Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Review: Batman '66 meets Wonder Woman '77 #6

The mercifully final issue of this rather disappointing series begins with Ra's in the Batcave, having a heart to heart talk with Bruce, trying to convince him to join the League of Shadows.  Meanwhile, Nightwing, Wonder Woman and Catwoman disco-fights their way out of Talia's trap (yes, it's a horrid as it sounds).  They call on "Batwoman" to lend a hand to invade the League's hide out, the former Arkham Asylum. But then, Batman shows up, in a Smokey and the Bandit era Trans Am customized as the Batmobile. He quickly explains he's been inspired again, and the five heroes enter Arkham, only to meet the members of the League- Mr Freeze, Clayface, Croc, The Cheetah and the criminally underused Riddler. There's another big fight, as Ra's and Talia attempt to escape.  Batman encounters Ra's at another pit, while the other three heroes continue to fight off villains and henchmen.  Batman and Ra's nearly fall into the Pit, but Wonder Woman rescues with her lasso. Ra's slips from Batman grip and falls into the pit, which reverts him... to a kid.  The story ends with Wonder Woman hinting at forming the JLA with Batman.  As with the previous issue, this is an average issue if you consider it a generic all-ages Batman story, but as a Batman '66 installment, it is a complete failure.  I'm not sure who to place the blame for this.  Is it a corporate DC mandate to force the 66 Universe to conform to generic DC continuity, or is it all Jeff Parker's idea since it is usually only the stories he writes that has this? This issue earns an F, and this entire miniseries should be retconned out. DC needs to bring in Andy Fish to get the Batman '66 franchise back on the right track.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Batman Episode Guide: An Adam West Tribute

With the passing of Adam West, I thought I would post some thoughts and comments on all the episodes of the Batman TV series, with a 5 star rating system (five stars being the best, no stars the worst). So, "put your gum under your seat, and get ready to cheer Batman!"

"Hi Diddle Riddle/Smack in the Middle" ***** The pilot, loosely based on the comic book story "The Remarkable Ruse of The Riddler" from BATMAN #171, May 1965, published just a couple months before the pilot began filming. The best episode. To the critics who understandably say "if you've seen one episode of Batman, you've seen 'em all", this is the "one" episode to watch. The whole first season seems more on the side of pop art than camp. Frank Gorshin excels as The Riddler and puts Jim Carrey and Corey Michael Smith to shame. Well paced story with some suspense. The pilot has wonderful punny dialog that subsequent episodes never matched. The one negative from a serious fan's perspective is undoubtedly the "Batusi" scene, even thought it achieved iconic status. A terrific episode, and a definitive '60s pop art experience. Jill St. John as Molly, is one of few characters to die in the series. Notice Robin's cloth gloves instead of the leather ones he would wear in the rest of the series. Batman's cowl design is slightly different, and in my opinion, better, than the rest of the series, and a slightly better utility belt. Batman is more of an outsider in this episode, as he would be forced to remove his mask in court.  Later episodes ignore this, and not only have Batman in court, but make him pure "establishment" by letting him sub for the district attorney. The original premise allegedly called for a grimmer Batman, who allowed Molly to fall to her death.  DC rejected the idea and it was shot with Batman desperately trying to save Molly. The image of Jill St. John in a Robin costume undoubtedly was Frank Miller's inspiration for Carrie Kelley in "Dark Knight Returns".  While many TV loyalists make a big deal out of Adam West's comedic portrayal of Batman, Burt Ward playing Molly impersonating Robin is just as brilliant as any of West's bits.

"Fine Feathered Finks/The Penguin's a Jinx" **** Above average Pengy episode with excellent cliffhanger bridging the two parts. This episode is the only one where Batman is constantly referred to as "The Batman", thanks to Burgess Meredith, who is perfectly cast as the Penguin. Upon re-watching the series, I was surprised by how often the phrase "The Batman" was used throughout the run, although never more repeatedly than in this episode. Based on "Partners in Plunder" from BATMAN #169, February 1965.

