We live in a day and age where the media we enjoy is constantly being translated from one medium to the next. While some may lament that this is done merely to increase exposure to bigger audiences and by extension bigger profits, but I believe that is an overly cynical take on the matter. Such a viewpoint would be a disservice to the passion that people like Kevin Smith and Marc Bernardin have for comics and all things comic related and as I hope to document in my review of the pairs first live appearance, it’s all about spreading the joy and love of the things we the fans enjoy and love.
For those of you who may be unfamiliar with it, Fatman on Batman started as a podcast in May 2012 where director Kevin Smith, most known for movies such as Clerks, Dogma, and Tusk amongst many others, would interview people who had directly worked on some Batman related project whether it be movies, comics, or TV shows. Not limiting himself to just voice actors and writers, Smith would bring in animated soundtrack composer, Christopher Drake, and American Idol winner and occasional artist Chris Daughtry alongside well known contributors such as Mark Hamill, Neal Adams, and Paul Dini. As someone who loves director’s commentary and special features on DVD/Blu-ray releases. the in depth interviews about not only working on one of the most known media icons of the 20th century but also the path individuals have taken to get there was particularly entertaining. Often the side stories about nothing particularly Batman related are often the most memorable instances from the episodes, as although hearing about how Kevin Conroy approaches Bruce Wayne and Batman differently for Batman: The Animated Series is very interesting and informative, Conroy’s stories about his time at The Juilliard School in New York City are remarkably human and touching.
Fourteen episodes into the podcast Smith would bring screenwriter and editor Marc Bernardin (Entertainment Weekly, LA Times) to do a commentary track on the newly released animated adaptation to The Dark Knight Returns Pt. 1. As well as discussing the merits of the film, the pair also discussed their own personal connection to the original comic. Bernardin would return for Part 2 and eventually the pair would do commentary tracks for the 1989 Batman film and its sequels over the course of two years. Following the completion of the Batman & Robin commentary in early 2015, Bernardin would join the podcast full time. At this point the format of the show shifted slightly, as the pair would discuss all newly announced comic/media news and reviews, with the occasional interview that the show started on, shifting away the focus from Batman in most cases. As well as that starting in 2015 there was enough geek/nerd/comic news that the pair had more than enough material to do the show on a now weekly basis, the different backgrounds of Smith and Bernardin is what makes the show shine. Where Smith is overjoyed by the increasingly growing presence of comic book superheroes in the mainstream market across various new mediums, and never has a real negative to say about them, Bernardin looks at things from more of a writer’s perspective and with a more critical eye. Not to say Bernardin trounces on things, but there are moments where Kevin Smith (and I) are shocked and awed by the observations of Marc Bernardin that truly shows that he is a master of his craft, revealing subtleties and themes that are often overlooked which vastly enrich the things we are already enjoying.1
Another format change would soon come with Fatman on Batman being hosted on YouTube with the audio being later released as a podcast. As well as allowing the hosts to be a bit more animated in their deliveries the video format allowed the pair to feature more visually based material alongside discussion of it, such as movie stills and comic artwork.2 The pair had started their visual show with a live video recording, so the only natural progression was a live show. The pair’s first live show was this week prior at the Fillmore Theater in Detroit, Michigan as part of the Freep Film Festival which featured numerous documentaries including The Death of Superman Lives which Kevin Smith has a role in. The choice of venue was very appropriate considering the opening of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice less than a week prior, which was filmed in and around the Detroit Metro area. By show of applause the crowd was 70-30 on regular listeners of the Fatman on Batman podcast to people who had not heard the show and are just fans of Kevin Smith’s material. Based off the split in the crowd and the general reaction from the crowd throughout the show shows the accessibility of Smith and Bernardin’s podcast and how comic related media is far removed from being a niche interest.
The live show very much followed the format of the podcast series with news, reviews, and a behind the scenes look at TV production. Whereas usually someone comes into the show to talk about their time working in movies or TV in this instance it was Kevin Smith who talked about his role as a director for an episode of The CW’s The Flash, of which Smith and Bernardin geek out over at a regular basis to the point where it was nice to finally get some additional behind the scenes information on how the show is produced, as a sort of relievement. As the pair went threw the large chunk of news you could get the feeling that the pair was feeding off the crowd’s reactions and enjoyment to the raunchy humor the pair becoming more animated as the show went on. Comic news is being released in such a copious amount in 2016 that it is very much a hard thing to stay current and up to date with, so humor alongside information makes for a fun evening. The final part of show were Smith and Bernardin talking about Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice which the pair had not discussed together prior to the show. Much of their reactions and critiques of the film are common amongst those who have shared them, albeit with some very sharp jokes added in, but they didn’t crucify the film as many have. As would be expected Smith was more lenient on the film than Bernardin, with his comment of “I enjoyed it more than I thought it would, but that doesn’t mean it was good,” best summing up the discussion, although the pair remain hopeful for future films. The most interesting part in discussing the film was Smith bringing up the “conspiracy” that there are some on the Internet that believe that Smith has received orders from higher ups at Warner Bros. to change his tone regarding the film, in reference to his initial review of the film on Hollywood Babble On with Ralph Garman which was much more critical and scathing. The conspiracy was humorously torn down, as the idea that a hockey jersey wearing indie filmmaker can have that much sway on the public is laughable.
The evening concluded with a Question and Answer section, which also featured an extra who worked on BvS who gave a little perspective on what it was like to work with Zack Snyder. Of the handful of questions and answers that were asked two particular stand out, and they were not really questions. A Father wanted to thank Smith for his discussion on Star Wars: The Force Awakens after his 10 year old son was very upset considering the fate of Han Solo, which led to a hatred of Star Wars and almost resulted in what would have been a very unpleasant Christmas morning. Smith’s discussion was along the lines of that it’s ok for you to be sad or angry because of moments in movies or stories, but that you can’t let it ruin something that you otherwise loved. The back and forth between the Father and Smith ended with “J.J. Abrams may have saved Star Wars, but Kevin Smith saved Christmas.” as a father, it could been seen that Smith found this particularly touching. Lastly it was noticed that a 10 year old boy was noticed to be in the crowd, and after the “oh my god we’ve been saying fuck and making totally inappropriate jokes for the last 2 hours” moment settled in and was asked to come up on stage and he was asked what he thought of BvS. He loved it, just as he said he loved Ant-Man and Age of Ultron and is looking forward to Civil War. I think that’s my real takeaway from the entire evening: being passionate about the things you love, and remembering why you love them. It’ why Kevin Smith and Marc Bernardin do the show, and why people like me and hundreds more went to live performance of a show I could have waited a few weeks to hear the recording of. Sure you can be furrow your brow at the failings of BvS and sigh heavily at the newest relaunch/retcon/re-whatever but that doesn’t mean you have to stop loving or enjoying it. Before any of us were writing or reading articles on Sequart or critiquing films, we were all that 10 year old child who was wide eyed at whatever we could get our hands on. So in regards to that I’d say Fatman on Batman: Live was an ultimate success.
1. I could listen to Marc Bernardin talk about Mad Max: Fury Road all day long
2. Some listeners/viewers were surprised to discover that Marc Bernardin is African-American, strange as that may seem given his in-depth discussion about African American characters on the show.