The Batman 66 Episode Guide 1×24: Give ‘Em The Axe
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 on a rampage... and Robin fights alone!
Episode 1x24: Give 'Em The Axe
Script: Jack Paritz and Bob Rodgers
Director: James B. Clark
Original Air Date: March 31, 1966
Special Guest Villain: Frank Gorshin as The Riddler
When we last left our heroes, they were in a classic good news/bad news sort of situation. The good news is that they finally discovered the true purpose of the Riddler's complicated series of crimes that began with the robbery of a wax museum and ended with a daring daylight heist of the local library: He has solved an ancient riddle revealing the precise location of the lost treasure of the Inca. The bad news is that Batman and Robin discovered all this because the Riddler has them strung up above a vat of boiling wax, and has been feeling pretty chatty about the whole thing.
One of the usual clichés about the show is that the villains always tend to come up with these elaborate deathtraps and then bounce, leaving Batman and Robin to their fate --- and giving them ample opportunity to escape. Usually, it's just presented as a convenience of the plot. There's a plan that's already in motion, a heist that needs to be overseen, that sort of thing. Here, though, it's actually addressed: The Riddler, who has since his first appearance been the most frightening and sadistic villain (with the possible exception of Mr. Freeze, who gleefully kills a cop in his first appearance) has every intention of standing there and gleefully watching as Batman and Robin are burned to death in front of him. He only leaves because Moth complains about the fumes, and even then he sticks around to watch from another room.
He does, however, take the time to have a pretty great exchange with Paritz and Rodgers' relentlessly square Caped Crusader:
BATMAN: Remember, Riddler: You can't buy friends with money!
RIDDLER: With money, who needs friends?
And really, the line about the fumes is understandable when you consider that there are just open barrels of chemicals hanging around.
And that, of course, is what will provide Batman and Robin with their daring escape. This particular barrel contains a compound consisting of Sodium, Chromium, Oxygen, Potassium, Iron, Carbon, Nitrogen, Silver and other unknown elements, and Batman, in his infinite wisdom, immediately identifies it as "the solution for treating candle wicks! It's highly explosive when exposed to heat!"
When I first heard it, this sounded a bit dubious to me. Even on the scale of the show's tendency to cop out on the deathtrap escapes, the idea that candle wicks would be treated to be explosive when set on fire seemed like something that would result in a whole lot of terrible birthdays. I checked it out, and it turns out that the exact opposite is true: Candle wicks are actually treated with a process called mordanting that makes them less combustible. The purpose of the wick is to provide a conduit from the flame to the fuel (usually wax), and they have to last long enough to do that while they're on fire. I don't know what kind of shenanigans the Kandle Lite factory is trying to pull with their goods, but it's definitely not the standard.
But, uh, that's probably the joke.
Either way, it gives Batman and Robin their chance. WIth the Riddler watching via his "candlescope" --- and it is genuinely amazing that he has become so dedicated to this candle gimmick that he built a periscope that looks like a candle...
... Batman manages to set the explosive compound off by reflecting sunlight onto it from his polished belt buckle. This, it should be noted, is one of the advantages of occasionally fighting crime during the day.
The resulting explosion sets the heroes free, but, watching on his candlescope, the Riddler believes them to have perished, taking a moment to celebrate before making a call to Commissioner Gordon to taunt him with a riddle.
There's an amazing moment here where Moth, in a hurry to get the Incan treasure that they're after, grumpily asks the Riddler why they're wasting time sending riddles to the police, and the look Frank Gorshin gives her is fantastic. He's incredulous and incensed, not only at the very idea of committing a crime without leaving a clue, but anyone would even question that. It's like he's explaining it to a child: "Crime is no fun without riddles. I'll have you know that's the main reason I took up this crime game. All of you, in the truck."
The show's arch-criminals are always defined by their obsessions --- we're getting to King Tut in a few weeks, and he's the ultimate example of that --- but Gorshin plays with that idea better than anyone, and the result is someone who's got this undercurrent of being genuinely terrifying in a world built for pop-art comedy.
