Why the Adam West Batman is my Favorite
When it comes to live-action portrayals of Batman, I am in the increasing minority who prefers the Adam West version from the campy 1960s TV series. While I do love the Christian Bale depiction of the character and I thought Michael Keaton did a good job despite Tim Burton botching those movies up, Adam West is definitely my Batman of choice. Here are the reasons why.
1) It’s Adam West. I mean, come on. Aside from being an extremely talented and underrated actor, the guy catches bullets in midair and builds log cabins out of other log cabins or something.
2) It’s fun. Remember when superheroes didn’t have to be grim and serious at all times? Don’t get me wrong – I love Batman: the Animated Series even more than I love the 1960s live action show, but I also enjoy the humor that Adam West’s Batman provided. There’s a lot of fan backlash against the idea of a campy Batman, but I honestly don’t get why it is so sacrosanct that a man dressed as a bat needs to be considered 100% serious at all times.
3) It gives us a relatively healthy Bruce Wayne. This is the big one. I’m not a fan of Batman as a psychopath. There are a lot of comics that go out of their way to demonstrate that he’s as mentally unsound as the criminals he fights or even that the criminals of Gotham (the Joker in particular) wouldn’t exist without him. While that’s a valid take on the character, it’s not one I prefer.
Whether Batman is truly insane or not, most modern depictions of the character show him as somebody who is deeply troubled and who will never find real happiness. Moreover, they show us a guy who is taking a very unhealthy approach not only to dealing with his childhood trauma but to his crusade against crime as well.
Bruce Wayne is a billionaire who has more influence than any other person in Gotham. But rather than put his efforts toward something like prison reform or improving the living situation in Gotham (reduced poverty equals a reduced crime rate almost every time), he tries to make a change by running around dressed as a bat and beating people up. At best, he’s stopping half a dozen crimes a night, all without addressing the social situations that are causing those crimes. Granted, some stories imply that he does help society through his influence at Wayne Enterprises, but he never puts his full effort into that venture, often going out of his way to appear incompetent so people won’t suspect that he’s Batman.
This is especially true in the comics, where Batman’s crusade against crime is a never-ending treadmill that will never see any progress toward a happier Gotham. I know that it’s much more fun to see Batman punch a murderer in the face than to see Bruce Wayne lobby for social justice, but if the comic book universe is going to give us a man who is so rich that he can “lose” a trillion-dollar space station in his company’s R&D budget without anybody noticing, it should also address why Batman doesn’t use his true superpower of money to do something other than build exploding batarangs. If Batman has all these resources and Gotham isn’t improving, he’s basically wasting his life.
My favorite versions of Batman are the ones that actually make a change in the world. Batman takes down crime boss Rupert Thorne in Batman: the Animated Series. Each of the Dark Knight films ends with Gotham a bit better off than it was before. In the case of the Adam West Batman, he’s cleaned up Gotham and is doing his part to ensure that it stays that way.
The Adam West version of the character is still a guy whose parents were murdered – he mentions as much in an early episode and states that he crafted the identity of Batman because of it. However, rather than go over the edge and become a guy who channels his trauma into rage and large-scale ineffectualness as with some takes on the character, he serves as a special agent of the Gotham City Police Department and helps turn the city around. At one point he even runs for mayor, proving that he’s willing to set aside his street-level crimefighting if needed.
Basically, I really like the Adam West take on Batman because he manages to avoid a lot of the pitfalls that the character tends to run into in the modern day. Modern day Batman can be written well, but he is too often shown to be a paranoid, untrusting dick who routinely turns down help from other superheroes and fails to take advantage of his vast resources to effect real change in Gotham. The Adam West Batman is a guy who is willing to go off the beaten path when it comes to crimefighting but who does so in a way that produces real results. Rather than embrace the rage and sadness caused by the death of his parents, he channeled it into something useful. I find that more interesting than the modern-day comics interpretation who is all but emotionally crippled.
4) Some days, you just can’t get rid of a bomb. Because some days, you can’t.