If there’s one thing that’s great about the concept of Batman, it’s that he’s extremely versatile. There can be a series of wildly successful, deathly serious films starring the dark knight at the same time that there’s a weekly team-up cartoon where, for example, the caped crusader and Plastic Man stop Gorilla Grodd from turning humanity into apes. When the comic tie-in to Batman: The Brave and the Bold ended, readers were left without options for fun Batman comics. This is meant as no slight against the regular ongoing Batman comics, as many of those are excellent. But those books bring with them the worry that The Joker’s face might not exactly be attached or that Robin might be brutally murdered by his aged clone brother; fun for some people, maybe, but not for everyone.
Enter Batman ‘66, the new digital-first comic based on the TV series starring Adam West and Burt Ward as the dynamic duo. That show is famous (or infamous, depending upon whom you ask) for its tongue-firmly-in-cheek portrayal of Batman and Robin as police-deputized do-gooders, its brightly-colored villains, and its fight scenes, complete with sound effects that appeared on-screen. Writer Jeff Parker and artist Jonathan Case perfectly capture all of these elements and more for a first issue that exceeds expectations.
The story in this first issue is simple enough: The Riddler steals the statue of Lady Gotham that’s being presented to the Gotham City Police Department. It’s up to Batman & Robin to halt his escape. The trick is in how Parker and Case embrace the infinite budget of a comic book. On TV, this story may have played out as a simple car chase; here it’s an exhilarating aerial pursuit that’s more action-packed than any episode of the TV series ever was. There’s not a lot of dialogue, but Parker makes what there is count. The interactions between Batman and Robin are wonderfully earnest, with Batman the wise mentor and Robin the overly-energetic teenager. The Riddler is equally as maniacal, uncannily channeling Frank Gorshin’s portrayal of the character.
It’s hard to separate Jeff Parker and Jonathan Case’s contributions throughout, though. While The Riddler’s dialogue sounds like it could’ve been written by Stanley Ralph Ross or Lorenzo Semple Jr., the physicality that Gorshin brought to the role is conveyed purely by Case. The majority of the issue is one long action sequence, which gives the artist a chance to shine. Batman and The Riddler dueling on the wings of a biplane is just as exciting as it sounds, and the whole thing looks incredible. Case’s coloring really adds a ‘60s, Technicolor feel to the comic that helps bring it all home. A cover by Michael Allred tops off the already visually-impressive package beautifully.
This issue is the first of DC Comics’s “DC2” digital comics, and the reading experience is very different from any of their previous digital-first books. Where those read the same way that other comics do, Batman ‘66 is much more customized to the digital format. There are nearly 100 ‘screens’ to this comic, with many of them repeating panels with additional dialogue or adding the signature sound effects of the Batman TV show. Anyone who has been reading the free titles over on Thrillbent.com should be comfortable with this format, but it may be a bit jarring at first for those unfamiliar with it. Regardless, the customization adds something unique to this comic, though it’ll be interesting to see how it translates into the printed version in a few weeks.
Batman ‘66 #1 is a wonderful comic. The story is solid and the artwork is vibrant, and the combination of the two makes for a tremendously fun read. It’s all-ages friendly and perfect for the casual Batman fan. That it’s a weekly comic that only costs 99 cents makes it a must-read.