Thursday, October 27, 2011

Space Medicine: Back to the Batcave

Since 1938 Batman has been adapted to the changing tastes of pop culture. In the thirties and forties he was a pulp detective/vigilante, in the eighties he was the reactionary answer to crime and urban blight, and in the late sixties he adapted to the tastes of that generation as well. In 1966 ABC began airing Batman two nights a week. Unfortunately, for complicated legal reasons, none of the series has been released in a home video format. Fortunately, some guy on YouTube called FanOfBats has a bunch of episodes online. Many people object to the series for not taking Batman seriously or just for being silly. Silly is a matter of taste. As for not taking Batman seriously, I suspect it's really a fairly recent phenomena for fans to take Batman seriously. It probably doesn't go much further back than the mid to late seventies. However, even if we are taking Batman seriously, it's a mistake to try and act like such a significant portion of Batman's cultural history just didn't happen. No matter what box one tries to fit Batman into he's bound to escape sooner or later, and then you find that you've been in his box all along.

Instead of selective amnesia, as if there's been some kind of traumatic Bat-molestation that can't, musn't, be remembered, I propose embracing the thing with all its campy deconstruction of the super hero story and off-putting attempt to be humorous, and seeing if there's actually anything we can learn from the thing.

Thus I present the full pilot episode Hi Diddle Riddle.

Act I

It looks like its a Riddler episode, though we could have deduced as much from the title. One thing I'm struck by is the portrayal of Gotham City. This was a time when the city could get away with not constantly looking like a Gothic filth hole. Also, the Gotham City police seem to have pitiably low collective self esteem. As square as Batman is the cops are amazingly, ridiculously even squarer. They know that to catch someone like the Riddler, it will take people dressed nearly as garishly as he is. Another interesting aspect, no matter how lighthearted a version of Batman this is, the point of origin is still murdered parents.

A stray note: Does Bruce ever accidentally slide down Dick's Bat-pole, and Dick Bruce's?

Also: "Plots like artichokes" or more appropriately labyrinths.

I'm a big booster for the idea of Gotham's super criminal elite seeing themselves as artists of a sort. A lot of fans talk about Riddler being laughable because he leaves clues and dresses funny, but I feel that the line "strange artistic compulsion" is really all the justification needed for his behavior. The goal isn't cash or revenge or even a death toll, as with other more "realistic" supercrooks (The subset of supervillain that most Batman Rogue's tend to fall under.), but the satisfaction of having led Batman around on a leash, and generally feeling superior to him.

Act II

When Batman prepares for everything, places to hang detached gratings are always part of the preparation. When Batman attacks the Riddler physically, it turns out it was just what the Riddler had in mind. It's all very inline with the Rogue review of Riddler linked to in the analysis of Act I. The Riddler has built a labyrinth. When Batman rushes to take out his foe, he rushes straight in. As pointed out, Riddler's plan so far is as much about humiliating Batman as the successful completion of his endgame. The Riddler's jubilation when he catches Batman out has an almost obscene quality to it. I almost wonder if Gene Wilder's performance as Willy Wonka owes something to Gorshin's Riddler.

Also: "If poor Mrs. Cooper were to find out what master Dick has been doing on these supposed 'fishing trips' of yours..."

The Molehill Mob's ostentatious jewelry and caviar by the jarful speaks of their status as the nouveau rich, in contrast the old money that built stately Wayne Manor. In fact, and i'm not the first to type this, most of the classic Bat-villains can be read as newly rich crime barons spending money  on reinforcing their various personality trips. More on which here.


The Batman dances. Right when Batman enters the club the camera is off kilter in the same way it was at the crooks hideout. This is a clue to the viewer that Batman has fallen into the next bend of Riddler's labyrinth. Batman gives into the temptations of the flesh, orange juice and, gasp, dancing. He is punished almost immediately. This leads into what might be my favorite sequence here: Riddler's attempt at carjacking the Batmobile. The Batmobile proves to be an extension of Batman's personality, prepared for anything, and more effective at thwarting Riddler than either Batman or Robin have been thus far. This failure is the first hint that Riddler might not have outsmarted Batman as thoroughly as he wants to have. He reacts accordingly. We leave our heroes with Batman drugged at the wheel, once again humiliation takes precedence over physical harm, and the Boy Wonder held in bondage in the Riddler's underworld. There's something about the Riddler posed over Robin, giggling like a maniac, with a scalpel, prepared to do who knows what, that is effectively sinister, even amid the goofier elements.

For the conclusion, tune in tomorrow. Not the same time though, because I intend to post earlier in the evening.

Odd Note: Robin's costume design may be as unrealistic and unbadass as it has been these last 60-70 years, but for some reason I really like the way this Robin's cape looks.

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