Batman was for kids only when he first swung into view back in – believe it or not – 1939. But kid stuff has a way of getting adultified, or adulti-fried. Halloween is now more about slasher movies and ultra-violent haunted houses than trick-or-treating, teddy bears spew profanity, and Batman is a militarized, hard core, mercenary killer. Your first tip-off on that was the scene in Tim Burton’s 1989 film Batman where the super-hero fires a missile from the Batmobile into a warehouse full of villains, sending them all to their fiery deaths.
A new coffee table book tracks the evolution of the Batmobile, starting with Bob Kane’s comic-book images from 1939 and running up to the newest Hollywood blockbuster, The Dark Knight Rises. (Which features a super-villain named Bane. Not sure how the Romney campaign feels about that.)
The book, Complete History of the Batmobile, lives up to its title, but then delivers more than the authors may have intended. As you move forward through time you get a visual lesson in the changes in mass-psychology, as pop culture’s mighty Batmobile becomes ever less whimsical, ever less fun, and ultimately looks more like something you might see in a defense contractor’s promo video. The Bat Drone is not pictured.
The Batmobile from the 1966 TV show is pictured, of course, with its day-glo orange pin stripes and eccentric fins and styling. That spoof show was about nothing but fun and style and zaniness. It burned out pretty quickly, but in its first season or so the Batman TV show was like nothing seen before or since. It was a riot, and it became one of the biggest fads of the 60s.
A bit of trivia about that show – The Adam West Batman may be the only TV show in history that you can’t buy on DVD. I think even My Mother the Car can be ordered. All kinds of flops and quickie mini-series and really old TV shows can be whistled up on DVD. Not Batman. It has been syndicated on channels like Nickelodeon on rare occasion over the years, but we’re still waiting on the home video release. And that wait may go on to a very, very distant Bat-Time, because it is not being held back by oversight or omission.
It seems pretty clear that the owners of that licensed character don’t want a comical image of him to enter the public consciousness again. Lighthearted pop culture is over now. The knights, and nights, just keep getting darker. And they will, indefinitely, as long as that’s what we keep buying.