In the latest BATMAN’S HOT-LINE, we shine the spotlight on a guy who proves that superheroes need superfans.
We write a lot about writers and artists and actors and animators but what about the fans? The fans who live and breathe all this stuff? Well, it only seems fair that we shine more of a light on the average Joes and Janes who make the comics world tick.
In this case it’s Dave Vandeventer, best known on the web and in the New York metro area as New Jersey BatDave. Dave’s a regular presence at comics shows, doing his cosplay bit, but he adds a dimension with a lengthy list of amateur films that speak to the lighter side of fandom, especially Batman fandom. His main guest star? His ridiculously adorable tiny dachshund Buster.
I chatted with Dave at this year’s Asbury Park Comicon and was instantly taken with his sincere love of Batman and even more sincere love for his dog. As a Jersey native myself and a guy very much of the same generation, it only made sense to follow up with a BATMAN’S HOT-LINE column:
Dan Greenfield: What’s your Secret Origin?
Dave Vandeventer: The reason that the Secret Origin of BatDave is so fascinating is because it is true. The oldest son of a township clerk and a hard-nosed, Newark riots-era New Jersey cop who had little tolerance for imaginary costumed characters, I was actually born in Summit Overlook Hospital on the very same evening that Season Two of the hit 1960s Batman TV series was premiering, featuring Art Carney as the Archer. Please don’t do the math; I’m a lot older than I look.
Like most young kids of the early 1970s, I was raised in an environment where Batmania had just taken over the hearts and minds of the entire planet. Batman was everywhere back then. A never-ending parade of Batman toys, dolls, games, cartoons, books, posters, gadgets, clothing, food products… You name it, and Batman was on it. I absorbed a daily diet of classic reruns such as the original Star Trek, The Monkees, Get Smart, Mission: Impossible and, of course, Batman.
What modern-day detractors of the zany Batman television series need to realize is that as a 5-year-old boy, none of us could comprehend that this show was all pure camp silliness. To us, Batman and Robin were fighting crime and defeating sinister supervillains in nail-biting, action-packed fashion. My very first homemade costume was inspired by my admiration of Robin, the Boy Wonder, as portrayed by actor Burt Ward. As a skinny kid, I always felt that Adam West was just a bit too beefy to emulate, so I was naturally drawn to Ward’s slender, athletic Boy Wonder. In my young, impressionable mind, I could BE Robin. It seemed so possible.
Now keep in mind that this was way back in the 1970s, so I was forced to keep my homemade Robin costume in my bottom pajamas drawer a secret, lest my ridiculing classmates and soccer teammates find out. This was decades before “cosplaying” would become a socially acceptable and global phenomenon. Back then, you only dressed up in a costume one day a year and that was Halloween, mister. Any other day of the year and you would most certainly be branded a freak.
My other childhood exposure to Batman would instantly change my perception of the Caped Crusader forever and in many ways helped to form the character of BatDave to this day. I was in second grade and my older cousins gave me a pile of DC comic books that they were done with. I was instantly transfixed by the eerie, ominous cover of Batman # 227, The Demon of Gothos Mansion. This Batman was a grim sentinel of the night, an almost supernatural figure that I would later discover was the idea of a talented young artist named Neal Adams. But I now had my two sides of the coin: Batman as a colorful, lighthearted hero and ‘The Batman’ as a dark avenger in the shadows …
How did you get the notion to do all this?
Decades passed and my life went on. I still harbored my undying love of old comic books, TV shows, horror movies, and an intense infatuation with the Batman character, but it was nothing a grown man could rationally act upon. Until 2009. A week before Halloween of 2009, I jokingly asked my girlfriend and her sexy gal pals if they would suit up as members of the Batman Family because I was finally going to make a serious attempt at assembling a full Batman costume for an upcoming masquerade party.
Unbelievably, all three girls said yes and we actually won second-place honors that evening. And we lost to a giant scarecrow! Looking at our Halloween photos a few days later, something just … clicked. Something seemed right. The idea of adults running around in tights was no longer unimaginable. Comic cons were now a big, lucrative business and females, who had once shunned the entire ‘nerdy’ superhero concept, were now embracing the many genres even harder than their male counterparts. My co-workers were concerned with my new “hobby” and actually staged a mock intervention on my behalf, telling me, “You’re NOT Batman!” My droll reply was merely a tossaway comment at the time, but it stuck. I said to them, “I know I’m not BatMAN … I’m BatDAVE.” And that was that. The legend of BatDave had been born and folks to this day just seem to enjoy saying the word BatDave when they spot me at a show.
Walk us through how one of the films gets made, beginning to end.
Like many enjoyable facets of life, my foray into filmmaking came about by accident.
