Watching BATMAN: RETURN OF THE CAPED CRUSADERS was an interesting experience for me as a superhero fan. Like a lot of people growing up in the early 2000s, my interactions with the Adam West BATMAN show were viewed through a lens that could only see it as “not my Batman.”

On some level, I had a grudging respect for the show’s impact on the comic book industry. This success lead to a resurgence of interests in DC comics from the mainstream public. However, as someone who knew Batman primarily through the DCAU and Christopher Nolan’s ‘Dark Knight’ Trilogy, the show’s campy nature was still off-putting.

Adam West’s BATMAN

Sure Adam West’s Batman was a heroic, dually deputized do-gooder who fought a never-ending war on crime. However, he also did ridiculous things like the Batusi and did public activities in-costume. How could anyone look at that character and take him seriously?

RETURN OF THE CAPED CRUSADERS
The Dynamic Duo

Maybe that was the problem: like kids of the 60s, I DID take the Adam West Batman seriously. But, I viewed his positive attributes in a more cynical light. This Batman experienced the same tragedy that killed Bruce Wayne’s parents. Though, he resided in a Silver Age-inspired world of weirdness and heavy-handed black and white morality.

READ: Why so serious, Batman? Here’s how THE LEGO BATMAN MOVIE also deconstructs the Caped Crusader’s overly dark image.

West masterfully played the character straight no matter how ridiculous the situation got. He was always doing the right thing because of an intense, albeit comical, devotion to justice. Any inspiration that future incarnations of Batman took from the show were now reflected by a post-Dark Knight Returns world. The world where Batman could only be taken seriously when he was dark, gritty and realistic.

West’s Batman might have shared the same motivation as future bat-interpretations of the character. But, the overly silly tone of his universe had turned future comic book fans away. It did not align with the “true” incarnation of Batman.

Holy Nostalgia Batman!

This attraction towards the “dark and gritty” Batman is what made BATMAN: RETURN OF THE CAPED CRUSADERS so fascinating. It shined a reverse post-modernist light on the Dark Knight’s evolution over the past decades. Promoted as a revival of bat-nostalgia, this animated movie not only nailed down the look of the 60s show, but it also featured West, Burt Ward and Julie Newmar reprising their roles as Batman, Robin, and Catwoman.

The first act hits all the classic story beats that a fan would expect to see. Revolving around a fiendish, far-fetched scheme by the Joker, Penguin, Catwoman, and Riddler to rule the world. There is a “to the Batcave” sequence, Batman solving puzzles with absurd logic and being praised as if the answer was obvious.

There are “Bam Smack Pow” fight scenes and those infamous “walking up the side of a building” sequences. These callbacks and Easter eggs display an understanding of what made the 60s show so successful. It presented RETURN OF THE CAPED CRUSADERS as an entertaining, nostalgic throwback to the past.

RETURN OF THE CAPED CRUSADERS
Bat-Fight!

Pow, Zonk, Oomph To Fracture! Concussion!

The second act subverts the classic bat-formula by turning its villain scheme into a meta-analysis on the evolution of Batman’s character. Upon being placed into an absurd deathtrap by their fiendish foes — a giant TV dinner being led into a giant oven — Catwoman makes an attempt to sway Batman to the side of villainy.

Infecting Batman with a substance called bat-nip, the drug originally appears to have little effect on the Caped Crusader’s overly selfless moral fiber. As time progresses, the changes begin to show. As both Batman and Bruce Wayne’s personality begin to shift into an identity that is aggressive, manipulative and uncaring. In other words, he is a jerk.

What makes these “villainous” changes so ingenious is that they are represented as a common feature of the dark and grim Batman that we know today. His personality gets more intimidating and obsessive. Quite often mirroring the tone that modern Batman uses on allies and enemies alike.

The fight words go from playfully wacky (i.e. pow, zonk, oomph) to rather brutal (i.e. Fracture! Concussion!), all the while Batman quotes lines from THE DARK KNIGHT RETURNS and Tim Burton’s BATMAN. There is even a hilarious bit in which Batman pulls his trademark disappearing act that fans are so used to. However, Commissioner Gordon, Chief O’Hara, and Robin find utterly baffling. To them, this slow transition from the campy to gritty is “not like Batman.” However, to the audience of today, it is completely in touch with what we expect Batman to do.

Same Bat-Character…

In many respects, the Adam West Batman was even more of a boy scout than Superman. Consistently following the rules and lecturing Robin about the morals a good citizen must display. It was a uniquely straight-faced, yet absurdly unwavering, moral code. Those attributes contributed to not only the show’s popularity; but, also, that of this lighter version of Batman. This wholesome do-gooder status inevitably made Batman a true hero and role model to kids. It inadvertently contributed to making the 60s incarnation the dominant mainstream perception of Batman, rather than the character introduced in Detective Comics #27.

READ: In memory of Adam West, take a look at one of his best performances in BATMAN TAS’ BEWARE THE GREY GHOST.

This, in turn, leads to Batman’s re-transition into a dark and brooding vigilante of the night. Ironically, it reached a negative tipping point last year with BATMAN V. SUPERMAN and THE KILLING JOKE animated movie. With RETURN OF THE CAPED CRUSADERS, the writers have 60s Batman evolve into the Batman of the 70s, 80s and 21st century while keeping him rooted in the world of the TV show.

This darker incarnation of the character remains directly linked to his 60s self, suggesting that, despite their tonal differences, these two Batmen are more alike than most would think.

…Different Bat-Audience

Eventually, the bat-nip’s effect sends “60s dark” Batman into complete villain mode. He attempts to pull off an equally outlandish scheme to take over Gotham City (and later, the world) as that of the many villains he has fought. This Batman not only becomes something of a jerk, but his shift from self-righteousness hero to vengeful villain works. In some sense, West’s Batman has always been portrayed as a perfect individual.

Whether it is his detective skills, gadgets, intelligence or fighting prowess, 60s Batman has always been the ultimate master of everything in comparison to the world he resides in. The world where citizens and Gotham PD alike are completely inept. Therefore, since he is the smartest person in the room by default, Batman calling all the shots would naturally make sense since he knows damn well that no one would be able to stop him.

RETURN OF THE CAPED CRUSADERS
I am Veng.. Justice!!

Once again the modern incarnation of Batman, a pop culture figure defined by the phrase “because he’s Batman,” is analyzed through the actions his past self. Often showing how easy it is for one generation’s Batman to be reinterpreted through the eyes of another.

Da da da da da da da da BATMAN!!!!

If there is a message that RETURN OF THE CAPED CRUSADERS is trying to convey, it is that it is okay for multiple versions of Batman to co-exist alongside one another. This revelation might sound strange in an era where superhero films and TV shows are remarkably successful. However, considering the desire for DC to tone down the darkness of their medium — it is one that should be addressed.

The success of WONDER WOMAN, alongside shows like THE FLASH and SUPERGIRL, have shown DC that it is okay for superheroes to be fun and unashamed of their inherent goofiness. More than any other character, Batman’s lore has allowed him to be interpreted in a multitude of personalities. BATMAN has gone from dark to silly to a mix of both with ease. BATMAN: RETURN OF THE CAPED CRUSADERS embodies and celebrates both of those interpretations. It also shows how they are more intertwined than members of the bat-fandom would like to admit.

With the recent passing of Adam West, now is a better time than ever to look back fondly on a Batman who embraced his role as a Bright Knight.

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