City of Scars: The Impressive Batman Fan Film Made for $27,000 in 21 Days

The system is broken… 

A common enough sentiment in an election year, but in this case, the speaker is Batman, and the proof is the 30-minute labor of love above.

Five years ago, father and son Batman fans Sean and Aaron Schoenke spent $27,000 to make City of Scars, this thrillingly grim entry into the canon.

The Joker may have escaped, but the Schoenkes part ways with a certain Hollywood franchise by confining the cynicism to the story. The prospect of measly box office returns didn’t stop them! They knew from the get go that their take would be zero. DC Comics allows ordinary mortals to use its characters in their own independent projects, provided they don’t attempt to realize a profit.

Predictably dismal box office figures aside, the Schoenkes’ efforts have paid off splendidly in other ways. City of Scars, and its 2011 sequel, Seeds of Arkham, below, have garnered a generous helping of attention and awards (The Wall Street Journal called City of Scars “impressive”), and the talented volunteer cast and crew have benefited from increased visibility. Rather than rewarding himself with a new car or a mansion in Bel Air, Schoenke the Younger broke with tradition, and cast himself as Nightwing.

These days, the Shoenkes’ production company, Bat in the Sun, has legions of fans, just like Batman! Superhero devotees are a notoriously tough crowd, but Bat in the Sun’s dark psychological vision passes muster with them, as does its taste in villains.

Box office totals notwithstanding, the same cannot be said for the stuff the studio churns out. (The system is broken, remember?)

The Schoenkes have channeled their indie success into a franchise of their own, Super Power Beat Down, a monthly web series wherein viewers get to decide which superhero won the staged battle. Watch it below, in preparation for choosing the next victor.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. You don’t need to cos-play to hang with her at the New York Feminist Zinefest this Sunday. Follow her @AyunHalliday

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