Once upon a time, a geeky little guy in a straw hat pulled his pony up beside an old shed on a hard-dirt wheat farm in Walla Walla, Washington. Through a broken window he'd spotted a pile of dust-covered paper. He dropped Babe's reins and stepped inside the old shack. Shards of fly-speckled glass littered the place, and one piece the size and shape of a magnifying glass rested atop the stack of paper. He was looking at some old-timer's treasure trove of abandoned Batman comic books. The kid sat down on a dusty wood box and began to read. In his imagination, he was Batman. And so began the amazing journey that would define his life.

The kid from Walla Walla became Batman. His was a hold-tight rocket flight from then to the time zone of now. And he's still playing pretend in the elusive and mysterious world of pop culture. The farm and pony are gone, but the geeky kid remains. He's been in your face for more than 40 years, as Batman, Bruce Wayne, Mayor West and other slightly odd but amusing pretend people. Most of the time, however, he's just Adam West, an actor who lives with and indulges those other strange, bigger-than-life characters ...

As this year's Comic-Con gets under way in San Diego, there is much excitement surrounding the final film in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy. His gothic, nihilistic movies have been a tremendous success. They are well-made and speak to an audience that thrills to what might be called suspenseful carnage. But without minimizing Nolan's accomplishment, I'd like to pay tribute those who still put their faith in the "Bright Knight" of the late 1960s. The 'Batman' movie and TV series of that era were brightly colored, not dark and violent, and expressed visions of a different kind of Gotham City. They were an extension of the safe and familiar comic books of that time. Zap! Pow! Baaaarrroooom! They were tongue-in-cheek, funny, over the top and perfectly in sync with the times. Think of the three B's of that period and their staying power in world culture: The Beatles, Bond and Batman. What darkness there was arrived well-dressed and furnished with a disarming wit.

Think of Batman's many great guest stars and the hilariously troubled villains they created: Julie Newmar as Catwoman, who promised to date a stimulated Batman when she got out of jail. Time off for good behavior? "Hey Diddle Riddle" and here comes the Riddler, Frank Gorshin, with another dazzlingly cornball conundrum that only he with his maniacal laugh could frame. Funny man. The Penguin possessed a playful mean streak that was as instantly identifiable as his elegant cigarette holder and shining glass monocle -- that was the late, great Burgess Meredith, just nailing it. Playing Batman and Bruce Wayne alongside those actors was nothing short of a delight.

A truly powerful cultural force is too big to see all at once, but the outline surfaces every time this writer, now that I'm unmasked, walks out the front door. The Bright Knight's followers have countless ways of showing their affection, and they're usually charming, humorous, warm and rewarding in a way few can hope to experience. One hundred movies later, it's still those exploits on the small screen that the fans remember, and I know from experience that this week's Comic-Con is bound to attract a force of fans like no other. They are the enthusiasts, the critics, the predictors, and the deciders of what we will dine on in the feast of amusement that is our pop culture. That's why the major studios, the producers and the stars turn up. We are all there seeking endorsement from those hardcore fans whose good or bad wishes will cause the next pop culture tsunami. These are the fans who let you know what your box office chances might be. These are the fans who energize our work and determine the duration of our careers.

Like everyone else in attendance, this writer has projects to promote: a website and new comic book titled 'The Misadventures of Adam West.' But he also has a larger purpose: to honor a Batman who is bigger than life, who crazily runs around fighting crime 24/7, and who offers adult amusement alongside kid-friendly entertainment.

This writer was only pretending to be you when you were pretending to be his pretend Batman. If that doesn't make sense to you, you may have a limited future as an actor. Just grab a blue bath towel, swing it over your shoulders, and go for it.

Comic-Con Opens in San Diego
categories Comic-Con