The Batman Episode Guide 1×16: He Meets His Match, The Grisly Ghoul
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 Joker unveils his master plan to make a killing... on high school basketball?!
Episode 1x16: He Meets His Match, The Grisly Ghoul
Script: Lorenzo Semple, Jr.
Director: Murray Golden
Original Air Date: March 3, 1966
Special Guest Villain: Cesar Romero as The Joker
When we last left our heroes, they were in dire straits indeed. An investigation into the strange, money-dispensing vending machines at Woodrow Roosevelt high school saw the Dynamic Duo betrayed by Susie, the chief cheerleader, who was secretly working for the Joker. When they woke up, they were hooked up to a slot machine wired to a pair of electric chairs that promised to deliver 50,000 volts if it came up three lemons --- and two were already showing as the last reel was spinning!
Honestly, it's one of the best deathtraps we've seen on the show so far. It's completely over the top, it ties into the plot of the episode and its focus on gimmicked machines --- although it would've been more appropriate for the original plan of an episode featuring a new villain called the One-Armed Bandit --- and most importantly, it's a great setup for a daring escape. It's one of the most perfect cliffhangers the show has; you can't help but ask how Batman and Robin are going to get out of this one.
Unfortunately, this is not a question Lorenzo Semple Jr. is prepared to answer.
As the last reel locks into place with the third lemon, the power suddenly goes out, which the Joker explains is because "Gotham City is having a power failure, just like New York!" Look. I love Semple. I mean, the guy wrote Batman and the Flash Gordon movie, so believe me, I am a fan. But saints alive, that might be the biggest copout of all time.
At least, that's how it seems looking back from 50 years later --- at the time, the big Northeast Blackout of November 1965 (which, incidentally, is also the subject of the first episode of Connections) was probably still fresh in everyone's mind, and a very topical bit of humor. Still, the practical end to all this is that Batman and Robin are eventually rescued by two of Gotham's notoriously inept cops when they show up with flashlights.
Back at Commissioner Gordon's candlelit office, where Gordon reveals that the Joker's possession of a mobile slot machine torture van "violates 17 separate statutes " (and makes me love Lorenzo Semple again), Batman explains that their ill-fated trip to WRHS has given them one clue: an audio recording of the Joker's henchmen. If they can match it to their files and discover just who the henchmen are, they can track down the Joker's hideout. The hideout that, if you will remember, they mention Joker legally purchasing in the last episode.
At the Batcave, though, the Anti-Crime Voice Analyzer produces a shocking result!
When the voice of the Joker's partner in crime is checked against a recording of Susie directing them to the rigged vending machine, it's revealed that they are one and the same! And now, with the knowledge that Susie is the Joker's connection to Woodrow Roosevelt High, it's time for Robin to go undercover.
Goodbye Student Council President Dick Grayson, and hello Leather Jacketed Delinquent Dick Grayson!
The most amazing thing about this scene is that Dick just rolls into the Easy Living Candy Store and sets a miniature camera on the counter before he starts up the conversation, and nobody seems to notice or remark on this even though it's weird as hell. To be fair, though, we're used to cameras that are the size of matchboxes here in the grim and distant future, while I suppose that in 1966, they would probably just think it was a matchbox.
Dick attempts to ingratiate himself to Susie and Nick, one of the Joker's "Bad Pennies," by telling them that Bruce Wayne is a miser, and that he steals from Alfred in order to afford cigarettes --- prompting Nick to offer him one of his own. Dick, obviously, is a non-smoker and immediately coughs, but plays it off by saying he's had "two packs already." Despite the fact that Dick Grayson is noticeably not as good of an actor as Burt Ward, Susie buys it completely, mentioning that Dick's a great athlete and, specifically, that he's really good at climbing, which is a nice touch.
Nick, however, is not so easily convinced, mainly because Dick quite obviously "never had a weed in his hand in his life," and sets him up with a trap, directing him to the cocktail lounge that got robbed the previous day.
And what's worse, he sells Susie up the river, too. Since it's obvious that the cops are onto Susie, she needs to be eliminated, so after confirming that she has filled the milk machine in the WRHS gym, the Joker presents her with a bottle of "imported Canadian perfume," telling her not to open it until she's finished the job, behavior that stops juuuuuuust short of drawing a skull and crossbones on the label.
Batman and Robin, meanwhile, head to the cocktail lounge, and sure enough, the automated holdup happens right on schedule, which means that after the jukebox opened up to reveal a shotgun and held up the store, no one thought it was a good idea to replace the jukebox. Seriously, if I went to go make breakfast and my toaster tried to stab me, it would no longer be in my kitchen.
I'd probably give the coffee maker a second chance, though.
The Joker intends to rub Batman out with a blast from the jukebox shotgun, but fortunately, the Caped Crusader suspected it was a trap all along, and we get the first appearance of one of my all-time favorite Bat-gadgets, the bulletproof Bat-Shield.
My favorite, perhaps, because even when folded, it is a massive chunk of plexiglass, roughly the size of a serving tray, that Batman carries around in the back pocket of the utility belt, which is neither acknowledged nor questioned.
Batman reveals that he knew it was a setup all along, and again puts the blame squarely on the Boy Wonder's acting job. Take heart, though; he makes sure to tell him that even an undercover operation is not worth taking up smoking. But where does that leave Susie, who is even now practicing cheers for Woodrow Roosevelt's big basketball game against their cross-town rivals, Disko Tech?!
Yes. Disko Tech.
Why do you make it so hard to love you, Lorenzo?
Speaking of Disko Tech, as the crimefighters are rushing to the school, the Joker is getting a call from his Las Vegas bookie, Pete the Swede, informing him that the odds of the big high school basketball game --- which has bookies in Las Vegas setting the odds --- are 20 to 1 in Woodrow Roosevelt's favor. But what's this?! The Joker places a $50,000 bet against the five-time city-wide hoops champs in hopes of a million dollar payoff?! Is this merely more of the murderous motley's maniacal madness, or is there something sinister going on here?
At the gym, Susie removes the "Out of Order" sign from the milk machine just before she's confronted by Batman and Robin, urging her to give up her life of crime before it's too late:
Sadly, she chooses not to heed their warning, and escapes with her poisoned Canadian perfume into the one place that they dare not follow: the Girls' Locker Room. One whiff later, though, and she falls into their arms, fatally poisoned.
At the One-Armed Bandit Novelty Company, the Joker gets the news that she's dead --- "I saw 'em loading her body on a meat wagon for the City Morgue, the Boy Wonder was bawlin' his head off" --- and we get one of Romero's best Joker scenes. There's a moment where he seems to be genuinely sad that she's gone, before talking about the pointlessness of life itself:
JOKER:Well, it had to be done, my Bad Pennies. What's the death of a greedy little dupe? This life at best is one long, impractical joke.
He then offers one of his henchmen a memorial cigar that, when lit, promptly explodes, sending him cackling once again.
JOKER: The brief shadow is lifted! I'm my own humorous self again!
I've mentioned before that the modern Joker --- especially performances like Mark Hamill's on Batman: The Animated Series --- seems to descend more from Frank Gorshin's Riddler than Cesar Romero, but you can draw a pretty straight line from that single scene to a lot of current Joker stories, especially where Harley Quinn is concerned.
Amazingly, the fact that one of WRHS's students was murdered by the Joker in the school has done nothing to cancel plans for the basketball game. But as the team finishes their warmup, they notice that the milk machine is back in order --- except this time, it's dispensing the answers to next week's Nationwide Pre-College Exam!
And what's more, the Joker has arrived himself, snapping a picture of the team engaged in what he frames as an act of cheating, which will get them banned from the game and send the team's "scrubs" into a guaranteed victory for Disko Tech --- netting the Joker a cool million in the process.
Fortunately, the Caped Crusader is one step ahead as always. The papers in the machine were a fake, and Susie'snot dead after all, having been saved by one of Batman's universal antidote pills. The Joker's plan has been foiled, and all that's left is to mop him up in the gym:
During the fight, the Joker traps Robin in his trick confetti (last seen in The Batman Is Riled), but when he tries to disable Batman with sneezing powder, the Caped Crusader drops one of the all time sickest burns in the series:
BATMAN: No use, Joker. I knew you'd employ your sneezing powder, so I took an anti-allergy pill. Instead of a sneeze, I've caught you... COLD!
And then he literally bludgeons him into unconsciousness with a Batarang. With that --- and an epilogue about Susie, the product of an unhappy childhood and a broken home, being sent to the Wayne Foundation For Delinquent Girls to be reformed --- our episode has come to a close, and it was all over the map.
The seams in the script, being rewritten to feature the Joker rather than another villain, are pretty evident, and there's a lot that doesn't make sense, even accounting for Semple's usual (and usually fantastic) emphasis on ridiculous coincidences and deus ex Utility Belts. Most of the humor of Batman tends to come from playing it completely straight and letting the goofiness be self-evident, but Semple's stitching together a full-on comedy, and while that provides us with some great stuff, it sadly misses as many jokes as it hits. Don't get me wrong, it's still worth sitting through, but unfortunately, it's definitely the weaker of the two school-focused episodes of the series.
But next week, we get one of the most memorable episodes of the run --- one that chills me to this very day!
Index of Episode 1x16
- "Holy smokes!" (Said by policeman, repeated by Robin)
- Anti-Crime Recorder
- Anti-Crime Voice Analyzer
- Micro-TV Camera
- Universal Antidote
- Anti-Allergy Pill