Oct 10, 2012
By Rob Spahr
WEST LONG BRANCH – The man responsible for bringing dignity back to Batman returned “home” on Wednesday to get awarded the world’s first doctorate in comic books.
Michael E. Uslan, 61, a former Ocean Township resident and one-time student of Monmouth College, which is now Monmouth University, has been the executive producer on every Batman movie made since 1988.
The self-proclaimed “fanboy” purchased the film rights to the Batman franchise from DC Comics in 1979 after he felt that the 1960’s television series made a mockery of the comic book series he loved.
His dream of returning a sense of darkness and reality to the “Caped Crusader” was realized with director Tim Burton’s 1989 film Batman, and his legacy was cemented earlier this year with the The Dark Knight Rises, the conclusion to filmmaker Christopher Nolan’s popular Batman trilogy.
On Wednesday – in addition to receiving an honorary doctorate in Fine Arts with a special emphasis on the comic book genre from Monmouth University and giving the convocation address during the university’s annual Founders’ Day ceremony – Uslan spent time talking to the university’s students and faculty, as well as signing copies of his autobiography, The Boy Who Loved Batman.
“This is my homecoming,” said Uslan, who still lives in New Jersey and had a host of friends and family members at the event with him.
Uslan, a married father of two adult children, gave a lot of credit for his success to his parents. His mother encouraged him to follow his dreams, as long as he did it with conviction. And he got his work ethic from his father, Joe, a stonemason who actually worked on the restoration of the Monmouth University’s Wilson Hall.
“It’s important,” Uslan said of what Wednesday’s honor meant to him. “It’s emotional and it’s a testament to my parents.”
Uslan cheerfully answered all of the questions posed to him with great detail and surprising candor. But he called the students’ grilling of him for information a pleasure, because their questions were well thought out and wide ranging.
“Often when I’m speaking, I get a lot of questions like who would win between Superman and Batman,” said Uslan, adding that his answer is always Batman because “brains always beats brawn.”
“But here we had people coming from many different perspectives and areas, as opposed to ‘fanboys’ – and I use the term endearingly, because I am the ultimate fanboy,” he said. “A lot of people were interested in the process and how you get there from here, so that was great. And I hope they understand that they’re hearing it without any B.S. from a guy who was virtually sitting in the same chair that they were sitting in and coming from the same background, who found a way to take his passion in life and make it his work.”
Monmouth University senior Giancarlo Marrero said he was not sure what to expect from the man who brought his favorite comic book character to the silver screen.
“But it was an inspiration,” said Marrero, 24, of Lakewood. “He has a great personality, and he very entertaining and with great story to tell.”
Saliba Sarsar, the university’s vice president for Global Initiatives, called it an honor for Monmouth University’s students and campus community to have a person with Uslan’s background and accomplishments to be part of the Founders’ Day festivities.
“It inspires everyone to seek out their dreams and fulfill their potential,” Sarsar said.
Uslan has also taught courses on “Comic Book Folklore” at Indiana University, produced films such as National Treasure and Swamp Thing and won an Emmy Award for his work on the television show Where on Earth Is Carmen Sandiego?
But as he watched the final scenes of this year’s The Dark Knight Rises for the first time with his wife, Nancy, Uslan said he openly “wept like a baby.”
“This is my legacy. This is my epitaph. This is everything I’ve hoped and dreamed since I was 14 years old,” Uslan explained to his wife about his dream of showing the world the characters of Bruce Wayne and Batman as he saw them.
The eight Batman movies that Uslan produced have reportedly generated more than $3.7 billion in revenue worldwide. But this did not prevent his wife from quipping at his tearful realization: “OK, now what do you want to be when you grow up.”
Uslan said he is not closing the door on any possibilities and would even like to be the “Baby Boomer” face of new media. But for now, he said he plans to take advantage of the perks that his new doctorate will provide.
“I can now say to anyone ailing out there: read two comics and call me in the morning,” he joked.