Today is the fifth annual Batman Day, and this year also marks the 80th anniversary of the Caped Crusader’s first appearance in the pages of DC Comics back in 1939. That auspicious confluence (and months of ramp-up work by Warner Bros., DC Entertainment, and their many brand partners) will shine an impressively global spotlight on the character that now ranks as the widely recognized masked man in American pop culture and across all of Western entertainment.
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The activities today include Batman comic book giveaways at hundreds of comic book shops and public libraries across North America, and elaborate tie-in events are planned by major specialty retailers, including Lego stores, Build-a-Bear shops, and Barnes & Noble locations. Amazon will be hawking limited-edition Bat-merch at the merchant’s special, curated pop-up shops in major markets (among them Chicago, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and San Francisco) that will also have a photo-op and giveaways to entice Bat-buyers.
Flood lights will project the Caped Crusader’s familiar Bat-signal into the night skies above Paris, Tokyo, Berlin, Rome, Mexico City, Johannesburg, Barcelona, and São Paulo, to name just a few of the participating locales. The beacon’s glare in New York will be accompanied by a panel of Batman writers, while in Los Angeles, the Bat-signal will coincide with a night-time 5K run that promises to be all aflutter with blue capes.
MASKED AMBITIONS: A quirky subplot of all of this year’s Bat-hoopla is the fact that Batman (who was created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger and introduced in Detective Comics issue No. 27, which hit newsstands in March 1939) is in some ways a secondary character (or an absent figure) in many of the Gotham City screen projects that are getting the most attention in this anniversary year.
Batman’s greatest enemy gets his own movie on Oct. 4 with the release of Joker, a dark reimagining of the killer clown’s mythology that is already making noise as a no-joke contender this awards season. Batman’s sidekick, Robin, leads his own super team on the live-action DC Universe series Titans. Harley Quinn is getting her own animated series on DC Universe (it gets a preview early next month at New York Comic Con) and returns to the big screen in February with Birds of Prey: And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn.
Batman’s butler, Alfred, has his own television show, too, with Pennyworth , the Epix series which serves up its Season 1 finale next weekend. Batwoman is on the way with her own series on The CW. Another Suicide Squad movie is on the way, too.
Amid all of that, there is one (and only one) major screen project underway that has Batman in the title — that would be The Batman, the brand refresh from writer-director Matt Reeves. But it won’t reach theaters until June 2020. As for this year? Batman may be the one blowing out the candles, but it’s everybody else in Gotham that’s taking the cake.
STRONG SIGNAL: The international locales that will be lighting up the night with Bat-signals include Los Angeles City Hall (which is more famous for its Metropolis connection; it portrayed the Daily Planet building in the classic Adventures of Superman television series) and the Empire State Building in New York City. The most fitting site chosen for the illuminating ritual? Here’s a vote for the Senate House, the University of London’s stolid administration building which (like stately Wayne Manor) has history as both a hidden headquarters and literary landmark.
The Senate House was built in the 1930s and housed Britain’s propaganda and censorship department during the World War II era, which is why the Art Deco building was a granite muse to two of England’s most esteemed authors: George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth in Nineteen Eighty-Four and Graham Greene’s Ministry of Fear were each modeled on the imposing citadel.
The Senate House has also has a more direct connection to Gotham City, too: Christopher Nolan used the building’s interior for key scenes in Batman Begins (2006) and The Dark Knight Rises (2012).
I visited the Senate House during the filming of The Dark Knight Rises in the summer of 2011 and will always remember it as the place where Anne Hathaway, in full Catwoman costume, asked for my help with a vexing crossword puzzle and later channeled her inner Tina Turner during an impromptu rendition of Proud Mary between takes.
HELLO KITTY: Speaking of Catwoman, the slinky villainess isn’t really getting her due right now for her early pioneer role in edgy, experimental superhero cinema. Consider: Critics are going wild for Joker and hailing it for 1) its bold departure from all of the classic character’s previous lore, and 2) its stand-alone spirit as a reimagining that does not share its mythology or universe with any other DC screen adaptation.
Not to be catty, but Joker is borrowing someone else’s material on both fronts. The 2004 film Catwoman, starring Oscar-winner Halle Berry, took the exact same approach. But — unlike Joker — it ended up as a cinematic punchline. Many critics jeer the film as a series contender for the ignominious crown of Hollywood’s all-time worst studio film. While Joker is ramping up for an Oscars race, Catwoman swept the Golden Raspberry Awards by winning Worst Picture, Worst Actress, Worst Director, and Worst Screenplay
There’s two different takeaway lessons from the Catwoman debacle: 1) Sometimes a film that’s ahead of its time is merely a film with bad timing. 2) Even kitty litter can’t mask the smell of an awful script.