Review: “Batman: The TV Stories”
Holy inspiration, Batman! In the compilation “Batman: The TV Stories”, ten Bat-stories by classic writers and artists of the 1940s, 50s, and 60s are collected in one Bat-tastic book. The cover to this volume boasts that within this trade paperback are some of “the comics that inspired the 1960s TV show!” While reading these issues, one can definitely see that the Batman of yesterday is vastly different than the one of the twenty-first century. Many will find these stories hokey, obvious in their storytelling, and downright silly or childish. But, like the 60s show’s detractors, those who disparage the Batman comic books of this time are not looking at them (or the show) in the correct light of the Bat-signal. Inventive storytelling, imagination, intelligence, and pure unadulterated fun with a capital “F” are to be discovered between the covers of these classic yarns. Dare I say it? Magic is bound to be found if one keeps an open mind and can realize many types of stories can be told involving the dynamic duo. Even ones that appear to be silly and “childish”.
Silliness, however, does not have to equal stupidity. Much intelligence can be detected in the Bat-tales told within this collection. Batman is still the world’s greatest detective, deducing (along with the help of Robin) the Riddler’s puzzling riddles or dealing with the Mad Hatter’s mad machinations. In “The Mad Hatter of Gotham City” by writer and Batman co-creator Bill Finger and artist Sheldon Moldoff, Batman realizes a sculptor is really Jervis Tetch (A.K.A. the Mad Hatter) because he “remembered how soft the ball of his [Tetch] left thumb looked!” Sculptors, as Batman tells Robin, have calloused left thumbs because of their trade. This type of minutia that “normal” people would not know or notice is expected to be common knowledge for Batman simply because he is Batman. His mental prowess is on par with his hand-to-hand battle expertise. In the TV show, information and clues that would seem impossible for any regular Joe to sift through is nonchalantly and quickly deduced by Adam West’s Caped Crusader (along with the assistance of Burt Ward’s Boy Wonder, Robin).
The influence the comic books had on the TV series is especially felt in “The Joker’s Utility Belt” by writer David Vern Reed and artist Dick Sprang. The TV show’s writers took this particular issue as inspiration for the fifth episode titled “The Joker is Wild” (which happened to be the Joker’s first appearance on the show). Visual, as well as story, inspiration is to be found throughout the issue. Batman and Robin are referred to as “ever vigilant lawmen” and not as vigilantes. This dynamic duo works with the law, not in the shadows. An amusing panel has Batman and Robin speeding past police headquarters, where an officer informs them of the Joker’s current whereabouts. Batman’s utility belt and the scientific tools that reside within are shown to be of great importance to the daring duo, which leads the Joker to make his own utility belt. When the clown prince of crime is asked by his henchmen to see the contents of his Joker belt, a panel describes each tool of terror to the reading audience. With so much inventiveness and artistry packed in one issue, it’s no wonder the producers of the show gained inspiration from this and other issues of “Batman” and “Detective Comics”.
Stories may seem light and airy, but Batman deals with armed criminals and psychotic archenemies. These villains desperately need Batman and are co-dependent individuals. “A Hairpin, A Hoe, A Hacksaw, A Hole in the Ground” (a great title for a story, by the way) is an issue by Finger with art by Lew Sayre Schwartz and Batman co-creator Bob Kane that is just one story in this trade that exhibits the unhealthy relationship Batman has with his rogues gallery. In one scene, the Joker has the opportunity to unmask Batman and discover his true identity. However, that would take away the “fun” of their cat-and-mouse game. The Joker decides to let Bruce Wayne keep his secret, “for you afford me the thrill of a supreme battle of wits each time we meet!” Surprising depth such as this jumps out at times through the diabolical and complex schemes hatched by the villains. That’s the beauty of these stories: they can be enjoyed for their surface thrills and, if one so desires, mined for underlying deeper meaning. This can only work if a character has great villains, and Batman has them in abundance.
The visuals that go along with the stories are dramatic and even have an operatic tinge to them. Large props are used often in these classic tales, with Riddler’s first appearance (by his creators Bill Finger and Dick Sprang) including an arresting and laugh-out-loud visual display. In the story simply titled “The Riddler”, Batman must put enormous puzzle pieces together to figure out the clue to Riddler’s next diabolical scheme. In order to do that, Commissioner Gordon lends Batman police officer brawn to put together the puzzle in a football stadium. Batman guides them from above the stands and even knows the officers’ names as he’s directing them! The Mad Hatter issue gives a little tip of the hat to Hollywood by having Batman and Robin battle him at the “Green Derby” restaurant (an homage to the Brown Derby restaurant in Hollywood, where stars and studio people kibitzed). As one would guess, there is a large green derby on the roof of the restaurant (“famed restaurant of the movie-makers”), with one particularly superb Moldoff panel placing Batman atop the derby and his iconic shadowy silhouette seen against it. Shadows, like here and elsewhere in all these ten tales, are present and used to great effect, despite the sometimes outlandish situations and overall “brightness” of color within their pages.
Bombastic, grandiloquent, campy, and bright are words often used to describe these stories and the television series. Some say that Batman and the aforementioned words don’t belong in the same sentence. Some even say it’s not the “real” Batman or “their” Batman. There is no “one”, definitive Batman. There must be certain traits present in order to be Batman, and these yarns (as well as the show) have many of them in spades. He’s a larger than life character and this interpretation of him is most assuredly larger than life, visually and in the means of storytelling. One instance succinctly defines who Batman is during one scene in a particular story. While reading the issue introducing Barbara Gordon as Batgirl, the reader sees Batman running through the night. On his chest is the bat symbol surrounded by the yellow oval. Too bright, you may say? Not at all. The juxtaposition of bright yellow against the dark symbol of the bat represent a beacon of hope and protection that defines who Batman is to the people of his city who he is driven to protect at all costs. You may say he is out to shine a light on the dastardly deeds of the night. Gotham City can count on that symbol in the dark of night. Or, as in these classic stories, even during the bright of day.
These comic books, like the TV show, can be enjoyed by children and adults alike. With the puns, fantastical sight gags, and Batman and Robin’s super-intelligence, this Batman is for everyone. Bruce Wayne, in these neon stories, has the characteristics that define him: detective skills, superhuman drive, intelligence, and a love for his city and compatriots that is unrivaled. He can live alongside other iterations of the character and his vast supporting cast and villains. Even next to the Batman of Frank Miller, Grant Morrison, and Scott Snyder. Stay tuned for more Batman, because there’s inevitably going to be more interpretations of Batman (some universally beloved, others not) that are sure to come over the decades!
“Batman: The TV Stories”
Written by: Bill Finger, David Vern Reed, Dave Wood, France Herron, Gardner Fox, and John Broome
Art: Dick Sprang, Lew Sayre Schwartz, Bob Kane, Sheldon Moldoff, Carmine Infantino
Inks: Charles Paris, Joe Giella, Sid Greene
Publisher: DC Comics
Original Publication Date: January 8, 2014
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[…] fun collections perfect for getting kids into comics (in a post-Code world). The recent compilation Batman: The TV Stories references the campy TV show, with a relatively tame Batman and Robin, and offers early looks at […]