Wednesday, July 23, 2014

HAPPY BIRTHDAY BATMAN!

Well, today is Batman Day (yes, there is such a thing) and the fact that all of Comicdom is celebrating the Dark Knight’s 75th Anniversary (he doesn’t look a day over thirty) got me thinking about my history with Bruce Wayne.  I’ve loved Batman since I was a kid.  One of my primal memories is being six or seven years old, sprawled out on the living room floor with crayons and a stack of drawing paper, trying to replicate a Dick Sprang Batman cover line for line.  In many ways, that square-jawed, slightly goofy (okay, more than slightly) version of Bats is the one I cherish more than any other.  I also remember the fangasms I had when, in the seventh grade, Batman came to television:  it may have been campy to the grown-ups, but to naive, overweight, just-turned-twelve year old me this was serious stuff:  comic books come to glorious life in a way they never had before.   

So, yes, JMD the fan has a long-standing, deep connection to Bats but I honestly didn’t think JMD the writer had much of a history with the character—after all, I’ve never written a Batman solo series—until I took a look back at my career and discovered that I've written more Batman tales than I ever realized.  Many more.  And it started with, of all things, a coloring book.





“The Mystery of the Million Dollar Joke” is probably the first superhero story I was paid to write.  And, yes, there’s a genuine kid-friendly story in there, waiting for you to bring it to life with your Crayolas.  Paul Levitz offered me the gig when I was first starting out at DC and I stayed up all night, hunched over the typewriter (remember those?), banging out the script.  If memory serves, I was paid a few hundred dollars for my efforts—which was just fine in 1979—and I still have a copy of the book tucked away on a shelf in my office.

The first comic book superhero story (y’know, the ones with the colors already provided) of mine that ever saw print was also a Batman adventure, in Detective Comics #489.  “Creatures of the Night”—also edited by Mr. Levitz—had Batman hunting vampires, mainly because most of my work in those days was for the DC horror anthologies and vampire stories were my stock-in-trade.  I don’t remember much about the script beyond the fact that it was illustrated by a Batman artist I admired, Irv Novick, who had nice things to say about it when I encountered him in Paul’s office one day.  Those kind words meant the world to a newbie writer.

My first full-length superhero story was also edited by Paul and also featured Batman:  Brave and the Bold #164, “The Mystery of the Mobile Museum,” teamed Bats and Hawkman (a character whose solo feature I wrote for a short time in World’s Finest) and the story was hardly classic.  What was classic was the artwork, by the great  Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez.  He took my script and raised it up to another level entirely.

I didn’t encounter Batman again for another seven years, when he joined the ranks of the Giffen-DeMatteis Justice League—but he was an integral part of that series throughout its five year run.  Of course our Batman was a little different from the grim ‘n’ gritty avenger that the brilliant Frank Miller unleashed on the world the year before JLI debuted.  Our Bats had a sense of humor—incredibly understated, true, but it was there—and, though he’d deny it to his dying day, he enjoyed the idiotic escapades of Beetle, Booster and the rest of our quirky, and wonderfully obnoxious, cast.



In 1993, I came at the Bat sideways, via the Superman mythos, for an Elseworlds story called Speeding Bullets (art by the hugely-talented Eduardo Barretto).  SB posited a universe where the rocket from Krypton was found not by the Kansas Kents but by the Gotham Waynes.  The baby was christened Bruce and, after being traumatized by his parents‘ murder, the boy grew up to be a flying, super-powered—and extremely angry—Batman.  And, if Kal-El was Batman, how could Lex Luthor not be the Joker? 

A few years later—tied to the release of the third Batman movie, Batman Forever—came Batman/Two Face:  Crime and Punishment:  a serious exploration of Harvey Dent’s split personality (building on a wonderful story written, a year or two previously, by Andy Helfer) and that was followed, in 1994, by a four-issue Legends of the Dark Knight arc, brilliantly brought to life by Joe Staton, that may be my absolute favorite of all the superhero stories I’ve written.  “Going Sane” featured a Joker who believes that he’s killed Batman.  With his mortal enemy gone he has no reason left to live—and his mind snaps.  Now, if we snap we go crazy—but if the Joker snaps...he goes sane.  What came next was a tender love story—a tragedy, really—about a gentle man who doesn’t know he was once a homicidal maniac with a permanent grin on his face.  At least he doesn’t until Batman returns to Gotham and all hell breaks loose.  The story also focused on Bruce Wayne’s relationship with the doctor who brought him back from the brink of death and, I hope, revealed a Batman whose greatest weapon was his compassion.




