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Batman producer talks about ‘dark’ success

The internationally dubbed “boy who loved Batman” and the force behind producing the “Batman” and “Dark Knight” movie series, Michael E. Uslan, has come to Seoul to share the tremendous tales behind how he turned his childhood obsession to one of the world’s most unforeseen game-changing film franchises.

The man responsible for reimagining Batman as a noncomical, dark creature of the night who hunts criminals from the shadows said that he would stop at nothing to rid the perception of Batman as a children’s cartoon character and “... wipe out from the collective consciousness of the world culture of three little words: POW! ZAP! WHAM!”

Michael E. Uslan, one of the main producers of the “Batman”/“Dark Knight” Hollywood film series, speaks during a group interview with members of the media on Tuesday at Hongik Daehangno Art Center in Seoul. (KOCCA)
Michael E. Uslan, one of the main producers of the “Batman”/“Dark Knight” Hollywood film series, speaks during a group interview with members of the media on Tuesday at Hongik Daehangno Art Center in Seoul. (KOCCA)

As part of the Korea Creative Content Agency’s “Content Insight” lecture series, Uslan revealed how a young comic book-obsessed child took his passions and forever changed the motion picture industry and the fate of comic book characters on the big screen.

“It began for me on a cold winter night in January 1966. I was a teenager, a young teenager, and I was thrilled because the Batman TV series was about to premiere,” Uslan shared during a round interview held at the Hongik Daehangno Art Center in Seoul on Tuesday.

“I’d been waiting so long for this Batman show to come on TV and I was downstairs in our basement den when that show came on; and when it did, I was simultaneously thrilled and horrified by what I was seeing on that screen,” he continued. 

“Because as a fan of comic books, superheroes and Batman, I realized that they were making Batman into a joke; that the whole world was laughing at Batman and that just killed me. So that night downstairs in our basement, I made a vow -- just like Bruce Wayne once made a vow. … I made a vow that somehow, someday, I would show the world what the true Batman was.”

Considering today one would be hard-pressed to find a person who has not seen at least one Batman flick in their lifetime, in hindsight, one may assume that finding a studio willing to produce the epic chronicles of the Dark Knight would have been a quick cinch for the eager producer. However, the reality was quite the opposite.

After purchasing the Batman rights from DC Comics together with his business partner in 1979 at the age of 28, Uslan’s dream took an unexpected turn when, much to his chagrin, he was turned down by every single Hollywood studio, who denounced his idea of portraying a dark, serious Batman.

“Every single studio told me that I was crazy … that it was the worst idea they had ever heard,” he said. “They said I was crazy because no comic book had ever been treated seriously before, that superheroes could not possibly be portrayed in a dark way.“

After a decade of struggle, persistence and perseverance, Uslan’s first Batman film finally premiered in 1989 under the imaginative direction of legendary film director Tim Burton, along with Michael Keaton as the world’s first dark Batman and Jack Nicholson bringing life to the infamously depraved Joker.

The rest is history.

As a life-long comic book enthusiast and an avid investor in the movie industry’s continued art film portrayal of the comic’s world most beloved super heroes, Uslan also revealed his prediction that a new generation of captivating characters would be spawned from parts of Asia.

“Today I believe the next great characters and stories will be coming from Asia,” says Uslan.

“And Korea, I believe, is taking a front-running position, with China and other countries, to bring to us your stories and your characters from your culture and your traditions and history. Whether it’s manhwa (Korean comic books), K-pop or soap operas, Korean content is beginning to have a major impact on the world.

“We need your heritage. We need your mythology. We need your stories.”

By Julie Jackson (juliejackson@heraldcorp.com)
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