- I'm the co-host of THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO with Dana & Carl (Sunday nights, 9 to Midnight Eastern, www.westcottradio.org). As a freelance writer, I contributed to Goldmine magazine from 1986-2006, wrote liner notes for Rhino Records' compilation CD Poptopia! Power Pop Classics Of The '90s, and for releases by The Flashcubes, The Finkers, Screen Test, 1.4.5., and Jack "Penetrator" Lipton. I contributed to the books Bubblegum Music Is The Naked Truth, Shake Some Action, Lost In The Grooves, and MusicHound Rock, and to DISCoveries, Amazing Heroes, The Comics Buyer's Guide, Yeah Yeah Yeah, Comics Collector, The Buffalo News, and The Syracuse New Times. I also wrote the liner notes for the four THIS IS ROCK 'N' ROLL RADIO compilation CDs, because, well, who could stop me? My standing offer to write liner notes for a Bay City Rollers compilation has remained criminally ignored. Still intend to write and sell a Batman story someday.
Thursday, February 11, 2016
My Two Batmen, Part 3
Read about my first Batman here: http://carlcafarelli.blogspot.com/2016/02/my-two-batmen-part-1.html
Read about my second Batman here: http://carlcafarelli.blogspot.com/2016/02/my-two-batmen-part-2.html
When did Batman become such a dick?
My first Batman, the campy TV Batman of the 1960s, was played as a joke. To counteract that image, my second Batman looked back to the character's pulp noir roots in the '30s and '40s, and became once again The Batman, a darker and grittier hero for the 1970s. And this was fine by me.
I barely noticed as my hero grew even darker. When I started buying comics again after graduating from college in 1980, I may have noticed that Batman had grown a bit...well, gruffer, for lack of a better description. He was certainly more rude than he'd been previously; even as O'Neil and Adams, and Englehart and Rogers, had made the hero less square--and way more intimidating--he was still a hero. Neither of my Batmen would have ever spoken unkindly to Robin, or Alfred, or Commissioner Gordon, or Superman. They may have disagreed, even argued a point or two, but c'mon--Gordon was a friend, Superman was a best friend, and Robin and Alfred were family, for God's sake.
But times changed. Darker! Grittier! Over the ensuing decades, I grew to detest that mantra in superhero comics. I liked--loved--a lot of it at the time. Frank Miller's Daredevil. Alan Moore's Saga Of The Swamp Thing. And later, Moore's Watchmen and Marvelman, and Miller's grim takes on The Batman, Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns. Batman was taken seriously! Rolling Stone magazine noticed. By the time director Tim Burton's Batman triumphed at the box office in 1989, the whole country knew Batman wasn't camp anymore.
But still: did he have to become such a dick?
When the Batman film franchise was revitalized with the release of Batman Begins in 2005, a critic for our local newspaper complained that director Christopher Nolan had forgotten that Batman was "supposed to have a sense of humor." I loved the film, and thought the critic was just revealing her own gross misunderstanding of the character. But I'm starting to see her point.
I didn't want Batman to be camp again; I still don't want that. But I wish he could go back to being a good guy. I wish writers and artists who buy into the stupid notion that Batman is as crazy as his foes could be physically restrained from ever again creating a Batman story. Creators who think Batman's war on crime is so single-minded that he can't be bothered to treat his partners with a modicum of respect do not understand the Batman created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane, the Batman chronicled by Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers, or (initially) by Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams. (I say initially because, from the '80s on, O'Neil seemed to lose sight of the character's virtues as badly as anyone.) These creators do not tell stories about my Batman.
And that's why I gave up on Batman comics. Aside from my brief sabbatical from comics while in college, 2015 marked the first time since 1966 that I was no longer buying any Batman comics. I still buy comics; I buy new superhero comics every week. But they're mostly Marvels now, plus titles from some other publishers, and not many from DC Comics. The Marvel Comics are more fun.
(Well, to be honest, I'm still buying one Batman-related series: Batman '66, a new series set in the campy continuity of the old TV show. As I write this, Batman '66's current incarnation is a crossover miniseries with Napolean Solo and Illya Kuryakin from The Man From U.N.C.L.E., and it's been a joy so far.)
As I've aged, I've come to recognize some of the great things about my campy first Batman. First, even though the TV show's producers absolutely felt they were above their low-brow source material, their attention to detail was precise; the TV show exaggerated the silliness, but the silliness was indeed already there in those great, classic Batman comics stories of the'40s, '50s, and '60s. And the main actors were invested in their roles--you'll never hear me say a bad thing about Adam West, ever. I rejected Batman '66 as an adolescent; now, I embrace at least parts of it.
I haven't given up on my ideal Batman returning. I loved Christian Bale's Batman movies, because there was still a human heart within the darkness and grittiness; I will see the forthcoming Batman v Superman film with an open mind, even though it's apparently beholden to the Frank Miller Batman that I once loved and now loathe. (And Ben Affleck's gonna be terrific as Batman.) I still watch the Gotham TV show, though it's gratuitously violent and manages to piss me off about as often as it engages me.
I'm 56. I'm surely old enough to have given up belief in heroes by now. Except that I don't ever intend to grow that old, to shed the sense of wonder of a six-year-old boy using a blanket as his cape, yelling "POW!" and "BIFF!" while crusading in my living room. I'm not going to give up on the thrill of a Dark Knight protecting a defenseless city from superstitious, cowardly criminals that prey on unsuspecting citizens, a strange figure who seeks justice--not as an act of vengeance, nor as a manifestation of his own insanity, but as the noble fulfillment of a promise he made years ago before the graves of his murdered parents: that no innocent should be made to suffer again. I still believe in Batman. I still believe in my Batman.
And my Batman's not a dick.