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Archive for September 8th, 2012

By Bob Clark

Where did I first learn the origin story of Batman, who he is, and how he came to be? It certainly wouldn’t have been from reruns of the old Adam West show, which I watched enthusiastically when I was growing up, which all but ignored the dark foundations that writer Bill Finger laid down for the character created by artist Bob Kane in the pages of Detective Comics in favor of bright, primary colored fights and stale, flat one-liners that would give a bad reputation to the term “comic book story” for years to come. I can more or less place where I first discovered the stories that outlined the beginnings of other superheroes from my childhood. As a young tyke I watched Richard Donner’s Superman: The Movie almost as religiously as I viewed the Star Wars films, and even had a tape of the old Fleischer cartoon shorts that would probably be unwatchable if you put it in a VCR today, thanks to how often I played it– either way, I’d have been well exposed to the doomed planet Krypton and the infant Kal-El’s arrival in Kansas like baby Moses in the reeds. When I was in grade school I was lucky enough for Marvel to reprint the first appearance of Spider-Man from Amazing Fantasy, allowing me to discover my favorite hero’s humble roots as Peter Parker, and the tragic way that he grapples with power and responsibility.

But for Batman, I have no concrete memory of where I first heard about his beginnings. Yet like a prime Jungian archetype, he was always there in some corner of my mind, such that when I first saw Tim Burton’s 1989 film, opening on a back-alley mugging in Gotham City, I was bewildered to see the Caped Crusader show up to foil it, at first assuming we were watching young Bruce Wayne being orphaned.  Somehow I’d just always known that his wealthy parents had been gunned down when he was just a boy, and that he then channeled his rage and riches into becoming the Dark Knight savior of Gotham City and it’s rogue’s gallery of gangsters and psychopaths. Obviously somebody must’ve told me the story when I was too small to remember, but there’s something appealing in the idea that one could simply uncconsciously intuit where this shadowy avenger in the night came from. There’ve been countless retellings of Batman and his origins in all manner of media in the past few decades, some of which I’ve absorbed gregariously– definitive work from Frank Miller, Dave Mazzuchelli and the team of Loeb & Sale in graphic novels; further films following the Burton years from the likes of Joel Shumacher and especially Christopher Nolan; even the video games of the Arkham Asylum series, pitting the Dark Knight against whole open-world sandboxes of crime. But none have been quite so celebrated or as influential as Batman: The Animated Series as spearheaded by artist Bruce Timm and writer Paul Dini, this week marking the 20th anniversary of its debut on television.

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