I woke up early, ready for a big day. The morning was water sliding at the world’s biggest mall. I’d done plenty of water slides in my life, but nothing like the dark, mysterious tunnels that awaited in the Blue Bullet or the vertical drops and bumps of Nessie’s Revenge. Wave pools and tube rides galore made for a memorable morning for this 10-year-old.
And as fun as the first part of my summer day, that wasn’t what I was most excited about. Later that afternoon, I was going to meet Batman.
It was 1989 and, as far as I was concerned, everything about my life was about the Caped Crusader. Tim Burton, Michael Keaton, an adolescent crush on Kim Basinger and a whole lot of Hollywood hype collided to make me sleep and breath everything Batman. If Ralston shipped gimmick cereal to Canada, I probably would’ve eaten Batman too.
It wasn’t the dark and twisted version of Batman I was going to meet that day. Rather it was Adam West, star of the campy 1960s TV version. He was appearing at the annual Edmonton fair. At the time, Adam West wasn’t the Batman, but he was the closest I was going to get. Having put on the cape and cowl, I respected West’s place in history.
Shortly after lunch, we headed out to the massive West Edmonton Mall parking lot.
“These are tornado clouds,” my stepmom said pointing to the sky.
I looked up and was in awe of the charcoal cotton candy headed our way. I’d learned everything I needed to know about tornadoes growing up on The Wizard of Oz. My stomach suddenly felt like a flying monkey was headed down the runway.
Before I had a chance to look away or plug my ears, she continued, “I spent many years in Missouri. Those are definitely tornado clouds.”
There was probably some chatting going on about the morning on the short ride back to my stepsister’s house. I wasn’t listening. I was staring at the sky. At one point I swore I could have seen an old lady flying through the distant sky on her bike.
Either my ticket was punched for a second vacation in a land called Oz or I was going to die. Either way my life was ruined because my meeting with Batman was in jeopardy. And as much as I worshiped the Dark Knight at the time, he was no Superman. He didn’t have the power to blow clouds away. Especially the KAPOW! version of Batman.
I’d never been so scared in my life.
That level of fear lasted all of two hours. The dark clouds and tornado warnings gave way to a full-blown twister. My dad and stepmom tried to reassure me that it was on the other side of the city, blowing through an empty field of prairie wheat.
That didn’t matter. As far as I was concerned, I was going to die–either from the tornado itself or my missed meeting. While the 2,000-kilometer road trip had been officially about seeing more of Canada and visiting family, deep down I was a selfish 10-year-old kid. Every five minutes sitting in the back seat meant I was that much closer.
Now, even with Adam West on the other side of town, he couldn’t have been further away. Not being able to spend 30 seconds with Batman would have to wait.
I showed up in for the 2012 Fan Expo Vancouver early. Having never been to a comic con, I didn’t know what to expect. Throw in a ferry boat ride and public transit in a city that wasn’t my own, I wanted to be safe and not miss out on anything.
By the time I arrived at the Vancouver Convention Center, the crowds were already swarming. Avengers, Jedi and all sorts of anime creatures I wasn’t familiar with were converging on the edge of the Pacific for two days of comics, cosplay, art and pop culture.
And Adam West. The Adam West. Batman. The man I’d waited 22 years, nine months and seven days to meet. But who’s counting?
For the first couple of hours, I walk. I’m at the Expo by myself so there’s no real rush other than any scheduled events I hoped to take in. That worked for me, especially considering how overwhelming things are.
Everyone who entered the main hall was greeted by two stories of T-shirts. Literally. The rest of the front part was mainly comic and toy dealers. It has been a while since I was series about comic books, but it was still impressive to see so many classic books in one place.
Sadly, there wasn’t much in the way of trading cards. I spotted a couple of dealers with some sets that were priced a little too ambitiously for my tastes and budget. I ended up finding one comic dealer who had a couple of boxes set to the side of his table with some mid-90s Marvel inserts that interested me. But largely, the non-sport side of the Fan Expo Vancouver was the biggest disappointment. Although I can’t say I was shocked. I was just suffering from some selfish wishful thinking.
Going from the front of the hall to the back was like wading through mud. The crowds swelled early and everywhere was should to shoulder (or shoulder to shoulder pad for every Thor I bumped into).
The centerpiece of the middle of the hall was the 1960s Batmobile. One of the most iconic vehicles ever, if not the most, it was as beautiful as I remembered seeing it on TV. Five minutes in the driver’s seat cost $20. Although tempting, I opted for the free shots outside the car. After all, that was Batman’s car. I’m not a cape and cowl kind of guy and I definitely don’t have a multi-millionaire alter ego.
Next to the Batmobile, it’s like a casting call for the long-rumored Ghostbusters 3. The Ghostbusters of British Columbia were rocking the ghettoblaster with the classic Ray Parker Jr. theme, taking pictures with enthusiastic nostalgia seekers. Life-sized models of Slimer and Gozer’s Terror Dog, complete with glowing eyes, added polish to the backdrop.
Right beside them were the 501st Legion and their army of Stormtroopers and other Star Wars characters. Another photo op and tons of happy fans. I was actually happy my young son wasn’t with me though as the 501st’s Anakin was a little too dark side. My son is already having a hard enough time coming to grips with the fact that little orphan Annie is Darth Vader.
The back corner of the hall was reserved for comic artists. It was nice to see such a variety of work and different pieces in progress. Unfortunately, the tables were so tight that even with a couple of people at each table meant things were crowded to the point of discomfort. If there was anything I’d like to see made bigger next year, it would be simply making the Artist Alley aisles wider. I’m not the only one who likes to see art come to life.
