Remember before The Dark Knight trilogy when there was a really campy cartoonish Batman from 1989? Well did you know that before that there was an even campier, more cartoonish Batman from 1966?
For the first time all 120 episodes of the 1966 Batman TV series, starring the incomparable Adam West as the Caped Crusader and Burt Ward as Robin the Boy Wonder, are available on home video. On Blu-ray no less! I’ve only just finished the first season and let me tell you, it’s something else.
Though it’s enjoyed something of a resurgence as of late, perhaps in opposition to the severity and darkness of Christopher Nolan’s Batman, Batman ’66 isn’t exactly a staple of modern Batman fandom and after watching the first thirty-some episodes it’s not hard to see why there are fans out there that insist “that’s not Batman.” In fact, it takes maybe 15 minutes to see why someone would arrive at such a conclusion.
In the pilot alone Batman goes to a discotheque, orders “the Batman Special” (literally an orange juice) and performs, in full Bat-garb, a dance he calls the Batusi. Like I said, it’s something else. When a criminal is at large Batman and Robin park the Batmobile, which has a registered license plate, directly in front of the police department and go in through the front door, always in broad daylight. Batman offers advice to anyone who will listen on everything from buckling your seatbelt to the importance of learning a foreign language. Essentially, Adam West’s Batman makes Michael Keaton’s Batman look like Charlize Theron’s Monster.
But make no mistake, bombastic as it may be, the Adam West Batman is absolutely Batman. And not just because he’s a character named Bruce Wayne who dresses like a bat. The stories Batman ’66 tells boast the same hallmarks seen in Bat stories ranging from the 90’s animated series to The Dark Knight trilogy to the Arkham video games to the recent Zero Year comics.
Psychology and pharmaceuticals.
Ya know, loonies and drugs.
The Batman mythos is founded on it. Batman doesn’t just fight crime, he fights mental illness, be it the bipolar Two Face or Penguin’s Napoleon complex or the obsessive compulsive Riddler or the uncategorizable psychopath Joker. And wouldn’t you know it, Batman’s enemies love them some drugs: Joker toxin, fear toxin, venom, icarus. Psychos looking for better living through chemistry are the foundation upon which many a classic Bat-yarn has been woven. And Batman ’66 is no different.
Sure, the drugs aren’t as rampant as they are in Batman stories today. It was 1966, you aren’t going to see anyone shooting up, but it’s telling that the Adam West Batman’s most used tool is without a doubt his universal drug antidote.
Yes. Universal drug antidote.
And I would argue that more so than any other Batman in the 75 year old pantheon of Batmen, Adam West’s is absolutely the most obsessed with mental health. Be they warped, twisted, fiendish or other, the 1966 Batman never misses an opportunity to further understand criminal minds. It is an obsession that is at once hilarious and borderline insane.
Sure, this is a Batman that won’t park the Batmobile in a no parking zone and insists Robin complete his algebra homework, but this is also a Batman that insists on the rehabilitation of foes that have time and time again, literally once an episode, put him into death traps, no matter how many times they relapse into crime.
It’s an insane person fighting insane people insanely. It’s Batman.
But I’ll do some particularly strenuous analytical yoga here and go one step further.
The Batman of Batman ’66 is one who became emotionally stunted the second his parents were shot in front of him as a young boy. He wages a never ending war against the oft-mentioned “sick criminal mind” as if a cop arriving on the scene of the Wayne’s murder called it “sick” and a young Bruce immediately clung to the idea that the only way someone could devastate him so completely was if they were somehow ill. Adam West’s Batman is a boy attached to the idea that whatever took his parents away from him can be cured, trapped in the body of a grown man who is in maybe average shape.
He’s overly excitable. He somehow both regularly and unpredictably makes exaggerated outbursts. He appears to have no concept of sexuality, continually brushing off the advances of any woman as workings of their “diluted” mind. He consistently and knowingly walks into death traps, displaying either an inability to grasp his own mortality or an addiction to the excitement of it all.
Okay, okay, like I said, it’s a bit of a stretch. Or is it?
He goes to a discotheque, orders an orange juice and performs a dance he calls the Batusi.
Regardless, now that the 1966 Batman TV series has seen the light of day (a.k.a. been released on Blu-ray) and more people can watch the adventures of Adam West and Burt Ward for themselves, I hope we can all agree that Adam West’s Batman most certainly is Batman. And he’s a Batman worth watching.