Batman: a memoir in media
As far back as I can remember I’ve always been a fan of Batman. As a young girl who wasn’t one to read anything unless I had to, I never (and still haven’t, I’m only mildly ashamed to say) got into the comic books. I’m certain I’m still allowed to love Batman despite this fact. (It’s a technicality. Please stay off my ass, you die-hards.)My first introduction to Batman was when I was very young. My parents had a copy of the original 60’s TV series theme song on vinyl. Soon my sister and I were given fighting action figurines of Batman, Robin, The Penguin, and The Joker. Batman and Robin had real fabric capes and if you squeezed their legs together an arm would move in a punching sort of motion. . . kind of. We loved them. Then one evening I left Batman on the coffee table and the next morning found him in a mangled mess on the floor, a victim of our black Labrador. I remember how much I cried over it. Batman was my favorite of the bunch and I had been responsible for his death. The Joker, being the most bad-ass of the action figures left (Robin and The Penguin didn’t quit cut it) absolutely became my favorite Batman villain. So I treasured my Joker, dashing in his purple suit and spats, the one remaining toy to remind me of the greatness that had once been my little plastic punching Batman.
A few years later a local TV channel started running the Adam West Batman television series. Of course, I watched them every day, fascinated by shiny capes and Robin’s green, pointy, cuffed shoes. Having re-watched the movie that was born from this series as an adult, I can see why I loved it so much as a child. Everything was ridiculous and stupid, but Batman and Robin could solve crimes with such an asinine string of logic that I, as a child, could somehow follow it or at least be impressed by it because I had a tiny child brain that didn’t realize how ridiculous it really was. It was also very colorful and used capital letters and simple words like “BIFF!” and “POW!” and “KA-BOOM!” during fight scenes, words I wouldn’t ever find on Sesame Street (which may explain why I never watched Sesame Street. Not enough punching.)Then, in 1989 came Michael Keaton as Batman and Jack Nicholson as the Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman. It was one of the highlights of my tiny life. I played in the backyard all the time with my young friend Max who loved Batman with all the typical enthusiasm of a superhero-crazed five-year-old. He would be Batman/Bruce Wayne and I would be everybody else (which was difficult when I, as Vicki Vale, would have to kidnap by myself as the Joker). Max and I spent hours setting boundaries for the Batcave and Joker’s hideout, sorting through various toys deciding what would make a good smoke bomb and which jump rope should be used as a zip line. We’d play Batman outside in summer when it was dark, dressed all in black, taking turns defeating each other as hero and villain. When the mosquitoes finally got the best of us we’d go inside, snuggle into sleeping bags on the floor and watch the movie again for the umpteenth time as we drifted off to sleep. In between movies, I satisfied my cravings for the Caped Crusader by watching Batman: The Animated Series on Fox Kids at 4:30pm, which was the exact the same time of day I didn’t want to do my homework, so that worked out well. Though technically a cartoon, this series was way more mature in its storytelling than the Adam West series. Animated Batman’s train of thought and logic seemed to be based more on real facts as opposed to: This happened out at sea. . . so C for Catwoman!! (Wha?? Really? I’m not even sure Catwoman put that much thought into it, but I guess I’ll go with it.) It was through this glorious cartoon that I was introduced to villains I never met in the Adam West series or the Tim Burton films. Scarecrow, Clayface, Killer Croc, The Mad Hatter, Mr. Freeze, Poison Ivy, Bane, The Ventriloquist, and Ra’s al Ghul. And although the Joker (voiced by the amazing Mark Hamill) was still my number-one guy, I was happy to let his leading lady, Harley Quinn, sneak into my heart as well. Finally I could finally pretend to be a badass chick villain instead of a damsel in distress (and stop having to kidnap myself). The years went on, Tim Burton kept doing his thing and our passion for Batman was born anew with each sequel. With the release of Batman Returns (1992) and Michelle Pfeiffer’s Catwoman, Max and my respective older sisters couldn’t help but join the fun (though they had to invent a character named “Kitty Girl” so they could both play. There could only be one Catwoman). By the time Val Kilmer donned the rubber suit in Batman Forever (1995), we were too old for that sort of thing, but Max and I were so in love with Jim Carey that we often just talked about how much we loved the Riddler and quoted him constantly until our sisters threatened to kill us.
The summer Batman Begins (2005) was released was also the summer I was to graduate from college. To be more exact, the Batman Begins release date was the same day as my graduation ceremony. I was very excited about it, but had worked hard and was very proud about finishing school.
MAN.Yes. I skipped my college graduation and went with future Idler editor Kevin Mattison to see Batman Begins. I have never regretted this decision. I so loved this new telling of Batman that, had it not been the last showing that night, I would have left the theater, gone to the counter and bought a ticket for the next one. I felt much the same way after The Dark Knight (2008). Heath Ledger’s Joker is the kind of crazy I am inexplicably drawn to in a villain. I’m just smitten with him.
In all this, I realize I haven’t actually mentioned why I’m so in love with Batman. There are plenty of reasons to love him. I won’t go into all the “he’s a mere mortal, trying to do what’s right,” or the “Bruce Wayne is the mask, Batman is the real psyche, isn’t that fascinating?” stuff. When I think about it I have to say it’s because Batman is my comfort food in the superhero world. I didn’t have any real friends until I was thirteen, except for one, and that one friend of mine played Batman in the backyard with me. Some of my best childhood memories are of being dressed in black, crouching behind a tree in the dark of a summer night, fighting off mosquitoes while trying not to blow my cover, waiting for a towel-caped Max to come into view so I could fight him, lose, and start all over again.