Monday, June 12, 2017

Musical Monday - Batman Theme (1966-1968)

We lost Adam West this past weekend. He was, of course, best known for his role as Batman on the 1960s television show Batman, and without him I contend that we probably would not see the surge of super-hero properties that have arisen in the last two decades.

Over the years, there has been something of a cottage industry among comic book fans competing to see who could deride the Batman television show the most. It was campy. It was silly. Batman was too much of a boring Boy Scout. The villains were dumb. And so on and so forth. But I think all of these criticisms miss the mark. The Batman television show was foundational because people remembered it. Because it made a mark on the cultural landscape. Because people who have never seen the show still say things like "same Bat-time, same Bat-channel", or remember the theme song, or the big cartoon "Pows!" and "Bams!" and "Boffs!"

Batman certainly wasn't the first live action super-hero show. The Adventures of Superman with George Reeves, for example, predated it by more than a decade. And it certainly wasn't the last - shows like Wonder Woman with Lynda Carter, The Incredible Hulk with Bill Bixby, and The Amazing Spider Man with Nicholas Hammond dotted the television landscape of the 1970s. Even though many of those shows were generally well-liked, and often hold a special spot in the hearts of comic-book fans, they just didn't have the same impact as Batman did. Can anyone remember the theme song of The Incredible Hulk? Or The Amazing Spider-Man? I couldn't and I watched every one episode of both of those shows when they came out. Or the villains - can anyone remember the villains from any of the other shows? On the other hand, the villains of the Batman show have become iconic: Julie Newmar and Eartha Kitt as Catwoman, Frank Gorshen as the Riddler, Cesar Romero as the Joker, Burgess Meredith as the Penguin, and even silly villains like Vincent Price as the Egghead. The main thing about the Batman show is that it was instantly memorable, and cemented into place the idea that costumed heroes could fight costumed villains in live-action, knowing that it was a ridiculous scenario and yet simply not caring.

And in the center of all of the over-the-top villainy, the absurd Bat-gadgets, and a sidekick who seemed to say "Holy ______ Batman!" with every other line, was Adam West. Yes, he looked goofy in the Bat-suit. Yes, he was kind of wooden with his delivery at times. But he sat in the middle of all of the silliness and acted like it was perfectly normal. He provided the anchor to the show, and more importantly his character provided a moral center to the show that demonstrated that super-heroes, even when surrounded by the most whacky of settings, can still stand for fundamental decency and goodness, Every filmed super-hero that came before Batman pointed to Adam West's character, and every live-action super-hero production that came after has either been inspired by, or been a reaction to, West's portrayal of the caped crusader. He was clearly the inspiration for Christopher Reeve's portrayal of Superman, and clearly what Tim Burton was reacting to when he created his Batman.

The Batman Animated Series highlighted this tension when it, although clearly influenced by the darker version of Batman exemplified by Michael Keaton's portrayal, included West in an episode as the Grey Ghost, a character that inspired that show's version of Batman, spiritually tying this series back to the 1960s one. All of the super-hero movies that we all love - Spider-Man, Iron Man, Wonder Woman, Captain America, and even the entire DC Animate Universe, are all Adam's West's legacy. The caped crusader will live on in all of his goofy glory, and as a result, though West is gone, he will never truly die.

Previous Musical Monday: Wonder Woman Main Theme
Subsequent Musical Monday: Wonder Woman Opening Theme (1975-1979)

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