Aired between 1966 and 1968, ABC’s Daft Knight awkwardly straddles the superhero universe as both pioneer and pariah. Syndicated worldwide, it was the first truly global comic brand, but for New Hollywood it’s a parping klaxon for everything the modern superhero shouldn’t be: lurid, camp and (whisper it) fun. There’s no Bat-angst packed in Adam West’s utility belt. No glove-wringing over murdered parents. In fact, West’s biggest internal struggle was squeezing into his underpants. So why bother with a 2D hero with the character arc of an ironing board?
Well, that’s a bit like asking why people smile. Measured against the new, moody-sad Batworld, DC’s creation is framed at such a mercilessly wonky Dutch angle the show plays even more like an epic piss-take. First episode Hi Diddle Riddle starts with an exploding cake, and pretty much sets the tone. What’s remarkable about the pilot is the format arrived fully formed (fruity puns, cliffhangers, useless Robin getting kidnapped), and never really budged for 120 episodes. All that changes is the speciality villain. The best, most luridly grotesque episodes belong to either Burgess Meredith’s The Penguin or Cesar Romero’s The Joker (moustache under the make-up even fuzzier in hi-def).
Lurking inside this box set, however, is a pungent, forgotten cheese-dream of exotic guest villains. Who remembers Liberace perforating the dynamic duo into a giant piano roll? Or Joan Collins’ The Siren, armed with an analogue scream that sounds like a colossal swear bleep? All those KAPOWS! weren’t inspired by the comic — they were lifted from Roy Lichtenstein. Maybe that’s why it’s proved such an anti-influence: the show’s far more successful as a ’60s pop-art pastiche than a superhero adaptation. The series hit Peak Kitsch in the second season. With nowhere else to go, the third, final season plunged into self-parody and a thrashing aquarium of shark-jumping. When Batman pulls on a pair of Bermuda shorts and has a surf-off with The Joker in the Beach Boys-inspired calamity that is Episode 104, you know the joke’s over. Choice moment: Vincent Price, bald, screaming, riding a donkey up a one-way street.