Regardless of your feelings about Adam West as Batman (disclosure: this writer considers him to be the finest of all Batmen), you can’t deny that his performance in the 1966 Batman TV series left an indelible impression on popular culture. To this day, people who have never even seen an episode of that show will hum some version of that incredible Neil Hefti theme tune whenever Batman comes into the conversation.
West’s Batman was played for laughs. His ultra-serious caped crusader delivered intentionally ridiculous dialogue with impossible sincerity and deadpan timing. And he wasn’t afraid of spandex, wearing a costume that was a literal translation of the blue and grey skintight gear from the comics, making him an even more outrageous figure in a series that was already full of them.
Adam West is back as Batman (along with his old sidekick/co-star Burt Ward as Robin) in the new animated movie Batman: Return of The Caped Crusaders, which is a wonderful translation of the 1960s TV series to animation. I was fortunate enough to sit down with Mr. West at a roundtable discussion with several other journalists at New York Comic Con, and he answered questions candidly and with his own particular brand of humor.
“The new movies, Batman is very full of vengeance and deep-seated angst and so on,” Mr. West told the group at one point. “They’re very dark.”
I did ask him if he had any advice for other actors playing Batman. After all, no actor in history has put in the same amount of hours in the costume (in the costume, the brilliant Kevin Conroy doesn’t count since he didn’t have to actually wear the cape) as Adam West did over the course of his series’ 126 half-hour episodes.
“Yeah,” Mr. West said. “Enough violence. Let the costume work for you. And put a little humor into it. I think it’s about time to relieve that all of that kind of attitude of vengeance and ‘I can’t take it anymore, I’m going home and I’m going to suck my thumb.'”
Ouch. I wonder if he’s familiar with the “my parents are dead!” Batman strip.
I’m sure Mr. West isn’t advocating for another strictly comedic take on the Dark Knight (although the Batman: The Brave and The Bold animated series was a wonderful flirtation with that), but more that Batman could stand to lose a little bit of the baggage. Recent Batman comics writers like Grant Morrison, Scott Snyder, Tom King, and their respective artistic partners have done a better job striking a balance between the character’s tragic past informing his crimefighting drive without painting him as a completely humorless fighting machine. Perhaps by the time we get around to Ben Affleck’s The Batman solo movie, things will have shifted a bit.
Batman: Return of The Caped Crusaders hits Digital HD on October 11th before arriving on Blu-ray on November 1st. You can pre-order it on Amazon from this link.