After more than 50 years, scores of Batman adaptations and complicated rights issues, the original 1960s Batman series is finally available to own. This week, Warner Brothers Home Entertainment released the long-awaited Batman: The Complete Television Series in a stunning limited edition Blu-ray. To the Batcave!
Who is your Batman? Every generation has a different answer to this question. Millennials are sure to say Christian Bale while Gen Xers born after 1975 may be prone to say Michael Keaton or even Kevin Conroy. For the pre-’70s Gen Xers and Baby Boomers however, the likeliest answer to this question is Adam West. For just three short years, from 1966-68, the William Dozier created Batman series aired twice a week on ABC and forever changed the superhero and comic book genres.
This week’s Blu-ray release of the series also comes in the year of Batman’s 75th Anniversary. As any Batman completist would agree, it’s about time. Because Time Warner and DC own Batman and the original series aired on ABC and was produced by 20th Century Fox, its understandable why it’s taken this long.
While I fall into that Generation X, Michael Keaton crowd, I grew up watching and obsessing over reruns of the Adam West series with great admiration and fun. Fun being the key word, the tone of the Sixties Batman series was groundbreaking and genre defying. Watching back through the series today, the mix of satire, camp and family-friendly tone translates into what is arguably the purest comic book adaptation of its time. In 1954, the Comics Code Authority regulated comic books with a series of criteria aimed at promoting moral consciousness within the medium. The Sixties spurred a cultural revolution that would question those very cookie-cutter standards.
The Sixties Batman series in many ways satirized the Comics Code by injecting campiness and inflated morals into Adam West’s Batman and Burt Ward’s Robin. The over-the-top acting, props, action and plots of each of the 120 episodes of the series are enriched with moral ambiguity, absurdly and satirically juxtaposed to the countercultural shifts of the era. Behind it all, stunning art direction throughout the series holds up even today as one of the most well conceived comic panel to screen adaptations ever. From the action bubble fight scenes of “Pow,” “Bang,” “Zap” to the colorful sets and costumes and skewed camera angles, the series perfectly captured what comic books were meant to be at the time; fun and for kids.
Today, comics and comic adaptations have become increasingly dark and adult. It can be hard to get kids excited about comics and superheroes without some level of unwieldy, cartoonish fun for them to get behind. This is exactly why the Sixties Batman series provides that rare chance to enjoy it with your kids. There’s something to be said about sitting down with a series you grew up with while your children enjoy it just as much as you. Above all else, it’s meant to be fun. Take every tool in Batman’s arsenal as an example. There is a tool or weapon to perfectly solve every dilemma no matter how obscure, and each is neatly labeled and named with the prefix “bat.” All good, transgenerational, laughable fun!
Perhaps most fun of all however, is going back through and enjoying the tremendous cast of character actors who make up Batman’s Rogues Gallery. Say what you will about West and Ward, but the real stars of the show are Cesar Romero as the Joker, Julie Newmar and later Eartha Kitt as Catwoman, Burgess Meredith as Penguin and Frank Gorshin as the Riddler. Batman’s villains have always been more memorable than the Dark Knight himself. Romero’s Joker, before Nicholson, Hamill or Ledger, is the menacing and over-the-top sociopath whose maniacal grin and painted-over moustache will always be the Joker in my mind. Then there are other incredible villains, like Otto Preminger’s Mr. Freeze and my favorite, Vincent Price’s Egghead, stealing scene after scene with their joyous theatrics.
At their best, comic book films, whether serious or lighthearted, are satires at heart. Burton did it well, Schumacher went overboard, Nolan was brilliant and dark, but Dozier’s Batman will forever be that perfect balance between satire and superhero. The limited edition set of Batman: The Complete Television Series includes all 120 broadcast episodes of the series, three hours of extras including a special on Batman memorabilia and some actual memorabilia in the box including a Hot Wheels Replica Batmobile, an Adam West Scrapbook, 44 vintage trading cards and a complete guide to all 120 episodes.
Batman: The Complete Television Series Limited Edition is available now on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital HD.