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Batman turns 75 and a star-studded panel celebrates at San Diego Comic-Con 2014

One of the most dynamic icons of America just turned 75 years old. Batman has become one of the most renowned characters in modern mythology that has spread outside of his original medium to all corners of media with television, movies, video games, and more. To celebrate the Caped Crusader’s birthday a host of talents whose work has been featured prominently with the character of the past 75 years assembled at SDCC 2014 to discuss Batman and the many eras of the character.

Batman's first appearance
Bob Kane
Can it really be 75 years? Batman the original caped crusader looks as if he has never aged.
DC Comics

A panel lead by DC Entertainment’s John Cunningham consisted of DC Comics’ Chief Creative Officer and writer of “Batman: Earth-One” Geoff Johns, Warner Bros. Director of animation Peter Girardi, “Batman 66 meets the Green Hornet” writer and super-Batman fan Ralph Garman, DC Comics’ Co-Publisher and artist of “Batman: Hush” Jim Lee, and from “Batman: The Animated Series” artist Bruce Timm, the voice of Batman Kevin Conroy and writer Paul Dini.

Cunningham showed some slides from Batman Day an event held Wednesday July 23 at comic book stores where Batman’s birthday was celebrated. He then went back to the beginnings of Batman who made his debut in the pages of “Detective Comics” #27 (May 1939). In a year the character had spun off into his own series with “Batman” #1 (Spring 1940). Batman was joined by his ally Robin and met the most amazing villains in comics, which led to the first question for the panel. Who is your favorite Bat-Villain and why?

Dini said the Joker because he is the perfect counterpart for Batman. Discipline versus crazy. He added the Joker lets you tap into all sorts of craziness as you think of things you can never do and then have the Joker do them.

Garman went with the Riddler because when he watched the old “Batman” TV show there was something very scary about the way Frank Gorman played the character.

Johns went with Killer Croc because he was the villain in the first Batman comic he purchased. Johns is also writing Killer Croc in his upcoming sequel to “Batman: Earth One.”

Lee said he likes Catwoman because the way he saw Julie Newmar in the Catwoman outfit made him question his stance on evil. He likes the chemistry between Batman and Catwoman and feels she is a sympathetic character.

Girardi likes the “Batman” television series with Egghead and King Tut. Two characters who he said frightened him as a kid watching the show.

Frank Gorshan’s Riddler also left a big impression on Timm as well as the Julie Newmar Catwoman for an entire set of different reasons. He said Batman’s villains are the best in all of comics.

Talking about the villains from the “Batman” television series, Lee was always startled by Caesar Romero’s portrayal of the Joker who kept his mustache under the white make up. It was a startling thing to see and all the panel members agreed.

Conroy said that due to Mark Hammil’s portrayal of the Joker, the villain became his favorite. His counterpart was so expressive it was a pleasure to work with him and they brought the best out in each other. He always felt that Mark’s Joker was the definitive take on the character until he saw Heath Ledger in “The Dark Knight” and was blown away. He said the different interpretations are from the richness of the character.

The next outrageous interpretation of Batman came in the live-action ABC television series “Batman.” It had a dramatic impact on the character good and bad. Where now people see it as campy at the time the series was thought of by the kids as real. The full series is finally collected and will be released in Blu-Ray this fall. There is a digital first comic series set in the style of the TV series that was recently collected and hit the top of the New York Times Bestseller list.

Garman who is writing the spin-off series featuring “Batman 66” in “Batman 66 meets the Green Hornet” says that working on the book is an amazing experience. When he watched the original meeting between the two heroes in the TV series his head nearly exploded. When DC Comics asked Kevin Smith to write the meet-up between the heroes, Smith suggested Garman because the TV series meant so much to him. He said this is his first work in comics and he has already reached the top with Alex Ross providing covers for the series and Ty Templeton drawing the insides of the book. It is only down from there. Garman says one thing he is doing differently than in the original series is he is giving more lines to Kato.

Following the television series the next big impact on the Caped Crusader came in the late 1980s with Frank Miller’s “The Dark Knight” and Tim Burton’s “Batman” movie. The movie had a seismic impact on Batman. Lee made reference to the fact that everywhere you went people were wearing Batman tee-shirts. It was a whole new Batman mania. The panel agreed that Batman is a character where every generation seems to get that Bat-mania going with some new iteration of the character.

Timm related that when he first heard about the movie he did not take it seriously. It was being made by Tim Burton with Michael “Mr. Mom” Keaton as Batman there was no way to take it seriously, and then he saw the full-page ad in the “Los Angeles Times” of Batman in the costume and he knew this was a movie taking the character seriously.

Johns likened the uproar against Keaton to the fans getting in an uproar about every cast announcement most notably Ben Affleck as the next Batman. The fans may find something in all the actors chosen to play the parts.

Following the movies came “Batman: the Animated Series” in 1992 and a whole new Batman phenomena. Timm relates that from the work on the series he is constantly meeting people who are thanking him for their childhoods. He pleads not to do this because it makes him feel old, getting much laughs. He adds that at the time they were working so hard to make sure it was going to be a good show, but that they did not know how good until the first episode came back from overseas and they were just blown away.

Conroy added saying that the actors had been working off the sketches of the designs of the characters and had no idea what the finished product was going to be. When they first saw the art they were overwhelmed because it was so beautiful. The writing was so exceptional that actors everywhere wanted to be on the show.

