I’m starting a new series today I’m calling, “Inspirations.” In it, I’ll discuss the things that have inspired and shaped me as a writer. From pop culture to literature to life events, I’ll look at the influences that have made me the author I am and where appropriate, show examples in my work. First up, Adam West’s Batman.
In the beginning . . .
I was not very old when I discovered superheroes for the first time. We moved to Wisconsin shortly after my seventh birthday, and I have distinct superheroic memories from my time in West Virginia (ages two through six). I was not yet in school when I dressed as Spider-Man and my brother as Batman for a Halloween costume contest at the park down the street from our duplex. I had a large collection of Mego’s “World’s Greatest Superheroes” dolls that I brought with me to Green Bay.
The idea of guys in outlandish costumes running around with magical powers and defeating villains fired my young imagination like nothing else.
But my first memory of seeing Adam West and Burt Ward tooling around Gotham City in that souped up Lincoln Futura (arguably the most famous car ever) was in first grade. Reruns of the 60’s classic aired on one of the local stations after school, and my brother and I never missed a single thrilling minute.
Batman has never been my favorite superhero. I like him. A lot. But Batman was my brother’s favorite. I was into Superman (because he could fly and was indestructible) and Spider-Man, because was amazingly cool.
But the thing is, at the time, Superman and Spider-Man had not made live action film or television appearances. I could see them on animated shows. I could read about them in the comic books. But they weren’t “real.”
Batman and Robin, on the other hand, were. West and Ward donned the costumes and went out as the Caped Crusaders every afternoon.
And the live-action nature of the show inspired me in a way animation did not. Seeing Batman and Robin climb up the side of a building with Bat-ropes and Batarangs, roar through Gotham City in the Batmobile, and get into real fistfights with The Joker, The Penguin, and The Riddler was the kind of thing that caused a seven-year-old to boggle.
It was all real. It was possible. There really could be superheroes.
I had no idea it was played for comedy. I only saw villainy and heroism play out live every afternoon after school.
Imitated but Never Duplicated
As the 1970’s wore on, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, and the Incredible Hulk would all get live-action shows of their own. I watched every episode of those shows too.
But the thing about those ’70’s superhero shows as opposed to 1960’s Batman was that the villains were all conventional. Spider-Man has one of the greatest rogues galleries in comics. In fact, only Spider-Man can rival Batman for the varied fiends he battles.
But the TV show never showed any of those guys. Spidey never fought The Green Goblin or The Scorpion or Rhino or Mysterio on the show. He battled mobsters and evil scientists. The same was true of Wonder Woman (although she fought Nazis in the first season), and The Hulk traveled from town to town looking for a cure to his problem and losing his temper.
It just wasn’t the same. Batman’s villains wore costumes. It looked like the comic books.
And the police were grateful for his help. Commissioner Gordon called in Batman whenever there was a problem too big for the Boys in Blue.
Seeing all this play out daily with real people made me believe in the superhero concept in a way other media did not. Because of Batman I wanted to be a superhero. When I was nine years old, I would actually try. (Read about that here.)
And wanting to be a superhero made me want to be heroic. As I grew into an adult with aspirations as a novelist, I was drawn inexorably to adventure stories. My heroes don’t inhabit a four-color world. I do not work with simple definitions of good and evil.
But they aspire to do the right thing. The TV show never discussed Batman’s motivations. We never learned that Bruce Wayne’s parents were murdered before his eyes.
On the show, Wayne was Batman, fighting against evil, because he could do it. He took in youthful Dick Grayson, because he could, and he mentored the young lad not only in the ways of superheroing, but also in upright, moral behavior and even, on occasion, good grammar.
Adam West’s Batman was an impossibly good saint. And if no one could ever be that altruistic, he at least gave me a goal to strive for. Wanting to emulate Batman wasn’t just about always winning and beating up the bad guys for me (although that was a big piece of it). It was about wanting to be good.
So in the innocence of my youth, before bullies and tragedy changed me into the guy who identified more with Michael Keaton’s Batman, Adam West set me on a path of being the hero — someone’s, anyone’s hero.
And that heroic ideal, that desire to do the right thing and triumph over darkness shapes all my stories. It shapes my life. A campy show from the 1960’s that went off the air before I was even born had one of the most profound impacts on my life — both as a person and an author — of anything I’ve ever experienced.
If you send up the Bat-signal, you can bet I’ll respond.