When DC Comics created Batman, my parents weren't alive. And when George Clooney nearly tarnished his career by donning the nipply Batsuit in 1997's Batman and Robin, I was playing with Barbies. The only Dark Knight I've ever known is Christian Bale's brooding, gloriously tortured Bruce Wayne.
In terms of true Bat-fandom, I'm a novice. So, when Willamette Week decided to challenge the self-described "epicness" of Regal Cinemas' July 19 Batman marathons—playing the first two installments of Christopher Nolan's grimmer, more "realistic" Batman series, leading up to midnight screenings of the intensely anticipated series finale, The Dark Knight Rises (read our review here)—I was pegged as the perfect candidate to test how much kitsch the human brain can withstand. The test: watch all the original, considerably less gritty Batman flicks…in a row. Ten hours. Five movies. Four chins.
9:15 am: Batman (1966)
I know the camp is intentional when Adam West starts punching a life-sized plastic shark in the face. Robin, all bright-eyed and spindly-legged, replies, "Holy sardines!" Speaking of Robin, he calls drinking alcohol a "filthy thing" done by "riffraff." A surprisingly liberal Batman responds that drinkers are human beings, too. In the major fight scene, Batman deals weak punches as bad guys obligingly fling themselves overboard. Catwoman doesn't get in on the action, because she's afraid of water. Also because it's 1966, and she's a woman.
Level of Bat-fatigue (1 being none, 10 being Bat-brained): 2. I'm in need of a Bat-room break.
10:55 am: Batman (1989)
This Gotham City is darker and has a litter problem. Michael Keaton attempts to explain why he chose to dress like a bat. "They're survivors," he says. I guess, but so are cockroaches. I wouldn't be sad to see Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger) take a bullet, if only to stop her incessant screaming.
Level of Bat-fatigue: 6. All that screaming!
1 pm: Batman Returns (1992)
As a baby, the Penguin's parents dropped him into an icy storm drain where he was raised by a colony of sewer penguins. O…K. Then there's Michelle Pfeiffer, pulling off the role of "resentful feminist" flawlessly, convincingly delivering lines like, "I am Catwoman, hear me roar!" and "Life's a bitch...now, so am I." There seems to be a hint of an anti-journalism theme running through this franchise: Alfred calls a Gotham periodical "rubbish," and Catwoman wonders, "How do these hacks sleep at night?" Just fine, thank you.
Level of Bat-fatigue: 8. Tim Burton is too much.
3:05 pm: Batman Forever (1995)
Finally, we get the origins of Robin. A trapeze artist in green tights, he moves in with Bruce (Val Kilmer) after Two-Face kills his family. To counteract the overall homoerotic vibe, he rolls up to Wayne Manor on a motorcycle. How butch.
Level of Bat-fatigue: 10. I'm speaking in monosyllables to conserve thought.
4:55 pm: Batman and Robin (1997)
Sexy psychiatrist Nicole Kidman has already helped Kilmer's Batman work through his repressed childhood memories, so George Clooney's Batman is all boring and well-adjusted. Then Arnold Schwarzenegger, as Mr. Freeze, grunts one-liners such as, "The iceman cometh!" and I can't imagine why any A-list actor was willing to attach his or her name to a movie that should've been titled Batman: Henchmen on Ice. Somehow, though, through the neon fog of my numbed mind, I can grasp the grand theme of the Batman universe. He is the most human of all superheroes. Same goes for the villains he's up against. Adam West nailed it in 1966: Villains are people, too. How can Batman judge them when their darkness is his darkness?
Level of Bat-fatigue: 15. Time for a Bat-nap.
SEE IT: Regal's Dark Knight Marathon begins at 6:30 pm Thursday, July 19, at Pioneer Place, Lloyd Mall, Lloyd Center, Tigard, City Center, Evergreen Parkway, Movies on TV, Bridgeport, Wilsonville, Sherwood, Hilltop, Division.