The Importance of Adam West’s Batman

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It’s Sunday morning and I am three-years-old. Like most weekends, we are spending the afternoon in my grandmother’s cottage where all of our extended family have gathered for a roast-lunch. The grown-up talk about the news of the day and the direction the country is heading, but myself and my cousins are staring at the clock. Waiting. At the hands slowly turn to 1pm, we rush into the small living room where a medium-sized TV sits, prepped and ready to go. The familiar theme starts to play and like a choir we begin to sing along in tune. Na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na na. Batman!

Adam West and Burt Ward burst onto the screen, but to us these weren’t actors. They were the real Batman and Robin. Camp? Certainly not. Our heroes were righteous freedom fighters deserving of the title of Dynamic Duo. Everyone, myself included, wanted to be the Boy Wonder to Adam West’s Caped Crusader. He represented everything we wanted to be. Strong, intelligent, and courageous enough to do the right, no matter the cost.

I still have fond memories of those days. The notion of cable or satellite TV in rural Ireland was but a fantasy even in the early 90s. We had two channels are were glad of it. Choices were limited, but every and then RTÉ, the state broadcaster would play a re-run of the 1960s Batman show and suddenly, we wouldn’t care. Were it not for Adam West’s BatmanI’m not sure if I would be the comic fan or person I am today. I’m sure that I’d have come across Batman in my travels, but I don’t think I was have grown as fond of the character and where he came from as easily as I did. It was being re-run at the same time that the animated series of Batman, Spider-Man, and the X-Men were reaching their prime. Collectively and individually, they contributed to a sense of wonder about the world of superheroes. As naive and cheesy as it may be, I would not have the same sense of justice and fairness were it not for Adam West.

The personal impact that Adam West and his Batman extends far and wide. It has inspired many the creative to enter into the industry from Kevin Smith to Grant Morrison. Significantly, it has influenced the character’s fictional development over the 50 years since its debut. Some have sought to downplay that influence and confine Adam West’s interpretation of the character to the annals of history. Those who do so are misguided. They forget that before

Batman arrived on the scene at a time when the character had not truly forced himself into the pop cultural psyche. There was public awareness of the character to an extent, but the show’s popularity, particularly through re-runs, ingratiated Batman into our collective hive-mind. Were it not for Batman, it is likely we would not have the same affinity towards superheroes that we do now. The Dark Knight trilogy and the various Cinematic Universes may not have come into being without them.

If you need specific examples, we need only look to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. The Batman we see in that book begins as an elder version of Adam West’s character going as far as to wear the same iconic blue-grey costume. It is only after the matter does Miller begin to mold the character into the brooding loner that we know him to be today. Indeed, The Dark Knight Returns only works because the general perception of the character was that of Adam West. Similar in Morrison’s run on the main Batman title, he made a point of acknowledging the character’s long and mixed history. Morrison recognized that the modern interpretation owed much to that which came before. A central plot element of his run was that every version of Batman was canon and crucial to his personal development. None more so than the 1960s “camp” Batman.

Those who have attempted to deny Adam West have done so from a point of insecurity. They fear by accepting his Batman and its legacy that it detracts from the character’s modern portrayal. Moreover, they think that it undermines their arguments that comics aren’t just for kids. What they don’t understand is that the logical conclusion of their argument is that these characters exist for everyone. Young and old. They exist to portray the best and worst of humanity. They teach us and inform our understanding of the world. They can be serious and fun. Neither approach should have a monopoly on these characters. We can have a Batman that is both serious and light-hearted. One does not detract from the other.

Adam West (1927-2017)

Earlier today, it was announced that Adam West died after a short battle with leukemia. Having escaped hundreds of death-traps laid for him by his rogues gallery, he could not escape the oldest of all. He will be remembered as man who wasn’t afraid to make fun of himself as seen from his roles on The Simpsons and Family Guy. He was the hero we needed, but not the one we deserved. He will be missed. He was Batman and we will never forget him.

Ár déis Dé go raibh a anam dílis.

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