20 June 2010


Ray Zablocki's quick video history of The Man of Steel is impressive enough to those of us out of the digital video loop, but guys like Aaron Schoenke take the bar of amateur production to an entirely different level. An incredible investment of time, talent, film, and financial resources (the film short cost roughly $27,000) on the one hand, Aaron Schoenke's Batman: City of Scars is, on the other, a testament comic books' enduring ability to inspire and compel their readers to create.

Fan-made films and videos based on comic book characters, popular Hollywood movies, and now even video game characters, are nothing new. (Hell, even our beloved Dabbler still talks about the GI JOE: A Real American Hero fan flick he made back in eighth grade! ) Ranging from the ridiculous and uninspired to productions worthy of discussion and merit like Schoenke's Scars, fan-made shorts - if anything - provide insight into what resonates.
Not surprisingly, Star Wars fan-flicks out-number those of any other character or franchise around; Fan Films, an online registry website, currently counts 312 fan-made Star Wars shorts. The BBC's Doctor Who comes in at second place with 128 fan works to its credit, with   Star Trek placing in third with 84. Rounding out the Hollywood-spawned Top Five are (surprisingly) Friday The 13th (64) and Indiana Jones (50).

While Batman can't beat Darth Vader on that same list, the Dark Knight does land in second place overall with 144 fan-films made. Appropriately enough, Superman ranks as the second most popular superhero for amateur interpretation: he counts 71 to his name. Spider-Man is third with 51, and relative newcomer Green Lantern asserts himself as an up-and-coming challenger with 34 -- and rising. Interestingly, despite their broad longtime popularity, only 12 fan-films on Fan Films are credited to Marvel's uncanny mutants, the X-Men.  

If 'Fan Cinema' or maybe Cinema Popular could be considered a genre unto itself,  City of Scars, currently in the midst of much comicsblogosphere debate following its debut at Daily Motion yesterday, can already count itself among the cream of the fan-made crop.  

Schoenke draws much of his inspiration from the recent blockbuster Batman Arkham Asylum video game, crafting his thirty-minutes to mesh quite well with the game's grisly, Gothic milieu.  Scars is, in fact, the first fan-made film to be set in Arkham, and Schoenke 's camera captures the setting vividly.  

It's the camera work - the mark of a good cinematographer and director - that sets City of Scars apart from the vast majority of fan film; Schoenke knows his tech and his skill using a light meter is beyond reproach.  The film, like so many 'professional' movies do, relies on its look to convince and distract, and its more than enough to capture the interest of any wide-eyed fan boy. 

But that's also the film's flaw, and Schoenke's piece - like the great majority of  amateur, student, and fan-films - doesn't transcend it's fan niche for want of a story.  While better looking and better crafted than most,  Batman: City of Scars isn't really better told.  The demands of production and editing being what they are,  Schoenke's desire to conquer the mechanics of film make him and his story victims of their own fan-boy special effects. 

Don't get us wrong: even criticism like that - if it's warranted - shouldn't truly detract  from City of Scars. Although its creator may have more lofty ambitions, City of Scars does succeed at being what is: a fan-film tribute to the medium of comic books, to superheroes, and their innate ability to convince us all that yes, a man can fly.
When the Joker escapes from Arkham and murders the parents of a young boy, Batman recalls the pain of losing his own parents as a child. He is pushed past his limits to the point where his focus becomes revenge on all who stand in his way, including many of Gotham’s underworld. Finally, Batman is forced to look at the psychological profile of his own mind and accept the consequences of his life to find resolve.

Check out more short films by Aaron Schoenke and Bat In The Sun Productions on their website [here]. And if you're curious about City of Scars fan-filmed Bat-competition, swing over to Batman Fan Films, an entire website devoted to the amateur Bat-genre -- [here].
The Dark Knight by Bill Sienkiewicz

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