‘Batman ’66’ Writer Jeff Parker And Artist Colleen Coover: The ComicsAlliance Interview, Part Two
We are currently living in the middle of a renaissance of interest in the 1966 Batman TV show. With licensing deals that have taken decades to work out falling into place, we’ve got action figures, clothes, and DVDs are finally on the way, and at the leading edge of it all is DC’s digital-first Batman ’66 comic, written by Jeff Parker with art by Jonathan Case, Ty Templeton, Joe Quinones, Sandy Jarrell, Ruben Procopio and Colleen Coover.
This week, the first hardcover collection of the series is out in print, and to mark the occasion, I sat down at Portland, Oregon’s Periscope Studio to talk to Parker (and special guest Colleen Coover) about their work on the series. Today, in the second half of the interview, we discussed Parker and Coover’s attitudes towards the multiple Catwomen,
CA: So in your head, are you writing a Season 4?
JP: No, I don’t think of it that way, though we have in a few places made references to other stories as though they were the thing that came first. When we did the False Face story, in my mind, it exists at the same time. They didn’t care about continuity on the show very much. We’ve used it a little more on here, but in my mind, that False Face story came before the one you saw on TV. Blaze ends up going straight at the end of the show, but I wanted to have her in there again because she’s a good character.
She still needed to be a criminal, and they also seem to know who False Face is already, like they had fought him before.
CA: That’s another interesting thing about the show: They never do origins. From the first scene, that’s the Riddler, that’s what he does, we better get Batman.
JP: We showed Mr. Freeze’s origin, though. The reason I thought that was okay was because Batman talks about his origin on the show. He feels bad about it and talks about how he feels like he created Mr. Freeze, and I thought that’s too good to not touch on again, so David Williams and Kelsey Shannon show a thing where he throws a batarang and it punches through this tank and it sprays on him, because that’s what they said. His freeze solution got on him. So I just thought, we’ll just show that. They clearly established it on the show.
CA: You’re laying the seeds of some origins for some other characters, though, too — non-show characters. You’ve got Dr. Holly Quinn in there.
JP: Who could she be?
CA: Yeah, it’s so weird that she dresses exclusively in red and black and is the Joker’s psychiatrist. But even the idea of the Red Hood, that’s something that never came up on the show, which was really exciting for me.
JP: That’s what I was hoping. I feel like if you give everybody exactly what they originally had, why? Why try to compete with the show? Give them something that feels like a neat continuation and they get a little more. That’s the kind of thing I would’ve gotten really fired up about. “Wow, they’re referring to the Red Hood!” And as you saw, the Red Hood is the Joker, just like he is.
CA: [Laughs] Just like he is in real life. So you did Holly Quinn. You also did Killer Croc in the time travel story.
JP: Yes. That guy, when we see him again, if we see him again, will most certainly be Killer Croc.
CA: His name is Waylon and he turns into a crocodile, right there in front of everybody. That’s one of the things that got me when I read it. It seems like you’re dancing around a lot of stuff — you never come out and say that Holly Quinn is Harley Quinn, you never say that Waylon the goon who turns into a crocodile is going to be Killer Croc. Is that because there’s resistance to using those non-show characters, or did you just want to tease it out there a little before doing a reveal?
JP: Both. They wanted us to focus on the show characters first, which is fine, but I thought it would be fun to set it up, and then later, when they come back, it won’t be out of nowhere. And I like the idea that if we’re going to do characters from the comics that were never in the show, that they’re created by the show villains, for the most part. I think that’s pretty neat, and gives it some precedent that makes it feel more “’66.”
I’ll admit that it’s probably not what anyone would consider a pure take on it, but again, I was very firm in believing that to do that would make it a weak imitation of the real thing. I didn’t want to do that, it needed to have some life to it that drew from something else.
CA: Let’s talk about Batgirl.
JP: The first Batgirl story and the first Eartha Kitt Catwoman story, which was drawn by Colleen Coover.
