OPINION – “Batman’s Ready For His Comeback Special” by Edward Koskey

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I was inspired to write this, my first ever Op-Ed for Batman-On-Film, after listening to BOF’s EXCELLENT The Dark Knight 10th anniversary retrospective podcast. If you haven’t listened to it, please check it out; it’s great not just because Jett offers so many insights and behind-the-scenes stories he has from covering that film but also because it reminded me just how COOL it was to be a fan of Batman back in 2008. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s ALWAYS cool to be a fan of The Bat but in 2008 our guy was THE guy and he was on top of the world.

I’m old enough to have lived through the first time a Batman movie became a pop culture phenomenon. I was 12-years-old when Tim Burton’s Batman hit theaters in June of 1989 and it was AWESOME. But The Dark Knight saw the hype and the hoopla of Batman ’89 and raised it with a stack full of prestige. TDK wasn’t just popular — to the tune of over a billion dollars at the box office — it was great; transcendent even. I mean, change-the-way-they-choose-the-Oscars-and-set-the-standard-for-every-“comic book movie”-from-here-on-out historic. There was nothing cooler than being a Batman fan all of your life and watching in 2008 as the rest of the world realized what you knew all along: that, treated in a serious way, Batman could be the baddest ass hero you ever did see. The Dark Knight, just as Heath Ledger’s Joker tells Christian Bale’s Batman in that interrogation room, “changed things… forever.”

 

 

But in the midst of getting all nostalgic, reveling in the Bat-history of 2008, I started to look at the trajectory of the Batman film franchise from that moment to where we are now and I realized it kind of matched up with the career trajectory of another uniquely original pop culture icon…Elvis Presley.

Elvis Presley on the “Louisiana Hayride,” c. 1955

Now, for those of you not quite up to speed on your Elvis history, he didn’t quite invent rock and roll music, but he helped usher it into the mainstream. Basically, whatever music you’re listening to now, that artist was most likely influenced by someone who was influenced by someone who was influenced by Elvis. And so for the purpose of this premise, The Dark Knight is the equivalent of Elvis Presley first appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show back in September of 1956; that was his breakthrough. America tuned in to see this white guy playing guitar, swiveling his hips, and singing this new kind of music fusing Gospel, Blues, and Country; and it changed things… forever.

Elvis became The King of Rock and Roll just as Batman became The King of Comic Book Movie Franchises. But then, in 1958, Elvis gets drafted into the army and, even though his label, RCA, was still putting out his music, it’s essentially a hiatus from the spotlight. That’s the equivalent of the Nolan Trilogy coming to a conclusion in 2012. When Elvis returns from the service in 1960, Elvis’ famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) manager “Colonel” Tom Parker makes the decision to start pushing Elvis towards a new career path — making movies. Batman’s “Colonel Parker” in this instance are the heads at WB in the year or so after Nolan’s Trilogy had ended who make the decision to start shoving Batman into their burgeoning albeit rushed, reactionary, flying-by-the-seat-of-their-pants DC Cinematic Universe.

While Elvis is off making B-movies, lost in Hollywood for the better part of the 1960s, here come The Beatles, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, The Who, The Beach Boys, Jimi Hendrix, etc. who are taking up the mantle of Rock and Roll that was essentially created by Elvis and taking it to another level. Meanwhile, as Batman is being shoehorned into a dark, brooding, and divisive universe, here comes Marvel — with their well-thought-out, audience-pleasing, cinematic universe — taking up the mantle of King of Comic Book Movie Franchises. Elvis became passé; those other acts had become what’s hip, what’s cool, and what’s contemporary. Meanwhile Batman has been bogged down in a franchise/universe that has achieved debatable (and I mean debates that bring out some of the ugliest, most maddening, joy-killing parts of the internet) levels of artistic and financial success while heroes like Black Panther, Wonder Woman, Deadpool, and others have come along and resonated with general audiences in ways formally reserved for a Big Black Bat.

So in 1968, when Elvis was frustrated with the direction of his career, he went back to his roots and in December of that year put together a TV Special on NBC which colloquially became known as The ’68 Comeback Special. It reminded the world why Elvis — especially in that all black leather outfit jamming with his band —was, and forever will be, the coolest cat to walk the earth. It was a smashing success and launched the next (and unfortunately last) chapter of his career.

 

THAT is what Batman needs Matt Reeves’ movie to do for him. He needs Reeves to follow through on what he said last week about creating something “definitively Batman and new and cool.”

It’s also why Reeves needs to take all the time he needs, to make the movie he wants, so that he can remind the world that Batman is still —and forever will be — the baddest ass hero you ever did see. – Edward Koskey

Edward Koskey is a lifelong fan of Batman, a longtime reader of Batman On Film, and a PROUD Patreon supporter of the site.