A special BATMAN ’89 edition — with Dan, Scott and guest Chris Franklin…
This week for RETRO HOT PICKS, Scott Tipton and I are again joined by Chris Franklin — and we’re selecting comics that came out the week of June 23, 1989. Why that year? Because Tim Burton’s Batman came out on that very date!
So, in addition to picking the week’s comics, we’re also sharing our memories of Batman ’89, one of the most beloved comics movies of all time. (Feel free to share your own memories in the comments!) By the way, this is the first time we’ve done 1989 in RETRO HOT PICKS, because we wanted to save it for this very occasion.
Last time for RETRO HOT PICKS, it was the week of June 16, 1981 — the week Superman II came out in the U.S. Click here to check it out.
(Keep in mind that comics came out on multiple days back then — as has become the case now. So these are technically the comics that went on sale between June 20 and June 26.)
Let’s set the scene. George Bush the elder was in his first year as president. Batman was not only the No. 1 movie in the country — it was a record-smashing $40 million-plus weekend: It broke Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade’s record ($37 million) for the highest weekend of all time (which had only been set a month earlier). It also broke Superman II’s record ($14.1 million) for the highest weekend debut for a superhero film. At the time, it was the fastest movie to reach $100 million — which took 11 days.
A Roseanne rerun topped the Nielsens. I hate to say it but this might be the weakest week for the Billboard 100 since we started RETRO HOT PICKS last year: The top-selling single was Satisfied by Richard Marx and the runner up was I’ll Be Loving You (Forever) by New Kids on the Block. Yeesh. The Raw & the Cooked by Fine Young Cannibals was the leading album. That’s cool. (Sign of the times: Milli Vanilli was in the Top 10 on both charts.)
But none of that matters. I pretty much had Danny Elfman’s Batman score on an endless loop — and you probably did too.
Batman. This is going to sound hyperbolic, but trust me; it’s how I really felt. June 23 was set to be the most important day of my 14-year-old life. It had been a long, winding road to get a new Batman film to the screen — AND a Batman that was not like the ’60s television series, to prove Batman wasn’t silly, he was dark and brooding and psychologically tortured… and stuff! That’s how I felt then. I never turned against Adam West like a lot of Batfans did when they eventually embraced the “Creature of the Night” in the comics, but by that point he was definitely the odd but lovable uncle who could embarrass you at a family reunion.
My fears about Michael Keaton’s controversial casting had been allayed by the very hastily put together trailer WB dropped months before. The world was awash in a sea of black with yellow ovals over everything. You couldn’t walk into any store without seeing the standard bat-symbol on SOMETHING. Movie studios have tried to recreate that kind of hype again, but the formula has never been replicated. It was almost like a grass roots campaign with a merchandising arm. The people WANTED a Batman movie… and WB just happened to have a bunch of merch ready for them.
So… the movie! My friends’ mother took me along with her three kids to the big city of Lexington, Kentucky. I was oddly calm by the time we got to the theater. The hard part was over, the movie was made, and I was going to see it. As if I had helped will it into existence or something. I watched it, and I loved it. The Danny Elfman score was perfect, Keaton and Jack Nicholson were great, and director Tim Burton had managed to capture that early “mysterioso” mood Bob Kane was always babbling about from his and Bill Finger’s earliest Detective Comics stories. I watched it multiple times in the theater that summer, bought it on VHS late that year (the first VHS of a film I had ever bought), and rewatched it until the tape was practically worn bare.
As I have matured, I have kept a soft spot for that film, and what it meant to me. About 10 years or so ago I thought it hadn’t aged as well as other films from the era. Despite its large budget, it looked a bit “fake” with the obvious sets showing, and of course the glaring use of animation in spots (like when the Joker falls to his death). But in recent years, time has eased it back into a perfect product of the era in which it was made, and who it was made by. The movie seems light and frothy compared to more recent Batman films, and honestly closer to Uncle Adam West than those efforts. With Adam gone from this world, Keaton has become to me, the standard all Batmen must be measured by. More than anything, the nuance he brought to his brooding Batman, the way he worked that cape, and his distracted Bruce Wayne still resonate today. Did it live up to the hype? Yes, yes it did. And still does.
Batman: The Official Comic Adaptation, DC. Quite simply, in this writer’s opinion, this is the greatest film-to-comic adaptation of all time. No offense to any other great efforts in this vein, but Jerry Ordway’s art is in a category all by itself. Previous adaptations had either been unable to use actors’ likenesses, or the artists were hamstrung by redrawing the same studio-provided images over and over. Ordway developed model sheets of each actor, allowing him to draw the comic more dynamically, and tell the story in a more visually compelling way suited to the medium. Add in scripting chores by Bat-master Denny O’Neil, and you have a comic nearly as classic as the movie itself. And I prefer the deluxe, prestige-edition with the gorgeous painted cover!
Dan adds: I bought both versions!
The Amazing Spider-Man #322, Marvel. It was an exciting time to be a Spider-Man fan, for sure. Editor Jim Salicrup had instituted interconnectivity to the Spider-titles (including Spectacular Spider-Man and Web of Spider-Man), much like what Mike Carlin was doing in the Superman books over at DC. But of course the real draw was writer David Michelinie and white-hot artist Todd McFarlane on Amazing. This issue finds Spidey knee-deep in the bi-weekly summer event, “The Assassin Nation Plot,” bringing in supporting character Silver Sable, and eventually Captain America. This would be McFarlane’s last hurrah on the Amazing title, but he had his own Spider-Man series waiting for him to write AND draw. In hindsight I’m not exactly sure why I loved McFarlane’s art so much at the time, since his art isn’t to my tastes as an adult. But I was big into hair metal back then too. Go figure.
