Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight Rises’ Countdown: Part 1 of 11 – “Batman: The Gift”
Editor’s Note: This is part 1 of an on-going 11 part series, looking at several phases of Batmania. From Batman to the Dark Knight movies, TV series, video games and more!
I’ve been a Batman fan since I was a kid. I’d imagine this is around the time most people fall in love with superheroes. The exact age and year I’m unsure of, but I think I can pinpoint the moment I chose Batman to be my number one best favorite superhero over any other in existence (I flirted with the idea of Wolverine during the 90s “X-Men” cartoon on Saturday mornings, but the subsequent films never nurtured the possible budding infatuation).
It was Christmas Eve. My family would normally open gifts on Christmas morning, but since we were spending time with a part of the family we normally didn’t see around the holidays, tradition was being broken. I have two male cousins from that side of the family who were both born within about of month of me. It seems as if my Dad made a pact with his two brothers to see who could impregnate their spouses and induce a child the quickest (Sorry, Dad, you lost – I’m the youngest of them). Due to this age similarity, our grandparents decided to get us gifts normally found amongst spawn of the same zygote (similar, but slightly varied to help tell the individuals apart). They bought us all DC superhero figures. My oldest cousin received The Flash. My cousin between us was given a figure of Superman. I was bestowed with a classic comic book blue-and-grey-costumed Batman. When you squeezed his legs together, his tri-blade-gloved arms would jostle back and forth. This was supposed to represent a punching motion, but I believe you’d find this motion more often in “Chariots of Fire” than anything delivered by Manny Pacquiao. Regardless, a love affair between a boy and his toy (thank goodness I’m not female, as that sentence could truly be misconstrued) began.
It never dawned on me until now, but I have to presume my grandparents doled those gifts out to us randomly. I can’t imagine they had any knowledge of the traits of these characters and selected them specifically to fit our burgeoning personalities. I could certainly have created some b.s. to draw parallels between the alias of Bruce Wayne and myself, but it’d be a little like attributing a racial commentary to “Night of the Living Dead” just because a black man gets gunned down by police at the end of the film, whereas in truth George Romero only kept him throughout the length of the shoot because Duane Jones was his best actor. It was a complete coincidence. However, my life was forever changed because of it. To this day, I still think Superman is a crappy character and doubt any great movie can truly be made around him, because there’s never any true peril he could possibly be placed in. The Flash is as of little consequence to me as he is to Hollywood in general. In fact, my only true memory of the character (outside of my oldest cousin receiving the scarlet-costumed character for a gift) is of the short-lived ABC series being the only show remotely distinguishable through the rabbit-ear-antenna-aided snowy visuals of an old TV in the cabin those same grandparents had owned. For that, Granny and Grampy, I thank you for writing “Kevin James” in the “To:” section tag on the gift wrap hiding that Batman figure (the cousin who received the Superman figure is named Kevin, too, so they distinguished between the two us by always adding our middle name. Kind of like Paul Thomas Anderson and Paul W.S. Anderson. One of them makes movies many admire, the other one is Paul W.S. Anderson (I know the joke is supposed to be my naming the one you wouldn’t expect, but there’s just no joking about how awesome Paul Thomas Anderson is).
At the time of receiving my beloved Batman figure, properties featuring the Caped Crusader weren’t prevalent. It was either ’87 or ’88 and Tim Burton had yet to bring the character to the big screen. Outside of comic books, which I was never truly into despite a couple of attempts to launch myself into that brand of fandom, the only medium I had in reach, outside of six inches of plastic and some imagination (again, thank goodness for being male, having that line interpreted the way it was intended), was reruns of the campy ‘60s TV show.
The intention of this series of posts is to highlight the Batman-related media I’ve immersed myself in during the lead-up to the release of The Dark Knight Rises and how they built to this moment in the character’s existence. There are eleven weeks left prior to the film’s release date and we’ll post a new piece every Friday, tackling a different film, TV show or video game in order to excite both myself (okay, being non-female doesn’t stop that one from being misinterpreted) and readers, while our anticipation of Christopher Nolan’s trilogy-capper reaches its crescendo.
