I did my top 20 horror and SF films last year, and found doing the lists to be more fun than expected, so in a massive bit of logic here’s my top 20 films adapted or inspired from comics. I need to point out I mean comics, not ‘superhero comics’ which is a lazy, and incorrect way to describe a wonderfully varied medium and it’d also cut out some bloody good films!
Previously, in this list at #20, X Men, 19, The Crow, 18, Heavy Metal, 17, Spider Man ,16, The Avengers, 15, Danger: Diabolik, 14, The Dark Knight Trilogy , 13, A History of Violence, 12, Kick Ass , 11,Spider Man 2 , 10, Barbarella, 9, Batman Returns, 8, X Men 2 and 7, Dredd.
The film at the cusp of my top five is Tim Burton’s Batman.
Let’s paint the picture of what comic books films were in 1989. Up til then they were, mainly, rubbish. Batman in comics was doing ok, but works like The Killing Joke & Dark Knight Returns had shaken the character up and suddenly there was a move to make a big budget Batman film. When the film was announced, the casting of Michael Keaton was something that made last year’s casting of Ben Affleck as Batman look like a kiddies party. Even before the internet, this was something which fans at the time ripped into in the fan press, but wherever the film was discussed. It was ridiculous but the casting of Jack Nicholson as The Joker seemed to calm some down, but even though some were critical of Keaton, the hype for the film started ramping up to degrees never seen before. This film is as far as I’m concerned the film which changed how films were marketed, and was the first film of the modern era to capitalise on every single possible thing it could because it came with a loge, which was the Bat Signal.
At the time of filming I was working for Neptune Comic Distribution based in Leicester, and apart from having my finger on the throbbing pulse of comics, I on average used to travel between Neptune’s base in Leicester and out secondary warehouse in Staines so I could sort out deliveries for shipping to out customers. As the film was shot partly in Milton Keynes and we passed Milton Keynes an awful lot with it being on the M1, we used to see trucks and equipment come and go a lot, but one day we passed the junction for Milton Keynes and coming out past out van was a huge stretch limo with blacked out windows.
This had to be Jack Nicholson!
For the next 30 minutes or so we tried to stay alongside it and held up Batman comics at the window, and generally acted like enormous fanboy wankers to a car which may, or may not have held Jack Nicholson. Seeing as stretch limos were incredibly uncommon in 1988 I still think this was Nicholson, or at least something to do with the production.
Regardless if it was, the autumn/winter of 1988/89 saw a huge amount of buzz about the film. I remember speaking to Alan Grant, then writing Batman in Detective Comics, about how he was smuggled onto the set and was generally amazed by the scale and craftsmanship involved. This was no cheapo comic film but people wanted to see what it looked like, and unlike today where leaks and spoilers are everywhere, the amount of secrecy around the film was pretty high. When a trailer was eventually released there was no going to Youtube to see it. No, you had to go to the cinema to see the thing or wait up til the wee hours of the morning for it to be on ITV’s film programmes which normally were shown for people staggering home from clubs.
1989 trundled on and Batman was enormous. DC Comics decided to stick Batman in virtually every one of their titles which worked in selling titles which may only sell, say 10 copies in a medium sized shop and boost it to 30 or 40 copies. At Neptune we could not shift enough Batman material. Anything with a Batman logo on it sold, and I mean anything sold, regardless of quality, tackiness and anything relating to taste.
Batman came out in the US in June, while here in the UK we had to wait til August, and I’ve told a tale of the film’s opening in a previous blog but needless to say the film was as huge as it was in the US.
Was it any good though? Well, yes, on the most part. Keaton was a superb Batman/Bruce Wayne, and Nicholson ate up plenty of scenery as The Joker, while the production design was indeed utterly impressive, the script was a bit thin in places and the final 15 minutes or so are an utter mess. That aside it worked in spite of it’s faults. It’s a spectacle and a triumph of atmosphere over anything else so in that, it captures the spirit of Batman perfectly. It’s a blockbuster but one that does try to be more at times, but it really works when it’s Batman and The Joker doing comic book stuff and this is what makes the film what it is which is a totally enjoyable comic book film.
It spawned a series of sequels, one of which is already on my list, while the others we’l draw a veil over….
Next up, Neo-Tokyo is about to explode!