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Bat Guy’s Back on Film With Some Advice From ‘Dad’ : Bob Kane, Who Created the Caped Crusader in 1939, Is a Consultant on Warners’ Big-Budget Batfeature

The saga began in 1933 with a comic-strip contest sponsored by the New York Journal. Entrants were required to copy the internationally popular strip “Just Kids.” First prize: an original “Just Kids” strip autographed by creator Ad Carter.

Bob Kane, a Brooklyn 13-year-old, enters. And . . . wins! “I’m on my way!”

At 17 he worked for New York’s famed Max Fleisher Studios (home of Popeye and Betty Boop). When the studio moved to Florida, Kane went to DC Comics, where he did little one-box cartoons that filled space between ads and strips in comic books.

DC was the home of Superman, whose super career was launched in 1938. DC was on the lookout for another superhero.

“Can you create one?” DC Editor Vincent Sullivan asked the now-18 Kane.

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The lad went home to the Bronx apartment he shared with Mom, Pop and Sis.

He drew . . . and drew . . . and finally there emerged a character who debuted in a six-page issue of Detective Comics in 1939. Though lacking superpowers, the character was a determined crime fighter who carried out his heroics while clad in a bat-like cape and mask.

Nearly 50 years after the birth of Batman, Bob Kane is seeing his creation enjoy a renewed burst of popularity.

As he puts it, “Holy resurgence!”

Kane--who often talks like one of his comic strips (he worked on Batman comics until 1966)--is a consultant on the $30-million-plus “Batman” now being filmed for Warner Bros. Starring Michael Keaton as the Caped Crusader and Jack Nicholson as the deadly Joker, it began shooting last week at London’s Pinewood Studios. Tim Burton (“Beetlejuice”) directs.

Kane doesn’t own the rights to the character. Like many other comic-book characters, Batman was created as a work for hire. As such, he’s owned by DC Comics.

But Kane keeps careful watch on his creation and over the years has consulted, officially and otherwise, on a number of Batman projects. And now his batwork continues with the latest from Hollywood.

He’s even scheduled to make a cameo appearance in the movie. “I’ll do it when I visit the set in November,” said Kane, who explained he was originally set to appear as a newsroom cartoonist. But that role was scratched because of a shooting schedule change, “so Tim Burton told me they’ll work me into something else,” said Kane.

Meanwhile, Kane’s actress-wife, Elizabeth Sanders, is set to appear in a sequence, to run before the titles, that “symbolizes the Batman origins.”

Kane was speaking from his Los Angeles townhouse (“My batcave,” he says), which abounds in batmemorabilia, including scrapbooks and numerous paintings and drawings of Batman and his Boy Wonder sidekick. (Kane is genuinely sorry to report that his batcollection does not include the first Batman comic, which, in mint condition, now goes for about $20,000 on the collectors circuit.)

Kane has authored a batbook--that is, an autobiography--entitled “Batman and Me.” It’s now with his batagent.)

Kane owes much of the batsaga to a Leonardo da Vinci drawing of a man wearing outstretched bat-like wings (the better to glide). “I remembered that drawing when I was thinking about creating a superhero,” he said.

The silent films “The Mark of Zorro” and “The Bat,” which Kane saw as a child, also provided inspiration.

After all, in “Mark of Zorro,” Douglas Fairbanks Sr. is a swashbuckling, caped and masked crusader with a dual identity. By day, a bored count. By night, said Kane, “he put on that costume and rode out of a cave on his horse.”

As for “The Bat,” its villain wore an ominous bat costume.

Mused Kane: “The whole bat mystique is so different than the mystique of, say, a Superman-kind of hero. Bats inhabit dark caves. And, basically, most people are afraid of bats.”

Indeed, Batman is a hero with a decidedly dark side (having to do with witnessing the murder of his parents). In his earliest incarnation, the savior of Gotham City looked vampire-like as he stalked bad guys in the dark of the night.

But over the years, as depicted in the various media, the character came into the light. He was even played for laughs in a campy phase on ‘60s television and in “Batman,” the 1966 feature film based on the TV series (CRASH! POW! KABOOM!).

As for the Batman of the ‘80s: He is these days as violent and deadly as the society he strives to protect. The change occurred with the graphic, landmark 1986 illustrated “novel,” “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.” From writer Frank Miller, “The Dark Knight” has sold 110,000 copies for Warner Books and inspired a series of equally graphic (read: violent and topical) Batman comics and books.

“Frank Miller brought Batman back to his origins--back to that brooding, mysterioso quality,” said Kane.

Though not as “radical” as the Miller books, the new film, as scripted by Sam Hamm, will include dark elements.

“It will not be a comedy,” stressed Kane, “though when I heard about Michael Keaton, I admit, I kind of panicked.”

He wasn’t the only batfan to do a double take when the comedy king was cast as Bruce Wayne, a.k.a. Batman.

So loud was the outcry from fans at comics conventions that Kane made public appearances, “as a kind of cheerleader,” to convince fans that Keaton can be a believable Batman. “Fans have got to give the guy a chance,” insisted Kane.

His “cheerleading” followed a Warners-arranged screening of “Clean and Sober,” starring a serious Keaton. And there were assurances from director Burton that Keaton would not turn the character comedic.

Kane, who has not yet met Keaton, has talked with Nicholson: “We had lunch at his house in the Hollywood hills,” said Kane. “I stressed to him that the Joker is not the buffoon clown that Cesar Romero played on the TV series. He is a psychotic killer--as ghastly as his (perpetual) smile.”

Kane is thrilled by the casting of Nicholson (“He is going to blow this film away”) and even give him a Joker lithograph.

Kane is predicting big box office. After all, he pointed out, 1989 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Caped Crusader. “God willing, I’ll be around to enjoy it,” said Kane. “I think I shall be the man of the hour.”


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