Michael Uslan. The Boy Who Loved Batman. Chronicle Books, 2011.
The title of Uslan’s book is apt for, you see, this is a fellow who really loves Batman. Loves, loves, loves. The X-Men are cool, and Spider-Man has his strong points, but oh, that Batman. Uslan recounts his childhood as a kid who “knew where the Batmobile was parked. I knew the name of the street where Bruce Wayne’s parents were shot and killed…I knew every trophy in the Bat-Cave and the one real date on the giant penny.” By the time most people are old enough to drive, Uslan had a comics collection thousands strong, particularly impressive considering what a slice of the catalogue that must have been in the 1960s. To a large extent, Uslan grows up with his chosen medium—in a memorable sequence, he even attends the very first comic-con. But where many channeled their passion for comics into costumed alter-egos of their own, for Uslan the passion became the ego, with no alter about it. “My life’s quest,” he says, was “to bring a dark and serious Batman to the silver screen.”
This he eventually did, producing both of Tim Burton’s Batman films. He says of Burton that the director captured the way Gotham City was “where a zany force of evil had a believable place.” Uslan continued his role as producer over to the terrific “Batman” animated series, and, of course, Nolan’s zeitgeist trilogy.
Michael Keaton and Christian Bale, Uslan indicates, portrayed the battered soul that really was always there under the cowl with bat ears. And this after Uslan started a happy family (ZAP!), saw his library increase exponentially in value (BAM!) and became the first college professor to teach an accredited course on comics (WOW!).
The most interesting and rewarding thing about The Boy Who Loved Batman is that it doesn’t try to tie Uslan’s fondness for a haunted, Atlas-on-Zoloft Dark Knight with some similarly shadowy or tragic part of Uslan’s past or character. Loving parents, supportive teachers, friends with shared interests, a beautiful wife—these are perhaps not the origins of a caped crusader, but they certainly benefit a creative fan-boy. All are featured here.
And does the success story translate for those who have no idea of the street name where Mr. and Mrs. Wayne were murdered? Sure. Uslan’s prose is not the most eloquent in the world—Proust bitten by a radioactive spider this is not—but enthusiasm is infectious and it’s hard to argue with results. Uslan parlayed his life’s dream into getting his name on the best superhero movies yet made. After that, as he says, “2012’s The Dark Knight Rises would be the icing on the cake.” Here’s hoping. Every comic book hero needs geeks to survive, like Superman needs the sun. Under suns like Uslan, those heroes will flourish.
Michael Uslan was the executive producer of films such as Batman, Batman Returns, Batman Forever, Batman & Robin, Constantine, The Spirit, Batman Begins, and the second highest grossing film of all time, The Dark Knight. He has written a number of comic books, including the critically-acclaimed revival of The Shadow for DC Comics. His bibliography includes dozens of books that chronicle the history of comics, including America At War and Mysteries in Space.
Tristan Lejeune holds a BA in English from the College of William & Mary. His reviews have appeared in print, on the web, and on the air. He is the winner of four consecutive Virginia Press Association awards for critical writing.