I’ve waited a long time to re-watch the third season of Batman because that’s when Batgirl (Yvonne Craig, who sadly passed away earlier this year) finally made her debut, transforming the Dynamic Duo into the Terrific Trio. Thanks to Warner Bros. graciously providing a copy for review, I finally have it on DVD.
When I was a kid, I wanted to be Batgirl in the worst way possible. She’s even smarter than Adam West’s Batman, often figuring out the obscure clues and nefarious schemes way ahead of him. She kicks so much villain ass – all while making it look good in that tight, sparkly purple bat suit and ankle boots. And don’t even get me started on her groovy mid-1960s mod wardrobe and accessories and beautiful red hair (I always wanted to be a natural redhead). And she gets to be a mild-mannered librarian surrounded by books by day (and who knew the Gotham City Library contained so many rare, antique books)? Batgirl represented the modern woman of the ’60s. Everything about her screams femininity, intelligence, independence and supreme coolness, down to her swinging apartment and ridiculously girly purple motorcycle. It’s little wonder that she served as a role model to so many. It’s obvious that Batman needed her more than she needed him.
Of course, as Commissioner Gordon’s daughter Barbara, she was often privy to details not made public that helped her show up at opportune times to help fight crime. I enjoy watching her drive Batman and Robin wild trying to figure out her secret identity and how/why she often disappears. Really though, was it all that difficult for them to figure out who she was? I especially thought they’d figure it out when they traveled all the way across the ocean to Londinium with Barbara Gordon, and Batgirl just happens to show up out of nowhere to help them? For all of Batman’s superior intellect and Sherlock Holmes-esque powers of deduction, I can’t help but wonder if he did figure it out but just didn’t want to reveal it to Robin. Even Alfred knew her secret identity!
It’s a shame the addition of Batgirl was not enough to save Batman from being cancelled prematurely in 1968. I liked how they changed it to a half-hour format with little teasers letting you know who the guest villain was going to be in each next episode. Yes, the plots and villains were spinning more bizarrely out of control and getting ever campier, but it was still so much fun and remains to this day like nothing else I’ve ever seen. Lest I remind you this was the season that introduced us to a surfing Joker and Batman, because really why wouldn’t Joker use a Surfing Experience and Ability Transferometer to try to win a surfing competition? Other season highlights include the Joker in a flying saucer, Catwoman trying to steal a Golden Fleece because she wants to be the most fashionable woman in the world, Egghead trying to hatch a dinosaur egg in the Gotham City Museum, Penguin trying to force Batgirl to marry him, King Tut revealing to the world that Bruce Wayne is Batman (too bad nobody believes him!), Joan Collins portraying an evil seductress known as The Siren and Zsa Zsa Gabor as the glamorously manipulative Minerva. Holy crucial moments, Batman!
Batman was a unique product and reflection of its times. As Adam West himself puts it, the pop culture phenomena of the ’60s can be described using three B’s: Batman, Bond and the Beatles. It was one of the first shows to capture the imaginations of many (largely due to its eye-popping colors) and become a staple in the mass culture. The show’s third season especially tries to capture the counterculture movement that was happening among the nation’s youth. In “Louie, the Lilac,” guest star Milton Berle wants to control Gotham’s “flower children” because he recognizes their masses and believes they are the key to the undoing of Gotham City. Many cults gained popularity during this time period, so it’s not a far stretch from the truth if you really think about it.
“Surf’s Up! Joker’s Under!” accurately reflects the popularity of the surfing/beach lifestyle immortalized in the Frankie & Annette and Gidget movies of the era, while “Nora Clavicle and the Ladies’ Crime Club” attempts to broach the subject of women’s equality, as women take over the city’s police force. However, because it’s campy Batman, the women are made to look like buffoons, as they’re shown spending more time worrying about their makeup and discussing recipes than actually policing the streets of Gotham City. And don’t even get me started on the ridiculous Pied Piper plot of the same episode!
For those unable to afford or unwilling to shell out the pennies for the deluxe Blu-ray set, the third season DVD finally sheds light on a plethora of bonus features. “Hanging with Batman” is a documentary about Adam West and how he created such an iconic character that has been adored by millions for nearly 50 years. When he read the pilot script of Batman, he admitted he thought it was the funniest thing he’d ever read while being a clever spoof on pop culture and an homage to DC Comics, and he quickly decided he wanted to be a part of that magic.
As a mostly serious actor prior to Batman, he always felt he had a gift for comedy and wanted the chance to play this totally absurd character. He decided to portray Batman with a perpetual musing sense about him while he’s putting together the clues and then with rapid-fire speech after the musing to make it more fun for his audience. Adam West was in the right place at the right time and one gets the sense that he was truly appreciative of the opportunity even though it sadly typecast him for a while after the show. At least he’s seemingly enjoying a revived interest in his work, making the recent Comic-Con circuit to meet his legions of adoring fans.
“Holy Memorabilia Batman!” is a fun look at all the many collectibles that exploded onto the marketplace thanks to the show’s huge popularity. As a collector myself, I don’t think I’ve ever watched a program that so accurately described what it’s like to be a collector and that heady sense of pride and pleasure when you acquire a new piece for your collection and/or you get to show it off to an interested party. I always find it interesting to see someone’s passion on display, and I’m in awe that the guy with the world’s supposed largest Batman memorabilia collection is actually from my hometown of Indianapolis!
“Batmania Born! Building the World of Batman” offers another documentary perspective about the show and how it worked on different levels. On the basic level, it appealed to children and teens obsessed with comic book heroes, while on a secondary level, it appealed to adults with its double entendres and puns. It discussed things I had not considered before such as how the tilted camera angles on the villains signifies these characters were all a little off-kilter and how the usage of the sound effects being shown on the screen helped to mask how comically staged some of the fight scenes were because they distracted you, while also enhancing the visuals and making you feel even more like you were immersed inside a colorful comic book world. Batman really was brilliant, wasn’t it?
“Na Na Na Na Batman” features various people in today’s television industry discussing all things Batman, from the catchy theme song to the uncomfortable-looking costumes and their favorite villains, while “Bat Rarities! Straight from the Vault” presents the viewer with an alternate introduction to Batgirl with the original Batgirl pilot, as well as Burt Ward and Adam West’s screen test and a bizarro look at two other actors being considered for the roles of Batman and Robin: Lyle Waggoner and Peter Deyell’s screen test. There’s also a nice tribute to James Blakeley, the show’s post-production supervisor.
“Inventing Batman: In the Words of Adam West” offers unique commentary from Adam as he analyzes the show’s pilot episode. He explains how he created the character and provides numerous anecdotes and recollections. In “Bats of the Round Table,” Adam meets up for a dinner discussion with Comic Book Men‘s Kevin Smith, radio personality/Batman ’66 Meets the Green Hornet author Ralph Garman, Smallville‘s Phil Morris and Jim Lee, co-publisher of DC Comics. The men all geek out over the show and ask Batman all sorts of questions ranging from which Catwoman he preferred to his favorite guest star villain, if he ever got to take the Batmobile out to cruise for chicks and how far down the poles in the Bat Cave actually went. You can tell it meant a lot to them to discuss such things with Adam West, and that it made him feel relevant again.
All in all, the bonus features are very satisfying and well worth the wait. Kudos to Warner Bros. for assembling this wealth of materials about one of the most fascinating shows in the history of television. They say whichever Batman you were first introduced to is the one and only true Batman in your heart. If that’s true, then Adam West will always be the one and only true Batman to me.