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Batman Born Again

Batman Born Again

First things, first. I am not a comic book geek. Far from it. I am not, nor have I ever been, to Comic*Con. Nor do I want to…

…unless, of course, Johnny Drama is going to be there promoting Viking Quest.

As a kid, I was never that into comic books. Not the way some kids are. I guess I watched Super Friends, and I remember being obsessed with mini action figures.

But mostly, I liked the idea of superheroes, more than the stories of the heroes themselves. Even as a child, I recognized how painfully corny and sanitized the television version of these superhero stories were. Batman especially.

Yet I was also fascinated by him.

Perhaps first inspired by the underwear that’s fun-to-wear, I used to dress up as Batman using a towel for a cape…

There are stories of my brother and I fashioning our own bat cave from blankets and such once. Then the moment passed. And my fascination with superheroes faded.

In high school, I had friends who were deep into comix. Plastic sleeves, cataloged filing systems, “reading copies” and collecting copies, etc. I remained essentially indifferent to comic books, save Art Spiegelman’s Maus, which opened my eyes to a whole different mode of story telling.

Of Maus and Men

This, and a single Batman story by Frank Miller called, The Dark Knight Returns, an entirely new vision of the Batman myth, set in a dystopian future. When I read it, I felt like I was…

Born Again!

This comic book rekindled my childhood fascination with this enigmatic, conflicted figure. Stripped of camp, and day light, and team work coalition of the Super Friends, Miller restored Batman to his dark vigilante roots.

He created an interesting, complex, compelling character. The drama was palpable. This was the Batman I had been waiting for all my life.

With the first Batman movie was slated to open in June 1989, mere weeks after my high school graduation, I was understandably excited.

With Tim Burton at the helm, I envisioned something with style, something gothic…but I also expected Miller’s darkness to be there.

What I got, instead, was the cartoon Batman.

Silly car:

Silly Joker:

Forget it, Jack, it’s Gothamtown

Silly girl friend:

Silly Arli$$

And (as much as I heart Prince…) a silly theme song:

Yes it was “dark”, but in texture, not at its core. Compared to Adam West, it was not campy. But, there was no doubt that this film was made with kids in mind…action figures, tennis shoes….a merchandising bonanza….

What fascinated me at the time, was how enamored folks were of the film. The movie was, let’s face it, a live action cartoon, written by the guy who would write MONKEYBONE.

Critics were beside themselves praising the film for its brave, bold vision. Variety wrote: “Director Tim Burton effectively echoes the visual style of the original Bob Kane comics while conjuring up a nightmarish world of his own….Michael Keaton captures the haunted intensity of the character, and seems particularly lonely and obsessive without Robin around to share his exploits.”

I was disappointed and bored. Two hours of production design. Style…but no substance. The film looked like it was shot on the set of a Madonna video. Which, come to think of it, was the template Warren Beatty used for the infinitely superior, and woefully under-appreciated DICK TRACY.

Strike a pose

Of course, everyone credits Joel Shitmaker for ruining the Batman franchise by camping it up…and there’s little doubt that the 3rd and 4th installments of this series warrant a long overdue intervention by a truth and reconciliation committee (the hate lingers on….)

Hate the game, not the playa…

But the sad truth is, Burton’s Batman work was never that good to begin with.


The first sequel…blows.

I’ve lived with this disappointment for eighteen years….

Which brings me to the DARK KNIGHT.

In this two and a half hour masterpiece, Christopher Nolan has wiped clean 18 years of disappointment. This is the film I wanted to see when I was 17. This is the film I’ve literally been waiting for half my life.

Let’s clarify. What Christopher Nolan did with his BATMAN BEGINS reboot was to kick Shitmaker and Burton’s daft iterations to the curb, and wipe the slate clean.

He bravely reinvented the series as it should have been. Without stealing outright, Nolan drew heavily from Miller’s influence–

Nolan’s Batmobile

Miller’s Batmobile

The first film set a tone. It established the origin myth. And made for a pretty satisfying night at the movies. (I watched it again on demand, just to check it against my excitement for the new film, and it was as I thought…a competent opening act.)

With the DARK KNIGHT, Christopher Nolan has created a modern masterpiece, a pop crime epic that is as broad as Wagner, as complex as the Sopranos, as haunting a Chinatown, as bloody as Macbeth, as noir as Detour, as hilarious as George Carlin.

Nolan FAR surpasses the standard he set in his first film, crafting as great a sequel as GODFATHER II, EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, and THE ROAD WARRIOR, improving upon the original in every way. Better villain. Better girlfriend. Better action. Better story. Better Gotham.

He’s a shoe-in for the Oscar.

Much of the credit will go to Heath Ledger–his Joker is fierce, sinister, crazy like a fox, and dangerous.

Yet, the Nolan brothers (who co-write the script) deserve most of the credit. They should be rewarded for treating the comic book source material as worthy of serious consideration.

They never pandered.

They never treated it as ironic.

And they never thought of it as child’s play.

In so doing, the Nolans filled my adult mind with the exuberant excitement of my youth. When I first met THE DARK KNIGHT…

RIP Joker

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