The Bat-Man

It was late in 1938 when the powers that be realized they had a hit with Superman.  Action Comics number one had hit the newsstands in April that year.  Superman was the flagship hero and was on the cover. The sales of the original book went through the roof but no one knew why.  It took a few months before they learned it was all about Superman.

What was next was the need for another costumed hero.  The management went to artist/writer Bob Kane and asked him to develop a costumed hero for their Detective Comics magazine which had already been around for a while.  They didn’t want another Superman.  They wanted a costumed detective.  Bob was approached on Friday afternoon and he promised a new hero by Monday morning and he did it, but not alone.

To me, Bob Kane was one the shrewdest and one of the most evil men in comics.  He was shrewd in the fact that before he signed anything away that he created he got lawyers involved so he owned a piece of the property.  Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster did not do that and signed Superman away for one hundred and thirty dollars.  For many years they lived at almost a poverty level while their creation was making millions.  Kane was evil in that he didn’t give the same advantage to those who helped him create his work and so for years all the credit and all the accolades and all the money went to Kane.

Kane left the office of National Periodical Publications and went home to brainstorm.  He came up with a character in red tights, a mask, like the one Robin would eventually wear, blond hair, and stiff wings.  He brought his sketch to his buddy Bill Finger and told Bill the name of the character was The Bat-Man.  Bill did not like the look of the character at all. He changed the costume color to black and gray.  He got rid of the mask and suggested a cowl with bat ears.  The stiff wings were replaced by a billowing cape and the symbol of a bat was drawn on the chest.  The Bat-Man was born.

Kane took the new sketches to the editor, Vin Sullivan, and they were approved.  Now Kane had to write a story.  He went back to Bill Finger and made a deal with him to ghostwrite Bat-Man and receive none of the credit. Kane agreed to pay Finger out of the money he was making.  Finger agreed to this, much to his regret in later years. 

Bill Finger was the mind behind most of the things we love about Batman today.  Beyond the stories, he originated to the utility belt, The Batcave, Robin, The Joker, The Penguin, and The Riddler.  All without receiving any credit.

It wasn’t until the first comic book convention in 1965 that the truth slowly began to leak out.  Bill was invited to speak and the session was recorded.  He told his story and a fanzine article was written.  When Kane got wind of the story he publicly denounced Bill Finger and continued to take all the credit for himself.

Bill gave some other interviews and tried to get his rights to the character.  This became more and more painful as 1966 rolled around and Batman became a TV sensation.  Bill would only see his name associated with the character once.  He co-wrote one episode of the television series.  He asked his co-writer if his name could go on top in the credits.  In his lifetime it would be the only time he ever saw it.

Bill Finger died a pauper with eviction notices taped to the door of His apartment in January of 1974.  He was 59 years old,  A son, who none knew he had, cremated his father and brought his ashes to the northern Pacific Coast.  His son drew a bat symbol on the sand and scattered the ashes over the symbol.  He watched while the ocean carried his father away.

The years would go by in the 1940s and other artists and writers would leave their mark on The Bat-Man.  Jerry Robinson would make the first new contributions by eliminating both the hyphen and the “the’.  The Bat-Man became Batman.

Not many years ago a young writer named Marc Tyler Nobleman came across the story of Bill Finger.  Marc had previously written a book on Superman’s creators and wanted to do the same for Batman.  He assumed the story was about Bob Kane but Marc unearthed the material about Bill Finger and with that he began a crusade to win Bill the credit he deserved.

After months of research and detective work, Marc was able to locate the granddaughter of Bill Finger.  They worked together by bringing the problem to the fans thru Comic-Con panels and interviews.  The wheels of justice turn slowly but they do turn and Athena, Bill’s Granddaughter met with her lawyer and the powers that be at Warner Brothers the parent company of DC comics an agreement was reached and starting with the film Superman Batman The Dawn of Justice Bill Finger was listed as co-creator of Batman.  His name would be on all future Batman projects including the comics and films.

For more information on this amazing journey to justice please see the film Batman and Bill which is a Hulu original.

