In Your Face Jam: "Batman '66" Is What The Industry Needs

Wed, March 27th, 2013 at 2:58pm PDT

Comic Books
Brett White, Contributing Writer

2013 is the year of the Batman. More importantly, it seems like it's the year of my Batman. Not to knock Tim Burton or Bruce Timm or Christopher Nolan's iterations of Bruce Wayne. They all have a special place in my heart, especially all of the adaptations from my early childhood. But as much as "Batman: The Animated Series" or 1989's "Batman" meant to me, they did not get there first. That honor goes to "Batman," the television series starring Adam West and Burt Ward that debuted in 1966 and went on to set up shop on Nick At Nite, ensuring that the kids of my generation could be exposed to the sheer ridiculousness of Cesar Romero's mustachioed Joker.

A rights mess that puts the whole Moore-McFarlane-Gaiman-Marvelman dispute to shame has kept the series from being released on DVD or streaming anywhere. Something's cleared up, though, because Mattel is releasing action figures from the series and, most awesomely, a new DC digital-first comic book titled "Batman '66" by Jeff Parker and Jonathan Case is set to continue where the Batusi-dancin' and catch phrase shoutin' dynamic duo left off 45 years ago. The timing for this announcement couldn't have come at a better time. Just after more creative turnover turmoil threatened to temporarily tarnish (Holy alliteration!) DC's rep, they go and make an announcement as exciting as this.

I honestly thought I wasn't that nostalgic about anything related to DC Comics. I have favorite characters that I've only just met as an adult (Ted Kord, Kate Kane) and, yes, I've grown to like Superman ("Birthright" is fantastic, and don't even get me started on the brilliance of "Secret Identity"). But nothing DC-related hits the same chord as hearing the "X-Men" theme song or seeing a great Jim Lee-drawn Rogue or Cyclops. All of my nostalgia is ruled by the X-Men (…and "Empire Strikes Back," because of course). This announcement, accompanied by Jonathan Case's perfect renditions of Batman's biggest villains, hit a nerve in me. It awakened a pop culture love that I forgot existed, and it's one that pre-dates almost everything I can ever remember loving.

"Batman" was my first introduction to superheroes. My dad and I would sit in his recliner and watch the show nightly, usually eating popcorn. I remember being genuinely concerned about every cliffhanger, and then comforted that "same Bat Time" actually meant "right now," since Nick At Nite would run episodes back-to-back. I remember finding a leather-bound collection of Batman comics from the 1940s and 1950s in my local library and checking it out, exposing me to the natural wonder that is Bat-Mite. The Super Powers Collection of action figures was still in stores and presented '60s-accurate representations of most of the Bat characters. I had Batman, Robin, Joker, Penguin and the Riddler. I'm pretty sure my mom even got me a Wonder Woman and Superman, but they weren't on "Batman" so I had NO TIME for them.

The pinnacle of my young Bat-Fandom hit around Halloween of 1989, the first opportunity I had to dress up after Tim Burton's "Batman" hit theaters. I was, of course, obsessed with the "Batman" movie (even if Jack Nicholson was too intense for a five year old… and Robert Wuhl too). I wanted to be Batman for Halloween. But not so fast, mother who thought she was going to make a solid black costume! I wanted to be the Adam West Batman! I was certain that the film had gotten Batman's costume wrong and wanted to make sure I was the real Batman. My costume was pretty amazing, everybody. Just trust me on this. My taste shifted pretty dramatically after that, as I was required by law to flip out over the "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" like every other child in 1990. But I was a huge Batman fan once, a fact that didn't hit me again until this announcement.

So yes, I'm pretty biased towards thinking this is a brilliant idea. I'm not familiar with Case's work past these pictures, but that Julie Newmar convinced me he's absolutely the right guy for this project. Jeff Parker has slowly crept into my favorite writers list thanks to his long runs on a few of my favorite books ("Thunderbolts" and "Hulk"). Even if, in some dark alternate dimension, I only associated "Batman '66" with getting my lunch money stolen post-stomach punch, I'd be pumped for this just based on the creators.

I'm also heartened to hear that Jeff Parker is approaching this as the super-fun dream assignment it is. I love that he's totally game for making a comic book in this vein, one that plays fast and loose with continuity and will surely value storytelling and fun over shocking events. Parker's comics have always been like this; even when his books have been forced into crossover territory, he made them accessible and entertaining. Plus he admitted that they'll be using both the Eartha Kitt and Julie Newmar versions of Catwoman (word is still out on Lee Meriwether?) without explanation. That's brilliant, because it eschews logic in favor of fun. Comic book fans can take this stuff too seriously at times and I'm pleased to have a book wherein the title hero carries Shark Repellant Bat Spray on him at all times.

The project signals a new era for comics at the Big Two, which adds another layer of excitement. This is the type of book that I don't think would have ever found a home had tablets and a successful digital comic store not made digital comics viable. This idea is just weird. It's kooky. It's playing solely off of the warm, fuzzy memories I described before. Nostalgia gets us in the door, though, and top-notch talent keeps us at the party.

This announcement happened right alongside Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin's pay-as-you-please digital exclusive release of the phenomenal "The Private Eye." Both of these series are fine examples of how digital can shape the future of comics. I hope "Batman '66" does well. In fact, I hope it does well enough to prove to the Big Two that an audience can be built around and support a weird, niche book. I want to get to a point where the passion of a book's fans dictate it's future more than the Diamond pre-orders. If eliminating the costly print run for fan-favorite books means that they can survive, if it means that new books in the tradition of "Avengers Academy" and Stephanie Brown's "Batgirl" could find a second home on the internet (you know, where their hyper-active fanbases dwell) and escape cancellation, that's great. I don't think this all hinges on the success of "Batman '66." I just think that this series being successful could prove to the Big Two that there is an audience for cult status books and yes, there is money to be made.

I've been reading comics for almost exactly twenty years. This announcement got me in touch with something that predates my comic book fandom and then got me even more excited about comic books. It's good to know that two decades in, there's still stuff to get excited about. Batman, I'm ready to dance.

Brett White is a comedian living in New York City. He co-hosts the podcast Matt & Brett Love Comics and is a writer for the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre show Left Handed Radio: The Sequel Machine. His opinions can be consumed in bite-sized morsels on Twitter (@brettwhite).

TAGS:  in your face jam, dc comics, batman, batman 66, jeff parker, jonathan case

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