Reviewer Dr. Wesley Britton: Dr. Britton is the author of four non-fiction books on espionage in literature and the media. Starting in fall 2015, his new six-book science fiction series, The Beta-Earth Chronicles, debuted via BearManor Media. For seven years, he was co-host of online radio’s Dave White Presents where he contributed interviews with a host of entertainment insiders. Before his retirement in 2016, Dr. Britton taught English at Harrisburg Area Community College. Learn more about Dr. Britton at his WEBSITE
Author: Bruce Scivally
Author: Bruce Scivally
Back in 1939, a young boy and his parents left a theatre showing the latest Zorro adventure. But a robbery in the theatre alley went horribly wrong, and the young Bruce Wayne saw a murderous thug gun down his parents. That was in the comics anyway, a story concocted by a savvy writer/artist named Bob Kane.
These days, it would be
difficult to find anyone who doesn’t know at least part of both the
true and fictional stories that would follow that dark and dastardly
night. For a few examples, Kane’s comic book begat a film serial
that begat radio scripts and then a “camp” TV show and then major
motion picture re-boots of the legend. Then there’s a lucrative
merchandising franchise. Of course, there have been no shortage of
books devoted to Batman, sometimes on the films, often the TV series,
sometimes focused on the comics and their creators. But few have
tried to be as exhaustive as Bruce Scivally in his Billion Dollar
Among his previous books, Scivally compiled Superman on Film, Television, Radio and Broadway, a hefty tome covering just what the title suggests. Not surprisingly, Billion Dollar Batman follows pretty much the same format. We begin with the story of Bob Kane and his “ghosts,” that is the other artists and writers he used without crediting them. Then, we get chapters on Batman as a star of movie serials, as a radio character, and of course extensive time is devoted to the William Dozier produced TV hit and the films that followed. In the early chapters, Scivally distills available information in often hit-and-run biographies of writers, actors, and producers as well as providing thumb-nail histories of the pre-TV media incarnations of the Caped Crusader. After he sinks his teeth into the Adam West ABC show, Scivally provides extensive stand-alone chapters discussing the production history, marketing, merchandising, and responses to the Keaton, Kilmer, Cluny, and Bale interpretations.
As the long bibliographies for each chapter demonstrate, Scivally relied primarily on contemporary interviews, reviews, and articles from industry publications. He was able to conduct some interviews of his own, as with Michael Wilson, son of the original screen Batman, Lewis Wilson. Scivally lets the reviewers of the times do most of the analysis as his purpose is history, not film criticism.
To be fair, despite the
lengthy lists of works cited that follow each chapter, no one man,
even Bruce Wayne, could be expected to read and absorb everything
written about Batman to date. For example, last year’s Gotham City
14 Miles, a collection of essays on the TV version, isn’t
mentioned. Paragraphs on the comic books are pretty much done in
passing. But Scivally’s scope couldn’t possibly have included the
parade of storylines and writers who’ve shifted and changed the
realm of Bruce Wayne over the decades. This is a chronicle of Batman
on film and television, not to mention as a figure inspiring
avalanches of toys and tie-in merchandise.
The very fact Scivally was able to bring all this together in one place is the reason Billion Dollar Batman is one for every Bat-fan. Even the most knowledgeable are going to read anecdotes and perspectives they’ve never heard before or forgotten. For example, the chapter on “False Starts” is full of information I never knew about, including a Batman musical and a Batman vs. Superman film script. This one I’ll keep on my Bat-shelves.