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  • Mere Mortals…
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  • End of Summer
     

    The Most Powerful Man in Comics…

    by Decaf

    We all live in the Shadow of the Bat.

    There is no doubting the contribution Batman has made to comics; the Dark Knight is the first of the heroes who was characterized as being driven by vengeance, rather than a more pure thirst for justice. Without Batman, there would be no Punisher, no Spawn. There is a strong argument that even Spider-Man, driven to the great realization that "with great power comes great responsibility" by the murder of his uncle, was inspired by DC's premiere detective.

    In the last decade, though, the shadow of the bat has fallen on comics, affecting the industry in a way that perhaps no other character has. When Tim Burton read Frank Miller's now-classic "The Dark Knight Returns" in the late eighties, the director was inspired; this was not the campy Batman of the sixties, climbing walls with Burt Ward and making jokes at the expense of his overweight villains. 1989 saw Neal Adams' dark, brooding Batman brought to life on the screen, in one of the most moneymaking screen endeavors in comic book history.

    There have since been three subsequent Bat-films, of course, and a cadre of animated pieces, including two cartoon series and at least four animated features. When people in the nineties think about comic books, they think about Batman.

    So what effect, if any, did this have on comics themselves? The widespread success of the Batman movie outside of comic industry circles brought in new readers and, in many ways, facilitated the industry boom of the early 1990s. In many ways, it can be argued that the progression of the Batman movies and the progression of the comics industry at large were hand-in-hand these ten years. The first two Bat-films, grim and gritty and involving the seemingly gratuitous killings of the lead villains, came at a time when anti-heroes like the Punisher and Night Thrasher were making big bucks for Marvel. The Justice League, mired in the lovable camp of the Giffen-DeMatteis era, was selling poorly and it seemed that, Batman aside, DC's history of lovable, honorable heroes was a liability.

    As "Batman Forever" hit theaters, Paul Dini's unique animated vision of the Dark Knight Detective was already a success on television, and "Mask of the Phantasm" had provided the animated Batman with a strong showing in theaters. Warner Brothers realized that the next Batman would have to be more friendly to family audiences and the movies began their decline into the slapstick camp that had assured the Adam West TV show its failure in the sixties.

    Comics followed suit; not only did Batman become much less threatening (after 1993's "Knightfall" story arc, the comic book Batman reclaimed his mantle by bringing to issue the morality of hard-and-fast vigilantism), but comics as a whole got brighter and more contrived, with the anti-hero books taking a back seat to traditional superheroes like Superman, Batman and Green Lantern, all fresh from their early-90s makeovers. By the time the fourth Batman film (Batman and Robin) had dismayed audiences everywhere, the comic industry was in a lull of unprecedented proportion. In the last two years, great strides have been taken to bring the industry out of its mid-to-late-90s recession…and guess who's leading the way?

    Batman, a charter member of DC's white-hot JLA, has also been enormously successful in his own titles, with storylines like "Contagion" and recently, "No Man's Land." He played an integral role in "Kingdom Come," which many see as the definitive superhero story of the 1990s, and reaffirmed his role as the brooding, angry older brother to the other heroes in crossovers like "The Final Night" and "DC One Million," which Batman's character was portrayed as being hesitant to participate in.

    We can only hope that as we enter the new millennium, Bob Kane's favorite creation continues to blaze new and exciting trails, leading comics out of the recession they've seen in recent years.

    Another ten years in the Shadow of the Bat can't hurt.

     
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    This story is 2000 by Decaf
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