Why We Shouldn’t Forget Adam West’s Batman

“Confound it! The batteries are dead!”

I chuckled a little as I watched Batman (played by Adam West) look from the useless gadget in his hands to the torpedo dashing toward him and Robin.

Yes, it’s a silly joke.

Adam West himself admitted the 1960’s “Batman” TV show and movie were supposed to have a “tongue-in-cheek” feel.

By today’s standards, filled with superhero movies such as “The Dark Knight” trilogy and TV shows such as “Marvel’s Daredevil,” this tongue-in-cheek seems especially ridiculous. After all, it’s so silly.

But that’s exactly the point.

At the end of the day, comic books have always been a somewhat silly medium. As noted in a recent History Channel documentary, comic books started as highly cheap, low-end entertainment for children. The best superhero stories have always maintained some of that crazy juvenile spirit.

Even “Watchmen,” which Alan Moore created around the idea of what superheroes would be like in the real world, had futuristic gadgets and a theatrical evil plot.

While the current trend in superhero movies – digging deep into the complex psychology, social commentary and grittiness that can exist in comic books – is brilliant, there are times it ignores this silliness.

For example, David S. Goyer commented that he and Christopher Nolan built “The Dark Knight” trilogy around the idea that everything took place in the real world. This worked wonderfully in most of the trilogy, but there are times the filmmakers just couldn’t reconcile realism with Batman and his supporting cast.

There’s a jarring tension whenever Bane walks onstage in “The Dark Knight Rises” and the audience realizes they’re watching a character who doesn’t behave like someone from the real world but has been placed in a real-world setting.

As Frank Miller would say it, the storytellers tried to give a “superficial reality” to superheroes.

In contrast, Adam West’s approach was all about embracing that silliness wholeheartedly.

Sure, it didn’t have the character complexities of the original Batman stories or the social commentary of the X-Men adventures. In the 1960’s movie, the closest Batman gets to a personal crisis is in a scene created purely for comic effect.

But the 1960’s Batman series captured perfectly the ridiculous villains, the overly elaborate criminal plots, and Day-Glo energy of many comic books stories.  Some episodes were highly accurate adaptations of Batman comic books of the period.

In short, good comics books are always a bit juvenile.

If nothing else, Adam West’s portrayal of Batman and similar shows remind us of that inherent silliness, before we take comic books so seriously we forget what makes them unique.

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