Batman Movie Rankings + Batman Executive Producer Michael Uslan | Crooked Media
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March 11, 2022
X-Ray Vision
Batman Movie Rankings + Batman Executive Producer Michael Uslan

In This Episode

On this episode of X-Ray Vision, Jason Concepcion and Rosie Knight visit Crime Alley! First in Previously On (2:05), Jason and Rosie discuss release date changes to Warner Bros’ schedule as well as the new teaser for Disney’s Obi-Wan Kenobi series. In the Airlock (7:19) Jason and Rosie rank and reason out their top five Batman adaptations. Then in the Hive Mind (28:08), Jason and Rosie welcome Hollywood legend, Batman super-fan, and theatrical Batman executive producer and originator Michael Uslan to detail his time at DC, Batman’s cinematic origins, give some Hollywood advice, and tell stories of his extraordinary life with comics. And in the Endgame (1:21:51), Jason and Rosie rank the top three times we’ve seen Thomas and Martha Wayne murdered in various Batman adaptations.


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The Listener’s Guide for all things X-Ray Vision!

Batman’s Batman: A Memoir from Hollywood, Land of Bilk and Money – Michael Uslan’s second memoir. Available wherever books are sold, including here.

The Boy Who Loved Batman – Michael Uslan’s first memoir. Available where books are sold, including here.







Jason Concepcion: Warning this podcast contains spoilers for Batman, for The Batman, for various Batman movies, live action films and animation, and probably some Batman comics and Batman The Animated Series. If you don’t want to be spoiled on various Batman properties, be careful and beware when you enter here. But thanks for listening anyway. Oh, hello, my name is Jason Concepcion, welcome to X-ray Vision, the Crooked podcast, where we dive deep into your favorite shows, movies, comics and pop culture. This is a continuation of last week’s Batman episode. Lots of Batman. Batman, Batman The Batman Conversations. We’re going to start with news on previously on with the trailer release for Obi-Wan and more. Rosie Knight and I are going to have a really fun discussion about our top five Batman movies slash adaptions. We’re going to be loose with that part of it. And in the hive mind, we talk to Batman executive producer, Hollywood legend, comics historian Michael Uslan, the person who is singularly responsible in many ways for bringing Batman to the screen. Every Batman adaptation that you’ve seen is likely the work of Michael Uslan, and in the end game we’re going to be ranking Let the pearls hit the floor, let the pearls hit the floor. We’re going to be ranking our top Thomas and Martha Wayne murders. But first joining us today, writer comics creator extraordinaire The Great Rosie Knight. Rosie, how are you?


Rosie Knight: I’m doing good. I’m so excited. This is such a cool episode


Jason Concepcion: It’s a really, really, really, really Batman. OK, let’s get to the news. First up, Warner Brothers is moving around their release dates. They are changing release dates for The Flash, for Aquaman, The Lost Kingdom and more. And this is mainly due to the fact that the previous release dates came into conflict with the release of the long awaited Avatar 2. People are clamoring in the streets for Avatar 2. They’re saying, Where is the newest Avatar? Every time I go outside, people are quoting lines. Those iconic lines from Avatar, you know, the ones I’m talking about. There’s so many quotable lines from that first movie, which is right. There are top of mind so present in our pop culture. Even today, the films that are being moved include DC League of Super Pets is going from May 20th to July 29th. The Flash November 4th to June 23rd, 2023. Aquaman and The Lost Kingdom is December 16 to March 17, 2023. This was the movie that was scheduled against the The World, beating the long awaited Avatar 2. Wonka, in which the tagline Being This Wonka Fucks starring Timothee Chalamet goes from March 17th, 2023 to December 15th. Shazam Fury The Gods December 16th and then folks make to the Trench has been slated for August 4th, 2023. Any reactions to this, and I know that you can’t wait for Avatar 2. It’s all you talk about Rosie,


Rosie Knight: I can’t wait to never see Avatar 2. My avatar feelings run deep. I’m sad I have to wait so long to see Aquaman. I love the first Aquaman movie,.


Jason Concepcion: I did enjoy it.


Rosie Knight: I really want to see the second one. I think it’s fine that this is happening. This is the nature of these kind of things. But I do think it’s really interesting because they recently released that big, you know, the world needs heroes trailer and they’re showing it before Batman. Here, they’re showing it off to Batman in Europe, and it’s like in 2022. The world needs heroes, and it’s like all three of these movies that just got moved to next year. So I guess next year the one is yours, but I am excited that Shazam is going to actually get moved up to be this year’s Christmas movie because I actually I love Shazam. So now Shazam will be opening against Avatar 2.


Jason Concepcion: Yeah.


Rosie Knight: I will be buying a ticket to Shazam to plant my flag.


Jason Concepcion: Making it a Christmas movie. I think this is the right idea. Up next, the social media was a tizzy today with the surprise release of the first teaser trailer for Disney Plus’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, which stars Ewan McGregor in the titular role, reprising his role as young Obi-Wan from the prequels. First of all, Duel of the Fates is in the trailer, so that’s all I needed and a lot of Star Wars Rebels material here. And boy, the inquisitors are here and the Grand Inquisitor is here. This. I got really, really excited. Your reaction, Rosie?


Rosie Knight: Yeah, I mean, first of all, everyone who ever got a school from John Williams is just so fucking lucky. I. I think about all the time, it doesn’t matter what movie it is, it doesn’t matter if there was a trailer recently released for a franchise. I’m not so bothered about any more rhymes with Gary Trotter and that trailer had a John Williams thing. And I was like, you lucky motherfuckers. And this one is like Duel of the Fates and you’re just like, Yes, like, this is so great. Duel of the Fates. Amazing. Really excited to see all the inquisitive stuff thats some of the best stuff. I think that we’ll definitely talk about this more. But you mentioned like Rebels, definitely check out those animated series and the Vedha comic, which we talk about a lot that have a lot of inquisitorious kind of stuff. If you want to brush up and if you’re wondering who those creepy new Sith were in the trailer.


Jason Concepcion: And then finally, this was on our outline, but we should talk about it because you were texting me recently that a certain MCU movie is filming close to your house.


Rosie Knight: Yes.


Jason Concepcion: No spoilers.


Rosie Knight: OK, I think,.


Jason Concepcion: But tell us what you know.


Rosie Knight: So it was reported on in the news that Ant-man: Quantumania was filming in the L.A. area. And that is true and it’s true there was some very cute pictures of Scott Lang. It looks like they were basically using the streets where they were filming as a as a front for San Francisco. And what I the way it looked from the photos that I’ve seen that people took was kind of like, Scott is famous. So that seems to be the one thing we can tell from it is like Scott’s famous now and Paul Rudd’s doing some cute faces and everyone’s looking. But it was incredibly cool to see all the set up over the weekend, and just it was just really fun. I didn’t see any stars or anything.


Jason Concepcion: What was the fake production name?


Rosie Knight: OK, so this is actually been publicly shared. So I’m oh OK. So I’m not worried about breaking it. But in case you didn’t know, it’s “dust bunny”, which is so cute and I love it. And that that’s really cool. They film a lot in L.A., so it’s really easy to find out kind of what’s going on. But that was really that was a really exciting one. And yea Dust Bunny, Dust Bunny is such a cute shooting name for that movie.


Jason Concepcion: All right. Up next, the Airlock. And we are stepping out of the Airlock and into the world of all things The Dark Knight, the caped crusader, the world’s greatest detective Batman. It is time Rosie to rank our top five Batman adaptations, whatever that means to you, taking the comics, putting them on TV, putting them in the movies, whatever the case may be. Our top five. Are you ready?


Rosie Knight: I’m ready.


Jason Concepcion: Oh gosh, OK. Who should go first? I’ll go first.


Rosie Knight: OK.


Jason Concepcion: My number one Batman adaptation is, gosh, I’m going to have to say The Dark Knight. I just think that Heath Ledger is electric in the movie. There, he obviously redefined the Joker for a whole generation of movie fans. Was influenced the way the Joker was depicted in DC Comics after that turned into a scarred mauled mess, and in fact, like every, every comic’s incarnation of of the Joker, has in some way been impacted by Heath Ledger’s incredible performance. It’s my favorite Batman movie. I was blown away watching it. I remember vividly when they released, like, I think it was like the first five minutes of the heist portion, the first five minutes of the movie online, with the Joker robbing the mafia bank and then double crossing all of the mobsters. And I was just like, Man, I cannot wait for this movie. I vividly remember working as a waiter when Batman Begins came out. We were doing a gig at the Philadelphia Museum, and this guy who I was working with was just like, Batman Begins, man, that’s it. It changed everything about what we know about Batman, and he just could not stop talking about it. And I was and then I saw it and I was like, Yeah, this is good. And then the Dark Knight came out and I was blown away. It felt like a moment in time at the time, also with the kind of like security versus freedom conversation that was also happening in the broader culture. But I just loved it. I still I still love the movie.


