Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Batmania Classics - The TV Stories!

Picked up this collection on a lark a few weeks back. Batman - The TV Stories is just what it purports to be, a small and highly readable collection of vintage Batman stories, those stories in particular which debuted significant villains who appeared on the famous 60's TV show or stories which inspired episodes of the show or both. This time as I watch Season One, I stopped to read the comic which might have inspired the episode to see how closely they matched. Based on what I found in a few instances, the writing credits on the show need to be amended as the likes of Bill Finger, Dave Wood, John Broome and Gardner Fox have been cheated of credit for their significant contributions to the earliest days of the show.

The Riddler as portrayed by Frank Gorshin is my favorite of the Bat-TV villains, his antic behavior and cackling laugh are downright demonic. Apparently The Riddler wasn't much of a Batman staple until his TV notoriety. He debuted in this comic from 1948. John Astin who did a turn as Riddler when Gorshin was in a contract dispute was much less impressive alas. A far as I can tell this story was not adapted beyond the use of the Riddler's character. 

The Joker as played by Cesar Romero is the villain many folks first think of. Joker was almost always a part of the Bat-mythology, but has had many tones much like the Dark Knight himself. His more whimsical side is seen in these stories from the late 40's.  I often found myself staring a bit at Romero's mustache. There are two Joker stories adapted for the TV show, the one cover featured above and another titled "A Hairpin, a Hoe, a Hacksaw, a Hole in the Ground". Both are changed of course but the essence is clearly there. 

The Mad Hatter appeared a few times during the Bat-TV show, and was delightfully and skillfully played by David Wayne. This comic from 1956 has him featured. His mania for hats is on display but his desire for revenge on a jury is not in this story. "The Green Derby" which shows up in this tale does pop up in a second season episode. 

Perhaps the most curious Bat-villain of the the TV show was Mr.Freeze who went on to be a big part of the comics, but who himself based on a villain named Mr. Zero who debuted in 1959. Three actors played Freeze, and none of them repeated in the role - George Sanders, Otto Preminger, and Eli Wallach. Freeze was a different kind of personality each time he showed up on TV. The TV folks adapted this story very closely in almost all respects. It remains a strong entry in the first season. 

The Penguin performed by Burgess Meredith has become one of my favorites. I used to take his performance for granted, but seeing them again recently has made me appreciate what great shenanigans he was getting away with in the role. The Penguin was a part of Batman's Golden Age, but is seen in this 1965 Silver Age story. This was adapted pretty closely on the show. 

And this is the comic which purportedly started it all when according to legend producer Dozier read it on a plane flight. This one is adapted quite closely for TV and in fact is the first episode and has some real darkness to it that fades as the show continues. 

This is an odd one in that the story in this issue is adapted but the Joker is weirdly replaced by the Riddler. I love Frank Gorshin's portrayal, but this subject is ideal for the Joker though to be honest I don't think Caesar Romero would have done as fine a job. Perhaps that the reason the changed, to allow Gorshin to showcase his mimicry. 

This comic story is adapted quite closely but Anne Baxter is the villainous and replaces the male magician who is one of the culprits in this offbeat Batman tale. I never really like this story in the old days but it warmed up for me on this viewing. 

And the final entry in this collection is Batgirl's "Million Dollar Debut". She wouldn't show up util Season Three alas. What is really missing from this collection is a Catwoman story. Admittedly Julie Newmar only takes one turn in the role in the first season, but she does showcase a new costume which was reflected in the comics soon thereafter. 

All in all a dandy little read and I heartily recommend it if you can find a copy. Amanda Conner's cover is a charmer. 

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  1. Interesting. I'll keep an eye out for a copy of this book. Always loved Batgirl's debut. My younger self fell in love with her at first sight.

    1. My older self loves her still amigo. Good luck finding a copy.

  2. IMO "Hi Diddle Riddle" was a much better story than Fox's "Remarkable Ruse of the Riddler," particularly for Lorenzo Semple's clever notion of having the Riddler sue Batman for assault. OTOH, Semple made hash of the John Broome "Doom-Trap" original by tailoring it to fit the makework character of Zelda. HOWEVER, Semple later recycled some of the major elements of "Zelda"-- mainly, the idea of the crook robbing to rid himself of a blackmailer-- and created "The Devil's Fingers," a superior (again IMO) second season episode.

  3. The intensity of Gorshin's Riddler made his stories have a gravitas that most of the other villains lacked, even sadly the Joker. The Penguin is the most successful in my opinion save for Gorshin's Riddler who seems really bloodthirsty and not just goofy. Just saw "The Devil's Fingers" and it held up better than I remembered, though as season two rumbles along the bolts in the machine are shaking loose.

  4. Agreed; in the second season the writers were starting to get the attitude of, "we're successful, so we can get away with stuff." That's probably why in "Fingers," the character of Fingers, having gone through a lot of trouble to abduct Aunt Harriet for the purpose of ransom, suddenly blows any chance at a payoff by deciding to kill her for no good reason except that the writer wanted the villain to do something dastardly so that B & R could heroically foil his plans.In the third season the writers almost totally blew off any sense of internal logic and started doing zany situations for their own sake.

    Agree that Riddler is the most devious and homicidal villain, and that his acting was better suited to "Death in Slow Motion" than Romero's approach to villainy.