Tagged: Adventures of Superman

Ed Catto: It’s A Bat, Bat, Bat, Bat, Bat World

I’m a big fan of Batman. Always have been. Just this past weekend my wonderful Great Aunt Margaret reminded me that I proudly wore a bat-cape as a young boy. Don’t worry, I think I outgrew that by the time I was 22. These days, I let my Batman fan-ness show through with things like my Bat-article in this year’s Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, which focuses on the top Legend of the Dark Knight Batman stories. Jim Steranko provided a gorgeous Batman cover, so it’s a great honor.

But as my interest in comics has broadened, the focus on Batman, per se, has been pushed aside. There are plenty of fans to take my place. Batman attracts a lot of fans. It’s fine by me if it’s time for other fans to step up to the forefront. And it’s just as well. So many of today’s Batman stories, like the Christian Bale Batman movies or Playstation’s Arkham Asylum mythology, just aren’t my cup of tea.

And I know that at some point, there will be a special comic debuting or a reprint published that appeals to my vision of Batman. Recently I was surprised. I ended up having real Batman day.

This particular day started with catching a bit of HBO’s documentary, Starring Adam West. It showcases the actor, as you probably guessed. I only saw 20 minutes in the middle (I’d like to see more later) but there seems to be a healthy focus on Adam West’s role as Batman. The part I saw showed how he was invited to a Texas town and was honored as TV’s Batman.

There was a bit where someone announces him as the first Batman. Adam interrupts to correct him. The announcer adjusts and then refers to him as “the second Batman.” Many longtime fans, like those who read this column, know that two other actors starred as Batman in movie serials and three others voiced Batman in the long-running The Adventures of Superman radio show. It’s obvious that Adam knew that too. Instead of delivering a history lesson, Adam just offers the phrase “the Classic Batman” to the interviewer as a compromise. He’s clever and gracious, as he was throughout the documentary.

Later that very same day, the newest direct-to-DVD animated feature from Warner Bros. was scheduled for a special showing in movie theaters across America. It was one of those Fathom Events where they show something special in a movie theater on a slow movie night – usually a Monday or a Tuesday. My talented friends in the New York Metropolitan Opera, Gloria and Dana Watson, tell me that these Fathom showings have greatly expanded the Met’s audiences.

This animated adventure, Batman and Harley Quinn, heralds the return of creator Bruce Timm. It revisits the Bat-version of Batman: The Animated Series. This Emmy-award winning series has been celebrating its 25 anniversary this year. The recent San Diego Comic-Con found many opportunities to celebrate this ground-breathing series, with panels the famous souvenir book, and even debuting this animated feature.

While my Batman ’66 memories are firmly rooted in my childhood, Batman: The Animated Series reminds me of a totally different time in my life. For me, it’s more of a “young dad” thing. I clearly remember watching the debut episode one Saturday morning with my daughter Cassie. She was always a good sport, putting up with her crazy dad’s interests. I tried to tell her how the female characters from that first episode (Catwoman and Red Claw) were just like Disney heroines, but she was smart enough –even then – not to buy it. But she’d sit with me and we enjoyed so many episodes together.

I’m not sure if I am really a Harley Quinn fan. I’ve been pruning my comic collection and it was pretty easy to part with many Harley comics. But Batman and Harley Quinn offers a nuanced view of the character. Sure, she’s a nut, but this “episode” takes time to show many sides of the character. She can be sympathetic, clever, manipulative, annoying, frustrated and a showboat. And somehow, all these various aspects mix together to create a believable character.

The vocal talents shine in this feature. Kevin Conroy, for many the ‘real’ voice of Batman, is familiar but offers a few surprises along the way. Notable is Paget Brewster. You know her from her many TV appearances, and she brings something new to the villainous Poison Ivy.

It was kick to watch Batman in a theater with a bunch of fans. Batman & Harley Quinn offers plenty of insider jokes to long time Batman and DC fans, and we all laughed together.

