Holy Rewatch Batman!

Holy Rewatch Batman! “Black Widow Strikes Again” / “Caught in the Spider’s Den”

“Black Widow Strikes Again” / “Caught in the Spider’s Den”
Written by Robert Mintz
Directed by Oscar Rudolph
Season 2, Episodes 55 and 56
Production code 9753
Original air dates: March 15 and 16, 1967

The Bat-signal: The Black Widow arrives at a bank, driven there in the sidecar of a motorcycle by one of her henchmen, who also helps her out and hands her her coat and bag. On the pretense of opening a savings account, she activates a Cerebrum Short-Circuiter, which puts the bank manager under her control, and she tells him to give her $30,000.

The manager goes to Gordon, who calls Batman just as Harriet is showing off her new black pants to Bruce and Dick—she apparently wants to become “mod.” (She wanted a miniskirt, but the sales clerk said she didn’t have the face for it. Charming sales clerk, that…) Our heroes arrive at GCPD, where Gordon reads the file on the Black Widow, and Batman confirms the mind control that was used on the bank manager.

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The Dynamic Duo return to the Batcave and feeds Black Widow’s information into the Batcomputer, while the villain herself robs another five banks in the same manner (Gordon tells Batman when he calls him to inform him of this that it’s four, but then he reads a list that makes it clear that it’s five), and Batman realizes that she’s robbing banks in alphabetical order, and the sixth bank will be Gotham General.

Upon arrival, Batman and Robin are met by a very nervous bank manager, who is holding a rifle (and shaking visibly, which isn’t really good firearms discipline) while sitting in front of the vault. Our heroes relieve the manager of his weapon and tell him to act naturally. So when an older woman in black walks in, he jumps her—except it’s the newly mod Harriet, intending to open a savings account for Dick. She harumphs and takes her business elsewhere.

A few minutes later, the Black Widow arrives. She hits Batman with a paralyzing dose of spider-venom and walks out. Robin, for reasons passing understanding, just stands there until Batman can move again.

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They follow in the Batmobile once Batman can move again, tracking her to an unassuming house in the suburbs, where two dummies pretend to be an older couple rocking on the porch, saying there’s nobody there.

They go back to the Batcave and analyze the recording of the old couple and realize that their voice prints are artificial. When they return to the house, three hours later, the couple hasn’t even moved. They approach the house, and the two don’t even budge, or respond when Batman pulls on the woman’s cheek and Robin holds the man’s nose.

When our heroes find the Black Widow’s underground lair, the henchmen ambush them, and fisticuffs ensue. The Dynamic Duo are victorious, but then the Black Widow pins them to a spider’s web and then unleashes two big spiders on them. Batman manages to free his right hand and use an electric shock to get out of it.

They find Black Widow counting her loot. However, Black Widow has reversed the polarity on her Cerebrum Short-Circuiter. Robin has lost one of his electrodes that protects them—which means that now he’s unaffected by her device, but Batman is now under her control. They subdue Robin and tie him up while Batman and Black Widow share a drink (of milk, of course, Batman still being Batman despite the mind control).

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Black Widow has run out of banks to rob, apparently (which means, I guess, she robbed 19 more banks?), so she asks for help from the Batcomputer. Batman uses the remote access to the Batcomputer to find a bank she hasn’t hit yet.

Black Widow has Batman provide a spare batsuit and put it on the Grandpa dummy. Then Batman calls the bank and asks them to put $40,000 in a bag and hand it to Batman at 11.43am. The Black Widow disguises herself as Robin and she and the Grandpa dummy drive off in the Batmobile posing as Batman and Robin, who then rob the bank.

Gordon is devastated to realize that this wasn’t a setup by Batman, but that he appears to have gone bad. Gordon puts out an APB on Batman and Robin. A cop captures the Batmobile, but Black Widow drives off—and then the cop shoots “Batman.” The poor cop is devastated.

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Robin manages to free himself from being tied up, grabs the short-circuiter, reverses the polarity, and then frees Batman—though first he takes revenge for years of being forced to wear those doofy short pants by making Batman sing for a few minutes. Batman fake-ties him back up and pretends to be under their control so they can ambush her when she gets back.

Gordon and O’Hara try calling the Bat-phone to see if they can talk Robin into surrendering, but Alfred answers. He reveals that he back-traced the remote use of the Batcomputer to an address, which he gives to Gordon, who accompanies O’Hara there with some cops, figuring Robin to be there.

Black Widow returns to her headquarters, at which point fisticuffs ensue. After defeating the henchmen, Batman uses the short-circuiter on Black Widow, who then comes very quietly with O’Hara to be arrested. (Black Widow says O’Hara reminds her of her late husband, which explains why she’s so happy as a widow…)

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Batman and Robin then spend the next few weeks coming by with the Brain-Wave Batanalyzer to decriminalize her and her henchmen, which is totally ethical and completely above-board, and thoroughly legal, and not at all scary mind-control holy shit!

Fetch the Bat-shark-repellant! Batman uses a Brain-Wave Batanalyzer on the bank manager to unscramble his cerebrum, and later on the Widow and her henchmen. It looks so much like a hairdryer that O’Hara actually asks why he has a hairdryer. Our heroes wear anti-short-circuiting brain bat-electrodes to save them from the Black Widow’s Cerebrum Short-Circuiter, though Robin loses his later on. Batman installed an odor sensitometer radar circuit in the Batmobile. The Batmobile also has an ultrasonic recorder, which makes tapes that can be played on the Bat-tape reader in the Batcave, and also analyzed by the Batscilloscope viewer. He keeps a mini-volt box that delivers a shock of 5000 volts on his utility belt. He has a remote control Batcomputer oscillator.

