WonderCon: Batman 75 celebration has Jim Lee, Bruce Timm, Kevin Smith

April 20, 2014 | 8:00 a.m.
As part of Batman's 75th anniversary celebration, this logo, released Thursday, will mark a variety of DC Entertainment comics and Warner Bros. products. (Warner Bros.)

The yearlong celebration of Batman’s 75th anniversary included a DC panel Saturday at WonderCon. (Warner Bros.)

In 75 years of stories, Batman’s greatest obstacle has always been his humanity, Kevin Smith told an applauding capacity crowd in a Bat-cavernous space Saturday at WonderCon.

“That’s the only thing that stops him,” the filmmaker said, “and you see the frustration as he’s portrayed throughout every medium…. It’s only when he hits the ceiling of his humanity that he can possibly be stopped. And, as we’ve seen, even then sometimes he overcomes it.”

Smith, who hosts the “Fatman on Batman” podcast, was joined on the Batman 75 celebration panel by his “Batman ’66 Meets the Green Hornet” comic co-writer Ralph Garman, superstar artist and DC Comics co-publisher Jim Lee (“Batman: Hush,” “All-Star Batman and Robin, the Boy Wonder”), essential Caped Crusader animator Bruce Timm (“Batman: The Animated Series,” “Batman: Mask of the Phantasm”), longtime popular Bat-voice actor Kevin Conroy and Warner Bros. Animation Senior Vice President of Creative Affairs Peter Girardi.

In addition to the panel discussion, the audience saw two animated shorts created for the Dark Knight’s diamond jubilee: a “Batman Beyond” piece by Darwyn Cooke, which was making its premiere, and Timm’s black-and-white “Strange Days” (below), which features classic Batman villain Hugo Strange.

“Strange Days” is “an itch that I’ve had for years that I finally got to scratch,” Timm said in introducing the short. “I always wanted to do a straight-up period piece version of Batman set right in 1939, the year Batman was created.”

Both shorts feature Conroy, who’s voiced Bruce Wayne and his alter ego from the start of “Batman: The Animated Series” in 1992 through recent “Arkham” video games, and who had greeted a roaring crowd with a booming, “I am vengeance. I am the night. I am Batman!”

The actor recalled being surprised when he first saw footage from the Emmy-winning “Batman: The Animated Series,” while recording additional dialogue with Joker voice actor and “Star Wars” star Mark Hamill. “On this full screen, that comes up — the lush colors, the rich graphics, the full symphony score just whooshed off the screen. And I looked at Mark and said, ‘Did you have a clue that this is what we’ve been working on?’ … It was breathtaking.”

Adam West as Batman in the 1960s TV series.

Adam West as Batman in the 1960s TV series.

And of his long working relationship as Batman with Hamill as his arch-nemesis, Conroy said, “He brings out the best in me, and I bring out the worst in him.”

The campy 1960s “Batman” television series that starred Adam West, which gets its first DVD and Blu-ray release later this year, was remembered fondly — and defended fiercely — by Smith and Garman, an avid collector of the show’s memorabilia and a performer on KROQ-FM’s “Kevin & Bean.”

With their upcoming miniseries based on the show, Smith said it was important “to honor the Batman that brought us into the world of Batman.”

Recalling how dark representations of the character became prominent beginning with Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” in 1986 and with Tim Burton’s Oscar-winning, big-screen blockbuster “Batman” in 1989, Smith said to laughter, “There was this general sentiment that if you grew up with the Adam West Batman, you kind of turned your back on it — the way like Peter denied Christ.” He added that he fell into that trap before having his mind changed by comics writer Matt Wagner. “From that point forward … [when other people] would bag on ‘Batman,’ I’d be like, ‘You know what, man? You’re a poser. You should honor that Batman.’”

Grittier takes on Gotham’s hero also got their due.

DC Comics co-publisher and comics heavyweight Jim Lee is photographed at DC Entertainment's headquarters in Burbank, Calif., on Oct. 1, 2013. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Artist and DC co-publisher  Jim Lee, seen last year at the company’s headquarters in Burbank, said Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight Returns” helped inspire him to enter the comics field. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

Jim Lee said “The Dark Knight Returns” changed his life. The landmark miniseries, which shows an older Bruce Wayne coming out of retirement to take up the cape and cowl again, renewed his enthusiasm for comics as a senior in college. “It wasn’t just that it was hand-colored. It wasn’t just that it was on shiny paper in a new format. The level of sophistication to the storytelling, the narrative, the political themes and the social themes, blew me away….” It inspired him to pursue comics as a profession, and he assembled his first portfolio the year after.

Talking about controversy over his and Miller’s “All-Star Batman,” which included not always effectively censored profanity, Lee said, “As crazy as that story line was … It really shows you, for as human as the character is, he is bulletproof in all these different ways that you can tell a crazy story where he’s Zebra Batman and he goes to the moon in the ’50s, and you can do a story where he’s very dark in the ‘Arkham’ games and in the ‘Dark Knight’ movie, and it still works.

“He’s multi-generational, and appeals to little kids and older fans. It just goes to show you that all the stuff basically goes into a giant creative pool, and you guys as the fans decide what’s important, what works, and you are in that way shaping who Batman becomes.”

— Blake Hennon | @BlakeHennon | @LATHeroComplex

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