I have, through some quirk of random shopping, acquired a 1943 movie serial featuring Batman.
I’ve watched about half of it so far. As I expected, it requires a mind shift to get around the 1940’s production values and limitations. What caught me more by surprise was the propaganda – the fighting American, wartime, unapologetically anti-Japanese jingoism.
But what really threw me was the realization that the hero wasn’t really quite Batman yet. Sure, he has the cave and the costume and the faithful butler, but he comes across like a generic masked avenger. He could just as easily be the Green Hornet or the Grey Ghost.
He doesn’t have the brooding, driven personality. He isn’t haunted by the death of his parents. He isn’t overly brilliant or competent. He's just a rich playboy with an odd hobby.
The audience (presumably) follows him for the adventure and the sly nods when someone talks to Bruce about the mysterious Batman. They don’t need the backstory because they know his type. Everyone is the serial so far is a type rather than a character (although Alfred, played for comedy relief, comes close).
Not really sure what my point is, except maybe this: It’s odd to watch a serviceable story with no real character depth. The story has thugs and a mastermind and a damsel-in-distress, along with a notable hero and sidekick, all dutifully playing their roles.
But it would be better if it had Batman in it.