by Steve Englehart
EatDrinkFilms publisher Gary Meyer knew me when I was the lead writer for Marvel and DC Comics (sometimes sequentially, sometimes simultaneously), so he thought I’d have some insight when reviewing Birdman . As it turns out, no comics knowledge was required for that film, but I can bring a little insight to bear anyway.
In 1976, I was lead writer at Marvel, when DC hired me to be their lead guy. Specifically, they wanted me to write Justice League so I could revamp all of their heroes. I was happy to do that, but I had one condition: I wanted to write Batman in his own book because he’d always been my favorite character. They agreed.
It was early in my comics career, so I felt that this was my one and only chance to write Batman , and I wanted to make the most of it. To that end, I changed him from the public figure he’d become to more of a creature of darkness. I made his villains darker, scarier. And there was one thing more.
As a comics reader, I’d always chafed at the supposedly adult heroes hemming and hawing when confronted by romance. Even as a kid, I’d known that adults didn’t actually act that way. And so now, I created a girlfriend for the Batman—with whom he had sex.
Now, comics was still under the Comics Code in those days, so the final product had to pass muster with readers of any age. Therefore, the idea of a hero having sex was not only unheard of, it was unthought of. No one had ever gone there before. But somehow, I thought of it, and ran with it. The Code made sure I was oblique about it, but anyone over the age of twelve couldn’t miss it.
Silver St. Cloud (for such was her name) could be seen around Wayne Manor in a negligée, enjoying her memories of the night before. She could also be seen running her own business and moving in the same high-ranking circles as Bruce Wayne — a fit companion for a man like that. And in the end, she took a good look at the chin beneath the Bat-mask and realized who the Batman was, because she’d seen that chin up close on numerous nights.
Their love story was an epic one, and it played out against the most intense threats from the Joker and the Penguin that had occurred in the entire history of Batman. That run has been reprinted many times, since it was immediately acclaimed as something special. (I’m just reporting what happened.)
One of those who proclaimed it special was Michael Uslan, who had produced some Swamp Thing movies. He said he finally saw how a superhero movie could be made for adults, and he set out to adapt my stories to the screen. Since my part had been done work-for-hire, DC owned the stories, so I was not involved in any way … for ten years.
Then, in 1986, DC came to me and said that despite the best efforts of Tom Mankiewicz (two drafts), and Tim Burton (one), they hadn’t been able to capture the ambiance of my stories. DC wanted me to write treatments they could feed to the screenwriter and act as a general consultant, and they offered me $10,000. As I discovered much later, because I didn’t move in Hollywood circles, that was a total violation of Writers Guild rules—operating through a subsidiary rather than directly from the studio, and offering way too little money. But I didn’t know that then, so I fell for it, and wrote two treatments, and the film got made.
Just to top it off, Silver St. Cloud’s name was changed to Vickie Vale, and a second creation of mine, Boss Thorne, was changed to Boss Grissom. I was about to find out that DC wants to keep the spotlight on itself, as if everything sprang directly from their corporate brow. (Check the new TV show Gotham . You will look in vain for anyone other than “DC Comics” listed as a creator.)
But the film did work for adults, and so there followed more Batman movies, and then Batman animated series, and Batman games—and Marvel superhero movies, and Dark Horse superhero movies, and superhero television series, and the general comic book culture that had enveloped the general public today. I, in fact, also created Star-Lord, leader of the Guardians of the Galaxy, and Marvel does provide credit and money for that, so it’s all working out for me in a roundabout sort of way.
But all of that is mere prologue for the reason that Gary first asked me to write a review of Birdman . When I was consulting on the first Batman , I encountered an interesting story. It seems that the role of Batman was offered to several big-name actors, and each of them turned it down because, in those pre-comics-culture days, no real star wanted to spend most of a film with a mask over his face. So director Tim Burton eventually turned to a guy he’d worked with on his previous film, Beetlejuice—a guy who wasn’t quite a big star—Michael Keaton.
For Steve Englehart’s review of Birdman, tune in next week — same Bat Time and same Bat Channel.
Steve Englehart has been the lead writer for both Marvel and DC on several occasions, and a founding father of Malibu’s Ultraverse. His redefinition of the Batman and the Joker as mature adults completely changed both comics and the films made from them for the last three decades, but there’s also Star-Lord, the Avengers, Captain America, Silver Surfer, Doctor Strange, Coyote, the JLA, and dozens of others. He created Kilowog and Guy Gardner for the Green Lantern Corps, and the Night Man, who got a TV series. The San Diego ComiCon said he has “more hits with more characters at more companies than any other writer.”
Check out Steve’s website for lots of stories and images: http://www.steveenglehart.com/
The articles on Batman: Dark Detective are especially relevant to this article.
You might also enjoy this interview.