Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Celebration of Batman's TV Adventures

A book that celebrates the campy Batman TV show? If you’re part of a certain age group, your first exposure to the Caped Crusader was likely the original broadcasts (or syndicated reruns) of that action-filled, pop art 1960s seriesThe show originally ran from 1966-68, and starred Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin. The show amped up the humor quotient, but young viewers didn’t care as they loved the fights between Batman and Robin and the colorful villains like The Joker and The Penguin, the numerous Bat-gadgets and the cliffhanger style endings, leaving our heroes in the grip of a seemingly inescapable death trap at the end of Part 1. Adults enjoyed the satirical aspects of the show, the tongue in cheek dialogue, and the gallery of famous guest stars who were featured as villains, including Julie Newmar as Catwoman & Frank Gorshin as The Riddler. And in a sort of reverse synchronicity, the comics published by DC at the time began to reflect the style of the TV version of Batman.

During the original run of the series, Bat-mania was a bona fide cultural phenomenon. But the fad started to fade during the show’s second year, and even the addition of Yvonne Craig as Batgirl for the third and final season couldn’t halt the declining ratings. After the show’s cancellation, the comic book Batman returned to his darker roots courtesy of writers like Dennis O’Neil & Steve Englehart and artists like Neal Adams & Jim Aparo. While the show gained new fans in reruns, some people looked down on the series and scorned its spoofy tone. In the 1980s and 90s, groundbreaking graphic novels such as Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Year One and Tim Burton’s films brought the onscreen character closer to its original persona, and the TV show seemed like a distant memory that many chose to deride. DC all but disavowed the show.

A book called Gotham City 14 Miles: 14 Essays On Why The 1960s Batman TV Series Matters seeks to change all that. It’s a group of articles by comic book professionals, writers and journalists who see the TV series as a valid interpretation of Batman, and look to honor its contribution to the Dark Knight’s history. It’s an enjoyable read for fans. There are articles on the unique style of the series, a comparison between the TV episodes and the comics that inspired them, and a look at the 1966 feature film version of the show. Some of the standout pieces include: long time comics writer Chuck Dixon’s “Known Super-Criminals Still At Large: Villainy in Batman,” Robert Greenberger’s “Bats in Their Belfries: The Proliferation of Batmania,” and Michael Johnson’s “Gotham City R&D: Gadgetry In Batman.”

The essays are written with obvious love and appreciation for the show, and its lasting impact on the Batman's legacy. Dixon (who wrote a lot of  “serious” Batman stories in the 90s) admits to dismissing the series at first, then coming around to recognize its charms. Guides to the show’s episodes and its music are featured as appendixes. I grew up watching reruns of the series, and while I’m a fan of the “darker” Batman, I also appreciate the TV show on its own merits. I absolutely loved it in my younger days, and I appreciate it on a whole new level as an adult. This book brought back a lot of great “Zap! Pow! Bam!” memories. I mean, who didn't love that awesome Batmobile!? Or Ms. Newmar as the sexiest Catwoman ever?

Interestingly enough, the series has never been released on home video, though the 1966 movie version of the series is on DVD & Blu-ray. There’s no doubt that, love it or hate it, the series was influential, and this entertaining book is a great way to look back at the history of the show. Recently, DC Comics has begun to license collectible items related to the series, and is even publishing a new online and print comic called Batman ’66 featuring stories in the style of the show. The writer is Jeff Parker, best known for Marvel’s retro superhero series Agents of AtlasGotham City 14 Miles is recommended for comic fans, classic television fans & Batman fans. Here are links to the trailer for the 1966 feature film version of the show:, and the series' opening titles: remember like the Caped Crusader says “Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb!”

A well known blogger at 2013's ComicConn with his new car :)

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