Jeff Parker Plays it (Mostly) Straight with BATMAN '66

 

The Batman of the '60s TV show is back, along with his colorful assortment of allies and villains — plus a few new faces.

It's all in Batman '66, a new digital-first (print later) comic book announced by DC late last month. It's scheduled to launch this summer from the initial creative team of writer Jeff Parker and Eisner-winning artist Jonathan Case; other, yet-unannounced artists will join Parker later in the run, with 's Mike Allred illustrating the covers. 

We talked with Parker about the series in-person at the DC booth, this past weekend at WonderCon. (Remarkably, we were able to avoid any "Holy _____, Batman!" jokes, or sound effect references.)

Newsarama: Jeff, congratulations on the positive reception to the Batman '66 news.

Jeff Parker: Thank you. It's been amazing.

Nrama: When you were initially talking vaguely about the announcement before all the details were revealed, you mentioned that some people might see it as a negative, due to the interpretation that the show was damaging for the character. But I haven't really seen those people speak up since the news broke, have you?

Parker: Oh, I have. They'll go farther — not just damaging to the character, damaging to all of comics.

The TV show made an enormous boom in comics at the time. That's how a lot of people got into it, period. They didn't even know Batman until they saw him on TV. People need to lighten up. [Laughs.]

 

Nrama: Right, because this can work, just like the darker takes on Batman can work, too.

Parker: Every version can work. When they would do the various Elseworlds books — "OK, here's Gotham by Gaslight" — it always worked. The reason I think it works is because Batman's not just a superhero, he's also a pulp hero. He stands very firmly in both worlds. You can put him in almost any situation. You can go full-on science Batman if you want to, or he can be this Sherlock Holmes, skulking, foggy figure, and it completely works. It's kind of brilliant in that way.

Nrama: With comics, you're obviously not limited by a budget, unlike in a 1960s TV show, which would presumably be very limited by a budget.  So would you do a story with, say, Batman in outer space, or would that be too far away from the spirit of the show? Or is getting to do stuff like that part of the fun?

Parker: It's part of the fun, but you've got to really sit there and think about it. I'm treating it as, "What if the '60s show had a crazy, epic movie-style budget?" Maybe he does do a space adventure, but it's got to make sense with the way they would have done it.

 

At the same time, then we've got to [consider], "OK, what's the best thing you could have achieved in the '60s?" Quite a bit, actually. That's when 2001 came out. It's not very shabby on the production value when you need it to be. Like the fight scenes — they're not kind of improvised dance numbers. We treat them as if, "What if they were doing wire-fu, and we had some really good stuntmen who could do flips and all kinds of stuff?" Because it's still a comic book, and that's Batman's original medium. We don't want it to be so beholden to the show that you don't feel like you don't know what's going to happen. We want you to be surprised. You have to judge it case by case, and sit there and think, "Would this work?" There's no one guiding rule — at least I haven't come across it yet. 

Nrama: Sure, and you don't want to just repeat things from the show.

Parker: Right. It's already been done. You saw that. If we just rewrote the show, and did it in comic books, I don't think that would be a very good use of everybody's time.

Nrama: To that end, one of the notable aspects of the series is that you're incorporating characters from the comics that never made it to the TV show — Killer Croc is the one that's specifically been confirmed.

Parker: Yeah. And there are others that I'm not supposed to talk about yet.

 

I would have been super-excited to find out, after watching the show and not seeing it forever after that, "Oh! There was a lost episode where they had Two-Face," or whatever — which is a character they talked about doing, but the show only went three seasons, and they never got to it.

Nrama: It did always seem odd that Two-Face didn't make it onto the show.

Parker: Yeah, because Two-Face had been in the books since the '40s. And I can exactly picture how they would have done him flipping that coin, and everything, and turning around.

Nrama: There seems to be a belief out there that the visual was deemed too scary for the show.

Parker: Yeah, it's weird, because False-Face sure was scary.

They kind of flipped around. I'm trying to keep the tone of the early season stuff, before it got too, "Trying to figure out what would be funny." Because you can set up anything and make it funny. There's no such thing really as a funny premise. You can argue even Weekend at Bernie's isn't a funny premise.

Nrama: It's kind of a horrifying one, really. Walking around with a corpse for an entire weekend!

Parker: You can look at that, you can make that really disgusting. It's all in the execution.

If you look at my plots, not knowing what I'm going to do, you could think, "This could be a regular Batman story." But then I am going to have something wacky happen, and make use of it. Some parts we don't play for laughs, we totally go for thrills.

 

Nrama: Given the show's reputation for being campy, revisiting it now, it seems like there could be a temptation to treat it like The Brady Bunch Movie, and laugh at it, but it appears that's not this at all, and instead you're coming from a place of genuine affection.

Parker: That was the first thing I said: I'm not making fun of it. I won't do that. And they didn't want that.

Whenever you see Adam West delivering his lines, he does it so dry, it's actually a really good delivery, and I'm trying to get that going. The humor when it works best is actually kind of subtle, like when Robin will suddenly complain about something, and then Batman will reprimand him — Robin's playing the piano, and it actually sounds really awesome, and then Batman kind of tsks at him like he's not getting it right, and Robin's all frustrated because he hasn't had time to practice. "Music unites the brotherhood of man;" [Batman] starts giving one of these speeches. [Laughs]. It's just great stuff. I loved that, and as a kid, I totally bought that. "Yeah, Batman cares about world peace." I was completely on board.

Nrama: So how are you approaching bringing characters like Killer Croc into the '66 world for the first time? 

Parker: I try to think how they might have done it in the '60s, but then kind of filter that back through my big budget idea. You look at it like, "What if when they were doing Planet of the Apes, how would they have done the makeup for this?" I can scale it up a little bit, but probably they would not have done a full thing when you see his whole body, you would have probably just seen his head and hands. And it would have been a big guy — they would have probably gotten someone like Ted Cassidy, who did do a window walk. That's what they did on Star Trek, too — every time it's like, "We need a really big alien," everybody just keeps pulling Lurch out, and putting different makeup on him. That's kind of what I figure. He's Lurch. [Laughs.]

Nrama: An interesting element is that even though the comic is based on a '60s TV show, it's using modern technology and release methods as a digital-first comic. Is there anything in your approach that you're catering towards that format?

 

Parker: Yeah, we're working on that right now. I'm not at liberty to talk about what we're doing, but we're going to try to add a little more to the digital reading of it that'll be kind of fun. This is the perfect project to go nuts with that sort of thing. DC will be talking about that more later, probably towards summer.

Nrama: The images released by Jonathan Case so far are striking — how important is the right choice of artist for this, given that the visual identity of the show is so recognizable and distinctive?

Parker: We really wanted an artist who would come out and set the tone right from the beginning. Jonathan's a really good painter, too, he's just a serious artist. His color sense is great. Normally we would have found a colorist to work with him, but it's like, "Let's just let Jonathan color it, too, because he knows what he's doing." It's a very specific, and you can lose it easily if you don't come into it right. I think it's really important that [Case] comes on the thing first.

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