Jim Beard is the editor for Sequart’s newest book, Gotham City: 14 Miles. The book is a look at everything that encompasses the 1966 Batman TV series. I sat down with Jim to talk about the show’s significance and about the celebration that is Gotham City: 14 Miles.
What exactly is Gotham City: 14 Miles?
It is a hopefully a new, fresh look at the show. It is an attempt to try and place it in pop culture. For me, there are too many knee-jerk reactions about the show. I’m trying to dissect that. Why are there reactions like that out there? Is there anything about the show to, not necessarily make people fans of the show, but to show why it matters. Why is it that it hasn’t been forgotten, and also why does it matter?
Why is the 1966 Batman TV series important?
It’s another facet of the Batman character and it’s probably the one that gets pushed to the side, or maligned or left off. I think it’s an important facet of the character. In my essay, I’m trying to show that this Batman is part of the real Batman and there isn’t just “one” Batman.
Also, it’s part of the mythos and history. It’s neglected and cut down to nothing when, really, it was incredibly influential.
I was hesitant about it at first, but as I edited it, I felt like it really elevated the source material.
Thank you very much. No book has really delved into this detail on the various aspects of the show seriously. I wanted it to be an enjoyable read, but also a critical study of everything about it.
I don’t think I’m going to make fans for the show, but there are two camps that exist; those that love it and those that hate it and this book is really for both of those camps. It’s a balanced and critical look at the series. If you’ll excuse the use of the word “camp.”
How did this project come together?
I wanted to do something about this show for awhile. Honestly, I thought for a long time that there needed to be books about this show. There hasn’t been a book about this show since the 90’s with Adam West’s book. I met Julian and Mike (publishers of Sequart) at New York Comic Con in 2009 and I really enjoyed the work they were doing so I thought I would work with them on the project.
I had the title before I ever started on the book itself. I knew it had to be Gotham City: 14 Miles and I knew it had to be 14 essays. After that, it just all came together with the essayists. We have all kinds of writers from Chuck Dixon to Peter Sanderson to new writers as well. It’s an eclectic book, and I wanted it to be that way because the show is very eclectic.
Favorite episodes of the series?
I’ve prepared for this question. I didn’t want to give the standard answer of, “Oh, they are like my children and I can’t choose just one.”
When I was a kid, I looked forward to third season episodes because they had Batgirl episodes in them which is funny because it’s the roughest season looking back. I guess I just liked that there was another member of the team.
While doing for research for my own essay, I watched a lot of those old episodes on Youtube and came to realize that the first season had some really quality episodes.
“Instant Freeze/Rats like cheese” is one of my favorites. George Sanders plays Mr. Freeze and he has a personal vendetta against Batman. He wants revenge against him for turning him into Mr. Freeze. One thing that stood out to me is his hideout. They had patches of heat on the floor so people could enter his room and if he wanted to kill them, he would turn off the heat squares to kill them.
Sanders almost underplays the character. He’s got this sly, European style to him. A character actually dies in the episode as well. He freezes a guy and pushes him over. You never see it happen, but you get the impression that the guy is shattered in pieces.
The Bookworm episode with Roddy McDowell is a fun episode too. That was a villain that appeared once and never came back and it’s a shame because he was an interesting character.
A bit of a guilty pleasure is the Green Hornet episode. The villain is a bit of a letdown, but the more heroes the better. It’s still so cool to see Batman and the Green Hornet together. People make a big deal about Robin and Kato fight, but just to see them go at it is just great.
Any particular groan-worthy moments of the series that stick out in your mind?
The easy one to point to is the surfing episode in the third season. Will Murray (writer of how the show jumped the shark) skewers the episode in the book and it’s a rough one to watch. Batman surfs against the Joker and escapes a shark. It actually features the return of the Bat-shark repellent too. Commissioner Gordon and Chief O’Hara go undercover as hippies in the episode and most people would say that the highlight was Yvonne Craig in a bathing suit.
I think the problem was that they didn’t have enough faith in the show to keep it going. They were literally trying to make it “camp.” Adam West doesn’t like that the show is labelled as “camp.” You can tell that they were trying to spin it into that way though.
I think they could have retooled it and brought in some more serious elements in there. It didn’t have to stay “campy” but if they would have brought more personality to the characters.
Why are people so critical of 1966 Batman?
It’s a lot of misunderstanding. I think a lot of people who put it down, and there were people who dismissed it back then, but I think that people today think that it’s “hip” to put things down because others put it down. People don’t put it in a historical perspective and look at it from the history of that time and what was going on in the comics at that time.
Yes, the show was comedic, but when you understand that it was by design, you can understand it. There’s no point in criticizing it for what it is. When you have so many creators who cite that show as inspiration, it has to be influential. Two examples:
1) Nick Cage in Kick-Ass outright said he was playing Adam West.
2) Scott Pilgrim with the “biff” “bam” “pow.” You see those sounds effects and you know that’s what it was going for.
I think if people sat down and watched it, they could find something they liked. Art students can look at the color of the show and analyze it. If you look at the acting, and you don’t just look at the surface of it, you can see so much of what Adam West puts into it. Batman is played completely and utterly serious by West and it’s something to behold when he plays it so straight.
Gotham City: 14 Miles is in the Diamond Comics catalog today! Go to your local comic store and place an order for it now!