Welcome to Fanboy Anonymous. We’ve got someone new with us today. Introduce yourself, please…
“My name is John, and I saw Tim Burton’s Batman movie theatrically 12 times. I know that sounds excessive, but it just sort of happened.”
“It was summer session in a college town -- everyone had left. The trendiest nightspot was the campus commissary where each hour Hair-Net Harriet would loudly announce the alley cat’s latest digestive complaint.”
“Yeah. You can see the need for frequent film-hall forays.”
Very alliterative. So why Batman? Were you drawn by the hype?
“Nope, ignored it on purpose. The last big comics pic had been Howard the Duck, remember. Everyone was skeptical. Low expectations were in order all June, until the 22nd, when I wrapped up at the newspaper and, finding nothing to do, ended up in line at the mall six hours before the sneak preview.”
What was that like?
“I’ve been to movies at lots of conventions, and I’ve yet to see as energetic or as wacky a crowd. I don’t know where they’d all hidden themselves. There were at least a dozen teens in Joker make-up. One black-clad group brought a giant black dropcloth and draped it across their section of seats, cape-style. There was riotous applause for every name on the screen — a little less for Prince, a little more for Bob Kane. Outside of Rocky Horror, I can’t recall a more energetic audience — unless you count that Jedi premiere where the whole audience stood up.”
“Never mind. Different story. Anyway, I had a ball and caught the film again the next day with a different group of friends. And again. And so on, until #12, which was in The Orpheum, the grand old Memphis theatre. That was a good place to stop, I think. It took on a goofy ritual aspect, in keeping with such odd college-student avocations as playing ‘Price the Cheese’ in the all-night grocery or manufacturing and planting evidence of a fake serial killer.”
What on earth?
“Hush. It wasn’t your education. The point is, there was something about being in the thick of the mania. A friend at one theater told how they’d yanked Star Trek V and Ghostbusters II off screens and had run their one Batman print in three rooms simultaneously — either relaying reels from room to room or running the actual filmstrip down the hall, some crazy explanation. I can’t say as if that was legit, but it shows how strange that summer solstice got.”
Well, what about the criticisms of the picture? Some even in the comics community were less than kind…
“They’re right. They’re all right. There's a lot of other movies you'd trade for a chance to see theatrically. Some were even out that summer — it was a big year for movies. But, you know, when you get to the end, and you remember how much ‘pow-biff-thud’ ribbing comics fans have taken since the old Batman TV series, and you see a Batman who’s not a buffoon standing triumphantly as the music climbs, you realize that the character’s just transformed the image of super-hero comics for a lot of mainstream popular perception.”
At least, until they undid all of that three movies later.
“Thanks for reminding me — now I'll have to watch Dark Knight again to forget. But, for a while there, things did change. Darkman, the Flash TV show, The Rocketeer, The Crow — heck, even Dick Tracy went with a mysterious logo for its teaser posters.
"And within the series itself, there's a certain progression that reflects the comics — as Michael Uslan, one of the producers, pointed out to me some years later at San Diego. The first film's the Batman-with-a-Gun 1930s; the second is the 1940s, also dark but with a larger rogue's gallery. Then you get the Robin-centric 1950s in the third film and the campy 1960s in the fourth. At the time, before Batman Begins had come out, he speculated that a fifth movie should be the detective Batman of the 1970s, followed by the Dark Knight version of the 1980s. I guess it did kind of follow that track, after all."
Do you think anyone else will notice the 20th anniversary?
“I don't know. But it was nice to talk about something other than Star Wars for a change. Hey, is there a refreshment cart here?”
[An earlier version of this appeared in Comics Buyer's Guide #1334, the June 11, 1999 edition. Thank goodness they made the last few Batman movies...!]