Thanks to my recent guest lecture on superheroes I was able to put some money aside for the long awaited DVD boxed-set of the complete series for the 1960s Batman TV show. While a vocal minority may not have been pleased by this news, I was part of the majority that signed every petition I could find on-line and at comic conventions to get this classic released on DVD. Long before the Christopher Nolan Dark Knight Trilogy would generate Oscar Buzz, and everyone was saying how awesome Batman was, this was my gate way into the Batman mythos when I was four years old. Due to the release of the 1989 Batman one of the local Fox affiliate would show reruns of this show in syndication. And every afternoon I would eat up the adventures of The Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder, at least until it was taken off to make room for the equally great Batman: The Animated Series.
It is worth mentioning that while I enjoyed Tim Burton’s Batman movie at the time, as a kid I loved the Adam West series, and subsequently Batman: The Animated Series even more for one reason: the inclusion of Robin. As much fun as Batman is, he is still the adult. Robin, however is the kid, and serves as the audience surrogate for the kids watching the show. Let’s face it, when you are four years old, you are going to relate more to Robin, the kid in the passenger seat of the cool car then Batman, the adult driving the cool car. Because of Robin, the Adam West series has never ceased to bring out that kid in me who was continually wowed by Batman’s exploits.
As such this series has had a warm place in my heart, like a comfy well worn blanket that I might have used as a cape when pretending to be Robin as a kid. Even to this day, thanks to the plethora of free HD TV channels I’ve been able to indulge in some good old fashioned fun of the Adam West and Burt Ward versions of Batman & Robin. However, as a fun as it can be to catch it on TV, episodes will be cut or sped up to make room for commercial breaks, and it makes it hard to enjoy the show. While the series had been available through boot-leg copies at comic conventions, they usually tend to be versions that could be of poor quality. For a Batman fan, a digitally remastered, high quality copy, was a must have edition to any library.
However, the series remained seemingly in limbo forever. Then last year, DC comics announced that they had begun production on an entire line of merchandise based on the 1966 Batman TV series. This was followed by news of a comic book series set in that classic universe, complete with all the characters bearing likeness to their TV counterparts. Much to say I was one of the first to place my name on the pull list at my local comic book store for this book. This led many fans to wondering if the DVD/Blu-Ray of the series was around the corner.
Finally, after years of hoping and petitioning and even asking Adam West at conventions, the patience of the fans was rewarded early this year with news that the series would finally be released on home video. There are many reasons for the holdup of the series being released on home video. Wikipedia has an excellent write up of the legal issues that kept the series in limbo that can all be read here. It’s perhaps fortuitous that the release would coincide with the 75th anniversary of the Batman character. For such the milestone birthday of one of America’s enduring pop cultural symbols, only a release dubbed a “Holy Grail” among fans would do to celebrate such an occasion. So, last Friday I headed off to my local store to purchase a copy and eagerly went home that night to watch the series, yet again.
The minute that logo cross the screen, a smile crossed my face and I felt like I was four years old again. Five minutes is all it takes to set up the story. The bold, brassy Neil Hefti Jazz music drives the story along at a brisk pace, as the villain of the week engages in their dastardly scheme. Then Batman and Robin get a call from Commissioner Gordon and race off into action in the Batmobile.
The show is best known for its camp factor. This was at a time when comic books were regarded as fun kids stuff. So with its tongue firmly planted in its cheek, and it’s heart in the right place, the show manages to give audiences a Batman who is approachable for children, and yet at the same time, adults can enjoy the humor. Despite the tone, it is still seen as a legitimate and valid interpretation of the Batman character as B:TAS or the Dark Knight Trilogy. Let’s face it, taken at face value, the idea of a grown man running around dressed like a nocturnal mammal to fight an equally colorful cavalcade of criminal masterminds is absurd. In fact this series helped save the Batman comic books from cancellation in the 1960s due to the wave of Bat-mania that swept the nation.
There are many things about the show that I never caught when I was a kid. For example, despite the comedic tone they do reference in the death of Bruce Wayne’s parents. However, Bruce does not dwell on their deaths as he does in other versions. Much of this was due to the standards on television in the 60s. Much like the Brady Bunch could never show a toilet or mention what happened to Mike and Carol’s first spouses, the cold blooded murder of the Wayne’s could only be referenced in passing nor could it be heavily dwelt on. For that same reason Batman and Robin’s punches and kicks could not connect with the villains and they had to do “stage slaps”, leading to the iconic “BAM!”, “POW!”, “BOF!”,and “WAM” sound effect captions.
Further I appreciate some of the guest stars who played the villains far more than I did as a kid, thanks in no small part to my exposure to classic films and TV shows. Such notables to cross swords with the dynamic duo include Carolyn Jones, John Astin, Anne Baxter, Roddy McDowell, Vincent Price, Liberace, and Eartha Kitt. Even Cliff Robertson, who will be remembered by my generation as Peter Parker’s beloved Uncle Ben in the Sam Raimi Spider-Man trilogy would play a Batman foe. And who can forget the four most iconic guest stars; Frank Gorshin as the Riddler, Cesar Romero as the Joker, Burgess Meredith as the Penguin, and Julie Newmar as Catwoman. Round it off with Alan Napier as Alfred, Neil Hamilton as Commissioner Gordon, Madge Blake as Aunt Harriet Blake, and Yvonne Craig ( who famously played the green skinned Orion slave girl “Marta” in the classic Star Trek: Original Series episode “Whom the Gods Destroy”) as Barbara Gordon/Batgirl and you have a delightful cavalcade of actors bringing this true art of 60s pop-art to life. There is even a cross over episode where the dynamic duo team up with The Green Hornet and Kato, a near fifty years before we would see an Avengers franchise or a Batman vs. Superman movie that would bring multiple superheroes together.
However there is one thing that even the most staunch detractor of this series cannot find fault with, and that’s the Batmobile. Designed by George Barris, the car utilized a Lincoln Futura concept vehicle as the car, which gave it a unique style all its own. It looked like many of the trendy muscle cars that were on the road in the 60s, yet as its name implies gave it a futuristic look. The car has gone on to be a frequent “guest” not only at comic book conventions but at car shows and has joined the likes of the General Lee on the Dukes of Hazard, KITT from Knight Ryder and the A-Team van in the list of iconic TV cars.
It has been almost 20 years since I first saw the show in reruns, and to this day it is still as fun as ever. Moreover, on Blu-ray and DVD, it looks better than ever. Are there flaws in the show? Certainly. Maybe Adam West could have stood to do a few sit-ups before putting on the blue and grey costume. Maybe the Batusi is a little cheesy and the villains over the top. But where else can you see some classic leading actors hamming it up and just having a jolly old time like kids? That’s one of the great parts of this show: it brings out the kid in all of us, not the cynical, jaded adults we have become. With all the grim dark news around us, we need to not only escape once in a while and thrill at the adventures of our heroes, but to laugh at those same quixotic exploits. As a fan not only of this show, but of Batman, I am happy to add it to my collection and to place it alongside Tim Burton’s Batman, Batman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, The Dark Knight Trilogy, and the other assorted Bat-movies.