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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.

Monday, March 6, 2017

WHAT IF? SO WHAT? The 1979 Fantasy And Science Fiction Journal, Part 5

Continuing entries from the journal I kept for Dr. Calvin Rich's Fantasy And Science Fiction class when I was a senior at Brockport in the Fall of 1979. This is the second of three parts discussing my love of comic book superheroes, and how that led to my interest in writing about them. You can read the beginning here. And now: BATMAN!

# 5: 9/24/79

The legend retold, paraphrased from a vivid, larger-than-life memory:

One fateful evening, Thomas and Martha Wayne and their young son were walking home from a night at the cinema. Suddenly, a gunman jumped out of the dark, demanding that the Waynes hand over their valuables. Thomas Wayne--known about Gotham City as a wealthy man of unimpeachable honor--objected to the hood's impertinence both verbally and physically, and was fatally shot for his troubles.

Martha screamed as her husband crumpled to the pavement. The unnerved gunman, sweat beginning to gather on his brow, muttered, This'll shut you up!, and emptied his gun's contents into the body of Mrs. Wayne. As she fell, her assailant fearfully flew from the scene, forgetting about the newly-orphaned Bruce Wayne.

The years went by. As the young Bruce Wayne grew to manhood, he learned all he could of the knowledge of mind and body. He was, in many ways, both a physical and mental marvel, excelling in all manner of scholastic and athletic achievement.

Poised now upon the threshold of young adulthood, Bruce sat alone in his mansion, brooding, musing, contemplating, and remembering a vow he'd made the night of his parents' death.

The deaths of my parents shall not go unavenged. I shall avenge their deaths, and I shall not rest until I've brought all criminals to justice.

His reminiscence thus concluded, Bruce got up from his chair and wandered about the large, fire-lit room. His plan of vengeance against crime continued to form.

Criminals are a superstitious and cowardly lot, so my disguise must strike terror into their hearts. I must be black, terrible, a....

At that moment, a huge bat flew in the open window.

A BAT! That's it! It's like an omen! I shall become...A BAT!

And thus was born that terrible avenger of the merciless night, that fearsome crusader of swift justice, THE BATMAN!

My hero.

As The Batman's career progressed, he acquired a young partner, Robin (alias Dick Grayson), whose parents had been killed under similar circumstances. Together, this dynamic duo faced and overcame the deadly threats of the world's most demented criminal geniuses: The Joker (an entirely insane killer whose face was permanently marked with the visage of a degenerate clown, and whose unfortunate victims died with a similar, horribly sardonic expression on their faces), Two-Face (a young D.A. whose sanity was destroyed when a bottle of vitriol thrown at him permanently scarred half of his once-handsome face), Dr. Hugo Strange (a truly mad scientist who turned normal people into rampaging, nine-foot-tall monsters), and many others saw their evil designs crumble before the righteous onslaught of Batman and Robin.

As a reader, the special quality of Batman that has allowed him to to hold such a strong appeal for me would probably be his sense of potential vulnerability (no super-powers, no superhuman stamina, Batman could be hurt, could bleed, and could die if the wound were grave enough) and his subtle sense of realism underlying the heroic romance of his incredible adventures. Although television established his image as a bumbling clown, The Batman was actually a creature of tremendous feeling and emotion, longing for a normal life, but consumed wholly by the intensity of his vow of vengeance.

To the writer, Batman poses numerous possibilities for intriguing adventure, a remarkable sense of wonder, and intricate dramatic developments of emotion. Within the grand scheme of colorful adventure, Batman left room for characterization and dramatic tension resulting from the interplay of characters--more so than the action-oriented Superman, but more subtly and successfully than the soap-operatic Spider-Man. Thus, Batman assumes a degree of realism unattainable to other comic book superheroes. This combination of fantastic adventure with realistic (no matter how faintly realistic) roots and undercurrents served to grip my fascination; during the period when I religiously followed Batman's adventures, their outcome and the fates of those involved mattered to me, in the sense that these adventures drew me into their fantasy world and kept me there for as long as the tale remained consistent with itself and with my ideals of plausibility within implausible realms.

Because this fantasy/reality synthesis and mystique about Batman so engaged me, I determined (at age 12) that I would be the Caped Crusader's official biographer.

Continued again--a guy gets tired, y'know?

DR. RICH'S COMMENT: "Good!," referring to the paragraph where I detailed Batman's vulnerability and potential mortality.

2017 POSTSCRIPT: Well, some of this is a load of hooey, I guess, but I meant it at the time. Maybe I still do, though I wouldn't lay it on quite so thick as the mature 'n' serious adult I (infrequently) pretend to be. I'm far more forgiving of the campy mid-'60s Batman now than was when I wrote this. Jeez, man--lighten up! I wouldn't have even become a fan of Batman in the first place if not for that TV show, so credit where credit's due. As a teenager, I longed for a more serious screen portrait of Batman; I got my wish, and then some, starting a decade later. Now, I think it's perfectly okay to love TV's Adam West and subsequent Dark Knights Michael Keaton, Christian Bale, and Ben Affleck. Don't ask me to speak on behalf of Val Kilmer's Batman--ain't happening.

But I will happily, joyfully, eagerly speak on behalf of Yvonne Craig's Batgirl.
There is a reference here to "the period when I religiously followed Batman's adventures." In 1979, I had given up on Batman's comic book adventures, and on all then-contemporary comic books. I didn't want to grow up; it was forced on me! Luckily, I grew out of this silly presumed maturity (it certainly wasn't sophistication, no sir, not ever) in short order. I soured on comics when writer Steve Englehart left the field; Englehart's run in Detective Comics (starring Batman) from 1977 to '78 knocked me out, and everything after that was a disappointment to me.  I started reading comics again in the early '80s, and have never stopped since then.

WHEN WHAT IF? SO WHAT? RETURNS: My 19-year-old self tries to write a Batman story. Gulp.

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