Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Man of Steel Follow-Up

I still have major concerns with the tone. And I don't like Pa Kent saying that "maybe" Clark should have let the kid die, and Pa Kent being the one saying Clark should hide himself. Pa Kent is supposed to be where Clark's morality comes from (not Jor-El), and frankly every version since (especially SMALLVILLE's) has come up really short next to Glenn Ford's brief perfect scene.

But! I must admit this trailer (like the Jor-El V/O teaser) stirred something in me.

I love the line where young Clark says "What was I supposed to do? Just let him die?" not in a "Am I doing the right thing?" way, but rather in the sense of a rhetorical question, as if saving the kid was something he didn't, and would never question, because it was the right thing to do.

That's the kind of ingrained morality and heroism Superman needs to have, and I hope has through the whole film.

If there needs to be the theme of "what is heroism?" etc. addressed, then the way I would hope it is approached is to have Superman be the sole voice for morality and heroism in a world that has lost faith in that kind of behaviour. To have everyone doubting Superman, rather than Superman doubting himself. Y'know, the Army being convinced he must be a scout for an Invasion (which, with Zod's arrival, would be a likely conclusion to jump to), and the reporters asking themselves "what's in it for him?" and everyone being stupified by the idea of someone doing the right thing because it's the right thing to do. But Superman himself should never waver in his goodness. He should be the lone voice in the woods, calling for people to take a stand. And thereby become an inspiration to others. I can see the potential for that, and I hope it's what we get. Whereas RETURNS tried hamfistedly to address similar issues but failed to make it's hero a paragon of virtue and failed to demonstrate that the world did, in fact, need him. Supes in that film actually causes more harm than good by returning.

Since it's all shot digitally, I kinda wanna see a version where the colour saturation has been bumped in the other direction, just to see if I like that better. I feel like the dour visual styling is half my problem at this point.

Monday, December 3, 2012

My Man of Steel

Here's a teaser poster for Zach Snyder's upcoming Superman reboot feature:

Now what's wrong with this picture? Well, for one -- why the hell is the U.S. army arresting Superman? And two -- why is everything so bleak? I mean the colour scheme. Look, fellas, I get that THE DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY was successful, but "grim n' gritty" is NOT Superman.

This is Superman, for me:

Superman is big. Superman is bright. He's primary colours, he's outrageous situations, he's heroism in the face of unyielding danger. He stands for hope and he stands for good, and his adventures are larger than life. And he can do all of these things and still be a badass. Because my Man of Steel is nothing if not a badass. If you want examples, you don't have to go any further than the original Siegel & Schuster Superman comics, where the Man of Tomorrow dispensed social justice with righteous fury:

Here's a quote from Snyder that I find telling:"We have great respect for the canon. I would say it is a clashing of stories and ideas. Superman is the king-daddy of all superheroes - to make him work is a big deal. The big challenge is if you can make people feel 'What would you do if you were Superman?' That's what we went out to do as far as we could. Superman's always been this kind of big blue boy-scout up on a throne that nobody can really touch, so we tried to make him relatable."

Superman CAN be relatable. But it's not in making him darker, or grittier, or angrier, or making him conflicted about who he is or why he does what he does. Clark knows that doing the right thing is the right thing to do. Simple as that. He knows that the best use for his powers is helping people. In the original comics from the 30s/40s, he knew that without even knowing he was from Krypton. He didn't discover his heritage until he'd been Superman for a while already.

Clark may be from Krypton, but he was raised on a farm in Kansas and that's how you make him relatable. He's a good person. Pure and simple. He's not a god, he's not a judge, he's an ideal. He leads by example. He's there to inspire us to believe that we can be better than we are. He's a champion of the oppressed, fighting a battle for truth, justice and the American Way and what's more American than the ideal of self-improvement? He fights that battle in and out of costume -- after all, freedom of the press is the 1st Amendment, and a reporter should stand for truth and justice.

Superman shouldn't be some all-powerful stone-faced god, but that doesn't mean you turn him into flawed, feeble, Peter Parker, either. All that navel gazing about "what makes a hero?" and "am I doing the right thing?" is for Marvel heroes. Superman knows what the right thing to do is. So does Batman -- even if his interpretation of "the right thing" is different from Clark's. That was one thing that bugged me about Nolan's Batman -- where was the grim determination? Where was the vow to war on crime? Nolan's Batman became a big sobby mess who wanted to give up once his childhood crush was killed.

I think the issue may be that the creative forces behind MAN OF STEEL have had their greatest success adapting the works of Alan Moore, Frank Miller, etc. Batman, Blade, Watchmen, 300, and so on. Those aren't exactly properties that speak to a great view of Superman. Granted, Bruce Timm was able to go from doing a great BATMAN to a great SUPERMAN, but generally speaking the techniques that work with one do not work with the other, unless that technique is "be true to who this character is".

And who is this character? From Superman #1, 1939:

He is the Champion of the Oppressed. He is a hero.

Granted, Bryan Singer claimed to be a huge Superman fan too, and also fucked up royally. But then, his Superman was just Donner's Superman with more CGI. 60% of the dialogue was just unironically cribbed from Mankiewicz. RETURNS was a nostalgia trip and what new elements it did bring to the table were questionable at best. But it sounds like Snyder & Co. are falling into the same trap: probably an hour and a half into the movie before we actually get some Superman I'm betting, with the first two acts just being Clark biding time having innner conflict while the audience grows restless, and then he'll fight a villain we've already seen before because heaven forbid a Superman movie use a villain from his comics rogues gallery that wasn't in one of the two Donner movies.

There is an animated Superman feature called SUPERMAN VS. THE ELITE, which is I think a great response to the whole foolhardy notion that Superman needs to be darker and more extreme to fit in with the 21st century. Here's a page from the original comic the feature was based on:

Snyder and co could do better than looking to Mark Waid's SUPERMAN: BIRTHRIGHT for inspiration. That flawed origin/reboot doesn't hold a candle to what is the undisputed masterpiece of Superman comics. To me, someone looking for who Superman is should look no further than ALL-STAR SUPERMAN by Morrison and Quitely.

This is Superman, for me:

He's a hero.

And he's hope.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Annotated Cinematic Batman: BATMAN & ROBIN (1997, Joel Schumacher)

Writer: Akiva Goldsman
Producer: Peter MacGregor-Scott
Director: Joel Schumacher
Batman: George Clooney

Time indexes refer to the 2005 Special Edition NTSC Region 1 DVD of the film.

00:00:13 -- Once again, the WB logo morphs into the Bat-symbol, only this time frozen inside it's oval. On the one hand, this tells us of Mr. Freeze's involvement in the plot, on the other hand, it looks an awful lot like the teaser poster for BATMAN RETURNS.

00:01:02 -- Once again, we get CGI credits that end in the Bat-logo, accompanied by almost the same music. BATMAN & ROBIN had twenty-four months from conception to release, and so there was a lot of corner cutting and most of that means that the movie repeats a lot of the exact same beats as BATMAN FOREVER, and features a score that is almost note-for-note that of the previous movie. The Bat-logo here is joined by the "Robin symbol" created for the film. Loosely based on the costume/symbol of the comic book hero Nightwing, this symbol was designed to create a visual identity for Robin more closely linked to Batman for... reasons? The double logo was on a hell of a lot of marketing, I'll tell you that. I mean, it looks stupid, but so did a lot of things in 1997.

00:01:14 -- Once again, we start with a close-up montage of the heroes suiting up, introducing us to the new costumes. The new Batman costume is much like Val Kilmer's but with one crucial difference: It's all dark blue, top to bottom. Now, in the comics, Batman's cape and cowl (and boots and gloves and trunks) are dark blue, but in the movies it's been all black since 1989 thanks to Burton. This film restores the blue, but uses it all over, including the Bat-logo on the chestpiece. It's still the version with the oval, but all of it is blue. On the one hand, it suggest the lighter, campier tone of this movie, on the other hand it looks really weird. Also, still got dem nipples.

00:01:15 -- Robin's new costume, as noted above, is sort've patterned after Nightwing's. Nightwing is the hero identity Dick Grayson adopted after he felt he had grown out of the role of Robin and wanted to become his own man (Tales of the Teen Titans #44, July 1984). Nightwing's costume as of 1997 was an all black bodysuit with a stylized blue bird on the chest, along with the old domino mask. This movie Robin costume uses a red bird (cuz he's still Robin, duh) and keeps the cape. This look was choosen to symbolize Robin's attitude in the story wherein he increasingly wants to step out of Batman's shadow (despite having only been in it for the last twenty minutes of the previous movie), and apparently was intended to set up a transition to the Nightwing character in a fifth movie. Also, dem nipples.

