Batman The Dark Knight Stuff
Chocolate, cereal, toys, stuff and economic panic
A movie that makes this much money (approx $1.1 billion USD) is going to have spin-offs galore, not to mention a gaggle of imitators. The licensing on the Batman character must be an important bedrock on which Warner Bros and DC Comics rest these days in an economy in downturn and everything going up in price (like the cost of a movie production). There is also the prestige of the positive critical acclaim and general good feeling towards director Chris Nolan's handling of this "intellectual property" with around the world ticket sales plus the USA domestic market crossing the $1 billion dollar mark.
Bat-Renaissance and Economic Panic
Batman's popularity seems to have been steadily mounting to higher and higher places since the turnaround from decline back when Frank Miller put the "prestige" format comic book mini-series on the map with his dystopian The Dark Knight Returns 4-issue comic book of the mid-eighties. That book came out under the leadership of Jeannette Khan, who had the unenviable task of righting the sinking boat of DC Comics when she took over in the late 70s. Bad economics of the time, rising production costs, terrible morale, all contributed to a bleak picture for the company (one ace they had in the hole: the Christopher Reeves' Superman film made $300 million in 1978 dollars for parent company Warner Brothers.).
But why has the character climbed up to be such a hit at taht moment in time? The fearful anxieties of the film's background (Gotham City, a pseudo-New York City without the overhead of a real city's baggage to keep straight) is a place of depressions and recession, corruption and lawlessness. How does that picture reverberate with ticket-buyers at a movie house? Is it merely a phantasy picture like the original King Kong movie which ran in 24-hour schedules because of fierce demand during the height of the 'great depression' of the early 1930s? Psychologistsand anthropologists analyze the meaning of this to be that it was diverting and comforting to contemplate the exploits of that enormous monkey as it ruled the savage idyll of Skull Island. Likewise that means following the travails of a man in a batsuit is also the same diversion in an economy taking a nose dive?
Maybe the real question should be: do some kinds of films benefit from an adverse economy? Are superhero fantasies (or any kind of mass-produced pop culture that deals with fear, helplessness, and fighting) simply a template that easily fits over the national mood of recession/depression?
The easy explanation is the psychobabble that people invest into establishmentarian (or even authoritarian) characters (real or not) when the going gets rough and people are scared. I don't subscribe to any of that, because I don't think people ever stop investing into such.
The classic example that is written of is the German people backing Adolf Hitler following the complete collapse of the German economy. Another example is the backing for Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal policies that turned the way things are done in American government (or at least the treasury department) upside down. No, those things were coming regardless of the economies, not that chaos doesn't help, but the ideas were on the ascendancy anyway, as they say in sociology. Hitler grabbed power because he could (he didn't have majority support in Germany, but enough to railroad his way into complete power) and F.D.R., though obviously not possessing dictatorial powers, had the moxie and skills to maneuver around his political opponents who didn't realize the rules of the game had changed.
This short list of leadership from the depression era of the 1930s could also include Mussolini (who gained power in the wealthier 1920s); and a whole long list of other premiers/presidents/dictators that came to power in smaller countries. Powerful men as ultimate leaders were "in." Instead of being a transitional move from the kings and queens that had stood atop so many countries from the 1800s, the 1930s instead consolidated vast power into even fewer people.
What's that got to do with Batman?
Born off the streets where crime can nail you at any time, but also born to aristocratic privilege and wealth, that's Batman's baby cradle. Batman/Bruce Wayne is an American synthesis of many ideas about wealth and responsibility, and the street-level awareness of lawlessness and corruption, all packed together inside a sausage of immigrant Jewish and New England ethical thinking.
Who really invented Batman? Bob Kane has been partially discredited as the sole author, but he clearly was one of the driving forces toward getting some kind of character with 'wings' off the drawing boards and into comic books. Bill Finger, Gardner Fox, and even Bob Kane's father (who cut a good legal deal for the younger Kane - - too bad he didn't know Shuster and Siegel, eh?) were all involved in the beginning. The early Batman comics veer about trying to find the tone that was going to work with a mass audience. Bat-Man, as he is called at the start, is a savage fellow who hurls bad guys off buildings and can handle a gun when its useful, all while accoutered in a sleek 1930s style deco-batsuit that emphasizes a stylized silhouette of a bat. Shortly this changed to an even more abstract bat-image and a beefier, pugilistic approach to presenting a bat-guy who beats up criminals with his hands. And then along came Robin, a marketing ploy to help attract younger readers and to be a shoe-horn to get some humor into the grim goings-on.