Holy #@!%$, Batman! “Holy olfactory” is Robin’s reply to Batman’s description of the odor sensitometer radar in the Batmobile. “Holy reversed polarity” is Robin’s exclamation upon freeing Batman from Black Widow’s control.

Gotham City’s finest. “Me men are clever, goodness knows, but where the human brain is concerned, they’re just not equipped.” O’Hara sums up the GCPD perfectly with that line.

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Special Guest Villainess. In one of her final roles before dying of emphysema in December 1968, Tallulah Bankhead—credited with the prefix “Miss” out of respect for her long career, which dated back to the 1910s—plays the Black Widow. A chain-smoker, she had an oxygen tank kept handy to help with her breathing between takes.

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

“Happiness can’t buy money.”

–Black Widow summing up her philosophy of life.

Trivial matters: This episode was discussed on The Batcave Podcast episode 44 by host John S. Drew with special guest chum, Chris Gould, author of Batman at 45: The Ultimate Tribute to Pow, Bam, and Zap!

Veteran actor George Raft—who made a career out of playing gangsters—makes an uncredited cameo as a bank customer. The talking dummies of Grandma and Grandpa are played by Meg Wylie (probably best known as the Talosian Keeper in Star Trek‘s “The Cage” and “The Menagerie“) and George Chandler (one of the founders of the Screen Actors Guild, and who regularly appeared on The Adventures of Superman). Walker Edmiston plays the bank teller; he was a prolific voiceover actor for many TV shows both live-action and animated.

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Scripter Robert Mintz was the show’s post-production coordinator. This is his only script for the series, and it almost wasn’t produced due to the show having too many scripts. According to a memo to Mintz by producer Howie Horwitz, the network wanted more returning villains and they were reluctant to do original female villains, as the male originals tended toward a better response. It’s not clear what allowed the episode to be done, though it’s possible that the casting of Bankhead as the Black Widow had something to do with it…

The cliffhanger voiceover says to “Tune in mañana” rather than “Tune in tomorrow” for reasons passing understanding.

Pow! Biff! Zowie! “To me, you are a crashing bore!” This episode has its moments for sure. Tallulah Bankhead is obviously having a grand old time vamping it up with the same verve she had as a younger woman, for all that she’s noticeably frail and non-mobile. The henchmen are delightful, and I particularly like Trap Door being constantly stuck behind his trap door (which, naturally, is labelled, “TRAP DOOR”) but coming out periodically to be useful (or once just because he’s lonely). The Bat-devices come flying fast and furious in this one, to hilarious effect.

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And it’s a rare showcase for Burt Ward, as he actually does a decent job mimicking Bankhead’s facial mannerisms when the Widow is disguised as Robin. Plus, Robin gets to make Batman sing “I’m Called Little Buttercup” from HMS Pinafore, which is a crowning moment of awesome for the Boy Wonder—probably the only such moment in this version of the character’s entire history. (Luckily, we also have him standing around with his thumb up his butt while Batman is paralyzed rather than actually, y’know, stopping the Widow himself, or at least moving toward her, plus he gets captured easily by the henchmen twice, just to remind us that yes, he’s still the sidekick…) Adam West beautifully plays the docile, mind-controlled Batman (politely asking for milk, gently urging the henchmen to let him play solitaire alone, gamely singing for Robin). And Alfred gets to be brilliant, which is always fun.

Having said that, the story’s a mess. The alphabet theme for the banks is mildly clever, but not really followed up on, the cliffhanger is disjointed and ruined by the overwhelming fakery of the spiders, the bits with Harriet just seems designed to give Madge Blake extra screentime, something the character has done nothing to earn, and then our heroes win the day by using the same awful methods as the bad guy.

Honestly, if they had just ended it with Batman using the short-circuiter on Widow long enough for her to be arrested, I probably would have been okay with it, especially since the first half of the story included a line where Batman assures us that the effects are temporary.

But then we have the tag, where our heroes, our paragons of virtue, our costumed crusaders who obey the law to a fault (to the point where they won’t even park the Batmobile in an illegal spot), engage in mind-control on the Widow and her henchmen!!!!

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Honestly, I can’t get past that, especially since we’ve never seen Batman do this with anyone else. The Widow is no worse than any of the other villains—in fact, she’s one of the least harmful of our bad guys, as she doesn’t go for political power, her villainous acts don’t hurt anyone permanently (except for her attempted murder of Batman and Robin with the spiders, but that’s part of the formula of the show in any case)—she just takes money from banks. Yet she gets to be lobotomized in the name of justice when Joker, Penguin, Catwoman, Riddler, and the rest don’t? (It also raises the question, if he’s got a magical brain-altering hair dryer, why didn’t he use it to cure King Tut?)

An awful ending to a mediocre episode—but also a fun ending to a great career, so it’s a wash. I guess.

Bat-rating: 4

Keith R.A. DeCandido‘s next novel is Marvel’s Sif: Even Dragons Have Their Endings, Book 2 of the “Tales of Asgard” trilogy, which is available for preorder from both Amazon and Barnes & Noble. You can also preorder Book 3 of the trilogy, Marvel’s Warriors Three: Godhood’s End, from Amazon.

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