It’s an overcast, stormy Christmas Eve morning here in suburbia. This festive period also marks the end of the 50th anniversary of the Batman tv show: the series which I remember most vividly as a preschool child and one I was still watching in middle age, trying to get a teaching job, as recently as four or five years ago.
Last weekend, I read Batman: the TV Stories, a trade paperback released in response to the Batman ’66 title ( I might be posting about the 66/Steed/Mrs. Peel series on Some Fantastic Place soon). The reprints within were inspiration or direct sources for plots or plot elements in the tv series and they include:
The Riddler: I first read this Bill Finger/Dick Sprang adventure in a b/w edition of the Batman 30s-70s trade paperback, which I found in the Parnie Street incarnation of City Centre Comics in Glasgow at some point between the late 90s and early 2000s. We are introduced to puzzle expert and cheat, E. Nigma, a visually memorable foe who vanishes in a pierside explosion at the climax of the story. As we know, it was Frank Gorshin’s manic and zestful performance as the giggling, grandiose Riddler which catapulted the character out of obscurity, languishing with the Signalman or Dr. Double-X.
A Hairpin, A Hacksaw, A Hole in the Ground: plotting to establish himself as the authority on comedy, the Joker traps B&R in a deathtrap where the masks of tragedy and comedy spout gas. This Finger/Lew Schwartz tale gives the lie to the idea that the Joker only returned to his murderous ways under O’Neil and Adams in the 70s.
The Joker’s Utility Belt: I first read this story in the Batman Giant of December 1965. David Vern Reed and Dick Sprang give the Clown Prince of Crime his own utility belt, obviously, containing exploding cigarettes, sneezing powder, etc. The joke is on the Joker, however, when he ends up as foreman in the prison belt factory.
The Mad Hatter of Gotham City: Bill Finger and Shelly Moldoff introduce the bizarre hobby-robber version of the Mad Hatter. I first encountered him in the mid-80s Barr/Davis Detective. While not as creepy or disturbing as the Wonderland iteration, this Hatter enables Tweedledee and Tweedledum to have their own agency as distinct characters. I also love the way David Wayne says “Beeeyat-man”. This story is quite dull, however.
The Ice Crimes of Mr. Zero: another Giant reprint, this Dave Wood/Moldoff story sees the frigid fiend curiously cured at the end. I like the cartoon narration that described him as “the cool, cruel Mr. Freeze” but Captain Cold is the more effective villain.
Partners in Plunder: France Herron and Moldoff give the Penguin a jet-propelled umbrella in this story, from 1965’s drab, workaday Batman period. I really enjoy Robin Lord Taylor’s hysterical, mother-fixated Penguin on Gotham but the sneering, pompous Burgess Meredith is my favourite.
The Remarkable Ruse of the Riddler: A Gardner Fox/Moldoff revival for the Riddler, who pretends to go straight. Another dreary tale which looks like it came from a colouring book.
The Joker’s Comedy Capers: a beautiful Broome/Infantino collaboration where the Leonardo of the Larcenous Laugh employs doubles of silent movie comedians to commit crimes.
Batman’s Inescapable Doom Trap: I think I first read this one in an issue of the b/w Super DC comic in the early 70s. It’s memorable for the oddly-named inventor Eivol Ekdal but otherwise, it’s deadly dull.
The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl: the first time I read this Fox/ Infantino story was in a Double Double comic and of course, it’s reprinted in the Greatest Batgirl Stories tpb. I love seeing the “colorless female brain” having the time of her life and I particularly likethe montage depicting her quick-change costume: the skirt, beret and handbag are all part of her Batgirl ensemble.
This was also my first encounter with Killer Moth, the Lethal Lepidopteron. Sadly, there’s no Catwoman caper here. It’s a mixed bag and if you really want TV nostalgia, pick up the Bat-66 series,
In future posts, I’m considering returning to Grant Morrison’s Batman but after Xmas, I’m also thinking about Thor, Dr. Strange, Doc Savage, Spy Smasher, Sgt. Fury and Skull the Slayer. Have a cool Yule.
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