The Overlooked Dark Knight Presents: Batman 1989…30 Years Later

Welcome to a special episode of The Overlooked Dark Knight.  Normally, this is a non-index index show where the hosts, Andrew Leyland and Michael Bailey, look at Batman comics that rarely, if ever, get talked about.  In one episode they will talk about Bat books from the late seventies and early eighties.  In another episode they will talk about the animated Adventures titles that DC published in the nineties.  Sometimes they talk about whatever strikes their fancy.

But not this time.

This time Andy and Mike are completely abandoning the “overlooked” aspect of their mandate to discuss the 30th anniversary of the release of the movie that put Batman on the path to becoming DC’s most popular character and allowed him to step out of the shadow of the sixties series (which is a lot of fun, but there was a time it was considered by some to be silly) and into the light of pop culture.

30 years ago today, Batman hit theaters.

It was kind of a big deal.

The guys discuss this movie from every angle.  Mike goes over the development of the film and then they dig into the phenomenon that became known as “The Summer of the Bat”.  They talk about the movie.  They talk about the novelization.  They talk about the comic book adaptation.  They talk about the T-shirts and the trading cards and the action figures and the graphic novels that popped up on bookstore shelves and other assorted bits of merchandising.  Andy and Mike also discuss the score and the soundtrack to the film and the fact that this was one of the first movies to have two soundtrack release.  Towards the end Andy discusses his trip to the cinema to see a screening of the film from just a few months ago.

It’s a fun, nostalgia filled two hours, complete with sound samples from the VHS release of the film in late 1989.

Michael went a little overboard with the images this time, but during the course of the episode, he and Andy talked about a lot of different things, so he thought visual aids would be a good idea.

First up is the cover and selected pages from the Batman Official Movie Souvenir Magazine published by Topps. Take particular note of the lying ad for the action figures.

Next up is a gallery of covers from the official novelization as well as the covers to The Further Adventures of Batman and The Further Adventures of the Joker.

Next is a gallery that includes the covers of both the Prestige Format and Newsstand edition of the comic book adaptation and some pages from that comic as well, so you can see the amazing Jerry Ordway art.

Here is a sampling of the two trading card sets put out by Topps.

Next up is a random bunch of images that include subscription offers, ads for the special version of the Prince soundtrack and other assorted bits of business that Mike thought was cool enough to scan.

Here are the three covers to the version of The Untold Legend of Batman that came as a mail away offer from the Batman cereal that was sold during the summer of 1989.

Books about Batman that were either published that summer or a year or so earlier were all over the book stores during the time Batman was in theaters.  Here are some of those books. Included is the cover to one of the black and white reprints Andy talked about during the course of the episode.

Michael talked about an article he read in Comics Scene.  This was the article that told Michael that the movie was coming.

Next up is a gallery of magazines that were published before and during the film’s time in theaters.  Not only do they show how the publishers used Batman to try and get another sale, they are also a fun look back at that summer.

Finally, here’s an ad that appeared in many comics and comics related magazines during the summer of 1989.  This is a good example of the type of merchandise that came out associated with the film.

Before Michael wraps up these show notes, here are videos showing what the trailer looked like as well as the Diet Coke ad and Warner Bros. Catalog short that appeared before the movie on the first VHS release.

During the course of the episode, Michael mentioned an interview from Comics Alliance with the author of the novelization, Craig Shaw Gardner.  Check that out by clicking on this link.

Next Time: Some fun Batman comics as the 80th birthday celebration continues.