Rosie Knight: Yeah. You know, it’s one of the it’s it’s such an unbelievable cultural touchstone. And you know, that came out in 2008, the same year the Iron Man came out. And that is just like an unbelievable kind of changing point for how superheroes in cinema would interact. I am going to shock a lot of people. None of the Nolan movies are actually in my top five, but I’m really glad. Yeah, I no, I’m really glad you brought up because it is like, that is the movie that’s like the movie that changed the way that Hollywood saw superheroes.


Jason Concepcion: That is the only Nolan Batman. Spoiler alert that is in my top five. Rosie, who’s your number one Batman movie?


Rosie Knight: I ranked this like a week ago, and it was different, but mine changes a lot. Right now. I’m back to the classic Batman 89.


Jason Concepcion: OK.


Rosie Knight: That’s definitely.


Jason Concepcion: Yes.


Rosie Knight: That’s it for me. Like my earliest memory of like being a two year old and sitting in my uncle’s house, he lived in this high rise, and I remember I was really high up looking out the window and in the reflection of the window, I could see the scene where the Joker falls in the acid, and it felt so scary. And that is like the earliest memory I have. That’s a movie that’s really defined my love of cinema. We’re going to be speaking to Michael Uslan, who was the producer who fought to get that made. That was one of the stories that made me want to be involved in film and make film. I think Keaton is such a brilliant Batman. I don’t know if he’s my I love Robert Pattinson’s Batman so much. So I’m definitely going in-between on on my faves at the moment. But Keaton is brilliant. The suit. That design of the yellow Batman logo.


Jason Concepcion: It was really, really cool.


Rosie Knight: With the black on top that you would never believe it, but that didn’t exist until that movie. It seems so synonymous, but that was a branding thing, you know? So I think that was incredible. You know, that was another turning point for the space of fandom and comic books in cinema. It became the biggest movie of all time at the time it was. Yeah, I just I love that movie so much. I rewatch it. Jack Nicholson obviously didn’t even get into that. I quote it all the time. Incredible stunt work. Phillip Tan, who is just like an absolute stunt icon. He’s in that movie. He was the stunt coordinator on that movie, the Joker gang the the jackets they have. I still live to own one of those like I think its one of the coolest movies ever made. Like, when I watch it, I feel like this is so cool.


Jason Concepcion: Absolutely. And I remember as a kid, just like the merch being, everywhere,  like just Batman hats, Batman shirts, Batman stuff, Batman, Batman, Batman. It was it was huge, and it was one of those movies that, like people saw it two and three and four times in the theater. I still love it. It’s on my top five list and. And in fact, we’ll get to that in a second. But my so my second movie is now I’m changing it. God, Fuck it. OK, I’m changing it. My second. My number two is 1989 Batman. It’s as it’s great. It’s just great. Nicholson is absolutely incredible. Michael Keaton I recall at the time there being a Keaton was known as a comedic actor at the time, and he was coming off of Beetlejuice, which was a very broad, sinister but in a funny, humorous way kind of character. And there was a lot of there is a there’s a lot of doubt that he could play Bruce Wayne slash Batman. And he did it. He did it. He has a real intensity in the eyes. I love his Bruce Wayne in a lot of ways, you know? Other than Pattinson, in a lot of ways, Michael Keaton is the most compelling Bruce Wayne. As Bruce Wayne.


Rosie Knight: He is and also, he laid the path for the Pattinson Bruce Wayne because one of the best moments in that movie, you know, is when he’s like, “You want to get crazy,” He’s a crazy Bruce Wayne. He knows that he’s aware of how weird it is to dress up as a bat to scare people. I mean, like you said, the intensity in his eyes. I love his Bruce Wayne. I love the, you know, the black turtleneck, which is now so synonymous with Batman. And. And yeah, he’s just he’s such a great Bruce Wayne and a great Batman.


Jason Concepcion: Yeah, he had a an ability to be very, very still and then all of a sudden explode with energy that was really, really compelling. And then when he did, he did just do it a lot. But there are like funny moments in his Batman films, and he just fully has the arsenal of of comedic tools to go to that place to an absolute limit. Who’s your number two?


Rosie Knight: My number two currently is actually the Batman. Matt Reeves’ the Batman.


Jason Concepcion: We have a very we might as well. We might as well keep talking about it because it’s my number three. Yeah. So let’s just talk about The Batman.


Rosie Knight: You know what? This is a movie that I didn’t expect to love the way that I was going to love it. I think it’s absolutely manages to feel very familiar and based in the comics, but also fresh and unique and deeply strange, which I think is so powerful. I think the weirdness of the movie, the ensemble cast, I think Robert Pattinson is brilliant. Batman, I love the weirdo new young Batman. I love not seeing Bruce as the playboy. Like, obviously, when you cast Christian Bale post American Psycho, that is the that is the only Bruce Wayne. That’s like so smart. Yeah. But I’d never really considered this idea of Bruce as the interior strange, reclusive loner that is so interesting, and it almost plays on these kind of like Batman Beyond. It almost plays on these different versions of Batman that we’ve seen. And we talked extensively about that last week, but I love how it takes from the animated stuff, how it takes so deeply from the comics. I just I think it’s so great. I rank this is my first best movie last week. My my top fives always change. But right now it’s it’s solidly there under 89.


Jason Concepcion: OK, so that is my third. Let’s go to your number three, your number three.


Rosie Knight: My number three is Batman Returns. I absolutely love this movie. This is like for me. I was born in 1988, so for me, this was really like the Batman movie of my childhood that I’m mostly Batman. 89 was my early memory, and I remember and I watched it, but it was very scary. But I was like a goth like emo kid, and I definitely blame Batman Returns for that. Like that whole esthetic I love. I love Michelle Pfeiffer as Catwoman in that movie. I Love The Penguin is so brilliant. There’s just so much greatness, and you talk about that humor of Keaton, and I think that is so there in that movie, like the relationship between him and Selina in that movie is so fun and weird and twisted. I love the production design. That, to me is like the timber in esthetic at its best where it’s this kind of haunting carnival strangeness.


Jason Concepcion: Yeah. Christopher Walken in one of his truly strangest fucking roles of all time.


Rosie Knight: Also, randomly just invented a new villain. Like, that’s the absolute tenacity. If you did that now, people would be like, What’s wrong with you? But back then, they’re like, Here’s Mac Shrek.


Jason Concepcion: Danny DeVito in a lot of ways it’s kind of like the iconic Oswald Cobblepot and Michelle Pfeiffer. The clip of her on the set of Batman Returns, whipping the heads of the mannequins off in full patent leather Catwoman costume, causing the crew to erupt into cheers. It goes semi viral basically every time some new Batman something, an iconic clip, a really fun movie. That’s a great pick for my fourth pick. I. I’m going to pick the animated version of Batman year one. I think it’s if you’d want that Batman origin story and you’ve seen Batman Begins, do yourself a favor. Go watch either pick up Batman Year one, Frank Miller, David Mazzucchelli. It’s one of the landmark graphic novels slash trades slash limited series in all of comics, not just the big two, not just DC. It’s great, great, great, great, great featuring some of the best art that you will ever see in your entire life. But if you want to watch it with moving pictures, go ahead and watch the animated version. All the writings there. It’s super fun. It’s on HBO Max right now if you have that. It’s just one of my favorite Batman stories of all time,


Rosie Knight: I think its a really great pick because I think that the DC animated universe as we know it, where they’ve done these more like standalone movies has been very popular. But actually, I do think that the animated adaptations are like a secret gem that a lot of people haven’t discovered. There’s, you know this Dark Knight Returns like they even did a.


Jason Concepcion: Flashpoint! Listen, there’s a ton of iconic DC stories that if you can’t get to a comic shop you like and you want to just watch them in animated form. Are a lot of them there? There’s a lot of them. What is your fourth?


Rosie Knight: My fourth one, so I’m really showing my tastes here so my fourth.


Jason Concepcion: I love it. Its gonna be Batman Forever


Rosie Knight: No, it’s actually Batman and Robin, which is my preferred. I love I love Joe Schumacher. I think he’s like an absolute icon. I truly, truly stand by the fact that Batman and Robin is like a brilliant Batman movie. I think the costuming, the production design, the that’s my favorite version of Gotham, the neon hued giant statues, gothic art deco craziness. It’s it’s like reading a really wild Silver Age comic. It’s like Dick Sprang come to life. If feels so much like Batman and I. I know that that is so controversial and people have a lot of feelings about these movies, but I promise you, go and watch that movie and you will have fun. Whatever else you feel about it, you will have fun. Uma Thurman, Poison Ivy, iconic Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mr. Freeze. Unbelievable, unbelievable. You have everyone. Vivica Vivica Fox. That’s that’s Mr. Freeze’s right hand man. Like, this is such a fun Chris O’Donnell and George Clooney having the most like homo erotic, hilarious fun.


