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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?

Keeping in mind that Batman and Robin isn’t really THAT bad of a film.

§ September 22nd, 2017 § Filed under batman § 9 Comments

So I’ve been looking back at your memories of the first Batman film from 1989 and all the surrounding hooplah (here and here and also here) and yeah, a whole lot of what you folks have been saying sure rings true with what I remember of my experience at the time.

I’m going to respond to the last comment I received first, from Andrew, who asks:

“Does Ralph remember any effect like this for the earlier Superman movies? What happened for subsequent Batman movies?”

I’ll ask Ralph when next I speak to him…he opened his own store in Ventura in 1980, but he was working with a partner at a shop in Santa Barbara for a few years prior to that, and working comic conventions and swap meets, too, so he probably experienced the response (or lack thereof) to that first Superman film in 1978. I’ll get back to you on that.

As far as the following Burton-Universe Bat-films go…well, it was diminishing returns, of course. The excitement over that first Batman movie was because it was “new” and “different” wasn’t there when Batman Returns hit in 1992, since we kinda knew what to expect now. I mean, obviously the film did well, and DC Comics did their best to exploit Batman during that period, but it’s not like DC wasn’t going to try to sell Batman comics, right? However, in 1992 the Bat-fad and the related comics boom had mostly run its course, and the comics crash was on its way, and the hordes of people who had suddenly discovered comic books in the late ’80s/early ’90s were beginning to find other things to do, so we weren’t going to have anywhere close to the cultural impact with the follow-up movies that the original Batman film had. Again, that second film was a blockbuster, and tie-in products sold well…but it wasn’t the culture changer its predecessor was.

The third film…I can’t remember if that had much of an impact at all. There was some slight interest because the lead was recast, but I don’t recall anything unusual aside from the typical merchandising one might expect from a Big Movie. And the fourth film…well, I’ve mentioned this before, but when I first saw the trailer for Christopher Nolan’s first Bat-film, Batman Begins, people in my theater literally groaned when they realized what they were seeing what a come-on for a new Batman film. Given that under normal circumstances the general public might be more positively predisposed to Batman, I most attribute that reaction to the trailer to memories of Batman and Robin, even if it was a whole eight years prior. That film cast a long shadow, however, which meant Batman Begins had a bit of an uphill battle to convince moviegoers that hey, maybe a Batman film can be good again.

Ooh boy, this is going to be a wordy post. Let me address a couple more questions and then we’ll continue into parts 2 through about 19 or 20:

James G. reacts to a non-Batman aside I made about the comics boom, noting

“I didn’t know about the sports card market crash helping the comic speculation market.”

Well, honestly, this was my assumption that I had at the time, and one I never really questioned or thought about much, so I can probably be refuted by someone with “knowledge” or “facts” or any of that wild stuff. But as I have related many times in the past, during the comics boom I had many people coming into the store asking after “comic book Becketts,” “Beckett” being the primary publisher of sports card price guides. That became a sure indicator of someone from the card collecting hobby, or at least familiar with it, trying their hand at the ol’ funnybook game.

I wasn’t really involved in the sports card market, beyond Ralph carrying a few boxes of this and that, so I don’t know a whole lot, but it was my understanding, from Ralph and some of his friends who did run sports card shops, that the card market, much like the comics market, was way overproducing at the time. I did a little Googling and did find, for example, this article that seems to corroborate those memories. It would seem that the card market preceded the comics market in its collapse, allowing some time for collectors of one to try to switch over to the other. That’s certainly what it seemed like what was happening then, but if anyone has more specific recollections, please let me know! All I know for sure it’s pretty tough to find a sports card shop around our area nowadays.

Patrick recalls

“People would be shocked at how Batman and Joker shirts were EVERYWHERE. And so many of them you would see see the same one twice in a day on people. And they were on a lot of people.”

