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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Lead up to Dark Knight Rises: Remembering Batman

Hey there everybody! Hope your summer is going well and that its not too hot out there for you. Since it is July, we've got a bit of excitement coming up: The Dark Knight Rises will be out in theaters on the 20th. It is supposed to be the final part of this trilogy, and apparently quite definitively so as a matter of fact. Now, I have been a fan of Batman since I was a kid. I loved the character since I saw him in the cartoon show Super Friends way back when...

My introduction to Batman
I had no idea about comics when I was really young. I may have had my parents buy me a few, like G.I. Joe or whatever, but my exposure to comic book superheros at that early age was limited to the cartoons and the action figures (I had a ton from the Kenner's Superpowers Team line as well as Marvel's Secret Wars line). My knowledge of comics was zip, though. That all changed in the summer of '89. My dad took me and my brother to see Tim Burton's Batman. I had been seeing the commercials and all that, and was a hyped-up 10 year old excited to see this movie...

One of my initial comic book readings
And that was it. I fell into the world of comic books as a result. The Batman '89 movie changed it all for me. I loved Batman, and I wanted to know everything about his comic adventures. I immediately bought the comic adaptation of the movie, and then began to buy Batman books. I ordered a ton of Batman trade paperbacks and prestige format books via mail order... how I used to wait with such anticipation for those to be delivered. The first "regular" Batman story that I read was "Death in The Family". Whoa... that impacted me for a long time. I loved it all, though my 10 year old brain didn't get The Dark Knight Returns or Batman: Year One or Arkham Asylum (those would be appreciated later). Reading Batman opened up the whole universe of comic heroes for me- Spiderman, X-Men, Superman, X-Force, Wolverine, Avengers, Zero Hour, Justice League, Spawn... all of it.I bought current issues and back issues. I still have Amazing Spiderman 122- the pride of my collection. I stayed with some books, abandoned others, bought the new flavor of the month, and so forth.

Will this happen in TDKR?
Yet, through it all, my fidelity to Batman remained. I followed Batman religiously throughout the 90s. Through Knightfall, Knightsquest, Knightsend... Contagion, No Man's Land.... As I grew older I appreciated Miller's Batman work (but NOT The Dark Knight Strikes Again. No Sir. Doesn't exist). The dark Knight Returns may be one of the best pieces of comic book literature ever. I still thrill to Morrison's version of Batman in the Justice League- the ultimate badass.

Now, I stopped buying comics by 2000- I simply couldn't get into buying and following ALL of those books anymore. My love for Warhammer 40K was beginning, my interest in comics waning. There was a point in say 2004-05 and then a bit later when I tried getting into them again a few more times (Civil War, Morrison's X-Men, Batman & Son)- but it wasn't the same anymore. It was just too much to keep up with.

It opened a new world to me
However, my love for comic book heroes remain. I am more likely than not to see comic-based movies in the theater. Comic book movies have had a rough history, though they are currently the reigning champs of the box office. And again, that goes back to Batman for me. Batman '89 truly kick started the "comic movie revolution" (yes, Superman had been earlier, but it did not create a "must make comic-property movie" stir that Burton's did). Batman '89 was an incredible movie- dark, foreboding, violent. Yes, Burton's sensibilities were sometimes odd, but that only added to the film in this case, and Keaton and Nicholson were fantastic in their roles as Batman and Joker. I loved that movie then as a 10 year old, and even now I'll watch it gladly.

Legendary to this day
Batman Returns was a different animal- literally. Burton was given free reign here, and ultimately turned Gotham into a real freak show. As I watched this one in '92, I was not enamored at all. Later, I would appreciate this nastier interpretation, though I still hold that '89 was infinitely better. The best thing about Batman Returns was that it was immediately followed up by Batman: The Animated Series- one of the best interpretations of Batman of all time. The half-hour animated show was perfect in bringing the comic characters to life. A truly revolutionary show, which paved the way for others.

I like both actors, but...
As Batman did well on the small screen, he suffered on the big screen. 1995's Batman Forever was both a step forward and a step backward. It wasn't as twisted/bizzare as Batman Returns, and had a sufficient amount of action. However, it had many flaws of its own, including a strange neon lighting style, and, of course, the accursed bat-nipples. The final nail in the coffin was 1997's Batman and Robin, which was bad. Really. Ghastly. Bad humor. Silly situations. Awful dialogue. That was it. Batman was defeated... not by Joker or a bullet, but by Hollywood excess.

Contained the action and the soap-opera elements of the comic X-Men
Yet, like Bruce, there was always back up plans and other possibilities. Comic book movies began to gain traction thanks to Batman. There were rough spots like Dick Tracy (love that movie, just not popular), the Rocketeer, etc. Then, there was Blade and X-Men. 2000's X-Men did its fair share to legitimize comic movies. I loved the 3 X-movies (yes, I said all 3). These movies captured the spirit of the books in many ways, even if their costumes were not "yellow spandex"...

The physical "realization" of these characters was the highlight
Then, there was Spiderman, a series that I consider to be wildly uneven and more beloved than they deserve to be (The action scenes are great, and Franco, Molina, Simmons, and Dafoe are great in their respective villainous roles. However, Toby Maguire is waaaaay too wooden to really have empathy for. And as for Dunst, when she says in SP1 "They told me that I need acting lessons" my mother of all people, in the theater, yelled out "They were right!", which was a- highly uncharacteristic of my mother b-clear to the audience, as they laughed and clapped at my mom's exclamation c- showed just what was wrong with the portrayal of MJ).

2005 was a big year for genre movies (Land of the Dead, SW Episode III, War of the Worlds), and for comic book movies in particular. Batman Begins was released, with only a bit of fanfare. Yet, this movie generated two things: 1- Batman can be done really, really well 2- Reboots as a concept was invented (for good or ill) 3- Comic book movies have a long life ahead of them. Batman Begins and The Dark Knight changed the game, but more than anything, they reminded me of my love of Batman and Gotham City.

I will be reviewing Batman Begins in my next post, as well as The Dark Knight, in the lead up to the third (final) Batman movie in Nolan's arc. Needless to say, I love both movies, for many different reasons.

Well, that's enough of my pointless ramblings. Until I write my Batman reviews... farewell!

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