Where ever you have to go next for this book, I’d like to pay. Hurry up and take the money before I die.”
So offered a very kind and arrestingly macabre family member a month ago, one who wished not to trifle with any crowdfunding business. What am I, too good for my goddamn family? I accepted and booked passage to Japan. An eye-opening and fruitful excursion followed, one that enriched not only my forthcoming book but also my friggin’ soul. Please enjoy some captioned snapshots from my journey below.
Thirteen million people live in Tokyo, so it’s a little congested (as you may gather from this morsel of skyline). Many of the city’s streets are unnamed as well, but if you’re good with landmarks you’ll have no problem getting around. And the subway isn’t that difficult to figure out. Even when it is, the staff down there are more than happy to assist the hopelessly confused. The first time I bought an incorrect ticket they knew before I did!
The four hundred fifty yen breakfast deal at Matsuya, one of Tokyo’s most beloved fast food establishments. Perfect for the language impaired tourist—punch your order in on the computer, take the ticket it prints out, sit down, give the server your ticket, BOOM, food. And tasty as all get out.
The Shibuya district at night. I don’t know if you can tell from this image but many of the crosswalks in Tokyo are at odd angles, curving and stretching diagonally as if to anticipate jaywalking patterns. Pretty clever.
Poorly translated bootleg apparel is a cottage industry in Japan and they’re laughing all the way to the bank. Not even the Bortles are safe.
Physical media isn’t dead in every corner of the globe. To wit: the eight story Tower Records in Shibuya, an unreal monument to music and consumerism. Yes, they have the new BabyMetal. They have an entire floor for J-Pop (and one for K-Pop, and one with a book store / restaurant).
A tribute to fallen Megadeth drummer Nick Menza on the Western Rock floor of the eight story Tower Records. I tried to have a moment of quiet reflection but there were approximately five stereos within two feet of this display and they were all playing different things. There’s some noise pollution in Tokyo.
A fresh burger from Freshness Burger. That’s egg and chili on that bad boy (at least that’s what I think it was). No fries, or “potato” as they like to call it. Gotta cut back somewhere. Freshness Burger is reasonably priced but many an item or service in Tokyo is not. New Yorkers will feel at home.
Here’s what happens when you attempt to photograph an exclusive event occurring in / around the Harajuku area’s Tamagotchi store—an employee of the store will give you the big “no” while a cop tries to decide whether or not to yell at you. They were firm but polite. Those folks crowded around the window, they showed up so early—don’t cheapen their experience!
This is the interior of a Disk Union, a record store chain that has twenty or so locations around Tokyo. Every one I visited was crammed with stock just like this. Found lotsa rare greatness here but the favorite record shop I visited is Recofan (which is just one outlet in a mall) only because it has the largest, most varied (and cheapest) used section.
Some concepts are universal, like fishing programs on Saturday morning television. This woman was very excited to have caught her little buddy here. Later that day I watched a dubbed version of The Rocketeer. That film may have been a bigger hit Stateside had they sold it as a Japanese property.
I cannot lie: I ate at KFC in Japan. The chicken is prepared for an Eastern palette. It’s lighter, thinner, less “down home” (in the parlance of U.S. comfort food). Still plenty of grease, though. Yes, this particular location has an actual bar. You need a craft beer with your biscuits and gravy?
I don’t know what this is all about. I guess you can live out all your Nintendo fantasies in Tokyo, even as Captain America and Cookie Monster.
All the excitement of Doritos without the excitement! This is good place to mention if you’re out in Tokyo and you need help or directions, the average Japanese citizen would love to assist you but conversational English skills are rare. Learn to say “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Japanese, do you understand English?” in Japanese and conclude interactions with a bow (luckily some words, like “coffee” and “Barack Obama,” transcend cultural barriers).
The kitchen / office of my sublet in the Shinjuku neighborhood. Figuring out the microwave wasn’t easy but I eventually sorted out how to properly heat a dumpling soup from 7-Eleven (surprisingly high quality). Did I mention the jet lag from the U.S. to Tokyo? It’s Herculean. If there’s a secret to conquering it I still don’t know. Spent many hours standing around this room in a daze.
Last weekend I journeyed to the Tri-State area to knock out some research for my next book, the untitled exploration of punk rock music’s development outside the United States and United Kingdom. I parked myself in Jersey City every night and as such I got to hang out with this baby. I haven’t spent much time around babies so it was a fun learning experience.
Did you know you can set a fussy child at ease by softly repeating the phrase “Butthole Surfers drummer King Coffey?” It’s true. Free advice to all you new parents out there. Also, a baby will watch pretty much anything on YouTube, from unboxing videos to grainy footage of late ’90s hardcore bands.
Garry Shandling was an innovator who turned a lot of comedy on its ear, but what’s more important to me is the raw, sometimes ugly emotional core of his humor. Fraying anxiety, sizzling jealousy, swampy deposits of depression—all served with flashes of that famous mile-wide grin. We hear Garry could be quite impassioned offstage, in the best and worst senses of that phrase, and that’s no surprise. It’s the nucleus of his work.
I was under ten when “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” was airing, and even though it was difficult to understand what I was watching, I loved tuning in because it was so different. Here’s this quote-unquote sitcom where every plot device and character takes a backseat to Garry’s ongoing conversation with the viewer, a conversation that is basically just, “Wow, look at my show, isn’t it strange?” It’s a minimalist, neurotic “Pee-Wee’s Playhouse.” What if your neighbor thought he was on tv all the time but refused to play it up? What if he talked about it like the weather or a bake sale?
Later we got “The Larry Sanders Show,” a transcendent entry, a masterclass of meta comedy streaked with pathos. Garry won an Emmy Award for writing on “Sanders” but he should have received an additional one for acting. When he really wanted to, the guy could get it all into one glance or wordless aside.
