A week or so ago I was really looking forward to the first Joker episodes of Season 2. I was so young and optimistic then. These episodes are not great. But I knew this job would be dangerous when I took it. So let’s check in with Batman ’66 for the first appearance of Marsha, Queen of Diamonds and the return of the Joker.
“The Impractical Joker” / “The Joker’s Provokers”
I was excited to see the Joker again for the first time this year and man, these episodes dropped the ball. They are not good at all. Let me just make a couple of points. First off, part of the Joker’s gimmick in this one is that he gives Batman clues as to his next crime. Clues that might even be called…. riddles. It already sucks that they cut Frank Gorshin, but this is a slap in the face. We’re also going to get another actor playing Riddler and a new character with a repurposed Riddler script, so the indignities aren’t going to end. Also, and this is jumping way ahead, at one point, the Joker builds a device that allows him to control time. Not only is this bonkers, but it also seems like something that might fit a time-themed villain like the recently introduced Clock King. This honestly feels like a mash-up of two scripts written for unavailable actors and then combined into a Joker story.
I talked about this last season, but the Joker as we know him didn’t really come around until the Seventies. So the Batman ’66 Joker is not any more dangerous than anybody else, and doesn’t really have a distinguishing personality. Since he’s not a gimmick villain, the show sort of made him the guy who has ridiculously complicated plans for small payoffs. Just like Penguin doesn’t really have a unifying gimmick (“umbrellas” didn’t quite work) so they made him the sleazy one. Oh, also the Joker uses a lot of disguises in his other appearances. Not here. There’s nothing about these episodes that feels like the Joker. I mean, there’s an early bit where he hypnotizes Batman and Robin and Batman later mentions that the Joker was a famous hypnotist as a young man. Wait, what? That’s a weird element to add to a non-existent backstory. Think about it. In this world, Batman not only knows the Joker’s real name but he’s aware of his past as a famous child hypnotist. Even by this show’s standards, that’s pretty sloppy.
Basically, that means these two episodes could swap out Joker for any other villain with almost no rewriting. I dozed off the first time through and I assumed the bits and pieces that got through to me were from multiple episodes because otherwise, this was complete nonsense. Turns out, it’s complete nonsense.
It’s lazy all around – the Human Key Duplicator that menaces Batman in the cliffhanger has a spinning saw blade. There is only one camera angle where the blade looks like it’s anywhere near his head (and no angle where it doesn’t look like cardboard), and they keep forgetting to shoot from that angle.
And as long as I’m nitpicking, Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson try to watch The Green Hornet. Which is clearly a fictional TV show in their world. Except that they met the Green Hornet and Kato in a window cameo weeks ago. To make it weirder, in that episode, Batman knew that they were heroes posing as villains. But those two are going to make a full appearance later this season and Batman and Robin will believe they’re actually villains. This show has terrible Green Hornet continuity!
There’s a lot of nonsense about keys that doesn’t really pay off and all builds to a plan to spike the water supply and even though Joker can control time, he’s foiled by Alfred diguised as a security guard. Credit where credit is due, Alan Napier is quite funny as Alfred and the security guard who looks exactly like Alfred but has a completely different accent. I liked that bit, but everything else is exceptionally lazy. Even if you buy into the idea that Joker is suddenly a genius who can control time, he should at least do Joker things with it and play pranks. That’s another thing that convinces me this was not a script written for the Joker. Cesar Romero had some time and they slapped this together from two or three different scripts. It’s a low point for the series so far, and a real letdown for the first Joker episodes of the season.
And because I have to note these things, the window cameo this time was Howard Duff in character as Detective Sam Stone from Felony Squad. That’s not a show that stood the test of time, so his bit is really just inscrutable.
Let’s move on to…. a villain created for the show. Why is this happening?
“Marsha, Queen of Diamonds” / “Marsha’s Scheme of Diamonds”
Carolyn Jones of The Addams Family joins the show as Marsha, Queen of Diamonds. A woman who likes diamonds and has an aunt who is an actual literal witch. Somehow, my hazy memories of this episode completely omitted Aunt Hilda. We open with a lovestruck Chief O’Hara accompanying Marsha on a shopping spree of dubious legality before they return to her hideout and she locks him in a birdcage.
Gordon doesn’t wait around and he storms in there, demanding the Chief’s release. When he’s unaffected by her charms, she shoots him with a love dart and then it’s off to the birdcage. Then Marsha has a witch make a better love dart for Batman. When Batman and Robin show up because everybody knows where her hideout is, she darts Batman but he manages to shake off love. But when Robin gets darted, it’s a different story. Burt Ward actually plays it very funny. He got much better in between seasons, frankly.
Marsha wants the Bat Diamond that powers the Bat Computer, and it’s not clear how she knows either of those things exist and there’s a negotiation that makes less sense the more I think about it but the whole point is to get to a cliffhanger where Batman is forced to marry Marsha in order to save Robin. And that’s when Alfred and Aunt Harriet show up, presenting Harriet as Batman’s wife. The minister refuses to participate in bigamy, and that’s that.
Batman and Alfred free Robin and the cops and then we get to some weird stuff about how Batman can track diamonds and Hilda tries to turn people into toads but the Bat Computer rescues Batman and Robin and they put tiny capes on regular toads. It all makes less sense as we go along. It’s a very weird two-parter.
There were bits I liked quite a bit. The Bat Wedding was fun, and it was in that weird DC tradition where marriage used to be a fate worse than death. Sixties DC used weddings as traps all the time. It was mostly a Superman thing, but I’ve seen it done with Flash and Green Lantern and occasionally Batman. (In those cases, he was often Lois Lane’s pawn when she worked the Superman long game.) It’s just a weird message to send to kids. The Marvel guys were all too emotionally tortured for healthy relationships and the DC guys thought their wives would nag them and they’d have to mow the lawn instead of saving the city. Can I blame the fact that I read a ton of old comics as a kid for leaving me an aging bachelor? I mean, putting aside my social anxiety and terrible personality, that’s probably the reason.
Anyway, I really like those moments when Batman interacts with Aunt Harriet. There’s something about the way she reacts to his unexpected kindness that warms my heart. I also enjoyed Alfred hanging out at the police station after the wedding and Gordon almost putting together that this is the voice that always answers the red phone. That was a cute bit and Alan Napier’s Alfred is kind of the stealth MVP of this season.
There’s not much else to say. Marsha isn’t the most interesting villain and the diversion into magic didn’t really work. But the parts I liked, I really liked. And the spiral into nonsense was at least entertaining to watch. If you’re going to have an undercooked plot, at least bring in a couple of toads wearing capes.
Next time we have Shame and Penguin. Yep, a new villain with a pun named based on a reference. We had so much fun with Ma Parker, how can this not be amazing? Man, I am just counting the episodes until the Mad Hatter returns and turns Batman’s cowl pink. I like that one a lot.