About two weeks ago the newest Batman video game, Arkham City, was released. There were about 25 people at our local GameStop for the midnight release, not a terrible showing for our small town. Its predecessor, Arkham Asylum, received perfect ratings and great reviews. Arkham City has ‘game of the year’ buzz surrounding it. In 2008 The Dark Knight broke box office records and has come to be regarded as not only one of the greatest comic book movies ever made but also as a powerful and intelligent film in general.
The point? Batman is big, popular, marketable. The character has transcended the campiness of the ’60s and has begun to overshadow his old competitor (in the comic book world), Superman. Michael Uslan is one of the many people responsible for bringing about this Batman renaissance. Every superhero has an origin story (and Hollywood’s been rife with them of late; some handled horribly, read Wolverine, and some handled with elan such as Batman Begins), and it would seem that Uslan wanted to tell his own origin story. Thus we have the book The Boy Who Loved Batman, Uslan’s memoir.
Essentially, he sets out to tell the tale of how he loved comic books as a child, Batman being among his favorites, and how he brought a serious Batman to the silver screen. He gives us the highlights of his life as he reveals the plot of his Batman quest. As a young boy he was able to meet some influential people in the comic industry — Otto Binder, C.C. Beck, Bob Kane, Carmine Infantino, Bill Finger. He recounts attending the first ComiCon. He talks about his friends and the comics he collected. He boasts about becoming the first professor of comic books at Indiana University.
Then we have the story of how Uslan became a lawyer for film companies and how this later assisted him as he produced his own features. Towards the latter part of the book we get to meet Tim Burton and understand his influence on the classic 1989 Batman. He briefly tells about the influence that Christopher Nolan had on Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. Smartly, he leaves out Batman Forever and Batman & Robin, although I believe he is also the producer of those two atrocities. It’s kind of hard to understand how he was able to reconcile himself to producing those movies after his proclaimed quest to bring a serious Batman to the world. It would have been interesting to read about that conflict.
The memoir, while not in comic book format — as in panels and pictures — feels like a comic book and is definitely influenced by Uslan’s love of comic book heroes. He tells a very general story — the dates aren’t solid, chronology seems to jump around. He describes his basic relationship with his brother, which has Wolverine/Sabretooth overtones to it, but it never felt like a complete analysis to me. He presents basic facts, names of progenitors, repeats the philosophies his mother, father, and father-in-law instilled in him (like Spiderman’s Uncle Ben) but there’s nothing in depth.
Really, it was like listening to John Madden analyze a football game. Every play and every player was always the best he’d ever seen, etc., etc. But on occasion there were some insightful comments made; the man did know the game. Uslan’s book feels the same way. The man loves comic books, not just Batman, comics in general. Batman is just the most well known aspect of his love. There are some insightful comments made and, every once in a while, some good literary metaphors thrown about, even if they seem a little too heavy for Batman and comic books (Michael and Superman as Moses, really?).
The Boy Who Loved Batman is more like conjoined blog postings than an actual scholarly work or useful biography. But I suppose it has its place. And, the current series of Batman movies are outstanding, so it seems that Uslan can have a few plaudits for that.