Scenes From a Bat-Life — on the Caped Crusader’s anniversary…
UPDATED 4/29/22: Neal Adams, comics’ greatest artist, has died at the age of 80. Here, we re-present this piece from 2017. For a series of interviews and tributes to the groundbreaking creator, click here. — Dan
Over the years, I’ve written about Adam West, Neal Adams and Mego many times over in many different ways, but not quite like this.
Why now? Why not!
See, it’s all connected: Unlike a lot of the people, I don’t really have a singular “secret origin” as a fan. There was no single day where it began. I actually remember a series of vignettes that have fused in my mind, a loose series of Scenes From a Bat-Life.
But those memories are as stark and precise as if they came from yesterday.
And it all began with Adam West…
Adam West was always there.
I don’t remember the first time I saw the 1966 Batman TV show. It debuted a little more than a year before I was born and by the time I was of TV-watching age, it was in syndication on Channel 11 in New York. So I just don’t remember a time without it.
I also don’t remember a time from childhood when it wasn’t my favorite show. I was as obsessed as any 5-year-old could be, acting out scenes in my bedroom and wearing my cloth Ben Cooper costume everywhere my Mom would let me.
At the supermarket, the clerks would ask, “Hey, Batman, where’s Robin?” And I’d answer with all the authority I could muster, “He’s doing his homework.”
And then some guy would ask me to fly, and I’d be quick to correct them, sternly:
“Batman doesn’t fly.”
All through the ’70s — except for those frustrating times when the show was off the schedule — Batman on Channel 11 was appointment television. The only time I would change the channel was when The 4:30 Movie was on Channel 7 — and they’d be showing the 1966 movie.
Then I’d click back and forth and try to give myself commercial-free Batman.
So Adam West opened the door.
Now, I was an A.M. kindergarten kid at Wayside School in Ocean Township, N.J. My mother worked, so I went to a babysitter’s for the afternoon. Marilyn Tagliaferri had kids of her own, older than me. But her son Phillip was pretty close in age and we used to play Batman in the fields across the street from their house.
One morning, Phillip had school but I didn’t for whatever reason and I walked into his room as he was getting ready to leave. I looked to the right and on his dresser were two figures: Batman and Robin, in all their plastic glory.
They were called Megos, I soon after learned. But in that very moment, it was as if the heavens opened and — ZAP! — I was hit by some divine light. Everything changed in that instant: These were glorious and I had to have them!
As soon as my mother picked me up I pleaded and badgered and begged her. Whether I got Batman that night or the next or the next, I’m not sure. But it was fast. Eventually, I, as they say, “collected them all.”
Somewhere around this time, I’d begun accumulating comic books. I can’t say collect because mostly I either ended up with them or asked for them whenever I saw them. This being the days before the proliferation of comics shops, I’d get comics at the convenience store, the drug store, a flea market called the Collingwood Auction.
One time, my parents’ friends, the Sperlings, gave me a stack of Batmans and Detectives from the ’60s. Their sons, they said, had outgrown them. (I wonder if their sons felt that way, actually.) I remember Detective Comics #360 and Batman #192, with their Carmine Infantino covers, among them.
This was fantastic stuff.
But then there was the time when we were at Krauszer’s, a regional chain like 7-Eleven. Over on the spinner rack, I saw this Batman comic that was deeply unsettling.
In the center was a terrifying image of the Grim Reaper, swinging his scythe. Robin’s on the ground feebly defending himself while Batman is swooping in to help — but he might not make it. The background was bright red, like a siren warning danger.
I was taken aback. Even as a young kid — and I was maybe 4 or 5 at the time — I knew that the Batman on TV was always going to get out of the jam. That was as much fun as him getting into the jam. When we played Batman as kids, that was part of the deal: The Caped Crusader always escaped certain doom.
This time? I wasn’t so sure. This time? It was scary.
I had to have it.
I didn’t know it immediately, but that cover — and the interior art — was the work of Neal Adams.
