January 5, 2022

I’ve been taking part over the past day or so in some interesting discussions on a couple of different FB sites regarding the nature of the Batman character, initiated by an article in which Michael Keaton - in my mind still the BEST cinematic Batman, and that is not a subject which I care to debate - decided he did not want to return for a second sequel after the franchise was turned over to Joel Schumacher. At some point I decided perhaps I might distill my thoughts in those conversations into a single post to share here.

So here goes…

Of course, I have long been on record - in print, online and in face-to-face discussions - as saying that Adam West has always been and will always be my favorite screen incarnation of Batman. The reason is simple: he was my introduction to the character. My love for West’s interpretation has never prevented me from also enjoying some of the more serious versions that came in the wake of Batmania’s inevitable demise.  

Batman, by his general nature, has always been dark. There was even a wee touch of darkness in some of the earliest episodes of the Adam West series; how vividly I recall as a child seeing that barely subdued look of anguish on Bruce Wayne’s face in the very first episode, when he recalls how his parents were murdered “by dastardly criminals.” For all its campiness, Batman the TV series was (at least in its first season) still grounded by the tragedy that led Bruce to take up his mission in the first place.  

My objection to recent incarnations of the character - starting with Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns - has been the tendency to make the character so dark that you can no longer tell if he's the hero or a deranged villain in his own right. Full disclosure (and one I’ve made a few times in the past): I kinda liked the original Dark Knight mini-series when it originally came out, because I thought it was an interesting take on the character - AND because, it my mind, it played like one of DC’s "Elseworlds" stories or such earlier tales as “The Last Batman Story -?” from Batman No. 300. 

But Miller’s story quickly became so popular that, before long, everybody was trying to outdark Dark Knight and make it more or less canon - and that got real wearisome real quick. The crimefighter who had been my hero since I was 3 years old, sitting on my daddy’s knee while watching Adam West, was now seemingly as warped as the criminals he pursued. 

As a child of the 1960s and ‘70s who grew up with Adam West and Denny O'Neil, that version simply does not jibe with my vision of who the character is and how he came to be.

The earliest stories by Bob Kane and the early 1970s tales of the O'Neal era got the balance right - as did the two Keaton movies, although the second one did obviously veer a little more dark, enough so that McDonald’s was forced to cancel its Batman Returns Happy Meal special after some parents complained.  (For some reason that story still amuses me.) Bruce Timm’s Batman: The Animated Series also nailed it, in my opinion - not surprising, given that it took at least some of its cues from the Burton-Keaton films, as well as the old Fleischer Superman animated shorts. Pretty good pedigree, if you ask me…

I've read a great many articles that discuss how the first Keaton movie took some of its inspiration from The Dark Knight Returns, and there's no denying that influence is there on the screen. There’s also little argument that the success of Miller’s mini-series played a role in finally getting the movie green-lit after a couple of decades of failed efforts. The mistake that Schumacher made in his two films was that he tried to take the character back a little bit toward the lighter territory of the Adam West series - without fully understanding what it was specifically about the '60s show that made it so wildly popular for a time. 

That, in my opinion, is why Schumacher’s films don't hold up as well as Tim Burton’s - or the TV series. 

However - and here’s where we get to the “unpopular opinion” portion of the program - I still contend that George Clooney was a better Batman than he gets credit for, even from himself, and that the "deathbed" scene between Bruce and Alfred in his film is one of the most moving moments in any Batman film. There’s some genuine love between the two men there, a father-son type of bond that really hit home for me. 

Yes, Batman And Robin has its problems, to be sure - not the least of which, in my opinion, was the casting of Uma Thurman as Poison Ivy, a topic I suppose is best left for another time. But that one poignant scene, between Bruce Wayne and his faithful but ailing butler, at least for me, was worth the price of admission.

Given a better script, and a director with a better understanding of both the character and the delicate balance between the dark and light aspects of the Bat-Universe, Clooney could have been great. Too bad even he doesn’t seem to realize that.

I was not a fan of the Christian Bale Dark Knight trilogy which those films were initially released - and, I’m sorry, but I’ll never be a fan of Heath Ledger’s take on the Joker, no matter how many posthumous awards they throw his way. (For the record: I greatly enjoyed most of Ledger’s other work, but the only reason his Joker is not my least favorite is because Jared Leto and Joaquin Phoenix came along and were even worse… again, a topic for another day.) Over the last couple of years, however, I will admit that I have reassessed my original opinion of those films and have come to appreciate them somewhat more than I did at first.

Part of this, to be sure, is that I have come to admire some of the other films that Christopher Nolan has directed - especially Interstellar and Dunkirk - and part of it is that I so loathe the majority of the so-called “Snyderverse” films that even the things I disliked in the Bale films are preferable by comparsion. 

(Now that I think of it, perhaps THAT is the “unpopular opinion” portion of the program. But I said it and I’m not sorry.)

Anyway, that’s my two cents’ worth. Not that anyone cares…

(Copyright © 2022 by John Allen Small)



December 23, 2021

December 1995. 

I was not quite six months into my two-year sojourn as News Editor for the Durant (OK) Daily Democrat, commuting back and forth each day from our home near Tishomingo and wondering during the drive each direction what I was going to get my wife for Christmas. Seems I have that problem every year, but this particular year it seemed especially difficult to decide.

Hoping for some guidance, one evening at supper I threw caution to the wind and asked Melissa point-blank: “Is t...

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December 22, 2021

Well, it's that time of year again.

I refer, of course, to the perpetual hullabaloo that has been raging for a number of years now over the use of the phrase “Happy Holidays.” 

