Back in the early 1970s, I attended Saturday morning art classes at our local art museum and on Day One of my very first year I sat down at the table, a bit nervous and timid, and was presented with the first assignment: build a Batmobile. My young life was complete; they may as well have presented me with a thousand dollars and all the peanut butter sandwiches I could eat. Looking around, I wondered where the Candid Camera was…
That little kid also knew that he could carry his cardboard and construction paper Batmobile home that day and look forward to playing with it in front of a TV set showing the 1960s Batman series. It was still in heavy syndication then, a constant and welcome distraction from life’s pressures. Oh, how I pity the little kids of today.
But, here’s a radical thought: maybe they’re not ready for it.
I dig today’s Batman and the comics he skulks through the most; no dissing here, but, as I’ve said ad nauseum in interviews for my new book Gotham City 14 Miles (free excerpt and pre-order info in the link), that’s only one face of the character. Yet, sadly, it’s the face that most fans today deem the most suitable. No other Batmans need apply.
When I outlined my book’s fourteen essays, or “miles,” there was very little I ejected. I knew what needed to be discussed and, for the most part, it’s all in there. So what is the fifteenth mile? The fifteenth mile is the fans.
Generally, we Batman fans are a cowardly, superstitious lot, afraid of the light and hugging the darkness for all it’s worth. Strides have been made in recent years, sure, but overall we’re still hanging onto the “dark knight” version of our hero with a death grip; we’re still not quite ready for to allow the Adam West Batman into our lives. He represents, at least to me, a letting go of convention, a chance to live for adventure and bring some color into the otherwise hum-drum Gotham skyline. I doubt we as “modern” Batman fans could completely let ourselves go enough to enjoy the 1966-68 show to its fullest.
Listen: Bat-angst is a thing of the 1970s. It didn’t exist previously. Fans today are made to believe that the brooding Batman, the shadowy figure warring against crime while anguishing over the murder of his parents is all there is, all there ever was—but it just ain’t so. That completely ignores more than three decades of the character’s stories and development, and that’s a crime worthy of our hero’s attention.
Is the Adam West BATMAN series goofy? Sure. Is it fun and colorful? Hell, yes. Is it “campy” and kitschy? Debatable. I’ve not come today to bury the Darknight Detective and praise the Caped Crusader—rather I’ve raised my voice to ask for history to unfold and the discussion to ensue on the weight and merit of What Has Come Before.
Since 2007, writer Grant Morrison has dominated the adventures of Batman in DC Comics. It may surprise you, considering what I’ve said so far, but I’ve been digging his take on the character and look forward to each installment. Yeah, me: the Adam West fanboy. Why, you ask? Because to my mind, Morrison’s Batman is a combo meal—much like the 1960s TV show. He’s dragging the fans, kicking and screaming, into the light and saying, “Look! There were stories before Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams got their mitts on Batman! We can have it all!” Except, of course, with a Scottish accent.
When Batman premiered on January 12th, 1966, audiences saw a combination of things: a 1950s straight-laced, establishment Batman adventuring in a groovy 1960s Pop Art universe and surrounded by characters from the 1930s and 40s. Heck, throw in a few gadgets that looked forward into the decades to come and you had a potpourri that viewers loved. I mean, the whole world went bat-guano over it. So, what’s wrong with us today?
We’re not ready for it.
I think several things happened. The 1970s made us “grow up,” for one. “Relevance” became a buzz word and “serious storytelling” became a rallying cry throughout the comics industry. That’s cool; I don’t knock it. But at the exclusion of all else? I know Grant Morrison has his ardent detractors but for my bat-cash he’s pulling in so many artifacts of Bat-history and looking at them from every angle and working them into stories—told, yes, in “modern” style—and creating something new. Just like Batman ’66.
I’ve also often said that one of the biggest problems in the phenomenon of Bat-hate against the 60s show is the absence of it on VHS, DVD and Blu-ray. “Kids” today just don’t know the show. They’ve heard all the jokes, seen a few clips and have invested in the popular belief that the show was crud and “that ain’t Batman.” If its episodes were able to be viewed at home, ran back and forth, studied and dissected, I think the tale might be told differently. Batman ’66 isn’t a part of our lives like it should be. It’s the crazy old uncle that lives in Florida that we see every three years or so. Easy to joke about when you don’t have to look in his rich, sunny face.
Here, on the eve of the 45th anniversary of Batman ’66, I look back at that little kid building his Batmobile in art class, delirious in his luck at finding a hip, really cool teacher, and I envy him. He had a 1930s Batman, a 1940s Batman, a 1950s Batman, a 1960s Batman, and wee bit o’ 1970s Batman—and they were all the same guy to him. He was that kid’s hero and he couldn’t imagine it any other way. He was ready for anything.
Embrace the past. Follow the history. Allow for possibilities. Love the variety.
Celebrate the Batman.
Jim Beard, a native of Toledo, Ohio, is a comic book writer, historian and journalist. His credits include work for DC, Dark Horse, IDW and TwoMorrows and he currently provides weekly content for Marvel.com. His second favorite comic book character is Shelly Mayer’s Ma Hunkel, the original Golden Age Red Tornado. He is the editor of Gotham City 14 Miles, which will be published in late December 2010. Please check your local comic shop or online comic ordering service for availability. For more info and a sample chapter from the book, please visit www.sequart.org/books/7 and join its official Facebook page at www.facebook.com/gothamcity14miles. Batteries to power, turbines to speed!