THE BAT SIGNAL: Kevin Smith Gets Nostalgic in "Batman '66 Meets The Green Hornet"

Thu, May 22nd, 2014 at 7:58am PDT

Comic Books
Kiel Phegley, Staff Writer
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This week marks a comics return for Kevin Smith and a major nostalgia wave for kids who grew up scanning broadcast TV for superheroes when DC Comics and Dynamite Entertainment team up for Ralph Garman and drawn by Ty Templeton with covers by Alex Ross. Serving as a sequel to the legendary crossover between the Adam West/Burt Ward "Batman" TV series and the Van Williams/Bruce Lee "Green Hornet," both produced by Greenway Productions, the comic marks only the latest bit of expansion of the long dormant franchise now called "Batman '66" which for years was tied up due to legal issues between Warner Bros. and 20th Century Fox.

RELATED: Kevin Smith Returns to Comics for "Batman '66 Meets The Green Hornet"

But for Smith, the project is pure fanboy bliss. While the writer, director and podcast impresario has been working on a number of projects of late including his fall horror film "Tusk," the turning of his and Garman's "Hollywood Babble On" podcast into a TV pilot and the next season of AMC's "Comic Book Men" which begins filming in August, Smith said that he couldn't pass up the chance to revisit the Dark Knight. Speaking with CBR News for THE BAT SIGNAL -- our continued look at the world of Batman -- Smith explained why he could only visit '66 with Garman along for the ride, how Batman's changing face may be lost on younger readers, why "Batman '66 Meets The Green Hornet" would make a great animated feature and why fans of Batman shouldn't be worried about Ben Affleck.

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CBR News: What was your initial response to the pitch on doing "Batman '66 Meets The Green Hornet?" It seems like something of a slam dunk premise.

Kevin Smith: This is kind of cool because it ties together two parts of my life and keeps me in the world of comics, which left to my own druthers you'd only see me there every 12 years or something. I just can't keep that schedule together. That was part of the reason I brought on Ralph Garman this time. Nick Barrucci over at Dynamite said, "Hey, DC is talking about doing Batman/Green Hornet," and I just assumed that it would be modern day Batman and modern day Green Hornet. So when he asked if I wanted to write it, I said, "Yeah, of course!" But when Nick came back and said they wanted to do the crossover in the world of "Batman '66," I immediately thought it was fun, but in the back of my head I was feeling like for me it wouldn't be as fun as current day Batman meeting Green Hornet.

Kevin Smith makes a much-anticipated turn to comic books in DC Comics' digital-first "Batman '66 Meets The Green Hornet"

I know how my mind works. I figured even if I got the gig, it might end up sliding down the list of things I've got to do. But rather than do that, I decided to do the smart thing and pull in a co-writer -- a guy who lives and breathes "Batman '66." A guy who's got the full costume from it in his library back at home. That's my friend Ralph Garman who I do the "Hollywood Babble On" podcast with. He's older than me, and so he's been into Batman longer than I have been, and this is the perfect thing for him. I said, "You've never written a comic, but if you were ever going to do it, this is the comic you should write because it takes place in the '66 continuity." So Ralph jumped on, and he quickly strong-armed me out of the way. [Laughs] It became Ralph's project that I was backup on.

It's so funny because I get offered the job and bring on my buddy, but once he's there it became clear that he was Batman and I was Robin. That's a horrible moment when you realize you're not Batman in any given situation. [Laughter] Most of us who are comic book fans spend most of our lives thinking that we're Batman somewhere in our minds. We're always going, "What would Batman do?" and you want to believe you could be him. Nobody wants to be the Joker, and certainly nobody wants to be Commissioner Gordon! There are women who probably want to be Batgirl, but most of us want to be Batman. And in that moment when you realize that in this situation you're Robin at best -- hell, you might not even be Robin. You might be Catwoman's girl Kit-Kat that sang to Robin during that one episode of the TV show. But suddenly, you're not longer the lead. You defer to what your senior partner says.

And Ralph crushed it. It's a cliché to say it, but the dude has forgotten more about "Batman '66" than I'll ever know. And I thought I was a pretty great Batman expert in general. I've got a fucking show called "Fat Man on Batman" so you can imagine that I should at least lay claim to knowing more than most people on Batman, but when it came to this particular iteration, it was blinding to watch Ralph come up with things and correct things. He'd be like, "You can't put him in that sweater because Dick Grayson only wore primary sweaters -- reds, greens and yellows always harkening back to the Robin costume. Didn't you ever notice that?" And I would just sit there going, "I was fucking six when I watched this show, dude!" [Laughs] "It's not yet available on home video, so it's been a while, but I guess if I would have watched it as obsessively as you then I would have noticed that." So he was fantastic to have.

And it seems as thought DC Digital has placed a premium on capturing the look of the original show with artists like Ty Templeton coming in to match those likenesses.

