In case you hadn't already noticed, itv4 is currently showing the classic 1960s Batman show every weekday starring Adam West and Burt Ward. Two episodes a day. I don't know if they're being screened in order but the ones I caught were from series two.
This is the show that some comic fans find embarrassing. They dislike it because they think it shows comic characters in a bad light, that it fails to treat Batman seriously, and because it led to thousands of media articles on comics starting off with "Bam! Splat! Pow!" headlines.
However, for a generation of us, this was the Batman that introduced us to the character. At seven years old in 1966 I had no idea about Batman until I saw the TV show. It immediately became a hit for millions of kids across the world. Although dismissed as "camp" by critics, Batman cleverly worked on two levels; exciting light-hearted adventure for children, and a spoof of Batman (and the whole ridiculousness of superheroes) for adults. A winner for everyone, except for those who simply didn't "get it". Their loss.
I wonder how National Periodicals really felt about a series that basically sent up one of their key characters? Then again, in the 1950s Batman comics he'd often been plunged into the silliest S-F settings, so in comparison to that the TV show was quite urban and streetwise.
It wasn't long before "Batmania" swept the land and, for many of us, came our first exposure to a Batman comic strip... on the cover of Smash! every week. These were reprints of the American Batman newspaper strips and, like the TV show, swayed towards comedy more than drama.
Batman product was everywhere, and included a series or five of Batman bubblegum cards, some of which are shown here. The artwork was by pulp veteran Norm Saunders (who had illustrated the famous, or infamous depending on your point of view, Mars Attacks cards) based on pencil drawings by Golden Age comics artist Bob Powell.
With the TV show, the cards, the weekly Smash! strip and other merchandise being lighthearted fare it's not surprising that the public came to regard Batman, and superheroes in general, as fun entertainment. Even the DC comic book of the time followed the pattern and when I did eventually buy a proper Batman comic this was the one I had:
Hardly the Dark Knight then was he?
As with all things, the lighthearted Batman eventually had its day and as its popularity waned in the late 1960s DC decided to return the character to its darker roots. When Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams revitalized Batman many comic fans applauded, but I'm afraid it did little for me. Although Neal Adams is an undisputed fantastic artist, it wasn't the Batman I was accustomed to.
Then again, I was only 11 or 12 when I first saw Neal Adams' version. Too young to properly appreciate the artist's craft, and too old to be excited by Batman anymore. Mainly though, the version inspired by the TV show had been so predominant during my younger years that anything deviating from that would be a disappointment. To me, and many others, Batman was a daft superhero who escaped from insane death traps and fought villains even more ludicrous than he. For O'Neil and Adams to treat the subject seriously seemed to me as crazy as if they'd turned Dennis the Menace into a serious urban street kid.
Over the years I've read numerous Batman comics, trying to like the grim and gritter version but it's still the TV show that's my definitive Batman. (I did really enjoy Batman: Year One and The Dark Knight Returns though.) I appreciate that Bob Kane's original Batman was a more somber character, and that most fans probably don't share my view, but I'm afraid the TV show version is the one that sticks with me. It's hard to take the character seriously after that. For me, Batman will always be a gloriously daft character, and it's that TV version that inspired me to create my Batman spoof Brickman in 1979, bringing back silly death-traps, corny dialogue, and straight-faced puns.
It's high time the Batman TV series appeared on DVD. Officially that is, not in the form of the dodgy pirate copies out there, but unfortunately there's some legal wrangle preventing it. The 1966 movie is available though. (You won't be surprised to hear that it's my favourite Batman film.)
If you grew up after the 1960s you may be giving the itv4 repeats a wide berth, but for readers of a certain age, Batman is back. Every day. On the telly.
To the Batpoles!