This post is an excuse to show off a collection of awesome Batman art.
Some of it is fan art, some from the pros.
One of the things I love about Batman is that you can run him through a whole variety of filters.
You can make him an urban myth, a pulp vigilante, a bonafide Superhero, a modern day Knight, a Demonic Wraith or even a Vampire, and it works because there is something of each of those elements in the core version of Batman.
I’m thinking a good follow up to this post will be a gallery of Elseworlds Batmen, as I’ve been reading some classic 90’s DC Elseworlds stories lately.
So bring on the alternate worlds and wild flights of fanciful imagination.
Some of these demonic Batmen have appeared in actual stories, but most are just one off pin up art.
Batman with a flaming pitchfork, horns and and sitting on a pile of skulls. Sure, why not? VERY METAL! I really like this picture.
I really dig the Wraith like nature of Batman in this picture, he seems to be one with the shadows. I don’t know who the artist is, if you do please let me know.
Hot Toys make some of the best Batman collectibles on the planet. The memorable scene from Batman Begins where the Scarecrows fear toxin is released in Gotham City and we see a vision of a Demonic Batman is recreated in this amazing toy. There had been fan customs for years, but leave to it to Hot Toys to make the definitive Batman as a Demon toy.
This hulking behemoth with an axe has a barbarian / Conan sort of feel to it. Very cool picture. Look at those forearms man, I bet he’s on demon steroids.
Kelley Jones is a phenomenal horror artist. His work on the Batman Vampire Trilogy is unparalleled.
The three Elseworlds books where Batman becomes a vampire, kills Dracula (who was trying to take over Gotham), and eventually kills his rogues gallery is an awe-inspiring tale of the macabre.
Batman pleads for Gordon and Alfred to kill him, ending his blood drinking ways for good – and Batman is well pissed off when they fail, knowing that he can not stop himself from eventually feasting on innocent blood after he runs out of bad guys.
Two colours – red and black used to simple and dramatic effect here. Batman in silhouette always works great, I don’t know if he is a vampire here, but the claws on his hands, teeth, crosses in the cemetery and wing-like extended cape suggest so. This picture just screams “bad ass!”.
A ghoulish looking batman with some really nasty teeth, very scary.
I don’t know what the heck if going on in this picture, this ghoul is all kinds of wrong. That is one scary looking Bat-demon. Amazing piece of art. I love the texture and detail. I would love an action figure of this demonic Batman, it would be right at home with Clive Barker’s cenobites from the Hellraiser series by McFarlane Toys.
A very cool demonic / vampiric looking Batman by BastardPrince. I dig the glowing red eyes and the use of shadow and minimal colour.
Another vampire Batman, those Elseworlds books were really popular, you can even buy an action figure of Batman as a vampire that was also used in the DC MMORPG.
This Batman is super creepy and spectral, a real living shadow. I love it!
This Batman by Matt Kish is one of my favourites by far. A beautiful piece that speaks to the horror fan in me. I imagine this is how cowardly and superstitious criminals see Batman.
Another Elseworlds Batman here.
This one is “Nosferatu” Batman, the book is based on the classic Nosferatu film, and uses German Expressionism liberally, which is pretty cool seeing as how German Expressionism, Gothic Horror and Film Noir are part of Batman’s DNA.
I don’t really care for this one to be honest, Batman just looks too weak and spindly despite being strong. But the book is an interesting experiment, and part of a trilogy of stories. The other two stories are with Superman and Wonder Woman. Superman appears near the end of the Nosferatu book, and he and Batman fight, probably one of their strangest battles ever.
A prototype for an alternate skin/costume in the Batman Arkham: Origins video game. Cool design, but a bit impractical for the game.
This custom made toy is a real gem. Based on the version of Batman we see in Batman Begins, after Scarecrows fear toxin is unleashed on the good citizens of Gotham. Damn this toy is nasty! What a great sculpt. Well done!
Kelley Jones is a legendary Batman artist, and it seemed right to end with two of my favourite piece of his from the Batman Vampire Trilogy. If you have not read the books for some reason, you really need to, they are great fun.
All three Batman Vampire books are great, but the third book is where Jones really cuts loose as Batman goes all feral and ghoulish, and kills a lot of villains. The book sure gets bloody by the end.
Well, I hope you enjoyed this round up of Demonic Batmen as much as I did. It makes a nice break from my usual long 3000+ word essays that I typically fall asleep halfway through when I read them. So many words!
Bane is a pretty one dimensional character in my opinion, and I am not a fan.
Although I do like seeing the different interpretations of the character across various DC related media.
This article is the first then in a visual series showing the comparative look at the art style and redesigns of Batman characters in the comics, and other mediums.
These articles are designed so that you can skip up and down the page to see the contrasting pictures, reading the comments is up to you. It it not intended to be comprehensive, I am not going to show every version of Bane, because that would be boring. I will choose whatever I find unique, interesting, or just damn cool art showcasing how Bane is interpreted in different mediums.
The Vengeance of Bane one-shot written by Chuck Dixon was the prelude to the Knightfall Saga. In the story we meet Bane first as a child born in a South American prison, who inexplicably remains in prison for life despite not committing any crime, and despite all good common sense.
Bane reads a bunch of stuff, works out some and decides to “break” Batman.
Batman whom Bane has never met or even seen a picture of, nor has any reason to hurt, nor any proof that Batman even exists. Bane just decides that he has to break the symbolic champion of Gotham.
Why not? I guess it beats sitting around in a cell all day. The cover here shows us his eventual costumed look, that of a mexican wrestler with the typical full face mask. Of course Bane is a lot taller and bigger than the typical Mexican wrestler, but the basic look is an obvious homage to a show wrestler, right down to the lace up boots and hunched over aggressive macho posture.
Of note here are the the long pants and shoes which Bane only appears to wear on this cover and not in subsequent stories. The footwear may be shoes or boots covered with the leg of the pants, it it not clear. The prominent tubing from Bane’s head to his arm tells us this is a significant aspect to the character by being highlighted in yellow.
The way Bane is looking out at the reader suggests some urgency to the character, he has beaten (and possibly killed) some men in uniform, and is eagerly looking to move to his next target, or get on with his quest / mission. He is clearly a man of action.
On this page we see the first full image of Bane in costume in a Batman comic. A previous page shows him without his mask in profile and partial views, putting on his outfit, (he has a rubbish hair cut) leading to this dramatic splash page that announces to the reader that Bane is here and he means business.
Here we can see Bane with mask, tubing from his head, wearing pants that look more like fabric, but could be leather, and a wrestler style open vest, that conveniently turns into a more traditional singlet depending on who the artist is.
The previous chapter in the Knightfall story ended with Bane breaking Batman’s back. Here at the beginning of the next chapter, Bane is standing on top of a building, boasting of his victory, then he throws Batman to the ground.
Batman should really be dead at this point, your life expectancy tends to go down when being thrown of off a building while unconscious with a broken back. Also, when I re-read this story now, it is impossible not to hear Tom Hardy’s Bane voice . Go ahead, read the speech bubbles in the following picture below and try NOT to hear Tom Hardy’s Bane voice in your mind when you read you read it.
Re-reading the Knightfall story this year (in preparation for more blog posts, and to see the similarities to the film) I now can not hear anyone’s voice but Tom Hardy’s when I read Bane’s dialogue. Significant in this scene is the unobstucted rear view of of Bane’s mask and tubing, which is clearly connected to his his head, braced at the neck/upper shoulder region and connected to his wrist/forearm.
This art by prominent comic artist Kelley Jones became synonymous with the Knightfall / Bane saga. First used as the cover to Batman #497, and later used on the cover or insert to later trade paperback collections of the Knightfall storyline.
This image show Bane maxed out on the Venom drug, with a grotesque physique that is over exaggerated in every way for emphasis, and showing his total domination over Batman. It’s a great functional piece of art, in that it sells the book, and I want to know more about the story inside.
Kelley Jones is known for his moody Gothic style art, some people hate the extra long ears on Batman, I don’t mind them. My favourite work of his is the Batman Elseworlds Vampire Trilogy where Batman becomes a vampire, punches the undead in the face and kills Dracula to save Gotham.
