A whole generation of Americans got their first exposure to Batman through a campy 1960s TV show. Yet fans love to negate the importance of the Batman TV show.
"One of the things that's always bothered me is that there's a real knee-jerk, negative reaction to that TV series," said writer Jim Beard, who's editing the new book, Gotham City 14 Miles: 14 Essays on Why the 1960s Batman TV Series Matters. "The whole point of the book is for people to give the show, hopefully, a new, fresh look, and give it a second chance. We're trying to show people that it actually matters."
The book, which will ship in December, is available through Diamond’s Previews beginning this week, and it includes essays by comic book insiders and writers like Chuck Dixon, Paul Kupperberg, Will Murray and Peter Sanderson.
According to Dixon, the influence the show had on popular culture was extensive, and it ended up greatly impacting the perception of Batman as a character. "The exposure the show brought to the comics was enormous," Dixon said. "I don’t think it had as great an impact on comic sales as it did on merchandising. Batmania sold a hell of a lot of Batman masks, puppets, lunchboxes, T-shirts, etc. But it also revived the character for a new generation or two. The show was in heavy syndication into the '70s and a pop culture touchstone far beyond that. I don’t think Batman would be the icon he is today without the show."
Dixon said he understands why much of comic book fandom discounts the show. "I was one of those fans until I had to write Batman and realized how much the ’66 show informed me about how Batman works as a character," he said. "Looking at Batman comics before the show and after, you can see how the TV writers had to work to make sense of a lot of the conceits that comic readers accept without question. Much of the comics that come after the show’s appearance take from material the TV guys contributed."
The title, Gotham City 14 Miles, comes from road sign that sits just outside the Batcave's entrance in the Batman TV show. "During the opening credits the camera lingers on it as the Batmobile roars out of the cave and on its way to Gotham," Beard explained. "It was always a memorable moment for me."
Seqart is best known for its books on literary subjects related to comics, so an in-depth examination of a TV show isn't the norm. But Beard said he pitched this subject to the publisher because he felt like the show had such an important role in the iconic character's history, both in comics and film.
"There are so many creators in the comics business that cite that show as an inspiration. Mark Waid has to be the best example," Beard said. "He's the biggest fan that I've come across of that TV show. There are so many artists working today that loved the show. One off the top of my head is Cliff Chiang, who's a big fan of the show. And it's not just the comics industry. Many writers and designers and directors cite the show in the film industry. Look at something like Nicholas Cage in Kick-Ass. He goes out in public interviews and says he's doing Adam West. Scott Pilgrim is another great example, where in the fights, there are the actual sound effects that emulate the Batman TV show."
The essays examine a wide variety of subjects, "from the characters to the comic book stories that were the inspiration for the show, from the actors on the show to the visual design, the criminals, we have a great essay about the females who were presented on the show and how they were presented in the comics at the same time," Beard said. "And Paul Kupperberg does a really great wrap-up on the overall legacy of the show.
"These are critical essays, and they're pretty in-depth," Beard said. "But they also have a personal touch. Especially Chuck Dixon's," Beard said. "He brought a lot of his own personal experience of writing for the Batman comic books to that. He compared, for example, his writing of the Riddler to the Riddler of the Batman TV series."
Dixon said his essay focuses the bad guys that he's written himself, "but I touch on almost all of them."
"The article illustrates how the TV writers changed the franchise by resurrecting the Riddler, establishing a relationship between Catwoman and Batman, creating a Joker who was actually funny as well as menacing and making the Penguin a chick hound," he said. "The villains were the real stars of the show and the area where the TV show had its greatest influence."
Beard's essay focuses on the character of Batman, dealing with the argument that Adam West's portrayal of the caped crusader wasn't really representative of the character's true essence.
"People look at that Batman as portrayed by Adam West, and they say, 'That's not really Batman," Beard said. "In the beginning of my essay, I set up criteria saying, to make it Batman, you have to have this, this, this and this, for it to be the character of Batman. And then I use that to compare it to the TV show of Batman. And I started with the 1939 Batman, the first year of stories before Robin came into the comic, using that as the pure essence of the character. And I think people are going to be kind of surprised how much the Adam West Batman actually does meet most of the criteria."
Beyond looking at the show critically, the book also examines some details about Batman that many fans don't know, particularly since there's no DVD collection. In fact, that lack of access to the show is one of the reasons its impact is so misunderstood, Beard said.
"I think one of the biggest problems out there is that people, perhaps younger than me, don't really know the show because it's never been on video or DVD. I think the lack of it being out there, people just hear things about it and they believe it," Beard said. "And they go around saying, 'Oh, that show's worthless. It didn't mean anything.' But to me, it really is another face of Batman that we just tend to ignore.
"A lot of people love it. A lot of people hate it. The book is for both people," Beard said. "We don't expect people to go away loving the show after reading this. But maybe, they'll realize that there are some important things going on in there, and the show at least merits some respect.