00:01:16 -- In case anyone's wondering why George Clooney is now Batman, Schumacher gives a close-up of rubber Bat-ass.

00:01:19 -- Rubber Robin ass too, because this film might as well be the feature film adaptation of the Ambigiously Gay Duo. I feel slightly dirty in noting that these rubber asses lack the zipper up the crack of Kilmer's rubber Bat-Ass, so access from behind is presumably more difficult.

00:01:34 -- The Batcave is lit like it's by water because it's been rebuilt in the sub-Batcave that was shown at the end of BATMAN FOREVER, which was by an underground lake, because the Batcave was blown up by the Riddler in the last movie. Which is actually impressive inter-movie continuity for this series.

00:01:44 -- The new Batmobile (cuz, again, the last one exploded) is sort've like Schumacher's take on the design from the Burton movies -- two fins at the back, big phallic front, but now it's covered in bright blue and red neon lights!

00:01:50 -- And Batman is now played by George Clooney. BATMAN & ROBIN was only Clooney's fourth major feature film performance, but he was already a huge star as the lead of the hit television medical drama ER. Clooney was cast after Val Kilmer dropped out of the role. Kilmer had committed to a big screen adaptation of THE SAINT, and BATMAN & ROBIN's insanely fast production schedule didn't allow him to do both roles. Kilmer had disliked working with Schumacher on FOREVER, and as the feeling was mutual, neither one made much effort to avoid recasting. As I noted in my FOREVER annotations, Schumacher believes in casting good-looking actors in all roles whenever possible. Hence, Clooney. In interviews, Clooney jokingly said he played Batman as homosexual because he saw no other way of playing him.

00:02:22 -- Joking reference to Superman implies an onscreen DC Universe. Around the same time that BATMAN & ROBIN was being developed, Kevin Smith was writing the script for SUPERMAN LIVES for director Tim Burton, a big budget Man of Steel vehicle that was to star Nicholas Cage and loosely adapt the popular DEATH OF SUPERMAN storyline. Smith had written an appearance for Batman at Superman's funeral, but both Burton and Smith intended for Michael Keaton to reprise the role, being the preferred Batman of both. The film was scheduled for a Christmas 1998 release, but never happened for many reasons.

00:02:34 -- Michael Gough is still Alfred, engaged in a kind've last man standing casting battle with Pat Hingle at this point.

00:02:38 -- The Batmobile doesn't need a windshield despite traveling at speeds of 350mph, because FUCK ANYTHING MAKING SENSE EVER.

00:03:00 -- Continuing Dick's motorcycle infatuation from the last movie, we have the "Redbird", his custom bike. As previously noted, the idea of Dick preferring motorcycles comes from the 1992 animated BATMAN series and its spin-offs, and was adopted into both the movies and the comics afterward. One thing that might be good to note here is that following FOREVER's big box office and subsequent merchandising success, the one marching order Schumacher and his team got from Warners was to make BATMAN & ROBIN more "toyetic", meaning to intentionally include elements that would be easily translated into toys and other merchandise. This led to a noticeable change even to the on-set atmosphere. Chris O'Donnell was on record as noting that shooting FOREVER felt like making a movie, shooting B&R felt like making a toy commercial. The new Batmobile and the Redbird are, of course, very toyetic.

00:03:17 -- And here's our first hint at the "Alfred is dying" subplot, a well written and well acted element that many cite is the saving grace of this movie. In many ways it is like the "Red Book" subplot of the last film, except they didn't cut it out this time.

00:03:34 -- And now Commissioner Gordon just shows up on a TV-Batphone saying things like "there's a new villain", because BATMAN & ROBIN is very much intentionally a big screen modernized version of the 1966 BATMAN tv show on basically all levels. The irony is that the BATMAN movie series had originated in an attempt to move public perception of the character away from the popular, but campy, series, and here it is, homaging the series wholeheartedly.

00:03:37 -- Mr. Freeze first appeared in Batman #121 (February, 1959) created by Dave Wood and Sheldon Moldoff and was originally called Mr. Zero. He made no further appearances until he was adapted to the live-action television series, where his freeze gun, ice gimmicks, and cold puns fit perfectly. The TV show renamed him Mr. Freeze, and he was popular enough to reappear in the comics under that name in Detective Comics #373 (March, 1968). The name change was even remarked on within the comic by Robin as "like something you'd find in a campy television show!" Since then Mr. Freeze has been a staple member of Batman's Rogues Gallery, and it is worth noting he is essentially the only character who debuted in Batman's reviled "Sci-Fi Era" (roughly 1958-1963) to survive to the present day relatively intact. He was chosen as a villain for BATMAN & ROBIN partly for his popularity from the television series and partly due to an upswing in popularity that the character had received from the animated series, which I'll address in due time.

00:04:01 -- Why is there a statue of a dinosaur in the Museum of Art?

00:04:07 -- The design of Mr. Freeze's costume in the comics really had no consistency until the mid-1990s, but even so this movie costume doesn't resemble any of them. The one consistent element to all of Freeze's costume is that he is sealed inside, with his head inside a transparent helmet -- and that's not here at all. The first choice to play Mr. Freeze was Patrick Stewart, because the mad scientist's other consistent visual attribute is his lack of hair, but Captain Picard turned the role down after reading the script. Schumacher cast Arnold Schwarzenegger because he felt Mr. Freeze should be "big and strong like he was chiseled out of a glacier" and also because of Schwarzenegger's Olympian body which he felt perfectly suited a comic book character. Schwarzenegger is the second Batman villain to get top billing over the title character, after Jack Nicholson in the first movie.

00:04:43 --  Why are there diamonds in a Museum of Art??

00:05:32 -- When the Redbird crashes through the wall, it makes a perfect Robin symbol shaped hole. Which makes no sense, but did I mention this movie was a toy commercial?

00:06:57 -- I would mock Batman & Robin fighting a bunch of hockey goons on the frozen floor of the Art Museum with actual built-in (physically impossible) ice skates in their Bat-boots, but I won't because a) victory is in the preparation and b) this shit happened in Silver Age comics all the goddamn time. If you're going to praise a movie for being "true to the souce material" it can't just be in the cases where you like the source material.

00:07:59 -- "*snort* Well, ACTUALLY, most scientists believe the dinosaurs were killed by the fall-out from a large meteor collision in... oh, oh, you were making a bad joke. I see."

00:08:34 -- Freeze standing up in his Freezemobile? Not worth Ah-nuld's time. Get the stunt man to do it. Also, why does Mr. Freeze have a Freezemobile? "More toyetic." Certainly never had anything like it in any other media.

00:09:35 -- And then Freeze turns his Freezemobile (already a vehicle) into a rocketship to get away, because... ? Like, where is Freeze going that he needs a rocketship?

00:09:55 -- I love that the Freeze-rocketship looks exactly like some crappy 1950s sci-fi rocket-ship, complete with oddly phallic appearance and the exhaust trail that's just a harmless shower of sparks. It makes no sense at all, but it is very much in keeping with this movie's "influences".

00:10:40 -- That's right, Mr. Freeze had a working space rocket-ship built into his already existing tank in a physically impossible manner, just to place Batman in an elaborate deathtrap in case he showed up. It's stupid, it makes no sense, but it's classic, classic Silver Age comics. I mean, this would be kinda awesome if it wasn't so retarded.

00:10:51 -- Here Freeze wears goggles that resemble his animated series appearance. He only wears them in this one scene for some reason, but all the Mr. Freeze action figures were made to look like this, so it must've been what the costume looked like in the concept art.

00:11:08 -- And then, just in case he needed to quickly escape from his space rocket-ship deathtrap, Freeze has impractical, physically impossible, metal wings built into his suit that would in no way help him fly or glide and just make him heavier but somehow totally do. Again, stupid as hell, but spot on Silver Age style. Those comics just cold did not make sense if they could be cool instead. (Two "cold" puns in one sentence! This movie is rubbing off on me!)

00:11:52 -- Okay, now what Batman's doing here makes no sense at all. He told Freeze that if the capsule exploded it would slaugther thousands. His plan to prevent this? Blowing up the capsule. That's not Silver Age logic, that's dumb 90s Action Movie logic.

00:12:06 -- So, to recap, the first twelve minutes of this movie include Batman surfing down a dinosaur, Mr. Freeze's tank turning into a rocketship, and Batman and Robin airsurfing away from the explosion of said rocketship. Did Akiva Goldsman write this movie, or did Akiva Goldsman's eight-year-old nephew write this movie?

00:13:59 -- How the hell did Freeze's goons (presumably who is driving the tank) know where to pick him up? And how did they get there so fast?

00:14:14 -- Eleven minutes to thaw Robin? Batman can't defeat and capture Freeze within eleven minutes? Because you know he hasn't even tried hitting him yet.

