Holy Supper, Batman!

June 13th, 2017 by Max Allan Collins

When the Batman TV show was announced in late 1965, I was ecstatic. It would have been a dream come true had I ever thought to dream it. In January 1966, I was the only comic book fan in my high school in Muscatine, Iowa, and certainly the only person who had been reading the BATMAN comic since around 1954.

Perhaps there were others around me, closeted in four-color shame, but I didn’t know about them. I was open about it. Everybody knew I was into comics, just as everybody knew I was a Bobby Darin fanatic. That I was driven, intense, and wanted to be a writer or a singer or a cartoonist or something in the arts. I was cheerfully humored, although I’m sure this status was no help in getting me laid.

When I got into comics – trading two-for-one at a local antiques shop, or buying them used for five cents or new for a dime – MAD was still a comic book, the original Captain Marvel was still being published, and H.G. Peter was drawing Wonder Woman in a style so eccentric even I knew something was wrong, yet very right, about it. I saw MAD turn into a magazine and the EC horror comics disappear just as I was laying hands on them. Captain Marvel just disappeared, as if a super-villain had taken him out.

For a long time, I had an allowance of ten cents a week, which meant I could buy one comic book a week. Dick Tracy and Batman were the only certainties. The rest went to Dell comics like the sporadic Zorro comics and various movie tie-in issues, filled in with Superman and his “family” – Jimmy Olsen and Lois Lane.

Later I bought Amazing Fantasy #15 off the stands, as well as Fantastic Four #1 and Spiderman #1, and probably the first ten years of both. Sold the valuable issues for hundreds of dollars when I was a college student because, well, I was a college student and the money I got from playing in a rock ‘n’ roll band only went so far.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

In January 1966, a senior in high school, I was delighted and amazed and astounded by the prospect of a Batman TV show. To say I was looking forward to it is an understatement of super-heroic proportions.

Then a disaster happened: on the night Batman would premiere, my church group (the MYF, which I believe stood for Methodists Youths getting Effed) was throwing a supper to raise funds for something or other (certainly not the poor or disadvantaged – probably to go on some trip). I had to serve. Define that any way you like, but it entailed bringing hot plates of food to the waiting victims in the church basement’s dining hall.

Understand that there were no VCRs or any other recording devices to “time-shift” a TV show you wanted to watch. That was as far-fetched as time travel itself. For days I tried to think of a way out. I was past being able to fake sickness for my parents, and the notion of saying I wanted to skip a church function to watch a TV show was as crazy as thinking that someday I would no longer be a Republican.

So I schemed. My parents would be at the church supper, too, which meant the house would be empty. Batman was only a half-hour show. We lived across town, a trip I could recklessly make in under ten minutes. It was possible. It could happen. A laugh oddly like the Joker’s echoed around inside my brain, bouncing off the walls, currently decorated with photos of Elke Sommer.

Wednesday, January 12, 1966. Arriving early at the church, I found a parking place near the kitchen’s side door, went in, and began being conspicuously (suspiciously?) helpful. Hungry Methodists arrived. I began serving. In the kitchen door at right you would go in, pick up your food, then carry a steaming hot plate of who-the-hell-remembers out the other door, at left. Deliver food, maybe get a smile and a thanks (usually not), and repeat the process. At 6:20 P.M., I began the process, entering the kitchen at right, then – not missing a beat – slipped out the side door into the alley and got behind the wheel of my Chevy II.

Like a madman I drove across down, and by 6:29 was seated Indian-style on the floor in front of the TV. The nah-nah-nah-nah-nah theme plays over cartoon credits, my mouth drops open and stays there as I witness a comic-book world awash in color, Adam West and Burt Ward portraying Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson (SPOILER ALERT: the secret identities of Batman and Robin). Frank Gorshin appears as a manic, cackling Riddler, with whom I could identify. The Batusi is danced. Mesmerized, delighted, I watch as the comic book I had loved since age five comes alive in an amazingly deft manner that at once honored and spoofed it – I knew immediately a little kid could enjoy the adventurous, colorful surface, and an adult could enjoy the tongue-in-cheek spoof of it. Since I was both a little kid and an adult, I was the perfect audience.

As the episode (sort of) ended – “Same Bat time, same bat channel!” – I ran from the house to my car like West and Ward headed for the Bat-Pole and the waiting Batmobile, and headed back to the church, where my fellow Methodist teens (and my parents!) (choke!) awaited. I parked, ran to the side door, slipped into the kitchen, picked up a plate of food and exited the door at left, into the dining hall.

Some friend of mine frowned at me and said, “Where have you been?”

I smiled devilishly – more Riddler than Joker. “Home. Watching Batman.”

For a good 48 hours, I was legendary at Muscatine Senior High.

Then, two decades later, I would write the Batman comic book for a year and become perhaps the most reviled writer of the feature in history – because I didn’t take it seriously enough, according to fans who take it too seriously…who think the sixties TV show was the worst thing that ever happened to Batman, when in fact it was what made the (sometimes too) Dark Knight a pop-cultural phenomenon.

Who know more about Batman than the seventeen year-old who raced home to see the premiere of the TV show and risked not going to heaven for it. Or at least catching hell from his folks.

Farewell, Adam West.

* * *

There’s a nice review of Bibliomysteries, the Otto Penzler collection that includes the Hammer story, “It’s in the Book.”

Fun review of Supreme Justice here.

Here’s an interesting if patronizing review of both the novel and graphic novel of Road to Perdition by someone who loves the movie and came to the source later.

M.A.C.

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7 Responses to “Holy Supper, Batman!”

  1. Bill Crider says:

    I loved and appreciated the Batman story as only a former member of the MYF can.