Jason Concepcion: Very very ugh right now, Clooney. Clooney later would would besmirch the Batsuit in hilarious fashion. But like, this cast is amazing. It’s a fun movie. And despite what what our esteemed guest, Michael Uslan will say later about the kind of campy bang wow flavor of Batman. It must be said, though we are very inured to a dark and gritty Batman story these days, the kind of campy very colorful depiction of Batman was for a long time the tone of Batman. Not just like in the Schumacher movies, but in the comics as well.


Rosie Knight: Yeah, and in Batman 66, you know, something else I think is really cool about this movie is if you really love Batman, especially if you got into it through the animated stuff or you’ve read a lot of the comics and collections, Batman and Robin actually has like an unbelievable amount of really deep cut DC characters in it as kind of like setting set pieces and stuff. Even the person who is integral in in Poison Ivy and Bain’s creation is is the villain from Swamp Thing, and there’s lots of fun comic book things. I just put that movie on and you will have fun. That’s my promise to you.


Jason Concepcion: OK, my my final movie is, you know what? It’s very tough, but I’m going to say the TV version Batman 66, the television show, because is it dated? Yes. Does it hold up in the sense of entertaining in the same way that a movie a modern Batman telling it holds up? No, not really. Does Cesar Romero refuse to shave his mustache and thus have his mustache poking out from below the Joker makeup? Of course he does. That said, is the bat computer one of the campiest, weirdest things you’ve ever seen? Yes. That said, when I was a child, they would rerun that show on like some channel. I want to say, like WPX Channel 11 or something like that, like in the afternoons after I got home for school and I would just watch it, watch it, watch it, watch it, watch it all the time. This is pre comics. You know, the Hanna-Barbera, Justice League and Batman show also was a big part of my kind of like comics introduction before actually buying comics. But like the Batman 66 TV show, I watched a lot of when I was a kid and I really liked it.


Rosie Knight: Yeah, it’s actually like one of the most influential Batman storytelling devices of all time as well. Like who we know is the rogues gallery for Batman now is entirely based on that show. The Riddler had been in three issues before he was on Batman 66. Catwoman had not been in the comics for 12 years before that show because of the comics code of America. Yeah, it’s really defined the Riddler like the way that we see him, and it really defined a lot of the ideas of what we see as Batman for better and for worse, you know? But I think it’s so fun and especially like Eartha Kitt as Catwoman is just


Jason Concepcion: Oh man, the voice. Will never, will never leave my mind.


Rosie Knight: Yeah, unbelievable. That’s another show where I’m just like, Seek it out, you will have fun. And you’ll also find out about a lot of weird, deep cut Batman lore. I rewatched that show quite regularly because it’s so fun, and there will still be stuff where I see a villain in an episode and a new antagonist, and I’ll be like, Wait, that’s not from and I look it up and it’s from the comics, and it’s from some issue I never heard over. It got introduced later. It’s kind of a treasure trove for Batman fans.


Jason Concepcion: I completely agree. What is your final one?


Rosie Knight: So my final one is going to be Batman the animated series. Yeah, that’s great. It’s, you know, it’s it’s arguably can’t beat it objectively the best Batman adaptation of all time. Like a subjectively, this is my list, but I think a lot of people of our generation of younger generations, of older generations like they know the worth and quality of that show, like that show changed the way people perceived Batman. It added this noir hued texture to the story the retro futuristic technology, the the exploration of Batman and Bruce as character studies all the different iconic designs. You know the the work of Bruce Timm and Paul Dini to absolute creative icons in the space of Batman. That is one of the most rewatchable cartoons of all time, and if you’ve never sat down and watched it, you will just be blown away. There’s there’s a beautiful HD remaster that’s available to stream at the moment. I believe it’s on HBO Max and it is just so bloody good.


Jason Concepcion: And also, much like the the X-Men animated series of the 90s, the great thing about Batman The Animated Series is you get like iconic Batman stories from the entire canon up to that point done in this really kind of like bite size, half hour animated style that is really fun. You will learn a lot about the canon cof Batman from watching Batman The Animated Series.


Rosie Knight: They even have like a Dark Knight Returns, the darkest kind of Batman. They do this like imagined version of that. So that’s such a brilliant point, and it’s one of the things I love the most about those 90s shows. Whether it’s X-Men, Spider-Man, this is this compressed little looks at these incredible arcs that have shaped the nature of these characters, and the animated series is probably the best at it.


Jason Concepcion: Well, that’s it. Those are top five Batman adaptations. Up next, Hive Mind with special guest Michael Uslan.




Jason Concepcion: We are honored today to be joined by producer extraordinaire comics historian Michael Uslan, who has a very unique and indeed singular relationship with the character Batman and a really unique, again singular perspective in what it took to bring Batman to screen. Michael Uslan, thank you for joining us on X-Ray Vision.


Michael Uslan: It is a pleasure to be here. We do have a special relationship, me and Batman. I can reveal for the first time here the big secret I do wear Batman Underoos. And Batman wears Michael Uslan underoos. So you know its that kind of a relationship.


Jason Concepcion: Mike, I wonder if you could take us back to how exactly it came to be that you, as a 20 something year old managed to obtain from DC Comics the film rights to Batman and the right to negotiate those rights with with with with film studios, how did that happen at that tender age?


Michael Uslan: It’s impossible because it’s inconceivable unless unless you set it in the context of its times. So I’m going to take you way back for a moment. Feel free to jump in and cut me off. Once I get to start talking about Batman. I could go on and on, but the story pretty much begins on a cold night in January 1966. I am a teenage comic book geek. I am one of the original members of comic book fandom as it was organizing. I attended the world’s first ever comic book convention, which was in a Fleabag hotel in New York City.


Jason Concepcion: Yes, that famous, famous famous event


Michael Uslan: Yea a very famous event. There were 200 of us at the first Comic-Con. It was a different time. By the time I graduated high school, I had over 30000 comic books dating back to 1936.


Jason Concepcion: Wow.


Michael Uslan: So, so know who you’re dealing with


Jason Concepcion: Before you get started, let me could I just ask what was, you know, I think more people are familiar with comics culture, what it means to be a fan of comics now? What did it mean in the 50s to be a comics nerd?


Michael Uslan: It was subversive, and I miss that dearly. It has become so mainstream. I miss the subversiveness understand at the time I was a little kid Fredric, Wertham and Seduction of the Innocent was in the limelight. Comic books were being blamed as being the sole cause of the post-World War II Rise of Juvenile Delinquency in America. Probably there weren’t more than three other friends of mine who were allowed to read comic books or bring them into the house.


Jason Concepcion: Wow.


Michael Uslan: There were comic book burnings taking place reminiscent of Nazi Germany everywhere, from St. Louis to Jersey City, and that was the atmosphere. The other part of the atmosphere back then is comic reading, comic books and collecting comic books. If you were 12 and up was considered the most uncool thing on the planet earth. I’d go to the drugstore to buy comic books, and I was like 14 or 15, and they’d look at me like I was some sort of sociopath. Yeah. And God, you know, in high school, the girls, if they found out when I was 15, 16, 17, that I was still collecting and reading comic books. I was what I call date-challenged. That’s what it was like. And you know what? I almost threw in the towel in seventh grade as I discovered girls and I was getting my attentions were being diverted and I began to feel that I was outgrowing comic books. And then bingo. Here comes Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby and the Marvel age. And all of a sudden, I felt like comic books were starting to grow up with me. And then came things like Neal Adams and Denny O’Neill, or Batman and Green Lantern, Green Arrow and Deadman. And yeah, and my god, you know, if you asked me what were the greatest comic books ever made, it was that that group of Fantastic Four’s with Galactus and Silver Surfer. This man, this monster. And you know, this was incredible stuff. So I stuck with my comic books and felt they had stuck with me. And and that was how the journey really took place. But that’s what it was like in the 50s and 60s.


Jason Concepcion: And so then getting the Batman, getting the Batman rights again as a. How old were you when you managed to do this?


Michael Uslan: I was 28 when I bought the rights to Batman.


Jason Concepcion: Oh my gosh.


Rosie Knight: Yeah, and you you’d been involved in comic scholarship and being a comics historian. So could you talk a little bit about that space and kind of that journey from fan to academic to producer?


Michael Uslan: Oh, OK, so you want the whole journey?


Rosie Knight: You know,.


Michael Uslan: I didn’t realize your show was eight hours long.


Rosie Knight:  It can be.


Michael Uslan: So let’s get cracking, so I’ll take you back to January, I think it was January 12th, 1966. I’m a hardcore comic book fan. Understand that by that time, I had already met Bill Finger twice.


Jason Concepcion: Oh wow.


Rosie Knight: Wow.


Michael Uslan: And I am probably one of only two people alive today who met Bill Finger. Bill Finger sat with me in a sketchy bar in that Fleabag hotel in New York City the morning of that first Comic-Con and told me how Batman was created.


