I'm still going through my old vhs collection and putting it onto dvd and I came across a couple of Batman episodes from when the Scifi channel ran them. As I watched the Superman serial last week I thought of the later tv show and realized that they were really different shows with different impacts, but Superman lasted from 1952 to 1958 while Batman ran only from 1966 to 1968. They both impacted how the culture thinks about superheroes but Superman played it straight and Batman didn't, Superman didn't use his comic book rogues and Batman couldn't have survived without them, Superman didn't bring in Supergirl but Batman brought in Batgirl. So many differences but for many around in the 1960's and 1970's these were the two superhero shows that created the impressions of what superheroes were. Hard to say which of them had the greater impact, even though Batman was flashier.
My off-the-cuff answer? Batman.
I think the character Superman had a greater influence on American pop culture in general, but Batman the TV show had a greater influence on “the culture of superheroes.”
Batman, hands down. You still can't see a reference to superheroes without "POW! ZAP! WHAM!"
It's hard to argue with the "POW! ZAP! WHAM!" legacy, but you have to give The Adventures of Superman props for being, if I recall correctly, second only to I Love Lucy when it comes to endlessly rerunning on television. It is a shame that the show didn't use any of the more colorful villains from the comics, or even the radio series that preceded it (even Yellow Mask or the Scarlet Widow would have jazzed things up a lot--to say nothing of Batman & Robin turning up as they did on radio).
The Adventures of Superman had a tremendous impact on the legacy of Superman but Batman had an affect on the entire super hero genre. In 1966/67 publishers like Archie and Harvey, that had largely avoided costumed heroes, introduced new super hero oriented titles, paperback publishers began issuing reprint collections of DC, Marvel and Tower characters, plus revivals of the 1940's serials in theatres and a handful of TV shows trying to tap into the camp Batman trend. The camp approach was also felt in many of the comic books themselves.
They were shows that approached the subject matter from two vastly different directions, but also the times were different. 1952-1958 was a lot different in a America from 1966 to 1968. There was also the villain aspect. Superman used very toned down villains while Batman let them loose in what I can only imagine was an actors dream. When they did the Wonder Woman show Lynda Carter has mentioned on the commentary track that they were afraid of going too far into the Batman side of things. Trouble was in retrospect her villains could have been as wild as Batman's with a bit more of edge.
When I was a kid I was aware of Superman. He was like Jesus Christ and Santa Claus, something that had always been. I knew that he had a TV show--which was on in syndication and could sometimes be received in Vancouver from the station in Tacoma. We played at being Superman in summer, when in our bathing trunks we would tie our towels around our necks and pretend that we were flying as we jumped through the sprinkler. Our newspaper didn't carry the Superman strip, but it existed. I was aware that Superman also appeared in comic books, but I never thought about buying those. Some kids had them. Superman was the only super-hero that had his own entry in the ENCYCLOPEDIA BRITANNICA--so I knew he was real and lived somewhere in a big city miles away from us.
What I'm driving at here is that Superman's existence was independent of comic books. He existed in the Weltanschauung. Although he had first appeared in comic books (a fact that I don't seem to have known when I was little), he soon thereafter got his own comic strip. And soon after that he got his own radio show. In each of these media he developed on his own. Whilte they were related, you didn't have to follow the strip to understand the comic and you didn't have to read the comic to understand the radio show.
The radio show, in turn, morphed into the serials and then the TV show. So the relationship of THE ADVENTURES OF SUPERMAN to the comic books was not immediate or obvious.
The BATMAN TV show, by contrast, clearly advertised its derivation from the comic books. That was a fact that didn't even escape my attention--although, for some reason, I dragged my feet in actually buying any Batman comic books. It took about half a year between when the TV show aired and when I started to read the comics (as memory serves), whereas I was buying the bubble gum cards, reading the comic strip and consuming a bunch of other Bat-merchandise within a few weeks or months after January 12 '66. However, it was inevitable that I would find my way to the Batman comics--where it had never been inevitable that I would make that journey to Superman comics (the Batman comics were what got me into Superman comics).
I don't know if the SUPERMAN TV show helped the comics. When it debuted, comic books were still selling in high numbers. Maybe the TV show helped Superman survive the culling of super-heroes from comics. Or maybe his clean-cut image helped him survive the anti-comics crusades.
