Batman's Chicago connection

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'The Dark Knight'

During a City Hall news conference promoting the Chicago filming of "The Dark Knight," actor Christian Bale talks with then Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. (Chris Walker / Chicago Tribune / June 8, 2007)

Batman and Chicago will forever be linked, thanks in large part to director Christopher Nolan.

The first two Batman movies in Nolan's "Dark Knight" trilogy filmed in Chicago (2008's "The Dark Knight" more so than 2005's "Batman Begins") and brought the fictional Gotham City from the comic books to life in a realistic and relatable way that few "Batman" movies had. This Gotham City wasn't just background, it was also a character, as it is often described by comic book writers. And because this character was played mostly by Chicago, some now picture our city — whose gritty streets and unmistakable skyline were on full display in the films — when imagining Gotham.

"Both 'Batman Begins' and 'Dark Knight' showcased the drama and cinematic versatility of Chicago's architecture and landscape," said Rich Moskal, Chicago Film Office director. "Chicago was the right fit for Chris Nolan's vision of Gotham City and the films' spectacular action sequences and stunts. The films drew the attention of other filmmakers who were impressed by our city's distinctive look."

The third film in the series, 2012's "The Dark Knight Rises," opted to film in Pittsburgh over Chicago, but "Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice" — the Batman reboot starring Ben Affleck as the Caped Crusader — is scheduled to briefly film in the Chicago area in late October, Moskal said. Whether Batman/Affleck is involved in the shoot is unclear. The Superman movie "Man of Steel" filmed in the Chicago area in 2011, which means the scenes might be Superman-centric.

The relationship between the iconic DC Comics superhero and the Chicago area, however, goes beyond the movies filming in our backyard. With DC celebrating the 75th anniversary of the first Batman comic Wednesday, here is a look at the Dark Knight's eclectic history with the Chicago area:

Gotham City: Where exactly is Gotham located in the comics? Some have long been under the impression that it's New York because of the similarities. Longtime Batman illustrator Neal Adams believes Gotham is more like Chicago than New York. "Chicago has had a reputation for a certain kind of criminality," Adams told The Associated Press. "Batman is in this kind of corrupt city and trying to turn it back into a better place. One of the things about Chicago is Chicago has alleys (which are virtually nonexistent in New York). Back alleys, that's where Batman fights all the bad guys." (For Batman writer Scott Snyder's take, see sidebar) According to a DC Comics spokeswoman, Gotham's exact location has never been revealed, so there is no right answer.

Christopher Nolan: Nolan split time between Chicago and his native London during his youth. His brother and Loyola Academy alum Jonathan Nolan — who co-wrote "The Dark Knight" and "The Dark Knight Rises" — spent more time in Chicago, while Christopher spent more time in London. That's why one brother has an American accent and the other has a British accent.

Batman: The Ride: The world's first inverted roller coaster opened in 1992 at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee under the name Batman: The Ride. Never before had a roller coaster seated riders underneath the track, ski lift-style. Adding to the excitement was the Batman theme, which included the replica Batmobile parked outside the ride's entrance and replica Batsuit by the platform that remain to this day. It's hard to imagine the ride without a Bat-theme, but Great America director of maintenance/construction Gary Pohlman said Batman wasn't in the plans, initially: "We started construction in October or November of '91, and in December of '91, we were bought out by Time Warner. The whole concept changed to a Batman theme to coincide with (1992 movie sequel 'Batman Returns'). … It's still one of our most popular rides (to this day). I think it will be here another 20 years. Easy." The "Batman Stunt Show," on the other hand, was short-lived. The show opened at Great America in 1993 and was replaced three years later by Warner Bros' "Western Stunt Show." In 2008, Great America added the indoor roller coaster The Dark Knight Coaster.

Commissioner Gordon: Jim Gordan was a former Chicago police officer in the Batman mythos. After uncovering corruption in the force and taking down his dirty peers, Gordon transfers to Gotham for safety reasons.

