Title: Batman Returns
Based on: Batman Returns (1992) Tim Burton film
Published: July 1st, 1992 – Grand central publishing
Author: Craig Shaw Gardner (Batman, Back to the Future)
Tagline: “Batman faces two adversaries … One villainous … The other mysterious.”
Official Synopsis: “Batman versus the criminal element. In Gotham City, good and evil never sleep. Today, a new danger is born–in the guise of a villainous figure with an umbrellaful of savage tricks. He’s the Penguin. He’s out to dominate the city. and he has a confederate. She’s sinuous. She’s mysterious. And she’s got nine ways of evading death. She’s Catwoman. This time, Batman faces the showdown of his life at high midnight…”
Batman Returns! Tim Burton Returns! And writer Craig Shaw Gardner returns to adapt the sequel to Batman (1989). Now having read them both, my synoptic assessment deems them both to be almost junior-novel-esque mediocre novelizations. The writer once proclaimed he was commissioned to adapt Batman (1989) primarily based on his ability to produce it on a short deadline to coincide with the film. And believe me, his reckless haste shines. For the targeted readership, they are acceptable and entertaining. But from a literary standpoint they’re extremely feeble. The prose’s biggest flaw is failing to incarnate Tim Burton’s ambiance and spirit that make these Batman films classic. No detailing of the Art Deco architecture of Gotham. Scarce mentioning of snow and atmospheric elements, and the action scenes are reduced to an undesirable dearth.
However, the books aren’t entirely terrible. They have their enchanting moments, and the somewhat daft style is fleeting. Both books are under 300 pages. Now there’s numerous nuggets to go over, so let’s begin with the prologue. The direction of this review will bounce around to the parts that diverge from the movie’s canon, thus it’s assumed you are familiar with its plot and characters.
A narrative juxtaposing the modern corrupt era of Gotham and 1950s Gotham is illustrated.
The City wasn’t always depraved back then. The superhero emerged as a necessity to quell crime. Perchance you remember the opening scene featuring the Penguin’s birth and Paul Reubens as his elegant father? You probably felt the same yearning as most fans to want more details. It briefly summarizes the gist of how he was a freak born out of place in opulence. Sadly, the book’s version feels just as rushed, providing scant insight about his origins.
Chapter 2 thrusts us into the bustling streets of Gotham where Alfred is scurrying about with bags full of X-mas goodies. What’s he shopping for? a Christmas goose, new ornaments, and presents for Bruce’s acquaintances and friends. It’s little tidbits like these that make the novelizations worth reading.
The meeting between Max and the Mayor gives us a broader perspective to Max’s character. Schreck’s Department store is a key factor to Gotham’s economy. When it thrives, Gotham thrives. It’s described as a favorite among Gotham citizens. This is what gives Max the clout to act out in haughty grandeur. He uses it as a beguiling tactic to persuade the Mayor into signing off on his power plant investment. But as we all know, the Mayor fails to fall for the rhetoric presented by Max. The one character who plays a larger role in the book is his son Chip. In the book, Chip is more outspoken, more involved with his dad, more cocky. They even decide to make him a star college football Quarterback for some needless reason. In the film, he’s a more compassionate character. Here he’s affronting Selina in several scenes, characterizing him as a typical jock ass hole.
At the charitable speech outside Schreck’s department store, Max hurls out ‘overstocked chintzy trinkets’ wrapped as gifts. Commissioner Gordon attends the event because he felt apprehensive about the mass gathering, though he has no preventative plan!!! I re-watched the film just before writing this article, and the only action the cops take are pushing back the crowd as Max and the Mayor ambulate to the podium. Once the chaos ensues, the cops are visually absent. Gordon demands the bat signal to illumine. Across town, Bruce is perched in his study with a pondering countenance as the bat-signal flares to life. He avoided the speech because big crowds remind him of the night his parents died. Meanwhile, the Penguin guffaws at the bat signal splitting the sky, muttering “ooh,Batman. I’m trembling.”
Much of the actions plays out similar to the film, except the dialogue used by the clown who threatens to taser Selina. I feel a lot of jocular dialogue was cut from the film for good reason. Most of it was bad. The book added more lines to Batman in action scenes, but i’m glad they decided to go with the more silent, brooding personality seen in the film.
The most identical scene of book to film is Max getting kidnapped and blackmailed by the Penguin in the sewers. it’s nearly verbatim. When you read it, the lines by the penguin seem terrible, but in the film Danny Devito’s performance of them is superb. It’s a vastly underrated effort by him at a time when he was in his prime. Much of the mockery for this film is due to the Penguin being a grotesque abomination, whereas in the comics he’s more graceful and clean-cut. Yes, he’s a direct product of your typical Tim Burton film, but if people are able to accept jet-ski Bane from TDKR, then this shouldn’t receive as much condemnation as it gets. He’s an engaging combination of sinister and witty. The transformation from gauche to elegant is a compelling character arc.
After Max and the Penguin hatch their plan for his reemergence to society, the Penguin peruses records at Gotham city hall to presumably find his parents. However, he already knows his lineage, knows they are dead. Therefore, not explicitly revealed in the film, he’s actually jotting down a list of Gotham’s first born children since he cannot exact revenge on his parents.
Ah, now it’s time for everyone’s favorite scene: the vichyssoise snack. Instead of Alfred saying “It’s suppose to be cold,” Bruce says the line as a question to him, ruining the joke. This is one alteration i’m gleeful they made for the film. Meanwhile, Bruce is delving the Gotham archival newspapers to find the origins of the Red triangle circus gang. From his research, he believes their turn to crime emerged after the police investigated them for a spate of missing children cases. The police shutdown the freakshow after it became ‘unsuitable for children’. Most were questioned, but the aquatic bird boy was able to abscond. Overtime, the penguin’s existence became an urban myth as the gang went underground.
