In the late 1960s and early ’70s, I raced home from school every afternoon to power load on superhero and Sci-Fi television. It was all reruns, though I didn’t know it. There was Star Trek. Gigantor, Superman, and, of course, Batman.
I was not an avid comic book reader back then. So, for me, Adam West, who died Saturday at 88, created the iconic caped crusader. His sonorous voice commanded me from across the room sit close to our 25-inch tube TV.
The plots seem silly now, but I was hooked and worried in between cliff hangers about whether our hero would survive. I even believed Batman and Robin were climbing skyscrapers with little more than a rope. It never occurred to me that they simply turned the camera on its side.
Years later, we began referring to Adam West’s portrayal of Batman as “campy,” but that interpretation only works with the benefit of hindsight.
The day-glow-colors and off-kilter approach to the mod music of that generation were perfectly in-sync with the era (1966-to-68) and network TV’s slightly confused notions about what it meant at the time to be hip and cool. West played Batman as a somewhat slightly self-righteous, occasionally frustrated man in extraordinary circumstances. Batman, after all, was always just a man, not a super human or alien. So West played Batman as Wayne’s ID and super ego combined. He was still stiff, but also more moralistic, courageous and, yes, sometimes funny.
And I don’t think West, who considered himself a classic actor, was swimming upstream in a goofball enterprise. He was surrounded by excellent character actors like Burgess Meredith, Frank Gorshin, Julie Newmar, and Cesar Romero. They were scenery-chewers, to be sure, but I think that was the only way to play opposite the straight shooter Batman.
I would not have cared about Tim Burton reviving the Batman franchise on screen in the late 1980’s without Adam West and, from what I could tell, virtually every actor who played the cave dweller was deeply influenced by West’s stoic delivery, and portrayal.
I’m glad that no one tried to ape his voice, though, the one that was recognizable decades later in cartoons and when I finally met the man.
West didn’t get the respect he deserves for what he accomplished with Batman until years later, when all those kids who grew up watching him turned their love of comic book heroes into a phenomenon.
West was on the Con circuit long before it was cool and stuck around until people who weren’t comic book nerds started recognizing the broad cultural impact Adam West and others like him have had on our lives.
West was 88 when he died and yet it feels like he’s gone too soon. Such was his constant presence in life and in that part of our brains that still remember worrying if Batman and Robin would succeed against the Penguin’s latest dastardly plot.
To the Batcave, everyone.