Not much more needs to be said about Batman.  Everyone knows that one night while coming home from the movies Thomas, Martha, and young Bruce Wayne are stopped by a thief.  The thief takes Thomas’s wallet and Martha’s pearls and then kills them in front of Bruce.  Not long after Bruce makes a vow to avenge his parents by warring on all criminals.  He trains for years to become both physically and mentally perfect as a human being can.  Late one night he feels he is ready and as he thinks of what symbol would strike terror in the hearts of criminals a bat crashes through the window and Bruce decides.  With the money left to him by his parents Bruce is more than wealthy enough to collect all the things, he would need to set out on his mission, and thus Batman was born.

At the moment, in theaters, there is a new movie titled The Batman.  This would be number ten in the big-screen adaptations that began in the mid-sixties with the release of the Batman movie that was based on the popular TV show.  Before that, there were two serial films of Batman in the 1940s.  This latest film stars Robert Pattinson as Bruce Wayne/Batman and I honestly cannot recommend it.

First, the film is dark.  Not in the story but in lighting.  Even the daytime scenes are filmed on cloudy days so light just doesn’t penetrate.  I found some of the scenes hard to see and at two hours and fifty-five minutes the darkness became tedious.  I found myself looking at my phone for the time more than I should have.  In fact, in a Batman movie, I shouldn’t have felt the need to look at all.

Second, they messed with Bruce’s family.  Making his mother Martha a mental case and to cover that up Thomas goes to the mob for help.  Thomas Wayne in comic books would never do that.  This leads to Thomas feeling he needs to turn himself in which leads to the mob killing Thomas and Martha Wayne instead of a random shooting.  It’s the randomness of his parents’ death that is at the heart of Batman.

Third, they messed with the Riddler’s real name.  Since the beginning when Bill Finger created The Riddler his real name was Edward Nigma or E Nigma and enigma is a puzzle and Edward was obsessed with riddles and puzzles leading him to be so compulsive that he had to leave a riddle before he committed a crime.  The new movie changes his name to Nash or Norton.  Sort of destroying a major part of the character.

I was very disappointed in this film.  We are going to see four more DC character movies during the rest of this year.   The Flash, Batgirl, a direct to HBOMAX a live-action film, Black Adam and Aquaman.  I hope Warner Brothers does a better job on these though I have my doubts.

Magic

Magic!  What an amazing word and there is so much meaning in those five simple letters.  There is the “magic” in a child’s eyes when they spy the gifts under the tree at Christmas.  There is the “magic” that a stage magician conjures up by diverting us and seemingly makes impossible things happen.  There is the scary “magic” that real witches perform or at least claim to perform by casting spells and make potions and charms.  Then there is the fictional “magic”, the magic of The Lord of the Rings, Bewitched, The Wizard of Oz, The Chronicles of Narnia and the Harry Potter series, this is the magic I’m going to focus on today.  This is my own history of magic.

I guess my first exposure to fictional magic would have been the television show Bewitched starring Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick York as well as the amazing Agnes Morehead.  The premise of the series was that a mortal Darin Stevens marries a witch a fact that he is unaware of until after the marriage takes place.  When he finds out he forbids her to use her powers in the house and of course this is impossible especially with his wife’s family of witches and warlocks always at hand.  This show was cute and funny and stayed on the air for several years even after having the original Darin replaced by another actor.

The next bit of magic would have been when I was introduced to the classic film The Wizard of Oz.  The Wizard of Oz is based on the children’s book written by L Frank Baum and published on March 17, 1900.  It quick became a childhood classic and Baum would go on to write fourteen more Oz books.  These could have made a great movie series but for some reason MGM, the studio that produced the original film, made the adventures of Dorothy trying to find her way home. A dream, so no future films could be done.

There seems to be certain films everyone is afraid to touch because they are perfect the way they are.  The Sound of Music, Funny Girl, Gone with the Wind, and The Wizard of Oz are four of those.  People have tried to do sequels to Oz, but they all pale in comparison the original movie which was almost flowless in its making.