00:14:22 -- Like seriously, in all the time Freeze is talking, or slowly blocking his escape with ice, you don't think to throw a Batarang at him or something? A grappling line? You just stand there and gawk like an idiot? What kind of Batman are you?

00:15:00 -- Look at that. It took you 13 seconds to thaw out Robin. You could've easily captured Freeze and then gone back and done that. Or better, yet, now that both of you are up and running again, why not go AFTER FREEZE WHILE THE TRAIL IS STILL HOT?

00:15:28 -- And here's Dr. Pamela Isley, played by Uma Thurman. Isley is the civillian identity of Poison Ivy, whom I'll talk more about when we get there. Thurman took the role because she wanted to play a classic femme fatale, which is indeed Ivy's typical role in the comics and her role in the movie as well. Ivy's origins and motivations have changed and evolved considerably since her first appearance in Batman #181 (June, 1966) and this movie mixes and matches from many sources, as well as connecting her to the villain Bane through the character of Dr. Jason Woodrue, also know as the Floronic Man. (I'll try to sort through this quagmire as we go). Ivy was chosen as a villain for the movie because Schumacher wanted a sexy femme fatale, and the first three movies had already used up all the classic Golden Age Batman villains, leading to Schumacher seeking inspiration in the Silver Age stories that inspired the campy television show.

00:16:06 -- Project Gilgamesh, after the demigod of myth, is the name given in this movie to the project to create Bane (again, more on this later). The comics never named the quasi-military experiments that created Bane, and the term "Project Gilgamesh" in fact comes from the animated series "Bane" episode. This is one of many examples in both this film and FOREVER of the filmmakers sourcing the animated series rather than the comics.

00:16:31 -- John Glover plays Dr. Jason Woodrue. Woodrue first appeared in The Atom #1 (June 1962)  by Gardner Fox and Gil Kane and is the civillian identity of the Floronic Man, a mad scientist obsessed with plantlife who transforms himself into a man/plant hybrid. The movie version here emphasizes the mad scientist aspect in order to make him responsible for the origin of Bane and Poison Ivy at the same time, while the comic book version is only involved with Poison Ivy. Glover was the voice of The Riddler on the Batman animated series, and would go on to play Lex Luthor's father on the SMALLVILLE television series. Glover was critical of Schumacher's direction style, reporting that he would shout "Remember everybody! This is a cartoon!" before every take, which perhaps explains Glover's way, way over-the-top performance.

00:16:41 -- In this movie, Bane's original identity is "Antonio Diego, serial murderer serving life in prison". While that means they got the Latin American and the prison aspect of the character right, everything else about that statement is made up for this movie, and the name invented here has never been repeated in the comics, where Bane is known only as Bane.

00:17:07 -- Why does his mask look like a luchador's? It makes sense in the comic, here it does not.

00:17:12 -- Super Soldier Serum? I think Marvel has a trademark on that. You should try a different name.

00:17:15 -- Venom, yeah, because that'll sell well. The supersoldier drug Venom first appeared in Legends of the Dark Knight #16 (March, 1991), created by writer Dennis O'Neil as an addictive chemical that enhances the user's strength and stamina to superhuman levels but also erodes the rational mind and increases aggressive emotions. Batman became addicted to using it after falling into a depression when he wasn't strong enough to save a drowning girl, but overcame the addiction. Venom became the drug powering the villain Bane when he was created for the KNIGHTFALL event storyline in 1993. I still have never understood why it's called Venom.

00:17:21 -- Why, if you're making a supersolider, would you add toxins to the supersoldier serum/steroids mix? And why would you announce that you added toxins to your bidders?

00:18:09 -- Okay, so Bane. Bane first appeared in Vengeance of Bane #1 (January 1993) and was created by Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan. Bane was the orphaned child of a political criminal in the Latin American drug state of Santa Prisca. In that wartorn nation, if a man does not live to finish his prison sentence it must be finished by his eldest child, and so Bane was born and raised in the hellish Pena Dura prison. He trained himself in body and mind to the ideal of human perfection in order that he might rule the prison and beyond. He volunteered for the military experiments using the venom drug in order to make himself even more powerful, despite the addiction he developed. After escaping Santa Prisca, he set his sights on Gotham, the greatest city in the world, and decided that to rule it he must break the Batman. He did so, in the classic KNIGHTFALL storyline, through a combination of brute force, but also an exceptionally cunning plan. In many ways, Bane was designed as dark mirror to Batman, and specifically created to be a villain capable of defeating him. He became immensely popular, and his character and the KNIGHTFALL storyline featuring him were highly promoted by DC Comics. Bruce Timm and his team at the animated series were reluctant to use him because he was considered a "gimmick character" but adapted his story into the "Bane" episode. Schumacher added him at the last minute to the movie due to pressure from DC to promote the new, cool, character, and knew nothing about him other than the bare bones basics, which explains why his depiction in this movie is so far off. Bane is played by wrestler Jeep Swenson, in what is essentially a nonverbal, grunting role. Unfortunately his extremely poor portrayal here, an idiotic muscular brute who grunts and is essentially nothing without his Venom, leaked back to the comics and also informed popular conception of the character for some time, before Christopher Nolan and Tom Hardy would restore the original mastermind personality in 2012's THE DARK KNIGHT RISES.

00:18:25 -- And for some reason he has a "Turbo" mode activated by a big skull button because, well, it's "toyetic".

00:21:08 -- Two-time Olympic decathelete and Nobel Prize Winner for Molecular Biology, Dr. Victor Fries. Because they felt they needed to awkwardly justify casting Ah-nuld as a brilliant scientist by suggesting the most unbelievable resume ever. Also, there is no Nobel Prize for Molecular Biology, and that's not even what Victor Fries is supposed to be a scientist of.

00:21:16 -- MacGregor's Syndrome may as well be called MacGuffin Syndrome, but is in fact named for producer Peter MacGregor-Scott. What is the writer saying when he names an incurable disease after the producer? In the comics, Nora Fries suffered from cancer, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

00:21:23 -- For some reason Clooney says "here's where everything goes north," instead of "goes south", which at first seems like he's altering the common phrase to make a cold joke, but y'know, it's cold down south too.

00:21:52 -- Okay, so let's talk Mr. Freeze's origin. Back in Batman #121 (February, 1959) when he was Mr. Zero, he was a mad scientist developing a freeze-ray gun whose experiment backfired on him. The explosion altered his body chemistry and he must stay in sub-zero temperatures to survive (presumably on the Fahrenheit scale, so that's like -18 to the rest of the world). Outside of temperature regulated environments he wears the suit. The 1966 TV series added the element that Batman's interference caused the explosion, leading Freeze to hate and desire revenge on the caped crusader. The tv show gave him the real name "Dr. Schivell", which never carried over to the comics. Freeze had become a joke of a villain by the modern age of comics, remembered and mocked for his gimmicks and bad puns. But all that changed in 1992 with the airing of "Heart of Ice", an episode of the Batman animated series written by Paul Dini that won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Writing in an Animated Program and catapulted the series to critical success. In this version, Victor Fries was a scientist in the field of cryonics. After his beautiful wife Nora is stricken with a terminal illness, he attempts to cryogenically freeze her using equipment from his research. However his employers didn't take too kindly to Fries appropriating their equipment and interrupted the experiment, killing Nora and causing the explosion that transformed Fries into Freeze. Mr. Freeze was now an emotionally complex villain fueled by revenge against those who tormented him. This winning reinterpretation of an old villain was applied almost formulaically to other Batman villains on the show, such as The Riddler and The Mad Hatter. DC Comics knew a good story when they saw one, and imported this origin and its version of Freeze into the mainstream comics series in an issue written by Paul Dini. So it is mainly the animated series' origin being used in the movie, although here the explosion is random and thus removes Mr. Freeze's revenge motive. So why is he a criminal? Well because his suit is suddenly powered by diamonds (primarily for the "ice" pun) so he needs to steal them! Why diamonds? Because he's kept cold by super lasers! Which... makes... no... sense at all...

00:24:03 -- When I was a little kid it always bugged the hell out of me that we never found out who the mysterious bidder who won the auction for Bane was. Lex Luthor?

