Is Adam West The Best Batman Ever?

Who is the best Batman

Adam West. Batman. The two will forever be linked together. Ever since West shouted to Burt Ward “To the batpoles!” and put on that silly Bat costume he instantly became one of the most iconic performers in the history of television.

West’s Batman wasn’t just popular – he was a phenomenon! The show was one of those pop cultural landmarks of the 1960’s. Batman the television show aired twice a week. A part one episode that would usually leave us with the caped crusaders in some incredible jam that looked impossible to escape from. Viewers were forced to wait to see what would happen to our heroes until the conclusion with that immortal tease – “Same Bat Time, Same Bat Channel!

The following night the episode would conclude with the airing of Part Two and fans would get to see Batman and Robin, after having made some kooky escape, go on to save Gotham City once again.

The show had everything a little kid could hope for from a television show in 1966. You had the smart, honest, noble heroes. Batman and Robin were role models to all the kids. They weren’t vigilantes, but were actually deputies of the law. Hey why shouldn’t Gotham police use their help? Commissioner Gordon would be crazy not to accept it. They had the Batmobile and all those Batcomputers back at the Batcave that could solve any problem the dastardly criminals threw their way.

Adam West as Batman on the cover of Life magazine

Every week there were colorful villains. The show would come up with new silly bat-gadgets. Exciting fights, with the ever-present POWS and BIFFS being hurled by the Dynamic Duo. It even had a memorable theme song. Let’s see….how did it go again…..oh yeah! “BATMAN. BATMAN. BATMAN!“.

The show really was unique. And before you think you’re going to mock it for how juvenile it was too late – the show was already way ahead of you. It wasn’t taking itself seriously. The overly-dramatic dialogue and line readings were meant to be funny. The costumes and villain plans were supposed to be silly. Everything was meant to be over the top and completely surreal.

That’s the beauty of the show. While little kids might have been dazzled by Batman and Robin’s adventures and sitting on the edge of their seats seeing if they will ever defeat The Joker, adults could sit back and be amused by all these bizarre antics. Most were probably left shaking their heads.

Shark Attack!

West’s Batman was so popular that seeing him twice a week on television wasn’t enough. In July 1966 Batman: The Movie premiered. Following right on the heels of the first season of the television show, the film reunited West and Ward to fight four of their most dangerous villains combined – The Joker, The Penguin, The Riddler and Catwoman now armed with a deadly de-hydrating ray gun! Ooooh.

The film introduced even more outrageous and expensive Bat-gadgets for them to play with. Not only were they equipped with the Batmobile, but now they had the BatBoat, the Batcycle and the Batcopter. And in one of the most famous scenes West duking it out with a shark! Who didn’t want to see that?

West’s Batman was flying high. The second season introduced more big name guest stars as more villains. More celebrity cameos popping out of windows watching Batman and Robin climb up buildings. The show even spawned a spin-off, The Green Hornet.

However, by season three the shine had worn off of West and the show. Despite the introduction of Batgirl to the cast the show was on its last legs. Budgets got cut, ratings started to fall and the show would limp to its final 120th episode and come to rest in syndication for decades.

Adam West as Batman at a public appearance
West in costume at a public appearance

West would forever be typecast as this wacky interpretation of the Caped Crusader. Offers for other work would be slim to none and he would be relegated to wearing his cape and cowl at public appearances, signing autographs and posing for pictures.

I always felt bad that West didn’t enjoy a bigger post-Batman career acting-wise. Looking at it from the perspective of a fan decades after the fact, it all seems pretty unfair.

West is obviously a talented performer and I think if he had been given a chance he could have had a more prolific acting career. I suppose he got so pigeonholed as ‘that guy in the cape’ it resulted in other work not finding him.

I always thought he would have been great in more comedic roles, like a humorous take on drama-heavy soap operas or something that would have played to his silly straight-laced screen persona that he was so good at on Batman.

Instead, he was starring in The Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood and doing forgettable guest-starring roles on television. It’s something of a vindication to see him working more today and having a more respected status, than the years after Batman ended.

