The 1966 Batman television show was one of the most successful and influential adaptations of comic books to mass media of all time. Over the course of three seasons and 120 episodes, the series became a cultural force with its unique combination of tongue-in-cheek humor, thrilling superhero adventure and celebrity guest stars, and shaped the way the public would view the Caped Crusader for the next five decades. Now, in the midst of a well-deserved renaissance of the show, ComicsAlliance is proud to present The Batman '66 Episode Guide, an in-depth examination of every single adventure, arch-criminal and deathtrap cliffhanger of the series.

This week, the Joker launches an unstoppable crimewave that hits below the belt!

 

 

Episode 1x06: Batman Is Riled

Script: Robert Dozier
Director: Don Weis
Original Air Date:
January 27, 1966
Special Guest Villain:
Cesar Romero as The Joker

 

As I mentioned last week, the broad strokes of this two-part adventure were loosely based on David Vern and Dick Sprang's "The Joker's Utility Belt" from Batman #73 -- and handily reprinted in 1965's Batman #176, right when the show would've been going into production -- but the first half of the episode didn't really lift a whole lot from the comics. The scene in the comedy museum and the reveal of the Joker's utility belt were pulled from the page, but the rest of it was padded out to extend a 12-page story into a full hour of television. The second half, though, follows Vern and Sprang's blueprint pretty closely.

We open where we left off in the last episode, with Batman and Robin trapped onstage at the Gotham City Opera, in dire peril of being unmasked by the Joker, disguised as Pagliacci. It's a pretty interesting plan, considering that the Joker doesn't seem to be bothered about unmasking Batman at any other point in this series, including the rest of the episode, but it's been well-established that it would end his effectiveness as a secret crimefighter, so there you go.

Fortunately for Batman, the goons neglected to relieve him of his utility belt, giving him the chance to use the same black-and-yellow explosive that he used last time. He hurls it up into the rafters, and the explosion sets off the sprinklers:

 

The rain on my chest is a baptism. I'm a man of thirty, of twenty again.

 

So here's the thing: As unpleasant as it might be to get caught wearing a wet, silk clown suit, it's just water. Batman doesn't even use it as a distraction to overpower the thugs, he just stands there getting rained on. There is no part of this that would in any way render the Joker unable to unmask Batman. And yet, he immediately abandons this plan, leaving the Caped Crusaders fully masked and only slightly damp.

Instead of going through with it, the Joker gets incensed that Batman used his utility belt, and decides to use his own to "fight water with fire," dropping what is essentially a ninja smoke bomb before running away and climbing to the catwalk above the stage to drop sandbags on our heroes. It is Not A Good Plan, as evidenced by Batman immediately blocking his exit by climbing up on the Batrope, using the "hold a rope and kick legs like you're swimming in mid-air" technique that was seen pretty often in these early episodes:

 

 

Once he's up there, though, the Joker's utility belt comes in handy once again as he pulls out a handful of confetti and hurls it at Batman, wrapping him in ribbons -- ribbons from which the Dark Knight cannot possibly escape. Having successfully bound up his foe, the Joker escapes, leaving Batman and Boy Wonder in fear that they have met their match in the Joker's utility belt.

That's how Desmond Doomsday refers to them, by the way: "Batman and Boy Wonder." This is actually done a lot in this episode, with characters calling Robin "Boy Wonder" as though that's his actual name. I don't think we hear the word "Robin" spoken by anyone other than Batman until the epilogue.

Case in point, a reporter sitting in what appears to be a third-grade classroom giving Gotham City its nightly newscast:

 

 

In one of my favorite moments of the show, he ends his story about Batman and Boy Wonder's defeat and the massive crime wave resulting from criminals "emboldend by the Dynamic Duo's seeming impotence" by telling us about a prayer uttered by his eight year-old son Harold before he went to sleep: "God bless mommy, God bless daddy, God bless my dog Spot, and please, Batman, whoever you are behind that mask of yours, please, save us."

This is also how I prayed as a child.

But! No sooner has that heartfelt appeal to the Almighty (and also to God) been sent out on the airwaves than the Joker and his henchmen -- including Queenie in a domino mask -- storm the studio, gassing the producers and hitting the newscaster with an electric handshake:

 

 

In our last episode, I mentioned that the mask that the Joker wears as Pagliacci would show up in The Dark Knight as the mask Heath Ledger's Joker wears during the heist in the film's opening. Maybe it's just because I had that on my mind, but this particular scene definitely has a similar feel to the recordings that the Joker sends in to the news where he's dealing with the fake Batmen (y'know, the guys in hockey pads). There's obviously a completely different feel here, but there's no getting around the idea that these two episodes had a pretty big influence down the line.

The Joker and his henchmen use the TV studio to taunt Batman with clues towards their next caper in a game called "What's My Crime," a play on the long-running game show, What's My Line?, on which Burgess Meredith was a guest in 1952, well before he took up umbrella crimes. Over the course of the game, the Joker reveals that his next criminal enterprise will include "a belt and a switch," as well a challenge for Batman and Robin to figure out what's wrong with the sentence "He who laughs last laughs good!"

Fortunately, Alfred, who is roughly eight feet tall, is there to tip them off to the problem. It's grammatical!

 

 

As I am sure you already know from reading the impeccable words of my columns, one does not laugh "good." One laughs well.

This is the tipoff that Batman and Robin needed, pointing them to Professor James J. Laughwell, who just returned from Africa with a collection of rare artifacts, and who probably should've known better than to bring anything of value to Gotham City when your name is basically "Professor Clownmurder J. Poisonmewithjokertoxin."

