Not dead, just resting.

§ October 16th, 2017 § Filed under low content mode § No Comments

Taking just a brief break, and I will be back Monday, October 23rd with more of that prime Progressive Ruin content that kids crave and parents approve. Thanks for your readership and patience, pals.

And don’t get me started on “Copper Age.”

§ October 13th, 2017 § Filed under advertising, batman, publishing, retailing § 5 Comments


Found this in the boxes o’old promo stuff…an ad slick for the videotape release of 1989’s Batman, since we were talking about that very thing a few days back. (The reverse side of the page is a larger, greytoned version of the ad.) If I remember correctly, when I put a reserve on a copy at our local video shoppe, I paid $19.99…saved a whole $4.99 like the bargain hunter that I am! I believe I still have my copy of the video around here somewhere, in case I feel like having a Pan ‘n’ Scan Party in the entertainment den.

Anyway, let me take care of a little business right now, so y’all can go on and enjoy your weekend:

  • Alas, looks like the End of Civilization for this month will in fact be postponed ’til next time. Sorry, my free time was less free these last few weeks, so it’s the blogging what pays the price when that happens. This is also what put a crimp in my Patreon plans this month…Swamp Thing #8 is the next issue to be covered, and it will be covered, I promise. Just gotta clear the schedule.
  • From the comments section for my October 9th post, rag notes

    “[Seventh Generation] sounds somewhat similar to: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Twilight_of_the_Superheroes

    Yeah, that was brought up to me on the Twitters as well. For those who don’t know, that’s an Alan Moore proposal for a company-wide event at DC Comics, in which shenanigans are afoot in a dark future for Earth’s superheroes, and part of the plot involves characters coming back to the past (our present of 1987 or so) to prevent whatever was going to cause said dark future. Or you can just read the Wiki link there. That’s not an uncommon trope (like I mentioned, it’s happening in the Justice League comic right now), but funny that it popped up twice in two different DC event books, neither of which ended up happening. Maybe the descendants of Dan DiDio traveled back from the 23rd century to prevent those series from getting published. And if so, why couldn’t they save Frank Miller’s All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder?

  • Jmurphy quite reasonably wonders

    “Mike, there was an omnibus of some kind released on the 4th. Will we be hearing about it here?”

    Yes, yes indeedy. The Swamp Thing Bronze Age Omnibus (and part of my brain still rejects the “Bronze Age” label as a dumb marketing term to help make those old issues of Human Fly seem sellable) is in my hands and ready for my perusal. But, related to those “free time” problems mentioned previously, I still haven’t even removed the shrinkwrap. But there it is, staring at me from atop the pile of comics from the last few weeks that I also haven’t read. However, rest assured, Jmurphy, that the Omnibus is on my Omni-genda.

  • From the comments for October 11th, Zoot Koomie zoots

    “I’m curious about the New Universe cancellation story. How was the implosion of that imprint covered at the time? Was information about the behind-the-scenes turmoil leaking out or was it just hype about line reconfiguration around the Pitt crossover?”

    It was just a short article about how four titles in the New Universe line were cancelled due to poor sales, and would be replaced by as-yet-undetermined new series. The replacement of the editor for the imprint was also noted, from which one may infer behind the scenes troubles, but nothing was explicitly detailed. As far as more general coverage elsewhere in the Comics ‘Zine-a-verse…I don’t remember. I’ll have to look through the Amazing Heroes and Comics Journal collections to see what at least the general tone there was. …Actually, I can probably already guess.

  • DanielT cashes in with

    “Any particular reason your eBay prices are all $ xx.97?”

    Well, as you know, if you price something at $9.99 instead of $10, the $9.99 price point looks like it’s a whole dollar cheaper, right? Well, that $xx.97 price is me undercutting everyone listing things at $xx.99, like the crafty capitalist storeowner that I am, as opposed to those sons-of-bitches undercutting me with their $xx.96 prices, the jerks. How dare they!

  • William Burns fires me up with

    “They have comics in Japan? What ever happened with that?”

    Japan? Never heard of it.

  • The JRC store called, and they said

    “I always like CSN, especially the semi-regular oversized season preview issues that covered the coming quarter/or six months.

    “I was surprised, shocked really, to get a copy a few months back when I happened into a previously unexplored shop.

    “It is little more than reprinted press releases, but there’s still something neat about holding a newsprint style paper in hand.”

    I wonder just how widespread the distribution is on Comic Shop News. I know some stores don’t carry it, which seems weird to me given its low cost and its usefulness to customers, which I’d mentioned in that post. But they must be doing okay…I did a little searching on the Diamond website, and it looks like the per-bundle cost has only gone up a dollar in the last few years, which seems reasonable enough. I know the number of copies per bundle dropped a little bit at some point, but that was prior to the oldest entry I could find in Diamond’s database. I’ll take that to mean that orders on CSN are holding relatively steady. Or they’re charging more for ads to subsidize the price, one of those.

    I’m glad they’re still around. Yeah, it’s a lot of press releases, but as mentioned that’s how many customers get their comics news, so that’s okay. It’s not like there are any other print mags or ‘zines covering the current market, or at least nothing with the reach of CSN. It’s hard to beat “free at the store’s front counter” for distribution.

    And there’s more than just press releases. You get those great Fred Hembeck covers on the special issues, there’s the occasional “Red K” awards issue that pokes fun at recent comics industry hoohar, there are interviews, and of course there is the surreal experience of the Spider-Man newspaper strips that are reprinted therein. How can anyone do without those?

Okay, pals…thanks for sticking with me. Back with More Stuff™ in short order.

There’s probably an issue -1 somewhere in these boxes.

