Holy Rewatch Batman!

Holy Rewatch Batman! “The Joker’s Last Laugh” / “The Joker’s Epitaph”

“The Joker’s Last Laugh” / “The Joker’s Epitaph”
Written by Peter Rabe and Lorenzo Semple Jr.
Directed by Oscar Rudolph
Season 2, Episodes 47 and 48
Production code 9747
Original air dates: February 15 and 16, 1967

The Bat-signal: The Gotham City bank is providing counterfeit $100 bills for withdrawal, which results in law-abiding citizens passing fake money. The bills are perfect on one side, but blank on the other. Haunted by the insanity of the crime—and Joker’s laughter, which is echoing in Gordon’s office from an indeterminate source—Gordon and O’Hara call Batman, which interrupts Dick’s economics homework, to the boy’s delight and Bruce’s chagrin. (Bruce waxes rhapsodic about how awesome the subject of economics is, a diatribe that could only come from someone independently wealthy…)

The Joker’s laughter continues to echo in Gordon’s office, but Batman’s able to track the chortling to a speaker in Gordon’s cufflink, which is receiving from an antenna in Gordon’s trouser leg. Gordon insists that it must have gotten there from a weird person he bumped into on the subway, though how he got access to Gordon’s pants is a question best left unanswered on a network TV show in 1967…

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At his headquarters in the former offices of Penthouse Publishing (really!), a publisher of comic books (really!!!), Joker tests two of his robots—really super-strong androids named Yock and Boff, whom Joker constructed in jail. A third robot, Glee, is working as a teller in the bank, and has been passing the counterfeit cash. Batman and Robin determine that he’s a robot (by telling what Robin describes as a “super-funny” joke (which is in fact, not even remotely funny (and even if it was, Batman and Robin told it so incredibly badly that no one would laugh at it anyhow)) and when Glee doesn’t respond, it “proves” that he’s a robot) and then they tweak his nose, which somehow makes his head explode. Sure.

They take Glee to the Batcave, though not before Batman makes some snippy remarks to the bank president on the subject of better vetting his tellers, a statement he feels that bank chair Bruce Wayne would echo. Indeed.

The Dynamic Duo toss Glee into the trunk and drive off, but Joker has a tracer on Glee, so he and his moll Josie hop into the Jokemobile and track him. However Batman knows there’s a tracker, so he deflects the signal to a decoy Batcave entrance, sending the Jokemobile there while he and Robin proceed to the real Batcave.

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Batman and Robin analyze Glee, but find nothing useful. However, Alfred points out that the sleeves on Glee’s outfit were pressed unusually hard, and there are odd spots on them, which turn out to be printer’s ink, and in colors that would only be used in comic books. They discover that Penthouse was recently sold to W.C. Whiteface—a nom du plume for the Joker, though I mostly find myself wondering if the W.C. is supposed to refer to W.C. Fields or to the European abbreviation for a bathroom, a.k.a. a water closet.

They don’t have sufficient proof for an arrest, so Bruce Wayne shows up at Penthouse, pretending to be destitute, having played the stock market poorly. He noticed that Penthouse’s comics are printed using the same ink as the U.S. Treasury—and he offers “Mr. Whiteface” the position of vice chair of the board of the Gotham National Bank in exchange for providing Bruce with counterfeit currency to pay his newly acquired debts.

However, as Joker fires up the presses, Bruce signals Robin, who comes in the window. He “calls” Batman, saying he found Joker while on a routine crime patrol, and then fisticuffs ensue. Bruce tries to “help,” but his faux clumsiness just helps Robin do better in the fight (as planned), so Joker flicks the switch labelled “ROBOT SUPER STRENGTH LAST OUNCE OF ENERGY” to the “ON” side, and the robots are able to take Robin down. He’s tied to the comic book printing press, and to ensure no double cross, Joker has his robots force Bruce to pull the lever that will smush Robin.

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However, Alfred has been in reserve, dressed in a Batman costume, and he Bat-climbs to the scene and tosses bat-gas, which drives Joker, Josie, Boff, and Yock off. (Bruce tries to follow in his role as Joker’s pretend accomplice, but is left behind.) Joker’s counterfeit operation is now a bust, but Bruce fears that he’ll wreak more havoc, as Joker made off with the document Bruce had prepared that made “W.C. Whiteface” the vice chair of the board of the bank.

Batman and Robin check on the bank, but while Boff and Yock are now tellers, there’s no odd activity. However, Joker announces that he’s going to visit Bruce Wayne on a business matter, so the Dynamnic Duo zip home and change back into their civvies.

