Friday, September 25, 2015

BATMAN DAY!

In honor of Batman Day (yes, there is such a thing), here’s an edited and updated version of a piece I posted last year, looking back at my history, both personal and professional, with the Dark Knight…



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 era 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 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 featuring dynamic, emotional art by Scott McDaniel) 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 mainstream 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 wrote 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 an issue of The Spectre and the 2003 Justice League/Spectre mini-series Soul War. More recently, Batman guest-starred in an issue of Phantom Stranger and Keith Giffen and I sent Batman’s DNA into the far future in our ongoing Justice League 3000/3001which imagines a 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.

This past March saw the release of the direct-to-video animated movie Batman vs. Robin—which explored Bruce Wayne’s relationship with his son, Damian—and I’ve got a another Batman-related project in the animation pipeline, but I can’t say anything about it till it’s officially announced.  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.


©copyright 2015 J.M. DeMatteis
Batman and his pals ©copyright 2015 DC Entertainment

24 comments:

  1. A happy Batman Day to you, good sir!

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  2. That Two Face story of yours is one of my favorite.

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    1. Thanks, Douglas! The story was helped immeasurably the Scott McDaniel's excellent artwork.

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  3. I'm surprised the LOTDK story Grimm isn't mentioned in more detail. I'll admit that Going Sane is a better story, but Grimm is a more unique one. Embrace it Dematties.

    Also that scene in Soul War were Batman bares his soul is a personal favorite of mine. Though you forgot the Spectre story where he gets Hal Jordan's niece the one gift she truly wanted. Another great moment for the Bat.

    Its always great when people remember that it is BatMAN not just the Bat. How about a list of favorite Batman writers/stories from you as a fan?


    One last thought, I always like to think that BAtman looks back fondly on his time in the JLI. I hope that is refrenced at some point. You would think a guy whose life is so dark would appreciate a good joke. I have a vague memory of him saying he was a Marx Brothers fan, and Blue Beetle and Booster Gold are not that far of from that so...


    Jack

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    1. I'd forgotten that scene in SPECTRE. I'll have to go back and take a look.
      As for SOUL WAR: that was a series that started out disastrously (luckily the readers never saw the disastrous part), but turned out fine in the end. I should share that story in a post.

      And, yes, I'm sure that Batman looks back fondly on his time in the JLI. I know I do!

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    2. By the way: Thanks for the kind comments about GRIMM. That was a story that flew under the radar when it came out.

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    3. In a way Grimm was the last story that real Legends of the Dark Knight story. There were still good stories, it was just a different feel.


      Jack

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    4. I'm so glad you liked it. When GRIMM came out there was very little response, so I just figured the general response was "Blah..." I was trying to do a story that covered the various eras of Batman villains, starting Mother Grimm off as a 60's kind of TV Batman villain and ending with her as more of a 90's psychopath. I always enjoyed exploring that early relationship between Dick and Bruce, something I hadn't seen before. (Not saying it wasn't done, just that I hadn't seen it.)

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  4. My absolute, non DeMatteis Batman story is one where Bruce Wayne is taking three underprivileged kids camping. They are sitting around and the conversation leads to Batman. The three kids all tell what they think Batman is. They have some awesome descriptions of this creature of the night. As the last one is finishing up, Bruce sneaks into the darkness, changes into his costume and leaps out declaring that this is what Batman looks like. The kids all laugh and tell Bruce to stop being silly and they go to bed. He's left standing with his jaw agape.
    Such a great story.

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    1. Never read that one, Douglas. Who wrote it?

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    2. I think it was "The Batman Nobody Knows", from Batman 250, by Frank Robbins.

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  5. Batman #250 written by Frank Robbins art by Dick Giordano. Just old school fun stuff.

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    1. And I'm sue with Giordano drawing it, it looked spectacular.

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  6. It did. I will try and find some artwork to link here for the three Batmen.

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  7. I really like the story that introduces Leslie Thompkins. It was before she was reconnected as a friend of the Waynes, and was instead just a woman who who comforted Bruce Wayne when he lost his world.

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    1. Yes, she's an excellent character.

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    2. Another good story is the mini-series by Englehart Dark Detective. It is what many people think is what Dark Knight was based of, but it is sort of reversed. The comic has a more adult take on all of the relationships between characters set against a sort of comic-booky plot, instead of vice versa. Even what happens to his chick (Silver St. Cloud in this case) to keep them more apart fells more adult than death.

      And you forgot to mention the recent viewing of your now favorite film.. mask of the facetasm.. uh.. Phantasm.

      Jack

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    3. Considering my love for the initial Englehart-Rogers run, I really should read DARK DETECTIVE. After all, you were right about MASK OF THE PHANTASM!

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    4. I didn't know there was ever any question about if I was right or not.

      Its a good read alright.


      Jack

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