By Jarrett Kruse & Robert Trate
I woke up Saturday to the news that shook me to my core--Adam West had died at 88 from a leukemia-related illness. Batman had officially left us and I refused to believe it simply because Batman cannot die. Especially the Batman that got me completely hooked on all things Bat-related. I would binge-watch reruns as a kid on an $800 VCR (yes, they were originally VERY expensive in the early 80's) and watch the tapes over and over again reenacting scenes with my older brother. I remember deciding at 6 that when I grew up, I wanted my own Batcave and utility belt with a grappling hook. I did not want Batpoles because I thought that a waterslide type way to get into the Batcave would be cooler. My imagination ran wild with the possibilities of what one hero can do. Anything that Batman & Robin did that week, I wanted to be a part of it someday, somehow. Adam West was really the first celebrity that like so many of us, felt like we knew him personally. Batman stood for doing good and by rote through my childish eyes, so did Mr. West. I was sure that I would get to meet him one day at many of the Cons I have attended but the best I ever got was walking by his booth just to get a glimpse of my hero. Sometimes you just have to see your heroes with your own eyes in person and I wanted to be in Batman's general vicinity if only for a moment before being told, "the lines back there!". God knows the older we get, the more people we need who we knew when we were young. And we all knew Adam West in some way.
The Batman TV show was so over the top that it seriously could have damaged Bob Kane & Bill Finger's creation forever but it was just what the country needed in the turbulent 60's; at least that is what fans that around then told me. It was a bona fide hit and even spawned a feature-length film. The debonair and serious West took campiness to a whole new level and let's face it, no other comic book related show capitalizing on campy comedy since has really held a candle to BATMAN '66. The success of the show continued well after its short TV run in syndication and continued to capture the minds and hearts of children (and adults) everywhere. West had a knack for conveying the basic right and wrong things to do in admittedly zany situations that became actual life lessons that resonated with me. Batman was one of the good guys, his Rogues were bad--I wanted to be good like Batman.
Years later in college when I set up my first email account, the choice for my handle was simple--"Batkruse." It was a no-brainer. The waves of an over 30-year-old show had built the foundation for the hordes of superhero movies and TV shows that have and continue to be white hot in the 21st Century. There is no arguing that in my eyes. And finding out that West was a real live fanboy as a kid just sweetened the pot as I researched and read up on him over the years. Without West, there would be no Keaton, Kilmer, Clooney, Bale or Affleck. While those actors associate with donning the cowl, it is not the first thing you associate when you hear their names. Adam West was Batman, period. He seemed to relish playing the role and the show surged in popularity with DVD's and streaming devices finding new generations of Gothamites ready to worship the Bat and learn basic lessons that I honestly think we need more of in pop culture.
While West had a slew of roles after Batman, the actor had been typecast and many simply saw him as just Batman. It must have been a weight to bear especially when you consider what happened to TV's Superman George Reeves. However, you could not count out Adam West. He took on the role of Mayor of Quahog on FAMILY GUY and was perfectly captured in Seth McFarlane's animated world. West delivered his lines with the utmost sincerity and was still able to garner laughs. The Hollywood veteran still had it after all those years. He did guest spots on THE BIG BANG THEORY, POWERLESS and even inspired a Kevin Smith directed Batman episode of THE GOLDBERGS all while embedding himself in Con-Culture as a permanent fixture at shows around the world. He acted or did voice-overs on a ton of other animated Bat-projects and most recently reprised his role as Batman with the new to Blu-Ray BATMAN: RETURN OF THE CAPED CRUSADERS. I have not seen it yet but ordered it yesterday because I think Mr. West would agree that we can all use a groovy Batman in these troubled times. There is a genuine hole in my heart because it is not easy to process that as you get older, you realize that your heroes are mortal. Farewell Mr. West, rest easy as there is no signal in the sky tonight...
It's strange to eulogize someone that you have never met. When the news was sent to me, via a text that Adam West passed away, it hit me like a ton of bricks. Which is again, strange as I never met Adam West. I liken the feeling to learning that the Philadelphia Phillies longtime announcer Harry Kalas passed away. Again, I never met the man, but so much like Adam West, he was a huge part of my life.
Much like you, reading this, Adam West came into my life because of Batman. It was a re-run in my day (I'm a child of the Eighties), but he was on all the time. My brother and I always thought it was funny that the announcer would say "Same Bat-Time, Same Bat-Channel" between episodes because we always watched them as hour-long shows. What we didn't find funny was Batman. Looking back now anyone can see the campiness of the series. Yet as a child watching West's Batman, there were lessons to learn. Right and wrong were as clear as Black and White, yet doused in Andy Warhol. West was a true hero on screen. Whatever the antics were of what happened behind-the-scenes is something I never cared to learn. I always felt it would tarnish the image that West and his co-star Burt Ward crafted. Many, many years later I had a great affirmation of the hero that West was at a Wizard World Convention.
Working and writing in the pop culture zeitgeist for ten years now, I know when you have to take the chance, wait in line, and endure the hardships, because quite frankly it may never happen again. West and Ward appeared together at Wizard World Philadelphia and the line to see them was insanely long. This was one of those times where you think, this may never happen again, it is worth waiting. I was right. I believe this was to hype/ promote the complete box of the Batman 66 TV series. West and Ward were a delight to watch and very funny handling the questions from the audience. Then it happened. A little girl, somewhere around 5 or 6, asked the question that reaffirmed that West was the hero we believed he was on screen. The small little girl asked, "Mr. Batman, can you do the Batsui for me"? West who was in his eighties, made a few excuses at first but then jumped up and started dancing the Batsui. That man owned that dance. He owned the audience after that. More importantly, he owned that little girl's heart.
Adam West was Batman, that is true. For this fan, he was also a delightful person who brought joy to a little girl in front of a bunch of comic con nerds. He reminded me that day of the power he had playing that character and what a hero is supposed to do. Even if it was something ridiculous. Goodbye Batman.