What’s The Story?

The Joker, on his release from prison, has bought a company that makes slot machines. He uses the company’s jukeboxes, modified with guns inside, to steal money from a bar, but his real plan is subtler.

He has hired Suzie, the head cheerleader of Woodrow Roosevelt High School, to replace the milk and chocolate bars in the school’s vending machines with money, so that putting a dime in the milk machine gets you twenty silver dollars. This is to convince the children that they can get something for nothing and so no longer have to bother working. They’ll drop out of school, and have no option but to become criminals.

He then persuades Suzie to put the questions and answers for a forthcoming exam in the vending machine when the basketball team are going to use it — he’s bet fifty thousand dollars on the opposing team to win, and if he photographs the basketball team with the exam questions, showing them to be cheats, they won’t be able to play and they’ll forfeit the game, allowing him to win a million dollars.

The Goodies

Batman
“This if there ever was one is a case for our unknown friend behind the mask”

Every two years, local dignitary Mr. Vandergilt asks Bruce Wayne to run for Mayor, but every time he turns him down, as the Wayne Foundation’s work requires him to be above politics.

Batman doesn’t approve of gambling, or of students not doing their work, but he’s perfectly prepared to tell Dick to fake illness to get off school and help him, showing a moral relativism he’s not shown before. However, some things are still sacrosanct, and he looks genuinely torn when Suzie tries to escape by entering the girls’ locker room (luckily, she collapses from Joker poison before he has to enter himself). He doesn’t like jailhouse lawyers. He also runs the Wayne Foundation Home For Delinquent Girls.

Robin
Like everyone who grew up rich, believes that other people have to work hard because you don’t get something for nothing. Is incapable of doing the most basic algebra, even though he’s about to take college entrance exams. He attends Woodrow Roosevelt High School, where he’s student body president.

He goes undercover to try to infiltrate the Joker’s gang, but is given away when he doesn’t know which way round to put a cigarette in his mouth. Batman is proud of him anyway.

Epithets used — “Holy Benedict Arnold!”, “Holy alphabet!”, “Holy magician!”, “Holy New Year’s Eve!”

The Baddies
The Joker
“That most pestilent of predators, the clown prince of crime!”

Doesn’t have all that much to do in the story, all things considered, and certainly doesn’t seem to be basing his plans around jokes (because the story was originally intended to feature a new villain, The One-Armed Bandit, and was retooled as a Joker story). He makes up for this by using hand-buzzers, exploding cigars, sneezing powder, and other practical jokes. However, despite the crimes being totally unlike the Joker’s normal MO, both Commissioner Gordon and Chief O’Hara are able instantly to tell that the Joker is behind the vending machines at the school giving out money.

Has his base in a candy store, and believes “This life at best is one long impractical joke.”

According to his mugshot he’s 6’6”, in which case every other character must be around six foot tall. The Joker is also said to be a master of disguise.

The Joker’s Sidekicks
The Bad Pennies are high school dropouts; bad boys who can recognise when Dick Grayson is faking being a juvenile delinquent.

Sweet Suzie
Normally the “molls” in these stories don’t tend to do much, but Suzie not only gets to kiss Robin, but she actually carries out almost the entire plot by herself. She became a crook because of her broken home, and because she wants the finer things in life, like imported Mexican and Canadian perfume.

Suzie is played by Donna Loren, who was at least as big a guest star, at least in the teen audience’s eyes, as anyone to appear on the show. Loren had starred in the Beach Party series of films along with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, had had a record written for her by Brian Wilson, Roger Christian, and Gary Usher (the three biggest songwriters for the surf and hot-rod crazes of the early 60s) which she’d sung with Dick Dale in Muscle Beach Party, and had been a regular performer on Shindig!, the most popular pop music programme of the time. Her career wouldn’t last much longer — the next year she would be Davy Jones’ love interest in an episode of The Monkees, but after that she would marry Lenny Waronker (a record producer who’s worked with Brian Wilson, Van Dyke Parks, Rufus Wainwright, Randy Newman and others, and who was later head of Warner Brothers Records and Dreamworks Records), and spend most of her time raising her children (including Joey Waronker, drummer for REM and Beck).

