Congratulations, Comic Books! You have apparently finally made it!
For years, for decades, for at least a generation, the medium as a whole has been haunted by the success of the campy, comedic 1966-68 Batman TV show, with comics creators and adherents vexed by the fact, real or imagined, that the show helped forge a nigh-unbreakable link in the minds of everyone everywhere between comics of all kinds and its goofy trappings, including alliterative dialogue, gigantic sound-effects, questionable story logic and one-dimensional characters. At times it seemed like comics as a whole felt typecast just as strongly as Adam West and Burt Ward were, with “Pow! Biff! Bam!” and/or “Holy ___, Batman!” headlines still occasionally accompanying any newspaper article on comic books (at one time, they were apparently compulsory, but seem to be dwindling into almost-extinction) and the show causing so much embarrassment within the certain corners of the industry that it’s difficult to estimate exactly how much it influenced a reactionary darkening of Batman in comics (up until that point in time at which it was released, it would have been hard to imagine a more direct contrast to the Batman of TV than that of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Returns, for example) and film (1989′s, Tim Burton-directed Batman feature film being the first not-Adam West live-action Batman).
Even as recently as last year, though, when a funny or campy Batman was an outlier compared to a dark, Dark Knight-style Batman, when serious comic book superheroes have completely taken over the film industry and wield an out-sized influence over the entire modern entertainment industry, there seemed to exist a certain…resistance to the Batman and Robin of that show, as seen in the New 52 redesign of the original Robin costume seen in flashbacks, which no longer resembled the straight-from-the-comics version Burt Ward’s TV Robin wore but instead looked closer to that of the 1990s Robin III, Tim Drake.
Well, Comics-with-a-capital-C (and DC Comics specifically) have apparently finally made their peace with the pervasive influence of the Batman TV show and come to accept it, even hoping to profit from it once again, as is evidenced in the existence of the new Batman ’66 comic book, which will collect and publish the digital-first series based directly on the TV show, created by writer Jeff Parker (a long-time Marvel writer who specializes in fun and funny comics) and artist Jonathan Case (Green River Killer, Dear Creature). The series also features covers by Mike Allred, who once had to alter a 2005 Solo cover featuring the Adam West Batman dancing the Batusi…
…to one featuring Wonder Girl dancing it instead (either due to legal issues or DC’s discomfort level with the legacy of the Adam West Batman, or perhaps some combination of the two).
Well now that the legal logistics have been smoothed over, and DC is comfortable with its relationship to Batman ’66, how is the comic book itself…?
Well, it’s very, very weird, but then, what else would you expect?
This first paper issue collects the two-part storyline “The Riddler’s Ruse” (DC’s two installments of a digital comic per one paper issue format matches the cliffhanger nature of the two-part episodes of the TV show pretty perfectly), and the special guest villain is therefore The Riddler (modeled after the original, clean-shaven Frank Gorshin version, rather than the later, mustachioed John Astin version). He’s collecting the work of a puzzle-enthusiast sculptor, starting with the Lady Gotham statuette about to be given away at an award ceremony attended by “millionaire Bruce Wayne, and his youthful ward, Dick Grayson,” not to mention the easily befuddled, facial-hair free Commissioner Gordon and Irish stereotype Chief O’Hara.
The Riddler gets away with the goods, leaving his customary riddle, which the Dynamic Duo solve in their customary free-association manner, and it leads them to a new dance club opened up by trying-to-go-straight Catwoman (Julie Newmar-inspired version). There the mandatory fight scene and death trap can be found.
In the second part, the Dynamic Duo and Catwoman team to up to beat The Riddler to the third and final piece of his fledgling art collection (and, of course, beat him up).
Parker nails the dialogue of the show and its delivery to an almost eerie extent—even if you haven’t seen the show since you were a little kid, you may find yourself surprised to “hear” the voices of the actors who played certain characters flooding back to your memory. For his part, Case does quite striking likenesses of the actors without veering too far into some kind of portraiture or celebrity likenesses, finding the sweet spot between the characters and the actors that used to play them.
As good as it is as a comic book version of the show—there’s even a window gag scene, featuring Dracula—it differs rather significantly too, with the creators taking full advantage of the fact that set pieces and stunts need not be paid for from a set budget or the lives of those performing them worried over. And so the first action scene involves Batman battling a wing-walking Riddler on a burning bi-plane, jumping from the crashing and burning vehicle, and hang-gliding on his bat-wing cape.
In a later fight, Catwoman executes gymnastic moves easier to draw than perform, while the Riddler fires at her from his rigged question mark staff.
Case’s design work also seems stronger and more assertive than simply aping the costumes and sets of the show; his teams of henchmen—for both The Riddler and Catwoman—look cooler and more elaborate than what one might have seen on TV back in the day. The fight scenes are also surprisingly kinetic, and the sound effects that were so integral to the landing of every blow on the show here share space with the action and look no more prominent than they might in any other fight scene in any other comic book.
Taken altogether then, Batman ’66 seems to gracefully walk the tight-rope—or should I say bat-rope?—between a something-old nostalgia project and a something-new fresh work, riffing on the source material in new ways.
For our purposes here, it is probably also of note that this is one of only two of DC’s current Batman comics that are rated “E” and kid-friendly, as the main DCU line of Bat-books are all focused on teenagers and older readers. Until the release of the comic book adaptation of the upcoming Beware the Batman animated show (which will also be digital first), Batman ’66 and Dustin Nguyen and Derk Fridolf’s Batman: Li’l Gotham are pretty much it for kids who want to read new comic books featuring Batman.
Luckily, it’s not a bad comic at all, and one that seems just as likely to win new fans to the ’66 version as it is to please fans already familiar with that Bat.