Oh, Man… Batman Talk Again

Oh, Man… Batman Talk Again
the Joker… for real.

As luck would have it, I received a McFarland Toys version of the Joker for Christmas. It’s a really great figure, and it sparked a revisit of the 60’s series and movies. Yes — movieS, as I’m including the two animated films starring West, Ward and Newmar. 

But wait! The list is yet to come: 

1. Who Would You Cast? I’ve been following (and recently guested on) the “Bat-Minute Podcast,” which is presently diagnosing 1997’s “Batman & Robin.” The discussion has circled many topics, as expected, but one common thread seems to be that Clooney holds most of the blame for the film’s lack of success. This can be confirmed in Clooney’s not-so-spectactular (and in some cases, lazy looking) performance (if we can even call it that). The fact* of the matter is that if this movie was going to succeed in the vain of the 1966 series, then it needed a Batman who could do what West did. 

The thing is, I’m not sure who that would have been or would be today. The obvious answer would be Leslie Nielsen, or someone like him, but I’m not certain who that might be. Matt Berry might be a good choice, but he’s almost too much. I’ve really thought about it, and cannot come up with someone to play the funny Batman role. 

Maybe they just should have cast West again. 

2. Early Style. It seems like, to my limited study, that the direction shifted in the show around episodes 12 or so. Not that those early episodes were really “dark” or serious or anything, but there’s a certain style to them that they simply do not do again in later stories. There are certain scenic flares of Batman and Robin swinging into action — literally, on ropes. There’s even one where they do it with their shadows, then pan over to do a “Texas switch,” catching the actors mid-stride as though they’d just swung on stage. The earliest episodes are also framed a bit closer at times, with Batman and Robin’s heads set particularly close to the camera. 

As I said, this all kind of goes away shortly, when the show settles into its groove. 

3. Timeline. How long do you think the Adam West Batman had been at it? More accurately, how long do we think these villains have been plaguing the fair metropolis of Gotham City? I ask because nearly every villain — whether it’s their first appearance or not — is never “introduced” to Batman. He or Gordon or someone recognizes the crime and says, in essence, “They’re back!” It’s kind of an interesting choice, to have absolutely no origin stories. At least not outright.

4. Rolling R’s. Between Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith and Eartha Kitt, the show had more rolling R’s than… an R factory on a hill. I don’t know how better to put it. They just roll their R’s a lot. I think it suits this show perfectly — it’s just an opportunity to act as BIG as possible. 

5. All About Eve, Sorta. Episodes 7 and 8 star George Sanders as Mr. Freeze, followed by Anne Baxter’s Zelda the Great in Episodes 9 and 10. That wasn’t a mistake, right? They knew what they were doing. They had to have tried to get Betty Davis on this show, right? In fact…

6. Missed Opportunities. I’ve often wondered which stars they wanted to get for the show, but either didn’t have the money, time or schedule availability to do so. Maybe the Smothers Brothers as Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee? Or Andy Griffith? The “Bonanza” folks would’ve done something, right? “The Fugitive” was on ABC — couldn’t they have gotten that guy? 

7. Made-Up Missed Opportunities. The “Batman vs. Two-Face” animated movie is a perfect example of righting a long-standing wrong, in TWO places. Firstly, since the series proper never did a Two-Face episode, it was cool to see him in there. Then secondly, the choice to cast contemporary-to-the-series-star William Shatner was perfect. They even drew him in the style of the “Star Trek” cartoon. Smart. 

8. Weird Consistency. I remember noticing that the movie (aka “Batman: the Movie”), while still being silly and camp, managed to provide legitimate Batman moments. Similar things happen in the series. Batman’s preparedness is certainly played up for laughs… but it’s not far removed from, say, planning how to kill all his friends in the Justice League in case they went bad. 

In addition, the characterization of the others is all there. Romero’s Joker hijacks TV shows to announce his crimes (complete with shaky cam effects, a la The Dark Knight). Commissioner Gordon is so enraptured with Batman that A.) you can see how they would parody it on Harley Quinn while B.) it not being far off from the “straight” portrayals of Nolan’s movies. Catwoman flirts with going good only to back track, etc. 

9. Back to Direction. Of the many things that killed the series, one of the top ones had to be the rut of the show. Sure, they’d always kind of had a formula (criminal arrives/breaks out, announces crime spree, Batman tracks them, Batman gets caught, Batman gets out of trap, Batman re-tracks the criminals one last time, big fight, the end), but there were moments in the earlier episodes that varied enough to look different. The first Catwoman story ends with a chase scene, ultimately ending with Catwoman falling to her presumed death. The first Riddler episode has a moment where they lose Molly (Jill St. John) to the nuclear reactor in the Batcave (a scene which scarred my young son at the time). The end of “The Penguin Goes Straight” involves theft of the Batmobile and a chase by Batman on the Bat-cycle. Other episodes (also with Catwoman) involve more chases and such… so they could do different things. There was room in there for, say, staring contests or other kinds of battles of wits. Instead, we mostly got standard fisticuffs. They were trapped by their own popularity — the Pow! Zam! stuff — that they could not break away. 

Why did this seem to happen more with the female characters? Well…

10. Ladies Don’t Fight. This is probably just a sign of sexism (in fact, I know it is), but the women of the show never threw a punch. The closest were the kicks delivered by Batgirl, and even those were always a little lame since she was never really over powered (there were moments in other episodes where, say, Robin might have been choked and Batman would have to stop to save him; this could also just be consistent with the Robin character being an inept chode). Maybe they needed more women villains? You limit your options by sexism and patriarchal thinking, you are doing everyone a disservice.

11. Why Do I Like This? A lot of it has to do with nostalgia, obviously, as I grew up watching it and can still quote many fond quotes. But re-watching these old episodes again, I kept noticing how it’s just a cops and robbers show. This appeals to me. I’ve grown tired of the grim, psycho-analytical angles of every criminal. There is something appealing — especially now, with all the serious crap going on — to watch a show where criminals do crimes because… they are criminals. They happen to chose a flashy costume and theme, but mostly they just want to steal stuff because that’s what criminals do. These types of simple criminals require a simpler hero to capture them. It’s all straight forward.

Except it’s not completely straight, as the whole thing is SO serious, and the situations are SO dangerous, SO dire, that the comedy comes through the other side. I’m never really afraid for Batman to get killed by the Joker, even when he’s choking him in a fight. But I still get a weird kick out of seeing Batman and Joker doing Batman and Joker stuff.

This is appealing to me. I keep saying it, and it’s true. The fun is had in the fact that the show IS fun. It’s having fun. Sure, they could’ve done a regular cops and robbers show, but wouldn’t it be more fun if the cops wore capes? And the robbers wore weird costumes and ran around declaring how great at crime they were?

Yes, it would be. And it is.

Anyway, I’m old. 

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