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'Batman' TV show 50th anniversary: How have superheroes changed over the decades?

The 'Batman' TV show starring Adam West and Burt Ward debuted in 1966. The fun tone of the TV program is a far cry from the most recent adaptations about the Caped Crusader.

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    'Batman' stars Adam West (r.) and Burt Ward (l.).
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The 1960s “Batman” TV show is celebrating its 50th anniversary. 

The show, which aired from 1966 to 1968 on ABC, starred Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and his sidekick Robin. The stars who took on the roles of villains included Cesar Romero as the Joker, Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt as Catwoman, Burgess Meredith as the Penguin, and Eli Wallach as Mr. Freeze.

The show became a big hit with audiences and a movie based on the series was released in 1966 following the show’s first season.

The “Batman” TV show is known for its silly tone and for the use of sound effects written on the screen such as “Boff!” and “Bonk!”

The program is a far cry from the mood of the recent “Batman” films and shows how superhero movies and TV shows have evolved over the decades. 

While the “Batman” TV show was often light and fun, things had changed by 1989 when the “Batman” movie starring Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson took on some darker elements. 

And some of the most critically acclaimed superhero movies of all time, the mid-2000s “Dark Knight” series directed by Christopher Nolan, were a gritty, violent take on the Batman story. Far from taking place in the comic book world of the 1960s show, the world of Nolan’s movies greatly resembled our own and plot lines echoed modern-day concerns, with stories involving accessing citizens’ cell phones and the rise of Occupy Wall Street-like movements. 

The upcoming “Batman” story, which is titled “Batman v Superman” and stars Ben Affleck, looks like it’s continuing to strive for a realistic contemporary storyline. “Civil liberties are being trampled on in your city,” Superman tells Batman. “[Batman] thinks he’s above the law.” Batman counters by reminding Superman that he himself is “an alien who could burn the whole place down.”

Are comic book Hollywood projects with a lighter tone gone? No. Rather, by now, so many superhero movies and TV shows are being made that a variety of tones are being embraced. There are the superhero movies and TV shows that have a darker feel like Fox’s “Gotham” TV show (set in the Batman world) and “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” but there are also superhero movies that are out-and-out comedies like the Marvel films “Guardians of the Galaxy” and “Ant-Man.” 

But for those who are curious, will the real Batman please stand up? In his source material, is the Caped Crusader closer to West’s “Bonk!” portrayal or Bale and Affleck’s brooding hero? 

Batman debuted in 1939, co-created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger. There has always been a dark element to the character: Early on, it was established that Batman’s parents were killed in front of him when he was a small child. 

The tone of the “Batman” story has varied greatly over the decades. Batman got more cheerful with the introduction of Robin in the 1940s. But particularly grim takes on the character included the 1986 comic book series “The Dark Knight Returns” by Frank Miller and the graphic novel by Alan Moore that was released in 1988 titled “Batman: The Killing Joke.” 

If the previews for “Batman v Superman” are any indication, the Batman story may be staying dark for now, in contrast to the 1960s take on the character.

 
 
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