This Fourth of July week, comic fans can spend their holiday with a different kind of colorful explosion as DC Comics today debuts "Batman '66" a digital first adaptation of the classic Adam West TV Show.
Synched full of Boffs! Zocks! and Whams! as well as some new multi-path storytelling options as part of the publisher's new DC² and DC² Multiverse digital initiatives, the comic will come to retro life thanks to writer Jeff Parker and a number of artists practiced in the zany style of the camp classic including cover artist Mike Allred and interior penciler Jonathan Case (to be joined in later stories by the likes of Ruebn Procopio and Dean Haspiel). With a resume that spans everything from kids comics to spy stories and from superheroes to slice of life, Parker also comes to the project with an abiding love for the original series which defined an era of comics in the pop culture (and drove a few fans batty in doing so).
To look deeper into the release, CBR is firing back up THE BAT SIGNAL – our ongoing look at the world of Batman. Below, Parker explains how the history of the TV series will influence "Batman '66" including its earliest episodes, how he'll be using the DC² tools to enhance the comics experience, what fans really forget about Adam West's iconic take on the Dark Knight and more.
CBR News: Jeff, I'm in maybe one of the few remaining areas of the country where they still show the "Batman" TV show weekly on broadcast television, and I was thinking about an episode I caught the other day when thinking about your work on "Batman '66." In a bit of "Behind The Candelabra" synchronicity, the "Batman" I saw was the one featuring Liberace...
Jeff Parker: As Chandell!
Right! Aside from his playing twin brother pianists who lived on opposite sides of the law, there was a scene in there where Chandell's lawyer gets him out of police lockup by threatening Comissioner Gordon with a police brutality charge, and I was struck by how funny it was. We think of Adam West's show as being campy and sometimes corny, but it also had moments that were legit clever comedy. When you're writing this digital comic, do you think of it as a comedy as much as it is a retro adventure comic?
It's interesting that you say that, because this is one thing I try to say to people. I don't know if everybody gets what I mean, but the show is full of humor. That's why when you're an adult watching it, you can just have a great time, and when you're a kid watching it, you go "Oh man. Stuff's getting real!" [Laughs] "Batman better take care of this. It looks pretty bad. That guy can change his face into anything!" or "That guy can play piano so crazy!" [Laughter]
But the important thing to me in trying to get the tone right for this is that I don't want to come up with funny premises for the book. I just want funny executions. So if you look at my plots, they could be typical Batman plots. It's "Joker has a plan to do this." There's nothing inherently funny when I write down the plot point. It's once you let the characters run around loose and you're getting the way Adam West would do Batman that it comes together. You know, Commissioner Gordon and Chief O'Hara immediately would give up and just call him "Batman." It's getting those moments right where the humor really comes from. I keep giving notes to the artists like, "Let's remember that we're not making fun of Batman ever. He's in on the joke, and it's important to let him look cool." So we really get some of the tone of the very early episodes where they did that best. There's a ton of humor there, but at the same time Batman looks really cool. He comes off as a complete winner because of the way he figures things out and his sweet pad and the car. It's all the things he brings to the table.
You've probably had a chance to watch the full run of this more than other fans recently. Was it like that to you where the show changed some after "Batmania" hit, and the celebrity cameos started coming in force?
Yeah, I think it really did. It's something you see happen to a lot of shows where the show suddenly becomes self aware, and you start to lose some of that magic that magic that made it really fire at the beginning. That happens with everything that becomes a bit hit like "Batman." Obviously, with years of hindsight we can pick out what worked and what didn't and try to stick to that.
But it seems to me that the "Batman" producers did something that everyone familiar with comics would recognize. Once it became very popular, they tried to really cash in on it and immediately rolled out the "Batman '66" movie. But then they ran out of budget, and by the third seasons the sets and everything are way cheaper than they were before. That happened on "Star Trek" too. Now that we're in the comics, we can make the sets as expensive as we like. One of my notes is, "Always act like we have a 'Cleopatra'-level budget." I just want to make a big spectacle out of it. It always looks very lavish in our comic.
So what was the core one-sentence Batman story pitch that you started with for your first digital comic, and what was the element in the scripting that really brought out the feel of the show?
In our first story, the main villain is the Riddler, and then Catwoman shows up, and it's Julie Newmar, of course. Jonathan Case got that exactly. But the story is that Riddler is coming out with an exceedingly clever series of riddles that throw Batman and Robin off his trail. Even if they solve his riddles, they end up in the wrong place, and he gets away with a crime again. That's the kind of thing that's no different than you'd see in the regular comic book. We even go into a bit of why Riddler is the way he is, which is pretty much the same explanation I'd give if I was writing the regular monthly in the New 52. That is, Riddler has a compulsion to reveal himself and give away his crimes. He's almost in a war with himself, and he releases that in really opaque riddles. Of course, only Batman and Robin are capable of solving these things! [Laughs] In Batman, what you always have is a highly convoluted mental state that's unstable to the point of criminal behavior.
