With Greenwich Library and other libraries celebrating Batman Day this Saturday, July 26th (click here for details), it's time to take a look back at how the Caped Crusader (as he was called in the pre-"Dark Knight" days) first burst out of comics into the public limelight.
I refer of course to the Batmania craze that swept the country back in 1966, which culminated in that summer's release of the first full fledged Batman movie.
After a pair of low budgeted movie serials in 1943 and 1949, Batman's regular comic books, published by DC Comics since May, 1939's Detective Comics #27, faced declining sales by the sixties. In 1964, to halt the sales slide, the "New Look" Batman was introduced by editor Julius Schwartz ("The Flash"; "Green Lantern", "Justice League of America") with considerable assistance by writers Gardner Fox, John Broome, France E. Herron, Batman co-creator Bill Finger, and Bob Kanigher, and artists Carmine Infantino, Joe Giella and Sheldon Moldoff (the latter having ghosted the series for over a decade for co-creator/artist Bob Kane).
The stories were slightly better, but the art, especially by Infantino, was much more attractive and up-to-date than "Bob Kane"'s outdated Chester Gould-like style. Besides the slightly more realistic art, Schwartz and company added such touches as a yellow oval around Batman's chest insignia, killing off Alfred the faithful butler (he got better and came back after the TV series began), and introduced Aunt Harriet, the only living relative of Bruce (Batman) Wayne's ward, Dick Grayson (alias Batman's partner Robin the Boy Wonder, first introduced in 1940.)
It was the "New Look" that attracted producers at 20th Century Fox to option Batman for a television series for ABC. Batman aired in January, 1966, taking an offbeat, humorous approach that clicked with audiences. For a while.
Cashing in on Batman's success, Fox commissioned/rushed into production a movie version of the series, which was released in July 1966 between the first and second seasons of the show. Most of the TV cast returned for this outing, which involved Batman (Adam West) and Robin (Burt Ward) taking on four of their deadliest archenemies who've banded together as the United Underworld. This includes the Riddler (Frank Gorshin), the Joker (Cesar Romero), the Penguin (Burgess Meredith) and Catwoman (Lee Meriwether, filling in for series regular Julie Newmar) who all try to wipe out our heroes AND conquer the world!
It's a fun romp, with goofy dialogue ("Some days, you just can't get rid of a bomb!"), colorful photography, not-very-convincing special effects, and likable if hammy overacting by the cast. Lots of cliffhanger escapes and toys, including the Batmobile, Batboat, Batcopter, and Batcycle for the inner kids in all of us. Director Leslie H. Martinson makes the most out of Lorenzo Semple Jr.'s screenplay, which even includes a heartbreaking moment for Batman during the climax.
The series eventually wore out it's welcome and ended in March, 1968. The comic book, which faced another slump in sales, underwent more changes, with Dick/Robin hustled off to college and Batman becoming a grim Dark Knight. While fans wait for this coming November's release of the series on DVD and Blu Ray, check out the 1966 film. Click here to reserve it from us.
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