The Batman 66 Episode Guide 1×29: The Bookworm Turns
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, a national treasure is in danger and the show hits a milestone... with the very first celebrity window cameo!
Episode 1x29: The Bookworm Turns
Script: Rik Vollaerts
Director: Larry Peerce
Original Air Date: April 20, 1966
Special Guest Villain: Roddy McDowall as the Bookworm
Looking back on the show, it's kind of surprising to me that Batman started creating new villains for the TV series as early as they did. Even though it wasn't quite the packed house that it is today, after over 25 years of being published twice a month, Batman's rogues gallery wasn't exactly lacking. either, and there are plenty of gimmicky crooks who never made it to the show.
And yet, we're not even out of the first season yet and they're already moving away from the established villains and into the world of brand-new characters. The first, of course, was Zelda the Great, but that almost doesn't really count since the episode was lifted straight from the comics. Now, though, they're all in: hot on the heels of last week's adventure with King Tut, we have the first --- and sadly only --- appearance of Roddy McDowall as Bookworm.
I doubt this is going to surprise anyone, but I love Bookworm. He's just such a great and thoroughly ridiculous design, from the leather suit (get it?) to the coke-bottle glasses and the reading lamp strapped to his head, and the way he's portrayed in this episode is every bit as good as the visual. He's one of the few villains given a motivation beyond "this dude likes to do crimes," in that he's a frustrated novelist whose gift for writing can only be applied to hatching criminal schemes using "plots" stolen from books, and McDowall plays it with a combination of charming comedy and genuine menace that's almost as good as Frank Gorshin.
It really makes me wonder why we only ever got this episode, especially given how much they give him in the way of accessories. You'd think he would've come back at some point --- by season 3, there's a character who's an actual librarian running around fighting crime, and if there's a more perfect setup for Bookworm, I don't know it --- but nope. This is all we get, and it's very frustrating. I mean, Shame got two episodes. Shame! We couldn't get one more for Bookworm?
Uh, no offense, Shame.
We open in Gotham City, "architectural queen of the world," at the opening ceremony of the Amerigo-Columbus bridge. Not only is it being attended by the Mayor, a swimsuit-clad Miss Gotham City and the Commissioner of Police, but it's also apparently a big enough deal that it's being broadcast live on television. That's how Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson are keeping up with current events, from the comfort of Stately Wayne Manor, and how they're watching when Bookworm appears in the crowd just before a sniper shoots Commissioner Gordon, sending him toppling over the side of the brand-new bridge.
Yeah. One more time, this is an episode that opens with Gordon getting shot by a sniper and falling to his death. If anything should underline how different this episode is from what we've been getting used to over the past few months, that should be it.
Though they're momentarily stricken by shock and grief, Bruce and Dick waste no time in moving to apprehend the criminal who just murdered their friend --- "I solemnly swear by my oath as a crimefighter that this outrage will not go unavenged," says Bruce right before he flips the switch hidden under Shakespeare's head --- but when they arrive at Police Headquarters, all is not as it seems. As our heroes mourn their loss, Gordon himself arrives, walking into the room blissfully unaware of his alleged murder, a miraculous resurrection that is met with some prime #OHaraFace:
Incidentally, Gordon is also somewhat alarmed at the sudden affection from one young "Miss Williams," who I think we can assume is the usually unseen "Bonnie" who acts as his secretary and receptionist. You know, just in case you've been spending sleepless nights wondering what the full name of Commissioner Gordon's secretary was. Lord knows I have.
Anyway, it turns out that Gordon never made it to the ceremony at the bridge. Instead, he was waylaid by "a monumentally stupid police officer who gave me a ticket as I left my luncheon!" The murder on the bridge was a ruse involving a blank rifle and a disguised high-diver, and if there was any doubt left as to the identity of the culprit, the fake traffic ticket clears that up. It's signed A.S. Scarlet, Badge #1887 --- quickly recognized as a reference to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's A Study In Scarlet, first published in 1887.
This, for the record, is the closest we get to a civilian name for Bookworm, something that's carried over to the present. The current version of the DC Universe features a version of Bookworm who woks as a librarian at Gotham Academy, where he is addressed by his students as "Mr. Scarlet."
While all that's been going on, Bookworm's henchwoman, Lydia Limpet, has placed a copy of Hemingway's For Whom the Bell Tolls in the Batmobile, and the conversation among the crimefighters is interrupted when the Bomb Detector goes off. The book is quickly ejected just before an explosive hidden within its pages goes off, showering the streets in slightly singed pages.
As Batman and Robin rush to investigate, a henchman named Printer's Devil - an archaic term for a printing apprentice - is monitoring the situation, reporting that "Plot A" has failed to kill Batman and Robin. This is another really nice touch that I really like about Bookworm, and another thing that makes it so surprising that he was never brought back: He organizes his criminal schemes like a writer, right down to A and B plots meant to arrange the characters into certain situations
Back at the Batcave, an examination of the surviving cover of the exploded book yields few results --- "It's just what it looks like: A perfectly ordinary asbestos book cover!" --- until Batman makes the connection to the source material. As you may recall from not reading it in high school, the plot of For Whom The Bell Tolls is centered on a young soldier tasked with blowing up a bridge, and that, it seems, is Bookworm's plan.
Back at Bookworm's bibliographic headquarters, a lovestruck Lydia Limpet gives him the opportunity to monologue for a bit about his love of books, but makes the mistake of asking why he doesn't apply his knowledge to writing a book of its own. McDowall --- the only criminal to ever be apprehended by both Batman and Lieutenant Columbo --- goes off, screaming at her, accusing her of mocking his inability to write an original story, and even lashing out violently, almost attacking her with a heavy hardcover before he notices its title: The Secret of Success: Self Control.
