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?

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

  • Jim Kosmicki says:

    I was helping at a comic shop when the Burton Batman came out, and yes, it was a true cultural phenomenon.

    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…

  • Jim Kosmicki says:

    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…

  • Rob Staeger says:

    I remember our classic rock station (WYSP in Philly) playing the Who’s version of the Batman theme several times that summer. Haven’t heard it since, until I pulled it up on YouTube just to make sure I hadn’t imagined it.

  • argh.sims says:

    BATMAN RETURNS definitely had it’s silliness turned up, as well as it’s darkness. Remember DJ-Batman doing turntable moves on a CD of Candidate Pengy’s insulting his constituents? Remember the Emperor Penguin death guard leading his body into the sewers?

    And this 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. :-/

  • Zoot Koomie says:

    On the other side of things, I was working in a movie theater when Batman came out. It was a two-screen theater with Honey, I Shrunk the Kids on the other screen, and both did amazing business. Usually, we’d see noticeable drops after the first weekend, but both movies were sold out screening after screening for weeks on-end.

    The managers knew it couldn’t last, so didn’t expand the staffing much, instead letting us work a 100-hour work week the first week, and then 70-some-hours the next few. In retrospect, that can’t have been legal.

    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.

  • MrJM says:

    The number of Bat-Tees in non-comics stores was shocking.

    They started out in the Spencer’s Gifts-type shops and spread through the mall until every K-Mart and J.C. Penny’s had a section devoted to Dark Knight shirts. They were sold in everything from grocery stores to video arcades.

    And for the first time ever, it wasn’t the just same designs over and over. The variety was unprecedented.

    Eventually, right at back-to-school season, there was even a (short-lived) kiosk in the mall that only sold Batman (and Joker) gear.

    I’d never seen anything like it.

    — MrJM

  • Daniel T says:

    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.

    I saw Batman earlier this year (on the big screen, courtesy of Flashback Cinema) for the first time since the mid-90s, probably, and I liked the movie very much. More than I expected. Definite weak spots and questionable choices but I thought it held up far, far better than I ever expected.

  • JWRollins says:

    I still have all of my Legends of the Dark Knight. Why?

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