By Carter Glace, Staff Writer
One of the reasons I wanted to start this semester talking about “Wonder
Woman” is to give me more time to put my thoughts into words for this. Over the
summer, Adam West, most well known for his role as Bruce Wayne in the 1960’s
Batman television series, passed away. Of the many, many celebrity deaths we have
faced, this one felt particular wrenching, as if there was now a crater in the pop
culture landscape that may never be filled. And what’s hard to fathom is that, a few
years ago, people might not think the same way.
Given the cultural adoration of Adam West, and the reappearance of his work
as the Caped Crusader, it’s difficult to remember that for decades, the 60’s Batman
was considered a punch-line, some how a betrayal of the ‘darkness’ and ‘grittiness’
of the character. But in the advent of the ultimately underwhelming Nolan-verse,
and perhaps in the wake of the continuing unpalatable Synder-verse, the pop
culture discussion has become not only forgiving of the Batman television series, but
celebratory of its odd, cheery, often subversive and sarcastic demeanor. And in the
wake of a renewed interest in the show, we have seen the original series rereleased
on blu-ray, a running comic series set in the ’66 universe, and two animated films
voiced almost entirely by the original cast.
But I would go further and say that not only is the show fantastic and utterly
charming, that not only is the original series great, but that Adam West might be
our best Batman, who best embodies the iconic Silver Age version of the character.
The Silver Age—roughly spanning from the 50’s-70’s—is where the modern
visions of our favorite heroes were born. While Batman, Superman and Wonder
Woman all existed in the 40’s (the Golden Age), the lore, personality and tone that
would define them for the remainder of their existence began in the Silver Age. The
concept of the multiverse, now the heart of the industry, began here. Green Lantern
and the Flash were reimaged into the iconic iterations. And the Silver Age also
turned moderately successful Timely Comics—creators of Captain America—into
This is the era that brought us two of the most iconic super hero adaptations,
Adam West’s “Batman” as well as Christopher Reeves’ “Superman”. Both of them were
ground breaking and hold up well. And most importantly, both capture
exactly what make their heroes not only iconic, but inspirational. Capturing
everything we want the hero to be.
I don’t think I need to make the case for Christopher Reeves’ Clark Kent.
Earnest, sincere, utterly charming and just a bit dorky, he is Superman. Someone
gifted with the powers of a god who looks around at the cynical, gritty world around
him and decides “I’m going to save it,” for no other reason than it’s the right thing to
do. The very thematic DNA that makes The Man of Steel not only loved but
important is perfectly realized through Reeves.
And while people don’t discus it as much, I’d argue West pulled off the same
effect as Reeves, distilling the spirit and thematic heart of Bruce Wayne and bringing
it to the screen. Where as most adaptations of Batman focus on the grief and rage of
the Waynes’ death, I have not found a single plot line centered around the loss of the Waynes’. The result is, instead of focusing on trauma or grief or vengeance or rage of
the character, ’66 Batman focuses on what makes Bruce likeable. The witty, oft-dry
and subversive personality and charming, lounge club million persona that modern
Bat-Adaptations play as a mask or cover is played completely straight here. Bruce
Wayne is like that, and the character is better for it. He’s gotten over any grief and is
a genuinely likeable person to look up to. You want to be like him.
But the place that elevates ’66 Batman from just a likeable version of the
character to inspirational hero to aspire to is how the series approached Bruce
Wayne’s vigilantism. In modern adaptations, Bruce Wayne uses his exuberant
wealth to make a military grade arsenal and terrorize the streets as a one man army
to get his revenge for the death of his parents. The criticism that he has become a bit
fascist is not unwarranted. West’s Batman is the complete opposite to this, instead
making his crime fighting something to look up to. In the ’66 universe, Bruce Wayne
is worldly, forward thinking, and cultural because he has had the financial comfort
to study a broad range of topics and make himself the best he can be both physically
and intellectually. The result is someone with a ride range of skills that allow him to
out think and out smart the many super criminals of Gotham in ways the regular
police can’t. Honestly, this version of Batman is the most in-tune with his detective
roots, an upper society socialite who uses his incredible intelligence to solve puzzles
and crimes of which the well-meaning but bumbling police are incapable (but with a
few added fights, because he is a super hero after all).
Above all, Reeves’ Superman and West’s Batman capture the one
fundamental truth of Silver Age Super Heroes: they are everything we want to be and aspire to be. What we can be when we are at are very best. And by all accounts, Adam West was one of the very best of us, and the world as a whole is just a little dimmer without him showing the next generation how to be a hero.