AFJ/MIDTOWN COMICS BLOG: TV BATMAN '66 TURNS 50!
By Jarrett Kruse
I remember the first time I had watched the live-action Batman TV show starring Adam West & Burt Ward. I was five years old and was completely enthralled at this age of the Caped Crusader. I wanted any all toys having to do with anything Batman. Now, through the magic of technology, I had a TV show and something to record episodes I missed on. This new gizmo my Dad brought home from NYC was called a "VCR" and Poppa Junkie dropped $800 on it for his growing family.
Everything about the live-action Batman '66 show was over the top and as I learned later in life, as my obsession with the Dark Knight became all-encompassing and part of my identity, the cast was ironically going "campy" entirely on purpose! So fifty years later, AFJ & Midtown Comics take a look at the show that was and how it became the template for the modern day live action superhero production. After all, it was practically set up to fail.
My Dad would crack me with the old joke stemming from Batman's bubblegum-pop theme song that stuck in your mind. He would ask, "What is Batman's first name?" I would shrug my shoulders and he would then give the obvious punchline, "NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA NA, BAT-MAN!!" It was a kids joke that still works today when you face-palm yourself saying, "How did I miss that?"! Historically, the show was not supposed to be a hit. The lavish sets, the gaudy costumes, the expensive guest stars--this was not Frank Miller's Batman that was a long two decades away from being published. This was taking a dark Gil Kane & Bill Finger created character and adding him into a 60's TV audience primed for a show that was a kaleidoscope of color and seismic social change. The strategy paid off and although the show's run was from just 1966-68, they produced a whopping 120 episodes and released a feature film after just the first season to capitalize on the momentum of the shows success and popularity among kids and adults.
It was an interested move to say the least. I mean putting out a feature film after its maiden season to get their primary goal of a TV audience is just something that is not done nowadays. The show caught on with the mainstream and for the families that were just now getting color TV's, it was an absolutely wild palette that was an orgiastic feast for the eyes.
As the show continued to grow more characters, like Batgirl, Commissioner Gordon's daughter, Barbara. She was added into the fray and at a time when women's lib was just coming into relevance, Yvonne Craig's campy but sexy female Batgirl showed little girls the world over that you could work by day but still be a caped crusader by night. Despite its short run, the Batman TV show doled out what most programs do today over a five season span. No one could have predicted after the show went into syndication just how epic Batman '66 was going to become for a new generation of kids that would act as the perfect test audience for what was cool and hip as Batman changed from the colorful landscape Adam West & Burt Ward had created.
By the time June of '89 arrived, Batman would now be more Dark Knight than mild-mannered million Bruce Wayne doing the "Batusi." The world had drastically changed with a resounding number of 60's survivors of iconic events (Assassinations of JFK, MLK, RFK, Vietnam, etc.) dealing with their losses through the truly entertaining program that took them away if only for a half hour. However, it was the '66 program that stuck with these new Gen-Xers that not only loved Batman & Robin, but also were enthralled with what is arguably the greatest rogues gallery in the history of comic books.
Save for the cursed Joel Schumacher iterations of a nipple ridden Batman & Robin in his forgettable 1995 & 1997 attempts, Batman '66 was far and away the most iconic program of the 60's that took a character that no one really knew what to do with, and created a piece of history. With every sock 'em knockout punch where an on screen, POW! or BIFF! would appear, all I wanted to be as kid was Batman. Its like that old joke about dressing for the job you want, not the job you are interviewing to get. So I went into my prospective employer's office dressed as Batman!
And there are toys to boot, a whole lot of them. We have got everything from 1/4 scale highly detailed & poseable figures of both Batman & Robin from NECA. Then MATTEL scored the license with an amazing run of six-inch figures ending with an Yvonne Craig Batgirl as an SDCC Exclusive last summer. Their are Batmobile's aplenty for Junkies everywhere no matter the budget and you can take home the iconic George Barris from Hot Wheels size all the way to up to an 18-inch one that seats both Batman & the Boy Wonder.
As if that is not enough, the props are getting better and better and later this year DST will be releasing a Shakespeare bust that acts as a bank but also has a head that goes back with a secret switch to the Batpoles. I've literally been waiting my whole life for this!
Although geek culture has been around a heckuva a lot longer than CBS' The Big Bang Theory, it certainly has helped our way of life become more mainstream. It was apropos that Adam West himself (who has worked steadily since Batman went off the air), guest starred on the CBS hit shows 200th episode. Says West, "It’s a wonderful tribute. I look at these things like they’re kind of semi-homages. And maybe a bit of a reward for all of the hard work that we put in. And I just think I’m the luckiest guy in the world, really. I am. I mean, how many people get a chance to create an iconic character and one that goes on?"
It was ironic that the quote that resonated most with me was from my fellow New Jersey native, Kevin Smith. After interning at MIRAMAX Films for a year before graduating college, I thought I would be a shoo-in to get a gig at the local Smith's production company, "View Askew." I went to their office *EVERY WEEK* for a year to drop off my resume with Batman-like resolve but they eventually moved out West. However, life is funny like that because without those failures, and even Batman has his failures, you press on. And no one more than Adam West & Burt Ward taught us this as it comes up on its 50th Anniversary.
Smith went on to say, "When you take away the Batmobile and the Batcave, Batman is just a guy fighting mad men in makeup. He's not invulnerable: He's a human being. And therein lies the appeal of the Batman: He is one of us. We can't identify with Superman because, in the real world, he'd be able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. We can't identify with Wonder Woman because, in the real world, we don't know any Amazonian women made from clay."
It is statements like that that make me to purposely to keep going, keep pressing for whatever the media is calling it this week. "Con Culture," "Geeks," whatever. That's fine for them because they have no idea what the passion we carry for these topics are. They simply do not get it and although it took even Batman himself, Adam freakin' West, Mayor Of Quahog, the 87-year old has finally accepted that even he looks to the stars in the black of night for a Bat Signal to appear.