Thursday, December 1, 2016

Collection Recommendation #6: Batman '66 Meets the Man from U.N.C.L.E

In the realm of "if only", a crossover of the Adam West/Burt Ward "Batman" and the Robert Vaughn/David McCallum "Man From U.N.C.L.E." would have been as historic and cherished as the '60s Batman/Robin/Green Hornet/Kato grouping (sequelized recently by DC; see "Collection Recommendation 2": June '15). Now, thanks to DC, we have writer Jeff Parker's dynamic reverie-come-true of spies and caped derring-do: all six exciting installments packaged in one stylish, hardcover volume, which features a steady stream of fantastic, collaborative artwork by David Hahn; Karl Kesel; and Pasquale Qualano. 

"Batman '66 Meets the Man from U.N.C.L.E." (aka, "The Batman Affair") grants each stellar side its proper due. We not only have West/Ward's Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, but Yvonne Craig's Barbara Gordon/Batgirl; Burgess Meredith's Penguin; and Anne Baxter's Olga, Queen of Cossaks, propelling the action. Robert Vaughn's Napoleon Solo and David McCallum's Illya Kuryakin tangle in particular with Olga in the adventure's initial phases, giving it a Cold War ambiance that's sure to please any '60s spy fan. 

We also witness an early Arkham escape (the story's prelude, in essence) from none other than Pengy, but it's really a ruse that allows other dastardly inmates to fly the coop and assist T.H.R.U.S.H. in its quest for global chaos. 

The T.H.R.U.S.H. inductees include several of Batman's most endearing adversaries, such as Egghead; Mr. Freeze; Sandman; and Siren. Other villains not seen on the television series also appear: Hugo Strange; the Scarecrow; and Poison Ivy (a role that Ann-Margret may have played if only her schedule had allowed).  

Solo, Kuryakin and their boss, Mr. Weatherby, believe Batman can assist them against the T.H.R.U.S.H scheme, but also suspect the Caped Crusader's alter-ego, Bruce Wayne, might be guilty of abetting the villains' breakout, since it appears that many T.H.R.U.S.H. members are of affluence. Of course, the agents' suspicions are wrong. It's instead one of Batman's adversaries (guess who!) who's working with the fiendish organization to implement a wild, mind-control scheme, but can our heroes conquer its psychedelic complexities?

Though the third season of "U.N.C.L.E." evoked a campy, Batman-ish tone, Solo and Karyakin  play it straight through most of Parker's tale. (All the same, there's a swell, tongue-in-cheek nod to Vaughn's "Superman III" Ross Webster, for those in the know). Unlike the Batman primaries, the U.N.C.L.E. agents don't hesitate to kill their opponents, rationalizing their stance at one point to Robin, but thereafter sweeping any further justification under the rug to ensure the story's pace. 

This heartfelt flow makes the adventure a genuine gem throughout, balancing the two, pop-cultural sides seamlessly; and the joyful artwork adds much to this, with the more distinct likenesses favoring the Caped Crusader crowd, though with enough existing resemblance to Vaughn and McCallum to allow the U.N.C.L.E. aspect to click. (Alas, Weatherby looks no more like Leo G. Carroll than Commissioner Gordon looks like Neil Hamilton. As far as the other characters go, there's just enough mirroring for one to get the point, with Freeze leaning more toward George Sanders than Otto Preminger or Eli Wallach. Sandman and Siren, on the other hand, only bear a mild resemblance to Michael Rennie and Joan Collins, but at least the characters' antics appear on target.)

Leafing through the chapters in one, fell swoop is the way to go. At the $20 range, the hardback is a steal that any Batman or T.H.R.U.S.H. villain would dare not evade.

Too bad this crossover didn't enter official, television reality, though I don't see why an animated adaptation couldn't manifest, considering the success of "Return of the Caped Crusaders"; alas, the late Vaughn can no longer be a part.

If you love the '60s Batman series, U.N.C.L.E., or any aspect of the period in which these incarnations reigned, you'll be more than pleased to add this compilation to your library. 

Next up: a hardback edition of the "Batman Meets Steed and Mrs. Peel" series, scheduled for March '17. Holy team-up, indeed!!!

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