Chris O'Donnell: Before he was fighting crime with LL Cool J as Special Agent G. Callen on CBS' "NCIS: Los Angeles," O'Donnell, a Winnetka native, fought crime alongside Batman as sidekick Robin in the Joel Schumacher-directed "Batman Forever" (1995) and "Batman and Robin" (1997).

Nightwing: You can take Batman comic book writer and Homer Glen native Kyle Higgins out of Chicago, but you can't take the Chicago out of Kyle Higgins. The Los Angeles resident said his and Snyder's "Batman: Gates of Gotham" comic book series — which delves into Gotham City's back story — was heavily influenced by the late-1800s Chicago setting in Erik Larson's "The Devil in the White City." Higgins was less subtle with his Chicago influence in "Nightwing." The storyline takes Robin (real name: Dick Grayson), to Chicago under his Nightwing alias, where he searches for the man who murdered his parents. "I talked to my editor about doing it in a real place," Higgins said. "One thing we both love about 'Spider-Man' is that it's set in New York. It helps ground the story. I said, 'What about Chicago? I'm from there. And it hasn't been explored very often in superhero comics.'" In the series, Grayson, an enthusiast of parkour — a type of movement training — sublets an apartment next to the "L" (Higgins envisioned the Damen Blue Line stop) and rides the roofs of trains to get around. Other Chicago locations referenced in "Nightwing": the Museum of Science and Industry, Crown Fountain in Millennium Park and Willis Tower. "There were also some scenes in a baseball stadium that looks eerily similar to U.S. Cellular Field," said Higgins, who parted ways with the series in the spring.

Brian Azzarello: Chicago is this Batman writer's adopted home. The Cleveland native who wrote "Broken City" and "Joker" moved here to be with a woman around 1989. Despite the fact that the relationship ended a year later, Azzarello has lived here ever since (he's married to comic writer and illustrator Jill Thompson). Has his version of Gotham City been influenced by Chicago? "I can't not be uninfluenced by this city," said Azzarello, using a rare triple-negative. "This is a tough-guy town. It's a city where you need thick skin to survive. When I was writing about Gotham in 'Broken City,' I was writing about Chicago. I just substituted the names."

The Bat-pool: Have you seen the picture of the Bat-pool in Hinsdale? The photo of the backyard pool with the 30-foot bat symbol painted at the bottom of it went viral in 2010 after someone posted a Google Maps satellite image of it on gizmodo.com. "The next morning my mom was getting a call to do an interview," said Phil Emmert, a lifelong Batman fan who was 5 when his parents had the bat symbol painted onto their pool. "It was pretty wild. I was definitely surprised by the reaction." The Emmerts' four-bedroom home has been for sale for two years and can be yours for $1.8 million. Realtor Connie Atterbury had the bat symbol Photoshopped out of the home's brochure, but she said she doesn't believe the pool has kept the home from getting sold.

"A Batman Burlesque": This burlesque show premiered at Gorilla Tango Theatre in Skokie in 2012 to coincide with the buzz around the theatrical release of "The Dark Knight," but the plot — yes, burlesque shows have plots — is based on the cheesy TV series from the 1960s. When Batgirl gets kidnapped by The Riddler, Batman and Robin must follow a series of riddles and face off against the likes of The Joker, The Penguin, Catwoman and even Egghead to rescue her. The burlesque show moved 10 months after its premiere to Gorilla Tango Theatre in Bucktown, where it now runs every Saturday around midnight. "There are, absolutely, Batman fans in the crowd," said director Juicy Lucy (real name: Kaitlin Fleharty), who got to know the show's writer, Jeremy Eden, while working on the project and is now engaged to him. "We always know because they laugh at the more obscure jokes. The nights when we don't hear them laugh at those jokes, well, they'll cheer when (the performers) take their clothes off, at least."

lgomez@tribune.com | Twitter @TribLuis | Facebook @TribLuis | Instagram @TribLuis

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