The Gadgets
The Joker’s gadgets are mostly confined to normal, non-lethal, practical jokes, although he has retooled at least one jukebox to have a gun inside. The slot machine company also already had, when he bought it, a van made for a Caribbean dictator, containing a fruit machine wired up to two electric chairs. According to Commissioner Gordon, the mere possession of this “mobile slot-machine torture van” violates seventeen separate statutes.

Batman’s gadgets, this week, are “anti-crime” gadgets rather than “bat” gadgets — an anti-crime recorder that picks up sound from a transmitting microphone, an anti-crime voice analyser in the Batcave, and an anti-crime auxiliary generator. He also has a matchbox-sized TV camera that will transmit to the Batmobile’s Batscope.

Gotham City
Gotham has at least two schools — Woodrow Roosevelt High School, whose principal is Mr Schoolfield, and whose poetry teacher, Miss Browning, writes the cheers for the cheerleaders, and Disko Tech.

In Gotham, loitering is punishable by five years’ imprisonment and a $5000 fine, but only if the loiterer stays in the same spot for over two minutes.

Gotham’s current problems include traffic jams, a water shortage, and frequent power blackouts.

What’s New?
There’s nothing new here. This is just a perfect example of the formula, well done.

Review
This story is looked on a little harshly by some because of the resolution to the cliffhanger — Batman and Robin are strapped in electric chairs which will kill them when three lemons show up on the fruit machine, three lemons show up…and the power goes out.

This has been talked of as a deus ex machina, but in fact it’s anything but. It is, in fact, a wonderful example of Chekov’s gun being used properly. In one of the opening scenes, when Bruce Wayne is discussing Gotham’s problems with a guest, the power problems are mentioned in passing. Usually these scenes don’t feed into the main plot at all, but here, at a crucial point, they do.

And this was something of a topical reference. Less than four months earlier, the biggest power blackout in US history had caused thirty million homes to lose power for up to fourteen hours on the East coast and parts of Canada, because demand had surged and caused an overload (or, if you believe terrible 1990s science fiction series Dark Skies, because aliens wanted to stop a broadcast of the Roswell incident). Presumably the Joker’s need for fifty thousand volts is what triggers a similar surge here.

So the cliffhanger resolution makes sense, but it’s about the only thing that does. The whole thing hangs together by a kind of dream logic, with people making wild intuitive guesses that turn out to be true based on no evidence, Dick Grayson unable to recognise the voice of a schoolfriend when very lightly distorted, and with the Joker’s plan making literally no sense whatsoever (my summary above is a great deal more coherent than what’s actually in the episode).

None of which matters. Lorenzo Semple, back after a couple of weeks away, knows exactly what is needed for a good Batman story, and a coherent plot isn’t necessary. What’s needed is a good cliffhanger, a few good setpiece scenes, and a lot of good lines, all of which he delivers.

This isn’t a classic story, by any means, but when compared to the dull thud of the earlier Joker story, which was only saved by its performances, it’s obvious why Semple is held in such high regard by fans of the series.

Personnel
Cast

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

Crew
William Dozier: Executive Producer/Creator
Lorenzo Semple, Jr: Writer
Murray Golden: Director

[These are being published several weeks in advance on my Patreon, where I've just posted the eleventh Batman 66 TV series post, which will not appear here until late next month. If you want to read now about the Penguin and why he likes to hang out with half-naked men in saunas, 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.]

3 Responses to “Batman ’66: The Joker Goes to School/He Meets His Match, the Grisly Ghoul”

  1. Zakaria Says:

    Wayne Foundation Home For Delinquent Girls.

    I’d read the shit out of this comic!

  2. Andrew Hickey Says:

    I imagine it would mostly consist of pillow fights…

  3. Matthew Craig Says:

    They could probably do some kind of crossover along these lines between Gotham Academy and Arkham Manor – or maybe just in flashback in GA.

    Or was that Leviathan thing Burnham and Morrison did a bit closer? Spoiler-Batgirl goes to that school.

    //\Oo/\\

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