Preach it, brother. Okay, I was working in a comic book store, so it’s only natural that I’d see lots of people in Bat-shirts. But when I would occasionally slip my chain and venture out into the wilds of Ventura County, yes, Bat-clothing was all over the place. Little kids, grandmas, the occasional nun, everyone was into Batman. Like I said in my own recollections of the time, we had waiting lists of people special ordering specific Bat-shirt designs.

The fad had to run its course eventually, and all those Batman shirts got put into closets one final time, never again to see the light of day. I can’t remember ever noticing the frequency of Bat-fashion declining…it was just something that was always there, background noise, until one day it wasn’t.

Okay, Bat-shirts aren’t gone forever…outside the peaks of 1960s and 1980s Batmania, incidence of Bat-clothing returned to its normal levels. But I wonder what happened to all those millions of Batman shirts that were purchased during that most recent boom time. Thrown out? Donated to Goodwill? Buried deep in a box in a closet for the original owner’s children to discover and wear as some kind of retro get-up? I bet if I dig into my closet, I probably can still find my own Batman t-shirt from the time, if only because I don’t clean old clothes out of my closet often enough. …Hey, my MC Hammer pants are back in style now, right?

• • •

As promised we’ll continue Bat-memories on Monday, same Bat-time, same B–okay, sorry sorry. But that means there’s still time to add more of your own!

“…And that’s how pogs saved our bacon.”

§ September 20th, 2017 § Filed under batman, market crash, retailing § 5 Comments

Okay, still trying to extract some old Batman ’89/early comics retailing memories from my head to supplement the last couple of posts. A few of you have contributed your own memories, and I shall be commenting upon them soon, oh yes, so prepare yourself for that.

As it turned out, I was talking to my old boss Ralph the other day and pestered him a bit about the impact the first Tim Burton Batman movie had on the shop. In line with what I told you the other day, Ralph said that business had pretty much exploded what with all the excitement over the film’s release, and while lots of different things were doing well, Batman comics and merchandise were of course doing the best. One thing he mentioned that I should have remembered was what happened to prices on the 1970s Joker series, which suddenly skyrocketed. Prior to this period of time, you could get them dirt cheap…I’d bought a copy of #1 for one slim dime at a comic book convention, and Ralph had issues scattered throughout his 50-cent bargain bins. Ralph recalled that when the Bat-craze hit, and prices shot up, he dug through the bargain bins to pull out all those Joker comics. Of course, one or two got missed, and Ralph would just have to cringe inwardly as he sold the $20 comic (or whatever it was) for four bits.

On a related note, I had asked Ralph what his invoices were like at the time…I had vague memories, but wanted some confirmation. Ralph said that during the boom years, the weekly comics invoice would easily reach several thousand dollars, at a time when DC and Marvel comic book prices were still, what, about $1.50 each, and indies were $2 to $3? Ralph said he was ordering hundreds of copies of several books and mostly selling through on them…and the back issue market was still strong enough that we were selling a lot of back-numbered comics as well. So basically money was just pouring in the door, to the extent that Ralph had bought a new truck about that time and paid for it entirely in cash. That’s the sort of thing that would probably set off alarms today, but back then, in the wild and crazy days of the late ’80s/early ’90s, ’twas no big deal.

As I’ve said in the past, when the crash came, it came quick, and we didn’t know it was a crash at the time. We figured it was a brief lull in sales, and that folks would be back, and orders continued to be placed as if sales would be back up shortly…and it eventually became fairly evident that wasn’t happening. For business to go from doing so well to [crickets] was a shock, and the store had nearly died before orders could be adjusted back to realistic levels. One specific example Ralph gave (and gave me permission to relate here) was having a new comics invoice that cost about $12,000, and then making only about $7,000 for that week. As you can imagine, having too many weeks like that could drive any business into the ground…and it did, for many comic shops at the time. We were able to ride it out, once we scaled orders back, and plus we had game products in the store that supplemented our income, and we were still the biggest comic shop in the area, so we still did some comics business. Oh, and pogs helped too. No, really.