§ October 11th, 2017 § Filed under promo, retailing § 4 Comments

Okay, so I knew I had this in my possession…I’m pretty sure I’ve posted a pic of it on this site at some point in the last nearly-fourteen years I’ve been blogging here. It’s the first issue of the Comic Shop News weekly newsletter, published 30 years ago:


…and amazingly, it’s being published even today, in this age of widespread online availability of this sort of content, and that’s because the customers still like their weekly news freebie. It’s convenient, it’s cheap for retailers to carry, and I do have folks using it to keep informed and to plan out their future purchases. Not every fan spends all their free time looking around on the internet for comics info…I mean, who’d want to do that? Crazy people, that’s who.

Anyway, of late, I’ve been going through boxes of old store materials (as I mentioned Monday) that belong to my former boss Ralph, looking for items to eBay on his behalf. There’s a lot of promotional posters, company flyers and newsletters, distributor packets, all kinds of goodies. I’d been posting lots of pics of them on my Twitter account, a few things have gone up on the eBays, and a handful of items have, of course, been put aside for display right here on this very internet thingie before your eyes right now.

Which is a long way of getting to the point, which is that in one of these boxes was the previously-unfamiliar-to-me Comic Shop News NUMBER ZERO:


This was sent out to distributors/retailers only as a sneak preview. Four pages long, with some sample news stories (like the one pictured, and “4 New Universe Titles Cancelled” and “Trade Paperbacks Big Sellers”) and come-ons for the newsletter itself, like ad rates, and a full back page detailing reasons to carry CSN.

Now I’m not planning to sell this particular item on eBay, though looking there I see much more recent issues going for some premium prices. I am curious what an actual #1 or #0 would go for, but…I don’t know. Maybe I’ll list ’em for $2000 each and see what happens. Hey, it only takes one person who needs them that badly…!

Greater than a hecto-villain, but nowhere close to a yotta-villain.

§ October 9th, 2017 § Filed under dc comics, publishing, swamp thing § 5 Comments

So I was digging through a few boxes of old comics promo materials when I found this, a 16 page black and white book of DC’s publishing plans for 1989-1990 that was given to retailers:


I only scanned half of the “cover” there, but you can see they were pushing the Batman movie pretty hard, as you might imagine. No, no, don’t worry, I’m not doing another round of Bat-talk just yet (though I did find a couple of relevant Bat-items that I may showcase here in the near future), but there are couple of interesting items of note inside.

First ,there’s this blurb for the sadly never-finished Swamp Thing: Deja Vu mini-series that would have reunited Len Wein and Bernie Wrightson:


Wrightson only drew a handful of pages before deciding the project wasn’t for him, and Wein’s attempt to get another artist to complete the book was met with the reaction of “not interested unless Wrightson was doing it” from the powers-that-were. (I believe I read about that particular bit of business in the Swampmen, which is where you can see some of the pages Wrightson did draw for the project.)

And then there was this story on the last page of the booklet:


Games being the Marv Wolfman/George Perez “final hurrah” as a team on the Teen Titans, which didn’t come out in 1990 as planned…and in fact didn’t actually show up until 2011, over twenty years later! Wolfman writes about what happened here.

But what I wanted to talk about was this:


…a big crossover event series planned for this publishing period, which I couldn’t recall ever having heard of. At first glance, I thought maybe it was a working title for some other event, but reading the synopsis, it didn’t sound like any crossover thingie DC had published. (Though, funnily enough, it reminds me a bit of the “children of the Justice League” storyline currently running in, er, Justice League.)

Did a little Googling, and there’s not much on the series to be found, as you might imagine. Turns out, according to Roger Stern, mentioned in the article as one of the writers involved, it never really got too far past “hey, here’s an idea.”

CLICK TO EXPAND MIGHTILY

And this excerpt from American Comic Book Chronicles that turned up on Google Books ties us back yet again to the Bat-Burton film:


And yes, I got screenshots as well as links there, as there’s nothing like sorting out dead links in decade-old blog posts to make one appreciate the mercurial state of the World Wide Web.

Anyway, what I find of interest in this article is how much is promised regarding this series, given that, as Stern says, it didn’t really get that far along in the creative process. A “new mega-villain” is probably a given for a big event like this, and “new characters,” I guess, so that’s a gimme. The format of the series, with increasing page-counts for each subsequent pair of issues, is…a little weird, and I don’t recall that specific idea being implemented any time later. I mean, sure, last issues of crossover comics can be double-sized or whatever, but that’s not exactly the same as what’s being described.

Now I realize what the world probably doesn’t need is yet another superhero crossover event on the books, but I am intrigued enough by this premise, and by the proposed writing team of Stern and John Ostrander utilizing DC’s major characters, and by the new characters that would have come out of it that I wouldn’t have minded seeing it. But it feels just a little weird, to find out now there’s a missing event series, a comics ghost flickering in and out of existence behind all the Batmania.

I want my coffin to be carried along by a mass of Arcane’s Un-Men.

§ October 6th, 2017 § Filed under batman § 5 Comments

Okay, one last post on this topic before going on to…I don’t know, three weeks of talking about Robocop 2, maybe. But here’s what I’ve posted about Batman ’89 and related subjects previously: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

…And here’s what I’m posting today:

Jason had a few things to say:

“I had started reading DC Comics when Millennium came out* (So 1987 or so). So I was aware of Dark Knight and had been reading Batman for about 2 years. I was extremely excited about the movie. As a Junior in high school at the time, of course I had been aware of Batman through the usual means (The Adam West show, Superfriends, Scooby Doo), but the comics were the only real serious take on the character at the time.”

Yeah, I feel like the release of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight and its general acceptance by the public at large, beyond the usual comic-book reading suspects, along with the subsequent…”awareness,” I guess, of comics overall (helped along by Watchmen and other non-traditional, more adult-y funnybooks) helped whet the appetite for a big budget Batman film that would be dark and grim and serious and…well, we got a Tim Burton film. It had enough of the trappings of grim grittiness that the fans wanted, however, so that was good enough. Or, more to the point, it wasn’t the goofy ’60s show or the Super Friends cartoon or whatever it was fans were afraid of seeing. I mean, comics weren’t the only vector through which this demand was created, as special effect-driven action films were becoming increasingly prevalent and technology had improved to the point of making such things less costly and more feasible.

