Local editor’s book revisits iconic ’60s television seriesWritten by Jeff McGinnis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
“Biff! Bang! Pow!”
So read the screen as the Caped Crusader struck a blow for justice against an evil villain and his henchmen. For an entire generation of fans, those words and others would forever be connected to Batman, thanks to his wildly popular 1960s television incarnation.
The iconic television series starring Adam West and Burt Ward debuted in 1966. It ran a little more than two years before being canceled in March 1968. But the show would leave a lasting impression on the Batman character, as well as millions of fans — among them, a young Jim Beard.
“Come on, Robin, to the Batcave! There’s not a moment to lose!”
A writer and longtime comic fan, Beard was first introduced to the world of the Dark Knight through the classic show. Now, nearly 45 years after it first appeared, Beard aims to celebrate and analyze the series and its impact as contributing writer and editor of the new book, “Gotham City 14 Miles.”
“I wanted to do a book like this for a while,” Beard said. “I really wanted to do something, because in my mind there just haven’t been enough books about this show. Which I find funny — one of the most popular shows of all time, and there really has only been a small handful of books about it during the past 45 years.”
“Atomic batteries to power. Turbines to speed.”
Beard’s first steps toward making the project a reality came in February 2009, when he met the minds behind Sequart, a nonprofit publisher that produces books dedicated to promoting and analyzing comics as art.
“About two months later, I e-mailed them and I said, ‘Would you be willing to think about an idea for a book about the “Batman” TV series?’ And they said, ‘Pitch it to us’,” Beard said.
“Jim delivered a killer pitch for the book, one which showed great enthusiasm and a real mastery of the subject and its critical issues,” said Sequart publisher Julian Darius. “I was bowled over. I agreed the show was important and have always enjoyed it myself, but it’s often maligned. Jim really knew the show inside and out, and he had a great plan to explore the show both historically and critically.
“He’s also just a fantastic guy personally and very easy to work with, so this has been a real pleasure for us.”
Beard’s concept was to do something that celebrated the series, but he also knew the importance of approaching the show with a critical eye.
“They said in the beginning, ‘Jim, this cannot be a love-fest. It has to look at everything with a cold, hard eye.’ And I said, ‘Great!’ And as the essays started coming in, I was really thrilled. Because by the end, I thought we had this really balanced look. And that’s really what I wanted,” Beard said. “I wanted it to be very eclectic, like the show itself.”
“Holy priceless collection of Etruscan snoods, Batman!”
The book is made up of 14 essays — one for every mile from stately Wayne Manor to Gotham — analyzing the show from almost every possible angle. Beard set out most of the ideas for the essays himself, with input from his publishers. He then set out to find writers to fill each of the 14 assignments.
Beard’s search would lead him to attain contributions from many of the writers he wanted, and also from those he never dreamed he could get — like Chuck Dixon, famous writer of the “Batman” comics in the 1990s.
“I never thought I could get Chuck Dixon. He was suggested to me by somebody else, who couldn’t take part in it. They said, ‘How about Chuck Dixon?’ And I said, ‘Would Chuck Dixon do this?’ Chuck was just so open to it and just really thrilled about doing it.”
The book also features essays by comic and media luminaries like Paul Kupperberg, a former editor of DC comics; Robert Greenberger, writer and former editor of Comics Scene magazine; Will Murray, pulp fiction scholar and author of more than 50 novels; and Michael S. Miller, editor-in-chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star.
Miller wrote about the show’s famous theme music, which was composed by the late Neal Hefti. He interviewed Rock and Roll Hall of Fame drummer Hal Blaine, who played on the original track, and Hal Lifson, who has written books about 1960s pop culture and the “Batman” TV show.
“The theme from ‘Batman’ symbolizes the best of the 1966 TV show if you are a fan and the worst if you are not. It is simple but memorable, lightweight but insistent, brief but immortal,” Miller said. “During the height of the show’s impact, artists as disparate as Mel Torme, Frank Zappa and The Who toyed with the music. Jim has done a great job guiding us through the process, from his original vision to the finished work.”
“Quick! To the Batmobile!”
Beard’s wife Becky also contributed an essay, analyzing the actors who worked on the show. “While ‘Batman’ was arguably the high point in the careers of its stars Adam West and Burt Ward, the support players brought decades’ worth of experience to the series,” she said.
“During my research I was astounded by the magnitude of the talent utilized on the show, which included Vaudeville veterans and radio, film and TV pioneers. The series introduced these old-timers to a new generation of fans, reinvigorating their careers.”
Actors such as Vincent Price, Milton Berle, Otto Preminger and Eartha Kitt played villains on the show.
