“The Joker is Wild” / “Batman is Riled”
Written by Robert Dozier
Directed by Don Weis
Season 1, Episodes 5 & 6
Production code 8709
Original air dates: January 26 & 27, 1966
The Bat-signal: We open at Gotham State Penitentiary—”one of the state’s busier locations”—where one of Crichton’s reforms is a softball game. The Joker is pitching for his team. Among the spectators is O’Hara, who’s impressed with the job Crichton has done on the Joker—the notion of the Joker taking time away from prison-break-plotting to play softball. (Actually, O’Hara says “baseball,” even though they’re playing softball. Not the sharpest knife in the drawer, is the chief.)
After throwing two strikeouts, the catcher switches the balls with one under his chest protector. When the batter hits it, there’s an explosion, and a spring under the pitcher’s mound releases, and sends the Joker flying over the wall. (How the Joker contrived to get a giant spring under the pitcher’s mound of a wide-open field in a prison is left as an exercise for the viewer.)
O’Hara calls Gordon, both of them taking every opportunity to make “he sprung himself” jokes, and then Gordon calls Batman. Dick is in the midst of his piano lessons with Aunt Harriet, Bruce sitting nearby looking incredibly pained at his awful Chopin. The Bat-phone comes as a relief from his crappy ivory-tickling, and Batman and Robin head down the Bat-poles, into the Batmobile, and off to police HQ.
Joker left a bust of himself at the base of the spring under the pitcher’s mound. Batman and Robin deduce that it’s a clue to other places that have busts on pedestals, like museums—specifically the Gotham City Museum of Modern Art which is today opening a Comedians Hall of Fame exhibit.
They drive to the museum, parking in front of a sign that says, “NO PARKING, G.C.P.D.”—Batman actually hesitates before parking there, but a uniformed officer tells him it’s okay and moves the sign. Inside, they order the museum to be cleared, but they enter to discover that the Joker is included in the exhibit. They go off to talk to the museum’s director, while security locks the museum up tight. The guard says it’s burglar-proof—nobody could break in.
Once the doors are closed, Joker himself emerges from inside the bust, as do his henchmen, who were hiding in the Stan Laurel, Oliver Hardy, W.C. Fields, and Ernie Kovacs busts. The Joker chortles with glee at outwitting Batman, and now they can steal the fabulous jewels! And then they run to the next gallery over, which is really and truly labelled “Hall of Fabulous Jewels.”
To Batman’s confusion, the director isn’t in his office. He then realizes that, while nobody could break in, someone could break out. They go back to the front entrance and then very easily break into the supposedly burglar-proof museum and then fisticuffs ensue. A sword comes loose from the wall and clunks Batman on the head, and Robin, sufficiently distracted by Batman’s plight, is captured by the henchmen.
But even as they head out, Batman is already conscious—but playing possum until he can toss a smoke bomb. Batman and Robin take care of the four thugs, but Joker gets away through an absurdly convenient trap door. He runs to his hideout under the Gotham Pier Amusement Park, swearing never again to be done in by Batman’s utility belt. So he’s created his own utility belt (which looks just like Batman’s, only with the Joker’s face on the buckle). Two more of his thugs, and his moll, Queenie, are impressed with the belt, and Joker hits on his next caper: stealing the S.S. Gotham, a new luxury liner launching Saturday.
Bruce and Dick meet with Gordon and O’Hara. Bruce is a majority stockholder in the Gotham Shipping Company, which owns the S.S. Gotham, and Gordon assures Bruce that Batman and Robin will be christening the boat, which also means the opening will be quite secure.
Certainly more secure than having the police involved, given that a brick comes flying through the window, with a clown doll attached to it. Gordon goes to the Bat-phone to tell the caped crusader—leading to an uncomfortable exchange of glances between Bruce and Dick—but Alfred informs Gordon that Batman is out for the day. Bruce asks O’Hara if he can keep the doll as a souvenir, and even though it’s a weapon used in an attack on a law-enforcement headquarters, O’Hara hands it over to a civilian, thus destroying the chain of evidence. The chief then has the gall to speak ill of Bruce as someone who’d be of no help against the Joker, conveniently forgetting his own paralysis in the face of the villain.
In the Batcave, the Dynamic Duo examine the doll, but find no clues on it. It can’t indicate the circus—it left town weeks ago, according to Gordon—but there’s a production of Pagliacci being televised live in Gotham tonight.
Cut to the opera, where Batman unmasks the opera singer in the clown mask as actually being the Joker. (And he just sang “Vesti la Giubba,” which is pretty impressive.) But his costume also includes sneezing powder that emits from one of the buttons, and he sneezifies Batman and Robin, making them easy pickings for Joker’s thugs, who hold the Dynamic Duo.
Joker tries to unmask Batman and Robin on television, but before he can do it, Batman manages to pull out another smoke bomb from his utility belt, using it to set off the sprinklers. Joker responds with a smoke bomb of his own. Batman chases him up to the catwalk, but Joker wraps him in colored paper and gets away.