Garry pops up in some of the Marvel movies, and that’s deeply satisfying. An entire generation will only know Shandling as the Senator giving Tony Stark what for in Iron Man 2, the same government creep who appears in Captain America 2. I have to admit I was waiting for him to turn to the camera in both films to say, “Can you believe this? Me, a Senator? I know, but listen, there’s some good stuff coming up, so don’t walk out yet.”
I’ll miss the Shand Man. Stormy genius. And funny as hell.
“My dog’s penis tastes bitter. Do you think it’s his diet?”
Sometimes I doodle. Here are a few examples from the past several years.
Paul Westerberg, ink, 2013.
Sausages, ink, 2014.
Spikeleeosaurus, Mac Paint, 2014.
Tyrannoshaft, Mac Paint, 2014.
Goodlizard, Mac Paint, 2014.
Live On Tape From Hollywood, ink, 2014.
Electric Hoff, ink, 2014.
Thank You For Being A Ninja, ink, 2014.
Val Kilmer Tickles Lou Reed, ink, 2015.
The Miracle of Al Lewis, ink, 2015.
Gary The Squirrel, ink, 2015.
Ain’t never seen a dog chewin’ on a palm frond until I went to Mexico. Actually, I heard it first; the sound of something slowly and methodically tearing through underbrush. I poked my head outside and there he was, some lazy hound gnawin’ on leaf. If my prolonged stare made the dog self conscious he/she didn’t let on. On the whole, the animals of rural southwest Mexico seem unfazed by the human presence. Dogs, cats, chickens, goats, iguanas—even bugs are relaxed, refusing to skitter about like lunatics as they do in the States. America, we’re giving our pets complexes.
What brought me to Troncones, a beachside village slipping out underneath acres of lush jungle, a village so tiny most buildings have no proper address? My friend John and his wife Karen currently work at an area resort, teaching yoga, giving massages, fishing, etc. They invited me, and how could I decline this ostensible paradise? I’m working on a book about punk rock around the globe anyway, thus the extra incentive of potentially uncovering Mexico’s answer to Topper Headon. Don’t snort; screen legend Hedy Lamarr spent her final years in an Orlando suburb five minutes from my current home.
I learned a lot about Mexican culture from these eight days, a handful of which were spent four hours inland amidst terrain and altitudes comparable to America’s southwest. The least important fact: flat screen televisions have come to the quesadilla huts that line the Mexican backroads. Washing down chorizo with a torpedo sized Coke, I caught half an hour of prime afternoon tube during one lunchbreak. There were ads for college, ads for antacid, even ads for Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Just as my mouth began watering for those eleven goddamn herbs and spices, John announced the nearest city, Zihuatanejo, is bereft of the Colonel. No tenemos Harland Sanders.
So that shit happens here too. Commercials for stores that don’t exist.
Before departing the United States I made two purchases at my local dollar store: sunglasses and sandals. The sunglasses continue to work perfectly but the sandals could only handle about forty-eight hours of my oceanside trampling. In their defense, I’ve never been much of a beach person and I’m sure I was walking in them incorrectly. Maybe I’m just making excuses for shitty footwear. It doesn’t matter, I survived.
Will it surprise you to learn I am also not much of a yoga person? The resort where John and Karen work, Present Moment, is very yoga-centric. My brain has never been able to hook into that stuff—even when I was dating a high priestess of yoga who was known to yoga for up to nine hours at a time (I am not joking). This week was no different. I was assured my poor yoga aptitude is because I simply have not done enough yoga yet. So it’s like hard liquor. You must acquire a taste?
Present Moment, by the way, is not any kind of fortress resort keeping guests ensconced away from “the real” Mexico. There is little separation between its expertly landscaped courtyard and the local community of Troncones. In fact, there seems to be a good amount of symbiosis between the two.
It wouldn’t be a trip to Mexico if I didn’t try cacao, the magical base elixir from whence we get chocolate. Taken raw it can be a gateway to mind expansion, to hyper awareness and ultimate clarity, or so they say. I imbibed, sprawled on the ground, and felt…nothing. I mean, nothing aside from the usual weird slurry in my brain. What’s up with Daniel Radcliffe? Am I asleep right now? Are these girls next to me sisters or are they just friends who look alike? Is my t-shirt too tight? Is it too loose?
Driving from Troncones to the mountain area of Zirahuén was very scenic and exciting, the latter in part because we were stopped and searched at one point by men in fatigues with enormous guns. It was unclear who these men were, exactly, but I didn’t ask questions. I just smiled and sipped my bottle of Squirt as non-menacingly as possible. Military checkpoints aside, the rules of the Mexican highway are a bit fast and loose. Anybody can pass anybody else at any given time, and from what I heard DUIs are not considered a major sin. Driving at night can be particular trouble, so we didn’t.
Believe it or not the above photo was not staged—I stumbled upon the bottle just like that in the wild. As I was trying to capture the perfect photographic representation, a nearby construction worker paused from his job to try and figure out what I was obsessing over. Karen told him it was just a Star Wars bottle. The man chuckled but did not emit a full on laugh of recognition until I pointed to myself and said, “Mas loco.”
The million dollar questions about this Mexico excursion are, of course, did I drink the water and if so did the water make me sick? Non-filtered aqua is unavoidable if you’re ordering coffee from a bodega or roadside taco stand, and not everyone is boiling to ensure purification. Sure, I had some; it upset my stomach a little, but I’ve consumed things in New York that have made me far sicker. I haven’t had eggplant since 2011 thanks to some searing Manhattan Super Bowl dip. Ay carumba.
Not much else to say other than it was a fun, relaxing, and educational jaunt. Folks were incredibly kind and accommodating. Thank you, peoples of Mexico. My only regret is not buying the guitar pictured below.
