It’s Batman day. If you don’t like comics… I’m sorry, because I do. I’ve decided that I’m going on a trip down fandom lane today. It only seemed appropriate that i start by giving props to the men who completely reinvented the way we see Batman to this day… Paul Dini and Bruce Timm. This duo brought to us the vibrant Batman Animated Series that filled our televisions with wonder and justice in the 90s. From the art deco/noir look to the serialized dramatizaitons, these two breathed life into the caped crusader in a way that was way more than us kids deserved. It’s only now that I realize how spoiled we were. On any given day we were treated to a faithful adaptation of the Dark Knight that treated the source material with absolute respect and gravitas when necessary. There was that piercing score that was reminiscent of Danny Elfman’s score for the Tim Burton films, along with the greatest performance of The Joker to ever be. Mark Hammil is Luke Skywalker to most, but he is most affectionally, the joker, to me.
And of course, we can't forget the inclusion of Harley Quinn, birthed from the genius of Paul Dini himself, who has gone on to become an icon all her own.
Their universe, dedicated to the Dark Knight is far superior to what Tim Burton or Christopher Nolan created, by a long shot. One of the greatest works to come from the universe, however is a meta-true life narrative written by none other than Paul Dini himself. Prior to the animated movie “Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm” being completed, Paul Dini was brutally mugged one night while walking home from a date. He was at a rather low point in his life, suffering from loneliness, depression, and a horrible habit of self harm.
Most of us knew nothing about this, to be fair, most of us didn’t care. We were just little kids who put no thought into the fact that there were real, live, flesh and blood people that made Batman.
It’s actually kind of baffling to me how much we take for granted that there are people waking up, every single morning, to write about someone dressed in a funky costume, kicking ass, only to clock out at the end of the day and go back to their regular jobs. There’s actually something really beautiful about that. How a man or a woman could escape reality and create a world where justice is enacted and the bad and the wickedly ugly are put away forever. There must be a gleeful satisfaction in that type of work. But there was a period of time where Paul Dini did not think so.
When he was recovering from the carnage and havoc wreaked on his face, Dini found himself with a gnawing pain that only got louder as time went on. HIs productivity was at zero, and he felt afraid. The police were very little help to him as far as bringing his muggers to justice, and the muggers had not only beat him to a pulp, but laughed and mocked him as they did so. It’s not like his self esteem was at any sort of a high at the point that his skull was getting cracked in either. No, with every crunch of cheekbone, and every squish of swelling tissue, Dini began to doubt if there were any real heroes in the world at all. Where was the crusader for him? He devoted his whole life to making kids believe in a hero when times got tough. Well, times were pretty damn tough at that moment, and there was not so much as a passerby to play looky-loo.
Dini many years later wrote about the darkness he suffered in an enchanting book titled “Dark Night: A True Batman Story.” In it, he chronicles his life in one of the most creative autobiographies I’ve ever read. With the help of the Looney Toons, real life industry stories, and Batman’s rogues gallery, we are taken on a surreal journey through the accomplishments and demons of Paul Dini’s life. He brings it down to our level, peeling the layers back on his insecurities and failures, while finding joy in the characters that he breathed life info. In his darkest moments, they are his guides, they are the voices that keep him from going insane.
It’s a remarkable read that reminds us that sometimes the most heroic thing we can do, is get to work when everything in this world is telling us to just stay stagnant and wallow in self doubt. Dini’s book reminds us that modern mythology is as much about catharsis as it is about entertainment. So to me, the legacy of Batman is less about a man in a suit and more about our human need to illustrate what our ideals of justice and heroism look like. I will also take time to showcase some of the wonderful art of Bruce Timm, but it only seemed fitting to set the stage by acknowledging the master writer, Paul Dini, without him, Batman would still be who he is, but with just a little less oomph!