Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

The Batusi, the new dance craze sweeping DC comics!

The Batman TV show — the one starring Adam West and Burt Ward, hopefully y’all are familiar with it — hit the airwaves at the start of ’66. It didn’t take long for the show’s success to affect the comics in ways much more striking than the Riddler house ad below.

While Robin saying “Holy mackerel” or the like goes back to the Golden Age, the TV show put its own comedic spin on that. I’d say the first sign the show is influencing the comics comes in April’s (cover date June) Detective Comics #352, when Robin declares “Holy sparklers!” while he and Batman bust up a diamond robbery. The same month Batman introduced Poison Ivy because the TV show wanted “more chicks” for villains.

Next came June’s Batman #183 (cover date August) and “Batman’s Baffling Turnabout” by Gardner Fox and Sheldon Moldoff. The cover is clearly designed to hook the TV audience, though the show airing behind Batman is not the Earth-Prime show we know.

The guy in the bat-suit is really the villain, who’s already caught Batman in a deathtrap, an adhesive net holding Batman until the rising tide drowns him. It’s simple enough to work — this was the days when Batman wasn’t a Bat-god — but the Caped Crusader has a solution: dance the Batusi!

This, of course, references the Caped Crusader dancing with Jill St. John in a discotheque in one episode of the TV show. Despite which the story itself is typical for the New Look era:  it’s not campy, not tongue-in-cheek, and not at all a radical break from what Schwartz and his Bat-team have been doing for the previous two years.

I can’t say that about “Inside Story of the Outsider” (Fox, Moldoff) from August of that year. This wraps up the Dynamic Duo’s long-running battle with the mysterious Outsider by revealing the mystery villain is Alfred. The New Look kicked off with the death of good Mr. Pennyworth; with the character appearing weekly on the TV show, editor Julius Schwartz or his higher-ups decided to resurrect him.

It turns out Alfred was in in one of those deathlike comas that happen all the time in comics (almost as common as amnesia); a scientist’s attempt to revive him transformed Alfred into the para-human Outsider instead. It’s a disappointing, contrived finish to an intriguing story arc, though I’ve read arguments that Schwartz and Fox always planned to unmask the Outsider as Alfred. We’ll never know for sure.

Surprisingly Aunt Harriet, also a regular on the TV show, didn’t get the same treatment. She’d been introduced early in Schwartz’s tenure, taking over housekeeping duties after Alfred’s death, but by ’66 she was hardly appearing at all. The TV show didn’t affect that. As Commander Benson says, she’d been introduced to counter the “Batman and Robin are gay” trope so she was hardly an integral character — plus the Bat-strip in that era didn’t bother much with a supporting cast.

The bat-books weren’t the only ones affected by the show’s success. The Brave and the Bold had included Batman in its roster of rotating team-ups starting back in 1965. In the summer of 1966 it became purely a Batman team-up book (with occasional exceptions) starting with “The Death of the Flash.”In this Bob Haney/Carmine Infantino tale a group of thieves using super-speed sneakers run wild in Gotham City; Flash agrees to help even though running at super-speed has started to kill him (don’t worry, he gets better). Bob Haney’s Silver Age writing in B&B often felt campier than the main Bat-books. Though as the year wore on we got flashes of silliness there, too, like the Joker’s pint-sized sidekick Gaggy. By and large, Batman and Detective are sticking the New Look course so far.

Justice League of America began putting Batman on the covers a lot, like this Mike Sekowsky cover below. It’s a JLA/JSA crossover but Batman and the Bat-villain Blockbuster dominate the image, along with pop-art style sound effects mimicking the TV series.Bats gets even more prominence the following issue.With #50 he’s not only on the cover, the first third of the story is Batman and Robin, sans League, fighting against a Green Beret the Lord of Time is using as his mind-controlled surrogate.When Schwartz and Fox decide to wrap up Zatanna’s long-running search for her father, they bring in Batman even though he’d never met Zee. An awkward retcon revealed Zatanna was the witch the Outsider once sicced on the Dynamic Duo, justifying Batman’s presence in the issue.The following issue looks at why some of the JLA didn’t show up to fight the Lord of Time: what cases were they on that kept them busy?  Despite Batman’s prominence in #50, they still shoehorn him into the follow-up story and its cover.Gardner Fox’s JLA writing also shows increasing amounts of camp: #47 describes the alien Anti-Matter Man as “a claw-happy fighter who relishes a bang-up rock-em sock-em rhubarb!” To me this feels more like a clunky attempt to imitate Marvel’s style than a response to the TV series but that’s not a hill I would die on.

Nothing, though, shows how much the Bat-tide has turned than Action Comics, a Superman book, using Batman to hook readers.The story, by Otto Binder and Wayne Boring, has Superman suffer strange red-kryptonite nightmares inspired by photos of Batman’s rogue’s gallery. The multicolored crystal figure reflects the Joker’s red, white and green and face; the row of ice blocks evokes the Penguin (a creature of ice and cold) as does the line of identical Supermen (all penguins look alike). Yes, that is pretty feeble, though I loved the weirdness of it as a kid. The story also gives us a waking-life photo of the Mad Hatter, who hadn’t appeared in comics since ’63 but has shown up on TV, and Batman himself puts in a couple of appearances. All in all it shows Batman has become a bigger seller than Superman, something I don’t believe has changed since.

What influence will the TV show have before it fades away (other than bringing us Babs Gordon, of course)? Don’t miss a single thrilling blog post to find out! Same Atomic Junk Shop time — Same Atomic Junk Shop channel!

#SFWApro. Bat-covers by Carmine Infantino (#186 by Murphy Anderson), JLA covers by Mike Sekowsky, Action by Curt Swan.


  1. Jeff Nettleton

    Serendipitously, I have been watching the first season of the show, on dvd, after buying the complete series set, at Walmart. It’s really good, with tighter scripts, better direction, some darker content and a nice balance of serious action and peril and the comedy. The guest villains are uniformly great, too. Roddy McDowell, as Bookworm, actually gets pretty dark, as he nearly attacks his moll when she questions why he has never written a novel. Right up there with his vocal work as the Mad Hatter, in BTAS.

    Second season is more hit and miss, with the regulars generally good and a good portion of the made up villains falling flat. They amp up the camp considerably, too; but, the main villains remain good. Third season is pretty much Batgirl as the only thing keeping it interesting and a lot of the episodes are mediocre, at best and some are outright bad. Batgirl is under-utilized and the scripts aren’t up to snuff. Too much winking at the camera, too.

    I also noticed that in the first King Tut episodes, we see another Batman: Olan Soule, voice of the Filmation Batman/Superman Hour (and the solo version, The Adv of Batman) and the Hanna-Barbera Super Friends and New Scooby Doo Movies episodes. Batman also fights Tarzan, in the first Catwoman episode, as one of her henchmen is 60s Tarzan Jock Mahoney. Jerry Lewis is the first window cameo.

    1. Having gotten past my (common for my generation) OMG That Show Is So Embarrassing phase, I caught the Batman movie from that era and enjoyed it. I’d have moved on to the TV show already if there wasn’t so much else to watch these days.
      I have a friend who thinks Maxie Zeus may have been inspired by King Tut — both academics who go nuts and imagine themselves as a great figure from the past. Don’t know if anyone’s confirmed or disproven that.

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