Waiting for Batman

I don’t remember when my love affair with Batman first began. As far as I know, I came out of the womb with a bat-cowl, cape, and my umbilical cord was my trusty utility belt.

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Hanging out with The Tumbler during the “Tumbler Tour” in Chicago on May 24th, 2012.

From what I can recall, I remember always having the VHS of Tim Burton’s Batman, which came out a month after I was born. I still have that VHS to this very day, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen that film. I’ll never forget the Looney Tunes advertisement with Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck talking about Warner Bros. ball caps or the Diet Coke commercial with Alfred (“Just for the taste of it… Diet Coke! Yeah!”). I think that’s why I loved Diet Coke as a kid. I thought to myself, “Well, if Batman likes Diet Coke, surely it must be acceptable to like Diet Coke.” In my pre-pubescent eyes, Batman could do no wrong. My mother approved of this, until I started jumping off coffee tables with a beach towel and breaking circular objects because I thought a sleep-inducing toxin in aerosol form would emanate and allow me a stealthy escape from homework and chores.

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I am such a huge Batman nerd that I even get excited when I get Batman candles for Christmas.

From there, my fascination with Batman grew exponentially. Around that time, Paul Dini and Alan Burnett’s Batman: The Animated Series starting playing on Saturday mornings. I soon became infatuated with that show. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill had become embedded in my mind as the respective voices of Batman and The Joker. I was so enamored with the mystery, the allure, and the psychological darkness of Batman. I’ll never forget watching the animated movie Batman: Mask of the Phantasm in theaters. I’ve heard people say that kids just like flashy entertainment without any substance or meaning. I don’t buy that. Not for a single second. I think, even while young, kids are incredibly perceptive and smart. While I was watching Mask of the Phantasm, even as a kid, I remember feeling sorry for Bruce Wayne because he seemed almost burdened with this life. He made a vow to his parents after their death to strike fear into the hearts of criminals so that no child should have to endure the same kind of emotional turmoil that Wayne faced as a child. For a short moment, though, Bruce Wayne finds happiness. He finds love.  I don’t mean to spoil the story for you, but unfortunately Bruce Wayne ultimately does not walk happily ever after into the sunset. I don’t have any particular memory watching the movie, but I do remember that feeling of immense sadness that Bruce Wayne seemed destined for a life of heartache, misery and pain. At this point, you probably think I was depressed even as a child, but to be honest I had an incredible upbringing. As my mother might tell you, I was the happiest kid alive. Yet, for some inexplicable reason, I was drawn to this tragic, enduring, Gothic figure. I can’t even begin to speculate why Batman resonated with me as much as a kid. It just did.

However, if I had to guess, I would say that one everlasting quality that Batman possesses that appealed to me so much was his ability to overcome even the toughest obstacles. Even though I did have a fantastic childhood filled with happiness and joy, I did face some of my own obstacles along the way. When I was around four or five years-old, I was in an accident that forced me to remain in a body cast for nine months. I had to re-learn how to walk, use the bathroom, and other basic functions. *For the longest time, I was walking on crutches. It was during my recovery period that my mother noticed something about me that she always likes to remind me during periods of emotional or physical duress. My mother loved to take pictures, and she took pictures almost every day during my recovery period. In the hundreds if not thousands of pictures that she took in that time period, I was never once caught grimacing or scowling. As a matter of fact, even while I endured the hardship of the body cast and its consequences during that time, I was always smiling. My mother told me that I always see the bright side in any negative situation, and while Batman is an inherently dark and tragic figure, he always manages to view things from a hopeful perspective. Batman is the kind of character that should have given up a long time ago. In the comics, he loses his parents, gets his back broken, suffers the loss of apprentices, gets betrayed, and the list continues. Despite all of this, Batman manages to move forward, pushing through even though all odds are against him. Naturally, I’ve had time to retrospectively think about this, but if I had to guess, I would say Batman’s strength (both internal and physical) probably sub-consciously appealed to me in a very significant way.

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Hanging out with Magnus Rex in Pittsburgh on the set of “The Dark Knight Rises”.

For some reason, Batman has always managed to give me a sense of hope and even provided a conduit into a sense of escapism during some of my most difficult times. When I was around ten years-old, my father abandoned me. He told me, quite literally, that he could no longer be a father to me anymore. I didn’t just lose a father, but his entire side of the family as well, which included my grandmother, step-brothers, my aunt, my uncle, my cousins, and the list continues. At the time, it didn’t really bother me, but when I was around fourteen or fifteen, I started to realize the detrimental impact it was having on my life. It was around that time that I was discovering the Internet and I started posting on message forums. I was always very socially awkward (and even to this day, I still am) and when I couldn’t find people my own age that I could relate to, I looked elsewhere. I found two message forums in particular – SuperHeroHype and the TrekBBS – and during my adolescent years, while others my age were socializing and doing what teenagers do – I was sitting in my room writing long diatribes about superheroes or Star Trek.

