Legendary Batman writer talks about Detective Comics/ Tim Burton's Batman

To many devoted Batman comic reader's from the 70's era, Steve Englehart is considered to be a cultural icon...
Monday, November 27, 2006
Author: Bill ("Jett") Ramey

© William E. Ramey. All rights reserved.

I call myself a “Kid of the 70s” -- meaning most of my childhood took place in that decade. And it was the BATMAN comic books of the 70s that formed my idea of what The Batman “is.” So I’m proud to say that one of the great writers in Batman history, Steve Englehart, agreed to an interview with me for the website.

Steve was the writer of critically lauded eight-issue arc of Batman stories in DETECTIVE COMICS #469-476, along with pencilers Walt Simonson and Marshall Rogers and inker Terry Austin. These stories are considered one of the definitive periods of Batman history. His bio can be found HERE.

Your run on DETECTIVE COMICS in the 70s with Marshall Rogers and Terry Austin is considered by many to be one of the definitive periods of Batman comic book history. Looking back, what's your thoughts on those stories?

SE: When I asked to take on the character, the image of Batman in the real world was the camp TV show, and I wanted to change that. In addition, I had thought for quite a long time that comics were stuck at a pre-teen level when it came to relationships ("Gosh, Lois is interested in me. How can I trick her?"). So I decided to give the Batman a lover, with whom he actually slept. It's hard to convey how earth-shattering that was at the time - it had not only never been done, it had never even been considered possible - but by making Bruce Wayne a real adult, it changed everyone's idea of the guy, overnight. And on the other end of the equation, I made the Batman much more of a pulp character, getting back to the dark world of the original Batman stories. My opinion was, you needed a better Batman AND you needed to know there was a real person behind that mask. Those things together have remained the definition of the mass-media Batman ever since, right up through BATMAN BEGINS, so a lot of people take it for granted.

Where does the recent miniseries, BATMAN: DARK DETECTIVE fit in current Batman continuity? It seems to be set during Batman's early years, but after the events of YEAR ONE, THE LONG HALLOWEEN, and DARK VICTORY.

SE: The best answer is, it fits in "sometime" after DARK DETECTIVE I (the 70s run). I tried not to do anything that broke current mainstream continuity, but mainstream continuity doesn't have Silver St Cloud. DD I *was* mainstream continuity; DD II, and any DARK DETECTIVEs thereafter, exist in mainstream continuity if you want them to but it's hard to say just where.

The Batman of the current comic books seems to have returned the more heroic version (ala O'Neil/Adams & Englehart/Rogers) that we saw in the 70s (post DC's INFINITE CRISIS). Any thoughts on that?

SE: Well, it is the most successful version of him. I was always amazed that people devoted years to doing him in less popular ways; experimentation is great but if it's not working, stop doing it. But through happenstance, really, DARK DETECTIVE II came out, and it woke some people up. Plus, people coming in from outside media are coming from my tradition.

Historically, it seems that Frank Miller's THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS spawned, for lack of a better term, "A-Hole Batman." For nearly 20 years, The Batman of the comic books was portrayed as an unlikable, neurotic, paranoid sociopath. Any thoughts on that take on the character?

SE: Frank's stuff is brilliant, but what people who followed him never understood was, it takes place late in Batman's life, when Frank posits him as burned out. When people after Frank tried to do that Batman as a younger, ongoing character, it never really worked. And the less it worked, the more they pushed it, for a long time - to the point where, as you say, he had no human component at all. The interesting thing is, no matter what comics did, the wider world has stuck with the DARK DETECTIVE approach.

How involved were you with the film that became BATMAN ‘89?

SE: Well, it was based on DD I, the original comic series. They set out right after DD I to make a movie out of it, and for the next ten years they had screenwriters try to adapt it. Finally, they came to me and said none of the screenwriters had been able to get it right, so would I write a treatment - a plot - somebody else could work from? I asked if I could write the screenplay and was told no, so I settled for the treatment. It didn't cover everything that was needed as the film evolved so I later wrote a second one, augmenting the first. Between the original comics and the treatments, about 70 percent of what ended up on screen originated with me.

What did you think of the "Burton/Schumacher" series of live-action BATMAN films?

SE: My opinion's the same as everyone else's: each one was worse than the one before. I wasn't involved with any of them.

So, did you see BATMAN BEGINS? What’s your take on that one?

SE: I thought it was an extremely well-written, well-directed, and well-acted movie about a guy who was very similar to The Batman but wasn't The Batman. Too many little things rang false about the character and his world for me to buy into it. But that didn't stop me from enjoying it a lot.

Which actor is the best live-action Batman to date?

SE: Christian Bale is certainly the closest inside his head, but I confess to liking George Clooney in the mask. And Michael Keaton, though wrong physically for the role, conveyed a very good Bruce Wayne. (Let me just add, if you haven't seen Bale in THE MACHINIST, go rent it right now. It's not a great movie but he is amazing.)

Any plans to return to Batman and Gotham any time in the future?

SE: That's up to DC. I look at each run of DARK DETECTIVE as a movie, so I'd like to keep the series running, but it's not my call.

Well I for one hope to see another DARK DETECTIVE. Tell us what you are up to now (current and future projects, etc.).

SE: Right now, I'm writing a novel, The Long Man, which is a sequel of sorts to my first novel, The Point Man. Tor is the publisher. Before I got started on that I wrote another six issues of Batman in DARK DETECTIVE III. That seems to be moving forward rather slowly so I don't know when it'll be out. I also wrote a little prose story about the pulp hero called “The Spider” that'll be part of an anthology from Moonstone, coming out early in 2007. And when I get done with the novel I'm going to write an Uncle Scrooge, which should be a lot of fun. Finally, as we speak, I'm still waiting to hear if there'll be more BLACK RIDER for Marvel.

I want to say thanks to Mr. Englehart for taking the time to answer those questions for me and all the BOF readers -- THANKS STEVE!
You can click here> Visit Steve's OFFICIAL WEBSITE.

Bill Ramey, AKA "Jett," is the founder and editor-in-chief of BATMAN ON FILM, BATMAN IN COMICS, and ON-FILM.NET.
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