Dini attributes the quality of the series to the fact that all the writers and artists working on the series had a passion for the character and they brought a great attention to detail.

Conroy related a story about how they were called into to act during the LA Riots. He said it was so surreal driving through the smoke to get to the studio, could not believe they were going in. Dini furthered the story by recounting he was driving home with Arleen Sorkin, the voice of Harley Quinn, who had played a kazoo in the episode they had just recorded and she began playing taps on the kazoo as they drove home through the riot torn LA.

Girardi recounted how the show was great from the title sequence on, and to celebrate the 75th anniversary of Batman they wanted to do two new animated shorts to air on DC Nation to celebrate Batman and the animated series.

Timm said that when they made “Batman: TAS” he was striving to make it a real period piece set in 1939, but it had a lot of modern trappings as well. His big influence was the Max Fleisher “Superman” cartoon that he had original seen in black and white. When he got to do the animated short he wanted to do it in black and white to really get that period feel. He knew it would never work in a series but would for this animated short. They aired the “Batman: Strange Days” short on the convention room screens.

“Batman Beyond” followed the animated series but it was a strange route to get there. Timm recalled that they had a meeting with a WB Exec Jamie Kelmer who wanted to do something new a “teenage Batman.” Timm and Dini were shocked because those are not words to describe Batman. Timm believes this was due to the success of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” on television and that Execs wanted that teen feel. Their solution was to age Batman so he had to retire and bring in a replacement.

He said it took the time to bring the idea together in concept. They gave a description of the future Batman and to their surprise they got the green light on the series right away. They were making the show up on the fly. The next animated short they aired, “Batman Beyond” featured the future Batman and they went back to original show designer Darwyn Cooke to work on it.

Back to the comics that inspire the phenomena. They mentioned some seminal works including “The Killing Joke,” “Arkham Asylum,” which is receiving a new anniversary edition with new cover by Dave McKean, “Hush” the number one selling Batman collection, and next year’s “Absolute Batman and Robin” by Lee and Miller.

Lee said that the “Batman and Robin” series by he and Frank Miller was a dream and he was one of the writers that Lee had always wanted to work with. He had worked with Chris Claremont previously and Lee said working with Miller closed the loop on his working with his favorite writers. He said before he read “Dark Knight Returns” he was about to give up on comics completely. But then he read Miller’s Batman and it was sophisticated and it was political, something he had never seen before in comics. The work inspired him to become a creator.

With all the other takes on Batman in the comics having a dark flare to them, the panel turned to something else. “Mad Love” the original story by Dini and Timm that featured Harley Quinn who has been one the greatest lasting legacies of the animated series. She is now in a widely popular series, and she has inspired a whole range of fashion available at Hot Topic.

Timm is glad he did not say no to Dini’s crazy Harley Quinn idea which was a female henchman for the Joker who talks like Arleen Sorkin. The idea ran counter to the dark Joker they were portraying in the cartoon series. Harley came off so well that in Dini’s scripts the character kept coming back and she was only to be in one episode.

For his part Dini is happy to see the character endure beyond the original character he created. He is happy that everyone keeps making stories with Harley Quinn. All are great takes that keep her relevant.

There was a mention of the Christopher Nolan “Batman” movie trilogy. Timm said it was of course a huge success that spoke to the versatility of the character about how on one had you can have the camp of the Adam West Batman and then the Christian Bale dark Batman and it still is the same character. Not one aspect of the character should dominate and that each time he is reinvented it should be changed.

Johns relayed a story of a writer who kept asking to kill the Joker character because they felt nothing could ever be done with the character in a new way. Then Heath Ledger completely reinvented the character proving that good execution will always rise to the top.

Johns went on to talk about his “Batman: Earth One” story and that it follows the tale of a Batman who is not really good at being Batman and he has to learn the skills. He is a very rough version, whose gadgets do not always work. The second volume of the story will see Batman face Killer Croc who is not so much a villain but a tragic character who looks like a croc. The story will explore a relationship between the Wayne Family and the Arkham family. A contrast of sane vs. the insane, the Waynes are the financial founders of Gotham City while the Arkhams were the designers and builders. Bruce Wayne’s mother will be revealed to be an Arkham creating turmoil within Bruce if he is sane or crazy.

The Riddler will be the main villain in “Batman: Earth One” Volume 2 with Harvey Dent and his twin sister who will date Bruce in the story. With artwork by Gary Frank the comic looks outstanding.

The next interpretation of Batman is the New 52 series by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. Their story “Death of the Family” featuring the Joker is being collected and sold with a stretch mask reminiscent of the face of the Joker that was taken off the villain leading into the story.

The most successful video game featuring Batman shows in the Arkham Trilogy of games and in the fall there will be the third installment of Lego Batman this time featuring greater involvement from the Justice League.

A trailer for the “Gotham” series which debuts this fall was shown. Johns explained that the story really shows that the murder of Bruce Wayne’s parents was like a nuclear bomb that destroyed Gotham City with ramifications in every direction. There will be lots of origins for the familiar heroes and villains of Gotham and Johns points to Detective Harvey Bullock and the Penguin as being the breakout stars of the series.

The panel concludes with the revelation of the DC Comic Trinity of Superman, Wonder Woman, and Batman in a promotion piece for “Batman/Superman: Dawn of Justice” coming from Director Zack Snyder.

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