The Wizard of Oz in the 60s became a yearly treat that families would gather around their television sets to watch around the Easter holiday.  My family was no exception and I remember being little and hiding behind my father whenever The Wicked Witch of The West would make her appearance.  There wasn’t a lot of magic actually done in The Wizard of Oz.  Dorothy gest to Oz by tornado.  She walks to The Emerald City and meets non-human creatures and talking animals but the only magic that is actually performed is Glinda magically having the Ruby Slippers appear on Dorothy’s feet, The Wicked Witch conjuring the poppy field and Glinda creating the snow that destroys the poppies effects.  Of course, Glinda makes her appearances in a magic bubble and The Wicked Witch rides a broom stick but that’s about it.  To compare the two there was more magic in a half hour of Bewitched than there was in the full-length movie of The Wizard of Oz.

But Oz was magical in an of itself.  A talking Scarecrow, Tinman and Lion as well as talking apple trees and colors that were brighter and more beautiful than in our own gray world made this movie a delight for our senses.  And at the end of the 1930s when America was just coming out of the depression but was on the brink of another world war, that kind of beauty and unreality was much needed by children and adults.

My next stop in my magical tour must be Neverland.  I was introduced to Peter Pan fairly young.  My mother was a big fan of musicals and when Peter Pan starring Mary Martin was aired on television in the early 60s it was a family event.

Peter Pan began as a nonmusical stage play by JM Barrie.  Mr. Barrie based his play on his relationship with three young boys and the games they would play.  Peter Pan opened in 1904 and did very well.  Mr. Barrie was already a celebrated playwright, but Peter Pan elevated him to an immortal status and is the only thing still remembered today.  Peter became so famous that Barrie, told everyone to watch Kensington Gardens for a surprise on a certain date and when London woke up that morning there was the magnificent statue of Peter in the gardens.

It was in 1911 that Barrie published the novel that told the story of his play for all the world.  He titled the novel Peter Pan and Wendy, and it is still enjoyed by people today.

Peter Pan is a difficult role, and it was decided early on that a child could not handle the work in a full length play so a woman has been traditionally cast as Peter.  In recent times in cartoons and films as well as some stage production this has changed but more often than not Peter is still played by a woman.

Peter Pan has very little magic.  In fact, the only magic we see is Peter teaching the children to fly.  We know there are fairies as Tinker Bell is a main character in the play and we know that is by thinking good thoughts and the use of fairy dust that we can learn to fly.  Bu that is the extent of the observable magic in the play.

Let’s talk about flying.  When Barrie first opened his play in 1904 Peter had only one requirement to fly.  You had to think good thoughts.  Many children left the theater with that idea in their heads and soon found themselves jumping off roofs and out of windows thinking they would fly.  This of course caused some injuries but as far as I know no life was lost.  On learning this Barrie modified his play to add fairy dust to the flying equation and the attempts ceased.  I believed a similar situation occurred in 1964 when Disney released Mary Poppins and Mary seemed to fly by umbrella to the front door of the Bank’s home.  I know my friends and I spent some time jumping from steps with an umbrella in hand, but we never got air born.

Neverland is a magic place.  It is inhabited by fairies, and mermaids.  We know from the play that it is Spring, summer, Winter and Fall all at the same time on different parts of the island.  Peter describes it as crammed with hardly any room between one adventure and another.  And of course, if you go there as a child, you never grow up.  There is magic in the very soil of Neverland.

I was transported as a child to Neverland in my dreams.  Not long after seeing the Mary Martin TV special I brought to see the Disney version of the classic story.  The problem with Disney and Miss Martin’s work is that they watered the story down quite a lot.  They took out the scary stuff and so missed some of the best parts.  In time I grew to love the book that Barrie wrote mush more than the film versions.  To this day no one has written Peter the way Barrie did.  I would love to see new stage production that left it all intact.

The fantasy that taught me how to think would begin and end with The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster.  The Phantom Tollbooth is about a bored little boy whose name is Milo.  Milo has no interest in anything until one day a mysterious box appears in his room.  The box contains a life size toy toll booth which Milo proceeds to put together.  When it’s completed Milo gets into his toy electric car and drives thru into The Land Beyond.  

