Ask a geek who the most iconic live action Batman was, and there are probably a lot of really good answers that aren’t George Clooney.
But it would be really hard not to at least consider Adam West, who played Batman as a straight-laced deadpan hero amidst all manner of campy silliness. And it would be really hard to think of another role West was associated with that wasn’t in some way connected to the Caped Crusader of Gotham City.
West died over the weekend at the age of 88.
For better or for worse, West’s Batman defined the comic book superhero for decades. The solemn hero who took everything seriously no matter how ridiculous, and who in turn was surrounded by bright colors and onomatopieic words flashing across the screen when some ne’er-do-well got a good punch to the jaw. That can’t all be laid at the feet of Adam West, but he was front and center throughout that sort of thing and it left a mark.
Now, typecasting happens to a lot of actors, and it certainly happened to Adam West. If anything, towards the end of his life, West at least seemed comfortable with it and had a reputation of having some comedic talents that even his best-known role never tackled. The thing is, long after he did the Batusi or fought a blatantly rubber shark, he was still associated with Batman, voicing the character for an 80s version of Superfriends, and then, well, even with his voice work with that distinctive tenor, he still stuck close to Batman.
It’s hard to hold that against West, but I do wonder how much of Simon Trent was inspired by West’s actual life. That was probably one of the more dramatic, serious roles I’ve heard him voice. He’d be back for another Batman cartoon later, as Bruce Wayne’s father in the decidedly silly Batman the Brave and the Bold.
But can we think of any role that West played that wasn’t basically his Batman, either in a wink or a nod?
Considering his most recent voice work may have been for some direct-to-DVD sequels to his old TV series, the second of which features a similar such actor (William Shatner), then maybe the one outlier we can find would be Family Guy, a show where West played a very weird and probably insane version of himself, the kind of man who would marry his own hand and call said hand a dirty whore while on a date with it.
I’m sure he did other things, but this is what we remember him for. There was something of a debate on West when the news broke in Gabbing Geek’s virtual office. Would we do a tribute for him like we did for Leonard Nimoy? The consensus seemed to be no. Nimoy was more of a pop culture icon, while West was a geek icon, and there was a difference. That West, like Shatner, reached a level of self-conscious parody in his work is what he’s been best known for for years. He’ll be missed, especially for fans like myself who think of him as one of their first Batmans. Maybe he didn’t do as distinctive a stamp on the character as voice actor Kevin Conroy, but he made that role something that stamped him for life.
Also, actress Glenne Headly died. Though best remembered for Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, she stayed busy herself and her death was perhaps just as sudden as Adam West’s. She’ll be missed as well.