At this point, you might think I had a lousy adolescence and maybe you’re starting to feel bad for me (or using that tissue to wipe tears of laughter from your eyes), but you shouldn’t. I would say the years I spent posting on the forums (and I still post on them to this day) were incredibly informative, instrumental and even educational. I learned a lot about writing, debating and constructively arguing your opinion thanks to those forums. SuperHeroHype and the Trek BBS have both introduced me to some of the best friends that I currently have in my life. For that, I am eternally grateful. Even while I was enduring a lot of hardships around that time, there were simple joys (like discussing my favorite topics online) that gave me something to look forward to every single day. While I was dealing with the difficulty surrounding my father, I was being bullied in school, and my relationship with my mother was being tested. It was a very difficult time, but I found solace in the people that I met online, and while at that point I had never met most of them in person, they felt more like friends to me than the people I called my friends “in real life” at the time. I’ve known some of these people for nearly eight years now, and most of them I’ve had the luxury of meeting in person, and I know these people will stay in my life forever. All as a result of my love for Batman.

It was also around this time that I was deep in discussing and searching all about the latest development on the next Batman film. After 1997’s disastrous Batman & Robin, the Batman franchise was at something of a standstill. Joel Schumacher effectively killed Batman’s future in film, and you can thank nipples, cod-pieces and neon lights for that. Totally disregard the lack of tonal consistently, bad characterization, and shoddy writing. You want to know what killed the dinosaurs? I mean, the Batman franchise? It was rubber nipples, cod-pieces and neon lights. You don’t believe me? Well, you should. *Seriously, I want you to find your nearest rubber nipple or cod-piece or neon light and personally thank it for the destruction of the cinematic Batman universe. After you have done that, you can resume reading.

For quite a few years, there was a period of time where almost nothing happened in relation to Batman’s future in cinema. There were a couple of false starts, like Wolfgang Petersen developing a live-action Batman vs. Superman movie, or Darren Aronofsky working with Frank Miller to bring to life Miller’s acclaimed Batman: Year One graphic novel. After years of development and nothing taking shape, something happened that would change everything. It would give us Bat-fans a sense of hope and renewal that we were desperately looking for. Around the early 00’s, Batman fans grew very cynical, and understandably so. The last two Batman movies were disappointments to many, and for those erudite Batman fanatics, even the Tim Burton movies weren’t faithful enough to the iconic Batman lore. I’m sure at several points along the long, winding road, fans grew restless and at many times gave up hope that Batman would get the faithful cinematic treatment he deserved. Or at least get another shot at the big screen.

Christian Bale, Michael Caine and Christopher Nolan on the set of “Batman Begins”.

On January 27th, 2003, all of that would change. After years of languishing in development hell, Warner Bros. had hired Christopher Nolan to direct the next Batman movie. At the time, Nolan was still an unknown commodity. He only had three feature-length films to his name, and only two had a wide release in the States. I remember this day very fondly, because I had seen Nolan’s prior film at the time, Insomnia, and I thought it was very good. Of course, most Bat-fans were rightfully very skeptical. Around that time, Petersen had just abandoned Batman vs. Superman for his sword and sandal epic Troy, and a spin-off Catwoman was still in development with Ashley Judd slated to appear as the femme fatale. Darren Aronofsky and Frank Miller were still working on Batman: Year One, even though it seemed very unlikely that Year One would ever get made.

However, it seemed like Nolan might finally be the man that would bring Batman back to life. Two months after Nolan signed on to direct, he hired David S. Goyer to write the script. This was exciting news. Goyer had just come off of writing Blade, which is seen to this day as the film that helped rejuvenate the comic-book movie genre. Nolan stated his intention to reinvent the Batman franchise by “doing the origin story of the character, which is a story that’s never been told before”. Nolan said that humanity and realism would be the basis of the origin film, and that “the world of Batman is that of grounded reality. It will be a recognizable, contemporary reality against which an extraordinary heroic figure arises.”