But all those previous media tie-ins were probably just as responsible for the film’s impact and success as anything else. Character recognition is a huge part of getting the public’s attention, and Batman being one of the most recognizable fictional characters in the world is due in large part to Adam West, et al. So what I’m saying is, every thank Scooby Doo for helping make Burton’s Batman a hit.

“Let it not be said that 80’s crossover events were not good jumping on points (at least for me). I started seriously reading Marvel when Secret Wars II started, and started reading DC when Millennium started. I remember Millennium being extremely confusing for a new DC reader, but it was a good introduction to a lot of DC books and characters that I had never heard of.”

Millennium had that clever gimmick of having “Week One” and “Week Two” and so on emblazoned across the top of each tie-in’s cover, which made it a lot easier for someone to decide to drop their cash on it. The cover designs all looked like it was part of the same story, so it was hard not to grab those issues. And like you say, it was a “good introduction” to other DC properties — that’s the main purpose of all these crossovers in the first place. It’s why the Justice Society appeared in All-Star Comics so long ago…if you picked it up because you were a regular Flash Comics reader and you saw the Flash was in the JSA, and then decided you liked that Green Lantern character who was also in it, maybe you’d start buying the solo Green Lantern book, too. Every crossover wants you to start buying more comics. GASP…the horrible secret, revealed!

On a related personal note, if I recall correctly one of my first shop jobs after entering comics retail was going along and pulling off all the bagged Millennium tie-in comics that had been displayed in a row on the wall above the comics rack. That was one of the very, very, very few times we had actual comics attached to a wall for display purposes.

“Of course after a couple of years, I went from obsessively buying every book from both publishers (and a lot of other publishers too) to buying no comics whatsoever, but that’s a different story.”

Ah, yes, the 1990s.

• • •

And let me wrap up things with his amazing story from longtime ProgRuin-ite Wayne, who left this remembrance in the comments for the one post I don’t have in my numbered links up there:

“Here’s [my true story]. I have no photos, because I am certain the funeral home in question did not want to be sued.

“It was a gig I had for about two weeks in October of 1989. I was broke, ready to take any job. And I ended up dressing in a Keaton Batman-like suit and attending wakes and funerals in a suburb South of Chicago. The funeral home honestly thought that the kids would be less sad if they knew that whomever was in the casket was friends with Batman. No idea why ANY kid would believe that, but there I was, bat-ears and all, sitting in the back of the viewing room and on at least four occasions, being a pallbearer and standing at the gravesite looking properly somber.

“I was in college and was paid $15 in 1989 dollars for each viewing I was able to attend, with an extra $2 thrown in if I was a pallbearer.”

This is insane. Is this a thing that happens now? Do people go to funerals in character costumes today to, um, lighten the mood for kids? I’m half-tempted to Google search but I don’t think I really want to know if someone’s dressing up as, let’s say, Twilight Sparkle to keep the children calm during the service.

I can see maybe having like a side thing to entertain the children while the actual funeral is going on…MAYBE. But Wayne was actually carrying the coffin. Like, four times.

So if you ever had any doubt just how much of an influence that first Tim Burton Batman movie was, there you go. Batman was everywhere you looked, and followed you everywhere you would go…even into the cold embrace of the grave.

• • •

Thank you for putting up with so much Bat-talk over the last few weeks. You folks are real troopers. Back soon with more, mostly Bat-free, content!

Yes, I know it’s “Catwomen.”

§ October 4th, 2017 § Filed under batman § 1 Comment

Okay, ALMOST done with Bat-Talk…next time should be the wrap-up, but until then….

BEFORE: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

NOW:

Bryan sez

“I seem to recall the issue was less about Keaton’s comedic background (although that was certainly a factor) and more that his receding hairline and less than powerful jawline didn’t make him seem ‘heroic.’ A quote I’ve long enjoyed (no idea who to attribute it to) is ‘only Tim Burton could work on a film with Alec Baldwin and Michael Keaton, and decide to cast Keaton as Bruce Wayne.'”

I remember reading some interview with somebody at the time…let me know if I’m providing TOO much detail…that the conceit was that “well sure, Bruce Wayne would look like this, because then nobody would suspect that he was Batman.” That stuck with me, so when someone came into the shop about the time the movie opened, and noted how Michael Keaton didn’t fit what Batman should look like, I repeated that explanation. The customer kinda went “pffft, yeah right” and looked at me like I was an idiot, and he probably wasn’t wrong. That particular explanation certainly sounds like after-the-fact justification now vis-à-vis the actor’s appearance, back in the day before we realized Michael Keaton, much like the late Adam West, was perfect.

• • •

Andrew returns to say

“I wonder why today’s movies don’t have the same effect on comic book sales that these earlier movies did?”

Novelty, I guess? Superhero movies are a regular occurrence now and just part of the whole mediaweb-thing that constantly surrounds us, versus that 1989 Batman movie being like the first major serious attempt at a comic book film since the Christopher Reeve Superman run. And there were other factors going on as well, such as a preexisting heightened awareness of comics thanks to Watchmen and Dark Knight, an increased interest in comics collectability, and so on. It was just the right stuff at the right time, and thus are fads born.

Oh, and as Bryan says a little later in the comments, comics were still at newsstands and convenience stores and such, so anyone interested in Batman and his super-pals had a lot easier time of getting their hands on their adventures.

“At the time of the first Batman movies, didn’t DC start publishing the ‘Greatest Stories’ series for Batman, etc? But is there anything like that now, say for Wonder Woman?”

Well, sort of. DC published Wonder Woman: Her Greatest Battles, a $9.99 paperback with mostly recent-ish stories of her fighting various villains, and that 75th anniversary hardcover, which are probably closest to the “Greatest Stories” paperbacks you mention. Plus there were the collections of John Byrne’s and George Perez’s runs, and Wonder Woman and the Justice League of America reprinting some early ’90s stuff…there was no shortage of WW books available.

