Thursday, January 12, 2006

Holy Anniversaries!


Today is the 40th Anniversary of the first airing of William Dozier's "Batman" television series. Like most good-humored Americans, I love the show. Why, without it, I might not be a comic book fan at all!

My mother still tells of plopping toddler me down in front of the tv when it was on and watching me move my arms in imitation of the opening sequence. Which she can stop doing any day now. Thanks, Mother... .

Anyway, I've been asked to comment on the show's anniversary. I could go
on for hours, days, about its fabulousness. But I won't. Why?

Because, had I not been a toddler at the time or if the show premiered now, I would have hated it.
Hated it.

As a comic book fan, I would rail on my blog
about it endlessly. An opportunity to show the public the potential of comic books wasted, nay,
perverted
into a searing parody of comic's worst flaws and cliches! Superman, maybe, Aquaman, sure, but ... but ..
BATMAN!?!?!? Secular sacrilege!

The people behind the show, everyone associated with it should be punished, should be jailed. Vile criminals!

Naturally, I would have been completely right.
And completely wrong. My dog always knows what it wants ("Daddy, may I eat that squirrel?"), but it doesn't always know what's best ("No; no squirrel."). I'm like that, too ... .

When we become enamored of a myth, it's usually with one or two versions of it. Anything that doesn't match those is, from our perspective, akin to sacrilege. But myths are stronger and more flexible than we are (that's
part of the reason they last, and we don't).

Myths
can be weakened by too many versions or versions that stray too far from their core. But often they are simply broadened, strengthened, expanded. Variants may be abhorrent to us, depending on how narrowly we view the myth or how well it's already suited to our purposes.

"Batnipples"?
"David Banner"? "Organic webspinners?" "Metalskinned Doom"? "Black Pete Ross"?
"Barefoot Joker"? "Lionel Luthor?" Ah, there's always something that's going to tick us off about another medium's adaptation of our favorite comic book myths.

The same is true within the comics themselves. Peter David's Aquaman, for example, is his, not mine, and I have every reason to believe that Busiek's won't be either. I have every reason to rail against them. And I will. Still, without PAD, there would be no Koryak, and he (as reintroduced by Arcudi) is very much part of what I think of as "my Aquaman". Funny how that works.

Every time there's a new version of a myth, there's room for an innovation, some change that might be an improvement, if it winds up adhering to the mythic core. Just as "what were once vices are now habits", so too, what were once violations of the myth can become essential elements of it. Kryptonite, Alfred, the Kents being alive, Koryak, the Magic Lasso, the Mad Hatter's mind control, the Red Hood -- the list is endless of things we now consider "core elements" of our comic book myths that we might have opposed (and strongly) if we had been around when they were introduced.

As I've mentioned before, I don't think of myths (comic book or otherwise) as the products of "Intelligent Design" by any a creator, but as the result of a conceptual "Evolution" of the character's original idea. As evolutionary products, myths encounter "adverse conditions" like shifting writers, adaption for other media, and broader editorial mandates. How they grow and adapt to those conditions is what makes them fitter for continued survival.

For myths, in the long-term, what works, remains. What doesn't, fades (and the examples of
that are numerous, too). "Irrevocable" changes have included the elimination of all Kryptonite, Aquaman's hook, and the deaths of Alfred, Hal Jordan, and Ollie Queen. Didn't stick, did they?

At least, this is what I'll keep telling myself during "Sword of Atlantis"...

35 comments:

totaltoyz said...

Well, I loved the Batman show when I was a kid, and I still love it today, for what it is.

Do I think it's an accurate representation of comic-book super-heroes? Hell no! I also don't think Scrubs is an accurate representation of hospitals (at least, I hope not) but I enjoy that for what it is, too.

Diamondrock said...

Brilliant post, as usual. I've actually been reading about the nature of myth lately (I got a bunch of Joseph Campbell books for Christmas).

Oh, and I didn't grow up with the Batman television series. I actually grew up with Batman the Animated Series. But I still love the old Adam West stuff.

JP said...

I grew up with mostly 70s Batman stories, and that's the definitive version for me. But, when I dip into the doom and gloom of many more recent comics, a quick frolic through the goofiness of the 60s comics and the TV serial are always welcome.

I love the fact that comic books and their spin-offs allow us to view the evolution of myths in real-time, and that back issues, collected editions, DVDs and whatnot allow us to trace these changes and reversions in far more detail than we'll ever be able trace the evolution of, say, the Robin Hood legend or the Mahabharatha. Like it, love or it, or occasionaly giggle at it, Dozier's Batman is as important a part of the development of this icon as Frank Miller's Batman or Kane's original vision (who by the way was the fellow who begins his ongoing game of Bat and Cat with the words 'Quiet or papa spank!', so what do we know, anyway).

I'll give every new reboot or reinterpretation a chance, and hopefuly get something out of it that I can love and enjoy for years to come, but I'd hate for any superhero to permanently settle on some 'definitive' version. What if I liked it, and had nothing more to whine about, ever again! That's possibly less scary than if they'd stuck with AzBat.

