My First Word Was Batman

Adam West died Friday.

My mom once told me that my very first word wasn’t “mom” or “dad” or even “binky,” it was “Batman.” I was obsessed with the show even at the rather early age of 1 or 2, and I would sit on the floor in front of our gigantic Magnavox (TVs really were more like furniture back then) and raise my hands in the air and exclaim “Batman!” when they said it in the theme song (and they said it a lot).

I’ve been hot and cold on the big-screen movies. Keaton was fun in the first two, Clooney was OK but he was stuck in one of the worst movies ever made (it’s funny how Joel Schumacher’s Batman movies try to be more like the original show than Tim Burton’s darker/weirder movies, but they just don’t work), and while I can appreciate Christopher Nolan’s movies and their “quality,” he still doesn’t know how to shoot a fight scene (none of the directors of the movies do, actually) and I don’t think they’re “fun” enough. And yes, fun is still an important element in a comic book movie (I’d still like to see a black and white, set-in-the-’40s, B-movie noir Batman, but that’s a whole other post).

So Adam West will always be the “real” Batman to me. I was too young to get the in-jokes and satire and overdone plots. I watched the show unironically for the fights and colorful villains and that fantastic hidden pole behind the library bookcase and my early love for Julie Newmar. I watched the show again recently, and while I remember thinking “this is so ridiculous!,” I thought it with a smile on my face. The show knew what it was doing and it did it well. I can still remember the feeling when I saw the feature film based on the show. I was too young to see in the theater but when I saw it on TV later it was a big event for me. My God, it’s going to be like the TV show, only longer and with all the villains? Yes!

I’ve always found it fascinating how some stars of old TV shows completely fade away while others reinvent themselves in some way, taking off on their old roles/personas but still doing something fresh. West played similar characters in movies and in many animated shows. Who could have guessed that West would go on to be loved by a whole new generation of fans by voicing the mayor (named Mayor West) in a cartoon like Family Guy? Though I guess a lot of those fans are adults who get it. There was something not just about the tone of his voice but the speed of it and how he structured his words. There was nobody that sounded quite like him.

We all have the things beyond family and friends and geography that have shaped us. Everything I am is because of Raymond Chandler novels and Dean Martin songs and Quisp cereal and TV shows like The Dick Van Dyke ShowLeave it to Beaver, Warner Brothers cartoons and Letterman. I would add Batman to that list too, even if I don’t think of it that much when I make those mental lists we all make. I don’t know if I would put it on any list of the “best” TV shows (I never have), but “best” is a very different thing than “favorite” or “most important” when it comes to lists, or at least it should be. Batman was very important to me.

Godspeed old chum.