It was a surreal experience to learn of Adam West’s death while at the Superman Celebration in Metropolis, Illinois. And yet there are few places I’d rather have been.
The news reached me Saturday not long after rolling into the small town that was dubbed the official home of Superman by DC Comics and host to the celebration for 39 years. Our Syfy crew was setting up at the Super Museum for an interview with Lois and Clark’s Dean Cain when we heard the star of 1966’s Batman series had passed away at age 88.
Unintentionally, I found myself in the position of telling the news to Super Museum owner Jim Hambrick of West’s passing. It was an especially unenviable task due to the fact that Hambrick told me he was friendly with West. Just three days prior, he had coincidentally set up an exhibit dedicated to West’s Batman series at his other museum, the Hollywood Americana, and returned to that location later in the day on Saturday to reflect.
To call Hambrick a lifelong nerd is to greatly understate his love of sci-fi, horror and comics – a love that involved a collection so large that when he made the move from Los Angeles to Metropolis more than two decades ago to open the Super Museum it required five tractor trailers to transport. And that collection has only grown in the time since.
So when he speaks of West as “his” Batman, it strikes a familiar chord that resonates.
West is also my Batman, and I remember watching reruns of the ’66 show on a beat-up TV in my brother’s bedroom before I was even old enough to attend school. The zaniness and colors of Batman and Robin, and all the Rogues Gallery (picking my favorite villain is harder than getting rid of a bomb on some days) provided me with endless joy. Adventures with my first Batman and Robin action figures, I believe from the Super Powers toy line, did not involve a grim detective and gritty action, but instead included a lot of my little-boy intonations of “Pow!” and “Zap!”
I interacted with Adam West a handful of times in a professional capacity. And although I’ve been fortunate to speak with a few actors who have played Batman, the level of fun I experienced never matched every single time I spoke with West. And this includes talking with Ben Affleck while he was in his Batsuit, which was excellent in its own right. However, I must add that the time West complimented my voice, and joked he couldn’t handle the vocal competition, I nearly fainted – and considered putting that endorsement on a resume.
But I digress.
Admittedly, none of what I type right now is terribly original. There are pieces currently published across the Internet landscape with various takes on the lighter, brighter Batman that impacted pop culture so much it required folks like Dennis O’Neil, Neal Adams, Jules Schwartz, Frank Miller and Tim Burton to try and expunge the character’s camp factor. And while I also value the morose Dark Knight detective, there’s nothing quite like a Caped Crusader willing to do the Batusi.
Which brings me back to Superman Celebration. The event to honor a Big Blue Boy Scout who stands for truth, justice, the American Way and all that jazz was also the perfect location to toast a version of the Bat not above donning board shorts for a surf. Hell, I could imagine Adam West’s Batman digging into a corn dog underneath the giant Man of Steel statue in Superman Square, or roaming the vendor stands with powdered sugar from funnel cake dotting his costume (and vexed by his less-than-pristine appearance).
And the smiles that spread across Superman Celebration attendees when speaking of West were wider than if they’d been exposed to Joker’s laughing gas. From a young boy named Cameron to a Gal Gadot/Wonder Woman cosplayer named Susanna to a big dude (named Adam) dressed in an imposing and decidedly gritty Batman v. Superman costume, everyone I spoke with undeniable joy as they reflected on West’s role – and then, again, as they sang their versions of the “na-na-na-na-na-Batman” theme song.
During Superman Celebration, Metropolis revealed itself to me a small town with a lot of heart. The town mascot is a fictional icon that represents hope and a set of ideals that we can all rally around. And on Saturday, with the passing of Adam West, Metropolis also adopted the Batman from 1966 as another mascot, one who stands for fun, silliness, a sense of humor – and equipped with shark repellent.