*Throughout this piece I reference a lot of great contributors to Batman, I also praise THAT Kevin Smith’s podcast “Fatman on Batman” a lot. I found that I was telling you to check out this or that episode of the podcast a lot so I’ve actually decided to just link certain episodes to the names of interviewees as they appear in my write-up below. Check the podcast out folks, you won’t regret it
I may not be THAT Kevin Smith (for those not in the know Melvin Smif is a nickname, my real name is Kevin Smith) but he and I share a number of passions. Sadly not Tabletop RPG’s but who knows maybe one day he’ll want to talk to someone about them and maybe then he’ll say “hey here’s a cat who shares the same name as I, he’s has been on a few podcasts, and knows a lot about Tabletop RPG’s I should get him on SModcast and we can…” I’m trailing off here, let’s get back on focus. That’s right, shared passions! Well, as a lover of fictional prose in any form I’ve always been a fan of comics. Not one who follows intensely, you’ll never catch me buying comics up week to week, but I do love a great graphic novel or collection of trade paperbacks that collect some of these great stories up for me to read in larger chunks. Thus I’ve been a fan of a certain Dark Knight for years now and today folks, is his official 75th anniversary. So I decided to put my rambling about Tabletop gaming to the side to give a bit of homage to THAT Kevin Smith’s favorite caped crusader, Batman!
Right off the Bat(<–PUN), I want to dive into something that has transformed the way I view Batman. I’m talking about the reason I brought up THAT Kevin Smith in the first place. I’m talking about his podcast “Fatman on Batman”. I was always a cursory fan of Batman. He’s got some great stories out there, a few fantastic animated cartoons, some nifty films, and even some excellent video games (wearing out the thesaurus here). However, I can’t say I felt the same way about him as a symbol until I started listening to THAT Kevin Smith lauding his comic book hero on his podcast. I only really gave it a listen because I loved SModcast already and wanted more laughs, but THAT Kevin Smith delivered much more. He’s a born interviewer folks. He has this ability to really get to the heart of what his interviewees came to share, whether they even knew they wanted to share it, and somehow THAT Kevin Smith fades into the background of the conversation. Hell, sometimes I forget he’s there! The many guests he’s had on the show, ranging from industry folks who’ve worked on Batman’s various comics to people whose lives have literally been changed by Batman as a symbol in their lives, have been excellent and really gave me a newfound respect for Batman in our culture. One of the best episodes I ever listened to was the one with Dean Trippe. Not only did Mr. Trippe discuss how Batman was able to help him through his own harrowing experiences in life but he also related a story of meeting children in a foreign country who actually knew who Batman was, it is kind of crazy how immersed The Dark Knight is in our world’s culture. I can’t give enough lip service to THAT Kevin Smith’s podcast and still remain on the topic of generally celebrating the character so I’ll just suggest you check it out.
My Batman, because everyone has one, could either be Batman from Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” or from “Batman: The Animated Series”.
The Dark Knight Returns was the first thing I ever read about Batman, I had seen a smathering of the old Alan West episodes and had seen Batman as part of the older Justice League cartoons but he wasn’t all that interesting to me. Reading Frank Miller’s work though… it had an impact. It was dark, it was brooding, and it was certainly not a colorful romp. This was solid storytelling of an imperfect man trying to do good who faces not only the dark forces of crime but even faces an old friend of superpowered proportions who is fighting for all the wrong reasons. It adds a possible ending of sorts to the Batman legacy that works on so many levels, and I loved it.
Likely my main love for Batman comes from Batman: The Animated Series. It gave me many things to love about Batman but first and foremost it gave me a voice for Batman and the Joker. Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill are the voices for The Batman and The Joker, respectively. I can’t imagine mentally hearing another pair handle the voices whenever I pick up a comic featuring either. It is still weird to me to see others’ voices at work in cartoons and even movies, save for perhaps Heath Ledger’s Joker but more on him later. Kevin Conroy is Batman to me. Whenever I catch a flick, even the excellent Nolan films, I can’t really buy that whoever is playing Batman pulls it off. This isn’t a dismissal of the work the actors who have played The Bat, more so an accolade to Kevin Conroy. His voice work is just that good. Mark Hamill is certainly no slouch either, and when they work together, it’s really wonderful.
Beyond fantastic voice work, for all the characters really, Batman: The Animated Series was special to me as a kid in other strong ways. First, I never felt like it was treating me like a kid as I watched it. The show, at times, dealt with some pretty dark subjects and never really pulled any punches. A strong example of this could be pulled from the introduction of Mr. Freeze in the 14th episode of the first season titled “Heart of Ice”. Mr. Freeze was a character that was originally introduced as a campy villain from the Alan West show, and he was transformed here into a tragic villain whose crimes were usually motivated with the focus to heal his terminally ill wife. Victor Fries would not be the first character changed or fully invented for the show whose story would become canon for the comics, something rarely done. Even Harley Quinn did not exist before the show, and it is hard to imagine The Joker without his ever present highly unstable sidekick. What else can I heap on as praise for this show? The art was fantastic, characters handled with care, many storylines carried over throughout the story, and so much more. Certainly a fantastic handling of the hero in a time when many cartoons featuring Superheroes were downright lame, and I’ll thank it for setting the tone for some of the great Superhero cartoons my children currently enjoy.
I mentioned Heath Ledger above and would be remiss if I neglected to go into the Nolan films a little bit, specifically “The Dark Knight”. Nolan did what he could to bring Batman to life as realistically as it could arguably be done. While I like “Batman Begins” and “Dark Knight Rises” neither comes close to the love I have for “The Dark Knight”. By that I mean my love for Heath Ledger as That Joker. If you had told me prior to the film that Heath Ledger would gain an equal respect from me as The Joker as Mark Hamill has I’d of dismissed it, I also might have gotten way to nerdy and raged a bit (would like to think I wouldn’t but I can’t promise that). Heath crafted a terrifying creature with his Joker, one that still elicited laughs every now and then but far more cringes. His final showdown with Batman, and the truths he spits about Batman creating him just because he took up the cowl was perfect, even if it was the first nod to that.
I’ve written a ton and feel like there is so much more I could say about this pervasive figure in our modern day mythology, the current crop of video games have been great (if a bit redundant past Arkham Asylum), we are now expecting a T.V. show in the near future based on a Gotham before Batman (which I maintain parts of were cribbed from this “Fatman on Batman” episode), and the litany of comics and graphic novels I’ve read with Batman, his Family, and his gallery of rogues at the center of numerous excellent stories. Actually, one of my favorite Batman stories doesn’t even feature him as a main character, this Swamp Thing arc is fantastic and Batman only features nominally. I can’t imagine my story is all that different from many others’ stories today so I’ll likely be just part of the hurricane of people lauding Batman for his 75th anniversary but I felt I had a story to get out so here it is. Thanks to those who took the time to read. We’ll get back to gaming soon, no worries! Maybe I’ll do a write up on the many Superhero RPG’s out there sometime.