Apart from being the critical moment, the money shot of when Bane breaks Batman’s back in Knightfall (the same scene would be pilfered and recreated in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises) this art is also notable for Bane having excessively hairy shoulders, which is typical of a man with high levels of testosterone. I guess he had time to stop and shave them between breaking Batman’s back in this scene, and then throwing Batman off a building soon afterward.
Jokes aside, this image is brilliant. You have the visual shock of a splash page, the look of pain on Batman’s face, the unusual jagged panel border sells the scene.
Here in Batman the Animated Series, Bane’s costume becomes a full wrestler outfit with pants that are likely tights, the one piece swimsuit style singlet, a prominent belt and of course his mask looks even more like a Mexican wrestler mask than his earlier incarnations in the various Batman comic books.
I think he looks a bit goofy here, but the look does the job for the show so I can’t complain. I mean does he want to hurt Batman or just pin him for a three count?
Chuck Dee drew a lot of fantastic character specific concept art that was used in the character designs for both Batman Arkham Asylum and Batman Arkham City. Of note here is the massive, almost Incredible Hulk like proportions of Bane, his arms and biceps drawn as thicker than his legs.
The image recalls the overly-exaggerated look of Bane from the earlier Kelley Jones Bane art, particularly the cover with Bane breaking Batman’s back. In this image, Bane is clearly Hulked out on the Venom drug, hence his over-exaggerated un-natural and grotesque physique.
The orange pants are a prison uniform, as are the shackles on his feet and wrists, which have been incorporated into his Venom delivery system for reasons unknown. Bane’s belt glows red, whether an artistic flourish or whether it has anything to do with the Venom delivery here is unknown.
Instead of one main tube connecting from his head to wrist here Bane has multiple tubes directly into his body, and a much larger module on his upper back which is no longer just a bracing point, but clearly has tubing connected to it, rather than just held in place. The straps seem to connect his back, making the overall Venom kit more like a backpack than the old tiny canisters in previous versions of Bane.
Bane wears a metal mask and collar, which are presumably part of his prison restraints.
Chuck Dee art here again, this picture of Bane is concept art for DC’s MMO. I don’t know what the final look was in the game as I’ve never played it. I downloaded the game on PS3, but it took like twenty minutes to even get the game booted so I just deleted it, but I think the concept art here is pretty cool. This design uses all the main Bane characteristics established in other incarnations.
Mask, mean looking, belt, wrestler singlet and pants, chunky belt and of course the Venom drug delivery tubing. Of note here is the spiky collar which gives Bane a slightly goth punk or fetish look in combination with the all black outfit and small silver studs on his wrist braces, belt and padded knee boots. But I have to wonder is Bane tuly angry, or are those pants just a bit too tight? This look seems to have been influenced by Bane’s look in The New Adventures of Batman and Robin.
Further conceptual designs for Bane in the Arkham Asylum series by Chuck Dee.
The side on view of the metal mask is very Hannibal Lecter, while the knuckle dusters just seem like overkill for a character who is already very strong. While menacing, something of Bane’s essential elements are lost without his traditional mask here, he could be just another Venom fueled goon.
The overtly fetishized costume, belts and mask to me suggest maniac or psycho, overall not a great look for Bane in my opinion. But the look can serve as the opening to a story, once Bane is back in more regular clothes, he would look much better. The great thing about concept art is that an artist can really cut loose and play around with different experimental elements before arriving at a final design.
I like all of Chuck Dee’s concept art for the Batman Arkham games, a fair amount oh his work was used in video game articles, online wallpapers and other promotional ways for the game series, such as the covers on the tie in comic books. His Joker art is to die for.
This image is a CG render of Bane as he looks in the first two Arkham Aslyum video games. You can see that the orange prison pants and the giant wrist straps have turned into restraints that also double as wrist gauntlets.
The neck collar / dog collar delivers electric shock to uncooperative prisoners in Arkham Asylum / Akrham City. The action figure of this version of Bane was a really nice toy [see below], and looks just the same as the CG render here. The Batman toy by contrast looks good, but the eyes (pupils) are really creepy.
I know because I have that same Batman toy on my desk here as I’m typing, and yeah the eyes just ruin an otherwise great action figure if you ask me. I’m going to put some white out on the eyeballs at some point, so he looks more like the white eyed creepy Batman, who is creepy in a good way, and not in a silicon valley way.
The follow up to the Rocksteady Arkham City video game was Arkham Origins, a prequel game that is set in the early years of Batman’s career. I played through all three games in the Arkham series multiple times, and this version of Bane was my favourite. You fight Bane twice in the game.
The first time he looks like this and later in the game you fight Bane again as the final boss fight, and he looks absolutely horrific maxed out on Venom. You fight Bane three times all up, as the second battle is in two parts, and the third time he goes insane as he overdoses on Venom and swells up to Incredible Hulk sized proportions.
In the first fight he runs away after the battle and jumps into a helicopter, then the Joker fires an RPG at the helicopter, a pretty awesome scene with plenty of explosions and just pure chaos courtesy of Mr J, who basically tries to murder the guy he hired to kill Batman just for fun. I wish joker had managed to kill Bane at the start of the game so I didn’t have to fight him again at the end of the game. Stupid Bane.
When you fight Bane again at the end of the game, he pumps himself up with drug of choice, the ever reliable Venom.
Overall I really like this look, Bane is big and muscly without looking freakish, and the boss battle while a little boring and predictable, is still good fun, unlike the third fight that follows, which made me Hulk out and turn into Al Swearengen from Deadwood. %$#%&^*$%$ing Bane!
After you beat Bane in the fight at the end of the game, he later overdoses on the Venom drug, and then basically Hulks out, going totally nuts. You can’t damage Bane directly in this fight, which means you have to make him do dumb things like run into walls, electrocute him, all the usual stuff really.
The final Bane boss fight is tedious and annoying, you die easily, while Bane takes a fair bit of damage to beat. If you stuff up some of the environmental cues (parts of the scenery you can use to damage Bane) then he becomes impossible to beat as there is no way to damage him, and you just have to start again. I enjoyed all the boss battles in Arkham Origins, except for this one.
This is another CG render of Bane. This time from the Injustice: Gods Among Us fighting game. I recently got around to playing this game, and well, it is awful. One of the worst fighting games I have ever played, terrible controls, un-intuitive combat.
Some of the character renders look decent, this is not one of them. I think Bane looks awful in this game, and the art style I don’t care for at all. He look sto angular and spiky, and I don’t find him threatening at all.
The relatively rubbish spin off comic based on the story of the game (which has Batman fighting Superman) was more enjoyable then the game, but that is not saying much. I really wanted to like this game, but yeah it is rubbish in terms of game mechanics. Some nice Dragonball Z style knock back attacks and supers, but that is about it.
You can watch a Youtube video in a few minutes of the best animations, and then forget this game ever existed. Not even my cat like this game, and he normally loves everything with Batman. The mobile/tablet version of the game looks excellent, but gets boring after five minutes, and it takes forever to upgrade your characters, so steer clear of that one too.
I was never a fan of the gimp mask and spiky collar combo from The New Adventures of Batman and Robin. But like it or not, the look works, the art style works, and of course this one of my favourite versions of the animated Batman. I didn’t care for Batman’s redesign in the JLA cartoon, I think here in New Adventures he looks timeless and classic. At least this version of Bane looks mean and genuinely threatening.
This version of Bane is from Batman: The Brave and the Bold, a great show that is under appreciated in my opinion. Yeah, this version, it looks crap if you ask me. Did the animators go out to lunch and get the work experience boy to whip this one up? I mean Jesus, LOOK at him, what were they thinking? If they were aiming for the worst looking version of Bane, then they succeeded . I don’t know WHAT they were going for this design.
The basic elements and motifs are there, the mask, the green Venom cable tubing, the wrestler pants belt and singlet. But the face, and the overly rounded silly looking shoulders just make me want to laugh at Bane, rather than be afraid of him. The less said about this version the better. Let’s move on.
