Adam West's legacy
Batman Adam West
Adam West died yesterday at 88, after a battle with leukemia. While best known for the 1966 Batman TV series, West appeared in a number of Westerns and more mainstream films prior to being cast in that role. However, as is often the case with cult phenomena, the double-edged sword of Batman would follow him for the rest of his days; he wished to escape its shadow early on, and it was to a certain extent a career-killer, but it eventually became something that he was not only proud to be part of, but also a springboard for other work later in his life.
I grew up in the '70s and saw many shows in reruns on TV at that time, including Star Trek, Batman, and such timeless classics as I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched. Yeah, there was no internet in those days, kids. I enjoyed the show for what it was, but of course, I was a small child. I didn't understand concepts like camp; I just knew it was a show about a superhero and I liked those, in much the same way that I enjoyed the more adult-oriented but no less absurd George Reeves take on Superman.
As a teenager, I pretty much forgot about comics and their derivatives until a guy I went to high school with told me about a comic book called The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller. i was skeptical about reading a comic about Batman, who I associated almost solely with West's ludicrous series. However, I gave it a shot and, after reading the entire four-part series, I became a fan of Batman again; I was blown away by Miller and Janson's depiction of the character not as a silly man who dressed in tights and battled technicolor foes but as a brooding, powerful, borderline-psychopath whose obsession with justice drove him to put his life on the line nightly to protect the powerless. It was then that my attitude towards the West Batman shifted again to one of marked disdain, convinced as I was that West and the creative forces behind the show didn't "get" Batman. West himself pushed me further in this direction in interviews produced at the time of the release of Tim Burton's 1990 film, of which he was sharply critical at the time.
Time has a way of mellowing many of us and changing our views; absolutes seem a bit more relative and blacks seem just a bit greyer. At this point in my life, I value West's Batman not because I think he represented "my" Batman (as some have said in tribute to him--and who am I to argue with Julie Newmar, but I will respectfully disagree) but because he took that character and played it with zest and took it to heart. Later in his own life, he played a number of roles that gently mocked or slyly referenced his Batman, such as the Grey Ghost character on Batman: The Animated Series. I think that he also recognized that some of the Batmen who came later were valid interpretations of the character too. Recently, he and Burt Ward revisited their iconic roles in the animated film, Return of the Caped Crusaders. It was a brilliant and self-aware movie that played out like an extended episode of the original show. There is a sequel in post-production, according to IMDb, entitled Batman vs. Two-Face, and I hope it sees the light of day soon.
West lived a long and by all accounts full life, and that's probably the best thing that can be said about any of us after we die. I recommend the documentary Starring Adam West for those who wish to know more about his life. West's legacy to me is that just as Batman became an ineffable part of his existence, he has become an irreplaceable part of the legend of Batman. In that, he has gained a kind of immortality. As for me, I'm downloading LEGO Batman 3 so I can check out that Batman '66 level.