Jul 28, 2009


Before I get around to posting my remaining thoughts on this year’s Comic-con (as I expected would happen, the show was too intense for me to keep up with regular blogging. I found that starting 3 years ago and has drastically been getting worse each year since) I want to draw your attention to another great screening event in Los Angeles this week.

So Comic-con is over, we’ve all come back from insanity of San Diego and the announcements have flooded the net as has the post-mortem by the trades, the blogs…well, everyone! You would think that we have had our fill of geek. However, 2 days of normalcy have passed, many people have returned to work, eaten a proper meal and had a good night’s rest and I bet that most people are once again ready to dive into the wonderful world of genre entertainment, and pop culture goodness.

Thankfully, as always, the American Cinematheque is here to help us fill the void now left empty thanks to the end of Comic-con, and get us ready in anticipation of the 2010 edition of the show.
Tomorrow night, the American Cinematheque presents A Comic Book Panel and Tribute to Michael Uslan double feature.

Michael Uslan was a producer on the BATMAN FILMS and Animated incarnations, as well as the documentary THE LEGENDS BEHIND THE COMIC BOOKS which will be the first film screened of the double feature (screening at 7:30pm). It features interviews and insights with the remaining individuals behind the iconic Golden age and Silver age of comic books.

The film will be followed by a panel discussion with Michael Uslan, Michael Mallory (novelist and pop culture historian) and the uber-knowledgeable Mark Evanier who has an impressive resume of television, comic book and book credits to his name. In fact, show up to the Aero early (by 6pm) and you can meet all these wonderful people, get items signed and take part in a reception. 2 Movies, a panel and a reception…what a deal!

Next up is a real treat. Before the BATMAN film franchise started to go downhill with BATMAN FOREVER and BATMAN & ROBIN (which has been completely revitalized thanks to BATMAN BEGINS and THE DARK KNIGHT), there was the fantastic BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES which ran from 1992 – 1995 (it was later followed by THE NEW BATMAN ADVENTURES, THE BATMAN/SUPERMAN HOUR and BATMAN BEYOND).

BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES took its cue from the first 2 Tim Burton directed films as well as borrowing the look of the Max Fleischer SUPERMAN cartoons from the 1940s. What resulted was a very hard-edged and cinematic (in both look and tone) experience that raised the bar for animated television. I can easily say that most of the Television animated series since then have been inspired by it.

The voice cast for this show has become iconic for the overall BATMAN franchise with Kevin Conroy voicing the Dark Knight, and Mark Hamill’s fantastic rendition of The Joker that easily keeps up with both Jack Nicolson’s performance in the 1989 Burton film, and Heath Ledger’s in Christopher Nolan’s 2008 THE DARK KNIGHT (although admittedly, Heath really took it to a whole new level). Adding to the overall feel was Shirley Walker’s music which was clearly inspired by Danny Elfman’s themes. Given the fact that Shirley Walker was Elfman’s conductor/orchestrator, this should come as no surprise (Walker also was the supervising conductor on the SUPERMAN ANIMATED SERIES which came later, but wasn’t quite as good as BATMAN).

In 1993, during the initial series run, Warner Bros. released the feature BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM. It made sense given that the 22 minute television programs themselves ran like mini-movies that the material could be transferred to the big screen. Many people often write this movie off given the fact that it is an animated film, and is an offshoot of what is essentially a Saturday morning cartoon. However, BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM is a well crafted and exciting experience, much better than BATMAN FOREVER and BATMAN & ROBIN and I would even go as far as to say is better than Tim Burton’s BATMAN RETURNS.

I was pleasantly surprised and excited to see that the second feature of this comic book event is BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM, projected on the big screen which is a rare thing indeed. It’s depressing that this fantastic movie really hasn’t been given the attention it deserves, and major thumbs up to the American Cinematheque for including it in the program and not going for more popular titles like the BATMAN live-action films, SUPERMAN, SPIDER-MAN, X-MEN….the list now (where it wasn’t a few years ago) is now endless.

