Last week, the first print issue of Batman ’66, DC Comics’ four-color spin on the classic ABC television series/pop culture phenomena, hit comic book shops after being offered in ten page digital installments in the weeks leading up. Deadshirt contributor Max Robinson was able to sit down (via Gchat) with series writer/self-proclaimed astronaut king Jeff Parker (Agents of Atlas, Underground) and give you a glimpse into the groovy, possibly radioactive inner-workings of Batman ’66 #1.
Jeff Parker: Player.
Max Robinson: M’man.
MR: You ready to turn this mother out?
MR: So what kind of process did you go through to figure out how you were going to write Batman ‘66? Did DC have guidelines/suggestions or was it looser?
JP: You know, I was very surprised when they let me make a lot of the calls with how the tone and everything would go. They really seemed to base it on choosing me and then turning me loose, within reason. Of course they asked me how I’d handle it and to write up some synopsis, but I don’t think I had to compete with anyone, like happens so often now. And there was a list of things I couldn’t do according to the legal agreements that make it all possible.
MR: Can you share a few of those?
JP: It’s things like we can’t mimic the structure of the show. So I don’t begin with a crime, then red phone, then bat poles, then Batmobile, stuff like that. Which is fine, because you saw that plenty already.
MR: That’s interesting. I believe Batman ‘66 is the first DC comic to use “DC2” digital software, what was writing to that like? Even though they’re the same “comic”, the digital and print versions of Batman ‘66 require some different considerations (Guided view, screen size).
JP: I like that it [guided view] feeds you the dialogue in order so readers can’t go out of order or miss something. After a few dozen instances of seeing people online report what they thought happened in a comic (because they read it quickly in the store), you really appreciate that extra bit of control. John Roberts of Comixology helped a lot, but it also requires a lot of brainstorming on the artist. [Batman ’66 artist] Jonathan Case was coming up with neat ways to make use of it especially in color shifts. I tried to write anticipating moments, but at first I wasn’t clear on what we could do yet. Now I’ve got a better grasp on it. We can’t do it for every story or we won’t make our weekly schedule, but I’m thinking it will probably figure into every other one at least.
MR: You’re referring to when the guided view will move to another panel and the prior panel will get shaded in? I thought that was pretty striking, yeah.
JP: Yeah, wasn’t that cool?
MR: Let the record show that was Cool.
MR: It’s honestly been awhile since I sat down and watched the original show but when I read the first digital “installment” of Batman ’66 I was immediately struck by how you guys managed to replicate the episode title fade in.
JP: Props to Comixology again, and letterer Wes Abbott for matching those fonts of the show!
MR: Do you have a performed nomenclature for the digital story chunks as opposed to the collected print comic?
JP: I’ve been calling them ‘episodes’ some, thinking of it like the show.
MR: I like that. You also capture the standard opening/closing episode narration very well, do you hear [60’s Batman series producer/show narrator] William Dozier’s voice in your head when you’re like…out grocery shopping or trying to enjoy a moment with your kids?
JP: Yes, because I’m now a functioning example of the Bi-Cameral Mind theory where much of my cognitive function is William Dozier’s hyperbolic voice announcing what I’m seeing or where I am. In alliteration.
MR: [Digital Issue #1, Panel 10] “THAT PILOT IS FLYING BELOW THE FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION’S REGULATED ALTITUDE!” I love that, as with the show, the only difference between Bruce Wayne and Batman is whether he has the costume on or not. It never really clicked for me until I read the comic that the Adam West incarnation is the nerdiest Batman we’ve ever gotten.
JP: I also love that. Bruce makes no pretension to be a playboy, you get the idea that the best people are millionaires. Also that Alfred can answer the phone for Batman, and then answer Bruce’s house phone, and Commissioner Gordon doesn’t think there’s any unusual similarities in the two men’s British Butlers.
MR: I noticed no glasses on Alfred in the second “episode”, was that artistic license or a rights issue?
JP: Rights. In some cases there was no way to get rights of key actors like him and Gordon and O’Hara, and thus we opt for something between the show and the regular comics. Which is too bad because absolutely everybody so far wants to draw Alan Napier.
MR: I figured it was something like that, although O’Hara looked pretty close to me!
MR: Man, not to turn this into The Chris Farley Show but I love the way the “Batman vs. The Riddler’s plane” action set piece turned out. All three of the installments have a nice big “fight” but this one is what really sold me on the book, I think.
JP: Thanks! Jonathan killed on it, clearly. I really wanted to start off with something that would have been way too hard to do on the show, to establish that the book is it’s own thing and not a pale imitation. Very happy people responded to it so well.
MR: It was very different from what you’d see on the show but it’s the kind of set piece that doesn’t feel out of place in that era.
JP: Exactly, thanks for noticing.
