Saturday, June 8, 2013

A Trip to the Batcave

I've been in the same room as Adam West, TV's original Batman, twice, but I've never met him. The simple reason for this isn't that I'm shy, it's that I didn't want to spend the $40. See, both times I've seen him have been at comic or collectible conventions, and both times have been the exact same experience: Adam West sits at a table behind some sort of barrier, next to a large bodyguard. Despite the fact that these conventions always take place in large, windowless spaces dimly lit by fluorescent lights, Adam West wears large, dark sunglasses the entire time. A minder keeps you from taking photos of Adam West from afar, lest he be deprived his $40, and another minder keeps the line moving to make sure you don't get to speak to Adam West for more than a moment.

There is, after all, a line of people waiting to give him $40.

I know I shouldn't begrudge the man for earning a living. It's well known that most of the actors from the old syndicated television series like "Batman", "Happy Days", "The Monkees", and shows like those got very little payment for syndication royalties, merchandising, DVD and video sales (especially since DVD's and video weren't invented yet when they signed their contracts) and the like, and most of them were also hopelessly typecast into their roles, preventing them from getting any other serious acting jobs, but both of the times I've seen him something about his attitude, maybe the sunglasses inside, has left a bad taste in my mouth. One of the times, I just didn't want to spend the $40, and the other time I spent the $40 instead on an action figure of Tyr that shot me in the eye and almost blinded me on the way home from the toy show.

Anyway, I'm starting with the story of how I never met Adam West because I just finished his book, Back to the Batcave, which is apparently out of print and worth more than the $2 that I paid for it. Before we get into my opinions of it, though, let's see if any prominent members of the Batman family would like to share their thoughts.

The Huntress?


Seriously? Maybe the Joker?


Batwoman? Could we take a moment to reflect on your adventures with Batman?


I'm not even sure how to respond to that. Bat-Girl?


Nightwing? You used to be Robin. Surely you have something to say about Adam West's book?


Indeed you have, since Boy Wonder: My Life in Tights (which is also out of print) seems to be about a completely different Batman show from the one that Adam West worked on. Burt Ward talks about working on a show that didn't take itself too seriously. The actors had fun, and enjoyed themselves, but nobody seemed to mistake what they were doing for high art that would stand the tests of time.

Nobody, that is, besides Adam West. In his book there are pages upon pages about his acting skill, and the extreme level of talent that he brought to this production. Despite testing a number of other actors, they were lucky to have him, because he was the only one who spent hours preparing his hand gestures and lower facial expressions to make up for the fact that his upper face, where most actors of lesser skill emote, was covered by a non-moving cowl. Adam West believes that he helped to craft a pop-art masterpiece on the level of Andy Warhol, and comes right out and says so more than once. It's actually a little bit sad to read, because as much as I love the Batman TV show it's not what he thinks it is. Groundbreaking? Yes. Beloved? Yes. But a masterpiece? No. Adam West thinks that he's Bette Davis in "All About Eve", but the truth is a lot closer to "Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte" than he would care to admit.

There are two parts that made me stop rolling my eyes and shaking my head long enough to smile: the first is when he outlines the difficulties of signing the quivering breasts of female fans without grabbing them, and the second is when he admits that there was one really awful time that he portrayed Batman, which was in 1978's Legends of the Superheroes. My parents bought it for me this year for Christmas, since it was on my wish list, but I've been waiting for the right time to settle in and watch it.

After reading that Adam West thought it was cheap, terrible, and vaguely shameful, I decided it was the right time.

And oh, God, was it cheap, terrible, and vaguely shameful.

