We continue our profiles of Those Who Kept the Batsignal Lit (it was originally five but a sixth is coming later this week!) in anticipation of the 11/11 release of Batman on Blu-ray and DVD:
Click here for my interview with Chuck Williams, Batcostumer extraordinaire.
Click here for my interview with Jim Beard, editor of Gotham City 14 Miles.
John Drew, 46, is a podcaster, writer, educator and dad. He lives in Brewster, N.Y., and grew up in the Bronx, so he’s practically a neighbor of mine. He’s a wonderfully affable guy who enjoys the best things in life — Batman ’66 (natch), Star Trek, Doctor Who, Spider-Man, and on and on. This week, I have the honor of being his guest for a special series of Batcave Podcasts on various aspects of the show.
Since 2008, John has been podcasting via his Chronic Rift Network hoping, as he puts it, to find “the culture in pop culture.” Besides The Batcave Podcast, he’s best known for his show on The Six Million Dollar Man (abionicpodcast.com).
He plans on taking over the world of classic TV podcasting, with shows on Land of the Lost, Lost in Space and Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. So check out chronicrift.com, follow him on the Twitter @drewshi2000 and you can say you knew him when. Also check out The Batcave Podcast on Facebook and Twitter @BatcavePodcast.
Dan Greenfield: How far back do you go with the show? Where did you watch it as a kid?
I’m what I call on the podcast a first-generation syndication baby. I was watching Batman as a kid of 4 or 5 back in the early ’70s. It ran for years on WPIX, Channel 11 in New York. It was part of the programming block that included two episodes of Batman, an episode of Superman, and an episode of The Lone Ranger.
Tell me how The Batcave Podcast began. What inspired you to do it?
I have been doing a podcast called Cyborgs: A Bionic Podcast with Paul K. Bisson that looks at each and every episode of The Six Million Dollar Man and The Bionic Woman. The show is a celebration of all things Bionic but we are the kind of fans who can call out what is wrong with our beloved shows. I wanted to do the same thing with Batman, another show I’ve loved since childhood.
When I started talking about doing the podcast, I was a little surprised at how much negativity I got about the show. I knew there were those who didn’t like the show or who felt it sullied the Dark Knight persona that so many seem to prefer, but this was something. It had been some time since I saw the show, so I started doubting my idea. I think I came upon the angle, looking at the show and justifying my love for it — not defending it, but justifying it: Should I love this show like I do?
Did you go through that period where you denounced the show?
I’ve never once denounced the show or apologized for being a fan. I appreciated what I saw in the comics and the future movies, but I am a firm believer that there can be different versions of Batman provided he is someone who tries to do what is right, spurred on by a sense of justice. That is Batman, Dark Knight or Bright Knight as I’ve heard some people refer to Adam West‘s version.
Now of course you’re getting the discs. Which set? What about all the merch now? What have you picked up for your own Bat self?
I’m all in for the Blu-ray set. Next to The Six Million Dollar Man and Bionic Woman sets, this has been one I’ve been waiting a long time for. As for other merchandise, I don’t have a lot, although I think I will be rectifying that soon as I’m finding myself drawn to anything that has the Bat-logo on it. I stopped and almost bought Bat earplugs at Old Navy the other day. I do get the Batman ’66 comics although I’m behind in my reading.
OK, now getting into the nitty gritty: What’s your favorite episode? Why?
My favorite episode from memory and from reviewing the episodes to date on the podcast is The Joker is Wild/Batman is Riled. To me, this was an episode that showed the full potential of the series. I also felt that Batman was acting as a real detective as he noticed the little things around him in setting Joker up.
For example, he noticed the lack of the discoloration on the champagne cork. “Odd, for a ’49 vintage.” That was great. Also, I loved the utility belt and the fact that it was the main plot point was a lot of fun. My only quibble would be that the Joker didn’t use his belt enough.
The worst episode is …
Right now, I have to go the Green Hornet episodes. I know that is a shock to many Batfans, but other than the coolness fact of teaming up the Hornet and Batman, there is nothing redeeming about this really stupid plot. (Actually, I did like the interplay with Bruce and Britt more than the Hornet and Batman.)
Now what about your favorite villain? Why?
My all-time favorite is the Riddler. When done right, as in the very early episodes, he was a twisted individual who gave out riddles that we, the audience, could solve and then watch as Batman twisted the answers into Gotham City logic, allowing him to solve the crime.
Viewing the show vs. seeing it through adult eyes, what about it have you changed your tune on? For example, as a kid I didn’t like King Tut. Now, I think he’s great.
Oh, I have my reversals. I wasn’t a huge fan of King Tut, but I’m even less of a one now. As a kid, I wasn’t a fan of the Minstrel who I confused with the Archer. Now, I really dig him, but I think he was given a poor story. A technological genius on par with Batman? That should be great, but the story doesn’t give Van Johnson a big chance to shine. There are other little character quirks that they didn’t play up enough, like his reluctance to kill.
There are also social aspects of the show that were lost to me as a kid, like the political commentary of the Penguin episodes or the humor of the “ladies man” that was Chandell or even the commentary on Native Americans with Egghead. We’ve recently covered all these topics on the podcast.
If you had one Batgadget to choose from (not including the utility belt because that’s cheating), what would it be?
I’d want the Batmobile. If you placed all of the iconic vehicles we know together and asked me to choose, the Batmobile would always win. I was fascinated with the Bat-turn chutes and the van that would come to pick them up. I also loved the Batphone in the car.
What was the best death trap?
I liked those death traps that were more of circumstance, like Bruce strapped to a gurney rolling down the hill or Aunt Harriet hovering over flaming oil or the scariest of all, Robin‘s head in a vice in the very first episode. That was horrific. Those were the kinds of situations where it looked like simply being clever wasn’t going to save the person.
Overall, what’s your favorite aspect or favorite moment in the series (or the movie)?
To me, as a kid and in watching it now, my favorite aspect is the sincerity with which the actors said some of the most ridiculous lines. And that sincerity made the twisted logic of Gotham City seem logical. I would love to see a movie in which the modern world encroaches on Gotham City, ala The Brady Bunch movie and Batman, Robin, Alfred, Commissioner Gordon and the rest have to deal with real-world situations with their Gotham City ways.
Your turn. Talk about anything you’d like that we haven’t covered.
There have been those who talk down this series as for taking the mickey out of Batman. Go back and read your comics. I’m no comics scholar, but I have been reading up on issues of the 10 years prior to the series. They were silly. If anything, the television series might be guilty of exaggerating the silliness, but it was there all along.
As I do the podcast, I do see where it started to unravel, where it took its popularity for granted and forgot where that popularity came from — the comic book as its source.