Monday, April 24, 2017

Review: 'Hero A-Go-Go: Campy Comic Books, Crimefighters & Culture of the Swinging Sixties'

Adam West took a lot of guff for turning the Dark Knight into the batusi-ing goof, but for a lot of us who grew up in the sixties and seventies, the camped-up Batman of Bill Dozier’s weekly live-action series was our Batman. And to be fair, Batman had been a pretty campy dude in the funny books since comics-critic Frederic Wertham brought the whip down in the early fifties. But while Batman’s on-page goofiness lost him a fair share of followers, his on-screen goofiness won him a new generation of fanatics weaned on Warhol soup cans, zany Mod fashions, and Beatle wigs. Thus began a new era of vibrant, winking irony former DC Comics editor Michael Eury champions as the Camp Age.

In his delirious new book Hero-A-Go-Go, Eury shows that this era was actually well underway before Batman powed TVs across the globe. The goofy/groovy Teen Titans with their out-of-touch beat-speak and Archie’s caped alter ego Pureheart both debuted in mid-’65. On TV, Underdog blasted off as early as 1964 and Bob Kane himself sent-up the thing he co-created with Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse four years earlier than that.

There was no stopping campy crime fighters after Dozier’s Batman became a sensation in ’66. Soon TV was hosting The Green Hornet, Ralph Bakshi’s inept Mighty Heroes, Mr. Terrific and Mr. Nice, and Monkee Men; comics were home to MAD’s Captain Klutz and DC’s Inferior Five; Jan and Dean were releasing a long playing Batman record; and perhaps more coincidentally, Superman was singing and dancing on Broadway in a show called It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s Superman! Of course, Batman, is the axle on which all this stuff swings, and Hero-A-Go-Go includes an extended look at how that classic came to be.

Eury covers the high-camp comics, cartoons, and other pop-cultural creations that preceded and followed Batman with jolly prose and eyeball-POW-ing images of comics and memorabilia, because you simply cannot wallow in nostalgia with words alone. He also supplements the story with boffo interviews with Bakshi, Lost in Space-star Billy Mumy, It’s a Bird… star Bob Holiday, Dean Torrence of Jan and Dean, and others who helped camp it up in the sixties.
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