  2. Mike Doran says:

    Fortunately (?), I didn’t have to resort to nefarious means to see the Batman premiere.
    My brother and I were in high school (senior and sophomore respectively), and while we weren’t comics buffs per se, we were movie buffs in the making.
    I’d already gotten hooked on Charlie Chan movies on Saturday afternoons, so when a few weeks into the run I saw Norman Foster credited as director for a Batman episode, I became a note-taker for the duration.
    Our dad was indulgent in the early going; he devoted himself to spotting character actors of old that Bill Dozier was hiring as henchmen for the celebrity villains.
    Dad did get a big laugh out of the first Joker show: remember that unctuous newscaster who pleaded on behalf of his little son Harold? That was Jerry Dunphy, who a decade before had been the sports guy on Channel 2 in Chicago – before he went to LA and became the prototype for Ted Baxter.
    I digress –

    When that first season (half-season, really) ended, Dad declared himself sick of all things Bat-related; fortunately, by that time my brother was employed, and bought a desktop-size Sony for our bedroom, that we might keep up with Batman (among other shows).
    Our family didn’t get a color TV until 1968, but my brother and I didn’t get to see Batman in color until after it got into syndication – 16mm film, bicycled from one station to the next, on small, fuzzy NTSC screens.
    Later syndie runs on bigger and slightly better screens happened eventually, but it wasn’t until I saw the DVDs of today that the enormity of Batman impact really scored with me; Dozier & Co were really ahead of their time.
    Of course, when I watch, i have the other problem – adjusting to the fact that almost everybody in the show is now dead.
    (The exception being Burt Ward, who nowadays looks like Nero Wolfe -The Early Years … but that’s another story.)

    While I’m here:
    A while back I mentioned just missing getting a coffee-table book, The Complete Lyrics Of Johnny Mercer.
    Among the included lyrics are those that Mr. Mercer wrote circa 1967 for a prospective musical about Mike Hammer, to be called Mike.

    About a week ago, I took delivery on a used (ex-library) copy of this volume, at a considerable discount (I presume).

    The lyrics to Mike are here in their entirety; no music is here, probably because none had ever came to be written (the editors assumed that Mercer was going to do that himself).
    Following is a list of the songs:

    Ballad Of A Private Eye

    Any Way The Wind Blows

    The Bully Boys

    A Cat With Nine Lives

    Gerfrunkt!

    The Equivalent Of A Haa-vud Education

    He Never Even Knew What Hit Him

    Kiss And Tell

    The Mama Torpedo Cha-Cha-Cha

    My Crazy Old Subconscious

    Our Man In Paradise

    Thanks, But No Thanks!

    Why Didn’t I Tell Him?

    Betsy And Me

    The Medium (Couldn’t Get Through)

    You Can’t Lose

    (No Wonder It’s) Banned In Boston

    The book doesn’t mention who wrote the book, and not being musical I couldn’t guess how the songs were supposed to be arranged.
    Well, one guess:
    Why Didn’t I Tell Him? is apparently the big love ballad; Velda and Mike sing it, but not together (I think).
    Anyway as I said, no book, no music, just the lyrics.
    Did Mickey ever mention this to you – even in passing?
    Just curious, is all …

    To our next in-person meeting, whenever that may be …

  3. Mike Doran says:

    Something I forgot earlier:

    Last week, I also took delivery on Eddie Muller’s book about Gun Crazy, which I ordered through the link in your post.

    For that, thanx – beautiful book.

    As before, ” ’til we meet again …”

  4. Dennis Lynch says:

    2 years earlier, in 6th grade, I had a similar experience on the first night of LOST IN SPACE.
    My mother’s boyfriend at the time decided we needed to go see a slide show about Alaska, where he had been stationed while in the army. Any other time, I would have been happy to see that.
    But it was on LIS premiere night, and no amount of begging could allow me to stay home alone for that.
    It was years before I finally got to see that 1st episode.

    You are a brave and lucky man!

  5. Mark Lmabert says:

    Al, wonderful story! Thank you for sharing it! I turned five in February 1966, a month after the show started, so the Batman tv series has been part of my life every since I can remember. My father has delighted in telling EVERY girlfriend I ever brought home about how I used to plead with my family to read to me the “POW”s, “ZOWIE”s, etc., because I was too young to read them. And that I’d get really angry if no one read them out loud! I recall thinking it was oh-so-real when I was young, to realizing in my teen years, as I watched it after school, what a delightful spoof it was, and gaining even more appreciation as my adult years unfolded. I had a very brief encounter with Adam West in the hallway of a hotel in 2011, I was so star struck I could barely speak. He became an icon — what actor wouldn’t take that? — and he will always be Batman to me.

  6. Max Allan Collins says:

    Thanks for these lovely comments, fellas!

    No wonder Bill Crider and I hit it off — we both survived MYF!

    Mike, I know about the Hammer musical, and have a recorded version of Mercer doing the songs. No libretto (book) was found in the Spillane files, however. I have toyed with writing the book myself and seeing it mounted — even have staging ideas. But I have been too busy writing (and not dying) to get around to it.

  7. Mike Doran says:

    OK, MAC – you are definitely one-up on all of us.

    I’m guessing there are legalities involved with making Johnny Mercer’s Mike songs available – either Mercer’s recordings, or as performance by players on stage.

    For my part, I’d love to hear a live performance, by you or someone you would select, of Gefrunkt!

    Or at least, Betsy and Me.

    Somehow, cold type doesn’t really do them justice (so to speak …).

    Of all sad words
    Of tongue or pen
    The saddest are these:
    Make us an offer, and we’ll get back to you …

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