Many writers have put together the paternal literature and films that contributed to Batman's origins: certain films (The Man Who Laughs for the Joker, Phantom of the Opera when it comes to secrecy, gadgets and a big billowing cape) and pulp adventure writing that worked on the ideal of masculinity being about a man of action getting into a lot of confrontations, one way or the other.
There's not been a 'definitive' work that describes the history of the Batman character in its every facet of American life, but there are many histories of the character as pop-culture collectible. The former should be made, I think, though I think we'll get more of the latter.
Batman and 1970s decline
The character endures as a popular literary and cinematic creation, though there are deep dips in sales from time to time on the pamphlet comic book (the flagship title Detective Comics actually was in danger of cancellation for poor sales during the 1970s when the title was on a bi-monthly schedule and was packed out mostly with reprint stories. On the other hand, what was considered 'poor sales' in the 1970s for a comic book was defined as a book that couldn't move 100,000s of copies.
That those numbers were being compared to comics that had once been able to sell in the millions of copies month after month through dozens of distributors through a vast network of newstands and other retail outlets told the tale of accelerating decline all across the industry. Comics printed on gravure printing presses for high-speed were cost effective for producing millions of sheets of comic art, but not for what was happening when books were losing their places in a distribution conduit that was tightening because it was no longer worth the cost of shipping and displaying with a cheap 25, or 35, or 50 cent comic book with slim margins for the maker, the wholesaler, and the retailer. A whole industry was headed for the junkyard, only to be rescued by the networks of collector shops that paved the way for the "direct distribution" comic book, which was an anomaly at DC and Marvel, but then over time became the de facto cash cow of the business, only lately replaced by the emergence of the trade-paperback collection books that clog up the shelves at Barnes and Noble and other outlets.
Batman and popularity
There is an immediate irony when comparing comic books as pop-culture influence and then looking at the sales figures - - influence has increased while sales have gone down. The reach of the comic book creator and the "intellectual properties" they breed has never had had a longer reach. But a single best-seller through the direct distribution chain (say, 50,000 copies) is negligible compared to the numbers of the past.
It is through other avenues that the comic book has this world-spanning influence: movie adaptations, toy licensing, alternative literary circles, and the "graphic novel." Through them comic book ideas are put in to the pop-culture melting pot. And Batman has been riding on the cusp of the wave.
Comic books have always been able to feed off movies, and its been the other way around for quite a while, too. Movie story-boarding are just comics that blueprint what needs to be filmed, and those story-board drawings and scribbled notes have been around for a very long time in film production centers, showing how the basic tool of imaging and coming up with a tale stems from apparently the same visual places.
But it is in the last several decades that Hollywood has been raiding comic books wholesale in an effort to grab the best properties; nothing can demonstrate how moribund is at least some of moviedoms creative skills when clearly comics are the more dynamic agency of new ideas, good ideas, or ideas at all.
Packaging Batman for the screen has been a real moneymaker right off the Bat when Tim Burton directed that first Batman feature film in 1989. The films do well when they take their source material seriously. They start flopping badly when the in-jokes and giggly Hollywood self-awareness is projected right at the audience - - its not the actors, and its not even the story necessarily, its the attitude of the film that seems to work (or not work).
Batman is a figment of economic collapse, crime-infested streets; corruption and fear. He's also a projection of economic responsibility, the privilege of wealth over law, and the privilege of daring and intelligence over lawlessness. And its also about bats somehow.y
Chris Nolan's Dark Knight Movies
Dark Knight Rises Promo Images
Click to enlarge images
Batman the Marketing machine
You can wear it, eat it or play with it. Click images to enlarge.
Original Page Oct 2011
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