The Batman 66 Episode Guide 1×23: The Ring Of Wax
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 back in action with a waxy new plan... to steal the lost treasure of the Inca!
Episode 1x23: The Ring Of Wax
Script: Jack Paritz and Bob Rodgers
Director: James B. Clark
Original Air Date: March 30, 1966
Special Guest Villain: Frank Gorshin as The Riddler
This week's adventure is a weird one. It's not that it's bad, you understand --- Frank Gorshin is amazing literally every time he steps onscreen as the Riddler, and all the show's trademarks are in top form, from the deathtraps to the sight gags to Adam West's dedication to making Batman the biggest square to ever dress up as Dracula and punch criminals. I'd even go so far as to say that in a lot of ways, it's probably one of the best episodes of the show. It just feels a little off.
It's the plot, really. As entertaining as it is, it doesn't feel like a Riddler story, largely because of the focus on wax and candles as the gimmicks that drive all the crimes. It feels like something that was written for a different character --- Waxman, I guess, or Dr. Candle --- that the Riddler was bolted onto after the fact because Gorshin was in town to do impressions on The Tonight Show.
Don't get me wrong, he's fantastic here, but it does make me wonder how much of the writing process of the show involved writing generic plots and then plugging in the villains later. I know that the writers always had a Penguin-specific script ready to go for Burgess Meredith, but for everyone else, there are episodes that feel like they just left certain parts blank and then tailored them to fit the gimmick after the fact. If Roddy McDowell shows up, make it a Bookworm episode with a rare and valuable book. If Cesar Romero's in town, just make it a joke book. Either way, it's an episode where the seams show a little.
It's still pretty great, though.
We open at Madame Soleil's famous wax museum in the heart of downtown Gotham City, just in time to witness the unveiling of a new exhibit celebrating the crime-fighting accomplishments of Batman and Robin.
Why would you do this.
I mean, look: I get it. Nobody wants to celebrate Batman more than I do, I assure you, but I also do not live in a city where opening up a Batman exhibit at a museum will cause at least one of about twenty people to show up to rob you and then set an elaborate deathtrap in motion. I don't want to blame the victim here and, if anything, Madame Soleil should be applauded for promoting the cause of justice, but they didn't even have any cops there just in case something went wrong! You could probably just cold arrest everyone in the crowd and clean up Gotham for the next six months.
Sure enough, when the curtains part, the Batman statue has been stolen and replaced with a wax replica of the Riddler (which looks an awful lot like Frank Gorshin trying to stand very, very still and doing a bang-up job of it), along with a tape recorder that issues the following riddles...
- "What is black and white and red all over?"
- "What has branches and leaves, and no bark?"
...and then promptly sprays the crowd with red paint from a phony machine gun.
It occurs to me that if you only go by that screenshot, this episode seems like the most violent thing ever shown on television.
After cleaning the paint out of her eyes and mouth, Madame Soleil calls the police, and when she's put through directly to the Commissioner's office, we find out that the Riddler is "only two weeks out of jail and he's up to his old tricks!"
I've remarked on the alarmingly short prison terms that the arch-criminals serve on this show before, but if we're to believe that the Riddler got out of jail two weeks before this episode aired --- meaning he was released on March 16, 1966 --- then he only served twenty-seven days for the crimes committed in his last episode. Crimes, I remind you, that included multiple counts of attempted murder and robbery, and KIDNAPPING A FOREIGN HEAD OF STATE. And considering that he never served time for his crimes in the first episode, since he was presumed dead, you have to imagine those attempted murders were tacked onto his sentence, too. Time served before being released on his own recognizance: Three weeks, six days.
Needless to say, the call is made on the Hotline to Wayne Manor (stately home of millionaire Bruce Wayne and his youthful ward Dick Grayson, along with faithful manservant Alfred Pennyworth and oblivious relative Harriet Cooper), where we find out that Dick actually dared to challenge Bruce on whether Lima was in Peru or Ecuador, as though the Batman would not know that.
"If we don't know all about our friends to the south, how can we carry on our Good Neighbor policy?"
Oh Bruce. You are the best square.
After making their excuses, Batman and Robin head to police headquarters to see about solving the riddles. The first, of course, is so easy that even the legendarily dense O'Hara gets it --- a newspaper --- but he's stymied by the second until Robin realizes that it points to the Gotham City Public Library.
As the Dynamic Duo speed off to go explore the wonders of freely available literature, the Riddler is at his hideout beneath an abandoned candle factory with his new sidekick, Moth, liberally quoting Shakespeare in a monologue about how badly he wants to murder Batman by dissolving his body in a "universal solvent."
