Thursday, January 30, 2014

Culture Shock 01.30.14: The Caped Crusader rises

As I sit at my desk writing this, the Caped Crusader — one-half of the Dynamic Duo — looks on. He has a slight smile on his face, in contrast to his usual grim determination. In place of his customary white-slit eye holes, he has twinkling baby blues. These are eyes clear of vision and of sharp focus.

These eyes see justice, good citizen. Rest assured, they say, all is well.

The Caped Crusader.
As I type this, Batman gives me a knowing nod of the head. Wait! No, it's just my imagination. It's not a nod but a bobble. This Batman is a bobblehead I keep on my desk, right next to my coffee mug, an Associated Press paperweight and my Pez dispensers. And for the first time in decades, this Batman bears an unmistakable resemblance to Adam West, Batman of the pow! bam! boom! 1960s TV show, who for years was the character's most visible depiction — and his curse.

Two weeks ago, Conan O'Brien — of all people — let slip the news via Twitter: The 1966-68 “Batman” TV series is finally coming to home video, sometime this year.

That's not exactly an official announcement, but Warner Bros. confirmed the news shortly after Conan's tweet. The studio will release all three seasons of “Batman” on DVD in 2014. All else remains a mystery: price, bonus features, whether there also will be a high-definition Blu-ray release, etc. Knowing the long wait for “Batman” is almost over will have to be enough — for now.

So, why the long wait? As usual, lawyers are to blame. Warner Bros. owns DC Comics, which owns Batman. The '66 TV series, however, is owned by Fox. And as there was no such thing as home video in the 1960s, bringing “Batman” to home video required a lot of negotiation.

Contentious, time-consuming negotiation.

Signs of a deal began to appear last year, when licensed products based on the '66 “Batman” — like my bobblehead — hit the market. DC Comics even released a digital comic book series based on the '66 show. “Batman '66” so captures the spirit of Adam West's Batman and Burt Ward's Robin, the Boy Wonder, it's like watching reruns.

The reruns, by the way, never went away entirely. They currently air Saturdays on Me-TV (WZDX 54.3), but they're no substitute for owning the series. And there is a lot of pent-up demand to be met. Readers of the website have long ranked “Batman” as their second-most-requested unreleased TV show, after only “The Wonder Years,” which remains unreleased because of music licensing issues. Those pesky lawyers again.

And before you ask: The quickie “Batman” movie made between seasons 1 and 2 falls under a different deal, and Fox released it on DVD years ago.

Given all this anticipation for the TV series' home video debut, it's worth keeping in mind there was a time when Bat-fans despised it.

"Faster, Robin! The rear projection is gaining on us!"
While a parody of morally upright, square-jawed and just plain square superheroes, the '66 “Batman” nevertheless reflected the goofy sensibility of 1950s and '60s Batman comics. But by the '70s and '80s, comic book Batman had grown darker, and the Dark Knight bore little resemblance to the Caped Crusader. Fans resented their favorite hero still being known mostly for his campy Adam West incarnation.

Now, however, after the doom and gloom of Christopher Nolan's “The Dark Knight” and “The Dark Knight Rises,” it's safe for fans to admit their shameful secret: Many of them liked West's Batman all along. And maybe, just maybe, “The Dark Knight Rises” shows how it can be even more absurd to take Batman too seriously.

When it's at last available as a convenient box set, perfect for weekend binge viewing, the '66 “Batman” will be ready for a long-overdue reappraisal. Every Batman reflects his day, and the duly deputized Batman who protected Gotham during the social unrest of the late '60s is no different.

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