, the grand pooh-bah of sci-fi and fantasy aficionados, has made a 180-degree Batturn. (Toronto Star 1989)

Fans reaction after the premiere
- "It was a fantastic movie"
- " I loved Batman for zillion years, I was worried that with all the publicity it might not live up to it. It surpasses it. This is great"

Celebrities' reaction before and after the premiere
Vanna White: I feel like I'm at the Academy Awards!
Glen Close: Its incredible
Melanie Griffith: I'm just excited about the whole thing
Jeffrey Jones: Its powerful, its mythic, its big and psychologically complex 

Henry Winkler: It's truly unbelievable, I mean Michael Keaton is as good as it gets. Jack nicholson - there is no one else to play the Joker, it is unbelievable
(Entertainment Tonight 1989)

The movie naturally also had an impact on comic books. One of the influences was Gotham City - the comic books absorbed Anton Furst's Gotham

 Panel from Tales of the Dark Knight #27

Panel from Batman #475 and Legends Of The Dark Knight #27 and Batman #476

Panels below from Batman #474

Some of the other influences include adopting the name Jack Napier (although in the comics his name is Jack Reipan, it's simply Napier backwards),

First appearance of the name Legends of the Dark Knight #50
One of the latest appearance of the name Batman: Gotham Knights #54

the similarity of Batmobile

the Grapple Gun,

the return of Vicky Vale as well as many nods (panel below from November 1989's Legends of the Dark Knight #1)
Panel below from 1991's Batman #466