Milo’s adventures in the Lands Beyond are filled with strange creatures that are magical in some ways but they only way to deal with them is to think.  There is the land of the doldrums where you get very sleepy, and can get yourself killed if you don’t wake up and begin to think your way out by reciting poetry and equations as well as using your imagination.  Milo is saved from The Doldrums by Tok a watchdog.  This is a large dog that has a clock built into his side and he guards time he especially is after those who waste time.

Milo is told the story of the Lands Beyond and knows that there are problems there that could be solved if the Princesses Rhyme and Reason could be rescued from the castle in the clouds which must be gotten to through by way of The Mountains of Ignorance. This stuff is great.  He must first get permission to save them from the warring kings of Dictionopolis and Digitopolis the kingdoms or Words and Numbers.  The kings hate each other even though they are brothers because they each believe that their own kingdom is better than the other.  In other words, words are better than numbers and numbers are better than words.

Milo has many adventures in The Lands Beyond and meets many strange creatures including a Spelling Bee and a Humbug but he eventually reaches the princesses and rescues them through the power of thinking.  When he returns home, he has a new lease on life and is no longer bored as there is always something new to learn.  This is a lesson many adults could use right now.

As I grew up so did my magic stories.  First there was my comic book heroes.  Doctor Strange from Marvel Comics and Doctor Fate from DC.  Doctor Fate came first and made his first appearance in the early 1940s in the pages of More Fun Comics.  He is Kent Nelson who, as a boy, finds The Helmet of Nabu an ancient Egyptian wizard, when he puts the helmet on, he becomes Doctor fate with all kinds of magic abilities.  Doctor Fate would fade away with the rest of the comic book heroes in the early 1950s as discussed in earlier blogs.  He would return the 1960s in the pages on The Justice League of America when DC Comics rebirths The Justice Society in the pages of that magazine.  He would eventually get his own title for a short while but for the most part remain a supporting character in the comic book universe.  With the popularity of the television series Stargirl and the reemergence of The Justice Society Doctor Fate may soon make a return.

Doctor Strange made his first appearance in Strange Tales and remains a favorite character of mine to this day.  Steven Strange is a surgeon, skilled and vain about those skills.  He cares only for money and little for the actual people he treats. An accident renders his hands useless and in seeking a cure he becomes a penniless derelict.  His search continues, however, and he makes it to Tibet where he hears of a man known as The Ancient One who may be able to help him.  He seeks The Ancient One out and finds him only discover that it is sorcery that the Ancient One believes can cure Strange.  Strange, being a man of science, rejects this and decides to leave only to discover that the Ancient One’s disciple Murdo is going to kill The Ancient One.  Strange attempts to warn the old man only to be stopped by a spell put on him by Murdo.  The Ancient One saves both Himself and Strange and Strange becomes the new disciple.  After years of training Doctor Strange become The Master of the Mystic Arts and a main player in the Marvel Comics and Cinematic Universe.

My journey in fictional magic continued.  The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Magic Kingdom of Landover, The Belgariad and The Harry Potter books all added to my magical fun and adventure.

Why does magic entice all of us so much?  Why does the idea of conjuring strike our imaginations so hard?  I think the answer lies in what CS Lewis once said.  Lewis, the author of the Narnia books said “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”  And we were made for another world.  When God created us in The Garden of Eden, he created us in a perfect world and was grooming us to be like him.  He wasn’t looking for slaves or he wouldn’t have given us the ability to choose.  But the ability to choose comes with consequences.  Adam and Eve were told they could do whatever they wanted except to eat from the fruit of one tree.  They couldn’t accept that one rule and so were banished from a perfect world into this one.  And here we remain as Lewis calls us, the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve.

But God left in us a desire for our true home.  He gave us glimpses of that home in our imaginations and in the many books of fantasy that have been written.  Whether you are a fan of The Shire or Shangri La, or Neverland or Oz all of those places are glimpses of Eden our true home and the place we all long for.

