Luke Owen with some thoughts about Batman ’66…
Following the tragic passing of Adam West over the weekend I’ve been thinking a lot about Batman ’66, the TV show that entertained millions of children at the tail-end of the swingin’ sixties. Like many, it was my introduction to the character, and it genuinely might be my favourite iteration. I adore Tim Burton’s Batman ’89 and have mixed feelings about Batman Returns. I’m one of the few who likes Batman Forever, and I recently wrote about my appreciation of Batman & Robin. Batman Begins is one of the finest comic book movies ever made, I can take or leave The Dark Knight and I have no time for The Dark Knight Rises. I may not be keen on the direction Zack Snyder took The Caped Crusader in Batman v Superman: Dawn of the Justice, but I will admit that Ben Affleck was great in the role. However, Batman ’66 is, to me at least, pure genius.
Batman ’66 is incredibly smart, wickedly funny and features amazing comedic performances from Burt Ward, Frank Gorshin, Burgess Meredith and – of course – Adam West. It wasn’t pretentious in any capacity, and found the perfect balance between parody and seriousness. It taught kids right from wrong, it installed life lessons as well as give great on-screen adventures for the dynamic duo against classic villains such as The Joker, Penguin, Riddler, King Tut and more. It had the first live-action Batgirl, and even had a classic cross-over episode with The Green Hornet – decades before the MCU, DCEU and Flarrowverse.
But what really makes Batman ’66 a genius show is that it works on two levels. As a kid, you can just watch the comic book superhero nature and enjoy Batman and Robin take on their rogue’s gallery, while as an adult you appreciate it as a comedy. It’s a spoof. You pick up on the subtleties of the comedy, the brilliant nuances of the scripts and the utter joy of everyone’s performances. Adam West is a star shining bright, with true comedic brilliance. Burgess Meredith – who showed tremendous acting chops in The Twilight Zone in the early 60s and would do so again with Rocky in the 70s – is a riot as Penguin. The characters are over-the-top, and everyone is acting up a comedy storm.
Which is why it irks me somewhat when people say Batman ’66 is a bad show and a black mark on the character’s history.
This is a common misconception of Batman ’66; that the campy nature of the show makes it “unwatchable” while also being disrespectful of the character’s legacy. The show has become a long-standing joke amongst comic book fandom. When Batman & Robin debuted on the big screen in 1997, many critics and fans wrote that it took the franchise back to the “dark days” of Batman ’66. There are those who love Batman so much, they don’t like the idea of a bright and colourful version of The Dark Knight. The ‘baff’ and ‘pow’ pop-ups have been endlessly parodied, as has the show’s iconic intro. Some claim its jovial nature is a mockery of Batman.
Those people couldn’t be more wrong, and are likely coming at the show from the wrong viewpoint. Take a cursory glance at any image of Batman ’66, with its Dutch angles, cheap costumes and cheaper cardboard sets, and you’ll see exactly what it was trying to do. That famous scene where Batman is running around with the bomb trying not to throw it at nuns and children? That’s supposed to be funny. Same goes for Shark Repellent.
Watch any episode of Batman ’66 and you’ll see how funny the show is. You don’t even have to look far; just pick the first episode. “Hi Diddle Riddle” sees The Riddler set Batman and Robin up for a crime, which means The Dynamic Duo will have to go in trial and reveal their real identities. During the madness of this twenty-minute episode, Batman goes to a club called What A Way To Go-Go (great pun work) where he performs the now infamous Batusi (brilliantly parodied years later in The Simpsons), and it’s absolutely – and intentionally – hilarious. At the start of the episode, Bruce Wayne approves The Wayne Foundation to stop the creation of bad guys saying, “Perhaps if there had been anti-crime centers of the type you now propose when my parents were murdered by dastardly criminals…” before being cut off because Batman duties call. That is inspired writing. It’s a funny line because it’s so goofy, but it also tells you what you need to know about Bruce Wayne. If bad guys weren’t on the street, he wouldn’t have to be Batman. And isn’t that a great take on the character?
What’s even better is that this storyline is an adaptation of Batman #171: “Remarkable Ruse of the Riddler”. It was taken straight from the pages.
All of this is helped by Adam West’s perfect delivery. In an episode in season two, Chief O’Hara sets up a phone conversation between Batman and Bruce Wayne, and West creates a very subtle difference in his tone and delivery to convince everyone that Bruce and Bats are not the same man. It’s a fantastic performance. Seriously, pick any episode of Batman ’66 at random (preferably from the first two seasons), and you’ll have a blast.
I’m not trying to tell you that Batman ’66 is the best version of The Dark Knight, even if it’s my favourite. Everyone has their own preferred version, be it the Nolan trilogy, Burton’s gothic iteration or the fantastic Batman: The Animated Series and no one is wrong for preferring those over any other Batman. What am I saying though is that some folk should consider reappraising their views of Batman ’66. It is campy and it is silly, but it’s all be design. The henchman wear shirts that have HENCHMAN written on them for a reason.
With the passing of Adam West, there has never been a more relevant time to buy yourself the complete boxset of Batman ’66 and give it another try. It’s awesome.
Luke Owen is the Deputy Editor of Flickering Myth, the co-host of the Flickering Myth Podcast and the author of Lights, Camera, GAME OVER!: How Video Game Movies Get Made (which you can pre-order from Amazon UK and Amazon US). You can follow him on Twitter @ThisisLukeOwen.