Tuesday, June 14, 2005

The League presents:
Suggestions for Further Reading

Batman and Me

Superman may be the superhero about whom The League harbors a pathological obsession. But it wasn't always that way.

It's the battle of nature vs. nurture trying to decide how The League became interested in superheroes. In truth, the fascination goes back to well before The League has any true recollection. But we've heard in anecdote and seen in snapshots the early signs of trouble.

I kid you not, my first word was "Batman."

At least this is the story passed down over the years in the Steans Clan. The baby-book speaks a different story. It claims I said, "Mom" first, but when you ask the woman herself, she always says, "I don't remember that. I remember 'matman'."

Matman, indeed.

This tale has been verified through a cousin. My dad claims little or no memory of actual first words. However, evidence suggests that even if it wasn't the first word, it was the first interest.

With a blanket tied around my neck and a pacifier in my mouth, apparently I patrolled the hallways of our apartment. The inspiration, of course, was the Adam West starring Batman television program (1966), then running in syndication.

Why, yes, Commissioner. He has no idea the show is supposed to be funny. He's 2.

Simultaneously, both Superfriends and a Batman cartoon were running on Saturday mornings.

The League only vaguely remembers the Batman cartoon running at the time. It played with Tarzan and The Lone Ranger as an hour of action.

Batman flees in fear from his own car.

Batman in the Superfriends cartoon seemed to be in a tough spot. With Wonder Woman, Green Lantern and others covering all the heavy lifting, usually it was up to Batman and Robin to sort of stand around and lose their utility belts whenever a villain showed. Batman was sort of prone to speechifying, but he had an endless supply of vehicles and gadgets, and the other heroes seemed to take him fairly seriously.

The Superfriends... a friendship which seemed sort of forced in order to keep their PR people happy.

I had a Batman costume for Halloween when I was 3 or 4. My mom dutifully tied the highly flammable plastic sack over my clothes and allowed me to wander into traffic, peering through the narrow slits of a scratchy, plastic mask.

When not in full Halloween mode, I had an everyday Batman cape I could wear playing in the yard or basement. My Grandma had somewhere found an iron-on of a Neal Adams inspired Batman and had fixed it to the back of the cape.

I continued to watch the Superfriends cartoon until it ran it's course and was eventually replaced with something like Hammerman. I don't really recall.

In second grade I received a Fisher Price tape player and a book/ tape combination of Batman and Robin in "The Case of the Laughing Sphinx". The art in the book was actually top-flight comic art by Carmine Infantino, I believe, and was actually well voice-acted. In addition, the story contained not just Robin's origin (which some poor voice actor had to play), but also several major players in Batman's Rogues Gallery. Robin's origin is dramatic, sad, and oddly dated. His parents were circus acrobats killed by some crooks shaking down the circus they worked for. Anyway, it's probably too complicated to go into here.

We'd had a storybook record of Batman back in the day, but I don't remember much about it. I sort of wonder if it's still under my parents TV tucked in with the other vinyl.

In third grade my parents bought me a Batman comic book. I think he was fighting some guy who had hi-jacked a dirigible. What I remember most was that Batman said, "damn." I can't tell you how much this jacked with my head. Batman was the nice guy who hung around with an idiot teen-ager in swim trunks. At my house you ate a bar of soap for calling somebody "dummy" in front of my parents, so I was utterly unprepared for Batman to drop the "d-bomb" in the course of a crime involving a large balloon.

It was not until years later that I would again pick up a Batman comic.

But in middle-school I began picking up issues of Detective Comics and Batman, published by DC. I was fascinated by the sharp, angular art of Norm Breyfogle and the punchy writing of Alan Grant.

I think the scene on the cover never really happens. In fact, I think Robin (Jason Todd) was dead at this point.

As if this wasn't all enough, at some point I picked up a copy of Frank Miller's genre-defining work, The Dark Knight Returns.

Batman and Robin (Carrie Kelly) are takin' it to the street...

