6 Angry Reactions to the Casting of Michael Keaton as Batman

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6 Angry Reactions to the Casting of Michael Keaton as Batman

Warner Bros.

When Ben Affleck was announced as Batman in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, there was a good deal of fan outrage. The casting of Batman is no stranger to fan outrage. When Michael Keaton was originally cast as Batman in 1989's Batman, there was a good deal of fan outrage, and this was back in the day when people had to write actual letters to express their outrage. Keaton was mostly known for comedic roles at the time, so fans worried that the film would be either a comedy or campy like the 1960s Batman TV series. As it turned out, fans ended up loving him in the role. When he hosted Saturday Night Live in 2015, there was even a bit in the episode about how much the cast loved him as Batman. How much time, and watching the actual movie, can change people's opinions. Still, it is fun to look back at the original outrage. Here, then, are instances of angry reactions from 1988 to Keaton being cast as Batman. 

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1. Fan Letter to the Los Angeles Times

Warner Bros.

 Allan B. Rothstein wrote in to the Times on July 3, 1988, to voice his criticism of Keaton's casting: 

He might have made a good Joker, but his comic style, which he seems unable to shake (but can amplify), has doomed this promised "serious" treatment of Bob Kane's character to the same tired, boring level of artificial "camp" that made the TV series a hit yet simultaneously doomed it to an early cancellation.

The painful lesson of "Superman III"--when you don't treat venerable superheroes with respect the audience rejects the property--has been ignored in this cynical, opportunistic attempt to capitalize on the success of "Beetlejuice" (same director, same star).

The Sam Hamm script that director Tim Burton is filming has many blunders, but does treat the characters basically seriously. Obviously, in casting Keaton, Burton is rejecting this approach altogether and going after a manic comedy.

Batman has been a popular character for almost five decades--not because he is a figure of comedy, but precisely because he is not , especially in the last couple of years. By ignoring this, by casting a clown as Batman, Warner Bros. and Burton have defecated on the history of Batman and on the hopes of those who appreciate the character and his potential.

Better they should have filmed Frank Miller's "Batman: the Dark Knight Returns." But that would have required courage, taste and imagination.

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2. Nascent Comic Book Writer

Warner Bros.

Beau Smith had been writing comic books for a few years when he was interviewed about Keaton for an article in the Wall Street Journal about the outrage over the casting. Smith (just identified as a "Batman fan," obliged with some amusing quotes:

Best known as a wacky prankster in Burton’s 1988 comedy, Beetlejuice, Keaton has a receding hairline and a less-than-heroic chin. He stands an estimated 5 feet 10 inches tall, weighs in at 160 pounds or so, and "looks like a hundred guys you see on the street," says Beau Smith, a Batman fan in Ceredo, W. Va. "If you saw him in an alley wearing a bat suit, you would laugh, not run in fear. Batman should be 6-2, 235 pounds, your classically handsome guy with an imposing, scary image."

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3. Comic Book Magazine Editor

Michael Keaton in 1986's Touch and Go. Sony Entertanment

 Chris McCubbin, Managing Editor of Amazing Heroes, had this to say about why he didn't like the casting of Keaton as Batman in Amazing Heroes #151:

People who say that Keaton's recent critical success in Clean and Sober means he'll make a good dramatic Batman are being silly. The straight dramatic ability required to make Clean and Sober has nothing at all to do with the ability to play an adventure hero like the Batman. Clean and Sober does prove, I suppose, that Keaton is an actor with remarkable range, which is a hopeful sign, but hardly proof of his ability to play an adventurer.

I don't like Keaton as the Batman. It has nothing to do with his comedy roles. I consider that a plus, actually. What worris me is his looks. Keaton does not look tough. In Touch and Go, he tried to play a tough, macho hockey player and looked really absurd. I think he'll look just as absurd as the Batman.

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4. Fan Reaction at Chicago Comic Convention

DC Comics

In Amazing Heroes #148, Dwight Decker spent his column, Doc's Bookshelf, writing about the 1988 Chicago Comic Convention over July 4th weekend, he registered fan reactions to the news:

The mood among the fans at the convention was hardly very confident, however. Fans take this sort of thing very personally, and memories of past betrayals are still excrutiangly painful. From the "camp" batman of the 1966 TV show to the Lorne Michaels Superman 50th anniversary TV special, fans remember only too well how the major media have taken our favorite characters and ridiculed them. Not even as an affectionate parody, but as seemingly a deliberate attempt to make our heroes - and by extension, us - look stupid.

The prospects for a Batman movie done the way a Batman movie should be done had not looked particularly rosy when the director was announced. Fans at the convention were overheard muttering, "This is the guy who directed Pee-Wee's Big Adventure and Beetlejuice!" And then the word came down that Michael Keaton had been signed for Batman. Even before the movie has gone into production, many months before the final product reaches an actual theater, the fans had that sense of sitting in a deck chair on the Titanic and suddenly noticing an iceberg ahead. 

It's early in the game yet, but the fans were convinced that the home team had fumbled the ball one more time. 

Michael Keaton?!

At the end of the column, though, he mentions looking at a new Bugs Bunny comic book DC was about to release, and he throws in some personal views of the Keaton casting...

I turned a page and Daffy Duck showed up, wearing a Batman suit and calling himself "the Duck Night Duck-teck-a-tive." I should have known. But I will give it this. Even Daffy Duck in a Batman suit will probably look better than...Michael Keaton?!

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5. Fan Caricature

Thaddeus Lavalais

 In Amazing Heroes #156, Thaddeus Lavalais shared his disagreement with Keaton's casting through a caricature of Keaton as Batman. 

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6. Producer of the Movie!

20th Century Fox

Perhaps the most shocking, in retrospect, is that one of the most outraged people over Keaton's casting was Michael Uslan, the producer of the movie in question!

He recalled the situation in an interview with Jenna Busch:

I was the very first one that was apoplectic when I heard about Michael Keaton that Tim [Burton] wanted. I went absolutely crazy, and the difference between this fanboy and other fanboys is that I was in the inner circle.

He continued, detailing Burton's argument about why Keaton was the perfect choice for the role (as well as his counter-argument at the time):

"This whole thing has to be about Bruce Wayne. Audiences have to believe in him. First they have to believe in Gotham City from the opening frames of the picture. Gotham City has to be the third most important character in the movie. Once they believe in Gotham, they must believe that Bruce Wayne is a guy so driven, so obsessed to the point of being psychotic that audiences would believe that guy would get dressed up in a bat outfit and fight a guy like The Joker.” Tim said, “I know, with Michael Keaton, we can convince them of that.” And I said, "Yeah, but he’s a comedian. I mean, what’s the poster going to say? That Mr. Mom is Batman?" I said that he’s my height, he doesn’t have the muscles; for god’s sake, he doesn’t have the square jaw of Batman. And Tim said to me, “Going from one medium to another, a square jaw does not a Batman make. This is about Bruce Wayne. I can carve musculature into a costume. I can cheat height. But at the end of the day, it’s all about Bruce Wayne.” And to prove to me that Michael was a serious actor, they set up a screening of the rough cut of a movie called Clean and Sober. I came out of that and said, “I take it all back. The guy is amazing. Just amazing.”