Tag Archives: Batman

75 Years of Batman

 

Detective_Comics_27

Sunday March 30th marked the 75th anniversary of the first appearance of Batman in Detective Comics #27.  National Periodicals (later to be DC Comics) introduced Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s creation to the world on that day in 1939, and eight decades later the Dark Knight is as popular as ever in comic books, film and television.

Batman was the first comic book hero that I was introduced to thanks to reruns of the 60’s television series starring Adam West.  This was several years before I bought my first comic book, and despite its campiness I still have a soft spot for the original series to this day.

In honor of The Dark Knight’s 75th birthday, here’s a list of my all time favorite representations of Batman:

Favorite Batman Artist:  Neal Adams

Detective Comics 400

Choosing my favorite Batman artist was a tough task for me considering how many incredible artists have drawn the Batman books over the years (Jerry Robinson, Sheldon Moldoff, Dick Sprang, Carmine Infantino and Jim Aparo, just to name a few).  But it was Neal Adams’ Batman that was my first introduction to the Dark Knight on the comic book page, and it’s his artwork that comes to mind when I think of the character.

Favorite Issue:  Batman Special #1 (1984)

Batman_Special_1

This story of Batman vs. The Wrath is one that stuck with me over the years.  Batman’s nemesis in this special issue was his complete antithesis even down to the death of his parents.  Great story by Mike W. Barr and art by Michael Golden and Mike DeCarlo.

Favorite Run:  Batman: Year One

Favorite Cover:  Detective Comics #69

Jerry Robinson’s cover for Detective Comics #69 just barely edges out Neal Adams’ cover for Detective Comics #400 as my favorite of all time.

Favorite Batman Film:  The Dark Knight

Favorite Televised Version of Batman:  Batman: The Animated Series

I was 20 and out of comics collecting when Batman: The Animated Series premiered on Fox in 1992.  I was expecting more of the campiness of the 1966 series, but was blown away by the noir tone and I was hooked.  (My favorite episode of the series: Beware the Gray Ghost, guest starring Adam West).

Here’s to another 75 years of Batman.

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2012 New York Comic Con

The New York Comic Con was held October 11-14 at the Jacob Javitz Convention Center in New York City.  This was my sixth time attending the show in the last seven years and I’m amazed at how much the convention has grown since the first NYCC in 2006.  If I remember correctly, that first NYCC was in a space no bigger than this year’s Artist Alley and was relegated to the lower level of the Javitz Center.   Now it takes up the entire convention center and it’s still barely enough space for the thousands of comic fans and cosplayers that attend.

NYCC started on Thursday but I had a three day pass beginning on Friday.  I left work early Friday afternoon and cabbed it to the Javitz Center.  There was a good crowd at the Javitz Friday afternoon, but despite the number of people on line the wait time to get in was minimal (on all of the three days I attended) thanks to the fantastic planning by the event organizers Reed Exhibition Companies.

First stop: Artist Alley!

For me NYCC has always been about meeting the comic book writers and artists in attendance, particularly the men and women whose work I read from 1977-1989, and this show didn’t disappoint.  I had spent the week prior to NYCC looking over the list of comic creators that would be in attendance and putting together a list of who I would try to get sketches from.  My list ran down an entire page and would have cost me about a month’s salary if I was able to get all of the proposed sketches, so  I scaled it down to my “must haves.”

The first artist I met was Rick Leonardi, penciller of many Marvel titles including Cloak & Dagger, The Uncanny X-Men, and Spider-Man 2099 just to name a few.  I’ve been a big fan of his over the years, and at last year’s show I had commissioned a sketch of Cloak and Dagger from him that is one of my favorite pieces of art in my personal collection.  Lucky for me Rick’s sketch list wasn’t filled up yet when I arrived.  I asked for a Dr. Strange and he hit this one out of the park.  This sketch is definitely one of the highlights of my book.  He even added Kirby crackle!

