Written by:Michael E. Uslan
Chronicle Books LLC
On January 12, 1966 Batman premiered on ABC. The campy irreverent take on the iconic superhero so traumatized a thirteen year old comic book fan that he vowed someday to restore Batman’s reputation by making a dark, serious, Batman movie returning Batman to his pulpy pre code glory. This is that boy’s story.
In many ways Michael Uslan’s boyhood was idyllic yet typical. Like many other kids born in the fifties he grew up in the suburbs with loving parents, an annoying older brother, close friends and twenty thousand comic books in the garage. Okay maybe parts of his childhood weren’t exactly typical. Michael Uslan not only loved comic books, his whole life revolved around them. Luckily he had an understanding Mother who instead of throwing his books out allowed him to hang on to his collection as long as he kept them neatly stacked. On the tragic day that a ten year old Michael learned about inflation, the comics went up from ten cents to twelve, and he had to choose between Superman’s Friend Jimmy Olsen #57 and Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #30 after explaining inflation to him she drove him back out to Wanamassa Pharmacy to pick up that copy of Superman’s Girlfriend Lois Lane #30. His father also proved his toleration when the collection grew to fill the family garage. Comics introduced him to his friends. One day in third grade he struck up a conversation with another third grader who told him about a new comic book he had seen with four new superheroes. The kid was a little vague about the details so after school Michael rode his bike to Old Man Tepid’s, the scariest place in Wanamassa for a kid to buy comics. After braving the scowl of Old Man Tepid and checking out the new comic he decided to make his purchase. “You looked at ALL of these! And now they’re ruined boy!” Old Man Tepid howled when he came to the register, there was a reason a ten year old avoided Old Man Tepid’s if at all possible. Michael was intimated by the old grouch into buying all four copies of the new series titled Fantastic Four #1, each one now worth around $50,000. Despite the trauma of dealing with Old Man Tepid, Michael and the kid were best friends from that day on.
Archie Comics informed his expectations for high school, accurate or not. Comics expanded his vocabulary adding useful words like; foe, origin, indestructible and invulnerable. Useful words for an eight year old. Comics allowed him to get an A on his Red Badge of Courage book report never having cracked the book, he had read the Classics Illustrated comic book version. Paying close attention to detail could also be rewarding, beyond the pleasure of knowing Batman’s butler Alfred’s last name, both of them, spotting such “boo boo’s” could get your name in the letters to the editor just pages away from Batman or Superman. It wasn’t all diversion and escapism, reading the story The Last Days of Ma and Pa Kent where Clark Kent’s foster parents die just before Superman is moving from Smallville to Metropolis Michael contemplated how parents did not fare well in the comics. All dead; Batman’s parents, Robin’s parents, Superman’s parents and now foster parents, Spiderman’s parents and his Uncle Ben, and the list goes on. It wasn’t pleasant facing the fact that one day his parents too would pass. Of all the comic book titles one stood out. At around eight Superman began to pale. His very invulnerability made him less interesting. On the other hand Batman’s stories were the more powerful because of his humanity. If he got stabbed he bled. When he went up against a super-villain all he had were his wits and will and of course some select gadgets from his tool belt. Here was a man who upon seeing his mother and father murdered before his own eyes vowed not only to catch the bad guys who killed his parents, he vowed to catch all the bad guys, heady stuff for an eight year old.
Michael did not grow out of comic books as he got older. His fascination just grew. When Michael and his friends found fanzines, they plugged into a network of people who loved comics just as much as they did. Michael not only read the books and discussed them with his friends, as a teenager he managed to meet and correspond with some of the legends of comics like Otto Binder and C.C. Beck. He attended the first ComicCon in New York City with two hundred rabid fans. By the time he graduated high school his collection was up to 30,000 comic books. While attending the University of Indiana he organized and taught the first accredited college course in comic books and worked for DC during the summer. He even accomplished one of his dreams by actually getting to write Batman stories. While attending law school instead of studying after class he was writing scripts for issues of The Shadow. When he couldn’t find a job in the entertainment industry after college he decided to go to law school not because he wanted to be a lawyer but he figured entertainment law was a way he could get into the movie business through the backdoor. Just writing for DC wasn’t enough he was still on a mission to make that dark, serious Batman movie. Which after many twists and turns he did.
The Boy Who Loved Batman is written in a light conversational style. Reading it feels like you are sitting across the table with Michael sharing a pizza and some beers. If you’re looking for a blow by blow timeline of how the Burton and Nolan movies came to be this is not the book for you. The Boy Who Loved Batman is Michael’s story, how he came to be in a position to get those movies made. It’s a fun and inspiring read. Just looking at a list of Michael’s accomplishments it may seem as if he’s lead a charmed life, but once you know the details you see how any luck Michael had is luck he made through will power and hard work. After reading The Boy Who Loved Batman I felt like I too could accomplish anything if I could just keep plugging away at it.