Jason Concepcion: Wow.


Michael Uslan: Like, Oh my God, you know? And I got to be friendly with Bob Kane over the years, and Jerry Robinson was one of my close friends and mentors. Jerry co-created Joker, Robin, Alfred and many of the villains, so I got all this stuff straight from the horse’s mouths. And so it’s now January 1966. I have been waiting for months for this night because the Batman TV show is premiering. My anticipation was over the top. The show starts. Oh my god, look at this animation. It kind of looks like Bob Kane, Jerry Robinson Art. Hey, it’s in color. Oh, you know somebody spending a lot of money. These sets are extravagant. Look at the Batmobile. It’s really cool. 20 minutes in, it hits me. Oh my god, this is a comedy, right? Have made a joke out of Batman. The whole world is laughing at Batman, and that just killed me. So that night, at the end of that show in our basement den, I made a vow. Just like young Bruce Wayne once made a vow, he made his vow over the black audience of his parents. Yeah, my parents were safe upstairs.


Jason Concepcion: Yeah, you made sure you made your vow over the un shaved mustache of Cesar Romero under the Joker, under the Joker make-up.


Michael Uslan: Excuse me. While I knocked my head against the wall, I met Cesar Romero, and that’s another story. Yeah, so so I. I promised myself that somehow, someday, someway I would show the whole world what the true Batman was like. The guy created in Nineteen Thirty Nine by Bill Finger and Bob Kane is a creature of the night stalking disturbed criminals, and that these new words that were popping up in front of everybody in society, I would find a way to remove them. Power Zap and wham. Yeah, and that’s the hardest thing of all. Probably. Hmm. So that was the vow. I look for any opportunity to get my foot in the door into the comic book industry, the movie or the animation industry. But folks, I’m a blue collar kid from New Jersey. Yeah, my dad was a stonemason, my mom was a bookkeeper. I did not come from money. I couldn’t buy my way into Hollywood. I didn’t have any relatives in Hollywood. I didn’t know anybody in Hollywood. So how do you jump the Grand Canyon? Yeah. The answer began when I was a junior at Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana. It was the early 70s in a time of great experimentation on college campuses, and that’s all I am going to say. I’m sorry, God. Let me simply add that to try to stay with the times I you offered an experimental curriculum department and the concept was if you had an idea for a course that had never been taught in school before in college and could get the backing of a department on campus, you then had the right to appear before a dean and a panel of professors and pitch in if they accepted it. Even though I was just a junior, I could still teach it on campus for three hours of credit. So I said, Well, the world has never seen a college course on comic books, so I wrote up a syllabus. Comic books as a legitimate American art form is indigenous to this country is Jazzi. That comic books reflect a changing American culture because they get published every Wednesday since the 1930s and show our lives, our philosophies, our biases and our prejudices. Like like warts in front of a mirror. And lastly, that superheroes had become our modern day mythology. My thesis was the ancient gods of Greece, Rome and Egypt all still exist, except today they were spandex and capes. So I went to the folklore department and I pitched them. And God bless Dr. Henry Glassie, he said Michael, he said, you’re absolutely right. It doesn’t matter if we call them Beowulf or Ulysses or Superman. It’s stories of brave heroes battling the demons and dragons of the day. And you could call them King Arthur in the Knights of the Round Table or the Avengers or the Justice League. It’s all the same. Back. So I appeared before the dean and he takes one look at me with my hair down to my shoulders wearing a Spider-Man T-shirt and says, So you’re that fella who wants to teach a course on funny books at my university. Yeah, I knew I was in deep trouble, so I then launched into the first pitch of my career. He lets me speak for about two minutes and cuts me off, he says. Mr. Uslan stop. He says, Come on, give me a break. I read comic books when I was a little kid. I read every issue of Superman I could get my hands on. But all comic books are are cheap entertainment for little children. Nothing more, nothing less. And I reject your theory. So this became my life changing moment because I could have bowed my head in defeat and picked out like many books and left the room and instead figuring I had absolutely nothing to lose. I stood my ground. I said, Dean, may I ask you two questions? He said ask me anything you want. I said, Are you familiar with the story of Moses? And he looked at me like I was nuts. He said, Yeah, so. I said, So, Dean. Very, very briefly. Could you just summarize the story of Moses for me? And he looked at me and goes look I don’t know what game you’re playing here, Mr. Uslan, but I’ll play this with you. He said the Hebrew people were being persecuted. Their firstborn were being slain. Hebrew couple placed their infant son in a little wicker basket and sent him down the River Nile. There he is discovered by an Egyptian family that raised them as their own son. When he grows up and learns of his true heritage, he becomes a great hero.


Jason Concepcion: Bum bum, bum, bum, bum, bum, bum, bum, bum bum bah bah bah bah bah bah bah bah bah bah bah bah bah bah bah bah bah bah bah bah bah bah around.


Michael Uslan: Except back then there was no soundtrack. There was no Superman dishonor. So I said, could you summarize the story of Superman for me? You said you read the comic books. And he said in a planet, Krypton was about to blow up. A scientist and his wife placed their infant son in a little rocket ship and sent them to Earth. There he is discovered by the can, and then he stops, stares at me for what I swear was an eternity and says, Your course is accredited. And I became the world’s first college professor of comic books.


Jason Concepcion: Wow.


Michael Uslan: So the next important thing that happened, I go back to my apartment and I am ecstatic that I pulled this off. So I called my mom back in New Jersey to tell her, and she says, Michael, you could have the greatest creative ideas in the world but if you don’t market them and if you don’t market yourself, no one will ever know about it.


Jason Concepcion: Mom very forward thinking.


Rosie Knight: Yeah, thanks, mom.


Michael Uslan: Oh, my mom, she she was the mother as opposed to all my friends, mothers who actually sat down and read comic books when I was a little kid and said there was nothing wrong with these. That’s if you keep them neat in your room. And if you promise me you’ll read books, magazines and newspapers and not just these things, you can keep your collection. Greatest deal I’ve ever made in my life better than the DC back end deal. So I said, Mom, I’m a junior. I have no money. I’m in Bloomington, Indiana. What am I supposed to do? She goes, You’re a smart boy, you’ll think of something. So the only thing I could think of was I picked up a telephone figuring I had nothing to lose again. And I called United Press International, which back then was as big a news syndicate as The Associated Press. I asked to speak to a reporter and this poor guy gets on the phone and I started screaming at him. I said what’s wrong with you? You’re not doing your job? He said. Excuse me. What are you talking about? What am I talking about are you kidding me? I just heard there’s a course on comic books being taught at Indiana University. Are you telling me as a taxpayer in this state, they’re using my money to teach our children comic books? This is outrageous. This must be a communist plot to subvert the youth of American and I slammed down the phone. It took this fella three days to find out if there really was such a course and who was the lunatic teaching it. He tracked me down does an article with photographs. It’s a third of a page long. Gets picked up by virtually every newspaper in North America, a bunch in Europe, and my phone starts ringing and never stops. I’m invited on radio and TV talk shows. I never taught one class that wasn’t filled with television cameras and reporters. NBC Nightly News The CBS Evening News. Two weeks go by, and that was the day I get two phone calls that day. First phone call is this exuberant male voice. Hi, is this Mike Uslan? Yeah. “Hiya Mike. This is Stan Lee from Marvel Comics of New York”. I call this my burning bush moment. I was talking to my God. He said, Mike, everywhere I look, I’m seeing you on TV. I’m reading about your newspapers. What you’re doing is great for the whole comic book industry. How can I help you?  That began my relationship with Stan Lee, who went from being my idol to my mentor, from my mentor to my friend, from my friend to my creative associate. And then I had the honor of being one of the producers of his memorial at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Hollywood.


Jason Concepcion: Wow.


Michael Uslan: And we gave him the send off he would have loved. Two hours later, the phone rings and its a very quiet male voice, adult voice, Mr. Uslan, my name is Sol Harrison, I’m vice president of DC Comics in New York City. He said We’ve been listening to on the radio and reading about you in magazines. You are a very innovative young man. We’d like to fly you to New York City and discuss ways we might be able to work together. Ugh. OK, Big dream come true. I’m in New York. They offer me a job at DC Comics. They I’ll be working there summers and they put me on retainer when I go back to Indiana.


Jason Concepcion: Oh wow.


Michael Uslan: You know, jump in the Grand Canyon. All you can do is look for the doors that are open just that much and shove your foot in whenever you see an opportunity. You sit back on the couch, on the damn couch and wait for the world to come to you. It’s a misguided sense of self-entitlement. You’ve got to get up. You’ve got to pursue your passion, you’ve got to push it, you’ve got to knock on doors til your knuckles bleed. That’s what I learned. The Batman movie franchise is built on my bloody knuckles so that that’s how it all began. And that was the start of it. And that was the start of my relationship with DC Comics. This May well be 50 years. I started working at DC.