It was a strange time to live through, and one that I hopefully learned from as I run my own store now (he said, juggling numbers to get those Marvel lenticular covers). Anyway, next time I’ll talk more Batman ’89 and less “I SURVIVED THE ’90s COMICS CRASH AND ALL I GOT WAS THIS FOIL-LOGOED SHADOWHAWK T-SHIRT.” If you have your own Batman ’89 memories, feel free to chip in!

Yes, as in “Star Wars Porgs.”

§ September 18th, 2017 § Filed under batman, blogging about blogging is a sin, low content mode, self-promotion § 3 Comments

I am pretty dog-tired as I write this…in fact, I believe I am as tired as, at the barest minimum, four dogs, so I’m going to just check in briefly for today’s Porg-essive Rue-Ann installment. I do intend on going back and discussing some of your responses to my Batman ’89 memories, and seeing if any more bits of info re: Mike of Comics Retailing Past have joggled loose in what we may refer to as “my brain,” for the lack of a better term.

However, after checking with him to make sure he wasn’t going to expand this information into a full-blown post on Armagideon-Time, I wanted to link to pal Andrew’s Bat-Burton era memories, such this tale of the Bat-worm turning on public perception of the Caped Crusader, or this one which almost defies explanation.

There’s a few more steps take down this particular memory lane, I’m sure, so I’ll get back to it mid-week. Add your own First Tim Burton Batman Movie Remembrances in the comments, if you’d like!

Also, I finally updated the Swamp Thing-a-Thon over on my Patreon with a discussion of Swamp Thing #7 (1973), the One with Batman in It. Taking a slightly less verbose, less recapp-y approach, and it’s still going to take some retooling, but I’ll get a hang of this whole “talking about Swamp Thing” business eventually. Just a dollar gets you in to see the magic!

Somehow I avoided using the expression “going batty” in all this.

§ September 15th, 2017 § Filed under batman, retailing § 13 Comments

I know I already talked about this on my Twitterers, but I wanted to preserve the moment here as well, when I encountered something at the shop that I hadn’t anticipated.

Now, most of us of a certain age who remember, or even some younger folk who are a little more aware of the comic (or even film) industry’s history know what kind of impact the first Tim Burton Batman movie had back in 1989. It. Was. HUGE.

Now, I’m not going to get sidetracked here into a discussion of whether or not it was any good, or whether it’s aged well. That’s beside the point. What I’m talking about here is how it seemed like this new Batfilm just exploded onto the scene, and suddenly there just wasn’t enough Batman stuff in the world for all our customers to buy.

This was just after I began working in comics retail. Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen had just, not too long ago at this point, informed the general public that Comics Aren’t Just for Kids™, so there was still some measure of interest because of that. And the first big hoohar I was directly involved with on the other side of the counter was “A Death in the Family,” the Batman event where readers could call a phone number and vote on whether or not Robin the Second Boy Wonder Oh Goodness Not Dick Grayson We Wouldn’t Risk Him would LIVE or DIEEEEEE.

But it seemed like it was that Batman movie that really kicked off the big Comics Boom of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Well, sure, there were other factors as well (a crashing sports card market seemed to drive a lot of investors into comic shops in the ’90s, buying first issues and asking for “Comic Book Becketts,” but that’s another story), but it seemed like this film was the dividing line between the Comics Market As It Was Before, and the Comics Market As It Was After At Least ‘Til It Crashed Again. Batman comics, Batman books, Batman tchotchkes of all sorts, and Batman clothing…I mentioned on Twitter that we had enormous waiting lists of people special ordering Bat-shirts. I can still vaguely recall the full color flyer that we had with all the available designs our customers could pick from. I even got in on that shirt action, since back then I still wore t-shirts on a semi-regular basis, and acquired one of these snazzy numbers (image totally stolen from an eBay listing);


I think I liked it because Batman wasn’t on it, that it was a tad more evocative of the weirdly mysterious nature of the Caped Crusader…or I just liked bats. Something like that.

