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Article originally published in The Herald on 26 March 1999
Written by Martin Conaghan
On Tuesday 3 November last year, one of the great comic-book artists, Bob Kane, died at the age of 83, just six months before his most famous creation, Batman, would reach his 60th birthday.
Sixty years ago this week, The Bat-Man first appeared in the pages Detective Comics #27, in a story entitled “The Case of the Chemical Syndicate”.
First conceived in 1934, Kane’s original idea was shelved until May of 1939 when he discovered that Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel were making up to $800 per week each from the merchandising of their Superman character.
Eager to avoid duplication, Kane soon took the idea of a costumed crime-fighter more seriously and sat down at his drawing board for an entire weekend breathing life into his latest creation.
In partnership with writer Bill Finger, Kane developed a mysterious character inspired by Leonardo Da Vinci’s flying machines and the 1930′s radio character The Shadow. He experimented with a number of names before finally settling on The Bat-Man, with Bird-Man, Eagle-Man, and Hawk-Man among his early concept names.
Bill Finger also helped Kane develop The Bat-Man’s alter ego, Bruce Wayne, and was instrumental in changing the location from New York, to the darker Gotham City.
The Bat-Man then became an independent masked avenger, in the style of Kane’s movie hero from The Mask of Zorro, having witnessed the death of his parents at the hands of a mugger named Joe Chill.
The traumatic events of his childhood led the character into crime fighting in an attempt to exact vengeance on all those who broke the law.
The Bat-Man was a loner and Kane expounded upon this by having him work under the cover of darkness and above the letter of the law. His long, dark flowing costume cast fear into the hearts of villains everywhere, with Kane’s cinematic style and use of contrast creating a unique fantasy world of evil villains and Gothic architecture.
The following year, the release of Batman #1 featured the first appearance of Batman’s two most enduring archenemies, The Joker and Catwoman.
Kane’s assistant Jerry Robinson created The Joker and Bill Finger supplied the look with a photo of actor Conrad Veidt in the 1928 movie The Man Who Laughs.
Despite his extensive involvement in the origin of one of the most successful comic book characters ever, Bill Finger graciously relinquished any credit for the creation of Batman, allowing Kane to retain the highest accolade.
In April of 1940, in the pages of Detective Comics #38, Batman was partnered with his crime-fighting sidekick Robin the Boy Wonder. Their faithful butler, Alfred Pennyworth later joined the subsequently named ‘dynamic duo’ and the team of Batman, Robin and Alfred soon became the nucleus of the Batman stories during the 1940′s, 50′s and early 60′s.
While Superman represented the embodiment of all that human beings aspired to, Batman personified the darker side of life. He had no superpowers and therefore appealed much more to what ordinary people could actually achieve in reality.
The other main attraction to the Batman stories was the exciting mystery that surrounded each case; where Superman could solve problems with his superhuman abilities, Batman relied upon his superior training and advanced intellect.
He became an expert in chemistry and the martial arts, and he could solve cases with the skill of Sherlock Holmes.
One of the great hallmarks of Batman was the unique crime-fighting gadgets he developed with his seemingly inexhaustible supply of wealth. Among the best known are his utility belt, the Batmobile, the Batplane, the Batboat, and of course, the Bat Signal.
In 1943, Columbia Pictures released a 15-episode Batman serial written by Bob Kane, starring Lewis Wilson and Douglas Croft in the roles of Batman and Robin.
However, it wasn’t until the 1960′s, when Batman appeared on television that actor Adam West finally brought the character vividly to life in a colourful series of over-the-top storylines starring some of Hollywood’s finest character actors, including Cesar Romero and Burgess Meredith.
A brief venture onto the big screen ensured global success for the original Batman television series, until the late 1980′s, when maverick director Tim Burton cast Jack Nicholson in the role of The Joker for the first serious attempt at a Hollywood-style movie.
After eight years in development, the Batman movie was the talk of Tinseltown and upon its release in the summer of 1989, it became one of the highest grossing movies of all time, netting over $250million worldwide.
