Well, I think this may be a first for this season of Batman ’66 reviews: Two villains you’ve heard of! This is genuinely exciting by this point. No beloved actors clearly disinterested in their roles going through the motions this time! We’ve got Penguin and Mr. Freeze, so get ready!
“Hizzoner the Penguin” / “Dizzoner the Penguin”
Hey, we get our first A-list villain in a long time! This is a very weird pair of episodes only let down by a couple of storytelling shortcuts that don’t quite work. The Penguin runs for Mayor, and Mayor Linseed decides the only way to beat him is for Batman to also run.
So, it’s worth noting right off that Penguin running for Mayor is a popular story. Tim Burton did in Batman Returns, the comic book spinoff of Batman: The Animated Series had a long arc with Mayor Cobblepot, and of course, Gotham‘s Penguin got to be Mayor for a while. I believe there’s a single comic in the Fifties where Penguin has political aspirations, though I’ve never read it. If it exists, it was probably the inspiration for this episode as the writers pulled from the comics whenever they could. Either way, these episodes probably cemented the idea as a go-to Penguin story.
I talked about it last season, but I’m convinced that Tim Burton’s only research for Batman was watching a few episodes of Batman ’66 and declaring “This, but goth“. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s why his Penguin (who is, let’s remember, a sewer monster) runs for Mayor. In Gotham it was a fairly natural extension of Oswald’s arc, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some inspiration here. And it’s a story I always like, so I’m not going to complain.
There is almost no action in the first episode. The focus is on political satire, and some of it is actually pretty funny. I don’t have context for the bits about the Monarchist Party, but they go back to that well a couple of times. Still, the pollsters are pretty funny, and I love the way Batman tries to keep this election about the issues and insists on running a dignified campaign, while Penguin is basically throwing a party every time. It’s hard not to see parallels to 2016, frankly. And while Gotham‘s campaign was intended as a Trump satire, this sort of predicted what the Trump campaign would be.
I like that Paul Revere and the Raiders appear as themselves to play a Penguin rally. They seem psyched to perform for a supervillain, too. There’s also a super creepy joke where Penguin says one of his henchwomen isn’t old enough to vote for him, but maybe his fourth term. Don’t even try to do the math on that. But it is a nice use of Penguin as sleazebag, which is sort of his distinguishing villain characteristic.
Penguin has a strong lead in the polls, but just to goose things, he has his goons ambush Batman and Robin at a fake campaign stop and lower them into acid. Luckily, the cliffhanger is resolved because Alfred made new acid-proof uniforms, which was one of those shortcuts I talked about. Later, a debate is interrupted when Penguin’s gang (who are not publicly known to be Penguin’s gang even though he always hangs out with them) try to steal some jewels and both candidates go out to fight them. The news is on hand to score the fight and since the goons fall over if Penguin so much as looks at them, they declare him the winner. It’s one of the more elaborate fight scenes to date with more moving pieces than we usually see.
Then it’s election night. Things look bad, but Batman knows there’s a difference between polls and votes, which we also saw in 2016, but in the other direction. As he takes the lead, Penguin kidnaps the election commissioners so they can’t count the votes. But, and here’s the other shortcut, the votes are already counted and Batman won. There was some clever stuff her and it kind of drops off at the end. And in the tag, Batman is contacted by both political parties to run for President in 1968. No names are mentioned, but to the second call he responds “I thought you already had a candidate”. Presumably he was talking to the Democrats, as Vice President Hubert Humphrey would have been the assumed candidate by this time. That probably played funnier in its original airing.
It’s a fun set of episodes. They’ve been playing with the standard format in the last few stories and I like that a lot. The campaign stops are usually pretty funny – I especially like people getting mad at Batman for not kissing babies, even after he explains that their immune systems are very susceptible. Then Penguin shows up and kisses babies while he still has his cigarette holder in his mouth. That really made me laugh.
It’s also notable to me that Penguin mentions both Joker and Riddler as the new police chief and Commissioner respectively. It’s the second mention of Joker, who hasn’t appeared yet this season, and the first time they’ve acknowledged Riddler after dropping Frank Gorshin over his salary demands. My feelings on this are well-documented.