Anyway, the Batman movie was big, and had a hugely successful impact on our shop, is what I’m telling you. I’ve been trying to dredge up more specific memories of that particular period, and there are a couple of vague impressions. I remember being slightly frustrated by the parade of people coming through the store declared that they’d seen the film, and I hadn’t had a chance to make it yet. There were the folks, prior to the film’s opening, skeptical of Michael Keaton’s ability to properly represent the Dark Knight. (A common lament, one I can say I witnessed firsthand.) There were those who hoped that the movie would treat Batman with the seriousness he deserved, and that it could escape the long shadow cast by the ’60s TV show. (Again, this was back before we all remembered that Adam West Batman was Good and Perfect.) There was, again as related on my Twitter — y’know, you should just follow me on Twitter already), the young college student who was basically giving me her dissertation on Batman’s influence on modern pop culture…while she was waiting in line to buy a Batman shirt, of course.

Whenever a person drops in nowadays and remarks on their perceived notion that the current onslaught of superhero movies must generate extra business for comic shops, I think back on that first Batman film, probably the one time that a superhero film did directly contribute to an enormous increase in sales. Later movies would sporadically encourage some sales on items, particularly on graphic novels prior to the related film’s release, and then drop like a stone once the movie is out (which happened to me with Sin City, Hellboy, Watchmen, etc. etc.). Or it would sometimes goose some investing (like the guy who bought us out on the 60 or so copies we had of Amazing Spider-Man #252, the first appearance of the black costume, in advance of anticipated demand by that costume’s appearance in the third Spider-Man movie). And then there is just an increase in basic awareness of characters…I wouldn’t be selling Rocket Raccoon or Groot comics to kids if they hadn’t seen those characters in Guardians of the Galaxy movies, for example.

So why am I bringing all this up? Well, I had a young man, probably in his early 20s, come into the store the other day and ask me the very question I was just discussing: do superhero movies boost sales? When asked that, I usually say “yes, a little, not as much as you might think,” and bring up the example that it mostly creates awareness of characters not already familiar to the world at large…you know, like Groot, or Iron Man. But, for whatever reason, I mentioned that one time a movie really boosted the comics marketplace…that first Tim Burton Batman.

An incredulous look crossed this young man’s face. “Really? People got all worked up over that?”

Well, of course he’d think that. He wasn’t even born yet when that happened. It’s hard to explain how everyone lost their minds over what is now just one more piece of background noise in our cultural landscape, when back then it was New and Different and comics fans had pinned their hopes on it, and it turned out other people liked it too. I had just taken for granted that everyone knew what that Bat-film had done to our little industry, but time passes, and people forget, or never knew in the first place.

I still remember, however, at least this little bit, of sitting in the theater, listening to that stirring theme music, watching the Batman logo slowly reveal itself during the opening credits, and thinking “at last, everyone will finally take comics seriously!”

I’m pretty sure I was right about that. Don’t tell me if I wasn’t.

When Dr. Manhattan does finally appear, he’s totally going to be wearing pants.

§ April 21st, 2017 § Filed under batman, buttons, dc comics, retailing, this week's comics, watchmen § 4 Comments

[Some minor SPOILERS for Batman #21 ahead.]

The lentincular covers are back on the shelves this week, thanks to DC’s first installment in the “We’re Finally Getting Around to That Whole Watchmen Thing” storyline running through Batman and Flash for the next few issues. Ah, the long-missed “zzzzzip-zzzzzip” sounds of those covers sliding against each other as customers pull their copies off the rack. Actually, I’m surprised it took DC this long to get back to doing these fancy movin’ picture covers, since they certainly grab attention (even if they’re hard to stack on the rack in any sizable quantity if you don’t have anything at the front of the shelf to keep them from toppling over and falling off, since they don’t exactly lay flat). I mean, I can understand why they don’t, given the extra lead time it takes to get these printed after taking in orders, so saving them for special occasions like this, where it’s worth the extra hassle, makes sense.

