Frustrating a certain variety of Bat-fans among us, it’s been nearly impossible, for years, to get your hands on all the original 1960’s Batman episodes at the same-Bat-time. But next month, the entire series will finally be made available on Blu-Ray/DVD, and it’s been given a Bat-makeover! Don’t worry, Adam West hasn’t been digitally replaced by Christian Bale (seriously though, someone do that, NOW) but the episodes have been remastered for HD-viewing. When he presented this new Blu-Ray set to adoring fans at New York Comic Con this Thursday, Adam West noticed that he “never looked lovelier.”
Something that seems corny may be brilliantly kitschy on purpose, or by accident. For a child watching the biff-pow-zowie action of the 1960s Batman, there’s probably not much of this analysis in your head, but as an adult, you have to wonder, what the hell were they thinking with this show? Is it the dumbest thing you’ve ever seen in your life, or the most sophisticated comedy/comic book mash-up ever?
After seeing Adam West live and in person, I’m 100% convinced it’s the latter. Some actors (pretty much just William Shatner) affect a faux sort of knowing irony, which creates their entire self-deprecating/self-aggrandizing brand. This is effective and often endearing, but it’s not always funny. Adam West, on the other hand, seems like someone who was always aware he was playing his heroic leading man for laughs, but took it seriously all the same. Seeing any favorite actor or actress can be slightly embarassing if it seems like they’re being paraded around, like a living thing for a pop museum—but in listening to Adam West talk and work a crowd, you realize he was his own very specific type of star, and pretty much no one has done what he did since.
Though the panel at the Main Stage 1-D at New York Comic Con necessarily focused on the impending release of the Blu-Ray—which Adam West shilled like he shilled Nestle Quick in 1963—the best parts of this talk were West relating his incredible experiences working on Batman. It’s hard to think of this now, but it was an expensive and exciting show for its day. West reminded us that it was also a huge hit, and that the various celebrity guest stars (remember when Sammy Davis Jr. popped out of the window?) weren’t asked to be on the show, but instead wanted to be on the show. He also said they filmed so many episodes together that he sometimes had a script assistant reading three different stories to him at the same time, alternating between them in an insane frenzy. He and his co-stars worked hard on this silly show, and from the lessons of stamina he learned from Caesar Romero, to citing that Frank Gorshin’s Riddler was his “favorite,” Adam West gives you the sense that while he is truly thankful to have been party of the whole Batman legacy, he also knew exactly what he was doing—he was always in on the joke.
Numerous times, West declared himself “the luckiest,” actor alive, and his stage-presence was shockingly charming and manipulative simultaneously—a part of you will believe Adam West is the most subversive person alive if you ever see him. “A few of these have been preordered…” he said, referring to the incoming DVDs, and then with a totally disappointed inflection “I think it’s only about 6 million or so right now, though…”
Batman may have kept his bevy of bodacious baddies from knowing his identity, but Adam West’s identity is even more confusing. He’s almost more of a performance artist than Shatner, but somehow more real and genuine at the same time. His Batman never laughed on screen, but often told deadpan jokes which the in-universe character was unaware he was telling. Watching West is the same experience; is this guy laughing at me, or with me?
In relating a story about giving Yvonne Craig (Batgirl) acting advice, Adam West mentioned that he told her to play each scene “like it was the last scene of your life.” This is some pretty heavy stuff when you consider how over-the-top ridiculous this iteration of Batman was. But Adam West doesn’t believe in phoning any performance in, even if it’s over the Bat-phone. Some of the clips shown in between his stories were weirdly excting, and his growl at the Joker gave me chills. Back when he was the Batman, Adam West went for what he wanted way more than 100%. The rest of his anecdote about Yvonne Craig concluded with the idea that “no matter what you’re doing, you try to do your best and bring something new every day…and I still believe that.”
Whether he’s the “luckiest actor alive,” or just the most fun Batman ever, there’s no question that all of our lives were made better, funnier, and strangely more complex by the witty one-of-Bat, Adam West
Check out the pre-order details for Batman right here.
Ryan Britt is a longtime contributor to Tor.com.