Dennis O’Neil: Batman’s Toys and Storytelling

batmanAll right, everyone quiet down and take a seat. I’ve been asked to remind you about the pep rally and don’t forget that finals are week after next. Now, where were we…

Today we’ll begin with a brief review of the material we covered last week. You’ll remember that we began by discussing what Batman’s mortal enemy – I refer to the Joker, of course – called Batman’s “wonderful toys.” We mentioned the Batmobile, the Batplane and that line-shooting device, the technology of which would surely be revolutionary though Batman seems to take it for granted. Putting the shoe on the other foot…the Joker, who does not appear scientifically inclined, mixes up some sort of disfiguring goop that can be passed off as over-the-counter cosmetics – in itself, no mean feat – and then smuggles it into retail packaging throughout the city. His point is to distress the citizenry and apparently he succeeds.

I explained these wildly improbable events by suggesting that the screenplay which encapsulates them is a hybrid of funny animal/funny person cartoon shorts, the likes of which were movie theater staples when I was a nipper and can sometimes be found on television, and crime drama: call it badge opera, if you like. The critter on the screen, human or otherwise, has what he needs when he needs it and we don’t care where he got it, only how he’s going to use it. Outrageously, we hope.

But, for a moment, consider: Could the script have been written in such a way that the anomalies are explained? Well, don’t expect me to write it, but the answer is a qualified yes.

I choose to believe that the very bright guys behind Hollywood computers are capable of the kind of mad ingenuity the job would require. In fact, they and other scriveners do something like it every day.

Let me remind you of a basic: art, which includes storytelling, involves a process of selection: the writer determines which incidents, real or imagined, will best tell his story and those are what he shares with us. He has to determine how deep into the story he wants to go. Go too deep – put in too many trivialities – and he risks boring his audience; put in too few and the thing might not make sense. Do we care where the hero bought his trusty .45? Probably not, so don’t bother to distract us with the sales slip. But if the plot requires him to shoot the sweat off a bumble bee at 100 yards, maybe we’d better have some idea of how he acquired that skill, lest in wondering where the skill comes from we lose interest in the hero and his world.

It seems to be a matter of degree, doesn’t it?

Ol’ Nobel Prize-winning Papa Hemingway had opinions on this matter and they’ll do to end this session.

Know what to leave out.

Write the tip of the ice-berg, leave the rest under water.

Is that the bell already?