AUTHOR’S NOTE: I feel like pointing out that the whole genesis of this column came about when my best friend suggested I should do more pop-culture analysis. “I’d love to see you write one about why you think Batman’s so cool,” he said. So, for this deep, dark trip into personal nether-regions of my mind, you can blame him.
He’s been one of the most enduring superheroes of the past 60 years. He’s been a dark avenger of the night, a bright, cheerful hero of the Silver Age, and a gross parody of the genre. He is vengeance. He is the night. He is the Batman. And he is perhaps the one superhero I love the most. But how did I reach this point? How did I arrive at the place where, at the ripe old age of 28, I still collect the trade paperbacks and read them cover to cover? I suppose it all started way back in the summer of 1989….
In the summer of ’89, there was only one movie I was looking forward to. I had it earmarked to be my birthday movie of that summer. (Granted, it was a tradition that was only 2 years old at the time, but I was holding my parents to it.) I had already bought all the movie magazines and knew more about it than any child on the verge of 12 should know. And that film was Star Trek V: The Final Frontier.
This is a tale I’ve never grown tired of telling, and I like hyping it up as a pivotal moment in my life. There we were, all ready to see Star Trek V. There were some friends of the family who also wanted to see Batman, so we agreed to hook-up with them. We went to the only theatre in Edmonton that was playing both Batman and Star Trek V: the now-defunct Capitol Square 4, right in the heart of downtown. My 12-year old heart was all aflutter at the thought of seeing Capt. Kirk and Spock on the big screen. Mom went up to the box office, asked for tickets to see The Final Frontier, and the clerk said, “I’m sorry. We’re not showing Star Trek V.” My 12-year old heart broke. In her rush to head out to the city, Mom had checked the movie listings in yesterday’s paper.
It’s was MY birthday, and my onus to choose a different movie. I ran out front, looked at all the movie posters, and to this day, I can still name all 4 films showing on Capitol Square 4’s screens: Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Dead Poets Society, Lethal Weapon 2, and, the film that ruled the summer of 1989, Batman. 12 years old…the summer of 1989…what movie do you think I chose?
Yup…I chose Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. My brother, however, said, “No…I think I’ll go with the others and see Batman.” He wished me a happy birthday, and disappeared into the crowd. I was confident, however, that I’d made the correct choice. To my 12 year old self, Disney was still the be-all and end-all of films.
An hour-and-a-half goes by, and I enjoyed Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. I laughed, I cried, I marvelled at the special effects. My family and I went out into the lobby, and now we waited for my brother and our friends. And we waited. And we waited. My sister and I were getting antsy, so we went outside and took a walk through the heart of Edmonton on a warm July night. We went back into the lobby, and waited some more.
I’ll never forget what happened next. Capitol Square 4 was a multi-levelled theatre. My family and I were waiting on the lower-most level; at the base of a grand staircase that led up to the screens. Suddenly, the theatre showing Batman let out, and the crowds that started streaming out! I had never seen so many people for a film! I didn’t see crowds like that again until the Star Wars prequels a decade later. And out of that crowd emerged my brother. He was a changed man.
For the rest of the summer, all my brother could talk about was Batman. He bought all the books. Somewhere, buried deep in his personal possessions, he has a magnificent hardcover tome all about the making of Batman. He wore the T-shirts, and the caps, he even got the watch! He got that Prince soundtrack and I was subjected to Batdance for the rest of the year. This Batman thing was getting out of hand with my brother. It reached its pinnacle a few weeks later, as we were spending a few days with my grandparents, and my grandmother offered to take us to a movie:
MY BROTHER: Batman! Let’s go see Batman!
ME: No way. Ghostbusters II.
MY BROTHER: But Mark! Batman is just the best movie ever! We’ve got to go see it!
ME: But you’ve already seen it.
MY BROTHER: So? I want to see it again!
ME: Forget Batman. Ghostbusters II is the one movie we’ve got to see.
I eventually won out, and we saw Ghostbusters II. But this Batman thing was still foremost on my brother’s mind.
September came, and I knew that going back to school would get my brother to forget about Batman. For you see, the junior high students of Entwistle could always be summed up as “rebels without a cause.” If it was popular in Edmonton, then it’d get you run out of town in Entwistle. If the Oilers were on a winning streak, then every kid in Entwistle would say, “Fuck the Oilers! Oilers suck!” And since Batman was the film everyone was talking about, every kid in Entwistle was saying, “Fuck Batman! Batman sucks!” O, pity poor Mr. Twerdoclib, who, in an effort to be really cool with the kids, had completely decked out his classroom in Batman paraphernalia. That instantly made him the most hated teacher in school. It was a lesson not lost on my brother. He went underground with his Batman obsession. It occasionally surfaced, like in shop class. The project was to build a rocket-powered car, and his looked suspiciously like the Batmobile.
December soon came, and, as I’m sure you know, my brother got Batman on VHS. On Christmas morning, I finally got to see what all the fuss was about.
I saw the greatest movie I’d even seen in my 12-year old life. The Batcave, the Batmobile, the end with the Batwing, and the Joker! My God! My world was rocked!
And, five months ago, I passed up a chance to see it in the theatre! STUPID STUPID STUPID!!
Thus began a new after-school ritual between my brother and me. We’d get home at 4, supper was at 6, just enough time to watch Batman. Over and over again, every night, we’d watch Batman. This went on until about February or so, when, one day, about halfway through the film, my brother walked up to the VCR and ejected the tape. He just looked at me and said, “I think I’ve seen it enough.”
But I hadn’t. I’d missed it the first time, and I wasn’t going to miss it again. Batman Returns was my birthday movie of 1992. Batman: The Animated Series premiered that fall. I didn’t get it, but my grandmother did, so I had her tape it for me. I saw Batman Forever on my 18th birthday, and the personal build-up I put on Batman & Robin was phenomenal. And then, in university, my best friend introduced me to these things called “trade paperbacks,” and I got into the comics at long last.
So why do I love Batman so much?
One word: overcompensation.