"The Joker is Wild/Batman is Riled" ***** Great Joker episode, based upon "The Joker's Utility Belt" from BATMAN #73, October 1952. The Joker seems almost deadly in this one. Nancy Kovack as "Queenie" is the most luscious babe ever to appear in the series. Eat your heart out, Harley Quinn!  Incidentally, Queenie appeared in "The Riddle of the Missing Card", featuring the Joker, from BATMAN #5, Spring 1941.  Some scenes have Batman's emblem properly placed on his chest (instead of his belly) for the only time in the series' run. The Joker breaking into TV broadcasts is a faithful adaption of him breaking into radio broadcasts from BATMAN #1.  The gimmick was also used in Steve Englehart's celebrated pop art inspired Batman serial in DETECTIVE COMICS in 1978, in 1989's Batman movie, and 2008's The Dark Knight.  Joker's opera mask was also used in The Dark Knight.

"Instant Freeze/Rats Like Cheese" *****  George Sanders' grim portrayal of Mr Freeze elevates this episode to near-drama. Freeze racks up a sizable casualty count in this episode. Obviously inspired the Animated Series' Emmy winning episode "Heart of Ice".  Sanders leaves Schwarzenegger's performance of Freeze in the cold.  Freeze was originally called Mr. Zero in the comics until the TV series renamed him.

"Zelda the Great/A Death Worse Than Fate" ***** Kids usually hated this fights. Adults see it as one of the best episodes and least campy. The mafia hit men who accidentally shoot each other are the final two people to die in the series. Based upon "Batman's Inescapable Doom-Trap!" from DETECTIVE #346, December 1965, showing how quick Lorenzo Semple, Jr was able to turn it into a TV script for an episode that would air just a few months later.  In the comic book, Zelda was a male magician named Carnado.

"A Riddle a Day Keeps the Riddler Away/When the Rat's Away the Mice Will Play" **** Riddler episodes are always worth watching, even though I feel this one is the weakest of the four season one Riddler episodes. Around this time, Frank Gorshin released a 45 RPM single written and arranged by Mel Torme entitled "The Riddler". Gorshin performed the song with maniacal delight, with Torme's witty lyrics perfectly capturing the best essence of the series. Its a shame Gorshin never worked a performance of the tune into an episode, as it really would have kicked the Riddler's insanity to new heights. On the other hand, Adam West's single, "Miranda", a catchy tune by itself, would have been a disaster if it was performed on the show. However, West did perform it at live appearances as Batman in the '60s.

"The Thirteenth Hat/Batman Stands Pat" *** Slightly above average episode that introduces Jervis Tetch, The Mad Hatter. This episode combines elements from "The Mad Hatter of Gotham City" (Detective #230, April 1956) and "The New Crimes of The Mad Hatter" (BATMAN # 161, February 1964).

"The Joker Goes to School/He Meets His Match, the Grisly Ghoul" ***** Best Joker episode also gives Burt Ward a chance to shine as Dick Grayson. The action at school is great, and its a shame no other episode dealt with this part of Dick's life. Lorenzo Semple, Jr., the show's script consultant, gives Joker a backstory for those who look for it: when Batman shows Joker's mug shot to the kids, Joker is wearing a normal suit, and there is a reference that he is "a master of disguise" leading one to believe this version of the Joker wears clown makeup as a disguise (similar to the version in The Dark Knight) opposed to the comic book and Jack Nicholson versions who were discolored by chemicals.

"True or False Face/Holy Rat Race" **** Another above average episode.  This one features the eerie False Face. Contrary to popular belief, False Face was neither a made for TV villain, nor a replacement for Two-Face, as this episode is based on "The Menace of False Face" from BATMAN #113, February 1958.

"The Purrfect Crime/Better Luck Next Time" ***** The first season's only Catwoman episode is clearly the best. Classic episode that plays well. The closing walls with spikes was a repeat of the same deathtrap from a chapter of the 1943 Batman serial. In the script, for the scene where Robin is holding one of the cat statues, Batman was to say, "Watch it, Robin! Don't keep your face so close to that pussy!"  West and Ward kept cracking up and ruining takes, so the director cut the line. Needless to say, had they completed a usable take, it never would have went past the censors. This episode is memorialized for being used on the GAF View Master set.

"The Penguin Goes Straight/Not Yet He Ain't" *****  Superb episode. The scene where the police get into a gunfight with the Duo is a classic, as is Pengy stealing the Batmobile, and Meredith's hilarious ad libbed one liners as Batman controls it from the Batcycle (which is its first appearance and is different than the one used in the movie and subsequent episodes).

"Ring of Wax/Give 'em the Axe" ***** Another great Riddler episode. Robin's attempt to fight Riddler's goons solo is a good scene.

