“Pop Goes the Joker” / “Flop Goes the Joker”
Written by Stanford Sherman
Directed by george waGGner
Season 2, Episodes 57 and 58
Production code 9757
Original air dates: March 22 and 23, 1967
The Bat-signal: Alfred is at an art gallery, searching for art to purchase for Bruce. Just as he’s introduced to the artist Oliver Muzzy, the Joker bursts in, declaring all the art to be dull and lifeless and spray painting all over them. Alfred sneaks out to phone home, telling Harriet that he’s found a painting called “The Laughing Man” and Bruce should come see it at once. Deciphering his code, Bruce and Dick slide down the bat-poles and head to the gallery. (Alfred removed the signs on the bat-poles in order to put a new coat of paint on them. This will probably be important later.)
The Dynamic Duo arrive in time to take Joker and his thugs down, but the damage has been done (not just to the art, but to Batman’s uniform, which the Joker sprays with red paint). However, Muzzy is overwhelmed by Joker’s artistic genius, and wants to share credit for the paintings with him. Since the vandalism is no longer considered vandalism, Joker and his henchmen are able to leave in peace.
Batman and Robin have Gordon and O’Hara post officers at all Gotham’s art galleries and private collections, since the Joker probably has an art-related heist up his sleeve. Then they retire to the Batcave, where Alfred tries to get the paint off Batman’s shirt.
Joker enters the Gotham International Art Contest. Gordon plans to embed fifty plainclothes officers, but Batman suggests instead just having one person go in, someone who runs in the same social circles as the contest’s host, socialite Baby Jane Towser. Gordon suggests Bruce.
The next day, the contest commences, and Towser introduces the contestants: Pablo Pincus, Jackson Potluck, Leonardo da Vinski (who has a monkey), Vincent van Gauche, and the Joker. Pincus throws paint randomly on the canvas, Potluck lies in paint and rolls around on his canvas, da Vinski has his monkey fling tomatoes at the canvas, and van Gauche paints with his feet. Joker, however, paints nothing. He calls it “Death of a Mauve Bat.” It died in 1936, and the blank canvas represents the emptiness of modern life. Towser is overwhelmed with its brilliance and awards first prize to the Joker (da Vinski’s monkey is displeased).
Joker announces that he is opening a new art school for millionaires to teach them the secrets of modern art. Obviously, he wants to bilk the wealthy denizens of Gotham, and his first sign-up is Towser, who is smitten. Bruce decides to sign up as well, in order to have a front-row seat for Joker’s scheme.
Bruce attends his first class at Joker’s Art Institute, while wearing a tracking device that Robin and Alfred keep tabs on in the Batcave. After a sculpting lesson, Joker finally drops the other shoe: the students are all kidnapped, ransom notes having already been sent to their families. Robin learns of this and goes after them—but he has to take the bus, because he’s too young to drive. Not the most efficient method of crimefighting there, kids…
However, Robin does eventually show up (climbing in through the window, as ever) and fisticuffs ensue—with Bruce actually fighting; the other millionaires hide in the corner—but our heroes are defeated. Joker is amused that Batman is too afraid to face him. He ties Bruce to a chair to watch Robin be put alone in a deathtrap in the form of a mobile that has many blades that will cut him to pieces.
Bruce, while still tied to the chair, manages to clamber over to the control mechanism and stop it long enough for Robin to get out of his bonds. He frees Bruce, and they go after the Joker. Joker buggers off, while fisticuffs ensue with the henchmen—while that happens, Joker works on Towser, convincing her that he’s just a misguided artist. And since the ransom hasn’t been delivered, no crime has been committed, save for kidnapping, but Towser refuses to press charges, and she uses her position near the top of the social ladder to intimidate the others into doing likewise. To Robin’s shock, Bruce also agrees not to press kidnapping charges, even though Towser’s threats won’t really affect him. (Bruce mostly wants to protect his secret identity, which is a shitty reason to let a felon go, but whatever. Not to mention the whole attempted murder of Robin thing. Besides, letting the Joker go also allows the other millionaires to go free.)
In the Batcave, Bruce slides down the bat-pole into a freshly laundered bat-suit. He has Alfred paint a bunch of paintings, and they replace all the art in the Towser Wing of the Gotham Art Museum with Alfred’s work.
Joker dines with Towser, and then his muse strikes and he paints the dining room table and then smashes it—Joker insists he’s turned the expensive dining room table into a priceless piece of art. He then conscripts Towser to let them into the Towser Wing of the museum to replace all the musty old art with his own artwork. He tells Towser that he’ll be taking them to the city dump to burn them, but his real plan is to steal all the expensive art in the museum—which Batman anticipated.
The Dynamic Duo head to Joker’s Art Institute, where Joker is calling Gordon to ransom the art he’s stolen for ten million dollars (not yet realizing that they’re not what he thinks). Batman gets on another extension of the phone line, making Joker think he’s with Gordon. Joker is livid when he realizes he’s been had, and he says that if Batman was there, he’d give him a pounding. “Start pounding,” Batman says, and when Joker realizes he’s in the room, he lets out a huge scream.