• • •

Gareth depresses me with

“One of the ‘Batman Begins’ people said they saw a TV report about poor people in Africa, and one of them was wearing a Batman T-shirt. They said it really hammered home how famous the character was.”

Well, I guess that’s sorta right, in that Batman was so famous and popular that they went way overboard in manufacturing the shirts, and the giant mountain of overstock had to go somewhere.

• • •

Longtime Progressive Ruiner (er, there has to be a better way to put it than that) clues me in on the following

“My memory of the Legends of the Dark Knight color covers was that first, they were a cheap paper second cover, not regular cover stock.

“But that’s because they were a last minute addition. I remember reading interviews in the day where DC administrators said they added the color covers because they were VERY concerned that comic stores had ordered way too many copies. They borrowed a trick from the paperback publishing side of the house in terms of having different colors (remember The Hotel New Hampshire and other best-sellers would do this at the time) as a marketing gimmick. They were trying to make some sort of distinction that might help stores sell more than one copy to customers…

“But since it was a last minute decision after the orders came in, they weren’t able to put the plan in the ordering information. And as I recall many stores were unhappy because they would have ordered MORE if they’d known about the 4 different colors. So the plan DC had to help sell what they thought was over-ordering would have potentially led to MORE orders if they’d publicized it in the solicitations…”

Just thought I’d plug that whole enchilada into the main body of a post…I do remember that the different colored covers were just overlays over the regular cover. I didn’t recall any of the behind-the-scenes shenanigans that resulted in those covers in the first place since that was early in my comics-selling career and just probably forgot. However, as someone who haunted all the local bookstores, I do remember the “variant” paperback covers that were available at times. If memory serves, the novelization of Raiders of the Lost Ark had shiny metallic covers that came in different colors. (Mine was silver, in case you were wondering.)

I wish I could tell you just how Legends of the Dark Knight sold, but it was a new Batman #1, so I’m assuming it sold just fine. I do remember instances of people buying all four color variations, which felt really strange to me, since the comics boom was in full swing just yet and that kind of behavior hadn’t really caught on during my then-brief comics retailing experience.

• • •

argh.sims arghed

“And [Batman Returns] set up the Catwoman ‘mythology’ that lead to the Halle Barry movie. That Halle Barry was in a Catwoman movie that is almost impossible to watch is a crime. It could have been so good. :-/”

I think I mentioned on this site, or on Twitter, or on MySpace, that the Halle Berry Catwoman movie at its start feels like it could be a good, if not great, superhero action film. BUT IT’S A TRICK, DON’T FALL FOR IT LIKE I DID

But yeah, you’re right…dead gal revived by heaps of cats, live action or CGI or otherwise. That’s how you get your Catwomans.

• • •

Zoot Koomie zoots

“There were an enormous number and variety of tie-in products for Batman. The whole world was branded Bat for a short while there. But there was no indication that there were any comics. All the schwag was very movie specific. The comics Bat-boom could have been even larger if any effort had been put into cross-branding at all.”

And the comics boom was enormous, so imagining it even larger puts images in my head of me diving into my money bin. I wonder if the assumption at the time was that “we don’t need to cross-promote Batman comics with movie merch…of course everyone knows Batman is from the comics.” And as we know from most comic book movies that came after, a lot of the people into the mass media tie-ins and adaptations don’t necessarily cross over to the source material. Now, in the case of Batman, it was such a huge fad that it couldn’t help but drive people into comic book stores to buy comics, but I know from my experience then that a pretty good percentage of folks were more interested in the shirts and toys and posters than they were in following the various monthly publications. Which is fine…if they preferred their Bat-adventures to be live action rather than on the print page, then who am I to argue?

• • •

DanielT wonders

“Has there been a pop culture phenomenon in the last 28 years that’s reached the height of Bat-mania? The Star Wars prequels and Harry Potter are the only things I can think of that come close, but I don’t feel like either really reached the same level of frenzy.”

Oh, I get what you mean. That first Star Wars in 1977 is probably the closest, in that basically Everything Changed because of that movie. Between the Prequels and Harry Potter, I’d probably say Harry came closest, in that it gave the ol’ Young Adult market a boost, paving the way for other similar book series to follow. The Prequels were more about the revival of Star Wars as a marketing brand, not so much reinventing culture as just reestablishing its place in it. Though in terms of pure frenzy I suppose it’s hard to top the pre-screening line-ups that were all the rage at the time.

Anyway, we probably won’t see another huge world-changing movie event like 1989 Batmania until James Cameron gets all those Avatar sequels out. YOU MARK MY WORDS.

I apologize in advance for referring to Batman ’89 as “Burt-Man.”

§ October 2nd, 2017 § Filed under batman § 5 Comments

Okay, before I return to Bat-Talk, let me inform you, my two remaining readers, that due to a somewhat hectic week I am way behind on everything, and that includes the new End of Civilization post. I didn’t get a chance even to look in the new Previews ’til Sunday morning, so EoC will be later this week, most likely.

Now…WHAT HAS COME BEFORE: 1 2 3 4 5 6

And here’s what’s coming now:

philip wrenches over the following:

“I walked out of the Burton Batman movie ANGRY that Alfred let Vickie Vale into the Bat Cave. Alfred is a paragon of loyalty and would never reveal Batman’s true identity to anyone. I was legitimately ANGRY. My girlfriend was embarrassed. She dumped me not long after. She was probably right to do it.

“Liked Keaton. Didn’t like Nicholson. Have only seen the movie that one time.”

