Dark Knight: ‘Year of the Bat’: A retrospectiveWritten by Jim Beard | | firstname.lastname@example.org
How times change — where once a new Batman film meant a plethora of publications from DC Comics promoting the film, now the venerable company relies on the strength of the character alone to draw in new readers. July’s “The Dark Knight Rises” will exist without any special fanfare in its counterpart comic book universe, standing in stark contrast to Marvel Comics’ prolific promotion for its “The Amazing Spider-Man” film in the same month.
1989’s hotly anticipated Tim Burton “Batman” film arrived in a furious beating of batwings, a resuscitated “Batmania” from the 1960s. DC put out not only an “Official Comic Adaptation of the Warner Bros. Motion Picture” but also ramped up the events in Batman’s ongoing series with the aftermath of the death of Robin, a “Year 3” flashback storyline and the introduction of a new Robin, Tim Drake. If a movie viewer liked what they saw on the screen that year, they could find much in the comics to bat-rope them in. Likewise, 1992 brought perhaps an even bigger Bat-blitz with its “Batman Returns” tie-ins, such as another “Official Comic Adaptation” and a splashy set of one-shot books featuring the film’s villains, the Penguin and Catwoman.
The rest of the 1990s Bat-films, 1995’s “Batman Forever” and 1997’s “Batman and Robin,” continued that string of tie-in titles with “Official Comic Adaptations” of their own plus stand-alone one-shots of the movies’ crafty criminals, the Riddler, Two-Face, Bane, Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze. Even Alicia Silverstone’s Batgirl was considered enough of a blip on the Bat-radar for DC to publish a special Batgirl book in 1997.
The new millennium brought a new series of Bat-films, kicking off with 2005’s Christopher Nolan-Christian Bale opus “Batman Begins.” Perhaps the movie’s more somber, serious outlook toward the character curtailed flashy gimmick tie-ins from DC — for the first time since 1989 there was no “Official Comic Adaptation” nor were there any special one-shots or other special Bat-events in comic book form. This new era of quiet promotion continued in 2008 with the billion-dollar blockbuster “The Dark Knight.” In fact, DC had Batman planted deep in a long-winded, murky storyline that culminated in his apparent death. Funny way to drag in new readers, some thought.
Today, “The Dark Knight Rises” may rival its predecessor as a cash cow, but DC continues to favor
storytelling over slam-bang in a “Year of the Bat.” No “Official Comic Adaptation” or other such obvious film tie-ins will dot the shelves; the Caped Crusader must cinematically sink or swim on his own.
Batman ’66 license now available
Some are calling it a miracle. It’s not a cure for cancer, AIDS or even the common cold, but it is a balm for millions of Bat-fans worldwide: The elusive 1966 “Batman” TV series merchandising license has been made available by Warner Bros. more than 40 years after the show went off the air. Holy About Time, Batman!
On June 6, Warner Bros. Consumer Products revealed that the license was in place for companies to produce everything from action figures to household goods sporting the likenesses of Adam West, Burt Ward and the show’s entire cast. Until now, only the series’ logo and its range of Bat-vehicles could be used for commercial items, as the sticky likeness issue had previously constrained a proliferation of Batmans, Robins, Jokers and Catwomans. Warner Bros. claims it has been negotiating with the various concerned parties, including 20th Century Fox, West and the others, since 2009, but an accord has finally been met and the Bat-floodgates could open as soon as this year.
Even during the show’s original airing, from 1966-68, products with West’s and Ward’s images were rare. Some “Batman” fans speculate that even then the production company was loathe to pay out any percentage of profits to the actors. That finagling over likenesses continued unabated for decades, a source of lawsuits even, until today. Now, with the stars in their 70s and 80s or even deceased, perhaps reality has finally sunk in and the realization that everyone involved — studios, actors and estates — can make a few bucks has dawned.
Rumor has it that the merchandise license announcement also doubles as a clarion call for the series to be released on DVD and Blu-ray, another 40 years-plus no-show.
July’s Comic-Con International in San Diego revealed a few teases of what’s to come for the fans. Mattel flashed a few slides of its upcoming 6” line of “Batman” action figures, illuminating a very recognizable Adam West Caped Crusader. Hallmark showed off a small sample of its 2013 Adam West Batman Christmas ornament. But, as they say, “Stay tuned, Bat-fans — the best is yet to come!”