Batman is turning 80 on March 30, and it’s time we celebrate the man, the bat, the legend.
Welcome to day four of this series as we tackle Batman in the 1960s. We will break it down by comics, TV, films, and general culture. Because of the breadth of his impact on the world, there is no way we can hit every landmark moment, but we’re going to try our best to bring you an overall history of the infamous Batman.
Batman in the 1960s
It would be entirely impossible to address the 1960s for Batman without jumping directly to the television series. The comics fed off of the series before the decade was out, which lead to the addition of an iconic character to the Batfamily, and a member of the Rogues Gallery received a name change as well.
The Batman TV series has one of the most convoluted origin stories that ended up leading to it being kept from a home video release for decades even after such releases became commonplace.
In 1960, Ed Graham Productions secured the rights to the comics to produce a Saturday morning series in the style of the stalwarts of 1950s TV such as Adventures of Superman. Originally the series was supposed to go to CBS, but during those negotiations, ABC got wind of the possible deal and started talking to DC about the possibility of doing it as a primetime series in the same vein as The Man from U.N.C.L.E. When talks with CBS fizzled out, DC pulled the rights back and immediately went to ABC who purchased them.
At this point, ABC decided to farm the work out to 20th Century Fox, who in turn decided to bring in William Dozier and Greenway Productions. (See how the rights started going off the rails?) The issue with Dozier being in charge of this series was he had never read a comic book before. He read a few and decided the series would only work if it was done as a pop-art comedy.
Espionage novelist Eric Ambler had been hired to tackle the series at first, but upon learning of Dozier’s take on the series, he immediately dropped out. From there everything was in Dozier’s hands to craft the show that has become a beloved icon amongst so many.
The series ended up running for three seasons and was a definite boon to comic sales, but as ratings dropped in the third season, ABC canceled the series. NBC wanted to pick it up for a fourth season, but unfortunately, the production crew had struck the sets and destroyed them already. This would have meant a massive investment on NBC’s part to rebuild them, and at that point the project was dropped.
In the original pitch for the Batman TV series, it was proposed that a movie would be released first to promote the upcoming series. The premiere of the first season was moved up and at that point the film was pushed back to the summer hiatus. Work was quickly done to make sure it would hit screens prior to the season 2 premiere.
Thanks to the budget of the film, the TV series benefited from the construction of the Batboat and Batcopter. Both vehicles were then usable in seasons 2 and 3 of the series.
The 1960s also gave rise to the incredible labyrinth of early Batman animated series. Everything kicked off in 1968 with The Batman/Superman Hour from Filmation. This combination show featured the characters in various short segments. It ran from Sept. 14, 1968 to Jan. 4, 1969. Where it gets confusing is that the Batman segments were also rebranded as their own shows at times as Batman with Robin, the Boy Wonder.
The 1960s kicked off in a big way for DC in general when in Brave and the Bold #28, the Justice League of America first started to form. Batman fought alongside Superman, Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Green Lantern, The Flash, and Martian Manhunter for the first time. The team would go on to make two more appearances in the Brave and the Bold title before getting its own book which became one of the top sellers for the comic company almost immediately.
While Justice League of America was flourishing, by 1964 Batman and Detective Comics sales had sunk to a point that cancellation was a very real possibility. Julius Schwartz was brought in as the editor and he made some immediate changes by ridding the titles of characters such as Bat-Mite and Ace, the Bat-Hound. He was also responsible for adding the yellow oval to the costume in an attempt to refresh the look of the series. Meanwhile, Alfred was killed off and Aunt Harriet was introduced into the series.
To tell you just how different things were in the comics, only two truly notable villains were added to the Rogues Gallery. Clayface II (Matt Hagen) debuted in 1961’s Detective Comics #298, and Poison Ivy first appeared in 1966 in Batman #181.
Once the TV series was introduced on January 12, 1966, sales of the comics soared to new heights, and all seemed well once again. At this point, the two entities began working together, and in 1967 the TV producers asked DC to create a new Batgirl for them. Barbara Gordon made her debut as Gotham City’s newest crime fighter in Detective Comics #359, and she then made her way to TV screens as well.
Following the cancellation of the TV series, comic sales dropped almost as rapidly as they had grown. Schwartz decided it was time for another shakeup of the series already, and in Batman #217 Dick Grayson headed off to college. With his young ward out of the house, Bruce would go on to shut down Wayne Manor and he moved into a penthouse apartment instead.
The 1960s were a crazy time for the caped crusader. Not only had the TV series taught people to expect a certain level of camp from the character, but the United States was undergoing radical changes in the political and economic climate as well. Heading into the 1970s, the world was going to need a very different Batman it seemed.
Jay Yaws contributed research to this post.
Check out the other installments in this series:
- Batman 80th Anniversary – The 1930s
- Batman 80th Anniversary – The 1940s
- Batman 80th Anniversary – The 1950s
- Batman 80th Anniversary – The 1970s
- Batman 80th Anniversary – The 1980s
- Batman 80th Anniversary – The 1990s
- Batman 80th Anniversary – The 2000s
- Batman 80th Anniversary – The 2010s
Be sure to enter our Batman 80th Anniversary giveaway!