00:26:30 -- Okay, let's talk Poison Ivy. Created by Robert Kanigher and Sheldon Moldoff in Batman #181 (June, 1966), Ivy was originally just another femme fatale criminal, a Catwoman rip-off with a plant motif whose appearance was a redhead Bettie Page in a leafy outfit. She had no special powers or agenda, she merely committed crimes with a plant theme. Her lipstick, however, was often drugged to various effects including poison, mind control, and pheromones to make men fall in love with her. She found Batman to be a perfect male specimen and her plans often involved trying to make him fall for her and become her partner in crime. Unlike his interactions with Catwoman, Batman's attractions to Poison Ivy were always written as purely physical and blamed on her pheromone drugs and mind control. She didn't have an origin until the 1988 Black Orchid mini-series by Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean, which linked together many of DC's plant based characters. In this version, Pamela Isley studied botany in Seattle under Professor Jason Woodrue (along with several other characters) and fell in love her with professor, who seduced her and used her for his human/plant hybrid experiments. The result was her biology was merged with a plant's, giving her chlorophyll blood, poison lips, an immunity to toxins, and a natural control of her pheromones. In essence, her previously technological powers became biological after this revision. She grew hateful of men and became the villain Poison Ivy in order to steal enough money to get away and be alone with her plants, away from humanity. The 1992 animated series introduced her in the episode "Pretty Poison" by Paul Dini and Michael Reeves, at first using the non-powered version but later switching to the plant-hybrid version without comment. The major addition made there was Ivy's motivation as an eco-terrorist, a fanatical environmentalist seeking to strike back at the world of men for its destruction of Mother Nature. All of these various revisions have become integrated in the current comics version, and all are present in the movie version to some degree or another, although it takes a good writer to reconcile Ivy the Man-Hater, Ivy the Eco-Terrorist and Ivy the Femme Fatale to any degree that makes sense. The movie version also adopts an on/off Mae West accent when in costume because... ? She also sports the same "obviously fake" shade of red hair that Riddler did in the last movie. Does Joel Schumacher just not know what real red hair looks like?

00:26:37 -- This is the Snow Miser's Song from "The Year Without A Santa Claus", a Rankin-Bass stop motion holiday special from 1974.

00:26:50 -- Akiva Goldsman may have taken Freeze's origin from the tragic, emotionally cold, vengeful animated version, but Schumacher and Swarzenegger are clearly giving us ridiculous campy pun Freeze.

00:27:27 -- If your "passion thaws" for your "bride alone", why the hell do you even have a sexy gun moll played by the future Copperhead from KILL BILL?

00:27:45 -- And now, according to this, the diamonds aren't just focusing the "cold" lasers, but actually POWERING them! Holy shit, we can get energy from diamonds? Tear down the nearest DeBeers store, our fossil fuel problem is solved!

00:27:52 -- For the sake of demonstration to the audience, Freeze puts some diamonds to turn on and power his suit, even though he isn't using it. Also, it's implied that somehow the energy from the diamonds gets "drained", which is why he needs to keep stealing to replenish them. Which, again, what? What power are you getting from diamonds that can be drained? And if it drains so easily, why are your leaving the suit running while you're not in it? When did diamonds become batteries?

00:28:10 -- Freeze's plan is to freeze the City, THEN hold it ransom. Hey, I'm sorry to question a two-time Olympian and Nobel Prize winner, but I'm pretty sure that are a little mixed up on how ransoming works.

00:28:31 -- Freeze needs billions to fund his research to cure his wife, and that's why he's holding the city ransom. So, who or what was funding his research before? Y'know, before the accident? And why can't they still fund it? I mean, Nora's not the only one suffering from MacGuffin Syndrome (as we'll see), so why did the funding stop? Can't Freeze just hold a bunch of sappy fundraisers? Run for a Cure? I mean, c'mon, his wife is a dying Swedish supermodel! Who wouldn't wanna save that? Keeping his wife alive and removing the revenge angle means that Freeze's motivations as a villain sorta break down under close examination.

00:28:39 -- Oh yeah, spoilers, his wife's still alive! Nora was revealed to be alive in the animated episode "Deep Freeze" by Paul Dini from 1994, which established the classic image of Nora floating suspended in a cryogenic freezing tube, exactly like she is here in the movie. This was done in order to give Freeze a continuing motivation and sympathy beyond his initial revenge story, as he now must work to cure his wife, but cannot go through proper channels as a notorious murdering psycho and so on. While the animated series and this movie made the image of sleeping Nora classic, the comics chose to kill Nora off in an accident caused by Batman, which solved the problem of how to keep Freeze a recurring villain who hates Batman given his new backstory and motivations.

00:29:08 -- For the first tme in this series, Wayne Manor is plated by the same building twice: the Webb Institute in Glen Cove, New York.

00:29:56 -- Okay, so I suppose now's as good a time as any to address Batgirl. The original Bat-Girl was Betty Kane, created by Bill Finger and Sheldon Moldoff for Batman #139 (April. 1961). Betty Kane was the niece of Kathy Kane, better known as the Batwoman. Both characters were created as female versions of Batman and Robin and were introduced into the comics under the aegis of editor Jack Schiff, as a direct response to the 1954 accusations of Dr. Frederick Wertham that Batman and Robin were homosexual characters and promoted homosexuality in children. Both Batwoman and Bat-Girl were designed to be romantic interests, and were very stereotypical female characters who were more concerned with getting the Dynamic Duo to fall in love with them than fighting crime. Both characters were eliminated from the comics in 1964 when Schiff was replaced as editor with Julius Schwartz, who began a new era in quality for Batman comics that directly inspired the 1966 television series. After two seasons of dominance on the air, the Batman TV series was slipping in the ratings. Producer William Dozier believed that introducing some sex appeal in the form of a strong, independant female hero would help, and asked DC to create a new Batgirl character who could appear in the comics first and then be introduced for the third season of the show. Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino created the new character in Detective Comics #359 (January, 1967). The new Batgirl was Barbara Gordon, librarian redhead daughter of Commissioner Gordon, and unlike Batman and Robin she was not motivated by tragic backstory but simply by her intelligence and need to do the right thing, and became a costumed hero because she could not join the GCPD. The character was an immediate hit, both in the comics and on TV as played by Yvonne Craig. Her introduction was not enough to save the show, but she was memorable and well liked and completely overshadowed the first Bat-Girl, becoming the definitive version of the character. She was old enough to have some romantic tension with Batman and young enough to have sparks fly between her and Robin, but Batgirl was in many ways her own character, just as smart and resourceful as the other two heroes. In 1988, DC made the controversial decision to retire Barbara from crimefighting in Batgirl Special by Barbara Randall and Barry Kitson, and then Alan Moore had the Joker shoot her in the spine and paralyse her in THE KILLING JOKE later that year. Fans of the character were outraged, but Barbara eventually emerged as Oracle in Suicide Squad #23 (January 1989 by John Ostrander and Luke McDonnell), and became a rare positive portrayal of the handicapped in comics, commanding the all-female Birds of Prey team from her wheelchair and laptop and becoming a powerful information broker. The inclusion of the character in this movie follows the general pattern of focusing on popular Silver Age Batman characters, but as we will see the version used here is very much altered from her comic book character. The character is played by Alicia Silverstone, who was redhot in 1997 after a string of high profile successes starting with 1995's CLUELESS. However, the poor critical response to this film and her performance in it essentially led to the end of her A-List career.

00:30:10 -- First major change, Barbara Gordon is now Barbara Wilson, and is the niece of Alfred Pennyworth. (Also she's blonde instead of a redhead). This changed really confused the hell out of me when I was a kid, since I thought it meant Alfred and Gordon were brothers, but no this movie Barbara has no relation to Gordon (while comics Barbara has no relation to Alfred). This change was primarily made to bring Batgirl closer into the fold of the main characters and their story in a quick and expedient manner, as Commissioner Gordon has been shortchanged into "minor supporting character" as this series has continued.

00:30:30 -- This Barbara's parents were killed in a car accident, thus placing her in the "angsty orphan" category along with Bruce and Dick, unlike her comic book counterpart who was free of such baggage.

00:30:43 -- So Barbara is the niece of oh-so-British Alfred, and is on break from "Oxbridge Academy" (are the royalties to either Cambridge or Oxford expensive?) and yet talks like the California girl that Alicia Silverstone is.

00:31:18 --  Batgirl's preference for motorcycles predates Robin's, as she drove a motorcycle on the 1966 TV series.

00:32:02 -- Now, while Alfred's sister Margaret and her husband (Barbara's parents), are plucked out of thin air for this movie, Alfred's brother Wilfred is indeed a comics character. Here he is portrayed as another butler, but in the comics he was the owner of a company of Shakespearean actors, whose star performer was his daugther (and comic Alfred's only niece) Daphne Pennyworth, who both first appeared in Batman #216 (November, 1969).

00:34:28 -- I'd comment on the ridiculousness of Bane's "fedora and trenchcoat over luchador mask" outfit, but it's totally a gag the animated series pulled and that's probably where they got it from.