The franchise has since spawned three sequels, an animated television series, and no fewer than six regular monthly comic book titles. Along with Superman and Wonder Woman, Batman is the only other DC Comic book character to have been in continual publication since its inception over half a century ago. Around the time of Burton’s movie, Glasgwiegan writer Grant Morrison also produced what was to become one of the highest grossing comic books of all time, Batman: Arkham Asylum.
Morrison’s alternative interpretation of the character struck him an incredible sales deal of one dollar per copy sold, with the book selling over 250,000 copies on its initial run and eventually hailed as one of the trailblazing graphic novels of the 1980′s.
The avant-garde style and disregard for linear storytelling projected Batman into an Alice In Wonderland-style nightmare which was expertly rendered by painter Dave McKean.
Three years earlier, in 1986, American writer-artist Frank Miller helped transform the comic book medium as we now know it when he produced his seminal work, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, which saw an ageing Bruce Wayne emerge from retirement to defend Gotham City once more.
It was to become the one story in Batman’s history where he actually defeated Superman. More recently, the longest serving Batman writer, Scotsman Alan Grant, produced the wonderfully rendered Batman: Scottish Connection with Rutherglen-based artist Frank Quitely.
The story tells of a trip by Bruce Wayne to a family reunion in Scotland and an ancient quest for vengeance.
Other writers have produced memorable interpretations of the character in recent years, including Alan Moore’s origin of The Joker in Batman: The Killing Joke (1987), and Scottish writer Mark Millar’s 1996 Christmas tale of Batman’s stolen train set in Batman: Legends Of The Dark Knight.
From the outset, Kane utilised Batman to appeal to the childhood fantasies we all share: wealth, heroism, action and adventure.
No other comic book hero generates such a dramatic atmosphere, such unforgettably twisted villains, or inhabits a city that mirrors his own dark personality, and today, the Batman comic books still appeal to a wide range of cultivated readers, selling in their hundreds of thousands around the world.
Unlike Shuster and Siegel, Kane also managed to successfully retain control over the rights to his character, acting as consultant on the Batman movies and many other projects until he passed away last year.
As Janette Khan, the President and Editor in Chief of DC Comics kindly commented in a dedication to Bob that appeared in every DC title during April of this year: “With Batman, Bob was the last of the giants who not only helped create the DC Universe but who also put comic books on the map as both a new arena in popular culture and a burgeoning art form. Batman’s ominously elegant costume and the richness of his world are for all intents immeasurable.
“And no-one else, as The Joker has remarked, has such wonderful toys.”
written by Martin on Sep 10, 2010 Comments Off
Some quality New Orleans jazz.
written by Martin on Sep 10, 2010 Comments Off
Nine years ago today, I was in London.
written by Martin on Sep 10, 2010 Comments Off
Originally published in The Herald newspaper on 3 March 1998
By Martin Conaghan
Thirty years ago this week Stanley Kubrick’s sci-fi epic 2001: A Space Odyssey was premiered in Washington DC. One week later it received its UK premier at the Casino Theatre in London.
It would be another nine years before George Lucas would start re-writing the book with the first of his Star Wars Trilogy, and a further 23 before cinema audiences would be dumbfounded by the special -effects extravaganza in Terminator 2: Judgement Day.
Yet, 2001 remains one of the most, if not the most, influential and visually stunning movies of all time, enduring beyond an era of technological advancement in cinematic effects, which only recently witnessed the realistic sinking of history’s most famous ship in Titanic.
2001 started life as a short story by British science-fiction author Arthur C Clarke, The Sentinel, published in 1951.
Clarke was approached in 1963 by maverick director Stanley Kubrick to collaborate on the screenplay for a movie version, which required a budget of $ 10m and from script to first screening would take 92 weeks to produce.
Kubrick’s previous movie, Dr. Strangelove Or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Bomb, released in 1964, was his seventh feature. Its commercial success allowed Kubrick the freedom to experiment with cinematic storytelling techniques, and to expensively adapt technology for the purposes of his latest movie. 2001 was to exceed the boundaries of cinematic special effects.
