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July 25, 2014

Comic-Con: Frank Miller, Grant Morrison, Jim Lee, more talk Batman 75

Posted in: Comic-Con,Comics

bm232 Comic Con: Frank Miller, Grant Morrison, Jim Lee, more talk Batman 75

Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams' run with the Dark Knight includes "Batman" No. 232. (DC Entertainment)

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Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo re-imagined Batman's origin story in the just-concluded "Zero Year." Here, the cover of the penultimate issue. (DC Entertainment)

If anyone was wondering what has made Batman so meaningful to fans over the last 75 years, these were the people to ask.

The Dark Knight comic book stories that Frank Miller, Denny O’Neil, Neal Adams, Grant Morrison, Jim Lee, Scott Snyder and Geoff Johns have variously told since the 1970s are among the most influential and bestselling to ever come out of Gotham City.

So what is it? The panelists at “Batman 75: Legends of the Dark Knight” on Thursday afternoon at Comic-Con International in San Diego said it was a combination of Batman being terrifying to criminals and inspiring to law-abiding citizens, of Bruce Wayne turning the pain from a childhood trauma into a life of service.

“Batman is basically a satanic figure who is on our side,” said Morrison, whose seven-year run of titles featuring the character closed last year. “He takes in all those Byronic elements … and the whole notion of the Romantic hero but at the same time he’s on our side. He’s a good guy. And the fact that he’s a mega-rich good guy is particularly appealing to the capitalist West. He’s very representative of what we like to think we stand for.”

Miller, the writer-artist behind the 1980s “The Dark Knight Returns” and “Batman: Year One” landmarks in the comics medium, offered another angle: “There’s also the fact that Batman is sexy.”

Frank Miller's "The Dark Knight Returns." (DC Entertainment)

Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns.” (DC Entertainment)

Following applause and laughter, Morrison continued, “He’s the good guy who dresses up like a bad guy and throws people through windows. He does strike terror into criminals’ hearts. And his motivation is so simple. What could have been just a normal rich kid turned himself into a pinnacle of a human being, even though he dresses funny.”

Snyder, the writer of the current bestselling “Batman,” who this week saw the publication of the finale of his and artist Greg Capullo’s yearlong re-imagining of the vigilante’s origin, focused on Bruce Wayne’s inspiration aspect: “He’s a guy who takes this trauma that’s primally terrifying as a child … and he turns it into an engine to make himself this strange pinnacle of human achievement. … As much as he terrifies the bad guys of Gotham, he also, especially if you’re going through a hard time in your life … you look to Batman to be able to say, ‘I’m gonna be defiant. I’m going to do the crazy thing that everybody thinks I can’t do.’”

That defining tragedy — young Bruce seeing his parents fatally shot in an alley — continually resonates with DC Comics co-publisher Lee, the artist of “Batman: Hush” and the Miller-written “All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder.” Even when looking at Batman at his mightiest, he said, “you still see that 10-year-old boy whose life was shattered by this tragedy … you can’t help but feel strongly sympathetic and want to hug that little boy.”

Johns, DC’s chief creative officer and the writer of the graphic novel “Batman: Earth One — and a force on the upcoming Fox TV series “Gotham” — said the hero taps into “the common primal instinct to want to do something better.”

The discussion also turned to Batman’s real-life origins.

Artist Adams, whose run with O’Neil in the 1970s influentially put the dark back into the Dark Knight, said that when Bob Kane and Bill Finger — the latter, long-uncredited name drawing applause from audience members and Miller — created the hero, writers and artists were being tasked with creating superheroes in the vein of Superman but the two “didn’t take the instructions seriously. They made Batman into a human being. Batman doesn’t have any super powers — he goes and exercises. He doesn’t have any super-intelligence; he’s just intelligent and he uses his brain. Batman is what we would rather be. … Batman is you and me.”

After Adams said that Batman and Superman are opposite ends of the superhero spectrum, his old collaborator O’Neil, who’s written for both the characters, chimed in about Superman: “How do you put God against a petty crook and have a story with conflict and drama? Batman … is really easy to get into trouble. Any death trap will do.”

