It was sweet, funny, tongue-in-cheek, and full of adventure. The good guys were good, the villains were delightfully sinister, but, wow—what a light year shift from the stories currently being told, as if we’d kicked delight to the curb and made a grand, unholy pact with sinister.
The TV series was a kid’s show. Of course it was. And yet, I remember my granddad laughing along with the Joker’s capers and Batman’s pier dash with the giant bomb, just as much as I did. So, what happened?
Arguably, the biggest shift began in the '80s. We were all grown up, squeezed out of the school meat grinder and dumped into the dark, yawning maw of offices, factories, and the unemployment line. This was the muddy mess of adulthood, awash with its heady, unassailable blend of ambiguity and corruption. We thought we’d have more control over our lives (Masters of our own destiny! We had bank accounts!), but, in the end, none of it mattered, because we were now faced with the complexities of the rat race—the duplicity, the teeth-grinding boredom—holy cow, the horror of it. We wanted to wade in and tear it all down, but we couldn’t. Instead, we had to learn how to survive and how to play the game. Was it any wonder, then, that in order to keep our spirits alive, we reached desperately back into our childhoods and retrieved our heroes?
Thus, we all stumbled along in fits and starts, fell into pits and accumulated baggage that defined us and stayed with us no matter how hard we pushed it aside. Some of that baggage was asteroid-big, too, and like the moon we became pocked with craters. Similar was Batman’s progression through the years, and I’d also argue that The Dark Knight Returns and its '80s disillusionment of the Cold War led to a crater the size of the South Pole–Aitken Basin.
But, did our hero crumble? Did we crumble? I guess not, because eighty years later, collectively, we’re all still here. Look at the achievements of our artists and writers over the years—what began with Bob Kane and Bill Finger in 1939 and everyone that came after—Gardner Fox and Carmine Infantino, Dennis O’Neil and Neal Adams, Doug Moench and Kelley Jones, Jeph Loeb and Jim Lee. Frank Miller, Tim Burton, Christopher Nolan, Hans Zimmer, and many more—an amalgam of storytelling that keeps on getting better.
Batman is a reflection of our trajectory through life. Our successes, failures, and disappointments. A gradual fall that oscillates between glorious Technicolor and infinite shadow. And sure, it can get a little dark down here, but, together, we’re good at making the best of it; we’re survivors, and it’s what we do.
Happy Anniversary, big fella, and here’s to many more.