What’s The Story?

Every April 1st, an unknown bank robber steals $100,000, sometimes from banks which have much more money, and no-one knows why (Chief O’Hara suggests that it may be someone wanting to pay their tax bill, but is mocked by both Batman and Commissioner Gordon: “I fear you’re growing cynical, Chief O’Hara; the notion of a loyal taxpayer robbing a bank is clearly ridiculous.”).

The bank robber is Zelda the Great, a magician and escapologist who needs the money to pay her illusion designer Eivol Ekdal, who wants $100,000 for each of his designs. Batman lures her into a trap by having the newspapers publish a claim that the money was counterfeit, but Zelda, realising it’s a trap, not only escapes herself but kidnaps Aunt Harriet and holds her hostage, demanding that Bruce Wayne give her $100,000 or Harriet will die! Batman reveals that the money is real, and Harriet is released.

Ekdal has created a trap that he believes utterly inescapable, and his plan is that he will get Batman to escape from it, and Zelda can then copy his method, after which he will have mobsters kill Batman & Robin. After they escape the trap, Zelda warns the Dynamic Duo, and the mobsters shoot each other in the confusion.

The story was largely based on Batman’s Inescapable Doom-Trap! from Detective Comics #346 (December 1965), written by John Broome and drawn by Sheldon Moldoff, but with two major changes — the introduction of the Aunt Harriet subplot, and more importantly the creation of Zelda, whose role in the comic was taken by a male magician named Carnado.

The Goodies
Batman

Believes astronomy gives us a sense of proportion, letting us know how small we are. He figures out that Zelda is a woman from ambergris (used in perfume) left at the crime scene — and makes the distinction between “woman” and “lady” when Robin says a lady was the criminal.

Batman is, according to Eivol Ekdal, the world’s greatest escape artist. He says of his costume “this unique garb of ours is one of our weapons in crime-fighting. It shouldn’t bother anyone who abides by the law.”

Bruce Wayne is a director of the First National Bank of Gotham. He offers Zelda a job for when she gets out of prison, because since she saved Batman and Robin’s lives she’s redeemable.

Robin

Believes, as does Batman, that any lighter-than-air gas must contain hydrogen. Thankfully for them both, in this particular case he’s right. He gets very upset at his Aunt Harriet’s kidnapping, but still insists on treating the criminals fairly, by not tapping phone-lines when a promise not to has been made.

Epithets used — “Holy Venezuela!” (pronounced incorrectly), “Holy hole in a doughnut!”, “Holy backfire!”, “Holy fishbowl!”, “Holy graveyard!”

Alfred
Blames himself for the kidnapping, as he was dusting the Batcave, a job he had neglected at its normal time of Wednesday evening “because of my addiction to a certain television programme” (Batman was shown on Wednesday evenings).

Alfred has started to try investigating crimes himself — he finds a crucial clue to the villain’s lair here.

Commissioner Gordon
Believes his officers are all fine men. Agrees with Robin that criminals must be treated fairly — “Correct, criminals, we don’t wish to undermine what little faith you have remaining in organised society”

The Baddies
Zelda

Zelda is a magician who’s not actually very good, and relies on Eivol Ekdal’s trick designs. She doesn’t like committing bank robberies, but has no other means of paying the fees he wants. She really dislikes violence, so much so that she wrecks the plan by warning Batman and Robin.

Zelda was written as a part for Zsa-Zsa Gabor “if Zsa Zsa‘s still alive and not too cronish looking”, according to a memo Lorenzo Semple sent to William Dozier, but was instead played by Anne Baxter, a much better actor who had worked with Orson Welles, Alfred Hitchcock, and Cecil B DeMille in a career that had already lasted twenty-six years.

Eivol Ekdal
“A strange, Albanian, genius” who runs Gnome bookshop as a “facade”, within which is his secret workshop.

Mobsters
Two generic mobsters who pay Ekdal $100,000 for him luring Batman and Robin into the trap. They agree not to shoot them until after they get out of the trap, and keep to this agreement because “it’s in writing”

The Gadgets
Another gadget-light story. Batman and Robin use few other than their batarangs, the Batmobile, and their belt-buckles (which they use to create sparks). The only exception is “a tiny super-powered homing transmitter” secreted in a fake emerald as part of their trap for Zelda.

Zelda, on the other hand, uses mirrors in her hat to project images which allow her to make her escape, and has several standard magician’s tricks like a long string of handkerchiefs she produces from her dress.

Ekdal’s trap is made of “jet-age plastics”.

We also see the Bat-signal used for the first time in the TV series.

