by KC Carlson
This week, I want to spotlight a couple of DC Comics projects that I’m actually excited about — partially because they’re not a part of the now-not-so-New 52, but mostly because they offer up something different. Amazingly, they both star Batman.
Out today in comic book shops is the first issue of Batman: Li’l Gotham, a new all-ages Bat-title by Dustin Nguyen (with writing assistance from Derek Fridolfs). In this digital-first series, all of the Bat-characters have been charmingly re-designed as much younger (and more cheerful) characters who look very appealing. They fall somewhere between Art Baltazar and Franco’s beloved Tiny Titans and Skottie Young’s work over at Marvel, “kid-a-fying” the Marvel Universe in a series of variant covers and occasional one-shots. Nguyen’s figures are a bit more “airy” than those guys, so there’s a slightly different appeal here.
This will probably have no appeal at all to the Why-So-Serious? Batfans who have leeched all of the light out of most of the regular Bat-titles, but this will be instantly tantalizing to young readers and parents who are looking for Bat-comics to share with their kids! This also might be a great Bat-title to attract women readers, based on the cover to issue #3, where a Valentine’s Day plot by the Joker backfires, making him the object of all the Bat-females’ affections! And there are a lot of Bat-women in this book!
NA-NA-NA-NA, NA-NA-NA-NA — BATMAN ‘66!
The other Bat-title I’m interested in is currently being solicited for a July release, but it’s also digital-first, so if you’re so inclined, you can check it out sooner electronically. (I love that it’s so hi-tech and yet so retro at the same time.) The new title: Batman ’66! Inspired by the 1966 high-camp Batman TV show, the comic version will be written by (perfectly cast) Jeff Parker (Thunderbolts, X-Men: First Class) and will have regular covers by the artist born to draw this concept — Mike Allred (FF)! The artist drawing the first three stories (and hopefully more!) is Jonathan Case (Green River Killer, Dear Creature), whose illustrations of these characters also capture the uniqueness of the actors who originally portrayed them on the TV show.
Quirky will be a frequent buzzword used to describe this series. The Joker in this series will look like Cesar Romero — down to his mustache being visible under his make-up. And, as in the original TV series, there will be both Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt Catwomen (and also just like the TV show, no explanation why). (No word yet on John Astin Riddler…) Later villains from the comics will also appear, tailored for the sensibilities of the series. Look for a Killer Croc appearance early on.
News of this comics series has reignited speculation about the status of the long-delayed original TV series on home video (any format!), due to long-standing disagreements between 20th Century Fox (the studio who made the show) and Time Warner (who owns the rights to the characters). Some think that DVDs and Blu-rays of the show are right around the corner, but Parker has been begging off on discussing characters that were unique to the TV series (like King Tut and Egghead), which indicates to me that issues between the two studios are probably not yet fully resolved.
Batman ‘66 is set in the Swingin’ 60s with lots of cool designs and fashions, and Case is coloring his work as well, using a uniquely sixties color palette. My dream version of the comic book would have a variant version with an embedded sound-chip that plays the theme song and the original Nelson Riddle background music. Also, to be faithful to the show, whenever the action takes place in the villain’s lair, I’ll be sure to tip my comic book (or iPad) about 25° to the side! Holy awesome, Batman!
I’m currently reading Superman: The Unauthorized Biography by Glen Weldon (NPR Pop Culture Happy Hour) — I‘ll have a full review up at Comics Worth Reading soon — and Weldon is gleefully reminding me what a disaster the Superman film franchise has been over the years. If you include Supergirl (which I think everybody at Warners wants us to forget), the last four live-action Superman-related movies have been some kind of cluster. The only thing I remember from the last one (Superman Returns) is who Superman was (Brandon Routh), but that’s mostly because I thought that he was a pretty good villain on Chuck.
Even the first two Superman films, which everyone seems to love (and I do too, in a mostly nostalgic, not a craft, way), have a dubious background with unscrupulous producers that completely weakened Superman II. So, somehow, I think we’re all still secretly waiting for the great Superman movie. It’s odd that Superman usually does better on television (George Reeves, Smallville) than on the big screen.
Director Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel debuts in two months, and I’m already concerned about it because I’ve heard more buzz on Marvel’s superhero films for the next couple of years (and on the recent release of Marvel Cinematic Universe: Phase One – Avengers Assembled — most of Marvel’s films for the last few years). In terms of watchability, I think Marvel has it all over the DC movies. Since they’ve debuted, I’ve watched Marvel’s The Avengers at least five times. I’ve watched The Dark Knight Rises once. I want to watch Avengers again, because it’s fun. I probably will watch The Dark Knight Rises again, but I’m certainly in no hurry to do so.
I find it fascinating that the battle for superhero supremacy that played out in the pages of the comic books published in the late 1960s and early 1970s is now being repeated on movie screens. And with the same results, as Marvel’s movies overtake DC’s. Marvel’s films are contemporary, but they all have the spirit of those Stan Lee and Jack Kirby classic comic book battles where the heroes punched each other for five pages and then turned around and teamed up to beat-down the “big bad”. Not coincidentally, this was the centerpiece of the Avengers movie, in case you missed that.
DC lost the battle with Marvel in the comic books in the early 70s when Marvel’s sales overtook DC — and it’s pretty much stayed that way since, except for those occasional isolated months when Marvel was doing something stupid or DC did something drastic — like starting their universe over from scratch.
ICON — OR I CAN’T?
DC’s had it tough because so many of their characters (especially Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman) became iconic before Marvel’s (with the exception of Captain America). So, whenever they’re brought into another medium, their iconic status makes whoever’s trying to develop them put more weight upon their shoulders. For instance, Superman has become more Christlike. That’s crazy. The earlier media appearances of Superman resonated with viewers because they were both fascinated by him and could relate to him. We loved George Reeves because he had to brush dust off his suit every time he crashed through a wall. We loved Christopher Reeve because he smiled and waved directly at us from the big screen. (Also because, as Clark, he had to keep pushing his glasses up his nose with his finger.)
Batman is even worse these days, as he’s so armored-up, he’s barely human anymore. As goofy as it was, the Adam West Batman will always be a popular favorite because he was the closest to being human. Sure, he was like the slightly obnoxious, mildly drunk, know-it-all family member at Thanksgiving, but I’d rather have dinner with somebody like that than that dark, gloomy guy over in the corner who’s not talking to or looking at anyone. THAT guy is the guy who’s gonna snap when you’re not looking. Is that a hero?
Sometimes I think that DC/Warner can’t get a Justice League movie together because Batman just won’t work in one, but they have to use him because he’s their most popular character. I think Hal Jordan would take one look at movie Batman in action and respond “Lighten up, Francis,” in true Sgt. Hulka (Warren Oates) fashion. Of course, that would be the exact moment where I could relate to a screen Batman again (assuming the screenwriter doesn’t have him pummeling Jordan — which today is probably what would happen).
I will go see Man of Steel and hope for the best, although I haven’t liked any Zack Snyder movie I’ve seen yet. He’s a very talented visual effects guy, and his movies look like he spent millions of dollars, but I’m a story guy. I had no idea what was going on in Sucker Punch, and I couldn’t believe that someone could make a Watchmen movie that was so tedious when the original work was so dynamic. But I will give the film a chance.
But I’m really looking forward to Iron Man 3 and The Wolverine.
KC CARLSON: Actually really looking forward to Monsters University! I think that Sulley is a distant relative of mine. (I also once portrayed Sulley on the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor at Walt Disney World. He’s the much better actor.)
WESTFIELD COMICS is not responsible for the stupid things that KC says. Especially that thing that really irritated you.