I was…sort of okay with that particular plot twist, even though I totally see your point as well. Since then, the “secret identity” trope has pretty much gone through the wringer in media adaptations (and in the source material, too, for that matter), and it’s become much less of an issue that it’s used to be. It probably has something to do with the lead character looking like kind of a jerk by keeping his/her secret from friends, and by giving the superhero a “support team” who are all in the action and making things more exciting, I guess. It really came to a head in the Flash TV show where it seemed like everyone knew he was secretly Barry Allen, except for Iris, and that made everyone watching just a little uncomfortable. Even Superman’s not free of this, since in Supergirl everyone in the Secret Government Alien-Awareness Patrol (SGAAP for short, since I can’t be bothered to Google up the actual name) seems like they’re in the whole Clark Kent deal.

Granted, that’s slightly different from Bruce’s trusted associate Alfred totally exposing the secret without any warning, but as a one-off plot point in one movie, in that Alfred is trying to do the right thing to help the man he’s protected his whole life…I can live with it. Anyway, she mysteriously “slips” and “falls” into an “unreachable” part of the Batcave between films, so the point is essentially moot.

To your final point, like I’ve said I do want to revisit the movie. I remember liking both Keaton and Nicholson, but I felt at the time Nicholson was maybe…too known a face to disappear into the role? Of course ol’ Jack was a big selling point of the film and may have got some fence-sitting butts into seats, so what do I know? Again, a rewatch is in order.

• • •

Thom H reveals

“I don’t remember where I saw the first Batman movie, but I do recall thinking it was kind of cheesy and watered down. I had really liked The Dark Knight Returns and The Killing Joke, and I remember thinking that everyone seeing the movie didn’t really ‘get it’ the way I did. I was ‘deep’ in high school, though, so most experiences were beneath me at the time.

“I did really like the soundtrack by Prince, especially the single Batdance, which has not aged well. And talk about cheesy. Yikes.

“I do remember seeing Batman Returns at the drive-in with my boyfriend. That’s when it hit me how big a deal the Bat-phenomenon was and how it probably wasn’t going away anytime soon.”

I’m assuming you saw that first Batman during its initial theatrical release? I suspect, since the release of newer Batman films, young folks encountering that first film in recent years may indeed find it kind of hokey (or, dare I say, “campy?”). But I wouldn’t be surprised in the slightest if you caught onto the goofier aspects of the film, since they’re definitely present…the argument can be made that this is more a Tim Burton film that happens to have Batman in it, versus a Batman film directed by Tim Burton. I think by and large folks who were worried about this sort of thing were happy that the film at least seemed dark and moody, versus the then wrongly-maligned 1960s Batman TV show they were all afraid the film was going to be. But then again, Dark Knight Returns was goofy as all get-out in parts, too, so, y’know, maybe Burt-Man wasn’t too far off the mark. Just needed more Mutant Gang Members!

I have to be honest and say I haven’t heard “Batdance” in a while, so let me have that play in the background as I tackle your next comment.

Batman Returns is as a good indicator as any of the pop culture staying-power of Batman, in that while the faddish aspects of Batmania had mostly died down, the film could still attract a general audience. Even the third film got people into theaters, and it wasn’t ’til the fourth film that people stayed away in droves, and that was clearly more from the fact the film was seen as a stinker, and not because people suddenly didn’t like Batman. Though like I said about the audience reaction to the Batman Begins trailer several years later (groans, and lots of them) everyone was still willing to give a new Batman film a chance. And of course through all this were the various animated incarnations of the character. Batman ’89 wasn’t just a one-time fluke, but rather it opened up whole new audiences for something that had mostly been over and done with as far as the “real” world was concerned.

Okay, back to “Batdance,” which reminded me that, aside from Dio’s “The Last in Line,” which is amazing, all music videos are stupid. Yeah, even as someone who appreciates Prince’s extensive catalog of fine recordings, “Batdance” is just, um…well, I certainly hope Prince put whatever money he made on that to good use. Frankly, I’m surprised the ’60s TV show-style “BATMAN!” call-outs were allowed, since I seem to recall an effort to avoid such references as to not impugn the dignity of this serious cinematic endeavor. And okay, that half-Batman/half-Joker look of Prince’s is iconic. Iconic of what exactly, I don’t know.

• • •

GE charges in with

“What always comes to mind for me was something you mentioned previously: popular doubts (at the time) that Mr. Mom could play Batman. Which is strange, to say the least, since the only live-action Batman most of us knew before then was Adam West, who certainly didn’t get all dark and grim and gritty. It was probably the influence of The Dark Knight Returns (et al) that put that doubt into the zeitgeist.”

That’s…a good point, actually. Dark, Gritty Batman was a relatively new-ish development in the comics, after decades of Swashbuckling Batman, or Time-Travel Crimes on Venus Batman, or Just Plain Ol’ Superhero Batman. I mean, the ’60s TV show wasn’t that far off from the source material, when you get right down to it. I suppose the case could be made that Golden Age Batman stories were a lot more grim than in following years, but that’s probably not what those fans were thinking about when they insisted this new Bat-film accurately reflect the Dark Avenger of the Night that they all knew and loved. The immense popularity of Dark Knight from just a couple of years prior was, as you say, likely the prime mover for that response, despite Dark Knight itself having strongly satirical/parodic overtones.

“Those doubts about Keaton culminated in a parody of Escape Club’s “Wild West” that kept playing on a morning radio show (probably Scott and Todd on 95.5 WPLJ in the NY/NJ market – don’t know if it was theirs, or they just played it…?), titled ‘Adam West’ and poking fun at the idea of Keaton taking over the cowl and cape. Big Bro even taped it off the radio (y’know, the way we used to have to do that, with a boom box and all!), and I’ve got the MP3 of that recording right here – we spent the last few years scanning/transferring everything we had (video, audio, drawing, writing…) to modern digital formats.”

As an avid Dr. Demento listener in my youth, I knew that particular song sounded familiar, and sure enough, here it is. Someone decided to add visuals to the song, but in this case it’s okay, because it’s Best Batman. So I guess that’s two music videos that aren’t stupid.