A live action production, it stars West and Ward as Batman and Robin, and they are joined by an odd collection of allies that probably had something to do with licensing issues. Green Lantern, Hawkman, the Flash, and Black Canary are there, but instead of Superman we have Captain Marvel:

"Legends of the Superheroes: The Challenge" (1)

and instead of Wonder Woman we have someone who claims to be some version of the Huntress:

"Legends of the Superheroes: The Challenge" (2)

Scroll up if you forgot what the Huntress looked like at the time this was made, and then scroll down again and compare. I'm all for dramatic license and am willing to accept slight, logical changes to characters for the sake of the medium (for example, I love WB's "Arrow", a modernized take on the Green Arrow), but that looks terrible. Her clothes aren't even the right colors. I should have just turned it off and called it a day then, but I decided to press on, and things only got worse.

Our story opens with a collection of supervillains having what appears to be a board meeting:

"Legends of the Superheroes: The Challenge" (3)

The Riddler takes roll call, during which each of the villains tries to kill him for some unknown reason while the canned laugh track rolls in the background. Left to right, for those unfamiliar, we have Solomon Grundy, Sinestro, Dr. Sivana, Mordru the Merciless (who is apparently the leader, although why a wizard who fought the entire Legion of Superheroes including Superboy and Supergirl to a standstill on multiple occasions would need to be on a team with the Riddler, who has no powers, and Solomon Grundy, who is superstrong, is never explained), the Riddler, Giganta, and the Weather Wizard, and they have built a doomsday device that they challenge the superheroes to find and disable.

While the challenge is being issued, one of the villains (I can't remember if it was the Riddler or Sinestro, and it will be a while before I can force myself to watch again), pops the Batmobile's hood and sabotages it. Batman and Robin take it to the nearest repair shop, where a barely disguised Solomon Grundy beats them up and takes the Batmobile hostage. Acting as a true hero, Batman gives up, and he and Robin leave on foot to search for the doomsday device.

"Legends of the Superheroes: The Challenge" (4)

No, that's really what happened. Batman gets in a fight and gives up because he got shoved, walking off with Robin.

Actually, everyone in this is walking almost all of the time, because the special effects budget couldn't afford to have anyone fly. It renders the chase scene at the end kind of hilarious, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Hawkman, who has wings and should be able to fly, walks up to the garage and is captured by Grundy. Black Canary tries to rescue him, and is also captured. Meanwhile, Weather Wizard disguises himself as a used car salesman and further delays Batman and Robin by offering them a selection of rundown cars whose doors and wheels fall off while the laugh track rolls, and then Sinestro disguises himself as a female fortune teller to stall Green Lantern:

"Legends of the Superheroes: The Challenge" (5)

The only thing worse is the scene where the Riddler disguises himself as a psychiatrist and talks Captain Marvel out of helping. Wait, no, there's also the fact that since they can't afford to have Green Lantern fly they instead have him travel by shooting himself in the face with his power ring:

"Legends of the Superheroes: The Challenge" (6)

And then this steaming pile of crap somehow sinks to a new low as Batman and Robin get too close to the island where the doomsday device is hidden and Mordru the Merciless, a wizard who has been able to crack planets in half and disrupt the flow of time at full power levels, distracts them by leading them on a high speed jet ski chase across the lake:

"Legends of the Superheroes: The Challenge" (7)

Seriously. Jet skis.

"Legends of the Superheroes: The Challenge" (8)

Not only that, but since nobody can fly the rest of the heroes give pursuit in a variety of watercraft:

"Legends of the Superheroes: The Challenge" (9)

and I can't even convey how bad the rest of this was. They all end up at the villain lair, there's a lot of allegedly comical fighting with laugh tracks and pratfalls, and then as the doomsday clock counts down the show is suddenly over and I can't remember if one of them managed to shut it off or not. There's a second special on the DVD, which according to the description seems to be all of the heroes and villains at some kind of roast hosted by Ed McMahon, but I'm pretty sure that I can't watch that while I'm sober.

I'm willing to bet that Burt Ward and Adam West weren't when they made it.


Dee said...

"We watch so you don't have to"

You provide a great service, sir, and I commend you!


strong cookie. said...

this post is top notch.