It might surprise a few old friends online to learn that Batman is the reason that I began collecting comics. If you know me at all, it’s fairly obvious that Captain America is my favorite comic character, but there was a time when I didn’t know a great deal about him, or many other characters for that matter, and Batman was the character that would eventually change that. As I related a few months back, in my elementary school library I stumbled upon a Spider-Man HC collection that opened my eyes to the wonder of comics but I wouldn’t have the means to buy them for years (and it never dawned on me to ask my parents to buy me a few, when it’s likely they would have gladly done so). But when I was around 11 or 12 Batman was seeing a resurgence in popularity (in large part due to the excitement surrounding Tim Burton’s Batman film starring Michael Keaton) and I was at just the right age to take notice and be swept up in Bat-Mania as well. That said, for me it was more about the comic character than the movie. As I’ve mentioned several times in these entries, I had grown up with Super Friends and certainly Batman was a big part of that. I was also glued to the television after school to watch the Adam West Batman re-runs for years, but the character really came alive for me much later in images such as the one you see above where the mysterious dark knight wrapped himself in the shadows to prey upon the criminals of the night. I came across this image on a T-shirt at the mall and seeing my enthusiasm my Mom happily purchased it for me. Since, this image of Batman has come to symbolize what I believe the character should be, and the part he played in me becoming a comic book fan.
Knowing that there were an awful lot of Batman comics out there, I thought I’d jump in and try and start a collection, and as I began obtaining and trading comics at school shortly thereafter, it was Batman-related stuff that I focused on most. Those 50-issues I had sent away for had arrived, and while there weren’t nearly as many Batman & Superman comics as I would’ve liked there was some fantastic stuff and I had a little more to trade with as well. With each new Batman issue, the character became that much “cooler” to me and I was thrilled at all the adventures. Batman was great for the fact that he was a normal human, if a very gifted one, and while he had an uncanny combat prowess, it was his keen mind and deductive ability that made him so formidable as a crime fighter. Further, it was his drive to keep his tragic history from repeating itself in the lives of others that lit the fire of determination against seemingly impossible odds. And while it could lead him to be become a little intense at times, there was a humanity there kept him grounded (at least in the hands of the more capable writers). As I collected, I also began recognizing just how much I was enjoying the artwork of Jim Aparo. He would draw these dynamic panels where Batman would be standing at an angle, ticked, and ready to take on packs of ninjas if that was the way they wanted things to be (regardless of whether or not he’d get a few knicks out of the deal) and after pages of his signature action, Bruce Wayne would be joking with Alfred and actually smiling. Jim Aparo was able to strike a visual balance with the character between the terrifying crusader of the night and friend of the just that few artists have been able to capture and to this day it’s Jim Aparo’s version of Batman that remains the “definitive” version to me. It was also around this time that the infamous “Death in the Family” even took place and at the conclusion of a great storyline, I was horrified (well, as horrified as a 12-year old can be) to to witness to Jason Todd’s death. True, this wasn’t the Robin that I knew from the cartoons, the Teen Titans, and some of the older issues I had read but I was still invested in the character and seeing him beaten and burned at the hands of the Joker was hard hitting stuff. I didn’t hold Jim Starlin responsible for the death, heck, I loved those issues – I was just caught up in the tragic storyline and saddened to see him suffer the fate he did. But it didn’t dampen my enthusiasm for Batman and in the years that followed I continued to marvel at what Batman and Jim Aparo would serve up. We even got a great new character in Tim Drake at the conclusion of the “Lonely New Place of Dying” storyline that would go on to great heights and arguably become the most popular Robin in comic history.
As the years passed I continued to pick up Batman-related back issues, and a few new titles as they were released, but following the “Death of Superman” storyline at DC things just started to go south for the company in so many respects (natch, in my eyes) and Batman wasn’t immune. I had no desire to see my heroes dying and broken and as “Knighfall” loomed I stepped away and stopped picking up the books with regularity. Fortunately, about this time Bruce Timm & Co. went to work on Batman: The Animated Series which aired on Fox in 1992 and just as my enthusiasm was fading for the direction the comics were taking at the stands, I turned the television on to watch the premiere of the animated series and was immediately reassured that the character I enjoyed so much was alive and well, this time in a stylish noir-style series of adventures that hearkened back to the old Fleisher Superman cartoons. The show captured my young imagination all over again and, honestly, it never let go. I’ve spent well over 15-years now marveling at the Timm-style (have to praise Mike Parobeck here as well!), collecting the “Animated” comics published by DC, and compiling a complete collection of the extensive DVD compilations. Sadly, the Timm style is not nearly as prominent as it was there for so long but we still get a gem thrown our way on occassion and spiritual successors like Darwyn Cooke are doing a fantastic job of consistently showing the strengths of the stylistic animated line that Timm & Co. reminded us existed.
Batman will always be one of my favorites, and age has taught me never to let a single direction, or creator, destroy what was once great about a character, that poor work and bad decisions shouldn’t effect the wonder that characters once evoked in a much younger imagination.