After leaving his riddle --- "What has four legs, runs day and night, but never gets anywhere?" --- the Riddler heads off to complete his crime spree, without checking to see if Batman and Robin are actually dead. They're not, of course, and since the Riddler considered the stolen Batmobile to be too conspicuous to take on his crime, they hop in and make a mobile call to Commissioner Gordon.
Now, if you've been paying attention, you may know about the Hotline, the direct telephone line that connects Batman to Commissioner Gordon, via special red telephones. As far as we know from watching the show, there are only four of these phones in existence: The one in Commissioner Gordon's office, kept under glass, the one in the study at Wayne Manor, the one in the Batcave, and the one in the Batmobile itself. In other words, three out of four of these phones are in Batman's possession, the fourth is in Gordon's, and they can only call each other. Which makes it a bit frustrating when Gordon picks up the other end of the Hotline and asks "Who is this?!"
Then again, he was just told that Batman was dead, so I guess we can cut him some slack. Batman's response is, of course "Why, this is Batman. Your caped crusader," which is surprisingly romantic.
A quick brainstorming session leads them to the famous lion fountains in front of the Gotham City Museum --- lions having four legs and fountains running day and night, although in this case there's a water shortage that makes the riddle a bit of a cheat --- and sure enough, that's where the Riddler and his gang are. They're searching for a sarcophagus, and in the process, we get another great example of Gorshin's well-done creepiness, as he grins his way through explaining the purpose of various medieval torture devices.
The physicality on display in this scene is fantastic, too, with Gorshin weaving his way through the props to illustrate their effectiveness. The staging actually feels like something you'd see in a comic today.
Outside the museum, Batman and Robin arrive to discover that the museum is currently playing host to the sarcophagus of an ancient Incan emperor, and honestly, that it took the Riddler solving an ancient puzzle and the World's Greatest Detective following a trail of neatly laid clues to figure out that the lost treasure of the Inca might have something to do with that is a pretty big strike against both of them. Their only avenue into the museum is a window that's too small for Batman, but that Robin's smaller frame could slip through, leading us to the show's first solo Bat-Climb --- and a rare solo fight scene that pits Robin against Tallow and Matches.
Alas, the henchmen are too much for the Boy Wonder, who's taken hostage and brought before the Riddler. In an interesting bit of misdirection, Robin claims that while he survived the explosion, Batman died, leading him to show up looking for revenge --- and to promptly be tied to the rack.
Outside, Batman gives up on waiting for Robin and decides that desperate times call for desperate measures --- in this case, activating the Batram (I have to assume Bat-Battering Ram was deemed a little too far even for this show and crashing through the museum's steel back doors.
Inside, the Riddler finally finds the ancient Incan sarcophagus --- it was in the box marked ANCIENT INCAN SARCOPHAGUS, naturally --- and begins to melt his way through with the Universal Solvent wax.
And then, the shadow falls upon them --- Batman, back from the dead to wreak a terrible vengeance of his own!
For the record, the Riddler is mostly just upset that Robin lied to him, which is a very nice touch.
The battle that ensues is a swift one, and is actually one of the show's more memorable set pieces, with Batman dodging around the torture devices and ending up locking his foes in the stocks, the iron mask, and the wheel. Moth, not involved in the fight, trips and falls into the "Maiden's Bath," where she's promptly locked to wait for the police.
Sure are getting a lot of mileage out of that BIFF! and SWOOSH this week, huh? Four in a row seems a bit excessive.
With that, the police arrive and arrest the Riddler, and Batman finishes up the fight just in time to keep the solvent from eating away at the airtight container --- and thus keeping the Incan treasure from disintegrating into dust, a consequence that the Riddler's plan certainly didn't allow for.
The next day, Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson and Aunt Harriet visit the sarcophagus as part of the actual exhibit, with Bruce explaining that the Inca provided the world with "white potatoes and many varieties of Indian corn." The jewels that the Riddler was after are safely on display, and once again, the forces of good have won out.
Until the Joker shows up again next week, at least.
Index of Episode 1x24:
- Holy Paraffin!
- Highly polished Utility Belt buckle
- Mobile Bat-Phone