The Bright Knight Returns

Curator's Note

For decades after the Batman television series was cancelled in March 1968, Adam West struggled mightily to escape from the scallop-winged shadow of the Caped Crusader. Reduced to in-character appearances at malls and small comic book shows, as well as two extraordinarily bad television specials (1979’s Legends of the Superheroes Roast and Challenge), West seemed destined to be remembered as the actor who embodied a colorful and brief moment of collective camp in the 1960s. Yet, an extraordinary thing happened to West – and the Batman television show – on the way to pop culture oblivion: they became relevant again. To be more precise, a new generation recognized that the vitality of the series and especially West’s comically stoic portrayal offered a template for navigating a deep-rooted and widespread ambivalence about pop culture and identity. West has remarked that in playing Batman he relied on a “sense memory” of reading Batman comics as a child in Walla Walla, Washington. As fan-turned-producer, West completes the circuitous dialogue between production and consumption cultures in his affectionate characterization that is ultimately a send-up of not simply Batman but the whole notion of identity as a social construct. Thus, when West portrays Bruce Wayne and Batman having a phone conversation with each other, he offers viewers a model for playing with familiar pop culture texts and self in new, self-aware ways. His famously staccato inflections seem to be in sympathetic rhythm with a shared pop culture heartbeat. There is a satisfying sense of inevitability to West now playing Mayor Adam West on Family Guy; such reflexivity confirms that the absurdities of the 1960s Batman series were first and foremost our own funhouse mirror image that we collectively created. Subsequently, the much-anticipated release of Batman on Blu-ray and DVD late last year satisfies our desire to access a Zeitgeist of playful reinvention, the past as a map for constant self-reinvention. The Bright Knight is back but we understand that he never really went away at all.


This clip is fascinating, and your contextualization brings up so many important points about West, Batman, identity, and of course Family Guy. The moment at the end of the clip shows the deep level of reflexivity and collective construction of this character as the Chief and Commissioner turn towards the camera to make their comments about Batman/Bruce Wayne directly to viewers. Everyone is in on the funhouse mirror you describe. Thanks for the insight!

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