Moderated by Gary Miereanu, the panel featured Warner Archive Podcast hosts Matthew Patterson and DW Ferranti, “Super Friends” animator Darrell McNeil, Batman film producer Michael Uslan, DC Animated producer James Tucker, and “Young Justice” producers Brandon Vietti and Greg Weisman, in a meeting of some of the influential men to work on the character outside of the comic books.
“We’re here to explore not the mainstream Batman, but the other iterations of Batman that have occurred throughout the media,” said Ferranti. “A gentleman by the name of Bat-Mite actually put it best on an episode of ‘The Brave and the Bold,’ so let’s start with a clip.”
With that, Miereanu played a clip from the episode “Legends of the Dark Mite,” in which the fifth dimensional imp addresses the concept of “Not my Batman,” to a parody of a convention audience.
“Batman’s rich history allows him to be interpreted in a multitude of ways,” said Bat-Mite. “To be sure, this is a lighter incarnation, but it’s certainly no less valid and true to the character’s roots as the tortured avenger crying out for mommy and daddy.”
“That was so meta I actually turned inside out,” said Patterson following the clip.
“Essentially we’re here to make the case that there’s room for more than one kind of Batman,” said Ferranti. “To celebrate these other sides of Batman as a character but also to note that each one of us, at some crucial point in childhood met, ‘The Batman,’ but also met, ‘A Batman.'”
Before diving into the ideas of alternate interpretations of Batman, Ferranti explored alternate inspirations for the character. “We’re all familiar with this thesis that took Da Vinci’s flying man and used it to create the Batman as we know it,” said Ferranti. “But, there’s a little known film from 1931 called ‘The Public Defender, which stars Richard Dix, assisted by a somewhat butlering [sic] Boris Karloff, and a young, action-packed character named Doc, who is an acrobat, and we’re going to show you a clip because I’m going to put forth that someone like Bill Finger saw this movie.”
The clip featured Richard Dix’s character coyly discussing the antics of his alter ego, ‘The Reckoner,’ with Alan Roscoe’s character. Or, as Ferranti put it, “That happens to be a millionaire playboy that is secretly fighting crime while talking with his commissioner friend.”
Working their way down the table, each panel guest shared their favorite incarnation of Batman.
“I grew up with Adam West,” said Weisman. “I read comics, too, but the Batman that sort of most exemplified my childhood was Adam West, and I was young enough that I had no idea that it was camp.”
Vietti couldn’t pin down a favorite, saying that he was introduced to Batman through the “Super Friends,” but eventually started leaning towards the darker side of the character. “Later, as thing progressed, got darker, Frank Miller Batman caught my attention and from then on I became one of those guys of that Bat-Mite clip,” said Vietti.
“Well clearly, I made ‘The Brave and the Bold,’ so of course Adam West was my first Batman,” Tucker explained. “And I never did catch it being camp, so I don’t know what you’re talking about. It was deadly serious!”
Like the others, McNeil was a fan of the Adam West show, and went on to work with West on later Batman adaptations during his television career. “I also liked the Batman from the serials,” said McNeil. “Especially the first one. I get a kick out of that one.”
Uslan, skewing older than the rest of the group, had a different exposure to Batman during his childhood. “I was reading comic books in the ’50s and ’60s as I was growing up, so I first experienced Bat-Genie, Bat-Robot, Bat-Baby, Ace the Bat-Hound, Bat-Mite, Batwoman, Bat-This, Bat-That,” Uslan explained. “I was fifteen years-old and a real hardcore comic book fanboy who had a collection going back to ‘Batman’ #1 and a ‘Detective Comics’ collection going back to #45, so I knew about the darkness and how Batman was initially created.”
While many of his fellow panelists grew up with Adam West, Uslan was already a teenager when the camp-filled 1960s TV show hit the air and had a very different reaction to the show. “When the Adam West TV show came on the air I was fifteen, I was watching it and I was simultaneously thrilled and horrified by what I was seeing,” said Uslan. “I was horrified because I realized that this was a joke and the entire world was laughing at my Batman.”
Uslan appreciates the show now, and even appears in the special features of the upcoming DVD sets, but at the time the public awareness of the Adam West incarnation over all others was a sore spot. “The night, January ’66 that I saw that, I made a vow. Just like young Bruce Wayne vowed, that somehow, some day, I would have to show the world what the dark and serious Batman looks like.”
To Uslan’s credit, it took him 23 years, but he accomplished his goal by producing the 1989 “Batman” film.
For Ferranti, his first Batman exposure was from “The Brave and the Bold” comic book. In particular, he enjoyed a story by Frank Robbins called “The Batman Nobody Knows,” where Bruce Wayne takes four kids camping and they tell him what they think Batman is like.
Like Vietti, Patterson was familiar with the campy version of the character, but it was Miller’s “Dark Knight Returns” that really cemented Batman in his mind. “I’ll just say I was a snobby kid and I was into alternative comics, but then I saw Frank Miller’s ‘Dark Knight,'” Patterson. “Then both Batman existed simultaneously in my head, and I’m still okay.”
From the many incarnations of Batman that were discussed, perhaps the most obscure was recently dug out of a salt cave and taken to one of the two places in the country that could play its two inch tape. It was the short lived “Legends of the Superheroes,” which featured Adam West and Burt Ward starring in a television variety show.