Usually, I dive into select comics for my Batman fix. But It was a surprisingly enjoyable day to spend a little time with an old buddy: starting with the HBO documentary and then watching a cartoon… on a big screen. What a year for Geek Culture and Batman fans.

 

Superman and Metropolis Celebrate John Ostrander!

So – where was I last weekend? I was in Metropolis, that’s where, down in the Southern tip of Illinois attending the 39th Annual Superman Celebration. Way back in 1972 the city got DC’s permission to call itself Superman’s home and later that year the Illinois legislature passed a resolution confirming it. By the late 70s, the city decided to capitalize on all this by staging an annual Superman Celebration on the second weekend in June, a festival for the Man of Steel. Damn good idea, I sez.

The Celebration includes media guests connected with Supes. This year it was Margot Kidder, Dean Cain, James Marsters, and Sarah Douglas… as well as a few of us comic book types. I was the featured writer about six years ago and it seems I didn’t burn too many bridges because they had me back again this year along with Jimmy Palmiotti, Amanda Conner, Jim Hall and others.

The Celebration is a hoot and a truly unique Con. It’s one part convention and one part neighborhood block party/street fair. It has carnival rides, scavenger hunts, vintage cars and plenty of food trucks selling every carnival treat you can think of and maybe a few you can’t. Need something fried? Oh, they got that. My mouth waters and my arteries clog at the memory of it.

The town notably has a thirty-foot tall painted bronze statue of Supes in front of the courthouse as well as a smaller bronze statue of Noel Neill who played Lois Lane on The Adventures of Superman. Ms. Neill was a fixture at the Celebration for many years before dying last year but the last time I was there I did get to meet her and, according to reliable witnesses, just geeked out. I’m not ashamed to admit it. Long before I was a pro, I was a fan.

Speaking of fans, they were great. They were warm and eager and so happy to see us. One of the great things about a Con of this size is that you have time to chat with the fans. While there’s plenty of stuff to do, there’s no rush. And some of them geeked out to see me (I’m not sure why) so I told them the stories of my geeking out. We geek bonded.

I also had lots of good conversations with Amanda and Jimmy. I’ve known both of them for a long time but we don’t usually get much chance for long chats. We bumped into each at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport when we gathered for the plane to Paducah which was the closest airport to Metropolis. Amanda is a sweetheart and Jimmy is a character. Real Brooklyn in his speech and attitude and that’s a compliment. Better companions you couldn’t hope to find.

The trip to the Celebration also gave me the chance to renew some old friendships such as Tim and Tracy Brown. We first met some years ago at a Con in Memphis along with a whole bunch of others. Elvis had his Memphis Mafia; they’re part of mine. Tim and I crack each other up with our impressions – I do Elmer Fudd and Ethel Merman and he does Carol Channing. I can make him laugh so hard he squeezes his eyes shut; once I did while Tim was driving the car over the bridge crossing the Ohio River. People were yelling at me to stop but sometimes I just can’t help myself. Despite my best efforts, we got across the bridge safely. If Tim’s wife Traci didn’t gag me I think My Mary did.

The big wind-up to the celebration was the costume contest on Sunday. I know that cosplay has become a big thing in recent years but the Superman Celebration was doing it long before it was fashionable. I was a judge at this year’s contest and I have a few thoughts for people competing. At Metropolis, there were three areas to consider – how well did the contestant know the character they were portraying, how was the costume, and how well did they sell it, i.e. how well did they interact with the crowd?

There were some great costumes in the competition (Doctor Octopus was stunning) but the winner was a Wonder Woman and not just because this is her hour. Other people might have had better costumes but she sold it best. If you’re going to be in a costume competition, folks, you gotta walk the walk and talk the talk.

When I was there last, there was a riverboat casino in Metropolis because it wasn’t legal to have one on dry land. Now it is and Harrah’s has a hotel and casino on terra firma. I find that odd but interesting; a city of maybe 7,000 doesn’t have its own airport but has a gambling den. I wandered through it one night on my way to the buffet for dinner and found it completely disorientating. Not my thing but I can see how it might be for someone else.

