By: Jeff Parker (story), Ty Templeton & Jonathan Case (art), Wes Hartman (colors)
The Story: When Batman’s down and out, it’s up to his chum and his girlfriend to save his skin!
The Review: One of my favorite things about the sixties and in particular a certain type of story that was especially (some might even say inexplicably) popular during that period is the needlessly elaborate and complicated plots. Granted, these plots often got so convoluted that you suspect even the writers lost track of what they were talking about, but there has never been a better time for complete and utter, anything-goes confidence in storytelling.
That’s why I take especial delight in Batman ’66. Parker not only emulates the tone and syntax of the show with exceptional precision, he also channels the imaginative spirit of the era. See, it’s not enough that Penguin puts Gotham’s economic activity to a standstill by blocking the harbor with a Titanic-crushing iceberg; he goes ahead and gets it recognized by the United Nations as a sovereign nation, making any incursion upon it an act of war. There is just so much factually wrong and entertainingly right about this plan.
To make things even harder for our heroes, Penguin enlists the aid of Mr. Freeze, who receives asylum from the self-declared emperor’s new kingdom in exchange for endlessly adding to its territory via his Freeze Ray. The team-up proves quite challenging for Batman, to the point he even gets knocked out (which quite possibly reaches the very limit of violence on this series). The earnest Robin in turn must rise to the occasion, and he does foil the villains’ scheme with good observation skills and clever thinking.
I don’t know how much compelling character work was ever done on the original show, but Parker pushes for more than a minimum of it here, giving Batman ’66 a little more credibility than a mere tribute series. When irony and exaggeration are the driving forces of a story, even a little bit of development goes a long way, like Freeze’s villainous motivations (“You cut me off from ze [sic] world of warmth forever vhen [sic] you spilled Freeze Fluid on me,” he tells Batman) or a potential long-term plotline appearing in the issue’s second feature.*
On that note, and returning to my first point about the needlessly (but delightfully) complicated nature of these old-school stories, Batman’s run-in with Lorelei Circe, a criminal vocalist with the power to compel men to her whim, is the very definition of taking the long way around things. Enraged that her foe is not swayed by her voice, Circe shrieks, “You must be using earplugs!”
“Wrong. I’ve been studying a meditative technique while exposing myself to short recordings of your mind-control frequency! I am now immune.”
One thing Parker needs to watch out for is to not go overboard with the humor. Camp is easily swallowed in small doses, but taking it too far can easily destroy any hope to be taken seriously. Parker doesn’t quite get to that point, but his alliterative exclamations are starting to get there: “This is the handiwork of the pompous prince of perilous plots…the Penguin!!” “You tuxedoed terror!” “Now you’ll catch what-for ye larcenous leprechaun.” “Crush this chiropteric creep!”
Templeton’s art is overtly cartoony, looking something like a low-rent Pere Perez. He lays out Parker’s script pretty much straight, with a minimum of fuss and creativity, although I do love some of his sight gags: the beak and flippers on Penguin’s submarine, or the endless Bat-insignias all over the Bag-Sub. Case’s art is by far superior, however. Not only does he get that retro flavor exactly right, he still has a clean, polished linework that you expect from modern comics and tons of energy and imagination. Batman’s hallucination is full of wild and silly imagery, the stuff of old-school Disney cartoons and George Méliès films (e.g. a trumpet-playing moon, a piano with disturbingly long legs striding across the pastoral landscape).
Conclusion: While some of the novelty has worn off, it reveals a surprisingly solid bit of storytelling underneath with plenty of laughs still attached. If we can get Case to draw the whole issue every issue, that’d really ice the cake.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: * Dustin Nguyen and Derek Fridolfs should take note. This is what I’m talking about when I say Batman: Li’l Gotham is missing real, lasting substance.
– I hope Kathy Kane remains a recurring character and takes on the Batwoman costume for real. That’d be good times.
– I’m very charmed that in this world, villains can really turn their lives around, like Chandell, a former “criminal pianist” repaying his debt to society through music.