"I AM the night!"
A comic book adaptation of a film that is just as good as the film is a very rare thing.
The first one I ever read was the Marvel Comics' adaptation of Star Wars. It was Treasury sized and two issues, as well as a six issue mini-series that continued as an ongoing. Treasury sized comics were all the rage in the 70's. I think the last one may have been The Batman-The Incredible Hulk team-up; but there's a good chance that I'm 100% wrong on that. Roy Thomas made sense as writer, since he wrote pretty much everything at Marvel; Howard Chaykin was an interesting choice as artist. I guess I am "The Ultimate Fan-Geek" in that after Star Wars, I had to have the adaptation - not just the comic version, but the paperback, too - and, I would have both read by the opening day of the film. This was pretty much true of Star Wars and Star Trek, through 1989. Then there was Batman.
If there was any film that fit a comic book adaptation like a hand in a glove it was Batman. It could have been any comic book character, really. I think maybe The Electric Company may have tried a Spider-Man tie-in comic. I know I'd seen one for The Incredible Hulk at the Jewel/Osco magazine stand. It had pictures from the show with comic book word balloons. Really. It looked awful. But, this was Batman. More importantly, this was DC Comics; they knew how to do things right. I mean, c'mon, Marvel had an adaptation of The A-Team that looked like ****!
Of course Dennis O'Neil would take the Samm Hamm - Warren Skaaren script and adapt it. This is the man, who, along with Neal Adams brought The Dark Knight back to his gothic roots following the '60's live-action Adam West-Burt Ward Batman TV series in color on ABC. He sent Dick Grayson packing to Hudson University, shuttered Wayne Manor and The Batcave and reloacated Bruce Wayne in the heart of Gotham in the penthouse of Wayne Enterprises. He re-established The Batman as a detective and escape artist. He introduced probably on of the finest Batman-family characters in Man-Bat. Of course he also gave us Azrael, but the pluses certainly outweight the minuses.
His script adaptation is tight, economical and focused. It doesn't lose anything from the screenplay. Tim Burton, Sam Hamm, Warren Skaaren may know cinema, and how Batman should look on a big screen; Michael Keaton may be able to grasp the weight of the dual role; Jack Nicholson may be able to embody madness, but O'Neil knows the geography. For twenty years - or perhaps longer - he's lived and breathed Gotham.
I would have assumed that Jim Aparo, Marshall Rogers or maybe one of the regular pencillers would have worked on this book. Jerry Ordway handles the adaptation amazingly well. I've always assumed that an adaptation was produced from a script and stills. This looks like Ordway and O'Neil had a chance to follow the dailies or see a rough cut of the film. It's an interesting choice to open with a splash page of a theatre crowd watching film unroll of the opening of the film! Ordway captures the look of the actors in their roles, and each scene unfolds almost simultaneous to the film.
There are some things that don't sync up. Like Batman's line to the thug at the very beginning. It's scripted one way, and the final shot is what everybody remembers. The final shot of the film just feels hollow to me for some reason. It looks small, a little less than grand. Ordway's final splash page just feels right. Batman swinging across the Gotham rooftops with the Bat-signal reflected on one of the towers in the background.
If you are a fan of Tim Burton's Batman with Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson and you can track this adaptation down, either in the hardcover or softcover, it's worth adding to your collection. You will enjoy it just as much as the film itself.