Sunday, November 11, 2007

How my mom helped inspire the 1950 Batmobile—well, you’ll see what I mean


I know that's a pretty strange title, but in a few short weeks it will have been 3 years since Mom left us; I miss her terribly & wanted to share an example of how very special she was, right up until her final days.

How this came about actually started in the winter of 2003. I always chatted with her on the phone several nights a week, and one night I said “Hey Mom, if I tell you something nerdy do you promise not to laugh?”   She said “No promises, kiddo—now spill it!”

So I explained how I'd been online, browsing Ebay, & came across an interesting item. Some guy had taken a 1950 Batmobile model kit, done an incredible job of customizing it, and was selling it--for 200 bucks! Mom asked me if I knew how much the original model was; I told her you could buy the (unassembled, basic) plastic kit for under twenty bucks.

She said "What'd he do, gold-plate it?!" We both laughed, then she said something which surprised me: "Buy it."


Interior view of the actual custom model that sold on Ebay; instead of a backseat, this car was known for having a mini crime lab in the rear--complete with stool & desk!


Now Mom could've very easily said "Doug, you're a 40 year man--don't waste that much money on a damn toy!" & I would've agreed. But she didn't & I know why, God bless her; because from as early as I can remember, I've always been a huge Batman fan.


For my seventh birthday, my mom got me this Batman costume and added Bat-boots & an awesome utility belt with all kinds of Bat-gadgets!

Anyway--I said no, as much as I wanted that 50s Batmobile. I really had no desire to spend that kind of money on such a thing.

MOM: Why don't you buy the model and do it yourself?

DOUG: Mom, this guy goes on about how he used real auto paint, and made miniatures of controls & instruments; he must be a real pro, I wouldn't have a clue where to start.

MOM: I know what you're capable of. I'd love to see you build one. Doug if you do it right, I'll display it right on top of my tv!

(Two weeks later I ordered one of the kits--but when I saw all the plastic pieces, I rolled my eyes & stuck it in the top of my closet.)



Detective Comics, No.156 "The Batmobile of 1950"

It became a sort of 'running joke' on our phone calls; every once in awhile, she'd say "How's the custom Batmobile coming?" I'd go "Uh..." & she'd say "What are ya saving it for, retirement?! You're just like your dad!" and we'd both laugh.

But it was soon forgotten; because it was around this time that Mom began getting sick, and I could do nothing else but feel worry, fear, depression. And then one day, while spending time with her in the hospital, watching tv…      

MOM: Did you ever finish that Batmobile?

DOUG: No mom, I never started it. Too much else going on...

MOM: I'm never going to get to see that thing, am I.

DOUG: Mom, it’s not that important.  I wouldn’t even know where to start, anyway.  Where would I even buy an autosprayer, or a breathing mask?  It’s just a dumb model car…

Sometime later, when I was leaving the hospital, my sister Shawn (who worked there as a medical transcriber) ran to where I was waiting at the elevator & handed me a surgical mask.  I said “What’s this for??”  Shawn said "Mom said to give it to you so you can work on your car." I couldn't believe it.

This sounds strange now, but I knew then that I wanted to do it for her. I began thinking about where to begin, & in the weeks ahead...

  1. I joined an online HobbyTalk board--found out that Future Floor Wax would make clear plastic look 'glass', and how to use needles & toothpicks for fine detail painting, & how SIX COATS of auto body paint achieved a 'true depth'.
  2. I'm at the jewelry store getting a battery in my watch replaced: what is that he's using? MicroFine jewelers sandpaper, can I have a postage stamp piece of that? Voila, car mats!
  3. Dry mustard & brown coloring pencil over rough primer will create a wood-like finish on plastic (for the desk, steering wheel and cabinets).


(The floor is actual stainless steel, like in the comics; the owner of my local hardware store cut me a piece from his industrial flooring samples)

To be honest, over the next few weeks building the thing became therapeutic. Instead of sitting on my couch at night & wringing my hands in frustration over mom (watching tv or reading was out of the question), I honestly felt like I had something to do. Build the thing, make it a real showpiece, do it for Mom.



Using Adobe Photoshop, I was able to shrink this photo of my parents to the size of my pinky nail, along with a brief biography of them. (You need a magnifying glass to read it.)

And if you look hard enough, you'll see them in Batman's 'Missing Persons' folder which rests on his desk. (I also cut a sliding panel into the bottom of the desk, and inserted my name, a brief history of how I built the car & why, and a dollar bill; what's better than hidden money?)


On October 15, 2004 I presented the completed Batmobile to my mom. She couldn't even stand on her own at this point, but took the time to hold & marvel at the finished car. I will never forget that.

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Of course, with everything else poor Mom had to deal with in the end (including Shawn's new baby girl) I realize this was too small to matter. But the thing is, it helped me get through those final months; and everytime I look at it, I am only reminded of her unselfish nature & love. And if it wasn't for Mom, there'd be no 1950 Batmobile.

I love and miss you very much, Mom


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