Jason Concepcion: Unbelievable. So then take us, take us from there to Batman 1989. How did you get the rights? How did Michael Uslan become the point man between DC Comics and Hollywood and now Warner Brothers?


Michael Uslan: All right. Now I’m going to tell you that the true mysterious story of how this happened. I’m working at DC. It’s my first week. It’s like six o’clock at night. I’m getting ready to head back to New Jersey when I hear screaming coming from down the editorial hall. I go running down. I thought somebody was being killed. It was Danny O’Neil. Wow. And Danny, who was like one of my two most favorite writers dream of the Silver Age and Bronze Age, and a great editor. He was editing The Shadow at the time, which was one of my favorite comic. So I go Danny. What’s wrong? Are you OK? He says, No, I’m not OK. I go, What happened? He goes, Well, you know. Carmine Infantino, the publisher, canceled The Shadow book and sales were were off. So I said, OK. He goes. But they just got in the latest sales report and sales have spiked. So they reinstated the book on the schedule. And in order to keep the printing press schedule, I have to have a completed script by tomorrow. And I said, you don’t have a script? He says, I don’t have a script. I don’t even have an idea for a shadow story. I said, Danny, I have an idea for a shadow story. He said, You did. I didn’t.


Rosie Knight: Of course, fake it


Jason Concepcion: Fake it til you make it. right? yea


Michael Uslan: So that door was open that little bit. So I shove my foot in. He says alright. Come in, sit down, sit down. He goes, “what’s your idea for a shadow story” I go, well, you’re going to love it. It’s really good. And the wheels are turning in my head. I said, You know, my girlfriend and I just came back from Niagara Falls recently, and we learned that back in the thirties and forties, when these shadow stories are set, people were going over the falls in barrels and walking across the falls on tightropes. I said Danny picture, The Shadow battling a bad guy at night on a tightrope over Niagara Falls with the searchlights going, he goes, Michael, that’s a great visual. It’s a great cover. But what’s this story about? I said, Well, I’m glad you asked me that question. The story is about smuggling.


Jason Concepcion: Sure. Yeah.


Michael Uslan: And what are they smuggling? Well, well, they are smuggling drugs. He goes. Michael, what’s the creative part of it? What makes it different than all other smuggling stories? So, Danny, I’ve been saving this for the last part because it’s the best part. They were going over the falls back then in barrels, false bottoms in the barrel. That’s where they put the drugs. They go over the Canadian side. They wash up onto the American side. That’s how they’re getting it through. He says. Now that’s creative. He says, Michael, can you have a full script on my desk by six o’clock tomorrow night? I said, no problem. He says, Go do it. I’m now a writer for DC Comics. Thank you very much. I pull an all nighter the next day. By 6:00 p.m. I turn in that script. Two weeks later, I’m walking down the halls again, hair down to the shoulders. You know, hippie Michael.


Jason Concepcion: Yeah.


Michael Uslan: Who’s walking toward me? But arguably the most important editor in the history of comics, Julie Schwartz. Now, Julie, for you who do not know was the editor who was the architect of returning Batman to his dark roots in the 70s. He is the one who gave us the Silver Age, Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman, Justice League, atom, and the list goes on and on and and Julie was a curmudgeon. Once we got to know him, he was a marshmallow, but outwardly, you know, he was like that. So I’m walking toward him. He goes, Hey, kid, I go, Yes, Julie. He goes, I read your shadow script. I said, You did? He goes, Yeah. It didn’t stink.


Jason Concepcion: There you go.


Rosie Knight: Wow thats huge!


Michael Uslan: Thank you so much. He said, how’d you like to take a shot at writing Batman?


Jason Concepcion: Whoa.


Michael Uslan: I still get the chills. This dream I had since I was eight years old to one day right back in comics came true and I had a chance to write them with my old pal Barbara Zacchaeus. We wrote Detective Comics, which in light of this week’s movie, I’m very proud to be a writer of Detective Comics and when that first issue came out through all my tears and there were a lot of tears I panicked. I said, Oh my God, this dream I had since I was eight came true. I don’t have a dream anymore. I need a new dream. And it took 10 minutes for the epiphany to hit, and I remembered back to that cold night in January 66 and I said, OK, I’m going to get the rights to Batman the movie rights, and I’m going to make dark and serious Batman movies and show the world the true Batman. So I go back to Sol Harrison, who now has become the president at DC Comics. This is the man who mentored me in and was very fatherly toward me. I loved Sol and I said, Sol, I want to buy the rights to Batman and make dark and serious Batman movies. He looked like the poster of Home Alone. He goes Michael, for God’s sake. Don’t do this, He said, don’t you understand? Since Batman went off the air in television, the brand is as dead as a dodo. That’s a quote, folks.


Jason Concepcion: Wow. What year was this about?


Michael Uslan: This was 1979.


Rosie Knight: Mm hmm.


Jason Concepcion: Gosh. So post post DC implosion and and Batman off the air since that time. And really, yeah, like in terms of like the popular consciousness, certainly there was the Batman, there was the Hanna-Barbera stuff, but there wasn’t a lot out there that that people could latch on to.


Michael Uslan: There was the Hanna-Barbera information cartoons which were coming already at an end or coming to an end. He said, Don’t do this, don’t I don’t want to see you lose your money. I said, Yeah, but Sol nobody’s ever made a dark and serious comic book superhero movie before. This could be like a whole new form of entertainment. He said, Is there any way I can talk you out of this? I said no. He shook his head. He goes, This is another quote. OK, schmoozel. And that began a six month negotiation during which time I realized I couldn’t be representing myself in this deal because I would have said yes to anything. And I found a Batman partner. He was my dad’s age. He was a legend in the movie business. His name Benjamin Melniker. Ben. God bless Ben. He started working at MGM in late 1939.


Rosie Knight: Wow.


Michael Uslan: A hell of a year for MGM and four movies in general. He began as general counsel at MGM, became head of their antitrust division and personally negotiated the Paramount Consent Decree of 1948 with the attorney general of the United States for the way the studios had to divest themselves of their movie theaters.


Rosie Knight: I’m starting to understand how you got the deal, that you got for Batman. The infamous deal.


Michael Uslan: So Ben put together the deals at MGM for Ben-Hur. Dr. Zhivago 2001 A Space Odyssey. He negotiated with Colonel Tom Parker to bring Elvis Presley to MGM. He did Gigi and all those musicals. He was chairman of their film selection committee and on the parent board at Loews. All divisions reported to Ben. Remind me to tell you the story one day when Joe Barbera from Hanna-Barbera, we were at a meeting and Joe and Ben reconnected and Joe Barbera broke into tears. I mean, it was an amazing, amazing moment to witness. But anyway, Ben became I my partner. And after six months of negotiation, which gave us just enough time to raise the money we needed to raise. On October 3rd, 1979. We formed Bat Film Productions and we signed the contract with DC, paid the money. And then I said, Now my life is going to be a piece of cake. I’m going to go out to Hollywood. Every studio’s going to line up at my door. Everybody’s going to see the potential here for sequels and toys and games and animation. This will be a breeze. I was turned down by every single studio and any major in Hollywood. I was told it was the worst idea they ever heard.


Jason Concepcion: Wow.


Michael Uslan: I was told repeatedly I was out of my mind that you can’t make dark superheroes. You can’t make serious comic book movies. And for God’s sake, no one’s ever made a movie based on an old TV series, it’s never been done,


Jason Concepcion: so even coming off of the success of Donner’s Superman, there was no belief in Hollywood


Michael Uslan: Zero belief. OK, Let’s go back into a context story here folks. I got seriously straight from the horse’s mouth at the top of the food chain at Warner Communications, way back when that the only reason they bought DC Comics was to get their hands on Superman.


Jason Concepcion: Wow.


Michael Uslan: Because they felt Superman was the only character in the comic book world of sufficient value to be made into a blockbuster movie flops and nothing else in the DC library or anything Marvel had the ability to do that.


Jason Concepcion: OK.


Michael Uslan: So nothing else had value, but that was the times we were living in. And that’s one of the reasons I wound up being rejected by every studio in many major because who was running the studios and the agencies then? It was that generation. Who we’re all adults at the time, Fredric Wertham


Jason Concepcion: Right, they’re like comics are bad.


Rosie Knight: These are disposable things that don’t have any value that are made to be cheap and gotten rid of, and nobody remembers them. And.


Jason Concepcion: Yeah,


Michael Uslan: And they look down their noses at the creators and they really did. You know, Stan used to tell me his story, he said. You know, back in the 50s and through the mid 60s, he would go to some fancy schmancy cocktail party in Manhattan and there’d be people around and get into a conversation and they would go. So, Mr. Lee, what do you do? And he said he would look at him and say, I’m a writer. And then he would quickly excuse himself and walk away.


Jason Concepcion: Yeah.