To the best of my memory (which I’ll be the first to admit is quite often questionable at best), the brouhaha began when some well-meaning Christians started voicing their displeasure over the use of “Happy Holidays” by retailers during the gift-buying season. 

Their argument, as I understand it, was that ...

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December 15, 2021
(Micky and Mike: The Final Concert)

Looking back on it now, a little over half a century after the fact, I suppose it does seem a little.. well, okay, silly.

But at the time it made perfect sense to a seven-year-old boy hoping to get even the quickest glimpse of one of my childhood heroes. Because that’s the way a seven-year-old boy’s mind works.

Or, at least, it was the way this seven-year-old boy’s mind worked. Given that I was rarely if ever accompanied by any of my buddies from the...

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November 11, 2021

Like a lot of other Americans, he gets a lump in his throat every year about this time.

Unlike most of them, however, pride has little to do with it.

He hadn't actually wanted to go into the military in the first place. He rebelled against it for a long time, mainly because it had been his parents' idea at a time when he - like all teenagers - spent most of his time thumbing his nose at his parents' ideas. 

It was his life, by golly, and he was going to live it his way... even if it meant ...

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November 11, 2021

It occurred to me today - as I listened to the one embarrassingly over-politicized moment in an otherwise moving and respectful Veterans Day ceremony here in my community - that the thing that makes America possibly the greatest nation on earth is not the things we have already accomplished. 

And it is certainly NOT the status quo. If the past few years have taught me anything, it is that Peter Tork of the Monkees hit the nail on the head when he questioned the validity of the old saying "my...

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October 15, 2021

I've been a fan of the 1966-67 television version of the Green Hornet and Kato for literally as long as I can remember; some of my earliest memories are of sitting on my father's knee watching the show with Dad during its original ABC-TV run when I was 3 years old in 1966. That being the case, I like to think I know a little bit about the character portrayed by Van Williams, and for that reason have followed Moonstone's series of Hornet tales with great interest. (I even had the great good fo...

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September 27, 2021

Today - Monday, Sept. 27, 2021 - would have been my father’s 83rd birthday.

A little more than three years later, it still feels strange to put it that way: “would have been.” Dad died roughly a month before his 80th birthday, and almost a year and a half after the passing of the woman he promised to love, honor and cherish on a warm August day in 1962. 

He kept that promise, and so did she, and they made doing so look so easy - a fact that I probably took for granted for most of my chi...

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September 24, 2021

Many moons ago - when I was still a young nipper, filled to the brim with optimism and idealism and probably one or two other positive “isms” - my standard answer whenever someone would ask me if I had any pet peeves went something like this: “Oh, good heavens, no. I have no pet peeves; I wouldn’t know what to feed them.”

Later, after I became a husband and the father of two young boys (yes, in that order, even though it wasn’t necessarily the norm at the time), I would typically...

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September 17, 2021

Back in 1971, while awaiting the fate of his first feature film - the dystopian science fiction parable THX-1138 - and before being inspired to begin work on what eventually became Star Wars, writer-director George Lucas was challenged by his friend and mentor, Francis Ford Coppola, to write a script that would appeal to the larger, mainstream moviegoing public.

Though reluctant at first, Lucas eventually embraced the idea (no doubt in part an “I’ll show him” response to Coppola) and go...

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About Me

John Allen Small John A. Small is an award-winning newspaper journalist, columnist and broadcaster whose work has been honored by the Oklahoma Press Association, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Associated Press, the National Newspaper Association, and the Oklahoma Education Association. He and his wife Melissa were married in 1986; they have two sons, Joshua Orrin (born 1991) and William Ian (born 1996). Mr. Small is the News Editor and columnist for the Johnston County Capital-Democrat, a weekly newspaper headquartered in Tishomingo, OK. He obtained his nickname, "Bard of the Lesser Boulevards," from a journalism colleague - the late Phil Byrum - in recognition of the success of his popular newspaper column, "Small Talk." (In addition to the many awards the column itself has received over the years, a radio version of "Small Talk" earned an award for "Best Small Market Commentary" from the Society of Professional Journalists in 1998.) John was born in Oklahoma City in 1963; lived in the Bradley-Bourbonnais-Kankakee area of Illinois for most of the next 28 years (with brief sojourns in Texas and Athens, Greece, thrown in to break up the monotony); then returned to his native state in 1991, where he currently resides in the Tishomingo/Ravia area. He graduated from Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School in 1981, and received his bachelor's degree in journalism from Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais in 1991. The years between high school and college were a period frought with numerous exploits and misadventures, some of which have become the stuff of legend; nobody was hurt along the way, however, which should count for something. In addition to his professional career as a journalist he has published two short story collections: "Days Gone By: Legends And Tales Of Sipokni West" (2007), a collection of western stories; and "Something In The Air" (2011), a more eclectic collection. He was also a contributor to the 2005 Locus Award-nominated science fiction anthology "Myths For The Modern Age: Philip Jose Farmer's Wold Newton Universe," edited by Win Scott Eckert. In additon he has written a stage play and a self-published cookbook; served as project editor for a book about the JFK assassination entitled "The Men On The Sixth Floor"; and has either published or posted on the Internet a number of essays, stories and poems. He has also won writing awards from the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the National Library of Poetry. He is a past president of the Johnston County Chamber of Commerce in Tishomingo; was a charter member and past president of the Johnston County Reading Council, the local literacy advocacy and "friends of the library" organization; served as Johnston County's first-ever Americans with Disabilities Act coordinator in 1994-95; served two terms as chairman of the Johnston County (OK) Democratic Party; and has taught journalism classes for local Boy Scout Merit Badge Fairs. He is a member of the New Wold Newton Meteorics Society.


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