The Batmania boom of the 1960s, set off by the camp 1966 Adam West TV series, faded quickly and became something of an embarrassment to DC Comics, who tried to erase all traces of the William Dozier style in the 1970s Neal Adams reboot of the comic, and many fans, who have embraced such grimmer visions as Frank Miller Jr’s and Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight takes on the characters. Even Tim Burton – who reputedly reacted to being first offered Batman by saying ‘I loved that show!’ – went in a different direction for his big screen Bat-films … and the fact that Joel Schumacher brought back the camp probably led to the scuppering of the ‘90s franchise.
Gradually, however, the Dozier-West series has become an accepted part of the canon – helped, in no small part, by the fact that many comics creators are of the generation who first knew Batman as Adam West – and its goofy sincerity has been seen as a genuine adaptation of the style Bill Finger or Dick Sprang (a sound effect here) brought to the comics as much as a pop art put-down. A recent Batman ’66 comic has been outstanding, and characters originated by the TV show have even crept into The LEGO Batman Movie and Gotham. Writers Michael Jelenic and James Tucker referred to the series in their work on the undervalued Batman: The Brave and the Bold cartoon show – which brought in an analogue of King Tut, a TV villain, among other things – and then scripted Batman: The Return of the Caped Crusaders, a direct-to-DVD animated feature which brought back West, Burt Ward and Julie Newmar to voice Batman, Robin and Catwoman and homaged the style of the ‘60s without being too hobbled by it. That did well enough to warrant this sequel. Two-Face was one of the few major Bat-villains – along with the Scarecrow and Poison Ivy – not to appear on the show, perhaps because his look would have been too disturbing for a kid-friendly series, though Harlan Ellison (no less) outlined a Two-Face two-parter which was eventually adapted for the Batman ’66 comic. This doesn’t draw on that and comes up with a new origin for its villain – involving Dr Hugo Strange, a Bat-villain from an era long before the TV series, and Harley Quinn, a Bat-villain from well after the show – in a prologue that has DA Harvey Dent (voiced by a disappointingly under-the-top William Shatner) dosed with a green gas derived from the extracted villainy of an array of super-villains in a doomed experiment at reforming them.
Skipping to a few years later, Dent is cured by plastic surgery sponsored by his friend Bruce Wayne and returns to the crime-fighting side of the street by taking a lowly position in the department he once ran. Batman and Robin are caught up in a couple of crime-waves, involving TV show villains King Tut (Wally Wingert, doing a terrific Victor Buono) and the Bookwork (Jeff Bergman, not quite as good a Roddy McDowall), though a hidden hand and a preponderance of duality references (a biplane, a double-decker bus, a valuable first edition of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde which really ought to be a valuable second edition) suggest that someone is playing Two-Face even if it’s not Harvey. The plot is agreeably contrived and clue-packed, with all the trimmings – escapable death-traps, punch-ups with sound effects captions, that all-time-best Batmobile design, nudge-nudge innuendos about ‘eligible bachelors’ and Robin/Dick getting jealous of anyone Bruce/Batman gets close to, an epidemic of Two-Facedness on the streets of Gotham, and a retcon twist that goes some way to explaining why West’s Batman faced three different Catwomen (Newmar is back, but so is Lee Meriwether – who took over the role in the spin-off movie – as a lawyer who switches outfits with Newmar’s Catwoman and rather likes the cat-suit).
It’s bright, bubbly and fun, with nice animated action scenes – though the character designs for Batman and Robin are oddly lumpy and off-model, whereas the curvy Catwoman and grotesque Two-Face are well-rendered and characterful. With Bergman as the Romero Joker, Wingert as the Gorshin Riddler, Sirena Irwen as Dr Quinzel, Thomas Lennon as an unsually brutal Chief O’Hara, William Salyers as the Penguin, Lynne Marie Stewart as Aunt Harriet, Jim Ward as Commissioner Gordon and Hugo Strange, and Steven Weber as Alfred. There are wordless bits for other TV villains – Clock King, Egghead and Shame. Directed by Rick Morales.