Wow! What is going on here. This redesign is from The Batman (another animated Batman show) and is the most dramatically different version of Bane so far. It is weird looking. I don’t know if the red parts are meant to be a costume or he has read skin?
Overall I like that something different was attempted here, but I don’t think the look really works. He looks a bit like Red Hulk after a night out in a fetish club. I don’t love it, or hate it, but it is an interesting redesign. The Batman show also gave the Joker a dreadlocked Rastafarian look, that show really changed up the look of the villains with some bizarre choices.
So this strange looking Bane is not that strange when you look at him in context with the other characters on the show, who are basically all weird looking. I give them credit for mixing things up. But weird for the sake of it does not equal good in my book.
Now this is more like it. This version is from JLA: DOOM, a pretty bland direct market animated feature. Bane looks like a bad-ass. Don’t mess with this guy!
Except… wait a minute, did he accidentally burn a hole in his clothes?
Why is there a giant Superman diamond shaped hole on the front of his one piece? Overall, I love this look, but the open chest piece looks ridiculous. Either cover it up or put him a proper singlet, not this bastardised piece of clothing.
I’m starting to sound like a real misery guts here, and I gotta tell ya, it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
Bane from the Young Justice animated show (a great show, well the first season is brilliant, second season not so much).
Another good look. Stripped back, no spiky collar or silly straps and junk all over him. Just lean and mean.
Mask? Check. Venom cable (in fashionable red) and the classic prison tough guy singlet. This is Bane before he hulks out on Venom of course, so he looks a bit skinny, but that is just the art style of the show, and for me it works. i like than in the show he appear to be genuinely Mexican, rather than speaking with an accent and basically being white. That always bugged me.
I can’t stand when characters of various non-caucasian races are anglicised for comics, or because they ran out of ink at the printers again. Yeah, sorry old man whitey at the printer, that excuse may have held up in the forties, but don’t be pulling that shit now!
Sweet Jesus what were they drinking the day they came up with this one and where can I get some?
This is (sadly) the most camp version of Bane from the Batman and Robin live action movie. In the film Bane just grunts and mumbles, and doesn’t talk. He is a mindless henchman to Poison Ivy. His skin is so green and scaly you could almost mistake him for Killer Croc. The spikes on the belt are just silly, not scary. The prominent crotch is offensive.
Batman 66 did camp on purpose, and the villains in that show still look great today. Cesare Romero’s Joker, Julie Newmar’s Catwoman, Frank Gorshin’s Riddler. Love or hate the show, the costumes worked in context, and the villains really popped on screen with their vibrant gaudy colours. The show looked like a comic book.
In contrast, Bane in Batman and Robin looks like the drawing of some ten year old kid who had never seen Bane, and based his drawing based on a description his mate told him of what Bane looked like. Nothing about the costume, the overall look or the style works here in my view. Utter rubbish.
This version of Bane was played by Robert ‘Jeep’ Swenson, a pro wrestler who sadly died in the same year Batman and Robin came out in 1997. His physique was impressive, imagine what he could have been like in a modern comic book movie instead of the lousy Batman and Robin. He will be missed.
An issue of the Secret Six comic book. Secret Six is another book that takes a bunch of DC super villains and puts them into a ad hoc team, similar to the Suicide Squad. The results are mixed, some issues are great fun, others are pretty bland.
Depends on who is writer is really. The cover is pretty cool. Bane’s mask reminds me of Spawn, or Venom, take your pick. This cover may even be a homage to Spawn? I don’t know, stranger things have happened.
This little fella is rather cute. Bane from the Lego Batman video games of course. His Venomised version basically looks like Hulk from Lego Marvel but with a a different skin.
I didn’t need to include this one, the costume is classic Bane and unremarkable. I only included this image because I love seeing Bane doing a face plant after getting shield slapped by the good Captain. Eat pavement idiot!
Every artist has the right to express their unique version of a character. How boring would it be if Batman and his rogues gallery still looked exactly the same as they did in the fifties? Pretty boring. I love artistic diversity. I don’t love Bane, but it has been fun looking at some of the different artistic interpretations of one of my least liked Batman bad guys.
I hope you enjoyed seeing the visual comparisons too, and didn’t mind my criticisms too much.
Soon I’ll be doing visual comparisons of the different looks of other Batman characters, and eventually Batman himself, along with the Joker.
If I had to pick a favourite version of Bane, I would go with the less pumped up look from the Arkham Origins game. That was the first time I felt that I enjoyed Bane as a character, other than of course the cinematic version that I like – in my view the definitive Bane – Tom Hardy’s Bane in Dark Knight Rises.
At first I did not care for this version of Bane but after watching the film multiple times, this look has really grown on me to the point where I like it. Except for the part where the mask does basically nothing, and is attached to nothing, that still really bugs me.
I had a words or two to say about Tom Hardy’s Bane, so check out that article if you missed it. Mostly I ramble on about how rubbish the fights were in Rises, but there is some other stuff in there too, so take a look.
I don’t know at what point in life Batman became my favourite fictional character of all time (apologies to Sherlock Holmes who runs a close second, Scrooge McDuck a close third).
I collected Spider-Man comics for years as a teenager and bought the odd Batman trade or cool crossover with the Predator or Judge Dredd.
There was something about Batman that he just felt so at home in the graphic novel and prestige format book format.
I never owned more than a handful of random Batman comics here and there, plus some prestige format oneshots and Elseworlds books. It never occured to me to buy any of the monthly books, which would have cost way too much in addition to buying four to five Spider-Man books a month at a time before I ever had a job.
For some reason, those few Batman books were enough. I didn’t know a whole lot about the character, I had seen Batman and Batman Returns and enjoyed them, but I was not in love with them. I knew the comic book Batman was way cooler than any cinematic version ever could be.
I used to thumb through all the various Batman trades at the comic shop but didn’t have enough money to buy any of them because of my monthly pull list. Batman the Animated Series helped fill out the world of Batman in my mind, and seeing classic stories for free on television was a lot cheaper than buying all the trades to read the original stories they were based on.
It was not until years later that I started reading all the comics I could get my hands on in public libraries. Then I started to develop a deeper appreciation for comic books and graphic novels of all types. I used to have membership for six different public libraries around Perth, and I would go to all of them just to read their comics, (other books too) and then move on to another one. I would usually have about thirty different trades lying around my bedroom, once I had read a few I would to a library, return then and borrow something different.
In six to twelve months I read more comics than I had previously read in my entire life. To buy those same books would have cost several thousand dollars. Many of the comics trades at the libraries I borrowed from I was grateful to read and have access to, but had no wish to own, or have lying around the house taking up valuable living space.
Would you want to buy every movie you watch?
No, of course not.
You can rent movies, but you can not rent comics, which is why I am so grateful to public libraries.
While I bought single issues of various comics for the better part of a decade or so, at some point I had enough, cancelled all my monthly pull list permanently (except Savage Dragon) and decided to only ever buy trades from now on.
If a book didn’t get a trade, then it wasn’t worth my time. American comics from the major publishing companies can be quite fickle at times for not finishing stories. If you buy European and Japanese comics, there is typically a beginning, middle and end. If you buy a novel anywhere in the world, it has chapter and an ending.
But due to the nature of monthly periodicals, American superhero comics typically go on forever with no end at all. Things have improved since the nineties where now most comics get tighter story arcs with a consistent creative team. But how many comic book stories have I read that were never finished? The artist/writer got too busy with other projects, or was just too flaky to actually finish something they started.
If a writer, artist or editor can’t commit to finishing a project, don’t expect me to commit to buying or reading it
Giving up the monthly pull list was one of the best (reading) decisions I ever made. I remember one day looking at around a thousand single issues of flimsy stapled comics, and estimating how many graphic novels and trades I could have bought with the same amount of money. After doing the shonky math I realised I would much prefer to have durable bound editions of comics on the bookshelf than ten miles of ugly white boxes in a garage or spare room.
