Greg: Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight Trilogy are both some of my favorite and least favorite things to happen to contemporary pop culture. I love them because the movies, particularly that second one, are smashingly good entertainments, with towering performances, consistent style, and an attitude of taking the world seriously that feels naturally extended from the best Batman comics and ‘90s animated series episodes. I hate them because now it feels like every single big budget blockbuster that comes out (even the new Captain America, for goodness’ sake) is dark, gritty, oppressively somber, po-faced, and muted. It’s a conflicting feeling because as much as I love the shock and awe that comes from treating these extraordinary scenarios with verisimilitude, I similarly love the fun and joy that comes from treating them as, well, fun and joyful. Batman ‘66 Meets The Green Hornet is a strikingly contagious example of what happens when you have affectionate fun in your larger-than-life storytelling, and I’d like writers Kevin Smith and Ralph Garman to get their own big budget trilogy, please.
The issue begins with Dick Grayson preparing for a date and Bruce Wayne getting a — for lack of a better term — batcall from Commissioner Gordon (nice code work on Alfred’s part). It seems a collection of priceless fossils are being shipped through a dangerous area, and Gordon would prefer Batman’s supervision. Wayne is a paleontology buff (naturally) and decides to take the case as himself, leaving Dick to go on his date. While on the train, Bruce runs into none other than Britt Reid and his valet Kato, whom we know better as the Green Hornet and, um, Kato (though he’s brainstorming some cool names himself; I like the Black Bee the most). The trio exchanges some fun, passive-aggressive banter as to who’s the superior hero, until the train grinds to a halt. It seems that someone has literally glued the train to the tracks. Someone who they have all encountered before. Someone by the villainous-yet-pretty-dang-silly name of General Gumm! (formerly Colonel Gumm) So Dick must cut his date short and meet Bruce aboard the train (holy heartbreak, indeed) for a quintuple showdown, and watching Batman, Robin, the Green Hornet, and Kato face down Gumm is remarkably satisfying. The issue ends in a genuinely effective cliffhanger, as Gumm glues their feet to the train and un-glues (thanks to science) the train from the tracks, sending our heroes on a collision course with an oncoming tunnel. Will they survive?! While our narrator tantalizes us that “the worst is yet to come,” I have a feeling it’ll only get better from here.
When it comes to sources of humor, I feel like it’s easy to generate material from a place of criticism or negativity (not to denigrate its effectiveness, of course, as Smith knows his way around a good rant), but borderline expert mode to craft and deliver solid jokes rooted in positivity. Thus, I am impressed and immensely happy to see how earnestly and without ironic quotes Smith and Garman presents this chummy atmosphere. Bruce Wayne’s love and respect of natural history isn’t made fun of; rather, it’s presented as fact, without comment. When General Gumm is referred to as a “malicious military madman” or a “master of mucilage”, it’s less a writer overtly flexing his stylistic muscles (which, again, Smith knows his way around) and more a natural extension of the comic’s established universe. Smith and Garman treat this world with the same amount of respect as Nolan treats his — they just happen to be on opposing ends of the tonal spectrum, and only one of them earns a climactic pun-off.
For the most part, Ty Templeton’s art is an aesthetic extension of this narrative and stylistic “everything at face value” attitude, and he tends to present the visual information with clarity and focus, yet not as much play as I would like (though Tony Aviña’s hyper-saturated colors make sure there’s a delightful amount of pop in each page). When he does cut loose and mess with time and space, he produces incredibly arresting, even sophisticated pop-art compositions like the one below. I hope he takes the chance to spread his wings and have some fun in future issues.
What say you, my comic compatriot? Did you find this issue as endearingly enjoyable as me, or did it leave you feeling a bit sticky? Also, would you like to go halfsies on opening a Los Angeles Root Beer A Go Go? We could use a “hip, trendy eatery” for ourselves, don’tcha think?
Scott: Holy Hamburger, Greg! That’s a great idea! You’re absolutely right about this series’ fun and joyful tone feeling like a breath of fresh air within the increasingly somber superhero genre. As much as I enjoyed Christian Bale’s take on the character, it’s nice to see a Bruce Wayne who isn’t constantly brooding, one who can look at his sidekick and earnestly say things like “socializing with the fairer sex is an important part of any young man’s upbringing.” Ever since Nolan wrapped up his trilogy, I’ve figured it was only a matter of time until the summer blockbuster took a hard turn towards more upbeat and fantastical fare. I’m not sure if we’ll see an intentionally campy Batman reboot trilogy any time soon, but the pleasure I took in reading this issue has me hoping that a general shift in tone may be afoot.
My experience with Batman ’66 is limited entirely to the 1966 feature Batman: The Movie. (Trailers sure have changed over the years, huh?) I remember the costumes, the catch-phrases, Adam West’s iconic speaking cadence, and of course the famous “Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb” scene. Even with my limited knowledge, the reverence Smith and Garman have for the original material is crystal clear. They aren’t merely referencing the old TV series, they’ve fully reconstructed those worlds and are being careful not to disturb them. This issue isn’t overly reliant on fight-words or other campy quirks for easy laughs, but it gets a lot of mileage out of other timeless gags, like the heroes being really bad at concealing their identities while everyone else is too oblivious to notice.
A great deal of humor comes from characters giving unnecessary explanations for their actions, and this is one of the funniest. I just love that awkward stare Bruce is getting from Britt and Kato. This issue is every bit as fun and ridiculous as I remember Batman: The Movie, and it’s arriving at the perfect time. Batman has been acting all serious long enough; it’s time to let loose.
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