This is going to be a very difficult blog to write. This past weekend, we lost Adam West. I don’t have to tell you that he was best known for playing Batman in the campy 1966 TV series. To me, he was my first hero. My first exposure to Batman, a character I love in all forms (well, almost all). He was a reminder that things some can interpret as dark, can also be looked at as bright and silly.
This weekends tributes to Adam West had most people saying “the best Batman ever” or “my Batman.” And though some who wore the cape and cowl after him may have given meatier performances, none of them played it as multi-layered as Adam. I’m not kidding. He may not have been the tortured Bruce Wayne, but he was playing a very serious character in a comedic way. It could have been a disaster, but it turned out to be the most memorable portrayal of the character.
I know this because when I was a kid, I thought Adam West’s Batman was the coolest superhero. And then as an adult, I got a kick out of his campiness. It works both ways, and only because Adam was able to pull it off.
Part of me wishes I were alive for the Batmania of the 1960. All the world loving this piece of pop art that came into their living rooms twice a week. It was a mid-season replacement, too. They even rushed to get a big screen Batman movie out that following summer. Though that was a little more “in your face” goofy, it was still great to have two hours of Pow! Bam! Starting with Batman taking on a rubber shark, to them not quite saving the day as you would think. “Let’s go, but, inconspicuously, through the window.”
The series only lasted three seasons. And by the third, they were only once a week. I loved the addition of Batgirl, but it was so obvious she was there as a love interest for Batman/Bruce Wayne. But we all know it should have been Catwoman (any of the three) who Batman pined after. The show was “this close” to being picked up by another network, but sadly, all the sets had been destroyed. I can only imagine what more adventure we could have seen. “What a way to go-go.”
But the end of the series was not the end of Adam West as the Caped Crusader (nor Burt Ward as the Boy Wonder). They did one season of an animated Batman cartoon. And then the better left forgotten Legend of Superheroes variety hours (that was the 70s for you).
Sadly, Adam ended up stuck doing b-movies, one shot TV appearances and lending his wonderful voice to animated specials. And worse yet, when old television shows were being released on DVD, it looked like we’d never see the Batman series due to rights issues.
But when Tim Burton’s Batman brought the character back into the limelight, it gave new life to Adam West’s career (at least in my humble opinion). Yeah, Adam did express disappointment in not being asked to cameo in the new movies. But he never seemed bitter about the character moving on. He poked fun at it on the Simpsons. And showed up as The Gray Ghost in Batman: The Animated Series, a cautionary tale about actors playing superheroes in their heyday.
Adam was always in on the joke, but never a punchline, and never self-depreciating. As a matter of fact, he hosted the Thanksgiving Mystery Science Theater 3000 that razzed one of his b-movies, Zombie Nightmare.
And when The Dark Knight turned Gotham even darker, Adam West dubbed himself The Bright Night. A term that stuck because it rang true. He was the happy yin to the newer Batman’s darker yang.
Meanwhile, a whole new generation got to know Adam West as Mayor West on The Family Guy. Adam playing a character who was so messed up, with such conviction, I often worried that it was time for the real Adam West to go into a home. Nope. He just knew funny. Even in his 80s.
I had the fortune of seeing him at San Diego Comic Con a few times. Always fun to hear him talk to fans. Very polite and grateful to be where he was.
And then, just last year, Adam West, Burt Ward and Julie Newmar voiced The Return of the Caped Crusader. And full-length animated video that picked up where the series left off. Not to give too much away, but Batman turns bad for a little bit, and Adam just had a blast with that. There was a sequel planned with William Shatner as Two-Face. I hope they already did the voice overs for that.
Which is what makes Adams passing even sadder. At 88, he was still going strong. Whatever was in that utility belt of his was working! But at least we have a few new true West memories to enjoy. Rest in peace, old chum!