There’s a drastic difference in Selina Kyle’s discovery of Max’s chemical power plant scheme. Knowing he’s gonna kill her, Max exposes more aspects to the travesty. As he explains it, the power capacitor is his pyramid, his legacy to leave to Chip. Shockingly, Chip shows up suddenly after Max shoves her off Schreck’s skyscraper. Like a child caught filching candy, Max coughs up a weak excuse of how she slipped to her demise. Having not fully witnessed the crime, Skip blames it on Selina’s depression and PMS. For a family steeped in duplicity, you’d think a better reasoning could be fabricated. Yet it seems the writers were stumped here and the decision to axe Chip out of it was the wiser choice. As for Selina’s eerie metamorphosis into Catwoman, Gardner explains it away as some sort of ethereal phenomenon that is hard to explain. It never makes much sense in the film or book, it’s more of a fantasy element one has to go with.
Remember the red triangle gang languishing above Cobblepot’s mayoral office? This’s a two level office in Schreck tower with a back entrance so they could ingress and egress without detection. The coaxing of Penguin down the the stairs is done without a slimy fish. He still mauls Josh’s nose off, but Gardener fails exploit the goriness and horror of it.
The first Catwoman and Batman quarrel ends up being a feminine diatribe on female empowerment. It’s a theme they minimize in the film, although the subtext is there.
One scene entirely cut from the film has Selina returning to work just to snidely affront Max, giving faux pity to the fiery destruction at Schreck’s department store. You know, that same conflagration her alter-ego committed. Still his secretary, she serves him a coffee with weevils swimming in it. It’s an ugliness below her grace. That’s a move more tailored for the loathsome penguin, so they cut it out of the film.
The Selina and Bruce date scene ends up being the most well-written of the book. As Michelangelo is with a chisel, Gardner seems a natural at sculpting a racy liaison worthy of its own erotic book. Didn’t know you had it in you, Craig.
The whole degradation of Batman’s character attempt ends up being rushed and convoluted. The bat-glider has awkward handling, leading to a rough landing. The damage inflicted by the batmobile leaves it too crippled for a return appearance in the story. This cleverly leads into the bat-jet-ski coming into usage, and with Penguin’s abode being in the sewers, it works out aptly.
It’s now Christmas eve, and the night of splendor at Schreck’s annual Max-querade held in his war-torn department store. The Penguin’s (accompanied by gun-flaunting empire penguins) explosive intrusion has him shanghaiing Chip. But like in the film, Max shows his first sign of genuine compassion and convinces the Penguin to take him instead. Dithering to decide, the Penguin tosses Chip back in the crowd, remarking “I’ll let Knute Rockne live for now.” Which is another reference to Chip being a collegiate football star; all be it an archaic one.
Back in his icy lair, the Penguin shows Max a diorama of his vile plan to escort the children of Gotham into the polluted waste of Max’s industrial plant. After growing impatient at the children’s delay, the Penguin jests: “Don’t tell me they stopped at McDonald’s.” I chuckled a bit harder than most at this shameless plug, for I was a wee five-year-old at the time of this film’s release. I remember being in California when this came out and getting a cat-woman happy meal toy. My parents left us with relatives to go and see it, as they felt this film might be too dark for kids. Ironically, much of the documented criticism it received was it being too dark for children. unfortunately, I was a victim of this at the time. This is what eventually prompted Warner Bros. to take the franchise in a softer direction for the following sequels Batman Forever & Batman & Robin.
An iconic display of the penguin’s ruthlessness happens when he shoots the fat clown dead after he questions Penguin’s cruel intention to kill the children of Gotham. In the book, however, the Penguin doesn’t shoot him dead until after receiving Batman’s notification of him foiling his grand finale.
Soon after, the reverberations of the batboat roars through the mazy sewers beneath Gotham city. The sewers are specified to be vast and dark. Many changes over the years have made mapping them nearly impossible. Therefore, Alfred is unable to track the signal’s origin. How did they find it? They matched the device the Batmobile was hacked by to a similar device found on the rocket-penguins in Gotham square.
The fight between Batman and the Penguin is an extraordinary confrontation in the film, but short and clunky in the book. Before you know it, it hops over to the three-way showdown between Max, Catwoman, and Batman. The major discrepancy here happens when Batman doesn’t tears off his mask to reveal himself. Yet Max still says the line, “and Bruce Wayne, why the hell are you dressed up as Batman?” It’s odd. It’s not until Max shoots him in the neck before he rips it off to staunch the blood.
Catwoman still avenges herself by killing Max in a hail of sparks and smoke as she combines the taser and a generator cord to electrocute ’em. At this same moment across town, Gordon observes the lights of Gotham City flicker and dim. This causes the characters to ponder whether Max’s claims of Gotham City being low on power has some validity. An interesting connotation they should’ve included in the film.
In the book’s finale, Alfred has to pick up Bruce because both the batski and batmobile were demolished. He glimpses a cat dart down an alley. Bringing it back to the Rolls-Royce, the story fades out without revealing the fate of Catwoman.
Overall thoughts: Perhaps the dark tone isn’t depicted to my appeasement, but I found it entertaining enough to read it to it’s conclusion. If you’re a massive Batman fan but not so keen on reading, this is an attainable one for you to complete. Who knows, it may springboard you into reading more novels. There’s an endless trove of literature out there waiting to be devoured. Stay tuned to Villainnews for more movie novelization reviews.