However, I will note that I’m getting lots of requests for the non-lenticular variants on this issue, as compared to the newsstand editions of the lenticular covers the last time we did this which mostly just kinda sat there and stared back at me from the rack with their sad little eyes.

Of course, none of this has anything to do with the actual content, which is the first storyline to actually revolve around the connection between the DC Universe and the Watchmen since that DC Universe Rebirth special from last year. Yes, there have been references here and there to “something bigger” going on behind the various reality-changing shenanigans going on, most notably in the recent “Superman Reborn” series of comics, as well as the occasional mention in Flash and either Titans or Teen Titans or maybe both…I’m specifically thinking of whatever one had the old Flash villain Abra Kadabra. The whole “Dr. Oz” thing that’s been in the Superman books had been assumed by some folks to be Ozymandias from Watchmen, though that seems a little too on-the-nose and obvious (which doesn’t rule it out, I do realize). He is involved somehow in the whole Watchmen event, but I feel like there’ll be a different reveal than “Gasp! It’s Ozymandias!” Maybe it’s Bubastis. Or an in-his-fightin’-trim Seymour.

Anyway, we don’t get a whole lot regarding any actual Watchmen characters yet, aside from what we can assume is an off-screen Dr. Manhattan doing away with the villain. There’s also a bit of business where the Comedian’s button reacts to the Psycho Pirate’s mask…a reference to (and likely a plot point based on) the conclusion of the now-30-year-old Crisis on Infinite Earths, which left Psycho Pirate as the one character who remembered the pre-Crisis multiverse…well, aside from everyone else who remembered it. (That situation was more-or-less twisted back into its original intent later in Animal Man.) And on top of all that, the comic is laid out in the 9-panel-grid in which Watchmen was largely presented.

I’m not 100% convinced we’re going to see any Watchmen characters in this particular story, honestly, beyond maybe a fleeting glimpse…I mean, we’ll find out within the next three weeks, of course. There’s more to come, too…the Batman issue I just placed orders for is already following up on the events in this storyline, so my guess is whatever big reveal we’re getting now is going to be “huh, there’s a multiverse and this button is from another universe and someone from said universe is futzing around with us.” Okay, I think the characters knew most of that already, but my point is that the full-on “Naked Blue Man Versus the DC Universe” is waiting for a Big Event Crossover Thingie down the line, and not happening in this Batman/Flash crossover that’s running now. Like I said, we’ll find out how right or wrong I am soon enough.

Not to be confused with Nocturna.

§ November 28th, 2016 § Filed under batman § 2 Comments

So I just finished up that Joker TPB I was talking about the other day, and came across this panel from issue #9, guest-starring Catwoman:

noctcatw
That struck me as odd, and I posed the following question to Twitter, and now I pose it here: was this ever a thing with Catwoman, that she wouldn’t/couldn’t go out in the daylight for some reason? Plus, like I’d said on Twitter, “nocturnal” doesn’t mean “will explode into flames like a vampire if exposed to the sun.” My guess is that this particular characteristic was just thrown in there to move the plot along, so that this fellow could escape without pursuit.

Or maybe that fellow is in fact recounting some kind of urban myth about that inhabitants of Gotham might have developed around the larger-than-life superheroes and supervillians they share the city with. It could be that one of the common beliefs about Catwoman is that she’s a nocturnal being who can’t come out in the daylight, maybe along with equally-unjustified beliefs that she can command cats with her telepathic powers, and that her nine lives allow her to come back from the dead, et cetera et cetera. These are normal people living in a nightmare world filled with beings with strange powers…it’s only natural that they would generate folklore around these creatures. Granted, there’s nothing in the actual text of this particular story to support any of this…though the much-later (and now abandoned) editorial edict of Batman being believed to be an “urban legend” (and only comes out at night) is sort of in line with this general conjecture.

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