I've been reading comics as a fan since childhood. I feel out of it for a while during my teenage years, but then came back in around 1989 thanks to Walt Flannagan -- the guy who's on "Comic Book Men." And from '89 forward is my Golden Age. The '90s was it for me. If you put out any '90s creator name, they're still rock stars to me. So when they said the name Ty Templeton, I was like, "Get the fuck out of here! Ty Templeton is going to do our interiors?!?" He absolutely brings you back to the '60s with his versions of the characters -- particularly the characters that didn't exist then. It's one thing to draw variations of Adam West and Burt Ward, but it's another thing to create bunch of sidekicks who can blend into the world of a more realistic comic book universe with no visual reference to go from.

And that was really the case with our villain because we wanted to use Colonel Gum from the Batman and Green Hornet crossover episodes from the second season of "Batman." But the actor who played that villain -- Warner Bros. didn't secure the rights to his likeness after all this time. They secured the rights to the main cast and villains, as I'm sure CBR readers know, but it's not like they got everybody who was ever on the show. It's not like they got Vincent Price as Egghead. At the beginning, they kept it to the top five or whatever. So not having Colonel Gum was a problem at first, but then Ralph came up with the solution that through a science accident, it gave the guy a messed up gummy face and turned him in to General Gum. Every problem we faced was met with the spirit of "Well, we are in comics and not on TV in the '60s, so we can do more than they could have done." But everything beyond that was "Let's treat this like a sequel to one of the greatest crossovers of our generation."

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Let's talk about that. Those original Batman/Green Hornet episodes have a certain cache amongst fans of the original Adam West run. Did they loom large in your own history with the series?

Yeah. Most kids today would be like, "That was a fucking crossover? They were made into giant stamps!" And granted, it's not "The Avengers" mind you, but that kind of was our Avengers back in the day. Here are two sets of heroes or vigilantes or just two sets of dudes in masks from two different shows -- or different mediums really -- and they were going to meet for the first time. That was massive! I didn't see if live when it happened because I was born in 1970, but I watched those in heavy, heavy pre-cable rotation on Channel 11 when I was a kid. And those episodes were always the ones where you'd go, "God I hope they run the Green Hornet ones today." It was just more masked good guys. Like I said, that was the closest we got to "The Avengers" back in the day.

So to be able to write a little coda to that story by way of this comic we're doing with DC was nice. It was like closing up a little segment of your childhood. Because this was my first Batman, and this was a show where every day I'd structure my life around it. Every day I'd get home and go straight to the kitchen -- which is why I fucking look like this -- to the black-and-white TV with the rabbit ear antenna and sit at the counter to watch two episodes of Batman back-to-back. You were able to get a part one and a part two. And the Green Hornet ones were always in my top ten shows you'd beg to see. It was nice to reach back into that era and give respect to the Batman that brought me into all this.

Since Smith's schedule keeps him too busy for regular comics, he brought in "Batman '66" fanatic and fellow podcast host Ralph Garman to co-write the series

When you're a kid, before you realize how shitty the world is and can be, the notion of the '66 Batman is perfect. He's a colorful guy in a costume who beats up some bad guys. Then they get out, and he beats them up again. It's not that horrifying. Nobody's firing guns at one another. When you get older, you adapt to a different Batman. The Adam West Batman was born pre-Vietnam and pre-Watergate. It was a real time of innocence. After that, kids started looking at authority figures more sidelong. They couldn't take for granted that just because a person was a politician or a policeman or a priest that they were necessarily good people.

That Batman -- the Bright Knight as Adam West called him -- doesn't exist anymore. We've sadly grown up, and our innocence was lost. That's when you get to the Batman mythos of today that's so popular that as soon as they finish one iteration, they just go, "Guess what? He's coming back to the silver screen!" He can't rest anymore. He's got his own TV show now. He's got a cartoon that was just cancelled and probably another new one on the way. There are so many iterations of this character -- video games and live shows -- because he's the passion play of today. I believe Grant Morrison said in "Arkham Asylum," or maybe it was Dave McKean who put it into the artwork, was that horrifying notion of this little boy -- something that reads through to boys and girls because we've all been a child -- going "Oh my God, what if my parents were killed?" Even if you're a child of abuse, to lose the two most important people who are supposed to be responsible for your safekeeping and upbringing leaves you rudderless. You're untethered in the gigantic, yowling jaws of a world of madness, which is the world we live in. It's something that even if it's never happened to you, you've had that thought at one point of "What if my parents died?" And this is the story of a boy who goes through that and comes out stronger and more heroic for it. Rather than becoming a victim, he becomes a champion who decides it'll never happen to anyone else ever again. So now that's the Batman we cling to -- the lone soldier in his ongoing, never-ending war on crime. He's standing on top of a building waiting for shit to go down below on the streets. That's the Batman that makes money. That's the Batman that our kids will know. And that's the Batman will remain into the future. But there was this one bright moment in the '60s where things were innocent and peaceful enough where you could make a version of Batman that walked around in broad daylight like he did in some of the comic books too.

