Today is the start of Wizard World in Chicago, so I thought I’d go comics on y’all. For as long as I can remember, Batman has been part of my life. Many of my earliest memories consist of me watching the old Adam West series and the Super Friends. Though I know now just how cheesy and ridiculous those shows are, they were important to my development as a fan. People always talk about how Batman is the most relatable of all the superheroes. Sure, if you’re a billionaire. My parents weren’t murdered in front of me. Not to make this another pity party for myself but my parents were split and neither were around very much. Batman has been the one constant in my life, the one thing I’ve been able to count on. Even more so than Def Leppard. It’s why write about the character over at this other site (please subscribe over there too).
I had never really been a comic book reader when I was a kid. Back then, it was the poor quality paper and the four color palette. The style of storytelling was not terribly interesting to me, even as young as I was. Thought bubbles ran rampant and, most of the time, the thoughts were lame. I relied on other visual mediums to get my Batman fix. When the Tim Burton Batman movie came out in 1989, I was ten years old. This was darker yet more vibrant, more violent, deeper. It was official. Adam West was bullshit (sorry, Adam). I knew Michael Keaton as Mr. Mom, a far cry from my beloved Caped Crusader, but The film changed the way I looked at the character. He was dark and haunted, twisted and broken. I was able to relate to that on a somewhat superficial level. Of course, that film has since been eclipsed as the Christopher Nolan trilogy but that was still sixteen years off.
I was also a massive fan of Batman: The Animated Series. That show has held up better over time, largely due to the fact that no Batman cartoon has come close to matching, much less exceeding, the quality of that program. Now, whenever I read the comics or a Batman novel, I hear Kevin Conroy’s voice as Batman. I’m hardly the only one as the Arkham video game series uses him as the Dark Knight’s voice. Mark Hamill is more the Joker to me now than he is Luke Skywalker. He’s more Joker than Jack Nicholson or Heath Ledger or Cesar fucking Romero. I still watch that show fairly regularly to this day on DVD or The Hub.
I didn’t start experiencing Batman in print until 1996 when I purchased Batman: The Ultimate Evil by Andrew Vachss. I was at my doctor’s office in Western Springs and I stopped in at the Crown Books in Western Springs (weird that over ten years later, I would work in that same space). The book was, I believe, $4.97 in their bargain book section. What the hell, how bad could it be? I loved it. Batman wasn’t fighting the Joker or the Riddler, he was fighting a child prostitution ring. There’s no rational minded person that can’t get behind that cause. Those bastards deserve whatever they’re going to get. It’s like when Indiana Jones goes up against Nazis, it’s easy to side with Indy. It’s weird that this was the story that recaptured my attention when it was the most different Batman story I’d ever encountered.
Thanks to Spawn (the cartoon, not the movie) and Image Comics as a whole, I started getting into comics in 1997. The style of comics had changed. The art was a million times better than what I’d remembered. The form had evolved to a point to where it could capture my imagination. Not long after, I got into the work of Frank Miller (though, Miller and Todd McFarlane’s Spawn/Batman cross-over was crap). His run on Daredevil made me see that comics, especially ones from the eighties and earlier, were viable fiction. Sadly, I don’t remember where I found this but I found the Complete Frank Miller Batman. I do know it was under $20. Good luck finding it for under $100 now. I hadn’t read any of it before but it absolutely changed my life. Does that sound weird? Well, it did. It contained the bookends to the story of the Dark Knight. Year One was the story of how he became who he came to be. Origin stories had been done for Batman before but this was the definitive. The image of the pearls falling from from the murdered Martha Wayne has been used in every subsequent re-telling.
Also inside was the greatest Batman story ever told, The Dark Knight Returns. Gone for a decade, Bruce Wayne sees Gotham fall into a state of, wait, why am I telling you? It’s awesome. You’ve probably read it. If you haven’t, there’s something wrong with you. This was supposed to be the final Batman story. Never mind that Miller wrote The Dark Knight Strikes Again years after this volume came out. That story is just not terribly good. I can pretend it never happened since my tome says “complete”. I can maintain a facade of blissful ignorance despite being fully aware of the subpar sequel and my having just confessed my knowledge of it to you, the reader.Ah, well. The CFMB even contains the holiday special, “Wanted: Santa Claus Dead Or Alive”.
The book is leatherbound and has a ribbon book marker. It’s an item that means something to me, that I believe in. It contains my favorite fictional work of any kind, something that I could only ever dream of writing. It’s a little beat up and worn, like me. I have no religion but this book is the closest thing to a bible that I own. I will praise its glory every day until I become too senile to remember it. Can I get a Amen (why isn’t the phrase “an Amen”, I guess it sounds funny)?