Batman

Kevin Silva still has his first Batman lunch box. It was a gift from his parents, Don and Shirley Silva, when he was 5 years old.

That was 49 years ago, almost half a century from the time when he contracted the Batman virus through the family’s 19-inch color television, which carried the images of caped crime fighters Batman and Robin, who were really actors Adam West and Burt Ward.

Since then his lunch box has inflated in value (currently in the $200 neighborhood), and it’s gotten company: 3,139 other items related to the comic book franchise, all arranged in neat fashion in the basement of his home in Carmel. That total has earned the Columbus native a place in the Guinness Book of World Records, a title he first acquired two years ago.

The Guinness Book of World Records is the Bible for over-achievers, people obsessed with collecting or being able to do something more than anyone else. Thousands strive to earn a place in each annual addition, bombarding the editors with petitions ranging from the plausible to the outrageous.

Guinness contacted Kevin.

“It was a couple of years ago,” he said. “I had never even thought about getting my collection into the Book of World Records. It turns out that an old classmate of mine had mentioned my collection to someone connected with Guinness, and they followed up on the conversation.”

Even though the caller finally convinced Kevin that she was, indeed, a legitimate fact finder for Guinness, Kevin was still reluctant to become involved. “I really wasn’t interested when she asked me to send them a cataloged list of the collection. I balked at that, but she was really persistent. She finally wore me down.”

Preparing the documentation proved to be a daunting task. He took three days off work. He divided his 1,200-square-foot basement into 30 sections, taking photos of everything in each section and dispatching the prints to the editors.

The Guinness editors take their job seriously. Kevin’s original list contained 2,554 items, but it included memorabilia from other comic book heroes, such as Superman, Wonder Woman and Green Lantern. The staff obviously counted every item, discarding the non-Batman material and called Kevin to inform him that he had the record with 2,501 pieces. He blew away the previous record holder, who had a mere 1,150 items.

“He was a kid from Bulgaria,” Kevin recalled. “He was pretty impressed when he found out about my total, and we still stay in contact.”

While he owes his beginnings as a Batman collector to his parents — his father, Don, was one of the owners of the now-defunct CP Electronics based in Columbus in the mid-20th century — the rest is all him.

“I just kept on picking up things after that lunch box,” he said. “Unlike a lot of other kids, I kept my toys.”

He might have slacked off in his teen years, but when the Michael Keaton Batman movie came along in the late 1980s, he was ready to jump onto the bandwagon. By that time he had moved from Columbus and fortunately had acquired a basement large enough for his hobby.

“I pick up a lot of stuff on eBay, but really I’ve gotten quite a few pieces from people who know about my fascination with Batman. I have a little network of people who are always on the lookout for Batman stuff.”

His collection has turned him into a celebrity, a status he was surprised to acquire.

“In 2014 a film crew from Warner Bros. showed up and said they wanted to make a documentary film based on my collection,” he said. “They spent several days in my basement and did some pretty extensive interviews. I really wasn’t sure they were legitimate, and because I didn’t hear anything about a documentary for quite a while after they left, I figured I had wasted my time.”

That attitude changed earlier this year when he attended a comic book convention at which Adam West was a featured guest.

“I still had an old poster with Batman and Robin that had been signed by Burt Ward (who portrayed the Boy Wonder). I thought this would be a great opportunity to ask Adam West to sign next to him.”

West, who is in his 80s, was seated at a table when Kevin approached. “He kept looking at me all the time and finally he yelled out, ‘I know you. Where have I seen you?’ He even called one of his assistants over and asked, ‘Where have I seen this guy?’ I couldn’t help him because I had never met him in person.”

The assistant turned out to be helpful. “He told him that they had just seen him in a documentary that had been previewed at the convention earlier in the day. It was the video that the Warner Bros. crew had shot the year before.”

Kevin’s status as world’s greatest Batman collector was not a one-shot deal. Earlier this year he was visited by a team of researchers from the Book of World Records. They spent a day in his basement cataloging his items, the old ones and the ones he has acquired since he was first nominated. The visit concluded with word that he would be in the 2016 book, not just as a one paragraph item but in a section all to himself.

His fame is far from limited to a fascination with a comic book hero. He has maintained a career in music that began in Columbus with a local band called the Stalkers, which toured throughout the Midwest until 1985. That band is a thing of the past, but music is still a part of his life. Last week he returned to his hometown to perform at the Neighborfest concert on Washington Street. He’s also well-known as a repairer of amplifiers for musical groups across the country.

Deep down however, I suspect that he is basically a Batman guy at heart. How else do you describe someone with a basement full of 3,140 collectibles of the Caped Crusader and friends?

Harry McCawley is the former associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached at harry@therepublic.com.