Ash Wednesday and a defense of BATMAN: THE MOVIE (1966)
NOTE: Originally published in The Superhero Gospels (2017). Photos added.
“Some days, you just can't get rid of a bomb.”
Scripture Reading: Ecclesiastes 12:1-8
Originally intended to debut before the premiere of the classic 60s Batman television series, Batman: The Movie was produced and released in between the first and second seasons of the show, instead. It features most of the series' cast, excepting Julie Newmar, whose role as Catwoman was taken over by Lee Meriwether. In the movie, Batman's four archenemies – Joker, Penguin, Riddler, and Catwoman – join forces to steal a dehydration ray in the hopes of holding the world's leaders hostage for billions in ransom.
The 60s interpretation of Batman is polarizing with comic book fans. West, Ward, and Co. have been blanketed over by some like the white greasepaint on Caesar Romero's mustache. Which is to say, unsuccessfully. Those who grew up in a Post-Burton Batscape, or at least who read comics, recoil at the silliness of the cartoonish “pow” bubbles or the Boy-Wonder's incessant “Holy (blank)” puns. At best, they dismiss the series as a naïve misunderstanding of the source material made in a simpler era. Others revile the show as a cruel parody, mocking the very fan base it seeks to exploit. These detractors are quick to forget the frivolity of comics at the time. It's true that early Batman comics were darker, but by the time the 60s rolled around it was another story.
The movie has a dedication screen which informs us who it was made for: “to lovers of adventure, lovers of pure escapism, lovers of unadulterated entertainment, lovers of the ridiculous and the bizarre – to fun lovers everywhere.” In short, this film and its caped crusaders aren't meant to be taken seriously; they're meant to be fun, and its turbines are most definitely “to speed” in that endeavor. Whether it's the ludicrous penguin submarine or Batman trying to get rid of a giant bomb or fend off a more convincing shark than any of the effects in Sharknado, this film embraces its absurdity as tenaciously as its critics forsake it. Even its DVD case is misleading, trading the bright colors of the film for a black background featuring nothing but cold, metallic letters and a simple red bat-symbol. It's as if the studio is ashamed of it and wants to trick buyers into thinking they are getting the 1989 film, instead.
The movie is about a dehydration ray. The fearsome foes use the ray to dehydrate the leaders of the United World Security Council, turning them into piles of dust that they plan to ransom for $1 billion each. The dynamic duo defeat the villains in a fight atop the Penguin's submarine, with all the sound effect graphics that made the show a classic. They reconstitute the leaders, but as soon as they are re-hydrated they go back to arguing as if nothing happened. The twist is that some of their dusts mingled, swapping their voices and points of view. Batman notes that this involuntary meeting of the minds might be the single greatest gift to the world.
We all are dust and will return to the dust one day. Though this film reminds of that, we're also reminded of it every year on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. One common Ash Wednesday scripture is Psalm 103:13-14, which reads, “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.”
Like film versions of Batman, life grows darker as the years wear on; today's scripture encourages us to remember God in the carefree days of our youth, because cultivating a connection to Him when times are good gives us perspective for when times are not. It also gives us a sense of proportion so that we don't get overwhelmed by circumstances that may not be as dire as they appear.
You might like more 'dark' in your Dark Knight, but there are plenty of somber iterations out there. Adam West represented the 'carefree days' of Batman, and those days are worth remembering. He isn't gritty, but he reminds us we're dust. As dust, we can afford to take ourselves, and the foibles of others, a little less seriously.
Sadly, West passed away, but his Batman lives on in a new animated film starring he, Ward, and Newmar, as well as new comics and merchandise based off of the series. The movie might have only grossed $1.7 million against a $1.5 million budget, but its effects are still felt, proving that this is one 'bomb' that really is hard to get rid of.
- What style of Batman do you prefer? Why?
- How can taking ourselves less seriously help our ministry?
If you enjoyed this look at Batman, you might like The Superhero Gospels, a devotional of spiritual lessons we can learn from 25 of the best superhero movies ever made. Get your copy here.
A Queens native, Jason grew up in Lakeland, FL and attended Rochelle School of the Arts before moving to Florida's Nature Coast, where he resides. He always dreamed of being a storyteller, and he graduated Magna Cum Laude from Saint Leo University with a BA in Psychology and a Minor in Religion. He has been a professional guest speaker for thirteen years, talking at churches, graduations, and as a guest lecturer at Pasco-Hernando State College.