Friday, May 9, 2014

“Batman at 75” panel at the Paley Center

In December 2012, I began a conversation with David Bushman, Curator of Television at the Paley Center in New York City that culminated in “Batman at 75: To All a Dark Knight,” a five-person panel on 5/5/14 that drew a sold-out crowd, buzzed along fast from 6:30 to 8 p.m., and was followed by a book signing that went past 9:30.

(More photos below.)

The lineup:

  • Kevin Conroy, Voice of Batman, Batman: The Animated Series; The New Batman Adventures; Batman Beyond
  • Chip Kidd, Designer, Batman: The Complete History; Author, Batman: Death by Design
  • Kevin Smith, Filmmaker; Writer, Batman comic books; Host, Fat Man on Batman podcast
  • Michael Uslan, Executive Producer, The Dark Knight film trilogy; Author, The Boy Who Loved Batman
  • me
  • Moderator: Whitney Matheson, Columnist, USA Today’s “Pop Candy”
From where I sat, for fans of the bat, it was all that.
I found my four fellow panelists (only one of whom—Michael Uslan—I’d met before) to be articulate and funny—expert storytellers all. Each shared an almost poetic reflection on the Dark Knight.

Whitney asked thoughtful questions and kept things moving nicely (no easy feat with any panel); at one point, she charmingly directed another question to me because I needed to talk more (usually not a problem with me, but this was an extroverted group). During the Q&A, I laughed when she called on an audience member by saying “The one in the Batman hat.” (That description matched a dude in what seemed like every other row.)

The panel was recorded. Among the many highlights:

  • Kevin Conroy taking to the stage booming “I am vengeance. I am the night. I am Batman!” to thunderous applause
  • Chip Kidd following him dryly saying “I am the day”
  • Class act Michael Uslan asking for my blessing to introduce Athena Finger, granddaughter of Bill
  • Kevin Smith telling the story of Kevin Conroy volunteering in New York during 9/11 (suggesting he modify his signature line to “I am vengeance. I am the night chef. I am Batman!”)
  • Piggybacking on Kevin Smith expounding on Batman’s appeal, I said that we don’t relate to Batman because he has no powers. We relate because he has no parents. We have empathy for him, which allows us to believe in his mission.

Other memorable moments:

Question: your first Batman? Mine was from Super Friends. (Hey, you can’t control when you’re born.)

Question: coolest Batman memorabilia you own? I followed Chip, who has the original art of the cover of Kingdom Come #3. I joked that I can’t remember which of the
Kingdom Come covers I own, then told the story of Charles Sinclair giving me Bill Finger’s paperweight.

I added that when my daughter was about seven, she said if we ever had a fire and she could grab only one thing, she’d go for Bill’s paperweight, to which I said “If we ever have a fire, sweet pea, just get out. *I* will grab the paperweight.”

Question from the audience: your biggest discovery when researching Bill Finger? His lone and previously unknown grandchild, Athena, who was in attendance (and showered with attention for it; she even signed at least one copy of my book for a fan).

While Whitney looked for people to call on during the Q&A, I pointed out the lone woman raising her hand (not the lone woman in attendance, though females were, unsurprisingly, the minority).

A boy of about 13—whom Kevin Smith didn’t notice till he asked a question, prompting Kevin to apologize for some colorful language he had used—bore a fitting resemblance to Charles Roskilly, who portrayed young Bruce Wayne in Michael’s 1989 Batman.

Before we wrapped, Kevin Conroy paid tribute to Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., who had died a few days earlier; Zimbalist voiced Alfred in Batman: The Animated Series and appeared on 77 Sunset Strip…which Bill Finger wrote for.

Then I acknowledged my partner in organizing the event by saying “From Batman to Bushman…thanks to David Bushman for taking a chance on this vision.”

When signing books, not one but two guys asked Michael and Kevin Conroy to sign their credit cards. I normally sign only books I have written, but it was something of a in-a-good-way free-for-all so we all signed each other’s a few times.

I learned that after Bill and his first wife Portia divorced, she sought solace (we are left to read into that) from Wildcat co-creator Irwin Hasen; of the Golden Agers I interviewed for Bill the Boy Wonder: The Secret Co-Creator of Batman, he is the last one living.

All but the Kevins and Whitney retired to Chip’s apartment for a nightcap; the place is a paradise of superhero memorabilia, including, of course, original art.

A stellar experience, equal parts humbling, entertaining, and exhilarating. Thank you again to all who participated and attended and said nice things afterward.

To all a Dark Knight, forevermore.

The start of the line to get in.

Kevin Conroy and Danielle Ward of JHU Comic Books

The Justice League of A Kind convenes: 
Chip, a DC Comics representative, Whitney, Travis Langley, Michael

Waiting to move into the next waiting area.

Half of the rest of the panel and me.

 The other half of the rest of the panel and me.


Waiting in the (bat)wings.

View from the panel.

After Athena Finger, granddaughter of Bill, was acknowledged.

Signing books, bags, tickets, and even credit cards. 

Upcoming book. Can you spot the notable first?

Susan Eisenberg voiced Wonder Woman in 
Justice League and Justice League Unlimited.


kelen said...

That "upcoming book" - is this that comic book that will be published for free in July?

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Believe so, Kelen.

marty said...

Er marc is it okay you can show my fanmade batman google doodle to everyone in your blog? (just asking

Marc Tyler Nobleman said...

Thanks Marty but I suggest you share it on social media!

marty said...

Okay i understand.