Warner Bros. has been doing a really good job with their DC properties by releasing some solid direct-to-DVD animated features like WONDER WOMAN last year, and GREEN LANTERN: FIRST FLIGHT (which came out today on Blu-Ray and DVD). They have been so good at it that Marvel also has gone the same route with an IRON MAN feature and some WOLVERINE and HULK animated films (via Lionsgate) and Dark Horse even got in the act with a couple of HELLBOY features which were both voiced by casts of the feature films. Again, this trend can be traced to its starting point which was of course BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM.

So if you went to Comic-con and crave more, or weren’t able to make it but want to get your geek on, get over to the Aero tomorrow night. In fact, I would even say given how Comic-con was this year, this event is more comic oriented than the convention.

I have said it before and I will say it again. If you love movies, you owe it to yourself to check out the Cinematheque’s programming and become a member. Even more important now given the fact that it was just announced today that the Los Angeles County Museum of Art has cancelled their excellent film program. It’s a true loss to the Los Angeles film going experience. So keep the Cinematheque alive. Go to the New Beverly and Academy. It’s the only way to see the older films the way they should be seen, with an audience and projected on a big screen ON FILM.
The American Cinematheque website can be accessed HERE.
Below is the official American Cinematheque release.

Wednesday, July 29 – 7:30 PM

Comic Book Panel & Tribute to Michael Uslan - Double Feature:

Michael Uslan, producer of LEGENDS BEHIND THE COMIC BOOKS is the originator and key producer of all the Batman movies and animated films -- as well as SWAMP THING, THE SPIRIT, a professor of Comic Book Folklore and comic book author of the best-selling graphic novel, Batman: Detective #27.

THE LEGENDS BEHIND THE COMIC BOOKS, 60 min. Dir. Chip Cronkite. This documentary film captures for posterity the living artists and writers from The Golden Age of Comic Books (1938-1951) and The Silver Age of Comic Books (1956-1973). Insightful comments are provided by the creative geniuses who were there at the beginning, including Stan Lee ("Spider-Man," "The Hulk," "The X-Men," "The Silver Surfer," "Daredevil" and "The Fantastic Four"), Jerry Robinson ("The Joker" and "Robin the Boy Wonder"), Joe Simon ("Captain America," "Sandman," "Manhunter") Joe Kubert ("Hawkman," "Sgt. Rock," "Tarzan"), Murphy Anderson ("Buck Rogers," "The Spectre," "Dr. Fate," "Hourman," "Starman" and "Black Canary") and many more. These men -- and one woman, Ramona Fradon -- and their creations inspired our servicemen and patriotic kids at home with four-color entertainment during the dark days of World War II, as Superman and his super-brethren fought Hitler, Hirohito and Mussolini. Then they introduced the comic book villain of the 1950s in the form of the Red Barbarians of Asia to face the All-American caped crusaders. In the 1960s, these artists and writers made comic books relevant to the times, inventing minority superheroes and bringing the superheroines up to equal status with men, while facing them off against such new supervillains as environmental pollution, overpopulation, drug abuse and political corruption. Even today, comic books continue to mirror historical and social trends, warts and all. But in the end, amid themes of power, wealth, fame, alienation, natural disaster and science fiction, comic books present us with hope for the future -- a future of truth, justice and the American way.

BATMAN: MASK OF THE PHANTASM, 1993, Warner Bros., 76 min. Dir. Bruce Timm & Eric Radomski. As a tribute to animator Bruce Timm, we present Bruce’s critically-acclaimed animated feature spin-off from the BATMAN animated television show. Batman must exonerate himself after being framed by vigilante assassin The Phantasm for the murders of various mob bosses. With a great cast of voices for the comic book characters, including Kevin Conroy, Dana Delaney, Hart Bochner, Stacy Keach, Abe Vigoda, Dick Miller, Efram Zimbalist Jr., John P. Ryan, Marilu Henner and Mark Hamill. Trailer

Discussion in between films with producer Michael Uslan, Michael Mallory, novelist, pop culture historian and the author of Marvel: The Expanding Universe Wall Chart and X-Men: The Characters and Their Universe, Mark Evanier, television and comic book writer and author of Kirby: King Of Comics, The Biography of Classic Comic Book Artist, Jack Kirby.

In addition to the panel, Every Picture Tells A Story will be hosting a reception beginning at 6:00 PM. All of the panelists will be signing their books and Every Picture Tells A Story will be introducing a new line of limited-edition Marvel fine art prints.