The final season of “Batman” is notoriously bonkers. Sagging ratings inspired the arrival of Batgirl, a third costumed crime-fighter who cooperates with the Dynamic Duo but remains her own independent entity. Sadly for Batgirl and her alter ego Barbara Gordon (played by the unflappable Yvonne Craig), the average adventure length is sliced in half from the previous seasons, leaving thirty minutes to pivot between Batman, Bruce Wayne, Batgirl, Barbara, the villain, and those beleaguered dopes at police headquarters. Suddenly a lot of vital stuff is happening offscreen.
And yet, as the blocking grows jerkier and each caper more outlandish, this concluding batch does a good job stressing the severe difficulties Batman, Robin, and Batgirl have in trying to protect their secret identities. Turns out it’s not so easy explaining away every little inconsistency, especially if you’re a millionaire playboy, the ward of said playboy, or the police chief’s kid.
Other pre-episodic breakdown observations:
I. There are two interesting musical developments in the third season, the first being a distinct and furious surf rock sting that is employed whenever Batman and Robin start tusslin’ with hoods. Very Dick Dale, it gets the blood pumping. Meanwhile, Batgirl has her own theme, a brassy sway with some vocal accompaniment (“Batgirrrrrrl!” the female chorus lilts, “who’s baby are you?”). Neither piece is commercially available on any of the soundtrack releases I know of from this bat era.
II. Cesar Romero’s Joker hair seems to go a brighter shade of green with each passing episode. Obviously they were having some budgetary and/or quality control problems by this point but I like to believe that perhaps the Joker—who looks the way he does because he fell into a vat of chemicals—has to deal with flare ups and weird allergies just like the rest of us. Imagine how toxic waste might exacerbate a rash or a thyroid problem. Then again, this idiot is pretty slap happy most of the time. Maybe prolonged exposure to toxic waste can result in a never ending orgasm.
III. If you think that lizard person in the program’s animated introduction is Killer Croc, you are wrong. Killer Croc was not introduced into the Batman universe until 1983. This strange figure is just a generic lizard person, a nondescript reptile freak who may/may not be associated with the Gorn.
IV. The Batman series will always hold a place in my heart but the biggest bang this franchise can give for your buck, peso, or ruble is the theatrical film the crew produced between the first two seasons. Simply known as Batman (sometimes stylized as Batman: The Movie), it’s 104 minutes of breathless bat movement, four times as madcap thanks to four arch criminals (Joker, Riddler, Catwoman, Penguin, teamed up to conquer the world), capturing everything that’s boffo about this property. Also, as much as I cherish the beloved tv intro, the opening credits of Batman: The Movie are a pop noir jewel, Nelson Riddle’s orchestration included.
Alright, atomic batteries to power. Turbines to speed. Ready to move out.
1. “Enter Batgirl, Exit Penguin”
The lightning strike of season three. Feels like we’re peering into pulpy pages as that dastardly Penguin tries to weasel his way into Gotham’s police force by attempting to kidnap and wed Commissioner Gordon’s daughter Barbara. What better time for Babs to make her debut as the Batgirl? This is the first time in the history of the series that the ending rhubarb looks real. The Caped Crusaders are really clobberin’ the baddies (and vice versa).
2. “Ring Around The Riddler”
The Riddler may be an intellectual but he’s not above climbing into a boxing ring to whoop up on Batman, which he does in this episode. Of course, there is some subterfuge—Riddler is posing as a boxer from the Middle East called Mushi Nebuchadnezzar. Thankfully, Gorshin forgoes brown face. The final bout lacks the drama of Rocky but there is something breathtaking about seeing Adam West in the Batsuit and enormous boxing gloves.
3. “The Wail Of The Siren”
Joan Collins arrives as ear-piercing foe the Siren. Her sonic hypnotism sounds so much like a modern fire alarm it is disconcerting. It’s music to the men she seduces and/or subdues; Commissioner Gordon is so transfixed he agrees to stow away in the trunk of the Batmobile for treasonous purposes. The panic grips Batman enough that he turns down a soda at one point because he might “find it too relaxing.” Dark Knight ain’t about that lean.
4. “The Sport Of Penguins” / 5. “A Horse Of Another Color”
The Penguin causes chaos at a horse race, but half the time this entry is just guest moll Ethel Merman stiffly pissing out exposition. For a brief moment we get to see Burt Ward dressed as a jockey and it’s everything you could ever hope or desire. Equally satisfying is Herbert Anderson as a flustered race track official who lays into Bruce Wayne about the chicanery he believes the millionaire himself is pulling.
6. “The Unkindest Tut Of All”
A landmark episode; King Tut stumbles upon the secret that Bruce Wayne is Batman. Of course, he can’t prove it after our Caped Crusader and Bruce are seen standing near each other (a weird bit of engineering involving a dummy in a Bat costume Bruce has at his ready). In a subplot, Barbara and Bruce attend an accordion recital where they hear “Lady Of Spain” eight times in a row. It’s unclear if this is irony or if people actually did this for kicks during the Johnson Administration.
7. “Louie, The Lilac”
“Batman” addresses the hippie phenomenon the only way it knows how: clumsily. Dandy gangster Louie The Lilac (a so-so Milton Berle) infiltrates Gotham’s radical youths through some noxious plant-based chemical. The police are wary of putting the Dynamic Duo on the job until Robin reassures them: “The flower children think we’re cool, man—like, we turn them on, you know?” If you think that’s ridiculous, hang in there for the climax where man-eating lilacs attempt to slowly devour our heroes.
8. “The Ogg And I” / 9. “How To Hatch A Dinosaur”
The money’s evaporated to the extent the series can’t even afford to hire a band of roving Cossacks; all we get are agog passersby on street corners as these alleged marauders ransack Gotham (with a brief glance at Egghead as he struggles to ride a mule). Returning guest star Anne Baxter is a delight as Cossack Queen Olga, a ginger firebrand investing in Egghead’s scheme to birth a dinosaur. For a minute, it appears this program might introduce some Jurassic Park style science. Don’t worry—DNA has yet to be discovered in 1960s Gotham, so we are spared anything plausible or thought-provoking.