I don’t care about first issues, second issues, special editions, limited editions, fancy pants signed editions, holo-foil 3D pop up books with fries or anything like that. All that crap is a big ego trip! It means NOTHING. I read comics because I fucking LOVE reading comics, I don’t care what you call it, where it came from, who made it or why, if the story is fun, I will read it. Everything else is just noise.
I don’t “collect” anything for value, prestige or whatever. Giving up monthlies meant I could start tackling some of the classic series that had been around forever in trade that I had never read like Transmetropolitan, Sandman, Bone, Uncle Scrooge Comics, or Concrete. Some comics are just far more satisfying and meaningful to read then the monthly junk food of superheroes.
I am not knocking superheroes, or junkfood, I love both. But we need real sustenance in life. We need not just food, but soul food. I still read vanilla superhero comics, not just the pretentious (and well written) stuff like Kingdom Come, but the truly fun stuff like Punisher Kills the Marvel Universe, or Marvel Zombies by Robert Kirkman (the first two volumes are great, the rest fun but forgettable).
I just love reading comics, in any format, on any topic. Mainly I read superheroes, but I love all types of comics such as American Splendor or Floyd Gottfredson’s Mickey Mouse, Carl Bark’s Uncle Scrooge Comics, Paul Chadwick’s Concrete, or other all time greats like Bryan Talbot’s The Tale of One Bad Rat, Art Spiegelman’s Maus, Kurt Busiek’s Marvels and Astro City.
I’ve tried reading Love and Rockets, Strangers in Paradise and Elfquest, but they are too feminine for my tastes, however I am really glad those books are out there. I respect the creators of those titles, all of which are unique and brilliant in their own way. I’m not really the intended audience for those books anyhow. I’m more a guy who loves square jawed action heroes, zombies, westerns, kung-fu movies, evil robots, dinosaurs and brilliant cartoons like Donald Duck and Spirited Away.
After giving up the monthlies (which was like giving up an addiction of sorts, I felt like I NEEDED those books, and that is not a healthy place to be my friend) I have never looked back since then. I have never and will never buy a single issue of anything ever again, no matter how good it is. They fall apart, they don’t stand up on a bookshelf, long boxes are are ugly as shit and single issues of a 12-24 issues run of a story are frankly tedious to read.
Give me a trade or three to enjoy a story at my leisure. Imagine every time you read a novel you had to read an individual book per chapter. Why would you do that? You would get fed up pretty quick with the interruption to the flow of the story and pack it in before you ever got to the end. Give me a story with a beginning, middle and end, or otherwise don’t ask me to even consider reading something, it is a waste of my time.
I used to have a lot of comics in boxes that just took up space, so one day I started giving a lot of it away. I gave away a seven year collection of Spider-Man comics. I kept less than perhaps twenty books out of around five hundred or so, mostly the ones with really unique or brilliant covers that I liked. I moved again recently and gave away a stack of hardcover trades, some great comics – but stuff I had no interest in reading again.
My friend’s teenaged kid was pretty excited, although not as excited as I was at his age for comics. I hope he enjoys those free trades, I mean they were fucking hard covers man, I used to sweat blood to even touch something like that, let alone own it.
I used to deliver newspapers (something I never read, *ugh*, I feel dirty just looking at them) once a week on Sundays, it took me around five hours and often it was cold and raining heavily. Good old New Zealand weather. For this I was paid the princely sum of $15 a week. Which of course I spent every cent on comics when I would ride my push bike into the city, back when I lived in New Zealand as a kid.
When I bought trades, I looked for stories that were already complete that I could read from start to finish. I looked for the great books that I loved to read over and over like Bone, Tintin, Astro Boy, Maus, Dark Knight Returns, Calvin and Hobbes, Uncle Scrooge Comics by Carl Barks and other timeless greats. I still read superheroes of course, but I only ever bought trades of the stuff that I really treasure and wanted to be able to read today, and ten years from today. Anything that didn’t qualify I would not bother with.
I still read books from public libraries, and kept several books about comics on the shelf that gave summaries of over one thousand different graphic novels and great comics to potentially read. I will read anything that appeals to me at least one time, but I only buy comics I consider to be truly exceptional, and worth reading multiple times. Plus crazy fun disposable stuff like Marvel Zombies vs Ash / Army of Darkness. Sadly, most comics as fun as they are, are absolute fluff.
Disposable entertainment. That is what comics were always intended to be, but somewhere along the way the kids who used to read comics grew up and started making comics themselves, and slowly comics came to be written by people who actually give a damn adout telling a good story, and not just collecting a pay check.
Originally comic books were cheap reprints of old newspaper strips cut folded and stapled to make a quick buck, and later comics evolved into cheap and shoddy original stories to make a quick buck. But the overall quality of writing and art in modern comics today is light years ahead of where it was even two decades ago. The overall standard has risen, even the worst crap on the shelf each month is still produced to a high technical standard, probably considerably better than most comics that came out 30-50* years ago in overall quality. (*Jack Kirby being the exception)
The same can be said for video games and films. The technical standards have risen so high, and become so standardised than even crap looks relatively good. Comic books, films and video games have become such over crowded markets that vie for attention along with social media, cable TV, video games, home PCs, tablets and smart phones that to be noticed in such a market, you need to make something really really good. Personally I think this is a good thing.
Having so many time wasting activities competing for our attention means that any art form that makes it way to us whether as a physical product or digital product, it needs to be something good for us to even bother with it when there are so many viable easily accessible alternatives. I believe that digital media has helped to democratise both the creation and distribution of old media in new forms.
Getting back to comics, digital colouring have been the biggest innovation in comics in recent decades in my opinion. Neal Adams and his daughter we have to thank for finally encouraging comic book publishers to stop printing their stories on toilet paper and finally moving to a higher quality of paper stock. Small innovations like better paper stock and amazing digital colouring and separations, less censorship by publishers and editors in modern comics mean that comics have evolved into some truly beautiful and engrossing experiences.
Creators have more freedom than ever to actually tell the stories they want to tell. With the full integration of digital comics (which took nearly a decade too long in my view, but at least tablets got cheaper in the mean time) onto just about any screen you get a hold of, I feel that comics are as relevant as ever. Comic books are basically a niche, we will never see the sorts of sales numbers that comic book publishers had during World War II.
Even if we have World War III tomorrow, the internet, video games and HBO are not going to go away so that comics can make that comeback that some “experts” have been predicting “might” happen. Comic books ever having astronomical sales numbers again is like the Y2K and all those 2012 doom and gloom prophesies. Just a bunch of theoretical nonsense with little to zero basis in reality.
WARNING! A Tangent has appeared…
It is really hard to read some older comics from the seventies that appear on newsprint with ink bleeding everywhere and dialogue not so much smudged during printing as rendered indecipherable. Was that guy bleeding to death on panel three? No, those were words spilling out of his guts, not blood.
Thankfully with the rise of digital colouring and separations, a lot of old comics have been reprinted in trades that now show the art closer to how it first appeared, before it turned to shit by being printed on what was basically toilet paper.
The modern equivalent in film terms is owning the home Blu-Ray with its superior visual fidelity. The theatrical film full of scratches, lines, blurry images and other tell tale signs of wear looks even more ugly in comparison. How many of us can say we have ever watched the first pristine print of a film? I never have.
Only the people who made the film have ever seen that first print. But with Blu-Ray you are getting the same flawless image every time, it does not degrade with use like film on a projector at the multiplex. That is what I love about digital colouring/separations and digital comics, the image does not degrade.
I love holding an actual book in my hand, I still buy cheap non-fiction black and white text paperbacks by the truck load. But digital comics actually look remarkably better than their print equivalent. I never thought I would prefer a digital comic over a printed book. I still love the FEEL of an actual book in my hands, but I read nearly equal amounts of digital comics and print trades these days. And I tend to read things in digital that I never would have bought as print, plus they take up a LOT less room, and I can take my tablet with me anywhere. On the train, in the toilet, in the shower. Well, perhaps not in the shower, that is a bit extreme. I’ve never that, as far as you know. But I have eaten a hamburger or two in the shower after working all day and not eating, and that ain’t a pretty sight I tell you.