"Batman" No. 251 by Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams. (DC Entertainment)

“Batman” No. 251 by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams. (DC Entertainment)

Miller joined in, adding, “There’s also the fact that Superman is a good old boy, that he obeys the rules his parents taught him. He’s a country kid. And Batman is a guy who loses his temper.”

The black-fedora-sporting Miller also mentioned that he’d met Kane once, and reported that the artist was “bewildered” by “The Dark Knight Returns,” asking “why that woman has swastikas on her butt.”

On the topic of crediting Finger, something DC did on the cover of its giveaway edition of “Detective Comics” No. 27 for Wednesday’s Batman Day festivities, O’Neil said its long absence has been “a gross injustice,” but one born of copyright and work-for-hire practices of the time and not of malice.

Morrison said that it was good to focus on what Finger’s talents as a writer contributed — including the word “masterfiend,” invented to describe the Joker. “Somebody’s got to name their band that right now,” the Scottish writer said to laughs. “ ‘Masterfiend’ is the greatest word in the world, and it was made up by Bill Finger.”

Among the biggest influences on the panelists, they said, were the other people on the panel.

“I feel like my job on this panel is just not to faint or cry,” Snyder said to laughs.

Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” and “Year One” were hailed: Lee said the former made him as a senior in college in 1986 want to be a comics professional, and recounted geeking out on Miller (Johns said it defined Batman for him); Snyder said that reading the latter tale was “the moment I realized you could take a superhero comic book, a superhero that belonged to everybody … and make a story that’s so intensely personal and immediate and contemporary all at once.”

Miller, in turn, mentioned Jerry Robinson’s art and said of O’Neil’s and Adams’ work, “I never could have done ‘Dark Knight’ without them,” adding later that their stories showed him Batman had “not just a legacy, but a future.”

The influence of the Adam West “Batman” show was also discussed. Snyder and Morrison said that, seeing it as kids, it didn’t seem campy — “I thought it was so serious and life and death,” Snyder said.

“Like Scott,” Morrison added, “I was honestly convinced this thing was like Greek tragedy.”

But when he was older, Morrison said, it was O’Neil’s and Adams’ work that hooked him.

Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo re-imagined Batman's origin story in the just-concluded "Zero Year." Here, the cover of the penultimate issue. (DC Entertainment)

Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo re-imagined Batman’s origin story in the just-concluded “Zero Year.” Here, the cover of the penultimate issue. (DC Entertainment)

With such passionate opinions about Batman, there were of course some things panelists said they didn’t like seeing others do with the character. O’Neil cited the 1950s comics, and said he didn’t think sci-fi and fantasy scenarios worked well.

Asked by a fan what female supporting cast member they’d reinvent if they could, more than one said “all of them,” with Adams pronouncing them “boring” — though Johns spoke up for Barbara Gordon/Batgirl being a fascinating character.

Miller was emphatic about a costume change he said he abhorred: “For decades on end he had a big, stupid yellow circle around his Bat … my proudest achievement as a professional was getting rid of [that].”

Others were more forgiving of some unpopular interpretations, with Morrison saying he even likes the oft-derided Joel Schumacher-directed Bat-films of the 1990s.

Several of the group applauded Christopher Nolan’s recent “Dark Knight” trilogy.

O’Neil, noting Nolan’s films used some characters that had originated in his works, said that in reading the script he thought, “He’s doing it better than I did … and why didn’t I think of this?”

Speaking of movies, Johns brought along a photo of Ben Affleck as Batman with Miller-style helmet ears – the same photo “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice” director Zack Snyder tweeted out.

But for all the movie talk, the original medium still holds sway.

“The best way to experience Batman is in comic books,” Miller said.

Reinforcing Miller’s point and taking a shot at the Batsuit in Schumacher films, Adams said, “At least we don’t do nipples.”

One thing was clear: the Caped Crusader is open to wildly different interpretations, and the panelists agreed that the varied versions work.

“Batman is like a very large multifaceted diamond. … ” Miller said. “You can throw it against the floor, you can throw it against the wall, throw it against the ceiling — it will not break. Everything works.”

But what version of Batman most represents the spirit of the hero, a young female fan asked.

Miller’s reply: “The very best Batman is the one you like the best.”

Blake Hennon | Google+ | @LATHeroComplex


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