Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Magnificent Seven: BATMAN Villains

Whether you love it or hate it you have to agree that the TV show BATMAN is a classic. There was never a show like it before it and there has never been a show quite like it since. Its impact on popular culture is almost unmeasurable. And one thing that I will always be thankful for is that it  succeeded at making super-hereos and super-villains cool. I mean, you tune in to watch Adam West and Burt Ward as Batman and Robin (and, later, Yvonne Craig as Batgirl) but you turn the channel if the villain is Van Johnson as The Minstrel (sorry, Greg!) or Liberace as Chandell. It was the Special Guest Villain who really made the episodes *fun*.

BATMAN premiered on ABC-TV on January 12, 1966. To help celebrate the anniversary of this TV classic, here is my list of Seven Greatest BATMAN Guest Villains and their best episodes.

1.  CATWOMAN (Julie Newmar, Lee Meriwether, Eartha Kitt)
Although the character was played by three different actresses (Newmar for the first two years, Meriwether in the BATMAN motion picture, Kitt in the third season) the villain was always well-written and all three actresses did a bang-up job in their portrayals. Julie Newmar, of course, was the first and many believe she was the best. Certainly she played the "innocent" well; at the beginning of episodes when she swore she had reformed, or at the end of those same episodes when she was cornered by Batman and pleaded that she wanted to go straight, you really wanted to believe her. Lee Meriwether did a great job in the motion picture, and could have kept the role if things had worked out. After Eartha Kitt was cast in the third season, the semi-romantic connection was played waaay down, probably because of the fact that Kitt was black and Adam West (Batman) was white. Evidently a caucasian crime fighter couldn't be seen falling for a black Catwoman on mainstream 60s television. Unfortunately, when that dynamic went away some of the charisma of the character went away, too. That's why Kitt's Catwoman is by far the most harsh and brittle of the three. She did play up the cat-like personality of the character instead, and her "purr" was purrrrrfect.  Kitt also got to play against Yvonne Craig as Batgirl, which was a fun "cat-fight" to watch.
Favorite Episodes: 
The Purfect Crime/Better Luck Next Time (#s 19 & 20)
Catwoman searches for the missing cat statues of Captain Manx; Batman must choose between "the lady or the tiger."

2. THE RIDDLER (Frank Gorshin)
The Riddler was the first villain to face Batman & Robin in their debut episodes; if the audience hadn't liked him they would not have tuned in for more. So really, The Riddler, as portrayed by Frank Gorshin, is also responsible for the success of the series. The producers must have known this, as he re-appeared more in the first season (4 times) than any other super-villain. The maniacal giggles of The Riddler presented the perfect juxta-position to the uber-seriousness of Adam West as Batman. In my opinion the second season suffered from him not appearing; John Astin tried to fill in as The Riddler in one story arc but did it badly and was not asked back, and in one story arc The Riddler was re-written as The Puzzler and portrayed charismatically but not wholly satisfactorily by Maurice Evans. The producers talked Gorshin into returning for one story in the third season, but although at the end of that episode he promises that he will be back, The Riddler never returned.
Favorite Episodes: 
Death In Slow Motion/Riddler's False Notion (#s 31 & 32)
The Riddler films a silent movie of his battles with Batman and Robin; Robin faces a buzz saw ala "the perils of Pauline."

3. KING TUT (Victor Buono) and
4. EGGHEAD (Vincent Price)
After the producers introduced the main villains from the BATMAN comic-books they started creating their own characters. Although most of them were totally forgettable (Art Carney as The Archer, anyone?), these two characters managed to beat the odds and secure a place in popular culture history. Partly it has to do with the actors hired to portray these bad guys; Victor Buono was an Academy Award nominated actor and Vincent Price was classically trained on Broadway. It might have helped that Buono was portraying a schizophrenic; King Tut was a professor of Egyptology at Gotham University until he gets hit on the head and turns into an evil genius. Vincent Price brought his horror film experience and/or presence to the role of Egghead, making him dastardly and just a bit dangerous even when played as bumbling. In his first appearance he used more than fifty "egg" words such as "egg-cellent" and "egg-straordinary," which made quite an impression. Of all the villains who made their debut in the second season, only Egghead and Shame (Cliff Robertson) came back.
Favorite King Tut Episode: 
I'll Be a Mummy's Uncle (#117)
King Tut actually figures out Batman's secret identity, but forgets it after another blow to the head.
Favorite Egghead Episodes:
An Egg Crows In Gotham/The Yegg Foes In Gotham (#s 47 & 48)
Egghead "steals" Gotham City, then attempts to transfer Bruce Wayne's knowledge to himself via a mind swap.

