The 1966 Batman television show was one of the most successful and influential adaptations of comic books to mass media of all time. Over the course of three seasons and 120 episodes, the series became a cultural force with its unique combination of tongue-in-cheek humor, thrilling superhero adventure and celebrity guest stars, and shaped the way the public would view the Caped Crusader for the next five decades. Now, in the midst of a well-deserved renaissance of the show, ComicsAlliance is proud to present The Batman '66 Episode Guide, an in-depth examination of every single adventure, arch-criminal and deathtrap cliffhanger of the series.

This week, the Riddler's plan goes into action, and Bruce Wayne... meets the Batman?!

 

 

Episode 1x12: When The Rat's Away The Mice Will Play

Script: Fred De Gorter
Director: Tom Gries
Original Air Date: February 17, 1966
Special Guest Villain: Frank Gorshin as The Riddler

When we last left our heroes, they -- or at least, two almost alarmingly unconvincing dummies wearing their costumes -- were in the clutches of one of the show's first big deathtraps: strapped to a pair of turbines at the abandoned Gotham City Water and Power Plant and left by the Riddler to be torn apart by centrifugal force. The good news is that, as is so often the case with these deathtraps, they're able to escape with the aid of the Utility Belt. Batman gets a hand free from the webs they were trapped in and uses his cutting torch to "burn the armature and short circuit the power" mere seconds before they would've been killed.

And this leaves us with a pretty interesting setup that's going to be the foundation of the rest of the episode: The Riddler thinks Batman and Robin are dead, and since the Dynamic Duo make a point of not revealing that they've survived, he has no reason not to until the very end of the episode. It's what his entire plan depends on, and it's actually really clever. As far as I can remember, this ends up being one of the most complicated arch-criminal plots of the entire series, and getting it with the inside knowledge that the heroes are, in fact, alive makes it really fun to watch.

It starts back at the headquarters of the River Rats, where Gorshin arrives in the question-marked three-piece suit that I think we can all agree was the high point of the history of clothing.

 

 

I know I've said this four times in the three months that I've been writing this column, but I cannot state enough how great Frank Gorshin is at playing the Riddler. His delivery on a speech about how for the first time he can plan a heist without having to worry about Batman is pretty fantastic: "So many people have tried. The Penguin, Mister Freeze, the Joker, all masters of their craft, granted, but I, only I have triumphed in ridding Gotham City's criminal kingdom of the dynamic duo! How frustrating it will be for my colleagues when they learn that I succeeded where they failed!"

It's a great insight to his motivation, too. The Riddler doesn't just want to kill Batman, although he certainly takes great pleasure in it, but he's willing to make that, the murder of Batman, into a cog in a larger scheme, and savors that only he, Mousey and the River Rats are the ones who know. It's pretty great.

Back at police headquarters, Commissioner Gordon is speaking to King Boris (Reginald Denny) who, true to the Riddler's word, was returned to his hotel room unharmed after his role as bait in the trap that "killed" Batman and Robin. The highlight of this scene, and perhaps the show thus far, is when he refers to the Riddler as "a sinister humorist in mask and tights," but more important to the plot is that he bears ill tidings about the fate of the crimefighters. Just after he leaves, though, the Hotline starts ringing, and, to the relief of Gordon and O'Hara, Batman calls in with a report.

 

 

Batman suggests that Gordon and O'Hara keep their miraculous escape a secret in an effort to lure the Riddler into carelessness. For now, though, his plan is continuing on schedule, and it starts with King Boris's appearance at the Museum of Fame housed in the torch of the Queen of Freedom statue.

You may recall that the purpose of His Majesty's visit to Gotham was to deliver a miniature replica of the Queen of Freedom, which he does, placing it in a glass display case as the centerpiece of the Museum of Fame. Well, the nominal centerpiece, anyway. We all know what the folks are really there to see:

 

 

If anyone knows where I can get a six-foot framed portrait of Batman and Robin, let me know.

Once the miniature statue has been placed, Mousey, in her disguise as a schoolgirl, slips a note and a handful of smoke bombs (because, y'know, arch-criminals can't get breakfast without at least three different colors of smoke billowing around) into a police call box, addressing the letter to Commissioner Gordon. When he opens it, it turns out to be a threat from the Riddler, promising to blow up the Queen of Freedom unless he's given a million dollars by 10 PM, closing with the sinister promise that Batman and Robin... are dead!

 

 

Gordon immediately phones Batman on the Hotline to check that he's still breathing, and tells him that since the City Council is not currently in session, they won't be able to get the money. Unless, of course,"my good friend Bruce Wayne, the millionaire socialite" was willing to put up the cash for them, a plan of action that Batman approves of.

Before long, Wayne is in Gordon's office with a million dollars in cash, handing it over in the name of "the best interests of Gotham City," when they're joined by an unexpected visitor: Batman?!

 

 

And this is the part where the Riddler's plan gets amazing: After killing Batman, he offers up a fake in the form of Whitey, one of the River Rats, in order to help the police orchestrate their delivery of the ransom. It's an amazing scene, too, because Whitey (Roy Jensen) is juuuuuuust close enough to being a lumpier Adam West that he looks like the guy who'd dress up for a particularly disappointing birthday party, and the real West plays it like he is quietly furious at the impostor. There's a particularly great moment where "Batman" and Wayne shake hands, and Wayne squeezes his fingers just a little too tightly.

Under the advice of "Batman," Gordon agrees to place the money in the museum and leave, so that the Riddler won't suspect a trap, promising that he and Robin will handle the actual crime-fighting, and this is the genius of the Riddler's plan. First, kill Batman, second, provide Gordon with an ersatz Caped Crusader who has miraculously "escaped" a deathtrap, and then arrange the drop so that he can just walk out with the money. It's actually pretty elegant in its simplicity.

By Riddler standards, anyway.

 

 

The problem, of course, is that it hinges on the real Batman being torn limb from limb by a spinning turbine, which, of course, did not actually happen.

Gordon makes a call to the genuine article, confirming that the "Batman" who visited his office was in fact a fake, thus proving that he's not quite as useless at deductive reasoning as the rest of the GCPD. Batman, however, advises him to continue with the plan, and tells Robin that the key to unraveling the Riddler's plot will be to solve the final riddle that he gave them right before he left them to their presumed doom:

 

 

"Why is a woman in love like a welder?"

The answer, of course, is that they both carry a torch, and if we're all honest with each other, it's probably the most pointless riddle in the entire series. Batman and Robin already know that the Riddler has planted an explosive in the Queen of Freedom statue, and that that's where the exchange of money is meant to go down, and that the only thing that's changed in the statue is the addition of the miniature Queen of Freedom, which was in the Riddler's possession before it arrived. If they really need a Riddle to tell them what's going down here, the standards for World's Greatest Detective are abysmally low.

Sure enough...

 

 

The Riddler shows up at the appointed hour to grab the cash and, to his credit, disarm the bomb planted in King Boris's statue. What he finds in the statue's place, however, is... a riddle? "What squeals louder than a caught rat? Answer: Several caught rats."

As the Riddler says, he's been out-riddled, and when the "money" Bruce Wayne gave to the cops turns out to be yet another smoke bomb, that's the cue for the Dynamic Duo to make their entrance, busting through their portrait, which I assume is extremely expensive given its place of honor in the Museum of Fame. With that, we have our climactic fight scene, and thus, the Bat Sound-Effect Onomatopoeia Matrix:

 

Click for full size

 

Lots of new sound effects this week, presumably because the lack of a climactic fight scene in the previous week's episode gave them some time to come up with new ones. I'm pretty sure that this is the first appearance of "WHACK!" on the show, and the first appearance of "ZLOPP!" anywhere in the English language.

Having successfully dealt with the Riddler and his henchmen, Batman arrests the whole gang, including Mousey, who reveals that she turned to crime looking for kicks "ever since I dropped out of high school." Let that be a lesson to the youngsters out there to stay on the path of education, lest you find yourself on the wrong side of the law.

And with that, and an epilogue where Robin is made to study algebra, we have finished with what is most certainly the best episode with the worst title.

 

Index of Episode 1x12:

Bat-Gadgets:

  • Cutting Torch