The end of Bat-week.

§ January 9th, 2006 § Filed under adam west Comments Off on The end of Bat-week.

The 1960s Batman TV show still remains one of my favorite media translations of comic books, as well as possibly one of the most accurate transitions from page to screen. A live action version of pretty much any random Batman comic from the ’50s or ’60s would almost have to turn out something like this show. The only way it could have been more accurate is if the TV show had aliens in it.

The primary difference between the comic and show is that while the comics were mostly simple adventure stories aimed almost solely at children, the TV show applied a more adult sensibility to the proceedings. The adventure aspect, the bright colors, the odd camera angles and odder villains…the elements of the comics that were so attractive to children still existed. But for adults there was the parodic subtext, the straight-faced acting of West and Ward, the pop-art live action recreation of the genre’s excesses…in a way, it reminds me of the “Real Live Brady Bunch” stage shows, in which the original stories from the TV series are given an additional comedic value by being performed in a new context, forcing the audience to reinterpret familiar elements in a new setting. Reading the adventures of Batman on a printed page is one thing; seeing those exact same story elements performed by real adults in oddly-fitting costumes is another altogether. One could make the argument that the Batman TV show preceded the 1980s trend of superhero deconstruction, by holding up and emphasizing the cliches of the genre for examination, criticism, and mockery.

The show’s immense popularity had an impact lasting even until today. The primary result of the show’s existence is that it now provides a convenient vocabulary for speaking about comics to the general public. More often than not, a space-filling article on comic books in your average newspaper will have a reference to the “POW! ZAP!” sound effects that used to fill the screen during the TV show’s fight scenes. Perhaps a reference to Robin’s oft-used “Holy [whatever], Batman!” exclamation would appear as well. I’ll admit to having been a bit irritated by this myself, more for its implicit laziness than for any reminder of the program.

The other impact was on comic fans themselves, where some felt that the Batman TV show maligned their hobby, causing irreparable damage to the public perception of their superhero stories. As a result, there is a heightened sensitivity to anything that even seems like it may be taking a less than serious approach to comic books. Not in “in-joke” comics like, for example, What The, which was there for superhero fans to laugh at themselves. It’s when the characters and situations appear to be opened up for examination and parody by those not “in the club” (i.e. the general public, or even certain comic creators) that the nervousness begins. And when it looks as if that these fans themselves may be the object of a some minor tweaking…well, forget about it.

For example, when it was announced in the late ’80s that Tim Burton (a director of comedy films) and Michael Keaton (a comedic actor) were to be involved in a new big-budget Batman film, there was, unsurprisingly, a huge outcry from these fans, fearing yet another “camp” interpretation of their character. (As it turned out, the bleak and dour Burton Bat-films that resulted could have used a little comedy, but that’s a topic for another day.) However, that fear was mostly unwarranted…even when the fourth, and reportedly worst (haven’t seen it, sorry), Batman film in that particular series was released, it didn’t become in the public’s eyes synonymous with comic books: it was just seen as another lousy film. When the recent Batman Begins film was released, despite apparent initial resistance prior to its debut, the movie ended up doing good business.

The reason behind all this rambling, today and in the last few days’ posts? Other than defending the Batman TV show and trying to put lie to the claim that all comic fans hate it, I suppose that what I’m trying to say is…relax, man. Batman is one of those characters that is open to widely varying interpretations for a variety of purposes, be it straight adventure, comedy, parody, pastiche, farce, horror, science fiction, or whatever…the occasional clunker ain’t gonna do any harm, and the occasional out-there Bat-comic ain’t gonna kill you. And while the TV show may cast a long shadow, there are worse things to be shadowed by.

Additional linkage:

Booksteve has some personal memories (and a good pic or two) of the show.

“Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb!”

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