The fall television season is flush with comic book adaptations, including the premiere of the Batman prequel “Gotham” and the latest version of “The Flash,” and returning favorites “Arrow” and “Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” I’ve seen them all, and they’re all chock full of geeky goodness.
But the show I’m most excited about aired its last episode over four decades ago.
I’m speaking, of course, of the camp classic “Batman” TV series, which, after a lengthy squabble over copyright issues, finally arrives on Blu-ray and DVD for the first time on Nov. 11.
Yes, that Batman. “Na na na na na na na na -- BATMAN!” Turn it on and you’ll get to watch Adam West and Burt Ward magically change into costume as they slide down the Batpoles. You’ll see the cool customized Batmobile with the flaming exhaust and atomic turbines power up. The Penguin’s cigarette holder is about three feet long, and the Joker’s white makeup barely covers his moustache. Nobody seems to notice that Bruce Wayne and Batman are the same guy, even though it’s Bruce Wayne’s butler Alfred who always answers the blinking red Batphone.
It’s unapologetically silly. It’s undeniably goofy. And even four and a half decades later, I can’t get enough of it.
When I watched the show as a kid, I did so without any sense of irony. It’s a great children’s program because the whole thing takes place in a self-contained moral universe where good and evil are clearly defined. Indeed, everything is clearly defined. All the henchmen wear matching uniforms that say “Henchman” on them, and Catwoman’s henchmen wear cat-themed hats, as opposed to Penguin’s henchmen, who wear penguiny hats. Every camera shot in a villain’s lair is tilted at a 45-degree angle to visually reinforce who the crooked characters are.
Batman, on the other hand, is the epitome of moral certitude. He’s unfailingly honest, except when he’s making sad excuses for why Bruce Wayne and Batman are never in the same place at the same time. He lectures Robin on the importance of studying medieval poetry and drinking his milk. He’s prompt, tidy and always puts coins in the meter when he parks the Batmobile. As Robin might say, “Holy role model, Batman!”
I took all of that at face value as a pre-pubescent. And, really, isn’t that a good thing? Children’s programming could be a lot worse than that, and it usually is.
Of course, to an adult, the whole thing is ridiculous to the point of absurdity. But that’s the genius of this show -- it works on both levels, and it does so effortlessly. Children can receive the moral clarity of a show that speaks to them on their level as it’s couched in a zany presentation that adults can enjoy.
What’s striking about the humor, after all these years, is that it’s never crass or cruel. Parody in the 21st century tends to launch acidic assaults on its targets. “Batman” is acid-free, but it doesn’t skimp on the laughs. It takes a skilled delivery to be both funny and gentle at the same time, but somehow “Batman” pulls it off. Other have tried -- including the dreadful “Batman and Robin” movie from years back -- but they’re never able to capture the same lightning in a bottle that fueled the original series.
That’s not to say I don’t appreciate the real-world approach of today’s superhero vehicles. But none of them are nearly as much fun as the original. And no matter what you may think of the show, you’ll have to agree that none of them have a cooler theme song.
In fact, you’re singing it right now, aren’t you?
(Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.)