"Joker Trumps an Ace/Batman sets the Pace" ** Average Joker episode with some plot holes big enough to drive that disappearing van through. Based upon "A Hairpin, A Hoe, A Hacksaw, A Hole in the Ground" from BATMAN #53, June 1949.

"The Curse of Tut/The Pharaoh's in a Rut" **** Victor Buono's Tut is the funniest of all Bat-villains. First villain created specifically for the show. Great cliffhanger. Olan Soule, who plays a TV anchor in this episode, would go on to be the voice of Batman (with Casey Kasem as Robin) on Saturday morning cartoons for nearly twenty years.

 "The Bookworm Turns/While Gotham City Burns" *** Weak villain, average episode. Scene with Batman and Robin trapped in the giant book as the police department try to save them is well done and suspenseful. Roddy McDowall (Bookworm) went on to play Mad Hatter in the Animated Series with much better results.

"Death in Slow Motion/The Riddler's False Notion" **** Still another great Riddler episode, this time based on a comic book tale with the Joker ("Joker's Comedy Capers" from DETECTIVE # 341, July 1965) . The show really lost a lot of its steam when Frank Gorshin sat out the second season.

"Fine Finny Fiends/Batman Makes the Scene" ** The first season's finale is its weakest episode. It's the sign of things to come in season two as the show leaves behind good pop art in favor of bad, repetitive camp.

Batman (the movie, aka "Batman vs. The United Underworld" and "Batman vs The Fearsome Foursome") ***** Bigger and better than the average episode...less campy with more of a James Bond feel, especially in the excellent Bruce Wayne scenes. Great deathtraps and a wonderful teaming of Joker, Riddler, Penguin and Catwoman. Lee Meriwether may be a better Catwoman than Julie Newmar with her catlike moans that Newmar never did, and her more adult chemistry with West in contrast to Newmar. Pengy assumes leader role, and his sanity is questioned by the other three. Ironically, Joker seems the most sane of the four, although in all honesty, his role is little more than a glorified henchman. Good suspense and action. Unlike the series, the movie has a prominent death count. It's the series' final high point. All the sets were expanded and embellished for the movie, the Batcave seems bigger and more defined, as does Gordon's office.

"Shoot a Crooked Arrow/Walk the Straight and Narrow" (no stars) Second season premiere is a waste. Terrible episode with Art Carney phoning in a mediocre portrayal as The Archer. The show has moved into pure camp/comedy. In the comic books, Archer was a Superman villain, and in fact, the first draft of the script includes a Superman cameo, most likely for Bob Holiday, who starred as the Man of Steel on Broadway during this time.

"Hot off the Griddle/The Cat and the Fiddle" *** Fun second season Catwoman episode, despite overly goofy death trap cliffhanger. Another second season blunder - they buttoned the capes to Batman and Robin's backs. The romance between Batman and Catwoman is the most original and unique love story in comic books, and the second season Catwoman episodes portray it very well in the pop art context.

"The Minstrel's Shakedown/Barbecued Batman" * Another awful episode, but with a better than average plot--too bad the villain isn't good enough to make the plot work.

"The Spell of Tut/Tut's Case is Shut" *** Funny Tut episode. Unique in that it is a direct sequel to the previous Tut episode and references events from it.

"The Greatest Mother of Them All/Ma Barker" *** First decent episode of the season not to use a returning villain. Great cliffhanger. The simple ones work the best. Tisha Sterling as Legs is a babe to watch.

"Clock King's Crazy Crimes/Clock King Gets Crowned" *  Despite being written by Bill Finger (Batman's co-creator), the episode is a dud. Best scene is Batman and Robin getting burgers at a drive-in.  In the comic books, Clock King was originally a Green Arrow villain, and has since been revamped into an interesting Bat-villain on the Animated Series.

"An Egg Grows in Gotham/The Yegg Foes in Gotham" ** Weak episode, interesting plot. Besides Tut, Vincent Price's Egghead is the only other made-for-TV villain to have some success, although Egghead was based on the comic book villain Barney "Brainy" Barrows from "The Mental Giant of Gotham City" (DETECTIVE #217, March 1955).  Surprisingly, the recent BATMAN '66 comic book series did not take the logical step of revealing Egghead's real name as Barney Barrows. Adam West is hilarious in both the laughing gas scene and giving the Indian greeting to Edward Everett Horton.

"The Devil's Fingers/The Dead Ringers" **** One of the better episodes of the season, and Batman's highest rated episode ever. Liberace is great in a dual role, and Aunt Harriet actually has a decent part and is important to the plot! Harry and Chandell's molls are hot femme fatales. The tag at the end of the episode is a classic.

"Hizzonner the Penguin/Dizzonner the Penguin" ** Weak Pengy episode that was used in part to plot Batman Returns. This episode is over populated with cameos, including ex-Stooge Joe Besser (Adam West costarred with Moe Howard, Larry Fine, and Curly-Joe DeRita in The Outlaws Is Coming). This episode is the epitome of everything that went wrong in season two.

"Green Ice/Deep Freeze" *** Otto Preminger made an unlikable Freeze, but actually, you're not supposed to like the villains. His visual look inspired both the Animated Series' Freeze and Schwarzenegger's character. Look closely -- Burt Ward has a bandaged arm during this episode. Miss Iceland is hot.

"Impractical Joker/The Joker's Provokers" * Awful episode with worst gimmick, a time controlling box, this side of Riddler's "TV box" from Batman Forever, and the dehydrator from the series' movie. Still, Alan Napier's dual role is fun, and this episode hints at The Joker having a previous career as a stage magician and hypnotist. This episode was a major rewrite of an unproduced script titled "Hickery Dickery Doc".

"Marsha Queen of Diamonds/Marsha's Scheme of Diamonds" * Dumb episode. Not only did the scripts go down in quality, but the writers couldn't even come up with clever titles anymore!

"Come Back Shame/It's How You Play the Game" *** Slightly better second season episode, but that's still not saying much.

"The Penguin's Nest/The Bird's Last Jest" ***** At Last! A great second season episode! Perhaps due to the fact it was the first episode filmed for season two while they still had their season one mojo, but was withheld for later in the season. One of Pengy's best. Great cliffhanger, and lots of fun. Grace Gaynor as Chickadee is yet another very hot babe in the series' femme fatales. Based on "The Penguin's Nest" (BATMAN #36, August 1946).

"The Cat's Meow/The Bat's Kow Tow" (no stars) Awful Catwoman episode featuring pop singers Chad and Jeremy. Stanley Ralph Ross, who replaced Lorenzo Semple as main writer, seems to strive for slapstick situation comedy more in tune with the Marx Brothers than Batman, but Charles Hoffman and Stanford Sherman wrote the worst scripts.

"The Puzzles are Coming/The Duo is Slumming" (no stars) Yes, they are slumming indeed. Another worthless episode with a pathetic villain. Puzzler was actually a Superman villain in the comic books. This was originally supposed to be a Riddler episode titled "A Penny For Your Riddles/They're Worth A Lot More".  While Frank Gorshin and a better cast Rocket would have made this episode more watchable, it is still a weak second season script.

"The Sandman Cometh/The Catwoman Goeth" * Reportedly, the producers knew the series had been sinking to sad lows, and Adam West supposedly complained that the show was getting off track. Evident is that during the upcoming Summer they would only rerun a handful of second season episodes, and instead choose to rerun most of the first season episodes. So the producers hired Ellis St. Joseph to write this "phenomenal" script that was to return the series to its first season glory by going back to pop art adventure and leaving behind the sit-com camp it had settled into. But a higher power decreed that they needed another Catwoman episode (never mind that Julie Newmar was already dominating the season episode count), so this Sandman script was rewritten, and according to St. Joseph, ruined, stating his "masterpiece" ended up being one of the worst shows of the series.

"The Contaminated Cowl/The Mad Hatter Runs Afoul" * They brought Mad Hatter back for this? The whole contaminated pink cowl bit pushes things too far. Like the  previous Mad Hatter episode, this one combines elements from "The Mad Hatter of Gotham City" (Detective #230, April 1956) and "The New Crimes of The Mad Hatter" (BATMAN # 161, February 1964).

"The Zodiac Crimes/The Joker's Hard Times/The Penguin Declines" ** Dopey three part episode. Originally, there were plans to do a second movie. A horror script was being written, but was dropped when, according to Adam West, it started to read too much like Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.  The producers began plotting a story that would team up King Tut, Egghead, and a new villain created for the movie (a character similar to the Animated Series' Roxy Rocket) , but the whole concept of a movie was scrapped when they started getting the bad press for the second season. It has become an urban legend that this three part episode was edited together and released it as a feature in foreign markets, but I have never come across any evidence, such as a foreign movie poster, to support this claim. The teaming of Joker and Penguin deserved something more special than this tripe, but the fight in the Bat Cave is a classic.

"That Darn Catwoman/Scat Darn Catwoman" **** A good and fun Catwoman episode. The "evil Robin" scenes are classic. The character of Pussycat may have inspired Frank Miller's Holly in Batman Year One. Incidentally, in the first draft of the script, Poison Ivy is used instead of Pussycat. Adds to the Bat-Cat relationship. Listen for "Ibn Kerab" which is Arabic for "son of a bitch". Continuity wise, this episode should have been the season two finale.

"Penguin is a Girl's Best Friend/Penguin Sets a Trend/Penguin's Disastrous End" * Weak three part episode.

"Batman's Anniversary/A Riddling Controversy" *** John Astin makes a low-key Riddler, and ironically, the Animated Series' Riddler likewise echos Astin's self-loving take on the character, and his question mark cane.  Based on The Riddler from DETECTIVE # 140, October 1948 and Batman's Deadly Birthday from BATMAN #130, March 1960. If Frank Gorshin played the Riddler in this episode, it would have been one of the second season's best.  Even with Astin in the role, it's a good second season episode.

"The Joker's Last Laugh/The Joker's Epitaph" *** One of the better second season Joker episodes, but Cesar Romero's portrayal of the character gets more childish with each episode. The Joker-mobile in this episode appeared in the Elvis Presley movie Easy Come Easy Go. This is the final episode to be written by Lorenzo Semple Jr. and appears to rework the counterfeit money scheme and robot henchmen from an undeveloped Two-Face proposal titled "About Face for Two Face".

"Catwoman Goes to College/Batman Displays His Knowledge" ** Yet another goofy but fun Catwoman episode, but the last few minutes are great in the Batman-Catwoman relationship.

"A Piece of the Action/Batman's Satisfaction" *** The inclusion of Green Hornet and Kato are the only reason to watch this episode, a last ditch effort to save The Green Hornet from being cancelled after one season. One can only wonder what it would have been like had Batman and Robin went on The Green Hornet, and had to be serious and dramatic.

"King Tut's Coup/Batman's Waterloo" *** Typical King Tut slapstick episode written by Stanley Ralph Ross who was really in his element with this character. Lee Meriwether returns, this time playing heiress Lisa Carson.

"Black Widow Strikes Again/Caught in the Spider's Den" * Yeah, another waste with a performance by Tallulah Bankhead who was nearly on her deathbed.  Black Widow was inspired by the Scarlet Widow, a villain on the Superman radio show, who also inspired the Spider Lady, the villain of the 1948 "Superman" movie serial.

"Pop Goes The Joker/Flop Goes The Joker" *** Another good second season Joker episode. This one spoofs the entire pop art craze that spawned the series. Partly inspired the Joker's Flugleheim rampage in 1989's Batman with much better effect. A classic scene with Joker going up and down the bat-poles.

"Ice Spy/The Duo Defy" * Second season finale. Eli Wallach is the third Freeze in as many episodes, and just a pale imitation of what has gone on before.

Batgirl screen test ** Based on "The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl" from DETECTIVE #359, January 1967.  The villain, Killer Moth, is a joke. Batgirl's mask is different than in the series. There is also sexual tension between Batman and Batgirl that never went into the series. Originally, Batman and Batgirl were to be two separate shows, a la Man From UNCLE and Girl From UNCLE. Bad ratings made ABC tell Fox to put Batgirl on Batman instead. The producers were instrumental in creating this new version of Batgirl, who was Commissioner Gordon's daughter. In the comics up to this point, Batgirl was Betty Kane, the niece of Kathy "Batwoman" Kane.

"Enter Batgirl, Exit Penguin" ** With only a half hour per week now, Batman takes on a bit of a soap opera feel, connecting the episodes, even though most of these "tags" more times than not, contradict the following episode's plot. Also, the sets are pathetic card-board cut-outs, like a high school play or a sketch comedy show like Carol Burnett, giving Batman a weird, surreal look. Batgirl tends to steal the spotlight away from Batman and Robin, who are now portrayed as buffoonish Keystone Kops, a far cry from the first season. Ultimately, the third season comes across like a low budget Saturday morning show. It can also be said the show moves from camp comedy to outright parody.

