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THE B-LIST: Gotham's First Son: Ranking the best Batmans thus far

For many, especially millennial fans, the Bats of "Batman: The Animated Series" (created by Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski) is the gold standard version of the character.
For many, especially millennial fans, the Bats of "Batman: The Animated Series" (created by Bruce Timm and Eric Radomski) is the gold standard version of the character.

"And the next Batman is... Robert Pattinson."

Oh lo, did the heavens tremble as swathes of gatekeeping fanboys lost their ever-loving minds.

The instant lambasting of the 33-year-old British actor — best known as the vampire Edward Cullen, who stalked, er, was in love with a human named Bella (Kristen Stewart) in the "Twilight" series — was as predictable as Sunday following Saturday. Pattinson, for better or worse, will forever be associated with that role, and that's enough for many to tar and feather him as "too teenybopper" to don the signature cowl and cape.

The outcry is almost identical to the one sparked by Heath Ledger's casting as the Joker in 2008's "The Dark Knight," as proved by a multitude of old Reddit threads and Facebook posts. And we all know how that casting turned out.

I'm not a rabid Pattinson fan myself, but I'm quick to say he's far more talented than many give him credit for (ditto Kristen Stewart, who I continue to stalwartly defend). As numerous interviews have shown, he's also a deeply odd, fairly private person who's passionate about his interests and can turn on the charm when necessary, but often goes shark-eyed and statue-faced when bored — not all that different from Bruce Wayne, really.

Whether Pattinson has the range necessary to play the dual role of billionaire playboy and angst-fueled vigilante with a flare for the dramatic remains to be seen. But as a lifelong Bats fan — as a child, the Dark Knight was by far my favorite superhero — I'm optimistic.

And growing awfully tired of fanboys constantly knocking him down for not being beefy/chiseled/serious/hardcore enough. Give the guy a chance, haters. Everybody pulled a swift 180 on Ledger the moment "Dark Knight" hit theaters. This may be a case of history repeating itself.

Until "The Batman" arrives and we can pass informed judgment, here's a totally-accurate-and-not-at-all-biased ranking of the best Bats thus far.

5. CHRISTIAN BALE (The Nolan Batman, 2005-2012; "Batman Begins," "The Dark Knight," "The Dark Knight Rises.") Yeah, that's right — I'm putting Bale at the bottom. While I initially loved the more realistic, noir-ish tone of "Batman Begins," and thought Ledger's Joker was iconic in "Dark Knight," I never really cared for Bale's interpretation of the character. I bought him as Bruce, but never as Bats.

And that near-indecipherable rasp he affected while in costume just made me wish for closed captioning on the big screen. Points given for trying to disguise his voice to preserve his secret identity; points deducted for making me work so hard to understand his gravelly threats.

4. WILL ARNETT (The Lego Batman, 2014-present; "The Lego Movie," "The Lego Batman Movie," "The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part.") I usually can't stand Will Arnett — I shove him in a group with Patrick Wilson, Greg Kinnear and Ed Burns as guys with smarmy, punchable faces — but when I can't actually see his face? He's great. And his voice-acting work as Lego Batman is hysterical, harkening back to the early comics when Bats was both "HARDCORE!" and ridiculous.

The best part of "The Lego Movie," his standalone "Lego Batman Movie" made me laugh until I cried as it poked fun at the recent trend in Super Angsty Batmans; it also ranks near the top of my list of Batman films. And it's a nice reminder that Batman has been silly more often than angsty over the decades.

3. ADAM WEST (The TV Batman, 1966-2017; "Batman" series and assorted live-action and animated movies.) Speaking of silly: West made a 50-year career out of being a Batman who never took himself too seriously. And for all of the mockery, he was always a delight as he Watusi-ed, KA-POW!-ed baddies and exchanged deadpan quips with Robin the Boy Wonder (Burt Ward).

"Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb," he once lamented, and boy, if that ain't the truth. West may have left us in 2017, but his legacy as a Caped Crusader who knew how to have fun will always remain — same Bat-time, same Bat-place.

2. MICHAEL KEATON (The Burton Batman, 1989-1992; "Batman" and "Batman Returns.") If you haven't watched the Burton films in a while, go and do so right now. I guarantee they're even better than you remember. Nobody else has created a live-action Gotham so perfect: equal parts Art Deco and gritty NYC-circa-1975. Burton's Gotham is obviously a place that would breed theatrical monsters and costume-wearing crimefighters. As my pal Sus and I often scream, "KEEP GOTHAM WEIRD."

And no other actor compares to Keaton, who brought the perfect mixture of unhinged obsession and clever capability to the role; with Keaton, it's clear that Bruce Wayne is the mask and Bats the actual man. As it should be. His freak-out in front of the fireplace in "Batman" and relevatory dance with Selina/Catwoman (Michelle Pfeiffer) in "Batman Returns" are incredible even after a hundred re-watches. Plus, nobody else has looked so good in the pointy-eared costume.

1. KEVIN CONROY (The Animated Batman, 1992-present; "Batman: The Animated Series," "Mask of the Phantasm," "Batman Beyond," the Arkham video games, "Justice League," etc.) THE Definitive Batman. The one all others aspire to be. I don't make the rules — this is stone cold fact. Not only has Conroy been the distinctive voice of Bats for 30 years, and not only does he star in my favorite Bats film ("Mask of the Phantasm"), but the version he portrays in "Batman: The Animated Series" is by far the best take on the character yet.

He's a Super Serious Butt-Kicker, yes, but he can also be kind and big-hearted. He shows pity and sympathy to his Rogues Gallery because he understands many of them are mentally ill and broken by society. He never loses faith that they can be rehabilitated (see: Harvey Dent/Two-Face, Harley Quinn, Babydoll, Mr. Freeze). He's a good dad to Dick Grayson (and the assorted Robins who followed). He's a superhero who's still human at heart, who refuses to kill or carry a gun because doing that would be a betrayal to his parents and personal code. And Conroy always imbues him with just the right amount of warmth and strength.

Oh, and he co-stars with the Greatest Joker of All-Time, Mr. Mark Hamill, so obviously he's the best Bats. Again, I don't make the rules. Some things are just undeniable.

• ANGIE BARRY is a page designer and columnist for The Times. To suggest future topics for The B-List, which covers pop culture, history and literature, contact her at abarry@shawmedia.com.

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