On the other side of the main hall was the celebrity guest area. Several actors were set up for most of the weekend, signing autographs and meeting with fans. The lineup was solid considering this was the first year for the Fan Expo Vancouver.
Lou Ferrigno, Marina Sirtis, Michael Dorn, Kevin Sorbo, Kristin Bauer, Alan Ruck and Nicholas Brendon were some of the highlights. I opted to get a signed photo from Jeremy Bulloch, best known for playing Boba Fett. He was extremely gracious and took his time with every fan he interacted with.
I had him signed a photo for my son who has come up to me several times since to tell me, “Look, Dad, Boba Fett thinks I’m cool,” pointing to the personalized inscription that says, “To Ethan – You’re cool!” The day I gave it to him, my son even took the picture to bed, giving it a place alongside his teddy bears and knitted blankets.
As much as I enjoyed meeting the man under the mask of one of Hollywood’s greatest bounty hunters, the biggest excitement was two tables over. That’s where Adam West was signing.
Ready for a break and wanting a good seat, I arrive 25 minutes early. Tight scheduling meant that Nicholas Brendon as still at the podium. It turns out Xander is just as funny in person as he was on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I felt a little bad for him during the audience Q and A. Every comment and question directed at him was Buffy related. He’s like a modern, slightly less familiar, version of the Fonz from Happy Days, forever typecast in a single iconic role.
Thankfully, he’s either come to grips with it and even embraced it. That didn’t make the fact that some audience members spoke to him as though Xander and the Scooby Gang were real people and not characters on a television show.
With just a couple of minutes until the next panel, the one I had been waiting for since the final show schedule was first announced, was set to begin, a show organizer took to the stage. He cut Brendon off and that was that.
A few people moved but most stayed. There was already overflow standing in the back. Being on your own had its benefits. I slid into a third-row seat, one of the few that opened up.
After a short delay, the guests finally arrived. First out came Burt Ward, forever known as Batman. Should Brendon want to talk to anyone about being typecast, Ward would definitely be someone to chat with over coffee. Despite all the wonderful charitable work Ward now does rescuing dogs, he’s always going to be remembered as Robin, the youthful sidekick to Adam West’s Batman.
After a brief introduction, West was out next. As the panel host rambled on, I couldn’t help but stare at his ultra-white dental work.
For the next 60 minutes, the Dynamic Duo had the crowd glued. Other than a couple of short detours, the discussion stuck largely to the behind-the-scenes goings-ons during the filming of the 1960s classic.
West has one of those voices that could leave almost anyone mesmerized reading the side of a cereal box. However, the stories the two shared will forever have me watch Batman reruns a little closer.
The topics varied, however a lot kept coming back to battling with the censors and some of the ridiculous situations they found themselves in. From pills that supposedly suppressed the parts covered by Robin’s tights to hidden Russian swear words that made it into the final cuts that aired, it sounded like filming was more of an adventure than the ones portrayed in the show.
After more than 20 years of waiting, I’d finally had my encounter with Batman.
I’m finally over not having an official meeting with Adam West. After more than 20 years of waiting, it came down to an autograph fee.
It hit me during the panel discussion that West understands his fame. He knows his place in pop culture history. And now, in the golden years of his life, he’s cashing in.
Honestly, I can’t blame the guy. He makes more with a couple pen strokes than I do in a few hours of work. That’s power. An even greater testament to West’s fame was the fact that his lineup was the longest of everyone’s all weekend. The autograph fee didn’t deter hundreds from getting a brief moment with Batman.
I simply chose not to. From what I observed, and it was from some distance as hanging out around both tables for West and Ward was discouraged. Volunteers held up homemade signs saying no pictures were allowed, not even candids. This was very different from the rest of the signers. While personal photo-ops came with a cost, random “in-action” shots were fine. Everywhere except with West and Ward. It seemed out-of-place in the festive environment. But I guess it’s understandable if it meant that a couple of people “posed” in the foreground with the one-time Batman and Robin in the background and a lost photo-op sale.
Still, it felt all-business when the rest of the event was about fun and celebrating comics, science fiction, pop culture and anything else attendees felt like dressing up for. And it’s that feeling that ultimately led to my reconciling with the missed meeting in 1989.
I did have a chance to see Adam West. Instead of being close enough to tell if Batman had good breath, I was 50 feet away instead. Both before and after the panel, I paced West’s line in the main hall. I was internally debating whether to come face-to-face with someone I spent an entire 2,000 kilometer road trip dreaming of shaking hands with. Finally, I had the chance.
And I walked away. Without regrets.
Now, my memories of Adam West won’t be the meeting I never had in 1989. Instead, it will be how he and his eternal sidekick had a crowd of hundreds listening to his every word. I will remember Adam West as a master storyteller. I will remember Adam West for his impersonation of Liberace trying to act tough on the Batman TV set. Like a true super hero, I will remember Adam West for his alter egos–the character he played on TV and the one he is in public.
This hour was truly something that money couldn’t buy. And after seeing the factory line herded through at his table, I realized money wasn’t going to buy a better moment. That’s when my decision became clear, although the fact that the ATM was across the street may have subconsciously played a role as well.
The inaugural Fan Expo Vancouver can’t be seen as anything but a major success. Even with a somewhat smaller lineup of stars when compared to a similar show put on in Calgary the following weekend, the thousands of attendees proved there’s a captive and enthusiastic crowd. All of the dealers I chatted with were pleased, even shocked at the number of people. I don’t think there’s any doubt that the Fan Expo Vancouver will be back in 2013, likely bigger than the last. I guess it’s time for me to start planning my outfit.