The goofy Batman archetype, made famous by actor Adam West in Batman, the 1960s TV series, and Batman: The Movie is experiencing a resurgence this year. First, the voice cast of the original show will return to voice an animated feature film, Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders, which will run straight to DVD on November 1. Second, DC Collectibles has begun selling classic-era toys and figures honoring the way Batman looked in the ‘60s. It seems the hyped-up, silly Batman narrative has even trickled into DC’s arty comics; writer Scott Snyder snuck a shark repellant joke into the second issue of All-Star Batman, which hit stands September 14.
The joke is significant because it signals DC’s plan to synthesize both the gritty and silly natures of their title characters. If the DCU is going to survive, it will have to adhere to the inside jokes that have made DC Comics fly off shelves this year. It’s a strange, huge disconnect for DC to manage. Though their films have been critically panned, they’re outselling Marvel and other competitors in comics by a huge margin. Part of what makes DC’s Rebirth comics so thrilling is that their creators seem genuinely invested in their heroes’ legacies. Shark repellent, for example, is a silly in-joke beloved by generations of Batman fans, and Snyder is cunning enough to include it in an otherwise dark comic.
Fans of a more approachable Batman will remember the scene in Batman: The Movie in which Bruce Wayne dangles from a helicopter, pursued by a shark that has leapt out of the ocean and hooked onto him. He uses a bottle of shark repellent — which the Dynamic Duo inexplicably keep in their supplies — to scare off the predator. It was a moment that birthed a thousand gifs, when Batman: The Movie saw a resurgence in interest, thanks in part to You’re the Man Now, Dog, a short-lived, meme-heavy website.
Snyder’s homage is important because it values fun, and Batman’s legacy, over realism. Too many contemporary DC adaptations, including Zack Snyder’s bloated Batman v Superman, treat previous iterations of the Dark Knight as shameful missteps to be avoided. Celebrating Batman’s evolution over time — sometimes greeting audiences with a brooding, gravelly-voiced Christian Bale and sometimes as a manic Adam West flouting a collection of ridiculous tools and repellents — is the only way DC will succeed in today’s superhero-saturated market. It’s clear that Scott Snyder is operating on the same wavelength as Geoff Johns, whose recent moves in the DCU have valued optimism and playfulness over cynicism. DC, in short, could use more homages to its own silly history.