An open letter to Batman on his 75th birthday

batmanDear Batman,

I suppose I should start by saying happy birthday! 75 years old today. That’s quite an achievement for a comic book character. I reckon it was probably half your lifetime ago that you became part of my life.

That would have been the mid-to-late 1970s. I don’t quite remember how we met… I started reading at an early age and comics were a big part of that. Marvel Comics characters, rather than you and your pals from your publisher DC, were more prevalent when I was young, probably through the UK black-and-white reprints. But by some sort of osmosis you entered my consciousness and have never really left.

Back when I was a kid, people who didn’t read comics had heard of Batman, thanks to the 1960s TV series. It was cancelled two years before I was born, but I must have seen reruns, and I distinctly remember the scene in the movie-length version with you and Robin tied to a sinking buoy.

When I started ferreting out American comics, in newsagents and seaside shops and market stalls, that’s when you properly became a permanent fixture. I remember tht the Batman of the comics in the late 1970s wasn’t anything remotely like the TV series… you were more like some avenging demon of the night, particularly in that cowl with the long ears, drawn by Neal Adams, your cape flowing around you like a living thing. You were grim and gritty and dark and all those things people say only really happened to comics later, in the mid-1980s.

For a small child who liked to play super-heroes, you were the best inspiration. You had no super-powers; you trained your mind and body to be the ultimate athlete and detective. Anyone could do that. I could do that. It was unlikely and – let’s be honest here – it never actually happened. But it could have.

You were the ultimate pubescent power fantasy. No parental control – yeah, I know your mum and dad got murdered by a crook in Crime Alley, and that informed everything you did afterwards – pots of money, a toybox of weird and wonderful gadgets and gizmos. And the best thing of all, you could kick the crap out of anyone who did you wrong, the bullies and the bad guys and the weirdos. What geeky, loner kid couldn’t relate to that?

Sometime in the early 80s, you’ll remember, we kind of parted company for a bit. I was at that awkward age, I discovered girls and music and hanging about doing nothing with other kids. You understand – you’re a playboy in your secret identity of Bruce Wayne! Geeks didn’t have the same cachet as they do now – I was too embarrassed to go into a shop and buy comics in case anyone from school saw me.

But then, when I was 16 or so, things changed, I got more confident, and you came back… in the shape of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight. But you were old and it was this weird dystopian near future and everything was even stranger and darker than ever. I hadn’t known comics could be like this, didn’t know this sort of thing was allowed. When you beat the living crap out of Superman I stared, uncomprehending. And then I cheered, and you and I were back together.

Then Miller and David Mazzuchelli re-invented your origin in Batman: Year One and you were even more human, an even more attainable ideal. Then Alan Moore and Brian Bolland created Batman: The Killing Joke, and that was when I knew that Batman wasn’t just a superhero anymore, his arch enemy the Joker wasn’t just the Clown Prince of Crime, the Mountebank of Mirth. You were mythic creatures, your masks and make-up elevating you to something other than human.

The first lot of movies started coming out, and everyone knew Batman. In 1989 I published my first piece of journalism, in an independent magazine called The Preston Other Paper, and it was a piece on your 50th anniversary.

I stuck with you through most of the 1990s, and all the various incarnations and new villains like Bane and Azrael, though you slowly started to become more like the other superheroes, more mundane, you lost that mythic quality. And I never really liked seeing you in the Justice League of America – can I just say that? You were a creature of the night, cut from the cloth of shadows, not made for running around in broad daylight fighting giant starfish or standing on the deck of a sub-orbital space station.

Then, at the turn of the millennium, I made a conscious decision to stop buying comics, and we parted pretty much for good. It wasn’t you, it was me; I couldn’t afford to keep buying all these comics month in, month out. I had responsibilities, children on the way. I didn’t have your riches or your freedom. Maybe I just changed too much to have you in my life.

And all those things that iniitally brought us together I started to wonder about. You dress up as a bat? Really? To cave in the heads of criminals, half of whom are quite evidently seriously mentally iill? And you choose who to bash, you decide who’s a criminal, no legal process, no fair trial? And all that money… you’re just a one-percenter indulging his fantasies and power trips, aren’t you? Taking direct action against the criminal element, not waiting for the police. It was then I thought that the Daily Mail would love you, while most people I know would be appalled, if you were real..

The new movies came and went, and I started to get interested again. I’ve been dipping my toe into the waters of comics once more, but cautiously, not wanting to get too hooked in. But maybe today’s the day to ask: what have I missed in the past 15 years? Are your adventures any good these days? What should I be reading?

Anyway, nice to have this chat, and all the best to you on this special day.

Your pal,

David

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One Comment

  1. A fun read, thanks for your reminiscences.

    I remember buying shed-loads of Superhero comics down Dalston-way back in the ’60s and ’70s. When they announced the TV show it was with short 5 second bursts of almost subliminal advertising – a searchlight and the Bat-logo.Such excitement!

    Wish I still had those comics….

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