The thing is we have another act of God where in we can begin to get Eden back.  God sent his son Jesus to pay for the sins of Adam and all the rest of us.  Jesus’ death on the cross and his ultimate resurrection pave the way to the real place of magic known as Eden or Heaven.  To return to that place God asks only one thing from us and that is to believe that Jesus died and was resurrected for us.  That’s it.  This is what Tolkien called “the one true myth.” No great acts of heroism or penance are required just belief that in the work God has done.  Will our lives change after that?  Yes, they will but the change will come not as an act of payment but as an act of gratitude that comes from believing in this amazing gift.  It would be the same way you would act toward the person who showed up at your door with the keys to a brand-new house or a car.  Just handed those keys to you and said enjoy it.  We would go out of our way to show our gratitude.  This is why our lives change when we understand what God has done for us.

I will continue to enjoy the fantasy worlds that are so much a part of my life.  These worlds have added color and excitement and mystery to this existence, but they have also been a pointer.  Little by little they pointed me back to Eden and to God.

Superheroes

Superman, batman, Wonder Woman, Spiderman, Ironman. Marvel Girl, all of these bring up thoughts of adventure and selfless heroism.  I was born in a time when superheroes were on the outskirts of accepted entertainment for young minds.  Under McCarthyism and with the influence of the book Seduction of the Innocent they had gained a bad reputation after only really being around for 33 years.  However not long before I was born the comic book superhero would enjoy the beginning of a renaissance that still contuse today.

I wish I had a time machine and could travel back to New York City in the year 1938.  The world was still in the throes of the Great Depression but with Roosevelt in The White House people were beginning to hope better days were ahead.  These were the days when newspapers and magazines were sold on newsstands on the streets.  Big boxes made of plywood which opened up with racks of colorful  magazine covers or the black and white print of newspapers.  One day in April a new magazine would appear on these racks.  It had a man dressed in red and blue wearing a cape and he lifted a car above his head seeming to shake the occupants out of it.  This was Action Comics number one dated June of 1938, but to give the magazine a long shelf life the magazine was released three months earlier than its cover date a practice still used by comic books today, the man in the colorful clothes was Superman.

Superman was the granddaddy of all the superheroes that would follow.  He is the standard that all superheroes are still measured by. Superman is timeless and remain popular throughout some of this world’s toughest times.  He survived The Great Depression, The McCarthy era, social reform, and every other fad that society could throw.  Superman adapted and grew.

Today’s Superman looks much like the original figure from 1938 but he has changed.  Originally Superman could jump an 8th of a mile or has a high as a building but he could not fly.  He had great speed, was invulnerable, but things like X-Ray Vision, Heat Vision, super breath and remaining in outer space in just his uniform were years in the distance.

Superman was a hero for the people.  Stopping corrupt politicians, catching murderers and stopping executions of the wrong man were more of his everyday work.  His alter ego Clark Kent has also changed over the years.  In the 30s and well into the 80s Clark Kent was a klutz, sometimes afraid of his own shadow and always involved in a three-way relationship between himself, Lois Lane and Superman.  After the yearlong event Crisis on Infinite Earths.  Clark changed.  The glasses were still there but he was no longer the weakling that everyone could walk upon.  He would reveal his identity to Lois Lane and the two would marry. 

Superman is as relevant today as he was in 1938.  He has changed with the times and in those times a lot has happened.  Women’s Liberation, Racial Equality, Equality for all people regardless of skin color, gender, or sexual preference.  Superman has met each of these challenges in one form or the other not though super heroics, but by treating every individual he meets as an equal.  Worthy of respect just for being human.  We could all learn a lot from Superman.

Batman, however, is not Superman.  Batman created in 1939 by Bob Kane and Bill Finger is totally human.  He has no super powers.  He has trained his body to perfection and honed his mind in the same way.  He is an expert at hand-to-hand combat and with simple weapons.  Like Superman Batman has a no kill creed.  He brings criminals to justice.

