Picture a pre-pubescent me, acne sprouting up like weeds across the oily plain of his face, visiting his local comic book shop.

His eyes dart across the racks. His heart starts to race. His hand adjusts the baseball cap perched awkwardly atop his enormous head, a trucker-style hat back when such headwear wasn't hipster kitsch, but was unabashedly nerdy. He heads instinctively for the DC section, and finds himself lingering toward the "B" end of the shelves.

He picks up every Batman comic he can find. "Detective Comics," "Batman," "Legends of the Dark Knight," maybe a miniseries or two. He brings them all home (paying for them first-he was no pre-teen thug) and he devours them voraciously, laying on his bed beneath his favorite wall hangings-the Batsignal poster, the Bartman poster, and the poster he took from an old comic book magazine of Adam West and Burt Ward in their Dynamic Duo garb from the sixties.

Yes, little Mattie had Bat-fever.

I still remember the exact date that "Batman" premiered in theaters: June 23, 1989. I remember it because until that date, I lived to see "Batman." It was the summer after seventh grade, and I absolutely could. Not. Wait. For. This. Movie. The Tuesday after the film premiered, my dad took an afternoon off from work to take me to see "Batman" at the once-beautiful River Oaks Theaters in Calumet City, IL.

I was instantly smitten. My Trapper Keeper the next school year was covered in stickers from the "Batman" trading cards. My sister and I obsessively collected each and every one of the cards to form a complete set. In art class, I devised ways to incorporate the Batman logo into my projects. That aforementioned trucker-style hat had that very same in fluorescent yellow on the front, and I took to decorating it in buttons from the comic book and sci-fi conventions I started to attend in high school. (My favorite? The "Kirk/Spock in '92" button.)

As a geek in good standing, I've since become consumed by any number of passions. "Star Trek," "Star Wars," comic books, action figures, and so on and so on and so on...you name it and it's probably in my bag of geek tricks.

But the first geek obsession I chose was "Batman." ("Star Wars" was before that, but it chose me, as it chose just about every twenty- and thirtysomething person on the planet.)

Considering my sentimental attachment to the Caped Crusader, I hope you'll forgive my waxing poetical on the first "Batman" film. To me, it still stands up damn well, even if the Prince soundtrack sounds a bit dated. The Bat-franchise went sharply downhill in subsequent movies, but "Batman" is still worth a screening.

The first "Batman" deals with our introduction to the Dark Knight Detective and with his first encounter with the diabolical psychopath known as the Joker (Jack Nicholson). As Bruce Wayne/Batman (Michael Keaton) struggles with his dual identity and a homicidal maniac on the loose, he's also got to figure out just what to do about his budding romance with the sultriest photojournalist I ever did see, Vicki Vale (Kim Basinger).

(Cue the appropriate section of Prince's "Batdance" here: "Stop the press...who is that? Vicki Vale. Vicki Vale. Vicki Vale. I like... BATMAAAAAAN!")

It's a simple story, and that's one of the big reasons this movie works. Director Tim Burton and screenwriters Sam Hamm and Warren Skaaren don't clutter their film with extraneous villains who are more a lampoon than a serious threat; there's no Ahnold muttering idiotic quips with his face painted blue, or Danny DeVito limping around with fins over his arms. It's lean and mean storytelling that focuses on what's important, which is the duality of Bruce Wayne and the viciousness of the Joker.

The entire production team also adheres fairly strictly to the established Batman mythos. That's in the tradition of the best comic book films, which tend to dance with the lady that brought them there and stay close to whatever alchemy made the character work in the first place. Batman may wear protective armor instead of a simple cloth costume, but he's still the same brooding and tortured man established over decades of stories in the comics, obsessed with battling criminals as a way of compensating for feelings of revenge toward the killer of his parents. Production designer Anton Furst creates a Gotham City straight out of the early years of the Batman comics, a twisted nightmare version of New York where every corner seems to end in a dark alley and criminals rule the streets. Even Danny Elfman's score perfectly suits the adventures of a creature of the night, infusing the onscreen action with a fierce energy.

For all the outcry at the time the film was released, Michael Keaton is still the best Batman that the silver screen has ever seen. He may not have the athleticism that you would expect from a master hand-to-hand combatant, but his eyes give it all away-the sadness, the anger, the intellect of Batman. It's all there.

Nicholson makes for a perfect Joker as well. He mugs aplenty for the cameras, but then so does the Joker we know from the comics. Beneath it is the amoral disconnect of a true psychopath who values human life not at all. Only Nicholson could pull off a performance that combines comic relief with chilling terror. A scene like the Joker's initial reveal, when he stalks out from the darkness of crime boss Carl Grissom's office and shoots him while dancing to a circus-like accompaniment, works because Nicholson himself is capable of playing charming, funny and creepy all at once.

All the pieces fall together within Burton's signature style. He's the perfect man to direct a Batman film because he tends toward the dark and sinister on his own. Most of his previous films, even comedies like "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure" and "Beetlejuice," had an undercurrent of darkness flowing beneath their surface. In "Batman," that darkness takes full bloom and overruns the film. His Gotham is a city on its last legs where nothing but evil seems to exist in primary colors. His Joker is a horrifying lampoon of a circus clown who gets off on combining pure naked bloodlust with his playful exterior. And his Batman is an unrelenting force of justice, consumed by revenge against an enemy he can never defeat.

If you're now itching to relive the glory days of late eighties blockbuster filmmaking at its finest, your best bet is to rent "Batman" on DVD or VHS. The current DVD release is as bare bones as it gets; a special edition has been rumored for years, but the most likely date for its release is probably 2005, to coincide with the release of the next Batman movie, "Batman Begins." Unless you just can't control yourself, don't waste money on a skimpy release; save your nickels and dimes for the boffo SE coming down the pike.

For most, "Batman" is just a really great comic book movie and a fantastic example of blockbuster filmmaking done right. It brings the pages of the classic Batman stories to life in a respectful yet energetic way. For me, "Batman" will always remind me of summer afternoons in my bedroom, curled up in the air conditioning with the Dark Knight in front of me and my imagination running wild. There may have been some awful "Batman" films since, and the sixties TV show may be more camp than anything else. But the original "Batman will always stand tall as a great geek flick...and my first geek love. Sigh.