I’ll be taking a look at the PS3 versions of “Batman: Arkham Asylum” and “Batman: Arkham City.” I’ve DVR’d both of Burton’s films from HD Net Movies a couple of months ago. My girlfriend might talk me into reliving the nightmare of Joel Schumacher’s abominations, as she has some strange affinity for at least Batman Forever and just responded, “I like ‘em both,” when I asked her opinion on Batman & Robin (a reminder will be good for her, as her memory is obviously sub par). I also certainly intend on recapping Nolan’s first two forays into Gotham as close to the release of “The Dark Knight Rises” as possible, as a cutesy attempt at creating a triple-feature-viewing. However, the aspect I’m most looking forward to revisiting, perhaps largely due to length of time in between viewings, is re-watching all 85 episodes of “Batman: The Animated Series” which I haven’t seen since they originally aired.
You’ll notice I didn’t mention the 1960s TV show, “Batman,” in that last paragraph. I’m almost certain it’s feasible for me to get my hand on all of those episodes, but in the interest of time and my sanity, I can’t say that I want to.
Last year, prior to the release of The Green Hornet film, SyFy ran a marathon of 1960s “Green Hornet” episodes. I was excited to see the film (just look here) and it ended up as undoubtedly one of the worst movies I saw last year. But prior to suffering that disappointment, I had DVR’d a couple of episodes of the show during the marathon and I watched parts of one. That’s all I could make it through. It was clear to me that having Bruce Lee and a very cool opening theme wasn’t enough to sustain my interest. Though I know “Green Hornet” and “Batman” aren’t the same show, they are VERY similar. They’ve had crossover episodes and wanting to relive the nostalgia of seeing those Batman episodes just isn’t a strong enough temptation to get me to watch all of them and live to write about it.
If I happen to catch a couple episodes of Adam West and Burt Ward donning their caped-costumes in the next couple of months, I’ll probably sit through more of them than I did “The Green Hornet” episodes I recorded, but I’d much rather rely on my twenty-plus year-old remembrance of them, rather than have a thirty-year-old’s world-weary take. But the show used to be everything to me.
That singular gift I received all those years ago set my sense of what I enjoyed in life aflame. I was an unabashed Batman fan at six years old. The previous year, I’d been known to scream “Transformers!” when running out of the Kindergarten classroom for recess, holding a cassette-tape robot, Ravage, or more-likely, his Autobot equivalent, Laserbeak. The next year, I was ready to fight crime. I would run home from school every day, fired up to take off my pants and jacket (Dammit! My maleness finally comes back to haunt me) and sit myself down in front of the TV to watch Adam West take on Cesar Romero or Julie Newmar or whoever happened to be playing his villain that particular week. I have to admit that I loved it. But I loved it for two reasons. The first reason is because I was an idiot kid who didn’t know how to really analyze whether or not anything was actually “good.” The second reason is that it was the only way I got to hang out with my idol (again, outside of comic books – which I didn’t read – and my imagination – which I’d been using all day to escape the realities of sitting in class. Someone do my thinking for me, please).
Most everybody who lived through either the 60s original airing of the TV show or the re-airing broadcasts of the 80s is fully aware of the “Biff,” “Pow,” “Zok,” sound/visual effects that accompanied every punch thrown. In reminiscence, it feels like there was a lot of punching (which perhaps is why that motion occurred when I squeezed my figure’s legs together), but I recall Batman truly being in touch with his detective roots, which Bob Kane had developed as part of his original comic book incarnation. Of course, the show wasn’t one of much action, but rather one that involved Batman and Robin solving a series of plots and clues. Perhaps this is why I view The Riddler as one of the most befitting villains of the series. I loved attempting to solve the riddle-addled clues left by Edward Nigma, alongside my chosen crime-fighter. I almost certainly never got one right, at least not before Misters West or Ward blurted out the scripted answer.
I can’t say that the character of The Riddler made all that much an impact on me back then as I could recite Julie Newmar and Cesar Romero by name and have to look up who played the green question mark (hold on a second)… Frank Gorshin. Despite my current feelings on how the show would undoubtedly seem to me and its complete opposition to what I’d like to see from any story that involves the Dynamic Duo (which I’m perfectly fine losing fifty percent of), it at the very least nurtured my hopes and desires for what the character could be. If not for that show, I might have lost all interest in Batman as a superhero and I probably wouldn’t be writing this series of essays. And though like a chicken-and-the-egg scenario, the Batman action figure may not have existed without the show twenty years prior, I definitely wouldn’t have watched without unwrapping that one Christmas gift.
Next week: Burton turns Batman black. Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.