by D.W. Lundberg

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


Part Two of our Burton/Schumacher retrospective, in which we take a visual tour of the 1989-97 series' special (and not-so-special) pleasures.

It was the summer of 1989, and the hype was inescapable: backpacks, posters, video games, candy dispensers - you couldn't walk two feet without bumping into Batman paraphernalia of some kind. (According to this report, Batman merchandise earned over $500 million in retail that year.) Little did marketing pundits realize that the Caped Crusader's long-awaited return to theater screens would turn out to be such a pop culture phenomenon; Premiere magazine, in fact, in their annual summer box-office prediction issue, guessed that Batman would place 3rd - after Ghostbusters II and Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, respectfully - in ticket sales from May to August. (Tim Burton's block-busting juggernaut wound up grossing $251.2 million in the U.S. - $54 million more than Crusade, and $138 million more than Ghostbusters.)

Standing outside the Alpine Cinema in Brooklyn with my aunt and uncle, you could feel the anticipation crackling in the air. It was midnight on June 24th (getting tickets on opening day was next to impossible) and I can tell you the crowd wasn't just there to watch a movie - they came to be part of an event, a communal experience unlike anything since the original Star Wars. That same excitement carried into the theater too. New York audiences have always been a little more... rambunctious than other places, but this was something different. They cheered when the lights went down. They cheered when the "Batman" title card came up on the screen. They hooped and hollered at the first appearance of the Batmobile. And they rose to their feet and applauded when the lights came up again.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


As it often happens when I write for the blog, my thoughts have a nasty habit of getting away from me. Sometimes a particular format will steer me in the opposite direction, or change the particular theme, of a piece that I'm writing. Most times, the final published post will end up looking drastically different from what I originally intended. How, for instance, do I adequately express my undying affection for a certain caped crusading comic book character when the article in question is so clearly about all the behind-the- scenes politics that brought him to the screen?

The Burton/Schumacher Batmans have always held a peculiar fascination for me - not just for how much they got "right" but also for what they got so blatantly, emphatically "wrong." Story-wise, they're a mess, with almost total disregard for comic book canon. Visually, though, they are a triumph - a textbook case of style over substance. (Even Batman & Robin, for all its gaudy garishness, in never dull to look at. Especially with the sound turned off.)

Monday, October 1, 2012


He is the antithesis of Superman in almost every way: dark, brooding, prone to violence (all in the name of justice), and powered only by his sheer determination and will. He is a detective, a scientist, a master strategist and multiple martial arts expert. And his rogues' gallery - the Joker, the Riddler, Catwoman, Two-Face, Scarecrow, The Penguin, Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze - is unprecedented among comic book heroes. Yet despite his accomplishments, despite all his formidable skills, Batman's greatest battle has always been with Hollywood itself.

Bruce Wayne and his menacing alter ego were created, in fact, as a blatant attempt to cash in on Superman's success. The brainchild of 24-year- old artist Bob Kane (with an uncredited assist from writer Bill Finger), "The Bat-Man" made his first appearance in Detective Comics #27 during May of 1939, and was an immediate hit. (National Publications - soon to be known as DC Comics - now had two popular comic book characters under their belt, having also published the monthly adventures of the Man of Steel.) A self-titled series debuted in April 1940, followed by a 15-part film serial starring Lewis Wilson in 1943, followed by a second 15-chapter serial in 1949, starring Robert Lowery as Batman and Johnny Duncan as Robin.

Batman's popularity soared during the late 1960s, when Twentieth Century Fox's high-camp Batman television series premiered in January 1966. It was a tongue-in-cheek parody of superhero tropes, produced by William Dozier and starring Adam West and Burt Ward (plus a bevy of 60's stars as "guest" villains), and it's this incarnation - for better or worse - that defined the character for the next twenty years. No longer a lone, mysterious creature of the night, Bob Kane's creation had now been reduced to a figure of fun, dancing the Batusi and POW! BOFF! and ZWAP!-ing his way through Gotham City while a bright-eyed, green-bootied Boy Wonder spouted catchphrases by his side. This reputation had ingrained itself so much into the public consciousness that Hollywood producers were literally dumbstruck at the idea of bringing Batman back to the screen.