Sunday, 8 June 2014

Batman '66 Volume 1 Review (Jeff Parker, Jonathan Case)

If the Batman comics of the 1930s and 40s are a kid who doesn’t quite know what he wants to be yet and the 21st century Batman is a grown man who knows exactly who he is now and forever, Batman ‘66 is somewhere in between - a young adult fresh out of his teens who knows who he’s going to be but isn’t ready yet to fully commit and wants to have a little fun first.

That’s a convoluted way of saying to modern Batman comics readers that Batman ‘66 isn’t the Batman you’re familiar with. This is before he became the Dark Knight and was known as the Caped Crusader; this is pre-Miller/Moore/Morrison, pre-Burton/Nolan movies; this is Batman when he went out in the daytime - and smiled! Fans of the Adam West show already know all of this because this is the comics version of that celebrated - and mocked in equal measure - TV series.

The Batman ‘66 comics are exactly what you’d expect a comic book of the series to be: the same silly tone, corny dialogue, bonkers storylines and charming characterisations. Writer Jeff Parker and artist Jonathan Case haven’t just matched the tone of the series but the likenesses of the actors from the show are also present and correct.

The legendary Adam West and Burt Ward are back as Batman and Robin while Alan Napier is Alfred (sans glasses), with Cesar Romero as the Joker (with moustache beneath the greasepaint of course), Frank Gorshin is the Riddler, Burgess Meredith is the Penguin, Otto Preminger is Mister Freeze, Vincent Price is Egghead, David Wayne is The Mad Hatter, and both Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt are Catwoman (in two separate stories). Also appearing are Chief O’Hara alongside Commissioner Gordon and Yvonne Craig makes a cameo as Batgirl.

It’s essentially the same setup as the TV show with one crucial difference: there is no TV budget holding back the stories. That means we get the same cast and tone of Batman ‘66 but sexed up in a way that wasn’t possible before. The first story - The Riddler’s Ruse - shows us what to expect as Batman and Riddler have an aerial fight on a biplane with Batman using his cape as a glider! Later on in London, The Mad Hatter escapes on giant flying top hats(!) with Batman in tow, while back in Gotham harbour, a massive iceberg is the set piece for a showdown between Batman and Robin and the Penguin and Mister Freeze.

The only other addition to mention is that Jeff Parker’s taken to introducing characters from elsewhere in the DC Universe that didn’t appear in the show like Red Hood and Dr Harleen Quinzel (yet to become Harley Quinn).

But full credit to Jeff Parker for this book. What a home run this series was to read! The stories were brilliantly conceived, the dialogue was pitch perfect - he matched the same cadences with which West... delivered... his... lines! - and it was an absolute blast to read. For all intents and purposes, these were new episodes of Batman ‘66!

And what about Jonathan Case? I was floored with his outstanding artwork in this book - his Adam West Batman is perfect down to the last detail, in fact all of the characters he drew were extraordinary, and the layouts were dynamic and exciting. After his work on Batman ‘66, he is an artist whose name I now look out for - he’s turned me into a fan for life! (Also check out his excellent work on Green River Killer, an excellent true crime comic)

Case isn’t the only artist on this title and he’s joined by the brilliant Ty Templeton who brings to life the Penguin/Mister Freeze storyline, Joe Quinones who draws the Joker’s story, and Colleen Coover who gives us the Batgirl/Catwoman episode. Throw in blindingly awesome covers by the one and only Michael Allred and you’ve got one hell of a good looking book!

In recent years DC has had a tendency to change characters and the kinds of stories they appear in, like when the New 52 launched in 2011 and everything got rebooted with nearly every title becoming darker and more serious, but Batman ‘66 stands out as the direct opposite to that approach. It’s been a series that was conceived as entirely faithful to the show (otherwise, duh, it wouldn’t be Batman ‘66!) so if you’re expecting a darker, more realistic take on the show with this book, prepare to be disappointed.

However, if what you’re after is more of the same fun hijinks that you got on the show, you’ll love this book! Batman and Robin - in costume and in broad daylight - taking a public plane to London and being greeted at Heathrow like the Beatles, was a highlight (in that same story, spot the Tardis in one of the panels). There are also the famous bits you’d expect like Batman and Robin walking up the side of a building on a rope, the KWAM! BOFF! KICK! SWHACK! sound effects are on the page, Robin’s punching his fist into his palm and saying “Holy…”, and there’s a Batusi reference (though no dancing from Batman - yet!).

If you read some of the issues digitally (they were released as digital firsts weeks ahead of the single issues), the transition to the printed page isn’t that bad but I definitely preferred the effect of guided view technology on this story. Sound effects would pop up when you hit the side of the screen, panels would turn different shades of colour, and characters would move on the page like it was animated. In the print edition, a lot of the movements have been limited so rather than have 2 or 3 Batmans in a panel, they’ve discarded two and left just one. It’s definitely not a bad transition but if you compare the two side by side, they’re noticeably different and, honestly, I prefer the digital, made for guided view versions better.

Batman ‘66 is one of the most entertaining, enjoyable and best releases from DC in years. Superhero needn’t be dark and gritty to be enjoyable so long as they’re created with passion and heart, and this series is certainly that. You get the sense of Parker and co.’s deep affection for Batman ‘66 on every page and it’s definitely appreciated.

I love the grown-up Batman stories of Grant Morrison and Scott Snyder, but I also love the silliness and irreverence of the Adam West Batman - so long as you do too, you’ll get a lot from this series. 

Batman '66 Volume 1

1 comment:

  1. Great review! I absolutely LOVED Batman '66! It's lovely to see a respected reviewer (such as yourself) give this title the support it needs. ;)