“So, Darrel, we have a question,” asked Ferranti. “What were Hannah-Barbara thinking?”
McNeil explained that when NBC saw “Batman” was getting good ratings on ABC and CBS, they wanted a Batman show of their own, so they went for a straight up comedy approach. The result was, with the exception of an unaired pilot called “Batman In Space,” the end of live-action Batman until 1989.
This is where Uslan’s childhood vow would come into play. Acquiring the rights to Batman from DC Comics in 1979, Uslan was determined to create the dark and serious movie he always wanted to see. “That began what would turn out to be a ten-year odyssey to get the first Batman movie made,” said Uslan. “We were turned down by every single studio in Hollywood. They told me I was crazy. They said, ‘You can’t do serious comic book movies. You can’t do dark super heroes. And for God’s sake you can’t make a movie based on some old TV series.'”
After taking a moment to plug the upcoming “Batman” TV series Blu-Ray release, the panel turned to James Tucker and “Batman: The Brave and the Bold.”
Tucker admitted that initially he resisted the idea of doing another Batman show until he was offered the chance to do the kind of crazy stories only “The Brave and the Bold” would allow. “There was a very serious Batman already out in the movies, so no one wanted that. No one was expecting us to do that, so there was no pressure to do that kind of Batman,” said Tucker. “It was fun being meta. I think the show is about Batman fandom; it’s not really about Batman. We didn’t really have stories that told you any more about Batman, cause you already knew him. We know the fans know everything there is to know about Batman and the series itself is just a celebration of Batman as a pop icon.”
Another recent animated version of Batman was seen in “Young Justice,” which explored the relationship between the sidekicks and their mentors. “It really played out well with Batman as he became a kind of team leader,” said Vietti.
“It always sort of bothered me that in the comics Dick Grayson, in order to become Nightwing, had to have this angry relationship with Batman,” said Weisman. “I grew up and I love my dad. I didn’t feel like there was a need for them to have this huge break and rift between them.”
As the panel opened up to a questions from the audience, Vietti and Weisman were immediately bombarded with questions about possible avenues for more “Young Justice” content. With no plans for a movie or comic at this time, the only upcoming appearance of the characters will be in a crossover episode with “Teen Titans Go.”
Weisman also addressed the misconception that “Young Justice” was cancelled to make way for “Teen Titans Go,” and the negative attention the latter has received because of it. “That’s not the way this works. There’s no reason not to watch ‘Teen Titans Go’ as some kind of ‘Young Justice’ protest,” said Weisman. “I want to dismiss this crazy notion that not watching ‘Teen Titans Go’ will somehow bring ‘Young Justice’ back. It just does not work that way.”
Another audience member asked the panel if they thought it was possible to create an adult-oriented Batman for television that can persist while still appealing to the children’s demographic needed to stay on the air. “It seems like the movies have the dark, gritty Batman covered,” said Tucker. “I don’t think you’ll see a light, bouncing, bubbly Batman in the movieplex coming soon.”
Noting that television version of Batman primarily exist to sell toys, Tucker did open the possibility of creating something darker with the Netflix model. “I see that as a potential thing that could happen, probably after a lot of other people have done it already and it’s proven to be a success,” said Tucker. “There’s a lot of Batman to go around.”
Speaking of different versions of Batman, the next audience member asked when he would be getting a Batman musical. “Maybe Neal Patrick Harris will get one made,” said Tucker.
Next, Uslan was asked about the most obscure piece of Batman trivia he knows. Uslan responded with a story about being in Washington D.C. where he met Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, also a huge Batman fan. “The first time we met, he turned to me and said, ‘Michael, what is the accurate, real world date on the giant penny?” said Usland. “And I said, ‘Senator, it’s 1947. It comes from ‘World’s Finest’ #31, ‘The Case of the Penny Plunderers.’ And with that, my wife just rolled her eyes, walked away, and said, ‘I’ll let you two guys have a play date.'”
On a similar note, the conversation turned to the rarest appearances of Batman that the experts could think of. “I think for me it’s the Superman radio shows,” said Uslan. “Batman was a co-star often on that show and I don’t think those recordings are generally available. I don’t think the general public really understands that Batman was on dramatic radio quite a bit.”
“I have a few of those cause I’m a big radio geek,” said McNeil. “For me, the rarest appearance would be when we did some films for children’s broadcasting. We had Superman and Batman teaching kids.”
“There’s a PSA abut equal pay,” said Tucker. “And I never caught that it wasn’t Adam West. I knew something was up. Then I found out it was Dick Gautier, who I’m a huge fan of. Flash forward to two years ago, he’s in a diner I’m in, and it’s the first thing I say to him. ‘You were Batman for that PSA!’
Finally, the panelists were asked which of the many aspects of the Batman character they’d like to explore that they haven’t had a chance to. “For me personally, I’ve always loved the World’s Greatest Detective aspect of Batman,” said Uslan. “I would love to see that persona of Batman explored in a movie.”
“The master of disguise,” said Tucker. “That’s an aspect of Batman you don’t really get to do in animation that often.”
“I’d love to get more into the psychology he uses against criminals,” said Vietti. “It really goes someplace dark so it’s hard to explore in children’s television, but that would be a really cool element to expand on.”
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