Batman 2.18 – Dizzoner the Penguin

This. is. phenomenal. It is so fun. If you don’t roar with laughter at least once watching this episode, something is really wrong with you. My favorite line came from Commissioner Gordon, who, on election night, takes a gloating call from Penguin to let him know that the Riddler will be the new commissioner, and Gordon can expect to resume his old beat on the waterfront. With the polls grim and spirits low, Gordon hangs up and says “The terrible thing is, in a few short hours, that mangy bird may be my boss!” When we finished the episode, I repeated the line with a chuckle, and Daniel shouted “Yeah, that itchy mean birdhead!”

This is such a great satire of elections. If part one was grand, then part two is masterful. There’s a televised debate, during which the Penguin makes the reasonable-sounding observation that whenever you see Batman, he’s always surrounded by criminals, while he, good, civic-minded citizen that he is, is always in the company of police. There’s a spectacular fight halfway through the episode, with at least a dozen goons battling Batman and Penguin, broadcast live with running commentary by parodies of Walter Cronkite and Chet Huntley and a roving reporter on the convention floor. The Huntley character is marking how many goons each candidate defeats, and since, of course, they’re on Penguin’s payroll, he comes out ahead in the end, and all the newspeople want to interview him. Nobody likes a loser, and so Batman departs.

And yet…

Earlier in the blog, I mentioned a time or two how the humorless and sad among comics fans are said to dislike this show because it’s silly, and treats Batman irreverently. I’ve often thought that today’s fans – actually fans from the last twenty-plus years, because this complaint is a very old one – simply must not be familiar with the actual comics from about 1964-68, which really are stunningly silly and goofy, but with this episode, they may have a point. We’ve seen this campy take before (in “The Joker Goes to School”, for starters), where Batman is a dull establishment bore sapping all the energy out of the room with his stodgy square non-personality, and the only life that’s worth living is one of fun and frivolity, in opposition to Batman. I love this subversive edge, because who wouldn’t vote for the Penguin with campaigns like these to choose from?

So perhaps the humorless have a point. If you’re a fan of the grim, dark, raspy-voiced avenger of the night, then it’s easy to dismiss a bunch of old funnybooks because nobody really knows about them anymore. What you don’t want is somebody making fun of your hero. And yes, by identifying Batman as such a tedious, square bore, that’s precisely what the producers did.

And God bless ’em, because it’s brilliant.

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