Friday, December 21, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #355: Batman '66, Vol. 1 by Jeff Parker and various artists

I don't know if I want corporate comics to loosen up. If they do, they'll probably be better, and have a better chance to survive -- which are two different things, only one of which is obviously good. But they're so often so tedious in their stolid seriousness that any bit of levity is welcome.

One of the wafts of levity in the past decade has been the Jeff Parker-written Batman '66, which is, yes you guessed it, a comics version of the Adam West TV show, done as straight as possible with all of the same elements. I've been hearing about it for a while now, so I finally checked out Volume 1 from the library to see for myself.

Parker is joined here by a bunch of artists, who aren't always credited on the stories. I also think these first appeared digitally as individual stories, and then only later were collected into print issues (and then this book), which adds more uncertainty. But the covers are by Michael and Laura Allred, and it looks like most of the stories are drawn by Jonathan Case, who is uncannily on-model for the actors of the '60s series. (Other artists with work here: Ty Templeton, Joe Quinones, Sandy Jarrell, Ruben Procopio, and Colleen Coover.)

These stories aren't deliberately campy or silly: they're telling stories of the Adam West Batman in that characteristic mode, with occasional obvious sound effects, slightly breathless captions and dialogue a little too mannered for most circumstances. Parker uses a wide array of the oddball villains of the show: yes Joker and Riddler and The Penguin and Catwoman (two different versions, unexplained here as it was unexplained in the show), but also Egghead and The Siren and The Mad Hatter and Clock King and The Sandman. They are all weird, but Batman villains have always been weird. This is the way Batman and his villains are weird in this world: silly rather than murderous, larcenous rather than terrorist.

I don't think I'd want a steady diet of Batman '66 stories over a long period of time, and that fact that the series seems to have already ended implies the general audience agrees with me there. On the other hand, I don't want a steady diet of any kind of Batman stories, and I'm way out of the mainstream there. These are distinctive Batman stories, in a style that hasn't been used in about fifty years: Parker is good at telling stories in that mode, and he's paired up with artists who generally bring a similar sensibility. (Procopio, on the Sandman story, looks more back to the '90s animated show to my eye, and is a little more cartoony than I think works for this style.)

My sense is that the audience for this book is narrower among regular comics-readers than it would be otherwise -- people who want to read Batman stories but don't obsess about the right kind of Batman stories -- so I hope it and the other Batman '66 stories have made it over the wall into general population; the people who'll like this best are the ones who don't consider themselves Batman fans.

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