Fisticuffs ensue, but Joker gets away with a tied-up Towser in tow. He heads to Wayne Manor to steal some of Bruce’s cash. He gets Alfred to cooperate by threatening Towser, but then Alfred gains the upper hand. There’s a brief “swordfight” with pokers, which Alfred wins, but Joker runs to the study, where he accidentally opens the fake bookcase. Luckily, Alfred hadn’t replaced the name plates yet, so Joker just thinks it’s a secret passageway. He slides down one of the bat-poles (luckily, Alfred hadn’t gotten around to laundering the spare outfits), but Alfred hits the emergency up button, and Joker comes zipping back up to the ceiling. When Joker complains of not being able to breathe, Alfred sends him back down.
Batman and Robin arrive to see that Alfred has everything in hand, so they check on Towser, whom Harriet has untied, and who has learned the error of her ways. Meanwhile, Alfred continues to send Joker up and down the bat-pole over and over again. Later, we find out that Alfred’s art is now being displayed in the same art gallery from the show’s opening, with the proceeds of sales going to charity.
Fetch the Bat-shark-repellant! Bruce wears a tracking device that Robin and Alfred are able to track on the Bat-radar in the Batcave, thus enabling Robin to show up to rescue Bruce and the other millionaires.
Holy #@!%$, Batman! When Alfred clues them via Harriet regarding the Joker’s arrival, Dick utters, “Holy tip-off!” When Muzzy declares Joker’s “art” to be brilliant, Robin grumbles, “Holy hoaxes!” When Bruce and the other millionaires are kidnapped, Robin cries, “Holy hostage!” When he’s tied to the mobile, Robin laments, “Holy hamburger!”
Gotham City’s finest. Gordon promises that he and O’Hara will sit in Gordon’s office until Batman gives them the go-ahead to act. You gotta wonder what other crimes were going on that Doofus and Dumbass ignored, since they stayed in the office until very late that night.
Special Guest Villain. Cesar Romero makes his final second-season appearance (and arguably his best) as the Joker. He’ll be back in the third season’s “Surf’s Up! Joker’s Under!” (arguably his worst).
Na-na na-na na-na na-na na.
“That’s terrible—terrible, Wayne! Why even a three-year-old could do better than that. Here, let me show you.” [Joker mushes the sculpture to make it more abstract.] “There! That’s more like it!”
“Yes, I see what you mean, that’s about the level of a three-year-old.”
“I do the jokes around here, Wayne.”
“I’d say that’s one of your better ones.”
–Joker and Bruce engaging in witty banter.
Trivial matters: This episode was discussed on The Batcave Podcast episode 45 by host John S. Drew with special guest chum, author and podcaster Kevin Lauderdale.
The episode is a spoof of the art world in general and the pop-art phenomenon (of which this series was considered a part) in particular. Baby Jane Towser is a play on Baby Jane Holzer, part of the inner circle of pop-art guru Andy Warhol, while Joker’s competition in the art contest are plays on Leonardo da Vinci, Jackson Pollock, Pablo Picasso, and Vincent van Gogh.
The Jack Nicholson Joker went on a similar spray-painting spree in an art gallery in the 1989 Batman, no doubt an homage to this episode. (And be honest, some of you heard Prince’s “Batdance” in your head when you rewatched the scene in this episode, right?)
Long-time character actor Fritz Feld plays Muzzy, complete with his trademark popping noise. He’ll return in another Joker episode in season three, “The Joker’s Flying Saucer.”
Pow! Biff! Zowie! “Friendship ends when real felony finally takes over.” Once again, the show proves that they should have gone for overt satire more often. One of the best stories they ever did was “Hizzoner the Penguin” / “Dizzoner the Penguin,” a brilliant sendup of the political process, and this time they take on the abstract art movement of the 20th century. The art commentary is hilarious, and I say that as someone who actually likes abstract art.
Cesar Romero is at his best here. He just cuts loose and acts crazy, freed from constraints by pointing out that he’s an artist, and the rules of decorum and society don’t apply to him anyhow, so there, nyah, nyah. It’s a delightful performance, probably Romero’s best.
And he’s matched by Adam West, who gets a rare chance to stretch his legs while not wearing the cape-and-cowl, and the scenes with him and the Joker bantering are some of the best in the whole series. West was often at his best when getting to be Bruce for an extended period (best seen in the feature film), and this is a prime example.
But the best, the absolute best, thing about this glorious episode is that it isn’t the Dynamic Duo who save the day, it’s Alfred. He singlehandedly stops the Joker, first by tricking him into thinking the safe is behind the painting, then beating him in poker-fencing, then sending him on a trip up and down the bat-poles. Take that, Sean Pertwee!
It’s not quite perfect. Diane Ivarson spends most of her time speaking at the top of her lungs for no compellingly good reason, and her character is wildly inconsistent depending on the needs of the story. And the deathtrap is visually lame, a victim of the low budget.
Still, these are minor nits in one of the brightest spots of the uneven second season.
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 scheduled to be released on the 15th of November and 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 or B&N.