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Bringing the Joy Back to Batman

Heather Davidson

Staff Writer

Heather Davidson is a web developer-cum-graphic designer-cum writer, with as much of an attention span as that implies. She writes about tech, the niche corners of pop culture and radical activism – preferably all at the same time. Follow her on Twitter: @heatherlauren.

With much of the criticism of Batman v Superman taking aim at its dour tone, it’s the perfect time to take a look back on a brighter period in the Caped Crusader’s past. The iconic sixties Batman TV series first aired fifty years ago, and since November, Bat-Labels has been documenting the show’s extensive collection of explanatory labels on Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram. For its three seasons, Batman’s sets bristled with labels recording the existence of everything from Batweather Instruments to the Enormous Candle Dipper. Bat-Labels brings screenshots to your social media platform of choice every day, alongside choice revelations like the fact that the show gave Bruce Wayne a horse called Waynebow. Waynebow. It’s silly, it’s campy and it’s utterly joyous.

‘Joy’ isn’t a word most would associate with Batman these days. The hero we apparently deserve in 2016 is firmly in the mould of the brooding Dark Knight set by Frank Miller and Christopher Nolan. And that’s fine – as long as we remember that Adam West’s Batman is as much a part of the character as Ben Affleck’s or Christian Bale’s. With DC’s upcoming Rebirth relaunch aiming to leave the DC universe looking more like its movies, are we set to forget? Many of the spaces where the sillier side of the Caped Crusader lived on – Batman: The Brave and the Bold, the Batman ’66 digital comics, Morrison’s Batman, Incorporated -– have bitten the dust. We can’t let the joy of Batman go with them.

Batman is inherently silly, something comics did its best to forget as it pushed back against the image of the campy Caped Crusader. The greatest Batman stories, though, understand that the character’s history isn’t something to be swept under the rug. Batman is the most grounded of all the iconic superheroes, a regular mortal among gods who spends his life wrestling with trauma and the pain of doing good. He’s also a billionaire playboy who dresses up in a bat costume in order to punch criminals in the face. And here’s the thing – neither of those facts negates the other! The reason Batman has been beloved for almost eighty years is that he can be pretty much anything. The Batman of The Dark Knight Returns can live happily alongside the Batman of ‘Surf’s Up! Joker’s Under!’, and in the midst of the battleground of hype and backlash surrounding Batman v Superman, Bat-Labels is there to remind us all of that.

The chances of us ever seeing a Batman in the vein of Adam West in the limelight again are slim. But there’s still hope for those of us who prefer a little levity in our Dark Knight. Books like Gotham Academy and Batgirl have been keeping the Bat Family open to everyone. Warner Bros. are apparently paying for extensive reshoots to add more jokes to the upcoming Suicide Squad movie. And, as the dust settled from Batman v Superman’s launch, the first teaser trailer for next year’s The LEGO Batman Movie was released, complete with beatboxing, microwavable lobster thermidor and, best of all, a perfectly labelled hall of Batsuits.

Whether in 1966 or 2016, there’s room for joy in Gotham City, and we can’t let DC forget that in its rush to establish a tone going forward. For Batman to fulfil the potential that’s carried the character all this way, we need to let him be silly as well as serious. Somewhere out there, even if it’s just in the world of Bat-Labels screenshots, there needs to be a Gotham that can be home to a Zapping Machine or Portable Batlab.