So we get some episodes that break the format plus a major villain. This is what I want, Batman ’66. Was that so hard?
“Green Ice” / “Deep Freeze”
It’s Mr. Freeze’s second appearance on this show, and as I mentioned the first time he appeared, this show has a lot to do with why Mr. Freeze still exists as a major villain. He had been pretty much phased out of the comics by this time, and his appearances here helped resurrect his comic career. Now, Mr. Freeze famously didn’t have a real origin until Batman: The Animated Series in 1992, but on this show, he and King Tut have so far been the only villains to have even a hint of backstory. Also, his first appearance established his real last name as “Schivel”, a name that was never used for him anywhere else.
This time, director Otto Preminger plays Freeze. He was actually played by a different actor in each of his three appearances, but I feel like people most remember the Preminger version. George Sanders’ take on Freeze last season was weird – if you remember, he was either completely covered in a hazmat suit or, in his headquarters, he just wore regular clothes. Preminger’s Freeze has blue skin and wears a special collar that sprays him with cold air to keep him alive. I mean, they tell us it does that. Presumably the dome helmet of the comic version wasn’t feasible. It should be noted that the cast did not enjoy working with Preminger – Adam West and Burt Ward both slammed him in memoirs and Alan Napier (Alfred) already hated the guy from making a previous movie with him. I didn’t enjoy Preminger’s Mr. Freeze as much as I expected – Sanders’ take was weird and cruel in a way that didn’t really land here. I’m looking forward to his return later in the season, when he’ll be played by Eli Wallach. I can’t remember ever seeing those episodes and blue Eli Wallach just looks crazy.
Mr. Freeze captures Miss Iceland, with the intent of lowering her body temperature so much that she falls in love with him. This is pretty silly, but I notice that there’s no real indication within the episode that this would actually work. I like the idea that maybe Mr. Freeze puts too much faith in what cold can accomplish. He also attacks Gordon’s office before he and Chief O’Hara can call Batman, which we haven’t seen before. So first Batman and Robin have to de-ice their friends and then, bizarrely, answer questions from the press. There’s a lady who’s meant to be a tabloid reporter who thinks Batman is up to something when he refuses to confirm that Mr. Freeze is behind the cold attack. It gets works when a block of ice filled with money arrives as a gift for Batman.
Later, Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson host a fundraiser and Freeze attacks. He’s even got henchmen dressed up like Batman and Robin who first fail to be effective and then accept a bribe in front of all the guests (who’ve been frozen in the shin-deep swimming pool). In a break from this show’s usual approach, they actually have different actors in the costumes. Usually, if somebody dresses as Robin (even if they’re Jill St. John), they’re just played by Burt Ward until they pull off their mask.
Batman and Robin find Freeze’s hideout but they’re ambushed and left to be turned into ice cream treats. They find a way to heat up the room through a method that is only partly explained. The character assassination continues as the paper runs a picture of Batman wearing Gordon’s stolen watch. It’s said to be a doctored photo, but it seems like it would have been easier for Freeze to have his fake Batman wear the watch. Sadly, the storyline about framing Batman peters out and we end up with a final fight where Batman and Robin have anti-freeze elements in their costumes so Freeze’s cold gun is useless. I wonder if that comes up again next time Freeze appears – I mean, they sort of bestowed complete immunity on Batman and Robin which is going to give Eli Wallach an uphill battle.
They save Miss Iceland and in the fight, Freeze’s collar gets smashed and he has to seal himself in an ice block to survive. It’s all pretty straightforward. The reporting angle had potential but didn’t really develop and the resolution is kind of unsatisfying. These episodes were pretty middle of the road.
And boy, if you want evidence of the lower budget this season, this is a good place to look. The freeze effects mostly look pretty bad. There’s a bit where Freeze shoots a cop with a cold gun and the effect they use makes it impossible to determine what exactly happened. He’s suddenly outlined in green, as if that visually conveys “frozen”. Heck, they might have built in the “you can’t freeze us anymore” plot point so they wouldn’t even have to futz with the cold gun in future appearances.
All right, next time we get Joker’s first appearance of the season and the debut of Marsha, Queen of Diamonds. Which is another new-to-the-show villain, but I remember being confusingly attracted to her as a child, so we’ll see how this plays out.