Batman 75th Anniversary at Wondercon.

Batman is having his 75th birthday this year, and so it’s time to look back at the history of the Cape Crusader. Wondercon had a panel about the Dark Knight’s 75th birthday, looking over the past 75 years, favorite moments, and personal stories from creators or people involve in some capacity in bringing the Caped Crusader to the masses. In attendance was Jim Lee, Peter Giradi, Bruce Timm, Kevin Conroy, Kevin Smith, Ralph Garman, with John Cunningham moderating for the six. They began the panel speaking about their favorite parts of the Batman mythos, beginning with the classic question most Bat-fans ask. ‘Who’s your favorite member of Batman’s Rogue’s Gallery?’

Jim Lee’s favorite villian is Catwoman because in ,his own words, “…we all know that temptation we must resist; she’s always been a criminal and Batman being a vigilante shares common ground. She’s a character that he’s got to stop but can’t for whatever reason and she knows that too and she plays with him. I think they make a great couple.” . Peter Giradi admits he grew up watching Batman ’66, and so his favorite rogue is Kung Tut, but admits that his favorite canon villain is Two-Face for similar reasons to Jim Lee’s reasoning for why Catwoman is his favorite.Bruce Timm’s answer is also Catwoman, but admits it’s because of Julie Newmar playing Catwoman in the ’66 show. Kevin Conroy mentions he has a weird relationship with Mark Hamill and that because of it, the Joker is his favorite rogue because “He brings out the best in me, and I bring out the worst in him”. Ralph Garman laments that he feels his choice is lame but says that the Riddler is his favorite because he loved Frank Gorshin’s performance of him. Kevin Smith admits that he’s mad that Kevin “I’m the Batman” Conroy stole his answer, and decides to add to the answer that his favorite aspect of Batman is his humanity. 

That’s the only thing that stops him. That’s his frustration in every medium, the inability to go that one step further. As opposed to Superman who has no limits, Batman has spent his whole life searching for those limits and it’s only when he hits the ceiling of his humanity that he could possibly stops and sometimes overcomes it.

After the first round of answers, the panel moved onto the Batman ’66 TV series, with the upcoming DVD/Blu-Ray release as well as the success of the digital comic that DC is now publishing as a New York Times Best Selling Hardcover on April 27th. Garman and Smith then began to talk about their new web series crossover, Batman ’66 Meets The Green Hornet.

“When you think about it, that was our Avengers when we were kids… “Holy sh*t, two dudes in masks–standing next to one another! That was my Batman growing up and I got into the comics when the movie came out in 1989–There was this general sentiment that if you grew up with the Adam West Batman, you kind of turned your back on it in the way that Peter denied Christ. 

People would ask, ‘Hey, man do you like that old Batman?’ and you’d go, ‘NO MAN, I don’t watch THAT Batman. That Batman is stupid.’ Somewhere a cock crows.

Smith continued to recollect about his first foray into the Batman comics and it’s writers, specifically Matt Wagner who wrote and drew Batman/Grendel and remembered his effort to keep Batman calling Robin “Old Chum” in one line of dialog. It was  just a minor piece of dialog, but Wagner felt it important to keep it in and fought editorial to keep it. At the time, DC was trying hard to distance Batman from the ’66 TV show, but Wagner felt that since that was the version that introduced a lot of people to Batman, that it should be honored as part of the character in story. Kevin Smith feels strongly about anyone who hates on the show for it’s campiness saying that anyone who hates on that Batman is a “poser” and that he should be honored just like any other variant on the character. With the success of the Batman ’66 in recent years, it seems that the long time resistance to the Batman of the 60’s has begun to give way toward a fondness for the lighter take on the Caped Crusader.

Moving on, the panel moved toward The Dark Knight Returns and how Miller influenced the writing for Batman comics for a long time to come with what many fans consider his Bat-Masterpiece. Lee recalls that he was a senior in college in early 1986, and that he was unenthusiastically collecting comics, and especially Batman comics for which he only remembered the ’66 TV show. The Dark Knight Returns was a game changer to the young Lee. He recalls that there was a particular scene that got to him in particular, when the 75 year old Bruce Wayne is in the shower.

He had a moustache and realizes when he shaves it off–oh snap–it was the force of Batman. He thought he could drop the cowl but it was deep inside him. It was powerful, mythical, and got me inspired to get into comics. I put my first portfolio in 1987 and got work soon after. It was a life changer.

Moving on ahead a few years, the panel turns to the movie that changed the public opinion of Batman forever, Tim Burton’s ’89 hit,  Bamtan. Smith talks about in depth about how he remembers working at a Domino’s Pizza, and wormed his way out of training to see the film. He saw it with long time friend and collaborator Walter Flanagan, and recalled that when Batman first appears and takes out two thugs, that without even eye contact, Flanagan and Smith gripped hands with each other in excitement because they had lost their collective minds at seeing the Dark Knight being the Dark Knight. In that same era, it gave birth to Timm’s Batman the Animated Series, and Timm explains that the world of animation was essentially a different beast in the day. Batmania had taken over and Timm was given carte blanche on how much he could spend and do with the cartoon, which explains why so much love and detail went into the series in a way that hadn’t been seen before. It was dark, gothic, serious, with rich animation and story telling. A very unique feeling was created for the show with it’s dark coloring and use of strong orchestrated music. Timm recalls that he could have done anything and it’d have been a hit, that’s how big Batman was in the early 90s. That said, he had no idea how big the series would get, with Conroy also chiming in he had no idea what they were getting into with what many consider to be a groundbreaking animated show that it took the stories very seriously and rose from a level of care and effort that hadn’t been seen on that level before.