If Adam West made me a Batman fan, and if Megos made me a lover of swag, then Neal Adams made me a comics fan.
As I got older, collecting Adams issues was a mission within my larger mission of obtaining every Batman comic I could get my hands on. These were horcruxes, mystical pieces that made my collection something special. Getting an Adams back issue was something to celebrate, something that would make you walk a little taller.
About 25 years ago or so, I quit comics. I was burned out. Eventually, I sold everything off. This was a roughly 10-year period I call the Great Hiatus. Because eventually, I came back. Obviously. Hell, now I even have my own website where I can write about this stuff to my heart’s content.
I never tried to rebuild that original collection as it was. I never wanted to.
But I couldn’t live without those parts that gave me the most joy. The parts that spoke to me on a visceral level. I reconstructed — and in many ways improved upon — that original collection. It’s a collection that revolves around Adam West, Neal Adams and Mego.
As my wife likes to say, I’m living a charmed Bat-Life: I’ve interviewed Adam West, Burt Ward, Julie Newmar and Lee Meriwether. I’ve flown in the actual 1966 Batcopter and ridden in a replica Batmobile. I can put the show on TV any time I like and I have more Batman ’66 collectibles than I ever expected. I have more Megos than I did as a kid. (Or at least dead-on remakes.)
And Neal Adams? I’ve spent hours at his studio, asking question after question about his work, his creative process, his memories. I was even able to get him to do this commission:
I’m 50 now. But every time I watch that show, or pick up an Adams comic, or look at my Megos, I’m a kid. A happy, contented kid.
And that’s what being a fan is all about.
— ADAM WEST: A Celebration — A Series of Interviews and Tributes. Click here.
— The NEAL ADAMS INTERVIEWS: Discussions With the Master. Click here.
— The MEGO BATCAVE and Me. Click here.
March 30, 2017
What an outstanding essay! It captures 1960’s-1980’s kids who are now adult collectors preserving the greatest period in history for comics, television, movies, and toys.
March 30, 2017
Very moving story,I am also 50 and have always felt the same way! Thank you for your story.
March 30, 2017
Thanks; this was an excellent read that really resonated with me. I’m the same age and saw a few parallels on your path with mine. Around age 4 or 5, I “patrolled” my neighborhood in my Ben Cooper Batman costume riding a battery powered car. My neighbors called me by name which infuriated me (“How did they penetrate my perfect disguise?”). On my 6th birthday, I got Megos of Batman, Robin, Superman and Aquaman. Though my first DC Comic was an issue of Worlds’ Finest, the first Batman comic book I got was DC 100 page Super Spectacular #14 (reprinting the Monk stories). I got Batman #251 as part of those 3 packs of comics that were plastic bagged from a department story. The cover scared the hell out of me. I thought the image on the cover would be part of the story and I wondered how did the Joker become a giant, and how was Batman going to stop him?! But that was the day I discovered Neal Adams artwork, and like you, I was hooked. (And coincidentally, Detective Comics #360 is on my nightstand; I reread it last week.)
March 31, 2017
Cool post, man. And cool commission. I dig that. I do remember the magic of the Mego’s too. A neighbor had one with a black cowl and a blue one. I forget which one but you could take one of them off and reveal the face. I so wanted it. Never saw another since though.
I remember our lineup starting at 3 in the afternoon was Felix the Cat, Popeye, Gilligan’s Island, Batman, Star Trek, Hogans Heroes and Wild Wild West. That’s a killer line up.
March 31, 2017
Nice column. I can relate with you on all of it. i’m 52 now and have been a comic fan for as long as I remember. I Do have a memory of watching george reeves superman sitting in my high chair so I believe that was my first exposure to superheroes. Like you it eas 66 Batman that I could not get enough of. Also like you it was the reruns then trips to the corner store that had the 3 for 50 cents bags of comics with the covers half ripped of. I loved anything comics and anything superman and batman. Every christmas i got another corgi batmobile. One year it was the matchbox size batmobile the next year the larger corgi batmobile but with batman and robin in the seats, the next year the batboat and tow. I Also became mego obsessed, i started with batman, the mego wear you could remove his cowl.
