With “Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders” now available on home video, audiences are gifted with the return of the campy greatness that is the ’60s “Batman” TV series. Though it was made this year, the film recaptures the magic of the decades-old live-action “Batman” series by reuniting the original show’s main cast and resurrecting the pop-art visual aesthetic that’s cemented itself in pop culture over the course of 50 years. Some — including the filmmakers — might say it’s the perfect time for the ’60s series to make a comeback, especially when you look at the current, grim live-action take on Batman.
In a series of roundtable discussions with a group of journalists including CBR at New York Comic Con, star Adam West, director Rick Morales and co-writer James Tucker opened up about the origins of “Return of the Caped Crusaders,” the reason for the longevity of “Batman ’66” and explained why the world needs a light-hearted Batman — right away.
West praised the material given to him by Morales, Tucker and co-writer Michael Jelenic, saying it made it easy for him to slip back into the role of the Caped Crusader after decades. “It really was [easy getting back into character], because you do something, you play a character for three years, and then you get material that’s good, like these guys gave me, that really captures the tone of what we did — it wasn’t that difficult. It wasn’t at all. [I used to] go into work and I’d put on that cowl and immediately it was magic. You pull on the cowl, you just become Batman…you get enthusiastic. That’s part of developing a character — it stays with you, you can do it.”
The veteran Batman actor noted that the creators behind “Return of the Caped Crusaders” gave him space to improvise some material. “I think the writing for this film was good enough that, my challenge, it occurred to me [was to] try to do again, exactly, [with] the writers’ intent, and then to see what else I can do with it…and I think the people with whom I work appreciate that. If it gets to a spot that you know damn well that you can enhance something and make it funny, they allow me to do that, like with ‘Family Guy.'”
Tucker revealed that the project came about thanks to the successful DVD release of the ’60s “Batman” TV series, which surpassed Warner Bros.’ expectations. “[‘Return of the Caped Crusaders’ happened] mainly because of the DVD release and the [success of] ‘Brave and the Bold, ‘ which had a lot of elements of ’50s and ’60s Batman in it.”
Describing the contrast between his take on Batman in “Brave and the Bold” and “Return of the Caped Crusaders,” Tucker said, “The only difference, maybe, is that this one we knew we wanted to be overtly comedic…we tried different flavors per episode [of ‘Brave and the Bold’]…with this we knew we wanted to lean toward the more comedic side of it, and the satire.”
Tucker noted that he “didn’t want it to replicate the show” verbatim, but rather, wanted to create a hypothetical “fourth season” of the series that might have taken place without some of the first three seasons’ sets or original actors.
Addressing DC Comics’ popular digital-first series that’s set in the same Adam West-verse, Tucker said, “We didn’t reference the [‘Batman ’66’] comic at all, but it was nice happenstance that that was going on at the same time, and I guess it was in the zeitgeist of what was going on. It’s time for this Batman to get his moment of shining again since we’ve had a lot of the heavy doom and gloom. I think the fans have gotten that serious Batman out of their system, so now it’s time to bring this one back.”
Morales expressed similar sentiment. “We kind of based our thing on, mainly the tone of the ’50s comics, which were more Silver Age, and I think what influenced the show later in the series. We’re definitely leaning toward — hopefully — funny. But it’s Batman…to me, Batman’s always Batman, but it’s what tone you pick. And what world you plop him in. He’s always the same kid whose parents were shot in an alley, it’s just, this one chose to deal with it in a more hopeful way. He didn’t let the death in the alley taint his whole worldview. He actually wants to bring happiness — he wants to save people from what he dealt with. It’s not a vengeance thing for him…I don’t know if I’d love it as much if I started with a dark version of the character.”
Using two words to describe their take on the property, Morales said, “Light. Humor.” He elaborated, “There’s a place for all sorts of Batmen in the world…I think this is the perfect time to bring back an Adam West-style of Batman — or Adam West as Batman — because…the Nolan movies were pretty dark, the ‘Batman v Superman’ stuff is pretty grim — it looks like maybe they’re lightening it up with ‘Justice League’ a bit, who knows — but I think this is one that you can take your kids to and hopefully it’s a good introduction to this world for them. Hopefully that’s something we’ve succeeded at.”
The director went on to criticize the current live-action take on Batman envisioned by Zack Snyder, saying, “Something that you wouldn’t do with [Batman]? Well, I’ve got my personal opinions on that, of course. I don’t think Batman should be a killer, yknow?”
Morales added, “Ultimately, in my view, I feel like Batman can get dark, he can be funny, can be light, but I do feel he’s such an icon that you shouldn’t take him so far away from being good that he becomes inaccessible to children. Because, I feel like as a little boy, I grew up on the Adam West TV show — I wanted to be Robin, because he was a good guy, he did the right thing — and in my view [making Batman a killer is] where you don’t take him. Ultimately, he has to be a hero.”
Closing out the discussion, West expressed what he believes to be the reason “Batman ’66” has remained popular for so long. “The longevity is owing to the fact that we did it seriously for the children, so they would be excited by it, but funnily for the adults, so they would be able to sit with their kids — and while the kids were beginning to take it very seriously — Dad would begin to laugh his head off, and one kid would say to the other, ‘What’s he laughing at? That’s not funny.’ But it was for the adults…To have to play the seriousness for the children, and at the same time, tongue in cheek for the adults, it worked. It seemed to work because that’s why people — in my feeling — why they still watch the show, and why it’s lasted.”
“Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders” is available now in Digital HD, Blu-ray and DVD.