• • •

MrJM has this to say for himself

“Although many of our friends were worrying about whether the titular ‘Mr. Mom’ could pull it off, my brother and I weren’t worried — the previous year, we went to a screening of ‘Clean and Sober’ specifically to vet Michael Keaton as a grim actor.

“What a pair of nerds.”

Okay, nothing to do with the Batman movies, but I did something a little similar, in that in the mid-1980s I heard Shawn McManus was going to illustrate a forthcoming issue of Saga of the Swamp Thing (this one, in fact) and I wanted to know just what that was going to look like, since I wasn’t familiar with his art. I ended up buying something current with art at the time…don’t remember what it was, but it was a title I didn’t regularly read…and looked it over to reassure myself that he’d be at least okay at drawing my favorite character.

And of course McManus ended up being one of my favorite comic book artists, what with his run on Omega Men starting about a year later, and his Dr. Fate, and Sandman and so on. See what my approval can do for you!

Taking a break from Bat-talk for a little Bat-talk.

§ September 29th, 2017 § Filed under batman, promo § 6 Comments

So, going through boxes of ancient comic shop promo materials netted me this, a 1986 letter to retailers about the then-forthcoming Batman: The Dark Knight mini-series by Frank Miller:


This letter had six stapled pages, with the last three pages being black and white repos of some of the art (including the famous splash of Batman ‘n’ Robin leaping over the city, and that pic of Superman hefting a tank). Anyway, thought some of you folks would enjoy this look back at a piece of Bat-history.

A few notes:

  • I’m trying to remember reaction to Ronin at the time. I seem to remember…Gary Groth of The Comics Journal, I think, saying Ronin was better than 90% of other comics being published, but it was still crap. Well, I liked it, but I don’t know how well it went over in the retail sense, since I wasn’t involved in that part of the business then. My general recollection is that it had a mixed response at best, sort of a “he left Daredevil for this?” but that’s more gleaned from ‘zines of the time and not so much from actual interaction with people who read it. It’s considered…well, I was going to say “it’s considered a classic now,” but is it? I know it keeps getting repackaged and rereleased but when folks talk about the Big Classic Comic Books from Marvel and DC, it’s Watchmen and Dark Knight and, um, Marvels, I guess, but Ronin doesn’t seem to make it onto those same lists. Which is a shame…I do quite like it.
  • I vaguely remember the coverage in Rolling Stone and Spin, in that there were some pretty good-sized ads run there. Any accompanying articles I don’t recall, though I imagine there were strong…suggestions from DC that “BAM! POW! BATMAN’S OLD AND MEAN NOW!” headlines should be avoided.
  • The description kills me, with the comic “taking place 10 years after Batman has retired, when he’s pushing 50.” So, when Batman is my age right now, in other words. “This is a future Batman, when he’s old, worn out, creaky-boned and cloudy-eyed, just about to keel over and die, just like Mike Sterling.” Okay, maybe it doesn’t say that exactly, but they’re totally implying it.

    The other odd note in the series description, aside from “introducing a new, female Robin” and letting us know Superman will be in the couple of issues, is the declaration that the “Batman paraphrenalia [sic] (will be) updated and computerized.” It seemed weird at first that would be emphasized in the promo materials (hey kids, see how Batman fights crime in the future!), since that’s hardly the focus of the book, but there is that extended sequence with the new Batmobile/tank so, um, technically I guess that’s what they were talking about. Just out of context like this, however, it sort of sounds like “here’s Iron Man’s new armor,” or “introducing the Supermobile” — just, in retrospect, it feels a little diminishing compared to the impact the series would have. How would they have known, of course…they knew they had something special, but just how big it was going to be was surely an enormous surprise.

  • Their attempts at describing the actual printed product is a little amusing, in that the format, will very shortly after this, be referred to as “The Dark Knight format.” Hell, even Marvel described their comics like this as being in “the Dark Knight format,” until eventually someone there realized that was a bad idea, and we got “bookshelf” or “prestige” as names for this type of item instead. I think “prestige” is the solely preferred term now.
  • The Dark Knight 3D Counter Display is pretty neat…my old boss Ralph still has one in his office…a little beat-up, but he said he thinks he has another! This site has a pretty good pic of what the display looks like.
  • As was pointed out to me by a customer who was looking at this letter the other day, some poor soul had to go through and underline the appropriate words by hand. Another artistic skill lost due to computerization.

No I didn’t forget, just didn’t feel like typing “…AND Beta” every time.

§ September 27th, 2017 § Filed under batman, reader participation § 1 Comment

PREVIOUSLY, ON BAT-TALK: 1 2 3 4 5

Hoo boy, I opened up a real can of worms on this one. I’m going to be commenting on comments to my comments for this particular set of theme posts for the rest of time…though realistically I’ll have to cut off the discussion somewhere, or I can just go ahead and change the site name to “Batgressive Ruin.”

Anyway, let me at least wrap up the comments from the very first post:

Chris G presents:

“I was 14. I wore a Batman t-shirt on the end-of-year class trip to Hershey Park and kids in my class who I barely knew were asking me where I’d gotten it. I saw it twice on opening day and bought a poster of Jack Nicholson’s Joker sitting on a beach that hung in my room for years. The Prince ‘Batdance’ song was everywhere. And it was a HUGE thing when the movie arrived on VHS less than six months later, priced to sell to consumers rather than to video stores – that had never happened before and was the beginning of a sea change in home video.”

Since I was a big Oingo Boingo fan at the time…well, okay, still am…I remember being slightly put out that Prince’s Batman “soundtrack” (with songs “inspired by the film” if I remember correctly) was being released first, while the actual score of the the movie, composed by Boingo frontman Danny Elfman, was coming out much later. A silly thing to be concerned about, I realize, especially since I totally understand now that “NEW PRINCE ALBUM” was definitely going to sell better. Also, Prince is amazing. But Elfman’s soundtrack is good, too, and practically immortal given how many times they’ve reused that theme. There’s room for both, Mike of 1989! Don’t be so uptight!

