If you're an impressionable young kid hitting your teens right now, chances are pretty good you've been watching and enjoying some Batman — either Christian Bale in Christopher Nolan's just-completed Dark Knight trilogy, or the prequel series, Gotham, now showing on Fox. If you came of age a generation ago, your Batman of choice was likely to have been the big-screen caped crusader played by Michael Keaton or George Clooney. Or maybe even Val Kilmer.
But between 1966 and 1968, long before any of those versions of the DC Comics hero, Batman came to the screen in a much lighter, and brighter, ABC series, starring Adam West. The Dark Knight it wasn't. This Batman was played for laughs, with its star's no-nonsense delivery making it all the more tongue-in-cheek.
With its pop-art sensibility, vibrant colors and rogue's gallery of playful guest stars, Batman was a brief but major hit. Frank Gorshin as the Riddler, Cesar Romero as the Joker, Burgess Meredith as the Penguin and Julie Newmar as Catwoman — these were some of the original villains who made this Batman a TV phenomenon right from the start. That first season, ABC presented two episodes per week in a serialized cliffhanger format — and both installments made that year's Top 10.
Yet, until now, this particular incarnation of Batman has never been released on home video — not on DVD, not even on VHS. But Warner Bros. Home Video has just released the entire Adam West Batman series on DVD and Blu-ray, including a limited-edition collectible box set that comes with a set of Batman trading cards and even a Hot Wheels Batmobile. Some collectors, I guess, will geek out over all that extra stuff — but personally, I love the extras that come on the bonus disc, like the original screen test of Burt Ward, who won the role of Robin, and the original pilot for a planned Batgirl spinoff, and a new documentary, which has various Batman experts placing the TV series squarely in the pop-art movement of the mid '60s.
Most of all, of course, I love these old Batman episodes themselves. Certainly, that goes for the classics, like the ones with the original Catwoman, and those pop-art fight scenes.
But, to be honest, I also enjoy watching the really obscure, justifiably forgotten, admittedly bad ones. Who remembers Zsa Zsa Gabor as Minerva, or Ida Lupino as Dr. Cassandra? I didn't. But I do remember Joan Collins, in a pre-Dynasty role at her most alluring, playing the seductive villainess known as the Siren. Her high-pitched, miniskirted spell worked well, and not just on Commissioner Gordon.
I remember the Siren, and especially Catwoman, very fondly indeed. Various rights issues have kept Batman from home-video release until now, so younger viewers — those seeing this goofy, playful comic-book TV version for the first time — may be very pleasantly surprised by the fun to be had here. And for fans of a certain age, who are old enough to remember the '60s, I'm fairly certain this long-delayed box set will be worth the wait. Holy sensory overload, Batman!
David Bianculli is founder and editor of the website TV Worth Watching.