Roundtable Review: Batman (1966), “King Tut’s Coup” and “Batman’s Waterloo”

By Les Chappell, Whitney McIntosh, Anthony Strand and Cameron White

Batman (1966)
Season 2, Episodes 87 and 88: “King Tut’s Coup” and “Batman’s Waterloo”
Original airdates: March 8 and 9, 1967

Anthony: I mentioned last week that I watched The Adventures of Superman as a kid, but I never loved it as much as I loved Batman. I was so crazy about this show that my sixthbirthday party was Batman-themed. Most of the decorations were from the then-recent Tim Burton movie, but my affection was all for Adam West. I loved everything about it – the theme song, the exciting traps Batman and Robin got stuck in at cliffhanger time, William Dozier’s breathless narration. When I was a little boy, there was nothing on Earth more thrilling than Batman.

It’s been wonderful as an adult to realize that the show really is a lot of fun. Sure, it’s silly, but everyone involved knew that. It’s an *intentionally* hilarious campy old superhero show, and it’s a delight to watch. This story is from the tail end of season two (which had 60 episodes!), when the formula was starting to be a bit tired, but there’s still a lot to enjoy. Victor Buono’s King Tut is one of the weirdest villains the show ever did, and it’s a blast watching him scheme to find a queen (specifically a Gotham socialite dressed as Cleopatra, who is King Tut’s wife now, I guess?) and hold her for ransom so he can pay off the mortgage on the pyramids. It’s a ridiculous plot, and it’s full of amazing jokes. I laughed out loud so many times watching this story.

It’s also nice to see Bruce Wayne play such an active role in this story out of costume. He’s the chairman of the Gotham City Hotel’s conveniently-timed Egyptian costume ball, and he spends a lot of time in that capacity helping form a plan to capture King Tut. Bruce’s most common function on the show was to charm women for Batman-related reasons. He does that here, with Lee Meriwether’s Lisa Carson serving as both his date and the object of King Tut’s, but we also get to see him use his position of power within the community.

But the name of the show is still Batman, and we get plenty of fun superhero action here too. It’s played for laughs here, but Batman’s explanation of how he managed to survive being submerged in a sarcophagus (putting himself in a trance) is pretty typical “Batman’s awesome at everything!” stuff you’d see in the comics. I could absolutely see Grant Morrison or Scott Snyder writing that into a modern-day story.

Batman_King_Tut

Finally, one thing that really stuck out to me was the wall-climbing cameo from gossip columnist Suzy Knickerbocker. I wasn’t familiar with her – she’s certainly not as well-known as others who filled that role such as Dick Clark, Edward G. Robinson, and Sammy Davis Jr. – but it’s a very funny appearance anyway. Batman’s annoyed insistence that “Mr. Wayne is basically a very serious young man” and his pride in “patronizing local craftsmen” are both comic gold. More importantly, they tell us a lot about this version of Batman – he’s bursting with hometown pride, and he wouldn’t dare besmirch the good name of Bruce Wayne.

There’s a lot more to talk about with these episodes, but I’ll stop there. What did everyone else think? Did you have previous experience with the series? Did you enjoy the comedy as much as I did?

Whitney: I had some previous experience with this version of Batman due to my love of Adam West’s take on the character, but nowhere near the passion or background you have with it Anthony. Batman is definitely my favorite superhero for a variety of reasons, and West brought him to life in the cheesy, funny, colorful way that you would expect to come right out of the pages of a comic book.

The old-school animated intro and sound effects during fight scenes combined with the narrator saying a lot of overly specific details more than once (“a shuttered roadhouse in an underdeveloped suburb”) is exactly how Saturday morning cartoons should feel like. The small details like the bat flashing on screen in between every scene or Roman outfits being confused with Egyptian outfits by the costuming department scream low budget but in a good way.

As you point out Anthony, the comedy is extremely silly. At first I almost couldn’t take how ridiculous it was but after the first half of the first episode or so I got used to most of the rhythms of each gag and was able to sit back and enjoy what started out as slightly annoying and turned into the kind of humor it was meant to be. Batman and Robin going to the crime scene with the victim still in a noose as King Tut left him? Robin doing his best version of a baseball player saying “hold me back, hold me back!” when King Tut’s men are about to kill Batman? Alfred cleaning the bat cave being the only reason that he got Batman’s distress signal? All of those moments were incredibly over the top but I laughed out loud at every one. Some times in spite of myself. I think the highlights for me were all the times that they instituted Danny Kaye-style rhyming and tongue twisters into things, and I particularly like the way Commissioner Gordon was presented as being quite a few notches lower than the sharpest tool in the shed, yet he was still the smartest cop in either episode. The whole thing just screamed 60’s to the point that it fit instead of feeling out of date or awful.

The most interesting thing I noticed was the differentiation of Bruce Wayne and Batman. They’re obviously both extremely awesome (one of the reasons Batman is my favorite superhero) but Batman models Wayne and his alter ego as so separate as to force West to really show off his acting chops when each is interacting with others. Instead of Wayne and Batman being awesome in the same ways, there are little details that dictate to the viewer that having an alter ego is more work than it might seem.

As Batman, Bruce dumbs down his vocabulary considerably and cracks jokes must more often than he would in a normal situation. He is able to take control of a situation and carry out a crazy plan with Robin by his side with ease. Batman is proactive, confident, and flippant towards his enemies all at the same time, whereas Bruce is more passive and is simply relied upon when called rather than running towards trouble at top speed. If Bruce is the dashing football player who’s a little empty inside yet charms all the girls anyway, Batman is his best friend and class clown who is also inexplicably the valedictorian and marries the prettiest girl in the class.