Captain America #360, Marvel. Captain America was a busy boy in the summer of 1989. Steve Rogers had recently reclaimed the mantle from John Walker, and longtime writer Mark Gruenwald began a bi-weekly summer adventure in “The Bloodstone Hunt.” Cap and his new sidekick/love interest, reformed villain Diamondback, set off on an Indiana Jones-like quest, encountering Baron Zemo, Batroc the Leaper and the newly created Crossbones along the way. Needless to say the MCU has wonderfully plucked from this era for their films and streaming series. Penciller Kieron Dwyer didn’t have much of a resume when he assumed the reins on this book, but he made a solid impression out of the gate. This cover drops you right into the middle of the action, and even dares to make the figure of Captain America smaller, and out of the foreground. But the shark and the look on Batroc’s face says it all!!!
Scott adds: I absolutely love that corner box here, with the little broken heart over Diamondback’s head. Awww… Also, this issue’s letters page includes a letter from some teenage fanboy named Tipton. Wonder whatever happened to that guy?
Superman #34, DC. Jerry Ordway was a busy fellow this summer too! In addition to the Batman adaptation, he continued to contribute to the Superman titles, this time writing while the vastly underrated Kerry Gammill provided pencils. The hideous and genuinely frightening Skyhook returned, having debuted during John Byrne’s run a few years earlier. The villains’ gimmick was to kidnap and mutate children into beings like him, and that included the daughter of Superman’s friend, Special Crimes Unit director Maggie Sawyer. Gammill is a noted horror historian and enthusiast, and he sells the terror on this cover, with Superman, Maggie and child trying to escape through the sewers while the ragged, bat-winged Skyhook closes in.
Scott Tipton, contributor-at-large, 13th Dimension
Batman. Back in ’89, the anticipation level for the first Batman feature film was like nothing anyone had experienced. Batman has become such an inescapable part of the pop culture in the last 32 years, with countless films, television shows, animated series and all the merchandisable ephemera that goes with them, that it’s easy to look at Tim Burton’s Batman now and overlook just how revolutionary it was at the time.
No one had ever seen a Batman film taken seriously. No one had ever seen Batman’s origin played out on the silver screen, in all its tragedy and horror. Combine that with the visual splendor Tim Burton and Anton Furst lavished on Gotham City; the spectacular score from Danny Elfman; the sheer star power of Jack Nicholson’s Joker; and the movie’s secret weapon, the effortless, quirky charisma of Michael Keaton’s Bruce Wayne, and audiences left theaters in the summer of 1989 convinced that movies had been changed forever, and that from that point on Hollywood would finally treat comic books with the respect they deserved.
It was true; it just took another 20 years or so to happen.
The Avengers #308, Marvel. I remember enjoying Byrne’s ‘80s Avengers stint, but not much else about it. Sub-Mariner’s Avengers tenure was all too brief.
Mister Miracle #7, DC. As much as Blue Beetle and Booster Gold were the breakout stars of the Justice League International years, I really liked them best when they were a three-man comedy act with Mister Miracle.
The Saga of the Sub-Mariner #12, Marvel. This was when Roy Thomas returned to Marvel after a lengthy run at DC, and threw himself into the kinds of projects he loved most — involving comics history. This series retold and recontextualized all of Sub-Mariner’s appearances going back to the 1940s. I need to find these and give them a fresh read…
Dan Greenfield, editor, 13th Dimension
Batman. In June 1989, I was in an ideal spot: I was working for a movie-theater chain in Boston and so I scored an invite to a packed-house screening before the film actually opened on June 23. As a Batman fan going back to early childhood, it felt like my entire life of Bat-devotion was reaching an apex I never thought possible. But then the movie began and it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that it was akin to a religious experience. Not only was I thrilled by the flick itself, I was completely charged up by the atmosphere. Usually, I’m really hardcore against noise in the theater but the crowd was so overwhelmingly into it, I embraced all the cheering and screaming and hollering that went on through the film. “I’m Batman” — huge cheers. The Batmobile appears for the first time — a roar from the crowd. Batman smashes through the skylight — wild whoops and applause.
I ate it all up. And when it was over, I walked out of the theater vibrating with extraordinary excitement. This was the Batman movie I wanted to see, the one I’d been wishing for since the ’70s when I would write to DC with my fan-casting for a “serious” take — including Jack Nicholson as the Joker.
Years later, like Chris, I started to see the seams more than the charm: Batman Begins and The Dark Knight each surpassed Batman in terms of scope and drama. But even more years passed, and I again came to appreciate Batman for what it is: a wildly entertaining comics movie that forever altered how the public saw the Caped Crusader — and personally gave me countless hours of euphoric enjoyment.
Star Trek Movie Special #1, DC. I don’t care whether God needs a starship or not: This movie gets a bad rap. And DC was turning out solid Star Trek comics at the time, to boot.
Secret Origins #43, DC. I have a real soft spot for Hawk and Dove, even though they really are a part of their ’60s time. DC has tried to reinvent them repeatedly with mixed success, but in 1989, I made sure to pick this up.
— RETRO HOT PICKS! On Sale The Week of June 16 — in 1981! Click here.
— RETRO HOT PICKS! On Sale The Week of June 9 — in 1970! Click here.