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Original sidekick; TV's Boy Wonder is on the guest list at Ontario convention

When "The Dark Knight Rises" opens in theaters next month, Christopher Nolan's darker, grittier take on the Batman story will dominate yet another summer. But Saturday, at the second annual Niagara Falls Comic Con, the "Bright Knight" will have a chance to shine once again.

Burt Ward, who played Robin in the original 1960s "Batman" TV series, will be one of more than a dozen celebrity guests attending this year's Comic Con, which will be held in the Scotiabank Convention Centre in Niagara Falls, Ont. (The convention is independent from the San Diego Comic-Con International, and other non-hyphenated comic cons across the world.)

Ward jokingly refers to his show as the "Bright Knight" to describe the night-and-day difference between the TV series and the recent Batman films. Many people remember -- or, in some cases, mock -- the show for its infamously campy style and its cartoonish nonviolence (colorful title cards proclaiming "Splat!" or "Zzonk!" replaced any actual images of splatting or zzonking). But Ward is happy to simply look back on his show for what it was: "family entertainment."

"The manufacturers of the comic books and the producers of those films today now are appealing to a teenage audience," Ward, 66, said in a phone interview. "Everything has to be harsher and edgier and more explosive and more dangerous and more life-threatening. We were just family entertainment. We were comics, as opposed to this kind of pseudo-realism. Our [show] was something that everybody could just enjoy and have fun with."

Ward says this summer's biggest movies still appeal to that same sense of childlike purity that made his show so beloved. "For kids, it was hero worship," he said. "Little children want to accomplish something that superheroes can do. I mean, 'The Avengers,' 'Spider-Man,' these movies, all of this, it gives people a chance to escape to a world that is unlike anything they've ever seen. Who wouldn't want to be a superhero?"

Paul Tappay, the owner of Pulp Comics in Niagara Falls and co-founder of the Comic Con, said booking Ward adds an extra measure of interest to this year's festivities. "Burt Ward is no stranger to comic conventions," Tappay said. "He's very recognizable and really puts a stamp on any comic book convention."

Ward estimates he attends "roughly five to 15" conventions a year -- sometimes alone, sometimes with his Caped Crusader co-star Adam West, but always in recognition of the role he played for two years almost five decades ago. Many actors would probably be annoyed to be committed to one character for so long, but Ward says he "doesn't see any negatives" to this attention, and has always embraced his lifelong legacy as the Boy Wonder.

"Maybe I'm different from other actors, but I'm not bothered by all this," Ward said. "['Batman'] was a wonderful, incredible experience, and going out and meeting all the people who grew up watching it is even more incredible and fun. Think about it for a second: During your most formative years of growing up, twice a week, there's someone in your living room doing all these things you would like to do. People feel this incredible warmth toward Adam [West] and me. People come up and hug us and say, 'You made my whole childhood.' "

Other scheduled guests include professional wrestling legends Bret "The Hitman" Hart and Brutus "The Barber" Beefcake; Robert Picardo from "Star Trek: Voyager"; and three stars from the original "Texas Chainsaw Massacre," who will be part of "Macabrecon," a miniconvention devoted exclusively to horror films. The day will also feature several visiting comic book artists and more than 50 comic book vendors.




Niagara Falls Comic Con    

WHEN: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday    

WHERE: ScotiaBank Convention Centre, 6815 Stanley Ave., Niagara Falls, Ont.    

TICKETS: $20 at the door