In this week’s trip back to the Summer of (Batman) ’66, we meet the Mad Hatter for the first time, and then the Joker returns. That’s a pretty solid villain line-up right there. So let’s take a trip back for some fun episodes and the most gratuitous use of the crime computer ever!
These episodes introduce the Mad Hatter, and if you’ve been following Gotham and/or my Gotham recaps, you’ve heard a lot about the Mad Hatter. And there’s a very weird thing about the character that comes into play here.
Jervis Tetch first appeared in Batman #49, back in 1948. He was a short guy, loosely based on the Lewis Carroll character, but he wasn’t especially hat-centric. Tetch didn’t show up again until 1956, and then he was taller and sported a big red mustache. He wasn’t portrayed as crazy or Carroll-inspired. Dude was a thief who was obsessed with hats. There wasn’t much in the way of reference to that first appearance, but it wasn’t unheard of for Golden Age Batman villains to be completely redesigned. Check out Deadshot’s first appearance if you want to have your mind blown. He made occasional appearances until 1981, when the original Hatter returned. That’s right, the only time the real Mad Hatter had appeared was in that 1948 story. Every single appearance since then was the impostor.
He revealed that the other Hatter was an impostor and claimed to have killed him. (Accounts vary.) From that point on, the Hatter adopted his full on Wonderland persona and the mind control gimmick that pretty much defines the character. So, the Mad Hatter who appears on this show is, both visually and in personality, the impostor Mad Hatter. And I have this weird thing where I get irrationally angry at the impostor Hatter. Maybe it’s because I read that return of the Mad Hatter story when I was a wee lad and thought it was so cool. But maybe it’s because it wasn’t enough for this guy to pick up the Mad Hatter identity. That happens. There have been nine Clayfaces. But this dude still used the name “Jervis Tetch” the whole time. That isn’t just stealing the Hatter’s IP, it’s full-on identity theft.
I can’t really hold my hatred of the Impostor Hatter against this episode, but it still grinds me. And let me tell you, there is a list of Batman stories I would tell if given the opportunity, and one of them is about the Impostor Hatter and exactly why he became Jervis Tetch. Somebody get DC on the line!
It is worth noting that the Hatter’s “mesmerizer” kind of foreshadows the real Mad Hatter’s eventual reliance on mind control. I don’t think that was intentional when they resurrected Tetch, but it’s a fun connection at least.
“The Thirteenth Hat” / “Batman Stands Pat”
The Mad Hatter starts abducting all the jurors who convicted him – he also takes their hats to recreate his mannequin courtroom. Luckily, they all have jobs that involve distinctive hats. And the titular thirteenth hat belongs to the star witness for the prosecution – It’s Batman’s cowl. Batman and Robin follow the pattern of the crimes and notice that they make a hat shape on the map (rather than noting the actual connection between the kidnappings) and figure the next victim is Octave Marbot, the sculptor making a statue of Batman. The Hatter gets there first and disguises himself, then tries to talk Batman into lending him the cowl so he can make sure to get the lines right. Batman figures it out and there’s a fight that ends with Batman being encased in quick-drying plaster.
The Hatter has Marbot crack the plaster to release Batman (it is a shaky resolution to the cliffhanger, I’ll be honest) and then try to steal the Batmobile. It doesn’t go well. Later, Batman realizes that it’s the jurors who are being kidnapped and they track the Hatter to his hideout in a hat factory. Robin is nearly sliced to pieces but the heroes prevail and knock the Mad Hatter into a vat of acid. They pull him over to the side to save him but still leave him in the acid, which is very weird. Then they buy Aunt Harriet a hat and the episode ends on what is a truly inscrutable joke.
So… the first episode is freaking great. It’s weird and funny and has some really clever stuff. I’ll be honest with you, I can’t stand it when they map out crimes on the big lucite map and figure out a pattern. So many shows and movies do this and it’s always dumb. And in this case, since the Mad Hatter is targeting specific people because they were on a jury rather than because they sort of make a hat on a map, it’s completely nonsensical that this is even a thing. Basically, Batman finds a happy accident rather than the actual pattern and that’s very frustrating. But other than that, I really like it. David Wayne is fun as the Hatter. The bit where he’s in disguise is goofy but this show has already established that disguises are always 100% effective. Though instead of just swapping out the actor like they did in the first Riddler story, this is just the Mad Hatter wearing a mustache and successfully posing as a person Batman knows. I love it. Plus, the Hatter wants Batman’s cowl, not to reveal his identity, but because it’s a hat. That’s pretty great.