Yes, that is the core of the Riddler's plot: A universal solvent illegally imported from "the Cognac district of France" that can eat through any vault door, but can be solidified and safely transported in the form of wax. With that in gloved hand, the Riddler, Moth and their henchmen, Matches and Tallow, are off to the main branch of the library to rob the very clearly labeled Vault For Rare Old Books. First, the guard is distracted and knocked out with a trick candle --- one of those elements that makes me think this was written for a more votive villain --- and then the wax is shaped and melted around the vault door.
The target of their search is a rare old book on the treasures of the Incas, which leads to one of the absolute best visual gags of the series. The vault at the library is, of course, packed with rare volumes, and as the henchmen search the vault, the Riddler stands in front of the camera until one of them announces that he thinks he's found it, at which time the Riddler steps to the side, turns around, and sees this:
It's the best. Gets me every time.
It's not the only great gag in the episode, either; Paritz and Rodgers load this thing up with the deadpan comedy. While the Riddler is ransacking the vault, Batman and Robin arrive and speak to the librarian, Miss Prentice. She's very excited to see them, but Batman cuts her reaction short by just casually pointing to the NO TALKING sign hanging behind her...
...and then asks if she's seen anything unusual.
MISS PRENTICE: Unusual? In what way, unusual?
BATMAN: Their garb. For instance, a man wearing a bright green suit with big black question marks on it.
MISS PRENTICE: Let me think for a moment.
Relax, everyone: The World's Greatest Detective is on the case, and even though the Librarian isn't sure whether she's seen a gang of gun-toting thugs led by a man in a purple domino mask, Batman decides to check out the vault just in case. Sure enough, he finds the Riddler and his henchmen heisting the book, and leap into action to stop them.
Incidentally, that second POW!, the yellow one, is only onscreen for four frames before it changes over to the SOCK!. I'm not sure if that was a mistake or something meant to represent Batman and Robin simultaneously punching out both Tallow and Matches, but it's not an effect I remember seeing elsewhere.
While his henchmen are being pummeled, the Riddler leaps into action with his "Instant Forever Stick Invisible Wax Emulsion," gluing the heroes to the floor and making his escape, parting with a final riddle, "The more you take away, the larger it grows. What is it?"
After freeing themselves with the aid of the Bat-Laser, Batman and Robin head back to the Batcave to examine the traces of the Riddler's waxy universal solvent, discovering its nature with the aid of their trusty Hyper-Spectrographic Analyzer. And even more than that, in an instance of apophenia that rivals any of the other considerable leaps of logic in the series, they discover that it's composed of sodium, uranium and nitrogen, which of course spells S-U-N, which of course in French is soleil, which points to the next target: Madame Soleil's wax museum.
It's bonkers and, naturally, turns out to be true, although it does beg the question of why they didn't go all-out with it and use the chemical symbols instead of just the initials. Then again, I suppose that NaNS would just indicate that they were going after British grandmothers, and they didn't have the budget to hire someone to play the 104 year-old matriarch of the Pennyworth family.
Either way, there's a nice bit of misdirection back at the wax museum. The Riddler statue is still on display, but rather than going the obvious route of the Riddler himself springing to life armed with the "machine gun" that the statue used to spray paint on the crowd, the show instead disguises our criminal crew as a quartet of Revolutionary War soldiers:
One shot from the Riddler's blowgun flute later, and the crimefighters are out cold, ready to be bundled up and carted off to a deathtrap in the Kandle Lite factory.
But before that, there's a nice bit of continuity thrown in: As the Riddler and his henchmen leave the wax museum, they see the Batmobile parked outside. If you've been paying attention, you might recall that the Riddler tried to steal the Batmobile way back in the first episode, but was foiled by the anti-theft system disguised as a start button. This time, the desire is still there, but when one of the goons warns him that there's a burglar alarm, the Riddler's curt response is, "Don't you think I know that?!" He then easily snips the wire, and the Batmobile is ripe for the taking. Say what you will, but Gorshin's Riddler is an arch-villain who learns from his mistakes.
At the factory, the Riddler insists that they change back into their criminal uniforms because their Revolutionary War garb is far too conspicuous (amazing), and when Moth remarks that Batman is handsome, Riddler's response is a cold and sinister "the diamondback rattlesnake is a handsome creature too, but dangerous and deadly."
And with that, the caped crusaders are strung up above a clearly labeled Enormous Candle Dipper, filled to the brim with boiling acid as the Riddler explains his plan. The wax figure of Batman was stolen because it contained the illegally imported universal solvent wax, which facilitated the robbery of a quiet library with the solvent eating through the vault door far more quietly than a noisy bundle of dynamite, which led to the book, which contains an "ancient Incan riddle which will lead me right to the fabled lost treasure of the Incas!" A complicated plan, to be sure, but an effective one that has left our heroes in dire peril indeed!
Be here next week, dear reader - the worst is yet to come!
Index of Episode 1x23:
- Hyper-Spectrographic Analyzer
- The Public Library
Note: The Riddler's henchman, Matches, is not to be confused with notorious Gotham City underworld figure Matches Malone.