It was the summer of 2011 and Batman movie producer Michael Uslan was signing copies of his new memoir called The Boy Who Loved Batman. Mr. Uslan is also a New Jersey native and he had the ingenious foresight to secure motion picture rights to any future Batman projects almost a decade before Hollywood would even care about the maligned character again. His book-signing was taking place along the boardwalk of historic Asbury Park and although it was well-attended by book buyers, I did not see anyone filming the daylong event.
I returned home that night with tons of photos plus a good 10 minutes of raw footage and didn’t think of it again until I got to work on Monday morning. I asked my co-worker and partner-in-crime Dennis (Spider-Denny) Pellicano if we could cobble together a crude mini-documentary of the Uslan book-signing, and he reluctantly agreed. Denny’s prophetic words to me regarding that initial project still ring in my ears: “Dave, if we do this first one, you KNOW that you are going to want to make a fan film for every show we go to in the future!” I assured him that I would NOT, but he knew me better than I knew myself.
In the past three years, Dennis and I have generated 35 fan films (here’s their YouTube channel) focusing on large East Coast comic cons, horror shows, parades and even a few scripted Batman-themed adventures filmed at real life locations around the state. Our two-man movie-making process is very rudimentary and the division of labor is based upon our strengths. I jokingly refer to myself as The Prince of Pre-Production and that Denny is The King of Post-Production. I handle much of the actual filming, narration, sequencing, and colorful intro/outro credit graphics while Denny oversees the editing, sound and directorial duties.
As a longtime photojournalist and entertainment reporter, I am a natural born storyteller, so I will provide the screenplay and dialogue for our “actors” when necessary. Our fan films are deliberately “no budget” and rough around the edges. I pride myself on the fact that 34 out of 35 of our movies cost only between 50-80 bucks each to make. They only take us maybe 5-6 hours to physically complete, yet up to 3 weeks to post because we have so little free time.
I have never been a fan of big, bloated Hollywood budgets and the soulless crap that they tend to produce. And the fact that Denny and I are lifelong fans of the comic book medium has always seemed to engender a relaxed atmosphere for many of the industry’s superstars to let down their guard, open up and be captured in a more realistic manner in our fan films. You can never be certain just who will pop up in a “BatDave & Denny” production.
Which one, in your opinion, turned out the best?
Ironically, our movie that I am most proud of is currently unwatchable on YouTube or mobile devices, although we do have a few DVD copies lying around somewhere. The original and epic-length BatDave & Buster The Dog Wonder was a labor of love that consumed nearly 5 months of my life to write, film, produce and star in back in early 2013. The story of a grown man from New Jersey obsessed with Batman who takes his poor old dachshund along with him to fight crime may seem like just a silly children’s tale at first, but there is a powerfully positive message hidden amongst the costumes and craziness.
I have always been enamored with the notion of the flawed, bumbling yet well-intentioned leading man. The brilliant acting and physical comedy of Peter Sellers, Don Adams and SNL’s Mike Myers are what I often draw upon. BatDave is cut from that same cloth; he earnestly sees himself as superhero Clint Eastwood or Steve McQueen, but the rest of the world merely sees him as a nuisance. And the dual threads of our wacky Joker storyline and sinister Bane storyline are intended to take the viewer from what seems to be just another cheesy Batman spoof to a life-and-death climax, where the importance of friendship, loyalty and just plain doing the right thing may or may not be enough to overcome the violent and reason-blinding evil of Bane.
Unfortunately, Denny and I were very naive when it came to YouTube’s strict song copyright violations, and the audio to many of our earlier BatDave fan films have been either muted or distorted. We are already in the process of removing the original copyrighted tunes and replacing them with new unlicensed music, such as me singing the opening and closing themes! You live and you learn.
Denny and I will have a leaner and meaner Director’s Cut of BatDave & Buster The Dog Wonder out by this September, which I think will find a whole new audience for our wonderfully strange Bat-themed adventure/comedy/drama.
What’s the oddest thing that came from doing these movies?
The oddest or most delightful thing about the BatDave “franchise” is actually two things. One: We have become good friends with many of the people that we have featured in our fan films over the past three years. Incredibly talented cosplayers, artists, writers, craftspersons and actors who “get” what Denny and I are doing seem to naturally gravitate towards us and we consider it an honor to spotlight them whenever possible. As I said earlier, we grew up LOVING comic books, old movies, video games, TV shows. etc. As goofy as we all get with each other on and offscreen, we have a genuine respect and great appreciation for the industry giants that we cross paths with.
And Two: It is simply mind-blowing how many legends that we have either filmed or interviewed over the past three years. We were the only camera in Baltimore two years ago filming the reunion of Stan Lee and his Golden Age Marvel/Timely artist Ken Bald. The aforementioned and iconic Neal Adams appears in 8 or 9 of our fan films, usually to “reveal” a top-secret project he is currently working on. One of my favorite onscreen moments occurred in New York City when Neal “punched out” my disturbing Robin The Man Wonder during that colossal comic con.
