Goodbye, Old Chum

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See, when I was a kid, nobody told me I was supposed to love Adam West’s Batman ironically.

We didn’t have cable then, so I would only catch glimpses of the show rare occassions; like when we were visiting cable-TV having relatives AND I was allowed to watch TV I liked. Catching the show on these occasions was like winning the lottery.

Oh, I loved the show. I loved it because it was a comic book come to life. Right from the word balloon sound effects to the costumes to the cackling villians, this was the Batman I knew. The garish colours were not “campy” or “kitschy”, they were just accurate! And I LOVED how serious everyone was. Yes, even ten-year-old me knew the dialogue was stilted and the situations contrived, but none of the actors treated it like a joke, so I didn’t either.

Adam_West_1961Later, I developed appreciation for the show’s sly humour, the art of the performances, even recognised the “camp” for what it was, but I never disliked the show. Even while I was an ardent fan of the Dark Knight Returns grim-dark Batman, I still loved Adam West’s permanently raised eyebrows and punches that went “Thwak!”

More than anything else, the show did it with panache and style. It was funny, but it wasn’t laughing AT Batman. It wasn’t laughing at US for loving Batman. Batman was ridiculous, yes, but he was also resourceful, witty and an all around good guy kids would give their left arm to hang with. It was respectful to its source material and what that meant to a lot of kids. And Adam West had a LOT to do with that.

I always liked Adam West as Batman. I won’t lie and say I loved him, but his clean cut good looks and deadpan delivery was charming. His mannerisms, made the character unique, and I suspect is a major reason for this version of Batman’s longevity. The best thing I can say about it is that even when surrounded by cackling, over the top villains who were being played by some phenomenal actors, this Batman never faded into the background like many other versions of the Dark Knight did.

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Much later, I got to learn about how IMPORTANT the show was to Batman’s legacy. It gave us the Barbara Gordon version of Batgirl. It brought Catwoman back from obscurity and positioned her as an important villain. It reinforced the idea that the Batmobile was something special. Oh, and it established Batman as THE superhero. It may have lasted only three years, but it was a hurricane that swept through the pop-culture landscape to such an extent that we are still talking about it a half a century later. Few other TV shows can say that.

However, the most important contribution of the show may be in expanding the possibility of how Batman could be portrayed. By stretching the boundaries, the show allowed me to see Batman could be many things. He could be a brooding vigilante, a gothic creature of the night, a gadgeted up superspy, a playboy action hero and yes, a goofy, funny, and yet charming gentleman-superhero, squeaky clean and a friend of the law. Hell, if it wasn’t for the show, the excellent Brave and the Bold TV show wouldn’t exist, and wouldn’t that be a crime?

Adam West’s passing has brought renewed interest in the show, and that makes me happy. Adam West was the first onscreen Batman for me and many of my generation. Hell, considering we could barely get our hands on comics here in India, I would argue that for the longest time he was the ONLY Batman we got. And his Batman was heroic, witty, resourceful and noble – not too different from all my other favourite versions – so he couldn’t have been THAT off the mark, could he?

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