What’s The Story?
The Riddler manages to trick Batman into arresting him when he’s not guilty, and files suit for wrongful arrest — Batman will have to reveal his true identity in court!

“I don’t know who he is behind that mask of his, but I do know when we need him — and we need him now.”

Batman is a square-jawed hero, a “duly deputised agent of the law”. He always puts concern for others first, and this is as true in his secret identity as Bruce Wayne — while Wayne has been a playboy in earlier iterations of the character, here he’s a philanthropist, loved for his charity work and attempts to prevent crime.

He is as far from a sinister figure as can be, drinking nothing stronger than orange juice, being respectful of the law, and doing everything he can to help others.

Played here by Adam West, he’s a child-friendly version of James Bond or Captain Kirk — an all-action, suave, charming, hero, but one who lacks any of the angst or sexuality of those characters.

Well, he lacks almost all the angst — he mentions in his first scene how his parents were murdered by a criminal, and at the end he regrets the death of Molly, the Riddler’s henchwoman.

When drugged, Batman dances badly — the Batusi — to generic 60s twist music.

Batman’s ward is slightly brighter than him, and is the first to solve the Riddler’s clues. This version of the character is clearly inspired by Tom Swift, and has a fondness for minced oaths — his “Holy X!” schtick isn’t fully formed yet, but he uses such expressions as “It’ll be a cold day in August before…”, as “hell” was still considered unbroadcastable in 1966.

Robin’s Aunt Harriet lives with Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, and they keep their secret identities from her largely in order to prevent her worrying.

Here he’s played by 21-year-old Burt Ward, who doesn’t totally convince as a teenager, but who does bring an exuberance to the part.


Bruce Wayne’s butler is no longer comic relief, but as yet doesn’t have much of a role in proceedings. Here he merely helps answer the phone and provide cover stories for Batman and Robin’s crimefighting absences. Alan Napier’s performance is very much in the same mould as William Austin’s, without the cowardice.

Commissioner Gordon

Commissioner Gordon is here a standard Irish cop, whose role in the plot is to be baffled and to call Batman on his hotline to let him know that the Riddler is active.

The Baddies
The Riddler

“We all know how this quizzical criminal operates. He deliberately leaves clues to confound us.”

The Riddler was an odd choice to open the series with, having only ever appeared in three comics — two from 1948, and then one from 1965 (Batman 171, a couple of elements from which are reused here). Frank Gorshin’s performance here, though, turned the Riddler — a character who had not appeared much for the rather good reason that his whole modus operandi is to give Batman clues as to his future crimes — into one of Batman’s more popular villains.

And Gorshin is good here — this is not a series which deals in gritty realism, but Gorshin’s Riddler is quite scarily deranged, and a wonderful physical performance, leaping and contorting himself constantly. It’s not a realistic performance — very far from it — but it’s a convincing one.

The Riddler’s henchwoman, played by future Bond girl Jill St. John, is a master of disguise, able to make herself look (but not sound) exactly like Robin. Unfortunately she meets her comeuppance when, too scared to grab onto Batman’s hand or Batrope when dangling above a nuclear reactor, she instead plunges to her death.

The Gadgets
For the first time we have a full range of Bat-gadgets in use. We have our first Batarang (here spelled Bat-A-Rang) — a bat-shaped boomerang that can be attached to a rope and used to climb up buildings, and which folds away neatly into Batman’s utility belt; a mini oxyacetylene torch used to cut bars away from a barred window; a Bat-hook (a metal hook in the shape of a batwing, attached to a sucker) on which said bars are hung; smoke bombs; batcuffs; the Batscope (a device in the Batmobile used to spy on the inside of a nightclub); a “hidden Bat la-sar beam” used to destroy the firing pin on a revolver; a “universal drug antidote”; a Bat-gauge, used for taking measurements; and a laser gun (which may or may not be the same as the Bat laser beam).

This is Batman in the James Bond mould, with a gadget for every eventuality.

The Batmobile
At last they have one — and it is in many ways the most memorable of all the Batmobiles. Based on a futuristic concept car created by Lincoln in 1955 but never put into production, for the first time Batman is driving something unique and different from anything else on the road, and easily the best bit of production design in the series.

It has a mobile crime computer connected to the computer in the Batcave, a Batscope, and fireworks in the exhaust which go off when the Riddler tries to steal it.

Gotham City
Looking more like a Hollywood TV soundstage than LA now, though the shots of the countryside near Gotham show that it’s still clearly somewhere in California. Gotham has an underground subway train system, and all its police appear to be Irish. It also has “A-Go-Go” bars in the style of the popular LA club the Whisky A-Go-Go.

What’s New?

In some ways nothing; other than Chief O’Hara, who here doesn’t have much to do, almost everything here is from the comic. In other ways, though, everything — this was the series that defined Batman for a generation, and without which it may well be the case that the character would have faded into obscurity decades ago.

“Foolish girl, you were so intent on your murderous scheme, you failed to notice in the Batmobile I burned off your revolver’s firing pin with a hidden Bat-laser beam”.

Much of what we’ll have to say about this story will be stuff that will show up again and again during the sixty-six stories in this series, and much of the analysis will wait until further episodes, but it’s worth noting that at this stage the show is not quite the camp buffoonery that fan lore makes it out to be.

The Batman TV series was conceived as a piece of pop-art camp, though also as a big commercial moneymaker (there was a huge controversy when it first aired as ABC expanded the commercial breaks from the normal three commercials to four), and it’s clearly made with its tongue very much in its cheek, but here at least it’s not quite at the Austin Powers level people remember it as.

Rather, it’s carefully straddling a line between, on the one side, outright comedy series like Get Smart, and on the other, witty, knowing action adventure stories like The Avengers and the James Bond films, none of which took themselves too seriously, but which winked at the audience while still trying to tell an action story.

This is clearly inspired by the 1940s serials, especially the first serial — William Dozier’s narration could be straight from the 1943 story, and the cliffhangers are on a similar level — but seen through twenty years’ more sophistication. The 1966 Batman, at its best, was on a level with, say, the Tom Baker era of Doctor Who, but with its camp value coming from the fact that its absurdities were played deadly seriously. As the series went on, it became more than a little repetitious, but here, when the series is starting out, we can see exactly why it was so popular — this is something with more energy, wit, and invention than almost anything on TV at the time.

In future essays we will look at some of the influences that went into this series — the Bond films, Roy Lichtenstein, the “new look” Batman comics, the LA music scene, the 1950s Superman TV series, Marvel comics — in more detail, but for now we can say that this opening story, intended to be the pilot episode, captures the 1966 zeitgeist as well as The Monkees. This may not be the serious, broody, Dark Knight beloved of Batfans, but it’s damn good TV.


Adam West: Batman
Burt Ward: Robin
Frank Gorshin: The Riddler
Jill St. John: Molly
Alan Napier: Alfred
Neil Hamilton: Commissioner Gordon
William Dozier: Narrator

William Dozier: Executive Producer/Creator
Lorenzo Semple, Jr :Writer
Robert Butler: Director

[These are being published several weeks in advance on my Patreon, where I’ve just posted the fourth Batman 66 TV series post, which will not appear here until the new year. If you want to find out what I think about Mr. Freeze’s diamond-based crimes, sign up to support my writing at $1 per month or whatever you can afford. If you can’t afford anything or don’t like the idea of me having money, they’ll all turn up here for free eventually anyway.]

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