Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Holy Bat-Memories, Batman!

  My pals Bob Greenberger and Paul Kupperberg have both blogged about watching the first episode of the Batman TV series fifty years ago today. (Check out their posts by clicking the links in the column to the right.)
  As a heavy-duty comics fan, I too looked forward to the program. I had been reading Batman comics since 1959 and was a fan of both the Jack Schiff version with its aliens, gimmicky villains, and strange transformations as well as the more serious Julie Schwartz incarnation. The TV version was neither of these.
   I recall the lunch table discussion with my comics-reading pals the next day in school. None of us could believe that they had turned Batman into such a farce. Of course, that did not stop us from watching it every week from then on. And complaining about the campiness.
   We had hoped that the show would eventually become more like the comics. Unfortunately, the opposite happened. Comic books were overrun with giant sound effects that lasted until the Bat-bubble burst three years later. And the media got a tag to hang every story about comics on for the next half-century.
   Given how popular the dark version of Batman in the movies (and comics) has become, it is hard to believe that the version from the TV series is still remembered so fondly. Maybe some energetic writer will find a way to tie them together. Can you imagine the Bruce Wayne in Gotham growing up to become the Adam West Caped Crusader? That would be something to see!
Watching Batman in 1966, I never would have imagined that I would get to sit in the Batmobile 25 years later


  1. Each version of Batman (grim Dark Knight, straight superhero, science fiction, New Look, camp, Dark Knight once again) reflected then-current fads and trends. In 1939-40, there was probably a lot of influence from pulp magazines (e.g., The Shadow), Warner Brothers gangster movies, and Universal's horror movies. Circa 1960, the comics were influenced by the science fiction movies about bug-eyed monsters and alien invaders. And, in 1966, the fads were pop art and camp comedy.

    The James Bond movies had a lot of tongue-in-cheek comedy relief, and the various Bond imitators (Matt Helm, Our Man Flint) were even more so. Several TV series (Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., The Wild Wild West) had started as straight action-adventure, and became more and more campy in the 1966-67 season. (Most of them tried to tone it down in '67-68, when the camp fad was obviously passing.) There were also campy movie versions of Modesty Blaise and Barbarella.

    Maybe if I'd been older, and had been reading Julius Schwartz's comics for a few years, I would have been disgusted by the campy TV show. As it was, I was seven, and had no previous experience with superheros. (The only comic books I had read before were "funny animal" comics like Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse.) The TV show was a sort of gateway drug; I began reading Batman and Detective Comics, and then also became a fan of Justice League and its members' solo titles, as well as the Teen Titans and the Superman Family comics.

    My peers and I did not see the TV show as camp; we thought of it as a straight action-adventure show, and it seemed (to us) just as serious and dramatic as "Gunsmoke" and "The FBI." Of course, our parents were laughing their heads off. Years later, watching reruns, I finally understood the stuff that had gone over my head the first time around.

    The camp comedy meant that the show could be enjoyed on two levels, and it was popular with adults as well as kids. It's worth noting that The Green Hornet was played fairly straight, and lasted only one season.

    Julie Newmar was interviewed by Amazing Heroes magazine ca. 1990, and she mentioned that each version of Batman was a product of its time. When asked if she thought that there was room for both the campy comedy and the grimdark version, she said, "Oh, yes."

  2. The Dozer Bat-Craze revitalized so much of the fun Silver Comic era, giving competitors like Marvel their legs to expand into media and gain valuable market-share.

    Folks for decades have ridiculed the show, but it worked very well in the post-Kennedy years with the advent of Pop camp, baby boomers and color television.

    It's provided far more substance and laid far more groundwork for what we comic enthusiasts cherish today than most will ever give it credit for.

    As for the show itself, it started out very experimental and zesty, but by the 2nd and 3rd seasons, writers began resting on their campy devices, losing the delicate, ingenious comedic balance it had early on.

    You **needed** the Wayne Foundation balance to even out the 'theatre of the absurd' as West categorized it.

    The reduction to 25min stories and adding Batgirl worked against that. Love Batgirl like everyone, but it greatly reduced the West-Ward on-screen chemistry and buddy dynamic.