Batman 1.9 – Zelda the Great

Holy anna! This episode is fantastic! I hope part two’s as good.

I genuinely remember disliking this story as a kid, because, clearly, it doesn’t have a comic book Batman villain in it. And, as I intend to report in the second post for this story, that’s actually really notable, for an interesting reason or two. There is one really neat visual element that I do remember from my childhood, and more about that in a minute.

The thing that makes part one so interesting? Batman has no idea who the villain is. As much as we like the Batman formula, this thumbs its nose at it. Batman and Robin are totally stumped as to who steals $100,000 every April 1, and when they discover fibers from women’s clothing on the bullet deflected by what they thought was a bulletproof vest at the crime scene, they’re really surprised, because Catwoman, the only known female criminal is “up the river.” That’s an interesting thing to note; Catwoman wouldn’t appear in the show for another five weeks.

From there, Batman is attempting to trap an unknown foe, who runs rings around him. You know, it’s possible that I also did not enjoy this episode as a kid because it’s almost cerebral compared to a usual Bat-adventure, with no fight scenes but lots of discussion of traps and fiber and counterfeit money, and the surprising motive – Zelda, a stage magician played by Anne Baxter, has to pay a fellow called Eivol Ekdol $100,000 every year to keep building her latest magic crafts. Since Batman, and the local paper, convince Ekdol that the money she stole this year was phony, she has to come up with another 100 grand, leading her to abduct Aunt Harriet and hold her for ransom…

So this cliffhanger, this is why I remembered this story as a kid even as so many other details of the series faded. Watching the repeats around 1976-77 on WGNX-46, I was right at the age where I understood that the fiction was performed by actors, a point that’s going to come very vital in a few stories’ time. I did not, however, understand “stunt doubles” or “dummies” or things like that. I distinctly remember thinking about this cliffhanger and, for years, understanding that was really Madge Blake hung up over the vat of boiling oil. A few years later, when I caught some repeats at the age where I didn’t like this show, I remember yelling and hollering with my friend Blake, who also didn’t like it, how we wished the interfering busybody Aunt Harriet would have been dumped in the oil because she was “stupid.” I think that she also reminded Blake of his mother, with whom he never got along, too…

A couple of weeks ago, boiling oil factored into a frightening moment in H.R. Pufnstuf, but Daniel wasn’t really rocked by this moment, or much of the story, really. Like his old man decades ago, he honestly was not taken by this episode, although he was baffled why Alfred suggested that he might vacuum the Batcave while the heroes were out. He informed us that the Batcave is supposed to be messy and dirty, and that Batman likes it that way.

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