When Batman actor Adam West fell on hard times in the 1970s he agreed to be fired out of a giant cannon at a town carnival (BBC’s 10 Things we Didn’t Know Last Week) ….
Adam West adjusted the mask on his face, straightened his cape and looked at himself in the mirror in the small changing-room that the town of Big Butte, Wyoming, had alloted him.
“Holy Broke, Batman,” he muttered.
The joyousness of the sixties had been replaced by the grimness of the seventies. Hot pants and Beatles haircuts had given way to flared trousers and massive sideburns. Hope and flower-power had yielded to strikes and recession. Sixties pop had morphed into seventies rock, with its indecipherable lyrics and twenty-minute guitar solos.
Yet inexplicably, despite all of this people wanted realism instead of escapism. They no longer wanted the fun provided by Batman and his conveyor-belt of goon-accompanied villains. They wanted dour, “normal” cops solving dour, “normal” murders.
And look where it got them, reflected Adam to his reflection. They got Kojak, a grown man who sucked lollipops. They got Columbo, with a coat that looked like he’d slept in it (he could have been in our show, as The Flasher, thought Adam). They got Charlie’s Angels, who successfully went undercover in any situation despite being the three best-looking girls in any room they entered.
Call that realism, snorted Adam to himself. For God’s sake, they had phones that they could use in their cars.
In the face of all of this, the Bat-signal no longer lit up the night sky. Adam found himself out of work, and increasingly reduced to turning up at small-town small-minded events, wearing the suit whilst putting himself through a series of soul-eating humiliations.
Such as this one. Adam sighed and turned the handle of his dressing-room door. He emerged into a field, where a crowd of people clapped as he climbed a short step-ladder and lowered himself feet-first into the mouth of a cannon. He spun himself around onto his front so that he could look out. He could see a man wearing a chain of office approaching, and, some fifty feet beyond him, a safety net.
The man climbed the ladder so that he could look directly into Adam’s face. His eyes were wild with excitement and, it seemed to Adam, glee.
“I am The Mayor,” he pronounced.
“I know,” said Adam. “You’re wearing the chain.”
“Not the mayor,” said the man, “The Mayor“.
“I don’t get it,” said Adam. “You just said the same thing twice.”
“Don’t you see?” snapped the man. “The Mayor is my super-villain name.”
“Oh, very good,” said Adam. “We’re going to do all this as characters, are we?”
“Don’t patronise me,” said The Mayor. “I know who you are …. Batman.”
“Um,” said Adam, “I’m just an actor -”
“By day, yes,” said The Mayor. “Batman obviously has to have an alter-ego.”
“Exactly,” said Adam. “He’s called Bruce Wayne, and he -”
“Oh, please,” snorted The Mayor. “A millionaire play-boy who’d fight crime when he could be partying, dating super-models, and wearing Versace ball-gowns in the privacy of his own home?”
Adam raised an eyebrow, and The Mayor blushed for a second. “Never mind that last bit,” he said. “The point is, everyone knows that he isn’t real.”
“But Batman is?”
“Of course,” said The Mayor. “Otherwise, who fights the super-villains?”
“The super-villains aren’t real either,” said Adam gently.
“Rubbish,” said The Mayor. “The Penguin, with his ridiculous walk? The Joker, with his awful jokes? Two Face, with his, well, two faces? I mean, you couldn’t make them up.”
“Exactly,” said Adam.
“So they have to be real,” said The Mayor.
Adam stared at him. There was really no answer to that.
“And they’re useless,” said The Mayor, “with their wild schemes. I am a proper super-villain.”
“How so?” said Adam.
“I am The Mayor,” said The Mayor. “I control all the planning. I buy up land, then zone it for housing. I take money from developers to let them build where they want. I knock down cottages to build factories. Nothing happens in this town without me making money out of it. I have a really tight grip on Big Butte.”
“Wow,” said Adam. “And you think The Joker’s jokes are bad.”
“And now,” said The Mayor, “I’m going to prove myself the greatest villain of them all – by killing Batman!”
“By firing an out-of work actor into a safety-net?”
“Never mind the safety-net,” said The Mayor. “I’ve loaded five times the amount of gunpowder I was supposed to. You’re going to be blown sky-high, quite literally.”
He took a match raised it to the crowd, who applauded enthusiastically, then struck it against the side of the cannon. “Look,” said Adam desperately, “you’re making a big -”
The Mayor touched the match to the fuse.
“Get out of my town,” he said.
The cannon fired, and as Adam left the muzzle he could swear that, just for a second, the word “kaboom!” appeared in the air.
He shot over the safety-net, over the hot-dog stalls and the carousel, over the ferris-wheel and out into the open sky.
And landed some two miles away, drifting gently to earth beside a long, sleek tail-finned black car. The woman in the driver’s seat looked calmly at him.
“Tried to kill you, then, did he?” asked Julie Newmar.
“He did indeed,” said Adam. “Good thing I had my Bat Air-Floating-Through Device with me.”
“Your parachute, you mean.”
“Whatever,” said Batman.
“Where to next?” asked Catwoman.
“Red Neck, Nebraska,” said Batman. “A guy called The Blacksmith wants me to advertise his forge by tying me to an anvil and dropping me into the river.”
“I reckon so. Who owns a forge these days? He’ll put on a big padlock that he hasn’t told anyone about, I’ll open it underwater with the Bat-key and you can pick me up about a mile downstream.”
“Make sure you get paid in advance,” said Catwoman.
“Always do,” said Batman.
Catwoman started the Batmobile, and they drove in silence for a while. “Do you reckon, “she asked eventually, “that the public will ever figure out that we really are the people we’re supposed to be playing?”
“Doubt it,” said Batman. “They haven’t figured out yet that Leonard Nimoy is really a Vulcan, and look at the ears on him.”