When I first heard about DC Comics' digital-first Batman '66, I thought it was going to be a novelty with little staying power. Nostalgia for the campy Adam West TV series has been pretty high lately, especially in the wake of the popular The Brave and the Bold cartoon, and the artists behind Batman '66 are faithful to the '60s pop-art look, most spectacularly rendered by Jonathan Case in the debut issues. But what happens once the initial thrill has passed, and you clear away the cobwebs of nostalgia?
Second, there's the unique format: When you swiped the page on a tablet, you'd sometimes get limited animation, you'd sometimes get a view of the artwork with the balloons out of the way, and sometimes you would experience a slight shift in the color palette with some retro screentone effects here and there. Sure, it's a little gimmicky ... but it was employed a truly artistic sensibility that's impossible to replicate on paper. Sadly, as early as Issue 4, the novelty is seemingly abandoned.
Fortunately, however, Jeff Parker is writing, and he has a great knack for nailing down the tone and rhythm of classic properties. It's a world that being built and expanded, yet retains the atmosphere of cheap sets and hammy actors. The dialogue feels so true to the TV show that you can almost hear West's stilted delivery coming through the word balloons. It's bright. It's colorful. It's fun.
The style of limited animation also makes a return, and it's used to great effect in an issue (#19) about the show's creepiest-looking villain, False Face. Seeing that weirdo slightly animated from one click to the next drive home a slightly uneasy, nightmarish quality.
And yet ... there's nothing quite like the magic in the rare instance when Parker teams up with Case, whose style has a fantastic quality that's both a tribute to the show and to Silver Age artists. Do you know what's extra fantastic? The page transitions. In their latest collaboration (Batman '66 #31-33), some pages are set apart by a swift blur of color, and sometimes you can catch the Bat symbol in there. It's a tribute to the spinning screen transitions on the show... and it totally works. You bet that Neal Hefti score was ringing in my brain.
The story's a good one, too: There's a talent show at Arkham Asylum, which sounds like the worst possible idea ever. Barbara Gordon's on hand as Batgirl, several minor villains make an appearance, and the Caesar Romero Joker, painted mustache and all, delivers a set that has everyone laughing perhaps a little too mirthfully. In a sign that Batman '66 won't be following TV continuity too slavishly, psychiatrist Harleen Quinn is on the scene with some stylish eyeglasses and a very '60s beehive. The story is mostly buoyed by a fun and simple story, but some developments play with more melancholy than the Batman '66 show typically did. I mean, it's not The Killing Joke -- and thank God it isn't -- but it's still a plenty sad development that delivers more impact than that moment in the movie when Batman discovers Miss Kitka and Catwoman are the same person.
The recent changes that followed comiXology's purchase by Amazon have led me to curb some of my digital comic purchases, at least until a lot of the bugs are ironed out (the iTunes store rates the comiXology app one and a half stars out of five). Batman '66, however, is a comic that can be experienced no other way. I imagine it's passable in print form, but it truly shines in digital format. To quote Lady of Rage on Snoop Dogg's track "Batman and Robin," Batman '66 hits you "with the Pow! Bam! BIFF!"