Batman is a story of tragedy.  Superman a story of hope.  Superman is sent from his dying planet to earth to be raised by Kansas farmers.  Superman grew up with good moral teaching and with two loving parents.  Batman saw his parents gunned down and was raised by the family butler.  His mind is always set on his mission that no one will go through what he went through.  In his original origin story young Bruce Wayne vows by candlelight to avenge his parents death by warring on all criminals.

Batman is a study in psychology.  What do you do when tragedy strikes?  How do you react to it?  Batman goes to the extremes.  His parents left him wealthy, he can afford to do as he wishes so he studies and grows strong to begin his war on evil.  But it leaves him a half person.  Batman in many ways cannot really love because he has left no room for it in his obsession.  He likes other people but in today’s comic stories he seems more interested in how an individual can help his cause than about the individual themselves.  This is why there have been four Robins each leaving Batman in one way or another to find their own way and not be caught up in the obsession.

Superman and Batman were created in the late 1930s.  Now we jump up 20 odd years to the early 60s.  Comics lost favor with the public in the 1950s and almost all the heroes hung up their capes and masks.  But in the late 1950s DC Comics made the decision to resurrect their comic book heroes.  But they would do it in a whole new way.  Gone were the original Flash, Green Lantern, and Hawkman and born were the new versions, streamlined with new origins that had a healthy dose of science fiction too add to the colorful heroes.

Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman were the only three heroes to survive the 50s but soon they banded together with the new heroes and formed The Justice League of America.  The JLA became a very popular title and came to the attention of the editors of Timely Comics soon to become Marvel and one editor told a young Stan lee to come up with a team of heroes that would rival the JLA.  Lee was about ready to leave the comics business, but he took on this assignment and created The Fantastic Four and new era in comics began.

With the publication of The Fantastic Four comic book heroes began to grow up.  The Fantastic Four argued with each other, had obvious character flaws, and sometimes split up.  Sarcasm and anger were a part of every issue and the heroes seemed more human.  This new way or writing superheroes would spawn The Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, and Spiderman.

Spiderman made his appearance in August of 1962 in the last issue of Amazing Fantasy.  He was the collaboration of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and became an immediate success.  Young angst laden Peter Parker gets bitten by a radioactive spider which give him the powers and strength of the arachnid.  It doesn’t however remove the social problems of a teen age boy and Peter finds it hard to be Peter made fun of by his classmates and Spiderman who is praised by the same people.  He is hurting and lonely and yet he always stays in the fight.  Tempted to give up by never giving in.

Superheroes are our modern mythology.  They are the Hercules, Ulysses, and Perseus of the 20th and 21st century.  We need fictional heroes.  They are important and they serve the function of passing on moral values.  They do this is a way that entertains and enlightens us without whacking us over the head.

Superman is embodiment of all things good.  He provides hope in a world that has gone very dark.  His primary-colored costume of red. Blue and yellow are a joyful expression of heroics and of light over coming darkness.

Batman is different.  Batman does not inspire hope of goodness as much as he shows the potential of every individual.  He takes it to the extreme, but he is the lesson of us becoming anything we want to be if we work hard enough to pursue it. 

Spiderman, in his origin tale allows the man who would ultimately kill his beloved Uncle Ben to get away.  When he learns that because of his in-action tragedy struck he comes to the understanding that with great power comes great responsibility.  Spiderman goes on to become a hero and that’s great but the lesson he leaves behind is that we need to hold those in power over us to that same thought.  From the President of the United States to your boss the power they hold is a responsibility and the responsibility is to do good with what you are given.  To not serve yourself but to serve others.

To not serve yourself but to serve others is the message of all good superhero stories.  We are put on this earth for only a brief period of time, and it is what we do for others that makes us human and what makes life worth living.  The more you reach out a hand to those in need, the more you will become aware of a sense of self satisfaction.

We are about to enter the holiday season.  Now more than ever the words of Charles Dickens ring down through the years that “Want is keenly felt and abundance rejoices.”  Do you have an abundance? Share something with those in need.  Go into your closet and give away the clothes you haven’t worn in a year.  Go through your house and whatever you don’t need give away.  There are a lot of people hurting in the world if you and I can gather the resources that we have at our disposal and choose to help those who are in need we will be superheroes.