What I like about digital comics is that there are no more pages printed out of order, no more creased spines that make whatever appears in the center of a page unreadable as it disappears into that annoying cheap glue in the spine that inevitably falls apart the more you read the book. No more stupid ad inserts messing up your enjoyment of the book, that you have to pull the staples apart carefully, remove the annoying glossy advertorial, then fold the staples back down, permanently damaging the condition of the book in the process.
I still love a good trade for the bookshelf, but I am far more discriminating in what edition I buy these days. Amazon reviews are often helpful as people often mention print defects. At some point I felt a need to read all the great Batman stories, and started buying more trades and graphic novels, which I find deeply rewarding to read.
Batman: A Celebration of 75 Years is a great trade book collection with fantastic binding, great paper stock, an iconic Jim Lee cover and just screams “love me, put me on your bookshelf and never look back”. In contrast the recent Batman 75th Anniversary Box Set that contains The Dark Knight Returns, Batman: Hush and Batman: The Court of Owls in a nice slip cover is a piece of crap.
I was all set to buy that 75th anniversary box set with its awesome alternate covers, only to read reader reviews of what a waste of money it was on Amazon. I will still pick up the “A Celebration of 75 Years” which is a fantastic book, high quality and a great companion volume to the Superman 75 Years and Joker 75 Years books.
The Batman 75th Anniversary Box Set is the perfect example of a hastily cobbled together book set that is printed on inferior materials.
A book that is literally falling apart at the seams when it is brand new is not a quality book in my opinion
I would like this set to be re-issued at some point, but it seems unlikely, and even it it was reprinted on better materials, I would still be waiting for some reviews before buying it.
Another example is Two Morrows Publishing, who put out some excellent comic book magazines, books and prestige format collections of old material as well as one off new material, generally on grades of paper that are just fine for their intended purpose.
Two Morrows Publishing have published a great series of retrospective books that cover the medium of comics by decade, but they are printed on inferior materials that again fall apart when actually read. I am grateful to find this out before I wasted any money on the books. I was previously looking forward to collecting the entire series of books, as I love the quality of writing of all the Two Morrows publications, but now it is unlikely I will ever read those books.
I should say that there is no issue at all with any of the wonderful Two Morrows publishing magazines and other book specials they have put out over the years, all of which are high quality in the printed stock, put together properly and are full of great content. In short, BUY their excellent magazines and products!
A damn shame about those “American Comic Book Chronicles” retrospective books though. I REALLY wanted to read them for fun, and use them for research as well. I will not be buying any of them sadly. there other book titles are fine as far as I know, and I plan to buy several of those. Overall they are a fantastic company making high quality products (as is DC), the American Comic Book Chronicles books seem to be the exception, so don’t think I am bashing the company, I love the company and their work and read they magazines frequently.
But it shows that you have to pay attention to EVERY aspect of production from advertising, sales and marketing to typography, graphical layout, colour corrections, printing, binding, shipping and storage.
Mess up ANY of those aspects for any reasons and a book or comic book may fail to reach its intended audience or be taken seriously, or fall apart in a readers hands.
Nobody wants to buy an inferior product!
There was a time I never cared about any of this, when I used to actually go to comic shops instead of ordering books online. If there was a problem with a book I could take it back the same day and exchange it or get a refund. With buying print comics online, you don’t know what you are getting until it arrives, and if it is from overseas, I may be waiting up to four weeks to receive the book.
So if it is an expensive book that falls apart the moment you open it, well it pays to find that out before you buy it, because sending it back means waiting another four weeks for it to ship, and will likely cost me more to post it back for a refund that I paid for the book in the first place. Publishers and direct marketers often have discounts for bulk mailing, but you and I, Joe and Jane Public, do not get those discounts when returning defective items.
Some sellers are considerate and will refund online purchases if you can show that the item is clearly defective, and it would too much to return it.
I would prefer to buy books here in Australia, buy given they cost two to three times the price of what I can buy them online for from the US and UK, it makes no sense to buy comics, trades, graphic novels or paperback books in Australia.
But despite any of this nonsense, I still love to read comics of all types and the majority of the time books are in perfect or near perfect condition when I get them in the mail. This nit-picking is saying hey, these are the exceptions, these are GREAT BOOKS that I want to buy, but nobody wants to spend their hard earned money on things that are broken.
So if these issues are ever addressed, and we get to see better quality editions of the books I mentioned above, I will be first in line to buy them.
I am even a little angry that my favourite dude Batman got such shoddy treatment on his birthday! How would you feel if somebody gave you broken presents on your Birthday or Anniversary? I doubt you would be happy, you might even feel that the person responsible didn’t really care about you at all.
So I guess that is the impression I get from DC Comics, that the Anniversary year was a chance to rake in a few extra bucks, and if some of the products are crap, well what does it matter.
Perhaps DC never knew about the printed Defective Comics, and so was powerless to do anything. But I would like to think that a company like DC that when it DID find out about the Defective Comics would make amends by stopping sale of the broken books, and having them fixed if possible, otherwise pulped and overseeing that the next print run actually is done right before returning to the market.
No doubt all of this would be costly, and maybe it is not possible, I don’t know. I don’t work in accounts, I don’t know jack about printing presses, binding, inventory and shipping or that sort of stuff. I am just some jerk on the internet.
Bit I do know what I like. And I feel that somebody ought to at least TRY to remedy the issue. Perhaps they have already, I have no idea, the blog at the official DC comics site would be the perfect place to say
“Hey we’re sorry, it sucks when comics are falling apart brand new, and HERE’s what we are doing about it, because WE love Batman and YOU love Batman, let’s short this shit out people”.
Or at least stop selling the Defective Comics and post a public blog to apologise to the people who expected a wonderful gift set for themselves or a loved one and instead got something that was broken. I think DC can do better, and I feel that a character with the history of Batman DESERVES better treatment on his birthday / anniversary.
All I can day is vote with your wallet, because if you buy crappily put together books, then you only the encourage more of the same, and have only yourself to blame. Pretty negative ending for this usually cheerful blog, so here’s a cool pic of Marvel Zombies vs Army of Darkness to put a smile on your dial.
A book that should have been awful, but was all kinds of awesome. Look at that eyeball hanging out of Wolverine’s mouth, that is just nasty, I love it!
The pages in the books and trades conveniently don’t fall apart while you are reading, the zombies however do fall apart, often in a comical grotesque fashion. I encourage you to read it, it is tremendous fun.
Deep down, Clark is essentially a good person… and deep down, I’m not – Bruce Wayne/Batman
Batman has been connected to Superman from the very beginning.
Batman’s origins began with the loss of his parents while Superman’s origins began with the gain of his new adoptive parents.
Superman too lost his birth parents, but he was a baby then and never truly knew them.
Growing up with Ma and Pa Kent from Kansas, Superman was loved and adored.
Batman too was loved by his parents Thomas and Martha Wayne.
Somewhere between the ages of 8-10 years old – depending on who is restarting the DC universe this week – his parents were cruelly gunned down in an alleyway outside a theater. Bruce Wayne knows the pain of loss deeper than Clark can through direct experience.
Alfred looked after Bruce after he lost his parents, so Bruce was never truly alone. But the loss of any loved one, especially our parents can leave psychological scars that last a lifetime. Bruce led a privileged life, and while technically an orphan, he was never without a primary caregiver, and lead a pampered life of privilege.
Clark lost his entire planet, Kryptonian civilization and race of people, but his pain was more of an existential angst than deep personal suffering. Superman grew up in Kansas and later moved to Metropolis – the city of light where he would become a god among men under earth’s yellow sun, and yet struggle to relate to the every day man and woman.
Batman was created as a direct response to the gosh darn swell sales of the Big Red and Blue Cheese, and has been linked to his spiritual brother ever since his inception.
While Superman is the sun god from Smallville in a brightly coloured heroic costume that recalls the american flag and protective roles like policemen (and women), Batman is the grim avenger, the antithesis of Superman. The original Batman was depicted in black, or black and grey. Black being the colour traditionally worn by villains in Hollywood films and pulp fiction.