As tidbits and pieces of information would gradually leak, Bat-fans became progressively hopeful. It seemed like Nolan and Goyer knew what they were talking about. They had very clear ideas of how they wanted to approach the character, and it seemed like they were intending to be respectful of the Batman mythology. As a fan, this process was very frustrating, because with every new bit of information that would get released, the more tantalizing the wait would become. My life in the year 2003 consisted of jumping on the computer at the end of every day and looking at ComingSoon.Net and/or SuperHeroHype for new pieces of Batman news. For the most part, each day was normally a disappointment, but on the day that we did get a new tidbit of information (like an interview with Nolan where he talks about the film for maybe a sentence), it was like waking up on Christmas morning. A shiver would go down my spine and it would become the highlight of my day.

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Liam Neeson as Ra’s al Ghul in “Batman Begins”.

The casting process, for example, was incredibly memorable for several reasons. I’ll never forget when Christian Bale was announced as Batman on September 11th, 2003. I’ll always remember that day, and how vibrant and alive the message boards were. When Christian Bale was announced, it was complete and utter euphoric chaos on the boards. Some people might not remember but before “Batman Begins”, there was such a huge swell of support and demand for Bale to be cast as Batman (I will never forget “BALE DAMMIT!” for as long as I live) and when he was announced, the reaction was just indescribable. Gary Oldman as Gordon was just perfect casting. I remember when Chris Cooper was offered the role but he turned it down, apparently because it wasn’t substantial enough for him. Then Oldman was cast. I’ll never forget the picture of Oldman that was revealed where he was wearing a black coat and shirt with a short haircut and everyone thought it was a picture of him as Gordon. People were so worried.  Everyone’s concerns were alleviated when the first picture of Oldman as Gordon was released and it was just pure beauty. I’ll also never forget when Liam Neeson was first announced as Ra’s al Ghul, and then it was Variety or Hollywood Reporter that retracted the story, and he was then announced as Ducard. People were at once so excited and then so bummed when the story was retracted. I’ll also never forget the huge uproar when Ken Watanabe was announced as Ra’s and how people were saying he was “too Asian” for Ra’s. *It was actually amusing when the Neeson/Watanable casting shuffle happened because in a way it inadvertently revealed the actual twist of the movie. Speaking of casting, I’ll also never forget when Ashton Kutcher was allegedly cast as Batman for about a day or two back in 2003. That was positively horrifying.

One of the most memorable experiences being a member on the SuperHeroHype forums during the pre-release days leading up to Batman Begins was the actual leak of the script. The script leak was a pretty incredible time because to my knowledge something of that magnitude hadn’t really occurred before, and the boards were in a frenzy. It was such a unique phenomenon, and I just remember the hugely positive reaction. People were at once both surprised and elated that we were going to get such a faithful and good Batman movie after such a long dry spell and especially after the Schumacher flicks. The 2003-2004 period on the boards was incredible because I’ll absolutely never forget the experience leading up to the release of Batman Begins.

The time on the boards leading up to Batman Begins was unlike any other. I’ll never forget it. I just remember sitting in the theater on June 15th waiting for the movie to start and I couldn’t believe it was actually happening. I had been waiting non-stop for the movie ever since Christopher Nolan had been announced in early 2003, and the wait felt so goddamn long. There was a huge time before Nolan was announced, during the early Batman-On-Film/pre-Nolan days, where nothing was happening at all. However, the wait for a new Batman movie was excruciating, and the build-up and lead-up made for such an incredible viewing experience. Batman Begins wasn’t just a movie, especially for the fans and those on the boards. It was an experience.

* The sarcastic part of me wants to “crack” a joke about relating to Batman because at one point in our lives we were both physically “broken”, but unfortunately I don’t have a sense of humor.  Then again, neither does Batman.

* I refuse to accept any accountability or responsibility for the weird looks you receive at Home Depot when you defiantly ask where their rubber nipples and neon lights are.

* Those who had read the script already knew the twist of course, but I just remember thinking, “Well, at least for several of us fans, that part of the movie definitely won’t be surprising”. I actually still have the Batman Begins script that was given to me back in 2004. A well-respected member of the boards gave it to me. It was like Christmas morning reading that script.

— Dan Marcus

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3 thoughts on “Waiting for Batman

  1. I just got a chance to read this now. Dan, you’re an amazing writer when you’re talking about something you love. You know that? So eloquent.

    Some friends of mine haven’t been too kind to “Batman Begins” in the wake of “The Dark Knight”, but they’re just being silly. I still think it’s a fantastic movie. And it was certainly good enough to make me a Batman fan, which was a feat of amazing strength back in the day. It deserves all my love just for that.

  2. Dan, beautifully written article. You’ve captured the period leading up to the release of Begins perfectly and eloquently. Batman Begins is my favorite of the live action bat flicks and it was reading the copy of the script that you sent me that made me realize how good a live action batflick really could be. Thanks, Dan.

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