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  1. First, I’m glad you say at the outset that you’re abandoning the “overlooked” aspect of your design here, since there’s honestly nothing really overlooked about this movie.
    I vey much enjoyed listening to the two of you discussing Tim Burton’s Batman, along with each of your Batman-fan origins, the tie-ins like novelizations, souvenir magazines, comic book adaptations, toys, trading cards, tee shirts, etc., and, tangentially, some thoughts on other Batman movies, and the ’60s Batman TV show. I always enjoy listening in to conversations between fans about comics, movies, TV shows, etc., about things they’re passionate about.
    I was 33 when this movie hit the theaters, and I was one of those fans whose first thought, when I heard of Michael Keaton’s casting, was,”Mr. Mom is going to be Batman?! Really?!” I mainly knew him from comedies, and I wasn’t hopeful about that, but then I remembered how much I’d enjoyed his work in the movie Clean and Sober, and realized that he might be good as Batman. (I don’t think I knew, until you said it in this episode, that it was Keaton’s performance in Clean and Sober that helped land him the role of Bruce Wayne/Batman.) Viewing the movie actually confirmed his “fit” for the role for me, and I really think he is one of the very best actors as Batman in live action. As a longtime comic book reader, the differences in the movie from the comic book source material was a bit odd for me (I don’t think we, as an audience, need any sort of “origin” for the Joker, for example, but I take Andrew’s point that, from a movie point-of-view, it ties the story together to have Jack Napier be the killer of the Waynes.), but I got past that and really enjoyed this movie. I find this is not an uncommon reaction for my old, Silver Age brain. Big deviations from the stories I love from the comics usually cause some cognitive dissonance, but I can usually resolve that after some time. Sometimes that takes longer than others, but most of that is on me, rather than the filmmakers, and, like you, I don’t really get too worked up about casting choices any more.
    While I generally enjoyed this movie, my one big problem is that Batman is too “murdery” for my tastes. I realize that this is a Batman that many fans prefer, I guess, but again, my Silver Age brain balks at this. I grew up with a Batman who was best friends with Superman, and both of them, along with all the rest of the Justice League and superheroes in general had a strong code against killing. Yes, I know that, at different points over the 50 years (in 1989) of Batman’s existence, he did sometimes kill (sometimes, even with guns!), but that’s not the Batman I grew up with. I think, too, that this movie was not far enough removed, in my mind, from the Crisis on Infinite Earths and it’s aftermath in the comics, so I was still sulking over that. (I’m mostly over that, now.) Ultimately, I did enjoy the movie when it came out, but it’s not exactly the movie I’d hoped for, and, although I will re-watch it from time to time, I don’t necessarily watch it at any opportunity, the way I still will for “Superman: The Movie”. Personal preference, not fandom gatekeeping.

  2. Holy rush of memories, Batman! 1989 was the first year that I was making my own money mowing lawns and farm work, which factored strongly into it also being the year that my comic collecting began in earnest. One of the first things I bought with my first paycheck was the Comics Scene Magazine you show above, with the Bob Kane Batman drawing and Daredevil in the upper left. I also grabbed Transformers and whatever other Marvel book that caught my eye, because that’s what I read. I had only a passing interest in DC at that time, but both the article on the Batman movie and Kieth Giffen’s interview led me to go back to the drugstore the very next day, where I made my most important comics purchase of my life by buying Batman# 432, Justice League Europe #1, and Superman #30. I of course associate that summer with the Batman movie (I’m not sure if people that weren’t alive or old enough to experience can really grasp the hype for that movie. Batman was EVERYWHERE) but I mainly associate it with me discovering DC comics and Superman. But not to in any way diminish the Batman part of it. I bought the novelization the day before the movie was released (A concept that still makes me smile) and read it twice before the next night when I saw Batman. Then I saw it again every night for the next 6 nights. I bought the regular and the prestige format comics adaptation along with pretty much everything you’ve got pictured above. I got the VHS cassette either for Christmas or my birthday. I had the thing memorized. Watching it now, it’s easy for me to see the many flaws in the movie, and I have soured on Tim Burton over the years, but I will never not love this movie. It was an incredible part of an incredible summer and I will always carry it with me.

  3. Fantastic show fellas. I know Mike pointed out to me the similarities between his experiences and mine (which I related on FW Presents: Those Wonderful Toys on the Toy Biz line), but that just goes to show what a game changer this movie…and the phenomenon around it really was. It’s like will probably never be seen again, although I think the buzz for Endgame came close. So many of my coworkers were in a lather about seeing it, and constantly asking me questions about it.

    Again, fantastic show. Loved hearing all the clips, the insights, and the occasional snark. Thanks for the “Descent into Mystery”.

