Interview: Producer Michael Uslan is ‘The Boy Who Loved Batman’

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CHICAGO – Although Producer Michael Uslan seemed to be just another unassuming presence at the Chicago Comic Con, he was mostly likely the most influential cultural influencer there. He was behind bringing The Batman back to the movies, launching the current super hero revival, and has written a book about his relationship to the hero, appropriately entitled “The Boy Who Loved Batman: A Memoir.”

He began his career as an academic, convincing Indiana University to sponsor the first accredited course on comic books. While studying law and teaching at IU, he was constantly sending out resumes to the film industry, and at the age of 28 convinced Warner Bros. to give him the rights to the Swamp Thing free of charge. When he began to pitch a darker version of The Batman to the studios, he had several rejections primarily because of the campy 1960s Batman TV show, and the association that comic books were for kids. The release of “Batman” in 1989 proved all those rejections wrong.

Michael Uslan at the Chicago Comic Con, August 14, 2011
Photo credit: Joe Arce of Starstruck Foto for caught up with Uslan at the Chicago Comic Con, and he spoke of a passion for comics and the life long love for The Batman that turned into a worldwide phenomenon. What was the genesis of your new book ‘The Boy Who Loved Batman’ and the process of writing the book … what did it all mean to you?

Michael Uslan: It really started after ‘The Dark Knight’ opened and broke every box office record and fairly rapidly became the second highest grossing film in history. My wife Nancy – who I met the first day of our freshman year at Indiana University – sat me down and asked me ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ I thought at this point in my career I want to talk to as many kids and college students as I can, and I want to tell them about my journey.

I wanted to relate how I was a blue collar kid from no money, who had a dream and a passion, and how I was able to make those dreams come true. There is an entire generation who I believe been spending too much time feeling entitled, that the world owes them something. If instead they can be motivated to get off their butts to try to make something happen and knock on doors, they can make their dreams come true as well. How have those meet-and-greets turned out?

Uslan: I have now spoken at over 60 universities and colleges, and through Batman the kids want to come out and hear what I want to say. I tell them my story – which is Batman but it’s really not about Batman – it’s just about whatever your dream might be. I saw that I was inspiring a lot of kids. That just made everything worthwhile to bring a dark and serious Batman to the screen. I thought then that I need to write this book.

I went away for three months in isolation, I worked seven days a week, 18 hours a day, and I wrote the book. The design of the book is brilliant, it’s available on Amazon and other outlets. How did you help to change the Indiana University campus ethos when you taught that first comic book course?

Uslan: I didn’t as much change it as I took advantage of what makes IU so unique and special. What I found out, and I was there for seven years getting three degrees, that at IU you never have to take no for an answer. If someone tells you no, there are other people, professors or administrators you can turn to that will eventually get you a ‘yes.’ No matter how wacky the idea can be, you can find someone to support you. That is now part of my philosophy of life, that when the doors slam, I keep knocking and I keep searching just like I did at that paradise called IU, until that right person just said yes.

’The Boy Who Loved Batman’
Photo credit: Red Lightning Books In assessing the first set of Batman films, from 1989 through 1997, why did it devolve to a campy version again with the final ‘Batman & Robin’?

Uslan: I’m going to answer that question not regarding Batman, but instead regarding the motion picture industry in general. Generally speaking, what used to be the studios are now largely international conglomerates. They own many businesses. Sometimes, generally speaking, these conglomerates become more fixated on other businesses like merchandising, like toys, games and Happy Meals. When the company becomes that fixated, the tail can wag the dog.

If it gets to a point where companies want three or four super heroes in a movie, or three or four super villains in a movie, each one mandated to have two different costume changes or vehicles, what they are in fact doing is making infomercials for toys that are two hours long. You are not making films, much less great films. Because there is no room for plot, story or characterization. How lucky we are currently to have a management team at Warner Bros. that recognizes this and brings in a Christopher Nolan, who totally understands the character, and has the passion, vision and the execution of Batman. How do you theorize that the character of Batman will be reinvented yet again once the Nolan trilogy ends with ‘The Dark Knight Rises’?

Uslan: I just look to the comic books. For 72 years, they have given us such vastly different interpretations of The Batman character, from one extreme to the next, one as equally valid as another. Depending on when you were born, or what you were reading or seeing on TV when you were 12 years old, probably defines what your true Batman might be. It is something that will never end and will always be open to new and valid interpretations. Is there too many comic book interpretations in cinema right now? How much is too much?

Uslan: I’m a very old fashion guy, I believe in story. If someone has a great story, with colorful and wonderful characters, that’s got to be made into a movie. If they don’t have that, don’t do it. Finally, what is your most prized comic book possession and what does it represent for you?

Uslan: My most prized comic book in my collection at the moment, not written by me, [laughs] is ‘Fantastic Four’ number one by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, which turned my head around when I read that. It was the first time I realized that comic books could be much more than I ever imagined they could be, that super heroes didn’t have to be cardboard, stereotypical characters.

That comic books and super heroes could suddenly feel totally real to me, and that in fact what was happening under my generational watch, was that as I was growing up, so were comic books. A seminal moment for me in my history of comic book collecting.

“The Boy Who Loved Batman: A Memoir” by Michael E. Uslan is available at now, and wherever books are sold. “The Dark Knight Rises” is available through all media. senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Editor, Film Writer

© 2011 Patrick McDonald,

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