When I first started dating my now-husband Andrew, he took me home to meet his parents and I got a look at his childhood bedroom. Â The walls and ceiling were completely plastered with comic-book posters. Â At the center of the ceiling, the teenage Andrew had fashioned an image of Batman, about four feet tall, out of silver, black and yellow electrical tape. Â It was, clearly, his Sistine Chapel.
I stopped by the Cartoon Art Museum yesterday to find Andrew outlining a Bat-Signal on the wall with painter’s tape. Â All his high-school experiences, it turns out, were training for his job as a curator.
The newest show up at the Cartoon Art Museum is Batman: Yesterday and Tomorrow, a retrospective of Batman’s many peculiar comic-book incarnations. Â Included are the first Batman story (the art is a lightbox reproduction DC made at some point), a Neal Adams Christmas story, a sequence from The Dark Knight Returns, a bunch of production art from Pepe Moreno’sÂ Batman: Digital Justice (remember that? Â It even made it into Reinventing Comics), and, FedEx willing, pages from Paul Pope’s Batman: Year 100. Â The Frank Miller art is sweet, and I have a dopey fondness for the Neal Adams story, which has been in the museum’s collection for years. Â The heartwarming message is that Batman gets Christmas Eve off because the combination of Christmas spirit and Batman’s self-sacrifice the other 364 days of the year inspires potential criminals to refrain from crime. Â Until the 26th, anyway. Â I am a sucker for stories where a character inspires the masses to do good. Â Do I cry at the scene in Spider-Man 2 where the subway passengers refuse to turn Spider-Man in? Â Why, yes, I do, thank you for asking.
Also: Bat-Manga! Â Chip Kidd loaned a story from the bizarre 1960s Batman manga by Jiro Kuwata. Â In his recent TCJ review of Kidd’s Bat-Manga: The Secret History of Batman in Japan, Simon Abrams called the book “a catalog for an exhibit that never was.” Â Well, now that exhibit exists, sort of. Â I don’t get to see original manga art very often, so I was very curious about these pages. Â They’re very clean and crisp. Â Batman and Robin fight dinosaurs. Â It’s really not as insane as, say, the 1970s Spider-Man manga by Ryoichi Ikegami, but it’s pleasantly nutty.
The first show Andrew curated for the Cartoon Art Museum was a Spider-Man retrospective. Â Since then, this has been the Museum’s only show devoted to a single superhero character. Â Such shows end up being, more than anything else, about the history of the industry that produced the work. Â Batman is a particularly good character for this because he’s been through so many different, weird iterations. Â There’s only so much variety in artists’ interpretations of Spider-Man (my favorite piece from the Spider-Man show was a Marie Severin-drawn house ad: Spidey cringing before a newsstand, crying, “Life has no meaning without my latest Marvels!”), but there’s a gulf of style and intent between Bill Finger and Frank Miller, Paul Pope and the Bat-Manga guy.
To be frank, this is the kind of show that attracts casual visitors and the press, because everybody loves Batman. Â Even more than Superman, he never stops being popular. Â Other people may not have fallen asleep every night staring at an electrical-tape Batman, but they all dig the guy.