Both characters in their original incarnations wore the old underwear on the outside, a definite fashion faux pas in DC’s post-52 brave new world of heroes and villains, where they have been retrofitted with long pants/tights minus the overshorts or man bloomers.
In the 1940s, superheroes such as Batman and Superman and their Justice Society Contemporaries Hawkman, The Spectre, and Dr. Fate wore their underwear on the outside for a different reason. The connotation in that era was not bad fashion sense but related to old time strongmen, wrestlers and acrobats, many of whom were well known for putting on shows for the public.
Rather what was implied in the visual iconography of the underoos on the outside was pure physical strength and athleticism above the average mortal.
Old time strongmen such as Eugen Sandow or Arthur Saxon would often wear their undersized briefs to show off their muscularity during public displays of strength. They also might wear the undersuzed underoos for publicity photos or photos in mail order courses teaching their methods of strength training. As a side note, many of these strong man glamor shots became popular erotica amongst men of the era.
Old time wrestlers, particularly the show wrestlers that preceded the modern day spectacle of the NWA, WWF, WWE, WCW, ECW, TNA, AEW and other similar leagues would often wear tight shorts or briefs over top of their stockings, as the stockings tended to be see through and would slip around as they wrestled. The tight little shorts they wore were not really underwear, but closer to modern day swimwear, it just looked like underwear because it was so tight and form fitting.
In the modern era UFC fighters often wear very form fitting tight shorts that don’t hinder their movements, particularly kicks and arm bars among other common techniques. Loose fitting shorts would only hinder their techniques, or get caught on things, causing the fight to be stopped so somebody could fix their shorts, which is not only time wasting, but pretty embarrassing for the fighter. Whatever the profession, a male character wearing small shorts implies a man of action and athleticism.
Circus performers such as strongmen, acrobats and flying trapeze artists were also known to wear the old underoos on outside. The crossover of this visual iconography is probably most relatable through Batman’s apprentice Robin, who was formerly a trapeze artist before swearing an oath to war on criminals alongside Batman. Robin’s superhero costume is not far removed from his trapeze artist costume.
So whether wrestlers, weight lifters, strongmen or circus performers the connotation of the little shorts over top of tights on Superman and Batman immediately suggests a figure of above average strength, power and grace. The addition of the chest logo S or chevron on Superman was a further indicator of a person of good moral character. A champion of the people, a modern era Hercules in the case of Superman. The bright primary colours, chest insignia and acrobatic outfit came to symbolise the Superhero quite literally as well as symbolically. In Peter Coogan’s book Superhero: The Secret Origin of a Genre he delves into the often confusing distinctions of what defines a SUPER-hero as opposed to pulp characters, science heroes, dual identity characters and masked adventurers.
QUOTE – The difference between Superman and earlier figures such as the Shadow or Doc Savage lies in the element of identity central to the superhero, the costume. Although Superman was not the first costumed hero, his costume marks a clear and striking departure from those of the pulp heroes. A pulp hero’s costume does not emblematize the character’s identity. The slouch hat, black cloak, and red scarf of the Shadow or the mask and fangs of the Spider disguise their faces but do not proclaim their identities. Superman’s costume does, particularly through his S chevron. Similarly, Batman’s costume proclaims him a bat man, just as Spider-Man’s webbed costume proclaims him a spider man. These costumes are iconic representations of the superhero identity.
Color plays an important role in the iconicity of the superhero costume. In his chapter on color, [in Scott McClouds Understanding Comics] McCloud shows the way the bright, primary colors of superhero comics are less than expressionistic but therefore more iconic, due to their simplicity. Specifically with reference to costumes, McCloud says, Because costume colors remained exactly the same, panel after panel, they came to symbolize the characters in the mind of the reader
-Peter Coogan, Superhero: The Secret Origin of a Genre, page 33
Another common trait amongst old time strongmen, physical culturists and lifters in the Iron Game like Eugen Sandow, George Hackenschmidt, Arthur Saxon and friends was that the strongmen were known for their well developed intellects, IRON WILL and mental discipline. These traits would become synonymous with superheroes, most notably Batman. The Superhero costume then would symbolise not only a physical dynamo of sound moral character, but a character of intelligence, internal will power and discipline.
Those silly little shorts on the outside and bright tights seem just a little bit less ridiculous when viewed in that context. The Superhero costume became symbolic not just of Champions, Physical Marvels and Titans of the people, but symbolic of an entire genre. The cape, mask and costume crowd has thrilled readers for over three quarters of a century. The superhero ideal is one that is strong in our culture, not just in North America where the superhero was born and conceived, but around the globe people of all ages look to superheroes for entertainment, inspiration and sound moral values in uncertain times.
Batman appeared around a year after Superman, and Wonder Woman a couple of years later – bringing some much needed feminine energy to balance out DC’s testosterone laden Titans. In the modern era DC’s holy trinity of superheroes would frequently be featured together in the Justice League comics, annual company event stories, as well as their own various monthly comic books and occasional graphic novels. But in the early years Wonder Woman, Superman and Batman would only appear together on promotional ads, merchandise or the odd comic book cover.
Superman and Batman first appeared together on the cover of the promotional anthology title New York World’s Fair Comics #1 in 1939. They also appeared together on the cover of World’s Best Comics #1,1941 the title that would lead to the ongoing World’s Finest Comics. While Batman and Superman appeared on various comic book covers together, inside the various anthology books were solo tales of Batman, Superman and other Golden Age characters, including non-superhero characters.
The World’s Greatest Superheroes finally shared some brief panels together in All Star Comics #7, 1941 but not until Superman #76, 1952 did the two officially meet in a full length story in The Mightiest Team in the World.
Soon afterward Superman and Batman would be teaming up in a regular ongoing book – World’s Finest Comics #71, 1954. The previous issues while regularly showing Batman, Superman and often Robin together on the cover in comical fun loving situations were mostly solo stories and reprints of earlier Batman or Superman stories. With World’s Finest Comics #71, the foundation stones of the Superman/Batman friendship that would last through the next thirty years were laid down.
Clark Kent and Bruce Wayne switch super-identities in a gimmicky, totally non-nonsensical story. Guess that explains the bullets bouncing off of Batman’s chest then. Despite its eccentricities (like the backwards step for feminism where Lois Lane is portrayed as a complete idiot) the story is still great fun to read.
Happy trails pard’ner! I’ll just step blindly off this building without looking, while you go catch whoever put that graffiti on the sun.
World’s Finest Comics came to an end with issue #323, 1986. While Batman and Superman would appear in each other’s books now and then, they would not be teaming up again on a regular basis until the revival of the JLA in Grant Morrison’s JLA #1, 1997 which ran for 125 issues. This book was followed by the fan favourite Superman / Batman #1, 2003 ongoing title by Jeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness, their six issue story arc kicked off an ongoing six-issue story arc format by various popular writers and artists paired together for each story arc. The book was surprisingly successful and ran for 87 issues. The follow up to this book was Batman / Superman in 2013, a confusing book of varying quality set in DC’s post-52 continuity.
Over the years the various Superman / Batman team up comic books have traditionally handled spectacular over the top stories, gimmick covers, gimmick stories and anything that gets the reader hooked and wanting to turn the page or buy the book. Overall, the books are pretty fun to read from the earliest World’s Finest Comics with Superman, Batman and Robin enjoying leisurely pursuits and athletic activities on the covers to the later less frivolous covers focusing on one nightmarish scenario after another, that were conveniently wrapped up in an issue or two.
The JLA books from the various eras are great fun, particularly Grant Morrison’s run but we don’t see a whole lot of Superman and Batman together. They are typically the leaders of the team, who usually divide into smaller teams or squads as they face each new crisis month to month.
Seeing DC’s big two icons in a regular ongoing book just makes sense. Allowing the focus to shift away from the monthly soap opera like stories in the various Batman and Superman ongoing titles – to larger then life adventures in the team up books makes for a refreshing change.
