The past weekend Daughter asked: do you want to see Lego Batman? Well of course, yes. We had seen the Lego movie years ago and loved it, and while I had no particular interest in Lego Batman because I liked Batman and had some strange internal resistance to watching him mocked, A) that is a ridiculous thing for a grown-up to say, and B) I experienced a great drop-off in Batman Interest when they finally paired him against Superman. Because Superman is just silly, and Batfleck wasn’t compelling. There’s mean crazy edgy Keaton of the first movie, and there’s Bale, and that’s enough for me.
I know I’ve said this before, but I had A Bad Feeling About This from the start of the second Burton / Keaton Batman, and I just shoved it down because this had to be awesome, right? The casting was great and was Keaton again so it was, to use the German word, darkengritty, but better! Because sequels were always better.
Back up for context: when the first Keaton Batman came out, the idea of Gotham in decay, crappy cars, ugliness all around - it made sense, in a thrilling sort of way. I’ve seen the future, and man it’s rough, as the Prince song heard for 1.7 seconds on the soundtrack put it. Why, at the end of the 80s, did we think this? What evidence of dystopia did we see around us? Was it the lingering effect of the ’87 crash, the feeling that feral elements great and mean, large and small, were about to swamp the deck?
I was in DC when the second one came out, and the city was still getting back on its feet from a downturn. You know, the early 90s Depression. Lots of new construction; lots of empty store fronts. The economy felt tremulous and exhausted. We lived in a great apartment that had been built as a luxury condo, and couldn’t be sold because the neighborhood had paused in its inexorable gentrification.
Me, I had it good, but everything else was lousy. Right? We had a series of stories at the news bureau about What Works, looking for things in Clinton’s new America that might rebuild our national confidence. That mood, that period, that era, those doubts - completely forgotten. A paragraph in a history book. But it was the daily narrative; it’s what we ate and drank.
Anyway, I tried so hard to make myself like Batman Returns, even to the point of justifying penguins who perform funereal rites. Because it was darkengritty, yes, and profound! O Batman, with his split identity! Just like Catwoman, who similarly struggled! With split identity! I still remember the dialogue from the climatic scene:
You’re just like me! You have a psychological difficulty with two personal sets of public character traits, expressed not in the action or story of this movie, but in this critic-pleasing line of dialogue that somehow elevates this cartoonish genre into something profound! Which it isn’t!
Like it was yesterday. After that Batman was a joke, and then it got really, really good - although I never forgave them for burning down Stately Wayne Manor. Why do they have to do that? Why do they have to destroy the Enterprise? But the first one was a somber ache, and the second was great, and I’m pretty sure I would like the third again if I felt the need to see it. At the end, I thought: this story is over. There’s no reason to tell it again.
Unless they tell it with full knowledge of the impossibility of doing darkengritty again, because YES WE GET IT HE HAS ISSUES. And so we went, and I left the movie with my face hurting from wearing a smile the entire time. The movie releases you from any expectation of plausibility, and turns into a meta-commentary on movies and Batman and Batman movies and all the beats and tropes. It’s a ridiculous thing that delights and dazzles and I enjoyed it all.
Except when the Joker trashed Wayne Manor on Wayne Island! Come on! That’s historic woodwork why WOULD you
Ahem sorry. On the way out we were talking about it, and Daughter brought up Bat Shark Repellant and said she knew it was going to occur later in an important role because it had a label and they were obviously lamp-shading it, right?
Child, time for school. I pulled the car over into an empty slot in the lot, got out the phone, typed in a few words.
I have to get it on Blu-Ray and go frame by frame through Gotham City, I said, because there has to be so much. At one point I saw a sign for Shreck’s Department Store - a reference to Max Schreck in “Batman Returns,” which was a pointless reference to the man who played Nosferatu in the first vampire movie.
What about the dog at Superman’s party? That was supposed to be something.
Yes. It was . . . Superdog.
There was a Superdog?
Oh yes. There was a Superhorse.
With a cape.
A horse. With a cape.
Yes. There was Super everything, because it was stupid. It’s all stupid. Except for Batman and for most of the time he was stupid. Except for a few movies. After which he was stupid.
Later I tweeted that after Lego Batman, Actual Batman is no longer possible. Now that I think about it, after Lego Batman, Lego Batman is no longer possible. From a drawing to a thick dude in tights to state-of-the-art grim drama to a plastic thing that lives only in code now, stored on a hard drive as a series of CGI instructions, cheerful and fulfilled: an unexpected trajectory, but every iteration made sense at the time. He’s happy now. Let him be happy.
More of the work of C. H. Wellington, cartoonist mislaid by history. Pain, concussion, loss of property, and probably a clout on the ear when he gets home:
Two dollars in 1916 was a lot of money, which is why people didn't stand over a grate and take it out and look at it.
We are at present studying the criminal strategies of the man known only as . . .
What have we this week, Alex?
Hey, Speed gets a card!
He’s going to have a Bad Day:
Bob, who was in his secret identity as the Copperhead, had been knocked off the truck and was prone in the road when Speed apparently drove over him - but you know, I’ll bet that’s not what happened.
Hey, what did I say last week? Right. “The clearance looks pretty high on those old cars. I think he’ll be okay. OR WILL HE?”
Will and did.
So they blow a tire, as frequently happened in those days, and the truck with the Tungite gets away. The authorities, who have completely accepted Bob and Speed the Newspaper Guy as co-equals in this extra-legal fight, say “well, we’ll just have to find the smelters.” Which is my new catchphrase.
They also have to find the mine. Lola - that’s spunky scientist-daughter - says you know, when Stinky Pete the Miner was showing us where the mine was, he was shot, but he was drawing something on the map. Maybe if you look at it. The conversation is overheard and the henchmen are alerted, and sent to Stinky Pete’s cabin to intercept them.
Oh, better check in with Doc Satan:
The idiots he has to deal with. Don’t take them to the mine! Shoot them, for chrissakes, so we can keep mining things that we will smelt and then turn into remote controls and then attach to our Roberts who will help us conquer the world.
It’s always one step forward, two steps backward for Dr. Satan.
Well, Bob and Speed go to the mine, with guns, because most reporters of the day packed gats, and shoot it out with the henchmen at the cabin.
Bob gets a clever idea: let’s use this tumbleweed as an improved incendiary device:
The henches are smoked out, and everyone goes to the mine. There’s another gun battle, and this one has my favorite completely realistic reaction to being struck by a bullet:
Lacks only a wilheim. So Bob Wayne turns into Copperhead at the mine, where Speed is being held hostage; he rescues him, but of course it’s punchin’ time. CHECK. THIS. OUT. Bob can lay a man out:
But of course the guy gets up again, and everyone resumes punchery in the style to which we have become accustomed:
Could it be any more dramatic? Sure:
This is so good
By the way, some cans of flammable material opened up and one rolled over that torch you saw a while back:. And so: