Mon
Nov 8 2010 3:37pm
Gotham City 14 Miles: The Fifteenth Mile

Gotham City 14 MilesBack in the early 1970s, I attended Saturday morning art classes at our local art museum and on Day One of my very first year I sat down at the table, a bit nervous and timid, and was presented with the first assignment: build a Batmobile. My young life was complete; they may as well have presented me with a thousand dollars and all the peanut butter sandwiches I could eat. Looking around, I wondered where the Candid Camera was…

That little kid also knew that he could carry his cardboard and construction paper Batmobile home that day and look forward to playing with it in front of a TV set showing the 1960s Batman series. It was still in heavy syndication then, a constant and welcome distraction from life’s pressures. Oh, how I pity the little kids of today.

But, here’s a radical thought: maybe they’re not ready for it.

I dig today’s Batman and the comics he skulks through the most; no dissing here, but, as I’ve said ad nauseum in interviews for my new book Gotham City 14 Miles (free excerpt and pre-order info in the link), that’s only one face of the character. Yet, sadly, it’s the face that most fans today deem the most suitable. No other Batmans need apply.

When I outlined my book’s fourteen essays, or “miles,” there was very little I ejected. I knew what needed to be discussed and, for the most part, it’s all in there. So what is the fifteenth mile? The fifteenth mile is the fans.

Generally, we Batman fans are a cowardly, superstitious lot, afraid of the light and hugging the darkness for all it’s worth. Strides have been made in recent years, sure, but overall we’re still hanging onto the “dark knight” version of our hero with a death grip; we’re still not quite ready for to allow the Adam West Batman into our lives. He represents, at least to me, a letting go of convention, a chance to live for adventure and bring some color into the otherwise hum-drum Gotham skyline. I doubt we as “modern” Batman fans could completely let ourselves go enough to enjoy the 1966-68 show to its fullest.

Listen: Bat-angst is a thing of the 1970s. It didn’t exist previously. Fans today are made to believe that the brooding Batman, the shadowy figure warring against crime while anguishing over the murder of his parents is all there is, all there ever was—but it just ain’t so. That completely ignores more than three decades of the character’s stories and development, and that’s a crime worthy of our hero’s attention.

Is the Adam West BATMAN series goofy? Sure. Is it fun and colorful? Hell, yes. Is it “campy” and kitschy? Debatable. I’ve not come today to bury the Darknight Detective and praise the Caped Crusader—rather I’ve raised my voice to ask for history to unfold and the discussion to ensue on the weight and merit of What Has Come Before.

Since 2007, writer Grant Morrison has dominated the adventures of Batman in DC Comics. It may surprise you, considering what I’ve said so far, but I’ve been digging his take on the character and look forward to each installment. Yeah, me: the Adam West fanboy. Why, you ask? Because to my mind, Morrison’s Batman is a combo meal—much like the 1960s TV show. He’s dragging the fans, kicking and screaming, into the light and saying, “Look! There were stories before Denny O’Neil and Neal Adams got their mitts on Batman! We can have it all!” Except, of course, with a Scottish accent.

When Batman premiered on January 12th, 1966, audiences saw a combination of things: a 1950s straight-laced, establishment Batman adventuring in a groovy 1960s Pop Art universe and surrounded by characters from the 1930s and 40s. Heck, throw in a few gadgets that looked forward into the decades to come and you had a potpourri that viewers loved. I mean, the whole world went bat-guano over it. So, what’s wrong with us today?

We’re not ready for it.

I think several things happened. The 1970s made us “grow up,” for one. “Relevance” became a buzz word and “serious storytelling” became a rallying cry throughout the comics industry. That’s cool; I don’t knock it. But at the exclusion of all else? I know Grant Morrison has his ardent detractors but for my bat-cash he’s pulling in so many artifacts of Bat-history and looking at them from every angle and working them into stories—told, yes, in “modern” style—and creating something new. Just like Batman ’66.