00:35:01 -- Gossip Gertie returns, again played by Elizabeth "Betty" Kane. Bob Kane was too ill to participate in the making of this Batman film as he had the previous three, and died soon after its release.

00:35:26 -- Although she hasn't spoken yet, here we see Elle MacPherson, famous supermodel, portraying Bruce's girlfriend Julie Madison. Julie was Bruce's fianceé and first major love interest in the original comics, debuting in Detective Comics #31 (September, 1939) by Gardner Fox and Bob Kane. However, Julie broke off their engagement after her acting career took off, changing her name to Portia Storme and moving to LA in Detective Comics #49 (March, 1941) by Bill Finger. Here she mostly just fills in the requisite role of "love interest", but in a movie this packed with characters she doesn't have much to do and most of her scenes were cut before shooting began.

00:36:40 -- I like the detail that Isley's proposal is printed on paper with "RECYCLED" stamped across it.

00:38:35 -- This is actually a pretty good sequence in that it establishes that Isley's environmentalism is fanatical to the point of considering the deaths of millions of people to be acceptable, then establishes a reason for her to conisder Batman & Robin foes, then brings back the "selling some Wayne diamonds as a trap for Freeze" plan from a few scenes ago, thus giving all four heroes and villains a reason to show up in the same scene and meet each other. It's competent plotting, and it's a little sad that it's taken four movies for that to be a feature in a Batman script.

00:40:34 -- The whole idea of Batman and Robin, illegal crime fighting vigilantes, showing up to promote a charity auction would be unthinkable in a Batman comic published in 1997, but is pretty par for the course when it comes to the 1960s Silver Age comics that inspired this movie and the 1966 TV show.

00:43:16 -- Time for another edition of confusing editing. Poison Ivy falls backwards off the platform, back towards the stage. When she lands, it is in the arms of a bunch of oiled up dudes and she appears to have landed facing towards the stage, which in fact should be behind her. She stands up, with the oily dudes behind her and then turns, and now is facing towards the stage with the oily dudes forming a platform for her to walk on as she walks towards the stage. It kinda makes sense when you break it down to think about it, but it violates axis of action so many times as to just be confusing.

00:45:21 -- And then the illegal Dracula cosplaying vigilante with no legal name pulls out his special, personalized credit card that has been issued to his alias and is good through "Forever" (I see what u did thur), to the sound effect of an old fashioned cash register, because this movie is a cartoon. (And GothCard is clearly the least responsible credit card company ever). This whole sequence of the rich men vying for Poison Ivy's attention, up to and including Batman, is closely related to Ivy's first appearance in Batman #181, where she crashed a pop art gallery and essentially the same thing happened. That issue's main plot involved Batman fighting his attraction to Ivy and a conflict within the Dynamic Duo as Robin tried to save Batman from her influence. Oddly, Robin himself was not affected by Ivy, despite being a high school student.

00:48:27 -- Whereas Ivy's first comic book appearance had her becoming attracted to Batman as a "perfect specimen of manhood", instigating years of deadly seductions and so on, here she becomes attracted to Mr. Freeze for similar reasons. You can really feel the screenplay straining to find a reason for a plant-based villain and an ice-based villain to team up, given their completely incompatible objectives. About the only thing they have in common is a science based doctorate and being co-created by Sheldon Moldoff.

00:45:26 -- For some reason there is a tacky Gotham snowglobe sitting around on the stage of the Gotham Botanical Gardens.

00:48:53 -- Even Freeze's minions get little flanking vehicles to Freeze's big tank, because "toyetic"!

00:49:05 -- Everyone in Gotham drives old-timey cars in Schumacher's movies, because that's how the animated series looks!

00:50:06 -- The characterization of Batman and Robin here is NOT very Silver Age at all, however. This Dynamic Duo isn't the trusting, buddy buddy team of those days. The Batman here, who controls every aspect of his sidekicks in order to protect them because he doesn't trust them to be as good as him, is much more in line with the modern Batman comics of the late 90s and early 00s, while Robin's character here as angry and jealous feels more like the second Robin, Jason Todd. This conflict was going to lead to the Duo splitting up in the fifth movie and Robin becoming Nightwing. I do, however, question Batman's logic that the lighter and more streamlined Redbird would not be able to make the jump that the massive and bulky Batmobile is able to do.

00:50:45 -- And boom! Defeating Freeze is just that easy. On the one hand, I like that we have no idea what Batman even did to Freeze, just bam! and he's incapacitated. It reminds me of the classic opening sequence to the animated series. On the other hand, it totally puts to lie the earlier sequence that suggested Batman didn't think he could defeat Freeze on his own within 11 minutes. And finally, holy crap does this shot feel like the end of a toy commercial. I can almost hear the announcer saying "vehicles and playsets sold seperately".

00:51:13 -- In the original comics, as noted earlier, Robin was not taken in by Ivy's charms and fought to keep Batman from falling into her clutches. That was largely because Ivy wasn't targeting the Teen Wonder. It actually plays more believably here to have the (twenty-seven year old) Junior Partner be the one taken in by his hormones and the more experienced Main Hero to be the clear headed one.

00:54:21 -- After it's cameo appearance in the last film, Arkham Asylum receives a far more prominent position in this installment. This time the lightning is inexplicably green instead of inexplicably red, and for some reason I believe that more.

00:54:36 -- The interiors, however, have been redesigned from the white, modern, antiseptic look of the previous film to a Gothic, dark, crumbling dungeon. Arkham's appearance has never even been close to consistent in the comics, going from hospital to prison to dungeon and back, one of my biggest fan frustrations.

00:56:44 -- Hey, it's the blacklight neon gang from BATMAN FOREVER.

00:56:51 -- Bane's trenchcoat and fedora have disappeared between cuts.

00:59:32 -- Bruce has been seeing Julie for over a year. Akiva Goldsman doesn't even bother trying to explain what happened to Dr. Chase Meridian, which leaves three blonde ex-girlfriends of Bruce Wayne wandering the world aware that he's Batman, one of whom is an award-winning journalist and the other a published psychologist.

01:00:45 -- This scene wherein Bruce is having dinner with another woman, but sees Poison Ivy in her place, is right out of Batman #183 (August, 1966), which carried the second part of her original story.

01:01:20 -- Why didn't the garage motion sensor go off all the other times Barbara was going out and stealing motorcycles? You'd think of all the houses in all the world, Wayne Manor would have the best security system.

01:01:31 -- The song you're hearing is Moloko, "Fun For Me", one of many tracks featured on the critically acclaimed Batman & Robin "soundtrack".

01:01:51 -- And of course Gotham City has crazy themed motorcycle gangs. There's some fops, some Clockwork Orange cosplayers, the red-wig league, a bunch of juggalos, and some regular leather types.

01:02:06 -- And look, kids, it's Coolio!

01:02:34 -- In a nice bit of continuity, Dick still wears the "robin" helmet from the previous film.

01:06:05 -- So Barbara's parents died in a car crash, and she started racing motorcycles in illegal dangerous street races to "make the pain go away" and got kicked out of "Oxbridge" for it. And she's still doing it here in Gotham, because... ? This is the worst superhero origin ever.

01:06:35 -- And her motivation for doing all this is to win enough money to "take Alfred away from all this", because yeah, the main reason that Alfred is stuck as the butler to one of the members of Forbes Fictional 15 is that he lacks money, and you can win so much money street racing that he'll never have to work as a billionaire's butler ever again. Uh-huh. I love that her reasoning is that all Bruce has ever given Alfred is money, but that's all she has to give him, too! And neither of them have th

01:08:22 -- This entire sequence is taken exactly from the ending of "Heart of Ice", the animated series episode that redefined Mr. Freeze's character.

01:08:38 -- They were doing so well with Poison Ivy's look in this movie, essentially replicating her comic book appearance, until this scene where she's suddenly got these cones on her head like she's trying to pick up broadcast TV signals.

01:09:24 -- Along with Freeze's gear, the Arkham criminal property locker also featuers the Riddler's suit (nice continuity) and Two-Face's (poor continuity, considering he died in the last movie). There's also a weird stuff doll that I can't place.

01:12:00 -- I would comment on the ludicrous idea of the three villains surviving that fall, but Joker does stuff like that in the comics all the freakin time.

01:17:47 -- Gordon manages to pull a lever; which is the most he's accomplished in three movies.

01:19:20 -- Once again, the patented Movie Batman "just stand around and watch as the crooks leave, not even making an effort to go after them" method of crime fighting.

01:19:47 -- Hell, Ivy's still in the damn building! If you did anything other than stand there, you could easily still catch them.

01:19:57 -- Freeze really needs to get locking connectors for his big steel power cables.