"Ring Around The Ridd1er" ** Not even the return of Frank Gorshin could save the show by this point! In case anyone didn't noticed, Aunt Harriet is gone.

"Wail of The Siren" ** Not even Joan Collins in a skimpy outfit could save the show by this point! Robin exhibits a vigilante attitude, threatening to let Siren fall to her death. The series could have used more of this kind of edge for both Batman and Robin. The Batgirl theme song has the most pathetic lyrics of any superhero theme.

"Sport of Penguins/Horse of Another Color" (no stars) Not even Burgess Meredith could save the show by this point! Pengy must be senile. In almost all of his episodes, he encounters Alfred, yet he never remembers the butler!

"The Unkindest Tut of All" *** Not even Victor Buono could save the... wait, actually, Buono might have been the one who could have saved the show, if he did more than two episodes in the third season. If nothing else, his episodes are outright funny.

"Louie the Lilac" * Not even Mr. Television, Uncle Miltie Berle could save the show by this point! A good example of how the third season became preoccupied with being topical, which further hurt it. Berle does get some points for going against type and the third season in general, and playing his role for drama rather than camp or parody, even though it makes his character stick out like a sore (green) thumb.

"The Ogg and I/How to Hatch a Dinosaur" (no stars) Why bother?

"Surf's up! Joker's Under!" * If seeing Batman and Joker wearing baggies over their costumes and shooting the curl is your bag, you'll love this bitchin' episode, dude! The rest of us will put our heads in a gas oven. Sivi Aberg as Undine is the only reason to watch this episode (she also played one of Chandell's molls in season two).

"Londinum Larcenies/The Foggiest Notion/The Bloody Tower" ** Worthless 3 part episode that could have been filmed on location in England had the budget not been non-existent, but it still would have been a bad episode, even though it looks like they were at least trying on this one.  Some of the Finishing School girls are hot, though.

"Catwoman's Dressed to Kill" * Dopey Catwoman episode with a new Catwoman. Perhaps due to Eartha Kitt's race or due to the fact the producers were trying to push Bruce and Barbara as a couple (most likely a little of both), the Batman-Catwoman relationship is absent, even though it's crucial to their characters.

"The Ogg Couple" (no stars) No difference between this and the previous Egghead-Olga episodes, which were actually supposed to be another three parter.

"Louie's Lethal Lilac Time"Another bad episode. This one fills time by showing stock footage from previous episodes.

"Funny Feline Felonies/The Joke's On Catwoman" *** One of the better 3rd season episodes. Dopey but fun.

"Nora Clavicle"
** A good premise that, if done properly, could have been a great episode. Of course, it wasn't.

"Penguin's Clean Sweep" (no stars) Another bad episode.

"The Great Escape/The Great Train Robbery" *** Finally, a very good episode. Shame's henchman Fred is one of the funniest characters ever to be in the series. If nothing else, a very funny episode.

"I'll Be A Mummy's Uncle" *** A great Tut episode. Some suspense and funny comedy. The whole "drilling to the Bat Cave" bit is great.

"The Joker's Flying Saucer" (no stars) Just when you thought we were on a roll.

"The Enticing Dr. Cassandra" ** A decent episode. Some laughs. The teaming up of all the principal villains, albeit played by the stunt people, give this episode a bigger feel, and probably would have been appropriate to be the series finale instead of the next episode. Notice "Catwoman" is based on Julie Newmar again.

"Minerva, Mayhem, and Millionaires" (no stars) The series finale...a pathetic end to the show. Reportedly, ABC was willing to renew the show for a fourth season, but demanded the budget be cut even more by eliminating Chief O'Hara and Robin, and have Batgirl as Batman's full time partner (a move the Animated Series would do in its later years). Regardless, both Dozier and West vetoed ABC's ideas, and the show was terminated. Ironically, weeks later, NBC, The Man From UNCLE's network and the motivation for ABC to pick up Batman in the first place three years earlier, offered to take the show for a fourth season and even restore it to the twice-a-week format, or possibly a once a week one hour format. However, the sets had been dismantled and NBC didn't want to spend the cash to rebuild. so the deal fell through.

