The Batman 66 Episode Guide 1×15: The Joker Goes To School
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 launches his most convoluted plan yet: Poisoning the minds of America's youth... at Dick Grayson's high school!
Batman 1x15: The Joker Goes To School
Script: Lorenzo Semple, Jr.
Director: Murray Golden
Original Air Date: March 2, 1966
Special Guest Villain: Cesar Romero as The Joker
Here's the weird thing about the Joker on Batman '66: I'm never quite sure just what exactly it is that dude wants. With most of the villains, all their grand schemes seem to be built around robberies, with the object to be stolen tied in to their specific gimmicks --- Bookworm wants books, Catwoman wants cat stuff, and so on. There are a few exceptions --- we've already had a story in which Mr. Freeze really just wants to murder Batman in revenge for the accident that left him cold --- but by and large, it's all about getting stuff.
With the Joker, though, that's never quite it. I mean, yes, there's usually some theft involved at the center of things, but that stuff all seems incidental to these other plans that are completely bonkers, and seem to be built more around proving that Batman is fallible than actually getting anything valuable out of it. In a way, it's the pop-art predecessor to the whole "agent of chaos" idea that would really take root in the '80s and '90s, where the Joker just wants to stir things up, and goes to these ludicrous lengths to do so. We'll hit the peak of that in Season 3 when he attempts to conquer Gotham City by winning a surfing contest, but honestly? Even that seems like a plan that makes more sense than the one in this week's adventure.
We open on the gymnasium at Woodrow Roosevelt High School (amazing), which counts among its student body one Dick Grayson, who is secretly Robin, the Boy Wonder. He's lifting weights while the basketball team --- identified by a banner as "Citywide Hoop Champs 5 Years In A Row" --- and cheerleading squad practice, and when the cheerleaders go to get a wholesome bottle of cold, refreshing milk, they instead get a handful of silver dollars.
For some reason, they decide to report this to the police, and when Commissioner Gordon and Chief O'Hara hear about it --- because the report of a malfunctioning vending machine at a high school goes all the way to THE COMMISSIONER AND CHIEF OF POLICE --- they immediately identify it as the work of the Joker for absolutely no reason. Look, I realize that this was a show that was famous for having its characters make tenuous leaps of logic, but this one is stretching it even for Semple. I mean, is a milk machine that spits out silver dollars even a "joke?"
In reality, I think this is probably something left over from the first draft of the script, which was originally intended to star a new villain, the One-Armed Bandit, whose gimmick involved rigged machines, specifically the coin-operated variety. That makes everything, particularly this scene and the deathtrap at the end, make a little more sense, and goes a long way towards explaining why having it rewritten for the Joker, with "The One-Armed Bandit" only surviving as the name of his novelty company, resulted in a story that feels so weird.
In any case, the "strange, disturbing bonanza from a gimmicked milk machine" from "that most pestilent of predators" causes Gordon to make the call, interrupting a meeting at Wayne Manor where Bruce Wayne (secretly Batman) is being urged to run for mayor by a local bigwig named Vandergilt. Wayne, of course, politely declines, and one credits sequence later, he's in the Commissioner's office being briefed on the situation, which I would remind you has involved exactly zero crimes.
It seems that the Joker has purchased the One-Armed Bandit Novelty Company after being released from prison one week ago. Now, those of you who have been following along with the Episode Guide may recall that in his last appearance, the Joker committed a series of crimes that included escaping from prison, multiple assaults, the robbery of a Hall of Fabulous Jewelry, the robbery of Professor James Laughwell's collection of African artifacts, the hijacking of the S.S. Gotham, and four attempted murders. Assuming his release from prison was at the end of his sentence, then total time served for these crimes amounts to exactly three weeks.
Maybe Warden Crichton's progressive policies are a little too liberal.
For reasons that I'm still having trouble understanding, everyone is very upset about the vending machine giving out $20 for a dime, including Principal Schoolfield --- yes, Schoolfield, it's amazing --- who phones in with an update about a candy machine in the library that's "dispensing negotiable stocks and bonds." This, I will admit, is slightly more concerning than the silver dollars, but at this point, that's impressive enough that if I was in the GCPD, I'd probably just let it slide.
Schoolfield also reveals that Dick Grayson is WRHS's Student Council President, which seems like something that would interfere with his after-school duties as a crime-fighter, and Batman requests that convene a meeting immediately. He does, and Dick finds himself arguing with his fellow students over whether they even need school when they can just get infinite money out of vending machines.
On the one hand, the students seem to believe that the vending machines that dispense money are a permanent addition to their school and society in general, which is an extremely stupid thing to believe. On the other hand, this is the city where there are occasional traffic jams caused by forty-foot umbrellas dropping out of the sky. Either way, the student body is on the verge of anarchy, and it only gets worse when the head cheerleader, Susie, tries out the coffee machine and gets a cup full of quarters.
When Dick tries to tell them that life just isn't that easy, Susie quite rightly points out that it's easy for Dick to say that since he's "the ward of that millionaire," and before he can offer a solid comeback (there is none, she's completely right), the meeting is interrupted when the Batmobile pulls up.
