I love Batman. You may have read that as “I am a fan of Batman” but read it again. I LOVE BATMAN.
The List goes: Wife and kids, Best Friend, Batman, Mother. If you were to come to my house you might expect to see it littered with Batman paraphernalia: decorations, toys, etc. You would be shocked to find out that upstairs strewn throughout my comic collection are only a handful of Batman graphic novels. Add to that a few DVD , a t-shirt and a set of earrings and you would have the extent of my Batman collection. My love for Batman cannot be measured in relation to bobbles and tchotchkies . To put it another way: Even the poor can be geeks.
This year marks the 75th anniversary of Batman. I've only been with him for 33 of those years-little more than a third of his prestigious career- so I know I'm not Batman first, far from it. We don't even have an exclusive relationship. I have to share him with millions of others, but I'm fine with that because despite his infidelity Batman's been good to me. When the Batman and I are together it's easy to forget that anyone else loves him too because it feels like his adventures are mine and mine alone.
Oh sure, we've had our ups and Clooneys, but we always work it out. No matter how far I stray, the other comics I read, the other movies I watch, I always come back to Batman.
It's impossible for someone my age to remember when they first became aware of Batman.
He's omnipresent in our society; he permeates the public consciousness like only a few fictional icons have. Can you remember the first time you saw Mickey Mouse? It's like asking when you first saw your Grandmother. Batman has always just been there; lurking in the shadows waiting to make his move.
My earliest memories of Batman are of things, as it's the tangible that first makes an impression on our developing minds. I remember having a pair of Batman pajamas that featured a cape you could attach with Velcro.Judging by the picture my mom has of me in said pajamas, I'm going to go with four years old. Around the same time I also remember having a Viewmaster with slides devoted to the Super Friends cartoon. Pretty humble and dare I say, boring beginnings to what would eventually become an obsession with Batman. What can I say though? Luke Skywalker had my heart at the time.
Some time before or after I was exposed to the Adam West Batman TV show. While it was never a "must see" event for me I definitely never hesitated to watch an episode if it happened to be on.
My next memory jumps ahead a few years: buying my first comic with my Grandmother at Cumberland Farms. I was around eight. My first comic was a Batman comic and It was 75 cents . It feels like a million years ago that comics were that cheap but when I asked for it my Grandmother actually started a diatribe about the 10 cent comics of her youth. Everything is relative I guess. I remember going home to devour my first comic like I'd seen countless other children do only to end up in a state of shock when I flipped open the cover. It's easy to forget that the Internet wasn't always a thing. The current generation of smoking, drinking, college graduates have never known a world without the web. I mention this because had I grown up with Google or Wikipedia I would probably already have been familiar with the dichotomy between Batman in the comics and Batman on TV before I ever cracked open an actual funny book. As it was I had to discover for myself that four colored Batman was a scary guy, or that one of those four colors could be blood. Sanitized and satirical, the Batman TV show had not prepared me for the difference between the "Caped Crusader" and the "Dark Knight".
I wasn't alone though. A whole generation of 60's kids were about to get their mind blown thanks to Tim Burton.
I vaguely remember going to see Tim Burtons Batman in the theater, it was one of those rare occasions when my mother left the house and accompanied my father and I to the movies. The real beginning of my love affair with that movie was when it was released on home video. My dad came home with the VHS of Batman the day it was released. For the first (and only time I can recall) I got up two hours earlier than usual for school the next day so that I could watch it. I just couldn't wait until after school, my nine year old impatience wouldn't allow it. I don't know how many times I watched it in that first week but Batman and Jaws are the only films that I know all the dialogue to by heart.
I was on track for an unabashed Bat-crush but it would take two more things to send me over the top into full blown adoration.