But then it falls apart. Storytelling logic is shaky on this show to begin with, and this is some of the worst we’ve seen so far. From the Hatter releasing Batman from the plaster to the way Batman and Robin have to use a crime computer to figure out what “a dozen” could refer to, it’s pretty dire. I like the Mad Hatter’s rending machine, as well as the fact that it gets so much screen time and then isn’t put into use. And I’m not at all clear on what the writers think acid does, since Batman just leaves the Mad Hatter in a vat of it.
And that ending – Bruce and Dick buy Aunt Harriet a new hat and after they talk about it, Bruce gets a weird look on his face. Dick asks what’s up and he answers “I have the strangest feeling I was wearing a hat when I came in here”, and that’s like the stinger at the end of the tag and it makes no sense at all.
Note that they call Mad Hatter by his real name, “Jervis Tetch”, pretty consistently. And they never do that in any other case. It’s very weird, and I wonder if it’s because it’s a fun name to say. But you’ll never hear “Selina Kyle” or “Edward Nygma”. They called Mr. Freeze by his last name, but it’s a name he’s never had in any other version ever. They do some weird things with names on this show.
“The Joker Goes to School” / “He Meets His Match, The Grisly Ghoul”
The Joker returns! Over at Woodrow Roosevelt High School, Dick Grayson and his classmate find that the milk vending machine starts giving out silver dollars. There’s also a snack machine that gives out bearer bonds and a coffee machine that sprays quarters. Commissioner Gordon assumes this has to be the Joker’s work and calls in Batman. (He has to go to the school alone since Dick is in class.) Batman warns kids about the Joker, only to find the Joker just hanging around – he’s establishing an alibi while his goons rob a bar across town. We also learn that the head cheerleader, Susie, is in league with Joker and steals some exam answers. Joker captures the heroes with a gimmicked vending machine and hooks them to electric chairs rigged to a giant slot machine.
They’re saved by a power outage (weak) and then Dick tries to join the gang but he’s hilariously obvious about it. (“Your boss sounds like a real…. joker.”) While Batman and Robin fight an evil jukebox (Batman has a grenade!), Joker loads a vending machine with test answers. When the basketball team hits up the milk machine, they get test answers instead. Joker takes a picture of them with the answers so they’ll be suspended and they’ll have to forfeit the big game against Disko Tech (sigh). Yeah, this has all been about him rigging a high school basketball game and then making a big wager. Batman was one step ahead, though, and swapped out the answers with fakes, so the Joker’s picture is useless. Susie goes to a home for delinquent girls in a surprisingly bittersweet ending.
Other than the copout cliffhanger (it’s always a bummer when they’re saved by happenstance), I really liked this one. The Joker’s plan is ludicrously complicated with so many extra unnecessary steps. Usually that’s a strike against an episode, but it works for Joker. Since 1966 Joker was not the Joker that we all know today, it’s a good way of distinguishing himself from other villains – his plans are hard to figure out because they don’t make sense.
One bit I really liked was the idea that giving the students money and stocks for free would cause them to get spoiled and drop out. The Joker attacked the moral fiber of a school in the interest of cheating a bookie. (Named “Pete the Swede” because there was a time when everybody knew Jimmy the Greek.) That’s really good, right?
Another neat thing is Batman’s bulletproof shield that’s way to big too come out of his utility belt. I’ve accepted stuff like that for a long time. I mean, I started reading when Batman’s belt had capsules instead of pouches. But watching Adam West put it away is hilarious. He carefully folds it up and then just reaches behind his back and you know that what he’s actually doing is dropping it. And he still goes for it because the man was a pro.
Next time we meet another villain created for the show, False Face. Also, Catwoman finally makes an appearance!