The next year, the amazing Mark Bagley and I had the pleasure of teaming up Batman with my old pal Peter Parker in Marvel’s Spider-Man/Batman:  Disordered Minds.  This was followed, two years later, by DC’S Batman/Spider-Man:  New Age Dawning (beautifully illustrated by Graham Nolan).  To say that it was a kick teaming up two of my all-time favorite characters—and doing it for both Marvel and DC—may be the Geek Understatement of the Century.

I didn’t return to Gotham until 2002, when I scripted another Legends of the Dark Knight arc—a Robin-centric tale, with art by the terrific Trevor Von Eden, called “Grimm”—and doing my first Batman graphic novel, Absolution (with rich, painted art by Brian Ashmore):  a gritty story of justice and redemption that found Batman traveling to India in search of a holy woman...who just might be the terrorist Bruce Wayne has been hunting for over a decade.

Around the same time, Bats appeared in an issue of Justice League that I wrote, during Grant Morrison’s run, along with the 2003 Justice League/Spectre mini-series Soul War.  More recently, Batman guest-starred in an issue of Phantom Stranger and, this year, Keith Giffen and I launched Justice League 3000which imagines a future Batman very different from the one we all know.  This is a Bruce Wayne who wasn't traumatized by the death of his parents—in fact he can't remember their murder at all—and that lack of a motivating tragedy has altered him in fundamental ways. 

I’ve also had the pleasure of writing Batman in animated form—first with multiple episodes of Justice League Unlimited and then with seven episodes of Batman:  The Brave and the Bold.  I’m genuinely honored to have been a part of both those classic shows, but I got a special kick out of writing for B & B because it was so reminiscent of the square-jawed, over-the-top Batman I adored as a kid.



I’ve got a couple more Batman-related projects in the pipeline, but I can’t say anything about them till they’re officially announced.  “Comic books?” you ask.  “Animation?”  I’d love to tell you, but I’ve been sworn to secrecy.   All I can say is that my dance with the Dark Knight isn’t over yet—and I hope we keep dancing for years to come.

Happy Birthday, Bruce—and many more!

©copyright 2014 J.M. DeMatteis
Batman and his pals ©copyright 2014 DC Entertainment 

43 comments:

  1. I know many people point to the "one punch!" scene as their go-to favorite moment from your JLI run, but for me, it's that moment in the annual when The Joker's been defeated, Batman pulls up to Mister Miracle's barbecue in the Batmobile and finding a Joker so fed up that he just wants to be arrested and taken back to Gotham. Batman just assessing the scene, saying "No. Not Today" and continuing on driving, for me, is without a doubt my favorite Batman moment from the entire JLI run. It's been what now, 20+ years since it first came out, and I still chuckle. Every. time. :)

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    1. Proving, Dave, that you're easily amused! : )

      But, seriously, it was a kick having Batman in JLI, bringing out other aspects of his character. Looking back it's amazing the Batman office let us get away with it. I suspect our JLI editor, Andy Helfer, fought many a battle behind the scenes. "Batman did WHAT?!" "Really, it's okay. I promise!"

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    2. I agree! "No. Not today." That's definitely high up there for me in terms of memorable moments.

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  2. I just know your Batman from the JLI, and I love him ! That punch... We can't forget that ! :D
    Thank you for this record of your implication with the Batman ! I want to read all these stuffs now !

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    1. ALL of it, Frey? Even the coloring book? : )

      Glad you enjoyed the post. I had a great time revisiting all those stories.

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    2. For the coloring book, I admit that I am curious ! But I think it could be difficult to find ! ^^"

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    3. Not as hard as you might think:

      https://www.mycomicshop.com/search?TID=21771555

      But, really, save your money! It's just a goofy coloring book!

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    4. And check this out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RGWHUQPngdg

      WEIRD, huh?

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    5. Haha, thank you for the links.
      The video is really weird indeed, but it make me laugh !
      Maybe I will save my money, since I can listen (and watch) the audio version... :D
      But I love these old goofy stories. Maybe because of the little kid in myself :D

      (and I correct my alias, the letter "r" is a little bit wild these days !)

