As promised, we’ve got more from filmmaker Kevin Smith, whose “Fat Man on Batman” has become the prime Batman destination in the world of podcasting.
In Part 1 of a three-part interview, Smith, who also owns the comics shop Jay and Silent Bob’s Secret Stash in Red Bank, N.J., gave details about his upcoming miniseries “Batman: Bellicosity.”
Kevin, take it all the way back, as you like to say on the podcast, and tell us how you got into Batman.
The earliest memory I have of him was of course was the Bill Dozier TV Show (Ed.: starring Adam West) when I was, I guess, 4 or 5 or whatever. That was in heavy rotation on PIX, on Channel 11, where I lived growing up, you know, in Jersey. I guess we got the New York feed. So that was my first exposure, then comic books came after that. …
But it wasn’t until Walter Flanagan (now best known for “Comic Book Men”) gave me Frank Miller’s “Dark Knight Returns” graphic novel … when I was rebaptized in the Bat, if you will, or “Bat-tized.”
Suddenly I was like: “This is Batman now? This is crazy. Like, this is grown up.” You didn’t have to be ashamed being into Batman or talking about Batman. … Meeting Walter Flanagan kind of opened that up. Here’s a guy two years older than me, way cooler me, a kid into metal and whatnot, and denim jackets with paintings on the back of them, when we were kids. And he was validating Batman and he was all, “Batman’s a badass” and he was like, “You don’t ever have to be ashamed of reading it.” And that’s when I got into it hardcore. I was like 17 or 18 years old and I was suddenly rebaptized into Batman fandom.”
Now you’ve got a daughter named Harley don’t you?
I do. I’m such a Batman fan that my daughter, my one and only begotten child, is named Harley Quinn Smith. And my wife, I asked even if we have a boy, can we name him Batman Smith and she wasn’t going for that. Harley Quinn I got away with. And if she wasn’t going to be a girl, we were going to call him Charley Quinn.
Name the best batman writer of the past who’s not Frank Miller or Alan Moore. Not even Grant Morrison since he’s too recent.
I can’t include Grant Morrison? Even Grant Morrison, wow, even with “Arkham Asylum”?
Yeah, he’s too recent. Well, you can talk about “Arkham Asylum.”
Grant Morrison’s stuff to me is the stuff that will always pop. “Arkham Asylum” put him on the radar years and years ago. It was a take on Batman that was so dark and gothic and literal and frightening. His Joker was the first time that I really ever thought of the Joker as kind of terrifying, even as depicted in the “Dark Knight Returns.” … Generally speaking, you don’t really see the mania, you don’t really feel the fear as graphically depicted as in “Arkham Asylum.” Even the Joker’s word balloons were creepy and unsettling, but the things Grant had him doing were darker than most and generally a little more unnerving, more than ‘he’s the Clown Prince of Crime who kills people from time to time.” I’m a big Grant Morrison fan.
Going back further back, I guess … my favorite, hands down, would be Marshall Rogers and Steve Englehart. … That’s some of my favorite stuff.
Of course the artwork is gorgeous, but Steve’s comics are very sweeping. They’re epic. They’re involved with Bruce’s love life. … “Widening Gyre” (by Smith and Flanagan) is definitely an homage to the Englehart and Rogers run.
Besides watching the Bill Dozier and Adam West show, what’s your earliest Batman memory?
Let me see … I had a Batman Halloween costume probably before I even remember the show. And it was a Ben Cooper mask with a rubber band around it, a mask, a plastic mask. And then the outfit, I’m trying to remember whether it had the true Batman insignia or if it had a picture of Batman on the chest. I think I liked it because it had the actual Batsignal.
And do you remember your first Batman comic?
My first Batman comic, I would probably have to say it’s the one that’s got … I want to say it’s a Neal Adams cover. It’s the Joker, very tall over buildings. I got that at a garage sale. It was beaten up and I got it when I was maybe 5 or 6 years old, something like that.
Yeah, that’s Batman #251. I actually have the print on my wall.
We have it hanging up on the show, at the store. It’s amazing.
So what right now is the best Batman item that you own?
My favorites, hands down, are these two really nice Batman pieces that they put out last year.
One is from a company I can’t pronounce, it begins with a ‘K.’ It’s Japanese. But they did a statue of Frank Miller’s Batman holding the Joker. … Really beautiful piece… just gorgeous.
And as a huge fan of “Dark Knight Returns” — you know when I first read it, it came out in, like, 1986 and but I think I read it first in ‘88 — you wouldn’t imagine you’d see something as cool as this, a fine piece of art that you could put on a shelf in your house and when people come in you could be like, ‘Oh yeah, this is classy.’”
And I think DC Collectibles did the other one. They also did a “Dark Knight Returns” piece but they did the Superman fight and there is also a little Robin if you turn it around, Robin pulling back the slingshot.
Both sculptures are just so gorgeous. Really fantastic pieces that you wouldn’t imagine you’d ever see rendered in the real world.
Is the first one Kotobukiya? Is that the name of the company?
Yes, that’s the one. You can see it right now if you look it up online. They did a lot of Batman. They did Poison Ivy. They did a Batgirl. They did a Harley. But this is by far — most of the stuff is more anime looking — but this piece is just flat-out Miller. Even the packaging was nice. It’s not that pricey and that’s the thing. I was blown away by it and that’s because it’s plastic, not a hard-sculpted material.
Who do think is the best Batman villain who’s not the Joker?
Let me think … I mean I like Deadshot but it’s kind of always a cheat because he rarely, he’s supposed to be the world’s best assassin, but it’s like he doesn’t really (kill). … If he does the job he’s supposed to do, he can’t really get any interplay going with Batman because the dude’s a cold-hearted killer.
But I do like Floyd Lawton as a character. I do like his bizarre moral code. I like his twisted backstory, with a kid who was murdered and stuff like that. But most of all it’s just that stunning Marshall Rogers costume, like you know the silver mask with the single eye piece. It’s graphically a beautiful look. But probably not the sexiest choice in terms of Batman villains.
It’s tough. You start, of course, with the Joker and then it trips down quite a bit. Ra’s al Ghul was fun in the comics but now he’s kind of played out because of the movies a bit.
But there was that time when it was like, “Wow, he figured out who Batman was!” Simply by using deductive reasoning: Who could purchase all those things? He reverse-engineered Batman’s identity. And “Son of the Demon” was such a great book.
But I don’t know. I guess I’ll stick with Deadshot. Again, not the sexiest villain. The costume was so cool. He’s like the Boba Fett of the DC Universe. … Inexplicably, people like the character and I think it has everything to do with the character’s look.
Coming soon, Part 3!
A version of this story first appeared at Parallel Worlds.