Batman and Rubbin'

The guest list for this Sci-Fi Expo-cum-Bat-Con Comic & Toy Expo (and never has a dorkier phrase sprung from this keyboard) keeps shrinking. Originally, Burt Ward (TV's Robin, and no duh), Van Williams (The Green Hornet, at least for one season in 1966-'67), Ray Park (Star Wars' Darth Maul and X-Men's Toad, making him an ultimate geek two-fer) and Alice Krieg (Star Trek's Borg Queen, who is of the body) were scheduled to appear. They've pulled out for various reasons, among them other acting gigs and the all-purpose explanation that begins, "In light of recent events"; no further clarification necessary. But it's to the credit of this con's organizers that the roster of attendees could still dampen the Batman Underoos of any self-respecting fanboy; indeed, it reads like the guest list to the dinner party I planned when I was 8 (no, wait...make that 28): Batman, Batgirl, Riddler and Catwoman.

Like Star Trek, Batman turns 35 this year but does so with relatively little fanfare: A few weeks ago, Fox re-released the 1966 feature-length Batman on DVD, complete with giggly commentary by Ward and Adam West, but the series, which lasted three seasons, remains little-seen on cable and has never been made available on home video. Which is a shame...and just as well: The purist loathes West for rendering the Dark Knight a puffy, prancing clown in ill-fitting Spandex; the dude no more looked like a superhero than does a drunken uncle the day after Halloween. But the nostalgist loves West for playing it straight even when dancing the Batusi or clobbering super-villains who looked an awful lot like Art Carney, Otto Preminger, Liberace and Milton Berle; the show may have been intentional camp, its sets made of cotton candy and scripts written in soda pop, but West refused to lose his grasp on what little dignity the show allowed him. The same could not be said of his post-Batman career, which included two Happy Hooker outings and one Lady Chatterley sequel (holy hard-on...or not); West, at 71, now just plays a guy who used to play Batman, a role that fits him better than his old costume.

The same could be said of the co-stars who join him this weekend: Frank Gorshin (still the definitive Riddler), Yvonne Craig (whose post-Batgirl filmography was limited to such offerings as Mars Needs Women) and Julie Newmar (who put the pussy in Catwoman), none of whom seemed able to shake their Bat-roles. Perhaps that's why, 35 years later, they come out to the cons--to be worshipped as they were, when they had less form to fit into those costumes.

The con's organizers are also bringing in some of comicdom's best-known and best-selling practitioners, among them former Flash and JLA writer Mark Waid, who was also responsible, along with artist Alex Ross, for the brilliant Kingdom Come mini-series; the team of Phil Hester and Andre Parks, who illustrate Kevin Smith's wry, smirking Green Arrow, currently the top-selling title for DC Comics; and Harley Quinn writer Karl Kesel. And there will be hundreds of vendors hawking everything from pricey Golden Age back issues to discontinued action figures to, ahem, rare videotapes containing every Trek blooper and unseen superhero TV pilot you never knew you had to have. You can even get your picture taken in the Batmobile, though some of us would rather have their picture taken in Julie Newmar.

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky