Is there another fictional character who has so many clearly identifiable and distinct incarnations as Batman does? There’s the original, Silver Age Batman, Neal Adams’ Batman, Frank Miller, Tim Burton, Bruce Timm, Christopher Nolan and so many other clear and different visual and narrative approaches to the character, each one signifying a distinct vision to the character. It’s all Batman, from the Dark Knight to the urban vigilante to the sleek animated hero. But then there’s the version that embarrassed comic fans for years, the Adam West version from the 1966 Batman television show. Growing up, we called it campy and silly. We called it a humiliation of a comic character that was maybe taken a bit too seriously for a bit too long. So here we are in 2014 with a comic book devoted to telling stories of that Batman. Batman ’66 Vol. 1 reminds us that there can be good Batman stories that can also be silly and campy.
From the first story featuring the Dynamic Duo going up against the Riddler, Richard Case creates the retro-pop visual language to for this book. Using the visuals from the TV show as his models, Jonathan Case’s bright and colorful art owes as much to Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein as it does to Adam West and Burt Ward. Overlaying the colors with a dot pattern similar to the print process of comics back in 1966, Case’s bright reds, oranges and yellows produces a psychedelic experience in these comics. These aren’t even attempting to be stories of Batman if he was “in the real world” like so many comics of the past four decades have attempted to be. Artists like Ty Templeton, Joe Quinones, Sandy Jarrell, Ruben Procopio and Colleen Coover follow Case and yet leave their own stamp on this version of Batman. Like Parker’s writing, the art in Batman ’66 has a firm starting point but doesn’t want to just remain a faithful cover band version of the television show. Capturing the fun-filled spirit of the show, the artwork creates a new and unique identity for the comic that owes as much to pop art as it does to decades-old television.
Writer Jeff Parker impeccably captures the voice of Adam West in this comic book. From the first “old chum” to the last pun, “… you put the Sandman to sleep,” there’s no mistaking which version of Batman this is. Robin’s voice is much less specific than being Burt Ward and while the Joker is visually Cesar Romero, Parker’s voice for that character could be anyone from Mark Hamill to Heath Ledger. More than just the wonderfully distinct cape and cowl, the language and cadence of Adam West is what sets this Batman apart from almost every other version of the character. Wrapped around these less-than-deadly-serious stories, Parker’s Batman is a character of exposition, perfectly mimicking the old TV show without sounding forced or, even worse, dated. And yet that voice is so pitch perfect to Adam West that it’s defines the character in ways that everyone from Frank Miller to Scott Snyder haven’t been able to do. Parker is using that as a starting point to tell the story about a hero who exists in a world where these colorful villains make perfect sense.
With Parker and the artists striking out in their own direction, Batman ’66 is full of catchy, short stories featuring Batman, Robin and their colorful allies and villains. The joy that exists on every page is a near perfect rejuvenation of the spirit of the television show. That hint of Adam West’s voice behind this Batman combined with the visual likeness of Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, Yvonne Craig and everyone else set the mood perfectly for the return of “Bam! Biff! and Pow!” Parker and the artists on this book are using the language and style created by the 1966 television show but bending it to their own stories. These aren’t just retread pastiches of what’s come before but enjoyable and new stories that are about this great character.