10. “Surf’s Up! Joker’s Under!”
The dizzying apex of this season’s lunacy. The Joker has a device that can transfer skills from one person to another; naturally he uses it on some local hodad so that he may become the clown prince of the surf circuit. Batman steps in, yellow trunks at the ready, to challenge the harlequin’s nefarious hang ten. Doing leg work for the Joker is a striking beach bunny spy named Undine (played by future “Gong Show” fixture Sivi Aberg). Undine strides in like a lethal Bond temptresses but immediately undercuts her power by talking into a radio shaped like a hot dog.
11. “The Londinium Larcenies” / 12. “The Foggiest Notion” / 13. “The Bloody Tower”
Rudy Vallée’s Lord Marmaduke Ffogg is an inventive and charming villain, a British nobleman who absconds with treasured loot amidst billowing clouds of smoke from his pipe. There was no need, however, to stretch Ffogg and his accomplice Lady Peasoup (Glynis Johns) across a three parter, nor was their reason to move the action to a London facsimile when the show clearly never left Los Angeles. Tedious, asinine, kinda boring. Lyn Peters shines, though, as a Ffogg protégé who radiates flavorful intensity—especially when she’s quietly rhapsodizing about Robin’s sex appeal.
14. “Catwoman’s Dressed To Kill”
Eartha Kitt’s wonderfully feral take on Catwoman arrives in a pretty bumpy exercise around the fashion industry. Still, you’ll probably thrill to Eartha menacing a bound Batgirl and you’ll probably guffaw when Burt Ward is forced to sell the line “Holy priceless collection of Etruscan snoods!”
15. “The Ogg Couple”
In which Batgirl almost freezes to death in a giant vat of caviar. Egghead is of course the culprit, trying to set up a comfy life for himself and Olga, Queen of the Cossacks. They’re not really a good match; when it comes down to brass tacks, Egghead is a simpering idiot, while Olga seems to live for conflict. It sexually excites her. My kind of woman.
16. “The Funny Feline Felonies” / 17. “The Joke’s On Catwoman”
The Joker. Catwoman. A hidden trove of explosives. Joe E. Ross. Pierre Salinger. All the elements for a whip cracker and yet it remains a painful slog. The sets have become so minimalist it’s almost insulting. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Little Louie Groovy, the Phil Spector parody who gets caught in the villains’ crosshairs. Spector used to be a happenin’ guy in our culture. Then he became a crazed hermit who shot a woman point blank in the face.
18. “Louie’s Lethal Lilac Time”
Our favorite flower-obsessed gangster kidnaps Bruce and Dick, opening up the playing field for some major Batgirl heroics. How aggravating it is that the writers eat up her time with a pointless scene wherein Babs has to deceive a handyman into believing her secret Batgirl room is just a regular-ass secret room. By the way, the reason Louie swipes Bruce is because he needs the millionaire to extract some kind of scent from a muskrat. We never see the muskrat and I don’t think we hear it, either. It is just referred to as some mythical offscreen creature.
19. “Nora Clavicle and the Ladies’ Crime Club”
Women’s rights activist Nora Clavicle tries to replace Gotham’s beat cops with her own squad of lady officers, but things don’t go according to plan. Hard to tell what’s worse here—the assertion that women could never hold positions of authority because they’re easily frightened and preoccupied with clothing or the grand finale where Batman and Robin thwart Nora (Barbara Rush) by skipping through the streets of Gotham City while tooting on flutes. Either way, this is “Batman’s” nadir. They didn’t even film the finale outdoors, and it’s supposed to take place near a large body of water.
20. “Penguin’s Clean Sweep”
That foulest of crooked fowls infects batches of Gotham currency with a foreign sleeping sickness but we’re the ones who feel drowsy. The Penguin’s moll in this one is played by Monique van Vooren, an actress who is in the Troy McClure league of incredibly-titled films. You may remember Monique from such classics as Tarzan & The She-Devil, Ten Thousand Bedrooms, Flesh For Frankenstein, and Tomorrow Is Too Late. She also attended NYU to study law on a Fulbright Scholarship. Holy accomplishment!
21. “The Great Escape” / 22. “The Great Train Robbery”
Shame returns, and amongst his posse is another cringe-inducing Native American stereotype named Chief Standing Pat. Balancing that out is Barry Dennen as the crony Fred, a erudite European gunslinger whose withering bon mots are all but lost on the titular baddie. An unexpected Jerry Mathers cameo ends with the kid getting bonked on the head, which is satisfying for all who feels his portrayal of Beaver Cleaver is less than endearing.
23. “I’ll Be A Mummy’s Uncle”
“It’s always darkest before the dawn,” Batman utters at one point, evoking the higher quality Bat outings that came decades later. This King Tut ep at least has a serious premise in Tut tunneling under Wayne Manor looking for some mineral and inadvertently drilling into the Batcave. Tut comes close to spilling the beans, but rather than give this show a new dynamic, rather than take a chance, they drop a boulder on the guy’s head and he’s back to his harmless professor alter ego, remembering nothing.
24. “The Joker’s Flying Saucer”
Giving the Joker a UFO to zoom around in is a neat idea but so much action is described instead of acted out that you lose investment and begin praying for the inevitable donnybrook you know will close these proceedings. Cesar Romero is game til the end, though, bragging as he’s about to rocket Batgirl into space that he’s “thrilled many a woman…but never sent one completely in orbit before.” Have fun imagining the Joker performing sex acts!