I’ve also often said that one of the biggest problems in the phenomenon of Bat-hate against the 60s show is the absence of it on VHS, DVD and Blu-ray. “Kids” today just don’t know the show. They’ve heard all the jokes, seen a few clips and have invested in the popular belief that the show was crud and “that ain’t Batman.” If its episodes were able to be viewed at home, ran back and forth, studied and dissected, I think the tale might be told differently. Batman ’66 isn’t a part of our lives like it should be. It’s the crazy old uncle that lives in Florida that we see every three years or so. Easy to joke about when you don’t have to look in his rich, sunny face.

Here, on the eve of the 45th anniversary of Batman ’66, I look back at that little kid building his Batmobile in art class, delirious in his luck at finding a hip, really cool teacher, and I envy him. He had a 1930s Batman, a 1940s Batman, a 1950s Batman, a 1960s Batman, and wee bit o’ 1970s Batman—and they were all the same guy to him. He was that kid’s hero and he couldn’t imagine it any other way. He was ready for anything.

Embrace the past. Follow the history. Allow for possibilities. Love the variety.

Celebrate the Batman.

Jim Beard


Jim Beard, a native of Toledo, Ohio, is a comic book writer, historian and journalist. His credits include work for DC, Dark Horse, IDW and TwoMorrows and he currently provides weekly content for Marvel.com. His second favorite comic book character is Shelly Mayer’s Ma Hunkel, the original Golden Age Red Tornado. He is the editor of Gotham City 14 Miles, which will be published in late December 2010. Please check your local comic shop or online comic ordering service for availability. For more info and a sample chapter from the book, please visit www.sequart.org/books/7 and join its official Facebook page at www.facebook.com/gothamcity14miles. Batteries to power, turbines to speed!

12 comments
Kent Aron Vabø
1. sotgnomen
I blame the 90s movies. They tried to dig into the 60s series for their batman. Forever did some of it, Robin did far too much of it, but both did it very very badly, and left us with only disgust for the cheap oneliners and gadgets. I for one have fond memories of west, as the show ran on norway's only nationwide network in the late 80s early 90s, and was my first view of batman as well. My earliest batman memory is a dozen batmans fighting a dozen mr.freezes on an icy slippery floor, with ensuing hilarities. I dont remember the plot, only the scene, but it was beautiful.
I have to say, the dvd i bought later didn't quite capture it, but i think it tried too hard.. The Holy Special Edition, Batman!
pauljessup
2. pauljessup
Have you seen Batman: The Brave and the Bold yet? It's very much in the same spirit (I think) as the old show. Over the top, pulpy fun. Not exactly campy or Kitsche, but it has it's moments. And it's funny. It lets itself tell jokes.
Jim Beard
3. Jim_Beard
Sotgnomen, I remember watching BATMAN & ROBIN in the theater and realizing halfway through that it was a remake of the 60s TV series - at that point I was able to sit back and enjoy it :) The episode you mention is the first Mr. Freeze story, with George Sanders, which is one mof my favorites. You have good taste!
Jim Beard
4. Jim_Beard
Paul, I love that cartoon; its such an homage to the 60s show, in my opinion. The producers are doing exactly what Adam West & Co. did, which is to play on several levels and appeal to both adults and children.
Lenny Bailes
5. lennyb
For my money, the best Batman stories would be found in a selected collection of the Bruce Timm/Paul Dini DCAU episodes. (You've got Adam West in there, as the Grey Ghost.) West even managed to sneak into last week's episode of Brave and the Bold.

I'd probably also throw a few print issues by Alan Moore and Neil Gaiman into the mix, alongside Chuck Dixon's long run of police procedurals. Grant Morrison on a good day is kind of like Chris Nolan shooting Memento. On bad days Morrison is closer to Andy Warhol.
pauljessup
6. a-j
Whole-hearted agreement with this piece. There is room enough for all versions of a popular character. I adored Batman '66 as a child and enjoy it still today and also hugely admire The Dark Knight Returns as well.
Some days you just can't get rid of a bomb.
Jim Beard
7. Jim_Beard
Lenny, the cartoons are probably the true legacy of BATMAN '66, for sure. And that they actively seek out Adam to participate is just wonderful. Really helps to connect with the old school fans.

