When I was younger—actually very young—the campiness of Adam West’s Batman was completely lost on me. Never once did I roll my eyes at the performances or dialog, and instead I’d find myself lost in genuine amazement. “How did he do that?” I’d wonder with awe and excitement. More than once I’d toss and turn at bedtime, panicked with the thought of how Batman might escape his latest predicament, and never once did he disappoint.
Fast forward 15 years and Batman is getting the Big Screen treatment. Michael Keaton will be starting, Tim Burton is directing, and I am counting the days until opening night. At the same time, my thoughts are drawn back to the Batman of my youth. My father and I are driving somewhere and I happen to mention how it would be a good time to catch up on the “awesomeness” of the original series.
I can still remember my father looking at me while I continued to insist how great the series was. Finally he suggested I cautiously take another look. I did, and although the show wasn’t quite the epic I remembered, it wasn’t terrible. I still enjoyed it immensely.
Young me might have missed the campiness that older me couldn’t ignore, but through it all, Adam West never stopped being Batman.
In the years since, there have been many Batmen, and while some of them have been better than others, there was never any ignoring Adam West. Other actors might have played the part, but in his own unmistakable way, Adam West was still Batman. When he’d show up in occasional guest staring roles on other television programs during my childhood, I’d always think, “That’s Batman!” and that’s a reaction I haven’t had to anyone else who ever put on the cape.
I’m not attributing this reaction entirely to the wonderment of childhood. I’ve done it as an adult too.
I wrote Adam West when I first became a parent and asked for his autograph for my then-new daughter. A few weeks later I received a glossy photograph of the Batman and Robin I remembered from my youth with “Bat Wishes” scrawled above his signature. The writing was a bit shaky—perhaps a concession to age, but also possibly the result of a lingering injury endured while battling the likes of Joker or Penguin. If I was 5, the package would have thrilled me no more and no less.
A few years pass and Adam West is hosting a Halloween costume contest on Facebook. I submit a picture of Special Snowflake #2, then not yet 2, in her diaper and a Batman ’66 t-shirt. Adam responds “Cute!” and although we didn’t win the contest, I won something more. I got a nod from Batman and was well beyond thrilled.
Later that summer I attended my first nostalgia conference. Special Snowflake #1 came along to meet the Six Million Dollar Man. Perhaps more accurately, I went to meet Lee Majors and brought my daughter along, but however it’s defined, we both had a great time. As were leaving, Snowflake proudly announced, “I can’t believe we just met Batman!”
Maybe she realized that I was possessed with an enthusiasm I generally only reserve for the Caped Crusader himself, but she was still wrong. I turned back to look at laughing Lee Majors while wondering if we’d committed the worst possible NerdFest faux pas.
“He’s cool, but he’s not Batman cool,” I explained later, as if we might ever have a bionic audience again.
I’m posting the Six Million Dollar Man pictures to Facebook that evening and I notice something called “AwesomeCon” is coming to DC. Batman himself will be there. Without even looking at a calendar, I buy a ticket. It’s months away, but the official countdown has begun.
Anyone who knows me knows “quiet” or “shy” aren’t words that are typically used to describe me, but the morning of AwesomeCon and my actual Adam West encounter—as I mention elsewhere—I felt as though perhaps I was venturing too close to the sun. I talk for a living, and can seemingly go without drawing breath, but the Batman-encounter passes without a word. Still, Snowflake #1 and I leave elated. We stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Batman himself.
It was only a year ago.
At the same conference, we meet Will Friedle, known primarily for Boy Meets World to his fans, but known as Terry McGinnis/Batman Beyond to us. With him, I chat up a storm. I ask him what it’s like to be on that special list. “Awesome and terrifying,” he replies.
I totally get it.
Today, above my desk, there are pictures of my kids, a signed photograph of Christian Watford hitting the shot that beat Kentucky, and the framed photo of my Batman encounter. In all, it’s the motivation I need to get through most workdays. In general, most days are good.
This morning my cousin texted with the news of Adam West’s passing. A lump swelled in my throat while I turned to CNN to confirm the news… but some part of me also thought, “don’t worry… you’ve seen him survive certain demise before.”
Somewhere in my parents’ house are pictures of two-year old me with a towel tied around my neck. I’ve wanted to be Batman for as long as I can remember. My mother used to tell me I’d outgrow it, but as I close in on 50, the desire hasn’t waned (pun entirely unintentional), and I doubt it ever will. Adam West’s contribution to this desire is undeniable.
Rest well, Mr. West, and thank you for the moments of wonder.