Thursday, October 27, 2011

Batman: New and Old

I recently picked up the new DC Universe animated movie, "Batman: Year One", based on the old Frank Miller story that ran in issues 404 - 407 of Batman back in 1987. 

Since I, like most of you reading this blog, am an avowed geek, I started watching some of the "behind-the scenes" stuff, including an interesting interview between three generations of Batman comics writers and/or editors: Denny O'Neill, Dan Didio, and Scott Snyder.  One of the questions that the interviewer, Mike Uslan (the movie producer behind the 1989 Tim Burton "Batman" film as well as behind the more recently Christopher Nolan "Batman Begins") asks them is what(and when) was their first exposure to Batman, and why did he resonate with them so much?

I started thinking about this question as it relates to me personally - both for Batman specifically, but also comics in general.

My first exposure to Batman, as far as I can remember, would have been from the old Adam West TV show version, which was in syndication and aired in the coveted after-school time-slot on a local independent station when I was around 6 or 7 years old.  Of course, at that age, much like Scott Snyder mentioned during the interview, I didn't realize it was campy.  I didn't even know what "campy" meant at that age.  All I knew was I could watch Batman drive the Batmobile and punch villains in the face.  I thought it was great. 

At the same time, I would have been watching the adventures of Batman as part of the Superfriends on Saturday Morning Cartoons.  I had a poster of the Superfriends in my room - the incarnation of the team featuring the ridiculous Wendy, Marvin, and Wonder-Dog.  Once again, although I was old enough to realize that Wendy and Marvin were useless, I remember really getting into the stories with the rest of the Superfriends, particularly Batman. 

I also distinctly remember owning a 45-RPM combo storybook and record of Batman, which I had completely forgotten about until I started writing this.  I did a little research, and it turns out it was a story called "Stacked Cards" (click the link to listen to the story on YouTube).  The artwork for this book resembled some of the Neal Adams' stuff that had come out in the late 60's, and the story was extremely dark - one scene involves a dead security guard who has the signature Joker smile.  

One thing that's interesting is that all three of those versions of Batman are completely different incarnations, but as a kid, I didn't distinguish between them.  They were just "Batman."  I guess I just wasn't old enough to separate them in my mind.  I think it's one of the reasons that, as an adult, I can be okay with the newest animated incarnation of Batman on Cartoon Network's "Brave and the Bold."  It did bug me a little bit at first, since I'm a huge fan of the classic "Batman: The Animated Series" style of Batman, but given Batman's long history and different versions in the comics, TV, and movies, I think there's room for a more lighthearted look at the Caped Crusader. 

So that was my first exposure to Batman.   I can't really guarantee which one of the above three I saw/heard first, but the one that sticks out is the Adam West version, and I suspect that might have been the first.  

Interestingly, you'll notice that one that's missing from that list is the actual comic book version of Batman.  That's because I didn't really get into comics seriously until about 8-9 years later. 

Around the time I first became aware of Batman, I also became exposed to a lot of paragons of "geek culture" - Star Wars came out when I was 6 1/2, and after it became a huge success, the local independent TV station started airing reruns of classic "Star Trek", which was the first time I'd seen it.  About a year or so later, I saw my first Japanese anime in the form of "G-Force" (now referred to as "Battle of the Planets", but it was the same thing). 

And, around this time, right after Star Wars came out, Marvel  Comics did a six-issue adaptation of the movie and my mom bought them for me at the local grocery store (!) because she knew that I was just gaga over Star Wars.  Those were my first comic books.  After the six-issue movie adaptation ended, Marvel continued the series by making up their own stories since they had purchased the license from Lucasfilms.  I collected them up through issue #15, and then for some inexplicable reason, I stopped.  I really have no memory as to why. 

So, from that point (around 1978) until about 1985 or so, I didn't read any other comics.  It just wasn't my thing.  But then things changed with the Marvel Super-Heroes RPG from TSR came out.  They advertised the game like crazy in Dragon magazine, and I was one of those people who pretty much only played TSR role-playing games.  I really wanted that game, and mentioned it to my mom as a gift idea.  To "prepare" myself for playing the game, I thought it might be a good idea to get up-to-speed on the comics.  I dug out my old Star Wars comics and looked through the in-house ads for their other titles, featuring names of teams I'd never heard of, like the Invaders and the Defenders, and people like Namor the Sub-Mariner.  I tried to memorize the team rosters in the ads so I would know who everybody was once I got the MSH game.  And that Summer I went to a B Dalton's bookstore with my mom and she bought me my first comic book in over 8 years.  Sadly, it wasn't Batman - it was X-Men #197, which I bought because I had read somewhere that the first MSH adventure module was about the X-Men, and I didn't know anything about them.

From that point on, I ended up really getting into comics.  I was mainly a Marvel guy, solely based on my interest in the MSH game, but after a few years, I started to shift over to DC as nostalgia for the old Saturday Morning Cartoons and the Superfriends came to mind.  I specifically remember picking up Issue #404 of Batman because it advertised on the front that it was the first part of the four-part "Batman: Year One", and to me that seemed a good point to jump in and learn about the character.  Eventually I ended up collecting all of the Batman titles and trying to acquire back issues to read more about him.  And reading those stories, I started to really love the character again, and it's a fascination that continues to this day.  Batman is by far my favorite comic hero, and I think a lot of it has to do with all of the really cool and interesting ways that he's been portrayed in the media - not just the comics, but also the animated versions and the theatrical movies (okay... some of the theatrical versions).  Few other comic characters have received the same level of treatment as Batman, and I think it's helped solidify him in my mind as my favorite.

So, that's a glimpse into my first exposure to Batman, and also a little about how and why I ended up getting so into comics.  I'll write more about my current involvement (or, un-involvement) with comics in a later post.

What about you all?  When did you first become aware of Batman?

4 comments:

  1. It's hard to recall a time I wasn't aware of Batman. I suppose some cartoon or reruns of the Adam West show were probably the most likely places I encountered him.

    I just got through watching Batman: Year One actually.

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  2. It was repeats of the Adam West series for me, then the 1989 film; so to this day the 1989 and 1966 films are my favourite treatments of the character. I have barely read any Batman comics, although I've made an effort to read the classics.

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  3. @Trey - so, what'd you think of the Batman: Year One animated movie? I thought it was a pretty faithful adaptation of the comic book, but it was actually a lot shorter than I was anticipating for some reason. And, I wasn't a huge fan of the very obviously computer-animated car scenes - every time there's a car shown driving, it just doens't even look like it's on the road, but instead it's just gliding over the top.

    @Kelvin - there are a lot of really good Batman comics out there. I tend, these days, to just focus on self-contained graphic novels and such, because I just can't get sucked into the whole continuity changes that occur every 12 months it seems. Very topical for right now would be Batman: Long Halloween.

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  4. @Martin - I thought it was pretty good though it made choices I would have made differently. I know what you mean about the cars.

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