Where the devil is that 'Batman with Eve' comic from??!! Is there more?

Mike Loughlin said...

I'm probably wrong, but I think the "Adam West Batman poisoned how the public views the super-heroes so near and dear to my heart" idea has blown over some. I think time and a succession of "serious" super-hero movies has moved the public from always laughing at super-heroes to only mostly laughing at super-heroes.

I went through a brief anti-Adam West Batman phase when I was about 14. When I realized I could never show the X-Men or Hulk comics I read to a real-live girl, it made me think "hmm... maybe super-heroes are a little bit silly." Coincidentally, I started reading more DC books...

Scipio said...

"Coincidentally, I started reading more DC books..."

That's no coincidence, Mike...

Charles W. said...

My father didn't finish watching Batman Begins because he thought it was "too dark," so I think the TV series still holds a bit of influence on the public. I expect that influence will decrease as time goes by . . . the next generation will remember the animated series and the Burton films more than anything else.

I can't hate on Adam West, though--it was the show that gave us the Barbara Gordon Batgirl, who then made it into the comics, if I remember correctly. I'd say that's a positive contribution to the myth.

(My verification word was oluvlad. What kind of powers would he have??)

Scipio said...

Do NOT get me wrong, people. I LOVE LOVE LOVE the show.

That's part of my point...

totaltoyz said...

it was the show that gave us the Barbara Gordon Batgirl, who then made it into the comics, if I remember correctly.

You don't. Babs arrived in the comics first; not by much, but first.

Anonymous said...

I'm delurking. I'm really scared about Sword Of Atlantis too.

Anonymous said...

The Barbara Gordon Batgirl was created for the show, and introduced in the comic as a tie-in, in much the same way that Alfred, who'd been killed off in the comic was revived because the show wanted to feature him. They might have created a new Batgirl, who may or may not have been Jim Gordon's daughter without the show's influence, but I think it's unlikely.

-Mindbender

totaltoyz said...

Barbra Gordon/Batgirl first appeared in Detective Comics #359, cover-dated January 1967, therefore on the newsstands around Halloween 1966, about a year before Yvonne Craig pulled on the spandex.

It is possible that DC sent the show's producers an advance copy of the comic, or that the renewed popularity of Batman created by the show inspired DC to add a new character in the comics, but such details are lost to time and memory.

Anonymous said...

The show's producers asked the comic book writers to create a new Batgirl so that they could introduce her into the show. So depending on how you look at it, Barbara Gordon was created FOR the show but BY the comics.

-Poison Ivory

totaltoyz said...

The show's producers asked the comic book writers to create a new Batgirl so that they could introduce her into the show.

Cite your source, please.

Jeff R. said...

Lionel Luthor? Who could not like Lionel Luthor?

On the other hand, I'm never, ever, ever going to accept that any story in which the Kents are still alive is anything other than a Superboy story, no matter how old or married or what-not the main character may be. Essential element my left foot.

redlib said...

I met Burt Ward this year. He was a very nice grandfatherly man. I think he called me things like dear, and hon.

It's so true the message boards and blogs would rip the batman show to shreds. But I read something recently about Gen Xers that "novelty undermines authenticity". I try to keep that in mind.

Shane Bailey said...

I loved reading "My Life in Tights" by Burt Ward. Pick it up if you get a chance it goes into detail about the show and the sometimes raunchy things what went on around it. It totally changed my perception of Adam West and the gang.

Excellent post comparing Mythology to modern comics btw.

Mallet said...

Couldn't this entire post have been trimmed down to:

"Comics change, get over it."?

k26dp said...

But... then we would be bereft of that trademark Scipio prose! And what fun would that be?

You in a hurry or something?

Scipio said...

I suppose it could, Mallet.

For that matter, Hamlet could be synopsized as "all the characters die".

Personally I think an understanding of how they change is helpful in "getting over it".

Scipio said...

"I'm never, ever, ever going to accept that any story in which the Kents are still alive is anything other than a Superboy story, no matter how old or married or what-not the main character may be. Essential element my left foot."

That's interesting. While I myself do not feel that way -- quite the opposite -- am delighted to know that there is someone who ever REMEMBERS that they used to be dead.

I'm curious whether there's a specific reason you don't like the change (such as, it lessens Clark somehow) or is more basic (it's simply too far from cannon)?

Jeff R. said...

It lessens Clark. Specifically, he's supposed to have a strong moral code that comes from internalizing the lessons that his parents taught him while they were still around.

If they are around to, say, forgive him for killing Zod & Co, it externalizes and thus weakens the character's essential morality.

Also, one of the important elements in the archtypal superhero story is the secondary tragedy, the 'even with all his powers he couldn't stop [whatever]'. Keeping the Kents around robs Superman's story of this critical element. I've a similar problem versions of the Spider-man story where Gwen Stacy never existed (or where her loss has more emotional impact on Aunt May than Peter Parker.)