Michael Uslan: But they would follow him and go, Oh, you’re a writer? What do you write? And he said, I write children’s literature. And then he would quickly turn around and walk away. And they would follow him and they’d say, Well, what kind of children’s literature do you write? He said, I write comic books. And then they all walked away. That’s what it was like. So that’s the context of it all. So, so Dick’s Superman really didn’t count in that regard. And I learned that the hard way. So there was there was no interest. My two favorite rejections, one was from a studio that said, Michael, you’re nuts. Batman and Robin will never be successful as a movie because the movie that’s out now, Robin and Marian hasn’t done well. Now you’re too young to remember.


Jason Concepcion: It’s the Sean Connery, Sean Connery, Robert Sean Connery. Yeah, I’ve seen it.


Michael Uslan: It’s an aging Robin Hood and maid Marian story. Alright. So I walked out of that meeting, picking up my funny books and just getting the hell out of that room. And periodically, over the next 10 years, I would go to the top of the mountain and sit in a lotus position and ponder what this guy said.


Rosie Knight: They have the same name.


Jason Concepcion: Yeah, right. I don’t know what


Michael Uslan: the studio turned it down because they both had the word Robin in the title. There is no nexus.


Rosie Knight: Yea no, I was just going to say so like, you know, I could so I could just listen to you, tell the whole story of of the ten years. But I guess like, what was it like for you after this rejection, after rejection and hearing people say, you know, this is never going to work. What was it like for you to step onto the set? We’re not even going to get into the success yet, but what was it like for you to step onto the set of 89 and just feel that world in a real textural space, as you kind of already always dreamt of?


Michael Uslan: First, they have to set the stage for the set. We had built five square city blocks of Gotham City on the backlot of Pinewood Studios, and the first time we walked through it, Ben, who had put together the picture Ben-Hur. The deal for the picture then turned to me and said, Michael, in my life, I never thought I would see sets more extravagant than Ben-Hur. He said, This has it beat.


Rosie Knight: Wow.


Michael Uslan: And it was. Have you? It was walking through a dream, a lifelong dream that was coming true, and I was in some ethereal kind of sense walking through it. I don’t know that the chills ever left me. You know, as fellow comic book fans and readers, you know that sense of wonder.


Jason Concepcion: Yeah.


Michael Uslan: That we all have that comic book reading has always sparked in us.


Rosie Knight: Yeah.


Michael Uslan: It was that sense of wonder of an eight year old boy that. Now I’m getting emotional. This is bizarre. Should I lay down on a couch for the rest of this?


Jason Concepcion: Keep going.


Michael Uslan: It was. It was. It was a lifetime fantasy come true. I don’t know how else to describe it. It was amazing. And to share it and to have my wife and kids on the set, then it was a magical time. My son was eight, my daughter was four and Andy Smith took them for a ride through Gotham City in the Batmobile. And my son, David, the little Imp that he is, he had Sarah convinced who was kind of sitting in the middle that one of the buttons on the Batmobile was an ejector seat and if he decided to push it, she would shoot through the roof of the Batmobile land on the roof of a building. She’s never ridden in the middle seat of a car again. But there’s one scene I have to tell you yet you know the iconic scene up on the rooftop where Batman, where Michael Keaton grabs him and he goes, Who are you? And he goes “I’m Batman”.


Jason Concepcion: Yeah.


Michael Uslan: And then tosses and turns and then leaps off that roof. So we were all up there on the roof. And my my kids were with me on that rooftop that day. And Sarah, she looked like Shirley Temple. She had curls coming out everywhere. She is standing right under Michael’s right elbow during that scene. And every time I watch that scene on a big screen, I am looking at the bottom left corner, just trying to see if I can see one little curl on her head on that. It was it was a magical, amazing time of my life. And when you look back on the 10 years of personal horror that I went through, which I call my human endurance contest, let me tell you something, folks. When you hear nothing but rejection for 10 years or the better part of 10 years, it tests your metal. As a as a human being, you’ve got to look deep inside yourself and go, OK, am I wrong?


Jason Concepcion: Right?


Michael Uslan: And the rest of the world is right and I’m just being stubborn? Or do I really, truly believe in this and believe in myself? And I kept coming up with the latter answer, and you got to understand during this period of time. I was trying to figure out how I pay my bills next week, nevermind next month. How do I keep a roof over my family’s head and food on the table? And 10 years ladies and gentlemen, I mean, I tell everyone, close your eyes for five seconds and think of where you were 10 years ago. That’s a long time.


Jason Concepcion: In retrospect looking at it, there were these little pockets of things that would seem to suggest momentum towards a Batman movie. You had Frank Miller come in and really just inject a jolt of energy into Batman on the comic side. But over that 10 years, was there ever a point? What was what was the low point? What was the point where you were like, you know, maybe they maybe, maybe nobody cares about Batman. Maybe I am the only person that actually cares about Batman this much.


Michael Uslan: The lowest point came when I realized, you know, I needed to produce other things. I needed to write books and comic books and do anything I could do to bring in money and have other projects going. In the interim, we had done a great, great, great miniseries for PBS American Playhouse called Three Sovereigns for Sarah with Vanessa Redgrave and Patrick McGoohan. It was the true story of the Salem Witch Trials at Sixteen Ninety Two. You can find it on YouTube. Actually, it’s 100 percent historically accurate because I’m a historian, I’m a history major and that was important to me. It was another my passions to mine. Following that CBS and more and more, we made a deal with them to do the same kind of treatment 100 percent historically accurate of the Alamo, the story of the Alamo. And we had a great script by the top miniseries writer. We had the top miniseries director and we got an order to go. So I cleared the next year of my schedule because I was going down to Brackenfell, Texas, to line produce this thing, and it was going to take that amount of time to do it. We were, I think it was 60 days away when all of a sudden on the same day, one of the heads of Laura Moore and the head of programing at CBS both left their respective companies and we get a call saying, Freeze everything, stop in your tracks, wait until the new management comes in and we’ll get back to you. So I was in a panic, but my executive, Laura Moore, said, Don’t worry, we have an order and orders are never responded. And I was getting a very healthy producer fee for this, which I had already started spending. New management came in and they killed every project. Oh my God. Wow. I was told later that my producer fee was in a stamped envelope on an owl box that never showed up. And now I had cleared my schedule for the coming year of all prospects. My back was against the law. I had no money and the wisest man I think I’ve ever known, my father in law, Dr. Morris Osher, who founded the Cincinnati Eye Institute, flew out to New Jersey and he sat me down. He said, Michael, he and my dad actually. And they echoed each other. He said the measure of a person’s success is not by what he achieves, but by how hard he tries, he said you have tried everything you could to get your Batman movie made. But now it’s time to do why the reason you went to law school, so you would have something to fall back on. It’s time to be a lawyer and take care of your family and your responsibilities and let this go. And I said, I understand that. I accept that. But I’m so frustrated because I know I’m so close to getting other projects going that will tide me over and get me to Batman. And my father in law, said Michael, how long he says, and think hard about this I want a real, accurate answer here. How long before you have not a not a deal, not a contract, but have in your hands a check for six figures? And I thought about it, I said five months. He said, OK, here’s what we’re going to do. I am going to pay all your bills for the next five months.


Rosie Knight: Wow.


Michael Uslan: Five months from today at six p.m. If you do not have a check for six figures in your hands, you will say, I gave it my all and give it up and go be a lawyer. I thanked him profusely. I was already working 18 hours a day, you know, so now I was working 22 hours a day and I had several projects going in that I was trying to get going, including my first animated series, something I created called Dinosaucers about dinosaurs from outer space. And I was working with Deke, the animation studio back then Andy Heyward. I was working with Columbia Pictures Television through the good offices of Rick Rosen, who years later would become an agent of mine. And these guys knew about my deadline. And they got this Dinosaucers sold in syndication for 65 half hours. And held back the contract and the check. And arrange and arranged to have it FedExed to me the day my time ran out.


Jason Concepcion: Wow.


Michael Uslan: And sometime between noon that day and three p.m., a FedEx truck pulled up with the signed contracts and a check for six figures.


Rosie Knight: Wow.


Michael Uslan: And that’s what got me to Batman. So my point here, folks, is sometimes you just simply need a guardian angel.


Jason Concepcion: Yeah.


Michael Uslan: And I had one in the guise of my in-laws.


Rosie Knight: Hmm.


Jason Concepcion: So it’s the summer of 89. Batman is a smash hit. Any doubts that Michael Keaton could carry this role washed away the second you see the movie? You know Jack Nicholson electric as the Joker. Tim Burton. Any you know, any doubts that he’d be able to handle a character of this kind of lineage after coming off of Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and Beetlejuice? Absolutely erased. What do you say to the people who doubted you? Did they come out of the woodwork to say, Michael, hey, I just happened to see Batman in the theaters?


Michael Uslan: They did.


Rosie Knight: I bet they did.


Michael Uslan: Let’s say we had opening weekend, so this would have been the Monday or Tuesday after opening weekend. We’re in our offices. Ben is across from me and the phone rings, and it’s the Robin and Marian guy from 10 years ago.


