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.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Evo­lu­tion of Bat­man in Cin­e­ma: From 1939 to Present

Bat­man & Oth­er Super Friends Sit for 17th Cen­tu­ry Flem­ish Style Por­traits

Russ­ian Super­heroes: Artist Draws Tra­di­tion­al Russ­ian Folk Heroes in a Mod­ern Fan­ta­sy Style

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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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.