Last time, I began to explain just how much of an influence Batman has had on my life. When I ran out of energy, Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns was coming.
Now, I had given up comics prior to this event, as I pointed out previously. But Batman’s sidekick, Robin, was instrumental in me getting back into buying them again.
The New Teen Titans comics, with Robin as the team leader, was a hot item for DC Comics. My brother Randy never stopped collecting comics even though I had. So, when he had trouble getting New Teen Titans #1, I was recruited to go to a local comics specialty shop to buy one.
That was a significant change for comics fans. Having a store dedicated to comics meant not having to rifle through drug store racks or shelves. It also meant being able to get nearly all the comics you wanted without missing issues, which often plagued and discouraged collectors.
So I went to a local store and asked for New Teen Titans #1. The store owner handed me a copy of the comic already inserted into mylar protection with a backing board. I knew Randy would like that. The bad news was what he wanted $2.50 for what was cover-priced for only fifty cents! Now, my brother was ready for this and had told me to buy it regardless of how much it cost. Grumbling all the way, I paid five times cover price for the comic. Little did I know that it wouldn’t be the last time I would do that.
I wanted to see what all the fuss was about, so I carefully opened the comic and read it. It was actually pretty good—no Spider-Mobile or Superman sand duplicates! It had great art (George Perez remains my favorite artist to this day), interesting stories and intriguing characters. So I started to buy that comic on a regular basis.
Soon I began picking up other comics as well again. But I recoiled at what my favorite hero was going through in those days.
Among other things, Batman was lip-locking a slinky creature of the night called Nocturna and fighting nutty villains like the Calendar Man. Since it was all silly stuff to me, I couldn’t bring myself to see my hero wallowing in the mud like that.
One week, the guy who owned the store I bought my comics in told me I just needed to add two more comics to my list and I’d get a higher discount. I looked at the Batman books, swallowed hard and added them to my monthly order.
I wish I could say they were enjoyable. They weren’t. The best part was getting to watch Nocturna in a hot air balloon float off into a red sky. I hoped she never be seen again, but she has had a pretty unimportant return recently. That’s all she deserves, in my opinion. No more!
In 1986, my brother and I had the opportunity to go with the guy who owned the store to a local meeting of comics distributors. Among the displays intended to intrigue the owners of comic-book stores was a xeroxed copy of pages from something called The Dark Knight Returns, and it featured a much older Bruce Wayne who had retired from crime fighting. I was impressed by what I saw of Frank Miller’s plot and art, so I told the store owner to be sure to order five copies just for me.
Instead, he placed the order for the usual monthly number of Batman comics he ordered, a whole three of them.
Luckily, my brother and I had started buying comics at more than one store, and we had gotten to be regular customers with another owner. This guy, unlike the first one, actually read the comics he sold, so he ordered plenty of The Dark Knight Returns. I told him I wanted five copies just to cover my bases.
The day the book came out, my brother reached the second store before me, and he held up the unique cover that featured Batman’s silhouette against a blue background and white lightning bolt. I called out from across the room, “Okay, give me ten!”
When I returned to the first comics store, the owner was on the phone with his local distributor. He was yelling, “I NEED MORE OF THIS COMIC OR MY STORE WILL GO UNDER!” They managed to get him a few more copies, of which I got one. Whoopee.
That began my search across the state looking for more copies of The Dark Knight Returns. I went to every Waldenbooks I could find, buying any first printings I saw. Still, when I found second or third printings, I still bought them … just to be sure.
And the books were hot. My brother and I checked around, and first printings of the first issue sold for three times the cover price.
Eventually, the owner of the second store found out how much The Dark Knight Returns was selling for, and he approached my brother about buying back some of the copies of Dark Knight we had acquired from him. “I just feel badly for taking advantage of you both and selling you so many copies,” he said.
My brother replied, “Well, we’d do that, but then we’d feel badly for taking advantage of YOU by making you have to buy back what you have already sold us.” The store owner was crestfallen.
Then I said, “Besides, you’d just sell them for three times cover.”
He actually smiled.
He looked at us differently after that. Yes, we DID know what we were talking about, at least when it came to comics.
The only comics-related statue I bought for years was the one released in conjunction with Dark Knight. It cost $195, which was astronomical for me. But it was Batman, and I had to have it. I made payments for weeks to get it. When I took it home, it took me weeks to open it up and actually look at it.
I still have that statue, by the way. You can see an image of it to the right.
And Batman had returned to the front burner of my consciousness.
It wasn’t long after when word came that the first Batman film since Adam West ran holding a bomb was in the works.
I was terrified. I had heard rumors of Bill Murray playing the Dark Knight and Eddie Murphy portraying Robin. I had reason to be concerned.
Then Michael Keaton, the actor who played the title role in Mr. Mom, was chosen for the title role in Batman. I was absolutely horrified.
Finally, in 1989, just before release of the film, the novelization came out. I bought it and read the first few chapters. When I reached the line when Batman told a criminal he was holding over the side of a tall building, “I AM THE NIGHT,” I was relieved.
A local comics store had arranged for a group of fans to get a special preview of the film on Thursday night late. I was lucky enough to be among them.
I was transfixed. It had action, thrills, great characters and even some comedy for comics geeks. As long as he didn’t turn his head, Batman’s outfit was amazing. Wow! A Batman fan’s dream come true!
I saw that movie in the theater 10 times, a personal record. I bought T-shirts, toys and action figures related to the film. I bought every comics version of the film they made. I was home again.
And the comics had improved as well. I was actually glad to be buying and reading them again. Batman was kicking butt and taking names. I was loving life.
Little did I know that it was about to get even better.
Next time: Batman hits animation.