It’s always a bittersweet thing when something you love comes to an end. You know, that kind of thing makes one nostaglic.
For example, when I bought the Justice League and Justice League Unlimited DVD set and Batman Beyond collection, that made me happy because I now have all of the Bruce Timm animation of DC Comics characters ever shown on TV tucked away in my DVD collection. I even have his recent Justice League animated film which seemed to take place in an alternate dimenstion, with different actors voicing Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman.
But it also meant the end of an important era of creativity and some of the best storytelling I’ve ever seen. Now, I dearly loved the direct-to-DVD Justice League: Crisis On Two Earths, which was based on a script intended to bridge the gap between JL and JLU, but no more JLU and BB episodes or movies are expected to be made anytime soon. (A Batman Beyond comic is now available as part of DC’s Rebirth event, so that will help ease the pain some!)
I can’t help but think back to Batman: The Animated Series, based on my all-time favorite comics character, the Dark Knight.
And I realized just how much influence Batman has had in my life. Let me share some of that with you.
The very first thing I ever remember reading was a Batman comic. I found it in the cellar in our home. It was one of those 25-cent annuals that had 100 pages in it.
I opened it up and saw that Batman, who had my first name as his last name, was in England. He needed to fly around a castle, so he built a wooden frame glider he could wear on his back. I saw him soar through the sky around the castle. My eyes opened wide, my mouth dropped open, and I said the one and only word that could describe this fantastic event — “Wow!” And I was hooked.
Frank Miller, now best known for the Sin City and 300 movies and also a creative force in Batman’s history, had a similar experience. He once described finding a Batman comic at a local drug store, opening it up and beginning to read it. “Then I fell in,” he said. Yeah, I can relate to that.
When Bob Kane created Batman, he was a gun-carrying avenger. By the late ’50s and ’60s, Batman had evolved into a adventurer, but he was also a detective. He was observant, he was intelligent, he was thoughtful. Since he had no powers, he had to rely on his wits and planning ahead. He was brought in on the most difficult cases and solved them. When he knew he’d face someone obviously more powerful than he was, he’d plan and figure out a way to win.
All those qualities I admired.
My next significant interaction with the Caped Crusader was the ABC television show. Adam West played Batman and Burt Ward portrayed Robin. You remember — Bruce Wayne’s first name was “Millionaire” and Wayne Manor was referred to as “Stately.”
I was 11 years old when the series started. I never looked at Batman as a comedy. After all, I took the comics seriously. So when people laughed at the show, I was often offended. For example, I remember being in the theater watching the Batman movie and seeing Batman get dipped in the ocean while on a rope ladder. When he’s lifted up, a shark has taken hold of his leg. People laughed at it, so I stood up and yelled, “Hey! You wouldn’t snicker if YOU had a shark on YOUR leg!”
Of course, now I watch Batman on cable, and I cringe. I particularly remember the episode when the women took over Gotham City and the whole town went into a serious tailspin. Finally, the menfolk convinced the ladies to get back to what they do best — shopping — and all was right with the world again. I’m sure the women loved watching the show that week!
For years, I kept reading how Adam West regretted being “typecast” by the show. He kept trying different roles, but no one wanted him to do anything but Batman. Well, here it is, 40 years later, and Mr. West is still working. He lends his talent to several animated shows, including voicing different mayors on Family Guy and The Batman. Then I was flipping channels the other day and came across Fairly Oddparents on Nickelodeon. Who should be guest-starring but Adam West playing an actor who played “Cat-Man” on television.
He got to lampoon Batman and his own acting abilities. That’s not bad for someone who thought he’d never get anyone to hire him again after Batman.
Before long, I reached high school and lost interest in the comics of the day. The ’70s featured Superman losing half of his powers to a sand duplicate, Batman sending Robin off to college and moving into a swanky downtown apartment, and Spider-Man using a Spider-Mobile and having to stop Aunt May from marrying Doctor Octopus. I didn’t feel I was missing very much.
But Batman continued to provide an often unseen influence on me.
I was taking a psychology course in college when the teacher told us to pick the person who had influenced us most in our lives. “Don’t think about it, just take your first impression,” he said. When he went around the room asking who we had picked, I told everyone that I picked Batman. Everyone laughed at my choice, thinking Adam West and silly ABC TV shows. But the teacher, to his credit, understood that answers are not always found in assumptions. He asked me the critical questions, “Why? What was it about him that made you pick him?” I answered, “Because there’s no mystery he can’t solve.” I guess that answer made sense because the other students stopped laughing.
Meanwhile, in the comics, Batman became darker and more driven. I used to think that if Batman of the ’60s had met the Batman of the ’80s or ’90s, he would have tried to arrest him. But there was some allure for a Batman who was less Adam West and more Clint Eastwood.
Thus was born Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. And a new era for the Caped Crusader dawned.
Next time: Back to Batman basics.