01:21:07 -- This moment where Freeze's tear turns to ice was intended to be how "Heart of Ice" ended. The image of Mr. Freeze's tear turning to a snowflake was in fact the central one that inspired Paul Dini to write the episode, but in the end the animation team could never get it to look right and so Freeze simply cries a single ordinary tear in the cartoon. However the idea managed to survive successfully into this movie.

01:23:13 -- And of course, through the laws of Plot Efficiency, Alfred has the same disease as Freeze's wife! And it's in the curable stage! Somehow the "worst" Batman movie also has the tightest script, so far.

01:24:41 -- Barbara thinks she was "too late" to save Alfred. Uh-huh. Because while Bruce Wayne's money couldn't cure him of his disease, her illegal street racing money sure could! Her reasoning is that Bruce is bad because all Bruce has ever given Alfred is money, but that's all she has to give him, too!

01:27:31 -- And because we just haven't committed enough character assassination of Gordon over these four films, here's his final scene, whimpering after Poison Ivy and begging her to come back and make out with him.

01:31:36 -- Okay, so one, for a computer science major Barbara is the slowest typist ever. Second, Alfred picked the three-letter purely alphabetic password? Worst. And third, what's up with the computer's sultry come-on tone when it says "Access Allowed"?

01:35:19 -- Why does Barbara come up through the platform for the Batmobile? Why not through the staircase? Why are there lasers everywhere?

01:35:56 -- Barbara becomes Batgirl because she says so. She finds out who they are and just decides she wants to help. This is what we call an underwritten character.

01:36:00 -- Alfred anticipated this and designed a skintight rubber Batsuit for his own niece.

01:36:15 -- Batgirl's suiting up montage doesn't linger the way Batman and Robin's do because the director doesn't swing that way. Also, her suit's nipples can't be as overt because that would be pornographic. Y'know, in the way that erotic rubber nipples on a man's chest aren't.

01:36:16 -- Wait, so if Ivy just moved the signal to her hideout, why did she need to specifically get the one from police headquarters, which she needed to steal the keys for? Why not just paint a Robin signal on some giant Klieg light you could steal from some far easier location?

01:38:43 -- Victory. In the preparation. Also, why would you take the rubber lips off? Why wouldn't Ivy just kiss him now?

01:39:02 -- Batman's cape is visibly attached to his upper thighs and it looks ridiculous. Why would you even do that?

01:39:23 -- Batgirl's costume follows essentially the same design scheme as everyone else's. It's all-black and sexualized and it's main departure from the comic book version is that she has a domino mask instead of her iconic cowl. Which leaves the question of why she's Batgirl and not Robingirl or something. Apparently Schumacher didn't want to cover up Silverstone's face, although the costume was originally designed with the cowl in mind so all the Batgirl toys had one.

01:39:48 -- And then apparently they didn't have the time or money for a shot where Robin sticks his head out of the water only to be pulled back under, so instead they have a shot where Robin sticks his head out of the water, and then they reverse the footage to make him go back under. It looks hilarious. This happened in a big budget tentpole action movie.

01:40:36 -- Why does Ivy's plant throne suddenly eat her? Like, it's been totally cool with her this whole time, and then it decides to turn against her because, well, um...

01:40:44 -- Oh look, it's that exact shot of Robin coming out of the water again, only this time he makes it all the way out.

01:42:46 -- Hey, look, more vehicles! A bizzare Bat-ski-mobile thing for Batman, a hovercraft lookin' thing for Robin, and a regular motorbike for Batgirl which begs the question of why the hell the other two guys need special cars. Oh, right! Toys!

01:42:49 -- George Clooney is wearing Val Kilmer's special Batsuit from the climax of BATMAN FOREVER, just repainted with silver highlights. It doesn't really fit him that well.

01:42:53 -- And hey, Batgirl's got her cowl! She actually looks like Batgirl.

01:44:34 -- Annnnd, just like that, her cowl is gone. Everyone gets special "silver variant" costumes for this finale because a) we gave everyone a special costume at the end of the last movie, b) more TOYS! and c) erm... reasons? Even Batgirl gets one despite having only worn her regular suit in one scene. Also, note Clooney and O'Donnell's massive silver codpieces. Also, Alicia Silverstone gets silver mascara to match her silver mask, but the boys still wear black make-up. It's all very weird and arbitrary.

01:48:18 -- One, why does removing the source of the steroids REVERSE the process? Second, if it was that easy to defeat Bane, why doesn't everyone do that? And finally, Bane was a character explicitly created to break the Batman. Not only does Movie Bane not even fight Batman, but he's easily defeated by his two sidekicks.

01:50:10 -- And then our heroes leave poor scrawny Antonio Diego to lie there and die as the building explodes around them. Poor guy's probably going through some severe withdrawals too.

01:51:54 -- And so the former circus acrobat and the girl who took like twenty tries to break a three letter password are suddenly upgraded to "computer geniuses" because they are young people in a movie from 1997.

01:56:10 -- And then for some reason when they get home Bruce and Dick are back in their regular costumes, sans masks, and Barbara's not even wearing hers.

01:56:55 -- Why would you have cellmates at an institute for the criminally insane? And why would you let Freeze keep wearing his suit, when it clearly gives him superstrength and shit? And why would you pair him with the criminal who he teamed up with in a plot to kill absolutely everyone? And why is Ivy's hair purple? Well, at least this movie didn't have Batman killing off all the villains.

01:59:21 -- And then the movie ends with the three heroes running toward screen in front of the Bat-signal, because again, that's what we did last time. The three heroes run off into a sequel that never came. BATMAN & ROBIN was a critical disaster and underperformed at the box office. Warners had been impressed with dailies however, and during production had greenlit a fifth film for a 1999 release date. Titled BATMAN TRIUMPHANT, it would've featured Dick becoming Nightwing and going off to Gotham University, while Batman and Batgirl continue to fight crime. At University Dick would've discovered the villainous Jonathan Crane, aka the Scarecrow, and the Joker would return as a hallucination Batman would suffer while under Scarecrow's fear toxin. There were also roles for Harley Quinn and Man-Bat in the script. Schumacher intended to do this film darker, saying he owed Batman fan culture a "proper" Batman movie. But BATMAN & ROBIN's immense failure tanked not only the Batman film franchise, but indeed the entire superhero comic book genre for many years, contributing to the death of SUPERMAN LIVES, a CATWOMAN spin-off, and several other planned projects from both DC and Marvel. WB struggled with many attempts to reboot the series, including a Paul Dini script for a live-action BATMAN BEYOND movie, an absolutely insane Frank Miller and Darren Aronofsky script for an Aronofsky directed BATMAN: YEAR ONE with Christian Bale, then an Akiva Goldsman script for the team-up BATMAN VS SUPERMAN movie intended for Wolfgang Petersen and to star Bale and Josh Hartnett as Superman. Finally Bale would play Batman in the Chris Nolan and David Goyer project, BATMAN BEGINS.

01:59:44 -- The song you're hearing is "The End is the Beginning is the End" by the Smashing Pumpkins,  which is without a doubt the most successful thing to come from this movie, winning a Grammy. An alternate version, "The Beginning is the End is the Beginning", would be used in the trailer for WATCHMEN, brining renewed popularity to both versions. Billy Corgan wrote the song to be about Batman, but found more inspiration in the darker, 1940s version of the character than the campy 1960s version that inspired this movie.

02:01:51 -- The song you're hearing now is "Gotham City" by R. Kelly, which hilariously calls Gotham a "city of justice, a city of love, a city of peace for everyone of us".