25. “The Entrancing Dr. Cassandra”
Id Lupino of High Sierra fame begins a crime spree with her awkward hipster husband, an easy feat thanks to their magical ability to become invisible. This one’s ambitious in that Cassandra sneaks into Gotham’s max security prison to release Catwoman, the Riddler, and the other MVPs of Batman’s rogue’s gallery. Alas, it fails miserably when Kitt, Gorhsin et al do not reprise their roles. Instead we get scabs who are only seen from behind, uttering no honest dialogue. What a slap in the face.
26. “Minerva, Mayhem and Millionaires”
At long last we get to see Adam West completely shirtless when he visits the spa of the enchanting Minerva (Zsa Zsa Gabor). Little does he know Minerva uses some kind of mind control device to extract the secrets of the rich and richer. Somehow this does not result in Minerva learning Bruce’s clandestine hobby. Instead, there’s rigamarole over one of his bank vaults. In the end Minerva goes quietly, but only after she’s grappled with Batgirl a la Greco-Roman. Your heart will jump in some direction.
There you have it, bat fans. What a ride. The show runners had the sets destroyed once it was clear ABC would not be picking “Batman” up for a fourth season. A shame only because NBC later expressed interest in hosting another round of bat-sanity. Oh, what might have been.
Guess there’s nothing left to do but visit the grave of every “Batman” actor who has now passed. Finally, as excuse to traverse Bavaria (the final resting place of Clock King Walter Slezak).
Until then, stay golden, my little bat freaks.
Did you miss the recap of season one? Click here, bat fan.
A normal half hour television program in the 1960s would produce around thirty episodes a season. Drunk with success, “Batman’s” second season turned in twice that number, spreading quality and consistency ever so thin. Periodically the show rises to the occasion. Other times, it digs its own sad, swampy grave. Still other times, “Batman” manages to be thoroughly okay.
The only element you can truly rely on is Neil Hamilton, who commits to his character of Commissioner Gordon as if he’s playing Hamlet for both the first and last time. No matter what asinine or childish nonsense is unfolding, Neil makes you believe all of Gotham teeters on the brink and that the Caped Crusaders are our only hope. Neil’s so solid you’ll want his face on a t-shirt.
A few asides before the episode-by-episode breakdown:
I. Season two finds Batman’s ancillary vehicles in regular rotation—the Bat Copter, the Bat Boat, etc. All these vehicles debuted in the theatrical Batman movie the show filmed and released right after the first season (a film meant to sell foreign markets on the greatness of this wacky property). One mode of transport not featured in Batman: The Movie is the Alf Cycle, the bike Bruce Wayne’s loyal butler Alfred pedals around on when he is occasionally called into action. That’s dumber than spit, but who could look the wonderful Alan Napier in his caring eye and even hint at that? He’s such a sweetheart of a man, doing everything he can to help his employer live out a dangerous and elaborate vigilante fantasy with nary a question. Let him have his Alf Cycle.
II. Apparently in the first season Adam West found his Batman cowl to be too tight, so the costume people loosened it. The result is this weird open pocket of fabric under his cheeks, like the cowl’s stretched out from violent tugging. Similarly, the collar of Burt Ward’s yellow cape seems a bit loose in these adventures, allowing the collar of his red vest underneath to poke up the neck. Highly distracting but I suppose it would throw snoops off their trail. Bruce Wayne can’t be Batman; Bruce could afford a better tailor.
III. Every once in a while Bruce Wayne will reference the murder of his parents but we never learn Dick Grayson’s backstory. It’s never even so much as implied that Dick (as we learn in the comics and later films) once belonged to a famous family of traveling acrobats, the rest of whom died during a particularly daring stunt (sometimes written as sabotage at the hands of the Joker or Two-Face). We are to assume here that Dick’s Aunt Harriet didn’t have the means to support the orphaned boy on her own and Bruce, who was at the fatal circus performance, simply invited them to live with him. Maybe if they had given Burt Ward a few dramatic moments to talk about all this he could have avoided the B movie hell that awaited him following this program’s cancellation.
IV. This season is where Batman and Robin really get into taking pills to combat everything. Sorry, Joker, but we swallowed our anti-hypnotism bat pills before you handcuffed us to this giant pair of scissors. Big pharma propaganda has never looked so dashing.
Without any further adieu, allow me to tear apart this classical mess.
1. “Shoot A Crooked Arrow” / 2. “Walk The Straight And Narrow”
Art Carney rides into town as a would-be Robin Hood character called the Archer, because when you think of debonair English folk heroes you think of Ralph Kramden’s neighbor. Maybe that’s the joke. Aiding Art in his rob-from-the-rich-pretend-to-give-to-the-poor hoodwink is model Barbara Nichols (as an equally Brooklynese Maid Marilyn) and Doodles Weaver (wasted in a tiny henchman role). This adventure marks the first (and not the last) time Alfred must don the Bat suit; the old bean doesn’t look too bad in his boss’s duds.
3. “Hot Off The Griddle” / 4. “The Cat And The Fiddle”
This pair of episodes, centered around average larceny by the otherwise brassy and bewitching Catwoman, is loaded with references only true ’60s fossils will understand (Schwab’s Drugstore, anyone?). Hard to believe the Boy Wonder’s assessment of fictional hit record “The Catusi” hasn’t been sampled by a boat load of contemporary punk bands (“Oh boy! I like rock n’ roll music as much as the next red-blooded average American teenager but this stuff is awful!”). James Brolin pops up in the conclusion as truck driver Ralph Staphylococcus. It’s a better moniker than Zubin Zucchini, one of the dismal food-based names we’re beaten senseless with this season.
5. “The Minstrel’s Shakedown” / 6. “Barbecued Batman?”
On paper a villain named the Minstrel who strums a medieval instrument as he taunts Batman about stock fraud sounds torturous but somehow they lend this absurdity proper gravity. There’s great shadow work (darkness lurking almost literally in every corner) and Van Johnson is camp-free in his turn as the titular villain (hey, the guy knows how to pluck a lute menacingly). You can almost envision this jaunt working in the Chris Nolan Bat films. Granted, there’s a lot of Batman talking to guys in suits here, but negotiation is a vital part of his crime-fighting skill set. Did I mention the Phyllis Diller cameo? Surprisingly, she does not appear as herself.