Like you neal adams. I Have known his name for so long that I am not sure when I first learned it or when i first became aware of that i love his art. I just know that it was his art and style that made me enjoy a comicbook more and I still do! I Like perez and Byrne but Adams is on his own plateau. Like you 30 years ago I also sold off my collection and have regretted it ever since because I didn’t realize by doing that i sold a part of me away. Because no amount of money can replace the joy that each and every issue and story or the art that I admired so much.
March 31, 2017
The TV show. Neal Adams Batman, and those epic Mego figures. Countless hours of my childhood involve what you discuss in this great post. I still have the Batmobile (actually my oldest daughter, who loves Batman has it now.)
Thank you for sharing your memories!
September 29, 2019
This is totally my story… All three make the combination that is MY Batman.
October 13, 2019
Sadly I never had a Mego, but loved the Batman/Adam West TV show…as a kid. But when Neal Adams and others proceeded to make the world’s greatest detective into more of a dark knight, I was hooked even more and he has been my favorite comic book character ever since, and I have made up for NOT having a Mego by collecting many other action figures of Batman.
December 1, 2019
That Neal Adams commission of his Batman meeting Adam West’s Batman is absolutely legendary.
February 12, 2020
Growing up in New York, I remember the 4:30p movie which at times, would theme the entire week. (Monster Week was a favorite). The 4:30p movie got pushed out the door when NBC expanded their local news and ABC soon followed suit. I was too old to own a Mego when those action figures came out, but I still wanted one anyway.
September 19, 2020
Great essay. I really enjoyed it. One of the few difference between your journey and mine is that my only “exile” was when I was in college, but that was when the overlong multipart crossovers started, so I don’t feel like I missed much. I don’t buy much new Batman, but I still treasure my oldies.
I started watching reruns of the TV show in the fall of 1976 when I was just learning to read. When I first saw the fire spit out of the Batmobile’s tailpipe, I was hooked.
My mom tells me she was glad I got into Batman because I was eager to learn to read. Right after I saw my first episode, I headed to the spinner rack and got my first comics. I’ve mentioned this on other sites, but Superheroes vs Super Gorillas was my gateway drug. I bought it for Batman (what 5 year old could resist Batman vs a Giant Gorilla) and became fans of Superman and the Flash. Due to the spotty distribution at the time, I couldn’t get every Batman comic, but I got every one I could get my hands on.
Unfortunately for me, I came in after Adams was no longer active on Batman, but I got to see his artwork on the Staked Cards book and record set, the Best of DC and Ra’s Al Ghul treasuries, and a couple of reformatted black & white reprints in a tempo paperback. In addition to Adams, I loved Aparo’s Batman artwork in Brave & the Bold, Novick in a fill-in issue and the Ra’s treasury and Rogers and Austin in Detective. Why didn’t Batman look this good in his own book?
I had to take a break from the show because, after that 1976 airing, no one in my area aired it again until 1982.
September 20, 2020
Change a few small details and this could have been written by me. Well done.
April 1, 2022
Your story really touched me, and made me think back on my fantastic, secret origin as a collector. Similarly to your childhood, Batman ’66 started me off, then my brother gave me his 60’s comics. The one that grabbed my imagination was Justice League of America #53. On the cover JLA members had their weapons attacking them. In the center, Batman was being pummeled by his Batarang, gas pellet, and Batlaser! I thought: Oh, no! How could their own weapons turn on them?! Later, I got my first Megos: Bats, Robin, Supes, and Aquaman, which let me to create my own Superfriends adventures! I ended up collecting many Megos, which I had to sell in the 90’s to pay my rent when I was unemployed. Since then, thanks to the remakes from Figures Toy Company, I was able to buy them again, and now am collecting all the new Megos as well! I also have a HUGE comic collection, numbering in the tens of thousands! Thanks for the wonderful memories.
May 6, 2022