30 years of Batman (1989) - My Journey with the Film
by Paul (ral)

Prior to the summer of '89 Batman wasn't on my radar.

Up until that point I had been a lifelong Superman, Spider-man, Ghostbusters, He-Man and Transformers fan. Comics shops were no-where to be seen, nor was I aware of their existance elsewhere. Cinema, TV and UK published Marvel comics (that sold in local newsagents) were my only exposure to those fandoms. A childhood spent playing with toys and watching shows like George Reeves Superman, The Real Ghostbusters and Spider-man after school was about to be rocked by the introduction of a 50-year old newcomer.

During 1989 the Channel 4 TV station started running the Adam West TV series in morning before school started. I remember fondly watching the series in my grandparents house - leaving on a cliffhanger to catch the bus. The hype train had already started rolling towards Ireland and the UK.

Whilst I'm sure the adverts and news programs had started running about the release of Batman in June (we had to wait until August 11th) it wasn't until I walked into a newsagents called "Charles" (which still exists) and saw Batman Monthly #13 that the full impact of the pending cinematic juggernaut hit me. Here was Michael Keaton (didn't know who that was) as Batman looking incredible. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before. From that day on I was sold. I was a Batman fan. The A3 poster inside went up on my bedroom wall immediately.

When Batman grabbed my attention for the first time

Inside the magazine was also my first introduction to writers like Marv Wolfman and artists like Jim Aparo - with stories "The China Syndrome" and "Only Angels have Wings" reproduced in large full colour pages. A lot of time would be spent copying Jim Aparo's artwork that month - I even remember taking my drawings into a restautant we went to and asking the receptionist of I could use their photocopier to make copies of them - for what purpose I do not know! That was June/July. The run up to August would be unbearable.

As the release date approached the newspapers were running stories about the film. They most likely had in the preceeding year, but I wasn't aware. Most stories were about the film being a hit in USA, but a lot of stories were about the controversy of the violence in the film and the scenes involving "acid-scarred faces". Stories that might have worried parents, but as far as my friends and I were concerned it only served to whip up more anticipation. On the morning of the opening day in the UK I recall talking to a friend and us telling each other how scared the other would be by all the "acid-scarred faces" - of course that wouldn't be true at all.

The controversy was made worse by the BBFC potentially giving the film a 15 rating, although this was relaxed when the BBFC created the 12 rating in August 1989 especially for Batman. I was still 11 though, so this might have been a problem...

In the run up to release Saturday morning kids programs (remember those??) were also talking about the film. Merchandise was a huge topic on those shows.

Merchandise was everywhere. I remember shops here that had nothing but Batman t-shirts on sale...and a lot of them were counterfeit. Strangely, the kids tv shows were warning us about fake goods and how to spot them. In fact, the only black t-shirt with a Bat-emblem I could get was a bootleg one - such was the demand for stock.

Me rocking a bootleg t-shirt in the summer of '89

Topps trading cards based on the film were also starting to appear in every kind of shop imaginable (even clothes shops counters had them on sale). I had been a bit Garbage Pale Kids sticker collector (my bedroom wall was wallpapered in them) at that point. I remember going to get my first pack of Topps cards. I had just read an interview with Michael Keaton in which he mentioned liking "Bazooka Joe" bubble gum ( I was more of a Hubba Bubba man myself). In my confusion I bought some Bazooka Joe gum only to be dissappointed when I got home to find that there was nothing Batman related in it at all. Michael Keaton owes me a pack of Topps Batman cards. Luckily my friend Marty set me straight and the quest to collect all cards and stickers began (but that's a story for another day).

Next up: Opening night

Opening night of Batman was fast approaching, but before I could go there were some obstacles that had to be over come.

Firstly the whole day would drag! Since it was the summer holidays and there was no school then I was working along with my dad in construction. Coincidentally we had been doing some work at the hotel that I had gotten my Jim Aparo sketches photocopied at previously.

Secondly, I was only 11...and Batman was rated 12. So my mum came to the rescue, suggesting I wear a black jacket and tie so I looked at least 13 years old. I was set...and looking sharp.

As expected, there was a queue when we arrived at the Grand Cinema in Downpatrick. This was the only cinema close to where I lived. It's where I saw Ghostbusters, Superman 3, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and many more films. It was a single screen cinema. Besides the fact that everyone loves cinemas, this place held a special place in my heart because my grandfather renovated the interior many years previous. The cinema closed a few years later to become a clothes shop.

Grand Cinema - the greatest cinema in the world. Downpatrick, Northern Ireland.

I needn't have worried about being admitted to the cinema. Once we arrived there were kids everywhere. I was the most over dressed 11 year old there.

We got our tickets, a can of coke, a Mars bar and made our way to the balcony seats. Front row, 1st and 2nd seats from the right. The cinema was packed. There were people sitting everywhere, and not all on seats.


What do I remember from the film? Mainly the credits.

The Warner logo appeared and we decended into..."Is it the Batcave?" "Are we going to the Batcave?" Names of actors and writers and producers appeared - and I had no idea who they were. Nor did I care..."We're in the Batcave!" Eventually the camera pulled out to reveal the Batman emblem. "Is that the wheel of the Batmobile?" "Is it the door of the Batcave?". I didn't have time to think about it because we were now in Gotham.

Even then the cinema had an interval during the film.

