He was the pop we wanted…
UPDATED 6/21/20: This piece first ran on Father’s Day after Adam West died in June 2017. I wouldn’t change a word today. — Dan
When Adam West died a little more than a week ago, I was as anguished as I’ve ever been.
I felt like I’d lost a member of the family, someone who loomed much larger in my psyche than I realized. It didn’t take long for me to figure out why:
His Batman was the father I always wanted.
I’d told people that before, but I was taken off guard by the depth of my feelings and was astonished that I couldn’t croak out two sentences without breaking down.
And so I sit here, on Father’s Day, thinking about what that means.
See, I’m not alone in this. I’ve spoken and emailed and messaged with many, many people about Adam West over the past week and this has been a common theme.
Artist Sandy Jarrell said here that Robin had the best Dad ever. Mike Allred, the Batman ’66 cover artist, wrote about West being a father figure, underscoring comments he’d made to me in the past. Facebook and Twitter were crammed with the same sentiment, whether you had a good relationship with the old man or not. John S. Drew of The Batcave Podcast had a few of us on his show and the topic came up as it inevitably would: Adam West’s Batman as the perfect Dad.
Well, I needed that perfect Dad.
My folks split when I was young and it wasn’t smooth. Pretty typical, I know, but painful and traumatic nonetheless.
For me, the show Batman was my haven. That go-go world was created by William Dozier and Lorenzo Semple Jr. and a platoon of writers, directors and other producers, yes, but it was embodied by Adam West. Steady, never-say-die, never-lose-your-cool Adam West.
We don’t live in a black-and-white world, but for all its DayGlo finery, Batman was as close as you might come: The good were good, the bad were bad and only Catwoman was really in between.
Gotham City was the place where I would go to feel safe and secure. Batman had all the answers and he never wavered. He was prepared for anything. And even at the young age of 5, I knew he was going to find a way out of that giant hourglass, or giant teacup, or rescue Robin from that giant clam.
Because he’s Batman.
As I got older, I rejected the show. By the time I was a teenager, it was considered kids’ stuff, even among — perhaps especially among — comics fans. Reading Batman comics was passe among some in my set: “You gotta read Daredevil by this guy Frank Miller,” they’d tell me.
By the time Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and Batman: Year One came around, I didn’t want anything to do with this show that had such a profound impact on me, even if I didn’t recognize it at the time.
I was as horrified as the rest of the Batman fandom when Michael Keaton, a comic actor, was cast in Tim Burton’s movie.
“No!” we screamed. “You can’t do that! You can’t make Batman a joke again!”
I can only imagine what it would have been like had there been an internet.
My son was born in 1998.
I’d quit comics for some time, burned out. But a funny thing happened when Sam went from baby to toddler to little kid: I picked up the 1966 movie on DVD. Popped it in. Soon enough, it all started coming back. Not immediately, but assuredly.
As I got caught back up into comics, I really started thinking about the show again in earnest. How could I get it on disc? I can’t get it on disc? It’s never been released on home video?
I’d pick up episodes here and there on cable but it wasn’t enough. Eventually, I did what I abhor: I went the bootleg route. Batman would never approve, but now I could go back to Gotham — that Gotham — any time I wanted. And I did, over and over.
And like the steady surf at Gotham Point, it became ever clearer, ever stronger, just how much I loved this show, just how much it meant to me and my upbringing. How safe it made me feel. If Mom and Dad were yelling at each other, I’d go close my door and play Batman. Sometimes acting out the parts in my cloth Ben Cooper costume, sometimes with my burgeoning Mego collection. This was down to the show; I’d barely discovered comics.
As an adult myself, I wanted to share it with my son. Convey to him how this show — and its hero — made me feel. Batman helped instill in me my moral compass and made me feel brave in a contentious, uncertain world.
I called Julie Newmar right after I heard the news that Adam West had died. It was an interview, yes, but it was also just a conversation between two friends who lost someone they knew. Julie actually knew him, of course. Though I’d spoken to him a couple times, I really didn’t. I just knew the idealized version in blue cape and cowl, the father I always wanted, there in the immediacy of my TV screen.
“What you’re saying is the highest accolade, the greatest generosity anybody could give to another human being is to say what he meant to you,” Julie said to me. “The father that you wanted. This just melts the heart. I could not put it as well as you put it. The reward? Wow.”
My son Sam’s now 18, a man himself but not quite. Still, he’s more Nightwing than Robin to my Batman. What Adam West gave to me, I hope I’ve given to him.
It’s comforting that even though the world’s scarier now than ever, I can still put Batman on, now in all its high-res, remastered glory. It’s still a haven.
And that’s because Bat-Dad’s there. The guy who told Robin — and a generation of kids who also wanted to be his surrogate son or daughter — “To the Batmobile!”
— ADAM WEST: A Birthday Celebration. Click here.
— ADAM WEST: In His Own Words. Click here.