7. “The Spell Of Tut” / 8. “Tut’s Case Is Shut”
In which the potion-based plotting of King Tut teaches us the meaning of words like scarab, apothecary, and Cavia porcellus. A tremendous series moment occurs when Sid Haig, appearing as one of Tut’s henchmen, is given a chance to reply to a question about what lurks behind a mysterious door. “Trolls and ghouls and amulets,” Haig intones a la possessed wizard, head tiled back, eyes a-bug. “Evil spells that will turn your bones to celery stalks!” Unfortunately, we do not get to see Robin transform into celery. We do, however, witness Batman using a public telephone, which today is as antiquated at Tut himself.
9. “The Greatest Mother Of Them All” / 10. “Ma Parker”
These entries mark one of the rare instances where criminals fire real guns at Batman and Robin. You’d think that would happen more often. Alas, only Ma Parker and her gang are smart enough to realize our Caped Crusaders wear nothing bullet proof. History buffs might be annoyed that the villainess played by Shelley Winters perpetuates the myth that her real life counterpart (Arizona Donnie “Ma” Barker) was a deft criminal mastermind. Less stodgy folk will probably have no issue getting down with Parker and her takeover of Gotham State Penitentiary. Go big or go home, you know?
11. “The Clock King’s Crazy Crimes” / 12. “The Clock King Gets Crowned”
Bob Kane may have been able to smudge Batman collaborator Bill Finger out of history for several decades but he couldn’t prevent his former pal from co-writing these two episodes. Shame it had to be Clock King, a malefactor who has forever been a punchline. What’s onscreen here doesn’t help (did the guy really need multi-colored clock faces glued to his black cape?). As the King Walter Slezak does what he can, but if this were baseball he’d languish in the minor leagues. The cannibalistic undertones in the scene where Batman and Robin eat bat burgers are dampened when they order Orangeade to drink. No self respecting creatures of the night would be caught dead sipping juice.
13. “An Egg Grows In Gotham” / 14. “The Yegg Foes In Gotham”
Just when you think this television show from the mid-60s is doing a good job keeping its head above water in terms of social issues they vomit up a broad and offensive Native American character named Chief Screaming Chicken (portrayed, of course, by a white guy named Edward Everett Horton). That’s the only thing marring Vincent Price’s debut as nefarious dandy Egghead. At least the plot recognizes the fact that Gotham really belongs to its indigenous peoples; Egghead maneuvers around city government to gain control of the municipality from the Chief so he may ban Batman and Robin from policing inside its borders. Of course the final battle includes a lot of egg throwing.
15. “The Devil’s Fingers” / 16. “Dead Ringers”
Liberace played some really fantastic piano in his day. If you listen to live recordings, he was also pretty clever with onstage banter. Unfortunately Lib was no actor, and as clumsy as he is playing himself he’s even worse as an evil twin brother. This is one of those sad moments where a merger that seems like a slam dunk bounces coldly off the rim. Too much garish camp and your stew becomes slurry. On the plus side, they give Aunt Harriet more stuff to do; Lib’s evil musician strikes up a dubious romance with Aunty H and they come so close to making out you want to reach for the Bat signal. It’s enough to make Bruce and his youthful ward fake their deaths, again. They’ve done it so many times already but it’s still such a shock!
17. “Hizzoner The Penguin” / 18. “Dizzoner The Penguin”
The Penguin runs for mayor, and Batman decides the only way to stop this waddling ne’ever-do-well is to run for mayor himself. It’s punishing for us until Batman refuses to kiss a baby; this kicks off a Batman backlash and there is nothing quite as satisfying as watching strangers yell at Adam West. Please note: despite her credit as Little Egypt, the belly dancer who cameos at the Penguin’s campaign rally was merely a Little Egypt imitator named Lorraine Shalhoub. The three women usually credited with pioneering the Little Egypt character (enchantress of rich and curious Western audiences in the early 20th Century) all died decades before this show existed. Now Paul Revere and The Raiders, they’re the real deal here—right down to their trademark Revolutionary War regalia.
19. “Green Ice” / 20. “Deep Freeze”
As the frosty villain Mr. Freeze Otto Preminger wears your patience by declaring anything and everything as “wild, WILD!” With each refrain your lobes dull and you angrily curse the concept of catchphrases. Burt Ward sports a mysterious injury on his right arm during these entries; they try to block it with other actors and Robin’s cape, but every so often you catch a glimpse of a large bandage around the appendage. If we’re to believe Burt’s autobio he most likely hurt himself roughly sexing a zealous fan. At any rate, the show runners could have never guessed we’d one day live in a world of high def screen capture and endless reruns. All your mistakes live forever.
21. “The Impractical Joker” / 22. “The Joker’s Provokers”
Somehow the Joker invents time travel, but the rules are vague and the special effects vaguer. Equally painful is the introduction of Alfred’s twin cousin who works for the city. “Batman’s” split screen tech makes “Patty Duke” look like Multiplicity. This is season two’s nadir, veering into bargain basement Saturday morning dreck produced at your local affiliate. Chris Bale should have dropped the nuke on these eps at the end of Dark Knight Rises.
23. “Marsha, Queen Of Diamonds” / 24. “Marsha’s Scheme Of Diamonds”
Gotham’s posh cougar Marsha, Queen Of Diamonds (the refreshing Carolyn Jones) tries to trick Batman into holy matrimony—though she has more in her arsenal than mere feminine charm. You see, Marsha’s eccentric aunt is a bonafide witch who mixes up love potions for her niece in a giant bubbling cauldron. Just when you think this story is going to end in the most ludicrous way possible—Batman and Robin turned into frogs!—something even more ludicrous comes along—Batman and Robin were just pretending to be frogs via ventriloquism! So that’s what Bruce and Dick practice in their down time.
