INTERVIEW: Michael Uslan (Part 1 of 2)
Author: Bill "Jett" Ramey
August 19, 2012

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It’s no secret that Michael Uslan is one of my personal heroes. I’ve proclaimed that here on BOF for years. I admire him immensely and find his story fascinating. That story was chronicled by Mr. Uslan himself in his autobiography, THE BOY WHO LOVED BATMAN: A MEMIOR.

When I read that book, Mr. U’s story moved me tremendously. In a way, it felt as if I was also reading my story as I TOTALLY related to his childhood stories of growing up a Batman and comic book fan. Though we’re 15 years apart in age, I definitely feel a bit of kindred spirit-ship, if you will, with Mr. U.

Case in point, I found it just awesome that, as a kid, Mr. U got to meet most -- if not all -- of his personal heroes. He basically forced himself into the world of comics, and eventually, comic book movies. I admire the hell out of that!

While I wasn’t a kid when I finally met my heroes, I DID get my chance as an adult via BOF…and meeting Michael Uslan was at the top of my list! Not only did I get to meet him, I can honestly say he’s a friend. And the cool part is that he considers me one as well.

Here’s Part 1 of my extensive post-THE DARK KNIGHT RISES interview with Michael -- and he insists that I call him that despite my raisin’.

Enjoy! - Bill "Jett" Ramey

JETT/BOF: This is a question that I’ve been dying to ask one person and one person only: YOU (laughs)! Were you more emotionally moved at the end of BATMAN ‘89 or THE DARK KNIGHT RISES?

MICHAEL USLAN: I was just talking about this today with a friend and it’s so funny you’d ask this. The only two times that I remember in my career that I literally, actually cried, were the two times you just mentioned.

I shed tears the first time I saw the finished cut of [BATMAN ‘89]. Of course, it was such an ordeal for me -- for all of US -- to get done. It took years and years and years and there were so many setbacks. It was a “dream come true moment” in every sense of the word. Bill, to this day if I see that movie and that last scene of him standing on the spires -- with the rising crescendo of Danny Elfman’s score -- it brings me right back there and it still gives me the chills. While I may not cry, it still chokes me up. It’s STILL an incredibly powerful moment for me. With that said…

It was an even MORE powerful moment for me when I saw the completed version of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES for the first time…the ending and conclusion of it. It was hard for me to imagine that the genius that is Chris Nolan could top what he did with THE DARK KNIGHT. Beyond that, while the tears were flowing and unstoppable, I turned to my wife Nancy and said through the tears, “This is EVERYHING I’ve ever hoped and dreamed about Batman on the silver screen since I was 14 years old.”

I KNEW that I was literally watching my legacy -- my hopes and dreams, my life’s work -- [the ending of RISES] was more than I could ever imagine, dreamed and hoped for.

BOF: What do you say to the segment of fans that are “disappointed” that RISES is indeed the end and there will not be any more films set in the Nolanverse. In other words, what do you say to the fans who feel “shortchanged” -- their words, not mine -- by Chris’ take on Batman?”

MU: Oh, they weren’t shortchanged at all…not at all…Geez (Laughs)!

It’s ONE story. It’s one STORY told in three parts with a beginning a middle and an end. Act I, Act II and Act III if you will.

If you want to compare [“The Dark Knight Trilogy“] to the comic books, think of “story arcs.” In the early days, there were usually three or more story arcs in one issue of a comic. Then gradually it became one story arc per comic book. Then eventually -- due to the influence of Stan Lee and the “Marvel Way” of doing things -- story arcs became continued stories that go on and on. Today, the typical story arc will go on for four, five or six issues. So, we’ve got a writer and artist -- or sometimes a writer/artist -- who has a story to tell.

With Batman, there have been SO many different writers and artists with SO many different interpretations of Batman over the years. However, most of them have been tremendously respectful to the character and Batman’s integrity.

Batman has had his back broken. Batman has been “dead.” And if you’re old enough to remember like us Bill, Batman’s even been stuck on other planets and in other dimensions. Hell, he’s even been turned into a genie or “Bat-Genie” or God knows what (laughs)!

But here’s the thing Bill. These are all stories that have beginnings, middles and ends that were told by writers and artists. So THAT’S what makes up comic books. Whether your story deals with how Batman becomes “Batbaby” and has to find a way to regain his adult status again, it’s still a story told in fantasy terms. That’s what I think that most fans understand and appreciate when it comes to comics. HOWEVER…

When comics are translated to a different medium like film, they DO NOT translate directly. So what you get is Dick Donner’s “Superman.” Sam Raimi’s “Spider-Man.“ And Chris Nolan’s “Batman.” You’re getting a director with a vision and, hopefully, a director that has both an understanding and passion for the character. They’re telling their story for the world. And the world is an audience that mostly doesn’t read comics. They don’t follow the adventures and aren’t in the comic book shops every Wednesday.

So Bill, we, the comic book fans, must understand that comics and movies are different.

