Thursday, July 24, 2014

How to Relate to Your Batkid

Before I had a child, I had this irrational fear that, if it were a boy, he would be a jock and I wouldn't be able to relate to him. Mostly because I was a nerd and my dad didn't know what to do with me sometimes, despite many a good-faith effort.

And while he's only 3 years old and therefore far from having a fully formed personality, my son has gone down at least one path that differs from mine.

He's a DC kid.

Y'know, you try to teach a kid right, tell him about Spider-Man and Captain America and NFL Super-Pro, but one day the cool orphan with the gravelly voice comes along and just undoes everything.

Next thing you know, he's got all the Fisher Price ImagiNext figures (the Clayface I my personal favorite) and the Batcave playset and the Batmobile and the Batman fleece blanket and the T-shirt with the velcro cape and he's doing his own Christian Bale voice because that's how Dad reads Batman to him. I blame his godfather, the proprietor of this blog, who gave my son the plush Batman you see drinking black coffee in the photo at top for his third birthday.

In all seriousness, the great thing about Batman is that there's enough versions of him to appeal to every kind of fan. Grant Morrison touched on this, in his own perverse somewhere-between-Allen Moore-and-Warren Ellis-on-the-crazy-scale way during his time with the character. So in the New 52 comics, the Joker can cut off his own face and some lunachick claiming to be his daughter can wear it, while elsewhere, in else worlds, Adam West and Burt Ward can dance the Batusi with Catwoman while onomonopaeic word balloons fill the screen around them, and still elsewhere,
Kevin Conroy and Tim Daly can slug it out while reciting lines from The Dark Knight Returns.

To my son, though, there are mainly three versions of Batman: Blue Batman (the Brave and the Bold cartoon), Black Batman (Batman Beyond) and Lego Batman (Darkness! No parents!)

Now, I grew up in the age of Batman: The Animated Series, a very no-frills, mostly serious (Mark Hammill's clown prince of crime notwithstanding) take on Gotham, perfect for a decade that took itself more seriously than it had a right to. Brave and the Bold is, in every way possible, the opposite of that. This Batman, voiced by Diedrich Bader, spends most of his time outside Gotham, teaming up with Blue Beetle, Green Arrow and Aquaman against crazy silver-age villains like the Clock King and Gorilla Grodd. And while my favorite BTAS episode is the minimalist "Almost Got Him," in which Batman's main villains sit around a table telling stories of their encounters with the Bat, my favorite Brave and the Bold episode is a musical in which the Music Meister, voiced by none other than Neil Patrick Harris, enslaves hero and villain alike through song. If you ever wanted to see Black Manta do high kicks, this episode is for you. If the show had a message, it's this: Hey, adults who grew up in the ’90s, Batman existed before “Year One,” and he was a lot of big, goofy, dumb fun. Deal with it!

Batman Beyond, on the other hand, is the future continuation of BTAS. The same mood and atmosphere (and Kevin Conroy as Bruce Wayne) are given a coat of cyberpunk aesthetic and an electronica score, with stories about getting addicted to virtual reality and picked-on kids using giant robots to exact revenge. It's exactly what we feared the future would be like 15 years ago, which of course means now it looks like a slightly cooler version of The Jetsons. I didn't really watch the show when it originally aired, and now I just wonder when Will Friedle, who voiced future Batman Terry McGinnis, is gonna guest star on Girl Meets World, reprising his role as Eric Matthews.

And then there's Lego Batman. I've probably watched The Lego Movie Blu-ray about 30 times since it came out, and Will Arnett's jerk-boyfriend, speaker-obsessed Batman is one of the best parts of a great movie.

But hey, there's Lego Marvel characters, too. How come Lego Iron Man didn't get to help Emmet and Wyldstyle fight Lord Business. He's a Master Builder! But I digress.

So while I probably wouldn’t let my son read Snyder and Capullo’s Batman or watch the Nolan films for at least 10 years, he’s still got plenty of time to enjoy, say, Justice League Unlimited or the Tim Burton Batman movies or the Batman ’66 comics or any Art Baltazar book or Teen Titans Go! So thanks a lot, Uncle Matt! (That’s actually not sarcastic)

P.S.: I’m totally cool with the fact that my son’s first live-action Batman is probably going to be Ben Affleck. That said, I’d like a do-over on his first live-action Green Lantern.

Dan Grote has been a Matt Signal contributor since 2014 and friends with Matt since there were four Supermen and two Psylockes. His two novels, My Evil Twin and I and Of Robots, God and Government, are available on Amazon.

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