This week, DC is digitally releasing the first issue of "Batman '66," a series based on the classic Adam West/Burt Ward TV show. Writer Jeff Parker took some time to talk to us about the his plans for the series, his love for the original program, and using these familiar designs and characters in a new way.
MTV Geek: What was your first exposure to the "Batman" TV show? What effect did it have on you?
Jeff Parker: Reruns on my local network broadcast. It was really the reason for the television to exist, as far as I was concerned. I spent an inordinate amount of time making batarangs with cords tied to them.
Geek: How did you end up writing this series? Did DC headhunt you, or was it something you heard about and lobbied for?
Parker: Apparently the DC editors had already talked about me writing it for a while, and started putting my name in plans like a placeholder. Good thing I said yes! Usually I wait about a day or so to respond to emails for new jobs to really think on things, figure out if I have a direction to go with an assignment. I didn't do that this time, I immediately wrote back to Jim Chadwick letting him know I was ready.
Geek: How did Jonathan Case end up as the artist for the series?
Parker: This is one of those magical moments. Our family was visiting his at the coast when I was offered the job, and I'm looking right at Jonathan while starting to think about how it would all work. If you've read his work like "Dear Creature" or "Green River Killer," you'll know he can get that '60s aesthetic perfect, and he has a number of skills that line up just right for this. He's a great painter, and this needed a color identity like the show had, and he's excellent with likenesses, which a huge requirement of the book.
So I asked if he wouldn't mind sending Jim a piece or two showing how he might depict characters. Jim also had just picked up "Green River Killer" and loved it, again, good timing. And then Jonathan came out swinging with a dead-on Julie Newmar Catwoman, and worked up some other character colored sketches. In no time he was being discussed to lead off the series, which was crucial. We have revolving artists coming through, but the first three-parter is really going to set the tone for so much and Jonathan put the bar nice and high.
Geek: The rights to the original Batman show are legendarily tangled up in confusion – the '66 feature film has been available for years on home video, yet the way has never been cleared for a release of any TV episodes. Has that affected what elements you're allowed to use in the comic? Are you allowed to draw on the film as well as the TV show?
Parker: Yes, I can bring in things from the movie (and do) but there are particulars about how the show can't be duplicated too much. Like, we're not supposed to follow what became the structure of the show exactly- crime, police call on red phone, Bruce and Dick take call go to cave, roar away in Batmobile, confrontation, end part one in death trap.
And… that's fine! I don't like formula, it robs you of surprise. Instead I'm putting those elements in at different points so you still get all those bits you love, but it doesn't follow a map. It would also chew up a ton of storytelling space if we did that all the time. Now we can do neat things like begin with a manhunt in progress, things like that.
Geek: So, given that the show is unavailable for purchase/rental/download, how do you go about doing research for these stories? Are there any particular books, websites, or people that you turned to for reference?
Parker: Oh, don't think everybody I know wasn't chiming in with BatFacts! But really, I remembered plenty. I may have also been slipped some material by an informant I'll refer to as Schmark Schwaid.
Geek: The original show was fairly spectacular for a TV program, yet it was still recognizably made on a budget. Are you adhering to the style and format of the series, or are you being a little more free, since comics aren't hindered by the same budgetary constraints?
Parker: Yes, we're treating it like we have a spectacle-epic level movie budget, the very best stunt men of Hollywood doing make up and can shoot on location anywhere in the world. Adam West is battling Frank Gorshin on a biplane over Gotham.
Geek: Likewise, are you sticking with the established villains from the TV show, or are you planning to expand and create '66-ized versions of other familiar Batman adversaries?
Parker: At first we're casting TV villains, which helps establish the world of the series in a complete way. Then there's a good sense of how you might bring in other comics characters who didn't make it onto the show. You know they were planning to have Two-Face at one point, right?
Geek: Another huge element of the original show was the "celebrity guest appearances." Is that device going to appear in these comics in some way?
Parker: It is, but not to the extent I had hoped. I hung up things for everybody on the first story with that very thing, because every guest star I wanted came with a very sizable fee for likeness use. And that's the problem we would run into repeatedly, so there's just not going to be many of those. Unless you have an in with Leonard Nimoy and Paramount so Mr. Spock can lean out some time (that's not one of the ones I tried, just dream casting there).
Geek: The performances of the lead actors played a huge part in the original show's success... How do you convey those intangibles on the printed page?
Parker: That's where it's so nice that all the artists really know they show backwards and forwards. So far, everyone has gotten the acting down pat. Robin moves a very particular way, Batman gets a certain look in his eye when going into a lecture. Everybody is nailing it. I have to write dialogue that sounds in character, though it can't be as long as they might go on on the show or you'll block all the art. It's the show delivery more succinct.
Geek: The last new episodes of the series aired in early 1968, and in the years since, was effectively ignored by creators (and fans) who preferred a more serious, dark approach to Batman. Why do you think it's finally okay for people to admit their appreciation of Batman '66?
Parker: Because now there are popular movies out there where Batman is dark and realistic, I think that fear of a beloved character being taken seriously is finally quelled. I'm sure there are still some out there who don't want this version getting traction again, but there are way more who love this Batman. Adults can enjoy it and hand their devices over to their kids and let them read it without any hesitation for appropriateness. It's heroes being heroic and driving sweet cars.
Geek: What are your ultimate goals with this series? Is there anything you can tell us about that you're particularly looking forward to?
Parker: I want to drive readers to digital and bring a whole new generation to comics, as well as bring back people who haven't read them in a while. I'm currently excited about stories where Batman and Robin get to travel the world a bit, playing up the notion that they're celebrated all over the planet.
The first chapter of Batman '66 is available digitally today – the print edition of the first issue is released to comic shops July 17th.