Joker recorded Bruce “confessing” to speculating and soliciting illegal behavior from Joker. He tries to use the tape to get Bruce to kill Batman and Robin, but when he refuses, he goes for Plan B: forcing Bruce to marry Josie, with a three million dollar dowry. Joker even announces it on the society pages. Gordon and O’Hara are outraged; they try the bat-phone, but Batman’s public statement is that Bruce Wayne is an adult and can make his own decisions. Undaunted, Gordon gets the GCPD psychiatrist, Dr. Floyd, to declare Bruce mentally incompetent, suffering from second childhood syndrome (snorfle), which will enable them to negate his appointment of Joker to the bank board.

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Meanwhile, Batman dopes out Glee’s controls and activates him in the name of justice. (Really!) He’s able to transmit instructions to Boff and Yock through Glee, but before he can implement the rest of his plan, O’Hara shows up with the lunatic squad and takes Bruce away in a straitjacket. Alfred is forced to once again don the bat-suit, and he and Robin head out in the Batmobile to track down the van that is taking Bruce to Happy Acres. They free Bruce—in total violation of a legitimate court order—and head to the bank, where Gordon is alerting Joker to the illegitimacy of his post as vice chair. Then Glee shows up and declares that Josie is his wife, just as Batman and Robin enter and accuse Joker of promoting bigamy.

Then Boff and Yock try to rob the customers, at which point Joker manages to take control of their programming once again. Fisticuffs ensue, and our heroes somehow manage to be triumphant despite the fact that three of the foes are super-strong. As he puts the Bat-cuffs on Josie, she asks him to apologize to Bruce, saying it might have been fun.

Floyd examines Bruce and declares him to be mentally competent once more. Floyd also expresses a desire to some day examine Die Fleidermaus Mensch.

Fetch the Bat-shark-repellant! Batman has a laugh-track detector, which must be handy to determine which sitcoms are filming before a studio audience and which has canned laughter. The Bat-deflector can deflect the signal of a tracer and lead it instead to a fake miniature Batcave entrance, complete with a sign under it that says, “LAUGH, CRIMINALS, LAUGH!” (Batman can be one nasty sumbitch when he puts his mind to it, can’t he?) He looks over Glee with the Integro-Differential Robot Analyzer (why it’s modified with the nonsense term “integro-differential” rather than the more traditional “bat” is left as an exercise for the viewer), which is later hooked up to the Robot Control Device. The Bat-spot analyzer can tell you what any spot is made of. The utility belt comes equipped not only with bat-gas, but also a bat-fan that will disperse it.

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Holy #@!%$, Batman! Upon hearing Joker’s cackling on police HQ, Dick grabs his own elbow and says, “Holy funny bone, the Joker!” Upon realizing the lengths to which Joker went to plant a mini-loudspeaker and an antenna on Gordon’s person, Robin mutters, “Holy chutzpah!” thus injecting a much-appreciated dose of Yiddish to the proceedings. When he observes Glee counting money, he says, “Holy precision,” and when he discovers Glee has a tracker he says, “Holy hunting horn.” When they examine Glee, he enthuses, “Holy clockworks,” and when can’t find any useful clues on the robot, he grumbles, “Holy dead end.” When Bruce reveals that Joker is now the vice chair of the bank board, Robin aghasts, “Holy bankruptcy!” When the bank president says that Joker has the bank running at “apple pie order,” Robin’s response is “Holy stomachache.” When Bruce is forced to marry Josie, Robin envies, “Holy madness.” When Batman proposes taking control of Glee, Robin on-the-noses, “Holy remote controlled robot,” and then when Batman revives the artificial person, he just-as-on-the-noses, “Holy Frankenstein!” Upon the “revelation” that Glee is Josie’s “husband,” Robin jokes, “Holy wedding cake.”

Gotham City’s finest. Stymied by Batman’s unwillingness to help Gordon put Bruce Wayne away (for obvious reasons), Gordon is left to function on his own, which would seem to be dangerous, but dammit if he doesn’t actually take sensible action here, as declaring Bruce incompetent is a clever stratagem for getting Joker away from the bank.

No sex, please, we’re superheroes. Josie takes great pleasure in smooching Bruce, and promises to be faithful to him in her own way. (Cough.) Meanwhile, agreeing to marry a woman with a rap sheet is deemed sufficient to inter Bruce in a funny farm. Okay then.

