The Adam West version of Batman is one of the most iconic and oddly beloved versions of a character who is now known for his dark grittiness. Kevin Smith and Ralph Garman are bringing this version of the character back in comic book form, teaming him up with The Green Hornet to finish their business from the two-part crossover on the original TV show.
To mark the occasion, I talked to the writers of the book, Smith and Garman, about why they liked the character and whether or not Burt Ward’s Robin could beat Bruce Lee’s Kato in a fight.
Bryan Young: To start, you guys have said that this version of Batman is the first you were exposed to, what’s it like dropping back into that and how did they approach you about doing this?
Kevin Smith: You never forget your first Batman, and Adam West Batman – Batman ’66 - was definitely our first Batman. I had done some work at DC, “The Widening Gyre” was the last miniseries I’d done there; prior to that there was “Batman: Cacophony,” I’d done “Green Arrow” there. I’d worked also with Dynamite, who’d done my “Green Hornet” movie script, as a comic book, so it really started with Nick over at Dynamite. He was just like, “Hey, man, DC wants to do a crossover, like a Batman/Green Hornet crossover.” I assumed he meant present-day-Batman/present-day-Green Hornet, and he said, “Would you be into it?” And I was like, “Totally!” He put me forward and they were like “Yeah, let’s do it!” It turns out that it was the Batman ’66 version which I was excited about, but I was like, “Oh, alright, we’re going retro.”
But I said, “If I’m going to do this, there’s a guy that I definitely want to bring in because he has forgotten more about Batman ’66 than most people know. I do this podcast with him called Hollywood Babble-On, he’s a fantastic dude and a great writer.”
So they were like, “Fantastic, bring him on.” Then we were off to the races, I just had no idea that Ralph [Garman] would fucking “All About Eve” me out of the goddamn job! Cut my fucking throat in good times of childhood and take over, it was amazing!
Ralph Garman: Hardly, sir! I was inspired, that was all.
KS: This was a rare case, I rarely work with people, I really don’t write with people. This is one of the rare cases when I did, and it reminds me why I don’t write with people because they fucking take over! This was the guy you want to take over, Ralph did an amazing fucking job. He was born to write this, man. I thought I loved the Batman/Green Hornet crossover of old because I was like, “Holy shit! That’s the original Avengers of our generation!” The first time you saw a couple pair of superheroes standing next to each other wearing crime fighters and masks, right? So, there’s something of an affection for it even if the “Green Hornet” series never lived up to the fun of that two-parter. But if I went into this solo, man, it would have been ham-fisted and it just would have been on the nose. The Batman ‘66 series has been done insanely well thus far, my entry, alone, walking into that bat cave would have been dismal. People would have been like, “You suck in comics, like you suck in everything else!” Thank god I brought Ralph with me, because it was the story he was born to tell. Even more so than his own life story, he was born to tell this story.
BY: What was the process like for the two of you?
RG: Well, I had an idea right out of the gate and I went to Kevin with it and pitched him the broad strokes of the storyline, and he’s like, “Yeah, that’s a fun idea! Let’s go with that.” Then I started in right away, I was so excited to start hammering things out and then I would send it to Kevin and get his notes, then we’d go to our editor. He’s this amazing guy with a great vision of what the comic book version of the series should be, and he’d give his notes. It was just everybody coming up with the best stuff they could and including all of it that we could find a way to fit in and it just sort of took shape.
BY: Was it tempting to get into the Robin/Kato rivalry?
RG: Well, there’s certain aspects of that two-parter from the original series made such an impact on people that there were certain aspects that you had to pay homage to otherwise people were going to be disappointed. Mostly we wrote this for the fans of the series, although we wanted to make it accessible to maybe being introduced to these versions of the characters for the first time. So, yes, you have to touch on that, there’s certain aspects, unfinished business as it were from the original two-parter that you did have to deal with. Then above and beyond that, as a fan you get to say, “They didn’t do this and I’d love to see this happen.” So you’ve got to have some wish fulfillment, too.