Whether Worlds Finest, Brave and the Bold (DC’s other team-up book, often featuring Batman with various DC heroes) or Superman/Batman – the team-up style books were usually not limited by the continuity of the monthly character books. It makes them far easier to get into, you can pick up a fun story, read the whole thing in a short time and walk away without having to buy ten or more monthly books.
The Jeph Loeb / Ed McGuinness Superman Batman book in particular was a great read, and a real return to form of the earlier over the top gimmick stories that had you frantically turning the page to find out what happens next. Darkseid brainwashes Supergirl, Batman punches the president in the face! You get the idea.
So in the early stories of Batman and Superman, the two were good friends who teamed up often on increasingly bizarre adventures. Before they started teaming up from World’s Finest Comics issue#71 onwards, the previous issues were solo stories featuring Superman or Batman and Robin, who only appeared together on the covers.
They finally met in person in short tales in All Star Comics #7, and Superman #76, before moving on to be featured in their ongoing team ups from Worlds Finest Comics from#71. Later they had ongoing team-up stories in the fan favourite Morrison/Porter JLA and the Loeb/McGuinness Superman/Batman titles.
The early years of their super-relationship were coloured by fantastical tales, science fiction stories and imaginary stories, often involving alternate worlds and more and more ridiculous scenarios to fill out the gimmick covers. The gimmick covers were often throw away gags that the writer had to fill as best they could in any given issue. The idea was to get young readers to pick up the book, turn the page and inquire into what madness awaited them in this months senses-shattering issue of adventure!
In later years while still friends, Superman and Batman’s relationship would take on an adversarial role when DC realised how much fans liked seeing Batman and Superman fighting each other – no matter how contrived the situation. While the contest of champions served a narrative purpose in Miller’s seminal alternate world Dark Knight Returns other tales of the clash of DCs most popular titans were of varying quality.
In John Bryne’s 1986 Man of Steel mini-series relaunch of Superman, he encounters Batman as a stranger. Later in Grant Morrison’s JLA and the Loeb / McGuinness Superman Batman book, the two are old friends once again, seemingly with their rivalry behind them, until the next sales slump or gimmick book around the corner.
Ultimately, a cool image of two popular heroes fighting each other on the cover, or in the book helps sell comics. Even if it makes little sense for two good friends to be at each others throats a couple times a year, then go back to normal for the duration of their relationship with selective amnesia. Supes and The Bat at times are like bickering brothers or an old married couple. They respect each other, but often have very different views on issues, and that can lead to them falling out. But no matter how many times that happens, they eventually reconcile and their bonds only grow deeper and stronger.
Gimmick covers, gimmick stories and events are the bread and butter of traditional superhero comics, and while gimmicks get old very fast, there is something genuinely thrilling in seeing the philosophical differences between Superman and Batman leading up to an uneven slug-fest that has rabid fans foaming at the mouth.
But ultimately, whatever differences they may have, Batman and Superman are lifelong friends. No amount of ret-conning, revamping, relaunching, new universes or alternate universes can break the bonds of true friendship. While the next live action version of the World’s Finest will likely seem them at each other’s throats, we all know the Batman v Superman film can only end in the beginning of Superman and Batman’s lifelong friendship.
We really wanted to express the evil quality of Gotham City. The first line of the script that Tim was involved with was ‘Hell has erupted through the pavements and just carried on growing
– Anton Furst
Anton Furst accomplished many things in his life, but the one accomplishment all Batman fans remember him for best is giving birth to the coolest, sweetest, sexiest Batman ride that ever was.
His version of the Batmobile (in collaboration with Tim Burton) has influenced everything Batman related since 1989, it is the enduring image from the Batman 1989 film that still resonates with fans today. His meticulous set designs allowed collaborator and director Tim Burton to bring Gotham City to life on the big screen, in a way never before seen or imagined.
Anton was a craftsman who would work closely with directors to help them accomplish their vision. He graduated from the Royal College of Art in London, he won an Academy Award for his production design work on Batman. His career was short, but memorable. Directors respected his work, and sadly, he killed himself in 1991 at age 47, following troubles with substance abuse and separation from his wife.
Anton worked with the infamous recluse Stanley Kubrick on Full Metal Jacket and later with the ever melancholy imagineer Tim Burton on Batman. He was a meticulous production designer who cared about his craft and had high standards. What some people call “perfectionism”, I would call passion and attention to detail, the kind of qualities that embody Batman himself.
A contributor to a handful of quality films, Anton was head-hunted to work on Batman. Without him, Gotham City would have just been a stage background no different than any other. But with his contributions (along with concept artist Nigel Phelps) Anton helped Burton bring his vision of Gotham to life.
With a wealth of knowledge on architecture, art, production design and practical experience, he brought a level of total professionalism to his work no matter the job. From hospital interiors in Awakenings to recreating Vietnam in England for Kubrick in Full Metal Jacket. He worked intimately with Tim Burton to create a unique “nightmarish” Gothic vision of Gotham City that would influence everything Batman related that came after. Anton could draw and imagine and bring to life just about anything on a set.
His intimate knowledge of lighting, cameras and shadow was critical to the success of 1989’s Batman. His recommendations were ignored by some directors, but with Tim Burton he found not just a collaborator, but a man he resonated so closely with that no matter what film they worked on together, it would have been something special.
Anton was not precious about his work, there were no sacred cows in his view on the art of cinema. He was not a fan of cinema verite, stating that “two people talking on a train” was not really using the potential of cinema.
Anton started a laser special effects company in the 1970s with John Wolff and Nick Phillips, with lasers supplied by none other than rock group The Who, whom he also worked with. Holoco was involved with science fiction films Alien, Star Wars, Superman and Outland among others.
During this era Furst once asked The Who (over the phone) for a hand with some equipment for laser light show The Light Fantastic. Without warning they flew a helicopter over just half an hour later loaded with lasers for a light show. Roger Daltry and some technicians had turned up unannounced.
And within a half an hour he had a fuckin’ helicopter turning up on the lawn with three lasers and three technicians in tow. I was pinned to the wall by Daltry, barking, ’Who’s involved in this thing?
-Anton Furst [Bomb magazine interview by Lynn Geller]
Anton was a professional, a hard worker who brought out the best in any production (film or otherwise). He was an artist in the true sense of the word and when people talk about him, they are filled with praise for his contributions to the world, including his most well known work, creating the “noirish nightmare version of Gotham City”.
Unfortunately, there are few interviews with Anton, and while the movie stars generally get the gloss and directors get the auteur respect, production designers generally are not remembered in the history books. However, for his efforts working on Batman, Anton did win the Academy Award for Art Direction. From the few interviews still available to read online today, it is clear that Furst loved his work.
His soft and eloquently spoken voice can be full of praise for a film one minute, and then highly critical the next – but in an affectionate and warm way, even his hardest criticisms of film, or specific individuals come across in a light and playful, matter of fact way.
To listen to Anton talk about cinema is somewhat hypnotic, he gets the mythic and symbolic universal nature of stories. Every artist needs a ‘voice’, no matter the production he was on he brought a unique voice and attitude. He could talk all day about a single shot, scene or theme with such depth and insight that you would be enthralled and never bored.
Why is it that a man can live his life, and be remembered more for his death than anything else? I think a man is defined more by how he lives, than how he died. Let’s put an end to that, because Anton was a craftsman, a hard worker. I can call him an artistic genius, but any artist knows that no matter what medium you work in, Genius is 10% Inspiration and 90% Perspiration. Those who work hard get results. If you have talent, as Anton Furst did, then you work damn hard and maybe something will come of it.
All of us have our demons, and our flaws, but they don’t stop us from living a life worth remembering. I believe that the nature of man is innately good, and so I can be critical of a man’s behaviour, while still seeing the person behind the behaviour as worthy of love and respect.
The world has enough critics, I think it needs a few more lovers, those who are grateful to be alive and let their passions drive them to live authentic lives. I think we need more artists, artisans and dreamers, for they shape the world we live in, more than we realise and most of them are damn hard workers. Was Anton Furst this sort of man? Buggered if I know, but I hope he was, I imagine he was. The Batmobile looked so effortlessly cool in Batman 1989, how could he NOT a be a dreamer, artist and craftsman?
