Want to see some of DC’s most respected writers and artists turn into excited fanboys? Just get them talking about Batman.
That was the scene on Sunday at Dragon*Con’s Dark Knight panel, where a standing room-only crowd gathered to hear Neal Adams, Paul Dini, Tim Sale and Brian Stelfreeze discuss all things Bruce Wayne, including their individual contributions to the Bat-canon. The event also became an informal tribute to DC elder statesman Adams, whose seminal Batman work inspired his fellow panelists.
“I’m on a panel with my favorite Batman artists and my favorite Batman writers,” said Stelfreeze, who painted more than 50 consecutive Batman: Shadow of the Bat covers. “I’m ovulating right now! This is the coolest thing ever.”
Adams, whose connection to Batman spans more than four decades, remains as passionate as ever about the character he and writer Denny O’Neill shaped for a generation of comics fans — but he contends that Bob Kane and Bill Finger’s creation hasn’t deviated much from his roots over the years. He’s still the world’s greatest detective, a symbol of resistance and the DC Universe’s smartest naysayer.
“The important thing about Batman is he’s not a superhero. He’s a guy in a costume,” said Adams, who returned to the character this summer with the 12-issue Batman: Odyssey comic. “He’s us. Batman is a guy whose parents were killed in front of him, and he’s so pissed off, just like us, and he’s dedicated the rest of his life to getting those f***ers. He’s the greatest hero we have in comics. Superman is the greatest superhero we have in comics. They’re two ends of the spectrum.”
Adams shared plenty of rollicking stories about his early attempts to write Batman comics, several of which involved then-editor Julius Schwartz telling him to “get the hell out” of his office, and worse. But Adams’ persistence eventually led him to Batman via The Brave & the Bold, and his work resulted in a wave of fan letters — letters that he saw Schwartz burning in the DC offices one night.
“I’m getting letters from people saying the only Batman in DC Comics is in The Brave & the Bold,” Schwartz groused to Adams while torching the correspondence. “I guess you’re working for me now.”
Adams said all he did was tap into the essential truths about Batman that fans recognized and appreciated.
“All the (Brave & the Bold) scenes with Batman had him walking around in the daytime,” Adams remembered. “I said, ‘Could I have him walking at night and not walking through doors? Windows would be better.’ “
Dini said the high camp factor of the 1960s Batman TV show had cooled his interest in the character, but that all changed when he read “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge,” one of Adams and O’Neill’s best-known Batman stories. But when Dini began working in animation, Batman’s traditional persona had again taken a hit in shows like “Super Friends.”
“I said, ‘Don’t these guys read the comics?’ said Dini, who has since left his mark on the Dark Knight in comics, animation and videogames — and through the creation of popular supporting villain Harley Quinn. “I always think of Batman as kind of like a soldier. He’s a guy who has internalized whatever he went through as a kid. The moments when he strays from that is where he fails. When he’s tempted by ideas of a normal life, he’s not happy.”
Sale said he grew up reading only Marvel comics until he discovered Adams’ Batman illustrations. One of those comics, set in Rutland, Vt., during Halloween (“Night of the Reaper”), was a source of inspiration for Batman: The Long Halloween, Sale’s groundbreaking collaboration with writer Jeff Loeb. Sale noted that Loeb’s favorite movie is “The Godfather,” and they wanted to tell the story of Gotham changing from a city run by gangs to one run by freaks.
Like Adams, Stelfreeze encountered some obstacles on his journey to Batman. After doing an image of the character for a comics convention, the artist received a discouraging critique from the ultimate authority.
“DC Comics sent it back with a list of all the things I did wrong,” he said. “It was one of those heartbreaking things … ‘DC says I suck.’ ”
But the artist got a break when he was asked to do a Batman cover for a syndicated collection that didn’t require DC’s approval. Stelfreeze said he proceeded to draw “the most totally wrong Batman of all time. I just went nuts.” About a month after the book was published, he got a call from Denny O’Neill about doing some Batman covers.
“He said, ‘As far as DC is concerned, I’m the guy who approves all Batman stuff,’ ” Stelfreeze recalled.
As far as Batman today is concerned, Adams said he sees much that he approves of and flat-out admires from his younger colleagues.
“I’m walking on the shoulders of other giants who have showed up since I did,” Adams said. “Almost everyone lately is doing great Batman. It scares me a little. What I’m seeing in Batman comic books is exactly what I want to see in Batman comic books.”What's your all-time favorite Batman story by each of these creators? SIDEBAR
Batman has one of the best villain galleries in the DC Universe, but who is his ultimate enemy? The panelists sounded off of their choices:
Brian Stelfreeze: “I think it’s Catwoman. (Batman) can’t be emotionally involved with anyone. A guy like that doesn’t get laid often. She’s everybody’s worst ex-girlfriend, but Batman is vulnerable. He doesn’t have quite the defenses he needs against her.”
Paul Dini: “Catwoman. She represents everything he wants but can’t have. To embrace her is to destroy himself.”
Neal Adams: “Ra’s al Ghul. Catwoman is a friend who is sometimes an enemy. The Joker is a jerk. Ra’s al Ghul is dangerous on every level.”
Tim Sale: “Two-Face? I can’t choose.”