  4. Noah Tarnow says:

    Terrific job, gentlemen. Lord, the 1989 Batman hype will forever be lodged in the most delicate parts of my memory: The movie was released the exact same day I graduated from middle school. Several of us shed our caps and gowns, our parents took us out to TGI Friday’s, and then we headed to the mall to be among the throngs of people eager to be part of an experience. Fifty feet outside the mall entrance, a guy had set up a card table, selling the most cheapo-looking bootleg T-shirts one could imagine. I was already a comics fan, but this phenomenon made me a Batman fan—one who nearly got a Bat-logo tattoo at the age of 16 (thank God it was “nearly”), one who wrote his college thesis about Batman (that “Tales of the Dark Knight” book you mentioned was an invaluable resource), one who finds himself only slightly less obsessed as old age takes hold.

    I’m surprised that you seem to agree that “Batman Returns” is definitively weaker than “Batman ’89” (as you call it). I remember being much more satisfied with the sequel, if only because of the villains (Michelle Pfeiffer is superb; Danny De Vito’s performance has really grown on me), but also because I also feel like we got to see Batman more in his element—beating the crap out of colorful goons.

    Finally, my favorite detail about the controversy surrounding the casting of Mr. Mom as Batman: When fans issued a petition protesting the Keatonization of Batman, Tim Burton’s response was (and this is an actual quote)…

    “There might be something that’s sacrilege in the movie. . . . But I can’t care about it. . . . This is too big a budget movie to worry about what a fan of a comic might say.”

    I’m amazed by that. Seriously, if a director said that today, they’d probably be forced off the film. Things have changed a lot in the past 30 years, and it all started with this movie.

  5. Dan Doherty says:

    Alright, since I was (literally) called out about the Toy Biz Batman line, I have to offer some kind of defense. Yes, these (and the “DC Comics Super Heroes” figures of Robin, The Penguin, The Riddler, Mr. Freeze, Superman, and Lex Luthor) *WERE* among the first superhero toys I ever had as a kid, and for that reason, they will always have a special place in my heart.

    In 1989, I had just about everything. The action figures of Batman, Joker, and yes, Bob the Goon. I had the Batcave, Batmobile, Batwing, Batcycle, and even a Joker Cycle that had a launching sidecar. (Which made we wish the Joker Cycle was the Batcycle, so I could put the Robin figure in the sidecar) Toy Biz also released a role-playing “kid-sized” Utility Belt, with a Batarang and the “Spear Gun” (grapple gun) that fired suction cup darts. The belt itself was flimsy as Hell, but I got a LOT of use of that Batarang.

    Now, here’s where I might surprise you… Despite being my very first Batman toys, I distinctly remember four-year-old me was not entirely happy with them, at the time. Believe it or not, I was almost completely unaware that there WAS a Batman movie, that these toys were based on. All I knew at the time was the Adam West show, the Filmation cartoon, and the handful of Batman comics, including “The Untold Legend of the Batman.” Looking at the toys, all I was thinking was: “Why is Batman wearing all black? He’s supposed to be blue and grey!” And “Why doesn’t the Batmobile look the way it does on the TV Show?!?”

    It wouldn’t be until the following year, that I finally saw the 1989 film on video, and I finally “got it.”

    By that point, Kenner had gotten back the DC license, and started releasing resculped Super Powers figures of Batman and Joker under “The Dark Knight Collection.” Even as a child, I recognized that these were FAR superior to the Toy Biz versions… For the most part. While the Joker looked a lot more than Nicholson, and his face would change color of you dipped him in cold or hot water, his trademark suit was more pink than purple. The newer Batmobile was more movie accurate in that it had a closed canopy, unlike the Toy Biz version… But the downside was that it was now a one-seater. This is something that annoyed me throughout the rest of the ’90s. Virtually every new Batmobile Kenner would make for the movies (AND the Bruce Timm Animated Series) would be one-seater. *I* wanted a two-seater, so I could put Robin in the Batmobile with Batman… And the only Batmobile I had that could do that WAS the Toy Biz version. (I would eventually acquire the Super Powers Batmobile, but that would be until I was in high school)

    Yes, I have a soft spot for the Toy Biz Batman line, but that doesn’t mean I don’t recognize it’s flaws, as well.

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