Batman fans are an easily polarised lot—as is evident with every new casting announcement. But there’s one thing they’ll all have to agree on: Adam West’s Caped Crusader was legendary.
Sure, the show was kitschy, the villains were ridiculous; West’s Batman himself was cheesy and his fighting skills were sub-par at best;and he was nowhere nearly as broody and complex as he’s recently become on the big screen. But he was an icon. I doubt that any of his successors to the Bat Cape could have pulled off that level of camp, or delivered his lines (“Salt and corrosion. The infamous old enemies of the crime fighter”, or “We’ve come a long way from the Prime Minister’s exploding cake. Or have we?”, anyone?) with as much of a straight face.
In the early 1990s, a full two decades after the show originally aired, I was a mop-headed nine-year-old who ploughed through her homework, wiped down her bright red cycle, and raced the 500m or so to her grandparents’ house (cable TV was not yet a staple) to be in time for the “Na NaNaNaNa Na…Batman!” opening sequence of the reruns on the massive box of a television. I didn’t even mind that the occasionally preachy tone it took. West was dry, witty, and knew the importance of good grammar. It was pure gold.
Robin (to a fleeing villain): “You can’t get away from Batman that easy!”
Batman: “Good grammar is essential, Robin.”
Exchanges like this one between Batman and Robin, for instance, were probably why this future nerd—and others like me—loved him, and the show. That Batman also included terrible dancing, made-up swear words I could repeat without any threat of parental reprisal, and visualisations of comic-book staples in the form of “Pow”s, “Biff”s and “Bam”s may have helped as well. After all, these infiltrated my real world as well. Sure, my childhood villains were as made up as the swear words, but the terrible dancing as stayed with me even today.
So yes, I would be there every day, at the same “Bat-time”, even if it meant having to redo parts of my maths homework later.
What I didn’t realise then, was that West had been consciously spoofing James Bond. Thinking back, this makes perfect sense. Much like 007, Bruce Wayne was suave, rich and good-looking enough to make a believable playboy millionaire, they both had an incredible arsenal at their disposal, their villains were too loquacious for their own good and, possibly most importantly, they were both classical heroes: highly skilled mortals with a defining character flaw. The main difference was, West’s Batman preferred to punch first and ask questions later. So why not make Batman a foil to the straight-laced MI6 agent?
And yet, West, and his spandex-clad Batman may have been relegated to the depths of memory had it not been for an accidental discovery of Mayor Adam West on Family Guy, sometime in the mid-2000s. The name alone was enough to elicit a “Squee!” of recognition followed by a feverish trawling through the Internet to check if Batman was really playing an eccentric character named after himself.
I had a new respect for the man, and the deep urge to re-watch as much of the old ‘Batman’ series as I could find on YouTube.
Then came the 200th-anniversary episode of The Big Bang Theory, where he explained why he was the best Batman: “I never had to say I’m Batman. I showed up, (and) people knew who I was everywhere I went…” You, know, just in case you didn’t know who he was, even after two cameos as “Adam West” in The Simpsons, one as Mermaid Man—a readily recognizable spoof of the Caped Crusader with a sidekick called Barnacle Boy, who rode with him in his Invisible Boat-Mobile—in SpongeBob SquarePants, among others.
“Adam West” from The Simpsons’ episode “Mr Plow” and The Big Bang Theory have one element in common. They wanted to make sure everyone knew that, unlike many of his successors, West did not wear a prosthetic chest: “just 100% pure West” as he told Leonard Hofstadter, Rajesh Koothrappali and Howard Wolowitz.
West’s claim to the title of “Best Batman Ever” might still be disputed, and—having missed the last couple of films—I’m perhaps not a big enough fan of the Bat to confer that title. Yet, West will forever hold the distinction of being my first Batman who didn’t live between the pages of a comic book.