I want to come back to this idea a few stories down the line, when something specific angered me as a middle schooler – there is nobody easier to anger than a middle schooler – but I’ve long believed that most people go “off” Batman between about the ages of 10 and 16, when it doesn’t make sense to them. After all, nobody takes themselves as seriously as a kid between the ages of 10 and 16.
But the Batman that I watched before I hit that serious, stupid age did stick with me, in the bizarre images that we used to get in the late afternoons on WGNX-46 in Atlanta. There’s a thunderous one in the next episode, but Mr. Freeze’s “hot path” is a real corker. Dr. Schimmel is forced to live in temperatures of fifty degrees below zero, but he’s rigged his house with a path controlled by a series of buttons that create areas of 76 degrees so that other people can interact with him.
The special effects are primitive, but they’re also incredibly effective. By mixing action in a mostly blue-lit set with “icy smoke” overlays, and shooting parts of the same set with red lights, and using clunky animation to change the size and shape of the path, it works tremendously well. I remember playing superheroes with my kid brother in villainous lairs just like this for years, with parts of various rooms that nobody could enter because the air was freezing, or acidic, or the floor was turning to lava, or whatever kids want to come up with. The show absolutely fired up our imaginations, and there’s nothing better for children.
And from the cold – sorry – the cold light of adulthood, this is still a fantastic episode. Sanders doesn’t go over the top with mania and self-awareness, as many – way too many – of the later bad guys would, taking their cues from Gorshin, Meredith, and Romero. While they were making the episodes but before any of them actually aired, there was a tiny window where the guest villains had the chance to play their roles in a wider variety of styles, as I believe we’ll also see next time. Sanders is sympathetic, ruthless, and intelligent in a style that is totally at odds with the stereotype of the show. The character doesn’t even leave his hideout in this episode, and the spacesuit seen in part one isn’t used. Sure, Sanders is playing in a kiddie show and he knows it, but he plays it straight, and the result is really fantastic.
Watching this story and knowing how much repetition would later set in, it really kind of breaks your heart. Batman is great, but if it could have been this unique every week, it could have been much, much greater.