This, incidentally, is another bit lifted directly from the comics:

 

 

Here, though, it's preceded by another Bat-Climb, and while it remains cameo free, it does give our heroes a chance to discuss their work. Robin is upset about the pressure that's on him, claiming "We're only human! We only have so much to give!" only for Batman to remind them that there is an eight year-old literally praying to them and they should probably step up to the plate for that.

The crimefighters crash through the window to stop the Joker's robbery, and after a brief fight scene involving exactly zero on-screen onomatopoeias (?!), the Joker attempts to escape, leaving Batman to stop him with another wondrous explosive from his belt. But what's this?! Instead of the usual Bat-Explosion, the capsule bursts, showering the heroes in streamers and confetti!

 

 

Sharp-eyed readers may have already noticed the problem. Batman was so concerned about laughing well that he forgot about the first part of the clue: the belt and a switch. Sure enough, the Joker managed to take his belt in the struggle and replace it with one of his own, facilitating another humiliating defeat for the side of the law. As Batman says, "That tricky devil! He's hit us below the belt!"

Batman and Boy Wonder's devastating loss is reported on in the news, another visual lifted from the comics, albeit in a far less kind manner. While the comic book version features the Gotham Gazette reporting on the facts of the utility belts, that televised rag, the Times, focuses on the loss:

 

 

Needless to say, it's a crushing blow for Boy Wonder's ego, and while Batman doesn't let it show as much as his young sidekick, it's obvious that he's a little put out by the whole experience as well. So much so, in fact, that rather than pursuing the Joker, they decide to just go about their day-to-day routine and let the crime wave continue until the Joker slips up and "let the venomous viper trap himself."

Personally, I would consider "tracking down the Joker" to be exactly what Batman's day-to-day routine should include, but, well, it was a different time. Specifically, it was a time in which Batman had social obligations, like the christening of the new cruise ship, the S.S. Gotham. A ship that rests at the center of the Joker's fiendish master plan!

 

 

According to Queenie, the Joker's plan is to literally steal an entire cruise ship from the dock as soon as it's christened, after which they will... well, they'll have a cruise ship. That's it. They're not going to sell it or anything, they're just apparently going to sail around in a gigantic cruise ship, which sounds pretty good until you realize that a) the Joker's gang at this point includes four people including the Joker himself, and that's a pretty understaffed crew for a luxury liner, and b) it's going to be awfully hard to hide an entire cruise ship from the authorities. Like, yes, the ocean is very large, but also you are eventually going to need to stop somewhere to get fresh water and food, and at that time you will probably be arrested or keelhauled or whatever they were doing to pirates in 1966.

What I'm getting at here is that this episode is rife with bad plans.

As for how he's going to pull it off, the Joker reaches into his belt and produces a rigged cork, swearing "by every fiend of felonious fundom" that it will be the end of Batman and Boy Wonder. It's laced with paralyzing gas, and when the champagne bottle is broken, they'll be knocked out, allowing the crooks to make a getaway. And really, this is my biggest problem with this episode: There is no reason for this plot to involve the Joker's utility belt. The whole thing revolves not around the belt, but the rigged cork, which, while kept in the belt, doesn't exactly require a specialized container. The Joker's one of two villains on this show who wears an outfit that is complete with pockets, you'd think he could just use one of those.

Anyway, the next day arrives, and after a citizen in the crowd demands to know why Batman is there for the ceremony while the Joker's still rampaging through town making a mockery of the law (a pretty justified complaint, all things considered) it's time for the Christening. Queenie herself shows up to hand Batman the champagne, and after taking one brief glimpse at it, Batman complains of a headache, taking a pill from his utility belt and insisting that Robin take one as well. Note that Commissioner Gordon does not get a pill, nor do any of the city officials in attendance.

Sure enough, as soon as the bottle is broken...

 

 

Batman gets a faceful of paralytic gas, along with the rest of the crowd. The Joker and his men show up, dragging the Dynamic Duo away, but leaving the ship. Instead, the Joker sends a broadcast to the police, demanding the ship's title -- in other words, he wants to be the legal owner of the S.S. Gotham, or else he's going to chop off Batman and Boy Wonder's heads with an executioner's axe.

 

 

A devilish plan, to be sure, but as you may have already guessed, there was one crucial flaw. Those "headache pills" were actually preventative Universal Drug Antidote pills. Batman and Robin saw the trick coming a mile away, because the Joker, in his wisdom, decided that it the replica belt that he gave to Batman earlier should also include an exact replica of a champagne cork full of paralyzing gas.

The World's Greatest Detective, everyone.

A fight scene breaks out, and oddly enough, the sound effects are used pretty sparingly, giving us a brief installment of the Bat-Sound Effect Onomatopoeia Matrix:

 

Click for full size

 

I believe this is the first appearance of "AWK!"

Having triumphed over evil, Batman sends the Joker back to prison, and while the stunning Queenie makes an attempt at seducing Batman to get out of it, that "poor, deluded child" is handcuffed and sent up the river as well.

Once that's taken care of, the newscaster reappears, announcing that he told his son that there is a Batman and a Robin, the Boy Wonder that are worthy of his faith. With that, young Dick Grayson returns to his piano lessons.

 

Episode 1x06 Index:

Bat-Gadgets:

Unnamed Bat-Explosive
Universal Drug Antidote