Legends of the Superheroes: "The Challenge" *** Ten years later, in 1978, NBC got its chance to bring Batman back, with the Justice League in tow. Essentially a live action version of Hanna-Barbera's Challenge of the Super Friends (HB also produced these specials). Adam West, Burt Ward, and Frank Gorshin return to reprise their roles, and are joined by former Dead End Kid Gabe Dell as Mordru,  comedian Jeff Altman as Weather Wizard, among others bringing to life for the first time The Flash, Green Lantern, Hawkman and Black Canary.  Andy Griffith Show veteran Howard Morris (Ernest T. Bass) brings Dr Sivana to life for the first time. Played as a comedy, with a laugh track no less, and produced on video tape, it's still better than the average third season episode.  Plus it's one of the only times I get to see my all time favorite superheroes, Batman and Captain Marvel, together in one adventure, plus my favorite villain, Gorshin's Riddler. I wonder if Jackson Bostwick or John Davey, both of whom played Captain Marvel in the Filmation TV series of a few years earlier, were asked to return before casting Garrett Craig as the World's Mightiest Mortal. This very well may have inspired Keith Giffen's Justice League International comic books of the 1980s.

Legends of the Superheroes: "The Roast" ** Instead of an adventure for the second special, we get a celebrity roast hosted by Ed McMahon, complete with a musical number finale. Ruth Buzzi brings Captain Marvel villain Aunt Minerva to life for the first time in this episode's highlight. Unfortunately, Frank Gorshin doesn't appear in this one. The writers really did their comic book homework for all the references and histories. A step down from "The Challenge" but still fun.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Adam West, R.I.P.

The elder statesman of the Batman legacy, Adam West, has passed away at the age of 88 after a short battle with leukemia on June 9, 2017. West, whose real name was William West Anderson, started out in show business as a local TV and radio personality in Hawaii. After making the move to Hollywood, he was cast in several Western movies and TV shows, most notably co-starring with The Three Stooges in The Outlaws Is Coming.

Appearing as the James Bond inspired Captain Q in a commercial for Nestle's Quik brought him to the attention of producer William Dozier, who cast him as Batman. A national frenzy of Batmania ensued, but due to weakening scripts in the second season and slashed production values in the third, the star turned ended quickly. Incredibly, he turned down an offer from producer Albert Broccoli to play James Bond in the 007 franchise.  West spent the next couple decades attempting to move beyond the Batman character, most notably in a featured role in the Burt Reynolds movie Hooper, but the big break comeback eluded him, and West always seemed to end up going back to the Batman character, in either personal appearances in the car show circuit, or via voice work in cartoons like Filmation's The New Adventures of Batman and Hanna-Barbera's Super Friends. The apex of this era were the two TV comedy specials Legends of the Superheroes, which were the very first live action version of the Justice League.

In recent years, West has seen a second act in popularity, with notable roles in productions such as Family Guy, The George Lopez Show, and others. And there was one last return to Batman, voicing the character in Batman 66: Return of the Caped Crusaders and its upcoming sequel, the tentatively titled Batman 66 vs Two-Face.

Former Catwoman Julie Newmar made the statement: “Stellar, exemplar, a king to the end.  He was bright, witty and fun to work with. I will miss him in the physical world and savor him always in the world of imagination and creativity. He meant so much to people. A friend said: ‘The father that we wanted.’ That is a great gift, no matter how you live it.”

And West's long time partner in crime-fighting, Burt Ward, who played Robin, stated: “I am devastated at the loss of one my very dearest friends. Adam and I had a special friendship for more than 50 years. We shared some of the most fun times of our lives together. Our families have deep love and respect for each other. This is a terribly unexpected loss of my lifelong friend. I will forever miss him. There are several fine actors who have portrayed Batman in films. In my eyes, there was only one real Batman that is and always will be Adam West. He was truly the Bright Knight.”

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, let perpetual light shine upon him, may he rest in peace. 

Friday, June 2, 2017

movie review: WONDER WOMAN

The DC Extended Universe finally gets one right, and it took a Wonder Woman to get it done.

The original Wonder Woman comics were set during World War II, but the decision was made to set the cinematic version in World War I. Perhaps because this year is the 100th anniversary of America entering the "war to end all wars", or more cynically, so that the film wouldn't be identical to Captain America: The First Avenger. But if the latter is the case, why was Wonder Woman given a shield, which she traditionally never had in the comics? Incidentally, by setting the film during WWI, the DCEU establishes Wonder Woman as the first superhero of this continuity, and the center of superherodom. This is what Captain America is in both the Marvel comics and cinematic continuities, and what Superman is in most versions of DC comics continuity (the main exceptions being the post-Crisis continuity where the Justice Society related heroes were established in the 1930s and 40s, while Superman became the first of the second generation of heroes, and in the current New52/Rebirth continuity where it is established both Batman and the Hal Jordan Green Lantern went into action prior to Superman).