Dr. Strange sketch by Rick Leonardi.
2012 New York Comic Con

Next up was one of my favorite inkers, Bob Wiacek.  His run on The Uncanny X-Men with penciller Paul Smith in the early 80’s is one of my all time favorites.  I decided to get a Wolverine sketch on 11″x17″ comic art board based on Paul Smith’s amazing cover from Uncanny X-Men #173.  I initially asked Bob to draw Wolverine only with the intention of having another artist draw Rogue, but I quickly changed my mind and asked him to include Rogue as well for a full cover recreation.  He showed me the pencils on Saturday, which were AMAZING, and the commission will be fully inked and FedExed to me this week.  Needless to say, this will be the signature piece of my comic art collection.

Going into the show I had a Tony Daniel sketch on my wish list, and I was able to get not one, but TWO sketches from Tony on Saturday and Sunday.  First up was a sketch card of Poison Ivy, followed by a sketch of Harley Quinn in my sketch book.  Not only is Tony an amazing artist, he is one of the nicest people I have met in my years of attending comic conventions.

Poison Ivy
Drawn by Tony Daniel

Tony Daniel shows off a Harley Quinn sketch

I was also fortunate enough to get this great Savage Dragon sketch from Erik Larsen.  The hits just keep on coming!

One of the highlights of the weekend was chatting with several of the creators in attendance about their work.  I have a copy of Marvel: Five Fabulous Decades of the World’s Greatest Comics by Les Daniels and decided to get the Marvel alumni in attendance to autograph the inside cover.  I walked up to Louise Simonson’s table for an autograph and was surprised to see former artist/editor Carl Potts.  I had a great conversation with both of them and mentioned to Carl that I’m proud the owner of a page he drew from Alien Legion #4 (inked by Terry Austin).  Bob McLeod was very generous with his time discussing the creation of The New Mutants (post to follow!).

I walked the exhibit hall floor a few times, mainly to check out the original comic art for sale.  I fully expected the number of attendees to peak on Saturday, but the show floor was also crowded on Friday and Sunday.  After awhile I decided to stick with Artist Alley.

I did buy one piece of published original comic art over the weekend, a religious themed page drawn by Rick Leonardi and inked by Joe Rubinstein from a story they collaborated on back in the 90’s.  I won’t give too much information on the piece because I’m hoping to write a blog post on it for the Holidays.  But I will say it was a page that I wanted to buy when I first saw it online, but never thought I would have the chance to purchase it.  Now it’s officially part of my “not for sale” collection.

I had a fantastic time at NYCC over the weekend and overall I thought the show was an amazing success.  This picture pretty much sums up for me:

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INTERVIEW: The Dark Knight Rises Producer Michael Uslan on Batman

I had the opportunity to interview producer Michael Uslan (Batman Begins, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises, Constantine, National Treasure) when he was in New York to speak at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art about his memoir The Boy Who Loved Batman (published by Chronicle Books) which chronicles his life and career from young comic book collector to film producer.  His latest film, the highly anticipated The Dark Knight Rises  directed by Christopher Nolan, hits theaters tomorrow.

It was a childhood trip to the local candy store with his older brother Paul that introduced Michael Uslan to Detective Comics and a character named Batman.

“I was about five years old …and my brother had brought me to the first candy store I had ever been to.  I’d never seen a rack of comics before…floor to ceiling, wall to wall comic books.  …I think it was a Detective Comics, it was my first look at Batman.  I had known Superman because the TV show was on the air, so every kid in the 50’s knew of Superman, Lois Lane, and Jimmy Olsen. But Batman was something new, and it was clearly something darker, it was immediately clear it was something more adult than I was prepared for.  And why do I remember this cover?  Because it had this picture of this car this guy was driving, but it was not the Batmobile we all kind of remember as the 50’s Batmobile, this particular issue had a Batmobile that was an urban assault tank.  Not to be seen again really for many, many decades later when it somehow mystically showed up in Batman Begins.  What a coincidence!  And then I was hooked.”

By the time he graduated high school, he had amassed a collection of 30,000 comic books dating back to 1936.  Some of his personal treasures such as Amazing Fantasy #15 (the first appearance of Spider-Man), Fantastic Four #1, and The Hulk #1 just to name a few are each worth five to six figures today, and he purchased a lot of them for a dime apiece.

Yep, that’s right, folks.  A dime apiece.  That includes four pristine copies of Fantastic Four #1 that he was forced to purchase by the crotchety old candy store owner who saw him thumbing through the other three copies to find the best one.  That 40 cent shakedown turned into $208,000.

