When trying to work how many versions of Batman there are, it's probably easier to assume that there's at least one for every villain in Gotham's vast rogues' gallery. In TV and film, the caped crusader made his first appearance in the 1940s, in the two films Batman and Batman and Robin, long before the 1960s TV series, which also got its own theatrical flick Batman: The Movie.
But Batman didn't become truly mainstream until Tim Burton's iteration in 1989, and its three follow-up movies throughout the '90s. The other side of the millennium saw Batman reborn in The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005 – 2012) and in more recent years he's appeared in DCEU entries such as Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League (whether the 2017 version or vastly the superior Snydercut).
Now, there's a brand-new Batman movie on the way, titled The Batman, from Matt Reeves, director of the two most recent Apes movies. So, seeing as we're still in the heart of Batman's ongoing crusade in TV and film, let's take a look at the strongest versions of Batman of all time.
And here… we… go!
Christian Bale's Batman
2005 marked the beginning of Christopher Nolan's Dark Knight Trilogy with Batman Begins, which gave us the first live-action origin story for both Bruce Wayne and his Bat-counterpart. An excellent balance of fantasy and grounded storytelling, the film chronicles Bruce's journey from the lost and vengeful orphan, to an expertly trained, highly equipped, and armor-clad vigilante.
Its two sequels, The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises continue that journey, depicting the titular hero's ‘fall' in the second entry and his subsequent ‘rise' in the final. And while Batman Begins gives us a Batman who's fresh out of the League of Shadows academy, whose ninja skills, focus, and refined fighting abilities are in their prime, it's The Dark Knight Rises that shows Batman at his strongest.
If Batman Begins delivers an impenetrable Batman, and The Dark Knight shows us an incorruptible one, then The Dark Knight Rises offers up the most resilient version of the caped crusader. Yes, he's older, his body is long scarred and injured, and he's depressed, but his decision to don the cowl one last time regardless of all the above is indicative of his relentless determination to save the city he loves.
Of course, his rise is not without a major setback – with emphasis on the word ‘back'. Bruce's physical adversary Bane damages his spine and throws him into the ‘Pit'; a prison where lost souls are left to die. But it's this part of the story that really shines a light on Bruce's strength – and it's a strength that's soul-deep.
After healing, Bruce comes to the realization that he can only truly be Batman when he is afraid of failing. It's this that ultimately sees him ‘rise' out of the Pit, and also defeat Bane during the villain's occupation of Gotham. Without that fear, Batman isn't as effective – and it's so easy to forget that the seemingly fearless hero's alter ego was born out of fear in the first place.
But even if we're talking strictly physical strength here, the same applies. During his first fight against Bane, while semi-capable, Batman loses hard. But in round two, not only is Bruce better prepared for his final showdown – from which he ultimately emerges victorious - his inner strength manifests itself in the form of sheer ferocity and will – two key components that help make Batman what he is.
Frank Miller's Batman
When thinking of Batman, it's all too easy to forget anything outside the realm of TV and film, whether it's animated or live-action. The truth is that the Bat has lived a long life in comic book-form, a crusade of vengeance that dates all the way back to the ‘30s, long before Tim Burton ever gave Michael Keaton permission to "go nuts" in the cape and cowl.
Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, however, is a 1986 graphic novel miniseries that takes place in a far more dystopian version of Gotham City (although the city is already a far cry from paradise). We meet a much older Bruce here, who has long since retired following the death of Jason Todd – one of the many ‘Robin' characters.
Before long, Bruce puts the costume back on, eager to deal with a gang known as ‘The Mutants', who now rule the streets of Gotham, and are working for Two-Face. However, being older and previously out of action, Batman is almost killed by the Mutants' leader. But The Dark Knight Returns goes way beyond common street punks – there's also arch-nemesis Joker and even Superman.
For all intents and purposes, Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice is a live-action adaptation of Frank Miller's work. In the graphic novel, Batman also relies heavily on his tech for an advantage, but he's still able to hold his own against the God-like superhero. And what this older Bruce lacks in youthfulness and physical stability, he makes up for in anger, brutality, and perhaps an element of hatred, and not to mention size – he is, after all, the second biggest Batman.
The Dark Knight Returns has since been adapted to two feature-length animated movies, The Dark Knight Returns and The Dark Knight Returns Part Two, but the graphic novel itself is a widely respected and beloved addition to the Batman universe, and is regarded as the source behind many interpretations of the dark version of Batman we now know and love.
In fact, Frank Miller's Batman is the inspiration behind Ben Affleck's version of the caped crusader as seen in the DCEU, namely Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice. Designers wanted a "brutish brawler", while Ben Affleck described his Batman as having a "thicker, bruiser-like physique" – and there was no better source material than Frank Miller's vision.
Ben Affleck's Batman
Ben Affleck's Batman – more affectionately known as ‘Batfleck' – has made a number of appearances during his time in the DCEU (and the Batfleck is set to make a return in the upcoming Flashpoint, alongside Michael Keaton). And he's made even more if you're willing to be pedantic and count both versions of Justice Leagueand both versions of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.
He also appeared in 2016's Suicide Squad, but we only really need to look at his match against Superman to analyze his strength. Whether it's the theatrical release of Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, or the Ultimate Edition, there's simply no denying that Ben Affleck's Batman is an absolute force of nature and a brutal savage once he dons the cape and cowl – and he's also the biggest Batman on record.
Following the attack on Metropolis as seen in Man of Steel, during which some of Bruce's employees and countless other innocents are killed, Bruce doesn't hesitate to start investigating Superman. Deciding that the Kryptonian poses a threat to mankind, Bruce warns Alfred that even if there's a "one percent chance" Superman could be a threat, then it must be taken as an "absolute certainty".
The fact that Batman is confident enough to pick Superman as his enemy speaks volumes about his own capabilities – and this is no surprise, considering his long career in Gotham, which explains his disgruntled and disenfranchised nature. This version of Batman is a tired one; not physically, but one who's happy to actually kill criminals, while desperate to make a real difference in the world.
And so eventually, he goes "hunting". Inside a makeshift mech-suit, the Bat of Gotham goes head-to-head with the Son of Krypton. Of course, as the physically superior Superman tells Batman, if he wanted to, he could have ended the fight already. But Batman has a trick up his sleeve – in the form of Kryptonite-vapor, which he uses to subdue Superman before beating him within an inch of his life.
But it's really the infamous warehouse scene that truly demonstrates Batman's brute strength in the film. On a mission to save Superman's mother, Batman takes on a dozen armed henchmen. At first, he uses theatrical techniques to distract and disarm, before unleashing the motherload of his unmatchable strength onto each and every one of them, in a real feast-for-the-eyes brawl.
Matt Reeves' The Batman, which stars Robert Pattinson in the titular role, is set for release on March 4, 2022, while The Suicide Squad is now in theaters. The Black Panther's Winston Duke has also been cast as Bruce Wayne/Batman in the upcoming podcast Batman: Buried.