Friday, August 31, 2012

Father and Family

            I live in one of the safest cities in America. I mean, I know it might not seem that way to someone who lives elsewhere. We get our fair share of big incidents, lots of stuff gets on the news, sure. But in a city of eight million people that’s to be expected. What I’m talking about is the day-to-day, on an individual scale. On that rating, it’s one of the safest. What I’m saying is, I can’t remember the last time someone got mugged. Or a convenience store got robbed. Or even a bank. I can’t remember the last time I heard about a rape, or a child molestation. Or a burglary. The kind of things that an ordinary man, with an ordinary family, working an ordinary job, has to worry about. So far as that man is concerned, crime might as well just not exist. I mean, granted, there’s still some danger. Acts of God and all that. And once or twice a month it can get a little hairy in the core. But for the most part, Gotham is a really safe place to live.
Which is why the argument I’m having with my wife is so infuriating. It’s the same argument we’ve been having on and off for a couple of months now, And yes, I’ve made just about all the points above to her on numerous occasions. But she’s not willing to listen. See, she was stuck in a mall for an entire afternoon with our daughter Jessica while police cordoned off a large area during a poisonous gas attack. She’s fine, our daughter’s fine, in fact everyone else in the mall was fine. But it got her scared, riled up, real hysterical, like you know women can get. And so for the past few months she’s been insisting we move to Keystone. Where her mother’s family lives, but, y’know, don’t try to bring that up.
Granted, I wouldn’t mind. I mean, yeah, it’s halfway across the country, and yeah I can’t stand her mother, and yeah it would cost a bundle and there’s no way in hell we could sell our crummy apartment in Robbinsville with the way the market is right now. But I wouldn’t mind. Keystone is nice. Pollution is down there, it’s sunny, it’s got a great road system, effective municipal government, good schools. But I’m an engineer. An aerospace engineer. That’s a lot of years of school, and a very competitive field. Especially in the private sector. You can put years of your life into a company, into a design, and then the company goes under and you can’t take any of the work elsewhere because you had a non-compete clause in the contract. You gotta start from scratch. When it’s good, it’s good, but it’s an up and down kind of thing and it’s been down more than up in the past few years. Until I got a contract position at Wayne Enterprises.
Now, a lot of people have heard of Bruce Wayne. Guy gets his picture on magazines all the time, dates all these pretty girls, in general he’s something of a rich schmuck. I’m pretty sure if I met him, I wouldn’t like him. But if you live in Gotham, working for Wayne Enterprises is hitting the employment jackpot. That company built half the city, it’s always on the cutting edge of technology and advancement, and it takes care of its employees. Benefit packages, full retirement plan, the works. It had taken me years to build up a résumé that was even worthy of submitting. And then, finally, it had happened. I was offered a post developing a low atmosphere supersonic jet for one man military reconnaissance and rescue missions. I was to lead a team of fifteen other top level engineers. I couldn’t believe it. There was no way in hell we could move.
“There’s no way in hell we are moving!” I thought my voice was strong, and firm, but the most accurate word was probably a bellow, and if I could have seen beyond my own tunnel vision I would’ve noticed the look in Jessica’s eyes, as she watched us fight from behind the couch. That look of unmitigated terror.
“Is this the kind of city you want your daughter to grow up in? This is how little she means to you? How little I mean to you?” Angela’s voice was hoarse from shouting, and her mascara was running from the tears, but I told myself it was an act. How could it be anything but by now, with all the repeat performances?
“And just how the hell am I supposed to take that? I’ve worked and sweated for fifteen years to get this far, to get us this far! And when we’ve finally made it, when I’ve finally got what I need to really provide for us, you want to cut and run? What kind of attitude is that? What kind of example is that? For Jessica?” I was almost convincing myself.
“Oh come off your high horse, Bill! All you really care about is yourself! Your career, your family, your home! Well, I’ve got my own career and my own family and we can have a new home in Keystone!”
My eyes rolled before I could stop them. “Of course, Angela, your great and involving career as a flower lady! How could I forget! I’m sure we can live off the proceeds from your street corner stand, because that’s where you’ll have to start over from if we move to Keystone!”
I had really done it now, and I knew that. I ducked to avoid the ceramic vase, which crashed into the wall behind me. I had never really cared for the vase, but I looked back to see if the wall had been damaged too badly. Jessica started screaming from the corner. Looking at her, I finally saw the fear in her eyes. She was afraid of me. It was Angela’s voice that snapped my head around back to her.
GET OUT! Get out of here!! I don’t even want to look at you!” Her voice croaked and sobbed and all I could feel was disgust. Why couldn’t she understand? How stupid could she be? To want to start over in another city with an eight-year old girl? To be where we were ten years ago? Stupid, stupid bitch.
“Fine! You want to be in charge of this home? You want to make the big decisions? Okay, Angela, I’m going! See how you do without me!” I grabbed my hat from the hook near the door and plucked my wrinkled coat from its resting place on the back of an easy chair and slammed the door behind.
         *                       *                       *                       *                       *
It was, of course, raining outside. The city was a safe one, but it still had its own problems. A constant haze hung in the air, especially after nightfall, and the weather was erratic as hell. I’m talking total citywide snowfall in March kind of erratic. And whenever you’re in a bad mood, it seems to be raining.
I pulled my heap out of the building’s underground parking and headed east, figuring I’d find a quiet alley in Old Town to stop and wallow in my own misery. My lemon of an automobile made audible creaking noises as it bounced along the potholes and cracks of the back roads heading out to that blighted area. No chance of the City ever coming down to patch up to roads or clean up the streets. No one downtown cared. As I’ve been saying, it’s a safe city, but that’s not exactly due to great municipal government.
My wipers did their best to keep the rain at bay, but my headlights were out and the lamps along the streets were woefully underpowered. Had to keep peering out over my dash, trying to keep an eye out for drunken losers barrelling in and out of Old Town looking for kicks. Ten o’clock at night on a Thursday wasn’t exactly party night, but you never knew. Course, the irony was thick. Here I was trying to find a nice spot to kill myself and I was worried about getting into a car accident.
The fact of the matter was I felt awful about what I’d said to Angela. About how I felt. The thought of her made me boil with rage but I felt almost immediately guilty. My mind reeled from the emotions. She was a stupid bitch, but I was an arrogant jerk. I wanted to smack her into a wall, but she didn’t deserve that. I loved her. I hated her. Most of all I knew that I couldn’t let Jessica continue to go up in a world where mommy and daddy fought every night. I hated Angela, but I hated myself more. How could I say those things to her? How could I think those things about her? What kind of man was I? As my vision blurred, I remember thinking my windshield wipers had crapped out on me, until I realized I was crying.
Pulling up to an all night pawn-shop, I stopped the car and broke down over the steering wheel. Just what the hell was I supposed to do? I couldn’t remember my father having arguments like this. I remember when he had gotten a transfer to Gotham. He was a dockworker then. He had come home, told mom we were moving, and that was the end of it. All she had to do was pack. His job put food on the table, and his job was in Gotham. Simple. Now I was being voted out of my home, out of my career, by a woman who didn’t even have a stake in the equation. What the hell?
Of course I was angry. Of course I was being selfish. But God damn it, what was I supposed to do? Obviously she’d be happier with me out of the equation. Then there’d be no conflict. She could move to Keystone and be happy. And then I wouldn’t have to feel guilty. Guilty about yelling at her, about hating her, about thinking of hurting her. The woman I loved. I would find absolution. And she could go on her own way. Of course.
So there I was. Sitting in my rusty old piece of junk in front of this pawn shop. A used man in a used car, ready to change himself in. In my glove compartment I kept an old .38 revolver that had been my dad’s. I used to keep it in a box in the bedroom, but when I had told Angela about it she had freaked. She thought it wasn’t safe to keep a firearm in our apartment with our baby girl. Of course, that was before she felt the city wasn’t safe enough to live in. So, points for irony. Anyway, I hadn’t wanted to get rid of it. I had never felt I needed it, but it was an heirloom from another time and from my father. So there it sat in the glove compartment. I kept it loaded. Wouldn’t you?
It took me a few minutes. Wiping the tears from my face, I found my hands had difficulty getting at the key to the compartment. Jingling in my hands, the key ring seemed to shake uncontrollably and I couldn’t quite get the thing in the lock. I finally steadied myself with both hands and opened up the hatch. I slowly dragged the gun out, and it felt heavy in my hand, heavier than it ever had before.
I remember thinking that the rain was too loud. The constant banging on the roof of the car was going to give me a headache. I don’t know why I was worried about having a headache when I was moments away from blowing a hole in my skull. I just remember it seemed really loud. It wasn’t hail, just a hard rainfall, but the banging still seemed louder than it should have been. I took a deep breath, opened my mouth, and stuck the barrel inside. I was breathing heavy, trying to work up the nerve to pull that trigger.
And that’s when everything seemed to slow down.
A crash from behind me startled and I pulled the gun out of my mouth and turned around in time to see two black boots come flying towards me, connected to a body which came flying through my car, passed my face, and then smashed through my front windshield before, incredibly, landing perfectly on its feet in front my car. I whipped around to look behind me again, trying to find out where this figure had come from so suddenly and just what the hell was going on. In the instant I was looking back through the shattered window I thought I saw a hulking man in a tattered suit, with the palest skin I’d ever seen. He must’ve been at least seven and a half feet tall. Then I heard a metal click, like the sound of a gun being cocked and the adrenaline turned to hard fear as I turned around again to face the man who had come crashing through my vehicle. This all must’ve happened in less than ten seconds or so.
Looking out through the hole in my windshield I saw him pointing a gun right at me. I had been told he never used guns, but what do any of us really know? To a guy like me he’s like an urban legend, someone you’re never gonna run into. Oh, we all know he’s out there, even seen him on TV once or twice, but the fact is that you’ve got a better chance looking the mayor in the eyes than the Batman. He fired right at me, and I thought I was going to die. My eyes shut tight and I felt a tug at my shirt and then a strong wind and when I opened my eyes I was three feet in front of my car, standing right beside him.
Holycrapholycrapholycrap. He was taller than me, by at least a foot. He looked down at me and I swear there were no pupils in his eyes. Who is he? What is he? He pointed the gun up at the rooftops and fired, and then I knew it was a grapple of some kind, like the mountaineering equipment Wayne Sports sold but much, much better. I looked back at my car in time to see the raging pale monster come running straight at us. I was probably going to die and yet my only thought was not the car.
I looked back at the Batman and he handed me the gun. I grabbed onto it with both hands, without thinking to wonder what had happened to my own gun that I’d been holding moments ago. He looked down at me and said, “Hold on,” in a cold voice that commanded attention. I didn’t have time to respond or even hold a coherent thought before I was shooting up into the air, pulled solely by the force of the gun’s motor recalling the line, it’s immensely strong grapple hooked onto the roof far above. I had no idea what was happening at the time, but looking back I still can’t believe the power of that gun’s motor.
The wind whipped by my face and I had no clue what was happening and I thought for sure my heart was going to stop and I was going to die. I closed my eyes and waited for the end, but then there was a feeling of whiplash and then I hit something with my shoulder, hard, and my eyes snapped open with the pain and somehow, good God, somehow I had ended up landing on the roof of this building.
God damn it hurt. The gun must’ve gone flying out of my hands, I have no idea where it landed. And I was soaking wet from the rain. My heart was beating a hundred times a second and my whole body was shaking and then I remembered I was on the roof of a building at least fifteen stories high and I scrambled away from the edge as fast as I could as my fear of falling took over in rapid escalation. I sat there, near as I could make to the middle, and curled up, trying to pull my coat over me and block out the rain and the noise and whatever the hell else was out there.
I might’ve passed out. Who can say. But I remember the rain stopping. I remember opening my eyes. And I remember slowly crawling to the edge of the roof, my curiosity getting the best of me. And when I looked down, there was nothing. No Batman, no monster. Just the pitiful wreck of my car, a tangled mess of steel and glass that was completely and utterly unsalvageable. Well, shit. Then my heart jumped back up into my throat and I scurried away from the edge and right back into a dark brick wall.
Falling back on my ass, I found myself looking right up at him. The Batman. What the hell? Here was the guy who protected us, who kept us safe when no one else could, here was the reason I was able to stand up to Angela and defend this city, because as long as he was around we had nothing to fear. And yet now, looking right at him, I was terrified. The rain had stopped, so I had nothing to cover for me when I pissed myself.
He was so tall. And dark. Here, above the street lamps, it was hard to see anything in the night, and so he seemed to me a dark figure, enveloped by that black cloak, and yet those white slits, those pupil-less eyes seemed to glow out from the darkness somehow. Looming over me, he spoke.
“You were holding a gun.”
“This gun.” From within the cloak, he held out his hand, my revolver sitting in his palm in three pieces. He dropped it to the ground, the pieces landing at my feet.
Shaking, I stammered out, “Hey! That’s mine!” What an idiot, what an idiot. What was I thinking?
“I know. What were you planning on doing with it?”
            I was looking at the gun, the steel contrasting with the black tarmac, and I just didn’t know what to say. Looking up at him, I suddenly thought that maybe he assumed I was some kind of criminal, some kind of back-up man for the hulking white monster man. I was in trouble, what do I say?
            “Nothing, I just keep it in the car, I –"
“You’re lying.” The growl was a solid statement. I couldn’t have been in deeper if I tried. There was only so long I could look at those white eyes, yet it was hard to look away. Prying away from his gaze, I looked down at the ground. At the gun. At my hands. Like an idiot.
After a while, I finally looked up and told the truth. “I came here to kill myself. I had nothing to do with that monster.”
“To… kill yourself?” I thought I heard bewilderment in the voice.  “Why?”
            “I… I… had to get away from my family. From my wife. We were fighting, I got angry and I wanted to hurt her. She’ll be better off without me. My daughter, Jessica, she’ll be better off without me for a father.”
“What?” I heard shock in his voice. I looked up and the white eyes were wide. “A child… better off without a father?”
“She wants to move to Keystone. Thinks Gotham isn’t safe enough. But I finally got my dream job at Wayne Enterprises. I can’t get out of it so easily. Well, without me around she can do as she pleases. I can’t argue with her anymore. My little girl, she’s afraid of me. A little girl shouldn’t be afraid of her father, like he was some monster. That’s not what a father should be to his family.”
“No. It’s not.” There was something in his voice. Empathy, caring. It sounded so strange. He bent down on one knee, coming eye to eye with me, and as he did the light changed. Looking at him on my level, I could see the cape and cowl were blue, not black. The tall ears, so ominous and intimidating, only came a little bit over his head. His mouth was a human mouth, and it was human eyes looking at me from under the mask. As he knelt, his cape folded back behind him and I could see his grey costume, and the Bat-logo within a yellow circle that reminded me of the Signal that flew over the night sky and always made me feel safe to walk the streets. He seemed human. He seemed like a friend.
            “A father should represent hope to his family. That’s what you need to be. You’re who that girl looks up to for guidance, you’re who your wife looks to for love and support. You are the rock that anchors their lives. Hope and strength. That’s what being a father is. You must do what’s right for them. A father must place his family first, top priority, they must be what he loves above all else. Because they love you above all else.”
He put his hand on my shoulder, and I felt… I felt ashamed. I had been so foolish. I had let my feelings get control of me, I had lost my rationality, and giving in to the black pit of negative emotions, emotions without thought, I had become motivated by fear and hate and nearly destroyed myself. I looked at the Batman, who I had thought was fear and hate personified and instead I saw… rationality, hope, and strength. I felt better.
            “Thank you,” I stammered out.
“What is your name?”
            “Bill Watson.”
            “Go to your family, Bill Watson. Let them know that you’re there for them, as they are for you. Let your daughter know she has a father who loves and cares for her. Nothing is more important to a child than a parent’s love.”
            He stood up and stepped away, and once more he looked a black, dread, creature of the night. He aimed that amazing grapple gun high above his head, and before he fired off into the night he looked me dead on.
“And get rid of the gun.”
            Who was I to argue? I left the disassembled pieces there and never looked back. I had to walk home. The train line had stopped running. It was much earlier in the morning than I thought it was. The girls had gone to sleep. I collapsed on the couch in my soaking wet clothes and passed out until morning.

