By Brian Martin | Graphic/Novels Editor Published: 07/09/2013 10:00 am EST
Publish date: July 3, 2013 Publisher: DC Comics
The Adam West/Burt Ward Batman series has an interesting place in comic history. There are those who look back on the campy, four-color antics with fond memories and remember West, in all his hammy, yet somehow understated, absurdity, as “their Batman”. Others (predominantly comic fans of the ‘70s and ‘80s) blame the show for tarnishing the reputation of comics for decades, painting them as goofy and slapstick when creators such as Denny O’Neil, Neal Adams, and Frank Miller were crafting stories that were anything but. I’ve always fallen somewhere in the middle. There was always something sublime about watching that show revel in its complete goofiness. But, yeah, as late as the mid ‘90s, people were still making “BAM!” “BIFF!” “POW!” jokes whenever comics were mentioned. As eye roll-inducing as this became for fans of the medium, it only spoke to the ubiquitous, and persistent, nature of that television series.
Whichever side of the West/Ward fence you fall on, it’s hard, likely impossible, to sit through an episode of that show without laughing. While it might feel to today’s jaded audiences like they’re laughing at it, rest assured, all of the humor and lunacy was completely deliberate. It’s a show that always knew exactly what it was, and always maintained its slapstick tone.
It seemed strange, given the current somber climate of most of its monthly titles, that DC Comics would choose now to resurrect the ‘60s Batman television series in sequential form. And yet, not only have they done just that, but they have also decided to use it as a showcase of their new digital comics format, designed to go head-to-head with Marvel’s quasi-animated Infinite Comics. It was a wise move on their part, because the end result is so much like the old television program, you’ll be able to hear William Dozier’s voice in your head narrating the thing.
Despite it being a comic centered not on mature themes or moral conundrums, but on unabashed zaniness, the target audience for Batman ‘66 is clearly those readers old enough to have encountered the ‘60s television series while it was still the definitive version of the character (at least as far as the general public was concerned). And you know what? It is absolutely magical.
Within panels, I sat gazing at the first chapter of “The Riddler’s Ruse” and said, audibly, “This is perfect.” Bruce Wayne is there, speaking in a voice flawlessly evocative of Adam West’s dialogue, while his faithful ward, Dick Grayson, shouts observations in a wide-eyed, enthusiastic tenor. I frequently found myself grinning from ear to ear as I read, and some lines (such as Bruce’s observation, “That pilot is flying below the Federal Aviation Administration’s regulated altitude!”) made me laugh harder than I have at a comic in a long time.
Jonathan Case’s artwork is just amazing. The characters, from his flawlessly kooky Gorshin Riddler to his square-jawed Wayne, are instantly recognizable not just as iconic figures, but as the performers who immortalized these portrayals. Even the inventive liberties Case takes, particularly with the Ben-Day dot-inspired coloring, only enhance the world and make it feel like we’ve just fallen back into the old television series.
If this first installment is any indication, this comic, like the TV show that inspired it, knows exactly what it is and is embracing that identity wholeheartedly. Rarely is a comic so effective in establishing its tone, look, and feel so quickly, especially when it’s based on an interpretation from a different medium. This isn’t trying to be the definitive take on the Dynamic Duo, it’s just trying to embody everything that made the ’60s series so campy, ridiculous, and gosh-darn fun. DC, frankly, could not have done a better job with this.
New issues of Batman ‘66 are released (when else?) same Bat-time, same Bat-chann—er, app, weekly via ComiXology and DC Comics.
Brian L. Martin is an educator, writer, and amateur curmudgeon. An avid fan of novels, movies, and beer, he would much rather spend his time reading comics, a lifelong love since receiving a copy of The Amazing Spider-Man # 242 from Spider-Man himself in 1983. His favorite books include The Grapes of Wrath, Siddhartha, and The Complete Calvin and Hobbes, which is heavy enough to be considered the only real defense weapon he has in his home. He currently lives with his wife in Uppsala, Sweden.