Blast had the chance to sit down with New York City Comic Con Guest of Honor Michael Uslan, an executive producer for all of the Batman movies and the foremost authority on comic book history and legacy today.
A lifetime fan and attendee of comic conventions, Uslan had to be pried away from the impromptu autograph queue that was left over from his hours at the autograph area in order for us to get a few minutes to sit down.
When I commented on his enthusiasm to interact with fans, (“That’s just who Michael is,” said his assistant), Uslan said, “the fact that they made me a guest of honor this year, and had me deliver the keynote this morning, just means a lot to me. It really means a lot. As I told everyone at the keynote, I’m one of you.”
In that light, I asked him how it felt to see The Dark Knight succeed so extraordinarily. Had he expected it to be such a resounding success?
Michael Uslan:‚ Since the day I first dreamed of making dark and serious Batman movies and returning him to the creature of the night, I always knew in my head they would be successful and well-received. I don’t think anybody can‚ anticipate‚ something to the effect that your movie is the second biggest movie in history. That’s incredible to process.
The most important aspect of that for me is the respect and credibility that it brings to seventy years of of comic book artists, writers, and editors who toiled in obscurity largely, who are now rock stars. Their works are now hanging in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian and the Louvre. It’s a recognized American art form. People are acknowledging that it’s a modern day mythology. It is our contemporary American folk lore. To be part of that process after working in the trenches for thirty-three years, to get this kind of‚ recognition‚ for the art and for the business and creators, that’s been the biggest payoff in the world for me.
BLAST: To what extent does “The Dark Knight” responsible for that, do you think?
MU: It’s played a huge role, it truly has. One of my real true goals in the beginning of what turned to out to be my life-long journey, was to attempt to erase from the consciousness of the collective world culture, the three words “pow,” “zap”, and “wham.”
I was there in seventh grade — the night Batman came on TV for the first time — and was simultaneously thrilled and horrified by what I was seeing. Somebody spent a lot of money on a color version of Batman with a really cool Batmobile, and there it was on prime-time TV, but I knew everyone was laughing at him and that killed me.
To be at a point now where people can go in and appreciate a dark, serious Batman rather than a pot-bellied, funny Batman, where you can have a movie that resonates with people because it deals with critically-important themes and that many critics have hailed as the most important movie to deal with 9/11 and post-9/11 issues, it’s like we’ve turned the world on its it head.
BLAST: After so many years of Batman and so many different versions — like you said, Adam West’s Batman in the sixties and now Christian Bale — which incarnation is your definitive Batman?
MU: Well, to answer that generally, there have been so many completely different interpretations of Batman of the years just in the comic books themselves, and then you have the cartoons and live action series and the movies — my point is everybody has their one true version of Batman. If you grew up in the sixties, [for] the bulk of the people their true version was that TV show “pow, zap, wham.” If you grew up in The thirties, it was a darker Batman. if you grew up in the forties or fifties, it might be the Super-Batman of Planet X. So it really depends on when you’re reading this stuff and when you were exposed to it.
For me, when the smoke clears, I think Christian Bale’s Batman, and more importantly, Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne, is the ideal interpretation, the truest interpretation that fans of all periods and all translations of the character known as Batman, can sink their teeth into and say, “This is truly Batman.”
BLAST: You mentioned Christian Bale’s Bruce Wayne. In Batman Begins, a solid hour of the film deals exclusively with the man, not the mask. Is it that real man, that flesh-and-blood greatest superhero, what makes Batman resonate the most with you?
MU:‚ The word is human. Batman’s greatest superpower is his humanity. That’s what resonates. That’s what works. That’s what people can identify with. That’s what people who sit in the movie theater watching “The Dark Knight” feel that they themselves are on those ships and that they are forced (to wonder), “would I press the button and blow up the other ship to save my own hide?”
[Batman] is one person who believes he can make a difference in the world. And he is willing to commit to that and go through hell in order to stay committed to that and prove that he‚ can make a difference in the world. That is so primal, that is so inspiring, that is so basic — as is his origin. The concept of a kid watching his parents murdered before his eyes is as primal as we can get. And I think people can truly relate to that and understand what drives him, what pushes him to the edge to the point where he’s so obsessed to get the guys who did it, to get all the bad guys, so that he’s driven to the fine thin line of being psychotic.
And I think if you add to that the Jerry Robinson Joker, who to me is the greatest supervillain ever, you’ve got this opera of two figures of opposing equal strength, representing goodness and evil. But the evil is wearing the mask of the carnival, covering the horror that lurks beneath the surface. And the good guy is dressed like a‚ terrifying‚ bat. The dance that they do is an incredible dance that again, anybody can relate to.
BLAST: Yeah, in “Dark Knight” the line that stood out most to me was the line, “the unstoppable force meets the immovable object” and I just sat back in my seat and said, “Whoa.” And then, of course, there’s the other line “I think we’re destined to do this forever.”
MU: Yeah, exactly. And in the first Batman movie, with that operatic dance going on in the bell tower – “I made you, you made me, one can’t really live without the other.” And in all history there will always be order and chaos, and black and white, and what I think Chris Nolan was saying is that in our world today, there is not as much black and white as there is gray. And comic books and comic book heroes must become more complex, more textured and layered, and the themes must be more carefully considered.
BLAST: Speaking of villains — well, we were sort of talking about villains – is there a villain that you haven’t yet seen on screen that you would love to see or that hasn’t yet been portrayed in the way that you imagine it?
MU: I can’t answer that in terms of the movies, but I can answer that in terms of comic book fan Michael. I always loved Man-Bat. I thought, here was another great story. That Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde thing. I always had a problem with the Hulk films because the Hulk I read growing up was the story of Frankenstein and the story of Dr. Jekyll and and I went to the movies and it was the story of King Kong. And it didn’t work for me, I couldn’t figure that out, I couldn’t make that transition. I think Man-Bat has a true Dr. Jekyll, Mr. Hyde thing that I find fascinating. So I’ve always loved him as a villain.
I always seemed to like the edgier villains. The Penguin was always a little silly to me. Going back even earlier, there were villains called Tweedle-Dee and Twiddle-Dum. On the TV show, King Tut was a a little too silly for me. so I like the edgier ones, I like Two-Face, I like the Joker, I like the Reaper.
BLAST: And about Two-Face – it’s been said that at the end of “The Dark Knight”, Two-Face could still be alive.
MU: (laughs) I say the same thing that we said at the end of the first Batman movie, where people weren’t convinced that Joker was dead, that he could still be alive. And I said, “what makes you think so?” and they said, “Well, I’ve probably read a thousand Batman comics in my lifetime, and probably eighteen times the Joker has been killed and keeps coming back,” as do all the villains. Speak to a Superman fan! I thought he was dead, but he’s back.
BLAST: And Batman RIP right now. But I still don’t believe that, so —
MU: Yeah, lets’ not talk about that. I’m still waiting month by month for Captain America to pop back in.
BLAST: Same here! There was a Captain America downstairs and I was like, see, I told you, he’s still alive!
MU: (laughs) It’s comic books. You know, it IS comic books.
BLAST: We’re running out of time — I see your assistant waving me down — so let’s get in a few last questions. Do you have a favorite sequence from any of the films?
MU: Oh, I have many that still give me the chills.
BLAST: What was your favorite from The Dark Knight?
MU: Virtually Heath’s entire performance. It’s the performance of a lifetime.
BLAST: And is there anything at all you can give me on a possible sequel?
MU: (smiles) No.
BLAST: (laughs) Well, would you like to do it?‚ Have you spoken about it with Chris Nolan at all?
MU: How ’bout them Yankees?