Lorenzo Semple, JR: Honouring a Batman Pioneer

Batman-West-Ward-RunRecently Batfans mourned a great loss. Lorenzo Semple, Jr., co-creator of the ‘60s Batman television show and writer of the 1966 feature film script, died last week of natural causes. He was 91.

A lot of bandwagon fans (aka, people who only care about Batman because of Christopher Nolan, don’t read the comics, or even think about Batman, really) are probably going to roll their eyes right now. “The ‘60s Batman show was stupid! We want to pretend it never existed!”

Yeahno.

I won’t fault you for not watching the ‘60s Batman, but you can’t deny that it was important for bringing us where we are now. I’ve been a pretty happy guy this year, seeing the plethora of superhero movies that are coming out of Hollywood. For the first time in years a Justice League film could actually be realistic, and DC has just announced that they’re going to throw out a slew of films of their own (remember that Ben Affleck has been signed on as Batman for, you know, 37 films or something). We’re in a great place for superheroes on film. Not just with movies, either. Superhero television shows are making a comeback too, with Arrow receiving huge success, not to mention whispers of a coming Flash series (who’d have thought that wasn’t laughable). But we didn’t get there overnight. It started with Batman.

At the time, doing a comic book TV show, as well as a comic book movie, was completely new. The first Superman movie didn’t come out until 1978, and the Hulk TV series didn’t come along until that same year. There had been a Superman TV series in the ‘50s, but generally speaking, this was still very new territory. So give the guy a break. Of course there was some “Bif! Bam! Pow!” Of course there were ridiculous puns by Robin and an awkward Batman costume and an over-the-top Catwoman that walks like she has to pee. It was the first time venturing into the territory. You have to appreciate it for what it is—a groundbreaking.

But, inevitably, someone will assume that it’s inaccurate, and an abomination to the comics. Granted, if you’ve read Scott Snyder’s work in the New 52 and Frank Miller’s graphic novels (not to mention Year One), it certainly seems that way. That’s not actually the case, though.

Let’s take a step back. Most modern popular comics (especially Marvel) started around the ‘60s. Batman, and Superman, as a matter of fact, go back farther than that. Batman started in 1940, right on the heels of the Great Depression. The original Batman comics (which, yes, I have read) are not at all like dark, grim tales of Frank Miller and Scott Snyder. They were bright, colorful, and light-hearted. One of the earliest tales depicted Batman and Robin taking on a group of crooks disguised as old-fashioned swashbuckling pirates! More than once, Batman turns to the page to give the reading youth a lecture on the cowardice of criminals and the nobility of crime-fighting. The old comics were cheesy, dorky, and bit awkward at times (the corny kind, not the sleazy kind). The show fit that mold.

As a disclaimer, that doesn’t mean that I’m okay with the Clooney-headlined Batman & Robin. Nipples on the Batsuit still make me shudder. That was definitely a step backward. Or a leap. Or an H-bomb on the entire fandom.

So we should thank Semple for his work. He was a pioneer into the unchartered waters of comic book adaptations, and without his work, we likely would not have the half-trillion current and upcoming superhero films that all of us nerds are so thrilled about. Rest in peace, Lorenzo. We will remember you.~ Logan Judy, Extremis Batman Contributor.

Lorenzo Sempler Jr

 

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About Julian Munds

I possess a degree in Theatre and Drama from the University of Toronto. I own my own theatre company called Snobbish Theatre. We focus our work on new versions of classics.

Posted on April 7, 2014, in Batman, DC, TV and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. You don’t need to defend the sixties series. The fact that we all remember it shows how good it was. In fact, one of the strengths of the Batman character is that he can be treated in a fun, primary colour way like in the 60s TV series, but he can also take on a dark and dangerous appearance in the Killing Joke and the recent movies.
    Actually, I kind of miss the world where comic shows were made for kids, while being bright and sunny enough to entertain adults too. I’d much rather see a campy run-around than some deathly dull comic book tale that takes itself way too seriously.
    And Eartha Kitt – she was amazing!

  2. I prefer the darker feel of the newer movies and comics, but I definitely understand where you’re coming from. I’ve found that some of the animated Batman series are a little closer to that, but otherwise, there’s always Netflix!

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