Rosie Knight: Of course its him. Of course its him.


Michael Uslan: I just called to congratulate you on the success of Batman. I always said you were a visionary.


Jason Concepcion: Did he say to who? Who’d you say that to?


Rosie Knight: I want to know?


Michael Uslan: That’s what he said. And you know, when I hung up the phone, I turned to Ben. I said, You know, I think I now get it. If you don’t believe them, when they tell you how bad you are and how lousy your work is. But then you don’t believe them when they start telling you how wonderful you are and how great all your work is and just believe in yourself. You’ll do fine. And that was probably the biggest lesson that came out of there.


Rosie Knight: We’ve kind of talked. So we’ve touched on that. You mentioned key and then and kind of what’s it been like for you to see what your tenacity and this journey that was so built on your family and people who believed in you? What’s it been like to see that spawn this multi-billion dollar franchise where you’ve gotten to see multiple people bring Batman to life in almost as many ways as he’s been brought to life in the comics?


Michael Uslan: People often ask me, What is my job? And I describe it as follows: Every day I report to a sandbox and I play with my favorite toys. That’s what I do for a living for forty five years now. And it’s a wonderful thing. And to discover your passion in life and then make it into your work. If it wasn’t for how much I loved the comics and the superheroes and Batman, when I think of the ten years when I think of all the the things that wilted on the vine, I would be in a dark room somewhere in Arkham, you know, in a very tight race. So I am fortunate. I understood early because my brother and I, we were raised to understand family first, work second and family will always be there for you. And I never could have endured and gotten through this if I didn’t have the support of my family and my friends. That was critical. I’ve learned, just like my dad showed us, my dad was a stone mason. And he had to drop out of high school at age 16 to help his family survive the depression by going to work. My pop worked six days a week his entire life till he was 80 years old.


Jason Concepcion: Wow.


Michael Uslan: And and then only stopped because my mom took ill and he had to take care of her. My father loved what he did. He was an old world artist. He was a craftsman. You should see the fireplaces in the homes he built out of brick and marble and cement. And every day he would get up before dawn, big smile on his face, couldn’t wait to get to work because he loved it so much. And let me tell you, when you grow up in a house like that, how could you not want that for yourself? How could you not want to wake up on a rainy Monday morning and say, Boy, I can’t wait to get to work? I just had to find out what my bricks and stones were. And it became very clear early on. For me, it’s comic books and movies and animation and superheroes. And then from my mom, my God, my mom was all about perseverance and commitment. And I had an incident which I detail in my memoir, The Boy Who Loved Batman, that I was, I guess, about eight years old and I was in Little League Peewee League. They used to call it, and I sucked at sports folks, OK? And I think I think there’s a few comic book geeks that might be able to identify with this.


Jason Concepcion: I think thats probably the case


Rosie Knight: I think I can identify


Michael Uslan: So I sucked. So I was usually one of the last ones picked in a game and we had this little league game, eight year old kids. And at the end of the game, the coach called three of us together away from where our parents could hear, and he started to scream at us. He said, You look like clowns out there. You cost you struck out three times your cost your team the game. You look like clowns. Get out of my sight. And I went home and went up into my tree house in my backyard, where I kept a stash of my comic books safely hidden under the screen. And I retreated into a world of superheroes. That’s the kind of thing that drove me into comic books and and identifying with people like Batman. That was my escape, and my mom saw that I was in trauma and I burst out into tears. I said, I’m never going back. I hate him. I hate baseball. I hate everything. And she said, Michael, she said, Listen, you are going back. She said, you don’t have to go next year if you don’t want, but you made a commitment to your team. And once you make a commitment, you honor it, even though there may be some pain involved. You honor your commitments. She goes, I will talk to your coach. And I guarantee you that will never, ever, ever, ever happen again. But you’ve got to go back and see it through to the end. And that’s how my brother and I were trained. So we learned that you, you you can’t enter this industry and think it’s a war and that you’re going to go out and fight battles for your projects every day. I went in saying, OK, this is going to be a siege and I’m going to dig a foxhole and I’m going to put on a helmet and I’m going to hunker down. And ultimately, I found out the most important decision you can make is, who do you allow in that foxhole to watch your back? Over the years, I made three mistakes. Each time, it almost cost me my entire career by trusting the wrong people. Thank God I had people like Ben in my life and mentors like Stan and so many other great people. But that’s what made the difference. And I’m very lucky. I’m very lucky to have learned all that and have had that kind of a support system.


Jason Concepcion: So here you are. It’s 2022. The Batman has just opened in theaters. The comics are probably at their peak of influence on pop culture, certainly in in North America and indeed the world. Comics as collectibles are booming. Understanding where you came from, where comics were the outcast kind of storytelling. Medium, subversive as as you describe them. What’s it like now to to live in this world where comics are really, they’re king in in many, many ways and socially acceptable in a way that didn’t exist even when I, you know, when I started reading comics. When Rosie and I started reading comics, it was it was still nerdy. Not a thing you really talked about. But what is it like for you to see that that evolution?


Michael Uslan: It’s been truly amazing. Like I said, I do miss the lack of subversiveness to it and how mainstream it’s become in the one sense. But I realize I deserve either some of the blame or credit for what’s happening. I love the fact that comic book movies are now considered date movies that have been turning the world on its head. One of the greatest victories of my career came when, right before COVID really hit, the San Diego Comic-Con Museum opened up for a preliminary weekend during San Diego Comic-Con, and they began the comic book Hall of Fame, and the first character inducted into it was Batman, not Superman. I mean, that’s the ultimate victory. That was absolutely inconceivable when I was a kid that that that could happen. Inconceivable. So I like that part. The other thing I like is that it has been empowering for me in a certain way because it has given me opportunities I never would have had. For example, I’ve been invited now three times to speak at the United Nations. And each time I speak to people from all over the Middle East, I mean, here’s the Jewish kid from North Jersey, right? Holding a session at the United Nations with with people who speak different languages and have different politics and come from different cultures and worship different gods. And we all sit together. And as this round robin concludes, we bond because we all share this love of comics and movies and pop culture and and cartoons, and we discover we have a common bond and that through the media of comic books and these kinds of movies and animation, we are showcasing how we’re showcasing our similarities rather than what the media and the politicians are doing to showcasing our differences that. Was incredible to be able to experience, to have the opportunity to experience that, and then I’ll I’ll just give you the story I used to conclude my memoir The Boy Left backing out of the blue. I get a call from a colonel at West Point, and he said, Mr. Purslane. Every year, the cadets vote on a Cadets Choice Award for the person or character that best exemplifies the Code of Honor of West Point. And this year they voted The Dark Knight. Would you consider coming up here and speaking to our cadets and accepting the award on behalf of Batman? I said it would be my greatest honor. So my wife and I went up. It was an amazing day. They said, We’re going to we’ll do this during the lunch time and we go into the meeting hall. It’s like the set of Harry Potter. It could have been built by the Vikings, the stone building coming to a V with stone balcony in the center, vaulted ceilings flat 4500 cadets standing at attention at their tables. And we go up there and I said, How long would you like me to speak? I said, normally I speak 30 to 45 minutes and we can do Q&A. He goes, Oh, I’m sorry, but it’s lunchtime. Here is only 15 minutes. I said, Oh, you want me to speak for 15 minutes? He said, Well, no, actually, we were thinking just under three minutes and then and then he hands me the award and answer me the microphone, and I look out over 4500 West Point cadets. And I said cadets of West Point. When Bruce Wayne was a boy, he saw his parents murdered before his eyes on a concrete altar of blood. At that moment, he sacrificed his childhood and made a vow. He vowed that he would get the bad guy who did this, that he would get all the bad guys even if he had to walk through hell for the rest of his life in order to honor that commitment. I said in doing so, he became an urban warrior. He became a legend. He became the Dark Knight. I said cadets of West Point. You are Black men. Wow. And with that, the place went crazy. They were cheering and yelping. And Oh my god, I’m standing on the chairs. It went on for minutes. And it was it was an amazing experience to have. But the topper came a week later at my office. I’m opening up the mail and there’s a letter from a woman I don’t know. And I’m reading the letter, Dear Mr. Eastland. You don’t know me. I’m the mother of one of the cadets at West Point, whom you spoke to last week. She said This is all very serious business for our families. Next month, all our boys are going off to Afghanistan and Iraq. She goes, I’m not sure if you realize what you have given them, she said. But they are walking around campus right now, bouncing off each other’s chests, high fiving each other and saying, I am Batman, you are Batman. She said in the years to come. Over where wherever they may be, whatever foreign battlefield, this will be, their calling card. And she said, I can’t thank you enough for that. Oh, my God, for this journey to have empowered me to be able to give back to be able to express the power of comics and superheroes and Batman as it applies to real life superheroes in the world, my life is filled with real life superheroes. They’re called my parents. They’re called my teachers. They’re called my mentors. And to be able to use this in a way that not only entertains people, but makes them think and inspires them. That’s the great victory in this whole thing. That’s the legacy. And that’s what I’m most proud of.


