Da na na na na na na na BATMAN!
Batman made his debut in May, 1939, in the 27th issue of Detective Comics. The impact was immediate. He was a regular guy, albeit a billionaire badass, fighting the bad guys and considering there was no comic book code at that time, a lot of Batman’s enemies didn’t make it to the end of the issue.
The introduction of Batman’s infamous Rogue’s Gallery started with Batman No. 1 as the Joker and Catwoman made their first-ever appearances. The book was a big seller until the 1950s and the Congressional hearings on indecency in comics (yes, that was a thing). Primarily being a protector of Gotham, Batman was now fighting in space with the ridiculous Bat-Mite and Ace the Bat Hound.
The book began to see a steady fall in readership that was boosted a bit when Julius Schwartz took over the title. Schwartz quickly returned Batman to his roots, but both Batman and Detective Comics were on the verge on cancellation.
Then came Adam West and Batman.
While the comic was trying to be more true to its origins, the TV show was pure 60s camp featuring guest stars and huge names in Hollywood as the Rogue’s Gallery. Joker (Caesar Romero, known refusing to shave his mustache even while wearing the white face), Penguin (Pre-Rocky Burgess Meredith), the Riddler (Frank Gorshim) and Catwoman (a bevy of actresses including Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt) were the primaries but nearly every episode saw villains from the comic book, allowing viewers to see Batman’s baddies on their television screen. It also expanded the adult readership for the comic and boosted production to then-unprecedented levels.
While the book was seeing great numbers, there was pressure on its writers and editors to make it match the story lines fans were seeing on television. Much of the work Schwartz did in the early 60s to revive the book was thrown out the window in order to make the characters goofy again. In a conversation I had with Denny O’Neil, widely considered to be the man to truly return Batman to his darker side when he worked on the title in the 70s, the legendary writer said Batman was a title few wanted because it was so childish and silly because of the TV show. To the Greenwich intelligentsia, the television series wasn’t considered groundbreaking or important–it was seen as a kids’ show with no real merit at all.
That may be true and I’m the last person to disagree with someone like O’Neil, but seeing Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin on the small screen gave a lot of young kids (myself included thanks to re-runs) their first exposure to the Caped Crusader. While those in the industry at the time look down on the show, some of today’s Bat dignitaries such as Jim Lee, Dan DiDio, Kevin Smith, Mark Hamil, et. al., see the show as the genesis for their love of all things Batman.
The Dark Knight Detective suffered through some pretty cheesy portrayals in the 70s. While the Denny O’Neil/Neal Adams Batman comic was redefining the character into one more familiar to today’s fans, Batman’s portrayal in the Filmation cartoon and in Hanna-Barbara’s Super Friends saw him a smiling Superman-esque boy scout who showed none of the dark side that had in the past and would again in the future make him one of the grittiest characters in pop culture.
The television show only lasted a couple seasons and while it can be a little hard to watch as an adult (“Holy goofy recurring themes, Batman!”), it’s still an important part of the Batman legend. And most importantly, it once again shows that Batman is better than Superman because the George Reeve version of Superman? Really?
Brutal. Just Brutal.