Adam West died yesterday at the age of 88.
I’ve spent the last year and a half or so rewatching West’s most famous role, writing about it for the “Holy Rewatch Batman!” feature on Tor.com from September 2015 until last month when I finished it off. In addition to the three seasons of the 1966 Batman, I also took a look at a few other related projects here and there, as well as the failed pilot for Alexander the Great that West starred in with William Shatner in 1964, prompting tons of parallel universe theory where that show was picked up and what it meant for two pop culture icons.
West voiced the Caped Crusader one final time, for the animated film Batman vs. Two-Face, which I’ll be reviewing for Tor.com when it comes out (presumably now dedicated to West).
I grew up with West’s Batman. During my childhood, Channel 11 — then an independent station, now a CW affiliate — ran a block of the Adam West Batman, the George Reeves Superman, and the Clayton Moore Lone Ranger TV shows in a block. It’s quite likely that that block of television, along with the Spider-Man features on the kids show The Electric Company, are what inspired my lifelong love of superheroes, and what got me into reading comic books in the eighth grade.
I’ve had an up-and-down relationship with West’s Batman. As a kid, I thought he was awesome. As a teenager, I thought he was doofy. As a young adult, I completely dismissed him as awful. As an older adult, I’ve come back around to awesome. Batman is a character who has been reinterpreted constantly since his creation in 1939, and they all have their merits. In this case, we have a hero who always did the right thing, no matter how inconvenient it might be for him. He was also someone who was smart, clever, dedicated to helping people, and whose only superpower was that he applied himself (well that and, as the most recent iteration of Batman says in the upcoming Justice League, he’s rich — but he puts that wealth to good use).
Typecasting made his life and career difficult in the 1970s and 1980s, but by the turn of the century, he had embraced his place in the pop-culture pantheon.
Probably my favorite role of his was his guest turn on Batman: The Animated Series in the 1990s, doing the voice of Simon Trent, an actor who played “The Gray Ghost” in an old TV show that young Bruce Wayne watched as a kid, and whose portrayal of that hero was one of the inspirations for how he behaves as Batman. Trent is an old man, known more for that one role than anything else he’s done, reduced to cashing in on the nostalgia. But over the course of the episode, he’s reminded of the importance of his playing a hero. It’s one of the best B:TAS episodes, and a wonderful statement on West’s career and influence.
He will be sorely missed. Rest in peace, old chum.