The man who believed in Batman
It all made perfect sense back in 1979 to lifelong Batman super-fan Michael Uslan.
Step one: Acquire the rights to produce Batman movies on the silver screen from DC Comics. Step two: Attract a massive new audience by treating the Caped Crusader as the deadly serious crime-fighting avenger he was originally intended to be. Step three: Sit back and rake in untold millions after fulfilling his most cherished dream.
There was only one problem, as it turned out. Everyone in Hollywood thought the plan was completely nuts.
“They didn’t think you could do a dark and serious film treatment of a comic book,” recalled Uslan, who will appear at Harper College on Thursday to discuss the blockbuster Batman movie franchise he helped create . And they also believed Superman was the only comic book hero with the ability to cross over to the movies.”
Uslan believed, though, enough for everyone. And he spent the next 10 years “knocking on doors until my knuckles bled,” until he finally made the acquaintance of the young Tim Burton in 1988 and found someone who shared his vision.
The following year, Burton’s dark, grim “Batman” rewrote the rules for comic book movies, racked up a $400 million gross worldwide and gave comic book superheroes major cred in Hollywood — with Uslan and his producing partner Ben Melniker on board as executive producers.
Since then, Uslan has executive produced all six “Batman” movies (which have grossed a combined $2.6 billion), including Christopher Nolan’s dazzling “The Dark Knight” and the upcoming “The Dark Knight Rises.”
As a boy growing up in New Jersey in the 1950s, Uslan admits, he was completely obsessed with comic books — “Batman” comic books in particular, but also comic books in general. By the time he went to college, he had amassed a collection of 30,000 comic books.
While studying at Indiana University, he became the first person in America to teach an accredited college course on comic books as modern-day mythology. And the resultant media uproar over that scandalous development proved to be his entree into the comics industry.
When his course became national news, Uslan was contacted by Marvel Comics honcho Stan Lee and DC Comics vice president Sol Harrison and invited to come for a visit. At DC, Uslan wound up securing a summer job, which in turn led to an opportunity to write Batman comics.
He had achieved his long-cherished aspiration to work for DC and help create Batman, so he gave himself a new goal: To go to Hollywood and create a Batman dynasty that would “erase from the collective consciousness of the world” the memory of the campy ’60s TV series that had sullied the image of his hero.
Now, with his Hollywood quest more or less accomplished, Uslan turned his attention to his memoir, The Boy Who Loved Batman, to encourage other people that they, too, can make their dreams a reality.
“Anyone can do it,” he said. “You just have to be willing to get off your butt and make something happen.”