Batman 1.2 – Smack in the Middle

Whew! We made it! But this one was touch and go!

Despite rebounding from his unhappiness with the climax of episode one, Daniel was more than a little reluctant to start part two. He whimpered a bit and insisted on sitting on Mommy’s lap. It’s kind of a shame: Frank Gorshin’s Riddler is my favorite of all Bat-villains, in any media, and Daniel hates him. It’s kind of funny: since Warner markets Batman and the Joker to tots, he knows the Joker as this safe, cuddly clown. His only other experience with a Bat-baddie is Gorshin’s unhinged, manic, loose-limbed performance, and it really alarmed him.

We paused the episode to reassure him about the unreality of what we were watching, pointing out that Molly is played by an actress named Jill St. John, and the Riddler is played by an actor named Frank Gorshin. One of us, and it was probably me, said something foolish like “nobody gets hurt and everybody’s okay.” Of course, a few scenes later, Molly, disguised as Robin, meets a grisly end – one of the very few in this program, I believe. We sent Daniel out of the room to check on his big sister to miss that, and didn’t say a word about what fate befell her.

Everybody comments on how Batman knows that Molly isn’t the real Robin because – ahem – he instantly noticed the flaws in the Robin mask. Downright gentlemanly of the Dark Knight Detective to not point out the rather more obvious fact that Molly’s a whole lot curvier than the fellow who’s usually in the Robin suit.

It ended with Daniel excited and pleased and ready to watch another one. I told him that the Riddler would be back – these usually end with the villains going off to jail, but he actually escapes, which surprised me – but not for a few episodes yet. He asked who the next bad guy will be, and I didn’t tell him. Don’t want to spoil too much!

Interesting trivia: In the Batman comics, the Riddler appeared twice in the late 1940s, in issues 140 and 142 of Detective Comics in 1948. The character was retired and forgotten about for seventeen years. In May of 1965, he was dusted off by creators Gardner Fox and Sheldon Modoff for a rematch in Batman # 171 – it’s reprinted in Showcase Presents: Batman, Vol. 1 and I suspect it was only ever published because somebody in the legal department reminded the editorial department that they had a trademark that needed to be used or lost.

That issue was on newsstands when producer William Dozier was assigned by 20th Century Fox to develop a Batman TV show for ABC, and Dozier, picking up some funnybooks to see what the heck he’d gotten himself into, mistook the character for a regular villain. The script for “Hi Diddle Riddle” and “Smack in the Middle,” by Lorenzo Semple Jr., is not a real adaptation of Batman # 171, but some of the comic’s elements, like the Riddler’s gang, the Mole Hill Mob, and the sequence at the Peale Art Gallery with the cigarette lighter revolver, did make it into the TV show.

DC Comics (or National as I suppose it was technically called at the time) quickly brought the Riddler back for regular, frequent rematches from then on. The TV series is very much a faithful adaptation of how over-the-top and silly the comics of 1965-66 were – and if you scoff about how Adam West “ruined” Batman, as some of the more humorless members of comic fandom have done, you just buy yourself that Showcase book linked to above and get back to me on that – and the comics would frequently respond to the TV show. Elevating the Riddler from the D-list to one of Batman’s arch-enemies is the first of many, many examples of this…

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