Happy 49th Birthday, Batman

batman16The headlines have been filled this week with the CW buzz over a possible Atom spinoff from Arrow and a Vixen animated series while CBS is salivating for the Supergirl series, said to be set in the same television reality. It’s utterly astounding to see how many comic book properties are being developed for animated or live-action programming in addition to the score of films already crowding the release schedule.

Forty-nine years ago tonight, it wasn’t like that. Oh, sure, there was Saturday morning fare. That season alone I could thrill to Underdog, Atom Ant, and Secret Squirrel all in their first season but that was, you know, kid stuff. No, my seven year old self couldn’t find the four-color heroes he had recently discovered anywhere on television.

RiddlerUntil tonight. ABC televised the first episode of Batman and my world was never the same.

There were Batman and Robin moving and talking, but looking pretty much as they appeared in Batman and Detective. And they were fighting the maniacal malevolence that was the Riddler, who I recognized from Batman #171. It was everything I could hope for.

Corgi toysFrom that evening through the final episode airing in March 1968, I was a Batmaniac. I had the toys, the Corgi vehicle (complete with Batboat on a trailer). My parents bought me the Signet paperbacks reprinting classic Dick Sprang stories (one of the first times an artist’s style was so distinctive it made a huge impression on me). I had the two novels as well and the trading cards. And no doubt, so much more.

Batman arrived at just the right time for me and seemingly for America. Here was a clear cut hero fighting obvious villainy at a time when the moral lines were increasingly blurry to teens and adults. It was nestled nicely between the horrific assassinations that blackened the decade and had a chance to thrive.

That it can now be seen in pristine high definition is something I could never have imagined forty-nine years ago. Watching them today is a guilty pleasure, as I wince at the gaping plot holes and the ham acting from a variety of guest stars. But those first episodes of the shortened first season are magical as we meet the villains including the new one, King Tut, although Victor Buono’s performance was so winning you couldn’t help but love him.

BatgirlSomewhere during the second season I kept hearing promos for what I thought was a series featuring Batgirl, but it was on much later and I never saw her in costume. I admit today that I was mistaking That Girl for Batgirl but when Yvonne Craig arrived, I was ready for my first serious crush. (Okay, Jill St. John was pretty hot, too, but I didn’t realize it until the reruns.)

I’ve never had the pleasure to meet Adam West or Burt Ward but did get to chat up Yvonne while buying her autobiography at a con some years back. I also got to speak briefly with Frank Gorshin and decided that rather than talk about the Riddler for the umpteenth time for him, I asked him about the short-lived Copy Cats series that used his impressionist skills. He wasn’t overly talkative but it was enough for this longtime fanboy.

The show burned brightly then vanished as interests shifted and the field was saturated with too much Bat-stuff, most of which was crap. The show’s legacy has to include that it also gave rise to the licensing and merchandising we know today and helped DC, soon to be bought by Steve Ross’ Kinney, forging the Licensing Corporation of America that brought quality control standards that hadn’t existed before and subsequent generations have clearly benefitted.

I tip my cowl at you Caped Crusader. My younger self slept safely at night knowing you were out there protecting us.

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