McDowall goes hard in the scene, and it's terrifying, almost to the point of being as out of place as opening with Commissioner Gordon getting shot by a sniper. The villains on the show always have a bit of an edge to them, but Bookworm is, to my knowledge, the only one who almost beats his henchmen to death five seconds after cheerfully discussing his own brilliance. Go out of your way to see it, it's a pretty great performance.
Batman and Robin, meanwhile, are speeding through the city in the Batmobile when Gordon calls and tells them that there's a problem involving a bridge at a nearby warehouse, and when they arrive, they discover that the bridge has indeed been blown up...
...but only in photography terms.
It turns out to be the third ruse in ten minutes, leading Batman and Robin to attempt to find the source of the "blown up" bridge, but there's something far more important going on in this scene.
It's here, fifteen weeks and twenty-nine episodes in, that we finally get something that would stand as one of the show's most memorable trademarks, and one of the biggest signs of how much of a hit it was: The Window Cameo. As Batman and Robin climb up the walls to look for the projector --- climbing up the walls of a warehouse, remember --- the window suddenly slams open to reveal the show's first non-villainous celebrity guest: Jerry Lewis.
JERRY LEWIS: ARE YOU BATMAN?! Oh, you must be, 'cause that's Robin! Hi, Robin!
BATMAN: Yes, citizen, but don't be alarmed. We're here on official business.
JERRY LEWIS: Holy human flies!
And with that, he slams the window shut and enters history.
Lewis actually makes a shocking amount of sense for the Window Cameo. He was, after all, a DC Comics character just like Batman --- The Adventures of Jerry Lewis ran for a staggering 124 issues between 1957 and 1971, and only a few months after his appearance on Batman, the Caped Crusader would return the favor by guest starring in #97.
You'd think they might've wanted to have that issue on the stands at the same time as the episode, but alas. April's issue was about a curse brought on by a broken mirror.
Eventually, Batman and Robin trace the projection back to Bookworm's Bookmobile. Rather than just opening up the doors themselves (and falling into a trap of Bookworm's henchmen), the Dynamic Duo elect to play it safe, choosing instead to blast the van with the "Ultra-Sonic Bat-Ray," set to a truly alarming 12,000 decibels.
Folks... We've been through this before, but just as a reminder here, that's roughly four times louder than the loudest sound in recorded history, and five times louder than a sound that could melt concrete just by force. Then again, considering that the last time this happened it was twenty thousand, I guess that's a step in the right direction.
Amazingly, the van bursts open to reveal a handful of crooks holding their ears --- and one "hostage," Ms. Limpet --- who have not been reduced to a thick and bloody pudding by Batman's sonic attack. Instead, they're driven into a nearby alley for a fight scene. Once again, there's another nice touch here as Batman stops and insists that they all remove their glasses before they start fighting, something that the goons immediately agree to, nodding to each other about their concern for safety before going back to their existing plan of attempted murder.
But even this is a ruse --- #4, by my count -- meant to lead Batman and Robin to Ms. Limpet, who they find bound and gagged in the back of the bookmobile. She's ostensibly there to plant false information that will lead them into yet another trap, but Batman is too cautious to be led so easily --- at least, this time. Instead of simply freeing her and questioning her, Batman knocks her out with a spray of anesthetic Bat-Gas:
BATMAN: I regret this, but it's a precaution I must take. I'm going to put you to sleep for a little while. I give you my word there will be no harmful after-effects.
It seems that Bat-Gas is a little more than just a knockout spray. When the Caped Crusaders bring Lydia back to the Batcave, we find out that it's also a pretty effective truth serum, keeping her under while they hook her up to a Hypermetric Lie Detector and ask her about Bookworm's plans. Unfortunately, he hasn't passed the entire plan to the henchmen, only telling them that step one is, as always, murdering Batman and Robin. Which, to be honest, is a pretty good place to start if you're a crook in Gotham City.
After rushing her back to the Bookmobile --- with Lydia none the wiser --- they wake her up and get the false information that Bookworm was trying to plant in the first place, aka Ruse #5. She tells them that Bookworm's planning to steal the Declaration of Independence, turning to stare directly into the camera as she does:
Even Robin rolls his eyes at that one, which is pretty great.
Batman decides to go into the trap anyway to turn the tables on Bookworm, leaving Robin to guard Lydia. There's just one problem: She's noticed that Robin keeps addressing her by her name, a name that she never (consciously) gave them. After yet another ruse involving a book full of knockout gas, she rats on our heroes, canceling the plan at the Declaration.
Instead, as Batman chases the false lead, Robin is taken to the Wayne Memorial Clock Tower, which Desmond Doomsday informs us was "presented to Gotham City in memory of Bruce Wayne's father," the show's second and most vague reference to Batman's parents being murdered. Tonight, however, Bookworm intends it for another tragedy: The death of the Boy Wonder!
A mere minute before midnight, Bookworm ties Robin to the clapper of the Clock Tower's bell, planning for the chiming of the hour to smash his body to pieces at the stroke of midnight!
Be here next week, dear reader! The worst is yet to come!
Index of Episode 1x29:
- Holy homicide!
- Holy reincarnation!
- Holy explosion!
- Holy detonator!
- Holy human flies!*
- Holy Cinderella!
- Holy headache!
- Holy midnight!**
*: Spoken by Jerry Lewis, not Robin the Boy Wonder
**: Spoken by narrator Desmond Doomsday, not Robin the Boy Wonder
- Batmobile Bomb Detector
- Radio-Controlled Ejector Button
- Emergency Bat-Turn Lever
- Ultra-Sonic Bat-Ray.
- Hypermetric Lie Detector
The Best Batman '66 Art Ever