But we also have things like when Riddler shows up, he gas bombs everybody from a bi-plane. That's the kind of things that would have been too big a stunt to do on the show. But now we can have Frank Gorshin out there jumping around on the wings of the plane. Just imagine the nightmare that would have been to coordinate and get stuntmen for!
And Gorshin as the Riddler was the villain for the "Batman" pilot.
Yeah. He really sets the tone for the whole show. He and Adam West pretty much determined how villains would be and how the show would be from the very start.
Well, I was going to ask that while it seems you're playing homage there and generally following the path of the show, are there other things you're planning on expanding upon? That pilot episode wasn't Batman's origin, and really, I can't imagine how you'd tell that serious part of the story in this setting. But are those other pieces of Batman's world something you'd considered playing with as this series goes along?
I honestly think there's a way to tell his origin, but I didn't want to dive into that right away. In that first Riddler episode, he does mention the fact that his parents were killed. Nobody remembers it, but he does mention it. So I have an idea for how to do that which I haven't told anybody yet, so it's funny that you went right for that. [Laughs] And we're trying to make this neat for longtime fans by kind of doing little bits where we go deeper with stuff than they would have done on the show without getting out of line with the feel of the show. We don't want to turn this into something it's not. It's the same idea when we're bringing in characters from the comic that they never got to on TV. The key process there is thinking, "How would they have approached this in the '60s." Or it's that way to a certain extent. It's "How would they have approached the idea of this?" more so than how they'd literally have done it. You just want to realize the coolest possible way to do things, which is a lot of our thinking all the way through.
You've mentioned bringing in Killer Croc like that, but in your mind are you casting this too? Is there a specific old comedian you thought would have been perfect in that part in '66?
Yeah. All I can do is quietly suggest to an artist, "It might have been like this." We only have the rights to the people we have the rights to, and you'd be surprised how hard it is to get the rights to some of these things you wouldn't think are that big of a deal. But if you imagine Killer Croc or some real big guy like that, you'd think they would have got Ted Cassidy – especially since he did that Lurch walk-on in one episode. He was always the big guy on shows back then. If you ever saw and alien or a robot, that was him. So I always imagine him as Killer Croc, or that's who I immediately thought of.
One thing that's unique to "Batman '66" as a digital comic is that it's one of the first series to use DC's new-fangled DC² and DC² Multiverse storytelling tools that allow the reader to play with the outcomes in the story in a "Choose Your Adventure" style interface, see some of the artistic process and get the occasional sound effect. As an artist yourself, you must have some good grasp of what's possible to do on the screen, but has there been a learning curve for what you can do here as well?
Oh yeah. On the multiple stories we've got going right now, we talk back and forth with the artists. I try to set things up in the script just by guessing, but the artist usually takes it farther. A lot of the burden has been on Jonathan Case to figure out a lot of these things because he was the lead artist. The trick is to think of the endpoint in whatever extra beats you put in so it still works for the print page. The best way to think about it for me is to figure out that print page and then reverse it out in certain parts. Because you don't want to make a ton of work for your artist. They only have so much time and can't spend it all drawing multiple versions of one scene.
But when there's a place to do something like the sound effect popping out or a color shift that changes the mood or make the angle tilt, that doesn't take too much longer and really adds something to the reading experience. I can't wait for my kids to try reading it and see how they like it. We're definitely not going for something like limited animation. We're not making it something it's not, just adding a little fun. And if there's one comic you should be able to do this on, it's this one. I'm curious to see how these things work on other projects, but it definitely fits ours. And if you don't like that and you're very traditional, you've still got the print book coming out every month.
Oddly enough, the prospect of having the Pows and Bams on screen reminds me of when I was a kid, and my Boy Scout Troop got a sheet of upcoming events for the local hockey team. I think they sent it to us because "Scout Night" was one of the promotions, but as soon as I saw a "Batman Night" at the hockey arena, I insisted our troop go. [Laughter] But the promotion for "Batman Night" was that Adam West was signing autographs on the concourse between the second and third periods. That would have been cool enough for me, but I remember that whenever a fight broke out on the ice, they'd also play the Pow! Biff! Bam! sound effects on the jumb-o-tron.
[Laughs] That is awesome! What a great way to make fun of actual violence happening right there on the ice.
It was great! But it shows how the effects from this show are so ubiquitous now. It's nice that there will finally be a Batman comic that can replicate that piece of the culture.
Yeah. What's funny is that when the news came out about me doing this comic, after years of articles in newspapers and magazine that didn't call for a headline like "Fun Home By Allison Bechdel! Bam!" using that, people writing about this comic were so reserved. It's like, they finally got the point – so much so that they're not doing those headlines on the one story that it would be perfect for.
"Batman '66" #1 is available now through the DC Comics App.