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    6. Well, all of us who love comics are kids at heart, right?

      I'll just keep calling you "Frey."

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    7. Yes, I think we all are !

      And that's good, keep calling me "Frey", everybody does ! Additionally, "Frey" is a germanic word which means "free", "Freytaw" is just a goofy name when I was a teenager, derived from my real name (germanic too), So it stays... But, I don't know why I explain you all this... Haha

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    8. Explain anything you'd like, Frey: it's okay with me!

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  3. A the comic book store when I picked up my new issues the question was asked, "what is the definitive batman story for you?" I said Going Sane. Though I am not sure if a character with that long a history can have a definitive story, there are so many great ones:

    -The first appearance of Leslie Thompkins, where Denny O'Neil talks about how she comforted Bruce after the death of his parents shaping who he became

    -The issue of Legends of the Dark Knight where he tracks down the last gift his parents ever gave him.

    -Venom, where Batman becomes addicted to the substance as he has to deal with the fact that he is only human

    - the LOTDK annual where he travels through a mental hallucination... or several, uncovering his personality.

    --Stories, another LOTDK, where people reminisce about all the incarnations, from dark beginnings to the fun loving days of the 60s

    -batman 423, where people chat about Bruce's darkness only to realize at the end his adventure was based around compassion for kids who need a home

    -Batman 547, where batman must struggle with with a massive depression engulfing all of the planet.

    Then there are all of the ones that are just great stories!

    But that one scene, that one where he is talking to the town doctor and she convinces him to return to Gotham. Where he has to give up his peace for the greater good. Where she say that Batman stayed with her after being attacked before the cops came. I don't know if that is what Batman is or should be, but it is how I want him to be.


    Jack

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    1. Thanks so much, Jack. I'm so glad that story has had an impact. It means the world to me.

      It's amazing, looking over your list, how varied Batman stories can be. People sometimes see him as one-dimensional, but the character can be interpreted in many, many ways. And that, I think, is one of the reasons he's lasted so long.

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    2. GOING SANE is a brilliant, heartfelt story about what really makes Bruce Wayne tick...as well as the only story that successfully humanizes the Joker without losing his edge.

      BTW, just to nitpick, things don't really go to Hell because Batman returns. It's pretty clear--at least from my reading of the story--that Joe Kerr is already falling apart whether Batman returns or not. Batman is the catalyst that sends him over the edge, but if it hadn't been him, then I can only assume that Joe Kerr would have snapped and never even known why.

      The scene where Bruce expresses his fear that his father--a healer--would have hated his life choices is still one of the most moving I've ever read, as is the recollection of an experience with Batman that proves he's really a healer, too.

      --David

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    3. Thanks for explaining my story to me, David: I finally understand it! : )

      But, seriously, deep thanks for your constant championing of GOING SANE. I'd love to see the book back in print. It's frustrating that a story I consider one of my best is hard to find.

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    4. LOL! I'm glad I could be of service.

      And yeah, it's weird that GOING SANE doesn't find its way back into print, given the very real love it's gotten. I'll admit I was surprised to find it on the CBR list of best Batman stories. Not because it didn't deserve it, but more because it had always felt like a well kept secret among Batman fans. If memory serves, it came during the height of the KNIGHTFALL/KNIGHTQUEST/KNIGHTSEND era, and as such, I think it fell under the radar because it was competing with the biggest Batman event ever.

      BTW, DC has included the GOING SANE issues of LOTDK in their currently onoging 7 day sale at comixology. So clearly, there are people taking note that this story really deserves the attention.

      So be sure to let everyone know they can pick up the entire story digitally for $4 right now!

      --David

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    5. Yeah, the story seems to have flown under the radar of all but the most discriminating readers (like you and Jack!). : )

      Thanks for the Comixology tip!

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    6. My turn to nitpick, Going Sane actually started two months or so after the Knightfall-Quest-End saga. To be fair though, I did use Coverbrowser.com to make my list so that knowledge is fresh in my mind.

      I remember seeing Going Sane on a graphic novel and trade paperback review website maybe 5 years before Dark Knight came out in a section called something like "The ain't trades but they should be." Then of course when Dark Knight came out they put it out in trade because they needed a Joker story fresh on the stands for the Johnny-come-latelys that never seem to come after movies.