It's nice writing that version of Batman. I love the dark Batman. I'm as emo as the next guy. I love getting inside Bruce Wayne's head and doing a full monologue about "Oh the pain" and all that shit. But I've got to be honest, it was so much fun and so light to jump into "Batman '66." Granted, I had help. I was holding hands with someone far better than me in terms of Ralph being there. But there was none of this "What grisly crime can I come up with that's never been done before?" Instead it was, "What goofy crime can I come up with that's never been done before?" And as a result, you've got gum stopping a train on its tracks.

Of all the stuff I've done in comics -- which some people like and some people criticize me for -- the one comment I get more than anything else is, "Man, your comics are way darker than anything you do in movies." And that's because that's the world, man. That's the world I see and the world I love -- the dark world of Batman where if someone gets their head cut off, a guy in a cape and cowl is going to bring them to justice. That's something you never get to see in the real world. But as fun as that is to do, it was great to say, "There was a time Batman was fun." It tapped back into my childhood, and at age 43, you pay people to make you feel like that. People go out and try to recapture moments that make you feel like a child. So this was a blessing to be doing a "job" where you're getting that for free -- mainlining a nostalgia and youth for a bunch of people who maybe weren't that into it. Because there are a lot of kids out there today for whom that's just not Batman.

But it's fun to say, "At one point in his history, this was Batman" and have it be by me, Ralph, Ty Templeton and the amazing fucking Alex Ross. Alex is a genius in whatever he paints, but when you look at his work, you can really tell the shit that he loves. There is painstaking detail that goes into everything he does, but he somehow ratchets it up to 11 on the stuff he loves. And you can tell from these covers that he LOVES that Batman. He came up with covers that are so beautiful that even if you're a person who says, "I don't like comics and especially not that era of Batman, and I don't even know who the Green Hornet is" -- even if you were that prick, you'd say, "I could hang this in my house." It's truly a piece of art. You could hang it in a museum. That's why as soon as I saw the pencils, I put in to buy all the covers. I don't care how much they cost. I'm going to give them to Ralph.

Well, I was about to say... when I was a kid I watched the Adam West show and took everything deadly seriously.

[Laughs] Exactly! It was for real. It's like, "I hope Robin gets away from that giant fucking clam!" Those were the stakes.

But the old "Green Hornet" show actually was a more serious take on that style. Was reconciling those two versions a concern in this comic?

Superstar Alex Ross is handling covers while Ty Templeton draws Smith and Garman's story

That's what we were trying to do with the book. There's a question that me and Ralph had back and forth of not only how to balance the campy and the serious but also how to balance a world as fully realized as "Batman '66" with the Green Hornet world, which only got one season. They didn't have a rogues gallery. They were just taking on the mob. We had to be very careful about not camping up the Green Hornet stuff. That wouldn't honor that iteration of the character. But we also couldn't make Batman that serious. So it was all about balance.

It's weird when you think about it. I remember watching those crossover episodes on TV and thinking it was really cool, and then years later going to comic shows and picking up a VHS tape of "Green Hornet" which was never run in syndication like "Batman." Then you pop it in, and you go, "Oh my God, this is going to be like finding a whole lost season of 'Batman!'" But then it's not. It's a cop and bad guys show except they wear masks and drive a cool car every once in a while. We all remember it because Bruce Lee was Kato, but you see it and go, "I guess those were the budgets in the '60s." But when you take this on, it's your job to make it more balanced affair even though it leans towards "Batman '66." It's like doing a Robin Hood crossover with Chicken Little. Sooner or later, you go, "Look, there are a ton of characters I know from Robin Hood, and all Chicken Little has is 'The sky is falling.'" You're going to lean the story more towards Sherwood Forrest, and Chicken Little just happens to be there.

Think about it this way: they never even named the city in Green Hornet. Even that we couldn't do. At one point, Ralph said, "What did you call it when you wrote your movie scripts?" And I called it Century City there, but we had to find a way to refer to it here. I think we called it "The city where Green Hornet operates" to honor that. [Laughs]

I know that some of the '66 comics have had a lot of digital bells and whistles to call back to the sound effects of the original show. Did you have to adapt to writing for the new format?

The thing we did was go through with Jim [Chadwick], our editor, and focus on writing for the digital page. I'm used to writing for the full page, the turn of the page and splash pages and all that. Here it's different. They explained that you had to focus on the half page essentially, and then you had to make it so it works when you're reading it in digital as well as when it gets to the traditional print. It was like acquiring a whole new skill set. It was nice to have the new guy with me in Ralph. That method got explained to him, and he hit the ground running in a much smoother fashion than I did. I couldn't wrap my head around breaking up the page.

