5.21.2017

The Bat, The Cat, and The Penguin : 25 Years of Summer Vacation

It's hard for me to acknowledge that Tim Burton was the author of my childhood - if for no other reason than he hasn't made a movie I've liked since Ed Wood. And doesn't that just make sense - everything he made prior to 1995 was in perfect alignment with where my interests were & where they we going. Either that or they were steering them. In any case, it seems unfair for one man to have such a monopoly on everything cool (or geeky). Kinda like J. J. Abrams now or, more broadly, Marvel Comics. Between the ages of 3 and 7 I was introduced to Pee Wee Herman, Beetlejuice, Batman (and the Joker) and Edward Scissorhands. That's a relentless cavalcade of colorful characters, especially on an impressionable young mind. There was no escape. Not for me.
The weeks leading up to June 19th, 1992 can only be described as a full-on cultural blitz aimed directly at my brain. All the gods were in cahoots: school was ending, weather getting nicer, and Batman "returning" all culminated into an orgy of voluptuous shock and awe. Like Dick Tracy before it, I was in love with Batman Returns before it ever hit the screen.

Firstly, this was a time when McDonald's was a cathedral of holy magic - to partner with them was like a blessing from the pope. And back then, a movie this monumental deserved promotional items for both the grown-up meals and the Happy Meals. The plastic toy cars were fine (they resembled nothing from the movie) but were pretty lame in comparison to the Supersize soda cups covered in beautiful wraparound murals, and I don't think ever before or since have McDonald's fries come in a solid black cardboard cup. That was fuckin' badass.

I was a card collector. Baseball, movies, TV shows, stickers, nudie cards, even the Gulf War had a set. Anything past or present with cultural relevance were wrapped into wax or foil packages, & I was there to rip 'em open. And they could be found everywhere: supermarkets, department stores, gas stations. I had a few dozen comics, but cards were really my comics. I'd amassed the entire set of series 1 from the first Batman. (There was a second series, but I think I'd moved onto Dick Tracy at that point). Returns had two simultaneous card series: the dull cardboard Topps series, and the glossy expensive Stadium Club Cards printed on "Kodak stock" and boasting a shiny Bat symbol in the corner of each card.

More than cards or stickers, T-shirts or action figures, lunch boxes or McD's cups, my big thing for
most of the 90s was posters. They were my first 'tattoos,' a visual way to display all my interests over a unified canvas. The only good promotional stuff to come out of the first movie - other than the cards - were the posters (which were just blown up publicity photos). To this day, the stylish, gothic character posters for part 2 are still some of the most striking images put out by a studio. (Modern day 'alternative posters' for this movie can't improve on the originals). After the '89 movie came out, the '60s TV series started to show up in syndication here and there, and that's how I became aware of and familiar with the other villains. So by the time these characters with the Burton-makeovers started showing up in magazines and on posters, I was able to have the same beside-myself-reactions as the rest of the world. And they covered my walls, my ceiling, my door, and even inside my closet.

At that age, I don't think I had any "concern regarding its potential to live up to the previous film." I was aware that it could maybe corrupt my monogamous love affair with the Joker. My experience with sequels at that point ranged from okay to pretty great (Ghostbusters, Ninja Turtles, Back to the Future, Star Wars), but as I've written here once before, I'd rarely been, before or since, that excited for a movie. It was possible that my mindset may have been a little bit along the lines of "the presence of the Joker makes any movie better." (I learned in August of 2016 that that's simply not true). What it eventually came down to was: I like Batman more than any other superhero or superhero empire, and I like Batman villains more than most characters of fiction.
I don't wanna 'review' the movie or anything - I'd find that boring & so would you. It certainly lived up to the hype that they were throwing at me & that I built up in my mind. Even now it's still pretty damn good. It's when Tim was still the man, and it's a tie with the '89 movie in terms of favorites (Rises is my #1, while Jess, coincidentally, has always said Returns).

Ironically, out of all this stuff, these posters and French fries and everything, the most notable thing about the movie, for me, was the comic book. DC released a 'companion comic' that pretty much
acted as a storyboarded script. The dialogue (minus some cursing) and scenes played out identical to the feature itself. This fascinated me because it was like owing a movie script. So fascinated, in fact, that I 'adapted' it myself, with my own artwork and some minor structuring and dialogue changes, into two issues. Ergo, Batman Returns was the first script I ever wrote.

Jess thinks of it as a Christmas movie (mostly because it is). That's tough for me, because it'll always be the movie that kicked off my summer vacation in 1992; the start of the "bonus days" as my father called them (the last several non-school days at the end of June). It was also exciting to be part of something - to like what everyone else likes, and to be way into something that's so popular that you're constantly ensconced in that very obsession. (I think the last time I felt that was Revenge of the Sith). Because of that, that summer & several others were like a Christmas morning that lasted for 2 months and change.

Today, everything's different. There's no action. But, do you really think I'm gonna be the cantankerous old movie geek again & complain about the current state of summer movies, superheroes, and pop culture in general? Of course! This is Bennett Media, asshole! Do you think McCafé is gonna have Wonder Woman salad this season? How about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. bottles of water? If they did, would you care? Would kids care? I don't. Now when I order a happy meal they give me apple slices and yogurt. I'm an average nobody. I get to live the rest of my life like a schnook.

- Paul

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Love this. More please.

Burton has indeed, to me at least, become Mr. Egg Noodles & Ketchup.

For what it's worth, I'd really enjoy reading a full "Rises" review.

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