MR: In that sequence Jonathan Case does such an AMAZING job capturing Frank Gorshin’s Riddler physicality, the way he’s always leaning against stuff or how he sticks his tongue out. How much of that came from your script vs. Jonathan’s own choices as an artist?
JP: Jonathan just had a handle on how this should work from day one. That’s what made him the perfect artist to lead off. He knew the physical acting was important. Both of us were jumping around doing Gorshin bits at the studio, to everyone else’s amusement. My big thing, which shows up at the end, was that Riddler had to do his ‘brain freeze’ where he laughs so hard that he looks like he might pass out. That may have been Gorshin’s creepiest contribution.
MR: There was such an EDGE to Gorshin’s Riddler!
JP: He was actually menacing! I think in real life he would have scared the hell out of you.
MR: The bit at the end of issue one where you have him just losing his shit and beating Batman and Robin was legitimiately unsettling. And you didn’t just pull that out of nowhere.
JP: Get that stick out of his hands!
MR: It was all over the show.
JP: It would not have been out of character to have some of his minions sporting face bandages.
MR: Speaking of, loved Riddler’s little Rorschach-masked goons.
MR: It nice to see between him and Catwoman that the henchmen have some coherent design schemes goin’ on.
JP: That was important. Jonathan came up with the Cat Goons’ cool greaser-style look with the eared hats. I kept making a point and still do that one place where I wanted to veer off was to make the henchmen convincingly threatening. I don’t want them to look like some of Sheldon Leonard’s 60 year old buddies wandering in from the next studio over and someone put a tiger frock on them.
MR: [Digital Issue #1, Panel 35] Enjoyed Batman negging Robin about climbing the rope. “Yes, but I’ve studied Aerial Physics, Boy Wonder”. Pretty much everything I’ve read by you has some measure of humor to it, is there a certain headspace you have to get into for the pretty dry Batman ‘66 gags?
JP: Yeah, it really helps to start hearing that Adam West voice and thinking of his delivery. And to consider that everyone in the world considers Batman a rock star, essentially. Especially Robin.
MR: Burt Ward’s Robin is such a little twerp.
JP: He has to catch all of Batman’s lectures.
MR: In the second portion of the story, you have the pretty classic set up of Batman, Robin and Alfred figuring out clues. The use of Jonathan’s silhouettes to go with their deduction felt like a clever way of reworking an element of the show that would otherwise not work as well on a comic page.
JP: Yeah, if you broke that down into panels, it would be pretty lifeless. In comics that’s a great time for a montage.
MR: So I was happy to see that you worked in the classic window gag in the second episode and that the special celebrity guest star was Dracula.
JP: I started with real people as guest stars, but trying to get the rights for that quickly became a problem. Then I finally opted to go public domain, and for a bit it was going to be Frankenstein popping out the window, then I realized there was more direct gag potential in it being Dracula.
MR: So is Dracula a possible bad guy for the future?
JP: I guess he is now!
MR: Before I forget: as a Julie Newmar enthusiast, I thought her take on Catwoman carried over well even though it was a pretty different spin on the character. The attitude and, again, the physicality.
JP: Yes, I like that Batman would always be hopeful of her going straight because he’s clearly so into her, it was fun to pull a bait and switch. And also Julie Newmar was easily the most physical person on the show as a dancer, they should have given her some more choreography. Probably were fearful of ripping that suit.
MR: You’ve mentioned that Eartha Kitt’s Catwoman will also show up, does that mean Lee Merriweather [Who played Catwoman in 1966’s Batman: The Movie] is also on the table?
JP: Possibly. Probably, really.
MR: Do you have an honest preference as far as medium to read Batman ‘66 in? It seems like there are advantages to both formats but the digital installments, I thought, felt like I was reading a really good digital comic rather than a really good comic that is digital, if you feel me.
JP: I like both pretty equally, and I didn’t expect to like the digital much way back when we were first talking about it. Then as it came together I really got into it. It’s so cool hearing from so many people who didn’t read anything digitally say they tried it for the first time with ’66 and enjoyed it.
MR: It’s maybe the first time I’ve read a digital comic from The Big Two where function/form fit the story.
MR: The next “episode” (available today!) is a Penguin/Mr. Freeze team-up with Ty Templeton on art and after that it looks like The Joker and King Tut are showing up, anything else you can tease us with?
JP: The short following Penguin/Freeze has an eggsellent villain.
MR: Oh man. Finally: A Batman ’89 comic. Yay or nay?
JP: Would he let a couple get mugged as he watches and then go after the bad guys?
MR: I figure he’d accidentally kill someone every issue or so. PLUS we’d finally get Billy Dee Two-Face. THINK ABOUT THE FUTURE, PARKERRR.
JP: Oh god, I just realized that would put ARLI$$ in comics form.
MR: I’ll take my consultant fee via Paypal.
New digital installments of Batman ’66 are available from Comixology every wednesday while a collected print edition (containing 3 previously released digital installments per issue) is available monthly wherever fine comic books are sold.