SDCC 2014: Batman in the 70's

Michael Moccio ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Executive Editor
Official Description: In celebration of Batman’s 75th birthday, panelists look back at a crucial decade in the life of the Caped Crusader. It was a time of change as new writers and artists brought forth new interpretations of this classic character. On hand to discuss it are many of the those who were there: Neal Adams, Denny O’Neil, Michael Uslan, Len Wein, and Anthony Tollin, along with moderator Mark Evanier.
Although we were little late, the panel kicked off asking what each writer brought to the character.
Neal Adams: Carmine Infantino became the Art Director and Bob Kane had what are called “ghosts”. Some “ghosts” were doing very well for Bob Kane, but they weren’t doing too well. Infantino was leaving Batman, and I went to Julius Schwartz and I said, “I want to do a Batman story,” and he said, “Get the hell out of my office.” I did the same thing a month later. You wind down a tv show and no one cares anymore. I went to see the editor of Batman: the Brave and the Bold and told him I wanted to do it. So, with Bob Haney, I just wanted to change the visuals on Batman and I did it for several issues.
Eventually, Julius Schwartz told Adams he was on Batman and asked how he’d like to work with Denny O’Neil? Adams heard about O’Neil from Nick Girodano, so Schwartz and O’Neil got together and decided realistic was better than “fantasy bullshit.” They reintroduced the “fantasy bullshit”—specifically the Joker and Two-Face—except a little more deadly.
Adams: We did the Batman we thought Batman was. It was no surprise that we were having fun and that we were doing good Batman stories.
Adams went on to talk about how he felt about people being told to draw like him and said how there wasn’t any animosity or anything. Dennis O’Neil talked about the lack of ego these creators had and how they all worked together as a team.
Mark Evanier: Was there ever a time you wrote a story based on a cover?
O’Neil: Only once. I gather it was a very common practice in the pulps. I didn’t want to try and fabricate a plot where there wasn’t one.
Len Wein talked about a story he and Marv Wolfman did together. They started telling Neal the story they wanted to tell—and this story is almost 45 years ago—and Neal loved and drew the story. He turned in the story to Schwartz and he took it because Adams drew it. The story was, as Wein describes it, “It was a haunted house story. Batman and Robin go into a haunted house and weird stuff happens.”
Evanier: Michael, what were your favorite stories?
Michael Uslan: Half the letters saying, “Only Neal Adams can do Batman” were probably from me. That was my beginning. I think there was a seminal change when Denny and Neal came into Batman, as a fan. Professionally, Denny gave me my first opportunity to write comics and I was able to write a couple issues of The Shadow. I’m walking down the halls of DC Comics working as an intern and Julius Schwartz comes towards me and he’s just glowering at me. He said, “Hey, kid. I read your Shadow script—it didn’t stick. How would you like to take a chance at writing Batman?” We wrote a three-part story for Detective Comics. I got work with a great artist—Ernie Chan. His workmanship was absolutely wonderful and he was an anchor on Batman for a long time, along with Marshall Rogers.
Adams: If it wasn’t for Schwartz, none of this would have happened. You have to look at him as the mover and shaker, bringing us all together.
O’Neil: He was almost the perfect editor. He emitted that grouchy uncle demeanor. His ego never got into it; he was interested in how good can we make this story at any given time. He’s almost never given credit for teaching all of us how to recreate characters. He was given the job of reintroducing the Flash, and instead of revisiting the guy from the 40s with the hubcap on his head, took the concept and reinvented everything else and proceeded to do that with three quarters of the DC pantheon. That’s the secret: you take that essence of the character and then throw out everything else and write stories that reflect contemporary realities. He did that repeatedly and some of us are still learning that from him.
Uslan: When Schwartz brought me into his office to write my first Batman, he said, “B.O.” It stood for “Be Original” and that really was how an English teacher with a red marking pen would work—he taught so many of us to do our work and be original.
Evanier: I want to know how Batman came to movies.
Uslan: Everything changed when Tim Burton came onto the scene. I had three lunches to bring him up to speed—and my main thing on the agenda was to keep him away from certain comics: I didn’t want him to see Bat-mite, Baby Batman, the Superman and Batman of Planet X. I gave him the first year or so of Batman, everything from O’Neil and Adams, among others.
Evanier: If you have to point to one Batman story, saying that’s my version of Batman, what would it be?
Tollin: The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge—for me, it brought the Joker back to who he was.
Wein: My answer’s the same: The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge.
Uslan: Denny’s story on Crime Alley and the first story introducing us to Ra’s Al Ghul and Talia—that was life-changing for me as a Batman fan.
O’Neil: I’m reluctant to mention one of my own, but… According to historians, and I’m quoting them, Secret of the Waiting Graves turned Batman around.
Tollin: The Batman Nobody Knows, where Batman is with some kids and the kids say what Batman is in their minds.
Neal: Batman Odyssey.

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