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.)

Batman (1966)

Burt Ward as Robin and Adam West as Batman

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.)

Batman (1989)

Michael Keaton as Batman and Jack Nicholson as the Joker

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.

batman and joker

Batman (voice of Kevin Conroy) and the Joker (voice of Mark Hamill)

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).

Val Kilmer Batman

Val Kilmer as Batman and Chris O'Donnell as Robin

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.

But.

BAT.

MAN.

Bale Batman

Christian Bale as Batman

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.

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14 Responses to “Batman: a memoir in media”
  1. Jason McCaffrey says:

    I was never a huge comic book kid growing up, either. I fell in love with Tim Burton’s Batman and Gotham CIty. I have to say those films were my gateway drugs to the books. I’m not ignoring your disclaimer in the first paragraph. I’m with you on that. But I do want to say from someone who had a similar trajectory of Batman love as you, I strongly recommend picking up a Batman comic book and giving it a go. I think you will find a whole new world to be infatuated with. I’m pretty confident that The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller will blow your mind. It was originally released as a four part series of comic books in 1986, but can now be bought as one graphic novel. The reading is minimal. The pictures do the talking. I hope you give it a try.

    • Lindsey says:

      Thanks for understanding, Jason. The comics ARE on my to-read list, absolutely… I should probably actually write that list down…

  2. Gavin Craig says:

    Batman comics you might be interested in diving into:

    Batman: Arkham Asylum by Grant Morrison

    Super, super-freaky. Lots of occult/Freudian/Jungian elements, and the Joker in high heels.

    Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and The Dark Knight Strikes Back by Frank Miller

    Frank Miller’s take on women is generally, um, problematic, but the Carrie Kelly character (who starts off as Robin in the first series and becomes Catwoman, sort of, in the second series), offers an interesting take in the Batman/Robin dynamic, especially when she outgrows the sidekick role between “Returns” and “Strikes Back.”

    Batwoman: Elegy by Greg Rucka

    The new Batwoman character was given a run headlining Detective Comics a couple of years ago, and it was Ah. May. Zing. The art is beyond wonderful, and Greg Rucka turned a secondary, afterthought sort of a character into someone with real depth. Go get this. Now.

    Batgirl: Year One by Scott Beatty and Chuck Dixon

    There’s a moment in this one where Robin thinks that Batgirl is sweet on him and goes in for a kiss. She’s not, and pushes him away. It kills me, it’s such a great moment.

    Batman: Year One by Frank Miller, Batman: Year 100 by Paul Pope, and Gotham by Gaslight by Brian Augustyn are all good fun, but maybe only if you really want to geek out on Batman. And let me know if you do. I did ten years’ worth of Batman reading a few summers ago, and then you really might want to dive into the Contagion, Cataclysm, and No-Man’s Land story lines. Grant Morrison’s recent stuff (Batman & Son, The Black Glove, Batman R.I.P., etc.) is really good too, but it takes on whole new levels the more you know about arcane Batman lore–what he’s really done is to take the weird sci-fi heavy stuff from the 1950s that people like Frank Miller usually like to ignore entirely and turn it into something really, really interesting.

    You also cannot, cannot go wrong with Paul Dini’s run on Detective Comics, available in Batman: Detective, Batman: Death and the City, and Batman: Private Casebook.

  3. Lindsey says:

    Looks like I gots me a list. Thanks, Gavin. :)

  4. lauren says:

    I heart Batman! He was my main Man! By the way, Arkham was pretty good. I read it. I have to say Linds, I am a little disappointed that there are no pictures of me in my Batgirl costume. She was my main heroine (next to She-Ra of course ), until I figured out how cool Catwoman was. Then I was in love with all three! How can I combine them I wonder…..

    • Lindsey says:

      Well, Lauren, I don’t have any pictures of you in your Batgirl costume… maybe you should lay your hands on one and share it with us. :)

      Bat-Cat-Ra? Mayhaps a Halloween costume project?!

  5. Mike Vincent says:

    THe one book that still resonates with me from my HEAVY Batman phase of pre-high school is The Killing Joke. I have my original book as well as the deeluxe reissue from a few years ago. Love that to death.

    And I still have my original trade of the Dark Knight.

    • Gavin Craig says:

      I have mixed feelings about The Killing Joke. It’s not Moore’s best, and it’s kind of an odd one-shot. It’s a compelling story about the Joker’s possible origin, but I come away from it with the sense that Moore isn’t really that interested in the Joker. The big come-away, and I think Moore is largely responsible for this, is the sort of romance between Batman and the Joker, although even for that, others have done it better. The one question Moore doesn’t really deal with is why the Joker kills. He’s more a guy who will maim you for a bad pun.

      And Brian Bolland is an amazing artist, who, at the same time, I’m not really sure I like. :-)

      • Mike Vincent says:

        For me, this was released either at the peak or near the peak of my comic book bat-fandom. And I still have the comic. Something about it resonated with me, still does.

  6. Mike Vincent says:

    Now does anyone think Clooney could have been a viable Batman in the big picture?

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