      Also a great defining Batman story: Batman Mask of the Phantasm. Which I still say is the best Batman movie.

      Jack

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    7. And which I STILL haven't seen, Jack. I'd better check right now and see if it's on Netflix Streaming.

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    8. Well... let me know. But you know, back before internet streaming we would have movies on physical copies like film strips, DVDs, or even (gulp) the ancient tapes of VHS of Beta Max..

      Jack

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    9. Yeah, I have vague memories of those ancient days.

      I checked—and it's not on streaming, but I added the DVD to my queue.

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    10. Ah, clearly I meant to say it fell around PRODIGAL and/or TROIKA.:) Nice catch!

      --David

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    11. Here is a link to that review I mentioned. It has been moved to the paperback collection, and I think I posted a link there years ago, but here it is:

      http://www.pulpanddagger.com/maskedbookwyrm/bat_g.html

      And, just so I can be sure you get something new here is a link to the review of an Englehart story. Another great Bat-writer.... even if the first run was short. There might be scrolling. It is Dark Detective. Link:

      http://www.pulpanddagger.com/maskedbookwyrm/bat_d.html

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    12. I remember reading that "Going Sane" review a few years back, Jack ("back Jack"?): one of the nicest reviews I've ever received.

      As for Englehart: I think you know how much I admire him. Much as I loved his 70's Batman run—and I did—I loved his 70's Justice League run even more. Perfection. And I don't think it's ever been collected.

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    13. I really like his Batman, but for me in the 70s it's all about Marvel for Englehart. That is where he shined in my mind.


      Jack

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    14. I'm a big fan of Steve E's CAP and DOCTOR STRANGE, as well. Two definitive, classic runs.

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    15. Don't forget his Defenders run. His Doc Strange is some of the best. And did you think Captain America: Winter Soldier was inspired by Englehart's Secret Empire?

      The following Decade was great too with his Coyote, Silver Surfer and Avengers: West Coast.

      I would love to see the silver dagger saga made into a movie, but it will never happen. Too weird, but they say hope runs eternal.


      Jack

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    16. Yeah, DEFENDERS was a lot of fun. And some wonderful art from Sal B.

      WINTER SOLDIER didn't remind me of the Secret Empire story...but, then, it's literally been decades since I read it.

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    17. Specifically it was Hydra's use. The sneaking into government way seemed far more like the Secret Empire than Hydra. Do you remember who the head was in Englehart's run?

      Jack

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  4. Breaking News: Ben Reilly will sort of kind of be coming back for a three issue miniseries. Not OUR Ben Reilly, mind you, but one from an alternate universe where Peter Parker retired and Ben took over as Spider-Man permanently.

    http://www.comicbookresources.com/?page=article&id=54306

    --David

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    1. Better an alternate Ben than no Ben.


      Jack

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    2. Agreed. But I'd still like to see THE Ben come back. And, yes, I'd like to write him!

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  5. Other than the coloring book and the more recent stuff, JMD, I think I've read every story you've written that featured Batman.

    And I still remember my 10-year-old self buying DETECTIVE COMICS #489 when it came out, reading the lead story, enjoying it thoroughly, and wondering when I'd get to see another Batman tale written by "J.M. De... Ma... TY?... TAY?... De... Ma... this J.M. guy!"

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    1. You actually read that story? I'm amazed. In those days I wasn't even thinking about who was reading the stories, I was just so grateful to be getting work!

      What's MOST amazing is that the ten year old kid and the newbie writer eventually worked together and became friends. Now that's something special.

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    2. That's the TRUE magic of comics! :-)

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  6. Hail The Tornado Tyrant! Is my favorite one that you wrote. Such a good series that they never should have cancelled

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    1. Thanks, Douglas. That's one of my favorites, as well.

      I agree that the series could have gone on for years. Endless possibilities. I was very sad, both as a writer and a fan, when it was cancelled.

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  7. J.M.: Your interview with Richard Vasseur, Jazma Online! is in my wife's latest book, that can be seen here: http://www.lulu.com/shop/deanna-stinson/phantom-stories/paperback/product-21721202.html - Paul Dale Roberts, President - Jazma Online!

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    1. Hi, Paul: Send me an email using the address on the workshops page here at Creation Point. I'd like to hear more about this. Best -- JMD

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