Anton worked closely with Tim Burton on Batman, so much so that even though he did not get the Batman Returns job (due to contractual obligations), the foundations of his designs are the basis that former Burton ‘collaborateur’ Bo Welch (Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands) built on in Batman Returns. It was not the first time that Burton could not get Anton. Tim had wanted Anton to work with him on Beetlejuice, but it just didn’t happen.
Batman Returns was a ‘lighter’ film in the set design department, at the request of the studio. It was less oppressive than the Gotham seen in 1989‘s Batman. However despite these production design changes, Batman Returns ended up being a darker film thematically. It starts with a baby being dumped in the sewers by negligent parents who should have gone to prison.
Not exactly a fun summer action movie in my view. But then Tim Burton even at his worst is rather subversive, taking a page out of the books of Roald Dahl and Dr Suess, who layer in sly (sometimes cynical) and highly critical social commentary of the establishment in most of their works. The beauty of storytellers like Dahl, Suess or Burton is that you often don’t notice the social commentary or criticisms of mainstream society.
The definitive cinematic version of Gotham City was brought to life by that close collaboration on Batman ’89 between Burton and Anton. Furst’s meticulous work and craftsmanship would go on to influence every cinematic version of Batman to follow, and of course Batman the Animated Series which kept the anachronistic timeless look of dark forbidding architecture forcing its way through the grimy corrupted pavement from Burton and Anton’s BATMAN.
Batman 1989 was a well crafted film, but not without flaws. Whether you look at Batman or its sequel Batman Returns, both films suffer a remarkable lack of actual citizens living in Gotham City. Next time you watch it, notice how every scene that involves extras as Gotham Citizens seems to have no more than the same ten extras in any given scene.
It is as if the entire city is either on vacation or hiding indoors. Whether it was a budgetary consideration or simply the lack of extras available while filming at the famous Pinewood Studios – known for the Dick Donner Superman series and James Bond series – from filming rather than the usual avalanche of extras available at the mere mention of a free sandwich and coffee in Hollyweird, I don’t know.
I like Batman ’89, but I don’t love it. I remember being excited about when I was a kid, and I had a really sweet poster on my wall of Batman standing next to the Batmobile.
I think Micheal Keaton did an admirable job as Batman, but I much prefer him in other films like Clean and Sober, Mr Mom or Beetlejuice where his talents are fully utilised. Keaton has a pleasing face, like that Uncle you had when you were a kid who would always give you candy, comic books, listened to The Doors rather than The Beatles and seemed to be somehow ‘cooler’ than other stuffy relatives.
When Keaton’s face is covered up, you lose that endearing, affectionate quality he has. Like Bill Murray or John Cusack, he’s a guy you just can’t help but love on screen. He can do comedy, he can do drama, and he’s authentic and believable in pretty much any role.
The thing I still love as much, if not more than then from Batman ’89 however – is the Batmobile. I’m not a “car guy”, but I do love the movie version of the Batmobile, every other version I have never cared about whatsoever, or paid any real attention to. But the Furstmobile is bad-ass, it is a total beast of a car, like a bat out of hell, a “war machine” in Anton’s words.
Combining the sleek thin look and functionality (or lack of) of a Salt Flats Racer, the modern day Drag Racers jet engine and the big fins and curvaceous sleek sexy body of a 50s luxury car. There is something so primal about that car, the way it roars to life and captures your attention, it’s a force of nature. A stealth bomber combined with a jet fighter plane, thrown into a blender with a muscle car, a drag racer and a 50s luxury car, it travels forward in time and steals DNA from some sports concept car yet-to-be that defies logic by actually looking good instead or rubbish.
It should be a Frankenstein car, but it is not. It is sleek, beautiful and glides effortlessly , like a speed boat (or bat!) through the night shadows and streets of Gotham.
The Batmobile was more like a knight in armor, an extension, an expression of Batman’s costume—an intimidating, furious war machine. We didn’t spend much time looking at concept cars of the future. We went back in time
We wanted it to look very forbidding, and the most forbidding things that we had ever seen were some of those surveillance aircraft, so it had that stealth look to it. It’s like a knight in armor, with that shrouded, helmeted feel to it, and then with a rocket engine right down it – so you end up with this piece of pure expressionism
– Anton Furst [Bomb magazine interview by Lynn Geller]
The same basic Batmobile design was used again for Batman Returns. Batman Forever and Batman and Robin had total redesigns that managed to look terrible, while still stealing the basic shape from Burton and Anton’s classic unforgettable design. In that sense they were totally derivative, I don’t care if you are yeling “H. R. Giger designed that Batmobile you idiot”.
Sorry, but that car is crap. It looks like it was designed to sell child’s toys in chain stores, not a vehicle for a dark avenger. I LOVE H. R. Giger’s art, I had an art obsessed mate in high school who had books of the guys best stuff, and while I like it, not everything needs to look like a bloody phallic alien from the classic movie Alien (one of my favourite films). I don’t think Giger brought a hell of a lot to the Batmobile design that Anton and Burton had not already done better. It was like those ancient cultures who would find monolithic structures (Mayan Pyramids for example) and built their crappier buildings on top of the ancient structures, and then claim that they had built it all.
Every artist or designer or writer or whatever builds on what came before, but I feel that nothing was added to the Batmobile in the post-Burton films, whether that was Giger’s uninspiring designs, or studio limitation, I don’t know. They should have kept the vehicle from Batman for all four films. Instead it was just distorted into a ridiculous lumbering dinosaur of a car.
It spoke to nothing of the essential minimalism of Batman, not the film, but the character. Batman like Bruce Lee, is all about “whatever works”, about stripping away the non-essential and refining back to a pure essence anything he applies himself to. To martial arts, to solving crimes, functional vehicles etc.
The Batmobile from Batman and Robin and Batman Forever is just a stupid car that Batman would never be caught dead in, a lumbering whale of a thing, and really speaks to how far off they got with those “interpretations” of Batman. At least Batman ’66 had a cool ride, I’m not fan of that show, but Adam West is brilliant in it, and the Batmobile is a beautiful classic design that holds up today.
The Anton Furst-mobile design was so sleek and popular that it was a direct influence on Batman the Animated Series, along with the nearly identical Batwing. A few changes were made, but it was very intentional that the Animated Series kept the same basic look of the Batmobile and Batwing. Architecture borrowed from various eras thus becoming timeless and the iconic theme tune which mimics the Danny Elfman Batman movie score.
The juxtaposition of cops in suits and fedora’s, antique computers with more modern conveniences and technology and architecture means that the Batman animated series lives in a timeless reality that is impossible to pin down, pulling together the seams of its fabric from many different eras. I’ll never get tired of the magnificent beauty of Anton and Tim’s Batmobile, and the Animated offspring it birthed.
“We wanted it to look very forbidding, and the most forbidding things that we had ever seen were some of those surveillance aircraft, so it had that stealth look to it. It’s like a knight in armor, with that shrouded, helmeted feel to it, and then with a rocket engine right down it – so you end up with this piece of pure expressionism.”
Here’s to BAT-GENIUS Anton Furst – gone, but never forgotten, he built a Gotham big enough for the whole world to live in. He imagined (with Superfriend Tim Burton) the most amazing bad-ass nightmarish cool and sexy Batmobile that ever existed. He gave us the Gothic nightmare Caligari-esque collective psyche-as-city Gotham that we all remember. Rather than be obsessed by how he died, let’s celebrate how he lived, and his unique artistic contributions to the world.
If you want to know more about Anton’s unique artistic visions and film production design, watch this rare enthralling 95 minute lecture at the Sci Arc Media archive site from 1990, where Anton talks in depth about his career in film production design. http://sma.sciarc.edu/video/anton-furst/
EDIT: Updated link to the Anton talk/lecture. I’ve left up the old link as the owner/operator has redirected it to other related worthwhile content.