Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Boy Who Helped Make Good Batman Movies

I just read Michael Uslan's memoir, "The Boy Who Loved Batman," and maybe a more apropos title would be "The Boy Who Dreamed About Batman"...actually, that doesn't sound right...on with the review..

I came out of reading the book thinking that Uslan was portraying himself as a fan who made it - this is the guy who grew up loving comics and was never tempted to move on and managed to successfully parlay his hobby into a career as a Hollywood producer. And he wants to tell the story of a pop culture guru/whizkid who anticipated everything and saw it all coming years before everyone else. And the story of an average supernerd who gets lucky and lives out the fanboy fantasy of authenticating, validating, and vindicating the stuff of his youth and young adulthood, hitting paydirt via luck, social networking savvy and spunk more than anything else.

Uslan's greatest contribution as an executive was as a catalyst and support system - if any director had grand ideas for a Batman movie, it was Uslan who could step up as the happy warrior and fight for him, but only if those ideas appealed to his own reasoning. In Hollywood, if you don't have the support of SOMEBODY, a "warrior" behind one of those desks to push an idea, it can stay in "development hell" long after you're gone.  He had been championing the concept of doing a serious Batman film for years, but in my opinion, could never articulate it well enough for it to be realized until the arrival of Tim Burton. It was not a perfect union - Uslan hints that this relationship got ugly when Burton chose Michael Keaton for the title role. It took a hell of a lot of convincing to get Uslan and the other executives to see otherwise, and by that time so much money and energy and resources had been invested in the project, they had to go along with the decision if they ever hoped to recoup.

Uslan should be a familiar face to fans of superhero movies who watch DVD bonus features and documentaries on superheroes and comic books. He's one of the guests who offer socio-psychological-historic rhetoric on the enduring popularity of these characters - all of which falls apart the moment you actually get in the habit of reading the books or walking into any comic shop, unfortunately. I always wondered how marketing and collecting hoopla, large balloon breasts, promotional gimmicks, stunts fit in with all that talk of "Modern-day Folklore".  Uslan often drops numerical values of old comics throughout the book. Money gets mentioned a lot here, and it goes against the grain when he talks about passion and fidelity to portrayals of comic book characters.

Ironically, I  found that I could relate to Uslan in the sense that the love of Batman that we get from the book is of a Batman that exists in Uslan's imagination - he can point to Christopher Nolan's Batman and Tim Burton's Batman and Dennis O'Neil's and Steve Englehart's and say, "That's my Batman!", and he could point to an inconsistent sampling of 20 comics through the decades and say that his Batman is there, too. That list appears in the last third of the book, and it reads like a blog entry than what it should have been: a book itself, offering commentary and analysis as to what he finds in these choices a distillation of the Batman of his dreams. Then, we would have a more powerful book, and not a "The Kid Stays In The Picture"/"Field Of Dreams"-esque mish-mash. We also get invited to peek at his collection of boilerplate correspondence, autographs, memorabilia and false career starts and comics - can you imagine what it would've been like if he hadn't made it and this stuff was just rotting away in his house (or his parents house)? We would've lost a warrior.


  1. I’ve never been completely certain as to what Uslan’s place is in the vast comics and pop-culture landscape. And, after reading your commentary, I’m still not sure.

    I know he’s “there” all right! We see him, hear him, and read him… but can I pin it down to my satisfaction? Uh-uh.

    Though I can’t really blame him for riding the crest and enjoying it to the fullest! Even I, way out on the furthest periphery of Disney (comics) Land, have probably been guilty of “enjoying my place” a bit much. Though I wisely limit it to my Blog -- and others I might post comments on. It’s natural, I suppose, once you get a taste of something to go-geeky. What say you?

  2. It's more than just "go-geeky" - we're getting how HE sees himself, and the book is packaged for an ICON.

    His anecdotes are entertaining enough, but it's all stuff happening around him. A book of memoirs by Benjamin Melnicker would be more interesting, because without that partnership...

    Yes, he was at the first comic book conventions and taught the first fully acredited college class on comic books (which, by the looks of the copy of the syllabus he offers, shows that he thought being well read was an indication of being a good craftsman - the final project was to write and illustrate a comic strip - when it could be the other way around. The final project should have been a term paper highlighting a creator and recurring themes in his work. That was more of a history/sociology course and not an art class). Anyway, he only drops it in as an accomplishment and does not talk about it fading out after he left the college.

    Also,...I had no problem with the potty mouth that's peppered throughout the book, but it seems to be the only complaint made by reviewers at Amazon - yes, it does make the text crude and amateurish. But he's also talking about buying x-ray specs to stare at a cheerleader he had a crush on and offering a yearbook photo of her stradling a globe. It's consistant.

    Well, Joe, the day write a book titled, "The Squire of Disney Comics" ... "Comic Book Rehab: How I Tried and Failed To Kick The Hobby by Joseph Adorno" will be on that shelf to welcome you aboard.