25. “Come Back, Shame” / 26. “It’s How You Play The Game”
The climax of this western-themed yarn features the Dynamic Duo amidst a stampede and it looks like the program actually spent the money to get real bovines. Cowpoke Shame isn’t a very inspired bad guy but Cliff Robertson finds a way to make the grizzled saddlesore work. A major surprise arrives in the form of Werner Klemperer, who cameos as Col. Klink and establishes the fact that “Batman” and “Hogan’s Heroes” take place in the same goddamn universe. Seems like apprehending a Nazi would be bigger potatoes than Shame; Bats doesn’t agree, not even touching upon the Third Reich’s many atrocities in the polite chat he has with Klink. Is Gotham actually in Brazil?
27. “The Penguin’s Nest” / 28. “The Bird’s Last Jest”
If you dislike Stafford Repp’s bumbling Chief O’Hara, this is the adventure for you. In the midst of a forgery plan the Penguin kidnaps O’Hara, locks him in a trunk, and throws him in an electrified swimming pool. As if that isn’t crazy enough, later the feisty bird captures Alfred and attempts to cook him in a pie crust. That would probably be a very drawn out, painful way to die. Naturally, on this series they make it look like the least dangerous situation in the world. God forbid youngsters get the wrong idea about those human sized pie crusts you see at the market.
29. “The Cat’s Meow” / 30. “The Bat’s Kow Tow”
A sloppy Catwoman outing saved as always by the amount of vulnerability Julie Newmar brings to her performance. Our feline mastermind attempts to steal the voices of singing sensations Chad & Jeremy because she somehow thinks it will wreck the British economy. Finally, Batman and Robin have an excuse to visit the British Embassy, and do they ever. Don’t worry, though—they manage to crowbar in a sequence where Chad & Jeremy have tea with Aunt Harriet. Guess the old biddy is cruising the airports looking to pick up foreign twinks. Well, maybe C&J are too tall and masculine to be true twinks. As you can tell, these episodes are very inspiring.
31. “The Puzzles Are Coming” / 32. “The Duo Is Slumming”
Negotiations with Frank Gorshin were rough in season the second; hence, this obvious Riddler script was mutated for the Puzzler, a weird fop whose preoccupations with aviation and Shakespeare seem like more than enough characterization. And yet he insists on teasing authorities with puzzles. We get it, you were a Lit major. Puzzler’s plan is to bilk some billionaire out of his fancy aircraft; Sadly, we do not get the Batman skydiving scene we deserve. Skydiving may not have been invented yet, but gay subtext certainly had, as evidenced in Batman’s firm vocal desire to “cross swords” with Puzzler.
33. “The Sandman Cometh” / 34. “The Catwoman Goeth”
The program goes against type here, casting the emaciated and clean-shaven Michael Rennie as a version of the Sandman (a character I think we collectively agree is a rotund gent with facial hair in the style of Santa Claus). This is another where the crook’s objective is to steal money from a citizen of great wealth; here, it’s a frumpy pasta heiress named J. Pauline Spaghetti. Meanwhile, Commissioner Gordon attempts to calm a panicked O’Hara by rattling off weird farm colloquialisms (“Grain by grain, the hen fills her belly!”). Batman takes the subway in the second chapter, but that happens offscreen, so no shots of West awkwardly jostling for the best position in the train.
35. “The Contaminated Cowl” / 36. “The Mad Hatter Runs Afoul”
The Mad Hatter is back and he still wants Batman’s ugly-ass cowl. No one minces quite like David Wayne, especially when he’s posing as a foreign dignitary who uses radiation to turn the Caped Crusader’s hood bright pink. Events take a morbid turn when Mad Hatter convinces all of Gotham that he’s murdered Batman and Robin in cold hat-fueled blood. The Hatter is thwarted atop a water tower as stock footage from V-J Day represents the cheering, relieved citizens of Gotham. Shameless but beautiful.
37. “The Zodiac Crimes” / 38. “The Joker’s Hard Times” / 39. “The Penguin Declines”
This might be the apex of the entire fershluggin’ series. Joker and Penguin combine forces for a rollicking crime spree that follows the twelve astrological signs. Reigning in the outlandishness, the show’s writers provide our crooks with creative set-ups grounded in enough reality to convey Batman’s acute frustration as he struggles to thwart the gruesome twosome (and yet they still work giant man-eating clam into the narrative). Cesar Romero presents his greatest performance as the Clown Prince of Crime, a gleeful beacon of evil who almost comes across as metaphysical. He also rolls off one of the better Dynamic Duo insults, referring to them as “Caped Cabbage-heads.”
40. “That Darn Catwoman” / 41. “Scat! Darn Catwoman”
Catwoman poisons Robin with a drug that makes him horny for crime and her young protégé Leslie Gore. Welcome to more of the fresh hell that is Burt Ward’s uncomfortable interpretation of juvenile delinquent. Adam West isn’t much better when he’s under the influence of the drug—muttering things to “Catsy Baby” while slowly rolling his head around like a bowling ball—but perhaps that’s the point. Gore is delightful as Catwoman’s junior, instantly adding herself to the “why didn’t they ever bring this character back?” list. Guess there’s only room for one sexually-charged tabby in Gotham.
42. “Penguin Is A Girl’s Best Friend” / 43. “Penguin Sets A Trend” / 44. “Penguin’s Disastrous End”
We come so close to seeing a nude Carolyn Jones in these episodes it’s surprising more hasn’t been made of it over the years. People just aren’t buying what Jones is selling outside Morticia Addams, which is sad and wrong. At any rate, Marsha, Queen of Diamonds and Penguin collaborate to make a movie starring the Caped Crusaders. Penguin thinks he can control Batman and Robin if he’s directing them, but these guys only serve Lady Justice. There’s a long stretch where the boys are trapped in suits of armor, which is fun if you’ve ever fantasized about Adam West torturing you in the 14th Century.
