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Gotham City 14 Miles: 14 Essays on Why the 1960s Batman TV Series Matters Paperback – 2010
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First, the good. Peter Sanderson's "The 1960s Batman TV Series From Comics To Screen." This is an outstanding five star essay that not only provides important context for what comic stories were used in the show's first season, but also provides important background on the general history of the Batman comic book in the preceding decade that helps make for a strong case that the direction the TV show was going in at the start, reflected more of the improved tone in the comics than people realize. I also was glad to see cleared up the mystery of why two random comic stories from the 50s (the Joker one and the Mr. Freeze one) were adapted for Season 1, and the fact that they had just been reprinted at the same time the other stories used for the series appeared explained things perfectly.
I also wanted to say a hearty THANK YOU for James Beard's essay comparing the TV Batman of Season 1 with the character as it originally appeared in the early issues of Detective Comics. His point that the character itself was NOT this dark brooding one, and how that is solely the invention of 1970s writers, is a point I've wanted to see made for a long time ever since I started reading the reprints of early Batman that have been released the last few years. While it's true the mood was darker with more violence Batman himself was a man comfortable in his own skin and prone to making wisecracks everytime he got in a fight. It was all too easy for me to envision Adam West's voice coming out of this early Batman. I'm glad to see I'm not the only one who thinks that! This too is a five star winner that along with Sanderson's essay justifies the entire book.
Unfortunately after these two, I didn't experience quite the same thrill level except for Will Murray's "The Demise Of Batman" that looks on the problems of Season 3 (though I think "Surf's Up" is easier to take as an episode just because of it's silly "Spock's Brain" quality. There are far worse episodes from that year IMO, and the problems IMO started with the ineffective Batgirl debut episode). Other essays were on topics that don't interest me too much and were more a matter of subjective taste issues. However, I have to take a word to say something about Jennifer Stuller's "The Best Dressed Women In Gotham City". I'll leave aside the fact that she didn't find space to mention the character of the Siren at any time (the only real bright spot of S3 IMO) but she also makes a general comment about women in TV in the 1960s, specifically black women on TV that can not go unchallenged:
"Actress Nichelle Nichols co-created her own landmark TV character, Lt. Nyota Uhura, with Gene Roddenberry, for his Star Trek (1966-69), and SHE BECAME THE FIRST BLAK WOMAN ON TV IN A NON-STEREOTYPED ROLE. RACIST AND SEXIST PREJUDICE FROM NETWORK EXECUTIVES DIMINISHED HER SCREEN TIME....." emphasis mine).
Okay, time-out. There are two things wrong with this statement and what infuriates me about them, is that it's clear that Stuller is reciting some long-after-the fact cliche and not basing it on any actual knowledge of what TV was like at the time. It's just a nice conveniently pat comment that serves a broader agenda purpose of the article but the problem is neither part of her comment is true.
Let's start with the first part, the insistence that Uhura (she was never called Nyota on the show at the time or in any press releases; that's an invention of Trek fandom) was the first "non-stereotyped" black woman on TV in a regular role. That will come as quite a surprise to anyone who saw the 1963-64 drama "East Side, West Side" in which Cicely Tyson, a far more talented performer than Nichelle Nichols was, had a recurring role as social worker Jane Foster. And second, if network executives were such racists about black women on TV, then how did Diahann Carroll get a *starring* role in her own sitcom, "Julia" the following year? If Stuller wants to show some credibility on her broader subject, the least she can do is demonstrate that she knows more about what was on TV in the 60s beyond the usual realm of cult favorite shows. Once I read this nonsense, I had no use for what followed. At the end of it though, I noted the irony in her recalling the 1972 PSA spot of Yvonne Craig, Burt Ward and Dick Gautier on "Equal Pay." The reason that's ironic is because William Dozier's files now reveal that Yvonne Craig in fact got double what Burt Ward was being paid in Season 3 despite the fact that she hadn't been responsible at all for the program's initial success!
"Notes On Bat-Camp" didn't do anything for me either and was poorly structured IMO. For the most part, I'm glad that subject didn't dominate the overall tone of the book since too much has been written about it.
These were my own subjective reactions overall, and despite the fact I didn't enjoy every essay the book as a whole IMO is worth a purchase. I appreciate the effort of those who put it together.
This book takes the series seriously as a cultural phenomenon of its time (which it undoubtedly was), while acknowledging the campiness of it all. This is no poorly put-together fanboy book (like some of the Batman books out there), but some well-thought-out essays on the series (and the accompanying movie). Some more pictures would ahve been nice, but ultimately that isn't a problem.
And my kids LOVE the chronological episode guide in the appendix.