I didn’t have a clue…Talk about getting the brass ring! We had been recording these things for months, they go off to the artists and then it comes back for ADR where you synch up the sound with the visuals. We had been working six months before we saw anything and I was with Mark Hamill on the first day of ADR. On this full screen, the lush color comes up, the rich graphics, the full symphony score–just WHOOOSHED off the screen! I looked at Mark and asked, ‘Did you have a CLUE that THIS is what we were working on?’ We were both speechless. It was overwhelming.  You(Timm) knew what you were doing. We knew the characters we were creating, but we didn’t know what the visuals were going to look like. It was breathtaking the first time I saw it and that was the first time I knew it was going to be a hot show.

Kevin Smith took the time to chime in after Conroy admitting that he always hears Conroy’s voice as the voice of Batman whenever he reads the comics, and that he always thinks it’s funny when he hears Conroy speak in his normal tone, that it sounds as if Batman were stoned and happy for once. Moving on from The Animated Series, Timm and Girardi spoke about their two new animated shorts for the 75th Anniversary.

I had an itch to do a straight up period piece in 1939. It was the year he was created, with the clothes and technology of that time. Then I thought, if I’m doing ’39 I gotta do it in black and white.

Kevin Conroy laughed that he only had one line in the piece but mentioned he wished he had gotten to speak more. The second short, was a Batman Beyond animation but Timm takes some time out before going into detail about to talk about the creation of Batman Beyond. At the time, Timm was working with then-president of the WB network, Jamie Kellner during the The New Adventures of Batman and Robin. Timm wanted to do something different, like a younger, teenaged Batman, and he was scared to death while working on it because he thought there would a highly negative backlash to this new show he was creating. He recalls that Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a big hit at the time and that it might have had some kind of influence on why he made Batman Beyond. After the meeting that got the idea approved, Timm met with Paul Dini and started hammering out the ideas. Bruce Wayne must be old and ready to pass on the torch to a new, younger Batman. Co-Producer Glen Murakami was on board with the idea as well, and at that point, Timm finally had the confidence to continue with his idea thinking it had a chance.

Leading up to the premiere, everyone was convinced it was going to be a travesty. This was the early days of the internet and message board comments saying, ‘This is so much cooler than I thought it was going to be.’ Cool. Good on us… people were polite back then

Once work was finished on the ’39 Batman short was , Timm and Girardi start talking about a new Batman Beyond short to accompany it, and called up storyboard artist for Batman: The Animated Series and Superman: The Animated Series, got to work on a Batman Beyond animation, just like the old days.

After talking about the intense fight in the Batman Beyond short, the conversation moved on to Batman: Hush by Lee. Lee didn’t know how big Hush would be because only three people at the time even knew he was working on it, while drawing Jeph Loeb’s script. He speaks about working on the arc.

I had been at DC for three years and really hadn’t done any monthly work and I felt it was time to do something…Jeph called me up and told me we should do Batman because he was the most popular character and that’s how I’ll make my mark. He asked me, ‘what villain do I want to use’ and I said, ‘well, I kind of like all of them’ thinking that he’d pick one. Maybe he misunderstood me or is just sadistic, but he’d pick a new villain for every issue.

We really wanted to do a story that actually did tie into a lot of the stuff that you had seen before in different decades of Batman mythology. It starts out looking like Frank Miller’s Batman with the shorter ears and with each successive issue he transforms into a lighter, more acrobatic Neal Adams’ Batman. There’s a shot I did with all of that Batmobiles and I tried to incorporate all the ones from the cartoons, TV shows, and at the time I don’t think we had the rights to do the ’66 Batmobile, but I put it in there anyway. So if you see it, and there are little tweaks to fudge it, so I had good reference, I knew what I was doing. Don’t blame me.”

That book introduced me to the fanaticism of Batman fans. When you get into comics as a professional, you see the loyalty and passion of the fans, but when you do a Batman project, it goes to a whole different, secret, über level. There’s fanaticism at that level. It opened up my eyes to the power of that mythology.

Lee goes on to tell a story about how he did a total of nine issues in secrecy before it was even solicited and that because he is notoriously slow, he was still almost late on the last three issues. He actually won a bet with then editor Mike Carlin, winning a $100 he wouldn’t miss his deadline. Cutting in, Cunningham annouced that Lee’s next project would be an Absolute Edition of the infamous All-Star Batman and Robin. 

The proof and testament to the power of Batman, as crazy as that story was, is that the quote, ‘I’m the goddamn Batman’ is part of the vernacular and part of the mythology. It shows you for as human as the character is, he is bulletproof. You can tell a zebra story on the moon in the 50’s, he’s dark in the Arkham games and Dark Knight movie, and still works. He’s multi-generational and appeals to little kids and older fans. All of this goes into a giant creative pool and you are in that way shaping who Batman becomes.

With the 75th Anniversary panel winding down, the panel discusses the success of the Arkham series of games , his appearance in The Lego Movie, and the new Gotham series that Fox is creating. So with 75 years under his utility belt, where does Batman go next? Timm compared the darkening and lightening of the franchise akin to the James Bond franchise, where they got sillier until they needed to veer back to being serious. With almost twenty years of being serious, TImm felt that it was time to go back and create a lighter and softer Batman with Batman: The Brave and The Bold. As for what’s next for the Dark Knight, Timm is looking forward to it. He’s excited to see Ben Affleck’s take on the character and that when you put with Superman, it’s a different kind of world than the world of the Dark Knight Trilogy. It becomes a universe unbound by the laws of reality and more of a world where you could go to the moon if you felt like it. Whatever comes, the panel remains optimistic about the future of the Batman.

Source: Newsarama

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