                                *                       *                       *                       *                       *
            The next morning I called in sick for work and instead had a long talk with Angela. I apologized. I admitted I had been wrong. And I let her know that from then on, we were equal partners in our marriage. She didn’t forgive me all at once. She was still angry. A rift had been opened and it wouldn’t close easily. But she appreciated the gesture, the sentiment. I told her that she was right. Gotham was dangerous. And if she wanted to move to Keystone, I was right with her, even if it meant starting over. I was her husband and the father of her child, and I would never abandon her.
            She left to work her afternoon at the flower shop. I drank a lot of coffee and started looking up job opportunities in Keystone, started looking at real estate numbers, looking for a new car. This wasn’t going to be easy, but that wasn’t the point. I had to be strong, I had to do what was necessary to keep my family safe and happy.
            That evening she made dinner for all of us, just like she used to. I was scarfing down the meatloaf when the phone rang. She got up and answered, while I continued to eat. Jessica was telling me about a spelling test at school that she’d aced, and I smiled and let her know I was proud. I wanted to hug her, to reach out and love her, but I wasn’t sure if she was still afraid of me in some way.
            “Oh my God!” came Angela’s voice.
            “What is it, honey?”
            "Bill, you better get over here and take this! It’s someone at Wayne!” She shouted. I rushed to the phone, afraid of what was on the other end. What had happened?
            This woman was on the other line, saying that the jet project had been transferred to the Keystone division, something about the propulsion scientists there having more research experience with supersonic speeds. Offered to retain me as project manager if I was willing to transfer to Keystone as well. All expenses paid. They would find us a home, a house, a bungalow in the suburbs, and a car as well. Pay the moving fees, pay for the new state licences.
            “What sort of licences?” I asked.
            “Appropriate transfer of everything you currently have on record, Mr. Watson. Except any firearm licences. Company policy. We don’t pay for anything firearm related in any case.”
            “Of course. It’s not a problem.”
            A while later, after the phone had been hung up, after I had told Angela, after we had smiled and cheered and celebrated, after the lights were out and I lay in bed thinking of my new life, my better life, the life that had been a gift, I thought to myself,
            Had the Batman strongarmed someone at Wayne, somehow?
            As much as I had always felt safe in Gotham, I suddenly felt I would be much safer in Keystone City.