Jason Concepcion: Michael Uslan, it’s been a real honor for us to have you on the program today. Congratulations on all your success. Congratulations on the release of the new Batman movie, and I’m sure there’ll be much more to come. Michael Uslan, thanks for joining us.


Michael Uslan: You’re welcome. Don’t cut me off until I do what Stanley always told me, which is get in the damn plug,.


Jason Concepcion: Plug it


Rosie Knight: Plug it


Michael Uslan: Number one, we’ve got a great movie out right now. That’s right. And we have my new book, which is the sequel memoir to The Boy I love Batman. It’s called Batman’s. Batman is now on sale through Amazon, Barnes Noble, etc. and it’s also available in audio book from Black Stone, and the boy who loves Batman is now being turned into a Broadway play by the NATO Orlando Organization of New York City. Wow. And it is being fast tracked to open on Broadway at a date that’s edging closer and closer. And it’s not Batman singing and dancing, folks. It’s my story which they feel post-COVID might be inspiring and entertaining enough to make people get something out of it and enjoy it. So that’s that’s what’s coming up. And Stan, I did it.


Jason Concepcion: Michael, thank you so much.


Rosie Knight: You’re very welcome. Thanks.


Jason Concepcion: Up next, the Endgame.


Jason Concepcion: Welcome to Crime Alley, where today we will rank our top Thomas and Martha Wayne murders of all time, let the pearls hit the floor. We’re leaving the theater because Bruce has has an upset tummy and we are entering through the Fire Door Crime Alley, where a tragedy will take place again and again and again. This is very exciting. Rosie, I can’t wait to do this. So it’s been a very rank heavy episode, but let’s do it again. Our top three favorite Thomas and Martha Wayne murders, starting with number three. Rosie, what is your number three?


Rosie Knight: OK, so my number three is going to actually be there. I believe it is in Batman v Superman. The Thomas and Martha Wayne death in that is so melodramatic.


Jason Concepcion: Yes.


Rosie Knight: With the poles hitting the floor in slow motion.


Jason Concepcion: Let the poles hit the floor.


Rosie Knight: That, to me, is like, if you’re going to do it, do it that way. I want to see sepia toned. I want to see poles hitting the floor. I want to see Jeffrey Dean Morgan looking upset. Like that to me, is the that’s almost like the meta text commentary on how these have been done because it’s so over the top. And I love it.


Jason Concepcion: Fantastic. My number three is going to be Batman The Brave and the Bold. Season two, Episode 11 Chill of the night seen and retold in really, really chilling animated style. You can absolutely feel the horror on young Bruce Wayne’s face. It’s one of the best murders of Thomas and Martha Wayne, and it is my top three. You’re number two murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne.


Rosie Knight: OK, if you haven’t seen this, then I’m about to bless you because it’s one of the funniest things that’s ever been done in DC.


Jason Concepcion: Yes.


Rosie Knight: And it is goes viral every so often. But if you haven’t go and watch, I believe it’s also on HBO Max in the very underrated, an absolutely hilarious Teen Titans go to the movies, which is an animated version of Teen Titans Go movie that had a cinematic release. Part of the plot is that the Teen Titans decide that if no other heroes existed, they would get their own movie that so they go through history and they change people’s origin stories. And so they save Batman and his family from walking down Crime Alley and then later, when they realize they’ve destroyed the world, we see them go to Crime Alley and push Martha Thomas and Bruce into Crime Alley where they get murdered. It is so bleak and so hilarious, and it is just like a really great example of why that show is actually so brilliant, because it is. It’s the funniest, most it in baseball comics fan show. So yeah, you got to watch that one that is like a laugh out loud every time.


Jason Concepcion: My number two is Batman Begins. I think Christopher Nolan does something really smart with his origin story of Bruce Wayne as Batman, which is he makes sure that it’s not Thomas Wayne’s fault in many, many, many versions of of this murder. Thomas Wayne is like, Let’s take the short cut. Let’s go in in the Batman Begins version. Bruce gets really scared. And then in fact, Thomas is being a really good dad. He’s a great dad. You have to like we. Yeah, we spent a bundle on these tickets, but yeah, fucking rich. Like, we’ll just leave. Let’s get out of here. And then instead of, let’s take the shortcut to the car through Crime Alley. What happens is they go out the side, the fire door and they just happen to appear in the crime alley. I think that’s one of the most grounded, best versions in the way that it absolves Thomas Wayne of the crime of being an absolute dumb ass and causing himself and his not to victim blame. But like, listen, Gotham is not a great town and you’re walking into an alley, Thomas, you got to know better. And it the movie very smartly absolves Thomas Wayne of any of any kind of irresponsibility in this regard. Your number one, Rosie.


Rosie Knight: My number one is kind of a cheat, but I do think it really counts, which is Batman 89. It’s not so the beginning of Batman 89 uses


Jason Concepcion: Retcon, big retcon energy


Rosie Knight: It essentially uses the cultural understanding of Martha and Thomas’s murder to introduce us to the movie with a pair of parents and a kid in Gotham. And it looks like they’re going to get murdered. And we assume it’s Thomas and Martha Wayne and Bruce, and I just think that that is one of the first times that we really. We saw that conversation between fans and the people making these movies like I still watch that movie and there’s probably 30 seconds at the beginning every time when I just think it’s Thomas and Martha like, it works so well, so we don’t really see that. And obviously, like you said, big wreck on spoiler alert in this fashion, Jack Napier The Joker is the Joe Tre’vell character who kills who turns out later on killed the parents. So there’s a lot of interesting stuff there, but that opening to me is like the most effective version we’ve seen of it. And it’s also a really smart symbolism because it’s not. So I love that one.


Jason Concepcion: My top murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne is the the commercial or the trailer, rather for Batman Arkham Origins, my my least favorite Arkham game. But I mean, the the the trailer gives me chills. It is really well done in this kind of realistic animated style that melds perfectly into the kind of cut scenes style of the game itself. It doesn’t show the murder. It allows everything to play out on the face of the animated Bruce Wayne. So you start with a close shot of Bruce. You see Martha’s hand on his shoulder. You know that his parents are behind him, and then you see the shot go off and the shell of the gun fly down. And it’s a quick moment, but it is extremely, extremely impactful because it’s one of the first retellings that said, we know you know what this is and we don’t have to. We’re just going to give you a drop of it to let the full emotional impact take hold. I thought it was really artfully done and still like a commercial slash trailer that gets me excited for a game that came out like almost 10 years ago. That’s it for us. That’s it for the end game. That’s it for the pearls hitting the floor. That’s it for Thomas and Martha Wayne, folks. It’s a wrap on them, R.I.P.. Let us know your thoughts and use hashtag XLVI and give us your pick. Big. Thank you to Michael Utzon and the fantastic, brilliant Rosie Knight for joining us on an x ray vision. Rosie as Michael taught us. Can’t leave without the plug that wisdom passed down to him by Stan Lee. What do you got to plug, Rosie?


Rosie Knight: I’ve written a lot about Batman. If you want to continue this Batman joy over at Nerdist, there’s a ton over there. My Instagram is Rosie Marx M-A-R- X, where you can find me talking about this podcast and sharing reviews for movies and such. Same on Letterboxd. You can check out my comics at my website. Rosie Olivia Knight dot com. There’s a ton of free comics on there that you can read. I wrote a really cool kids graphic novel called The Haunted High Tops. If you’ve got any young horror fans, you can check that out.


Jason Concepcion: Yeah.


Rosie Knight: And we will have a big comic book announcement coming hopefully like at the end of this month, so that will be really fun.


Jason Concepcion: Folks, don’t forget if you want to learn more about what we explore in each and every episode, check out our listeners guide to all things X-ray vision in the show notes or on our web site at Next week, we’re going to be at South by Southwest, talking about the multiverse and its depictions in pop culture and comics and movies and TV and such. If you have any questions that you want us to answer on that particular episode, send them to the X-ray vision email. Maybe we can answer that on the stage at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas. That episode will be coming out Friday, March 18. As per usual on all your favorite podcast platforms. Don’t forget. Nerd out submissions. You have something great that you want people to know about. Hit us up at x ray at crooked dot com. Instructions are in the show notes and don’t forget five star ratings. Five star ratings. I can’t say it enough. Five star ratings give us the five star ratings we’re legitimately on our hands and knees, begging you. Give em to us. X-ray vision is a Crooked Media production. The show is produced by Chris Lord and Saul Ruben shows executive produced by myself and Sandy Girard, Caroline Reston and Carlton Gillespie are our consulting producers and our editing and sound design is by Vasilis Fotopoulos. Big thanks to Brian Vasquez for our theme music. See you next time!