Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Batman 1966!

Recently finished the first season of the legendary Batman TV show from the halcyon days of the swingin' 60's. Of course I've seen the show off and on over the decades but I was not much of a fan at the time of its original airing, though I did catch a few here and there. Mostly I came to the show in reruns, but this is the first time I've been able to watch the show with an eye for its tropes and how they developed over time.

Several things surprised me. Batman looks better than my memory suggested, in fact despite the distinct lack of muscles Adam West nonetheless came across as a reasonably fit guy who had the misfortune to wear a costume which begged to showcase weaknesses in physique. In the first season at least, he comes across reasonably well, though poor Burt Ward did have a downright goofy costume to manage.

The secret to this show is that despite its humor, which is played a little bit down in the first season, the heroes are absolutely not in on the joke. There's no winking from the far side of the tube as Batman and Robin face up against the usual gang of villainy.

I was surprised how much Frank Gorshin's delightful Riddler dominated the first season, showing up for four stories and eight episodes of the thirty-four produced. Penguin and Joker tie for second place with three stories and six episodes each. Mr. Freeze, Mad Hatter, and False-Face all clock in with one story and two episodes each, while created-for-TV-villains Zelda, King Tut, and Bookworm do likewise. The biggest surprise to me aside from the Riddler's dominance was that the iconic Catwoman (called "The Catwoman" I noticed) played by Julie Newmar only had a single story, a mere two episodes.

I noticed that as the season progressed the humor started to broaden just a bit, with more overt social commentary coming into play. Only one of the famous window cameos showed up in the debut season, by Jerry Lewis. That might well be the marker for the show beginning to lose the little bit of pure action edge it retained.

The jokes of the show in these early stories is that the comic stories adapted to the screen (as they might've been done in the comics) really do come off as wildly absurd on a fundamental level, but these episodes don't work unless the players all buy in. The earliest episodes have little of the famous irony, though it does twinkle a bit here and there (Batusi anyone?).

This season led directly into the feature film and I have that queued up to watch next.

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  1. I never read any DC comics at all as a kid (I never saw any on sale) only Marvel - so I only knew Batman from the TV show . The silliness of the Batman TV show contrasted with the seriousness of the Marvel comics I was reading with subjects like the death of Gwen Stacy or Reed and Sue Richards splitting up. As a result I saw Batman as a kind of spoof of proper super-heroes which only Marvel represented. I know the Batman TV show is credited with "saving" super-hero comics (really?) but the silliness of the show must have damaged the credibility of the character to some extent.

    1. Oh but it's true. Without the surge in interest in superheroes and comics prompted by Batman, the form likely would've died out. And true that Batman as presented on the TV show is absurd in many respects but that was already being peeled away when Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams got their mitts on the character in the late 60's and early 70's.

      What the show has done for (I guess) all time is cause dopey reporters to begin every other article on comics with outlandish sound effects like "Zap" and "Biff" and whatnot. Aaarghh!

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