Back In the Summer of ‘89

Back In the Summer of ‘89

Jun 23

Today’s the 20th anniversary of the release of Tim Burton’s Batman.

To describe this film as “seminal” in my development as a geek, a movie fan, and even a HUMAN BEING is to understate its importance. It also involves using the word “seminal” which just always reminds me too much of the word “semen.” Aside from its reproductive capabilities, I have little use for semen. But then, who does?


I was absolutely fucking OBSESSED with Batman in 1989. Totally out of my goddamned head. I don’t even remember when that obsession began, how it infiltrated my consciousness and took possession of my soul, but I knew that by early June I was rabid for this movie. I was DYING to see it. Even now, every year around June 23, I remember, “Hey, this is when Batman came out.” I probably always will remember.

I finally got my chance to see the flick a few days after opening, when my dad came home from work early one day and took me and my weird friend John to see it at the River Oaks Theaters near my ancestral home in South Holland, IL. It was a monumental event in my life. Well, the movie was the movie; it was the movie as a HAPPENING that I think really rewired my brain.

Batman in 1989 was the first time I was aware of a massive pop culture event and decided of my own volition to fully join in, to stand alongside the seething masses in our Bat-signal T-shirts jamming to “Batdance” on our Walkmen headphones. It was everywhere, and so was I, slurping it all up without hesitation and loving every second of it.


My sister and I collected the trading cards. I used spare stickers from the set to plaster all over my Trapper Keeper, the nadir of eighth grade cool. I had a Batman trucker hat with a flourescent yellow logo that I covered with convention buttons over the next few years, until it was a weighty emblem of my desperate nerdy loneliness. In art class, we had to use these pieces of rubber to carve stamps and then use the stamps to fill a piece of paper; mine was, of course, a Bat-signal. I hung up the artwork alongside my Batman logo and Bartman posters on my bedroom walls. I owned the score by Danny Elfman on audio cassette and played the living shit out of it.

Until that point, I always had the pieces in hand to become a raging nerd, but I think it was Burton’s Batman that snapped those pieces together and nudged me into the geek lifestyle. After it came out, I got pretty insane with the Star Trek and the conventions and the collection of black T-shirts proudly declaring my passions. And if it wasn’t Burton’s Batman that first got me into the comic shop, it certainly encouraged me to return constantly, to set up my first pull list, and to spend an unhealthy amount of the proceeds from my shitty toilet-cleaning summer job on comic books.

Of course, the movie reignited my Batman obsession, but it didn’t start there. As a child, I had watched the original Adam West/Burt Ward series with a completely straight face, unaware of its additional layers as pop camp parody. Even at the age of twelve, I had not yet detected the show’s wackiness, and still bought into it at face value. I owned a push-pedal Batmobile that is maybe one of the most bitchin’ toys ever created, so great that I’ve yet to find a photo online that captures its brilliance (or captures it PERIOD, for that matter). I had the Super Powers figures, watched the Super Powers cartoon show; as a truly wee one, I had the Mego dolls and yearned for the accompanying Batcave playset, which my parents never got me because my dad claimed he could BUILD ME ONE, which he never did. I remind him of this on a weekly basis.

As a movie? I’m almost afraid to watch Burton’s Batman again, because I’m afraid it will wither beneath my adult eyes and ruin my nostalgic buzz. I’ve seen it plenty since its release but not for a few years; naturally I owned the VHS as soon as possible and viewed it to pieces. I recall it as atmosphere and melodrama and a few strange jokes that flew over my head, and I think that’s fine; I don’t need to justify its worth as an adult, because if it were to come out today, I think it might be meaningless to me. There’s not enough THERE there, if you take my meaning. It lacks any of the resonance or maturity of the more recent Nolan Batman films, I’m pretty sure of that, although I still love Michael Keaton as Batman. Okay, I love Michael Keaton as ANYTHING. He rules.

I still love Batman, as a character. He’s my favorite. Always will be. I could try to come up with some high-falutin’ mumbo-jumbo about how he’s the only truly human hero, how he took his childhood anguish and transformed it into an intense focus on righting wrongs and punching crooks, but that’d be bullshit. I just think he’s intensely cool.

My love affair with the Bat didn’t start with Tim Burton’s film…but in a way, my whole lifelong desperate romance with the minutiae and ephemera of pop culture and geek culture started with the 1989 incarnation of Bat-mania, and the film that inspired it.

So thanks, Jon Peters, for snorting blow and fucking hookers with Jack Nicholson for one legendary lost weekend back in the late eighties. If not for that, I might not be the man and nerd I am today.


  1. Steve

    As I began reading this, I was trying to remember whose memoir it was that recounted that ‘casting session’ with Nicholson. Thanks for filling in the detail.

    Honestly, though, you should see it again. I’d argue that it doesn’t even stand up well as a Burton film, but I’d welcome an argument.

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