CC: And like you said before about never telling the origin story, we never tell why Catwoman is different.
JP: There’s no explanation for why she’s suddenly a foot shorter and black. She just is.
CC: And awesome, and a little bit more mean.
JP: Right, because her Catwoman was a little more mean. Although, Julie Newmar was pretty mean.
CA: She does suggest that she and Batman murder Robin so they can have an uninterrupted date.
JP: As if you can’t simply send Robin away for a while. You have to kill him.
CA: Boarding schools exist! But why did you want to do the Eartha Kitt version? You’d already used the Julie Newmar version in the first story with Jonathan Case, so was it just a matter of recreating the feel of the show and how sometimes you’d get John Astin as the Riddler with no explanation?
CC: And also so that I could draw Eartha Kitt.
JP: That was the main point, yes. You may remember that Colleen sang an Eartha Kitt song on your podcast, and I work a song into the story.
CC: It’s a different song, though, “I Want To Be Evil.” I sang “Santa Baby.” I don’t know if you remember, but Eartha Kitt was smokin’ hot.
JP: I guess the implication was that she was hooking up with the villains, whereas before, you never thought Catwoman was hooking up with the villains. She was only interested in Batman.
CA: Because he’s the greatest man alive.
CC: Well yeah, seriously.
CA: Were you always a bigger fan of Eartha Kitt’s version?
CC: No, not really. I was a much bigger fan of Batgirl, because like you, at 3:30 in the afternoon every day after school in the ’70s, there would be Batman on one channel, and Bugs Bunny on another channel, so I’d watch the opening credits to see if the “Yvonne Craig as Batgirl” credit would come on, and if it did, I’d watch Batman, and if it didn’t I’d watch Bugs Bunny.
So the very first drawings in my life that I can remember are of Batman, Robin and Batgirl. Batman was just a scribble, Robin was just a scribble with an R on it, and then I would verrrrrry carefully draw Batgirl or Catwoman. Very carefully.
JP: They were the ones that mattered. I don’t know, it just seemed like Colleen was the perfect artist to introduce Batgirl.
CC: And I was right here.
CA: In your mind, do those Batgirl stories come after she’s already established on the show, or, since you said you’re not doing a “Season 4″ take, are you going for the idea that she was always around and we just didn’t see her?
JP: Well, if you go by the show, the first time they see her on the show is clearly the first time they’ve seen her. They’re surprised by her, you know? They do a neat thing on the show that I really respect, which is that Batgirl, whenever she insists on helping them, Batman feels like it’s almost an affront, that she’s insinuating that they can’t handle it without her. I like that little running joke that they do.
It’s weird, as a kid, I also always thought that Batgirl was a love interest for Robin, but then when you grow up, you realize that no, that’s not the insinuation. It’s supposed to be Batman. In your mind, Batman’s way older than everybody else.
CA: Right, he’s your dad. I’ve said it many times, I never wanted to be Batman when I was a kid, I wanted to be Robin, and Batgirl was a big part of that.
CC: Right? Batgirl was a big part of a lot of us.
JP: But on the show, it’s clear that she’s meant to be at least slightly an interest for him. Then you find out that they were planning on going on without Robin on the show and having just Batman and Batgirl, which, according to all things I’ve read, that was what they were trying to do. She was brought in to try to help the audience and get more fans in, and it was working, so they were just ready to fire Burt Ward and keep Yvonne Craig around.
CA: Have you considered doing that? Doing Death in the Family ’66?
JP: I don’t mind making jokes that refer to the comics like that, in a very ’66 way. In fact, the issue that came out this week, in Joker’s stand-up act, you’ll see that I do refer to something very much of the modern day in it. It works fine in context, it’s only if you realize what it’s from that you’ll get a special evil laugh as you’re reading it. You’ll like it, too, because it’s got not just Joker and Catwoman, but King Tut, the Siren, Chandell, False Face, Bookworm. All the characters that have been in it before now, because they’re in Arkham Institute.