(Plus, if Martha were dead, the current Supergirl might have a respectable costume.)

Bully said...

"In the long-term, what works, remains. What doesn't, fades."

A simple and effective salve most comics fans ought to remember. Excellent summary.

I tend to phrase it this way (and yes, there is a definite negative possibilty to it as well):

"There is no comics story than cannot be undone."

In 2005, especially.

Anonymous said...

Cite your source, please.

"Barbara Gordon, the second Batgirl - alias Barbara Gordon, studying a 'PhD at Gotham State University' - was written into the comic narrative with Detective #359 of January 1967. This addition was made by Julius Schwartz, then-editor of the Batman titles, at the explicit request of Dozier, who wanted to bring her into the TV series as a female interest and as a new sop to the persistent rumours that the TV Batman and Robin, like their comic book counterparts, were gay; she debuted, played by Yvonne Craig, in the first episode of the TV show's third season, aired on 14 September of that year."

Will Brooker, Batman Unmasked: Analyzing a Cultural Icon (pg 187, if you want to get specific)

-Poison Ivory

Axel M. Gruner said...

dude, don't hurt yourself too much about dat 4color-magick.
Still, ..."Compassion is the vice of kings" and such.

Michael said...

JP - that "Batman with Eve" page is from the (in)famous "Elseworlds 80-Page Giant". The book was printed and ready to ship when Paul Levitz allegedly ordered the entire run scrapped due to a Kyle Baker story featuring Kal-el's babysitter in which she put him in the microwave oven (see http://netgeist.com/superbaby.htm). A few copies made it over to England and they run over $100 on ebay. The Batman/Eve page was a one-page pinup.

Anonymous said...

De-lurking here...I was six years old when Batman debuted on tv, so that was probably my first exposure to the character (And of course, I didn't realize what I was watching was "camp" till years after the fact). And I know I'd feel the exact same way as you, if the show debuted now--I would HATE that it was "making fun of" the character, and making comics seem stupid. But be that as it may, there must have been something there, because here I am, 38 years later, still invested enough in "Batman" to be sharing my thoughts on the matter here.

But anyway...interesting post. I'll definitely be back for more.

Anonymous said...

The one thing I like about the Kents being alive is that Superman knows there are two people in the world who can walk right up to him and tell him to Stop it this instant young man and he'll have to.

And wow did this Batman TV show post get a lot of responses. I guess it did have a big effect.

Mallet said...

It should be something everyone already knows. We all change, everything else changes, comics should to. I didn't mean to sound snarky I just thought it was something everyone already knew.

Jeff R. said...

The one thing I like about the Kents being alive is that Superman knows there are two people in the world who can walk right up to him and tell him to Stop it this instant young man and he'll have to.

Exactly. Which is why their being alive means that you're really reading a Superboy story. [Byrne didn't eliminate Superboy from the mythos; he eliminated Superman.]

Not that I have any problem with Superboy stories as such, although they're generally a lot more fun when Clark isn't tied down permanently to Lois and can get involved in triangles and such...

The Fortress Keeper said...

I was 4 when the Batman TV show aired, and was naturally enthralled by the derring-do. Plus, Bruce Lee laid the smackdown on Robin. How cool is that???

I went through my anti-Adam West phase in my teens and 20s, but recall the show fondly now and find it's camp aspects as compelling a deconstruction of the superhero myth as anything by Moore and Miller.

In fact, I'll even wager that All-Star Batman and Robin is Miller's own take on the "camp" Batman, only a lot less entertaining than the original.

P.S. I preferred the Kents dead as well. I grew up with Superman as a lonely god, not a farmboy who basically has everything in the world.

Scipio said...

"[Byrne didn't eliminate Superboy from the mythos; he eliminated Superman.]"

That is a very interesting observation! I see what you mean.

totaltoyz said...

Interesting excerpt from Brooker's book. I thought I remembered reading something in Joel Eisner's Offical Batman Batbook that gave a different version, but I checked and I was wrong. That book did recount Bill Dozier's claim that he created Aunt Harriet to defuse homosexual claims, which was bunk as Harriet had been in the comics for two years already.

Anything seen in these books is filtered through forty years of memories of the people responsible. Personally I find it hard to believe that the TV show had enough influence on the comic to request a whole new major character be created, especially that early on. For the comic to have been on the stands in October 1966, when would they have had to start writing and drawing it?

Iron Lungfish said...

"Because, had I not been a toddler at the time or if the show premiered now, I would have hated it. Hated it."

See, I had the exact opposite reaction to the Batman series. I saw it when I was about eight or nine years old in the late eighties/early nineties, right after the first Burton movie came out, and I absolutely loathed it because I knew of course that Batman was supposed to be dark and cool and scary and this show just had some dork running around in tights.

Now that I'm older, wiser, and have a better sense of humor, I can appreciate the show's satire for what it was. I can also appreciate multiple versions of the same character; I've even warmed to Superboy stories over the years, despite my conviction that his eradication Restored Superman To The Mythos.

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