I was not yet four years old when BATMAN starring Adam West 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.
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.
I believe my grandparents, Grover and Virginia Clough, bought their first color set somewhere right about that time as well. Seeing BATMAN in color must have blown my little mind, because though I do remember watching the show at their house, I can’t specifically remember those viewings like I do those times I saw the show on that wobbly old console of ours that had to go to Messick’s repair shop in Queenstown every once in a while for a tune-up.
So it wasn’t just the splashy pop-art intensity of the show that snagged my young imagination. 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.
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. One of the owner’s sons operated a comic book booth at the Crumpton auction where Mom and my grandmother bought items to sell in their used furniture store. Mom never refused when I asked for money to spend in that stall. Once she even bought a box of comics at auction on the sly, early single digit Marvel books in some cases, and whenever I complained of boredom over that summer, she’d hand me another stack. This was during the Neil Adams/Deny O’Neil BATMAN collaboration that brought the character back to his dark pulp roots.
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. There were many times Dad let me down, 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 this one tough dude from Camden, New Jersey who shared my last name, and a love of comics. He was very much on the down-low, though. He’d visit my work station late at night, I was an aircraft carrier baker then, and we’d trade comics. A kid called Speedy and a couple of the other guys in my division were more open about their comics fandom. This was in the pre-Dark Knight and Watchmen cool and gritty era, 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.
I’m pretty sure it scared some potential girlfriends off, but that was okay.
I don’t think I ever missed out on much of anything.
I had other interests and a generally tolerable personality.
I tended bar.
I got around a bit.
Friends old and new might have thought the comic book thing was weird but we bonded over all we had in common, not our differences.
When Peggy 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 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.
My daughter is a brilliant nerd.
She makes me proud.
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 have progressed over the years from Legos and coloring books to high-end statuary and a functionally dangerous badass batarang.
At an awesome surprise party for my 40th birthday, one of my Navy buddies gave me an original copy of the Batman comic book that came out the month I was born.
My love of comics in general and 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.