The VHS thing…I remember getting myself put on a waiting list for the VHS release of Batman at…$20, I think, which was pretty reasonable for the time. I could have sworn there were some videotape releases prior to this that were a tad more consumer-friendly pricewise, and this Straight Dope discussion (and this article linked from there) do mention a number of attempts at consumer pricing on some films in the early to mid-1980s. There were still plenty of $100+ VHS tapes being sold to stores for rental purposes, of course, and what exactly constituted “affordable” pricing encompassed a wide variety of options. (I remember asking a friend at a video store to look into any videotape releases of the original Land of the Lost, and he found a couple of tape, each with two episodes, at I believe $39.95 each…this may have been late ’80s/early ’90s.)

It’s possible the relative cheapness of the Batman home video release, and subsequent popularity, may have been the impetus to push more and more VHS out into the market at reasonable pricing. Plus (and I’ve heard this argument a few times in the past) pricing the tapes down may have lowered piracy, as the hassle of having to patch together two VCRs to record a rental from the local video store may have been worth it when prerecorded videotapes were $100 a throw, but at $20 or so it was less of a pain in the ass just to straight up buy a copy.

• • •

Adam recalls

“I was almost 7 when the movie came out. It was a revelation. I knew the Adam West show from reruns but this is something else. Everything was so serious, expressive and dramatic, even the silences. There were things that weren’t explained that made it intriguing. I must have seen it five times begging anyone who was willing to take me.

“I didn’t start reading the comics at this point. My grandmother volunteered at a library and gave me a copy of ‘Batman & Other DC Classics’ which reprinted excerpts of comics to convince people to try buying collections. And I loved that comic but it didn’t convince me to start picking them up regularly. Instead I was buying toys and stickers and buttons. And then, the VHS tape which I nearly wore through. I still occasionally think ‘you can’t watch a Warner Bros. movie without a Warner Bros. ballcap.’

“And as huge as Batman was, it’s worth noting there were a lot of big movies in 1989. Consider that Batman came out the same day as Honey, I Shrunk The Kids (5th highest box office of 1989) and a month after Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (2nd highest). Every year has its share of classic movies but 1989 was stacked. Check out the full list since there’s too many to mention here. All these movies combined to give 1989 had the highest box office ever (without inflation) and wouldn’t be topped until 1993. And Batman was the biggest of them all.”

I can imagine the sort of impact this film would have had on a small child. A lot of it was super weird and creepy and I can imagine it frightening little kids…and fascinating them, as you say, Adam. That’s the right age to sort of absorb all this stuff at face value, without worrying about or even noticing the undercurrents of humor and self-parody involved.

I remember that Batman & Other DC Classics preview comic…probably still have one in my collection somewhere. And it seemed like for years at the previous place of employment I kept turning up copies. Gave away a whole lot of those…it was a nice little sampler.

And it’s funny that you point out 1989 at The Big Movie Year…for us just slightly older folks, 1984 is the year that always gets singled out as the Year o’The Hits…but I have to tell you, just browsing each year for the 1980s sure pulls up lots of formative films for a young Mike (though I don’t recall seeing this one on any Top Lists there).

• • •

And Jason has this to say

“I can only chime in as a film fan, because I don’t remember what I was reading in 1989. (I honestly think it was Captain America and not Batman!)

“When I say Batman was one of the darkest films I ever saw, I mean that quite literally. I saw it at a Drive-in as a kid, and and some scenes were simply too dark to decipher what was happening on screen. That bit where Vikki wakes up and Bruce is hanging upside down like his namesake? I didn’t see/comprehend that until I saw it again on video.

“I can’t think of any other movie that plays so fast and loose with the color black. Are super hero movies lit differently than ‘regular’ movies? Does anyone know offhand? Or are there simply more night scenes in super hero movies?”

Well, drive-in projection as I recall wasn’t the best for lighting and color nuance…I remember seeing that first Nightmare on Elm Street at a drive-in and it was a little hard to make things out in certain scenes. It could also be a problem with the actual physical projection…I know a theater local to me was having real problems with brightness levels on movies. That recent Harry Potter spin-off the name of which I can’t remember and don’t feel like Googling, for example, was nearly pitch black in some parts, and Rogue One, even in the scenes that were clearly supposed to be in bright, sunny daylight were desperately underlit by the projectionist. The theater improved since then, but I’m still reluctant to attend a flick there.

I don’t know enough about lighting or cinematography to intelligently answer your question about how they’re specifically doing superhero films…but not every film is mired in darkness. Spider-Man: Homecoming is nice and brightly lit…even in the night scenes, everything is clear as day. Occasionally I feel like dark shots are in our superhero moving pictures to conceal some dodgy special effects or CGI (something that occurred to me during at least one Harry Potter film). But man, of course Batman was filmed with lots of the color black…he is the Dark Knight, after all!

But seriously, I need to see that film again. Y’all are making me want to pop it back into the player.

The VHS player.

I’m not going to say how many different Legends of the Dark Knight #1s I bought for myself.

§ September 25th, 2017 § Filed under batman, retailing § 8 Comments

And so BAT-MONTH CONTINUES…okay, maybe it won’t be the whole month, but I am still going back and addressing some of your comments to my previous posts (1 2 3 4). I’m not addressing every single comment made, but if I skip yours, I still like you, I just didn’t have anything to add.

AWAY WE GO:

Bryan sez, he sez

“My recollection is probably skewed because a comic book store opened within a ten minute walk of my house in the spring of 1989, so I could suddenly go all the time, but I certainly remember ‘The Many Deaths of Batman’ (John Byrne and Jim Aparo! Together!) and ‘Legends of the Dark Knight’ (I don’t even want to think about how many different colours of that first issue I bought) and the ‘Arkham Asylum’ graphic novel, and the computer-drawn Batman GN that was heavily promoted, made the summer to late fall of 1989 feel like something huge was happening with the character, and DC was really able to piggyback the success of the movie to make me want to buy anything Batman.”

