The second season of ABC’s Batman series of the sixties was not as filled with classic efforts as the first season and at least one major villain had to be recast, but the show’s sense of fun was mostly undiminished. Plus there was that two-part crossover…
At the time, series creator William Dozier was convinced that the only way to make a comic book come to life on television was to camp it up – make it so ridiculous that no one could take it seriously. At the same time, though, it had to be consistent within itself and played completely straight – and approach that seemed to be the right choice when his efforts to translate The Green Hornet to TV as a straight action-drama led to its cancelation after one season.
The second half of Batman’s second season featured the return of villains like The Joker, Catwoman, The Riddler and King Tut – each with their own peculiar modus operandi.
In The Puzzles Are Coming/The Do Is Slumming, the first tale on this set, The Puzzler (think a more fashion conscious yet bargain basement version of The Riddler) sets out to steal the plans of a top secret prototype airplane. His clues are puzzles inscribed on balloons – balloons filled with a paralyzing gas.
What could have felt like a filler story takes wings on stage and screen legend Maurice Evans’ hamminess (and glorious voice) and the character’s propensity for quoting Shakespeare (though, of course, Batman corrects him on source at the end).
A later story, Catwoman Goes To College/Batman Displays His Knowledge, plays on Batman’s dual identity when Bruce Wayne offers to be Catwoman’s (the legendary Julie Newmar) parole officer when she is paroled from Gotham City’s very progressive penitentiary and stealing the wrong cats-eye opals leads to her being captured – but not before flirting shamelessly with the Caped Crusader and informing a seemingly chastened Bruce Wayne that they could never be friends because her heart belongs to Batman.
While it’s always fun to see Burgess Meredith’s Penguin come to town, a three-part Penguin caper (Penguin Is A Girl’s Best Friend/Penguin Sets A Trend/Penguin’s Disastrous End) is not nearly as much fun as the earlier three-part Joker/Penguin team-up, The Zodiac Crimes/The Joker’s Hard Times/The Penguin Declines – to say that this Deadly Duo do not work as well together as the Dynamic Duo would be an understatement.
Cesar Romero’s Joker is far more effective in the two-parter, The Joker’s Last Laugh/The Joker’s epitaph, in which a Bat-ploy gone wrong leads to Bruce Wayne appointing Joker (in the alias of J.C. Whiteface) director of Gotham National Bank.
In the season’s best two-parter, A Piece of the Action/Batman’s Satisfaction, the Dynamic Duo face-off against the Green Hornet and Kato – as both duos seek to unravel the mystery of some counterfeit rare stamps. Though the villain – Colonel Mudd (Roger C. Carmel) isn’t as delightful as some of the Bat’s regular Rogues’ Gallery, the sight of old friends Bruce Wayne (Adam West) and Brit Reid (Van Johnson) verbally fencing with each other over Pinksy Pinkston (Diane McBain) is pretty special – and the cliffhanger at the end of A Piece of the Action is definitely original… and a bit chilling.
Shot with a vibrant palette that includes lots of shiny primary colors, Batman, with its run on ‘Holy insert-appropriate-reference-here’ jokes, the interminable number of gadgets (all carefully labeled) in the Batcave (or in Batman’s utility belt) and bursts of alliteration, was a once in a lifetime fluke where everything came together perfectly (as opposed to the dozens of would be clones that misfired and, tragically, died).
Part of what kept Batman on the air for three seasons (twice weekly!) was that, while the show created a truly bizarre and ludicrous world, it then developed that world by using that world’s logic – and, at the same, time, its writers weren’t afraid to poke fun at it – as when Alfred would occasionally don the Batsuit to get one of the other of the Dynamic Duo out of trouble; or as when Alfred, helping
Batman in his efforts to retrieve the kidnapped Boy Wonder (Burt Ward), gets so caught up in the proceedings that he lets forth a ‘Holy…’ one-liner.
While it sometimes didn’t look like it, the show also developing a kind of continuity – a classic example of which occurs in King Tut’s Coup, when Commissioner Gordon (Neil Hamilton) frets over Tut’s kidnapping of a wealthy man’s daughter because his daughter Barbara will be returning to Gotham City soon – and, of course, in season three Batgirl/Barbara Gordon makes her debut.
In all, while the second half of Batman’s second season didn’t have as many classic tales to tell, it still had its share of classic moments (I still say Kato could’ve clobbered Robin, but I’m not bitter. Not me.).
Gordon and Sgt. O’Hara (Stafford Repp) may have made Nigel Bruce’s Watson look like Sherlock Holmes, but they were still endearing – though I really think Aunt Harriet (Madge Blake) got old really fast. Batman/Bruce Wayne, with West’s carefully enunciated delivery, and Robin/Dick Grayson, with Ward’s over the top enthusiasm could be a bit much if you binge on too many eps at any one time (my limit was six episodes) – and John Astin’s more genial Riddler never worked as well for me as Frank Gorshin’s more hysterical, primal version.
Overall, though, for all the damage it did to the public’s perception of comic book superhero (really? We’re still getting mainstream headline using the Holy Whatever, Batman theme?), Batman was a vastly entertaining series when it aired in 1966/68 and still works today for practically all the same reasons.
Even the show’s less brilliant efforts were still more fun than a barrel of Monkees.
Final Grade: B+