I can’t tell you how long I’ve been a Batman fan. Literally. I usually tell people it started when I was about three, but the truth is, I don’t know. Because when I try to remember back to a time when I wasn’t a fan of the Caped Crusader, my memory won’t go back that far.
I do know that repeats of the old ‘60s Adam West TV series were among the first shows I ever remember watching, and that I would get really excited and happy when they came on. I know that I remember having Batman action figures, but I have no idea how old (young) I was when I got them. And I know that when I think back to when I first started reading, I remember having some Batman comics (especially a particular giant-sized treasury edition reprint book) and coloring books.
The point of all of this is to say that, if I’m going to write about superheroes, it’d probably be impossible for me not to be influenced by Batman. But here’s the thing: Although Batman has been my favorite character in all of pop culture for my whole life (sure, I’ve gone through phases where I was into other characters, but it always goes back to the Bat), my favorite comic books have almost universally been Marvel. Why?
First, let me say that things have changed a lot over the years, especially in more recent times, as the industry has matured and there’s been so much cross-pollination between creators. But looking back to when I was a kid and first got into comics, there was something about Marvel that I preferred, but could never quite put my finger on. It wasn’t just that they used real locations that you could actually go to (mostly New York City) rather than imaginary places that you could only visit in your imagination. There was a certain gravitas to the stories that just didn’t exist in most DC stories. It’s harder to care about the fate of Metropolis when you know Metropolis doesn’t really exist.
I think what it may boil down to is this: DC comics were about superheroes who happened to have secret identities so that they could live normal lives when they weren’t fighting crime. Marvel comics were about “real” people—powered or not—who happened to dress up in a costume to fight crime. Things started to change in the 1980s, especially with Batman and the Teen Titans, where you’d see more about their lives outside of beating up bad guys, but growing up in the ‘70s, I remember seeing very little of the lives of the men and women behind the mask.
Which brings me to the point of this whole essay. When I set out to write my own superhero novel, I knew it was going to be influenced by Batman. Rather than fight it, I just went with it. In fact, when my friends and beta readers read the early drafts of Sidekick, that was usually their favorite part of it, and they wanted even more analogies to the Batman/DC mythos, even making suggestions themselves. In fact, in wanting to give readers what they seemed to want, I may have gone a little too far in that direction.
Although I’ve gotten nearly all positive reviews, some of them have suggested that the homage to the Dark Knight was even bordering on fan fiction. I have to say that, after publishing and thinking about what I’d produced, I was expecting even more than I got of those types of reviews. But here’s the thing: It isn’t just an homage to (or fan fiction for) Batman.
First, I wanted there to be a certain familiarity of the characters to sort of lull the readers into thinking they knew what was going on and what to expect, and then use that expectation to heighten the effect of some of the curve balls that I threw their way. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but I hope I succeeded in doing that.
And, second, my original intent was not to write my own version of Batman. Remember when I said that I always preferred Marvel to DC, despite being such a huge Batman fan? Well, this was my chance to write a Marvel-style version of a Batman-type character.
So, with that in mind, here’s the exercise I began with (although it’s not set in stone, and I definitely went off on tangents): What if Tony Stark was Batman? What if Peter Parker was Robin? Or Steve Rogers had become Superman instead of Captain America? And what if the Joker had started out as Wilson Fisk?
The results were Black Harrier, an armored superhero with no powers; Red Robin, his sidekick, a teenager with lots of problems; Eaglestar, the most powerful hero in the world, created during World War II; and Pierrot, an evil clown crimelord whose physical stature is as menacing as his insanity is frightening.
The other thing I decided to do was to make the main character the sidekick instead of the Batman character. This was for a number of reasons, including the fact that I thought it would make for a more interesting point of view, that many of my readers would probably be teens and young adults, and that I had been an awkward teen myself and could still remember things from back then, but I had never been a billionaire.
I don’t know how successful I was at what I was trying to do, but either way, it seems like most readers are enjoying it. And if you haven’t read it, I hope you enjoy it, too.