The Batmobile
When the Batmobile is started, Robin says “atomic batteries to power; turbines to speed!”, so presumably the Batmobile has both of these.

Gotham City
Gotham City has twenty-seven licensed female magicians.

The Gnome Bookshop, which advertises itself as “specialists in occult and arcane books”, is regarded by the narrator as “this innocent-looking bookstore”, suggesting a relaxed attitude towards occultism in Gotham.

Times Square is in Gotham, as is apparent from the backgrounds while Batman is driving the Batmobile.

Gotham is in the 555 area code, as are many fictional cities.

What’s New?

Zelda herself is the first new villain to be created for the series.

Review

Let’s talk about Aunt Harriet…

We’ve not dealt much with her so far, but as this story focusses on her more than any previous one has, and so she really needs to be discussed.

Aunt Harriet was created in 1964, in Detective Comics #328. The month before, new editor Julius Schwartz had completely revamped the Batman comics line, making it more serious and grounded, giving Batman a new look (the yellow oval around the Bat-symbol, as used on Adam West’s costume, comes from this), and getting rid of elements such as Bat-Mite (a fifth-dimensional imp that plagued Batman) and Ace the Bat-Hound as being too silly and childish.

In #328, Alfred was killed off, and Dick’s aunt Harriet came to stay, to look after Bruce and Dick since they no longer had a butler. Once the TV series became a success, the comics brought back Alfred (initially as a zombie supervillain with telekinetic powers, but Batman used radiation to make him better — remember, this is the “more serious and grounded” Batman comic…) and the two characters both lived in Wayne Manor until the TV series had finished, at which point Aunt Harriet was written out of the comics.

Aunt Harriet’s role in the comics was rather less bumbling than she is in the TV series — she was mostly yet another Lois Lane-alike, trying to prove that Bruce and Dick were really Batman and Robin, while in the TV series she was oblivious to the possibility — but she served the same function in both. In the 1950s, a huge controversy was caused by the book Seduction of the Innocent, which attacked (usually wildly inaccurately) comics as being violent and causing “perversions” — among them homosexuality.

Wertham interpreted Batman and Robin’s relationship as homosexual (yes, if it was anything it would have been paedophilic, but Wertham conflated the two as all too many people do) and so Aunt Harriet’s role in both the comics and the TV show was to act as a chaperone, reassuring readers and viewers of the innocence of the relationship between the two — how unwholesome could it be, if the child’s maiden aunt is living with them?

This was especially important to the makers of the TV show given the camp nature of the programme — at a time when male homosexual acts were still illegal in every state except Illinois, and given the associations between camp and the gay subculture, network censors would not have allowed a TV series with even the slightest hint of impropriety in the relationship between two men to air.

Of course, Aunt Harriet actually added to the gay subtext — where Alfred knew about Batman and Robin’s identities, she didn’t, and so they were living a secret double life that they kept women out of, and which involved them dressing up in flamboyant costumes, and often having to discuss things in double-meanings and code to avoid prying ears. The presence of Aunt Harriet probably did more than anything else to confirm the perception of Batman and Robin as gay in the minds of those with the ability to read subtext, but it at least provided a fig-leaf.

We will no doubt look at camp and sexuality more as we go further through this series.

As for the story itself, we have another story that falls more on the serious/deadpan end of the spectrum, as opposed to the ultra-camp and ridiculous, although “Same Bat-Time, Same Bat-Channel” reappears here (and will stay hereafter). Zelda, the first villain to be completely created for the series, is even less colourful than Mr. Freeze was in the previous episode, with no real gimmick or outrageous costume. There are no “Pow”-style fights — no fights at all in fact — and no over-the-top style capering.

Personnel
Cast

Adam West: Batman
Burt Ward: Robin
Anne Baxter: Zelda
Alan Napier: Alfred
Neil Hamilton: Commissioner Gordon
William Dozier: Narrator

Crew
William Dozier: Executive Producer/Creator
Lorenzo Semple, Jr: Writer
Norman Foster: Director

[These are being published several weeks in advance on my Patreon, where I've just posted the eighth Batman 66 TV series post, which will not appear here until late March. If you want to find out how I manage to drag the Beach Boys and the Monkees into a discussion of a story about the Joker, 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.]

One Response to “Batman ’66: Zelda The Great/A Death Worse Than Fate”

  1. Bill Says:

    Far as I remember, the network was so panicked about The Dynamic Duo that Alfred wasn’t even part of the original package. And I know Zsa Zsa was offered, appropriately, Marsha, Queen of Diamonds. She finally played the show’s last villain.

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