He still owns many of those iconic comic books because thankfully, unlike many parents of the day, his mother didn’t throw them out on the condition he also read novels and news articles.

Bless you, Mrs. Uslan!

But the turning point in his life came on a cold night in January 1966 when a new television show called Batman premiered on ABC.

“Finally, after only having seen George Reeves in The Adventures of Superman, Batman was coming to television.  I couldn’t wait for this show.  And then it came on the air, and I was simultaneously thrilled and horrified by what I was seeing on TV.  I was thrilled because it was in color, the sets were extravagant, the car was cool, that opening animation looked just like Bob Kane’s work.  But then I was horrified that the whole world was laughing at Batman.  They had made a mockery of Batman.  He was a pot-bellied funny guy who POWs, ZAPs and WHAMs.  Who was there doing the Bat-tusi, and it just killed me.”

It was at that moment that Michael took his “young Bruce Wayne” vow: he would bring a dark, serious version of Batman to the silver screen.

“I swore that somehow, someday, some way, I would show the world what the real, true Batman was like.  The Batman.  The creature of the night who stalks criminals from the shadows, the way he was created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger in 1939.  I would find some way to eliminate from the collective consciousness of the world culture, those three little words POW, ZAP and WHAM.  And that became my mission.”

Michael Uslan went on to executive produce all seven Batman films with his executive producing partner Benjamin Melniker starting with 1989’s Batman starring Michael Keaton and directed by Tim Burton.

The Boy Who Loved Batman gives the readers Uslan’s first hand account of the steps and roadblocks along the way: from his early days of comic collecting, to teaching the first comic book related college course in America while a junior at the Indiana University, to how he got his first writing assignment for DC Comics, to the ten year odyssey he endured to bring Batman to the movie screen after securing the rights.  A comic or movie fan can’t help but be inspired by the stories of his persistence.

Michael Uslan signing The Boy Who Loved Batman at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art.
Photo by Fabrizio Fante

What is it about Batman that makes him withstand the test of time over 70 years?

Uslan: I keep saying it’s these three things:  First, It’s the fact he has no superpowers and that his greatest superpower is his humanity.  Number two, it’s that primal origin story that transcends borders and demographics and cultures.  And number three, he has the greatest super villains in the world.  And that is probably the main cause of longevity in this superhero.  And nobody can touch Batman’s rogue’s gallery.  They just can’t.  So I think that’s what keeps him fresh and will always keep him fresh.

Who’s your favorite villain in Batman’s rogue’s gallery?

Joker.

Is there a villain that you think has been under represented and should be touched on more in the stories? 

Catwoman.  I think the greatest villainess since the Dragon Lady (of Milton Caniff’s Terry and the Pirates comic strip).  Batman’s predilection for bad girls is worthy of exploration through Catwoman.  The relationship makes Catwoman a stronger character than she is individually.

Two-Face.  Scarecrow.  I tend toward those psychologically damaged villains more than I do toward a Penguin or a Mad-Hatter.

Ra’s al Ghul.  I think one of the greatest Batman villains ever created, and nobody really cares for him as much because he was created in the 1970’s after the TV show.  So he’s not ingrained in the culture and he should be.

Man-Bat.  I think it’s a beautiful, dark romance that certainly is a modern day take on Doctor Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde and I find it fascinating.

The Reaper.  One of the most powerful Batman stories ever told: The Night of the Reaper is probably my second favorite Batman story of all time.

Which of the many comic book characters that haven’t gotten the full movie treatment would you like to see on film?

My favorite was always Captain Marvel…the Harry Potter of superheroes.  It could be spectacular and different, and based on family.  The Shadow.  His best interpretations outside of print were on radio.  I would love to see it visually done in a stunning way.  I’m a big fan of the pulps: The Shadow, Doc Savage, things like that.  Some of my favorite comic books growing up were Wally Wood’s T.H.U.N.D.E.R. Agents, which to me is like The Right Stuff of superheroes, when they go out and recruit these guys in real life to be superheroes and every power has a curse attached to it.  I loved that.  Doctor Strange.  Fabulous material.  The Question.  I had a chance to write that with Alex Toth.  I was the first writer after Steve Ditko, and working with Toth I never learned so much about graphic storytelling in my life.  That was fun. That’s another character I have a soft spot in my heart for.  That pretty much sums it up.