Obviously, this draws the attention of the WRHS student body, who gather outside, prompting Batman to tell them, with the aid of a bat-shaped bullhorn, to stay 50 feet away from his car.
Seriously, y'all: Batman is on some cold One Percenter trip this week.
While Batman is at the high school, the first actual crime of the episode is taking place across town, at what Desmond Doomsday describes as a "fashionable bistro," but what appears to be more of a seedy dive bar. When one of the show's many staggering drunks wanders over to a jukebox for a bit of music, the machine instead plays a recording of the Joker announcing that "the joke's on you, my cheery boozehound," before opening up to reveal a shotgun leveled at the patrons:
At this point, a pair of crooks rush in and clean out the cash register, and this... this is a terrible plan for a robbery. How long were those dudes waiting outside for someone to try the jukebox? Why not just, you know, have one guy hold the shotgun instead, rather than rigging up a jukebox that cannot actually aim or fire it?
Back at school, Batman explains that the gimmicked vending machines and their promise of effortless wealth are all part of the Joker's plot to "lure you into a deceptive pattern of easy living," causing them to drop out of school and become criminals after failing to learn the skills they'll need in the workplace. This, and I don't even really think I have to say this, is an extremely convoluted plan for recruiting henchmen. I do kind of appreciate that the Joker is attempting to literally bring down capitalism in this episode, though. That's a pretty lofty target.
In order to show the kids the true mastermind behind the handfuls of silver dollars and coffee cups full of quarters, Batman launches into a slideshow about the Joker, which includes an image of the Joker where he's wearing gray suit rather than his signature purple:
It also lists his height as something like 6'8", which would be terrifying. In reality, Cesar Romero was, like both Adam West and the canonical Batman, 6'2".
The presentation is thrown into complete disarray, however, when the Joker himself appears behind the screen, having slipped into the ring under the watchful eye of the World's Greatest Detective. Despite the fact that the Joker has committed no crime --- and that there's no actual evidence that he's been tampering with the vending machines, which I suppose might actually be illegal --- Batman attempts to arrest him for the crime of loitering on school grounds, which in Gotham City carries a penalty of a $5,000 fine and five years in prison. So just so we're clear on this: Multiple robberies, assaults and attempted murders: Three weeks. Loitering: Five years.
The Joker weasels his way out of it, however, on account of the statute's description of "loitering" as "remaining in the same spot for over two minutes," which incenses Batman:
Kind of hypocritical for a guy that was just trying to give a dude five years in prison for loitering.
The Joker departs, reminding Batman and the students that "I was here," establishing his alibi for the bistro robbery (or bistrobbery) across town. Batman, alerted by the police, heads out to investigate, telling Robin to play sick in order to go home early so that he can assist in crimefighting --- and again, isn't getting kids to neglect their studies in favor of other pursuits exactly what the Joker is trying to do?
As the investigation begins, we cut to the Joker's hideout, which is one of my favorite sets on the show so far:
It even features the "NO LOAFING" sign that would later show up in Strong Bad's computer room.
As the Joker and his men work on rigging up vending machines and arcade games for sinister purposes, it's revealed that Susie is actually a member of the gang, "the shiniest of my bad pennies," who is being paid off in jewelry, furs, and "one full quart of imported Mexican perfume":
In exchange, she has provided the Joker with copies of the National College Entrance Exam in three days, ensuring that the kids he's leading into a life of crime won't just neglect their studies, but that they'll be able to cheat their way into avoiding any consequences!
Meanwhile, Batman and Robin are searching for evidence that connects the Joker to the bistrobbery, returning to the school to see if they can suss out the real reason for the Joker's visit. When they arrive, though, they're spotted by Susie, who's engaging in further pilfering the principal's office, and she calls in for instructions. As iffy as this episode has been in spots, this is actually a really great scene, and I'm especially fond of the Joker sitting in a dark room playing solitaire with a trick deck full of nothing but aces:
Even better: Their conversation starts with a spy-style sign and countersign, in the form of a joke that's both hilarious and super dark: "How do you get a dog to stop barking in July?" "Shoot him in June."
Unaware of Susie's duplicitous nature, the Dynamic Duo head inside, where she leads them to a gimmicked vending machine that, because they are ace crimefighters, they of course immediately walk up to and put money into, causing a pair of shackles to spring out and bind their legs, with a dose of knockout gas to finish the job. From there, it's only "twelve and one half minutes later," per Desmond Doomsday, before the crimefighters are caught in the most devious deathtrap we've seen yet:
A pair of electric chairs connected to one of the One-Armed Bandit Novelty Company's slot machines. Three Liberty Bells, and they'll go free with a $50,000 cash bonus to boot. Three lemons, and it's 50,000 volts and an untimely end for the heroes. The slot machine activates! One lemon! Two lemons! And with the final cylinder spinning in the machine, the episode comes to an end. Be here next week, readers --- the worst is yet to come!
Index of Episode 1x15:
- Anti-Crime Recorder/Remote Radio Pick-Up
- "Holy ball and chain!"
- "Holy fruit salad!"
- Electrified Slot Machine