Here’s a timeline of how I felt about Adam West’s Batman through the years:
Age 8: Batman, cool!
Age 12: Batman’s better when he’s dark and Joker kills people all the time.
Age 15: Adam West’s Batman hurts the general impression of comics, more people should know Batman is a creature of the night. And Joker kills people.
Age 18: Comics, what? I don’t read comic books. Who told you that?
Age 25: The Adam West Batman is great, if only it wasn’t supposed to be Batman, because Batman should always be a creature of the night.
Age 34: Adam West is a genius. Life is hard enough without Batman bumming me out.
The Batman mythos these days takes itself so very, very seriously, but the older I get the more patently absurd the entire concept looks, the more OK with that I am, and the less interested I become in brooding darkness, which looked so much more appealing when I was a pampered kid longing to be a grown up so I could be sad and look cool.
There’s long been a sensibility among comics enthusiasts that the adaptations in other media fail to retain the weight of the books.The old Batman show might have failed to treat it’s source material with an ocean of respect, but DC comics of the period are not exactly great literature. Comic books can certainly be a glorious, viable art form, but panels like the one above certainly make them hard to defend unless you just toss your hands in the air and say “Allright, what the hell?”
The idea for creating a prime time Batman show in the sixties began with the news that The Playboy Club had been screening the 40’s movie serials late on Saturdays to great success, with everyone in attendance getting into the corny action and having fun. The idea began to germinate- if this spirit could be captured again, it could be a hit with kids and adults alike, if the jokes were just sly enough that kids didn’t know they were jokes but adults would get a kick. And, largely thanks to Adam West, they were. He elevated goofy earnestness to the level of absolute genius.
Even after the show, Adam West continued to appear as Batman at car shows and conventions around the country, even though he was contractually no longer allowed to wear the full costume. This resulted in scenes of an aging and somewhat portlier man wearing the hood along with a casual tracksuit on localized UHF late night shows and televised wrestling events, babbling about bat-fans and weather control devices well into the 80’s. Batman here (I don’t even feel like he should be referred to as “Adam West,” when he’s this far in character) displays such a disconnect with even what passes for reality in these environments that you wonder if he’s high or crazy or both. The answer is simple.
He Is Batman.
Today, Adam West is enjoying a resurgence. Warner Brothers, who now owns DC, made the necessary deals to get the rights to Adam West Batman paraphernalia. This summer, toys, shirts, bedsheets, bottle openers, plus size costumes and what have you will be available, adorned the sixties Batman’s zany face. And today’s fans, spoiled by a pop cultural universe that revolves around the comic book culture that takes itself so seriously, have finally fully embraced Mr.West. It was about time.