With the help of expert Douglas Trumbull, it portrayed an awe-inspiring account of what it would be like to travel in space. (The scenes of the moon excavation are remarkably similar to the footage taken by the Apollo landing, which didn’t occur until over a year later).
Kubrick successfully simulated zero-gravity weightlessness and filmed a fascinating scene where an actor jogs around the rotating centrifuge of a spacecraft which, to this day, remains largely a technical mystery.
To attempt an adequate description of the plot, and the numinous mysteries behind obscure symbolic references could take months. However, the basic story is straightforward enough in itself.
In the year 2001, the discovery of a pre -historic monolith buried under the surface of the moon prompts scientists to launch a deep-space mission to the planet Jupiter, believing the monolith to have transmitted a signal there and suspecting it to be of alien origin.
The entire story is prologued by an extensive “dawn of man” sequence, where primitive apes of 3,000,000 years ago discover a smaller version of the monolith on Earth and learn – via its transmissions – to manipulate tools and weapons. The basic interpretation suggests the story is a metaphor: from ape to scientist, mankind has striven to reach the unattainable. The exploration of the religious and spiritual themes behind the story is a little more complicated.
According to the critics at the time, the technological achievements alone were insufficient reason for such an expensive movie to be deemed entertaining. Many slammed it as dull and pointless, with an ending that left audiences perplexed.
Rock Hudson is reputed to have stormed out of the premiere shouting: “Will someone tell me what the Hell this is about?”
Clarke himself made a remark that horrified MGM top brass soon after the film was released, suggesting: “If you understand 2001 on the first viewing, we will have failed.”
He didn’t mean people wouldn’t enjoy the movie the first time; he was referring to the complexity of the subject and the idea the movie postulated a rough theory on the workings of the universe (which was intended for contemplation, not entertainment) – therefore it could not possibly be totally understood in one sitting, and perhaps never fully at all.
The critics weren’t wrong: it is exceptionally slow.
To the average movie -goer, it would simply be regarded as boring. Much of the narrative is clinical and monotonous. In fact, the only dialogue containing real emotion or feeling comes from the computer HAL, singing a haunting rendition of Daisy as its memory chips are removed one by one, effectively switching it off.
There are no romantic interludes.
No hero saves the day.
The plot contains very little suspense or mystery, and the cast – with two very small exceptions (HAL and a brief appearance by Kubrick’s daughter Vivian) – is comprised entirely of adults. As movies go, it is completely unconventional in every sense. Even for a science-fiction movie it breaks with tradition, yet it remains a fantastic commercial success 30 years later.
Cinemas all over the world continue regular screenings and the Internet is awash with commentary. The lasting appeal of 2001 can be largely attributed to its visuals and the musical score.
Kubrick commissioned an original score from composer Alex North and improvised during editing with the use of classical pieces.
The improvised music made such an impact on the creative process he decided to dump the score in favour of the classical recordings.
Kubrick was criticised at the time for being cheap, but maintained it had nothing to do with money.
He was probably right to keep the classical recordings, since few people who have seen the film could argue that when they hear the first five notes of Richard Strauss’ Thus Spake Zarathustra they do not think of the opening scenes of 2001. Any time I hear The Blue Danube, I visualise Kubrick’s perfectly choreographed spaceship waltz.
Such inspired imagery has influenced directors for over a quarter of a century. In many respects, every director today owes part of their achievements to Stanley Kubrick and 2001.
For example, when Leonardo DiCaprio enters the main stairwell before his dinner engagement in Titanic the band are playing The Blue Danube, with the rotating camera view of the glass dome mimicking the wheel-shaped station orbiting Earth in 2001.
Few films in the past 30 years have inspired beyond the limits of the story or provoked debate in the way 2001 has – which was Kubrick and Clarke’s initial intention: to be inspirational first, and entertaining second. Interpretation of the meaning behind the story is largely a personal thing, and even Kubrick himself has said he would never argue with anyone’s understanding of the story, preferring to allow the film to speak for itself.
And it does speak for itself – in silent tones and powerful imagery that sparks the imagination beyond mankind’s limited understanding of the universe.
I pity anyone who has never experienced the full glory of a cinema screening.