Mike Johnson, a technical whiz who Beard has known for more than 10 years, wrote an essay titled “Gotham City R&D.”
“It’s a look at the technology that Batman employed during the series and its impact on modern technology,” Johnson said.
“I would look at a specific gadget or technology, compare it to modern technology and decide if the show was ahead of its time when it came to its gadgets and devices.
“I was surprised at some of the conclusions I came to in the book. I certainly gained a greater respect for the TV show and its contribution to the character of Batman.”
Indeed, through the years, the show’s comical tone (Beard disputes use of the word “campy”) has led many fans to dismiss its importance to Batman lore — a tendency Beard addresses in his own essay.
“People tend to dispense with the show because they say, ‘That’s not really Batman.’ Well, I set out to say, ‘Here’s what Batman is, here’s what the Adam West Batman is — is it really Batman?’
“I knew for the essay to be taken seriously that I did need to kind of set my admiration and love for the show to the side, for the most part. And, it’s funny, there is actually some critical stuff in there,” Beard said. “After re-watching many, many episodes, there’s some things in there that kind of surprised me.”
It is an exciting time for Beard and his collaborators. Pre-orders for the book will be taken starting on Sept. 29 at comic shops everywhere. The book will officially be released in December. On the second weekend of October, Beard and eight of his essayists will appear at a panel about the book at the New York City Comic Con, along with Mark Waid — longtime comic writer and die-hard “Batman” series fan.
Beard’s ultimate hope is to restore to the sometimes celebrated, sometimes derided series the respect he feels it deserves.
“I don’t imagine that I’m going to convince anybody to love this show who doesn’t already love it. But what I’m hoping that some people will walk away with is that, yes, it does have a place in the character’s history, and yes, it does have a place in pop culture, and an important place.”
“Tune in tomorrow!
ON THE WEB:
GOTHAM CITY 14 MILES
Table of Contents
- Mile Marker No. 1: “Bats in Their Belfries — The Proliferation of ‘Batmania’” by Robert Greenberger. Covers the genesis of the show and the explosion of Batmania.
- Mile Marker No. 2: “Batman — From Comics Page to TV Screen” by Peter Sanderson. Delves deep into “Batman’s” comic book roots.
- Mile Marker No. 3: “Such a Character — A Dissection and Examination of Two Sub-Species of Chiroptera homo sapiens” by Jim Beard.
- Mile Marker No. 4: “Notes on Bat-Camp” by Tim Callahan. An effort to answer that age-old question: “Was ‘Batman’ truly camp?”
- Mile Marker No. 5: “Aunt Harriet’s Film Decency League” by Becky Beard.
- Mile Marker No. 6: “POW! – Batman’s Visual Punch” by Bill Walko. Looks into the impact of the show’s vibrant visual design.
- Mile Marker No. 7: “Known Super-Criminals Still at Large” by Chuck Dixon. Compares and contrasts TV versions with comic book portrayals.
- Mile Marker No. 8: “May I Have This Batdance?” by Michael S. Miller.
- Mile Marker No. 9: “The Best Dressed Women in Gotham City” by Jennifer K. Stuller. Presents a compelling argument for its female denizens and their place in “Batman.”
- Mile Marker No. 10: “Holy Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor!” by Michael D Hamersky. Addresses the topic of youth culture as presented in “Batman.”
- Mile Marker No. 11: “Gotham City R&D” by Michael Johnson.
- Mile Marker No. 12: “Theatre of the Absurd – ‘Batman: The Movie, 1966’” by Rob Weiner. Rolls film on the 1966 feature film.
- Mile Marker No. 13: “Jumping the Bat-Shark” by William Patrick Murray. Delves into the third season of “Batman.”
- Mile Marker No. 14: “Some Days You Just Can’t Get Rid of a Bomb” by Paul Kupperberg. The legacy beyond its original broadcast.
- Afterword by Jeff Rovin, co-author of Adam West’s “Back to the Batcave,” offers a few personal anecdotes about the show and working with West.
- Episode Guide by Joe Berenato. A rundown of episodes, with airdates and fun facts.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in the Sept. 29 edition of the Toledo Free Press Star.
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Beard and Miller will be at Monarch Cards and Comics, 4400 Heatherdowns Blvd., from 1 to 4 p.m. Dec. 18 to answer questions and sign books.
Tags: Adam West, Batman, Becky Beard, Catwoman, Chuck Dixon, Hal Blaine, Hal Lifson, Jeff McGinnis, Jim Beard, Michael S. Miller, Mike Johnson, Paul Kupperberg, Pop Goes the Culture, Robert Greenberger, Robin, The Joker, Will Murray