And you've spoken about some wishful thinking on an animated version of this story too, right?

That was Ralph's idea from the jump! The minute he was done with the first issue and I was working on the second one, he said to me, "You know what my dream for this is? Adam West and Burt Ward are still alive, as is Van Williams -- those three could voice their characters in this world where Warner Bros. is doing so much DC Animation." I know Bruce Lee is no longer with us, and Warners has shut down that Warner Premier label, but they're still putting out a ton of animation. They just did "Son of Batman" and before that was "Justice League: War" so you could conceivably do this. I mean, it's self-serving for us because we wrote the thing, but we feel like you could do an animated version of the Batman/Green Hornet crossover that we just did and have those original actors voice their parts. I hate to be the guy who says it, but no one's getting any younger so if you want to do it, you should do it soon. I think that would be a really nice way for all those cats to get honored. In a world where it's been such a long process to get the "Batman" DVDs out, this would be like, "Here's a cartoon as well!" I'd be into that. Again, that's one of those things where people will say, "You're just pushing because you wrote it." Whatever, you can keep the money. I don't care if I get paid for that. This is what fuels most of the best shit I do. I just want to see it happen. So that would be worth it to me. Give those actors all the money. I just want to watch it.

RELATED: Kevin Smith Says Ben Affleck's Costume Boasts "Dark Knight Returns" Colors

Of course, I can't let you go without asking about the newly named "Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice." Everyone knows you've got a strong connection to Ben Affleck in both your careers. Have you been privy to any of the particulars of how filming has been going?

I'm watching as an outsider. I haven't seen Ben since the "Argo" premiere. I've e-mailed with him a few times since then, particularly when all this Batman news hit. I know a lot of people are out there going, "He's going to get this right because Kevin Smith is his friend." Believe me, that has nothing to do with it. [Laughter] Ben's way smarter than to go, "Who should I call for career advice? How about Kevin Smith?"

Part of the challenge in crafting the story was balancing the campy tone of the "Batman" TV show with the more grounded approach of the "Green Hornet" series

But as a guy who's just watching this from the outside as a fan, he'll crush it. He is Bruce Wayne. And he'll be able to do that part perfectly. And this is a Batman and Superman movie, so as much as we saw Batman in the other movies, we'll probably see him less in this one. At that point if people ask whether he can be Batman, you've got to look at it honestly and say, "How much screen time is Ben Affleck actually going to be Batman?" I imagine with all the action in there, it's going to be a stuntman in that suit a ton of the time. It's not like you need Lawrence Olivier, and I say that as a guy who loves the character so much so that he has a podcast called "Fat Man On Batman." So when I see people online saying he's going to ruin it, I just feel like it doesn't take the best of the best to pull that character off. I think if you ask any actor who's ever played the part what it takes to be Batman, they'll say, "A strong constitution to wear rubber."

And this seems to have died down online as we've gone, but for anyone who's worried about Ben Affleck playing Batman, put that aside. This dude loves the character. He played Daredevil because he thought he'd never get a chance to play Batman because the franchise was done at that point. This is the dude who back when we were filming "Chasing Amy" would stay up and have long late night conversations about "The Dark Knight Returns." It's not even like he'll acquit it admirably. He'll crush it because he knows he has to. Otherwise he'll have the wrath of geekdom at his back.

And as soon as they're done with this, they're going right into "Justice League," so what a great time to be alive. I mean, I feel like most of us felt like "Batman v. Superman" was becoming "Justice League" as it is. [Laughs] So it's nice to know that they have the plan to go right into it. I'm happy they keep putting Zack Snyder to work making those comic book movies.

Finally, your own walrus-based horror flick "Tusk" wrapped recently. Do you have a release dat set?

We don't have the official date yet, but I know we'll be in September. It's my hope that we go to the Toronto Film Festival and then get to open shortly after. The movie is set in Canada, and it's a Canadian monster movie, so it'd be nice to kickstart it there. A-24 is releasing it domestically, and Sony has it for the rest of the world. But from what I understand, A-24 wants to go wide with it. I always thought this would be an arthouse picture, but they said they want to take it to 1,000 or 1,500 screens, and that's cool. We've been able to keep everything about it quiet and secret. Nobody's seen the walrus yet, and that's great. It's not a Marvel movie, but we've got our own surprises bubbling with "Tusk."

The first installment of "Batman '66 Meets The Green Hornet" is on sale now via comiXology.

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TAGS:  dc comics, dynamite entertainment, batman, green hornet, batman 66, batman 66 meets the green hornet, kevin smith, ralph garman, ty templeton, alex ross, ben affleck, batman v superman, dc digital, tusk

 
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