Literary Corner

Trash Culture Literary Corner: Batman & Robin, Prologue

(If you’re wondering where the write-up for the last chapter of Worlds of Power: Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest is…well, there isn’t going to be one.  There’s a couple of reasons why, but first and foremost is that even with the potentially infinite potential of human language I ran out of ways to say “Shut up about Tim liking chocolate” and “God, Dracula is a lame villain.” I’m sure all nine of my readers are disappointed.)  

Novelizations of movies are funny things, and to be honest I never really “got” them.  On one hand, they’re a hopeful sign that literature can and will endure despite the proliferation of audiovisual media, and can offer interesting perspectives on movies especially since novelizations tend to be based on earlier drafts of scripts or at least cover scenes that got chopped from the film itself.  On the other hand, they’re practically acknowledged by everyone to be cheap cash-ins of the most blatant kind, existing basically just to give fans of a particular movie a (allegedly) more immersing experience.  After all, you’d heard of great movies based on books, but what about great novelizations of movies?  Sure, I bet they’re out there even if they don’t get talked about, but the point is nobody expects them to be more than just braincandy.

But what I’m really interested in is what happens when a decent writer gets commissioned to write a novelization of a bad movie. That’s why I actually tracked down the official novelization of Batman & Robin by Michael Jan Friedman.


Friedman has the cred, especially for this kind of assignment.  He’s a multiple New York Times list bestseller and has written dozens of novels and comics, mostly for the Star Trek franchise and DC Comics.  So can even he spin gold out of shi – I mean, straw?

Well, as much as I pretty much despised, loathed, and didn’t care at all for Batman Forever, the great and prolific Peter David wrote a pretty decent novelization of Batman Forever.  Granted even he couldn’t do anything to stitch the badly butchered Two-Face back together again, and there wasn’t much to be done to soften the blow of the awful dialogue, but it honestly wasn’t bad.  He gave the Riddler a childhood backstory that actually added depth to his obsession with Bruce Wayne, pretty much made the Riddler’s homoerotic fixation on Bruce Wayne more blatant in an interesting way, and even addressed the fact that in the movie continuity Batman used to kill.  Can Friedman at least make something out of one of the worst superhero scripts to ever come out of a word processor?  Let’s find out.

A storm was coming.  Eight year-old Bruce Wayne could feel it in the biting coldness of the air as he and his parents emerged from the movie theater.  He could feel it in the way the hair prickled on the back of his neck.

So we get a rehash of Batman’s origin story, with young Bruce leaving a screening of a film adaptation of “Zorro” with his parents.  Well, we get the Tim Burton movie’s version of it, anyway, except it sleets while it happens, because I guess it has to be connected to the story’s villain some way.  I guess it’s better than foreshadowing Poison Ivy by having Jack Napier wear a gaudy rose lapel.

But the weather isn’t the only irony.

“It’s all right,”  said Bruce’s mother, though she frowned a little  as she watched the sleet catch the light from the streetlamps.  “Honestly, Thomas.  A little weather hurt anyone.” […] Bruce felt a hand on his shoulder, strong but gentle – his fath”er’s hand.  The boy smiled at the sense of assurance it gave him.  With a hand like that on his shoulder, he could do anything.  Take any risk, no matter how great. […] Looking up, Bruce saw a stone figure with the face and wings of an eagle sticking out from a third-floor cornice.  The figure seemed to leer at him, to grin like the Devil as the sleet grew heavier.

It wasn’t the trauma of seeing his parents murdered that turned Bruce Wayne into Batman;  it was a dangerously high concentration of irony.

Next we flash-forward to Alfred talking with a child psychologist about Bruce and “the incident.”  I rather like this scene, and I doubt it’s a coincidence that it’s one that was never in the script, since it actually gives some depth to the Bruce Wayne/Batman-Alfred relationship.

“Forgive me, but Mr. Wayne once described your employment here as temporary.  He mentioned that your first love is the theater – and that you hope to return to it once day.”

“It had occurred to me,” Alfred conceded.

The stout man’s [psychiatrist’s] brow furrowed.  “Normally, it would be none of my business – but I ask out of concern for young Bruce.  He’s already lost the two most important people in the world to him.  I don’t know how close you and he have become, but right now you’re the only real constant in his life.”

Plus Alfred and the psychologist mention Bruce’s uncle Philip, a character introduced in the ’60s who was forgotten after DC’s continuity was rebooted with Crisis on Infinite Earths and only revived in recent continuity.  Who was Philip?  Well, if you ever asked, what are the odds that a butler would be entrusted with the care of his deceased employers’ child, DC’s past writers were ahead of you.  In DC’s “Silver Age,” Philip, Bruce’s nearest living kin, was the one who took in Bruce, a rare instance of DC’s Silver Age stories being more realistic than most of the modern versions.

Sure, it doesn’t add to anything, nor does one line that mentions that Bruce Wayne trained with a “Ducard” in France, but at least they’re references that show that Michael Jan Friendman does care, at least more than He Who Shall Not Be Named.

In the third part of the prologue, we meet Victor Fries (pronounced “free-ze”).  Now in probably one of the worst examples of big-name casting in all of Hollywood history, Arnold Schwarzenegger was picked to play Mr. Freeze, and the sheer bad juju radiating from that casting has leaked out over the book.  So here pre-supervillain Victor Fries is not only a brilliant scientist in the making, but an Olympic athlete who the teenage Bruce Wayne learns how to high jump from.  Now maybe this is nitpicking, but one of the linchpins that make Batman’s rogues gallery the best in comics is that, even for all of their sociopathic and violent habits, they are at their core shattered beings who have been in their own ways chewed up and spat out by an apathetic and rotten society, not unlike Bruce Wayne himself.  I know Friedman is just trying hard to make a Mr. Freeze who actually matches up with his Schwarzeneggerized incarnation, but…

Incidentally, did you know that Patrick Stewart at one point was considered for the role of Mr. Freeze?  I mean, I don’t think even the good Sir Stewart could have helped Batman & Robin become anything than the latter-day b-movie disasterpiece it became (although certainly Scharzenegger did contribute some of its essential charm), but maybe somewhere in the multiverse a decent version of Batman & Robin exists with a Mr. Freeze who, you know, actually acts like his popular animated series incarnation.

Anyway, the prologue is decent enough that it gives me a little hope, but then I realize that with chapter one we’re entering Akiva Goldsman-territory.  Well, at least maybe we’ll get a decent explanation as to how Alfred could whip up a computer with Artificial Intelligence…


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