45. “Batman’s Anniversary” / 46. “A Riddling Controversy”
Speaking of the Addams Family, here be the notorious engagement where John Astin dons the green question mark jumpsuit to replace a contractually unhappy Frank Gorshin. A goddamn thankless job but Astin proves himself worthy of super reprobate status with this one and only turn as el hombre de adivinanzas. Aiding him are some of the program’s most inventive set pieces, like a fight in an underwater bank vault and a giant birthday cake made of quicksand. Stupid enough to be fun, real enough to seem dangerous. That’s what we’re really after here, right? Believable scenarios for a man and a boy who fight crime adorned in multi-colored silk and spandex?
47. “The Joker’s Last Laugh” / 48. “The Joker’s Epitaph”
The titles here suggest Joker buys the farm; it’s a fake out. Batman’s greatest foe survives this folly that finds him implanting androids as bank tellers while simultaneously tricking Bruce Wayne into making him VP of Gotham National. I don’t remember the exact joke Batman tells the one android to make it malfunction but I cannot agree with Robin’s assertion that it was “super funny.” Batman’s about as funny intentionally as Adam West is unintentionally. By this point they’ve given the Joker his own custom wheels, referred to as the Jokemobile. Like many novelty autos of the era it’s just a modified 1920s jalopy. In terms of cool it may be above the Porter from “My Mother The Car” but it’s definitely below the Monkeemobile.
49. “Catwoman Goes To College” / 50. “Batman Displays His Knowledge”
Our devious Catwoman loves Batman with all her feline heart, but could she ever give up a life of crime to win his love? Batman’s interested in exploring this but worries about Robin’s future. “I’ll have him killed!” the Cat cheerily suggests, bringing of the program’s biggest and most twisted laughs. These episodes introduce Captain Courageous, a police cop who’s new in town and knows nothing of the costumed weirdos who either perpetrate or fight crime. A strange diversion but again, always funny to see anyone giving Batman and Robin the business.
51. “A Piece Of The Action” / 52. “Batman’s Satisfaction”
Wherein Batman and Robin meet rival vigilantes the Green Hornet and Kato. Even in restraint Bruce Lee impresses during the fights; at last, a hero who actually looks like he could defeat an enemy with one or two blows. “Kung Fu is Kung Fu,” Lee shrugs, one of the few lines he can get in between the thick dialogue wicket flowing between his boss, the regulars of the Batman crew, guest villain Colonel Gumm (a boisterous Roger C. Carmel), and Gumm’s put upon lady Pinky Pinkston (Diane McBaine). Alex Rocco pops up as one of Gumm’s henchmen, proving he was never young.
53. “King Tut’s Coup” / 54. “Batman’s Waterloo”
Another stacked tale featuring Victor Buono’s Tut, “Star Trek’s” Grace Lee Whitney as female crony Neila, “77 Sunset Strip’s” Byron Keith as Mayor Linseed, Suzy Knickerbocker playing herself, and bride-against-her-will Lee Meriwether (who of course played Catwoman in the 1966 theatrical version of this show; Julie Newmar was unavailable). Buono begins to careen into a W.C. Fields impression with his characterization of the evil Egyptian king, but to be fair I can’t think of the last time I saw/heard anyone referencing the permanently drunk William Claude of Philadelph. Fields is fading into an obscurity populated by Charo, Wally Gator, and all the cave people who continue to reference them. Holy passage of time.
55. “Black Widow Strikes Again” / 56. “Caught In The Spider’s Den”
Tallulah Bankhead appears in her final role ever as the elegant and elegantly sassy Black Widow. It’s kind of difficult to make out what she’s saying half the time but you get the general idea—she’s into bank heists and wants the Dynamic Duds dead. There’s an unsettling scene toward the end where it appears a police officer is going to shoot Batman at point blank range (because Black Widow has tricked the world into believing Bats has gone bad) but what’s more frightening is the subplot about Aunt Harriet trying to buy a miniskirt. Apparently the sales person told her she doesn’t have the face for it. I’d like to see a seething Dick Grayson confront that evil doer.
57. “Pop Goes The Joker” / 58. “Flop Goes The Joker”
The Joker infiltrates the Gotham art world, holds some aspiring painters for ransom, and we all put up with his quasi-moll, one Baby Jane Towser (Diana Ivarson, whose acting is more blanching than any of the abstracts we see on display). The story culminates in a dumb but metaphorically appropriate bit where the Joker gets trapped going up and down the Bat poles.
59. “Ice Spy” / 60. “The Duo Defy”
Eli Wallach, the third and final Mr. Freeze, a fine heavy even if he insists on using an adorable little seal for most of his dirty work. Poor innocent seal. For some reason Elisha Cook’s Icelandic professor, an unwitting accomplice to Freeze in his quest for planetary domination, has absolutely no accent. An odd creative decision. Even odder: in these final episodes, Commissioner Gordon keeps mentioning his daughter Barbara but we never see her. It almost seems like they wanted to include Barb and her alter ego Batgirl but couldn’t find the right actress. Why else would Gord be yakking about his family? We never hear word one about O’Hara’s private life, and why would we want to? Do any of his kids turn out to be avenging super people?
Fin. I honestly wasn’t sure I was going to make it through this, the Berlin Alexanderplatz of Batman television seasons. And yet I did. What awaits in season three? Batgirl. Shorter narratives. Rudy Vallée. Milton Berle. That episode where the Joker and Batman enter a surfing contest. Marauding Cossacks. It’s gonna get weirder but not necessarily better.
Stay tuned. Same blog time, same blog channel.