Batman: A Celebration of the Classic TV Series review

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We’re living in an age of reboots, revamps, and retreads.  With countless properties being mined to draw attention to classics of yesteryear and, more likely, make what was old new again, there’s scarcely a property out there that could be immune to a modern retelling.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with updating a property; on the contrary, if it’s done well, then we can get some truly great art and stories out of it.  What’s rare, though, is when an older property is allowed to be celebrated as part of a legacy.  Funny enough, the two most obvious examples were both three-season television shows from the 1960s: Star Trek and BatmanStar Trek inspired countless stories and spinoffs through games, books, movies, and other television series, of course, developing a rich mythology and growing its own established universe.  Though its popularity has waned at various points in its fifty-year history, the influence of the show is felt in countless projects across all mediums.

Batman, on the other hand, has inspired its own continuations while remaining relatively unchanged.  There isn’t much progression in the stories, and even when there are movies and comic book series that introduce new characters and ideas, the status quo stays largely the same.  In fact, its legacy is in the changes it led to for Batman as a character just as much in its renewed popularity today.  Without Batman, there would likely be no legendary comics runs by the likes of Denny O’Neil and Gerry Conway, no The Dark Knight Returns, and no Tim Burton Batman film.  By extension, we likely wouldn’t have Batman: The Animated Series, “Knightfall”, The Dark Knight, or countless other stories, movies, and series.  And yet, like the goofy Silver Age comics stories that influenced it, Batman is just as much a part of the character’s history as anything else.  It cannot and should not be ignored.

Mostly because it’s amazing, but I digress.

The aptly-titled Batman: A Celebration of the Classic TV Series, published this past November by Titan Books, looks to do just that: celebrate the show in all its campy glory.  This is an incredibly well-written, meticulously researched tome that touches on almost every detail of the show.  From pre-production to set design to audience reception, this book covers pretty much everything from the series that you’d want to read about.  Authors Bob Garcia and Joe Desris have taken years worth of research and interviews and compiled it all in a book that’s academic without being esoteric, fun without being fleeting.

Adam West himself provides a foreword that is heartfelt and enlightening.  He waxes poetic about what the character has meant to him over the years, how he’s accepted and embraced the mark he made on the Caped Crusader’s history, and offers some genuinely touching words about the various actors who played the show’s memorable villains.  Oddly, he doesn’t mention any of the actors who portrayed heroes, not even his co-star and partner in crime-fighting Burt Ward.  It’s a strange oversight and omission, but the foreword is touching regardless.

Each chapter that follows focuses on specific aspects of production, and nearly anything you’d want to read about related to the show is covered here.  There are chapters on individual cast members, the props used and their construction, the cultural impact of the show, the writing of the scripts, and so much more.  The amount of research compiled to make this as comprehensive as possible is evident right from the get-go, with the basic “narrative” of each chapter punctuated by various biographical asides.  Just when you come across a new name, be it a writer or producer, there will be a “Batcomputer file entry” that gives their brief biography.  It’s a nice detail, and really drives home just how much diverse talent went into making the show.

As packed with information as it is, the book is never a chore to read.  Garcia and Desris have an anecdotal writing style, making it feel as if you’re sitting down listening to each of these people tell their stories.  There’s a lot of material here, and the ease of reading makes it a true joy to dive into.  Really, you could open up to any random page and get sucked into the material, only to realize a dozen chapters later how engrossed you got in the book.  The high quality pictures that are littered throughout certainly help as well, with dozens and dozens of gorgeously preserved and restored behind-the-scenes images that I’ve never seen before.  These aren’t some fuzzy old Polaroids, either; the production of this book is outstanding, with gorgeous double-page spreads that are genuinely breathtaking to see.  Even if you don’t sit down to read any of the material, I doubt you’d be able to pass up looking at the visuals.  There are some fun candid shots of the actors, production stills, and demo photographs, along with advertisements, storyboards, and other odds and ends.

Let me put it this way: they could have easily gotten away with using just half of the pictures they included and still would have been fine, yet they went all out and included things like Nelson Riddle conducting an orchestra and concept paintings for various set-pieces.  There was as much thought put into designing the book as there was researching it, and it makes it that much better.

It’s also a pretty funny read, too, keeping in line with the series’ campy charm.  The chapter titles, for instance, are two-line rhymes that… mostly work.  Like the series’ episode titles, they’re pretty corny and often forced (“Saving Time and Money, With Biff, Bang, and Zowie!” being a personal favorite).  There’s also a thorough episode guide with plot descriptions for each of the stories, but no doubt the most popular chapter will be the one that compiles every one of Robin’s “Holy!” exclamations.

Every.  Single.  One.

Even a half-dozen that were scripted but never uttered.

If you’re going to celebrate something, celebrate every aspect of it, no matter how silly.  Chapters like that and the one that details the various gadgets the Batmobile had are written just as well as the chapters about scriptwriting and production design, and those are just as fun as the lists and trivia.  It’s a well-balanced book that covers a wide range of topics, and covers each of them well.

The only thing negative I can think of is what the book lacks.  There’s a bit in here about the comics history of Batman, particularly when Batgirl was introduced and fast-tracked to be part of the show, but there’s very little even in regards to stories that were adapted to the show.  Spin-off material and legacy products barely register any mentions either; there are a few references to the movie, but it doesn’t even get its own chapter.  I mean, sure, the Batpoles are an iconic piece of the set, but they get a dedicated chapter while there’s scarcely any mention of Commodore Schmidlapp?  Curious.

Unless I just outright missed it, I don’t recall seeing any references to The New Adventures of Batman, the ’66 comic series, Return of the Caped Crusaders, or even the made-for-TV Return to the Batcave: The Misadventures of Adam and Burt.  That’s likely to do with rights issues as much as anything, I’d wager, but it’s still odd to omit direct tie-ins and continuations.

No matter.  This is a celebration of the television series and its historic three season run.  It covers more of the production and history of the show than you’d ever expect, and it’s so well written and beautifully presented that it’s easy to forgive any shortcomings.

Plus, the Batman credit is listed as “Batman created by Bob Kane and Bill Finger,” and that’s one more thing to celebrate right there.

Additional reading: The same publisher also released Batman: Facts and Stats from the Classic TV Show, a fun little companion piece.  It’s fun, colorful, and has plenty of great trivia, and at twelve bucks new it’s a good bargain.

Overall: Batman: A Celebration of the Classic TV Series is a wonderfully written ode to the legacy of the 1960s Batman series, with enough material to keep even the most die-hard fan interested until the very end.  A true celebration, made by fans for fans.  While it retails at $50, it can easily be found for just over $30.  Considering the “coffee-table book” size and easy readability, that’s not a bad price, and the quality of the writing and the beautiful visual design make it even more so.  Buy it, read it, and celebrate it, chums.

Special thanks to Titan Books for the review copy.

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