Batman '66, the hit digital-first series from DC, is getting a new story this week from a legendary Batman writer and the artistic inspiration behind the new Powers TV show.
Michael W. Barr (Batman: Son of the Demon) and Michael Avon Oeming (Powers) are launching a two-part Batman '66 story that revives an old Batman idea from Barr's files, featuring the Penguin.
Launched in July 2013, Batman '66 has been taking the heroes and villains featured in the campy 1960's Batman TV show and putting them into comic books. Readers have finally been able to read new adventures featuring pop culture treasures like Robin's exclamations of "Holy Batman!," the Dynamic Duo hopping into the Batmobile with fins, characters dancing the "Batusi," and the live action versions of sexy Catwoman, creepy Joker and laughing Penguin.
As DC provided Newsarama with a preview of this week's story, Newsarama talked to the creative team to find out more about their Batman '66 story.
Newsarama: The Batman show of the '60s is experiencing a renaissance lately. Why do you think the show is so popular now?
Michael Avon Oeming: I think it always has been, but sometimes it takes the stars to align just right to make something happen. Now that DC has the rights to bring that series flavor back to life, all us hard core and even tertiary fans have an outlet. It's a good time!
Michael W. Barr: Part of it is nostalgia, I’m sure -- parents sharing their childhood memories with their children -- but part of it is that the show, at its best, is genuinely entertaining for both adults and children -- at different levels -- in a fashion that transcends even the “camp” fad it promoted. At its best the TV show is an affectionate tribute to the best of the Batman comics. (And the long-delayed release of the series on DVD didn’t hurt.)
Nrama: Two Michaels here, so I'll call you by your last names -- Mr. Barr, you've got a long history with this character. Why do you think this TV version of Batman is so compelling for audiences when DC's got the current version of Batman running around several comics?
Barr: Batman is such a good character that he lends himself to several different interpretations, including super-hero, sleuth, crime-fighter and semi-comedic star. None of these is exclusively right nor wrong. There’s no such thing as the “definitive” Batman, there are only good ways and bad ways of telling his stories.
Nrama: In what ways do you think the TV show influenced the current perception and portrayal of Batman?
Oeming: In good and bad ways. For years, it sort of ruined the more traditional... lets not say realistic, but "straight" Batman. At the same time it truly help cement the character and comics books overall in the social radar. But that goofy/fun version is no longer a threat of undermining Batman, so now it feels refreshed and welcome.
Barr: If the Batman TV show influenced the current perception and portrayal of Batman at all, it was negatively. For years now, beginning in the late 80s, most interpretations of Batman have been unrelievedly grim, the version I call “Grumpy Bat.” If you were a Batman writer in the last quarter-century, you weren’t supposed to like the Batman TV show, as it wasn’t “serious.” But Grumpy Bat’s not much fun to write, I like my Batman with a little humor, so did Bill Finger.
Nrama: What are your personal experiences with the Batman TV show, and how did it influence you?
Oeming: I have clear memories of watching the show on the floor of my living room on UHF — back when there were only three "real" stations. UHF was the "off channels" where'd you see old cartoons, Kung Fu and Godzilla films. I remember a cliff hanger where Robin gets eaten by a plant and in my 9-year-old mind, I was sure he was dead. In my mind, the show wasn't funny, it was just... real?
Barr: I loved the Batman TV show when it first came out. Then, for years, I tried not to like it because it wasn’t “serious.” Then, as described above, I realized Batman is himself subject to many interpretations and the TV show was simply one of them.
Nrama: How are you approaching the story overall? How would you describe the style and techniques you're using to achieve the look for this story?
Oeming: Well, this was very challenging. I've used digital art before, creating layers and even limited animation, but never to this extant. Creating the illusion of movement and time in a traditional comic is always fun, but actually getting to do some panels like clouds that will move, or a head turning is extra fun. But also challenging when working with many layers in photoshop.
Nrama: What's the general premise of the story?
Barr: The premise of the story is one I intended to do back in my run with Alan Davis on Detective Comics, but never got the chance to do. Like many of my Batman scripts, I took the motif of a classic Batman villain, gave it a new twist…and from there, it’s all follow-through. I realized that the best episodes of the TV show were solid plots executed comedically, and took that approach to this story.
Nrama: What role does Robin play in the story, and why do you think he's an important part of the comic (and why do you think he was important to the show)?
Barr: I am convinced Robin is one of the most important reasons for the longevity of the Batman feature. Robin is the son, the nephew, the younger brother Batman has to be an example to. Burt Ward as Robin in the TV show personified this perfectly. Without Robin, Batman can quickly become grim and tedious.
Nrama: What's the setting of the story, and why did you choose that location?
Barr: The setting is Gotham City, which is the absolute best setting for Batman because it’s where he was created and, since it's fictional, it can accommodate any setting or device needed for Batman and Robin to have a thrilling adventure without a construction or special effects budget.
Nrama: How are you approaching the setting of the story?
Oeming: The time period was most challenging, trying to get the feeling of the 60's isn't as easy at it seems. I never want to do the obvious like drawing a hippy or a Mod so on the nose... but maybe I should have done that more? Well, maybe next time! I also really had to learn how to draw Batman 66 as opposed to just "Batman". This costume is very specific, I think you'll see I get a better feeling for it by the second part.
Nrama: Let's talk about the Penguin. (My maiden name is Meredith, so I grew up imagining the Burgess Meredith Penguin was my uncle. Crazy, I know...) As creators, what stands out to you about this version of the Penguin, and how are you highlighting that in this story (and art)?
Oeming: Honestly, I'm a fan of Meredith, because of his role in Batman and the Twilight Zone, I was very aware of him and any time he showed up on a TV show, a film, or whatever, I felt a connection to him because of his work. It was an honor to pay some tribute to him.
Barr: The classic Penguin is intriguing because most of Batman’s foes just plain look evil. But the Penguin is short and roly-poly and looks as though he should be hosting a kids’ show on local TV, introducing cartoons and announcing birthdays. To think of something criminally innovative and even dangerous coming out of that cherubic countenance is a real challenge, and Mike Oeming captured that aspect of the character perfectly.
Nrama: How's it been challenging — or rewarding — to work within the digital format for this story?
Oeming: The Photoshop layers — the layers, the layers, the layers!
Barr: The digital format is still new to me and one I’m having fun wrestling with. It’s not yet as malleable as the basic print comics format, but it’s definitely the wave of the future, so I’m looking forward to working in it more. After all the scripts I’ve written, it’s nice to have a technical challenge.
Nrama: What else are you guys working on, where we can see your work?
Oeming: Besides this, you can find me on the pages of Powers (which is now also a show you can watch) which, just like Batman 66 is first being delivered digitally to it's audience, in this case via PlayStation.com or PS devices. My wife Taki Soma and I just wrapped up Sinergy at Image Comics.
Barr: I’ve got a lot of proposals out to various publishers, including my creator-owned series The Maze Agency.
Nrama: Anything else you want to tell fans about your two-part Batman '66 story?
Oeming: Robin is the most fun. To me, he's the secret star of Batman!
Barr: If they have as much fun reading it as I had writing it, they’ll have a blast.