I’ll admit right off the bat (pun intended) that this book was never on my radar. I didn’t know it existed. It was the title that caught my eye when I saw it advertised on an Amazon linked banner ad featured prominently on Harry Knowles’s Ain’t It Cool News web site during one of my daily visits.
The title "The Boy Who Loved Batman" struck an instant chord. Ask anybody who knows me. Since my late mother bought me a pack containing a slab of pink toxic bubble gum that was inedible by any conventional standards and accompanied by 5 illustrated cards depicting the adventures of a guy in tights and black scalloped cape way back in 1966 - I was that boy. All through school, while the other kids chose their football teams to follow, I stayed in Gotham City with Batman. Comic books were a fad to many, a way of life to a few and I was one of those few. Of course, being a Batman fan and having the first name Robin led to years of school yard taunts.
Through the Adam West years, the reinvention by Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams taking him to his dark and gothic roots in the early seventies, the groundbreaking years of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, Brian Bolland’s Killing Joke and beyond. Tim Burton, not so much Joel Schumacher, but Christopher Nolan for sure - and the Animated Series. Broken Bat, Knightfall, Cataclysm, No Man’s Land. I read them all. Batman died, Batman was lost in time and finally, he’s back... I was there and still am. So who’s this other boy who loved Batman?
The author Michael Uslan is one of us who did good, and this is his autobiography. According to the blurb on the cover, this memoir is the true story of how a comics obsessed kid conquered Hollywood to bring the Dark Knight to the silver screen.
But unusually for a cover blurb - that’s an understatement. This book is more - so much more.
It’s the inspirational story of Michael Uslan’s journey from an avid reader of comic books in his formative years, and how despite qualifying as an attorney, he never wavered from following his dream. Like many Batman fans, myself included, he soon tired of the character being eternally identified with the comedic and campy Batman series of the mid sixties and resolved, at a young age, to do something about it. He was determined that the "Pow, Wham, Thwap" days were over and he made it his mission to show the public what Batman really could be.
The book is packed with heart warming stories and recollections that bring a flood of nostalgia in waves as the author has been through what we all went through in our childhood. The buying of Marvel and D.C. Comic books back in the day. The collecting and eventually amassing a decent pile followed by the inevitable the dreaded "clear outs" by well meaning mothers who just didn’t "get it". This stuff was our culture - and I never did forgive my mother for throwing away my prized Spider-Man 82 in 1970, which featured the return of Electro for the first time since Spider-Man Annual 1 in 1964. The desperate deals where we promised to keep your collection tidy (and out of sight) to spare the emotional wrench of losing your precious trove of literature while you were at school. (Come on - we’ve ALL been there).
Except that Uslan took it further - he took his love for the medium and turned it into a successful and lucrative career. To us comics geeks, he’s nothing less than a real-life super hero. Entering college, he became the student who actually taught an accredited course in comic books. This opened doors for him with D.C. Comics who later employed him to write not only The Shadow, but also his dream job of scripting Batman.
You’d think that this would be enough, but Uslan was nowhere near finished. Acquiring the film rights to Batman, he followed his dream of bringing the darker, grittier Batman to the screen with the relentless tenacity of a terminator chasing down Sarah Connor, thus restoring his hero’s dignity.
Uslan has executive produced ALL the Batman movies since Michael Keaton took the role in 1989, and there’s a great story telling his reaction at the casting of "a comedian" in the role as The Darknight Detective after his casting coup of Jack Nicholson as the Joker. In retrospect, Tim Burton’s counter arguments were insightful and completely logical. Curiously, though understandably, the Schumacher films are glossed over in a paragraph and never actually specifically named - but we know exactly what he’s talking about.
Throughout the 250 plus pages, Uslan comes across as a likeable "one of us" and I recommend his book not only as a memoir of a man who chased and attained his dream, but it’s also an insider’s look at how the comic book industry and the film industry work together - and how, sometimes they just don’t. The struggle to get Warner Communications to take comic book super heroes seriously when D.C.Comics was owned by them is a surprising eye opener.
The Boy Who Loved Batman is out now from Chronicle Books