Monday, June 12, 2017

RIP Adam West: September 19, 1928 - June 9, 2017

Adam West passed away of leukemia a few days ago, and I am very sad about it.

I have extremely fond memories of Adam West as Batman from when I was a kid. I used to watch Batman when I was a kid. We loved it. When I went as Batman for Halloween when I was four or five, the costume was partially inspired by Adam West's Batman (also Michael Keaton's Batman as Batman Returns had come out just a year or so before).

I used to play Batman in front of the TV, and I have watched the 1966 movie more times than I can count. Eventually, it was basically impossible to adjust the tracking enough to make the movie watchable because we'd worn the magnetic tape out.

There is a certain segment of nerd--usually white men--that don't like the 60's take on Batman because it was silly. It was campy. They felt it was mocking this beloved character. To be fair, it kind of was, but it was a loving mockery and a daring experiment since comic books were considered children's stuff--this was long before comics became Things For Adults and Collectibles. And because white guys can't abide even an ounce of ribbing or mockery without shitting themselves in the cereal aisle, they turned as hard and as far from West's Batman as they could.

While this this led to some fantastic Batman stories--Scott Snyder and Tom King's recent runs on Batman in the comics, Nolan's Batman films, and Batman: The Animated Series--too often, Batman was turned Batman into a cruel sociopath--someone who wasn't so much trying to save a city as much as break anybody that dared step out of line. A fascist in a bat costume. Look no further than Frank Miller's take on Batman, especially The Dark Knight Strikes Again and All-Star Batman and Robin (which generated the infamous "Goddamned Batman" meme).

Pictured: the Batman people want...I guess???

Other people have written better, more eloquent or personal things. I highly recommend Glen Weldon's essay on Adam West on NPR. But I would like to take a moment to express that Adam West is one of, if not the, best Batman.

The show was cheesy, but West's performance was 100% serious. That's what made it work. To West's Batman, there is nothing more serious than trying to figure out how a raven is like a writing desk, or making sure that Robin buckles up in the Batmobile because safety first. This was treated with similar gravity as the Penguin surreptitiously buying nuclear submarine secrets from the US government.

Batman's gadgets were sort of wacky, but they demonstrated how clever West's Batman was. He developed these things to peacefully resolve conflicts. He didn't break bad guy's fingers. He tried to outwit them. Of course, there were always punching matches, but it wasn't Batman stomping on someone's skull after breaking through a skylight. West's Batman knocked the bad guys out and took them to the police. West's Batman would give bad guys a stern talking to and try to convince them to turn their life around rather than branding those bad guys with a Bat-Symbol and sending them to their inevitable death in prison.

To me, the best exemplification of West's Batman is from the 1966 movie. Batman has a giant, cartoonish bomb he needs to dispose of, but he's on a crowded boardwalk. If he tries to just throw it away somewhere, someone could get hurt. This scene, while comical, shows just how much this Batman cares. He steers the bomb away from nuns, from children, and when he tries to dispose of the bomb in a lake, he even abandons that plan when he sees a family of duckies. This Batman so values life that he wants to safe EVERYONE--including the animals.

West's show was silly, but sincere. It embraced the roots of comics--that they are stories for children, and they're meant to be fun. And West himself loved this character so much, he basically never stopped playing him. That, to me, is wonderful. Whether he's playing the Grey Ghost--the inspiration for Kevin Conroy's Batman in TAS, or clever references like playing the mayor of Gotham in The Batman from the 2000's, or even parodies of himself like Catman and the Fearless Ferret in the Fairly Odd Parents and Kim Possible respectively, he always appreciated his fans and his legacy.

Please enjoy this musical tribute to Adam West. And maybe check out his old show if you haven't. Or the fantastic Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders which just came out last year.