CA: It’s been pretty well established over the years that there’s been a backlash against Batman ’66 in the ’70s and ’80s, from fandom and from creators like Frank Miller. The show was portrayed as something that was making fun of Batman, which, if you’ve read any of those comics from the ’60s, is not accurate.
JP: That’s what I don’t think they get. Go watch the show, they’re not making fun of Batman. Batman’s always in on the joke.
CA: But the show is in many ways a comedy, and nobody wants to be the butt of the joke. I don’t see the show as making fun of Batman.
JP: And they’re not ashamed to call everything Bat-This and Bat-That, like they are now when no one will even call him “Batman” in the movies.
CA: But it seems like in recent years, it’s turning back around. There’s been much more of a desire to reclaim that stuff, even with what you’re seeing in the main line comics, whether it’s Scott Snyder doing this crazy over-the-top hot pink origin story for Batman where ther’s a giant Bat-Blimp, or Morrison trying to reincorporate it a few years ago in R.I.P. What do you think about that, with this book being such a big part of reclaiming that aesthetic?
JP: I guess when enough time passes, maybe some of those people don’t have that adolescent opinion.
CC: It’s an insecure opinion. Like, “I’m a grown-up, totally, I smoke cigarettes, look how cool I am!”
JP: Exactly. Maybe some of those people grew up and realized this is cool, and when they see those DVDs, they’ll go “wow, this is even cooler than I remember.”
CA: Do you think there’s a particular moment in pop culture that led to it?
JP: Are you thinking that the movies got so dark that people were just ready to flip back?
CA: I feel like the comics are like that, but Batman as a franchise has been one of the high points of DC over the past decade. It is, in a lot of ways, super dark, but the rest of DC feels so much darker.
JP: Batman can do dark. He is, strangely enough, a broad enough character that you can put him in a lot of scenarios. He can do light, he can do dark, he can be in between. I don’t think you can do that with all of them.
CA: What gets me about it is that The Dark Knight made a billion dollars. Everyone saw that movie. Everyone loved that movie, except Colleen Coover.
CC: That’s right, although I thought Heath Ledger was good.
CA: So obviously there’s huge public interest in Batman, and then right after that movie’s in theaters, Brave and the Bold starts. It launches that fall, right at the height of The Dark Knight being so huge. So you have these two ideas about Batman that are prominent in the public eye, and they’re completely different from each other. Brave and the Bold is a direct sequel to the original Batman show in a lot of ways. King Tut’s in it. The Batmobile’s red and black.
JP: Just like it really is.
CA: So in a lot of ways, Brave and the Bold kickstarts that re-examination of that kind of Batman. If you’re ten or twelve when that comes out six years ago…
JP: Or if you’re in your 40s like me, and I’m sitting there going “This is the best cartoon.” I wasn’t expecting anything to unseat Batman: The Animated Series for me, but you know what? I like this better.
CA: It’s a departure from that, too, because B:TAS was definitely in the dark and moody aesthetic. It launches out of Batman ’89, in the same way that Brave and the Bold launched out of The Dark Knight.
JP: It’s operatic. Brave and the Bold would do those shorts as the cold open, so you’d get a whole little cartoon with Batman running around in the future with Kamandi. It’s just too good.
CA: So I feel like that’s a crucial moment in Batman history, where you have this thing in mass media that people have always gotten from comics with Batman, which is that you can have those multiple ideas. ’50s Batman and ’80s Batman are the same character.
JP: I’ve also noticed that it just seems like modern waves of comics readers just aren’t hung up on having to look tough and cool. They can enjoy something for pure joy, and I see that at conventions all the time. They embrace something, they just like it. It’s not like they have to justify it to their friends, because their friends also like it. It seems less judgy. It seems like a nice place to be, and I’m very happy for it, as I assume you are. Hopefully, it’ll keep influencing the comics.