It’s Batman’s 75th birthday this year, which is generally a time for lengthy retrospectives and opinion pieces. Far be it from us to break with tradition, so let’s investigate what was one of Batman’s more important and controversial interpretation, the campy ’60s Batman… and why it’s time for campy Bats to make a comeback.
If there’s anything that makes comics fans cringe in horror, it’s bringing up the 1960s Batman TV series. It’s widely seen as a series that set Batman, and comics, back decades. It certainly doesn’t help that the nadir of Batmovies was more or less the show writ large. And that’s arguably true, to some degree, but it does gloss over a few important facts.
One, this was the 1960s. It was still the Silver Age, the Comics Code was in full effect, and the comics were still written for kids. Nobody was taking comics “seriously” in the first place, and there are good reasons for that. It wasn’t the TV show that started the whole trend of Bat-absurdity; read a few of the books from the era and you’ll find they’re pretty damn goofy of their own accord.
We were still a few years away from Neal Adams, Denny O’Neill, and the ’70s team that would move Bats away from campiness and towards a more serious tone, arguably a direct response to the show and the reputation it garnered. In fact, without the series, we might not have any Bat comics at all; it revived interest in comics in general and Batman in particular, much like the current wave of adaptations is doing now.
So, why would we want campy Batman back? He did his job. His TV series is finally coming to DVD. Let him rest, right?
Too Far In One Direction
The problem is we only generally get to see one side of Bats. This isn’t to say there’s no room for a grim and gritty Batman, because there’s plenty of room. But at the same time, the campier aspects of the character have been explored in ways that make it clear there’s also room for Bats’ lighter side.
If you’ve never had a moment to watch Batman: The Brave And The Bold, take a half an hour and do so. Yeah, it’s campy and ridiculous, but that’s the entire point. And secondly, it takes crap second-stringers like the Music Meister and makes them awesome, and that’s not to be underestimated.
Or, if you’re at the comics shop, pick up Batman ’66, Jeff Parker’s tribute to the ’60s TV show. Parker stays faithful to the show while expanding it and giving it better pacing, and the art team, generally Joe Quinones or Jonathan Case, cleans up the cheapness of the show and gives the ’66 universe some new life.
And if you want to conjure an embarrassing decade in comic books, how about the 1990s? Rocksteady is fairly blatantly bringing back the absolute worst of the 1990s in their next Batman game. Sure, the “Arkham Knight” might not be Azrael (or so they’re claiming), but we’ve seen an armored, vicious Batman before. And it was just as bad, arguably worse, than campy Batman. At least campy Batman you could have some fun with. Grimdark Batman would just shoot you with his Batarang Gatling on his wrist and brood about it later.
In short, campy Batman is fun, and we don’t read comics because they’re boring. He doesn’t have to dominate, but it wouldn’t kill Bruce to maybe enjoy being a massively rich ninja with an awesome car once in a while.