Adam West passed away on June 9, 2017.
Today, September 19, 2017, would have been his 89th birthday.
I was not yet four years old when BATMAN premiered in January, 1966, but that television show had an impact on me that lasts to this day.
My mother reading out loud to me the THWACKs, SWOOSHs, and KAPOWs of the show’s fight scenes is one of my earliest memories, not just some anecdote I’ve heard from others and kind of sticks, but the real, sensory, seeing-it’s-just-the-start, I-can-hear-it-taste-it-smell-it-feel-it type of memory.
We had a black and white TV and lived in a two bedroom trailer behind my mom’s parents’ house and general store in Grasonville, on Maryland’s rural Eastern Shore.
My maternal grandparents bought their first color television somewhere right about the time of BATMAN‘s premiere season. Seeing BATMAN in color blew my little mind.
It wasn’t just the splashy pop-art intensity of the show that snagged my young imagination, though. I was mesmerized by the characters, the action, and the off-kilter storytelling. I didn’t even realize the show was campy and being played for laughs until years later, when I was a near-teenager and the UHF children’s show host Captain Chesapeake aired daily afternoon reruns of BATMAN.
By then all my friends liked such gritty fare as CHIPS and THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN and believed BATMAN was stupid, for little kids and the feeble minded.
I knew better, but never said much in the show’s defense.
I learned to read early.
Mom’s side of the family were big readers and my older sister encouraged me to read. Mom took me to the library, recommended certain books and O. Henry stories to teach lessons, and bought me comic books galore.
She and my grandmother owned a used furniture store. Not antiques. Used furniture.
Every Wednesday, they’d go to a nearby auction house and by truckloads of old stuff to bring home and refurbish, or at least refresh, and resell.
A son of the auction house owner sold second, third and fourth-hand comics from a booth next to the popcorn and cotton candy concession near one of the main doors.
Mom never refused when I asked for money to spend in that stall.
Once during an auction, she bought a big box full of comics on the sly, many early single digit Marvel books included, and whenever I complained of boredom over that summer, she’d hand me another stack. The Marvel comics were something of a different sort than the DC Comics line that published Batman and his Justice League buddies, who besides their costumes and powers could hardly be distinguished from one another.
The early 1970s-era Neil Adams/Deny O’Neil BATMAN collaboration took the character away from the lighthearted Adam West portrayal and, at least comic book-wise, brought him back to his dark pulp roots. At ten, I was ready for this more grownup Batman.
I gave it all up around age 14.
None of those highly collectible books made it past my gotta-be-cool-enough-to-get-laid high school years. Whenever I’d need money for some date or social event, I’d sell a stack of comics to a friend who was way less cooler than me, but also way smarter.
To give my father his due, Joe Lewis bought me piles of comics too. He took me to my first comic book convention in a hotel basement in Bethesda, outside of Washington, D.C. There were many times Dad let me down in my life, but I can never recall any of those specific occasions, only the times he came through. That convention was a big one
He did always want to argue that Captain Marvel – Shazam – was the best superhero.
Better than Batman?
Whachoo talkin ‘bout, Joe Lewis?
In the Navy I found like-minded comic book readers. I bonded with a guy from Camden, New Jersey who shared my last name, and a love of comics. He was very much a fan on the down-low, though. A kid called Speedy and a couple of the other guys in my division were more open about their fandom. This was just before the gritty Dark Knight and Watchmen days, but hey, when you’re on a big boat in the middle of the Indian Ocean seven months out of the year, nobody really gives a damn what you’re reading.
When I was discharged and came back home, I was more open than I had been about reading comic books.
When my wife and I started dating, she was cool right off the bat, encouraging. I took her to comic book stores everywhere we traveled and she always commiserated with me over the dozens of back issues on the walls, selling for hundreds of dollars, as I checked them off my mental used-to-have list. We went to comic book conventions, something I’d only ever done that once before, with the old man, way back when. We’ve seen every Batman movie together, in theaters, since 1989. When we got married our preacher was also a comic book fan and I wore a bat symbol pin on my tuxedo. Peg declined any bat-accessories, but I knew her heart was in the right place.
I have a collection of stuff I’ve been given and bought over the years. I have a sealed box of valentine chocolates featuring characters from the animated series and a set of superhero cake pans that my mom gave me, and a Michael Keaton era Batman head radio dad found at some yard sale. My parents are both gone now, but their gifts remain. My family members have contributed to my collection, as have my friends. There isn’t anything I have that I don’t remember who gave it to me.
My wife has given me so many amazing Batman gifts over the years they’re impossible to enumerate.
My daughter’s gifts to me over the years have gone from Batman coloring books and Batman Legos to high end statuary and a functional, dangerous and badass batarang.
In a recent chance conversation with BATMAN writer Tom King, my daughter told him that her dad loved Batman.
King asked her my first name. He said he’d put me in Issue #26.
He told her I’d likely be killed. That’s the way these things work, he said.
When issue #26 just came out, not only had he put BRENT in the comic, he put NICOLE right next to me. Sure enough, we both got shot by The Joker.
Not a bad way to go, even if the last name differs, and I’d never (again) wear a bow tie,
and there’s a naked-ass Bruce Wayne all up in the shadows.
Still, I’m finally in a Batman comic book.
My love of comics, and of the Batman character in particular, has given me much throughout my life.
It has helped keep me young at heart.
It has helped inform the differences between right and wrong.
It has stoked my imagination and will to create.
It’s given me a fun place to go in rough times.
It has given me something to talk to kids about.
And it all started with a TV show, a four year old, and a mom willing to read the sound effects out loud.