Next year, Metropolis will celebrate its 40th Celebration and I suspect the hotels are already getting booked up. I understand people come from a long way to be there. It’s unique, a small city in which, for at least one weekend, their major industry is Superman. That’s pretty cool. Thanks to the Celebration’s staff, especially Karla Ogle, for inviting me down and treating us all so well. I’m ready to do it again sometime.

Up, up… and away!

Mike Gold: Do Comics Belong In Comics?

Superman-The-Movie

I am not a sociologist, although I’ve known a few. But let’s assume the fact that “superheroes” (in the broadest sense) fill a need in our lives. They started out in folk lore, they appear in most if not all bibles, they were popularized in the “penny dreadfuls” which evolved into pulp magazines which evolved into comic books.

Blackhawk movieTarzan, Sherlock Holmes, Zorro and others helped populate the movie theaters going back to its earliest days back to the silent era. When talkies came around, superheroes became the backbone of the short movie serials that were geared to bring patrons back week after week. Flash Gordon, Captain Marvel, Superman, Batman, Blackhawk, Captain America, Spy Smasher and others joined Zorro and Tarzan in this venue. When network radio came along, comics characters from older media (Superman, The Shadow) joined original creations (The Lone Ranger, Green Hornet) and flourished in the just-home-from-school time slots.

And television – well, television saved the superheroes’ collective ass. The Adventures of Superman, produced by what is now DC Comics, hit the boob tube before most families had teevee sets. At that very time, comic books were branded by the media as a source – perhaps the source – of juvenile delinquency. Comics outlets were disappearing, either from clerks no longer handling the product or from being squeezed out by chain stores and shopping strips and malls.

Captain Marvel movieBut Superman was right there in our living rooms every week using his cape as a placeholder for 75 years of tradition. Over a decade later, as comic book sales were at a comparative low, the Batman teevee series kept the print medium alive. In 1978 Superman led the way into high-budget motion pictures, not only proving a man can fly, but an old man can extend his life by deploying whatever “new media” is burgeoning at the time. Radio, television, motion pictures – Supes was there first.

Today we have more superhero movies and television series than the average person can absorb. Even the average comics fan: most of us do triage. Their popularity is massive, perhaps 20 times bigger than the comic book audience. This has been going on for about a decade and there’s no sign of it slowing down. It will, of course, but history tells us the cinematic comics universes will never go away. Not completely.

(Probably. There haven’t been a lot of successful westerns in the past several decades.)

So I think it is reasonable for me to infer that for most people the superhero story fills a need, probably an emotional, cathartic need.

But there is no washback onto the mothership. Average comic book sales have never been lower, even with the supplemental release of trade paperbacks and hardcovers. The latter has helped, but, you know, Borders went blooie and it’s not as easy to find good general bookstores anymore. It’s even harder to find a well-stocked magazine rack. And harder still to find one that carries more than a handful of comics, if that many.

Back in the day, that day being an hour before the release of the first Star Wars movie, we in the comics business could produce stories where, for example, we can destroy an entire universe on one page, do the Greek chorus bit on the next page, run a full-page cosmic ex Machina on the third, and restore that destroyed universe on the fourth page. Movies simply could not do that.

Well, not only can they do so today, but computers and artistic technicians have brought their gifts to the television screen in a cost-effective manner. And to home computers.  And tablets. And smartphones.

So I humbly ask this question: has the comic book outlived its usefulness?

As you consider this, keep in mind that since the turn of the century Warner Bros. and Disney, two of the largest media empires, took control over DC Comics and Marvel Comics, respectively. They are best known for making movies and television shows. They are not known to have a major presence in the lumberjack game.

Will there always be a comic book publishing industry? Of course not. There won’t always be anything. But will comic books live another ten or twenty years?

Ask me after Warner Bros. and Marvel each release a couple of big-budget superhero bombs.