Bless me followers, for I have sinned. It has been two weeks since my last confession. Between actually attending Comic-Con, writing coverage of said event (I swear I have another article somewhere…) and the recovery period that necessarily follows any event of such enormity and optical stimulation, this young sister found herself laying abed crying over the final episodes of Doctor Who series four last weekend, rather than filming a charming rant on a topical subject. But fear not, for I am back in action!
This week I present, for you consideration: “Batman”. Not the big budget blockbuster currently playing in multiplexes nationwide. Not even Tim Burton’s amusing yet dark adaptations currently available for $5 a piece on DVD at any given Walmart (this is where I acquired my copies back in college anyway). No, I am talking about a man who, by rights, ought to be the most famous Batman, simply because he could be seen twice a week on ABC donning the batsuit for the better part of two years: Adam West.
West, the only American to ever be offered the role of iconic British super spy James Bond, starred in the 1966 television adaptation of the popular DC comic. Alongside Burt Ward as Dick Grayson/Robin, he would face and defeat a diabolical Batvillain, be they of comic book origin or an original creation, in a two part episode: part one always ending with a cliffhanger, wherein it looked like our heroes were doomed and part two seeing the inevitable triumph of good over evil. By season three the format had changed, with most stories contained to a single episode and the addition of Yvonne Craig as Barbara Gordon/Batgirl to the crime fighting regime.
Now this adaptation of Batman is often the subject of criticism amongst modern audiences due to its over-the-top, campy presentation. Newsflash naysayers: yes, “Batman” did have dark origins, but all the doom and gloom seen so prominently in Nolan’s films came later. Admittedly, the overly dark tone applied to the comic in the mid-80s and later in Tim Burton’s films was a direct backlash against the campy-ness that the general populace had come to associate with the series due to the 60s TV show. But DC comics was only just returning to doing serious detective stories, and moving away from the super fluffy 50’s plots containing space aliens, when “Batman” producer William Dozier decided to make the TV series a pop art action comedy.
And thank goodness he did! While the series eventually became a little too silly, even for this sister who is generally in favor of silliness, season one struck a perfect balance of believable (okay, “believable” might be too strong an adjective) plot, action and comedy, resulting in the series acquiring a huge fan base and stellar ratings. The show was so popular that many of the major celebrities of their time were all lobbying to guest star as Batvillains. Well established actors, comedians, musicians, television personalities, Broadway stars; anybody was was anybody was lobbying for an appearance – it was the “in” thing to do.
On top of that, the popularity Dozier’s TV show saw sales of Batman comics skyrocket. Right before the series aired in 1966, sales of Batman comics were so bad that D.C. was planning on killing off the character all together.
So, if you’re not a fan of the show, consider this: if it never happened, the darker, more serious, modern Dark Knight adaptations you hold so dear would never have been, because Bruce Wayne would have been laid to his final rest long before the likes of Frank Miller, Tim Burton or Christopher Nolan could have gotten their hands on him.
A final word in defense of the 1966 series and this in regards to Batman’s sidekicks, Robin and Batgirl. They embody a positive portrayal of youth and women respectively. Robin, though often impetuous and youthful, is arguably the smartest character on the show; always the first person to solve The Riddler’s riddles and to anticipate any given Batvillain’s plan. Batgirl, re-introduced as Police Commissioner Gordon’s daughter Barbara in the comics 1967 — specifically so she could also be used in the TV show’s third season to attract more female viewers — was portrayed as Batman’s physical and intellectual equal.
Craig says that still to this day, women tell her about their ongoing idolization of Batgirl, and that thanks to her, they believed they could do anything as well as any man. I know that as a little girl sleeping over at my grandmother’s house watching “Batman” re-runs, Batgirl was definitely the inspiration growing up.
Incidentally, much as I adore this show, it is actually my second favorite adaptation! Number one from my childhood, will always Fox’s critically-acclaimed “Batman: The Animated Series.” Damn straight.
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