What’s The Story?
After being sprung from jail — using an actual giant spring to escape — the Joker returns to his life of crime, stealing jewels from a museum which has a Comedians’ Hall of Fame that doesn’t include him, but is soon defeated by the Dynamic Duo and the gadgets in their utility belts, so he decides to build a utility belt of his own. Once the Joker has a utility belt, Batman and Robin no longer have an advantage over him, and a crimewave starts, with the Joker repeatedly hijacking TV broadcasts to taunt the authorities. However, in one fight, the Joker’s arrogance gets the better of him — during the fight, he switches belts with Batman, without Batman noticing, so when Batman thinks he’s going for something to stop the Joker, he actually aids in his escape. But by analysing the other items in the Joker’s belt, Batman is able to figure out the big crime he’s going to pull.

Pretty much every beat in this story is taken from The Joker’s Utility Belt, a story from Batman #73 (October 1952) written by David Vern with art by Dick Sprang and Charles Paris, which had been reprinted in December 1965, shortly before this story was aired.

The Goodies
Batman

“There’s only one man who can handle this, I don’t have to tell you who.”

Batman believes music is “the universal language, one of our best hopes for the eventual realisation of the brotherhood of man”, and that the Joker doesn’t mean to leave clues, but that “it’s a trait of the criminal mind, the urge to boast, it often leads to the criminals giving themselves away”.

Batman is able to break into a “burglar-proof” museum in about thirty seconds when he realises a crime might be happening inside, but is careful never to break the law — when he parks the Batmobile in a “no parking” area, he’s about to drive it off again before a helpful policeman removes the sign.

When a beautiful woman tries to seduce him in exchange for him not arresting her, he calls her a “poor, deluded, child”.

Bruce Wayne is the majority shareholder in a new ocean liner, the SS Gotham.

Robin

Robin has now started using “Holy X!” as his epithet of choice, so in this story we have “Holy Koufax!” when a baseball game is mentioned (after Sandy Koufax, a baseball player for the LA Dodgers who was probably the most famous player in the game when the story was first broadcast), “Holy Jack-in-the-box” when learning of the Joker’s springy escape, “Holy ravioli!” when guessing that the Joker is about to disrupt a live broadcast of the opera Pagliacci, and “Holy fourth of July!”when the Joker uses trick streamers.

Robin also appears to be something of a teen idol, as a bunch of teenage girls start screaming when they see him.

He is bored of piano lessons, and especially of Chopin, until upbraided by Bruce Wayne about the importance of music. He also thinks that “people expect too much of us”, although Batman disagrees, saying “they have a right to expect it.”

The Baddies
The Joker

That “hateful harlequin”, the “clown prince of crime”, the Joker was created by Bill Finger and Jerry Robinson in Batman #1 in 1940, and had been Batman’s principal nemesis since then — so much so that when Bob Kane, the co-creator (and titular sole creator) of Batman, learned that the first story of the Batman TV series would feature the Riddler, he wrote to the producers suggesting that they use the Joker instead. The Joker is a clownish character, with face painted white, green hair, and a big red grin, who fancies himself as a comedian. Here, as in the comics of the time, he’s a thief — although his hand buzzer does at the very least knock out, if not kill, at least one character.

The Joker here is played by Cesar Romero, an actor who normally specialised in “Latin lover” types, but who here capers and shrieks with the best of them. Romero wouldn’t shave his trademark moustache, so it’s just plastered in facepaint, adding an extra level of grotesquerie to the character.

The Joker thinks enough of himself that he places a bust of himself in the Comedians’ Hall of Fame when he realises that there isn’t one already there.

He also makes a habit of interrupting TV broadcasts. This will be a recurring habit of the Joker over the years, and is one of the few things in the story that doesn’t come from The Joker’s Utility Belt, instead coming from the very first Joker story, in which he interrupted the radio.

The Joker’s Sidekicks

Four standard-issue goons, named after comedians — Stanley and Oliver (for Laurel & Hardy), W.C. Fields, and Ernie (for Ernie Kovacs, a pioneer in American TV comedy, now largely forgotten due to the destruction of most of the tapes of his work, but who would have been very familiar to audiences in the 60s).

The Joker also has a moll, Queenie, who hangs on his every word, pouts, and speaks in what sounds like a Marilyn Monroe impersonation.