Special Guest Villain. Back as the Joker is Cesar Romero, last seen in “The Penguin Declines.” He’ll be back in the season’s penultimate storyline, “Pop Goes the Joker” / “Flop Goes the Joker.”

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Na-na na-na na-na na-na na.

“Once again, we take our poor cracked pitcher to the Caped Crusader’s well.”

–Truer words, Commissioner, truer words.

Trivial matters: This episode was discussed on The Batcave Podcast episode 41 by host John S. Drew with special guest chum, independent filmmaker and graphic designer Robert Long.

Two of Joker’s henchfolk have a Star Trek connection: Mr. Glee is played by Lawrence Montaigne, who played Decius in “Balance of Terror” and Stonn in “Amok Time” (he was also being groomed as a possible replacement for Leonard Nimoy as Spock if contract negotiations broke down between seasons one and two); and Josie is played by Phyllis Douglas, who played Yeoman Mears in “The Galileo Seven” and one of the space hippies in “The Way to Eden.”

Lorenzo Semple’s script is based on a story by crime novelist Peter Rabe. It’s Rabe’s only time writing for the screen—perhaps he was traumatized by Alan Napier doing a bat-climb. Rabe met Semple while the former was in Spain recovering from an illness.

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The Jokemobile is a reuse of the “Mongrel T” roadster created for the Elvis Presley movie Easy Come, Easy Go.

The use of Penthouse as the name of the publisher Joker takes over is a bit jaw-dropping to modern eyes, but while the erotic magazine of the same name debuted in 1965, it didn’t start being published in the U.S. until 1969, so it’s probably a coincidence that it has the same name. Probably. (Having said that, there was a Penthouse Comix magazine in the 1990s…)

Pow! Biff! Zowie! “It’s sometimes difficult to think clearly when you’re strapped to a printing press.” So first Joker nails time travel, and now he’s mastered robotics, to the point where he’s created humanform androids (inaccurately referred to as “robots”). You gotta wonder, if he’s this kind of scientific genius, why he’s bothering to commit petty crimes, y’know, ever? I mean, it could just be that he’s nuts, though this iteration of the Joker is far saner than most of the other screen versions.

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Also, how does the W.C. Whiteface identity hold up in any way? I mean, Gordon knows he’s really the Joker and it’s not a nom du plume, so why can’t he remove him as vice chair of the bank that way? Unless his real name is legally W.C. Whiteface. (Beats the heck out of “Jack Napier,” if you ask me…) And Bruce gets committed solely on the basis of getting engaged to a criminal? And he’s declared mentally sane because he has good reflexes? Buh?

Anyhow, this is all minor stuff that’s mostly just a fun hour. It’s not a top episode or anything, but it’s just fun to watch and doesn’t make you want to beat your head against the wall. I love the fact that Batman has a miniature Batcave entrance (labelled, of course, because this is Gotham) for the express purpose of trolling the bad guys. I love that Batman’s plan doesn’t entirely work (well, it mostly does—he does end the counterfeiting), and has the unintended consequence of putting Joker in charge of personnel at the bank. I love that Alfred has to pretend to be Batman, not once, but twice, and he gets to do a bat-climb! (Take that, Sean Pertwee!) I love the glee with which Phyllis Douglas plays Josie—not the best of the molls, but definitely in the upper echelon. I love watching Bruce pretend to be a klutz in order to “help” Joker by really helping Robin. I love that the GCPD, left to their own devices, actually approaches competence for once. (Though I was disappointed to see that Gordon didn’t participate in the bat-fight at the end, staying on the sidelines with Josie. He’s a trained cop for crying out loud!) And I love that Batman is a paragon of virtue and law-abiding-ness right up until the part where Bruce is put in a straitjacket and placed in an insane asylum, at which point he has no problem with Alfred and Robin violating a court order to illegally free Bruce from the paddy wagon.

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Basically, this is the perfect episode to toss into the DVD player if you want to watch a Batman ’66 episode that has all the usual craziness (including a most impressive selection of Bat-gadgets) without the plot howlers to drive you, er, batty. It’s even got a decent cliffhanger, and one that relates to the original format Batman debuted in!

Bat-rating: 6

Keith R.A. DeCandido reminds everyone that Book 2 of his “Tales of Asgard” trilogy, Marvel’s Sif: Even Dragons Have Their Endings, is available for preorder from the fine folks at Amazon. It’ll be released in mid-November. And you can still get Book 1, Marvel’s Thor: Dueling with Giants at finer bookstores and online dealers.

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