Batman ’66 #1

For my generation, the formative superhero show was Batman: The Animated Series. That show was a milestone, perfectly cementing popular culture’s vision of Batman as a lone wolf, prowling in the night against the darkness. But for my parents and every other Baby Boomer, theirs was different. Theirs did things like the Batusi and once took on the Joker in a surfing contest.

Yes, the Adam West Batman was every bit as popular in his day as Kevin Conroy’s Batman was in his. For a while there, Batmania was a full-blown thing, even inspiring the creation of the long-rumored, but recently uncovered Bat-Manga.

But ever since 1989 when the first Batman movie came out, the Adam West version has fallen out of favor, being reflexively written off by both fanboys and the public at large as campy, geeky and lame.

Of course, the camp part is true: that was the whole reason the show was originally produced, after all, as a tongue-in-cheek pop art camp riff, so adults could watch this show and laugh at it. That’s all well and good. But kids, on the other hand, took it very seriously and for a great many, I suspect the show was either an introduction or a gateway back into the Batman comics themselves, a lot of which had the same over-the-top tone as the TV show.

Even though this interpretation has fallen out of favor with the public, the show is constantly around in reruns. But any sort of home video release has been impossible, as the rights are split three ways between ABC (which originally aired the show), 20th Century Fox Television (which made the show) and DC Comics (who have worked pretty much since the ’70s to make Batman dark and don’t want that upended).

But recently, the licensing rights finally got worked out, so not only are we getting collector’s toys based on the series later this year, we’ve also got Batman ’66, a new weekly digital comic–with 3 chapters released in print every month–from writer Jeff Parker and assorted artists. I picked up my copy today and man, I can’t remember the last time I had this much fun reading comics!

The story involves the Riddler interrupting a ceremony honoring the police department and stealing the famed Lady Gotham sculpture in the hopes of unlocking the mystery left behind by its sculptor. Batman and Robin have to figure out the Riddler’s riddles and team up with Catwoman in order to stop him.

I haven’t seen an episode of the show itself in a while, but this comic matches it perfectly. While I haven’t read all of Jeff Parker’s superhero writing–he’s done quite a bit for Marvel–I DID read his wonderfully funny, twisted and enjoyable (now concluded) webcomic Bucko and he uses the same skills here. His characterization is in sync with the show–complete with portentious narration and bombastic dialogue that’s very funny if you read it in an Adam West voice–and the rungs he puts our heroes through are pretty ingeniously paced.

The artwork for this issue is by Jonathan Case; I’ve never seen his stuff before, but it’s pretty damn great here. His pencils are very clean and dynamic, always making sure who the reader’s eye has to be drawn to at any given moment. His colors are very Day-Glo and while they look a little showy in print, they help immerse the reader in the overall feel of the book. In the digital versions, apparently, his artwork is actually layered through a process called “DC 2” that builds the page up, bit by bit (as in speed lines after a character running, things like that). It sounds like a neat idea, and I might buy the digital versions at some point to see how it works, but for now, I’m content with this.

So yeah, if you don’t like anything but the Christopher Nolan Batman, you’re gonna hate this. But if you’re like me and think it’s OK for the Dark Knight to lighten up and dance his Bat-heart out every once in a while, then you’re gonna enjoy yourselves.

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