In 1992 the wave of Batmania sweeping the nation thanks to Tim Burton, was at an all time high and it would spawn something that would define Batman for a generation. No, not Burtons follow up to Batman - Batman Returns - although at the time it was poised to dominate the summer blockbuster season. In the years to follow however Batman Returns would become a weirdly dark footnote in Batmans history. It was the relatively quiet prime time debut of Batman The Animated Series- created by relative unknowns Bruce Timm and Paul Dini-that would introduce children and adults alike to the definitive screen version of Batman. If the Comic version would be considered Moby Dick than Timm and Dini's interpretation of the character is the illustrated classics version. A slightly abridged version of the Dark Knight but not dumbed down in the least, just softened a bit. Predating the live action films that would feature them, Batman The Animated Series was my first introduction to Two Face, Ras Al Ghul, the Scarecrow and anyone else that didn't make it into the family friendly live action Batman TV show. It was the first time I saw Batman displaying the athleticism that is hard to communicate in still pictures and apparently just as hard to communicate in vacuformed rubber.
This Batman was a detective. He actually solved crimes.
That isn't to say that this Batman didn't use violence when necessary. Far from it. He wouldn't kill under any circumstance but he'd let you hang from a gargoyle suspended by the thinnest of cords until he got the answer he wanted.. I watched Batman the Animated Series religiously. The show was a gateway for me that lead me back to the comics that I had strayed from (In 1991 I had become a Marvel Zombie thanks to Jim Lee's X-Men . I regret nothing!).
That cartoon made me almost the zealot I am today. There was one more thing that sealed the deal however.
In 1999 my best friend and I were asked by the proprietor of a local card/game/comic shop to help him out at a local con he was working. There was promise of monetary compensation, but even better-for me-there was the chance to actually roam around a comic convention, something I had only dreamed about. My best friend didn't care so much about the comics, years earlier he had fallen down the rabbit hole that is Magic The Gathering and really just wanted to check out the cards there. So we said yes and our adventure began. Oh, wait, what's the opposite of adventure, where you're bored for eight hours? Work, that's right! Sure we were there to help the guy out, but we'd been told that that would entail getting there early and unloading the truck, setting up his table and then doing the same thing in reverse at the end of the day. That should have left us plenty of time to peruse the various tables and vendors, marveling at the comics, bootlegs, toys, and other assorted odds and ends. Again, this was before eBay and Amazon, before geek went mainstream and you could find comics and spider-man T-shirts at Wal-Mart. So I was understandably pissed when I got snookered into running the guys table for most of the day.
I wanted so badly to be out and about, soaking up the nerd culture, breathing in the Klingon sweat and Cheetos breath.
Finally around an hour before the con was closing up, I was cut loose to do my wandering. At one table I found something that would change my life forever, The Dark Knight Returns! It was in four individual issues, not as one graphic novel which is how most people are probably familiar with it. I snatched it up, my heart beating fast with a mixture of excitement and anxiousness.
I was finally going to read what was largely considered THE best Batman story ever written.!
Yes I said finally, I was five when The Dark Knight Returns was first published and it took me twelve years to catch up to everyone else. When I did read it though....it was like a religious experience. It completed the journey I began as a child watching BIFF! And POW! On the TV.
Once the Dark Knight Returns gave me the final puzzle piece,THAT'S when I fell in love with Batman.
To love Batman isn't to love The Dark Knight(the movie), it isn't to love Christian Bale or Adam West. To love Batman isn't even to love The Dark Knight Returns, or Year One. Those are all just different faces of the same Batman. Any of those things can start you on the road to being a bat-fan, but to love Batman isn't to love a movie, performance or book, it's to love an idea. To love a concept. Batman can be anyone. Batman can be a dark psychopath, a brilliant scientist, a colorful crime fighter , because he is all of those and yet none of them.
Batman is the courage, though you might be scared out of your mind, to stand up for what you believe is just. Batman, is the grief you feel when somebody you love dies for any preventable reason and your heart burns to make sure no one dies that way ever again. Batman is a symbol of the indomitable will of the human spirit.
Batman is that voice that whispers to you “never give up” when you feel like you just can't go another step. Superman is a God. Iron Man depends upon a living wall to shelter himself from the harshness of evil. Wolverine charges headfirst into battle knowing he doesn't need a strategy, he knows he will survive any wound he suffers.
Batman? Batman is a man. Sure he's a billionaire, sure he's got gadgets but you know what? Had Bruce Wayne been born into poverty and his parents suffered the same fate, he would still have done what he does.