Actors Adam West, Burt Ward, Lee Meriwether, Van Williams, Norman Reedus, Alice Cooper, Manu Bennett, Richard Hatch, Malcolm MacDowell, John Astin, George Romero, Ernie Hudson, Ralph Macchio, Michael Beck, Butch Patrick, Gary Busey, Larry Storch, Robert Vaughn, Michael Rooker, Jon Bernthal, Scott Wilson, comic book greats Arthur Suydam, Chris Claremont, Michael Golden, Bernie Wrightson, Tony Moore, Robert Kirkman, Mark Texeira and countless others have all made brief but memorable appearances in our projects.
Do you ever get recognized at shows because of this?
Being BatDave is the gift that keeps on giving. Just recently I was asked to appear at a show in midtown Manhattan as the Caped Crusader alongside my buddy’s gorgeous 1966 replica. The featured celebrity guest was none other than my ultimate childhood crush, the lovely Agent 99 from Get Smart herself … actress Barbara Feldon! Meeting, chatting with and posing in full costume next to “the girl of my dreams” is something every fanboy can relate to on some level, and it is those moments that are priceless. This is the all-pervasive age of the Internet and Facebook, so I do get recognized as BatDave in and out of costume every now and then, and it always makes me chuckle. The usual greeting is “Hey, aren’t you that Batman guy from New Jersey?” or my personal favorite: “Hey, BatDave … Where’s Buster??!” There’s no denying that our little Dog Wonder is more of a draw than I’ll ever be!
All kidding aside, portraying Batman these past few years has really opened my eyes to just how popular and beloved this non-powered yet empowering crimefighter is to people of all ages. As a symbol of hope and determination, Batman is a very unique superhero, and words can’t describe when a thrilled father and son or an entire family’s face lights up in the presence of the Gotham Guardian. It has been a dream come true and it is a responsibility that I don’t take lightly when appearing in public as Batman.
You seem to like all iterations of Batman. Batman ’66 seems to be your favorite. Is that the case?
Undeniably the colorful Adam West version is obviously in my Top Three just for the strong emotions and memories it conjures up for generations of fans of the TV series. Crowds go absolutely wild when they see that, especially if I’m running around the show carrying that ridiculous over-sized bomb from the 1966 movie. The early 1970s’ Neal Adams Batman is undeniably an influence merely because Mr. Adams single-handedly made our Dark Knight a badass again after decades of misguided nonsense. Neal’s realistic and pioneering contributions to reinvigorating a stagnant character cannot be emphasized enough. My final Batman incarnation is actually a combination of two sources that I merged to create my “official” BatDave costume in a few of our movies. The breathtaking Batman artwork of Alex Ross and the gritty Clark Bartram costume of the influential Batman: Dead End (fan-made) movie were my templates for creating a no-budget yet somewhat believable outfit for “The Batman of Rahway, New Jersey.”
Name the best three Batman stories you’ve ever read.
I am by no means a Batman scholar but I am most certainly a diehard Batman fan, and I know what I like. That magical first year of the Bat-Man way back in 1939/1940, before they saddled him with Robin, is still the template by which all future and significant versions must draw upon. The young and untested crimefighter equipped with a blazing firearm and a questionable moral code — snapping monster’s necks, shooting gangsters at point blank range, punching a thug into a vat of boiling acid… THIS is the Batman movie that Hollywood needs to make and one which I could easily make for $100,000… NOT one hundred million! Instead we get Ben Affleck? But I digress.
My second favorite storyline is a tie between the months that the late, great Marshall Rogers spent illustrating Detective Comics in the late 1970s and the solid Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams “Batman vs. Ra’s Al Ghul” issues a few years earlier. Nobody drew a better Hugo Strange, Penguin, Deadshot, Joker or Clayface than Marshall Rogers did and I can still remember running to my local newsstand every month to buy those issues for only 35 cents.
My last choice comes courtesy of Frank Miller. And no, I don’t mean his outlandish and over-rated “The Dark Knight Returns” which is still revered by many to this day. Any time that you combine Batman with Superman, you’ve just lost me as a reader. Batman and Superman are polar opposites, apples and oranges that just don’t mix in my book. Some folks enjoy their bizarre yin-yang dynamic, but in my opinion, Supes always takes Batman right out of his element. Which is the shadows of Gotham City, not trapped on some intergalactic space station. Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli’s far superior “Batman: Year One” is a powerfully simple yet riveting re-envisioning of the Batman origin. The interplay and reluctant-yet-growing bond between our novice hero and the skeptical Jim Gordon is some of the best and most honest Bat-moments ever committed to comic book pages.
Besides Batman, Jim Gordon is my favorite member of the Batman world. I really would have loved to see a Gary Oldman-fueled Commissioner Gordon motion picture rather than that horribly self-important The Dark Knight Rises, but nobody was answering my calls at the time. I guess one of the few downsides to living in northern New Jersey is that we aren’t exactly right next door to Hollywood.