This was “Christopher Nolan’s Batman” and it was told in three parts. And we, the Batman fans, have GOT to realize that we’ve been very lucky to have had him and to have been able to enjoy this ride. To me, it’s been one of the most wonderful, emotional and socially relevant stories that I’ve seen in cinema in a long time. When I say that Bill, I’m directing all the accolades and credit to Christopher Nolan.

BOF: Mr. Uslan, you’re one of RISES’ producers and you are really one of its filmmakers. Were you unspoiled? What I’m asking is did you get to see it fresh and how it was intended to be seen?

MU: Let me frame my answer this way…

Having been a complete fanboy and comic book geek for as long as I can remember.

Having been a comic book collector and historian.

Having been someone who grew up within striking distance of New York City and was able to meet many of the creators and artists of these characters.

Yes. I did.

My best friend Bobby Klein -- whom I grew up reading and collecting comics with and went to the very first “Comic Con” with in New York City -- he is someone who’s opinion I highly value. So it was very important for me to hear Bobby’s opinion of [THE DARK KNIGHT RISES]. He was just overwhelmed and ecstatic over what he saw.

You’ve got to remember that for many of us -- when we started with Batman, superheroes and comic books -- they were being written for eight to twelve year old boys. We got to grow up with our superheroes. We got to mature along with our comic books, right? Comic books eventually matured and evolved into graphic novels. Then both began to appeal to an older and wider audience. Again, we grew up and matured with our superheroes and got to see comic books become a legitimate American art form and our modern day mythology. Every time we thought we were too old or too sophisticated for comics, they took the next step and evolved with us.

When it came to Batman, [that evolution] first happened to me with [DC’s Batman editor] Julie Schwartz who produced Batman’s “New Look” when I was 13 years old. And that kept me interested in Batman. It made me want to take that turn with Batman and see this new and incredible artwork that Carmine Infantino was bringing to it.

And a few years later, just when my interest in Batman had started to wane -- no pun intended (Laughs) -- a bit again, here comes the “Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams” Batman under the editorial guidance of Julie Schwartz. Robin was packed up and sent off to college, The Batcave and Wayne Manor was shut down and Bruce moved into town. It was the return of “The Dark Knight Detective.”

And then same thing would happen again with [Frank Miller’s] THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS. We started getting grittier and more sophisticated storytelling that were aimed at adult audiences. This is the history and evolution of the character in comics that me and my friend Bobby -- and you too Bill -- experienced.

Then, when you see a film like THE DARK KNIGHT RISES that isn’t a “popcorn movie,” but a film that has such an emotional affect on people on way or the other. You hear the comments, read the reviews and you listen to the pundits debating things that are coming out of a “comic book/superhero movie.” It’s amazing!

BOF: What’s your favorite moment in RISES? Is there a particular moment in the film that you cherish the most?

MU: Oh my Bill, SO many (laughs)!

Since 1940, Batman has been defined by his “No guns, No killing” policy. And seeing that scene [between Batman and Catwoman] and hearing that line in the movie really resonated with me.

I thought Anne Hathaway was utterly spectacular. Every moment, every nuance -- the way she moved her eyebrows, the way she evoked Judy Garland or Audrey Hepburn -- I thought it was just a great performance. It was great casting, great casting. Part of Chris’ [Chris Nolan] genius is the way he casts his films.

Michael Caine gave one of the best performances, certainly, of the year if not the decade. He brought SO much power and emotion to the role. He was the grounding force that brought Bruce Wayne back to both reality and humanity.

I thought Christian Bale’s performance was the best ever -- and I both love and applaud all of his performances in these films He just nails Bruce Wayne and Batman for every generation of Batman fans.

Gary Oldman. Gary Oldman -- who was renowned for his whacked-out characters and performances -- to have him cast as the guy who was THE most grounded and most connected to humanity is incredible. Again, the genius that is Chris Nolan and his casting.

The credibility that Morgan Freeman brings to the role [of Lucius Fox]. He grounds all that technology and makes it a “reality” that the audience can accept.

Then there’s the ending of the movie. They way it jumped from character to character to character to character. It was like the most beautiful piece of crocheting coming together as one unified piece! It was just building and building and getting more and more emotional as we get to THAT climax.

As you watch those last few scenes and then understand the resolution of the story. The different ways it impacts and changes the characters in this story. With that incredible music by Hans Zimmer. It’s a moment that will haunt me, in a good way, forever.

I just can’t say enough about [RISES]. But you know, while we’ve been talking and I as listen to our dialogue, it becomes clear to me that I’m just a fan and that’s a wonderful thing…it was a wonderful thing to have been able to experience [THE DARK KNIGHT RISES] like that.

In Part 2 of my chat with Mr. U, we talk about the passing and legacy of his friend Joe Kubert, the first time he met Stan Lee, and the future of not only Batman on film, but the genre in general!

BATMAN ON FILM, © 1998-present William E. Ramey. All rights reserved.