Obviously I’m a fan of West. I loved the Batman show when I was little and still think it’s great. He was one of the big reasons why that show was so good. Had they cast another actor as Bruce Wayne/Batman I don’t think the show would of been as successful as it was. I can’t think of another actor that could have played that Batman as well as West managed to.

West, Bob Kane & Frank Gorshin

Sure, the series and West’s portrayal has been blamed for making Batman and comics books viewed as a joke. Superheroes got pegged as silly kids stuff that could never be taken seriously. It was an attitude that really hasn’t been shaken.

No matter how dramatic and complex the stories are, how revered the artwork is and trying to use the term ‘graphic novel’ to describe them, the majority of average folks still view comic books as simple kids stuff. It’s a perception that continued for decades.

However, a show so popular obviously will have an influence, whether good or bad. We the more cultured, knew comic books were a valid art form. Talented writers and artists have shown that those pages don’t just have to consist of juvenile, unbelievable adventures with heroes wearing funny outfits that are solely meant to entertain the five year old in us. But during that period after WWII into the 60’s, that’s what kids wanted to read and comic books gladly delivered.

Eventually comic stories began to mature. They have evolved with each passing generation and changed with the times. Today comic readers demand more sophistication. Back then kids just wanted to see Batman defeat a giant insect monster with the help of Bathound.

Adam West as Batman the bomb scene
“Some days you just can’t get rid of a bomb”

Adam West was our Batman for a long time. Over twenty years! When visions of a live-action Batman formed in fans heads they would conjure up Adam West in his shiny cowl.

He was so identified with Batman for so long that in 1988 when it was announced that Tim Burton was going to make a new Batman film a lot of fans figured Adam West would be starring in it!

It sounds crazy, but I remember having those discussions in the cafeteria at school. We were wondering if Burt Ward would be too old to play Robin in the new movie.

Just recently I went to minor league ballgame where the special guest star for the night was Batman. All the little kids came to the game dressed up in their capes and wearing their bat symbols on their chest. This Batman was the Christian Bale Batman. Dark armor. Black makeup around his eyes. Very intimidating. It was a pretty nice costume. And how did they introduce the Dark Knight? “Here he is kids! POW! BAM! BIFF! It’s Batman!

I don’t think Bats will ever shake that.

Since that 1989 Bat film we’ve had a succession of actors play Batman. They’ve only played the role a fraction as long as West has done. You have to figure the series had 120 episodes, thirty minutes each. Plus, the Batman movie. He’s clocked in a lot of time wearing that cape. Now an actor would probably have to do at least thirty Bat-films to come close to rivaling West’s stretch. Unless some future Bat actor lucks out with a Bat-show.

All the more recent Bat movies might have been huge gigantic blockbusters and hauled in tons and tons of money, but did they leave as lasting an impact as that old Batman show ever did? That could make for an interesting debate. Whether you think West’s Batman left a positive or negative the mark on the character, you can’t deny it has indeed left a giant impression.

Adam West as Batman dancing

West didn’t need Bat Nipples. He didn’t rely on a grumbly Bat-voice that fans complained about. There wasn’t even any apprehension over if he could handle the role. Fans had to have time to warm up to the idea of Mr. Mom as Batman. With West it was just like “oh ok, there’s Batman!”.

Plus, none of the other Bat-actors can be credited with creating their own Bat Dance. That has to count for something!

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7 Responses

  1. Chris says:

    Agreed… And I was born nearly twenty years after the show premiered.

    Quick funny Adam West story:
    in 2003 I picked up a copy of his autobiography "Back to the Batcave", not be confused with the TV movie "Return to the Batcave", but I digress. It was a breezy, interesting read, West recounts some funny stories and seems to have nothing but good feelings for most of the people he worked with on the show. He devotes a chapter to defending the show from its critics (mostly those who think that Batman has always been the dark, gritty style of the 80s and 90s), and among other things touches on people who complain about the stubbiness of his bat-ears. He correctly points out that in the 1950s and 1960s they were in fact drawn that way in the comics. Then, in true West fashion, he adds "Besides, it isn't the size of your ears that count, it's how you use them!" Which coming from him is hillarious.
    A few months later, I was on a family road trip and actually bumped into him in Idaho (apparently he has a huge ranch out there), and he was very nice and spoke with me for a few minutes. I said, "and you know Mr. West, it isn't the size of your ears, it's how you use them". He laughed and thanked me for buying his book.
    I didn't have the heart to tell him I checked it out of the library.