They return to the Batcave to see a news report speculating that Batman and Robin may have met their match—and then Joker takes over the newscast and does an episode of What’s My Crime? to give “Fatman and the Boy Blunder” a hint as to his next caper. He indicates that it involves a belt and a switch (but not an electric switch), and also gives the hint: “What’s wrong with this sentence? ‘He who laughs last laughs good.'” Grammatically, that should end with “laughs well,” which clues them into Professor Laughwell, who’s just returned from Africa with a collection of masks and rare art. They head to the warehouse, climbing the wall to find Joker rummaging through the collection.
The Dynamic Duo burst in and fisticuffs ensue (surprisingly without sound effects), but the Joker gets away—but not before switching the Caped Crusader’s utility belt with a replica of Joker’s own. Batman throws a smoke bomb, which gives off fireworks, confetti, streamers, and signs reading, “PHOOEY ON BATMAN,” “POOR BOY WONDER,” and “HOORAY FOR THE JOKER.” This prompts Batman to say that he’s hit them “below the belt.”
The media has a field day, with Gotham City Times headlines all declaring the incompetence of Batman, Robin, and the police over the course of several days. Batman and Robin are stymied—they study the fake utility belt and find nothing, nor do they have any idea what the Joker’s next caper will be.
Joker shows how he’ll stop Batman when they steal the luxury liner: a gag cork in the bottle of champagne that Batman and Robin will use to christen the S.S. Gotham. That evening, the Dynamic Duo arrive to christen the boat (Gordon starts the festivities despite the fact that Bruce Wayne hasn’t shown up yet, ha ha), despite the jeers of the crowd who want to know why they’re participating in silly photo-ops when there’s a Joker to be chased down. Gordon hands Batman the bottle, calling it “the finest French champagne,” as if there could possibly be any other kind of champagne. (If it’s not from the Champagne region of France, then it isn’t champagne, it’s sparkling wine.)
Batman notices the jimmied cork, and then says he suddenly has a headache and takes a pill—telling Robin to take one, too, in case it’s contagious. Robin rightly scoffs at the notion of a contagious headache, but Batman says, “Doctor’s orders,” despite no doctor being available, and Robin shrugs and takes the pill.
As soon as Batman christens the boat, gas is released, rendering everyone unconscious. The gas-masked thugs carry Batman and Robin off to the hideout under the amusement park. Joker cuts in on a TV signal to broadcast from his hideout, requesting that the title to S.S. Gotham be turned over to him, or the Dynamic Duo will be executed on TV. (Interestingly enough, this time Joker evinces no interest in unmasking Batman and Robin like he did the last time he had them helpless on live TV.)
But the pills they took are universal drug antidotes (really!), and they stop playing possum and fisticuffs ensue (this time with sound effects, thus guaranteeing our heroes’ victory). The day is saved, and Bruce and Dick watch a newscast talking about how Gotham’s citizens will sleep soundly tonight. Dick then has to have another piano lesson, to his chagrin, though he’s mollified by Alfred’s offer of milk and cookies.
Fetch the Bat-shark-repellant! They study the doll with the hyper-spectrographic analyzer (no “bat” prefix), and Batman keeps a purple smoke bomb and a universal drug antidote in his utility belt.
Holy #@!%$, Batman! When Bruce says he and Dick will be late for their “ballgame” (code for the Bat-phone), he says, “Holy Koufax!” a reference to contemporary Los Angeles Dodger pitcher Sandy Koufax. When Gordon reveals the coily method of the Joker’s prison break, Robin’s reply is, “Holy jack-in-the-box!” Upon Batman expressing concern that the Comedians Hall of Fame is a distraction, Robin cries, “Holy red herring!” His response to Batman realizing that the Joker was inside the museum all along is “Holy stuffing!” and “Holy ravioli!” is his not-at-all-offensive response to the realization that the Joker’s going to hit the production of Pagliacci. When he sees Batman wrapped in colored paper, he cries “Holy serpentine!” as he helps the Caped Crusader extricate himself. He dismissively says, “Holy grammar” at Joker’s “he who laughs last…” clue, but is much more enthusiastic in his “Holy safari!” upon realizing that Laughwell’s collection is the Joker’s next target. When Batman throws what he thinks is his smoke bomb, but turns out to be Joker’s, he cries, “Holy 4th of July!” He laments, “Holy headlines” when seeing that they’re portrayed as “page-one dumbbells” in the newspaper.
Gotham City’s finest. It never occurs to Gordon or O’Hara that the Joker might hit the Comedians Hall of Fame exhibit, even though there was a newspaper article that specifically mentioned that the Joker would not be one of the inductees into that hall. When Batman mentions it, they’re in awe of his genius.
Later, Gordon and O’Hara are depressed and stymied by Batman’s absence, unsure what they can possibly do without him. This so traumatizes them that O’Hara hands over a piece of evidence in an act of vandalism against police HQ to a civilian.
