On Batman

Holy Signifier, Batman!

By Nick Mamatas

Batman, as one of the most iconic and enduring of comic book heroes, is ultimately nothing more than a bundle of images that have proven themselves to be far more valuable and compelling than any storyline, movie, or book of essays on the character. Batman is a Pez dispenser; he is a bat-shaped belt buckle. Batman is not a hard-ass vigilante, nor is he a duly deputized crime fighter; he is a stamped silhouette on a box of cereal.

And that is why I am here today with a proposition: of all the decades of Batman stories in a huge variety of media, there is only one that will forever be tied to the character. I am speaking, of course, of the live-action TV show, which aired twice weekly on ABC from January 12, 1966, to March 14, 1968. The show, featuring Adam West as Batman, was explicitly campy and humorous, with a sensibility in design, plotting, and cinematography that was pure Pop art. William Dozier, the producer of the TV show, actually detested comics and felt that the show would only work as Pop art. And he was right. Batman only works as Pop art. Because Batman is nothing but a logo, and because we are all soaking in logos and commercial messages and not-quite-real (or too-real-to-be-real) realities, the campy TV Batman of the 1960s is the most compelling version of the Caped Crusader of them all.

The Dozier-produced Batman is the ultimate in branding. It’s Pop art for the boob  …

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