An "imaginary" story of Batman, aged 55 and 10 years retired from crime-fighting, Dark Knight Returns re-imagined Batman as a man truly possessed. The series redefined Batman as the grim, relentless bone-breaker that carries through to today's comics.

The series did little to draw in new fans of Superman, painting him as a stooge for a corrupt authority (an idea rectified with a vengeance in the sequel, The Dark Knight Strikes Again).

Bruce and Clark debate the finer points of over-sized golf shoes.

I went nuts.

Suddenly I was wearing a Batman shirt to school two days a week (out of my rotation of 5-6 Batman shirts). I drew Batman on book covers, on folders, in the margins of notes in class. I spouted off Batman trivia as often as possible and planned my own Batcave.

And, lucky for me, right around this time Tim Burton released his movie version of "Batman" starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson.

So very hard to fight crime in a neck brace...

This led to a common scene in the six months leading up to the movie as my classmates approached me in the hall to inform me, "Hey, they're making a Batman movie. Did you know that?"

Yes. Yes, I did.

I returned home from basketball camp the day the movie was released. Even on the way home I was informed Peabo's mother had gone out and bought us tickets for the 7:00 show at Barton Creek Mall.

My mother, who had less superheroic priorities, insisted I mow the lawn before leaving. I literally ran, pushing the lawn mower, finishing mowing the lawn in record time. Even Jason was impressed.

Of course, I lacked anything like objectivity, declared it the greatest monument of human achievement, and saw the movie four more times in the theater that summer.

a 14-year old League knew that criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot

Special thanks to Jeff and Sandy Beno for supplying this pic. They sent it in this year's Christmas card. Peabo, Reedo and Steanso will remember this era all too well

In high school I went underground with my Batmania. Something finally clicked between my ears that informed me that maybe girls weren't as nuts about a man in tights and his young ward as I might be.

My high-school girlfriend was a sport and saw "Batman Returns" with me.

I was still picking up the comics, but not on a monthly basis anymore. Just when villains, artists, etc... struck my fancy.

Just giving me some really unrealistic expectations of what girls were going to be like after high school...

At this point, Bruce Timm and Paul Dini launched Batman: The Animated Series, a series which dug into the purest elements of the Batman comics ever brought to screen. Initially, I had assumed that the series would be a kids show bent on selling toys, but, instead, each episode was an intricately crafted Batman story.

Batman realizes he has the world's most obnoxious beeper.

Most interesting about the Batman Animated Series is that it tied directly in with the later Superman Animated Series, Batman/ Superman Adventures and later Justice League and Justice League Unlimited. In total, this televised portrayal of Batman has been guided by roughly the same creative voices since about 1992.

In college I still picked up Batman books, and somewhere located a map of the Batcave that, for some reason, I pinned to my dorm room wall. It was like instant girl repellent, but it did help me to quickly sort through which girls I was going to want to deal with.

I suffered through the Joel Schumacher movies, Batman Forever and Batman and Robin.

Jamie seemed to tolerate Batman fairly early on, and, just a year after we began dating, actually read "Dark Knight Returns" in its entirety. Thus winning the approval of The League's sizable inner-child. Most importantly, she didn't just read the comic, she actually engaged in an interesting discussion with me after she had finished the comic.

Can't tell you how important that was.

To this day, Jamie continues to watch the Batman cartoons on DVD when i watch them. She knows the schedule for JLU air dates. And in 1999, she was Catwoman for Halloween.


I now have about three long boxes full of Batman comics, having jumped fully back into the Batcomics once more in 2000. This is not to mention a shelf-full of Batman collections. League HQ is also home to a large collection of Batman toys, models and a growing Batmobile collection, several movies on DVD, as well as the animated series on DVD. In truth, The League sees no end in sight to an ever-growing appreciation of the Dark Knight Detective.

Of course we're both super-psyched for the new Batman Begins film, opening on Wednesday. Jamie is probably more excited about Christian Bale zipping about than I am, but we agree that this is the Batmovie we've been waiting for.

If reviews trickling in are any indication, no Loyal Leaguer shall be disappointed.

For prior editions of Suggestions for Further Reading, you can click here.

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