Once the film was over everyone started leaving. I'm not sure how we managed it, perhaps my dad blagged his way in or knew someone, but I was allowed into the projection booth. It was directly behind the balcony and we had to walk past the door of it to leave. Inside there were 2 yellow projectors and a huge pile of film reels lying in a heap in the corner. The projectionist explained how the whole thing worked - cigarette burns, switching over reels and all that.

After that I was home. What a night! All I could do now was look at Topps cards and stare at my poster that I'd gotten from Batman Monthly #13. There was no youtube or blogs to go to, and since school was out for summer I'd have to wait to talk to anyone about the film in depth.

Next up: The long drawn-out aftermath

After opening night there were no repeat viewings, but the media buzz was still strong. The film had been a huge success and it was all over every tabloid newspaper.

Every aspect of the stars were explored and it even made a minor celeb out of stunt man Dave Lea - perhaps there was an amount of nation pride that Dave being a Brit was taking all the falls and punches for Batman. I have the newspaper cuttings featuring Dave that I later would use in a school project.

Without repeat viewings the only way to relive the film was through the Topps trading cards I had collected - but without a full set, that was a patchy experience at best. It also impanted a few false memories. Cards 86 - 89 of Series 1 show Batman fighting Bob, a deleted scene, which now I was convinced I'd seen in the cinema!

The Topps cards sustained my love of the film for quite a while. The release of Series 2 (the yellow ones) showed me how the film was made. Bear in mind, there were no shops close by that sold magazines like Cinefex, Starburst and publications like that. The comic book adaption would remain a secret to me until the mid-90s, although there was a 4 part poster magazine that went on sale at the time of the films release, so I had the first one of those.

Toys and merchandise were also plentiful, even to someone living rural like me. I was able to buy Batman movie badges, banners and best of all - toys. With pocket money I bought Toy-Biz Batman and Joker figures, and a Ertl Batmobile. I can't remember the name of the shop I bought them in but I do remember those golden cards, that the figures were packed on, hanging in rows - and Nintendo Entertainment Systems at the other end of the shop. The Batman and Batmobile are still with me...actually they are now with my kids, and in severe need of a re-paint. The Joker figure met a horrible end when my sister melted him on a cooker ring. Intentional or not - I don't know...but she had a bit of a reputation for cooking plastic.

I also picked up the Merlin Batman sticker book. It was massive and had beautiful large photos from the film reproduced. Sadly I couln't find anywhere that sold stickers for it!

Having access to my dad's woodworking workshop was great. I was able to machine my own batarangs out of plywood and make models of the Batcave for my Batmobile to drive in and out of. For your own reference, plywood batarangs are useless and always snap when thrown at anything.

I also made my own Batsuit using a cardboard box and black insulation tape for a cowl, a bin liner for a cape, black padded gloves and my bootleg Bat t-shirt for the torso. Whilst I felt pretty awesome running around the garden dressed as Batman when I was nearly 12, my parents probably thought otherwise. My dad was especially bothered because I had used up all his insulation tape to make the costume.

Whilst fans in USA could pick up a VHS in November of 1989, those of us in the UK would have to wait until the Spring of 1990. Not that that made much difference to me - my family didn't have a VHS player at this stage. It would be 1991 before we would own a JVC player. Before that we hired a player from the local video store (Country Video Club - the best video store in the world) every December for a couple of weeks of binge watching.

The VHS release here in the UK was just a big a deal as it had been in the US a couple of months previous. A video chain store here in Northern Ireland ran full page newspaper adverts in the run up to release. I don't have any of the adverts now but they had the Bat-emblem and in big letters above it were the words "Holy Catfish Batman!"

OK, so I have a rental copy of Batman now, but the 90's were a different time

Without a VHS player at home though it meant nothing. Until the following year of course.

Back in those days people only rented VHS and Betamax. Nobody bought them. There was no real retail market until maybe a couple of years later (it really did explode at that time though).

Christmas 1990 brought me a C64 computer. The Batman movie video games had been in magazines and catalogues everywhere, so up until this point all I could do was dream about playing them. I Had missed the first wave of game releases, but I was able to get the budget "Hit Squad" tape release for the C64.

8-bit gameplay but just like watching the movie again!

Although the game featured different music than the film it was just as enjoyable and almost synonymous with Batman to me for a while.

Sky TV (satellite TV broadcaster) had launched in the late 1980's, bringing those who could afford it The Simpsons and movies earlier than terrestrial tv stations like BBC and ITV. It was in mid 1991 that Sky Movies would premiere Batman. Then the buzz started again. Recorded copies started getting passed around in school - though I never managed to get one.

Apart from rental copies of Batman (which you weren't always guaranteed to find) I would have to wait to get my copy of the film. And that would be on Christmas Day 1991 when BBC1 premiered it. It was an edited version of the film with some scenes and words cut out - but I didn't care, and probably didn't notice too much. That recording was played to death - and probably contributed to the VHS player breaking at one point (although it was a great opportunity for me and my dad to take it apart to find the fault - a broken gear).

Film soundtracks were also something that just weren't on sale around here back in the day (or today either for that point) so in order to listen to Danny Elfman's theme I had to rig up a tape recorder. It wasn't great, but it was better than nothing!

For years that BBC edit was MY version of Batman 1989. Still to this day the actual version surprises me!

Although the years between Batman 89 and Returns had the odd bit of media speculation about sequel and villians who might appear 1989 to 1992 was a long Batman-less wilderness in the mainstream for the most part.

Next: The wilderness and the project (coming soon)

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