Until recently, DC desperately avoided any sort of acknowledgement of the classic 1960s Batman TV show. Not only did it not represent who Batman was now—a layered, gritty character—it was viewed as an embarrassment. That is, until Warner Bros. got the rights to merchandise the series, and DC gave us one of the most joyful Batman comics in history.
Joyful really is the best way to describe Batman ‘66, the digital run of which ended last week with a loving homage to the show’s original opening titles, ahead of the book’s final end next month. After decades of shunning this camp classic, it was like a fountain of pent-up adoration for the series was released.
From the get go, Batman ‘66 wholly embraced the wacky, weird, and colorful world of Adam West’s Batman and just completely ran with it. Jeff Parker’s, Lee Allred and Len Wein’s scripts nailed the style of writing on the show, bouncing between catchphrase and bizarre logical leaps as often as the series did itself, or totally recapturing Adam West’s hallmark intonation.
The rotating house of artists and colorists—Jose Garcia-Lopez, Rubén Procopio, Joe Quinones, Mike Allred, Sandy Jarrell, Jordie Bellaire, Laura Allred and so many, many more—fully embraced the show’s pop-art look and delivered a punchy, bright, and vivid series that flitted between classic comic book homages, the aforementioned pop-art, and right down to recreations of the slight color shifting blue haze of an old TV set. Page after page, a never-ending love letter to the series.
And what made it such a delight to read was that at no point did Batman ‘66 ever really mock itself. It never took the easy way out of acknowledging that yes, it was campy, and goofy, and just playing along. There was never a meta-textual embarrassment of being so wholly like this insane, cheesy show—its love of the original series was truly earnest.
There’s something about the wide-eyed innocence of its love, the truthfulness of it all, that made Batman ‘66 such a delight to read chapter after chapter of. You could feel the excitement of it oozing from every page, electric and infectious. In the vast sea of Batman comics—many of which are fantastic in their own right—that joy stood out, such a radically different interpretation of a familiar character, and was proud to do so.
But Batman ‘66’s success didn’t just rely on recreating the TV show’s aesthetic and tone, week in, week out. It used its medium to the fullest extent to expand and create the ideal version of the show. The scale was so much bigger, with Batman trekking across the world for adventures in Japan, plus massive action sequences that the budget of a 1960s TV show, even a wildly popular one as Batman was, could never afford. It embraced the madness and gave it a scope to create truly brilliant capers. I mean, hell, this is the series that gave Batman an atomic-powered giant Bat-Robot, for crying out loud.
Batman ‘66 took the charm and delight of the TV show and added so much of its own that it became more than just an adaptation, but a loving continuation of what made the original series so delightful—both figuratively in its additions, and sometimes literally, as is the case when Len Wein adapted an unused script by Harlan Ellison that would’ve introduced Two Face to the show, and turned it into an adventure packed with setpieces and events that would’ve never have appeared on the television show. The show may be responsible for a lot of Batman ‘66’s inherent charm, but the comic constantly one-upped itself to transform itself into an idealized version of it at its very best, instead of being content to stick as a simple homage.
That willingness to also go further also applied to the comic’s villains. Batman ‘66 layered the universe of the show by not just using the classic TV villains—like Cesar Romero’s Joker, the Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt Catwomen, Burgess Meredith’s Penguin, and so many more—but by running rampant through decades of Batman’s gallery of rogues that had emerged since the show was on air. Just as the scope of the stories had grown in the comics, the depth of its universe had, too: We got 1960s versions of Bane, of Harley Quinn, of the previously-mentioned Two Face. Even more-obscure classic villains like Lord Death Man (actually created for a May 1966 issue of Batman, but most famous for his appearance in Jiro Kuwata’s Bat-Manga) or Clayface got their moments to shine.
And brilliantly, Batman ‘66 didn’t just smash these characters into its world and expect them to fit—it gave them new origins, new reasons to be part of this world that ultimately made their transitions into the villains we know and recognise all the more delightful. Harley Quinn’s original psychiatrist persona Harleen Quinzel (called Holly Quinn in Batman ‘66) appeared in several early stories related to the Joker’s incarceration before she eventually became Harley , nearly 2 years after her first appearances. Killer Croc started out as a henchman of King Tut before his transformation. The deft manner in which the series managed to bridge itself between the world of the show and the world of the comics that came after it wasn’t just fun, but evolved the TV show into a whole, absurd, and endlessly delightful universe.
If you’ve ever had a soft spot in your Bat-Heart for the classic Batman show, Batman ‘66 is essential reading, and not just because it’s good for the soul. In many ways, it perhaps supersedes the TV show as the ultimate realization of the concept: and in doing so, and by expanding that universe in the only way comic books can, it gave us a definitive interpretation of Bat-canon like no other Batman book could.