The House That Kane Built

Just when I thought it was safe to be on this planet, New York is suffering another heat wave. I thought Wednesday was rough, playing with one of my bands in a four hour procession through the streets of Brooklyn with few stops in 90 degree weather. The thermometer on Saturday wasn't more than a degree or two higher, but it feels so much worse. Fans helped, as did lying amid bottles of frozen water, but for the most part I'm useless when it gets this hot.

I let the lawn slide, either until Sunday or next week, but other errands forced me out of the house in the morning, notably some important checks in need of depositing. Thank you for the relief check, United States, and thank you for my pension check, struggling unnamed former employer. I'm slightly closer to catching my savings back up to where they were before I splurged and bought a car a few months ago.

On the way to the bank, I passed a novelty store and noticed a box on the sidewalk with a window cut out in the front and tiny curtains, making a mock “theater” for children to act out puppet shows. I flashed immediately back to the third grade, and my only acting experience. Somehow I got the “lead” role in a performance of The House That Jack Built. Each child in a row would read one line of the poem and hold up a corresponding prop, until they reached a cardboard house at the end of the row. Inside, I'd open a window and pop out my head to proclaim my line, “...and THIS is the house that JACK built!”

Back then, I was the class clown, ever striving to make people laugh, vying for what teacher's described as “negative attention.” It didn't matter if jokes were at my expense, only that I was focused on. So, at some point in rehearsing I started adding a little something to my line reading, a super cheesy toothy grin, sort of a Joker face but goofy instead of demented. I'd read the line, and flash my teeth and wiggle my eyebrows. The teacher didn't like this of course, and by the time the actual performance went on, I think I was given the choice of being demoted playing “the cat that killed the rat” or just doing a straight line reading. I can't quite remember which I chose, but I think I opted for a flat, unemotional delivery of the line with a serious face, and I was done with acting after that.

After errands and reminiscing, I collapsed in front of the television for a few hours until the blissful air conditioning of the 5:00 mass. My 2-disc edition of Batman: Gotham Knight had arrived, and I was ready to immerse myself in interpretations of one of my favorite American comic book heroes by some of the top names in Japanese animation. The first story was decent, several kids giving their disparate views of the hero, from a shadowy force to an actual bat to some kinda robot. I thought this conceit was better handled a few years ago in an episode of the animated series. Each short gets progressively better however, showcasing different artistic styles and takes on the character, delving into the psychology which drives him, all loosely connected by subtle plot elements and the inimitable vocal talents of Kevin Conroy, as synonymous with this hero as Peter Cullen is to Optimus Prime.

The real draw for me, as is usually the case with these comic book DVDs, is the special features. At one point in the audio commentary Conroy shares this great anecdote about 911, how he volunteered to help cook for the relief workers after the attacks. After a grueling week, one of the workers asked him if he was an actor or something, because he sounded familiar. He said he'd done some voice work, and when the guy pressed further he had to admit that he was Batman. Excited, the worker rushed out to the dining area to ask the others if they realized who'd been preparing their meals. After some disbelief and demands to prove it, Conroy shouted from the kitchen: “I am vengeance! I am the NIGHT! I...am...BATMAN!!” Needless to say, the room went wild and morale was elevated, a testament to the lasting popularity of the character and his impact on society.

There was also a fascinating 40 minute documentary on the life of Batman's creator, Bob Kane. His widow, Mark Hamill, and others shared stories of Bob's life interspersed with old radio clips and footage from interviews with the man himself. Stan Lee, who seems to appear in every comic book documentary I watch these days, recalls Bob ribbing him when Batman hit the big screen in 1989: “Don't worry Stan, if you're lucky maybe someday they'll make a movie about one of your creations!” Stan regrets that his friend wasn't around long enough to see Spider-Man.

I have not seen The Dark Knight yet. Chances are, by the time most of you are reading this I will be sitting on the edge of my seat in a darkened theater, absorbing what many are calling the greatest comic book movie of all time. Can it live up to the hype? I'm pretty biased as I've been a fan of the character since I first saw reruns of the campy ‘60s series as a child. Some of my friends caught the midnight show on Thursday, but there was no way I could see a 2.5 hour movie the day after playing a feast and be remotely useful at work on Friday after 3 or 4 hours of sleep. So, I'm carefully avoiding the internet, easy to do when the extreme heat forces me to keep my computer off most of the day for fear of the fans burning out or the circuits melting. It's better to be safe than sorry.

Whatever the form, the legacy of Kane lives on. He came from poverty and created an iconic figure that still thrives in multiple media, from comics to animation to live action movies. And that is the house that Kane built. You can't see me, but I have a big cheesy grin right about now.


Blogger Darrell said...

I felt good enough this afternoon to go to a matinee. So, of course, we saw Mama Mia!

I'm kidding. We saw The Dark Knight. I won't call it the single greatest comic book ever, but I'll say it is the equal of Spider-Man 2 and Batman Begins ... and it's as gritty and uncompromising as 300 and Sin City. You'll love it. I can't wait to compare notes.

7/20/2008 7:30 PM  

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