What is your take on the current state of comic books?  In the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s the stories were more about adventure and now the storylines seem geared more toward the internal turmoil of characters vs. going out and fighting the bad buys.  In your opinion how do today’s comics measure up to the comics of your youth?

A world apart.  Comic books when I was a kid were aimed at 7 to 12 year old boys and today’s they’re aimed at adults.  And in too many cases kids are ignored, and so are women.  And for awhile it was Manga that was filling that gap.  And I’m happy to see comics become a little more diverse and opening the doors again to kids and females which is important.  Technologically the comics are completely different.  The graphic storytelling has changed.  One of my pet peeves is when I open up a $3 or $4 comic book and there’s an average of seven words on a page.  It’s called a comic book.  It’s supposed to be art and words mixed together and not having the words abdicated entirely to the artist.  So I like my comics to have more meat on them in terms of their literary value.  You’re right, this started with Stan Lee with Marvel Comics when he began to create conflicts based on internal conflicts more than the external conflicts of super-villains or aliens or whatever.  And that it became more important as a Marvel reader what was going on in Peter Parker’s life and in Spider-Man’s life.  The torture of the Hulk, the military industrial complex, science gone mad, but it was that switch over to the internal conflicts.  And now I think today that is the rule rather than the exception, even with the villains.  When the villains come in they are internally conflicted and the relationships between the heroes and the villains, the symbiotic relationships, are explored opening doors to make it feel more mature, to make it feel more real to a much older reader.  But the days when I picked up a comic book to be entertained for pure escapism, it’s not quite the same.  And sometimes I feel I’m weighted down by a lot of them and other times I feel they’re inappropriately dark and gritty just to try to keep pace with what everybody else seems to be doing.  And the movies can make the same mistake.  You can’t have the dark and gritty Superman.  You can’t have the dark and gritty Ant-Man.  And for God’s sake you can’t start making Casper the Unfriendly Ghost.

If you were to make a Batman movie in the 1940’s what talent would you put together for that project?

Wow.   Let me start with director.  My directors would be Orson Welles, Fritz Lang, Max Fleischer, they would be my first three.  Stars, oh my God, stars…Douglas Fairbanks Sr.  Did you ever see The Mark of Zorro, the silent version?  I showed everybody when we originally started Batman this scene where Zorro challenges the commandante to have breakfast with him in the center of town.  They set the table for him and he leaps in through a window, sits, takes a bite, and he springs out the next window.  I said, “That’s Batman.  That’s what’s got to be captured.”

You took an idea you had as a teenager and not only made it your life’s mission, but made good on it by producing all seven Batman films starting with Tim Burton’s Batman in 1989.  In your book you describe the obstacles you faced for ten years trying to get the film made.  Where did this persistence come from?

Passion.  If I had to boil my life down to one word, it’s “passion.”  I was raised by an amazing woman who not only let me keep my comic books, but brought up my brother and I in a way that once you make a commitment, you honor it. Period.  End of story.  You’re not happy?  You’re sad having to be on this little league team because you hate your coach?  I’m sorry but you made a commitment to the kids on your team and you have to see this through.  Next year you don’t have to do it, but you made a commitment, you see it through.  I made a commitment to bring a dark and serious Batman to the silver screen.  I thought it was going to be a breeze.  It wasn’t.  And I’ve learned since that I can accomplish anything I want to in life, but always the longest, hardest possible way.  There was never an easy path for me.  There was never a quick path.  You look at the other movies I was involved with: Constantine, National Teasure.  These movies have taken nine, eleven years to bring to the screen.  So I’ve always got there but never the easy way.  And so I have a bit of a siege mentality as a result.  I don’t expect anything less than agony (laughs) and duration to get to where I want to go.  But I so want to get to where I want to go that I’ve learned how to channel that frustration and deal with it and not let it beat me.

A very special thanks to Michael Uslan for taking the time to meet with me for this interview, and to the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art for the opportunity.

Please note this interview, and all original content on FantesInferno.com is copyright Fabrizio Fante and FantesInferno.com and cannot be copied or used on any platform or in any format without expressed written consent.

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Avengers Fans Assembled! Bring on the Comic Book Movies!

