The second Batfan profile of BATMAN ’66 WEEK is Jim Beard, editor of Gotham City 14 Miles.
We continue our profiles of People Who Kept the Batsignal Lit in anticipation of the 11/11 release of Batman on Blu-ray and DVD:
(Click here for my interview with Chuck Williams, Batcostumer extraordinaire.)
Jim Beard, 49, is a writer from Toledo, Ohio. Among Batfans, he’s known for his Sequart book Gotham City 14 Miles, which features essays about various elements of the show. He’s also a pulp novelist, a comic-book columnist for the Toledo Free Press and writes for Marvel.com. Check him out here.
Dan Greenfield: How far back do you go with the show? Where did you watch it as a kid?
All the way back, I guess, though I was just nine months young when it debuted. My family watched it, so I would have been in the room, maybe picking it up on a different level from them. At 14 months, my mother noted in my baby book that I was dancing to the theme song — already working its way into my brain! Later, I became more aware of the show through its first syndication and into the ’70s. Luckily, we had a color TV all along!
You write about the show. Tell me how you got into that. What inspired you to do it?
Plain fact of the matter is that before we did Gotham City 14 Miles there just wasn’t enough being written about it to fill the “need” within me. There was Joel Eisner and his trail-blazing Official Batman Bat-Book – my “bible” – but not too much more. And especially not anything that was taking the show apart and examining it from multiple angles like I imagined doing. So, yeah — someone had to do it!
Did you go through that period where you denounced the show? So many of us knocked it when we were teenagers or in our 20s …
Never. Not even once. Maybe that will be hard for some to believe, but I kept the faith through the dark times and championed the show through thick and thin. Today, it’s kind of “cool” to like it, but without proper home-viewing all these years, I suspect most of the bandwagon-riders we have now had only gotten the “sound bites,” the clichés and the tropes that floated around, standing in for true knowledge and appreciation of it.
Now of course you’re getting the discs. Which set? What about all the merch now? What have you picked up for your own Bat self?
I have the deluxe Blu-Ray set on preorder, though the price is a killer. As for all the other new stuff, well, I’ve been somewhat circumspect about what I’ve picked up.
Allow me to speak from atop this soapbox, if I may, for a moment. Much of the new ’66 merchandise is just too damn rich for my blood, and that’s a shame for those of us who don’t have a lot of disposable income, especially after waiting all these years for this stuff.
The floodgates opened with the clearing away of the licensing challenges, but the prevailing theory among manufacturers is that their audience is ready and eager to drop dollars … a whole lot of dollars. I’m not naïve. I know that things cost a lot more now than in the ’60s and ’70s, but there seems to be little thought to creating strata of ’66 products below the more elite, high-end items. And what there is that’s more reasonably priced is not hitting me in the Batcave where I live.
Let me explain. Some of us want screen-accurate items, especially figural items. Oddly enough, several of those items we’ve gotten have been, for lack of a better word, idealized. That is, the rough edges of the costuming and whatnot have been smoothed over, the seams whited-out, and the fraying fixed.
Mattel put out a series of six-inch action figures at mass-retail – kind of expensive – but they were, again, idealized versions of our heroes and villains. That’s all fine and dandy, but some of us would like to have something more accurate. The busts are idealized, the Funko figures mega-cartoony, etc., etc. The Heroclix are fun and not too dearly priced, but as figurines they’re horribly painted.
Before anyone reading this accuses me of whining about “First World problems” or whatever, well, yeah, but this is also my most favorite TV show of all time, one that existed for decades without true merchandising. If you don’t have the moolah to drop on a $200 Hot Toys figure, you’re kind of out of luck if you want some well-done, accurate figural representations of your favorite actors and their characters.
OK, now getting into the nitty gritty: What’s your favorite episode?
I could absolutely go for the knee-jerk answer of the very first episode, or for the popular answer of the Green Hornet episode, but I’m going to throw out The Zodiac Crimes/The Joker’s Hard Time/The Penguin Declines as a story that I’d sit anybody down in front of as a solid example of what the show could aspire to. It’s pure in every aspect; acting, writing, directing, visuals, campiness, drama, and on and on.
Beyond that? Too many to mention, of course.
The worst episode is …
Hmm. Where to begin? A true fan of the show can point out the bad as well as the good, so I should be able to… ahh, I have it. Nora Clavicle and the Ladies’ Crime Club.
I’ll just leave that right there and slowly back off before it explodes in ballooning wretchedness.
Now what about your favorite villain?
No contest: the incredible, versatile Frank Gorshin’s Riddler. Go ahead and watch a Riddler episode and try to look at something else when he’s on the screen. Frank plays it on universal levels… and all at the same time. I would truly, honestly be afraid to be in the same room with his Riddler.
Viewing the show vs. seeing it through adult eyes, what about it have you changed your tune on? For example, as a kid I didn’t like King Tut. Now, I think he’s hilarious.
I still hate King Tut. (Smiles)
I think nowadays I can better appreciate the caliber of the actors, the strengths of the writing and the dialogue, and the art direction. I also find myself looking at the “quieter” bits, the moments when we see something we don’t see every episode, the brief flashes of character development, and the wonderful nods to the zeitgeist of the times. And what fascinating times they were.
If you had one Batgadget to choose from (not including the utility belt because that’s cheating), what would it be?
The Giant Lighted Lucite Map of Gotham City, of course!
What was the best death trap?
Any one that the Dynamic Duo escaped from. Oh, okay…umm, well…how about the giant clam? Yeah, that will do nicely.
Overall, what’s your favorite aspect or favorite moment in the series (or the movie)?
The psychologists among your readers might have a field day with this, but I love all the times in the show that someone else other than Batman, Robin, and Alfred gets to enter the Batcave. Those moments are golden, as far as I’m concerned. The awe that place inspires is something to behold.
Other than that? Barbara Gordon’s short skirts, natch.
Your turn. Talk about anything you’d like that we haven’t covered.
Despite some negativity that may have leaked out of me here, I stand an unabashed, unapologetic, unassuming devotee of the show. It quite literally changed my life. And Gotham City 14 Miles has brought me into contact with so many cool, wonderful, caring fans of the show, that I feel blessed that I had the opportunity to compile it.
There are people who love the show, and finding them and talking with them and just basking in the glow that comes off of them when they fill their hearts and minds with it, makes what I do the best job in the world.