But by the mid-60s comic sales were in decline. And I don't believe that super-heroes were that popular. There might have been a niche of readers who liked super-heroes, but in my group of friends those weren't the kind of comics we wanted to read. The BATMAN TV show changed that. Suddenly, super-heroes were cool. So I think that the BATMAN TV show came at a time in comics history when it was likely to have the greatest effect.
That was a good thing for me, because I'm happy that I got into super-hero comics. I don't know if it was ultimately good for the medium. Comics became a super-hero ghetto and they have had a hard time eschewing that image.
Superman & Batman are the Alpha and Beta of superheroes. Two very different superhero types although they had they each had predecessors in myth, dime novels, pulps, comic strips, etc., they became the prototypes for nearly every other costumed character that followed them. As a kid growing up in the '60s (with 3 years spent in Japan from 1967 - 1970), I loved the Batman tv show, although when it came to comics, I quickly gravitated to Marvel over DC as a collector in the '70s. Occasionally I caught syndicated re-runs of the Adventures of Superman, always in black & white, it seemed archaic. No larger than life villains. That was my view as a kid - I might find some charm in them if I watched now that I'm a few decades older! I'm inclined to think the Batman show had a bigger impact on the culture of superheroes. To some extent, I wonder if the Superman tv show was more influenced by the radio show than the comics. Seems the visuals, stories and tone of Batman were influenced by the comics of the mid-60s, with coloful, wisecracking villains and those sound effects made visual. Also, seems superheroes did not dominate the comics scene during the years Superman was on tv, certainly not at the level they did when Adam West & Burt Ward took on the roles of the Caped Crusaders. Stan Lee tried to bring back the Timely staple of heroes when Superman was a big hit on tv, but the revived Captain America, Human Torch and Sub-Mariner series all fizzled out within a year -- and if they had succeeded, Marvel Comics as many of know and love it may never have come about.
Weltanschauung = worldview. (Had to look that one up.) Man, them Germans have a word for everything! :) Thanks for adding a word to my vocabulary, Jimmm.
I think in some ways Batman the tv show had a legacy of everyone else not wanting to be Batman the tv show, as if putting anyone in a costume would automatically negate any serious tone the show might want to generate. Smallville went to I think desperate efforts not to show Clark in the suit.
The influence of the Batman TV show went beyond just super heroes. In recent years I have been re-watching adventure shows from the mid-Sixties Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Wild, Wild West - both shows to some degree became camp-ier with the fall season of 1966. I don't think it helped their ratings though since both moved to a slightly more serious tone the following TV season.
It might be possible to underestimate the role of the Superman show in its day. Even in the 70s Superman's main titles apparently outsold Batman's,(1) and I would think the TV show was a factor in how well-known he was. The success of the first Chris Reeve Superman film may partly have been due to affection for the character stemming from having grown up with the TV show. But I can't deny Batman had a huge impact in its time. doc has a strong point about its camp influence.(2) The approach of the 80s/90s Batman movies was strongly influenced by its approach, and the approach of the Reeve Superman movies was as well (even the first film had a strong comedic element, Miss Teschmacher recalled the Batman show's gangsters' molls, Ned Beatty's Otis was a doofus flunky, and the films parodied the attitudes of their hero slightly, much as the Batman show parodied those of its hero strongly).
(1) I infer this from their schedules. Superman went monthly several years before Batman, the main Bat-titles became giant bimonthlies for a period, and Detective Comics went to eight-times-a-year or bimonthly schedules at other points. Superman Family also outlasted Batman Family (which was folded into Detective Comics). To be fair, Batman also appeared in The Brave and the Bold, while DC Comics Presents didn't start until 1978; but World's Finest Comics was Superman's team-up title for about two years early in the decade.
(2) I wondered if Batman was entirely responsible (after the Bond films) for the camp wave. Apparently not: the IMDB says Dr Goldfoot and the Bikini Machine was released 6 Nov 65, the Batman show started 12 Jan 66, Our Man Flint was released 16 Jan, and The Silencers 18 Feb. But the Batman show strikes me as a much better advertisement for a camp approach than Dr Goldfoot or The Silencers. I've not seen Our Man Flint.
Now that I think about it, part of the "camp" humour in SUPERMAN THE MOVIE came from David Newman and Robert Benton, who wrote the book for IT'S A BIRD . . . IT'S A PLANE . . . IT'S SUPERMAN. That musical opened on Broadway on March 29 '66--after BATMAN was on the air. However, it had to be in production before the first broadcast of BATMAN. Which was influencing which?