So I’d been wondering, since we last spoke, about whether or not I was overstating how huge of an impact that first Burton Batman made. Keep in mind at the time I was only about 20 years old, give or take, and thus squarely in that demographic Makers of Big Blockbuster Films prefer to target, and also I was, y’know, working in a comic book store, so maybe my awareness of said Bat-film was somewhat predetermined.

Now a lot of your comments seems to be supporting my asserting that the Batman movie was huger than a huge thing that’s huge, at least as far as cultural influence goes, so it’s not necessarily my biased memory coloring my recollection of history. One specific thing I remember is hearing radio deejays chatting about Batman and Batman comics and whathaveyou between songs…you know something’s big when Richard Blade is talking about Dark Knight Returns during his KROQ shift.

And yes, Bryan, as you say, DC Comics wasn’t bein’ run by dummies…they were squeezing every Bat-cent out of the character that year and pumping out all kinds of stuff to exploit interest in the character. The “computer-drawn” graphic novel was Digital Justice, and people sort of derided it at the time (while still selling well in the way all Batman was selling well), but I guess that book had the last laugh since computers are used in pretty much every aspect of comic creation now. And comics fandom. In fact, a computer is writing this very blog right now beep boop.

Some of those other books bring back a few memories of the time, too: like first issue of the “The Many Deaths of Batman,” which was dialogue-free except, I believe, for the very last page (or panel), which actually caused a customer to call the shop after he got home and read the issue, believing it was somehow misprinted and all the captions and word balloons were left out. Well…that sort of wordless storytelling was pretty unusual in superhero comics (though the famous G.I. Joe silent issue was about five years previous), so I guess I can’t blame the person too much.

The different covers on Legends of the Dark Knight was one of the early examples of multiple-cover variants in the industry, and at a time when nobody was quite used to the idea, the reactions were very mixed. There were the folks mad that they had to buy one of each version to keep the collection complete. (Keeping in mind the only difference was border colors.) There were the folks asking which one was the rarest, and therefore destined to be the most valuable. There were the folks who just thought the whole thing was a scam. And so on. Still sold of lot of them.

The Arkham Asylum graphic novel was greatly anticipated, and we had a waiting list at the shop that I can almost still mostly picture in my mind. I mean, not the names on it, of course, but I can still remember pulling that sheet out and adding names and phone numbers to it on a relatively regular basis. I was still going to college at that time, and working at the shop in the afternoons, so on the day of release, between classes, I got on a payphone (hey, it was 1989) and called the shop to make sure those jerks held a copy of the book aside for me. Guess I should have added myself to the waiting list. More fool I.

• • •

Jack notes

“My local comic shop, which had been doing okay but not world beating business, had a massive uptick in business. So big, in fact, that they moved out of the tiny location they were in to a much bigger one across the street, where they still are to this day. (They survived the 90s crash by pivoting to card games, and were ahead of the curve big time on the Pokemon phenomena.) Saying that the country had Batmania in 1989 is not an exaggeration, if anything it doesn’t do it justice.”

I believe it was in the very next year, 1990, that the shop moved across the street to its GINORMOUS location, easily 3x the size of the little shop we were moving out of, and we would never, ever fill up, never in our wildest dreams…so of course a few years later we completely outgrew that location and moved into a spot twice as large next door, where the shop still exists now.

In 1990, the boom was still booming. In, I believe it was 1997 when we made that final move, the business was…well, the crash had crashed, but I think things were slightly improving at the time. At the very least, we had adjusted to this new post-crash comics economy and were more or less ordering, planning, and spending accordingly. Plus, a full half of the store was dedicated to gaming (role playing and Magic: The Gathering) and that certainly helped the cash flow. Like Jack mentions about his shop, having differing stock lines (like the card games) at our store helped us ride out the lean years, though we still attracted plenty of comics business simply by reputation of having a large selection of new and old material.

I’m guessing the ironic result of Batmania was in encouraging stores to expand like we did, only to have the following market crash leave owners with newly-expanded locations they could no longer support. We were lucky that we were able to muddle through as well as we did.

• • •

Longtime customer and pal Casie (to whom I probably sold comics when she was 11!) relates

“I was 11 when the movie came out. Only read a couple Batman comics at that time but only knew the Adam West version which was colorful and fun. Had no idea what to expect from the 1989 movie. The whole dark side of Batman was new to me. After seeing it I was smitten.”

And related, from Dean:

“From what I remember as a tiny child at the time (I was 12 years old) this ‘dark, serious’ take on Batman was HUGE. This was before we realized that Burton Batman was just as goofy and stylized as Adam West Batman, just with the lights turned down.”

I think that was one of, if not the major elements, to what attracted people to this movie, that we would finally be getting the dark and gritty Avenger of the Night we deserved this whole time, the one we knew from the comics, and not that silly old TV show Batman. And like Dean says, these Burton films are camp in their own way (or rather, they’re Tim Burton films more than they’re Batman films), but there are still moments of darkness mixed in with all the goofy stuff. When we first see Batman capture those ruffians, with his gruff “I’M BATMAN” — it’s been mocked a bit since then, sure, but it’s still an effective introduction to the character. And that scene in the “doctor’s” room, pleading with Napier that he’s done all he could, just look at the tools he has to work with (quick shot of bloodied knifes and other instruments), the swinging lamp, only seeing Nicholson from behind…it’s a nightmarish scene, probably the best in the film.

The sequel, Batman Returns, is notable for turning up the darkness — turning down the darkness? you know what I mean — maybe a bit too much. There were complaints about the Penguin maybe being a little over the top in grotesquery, for example. Can’t say if the inherent goofiness in the film was also increased accordingly, as it’s been a while since I’ve seen either film. I’ll have to put that on the list of things to do When I Have Free Time, Maybe After I Break A Leg or Something.

• • •

More Bat-talk to come! Can you believe your luck?

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