  2. That's a great West story Chris!

  3. Christopher says:

    Adam West the best Batman? I couldn't agree more. As a fan (or fanatic) of the tv show, one of the things that strikes me now is that despite the show's lunacy West's performance was always pitch perfect. Just compare his performance with the blander Lyle Waggoner screen test (shown on YouTube) and you see all the understated nuances West brought to the Caped Crusader.

    I remember in the early 80's when Warner Brothers first announced that a big screen treatment of Batman was in the works that West actively campaigned to return to the role. He said,"he was not ready to give up his cowl," which sums of nicely your article's take on the actor who clearly owned the role. And quite frankly, I'm kind of bummed West never got his chance to play a darker, bigger-budgeted Batman. At that time, the guy still looked great.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Its' A Pity Really That Adam Wests' Career' Was Somewhat Stunted Because In Those Very-Rare Times' He Has Shown' There Is A Lot More To Him Than 'Batman' He Is Really Good At Playing' Crackpots' He Was Haliarous On The Old 'Love Americian Style'! Tv Show He Just Played Himself He Was Great Even When He Was On 'Who Wants' To Be A Millionare' Tv Show. He Turned That Lame-Brained Show Into' A 'Televison-Moment'

  5. CKulik says:

    I'm sure we shall see a blog post from you on the fact that the BATMAN TV series will finally be released on DVD in November 2014. From what I understand, Adam, Burt & Julie are all doing bonus features right now for Warner Bros., who evidently managed to snag the DVD rights, even though I thought Fox had them. More than anything else, I really want to see a documentary about the series' difficult journey in being released on home video. Some things I just don't understand, like the cameo appearances on the show…pretty much all of them are DEAD! So why the hell would they need clearances from the families? Does Rob Reiner really give a damn about collecting royalties from his ten second, non speaking appearance? There were those classic appearing in the window gags, but seriously I don't see how they could cause so much legal wrangling, and thus I want the full story.

    On a side note, I was in Oakland in March of 2012 to see the epic 5.5 hour version of Abel Gance's NAPOLEON from 1927 at the Paramount theater. The last time it had been shown was in the UK, and Frances Ford Coppola had evidently threatened to sue because his dad Carmine had composed the score for NAPOLEON at its brief 1981 exhibition. When I was at a Q&A with the film's champion restorer Kevin Brownlow (he wrote the book "The Parade's Gone By," the essential text on silent film) and the very first question was about Coppola's involvement. All they said was, "It's been cleared up, and there's no need to go into detail." I actually agree, but when it comes to BATMAN, I feel we need some kind of featurette as to why the hell it took so long. 🙂

  6. Dar says:

    "Since that 1989 Bat film we've had a succession of actors play Batman. They've only played the role a fraction as long as West has done. You have to figure the series had 120 episodes, thirty minutes each. Plus, the Batman movie. He's clocked a lot of time wearing that cape. Now an actor would probably have to do at least thirty Bat-films to come close to rivaling West's stretch. Unless some future Bat actor lucks out with a Bat-show."

    To be fair, if you add in the shooting time, Bale might come close.

    I always enjoyed West as Batman. but he was even better as Bruce Wayne. Way better than the other actors.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I saw Adam and Burt in costume as the caped crusaders at The World of Wheels Custom Auto Show at the DC Armory in Washington, DC. It must have been in the early 80's, when making these types of appearances was about all he had going.

    The show, of course was featuring one of the batmobiles from the 1966 show. I was not educated enough at that time to tell if it was an original or, most likely, a duplicate version created for touring shows like this.

    The thing that impressed me was that Adam was totally into it. He did not give the impression he was too good to be there for the fans. He came up, took the mike, and said,"Thank you, Commissioner Gordon" to the MC in a very straight and corny way.

    On the other hand, I think Burt took exception to when I commented to someone with me that it looked like Robin was wearing pantyhose. He seemed to cut me a quick look, but I guess I would have done the same thing if someone said that about me.

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