Want to know how long I’ve been a fan of Batman? I’ve been a fan of Batman so long I can’t remember the first time I encountered the character. What I do know, is that one man introduced me and countless others to Gotham’s hero.
That man was Adam West, who passed away on June 9th. I was born in 1985, so when Tim Burton’s dark “Batman” film was released to theaters in 1989, it was the perfect cocktail of Bat-mania about to burst again. To have grown up during your most impressionable years in the early 1990s was to be able to enjoy Michael Keaton’s Batman, Kevin Conroy’s masterful take on “Batman: The Animated Series” and reruns of the classic ‘60s series that stared West.
But of all the versions of Batman that I hold near and dear to my heart, the one that I hold there with the deepest affection is West’s Batman—the Batman that won my heart when I was a little kid. My love for the 1960s Batman world is so great, that as news broke of West’s passing, my phone began to light up with messages from friends expressing their condolences. Some of which said “You were the first person I thought of when I heard the news.” West’s portrayal of Batman is the reason why I grew up in a bedroom that was bat-this and bat-that.
I’d wake up in the mornings in my bed that had Batman bedsheets and a Batman bedspread, walk to the kitchen in my Batman pajamas, eat Batman cereal and watch the morning rerun of the 60s series that would come on. I’d then put on Batman shoes, socks, pants, shirt, and go to school with my Batman backpack and lunchbox. I’d come home, and I’d sit in my Batman chair that my Godparents had made for me, and I’d watch the afternoon rerun of Batman. Oh, and did I mention I had Batman posters and toys all round my bedroom too?
For years “Batman ’66”—as it’s come to be collectively known—was the red-headed stepchild of the Batman franchise. Derided for its “campy & silly” take on a character who was a dark avenger of the night. Just last year I had a conversation with someone about ten years younger than me, who too loves Batman, but loathes West’s version of the character. Them saying to me “The only reason you love it is because you grew up with it.” Yes, that has a part to do with it, but for all the critics and all the cries of it being an abomination—here’s my response. If it was really that bad, that awful, why has it endured for over 50 years?
Watching “Batman” as a child and seeing a world fueled by pure imagination inspired me that I could go as far as my imagination could take me. West’s Batman made me feel that anything was possible. There was nothing that couldn’t be solved by taking a pause, going back to the Bat-Cave, and thinking it out. Also, his Batman was the greatest alchemist of all time—inventing a Bat-Pill or Bat-Spray for any situation.
Even if you think Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy is the only true Batman, you have to realize that taking Batman back to his dark roots was a direct response to how much the 1960s TV series brought the character to the mainstream. Without “Batman ’66” it’s entirely possible Batman wouldn’t have survived. The comic was on the bubble of being canceled by DC when the show went on the air. The show elevated The Penguin, The Riddler, and Catwoman from the second tier of Villains. The show invented Mr. Freeze and Barbara Gordon’s Batgirl. Every single comic book movie that rules the roost at the box office today owes a tip of the hat to “Batman ’66.” It was the “Star Wars” of its day.
In 2014, after years of being held up by legal complications, the TV series was finally released on Home Video. My parents bought it for me for Christmas that year. They got me the deluxe limited edition blu-ray box. The one that came not only with all 120 episodes of the series, but an episode guide, a scrapbook taken from West’s personal archive, a reproduction set of trading cards from when the series was on the air, and to top it al off—a Hot Wheels Batmobile (Let’s be honest here, West had the coolest Batmobile).
Though I was all 29 years of age on that Christmas morning, opening the gift from my parents—the ones who had bought me so many Batman toys on Christmases long ago—I immediately returned to being a 7 year old head over heels in love with Batman. Yes, I took out the Hot Wheels Batmobile and drove it around the Christmas tree. Watching those blu-rays was the first time as an adult I had revisited the series at length. What I discovered was though I took it deadly seriously as a kid, now I found all kinds of amazing humor and wit in the show that I had never seen before. I love it just as much now as I did then—maybe even more. To this day when I start an episode of “Batman” and those opening titles begin and Batman and Robin come rushing towards the screen—I still feel a thrill about it.
West’s unique take on Batman did cause him to live in Typecasting Hell for a number of years, he eventually began to embrace his role as Batman and what it had meant to people. As he did so, the same kids who grew up with his Batman began to cast him projects, and his second career resurgence as “Adam West”—which led to talk show appearances, “Family Guy” and numerous other projects—came to be. One of those best moments—particularly for West as an actor—is an episode of “Batman: The Animated Series” titled “Beware The Gray Ghost.”
In the episode, West plays an actor who portrayed a super hero on TV named “The Gray Ghost.” A show that was the favorite of young Bruce Wayne, and who has some similarities with Batman. As the episode progresses, Batman himself invites the actor to help him solve a series of crimes that are lifted from plots of the old TV series. West’s character plays an actor who is hard on his luck from typecasting, he gets to see what he brought to the world through Batman’s inspiration from The Gray Ghost. In one moving moment, Batman invites The Gray Ghost to the Batcave, showing him a wall full of Gray Ghost memorabilia. Batman tells him “You were my hero” and an astonished Gray Ghost says “So it wasn’t all for nothing.” It’s a brilliant half hour of TV, and especially moving with West playing the part.
I’ll always owe Adam West a debt of gratitude for helping fuel my overactive imagination, and making me feel like everything was gonna be OK no matter what. What Adam West created will endure for many years to come, his Batman is a multigenerational fan base. A take on the character wholly his. I’m thankful that in his later years, he got to see what all he inspired in the world, and have the love given back to him with a much deserved career resurgence. The world would be a much poorer place without what he did.
As I write this, I keep looking over to my right. It’s a shelf of Batman stuff—some things never change. On it I have the blu-ray box, bobble heads, and action figures from “Batman ’66.” On a shelf in my bedroom, I have a collection of the brilliant “Batman ’66” comic book series that DC did a few years ago. Bring it all back home for West’s creation. Even today, when I feel like everything is spiraling out of hand and my worries get the better of me, I can watch “Batman” and it still makes me feel like everything is going to be OK. Rest well, Bright Knight and thank you. For everything. I’ll see you next week. Same Bat-Time, Same Bat-Channel.