Dixon's contributions are legend and I'm thrilled to have him as an essayist in GOTHAM CITY 14 MILES (he writes about the villains). I dig your Morrison-Warhol comparison :)
Lenny Bailes
8. lennyb
I have to admit that I'm not completely clear on the concept of Batman '66. But I haven't read your book yet, and I'm a little bit geeky on the subject of the cowl-guy.

When I think about what Paul Dini and Bruce Timm did, following their success with Mask of the Phantasm, I don't envision the Adam West/Burt Ward TV show as much as I think about the Batman of Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson. They take that, borrow a bit from Neal Adams and Denny O'Neil, and return the element of gothic romance to the character: "I am Vengeance, I am The Night!"

I'd give you Batman:The Brave and the Bold, as a closer derivative of the TV series -- but minus the Camp element. The Brave and the Bold *never* tries to suggest that the whole concept of Batman is ridiculous (not even in the Bat-Mite episodes). Instead, it broadcasts the concept of Batman as a good-natured, square-shooting guy who always wins -- because he's so smart and resourceful. This is the character I used to describe to Teresa Nielsen Hayden as "The Fair Universe Batman." It's the way the character was written and drawn in the 1950s by people like Bill Finger, Edmund Hamilton, Arnold Drake, Sheldon Moldoff, Dick Sprang, etc.

Teresa would always counter my nostalgia for the "Fair Universe" Batman by pointing out that the universe isn't actually fair. The Batman who operates in Fritz Leiber's "City of Dreadful Night," revived by Neal Adams and eventually transformed by Frank Miller, is a more interesting character than the "boy scout" version.

Paul Dini and Bruce Timm are somewhere in the middle of all this. Like Morrison, they're cognizant of the entire history, and they've paid tribute to a number of great contributors to that history. Their Batman operates in the "City of Night," but the city is a bit less dreadful than Miller's. And their Batman has a romantic element that Miller's lacks.
Jim Beard
9. Jim_Beard
Lenny, without sounding like too much of a shill, this book is for you, then. Its not "just" for people who like the show and are familiar with it; in a perfect world people who don't care for it would read it and the conversations would begin. This is my evil master plan.

When you say describe the concept of "Batman as a good-natured, square-shooting guy who always wins -- because he's so smart and resourceful," to me, you describe the core of the 60s show. The "camp" is only a factor of his environment most times. Adam's Batman is a "true" Batman with goofiness swirling about him, rarely cracking his serious shell. Unfortunately, that's all most people thing of, the "camp," when they think of the show at all.

I sincerely hope you may pick up a copy, read it and give us your thoughts.
Joseph Blaidd
10. SteelBlaidd
Anyone withat ninterst in visions of Batman both light and dark needs too check out
http://catwoman-cattales.com/

There are some moments that are just excruciating in the way the author brings you to feel Bruce's pain, and anger and loss. There are also moments where you cna't stand up for laughing. ( The image of Bruce Wayne attending a Rouges gallery Christmas party as Selina Kyles date and getting Drunk on rumballs is one of my particular favorites.)
Paul Arzooman
11. parzooman
I was a big fan of the 60s series when it was re-run practically ad nauseum for years when I was a kid. In my youth, I saw it as simply an adventure show and missed a lot of the humor. As an adult, I appreciate that the writing is utterly brilliant and the acting even more so. Adam West is one of the great unsung comedic talents of all time. His deadpan portrayal and delivery of dialog almost predicts the move from drama to comedy that later marked the careers of Leslie Nielsen, William Shatner and Alec Baldwin (and predates them by decades). The genius of the creators of this program was that they got all the elements correct to successfully produce an adventure/sitcom where the humor is almost always subtle.
Jim Beard
12. Jim_Beard
Agreed on all points, parz. Especially that the show operated on so many levels, which to me cemented its immortality.

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