In any event, director Patty Jenkins uses the template established by Richard Donner in Superman, and perfected by Sam Raimi in Spider-Man.   Act I is Paradise Island, and sets up Diana's back story.  We see her as a little girl, who is quite the war monger, seeing it as all adventure and excitement. Queen Hippolyta tries to discourage Diana's interest in battle, but one of the other amazons, Antiope, begins training her in secret.  Hippolyta tells Diana she was sculpted from clay and brought to life (the traditional origin story), but here it seems presented as a fairy tale for a child, and sure enough, subsequent dialogue between the Queen and Antiope reveal Diana is not what she seems.  In all honesty, this opening part of the film drags a bit.  It's a necessary sequence, but it lacks something.  

Things pick up in Act II which has Steve Trevor, played with charm and humor by Chris Pine, crashing onto Paradise Island, followed by pursuing Germans, which result in the film's first battle scene. Steve makes a connection with Diana, and tells the amazons about the World War going on outside the confides of their hidden island. Diana desperately wants to go fight the bad guys, but her mother forbids it, eventually giving in and letting her daughter go. The banter between Steve and Diana is one of the film's highlights.

Things pick up even more in Act III, which is Steve and Diana arriving in London to fight in the war, giving Diana some fish-out-of-water moments. By setting the film during WWI, there is a chance to give this part of the film a steampunk look, although I don't think Jenkins fully realized the visual potential.  It is nice to see a classic character like Etta Candy brought into the proceedings. We see Diana and Steve's adventures ranging from attending an armistice meeting, to liberating a small village behind German lines, to the climatic battle where Steve gives the ultimate sacrifice.

Gal Gadot returns to the role of Diana Prince which she first portrayed in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, where she was the one of the few bright spots, and that film's MVP, portraying Wonder Woman as a strong and silent mystery woman. In this outing, Gal's acting is somewhat limited, but effective. To her credit, she has nothing as cringe worthy as Ben Affleck's unintentionally hilarious screaming of "MARTHA!!!".  Here, she portrays Diana as naive, and ever so slightly dim-witted in a very endearing way. If there were a "best smile and/or pout in a motion picture" category at the Oscars, Gadot would win by a mile. As Diana experiences wartime battles throughout the film, Gadot conveys losing the love for war Diana has held since a child, when war was more of a fantasy for her than reality. In the action scenes, she struts through the battlefield as if it were a runway.

Chris Pine's Steve Trevor is the glue that holds this movie together. In many ways, he becomes the focus of the film, while Diana becomes more of a device. The heart of the film could be a flip flop of the old saying "behind every great man is a great woman" to "behind Wonder Woman is a noble and heroic man".

Surprisingly, there are no cameos from any other superheroes, although Bruce Wayne is referenced in the modern day bookends to the film.

Of note is that this is the second movie where Wonder Woman appears, yet the name "Wonder Woman" has not been uttered in any dialogue. There is now no excuse for Captain Marvel to be renamed Shazam in his upcoming movie. If DC is irrationally fearful of using the name Captain Marvel, then no name should be used, and the actor can be credited as playing the role of "World's Mightiest Mortal", which should also be the title of the film.

What hurts this movie a bit is that there is no real major villain.  Dr Poison is relegated to laboratories for most of the film, while General Ludendorf is more or less a generic military bad guy.  Only at the end does Aries show his face, little more than a MacGuffin for the film's action finale. Likewise, the film suffers from some poorly done, primitive looking CGI.

The DCEU seems on the verge to be a woman dominated franchise, as Wonder Woman joins Margot Robbie's Harley Quinn as the two best portrayed and realized characters in the DCEU movies.

Wonder Woman is the best of the four released DCEU franchise movies, although it doesn't quite stand up to the real superhero classics like Donner's Superman, Tim Burton's two Batman movies, Sam Raimi's first two Spider-Man movies, or Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight. Wonder Woman is equal to the best of the MCU offerings, with the possible exception of the excellent Captain America: The Winter Soldier.   Many fans are elated with this, but considering where the DCEU could have and should have been at this point, is it really something to celebrate, or another reason to be discouraged and frustrated with the DCEU?