Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Holy great TV moments, Batman!

Even though the "Batman" TV show likely was my first childhood exposure to the Caped Crusader, "my Batman" is decidedly the scrappy but compassionate Caped Crusader from the Bronze Age — with just a bit of the Dark Knight edginess thrown in for good measure.

(Follow this link for what I consider the greatest print and onscreen incarnations of Batman and this more recent op-ed of why I say Batman is the ultimate badass and why I love the Dark Knight so

Many years ago, during a NORWALK REFLECTOR phone interview with author and lifelong Batman fan Jim Beard we wrestled with what exactly was keeping the campy TV series from being released on DVD and Blu-ray after so many decades.
The Toledo, Ohio-based writer and I never came up with any certain answers, but we had a few suspicions — not the least of which were star Adam West's blessing and the more likely suspects: Actors' contracts that didn't include going-to-video clauses, the predicament of deceased stars and guest stars and the legalities involving the various companies associated with getting the series made in the first place.

Burt Ward as Robin and Adam West as Batman talk to Gotham Police
Commissioner Jim Gordon in his office.
At the time of our interview, Beard was promoting his book of clever essays, GOTHAM CITY 14 MILES, which gives a detailed account of every aspect of the show.

Beard is the biggest known defender of a series many diehard Batman fans would rather forget — but even they would have to realize the Caped Crusader wouldn't have the cultural impact he has now if it weren't for that fun-filled show. I've seen Jim at several comic book conventions and we've developed a bit of a loose friendship.

Needless to say, Jim and I aren't the only fans who were pumped for the news that "Batman" would finally get its authorized video release.

You might be surprised to know however that I resisted buying it for quite a while. (But given the price it might make sense.) Just this last weekend I gave in to buying the complete first season used on DVD for $19.99 (a reasonable I price figured, especially since I had a prepaid Visa card to use).

When I binge-watched the first eight or so episodes, I made a few observations about Commissioner Jim Gordon's friendship with Bruce Wayne and the reference in the first episode to the double-murders of Wayne's parents (something so macabre I assumed hadn't been touched on in the series until I read 14 MILES.) I also made note of a few "firsts" and patterns.

Do you know who the first actor was to reprise his role as a "special guest villain"? And did you know the last word in the two-parters rhyme?

It's really no surprise it was Frank Gorshin's, who is the villain in the first two-parter, "Hi Diddle Riddle," "Smack in the Middle," and then appears in Episodes 10 and 11.

Frank Gorshin as The Riddler
Gorshin was the first of many high-profile actors to appear in "Batman." More importantly, he set the bar extremely high for playing villains; his Riddler is a spazz of bouncing-off-the-wall energy. The TV Riddler's laugh is nothing short of iconic — and certainly memorable.

Here's something else you might overlook; while the circumstances are kooky and his henchmen and moll won't win any acting awards, Gorshin plays the Riddler straight and with quite a bit of menace. (And did you notice the Riddler gives a horndog eye to each of his eye-candy women?)

Another actor who took his role seriously is Neil Hamilton as Gordon. In Episode 4, "The Penguin's a Jinx," he make it clear he has a history with Wayne, telling his officer that the millionaire is a "good friend" and he's eaten dinner many times at Wayne Manor.

Each time the Gotham City Police Department faces a member of Batman's Rogues Gallery of Villains, Gordon asks his command staff if they are up to facing and catching said villain. In Episode 3, he wants to know if any of his men are "smart enough" to stop the Penguin, whom Gordon calls "that pompus waddling master of foul play" (see what he did there?) and "that master of 1,000 ubiquitous umbrellas."

Screen capture and meme by CARY ASHBY/CARY'S COMICS CRAZE
As I mentioned before, I was pleasantly surprised to have the writers reference the double-murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne in the first episode— a rather gruesome element for such a light-hearted show.

Another nice moment for longtime fans of the serious take on the Batman mythos — this one in Episode 4 — is Gordon explaining to partygoers how the Caped Crusader's costume is supposed to instill fear in villains. It's a throwaway line if you're not paying attention, but it's a wonderful nod to Batman's darker intentions.

"The origin of the Bat-costume, ladies and gentlemen, is simple. As Batman realized when he set out on this crusade, nothing strikes terror at the criminal mind as the shape and shadow of a huge bat," the commissioner says.

"Atomic batteries to power. ..." The Dynamic Duo prepare to blast out of the Batcave.
Did you know the audience doesn't see Batman or Robin in the first of each two-parter until after the theme-show sequence?

It's always Bruce Wayne and his ward Dick Grayson the audience sees first, usually in "stately Wayne Manor." In the Episodes 1 and 3, they give gullible Aunt Harriet (the late Madge Blake, credited with playing "Mrs. Cooper" in the end credits) the excuse they're going fishing so they can go answer the red, beeping Batphone in Wayne's study and then roar off to the GCPD in the Batmobile as the Dynamic Duo. By Episodes 5 and 7, Wayne gets only slightly more creative by telling the doting woman he and Grayson have a double date and a Chopin concert that requires them rushing off.

Did you know Wayne always answers the Batphone with "Yes, Commissioner"?

But I bet you didn't know Wayne habitually orders Grayson "to the Batpoles" much more than he says "to the Batmobile"? The millionaire utters the "to the Batpoles" line in each of the first of the two-parters. On the other hand, I can only remember Batman say "to the Batmobile" — the much more famous line, as far as pop culture enthusiasts are concerned — only once or twice in 10 episodes when he and Robin are out and about in Gotham City.

As you observant fans also may have noticed, the series uses stock footage each time Batman and Robin leap off the platform for the Batpoles to get into the Batmobile.

But did you notice Robin doesn't always go through the "atomic batteries to power, turbines to speed" routine each time before Batman blasts out of the Batcave? Many times it goes straight to Batman firing up the engine, complete with the iconic fiery blast from the exhaust.

Another bit of stock footage used in the opening minutes is the Batmobile's arrival at Gotham City Police Headquarters.

Watch for the two women in the bottom left of the screen dressed in all black and brown who pause in the middle of the street once Batman slams on the brakes behind the police cruiser. They wait while the Caped Crusader goes around the front of the Batmobile and when the Dynamic Duo reach the double doors, Robin opens the right-hand one for his senior partner and follows Batman inside.

"Batman" is known for its two-parters. In fact at the beginning of each of the second-parts (Episodes 2, 4 and 6, etc.), the narrator -- actually uncredited executive producer William Dozier -- promises the "worst is yet to come" after recapping the previous episode.

The cliffhanger left off with Dozier adding tension by asking questions about the dilemma the Dynamic Duo was facing. Everyone remembers the line "same Bat-time, same Bat-channel." But Dozier doesn't use that narration to get the audience to tune again until the fifth episode. The iconic "same Bat-time" doesn't make an appearance onscreen until Episode 9.

I could keep going, but as Dozier might say in that now infamous narration, stayed tuned "same Bat-time, same Bat-channel"!

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