No sex, please, we’re superheroes. At the museum, there’s a gaggle of young women who squee over Robin, but neither hero pays them any mind. At the end, Queenie tries to charm her way out of arrest, to no avail.
Special Guest Villain. The trifecta of male villains is completed in this third set of episodes with Cesar Romero as the Joker. Romero famously refused to shave his mustache for the role, so they just covered the ‘stache with the harlequin makeup that is the character’s hallmark. (It’s actually way more noticeable on 21st century hi-def televisions than it was on the old analog TVs of the day, though I do recall noticing it occasionally when I was a kid.)
Na-na na-na na-na na-na na. “Holy headlines! We look like page one dumbbells!”
“Too true, Robin. The responsibility of the press is to report the truth despite what it might do to our image. Our main concern is to a frightened public whom we seem to be failing.”
“Gosh, you’re right—I can’t help thinking of only myself, I’m sorry.”
Robin bitching about the headlines, Batman pointing out that he’s being a doofus, and Robin admitting to being one.
Trivial matters: This episode was discussed on The Batcave Podcast episode 3 by host John S. Drew with special guest chum, Billy Flynn of Geek Radio Daily.
The story was partly based on the 1952 comic book story “The Joker’s Utility Belt” by David Reed, Dick Sprang, & Charles Paris, one of the three stories in Batman #73. Also, Joker breaking into TV broadcasts is similar to what he did in his very first appearance in Batman #1, breaking into radio broadcasts. The character would be seen to do it again in the comics, as well as in the movies (both the 1989 Batman and 2008’s The Dark Knight) and the 1990s animated series.
Writer Robert Dozier is the son of show developer William Dozier. This is the only story he wrote for his Dad’s show. He would go on to co-create the short-lived $weepstake$ in 1979.
The Joker’s game show What’s My Crime? is a riff on the long-running What’s My Line? (in its sixteenth year when this episode aired). Cesar Romero appeared on the show twice.
The cliffhanger voiceover for the first time has William Dozier saying the words, “Same bat-time, same bat-channel,” though the caption still reads “Same time, same channel,” as with the previous two cliffhangers.
Queenie is based on one of Joker’s henchwomen from the comics, who discovered Batman’s true identity, but died before she could reveal it.
In The Dark Knight, the Joker, played by Heath Ledger, wore an opera mask very similar to the one from this story that the Joker wore while playing Pagliacci.
While Crichton doesn’t appear, we do see more of his prison reform attempts, as seen in “Fine Feathered Finks”/ “The Penguin’s a Jinx.”
Pow! Biff! Zowie! “Come, my puckish partners in plunder!” If you want to start an argument among geeks—well, it’s not that hard, really, but one way to get one going is ask who the best Joker is. There are those who will swear by Jack Nicholson in the 1989 film, others extoll the virtues of Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight (he won an Oscar and everything!), and plenty of wonderful voice actors have done him in animated productions, from Larry Storch in the 1970s to Larry Weinrib in the 1980s to Mark Hamill in the 1990s to Kevin Michael Richardson in the 2000s. (Jared Leto will no doubt further complicate the argument in next year’s Suicide Squad.) For my money, with all respect to Ledger (and none to Nicholson, who was dreadful in the role; he was way more effective as Jack Napier than he was as the Joker, which is getting it entirely backwards), the best ever remains Hamill, as no one—live action or voice—has come close to his perfect rendering of the Clown Prince of Crime in the Batman, Superman, and Justice League animated series that ran from 1992-2003.
But it would be wrong to underestimate Cesar Romero. It’s easy to dismiss him when compared to the much darker psychotic lunacy of Hamill, Nicholson, and Ledger, but he brings a manic wonderfulness to the role. Unlike Frank Gorshin’s acrobatic craziness, which was leavened by calm moments, Romero’s Joker is entirely vocal—but incredibly effectively so. Like Gorshin, he has a distinctive laugh, and he’s written as a fan of alliteration, plus he doesn’t have the calm moments Gorshin uses. Indeed, the closest Romero comes to calm is when he’s being dismissive (usually toward his henchmen and moll when they’re being dumb), instead giving a steady barrage of gleefully manic craziness.
The story itself is fun in that it shows the Dynamic Duo dealing with failure and the consequences of it. Robin in particular is hurt by all the negative press; Batman seems unaffected.
In fact, Adam West’s usual calm in the face of craziness backfires a bit here in one aspect. The newscaster mentions his eight-year-old son, who included Batman as part of his before-bed prayers, and Robin mentions the boy several times in the episode. Meant to tug at the heartstrings, those mentions would be much more effective if West showed some—any—reaction to it. Honestly, he manages more reaction to the awful piano playing at the top of “The Joker is Wild” than he does to disappointing an eight-year-old.
Keith R.A. DeCandido doesn’t know why there ain’t no sun up in the sky.