When Bruce Wayne is being himself, he gets to be a playboy and billionaire that throws parties and fundraisers with beautiful women on his arm. He’s seen as intelligent and charismatic, the city’s most eligible bachelor. His vocabulary is excellent and Gotham knows they can always count on him to lean on when things get rough because of his resources and loyalty to the citizens of the city. But Bruce is also seen as more of a goof than a responsible person a lot of the time, yet no one would every say this to his face due to his status in society. He learns this the hard way when Ms. Carson’s father admits to Batman that he wouldn’t really want his daughter marrying such a person and you can see how it stings Bruce in the moment, not being able to respond to the accusation that he isn’t enough for someone because he is constantly switching between his true identity and his secret one.

Which raises the question, the way each side of Bruce is portrayed has its own nuances and personality… so is Bruce Wayne really his true identity or is it Batman? I know this is the fundamental question that many comics ask the reader and Batman is the greatest example of that, but many portrayals (such as Christian Bale’s in the most recent trilogy) use the suit as a way for Bruce to hide his identity completely, masking it in a latex mask and neutral personality. However here, it’s used as a way for Bruce to show off a whole different side of himself. He seems more loose and free in black and grey than when he’s in an actual suit. Both of these men can lead the city in tough times, just in drastically different ways.

Did anyone else notice this difference? Were there other variations between each character that I missed, or pieces that relied more on the writing than West’s performance? Am I over-analyzing a Batman episode from 1966? (Hint: The answer to that last one is ‘almost definitely’.)

Batman's Waterloo

Les: What a refreshing change of pace. Between Frank Miller, Christopher Nolan and their legion of imitators, the Batman franchise of the last few years has been one that’s bleak, gritty and full of personal sacrifice, and it’s hard to remember at times the campy Golden Age roots that the show came from. And what a reminder this goofy brace of episodes was, both of those roots and the glory days of the 1960s when studios had the freedom to just keep churning out product like this on a regular basis. It’s a show that’s so easy to get caught up in, with the instantly iconic theme song and accompanying rudimentary cartoon images, and every last “BAMM!” “OWWW!” “ZLORP!” (Zlorp?) card that pops up in the fight scenes.

I was a little disappointed when I saw that we were doing a pair of episodes that didn’t have one of Batman’s major villains – Cesar Romero’s Joker and Burgess Meredith’s Penguin are some of the most iconic takes on those villains there are – but King Tut more than made up for it. Victor Buono was playing this character in the most gloriously over-the-top fashion, more akin to Dom Deluise’s Caesar from History of the World: Part I than any of Batman’s more imposing rogues. Buono’s commitment to the gag went a long way, and like most of Batman’s best villains, he was played as less of a genuinely malicious character as a victim of his own madness and  reflected a madness that was entirely out of his control. (Interestingly, I pegged King Tut as a variation on Maxie Zeus, the businessman who believed himself a Greek god, but that character wasn’t introduced until over a decade after this episode aired. Could they have gotten inspiration from this?)

Anthony and Whitney, you both had a lot of things to say about analyzing the relationship between Batman and Bruce Wayne, but frankly these episodes defied analysis for me because of just how goofy they were. I did enjoy the fact that this was an episode that used Alfred as more than Bruce’s butler, taking the initiative to spy on King Tut and save Batman’s life – a more active use of the character than I remember the show having – but other than that it was all a goofiness that bordered on parody. Part of this could be that Adam West’s Family Guy alter ego has subverted my ability to ever take anything he says seriously, part of it was the explosion of puns (the “Battering Ram” in particular had me groaning profusely) and part of it was the overly fake feeling of a lot of the sets. The hilarious mix-up between the deputy mayor and King Tut was  begging for a trombone “wah-wah” sound effect, as was the Commissioner’s disbelief that Batman seemed to know everything Bruce Wayne did. And really, Robin was almost comically inept here, literally being foiled by King Tut’s henchmen when they open a freaking door on him and taking all of three seconds to be taken prisoner by King Tut’s guards following a botched escape attempt.

Cameron: I wish I had more poignant things to say that haven’t already been said. In short, this show is the definitive break-in of comics to the world of television, and it’s brimming with all kinds of ridiculous fun. I particularly enjoy the shows lyrical dialogue; it employs so many choice words and turns of phrase that even on a day without King Tut, it would border on absurdist poetry. That’s something that I think helps it stand out among the rest of the trappings of this show that have permeated pop culture, like the interstitial cuts from one location to another or the use of onomatopoeias (help I can’t spell) on-screen, the latter being completely unnecessary as comic books only employ them to present the illusion of sound. Television, after all, is an audio-visual medium. But it’s the audacity of doing the unnecessary that makes this superhero television show stand out. It’s never been my favorite iteration of superheroes on television (partly because I’ve never fully warmed to the Caped Crusader) but it’s unquestionably one I can salute without a trace of irony.

***

6/27: Green Hornet, “Corpse of the Year” Parts 1 and 2 (S1E18/19, YouTube)
7:/11: The Six Million-Dollar Man, “A Bionic Christmas Carol” (S4E10, YouTube)
7/18: Shazam!, “Thou Shall Not Kill” (S1E3, YouTube) and The Secrets of Isis, “Spots of  Leopard” (S1E3, Hulu)
7/25: The Greatest American Hero, “The Two Hundred-Mile-An-Hour Fastball” (S2E2, Hulu)
8/1: The Incredible Hulk, “Stop the Presses” (S2E9, Hulu)
8/8: The Flash, “The Trickster,” (S1E12, Amazon Instant)

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