KS: You’re tempted to deal with reality, though, and be like, “Let’s be honest, man, Burt Ward never could have taken Bruce Lee, ever. Ever” We’re dealing strictly with the characters here, which is weird, because you have to dial down Bruce Lee’s abilities to have him be Kato.
BY: That must be weird. I mean, who do you guys think would come out on top, Kato or Robin, if they had to go at it?
RG: Well it’s like Kevin said, Bruce Lee would kick Burt Ward’s ass, even though Burt Ward was a little bit of a martial artist himself. But in characters, when you’re talking about Robin and Kato, it’s different. You have to treat them as equals, otherwise someone gets slighted. One of the fan bases is gonna be upset.
KS: I think if you’re talking about the characters themselves, Kato vs Robin, I mean, Robin is the Boy Wonder, right? Even as depicted in the show, he’s older, but he’s still not going to be as old as Kato. Kato would have a more diplomatic way of saying Kato would kick Robin’s ass, and he should! He’s a child for Christ’s sake!
RG: But Robin’s an acrobat! He’d just get out of the way!
KS: That’s true, he could dodge Kato but only to a certain degree. Bruce Lee’s fast, Kato’s fast! But don’t forget the stinger darts! He can bounce around all he wants, but get one of those stinger darts in the kid’s forehead and forget it, it’s all over.
BY: With the book coming out, what is it you guys are really most excited for people to see?
KS: I think Ty Templeton’s interiors are amazing, and he’s a dude I used to love, Ralph, too. You’ve got to give it up for Alex Ross’ covers alone, they are works of art.
RG: Obviously we put a lot into the stories and the dialogue, but when you see this stuff come to life with the artwork that both these guys have contributed it is remarkable. It is so much better than you can even imagine when you’re putting it on the page.
KS: It’s a real gift when you’re somebody who can’t draw, and all you can do is put a bunch of words on a paper like, “It should look like this! It could be as cool as this! The scope should be this!” You know, you’re doing that because you can’t do it yourself. I wish I could put a pencil to paper and make that image come to life, draw something that tells the story rather than give you a thousand words to do so. As much as you know what’s coming when you’ve worked on a script, when they hand you the artwork there’s always a moment when you’re like, “Oh my god, this is better than I imagined it would be.”
RG: It’s that collaborative thing, too, we each bring something to the table and you’re bringing an idea that you had for how things should look then someone who’s good will come along and take that idea and make it even better because they’re bringing their own stuff, too.
BY: I guess my last question is this: the actors, save for Bruce Lee, are still surviving. What do you think your chances of getting a fully voiced motion comic out of this are?
RG: It’s always been a dream for us. Kevin and I talked about it early on about how wouldn’t it be awesome to get the three remaining guys back together again and do an animated, direct-to-DVD film of this series the way DC has done with so many other of their great properties. They really are good now at taking hit comics and turning them into excellent animated DVDs, so we’d love to see an animated feature with these guys revisiting the roles one last time.
KS: Oh, it’s a no brainer. Marketing dream come true, because there’s not a whole lot of Batman ’66 new content that’s been put out there in the world in the last few years. You’ve got to imagine there’s an audience out there that’s kind of starving for it. We’ve seen the action that the toys have now created, since they’ve secured the license. You’ve got that in your favor and you’ve got two giant, jackass, loud-mouths who would be pimping it from sea to shining sea about how this was a must-have. Even children who didn’t even know who Batman ’66 was have to have it because it’s part of the legacy. I don’t know, hopefully it’s a no-brainer. It was Ralph’s no-brainer, he pointed it out. He’s like, “Three of these dudes are still here, you could totally pull this off animated.” It’s like, oh my god, you’re right.
Batman '66 Meets the Green Hornet comes out June 4th digital-first from DC Comics.