Adam West was not the Batman we deserved, but he was the one we needed.

When the 1966 BATMAN television series first premiered, it became a hit among the beatnik, art pop crowds who loved it for its deadpan sensibilities and pop art production design. Anchoring all of it together was the one and only Adam West. When you go back and watch the show, West’s performance is so great because it is impossible to tell if he knows how ridiculous everything around him is. He is the ultimate straight man. If an actor in that role had too wry, the core of the show would have fallen apart.

I remember being at a family function and feeling too sick to do anything but watch an old rerun of BATMAN. One of my uncles, one who I barely ever spoke to, came in and instantly recognized the episode. He sat, and we discussed the show and delighted in its levity. We talked about the costumes, the villains, and West. It helped me see a different side of Batman. Comic book fans sometimes live in a bubble, and we forget that for “normal people,” Adam West will always be the one true Batman.

I think that is why Adam West (and by extension his Batman) is so important. He never tried to create an ironic distance from the material. When we look back at the great comic book portrayals in film and television, we sometimes act like BATMAN was a piece of fluffy camp. However, West’s tonal control in each scene was always pitch perfect. Take this scene below:

It is ridiculous, but I dare you to find one indication of West breaking character. West’s performance is a fascinating paradox. To him, each moment is deadly serious, but it is so serious it loops back around to parody. In some ways, West’s Batman gives us a template for how we should always see Batman. We should never take comics too seriously even if it may be life or death for the Dark Knight.

READ: Want more of the classics? Here’s our review of the BATMAN ’66 comic!

Fanboys wrote off the BATMAN series as hacky silliness for decades. They want adaptations of Batman to be serious and realistic. In spite of this, West always remained gracious to the fans. He would make regular convention appearances and by all accounts was humble and receptive. 

Like many superhero actors, West often struggled to find work following his time on BATMAN. However, his comedic genius was recognized by many. West would star in Conan O’Brien’s hilarious pilot LOOKWELL and a recurring role on FAMILY GUY.  He always lived in the shadow of the Bat, but that role would influence many artists for years to come.

The creators of BATMAN: THE ANIMATED SERIES would pay a beautiful tribute to West in the episode “Beware the Grey Ghost.” BATMAN: THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD is essentially an animated continuation of BATMAN ’66. Even the ultra-violent KICK-ASS paid tribute with Nicholas Cage as Big Daddy emulating West’s distinct Batman line delivery. West’s performance will influence everyone who touches something even close to Batman.

I am thankful Adam West’s version of Batman has been reappraised and appreciated by new generations of fans. Too often we overlook the unique for what is comfortable and generic. West played one of the most iconic characters in comics in the most unconventional way imaginable, and for that, he should always be remembered and praised.

We will quite literally never get another Batman like Adam West. And frankly, no one should ever try. His was a singular superhero performance that deserves to sit alongside Reeves’ Superman and Ledger’s Joker. His performance leaves us with two important lessons: never take things too seriously, and a little sincerity goes a long way.

Rest in peace Mr. West. We’ll leave the Bat-signal lit for you.

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