I’m blown away by the $207 million U.S. box office gross for The Avengers last weekend.  Sadly, I wasn’t able to be a part of the opening weekend but I’ll definitely check it out next week.

Some non-comic book fans may lament the number of comic themed films that will be coming out in the next few years (Avengers 2 without a doubt, Captain America 2, Thor 2, Wolverine 2, Man of Steel, etc.) but I can’t get enough of them.  My prime comic book reading years were the late 70’s to the mid 80’s, and with the exception of the Superman films it was slim pickin’s for comic book heroes on the big screen during that time.  I remember back around 1981 my brother mentioned an X-Men movie was in the works.  I have no proof of the accuracy of that statement, but it got my 9 year old mind racing to the possibilities of who would play Professor X, Cyclops, Phoenix, Storm, Colossus, Nightcrawler, Wolverine, Angel and Sprite.  And for years I waited…and waited…until 2000 when X-Men was released in theaters.  My brother drove down from Boston and we watched it in our hometown theater just like we did Superman: The Movie over 20 years earlier.

With The Avengers performing way above expectations, my mind is racing again to the possibility of even more comic book films.

Upcoming comic related films I’m looking forward to:

The Dark Knight Rises – Very high hopes for this one.  And I’ll have a surprise post the week of its release.

The Amazing Spider-Man – I was puzzled when they originally announced this reboot.  I didn’t think I would want to see another origin story, but the new trailer reminded me of what I didn’t like in the first Spider-Man movie, particularly Mary Jane’s role as Peter’s love interest instead of Gwen Stacy.

Man of Steel –  I’m not sure what to expect with this.  Superman Returns was a disappointment, mostly because it needlessly re-hashed plot points from Richard Donner’s Superman.  One of the main criticisms I’ve heard from fellow fans is that it’s time for Superman to fight a super villain like Doomsday.  I agree.

Dredd – After the 1995 debacle, I didn’t think Judge Dredd would ever get another shot at a feature film.  Dredd will be released in the U.S. this September with Karl Urban (Star Trek, The Bourne Supremacy) in the title role.

Here’s my wish list of comic book films.

In development:

Fantastic Four #242
Copyright Marvel Comics

Fantastic Four – I wasn’t impressed by the first two Fantastic Four films.  The super team that ushered in the Marvel Age of comics didn’t get the respect it deserved.  There’s a reboot in development (Fantastic Four Reborn) at Fox.  Fingers crossed.

Daredevil #230
Copyright Marvel Comics

Daredevil – I’m looking forward to this reboot based on the Born Again arc by Frank Miller and David Mazzuchelli.  But the storyline I always hoped to see on film would be from the Frank Miller/Klaus Janson run.  Unfortunately the first movie took away the possibility of a Bullseye/Elektra story.

Holding out hope:

Doctor Strange #56
Copyright Marvel Comics

Doctor Strange – I remember watching the made for TV version of Doctor Strange in the late 70s.  I don’t remember too much of it, except the terrible plot, acting, costumes, and special effects.

Justice League of America #165
Copyright DC Comics

Justice League – George Miller (Mad Max, Happy Feet) was attached to direct this several years back.  Hopefully Warner Brothers will give their super team the big screen treatment.

Wonder Woman #253
Copyright DC Comics

Wonder Woman – One of the Golden Age characters that I would like to see set in the 1940’s.  Superheroes fighting in World War II is kind of a recurring theme on my wish list…

Black Panther
Copyright Marvel Comics

Black Panther – I’d love to see a Black Panther feature film set in both Africa and New York City.  He’s a very underrated character in the Marvel Universe.  At the very least he should make an appearance in an Avengers or Fantastic Four movie.

Luke Cage, Hero For Hire #1
Copyright Marvel Comics

Luke Cage – Nothing like Luke Cage, Hero For Hire, opening up a can of whoop ass.  If this film ever gets made, please set it in the 70s.

Giant Size Invaders #1
Copyright Marvel Comics

The Invaders – Captain America, The Sub-Mariner and The Human Torch fighting the Nazis in World War II.  Need I say more?

Awhile back I had asked a comic artist what he thought of the large number of comic book related movies that had been released over the last five years.  His response:  “We rule the world now!”

I couldn’t agree more!

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