The Gadgets

Surprisingly, for a story based around the utility belt, Batman uses almost no gadgets, just his normal Batrope and a few smoke bombs (though the “hyper-spectrographic analyzer” from the previous story and the “universal drug antidote pill” from the story before both also make returns).

The Joker, on the other hand, has sneezing powder, smoke bombs, streamers that tie themselves around Batman’s chest, restricting him, a hand buzzer that knocks people out, and a champagne bottle that exudes knockout gas.

Gotham City

Gotham State Penitentiary is “one of the city’s busier locations”. Wayne Manor is fourteen miles from the city, and the city also has a dock from which cruise ships sail, a pier with an amusement park, and most notably for this story a museum, containing both a Comedians’ Hall of Fame and a collection of precious jewels.

What’s New?
The only truly new thing here is that for the first (bat) time, an episode ends with “Same Bat-Time, Same Bat-Channel!”

Review
While the previous episodes of Batman had all been written by Lorenzo Semple, Jr, the series’ script consultant, who had a long career as a reliable journeyman writer, this story was written by Robert Dozier, whose qualification for the role is probably evident when you remember that William Dozier was the executive producer, creator, and narrator on the series.

Quite simply, there is nothing original here. The framing sequence with Dick complaining about his piano lessons is identical to the previous week’s sequence with him complaining about learning French, every gadget used by Batman is one that was introduced by Semple, and the plot is just a padded version of the rather second-rate comic on which it was based. Batman was always a formulaic series, of course, but the whole joy of a formula is the ability to ring the changes on it, to create subtle variations, and if the Batman formula can be compared to a twelve-bar blues, Semple could be compared to Chuck Berry — witty, subversive, and playful — while on this evidence Dozier could probably be compared to Status Quo.

To be fair to Dozier jr, apparently he was ordered by his father to write a script because the series’ production time was so compressed they were often shooting two stories at once, and they needed material quickly, but there’s no real wit in the script, aside from a few good lines of the “poor, deluded, child” variety, and the charm and humour in the show comes entirely from the performances. Luckily, the central performances are good enough that the show remains eminently watchable — West, in particular, is an absolute marvel, managing to both embody and parody the 60s hero in a performance that is every bit as good as William Shatner’s Kirk or Patrick Macnee’s Steed. But Romero is also fabulous here — his hooting, prancing, performance becomes the template for every future interpretation of the character.

While this story is nowhere near as good as the first two, it is, nonetheless, fun, watchable, TV. There are many worse things to be.

Personnel
Cast

Adam West: Batman
Burt Ward: Robin
Cesar Romero: The Joker
Alan Napier: Alfred
Neil Hamilton: Commissioner Gordon
William Dozier: Narrator

Crew
William Dozier: Executive Producer/Creator
Robert Dozier: Writer
Don Weis: Director

[These are being published several weeks in advance on my Patreon, where I've just posted the sixth Batman 66 TV series post, which will not appear here until February. If you want to find out what I think about the Riddler kidnapping King Boris, 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.]

5 Responses to “Batman ’66: The Joker Is Wild/Batman Is Riled”

  1. Zakaria Says:

    Will you be detailing every episode of Dozier Batman?

    A part of me wants you to say yes.
    It’s not the part that feels empathy.

  2. Craig Says:

    Lovely to have you back in my ears! Arthur Ranson ‘Judi Denched’ Judge Anderson for a while, but no other artist seems to take her actual age into account. Maybe Debbie Harry’s current look would be a good point of reference, as I think Anderson’s original appearance was based on her.

  3. Craig Says:

    I just commented on the wrong post. Sorry!

  4. Andrew Hickey Says:

    Zakaria — that’s certainly the plan, but it depends on levels of interest, both my own and readers’.

    The *plan* is to do basically all the 60s series, all the films, and all the cartoons from the 90s on, plus a handful of episodes of things like Super Friends, and to put the results out as a series of books.

    But that project would take literally years, and frankly I’m not known for my persistence in things like this. I do hope at the very least to stick through the 60s series, if only because of the immense challenge of finding something new to say about the later episodes…

  5. Zakaria Says:

    Cooooool.

    You are a brave man.
    Which is not to say that the 60s show isn’t fantastic, but it is formulaic as you’ve already pointed out.

    If you ever need motivation I suggest getting another of the mindlessones aboard. Discussion/conversation is always a more attractive prospect than writing out solitary analysis number 125/7d.

    It is a big project and so I wish you “big” luck.
    But you have me watching the 60s show, so you are already having a an ill effect on today’s delinquent youth.

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