So, back to 1966 and the absolutely wonderful Batman with Adam West, Burt Ward, and a battalion of Hollywood and Las Vegas’s finest as the baddies. This time out, it’s the remarkable Frank Gorshin in his debut as the Riddler. I’ve been very pleased to see this great, silly program get a newfound respect, of sorts, over the last couple of years, with new merchandise and comics set in its continuity, and, finally, last year, the show itself released to home video for the very first time. I finally remembered to order the new remastered set last week; my old copies will suffice until it arrives in a day or two.
I’ve always said that Batman is beloved by children, but absolutely loathed by people between the ages of 12 and about 17. I’ll talk more about this later, but usually about when boys hit that hyper-sensitive age where many of their peers stop paying attention to comics and mocking them, this deeply unserious show just can’t be defended. Not when you’re trying to believe that the Caped Crusader is SERIOUS BUSINESS and comics books are A MATURE ART FORM, QUIT LAUGHING AT ME. I don’t know how many people I’ve met over the years who never forgave this show for betraying them; me, I rediscovered it around age 17 and suddenly got it: the ridiculous dialogue, the very stilted acting, and all the celebrities having such a ball. I’ve loved it ever since. It’s one of the most fun things about the 1960s.
I mean, nobody ever blamed The Addams Family for making light of old houses with torture racks.
Of course, it’s likely these days that, thanks to the Marvel movies, twelve year-old kids don’t go “off” comics anymore. I wonder.
What’s surprising, from the cold light of the present, is how very unlike a pilot this is. The director doesn’t do any kind of establishing shot of the Batcave, for instance, and doesn’t give us a “gee wow!” moment of any of the main characters in their costumes. Batman, Robin, and the Riddler are all first spotted in inconsequential long shots. The director does, on the other hand, linger on the gorgeous Jill St. John as Molly for as long as he can justify it.
There’s a cute bit here that’s dumped in subsequent episodes. As soon as Commissioner Gordon realizes that the Riddler is back in town, he asks his top policemen and inspectors whether any of them can capture the dastardly arch-criminal. One by one, they all sadly look away and shake their heads, because none of them are manly enough, leaving Gordon no choice but to pick up the Batphone. Almost instantly, this convention is dropped. Costumed, laughing bad guy in town? Call Batman. At once!
Anyway, I remember being really alarmed by Batman twice when I was a kid. The first of these times: Robin being kidnapped by the Riddler at the end of this episode. As if on cue, Daniel was really amazingly upset about this. He started growling when the Riddler emerged from a manhole and shot Robin with a tranq dart, but then he got really emotional and surprised us all by weeping when he carted him off. He seemed to be liking it just fine until then!
He wept for a couple of minutes and hid in his room, but rebounded quickly for a bath, and, within half an hour, was doing handstands in bed, showing off his Batman shirt and Spider-Man underwear. Still, the “I don’t LIKE this!” was pretty powerful, and I can’t swear that we’ll be back tomorrow, same Bat-time, same Bat-channel, for part two. Stay tuned!