Batman has undergone numerous changes since the character’s debut in the late 1930s. From the cartoonish, vibrant, and moralising crime-fighter of the early comics and 1960s’ Adam West-led TV series, he became a fearsome creature of the night in the 1980s through Frank Miller (The Dark Knight Returns comic series) and Tim Burton (1989’s Batman movie).
Then there have been more radical changes, like Stan Lee’s reinvention in Just Imagine…, wherein the Caped Crusader was not a white billionaire moonlighting as a cowled vigilante, but an African-American man who becomes Batman after losing his cop father. 2017’s brilliant The Lego Batman Movie was both a tribute to the superhero’s history in film and TV, which spans more than eight decades, and a fun, winking take on a character that had become too self-serious.
All this to say, Batman is extremely flexible, as comic-book characters go.
With Batman: Unburied, a Spotify podcast from David S Goyer, co-writer of the Dark Knight trilogy, the Batman myth experiences another update. Featuring Winston Duke (Black Panther, Us) as Dr Bruce Wayne, who is not a billionaire but a forensic pathologist, Unburied pits the superhero (it’s worth wondering whether he is a superhero yet) against another psychopathic serial killer in Gotham named by the media as the Harvester, on account of his tendency to steal organs of the people he kills.
A cadaver arrives at Wayne’s lab and his new assistant Kell (Emmy Raver-Lampman) is horrified to learn that it is another victim of the Harvester. Out of nowhere, the killer knocks Kell unconscious, attacks Wayne and steals his voice-recording device. Like nearly every member of Batsy’s Rogues Gallery, he too appears to have a deranged affinity to him.
Wayne turns up in a hospital, and we learn that, unlike the superhero we know, both his parents are alive. Thomas Wayne (Lance Reddick) also runs the hospital whose bowels Bruce works in, and deeply disapproves of his job. He believes his son’s skills will be better used to assist the living, as opposed to the dead who don’t care now. Martha Wayne (Toks Olagundoye) is also here, a loving mother who cares deeply for her son.
Thus far, two episodes have been released. And judging purely by an hour-odd worth of audio content available right now, Batman: Unburied is a thrilling podcast that reimagines one of world’s most recognisable fictional characters in inventive ways. It is also a production of high quality, with a mesmerising sound design clearly inspired by Dirk Maggs peerless production of Neil Gaiman’s Sandman.
Once you put on your headphones and close your eyes, it is easy to forget that you are not living in the world of this story, instead of, you know, just consuming it. There are also twists and turns to please every Bat-fan. Many fan-favourite characters the Riddler (Hasan Minhaj) and Barbara Gordon (Gina Rodriguez) are still to come, so we can expect several more episodes until the conclusion of the story.