Atomic batteries to power and turbines to speed, it’s time to Batarang back in time and check out the first appearances of the Joker in the old Batman ’66 TV show.
Gotham State Penitentiary seems to be just the place for the Joker, who seems to have relaxed and is participating in a softball game with some of the other inmates. Even Chief O’Hara seems impressed at the Clown Prince of Crime’s seeming transformation into a model prisoner. But wait! Thanks to a smoke bomb shaped like a softball and a coil-loaded pitcher’s plate, the Joker manages to spring himself from jail without a shot being fired. Talk about throwing them a curve!
Meanwhile at stately Wayne Manor, Dick Grayson is having piano lessons but isn’t quite getting it right. Even though Dick wants to give up, Bruce Wayne reminds him of the importance of music being the universal language. A call from Comissioner Gordon urges our two heroes to head to the Batpoles, leap into the Batmobile and race to police headquarters. Gordon shows them that the only clue the Joker left was a bust of his own head. But can they bust up his vile plan?
Unravelling the mystery quickly, Batman and Robin deduce that the Joker’s plans involve the Comedian’s Hall of Fame and the adjoining Hall of Fabulous Jewels. They get sidetracked though, while the Joker and his henchmen burst out of the statues of various comedians and start to steal the precious gems. Batman and Robin interrupt the theft but Batman is knocked out and the Joker clearly has the upper hand. Holy concussion!
Thankfully, Batman comes to just in time and uses his utility belt to rescue himself and his trusty sidekick, although the Joker escapes their clutches. Afterwards at his secret lair, the Joker comes up with an ingenious plan: to create his own utility belt to counteract Batman’s, filled with his own deadly devices. The next part of the Joker’s grand plan involves participating in the opera Pagliacci on television, a performance that Batman and Robin interrupt.
The joke is on our heroes though, who get easily defeated by sneezing powder from the Joker’s new utility belt, and in front of a television audience of millions the villain is about to unmask them. Can the dynamic duo possibly escape? Will their secret identities be exposed? The answers lie in the second episode at the same Bat-time on the same Bat-channel!
The second part sees the Joker getting the better of Batman and Robin repeatedly thanks to his sneaky utility belt, stocked with constricting confetti and fiery flash-pellets. When the two utility belts get swapped, things get even worse and it looks like it’s phooey on Batman! How on Earth can Gotham’s guardians hope to fight back?
Given the amount of bad puns on offer, you may be surprised to find how well these episodes hold up. Once again, the camp comedy tag this show acquired isn’t really deserved but the praise definitely is. The story is solid and something that could have easily been from the comic books. Adam West and Burt Ward were clearly becoming more comfortable with the roles of Batman and Robin, while Alan Napier does a sterling job as Alfred. There are the typical leaps of logic regarding the clues on offer, but it all seems right somehow.
Then there’s Cesar Romero as the Joker.
There have been many versions of the Joker, from the various animated productions where he’s been voiced brilliantly by Mark Hamill, John DiMaggio and others, to Jack Nicholson’s strangely low-key routine in Tim Burton’s Batman. Then there was Heath Ledger’s Oscar-winning portrayal in The Dark Knight, where the character was updated in a truly terrifying way.
But Cesar Romero was an amazing Joker, and arguably the most accurate in terms of performance and look. Despite refusing to shave off his trademark moustache the white make-up on his face mostly covered it up, and the green hair and red lips are just what you’d expect. There’s something about his body that makes him look… not tall, exactly – he isn’t much taller than anyone else in the scenes – but long. That lean, lanky look of the Joker from the comic books is brought to life here. His clothing is accurate, and Romero’s wonderful performance captures the manic, theatrical nature of the Clown Prince of Crime.
Fans know that the minute the Joker enters a Batman story it transcends being just another tale; the bar is raised, because of all the villains he’s the one who captures our attention the most. It happens regardless of the medium, and this is no exception. These episodes are wonderful examples of that, and race along at a fair pace so that you never stop paying attention. There’s even a moll, who may not be Harley Quinn but sure comes across like her at times!
So grab your Bat-soda and hail Cesar Romero, one of the best Jokers in history.