BY JEREMY SHERE
This summer, as moviegoers pack multiplexes to catch The Dark Knight Rises—the latest installment in the Batman epic—most will not be acquainted with the story’s true hero. No, it’s not Batman (a.k.a. Bruce Wayne), but rather the film’s executive producer and Indiana University alum, Michael Uslan, without whose determination and decade-long struggle Batman would never have become one of the most successful franchises in movie history.
“For a comic book geek like me to be in this position is simply unbelievable,” says Uslan, 60, who recently donated the bulk of his 40,000-strong comics collection to IU’s Lilly Library and whose memoir, The Boy Who Loved Batman (Chronicle Books), was published last year.
Uslan got his start in the comic book industry while a sophomore at IU in 1971, when he taught the first-ever academic course on comics. Ensuing publicity about the course led to a summer job at DC Comics, where Uslan eventually wrote comic book scripts for The Shadow, Batman, and other series.
With the goal of eventually breaking into the film business and bringing Batman to the silver screen, Uslan enrolled at the IU School of Law and, after graduating, got a job with the legal department at United Artists film studio. “My plan was to be a lawyer for no more than four years,” he says. “After that, I would either be making movies or delivering pizzas.”
The plan worked. Although it took Uslan nearly a decade to convince Hollywood studios that it was a good idea to make serious movies based on comic books, the first Batman, starring Michael Keaton as the caped crusader and Jack Nicholson as the Joker, came out in 1989, followed by four sequels and a reboot, the last installment of which debuted this summer.
Having fulfilled his movie-making dreams, Uslan now has his sights set on another ambitious project: creating a film school at IU Bloomington. “Most film school grads coming out of L.A. and New York don’t have any business training,” says Uslan, who along with his wife, Nancy (whom he met on the first day of his freshman year at IU), has regularly returned to Bloomington to visit his son and many nieces and nephews who’ve attended IU. “The university is uniquely positioned to create a film school that partners with the IU Cinema, business school, law school, informatics—the list goes on,” Uslan says. “I’m playing Johnny Appleseed, planting the idea for what could be a really amazing place.”