Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Adam West, in memoriam

As the entire world mourns and remembers Adam West fondly, what more is there to say about the man? I was a very very little boy when the Batman live action show aired, it entranced me, and sparked my lifelong interest in DC comics. So if you have ever enjoyed ANYTHING on this blog, your thanks are owed entirely to Adam West.

Thousands of pages are being written about how his portrayal brought the character back from the precipice of obscurity and put 'camp' into the ordinary person's vocabulary.  I don't feel a need to add to those.

But a lot of discussion focuses on how different and unique(ly amusing) West's portrayal of Batman was.  I want to focus on something he brought to the character that is NOT unique, but he brought it with such strength that it has informed every single portrayal of Batman since.  Simply put:

(Adam West's) Batman did not care what you thought about him. At all.

Adam West didn't 'play' camp. He didn't wink at the audience or his fellow actors. He didn't wink at anything. Or blink, even.  You want cute winks? Be a Superman fan.

Adam West took Batman with deadly earnest.  Which is exactly how Batman takes Batman.  A billionaire dressing like a bat to beat up muggers at night and throw boomerangs at deranged criminals is a RIDICULOUS concept. Intrinsically.  The only thing that saves it from feeling ridiculous is the sincerity with which Batman does it. And nobody, I mean NOBODY, radiated sincerity more than Adam West.

It didn't matter what they made him do as Bruce Wayne; he was committed to its veracity 1000% percent.  Dancing the Batusi was exactly as sincerely in character for West's Batman as recounting his parents' murder....BOTH of which happened in the first episode, in case you didn't know.

West's Batman (and most subsequent Batmen) don't care whether you think dressing like a bat is ridiculous. He doesn't care whether you cynically deride Virtue, the Constitution, Mercy, Caution, Civic Duty, Driving Safety, Dancing, Nature Studies, or Foreign Language study.  HE understands and believes completely in these things and their value, and if you do not, he merely pities you (in a non-judgmental way, of course).  He takes those things seriously.

Michael Keaton's and Diedrich Bader's interpretations of Batman were dead-on and well received. Why? Because those comedians understood the importance of Batman remaining serious...whether you want him to invoke fear OR laughter.    Even LEGO Batman, the most overtly humorous screen interpretation of the character, has one central characteristic that is source of nearly all its humor: he takes himself very seriously, no matter how ridiculous his behavior or situation might be.

I have always felt that this is the essential conceptual conflict between Batman and the Joker; that Batman takes everything seriously and the Joker takes nothing seriously, without regard to the situations.  That's why, objectively, Batman is hilarious and the Joker is terrifying.  But that is perhaps another story for another time.

For now, I thank the late Mr. West for bringing sincerity to his role as Batman... and to everyone else's Batman, too.

6 comments:

Joshua Roots said...

Very well said, Scip. I shall miss the earnest commitment he brought to the character. It was what catapulted Batman from Caped Crusader to Comic Book Icon and he'll forever be "my" Batman because of it.

Tom Price said...

Mr. West was in many ways my favorite Batman. I agree with your assessment of his portrayal and why it worked for me as a little kid in the 60s and still does. Thanks Scipio!

Bryan L said...

I feel a loss in a way I can't entirely explain, but I think you hit most of the main reasons, Scipio. I watched the show as a kid and I proudly bought the Blu-Ray set as an adult, and I wish that so much time didn't pass between those two events. I think Mr. West deserved a lot more credit than he got for Batman (at least until recently), and I think if the show had been available earlier, he'd have gotten that credit sooner. Ultimately, he wasn't my favorite Batman, but he was my first Batman, and that's pretty special.

JVL said...

I did not know that there was such a thing as Batman comic books- I only knew the Adam West show. Finding a Batman that could be read every month- even though it was different (by then David Reed and Irv Novick)- started me on comics. It has cost me countless hours and tens of thousands of dollars- and I could not be more grateful. Thank you Adam West. You were the first- and will always be my favorite. Nothing brings back childhood memories like your show.

Anonymous said...

My favorite thing about Adam West is that he made it through to the other side. I must explain. First he did "Batman" and then his career tanked, and Adam West was a joke. But then a couple things happened. One was, Adam West managed to get a few roles where he played exaggerated versions of himself, and that was a way to reinvent himself. But the bigger thing, I think, is the Internet happened, which allows celebrities to stay in contact with the public and be treated with love and respect instead of snide dismissal.

My point: Adam West made it through to the other side, where he could see how genuinely beloved he was. That may not have made him any richer, but I bet it helped make his long strange career worthwhile.

SallyP said...

Spot on, Scipio. Adam West took an inherently absurd role, played it perfectly, with that earnestness and charm that imbued it with perfect comedy. That's not an easy thing to do.

He was my first Batman too.