In the world of superheroes, few things may be as well known and as polarizing as the 1966-1968 Batman television series.  To some, this represents the silly fun that made Batman a household name; to others, this series trivialized the character and reinforced the belief that comic books are juvenile.  Edited by Jim Beard, Gotham City 14 Miles: 14 Essays on Why the Batman TV Series Matters approaches the series from several angles, with writers who both enjoyed and hated the series.

There are some common themes through most of the essays in Gotham City 14 Miles: The series was camp; Frank Gorshin returned the Riddler from comic-book obscurity; Julie Newmar brought sexuality to Catwoman; "Batmania" was a commercialism/product craze that swept the country when the show began; and the third season was the worst and reflected the decline that led to the show's cancellation.

Beyond that, the essays focus on, and treat with different attitudes, a wide variety of aspects of the show.  Bill Walko's "POW!" Batman's Visual Punch" discusses the influence of the Pop Art movement on the tv series, relating the show quite convincingly to cultural trends led by Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein; on a similar theme, Timothy Callahan's "Notes on Bat-Camp" is as concerned with Susan Sontag's essay on camp as on the show itself.  Jim Beard's "Such a Character: A Dissection of Two Sub-Species of Chiroptera homo sapiens" exhaustively compares the Batman character in the tv show and in the first eleven issues of the comic book.  The show's feminism and sexism are explored in Jennifer K. Stuller's "The Best-Dressed Women in Gotham City," youth culture is looked at in "Michael D. Hamersky's "'Holy Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor!'  Youth Culture in Batman," and the technology on the show is examined for both silliness and historical precursors in Michael Johnson's "Gotham City R&D: Gadgetry in Batman."  There's the show's music (Michael S. Miller's "May I Have This Batdance?"), it's decline (Will Murray's "Jumping the Bat-Shark: The Demise of Batman"), and, of course, the show's lasting impact (Paul Kupperberg's "Some Days You Just Can't Get Rid of a Bomb: The Legacy of Batman").  The essays also cite numerous other books on the show and interviews with many of its stars and behind-the-scenes people.

I wasn't a fan of the Batman tv show as a kid, and seeing it in syndication recently did nothing to alter that opinion.  But Gotham City 14 Miles gave me more respect for what the show wanted to do (appeal to adults with its campy humor, and kids with its traps and battles) and what it succeeded in doing (becoming a fad show (amazingly successful for a short time) and impacting pop culture today, for good or ill).  The essays aren't all good -- Callahan's essay is too distracted by Sontag to focus enough on the show, while Becky Beard's "Aunt Harriet's Film Decency League" simply lists the film and movie credentials of the show's famous guest stars and villains -- but whether the writers loved or loathed the show, most are intelligent and give intriguing views of the show.

2014 saw the first official release of the full Batman tv show, bringing it from convention bootlegs to retail and online stores.  Gothan City 14 Miles is a worthwhile look at the series, from what it did then to what it means now.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch

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