I was all of seven years old when Batman came out (I know, a lady never reveals her age, but when have I ever acted like a lady?), which means I have only vague recollections of the pre-release period. I remember we were buzzing about it at my school, and that it was looming on our radar long before we were out for the summer. But while I remember that shadowy poster of the Bat symbol decorating my multiplex, I can't recall the casting of Michael Keaton, the eager whispers of Jack Nicholson and his hidden make-up, or the trailers. Event movies were so different in my childhood. They just seemed to happen overnight, and were probably the better for it. Movies will always be magical to me, but I really long for those days before the Internet and its marketing mania. (Yes, I realize the irony inherent in my saying that, but at least I make it fun, right? No, don't answer that.)
Because I was all of seven, and thus too young for Frank Miller, my exposure to Batman was purely through Adam West reruns. I knew Gotham City as a place of goofy villains and BAM! and POW!, so to say that Burton's version terrified me was an understatement. I don't remember what I went in expecting (I know it wasn't Adam West), but I do remember being absolutely horrified by Nicholson's Joker. Maybe I was still reeling from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? the year before, but his acid-soaked origin left me faintly ill, as was every shot of him sans whiteface and lipstick.
Luckily, there was Batman. Even in my salad days, I knew that Michael Keaton was Batman as he was meant to be. He wasn't supposed to have saggy grey tights or obnoxious sound effects. He was supposed to be this guy -- dark, brooding, armor-clad, striking fear into the heart of Gotham's underworld. Yes, I think little Elisabeth fell in love.
I only saw the movie once that summer, but wow, who doesn't remember Batmania?. It was a mania that continued until I went back to school that fall. Every boy had a Batman t-shirt, and traded them for sweatshirts once the Colorado winter set in. Everyone had the lunchboxes and the action figures, and everyone kept on talking about it. It was the game of choice all year on the playground -- and I remember that very distinctly because I was the lone girl who still cherished memories of the movie, and thus got to be Vicki Vale. To this day, I'm not sure I've had as nice of a time with a boy as the day I was "swung" around the track field by Matt M.'s Batman. (If you're out there Matt M., we should probably get back together. Look, I even stayed a girl reporter!)
While I've made much of the fact that 1993 was the summer that defined me as a film loving geek, I think the seeds had to have been sewn by Batman. Not only is it one of the earliest event movies I remember clearly, and obsessed about with my classmates, but it's the first time I remember anticipating a sequel, and being excited when I saw glimpses of it. Before the Internet, that kind of knowledge was rare, but my parents gave me a subscription to Disney Adventures around this time, and it became my number one source. I'll never forget when they ran a photo from the super-secret Batman Returns and oh my gosh, there was Catwoman! It was only from the back, so all you could see was her pleather, stitches, and claws. I was kind of pissed off at what they had done to her look, because I wanted her to look like Julie Newmar. Had there been an Internet, I would have been online complaining ... and would have had to retract it all once I saw the movie and how lame a complaint that was. But hey, that's wandering too far out of 1989. But damn, hindsight is 20/20 and I recognize so much of my current self in decades past.
Lest you think I'm being too warm and fuzzy, I have to be brutally honest and confess that I don't think Batman aged that well. What was dark and scary in my childhood is now pretty campy. Gotham feels like a Tim Burton suburb, and what isn't Burtonized is a mess. The production and costume design is all over the place, a mismatch of 1940s and 1980s that doesn't do anyone any favors, let alone the suave Bruce Wayne. Nicholson's performance, so terrifying in 1989, was undermined long before Heath Ledger by the fact that one of his thugs wears a boombox that plays Prince. (I can't let that go. I'm sorry.) Considering it was the first movie to really take superheroes seriously, and put them in a dark world where they could actually do some good, the film is full of corny, marketable moments like that ... which in itself was the beginning of a whole Slurpee cup of worms.
The money-making behemoth that was Batmania makes Hollywood's reluctance towards other comic book properties downright shocking 20 years later. There was no copycat movement, none of the comic book adapting frenzy we see today. How did we not get Mel Gibson as Wolverine? Tom Cruise or Charlie Sheen as Iron Man? Sylvester Stallone or Bruce Willis as the Punisher? Any boy of the Brat Pack as the Green Lantern? Really, all of this could have happened had someone just thrown enough money at the idea. Instead, they just kept pumping Batmania until they killed it altogether with the rubber nipples.
And 20 years later? We're right back where we started. We never escaped from the shadow of the Bat. We just traded Keaton in for Bale and his raspy voice, and a steady stream of Batman 3 rumors. Batmania will never die. It just finds new players.
*Much thanks to Graeme McMillan of io9 and our own Todd Gilchrist for reminding me just what important date of geekdom this was, and inspiring me to do a post for it. Be sure to check out their pieces because they said it a hell of a lot better than I did.