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An interview with my mother about Batman

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or, The Killing Joke

Photo by Barry King/WireImage. Banner Society Illustration.

Upon the occasion of her birthday, I present in conversation my favorite pop culture thinker: my mom. Mother of two, grandmother of three, retired public educator of more than 40 years. She has a picture of Batman as her Twitter avatar, and this seemed like the moment to get to the bottom of that.

So let’s talk about what Batman means to you.

Don’t you have a friend whose nickname was Batman? A girlfriend? You guys called her Batman? Like in high school, maybe?

I don’t remember.

There was a Batman girl. I guess it’s too late to work that into the story.

I suppose so. Can I ask you some questions?

I don’t know if I can answer any of them.

Well, your Twitter avatar is a picture of Batman. Can you tell me what inspired that selection?

I think [high school friend redacted] came up with it. Right?

I don’t remember! The legend of you being able to hear swears from superhuman distances originates in the mists of history.

I’ve had it saved in a screenshot since it happened:

I am so grateful you preserved this moment for history. I thought it was an interesting selection, because that is, I think, the Batman from the first Christopher Nolan Batman, where Morgan Freeman creates a surveillance network across all of Gotham for him, and when his eyes light up blue, he can listen into everybody’s phone conversations? That seems like a thing you would like.

It is a thing I would like. I don’t remember all of that. Although I know I saw the first Batman movie. I stopped going to see them after the last one I saw was very disturbing. Because it wasn’t about violence that happens to people in expected situations, or perpetrated on you because you did something bad, but it just seemed to be sort of random? I didn’t go see another Batman movie after that.

Do you remember which Batman movie that was?

No, of course not. But it was way back.

Was it the one with the Penguin?

I don’t know.

OK. So it was probably either Batman Forever, or Batman & Robin, both of which were exceedingly stupid, but not especially alarming to me as a teen.

I know who the worst Batman ever is. It’s Michael Keaton.

I think you and I may be the only people on planet Earth who think Michael Keaton is a bad Batman.

Batman should have a chin.

Thank you!

Because all of his face is covered up! He should have a chin. And I like Michael Keaton as an actor! Just not as Batman.

Have you seen the new Spider-Man movies? He’s the villain in one of them, and he’s amazing. But I don’t ever buy him as Batman.

It just doesn’t work. I want to call him up and say you’re doing it wrong!

Your Twitter bio also says “hear everything.”

Yes, and that relates to Batman. Batman ears.

It’s true, though. It’s very sinister. You do hear everything.

Yes. [spectral whisper] Yesssss.

Will you tell the story about Aunt Mothman at the Batman movie?

Are you recording me? This isn’t going to be on the radio, is it?

No, I’m recording you so that I can write it down.

On the radio. I’m so old school.

Tell the story!

Okay, so here is the long-standing argument my sister and I had over Batman. We went to see a Batman movie in Sevierville, and I do not know why we would do that unless we were at the outlet malls. Or paying homage to Dolly.

But the movie was beginning, and the bat emblem came up on the screen before the movie started, the gray and black one, and Donna said “Why do they have that mouth up there?” and I said it’s not a mouth, it’s a bat, and she said no, it’s a mouth, and I said no it’s a Batman and she said no, see those little things at the top, those are teeth,and the scallops at the bottom are teeth, and I said no, that’s just what’s around the picture of the bat, the black part in the middle is the bat. And she said no, that’s the inside of the mouth.

How long did this conversation go on?

Well past the point where you could see the bat logo.

[My father meanders into the room.]

I have Batman pajama pants! People don’t know that about me.

[My father meanders out of the room.]

Thank you, Daddy.

I don’t remember where they came from.

So he has Batman pajama pants that, as far as you know, could have been given to him by Batman?

Yes. And I have a suspicion.

Who’s your favorite Batman villain?

Oh I don’t know, they’re all so bizarre.

Do you relate to any of them? Or do you relate more to Batman?

Oh definitely more to Batman.

Why?

I don’t know, I like his outfit. And I never really related to Batwoman, Batgirl, any of that. Is there a Batwoman?

Probably!

Yeah, I never really related to them.

Ladies is Batmen too.

I cannot begin to address the subject-verb issues with that sentence.

Do you know the Jay-Z song?

I don’t know who that is.

Yes you do, he’s married to Beyoncé.

Oh, good for him, that seems like a good idea.

But when I was in junior high, that was when Batman was on TV, and I loved it. The show with Adam West and whoever the little guy was who played Robin. And they had those pop art things, you know, POW, ZOWIE. It looked like a comic strip come to life. Batmen used to be goofy, and now he’s never goofy.

If you had Bruce Wayne money and were a famous philanthropist, would you also become a vigilante?

Ohhh, I don’t know. That’s a good question. See I have to think outside of my own person right now. If I were a playboy billionaire. It’s hard for me to make that leap.

I think you guys have a lot in common!

No. [laughter]

OK, how about this? If you were a vigilante, what would you crusade against?

Oh, politicians, for sure. And I would try to get close to [name of United States senator redacted], to tell her she should stop wearing so much eyeshadow, she’s too old for that.

I will not put this in the interview.

She needs to know! She’s a grandmother. Set a better example. I’m a terrible interview subject.

No you’re not, this is great.

I don’t know about that.

The point of Batman Friday is that we guarantee you, every Friday, roughly 1000 words about Batman. we are delivering on that promise right now.

I forget what we were talking about.

Do you have a favorite Batman?

[several minutes pass as my mother looks up all the actors who have played Batman]

I just don’t approve of anyone on this list. I think maybe Christian Bale? But he’s too short!

This is why you’re a good interview, you give decided opinions.

Batman should be an imposing figure, by nature. And they are trying to make Alfred an imposing figure, but I’m not sure if it’s working, although the show was very good.

To be clear for our readers, you were talking about the Epix show Pennyworth, which you found via your favorite pandemic pastime, which is logging into my Amazon account from your house and then adding premium video channels to it.

Oh no, actually we didn’t do that this time, your father added it to his Comcast bill.

No he did, because it just showed up on my bill. You know I get an email every time you add one of these channels, right?

[Silence] OK, he thinks he’s paying for it.

He’s not.

Epix? I think he wanted that because he wanted to watch Godfather of Harlem, which has too many murders per second for me. So you’re paying for it and we’re paying for it?

No, only I’m paying for it. I’m being reverse-millennialed by my own parents.

So when you come over here, can you remove your Amazon from our TV?

Daddy has requested that I not do that, because yours doesn’t have HBO.

Well, we can afford it.

That was my contention as well! It’s fine, I don’t care, it’s funny. Put it against the cost of raising me.

I’ll knock it off your tab. You know, they say the first 40 years of parenting are the hardest.

Mom, I’m not 40.

I know.

[silence]

Well, you should watch Pennyworth, it’s from the perspective of a young Alfred Pennyworth in London. And it has really great female characters. One of whom is named, what is her name, Peg. Or is that her sister’s name? The United Kingdom has been taken over by bad guys, and I can’t remember their names, and there’s a wall around London. There you go.

So what ends up happening?

Well, we haven’t gotten that far. I think he will end up being a butler in name, but a very powerful force.

Thank you for being a part of this.

You’re welcome. [sings] Batty batty batty batty batty batty bats!