I don’t remember what my actual introduction to Batman was, but I’m certain that the Adam West-starring Batman TV show is the reason I still like the character today. I have vivid memories of getting up early on Sunday mornings to watch the show in re-runs. The first episode I saw was “Tut’s Case is Shut,” the second half of a standard two-parter. It opened with Robin suspended over a pit of crocodiles, Batman racing to save him. It was bright. It was suspenseful. It was exciting. The fight scenes had visible sound effects. I was five, and I instantly fell in love.
My first Batman comic was #424. Two issues before “A Death in the Family,” it’s the issue where Jason Todd, as Robin, may or may not kill someone. It’s an intense issue. It features drugs, domestic abuse, rape, suicide. I couldn’t really read it but I knew there were some scary images. I didn’t get what it was about at the time. I just got that it was Batman and Robin. There’s a silent two-page fight scene in the middle of the issue. In my best five-year-old handwriting, I wrote in sound effects for every blow.
Batman’s popularity surged in 1989, and the market flooded. I found some books about the old TV show at discount book stores while on vacation with my family. The Official Batman Batbook and Batmania. I poured over every page of these books. The Batbook had trivia for every episode of the series, a full list of every fight scene sound effect and Robin “Holy” exclamation, and eight pages of full-color photos. Batmania had a full history of Batman, with a heavy focus on the ‘60s series and the multitude of merchandise it spawned. I spent years searching toy stores for a specific Batcave playset I’d seen in the book, not understanding that it was long out of production. There were no toys for the Batman that I loved. I had come to him twenty years too late.
I adapted. I read “A Death in the Family” and cried hard at Robin’s death. I thrilled to Tim Drake becoming the new Robin. Batman, after all, needed a Robin. There were no episodes of the TV show without Robin, so there shouldn’t be any comics without him, either. I learned as much as I could about Batman and the multiple Robins. I read Knightfall, Knightquest, KnightsEnd. Batman got darker, and I embraced it. I heard people talk about the TV series like it was an aberration, a horrific blight on the history of the Dark Knight. I felt like that was how I was supposed to feel, too, but I could never fully join in with them. Dark, brooding Batman may have been the ‘real’ Batman, but he wasn’t my Batman.
College. ABC Family began showing an hour of Batman every afternoon. I bought a VCR and hooked it up to my dorm TV. I recorded and watched the full series, 120 episodes over ten VHS tapes (God bless them for showing the full series in correct order). My roommate, a non-comic reader, would sometimes watch with me. He would shake his head and laugh. He got the joke, and now I did, too. But also, it was still serious business. I finally saw the first part of that King Tut two-parter. It was every bit as great as I remembered it.
2015. Adam West and Burt Ward were going to be at a local convention. I saw the news shortly after Yvonne Craig died. I’d never had any interest in meeting celebrities or paying for their signatures, but Craig’s death had made me realize more than anything how important the Batman show was to me. I regretted not having that epiphany before she died, as I knew she (along with West and Ward) had been at some local shows in years past. I resolved not to let the opportunity to meet Batman and Robin pass me by, especially once I saw the billing that this would be West and Ward’s final Ohio appearance. My wife was understanding enough that she didn’t mind when I went to the con on our anniversary. It was Adam West’s 87th birthday, I learned as I waited in line. I stood in line for four hours to meet him.
A lot of people have great stories about West’s quick wit that they’ve shared over the past few days. I wish I had some funny story to tell about meeting him, but I don’t (frankly, the Burt Ward story is funnier, but that’ll keep for another time). West signed an 8×10 photo for me, and I shook his hand, carefully. I told him he was one of my heroes, and tried to convey the impact Batman had had on me as a kid and as an adult. I’m sure I blathered, as I tend to do when I meet my heroes. Mostly I thanked him. For everything. And he was gracious. He was kind. He thanked me for what I said to him. And then it was on to the next person in line.
It was an interaction that lasted maybe ten seconds, but they were ten seconds for which I’ll always be grateful. Hundreds of people must have thanked Adam West that day, and I’m so glad I got to be one of them. I didn’t know Adam West, but I already miss having him in the world. I truly wouldn’t be who I am today without him.
To the Batpoles.