Some call Batman, the live-action TV series that premiered in 1966, one of the greatest television series of all time; they claim it placed Batman and Robin on the map. But another, much louder contingent considers it a travesty to the source materials. Here's the thing, though: there are a lot of reasons why the original Batman series was groundbreaking. In fact, the old Batman series was ahead of the times.
Whenever the Batman TV show is brought up, we’re immediately struck with memories of bright colors, searing campiness, in-your-face onomatopoeia title cards, and the Boy Wonder hollering, “Holy [adjective][noun] Batman!” We’re often quick to dismiss the show as a lighthearted comedic romp, but there were a number of things at play that, in retrospect, can be recognized as being ahead of the game. Here are some progressive moments from the original Batman series.
It Appealed to Both Kids and Adults
There’s enough going on in the show to keep kids distracted. Show-costumed crimefighters take off in the Batmobile and end the episode with a huge brawl where the heroes come out on top. Wash, rinse, repeat.
However, the show was also entertaining for adults at the time. In both Adam West and Burt Ward’s memoirs, the actors recount how the tight-fitting costumes attracted quite the number of adult fans. Grown viewers appreciated the tongue-in-cheek sexual jokes, deadpan humor, and the occasional musings about a homosexual relationship between Bruce and Dick through Aunt Harriet, who, in the animated film Batman: Return of the Caped Crusader, made it more than apparent that this was always her suspicion.
It seems old hat now, but Batman was one of the first series to hide mature humor in a kids TV show.
It Brought Comics Crossovers to Life
Batman and The Green Hornet had several crossover episodes, but the most well-known are likely the two-part Batman episodes “A Piece of the Action” and “Batman’s Satisfaction.” The crossover features a free-for-all battle between the Dynamic Duo, the Green Hornet, and his assistant, Kato, facing off against their common target Colonel Gumm and his thugs. Once Gumm’s team is out of the picture, both hero teams are ready to settle the score. The brawl is broken up by the cops, but not before both sides get their licks in.
Batman and Robin were at odds with the Green Hornet and Kato due to the former perceiving the latter as criminals encroaching on their territory. This was not only the earliest superhero crossover bout but a foreshadowing of a running theme in the Dark Knight’s tendency to get into conflicts with other heroes due to misunderstanding and distrust.
It Established Mr. Freeze
Dr. Victor Fries was originally called Mr. Zero when he debuted in Batman comics in 1959. The show opted to change the villain’s name to Mr. Freeze, which became his universally accepted moniker.
Mr. Freeze made his debut in the episode “Instant Freeze” where, instead of continuing the comics’ portrayal of the character as a joke villain who carries a freeze gun and nothing more, he is given an actual origin story. It's revealed that his first encounter with Batman resulted in a chemical accident that left him in a condition that required continued exposure to below-freezing temperatures to survive. On more than one occasion in the episode, Batman laments how he feels sorry for his adversary due to his mutation and hopes to one day help him. The running theme of a sympathetic ice villain continued throughout Batman: The Animated Series and later comics as well.
In the New 52, Mr. Freeze’s origin changes again; it’s revealed that after a scuffle with his employer, Bruce Wayne, he gets into an accident that leaves him in his signature condition – a small callback to the origin story in the '60s Batman series.
It Prompted Outcries from Conservatives
The Batman TV show was one of the earliest shows to generate controversy. In the same vein as covering up Barbara Eden’s navel in I Dream of Genie, conservative and religious groups expressed discontent with how viewers could see the bulge in the Dynamic Duo’s nether regions.
The studio made various attempts to cover things up, which was easier for Adam West as his cape was longer. Unfortunately for Burt Ward, according to his book Boy Wonder: My Life in Tights, due to having a shorter cape, he had to be prescribed “special medication” to keep his Dark Knight from rising.