5. THE MAD HATTER (David Wayne)
The Mad Hatter was an obscure BATMAN comic-book villain who made his debut in the first season, then re-appeared once during the second season. He existed to steal hats, specifically hats from the jury that originally convicted him or, even better, Batman's cowl. David Wayne brought just the right amount of menace to the role; he was crazy, but also dangerous. Unfortunately, comparing his two appearances will give you a clear (and painful) understanding of how badly the show had gotten in just one year: the first episode was fresh and original; the second season story arc degenerated into a finale staged on a water tower.Yeah, I don't know why, either. Still, it would have been fun to see The Mad Hatter trying to go after Batgirl's cowl as well as Batman's.
Favorite Episode: 
The 13th Hat/Batman Stands Pat (#s 13 & 14)
Batman is encased in plaster when he tries to stop The Mad Hatter from kidnapping the jurors who had convicted him.

6. MR. FREEZE (George Sanders, Otto Preminger, Eli Wallach)
Like Catwoman, Mr. Freeze was a Batman comic-book super-villain who was portrayed by three different actors during the run of the series. The idea of a man who can not exist out-side of a sub-zero environment, armed with a freeze ray, was evidently too good to give up just because a certain actor was unavailable. The character was introduced in the first season by the Academy Award winning George Sanders, then re-introduced by famed director Otto Preminger in the second season. I'm not sure if Preminger was a pain in the ass to work with or if he was unavailable later (or both) but in this last appearance he was portrayed by Eli Wallach, following Preminger's Germanic accent instead of Sanders' British one. If only the producers had used him again in the third season instead of, say, Louie the Lilac (an annoying Milton Berle) perhaps there would have been a fourth season.
Favorite Episodes: 
Green Ice/Deep Freeze (#s 53 & 54)
Preminger makes a menacing Mr. Freeze as he tries to turn the Dynamic Duo into Frosty Freezies. 

7. THE PENGUIN (Burgess Meredith)
The Penguin appeared in more BATMAN episodes than any other villain (twenty). He shared the stage (literally) with more co-stars than any other: in the second and third seasons he teamed-up with such luminaries as Ethel Merman, Carolyn Jones, and Cesar Romero. Burgess Meredith, an Academy Award nominated actor, created the bird-like walk and the "quack-quack" sounds (to hide his cough because of the cigarettes), mixing these with the short-tempered personality and the silly looking pseudo-tuxedo to create a villain we all loved to hate.
Favorite Episode: 
Enter Batgirl, Exit Penguin (# 95)
When the Penguin hits on the idea to marry Barbara Gordon in order to keep her father the Commissioner from persecuting him, he gets way more than he bargained for.

Least Favorite BATMAN Villain: THE JOKER 
Hands down this dubious distinction goes to Cesar Romero as The Joker. "The Clown Prince of Crime" is an aging Latino with a mustache? I don't think so! His hair is obviously a wig and his grin is obviously painted on. What's to like?! "Hahaha" indeed.

Favorite All-Around BATMAN Episode: 
The Entrancing Dr. Cassandra (#119)
This penultimate episode features Ida Lupino as the alchemist Dr. Cassandra, who armed with her invisibility pills plans on taking over Gotham City by freeing six other super-villains to help her. By this point the producers knew they might not return for a fourth season, AND they were running out of money, so they staged a fight sequence between Batman, Robin, and Batgirl and the bad guys in the dark (so that the invisible villains couldn't see the good guys, either). Irregardless of how stupid it might sound on paper, I will never forget the time I saw seven super-villains all on one show! Now, of course, I realize that the characters used (The Penguin, The Joker, Catwoman, The Riddler, King Tut, and Egghead) were played by the stunt-doubles and not the actual actors. But still, the scene is impressive. And by the way....the Catwoman was the Julie Newmar "looking" Catwoman, not the Eartha Kitt version. Haha!

Extra Special Musical Accompaniment
To end this celebration, here's the theme for the third season of episodes featuring Neil Hefti's brilliant theme and the awesomely updated animation featuring Batman, Robin, and....Batgirl!

 AND to end this...the often forgotten BATGIRL Theme by Billy Mays!


  1. My favorite Batman arc was the three-part Joker/Penguin team-up that took place in the second season. The Joker tried to crush Batman and Robin with a sculpture of one of the planets, then tried feeding them to a man-eating oyster. :)

    Also, the main reason they DIDN'T have the fourth season was because the Bat-Cave was bull-dozed before NBC stepped up to buy the series. At $800,000 it was too expensive to rebuild back then.

    Also, NBC was actually planning to bring back the cliffhangers! How cool would THAT have been? :)

    1. And the fights were the best parts of ANY season, with the cliffhangers and resolutions coming in second. :)

    2. That Joker-Penguin three-parter was definitely the best three-parter they ever did, and probably the best villain team-up. I'll give you that.

      The fights *were* cool.

      And I've often wondered what would have happened with a fourth-season. That NBC didn't make the decision to renew fast enough is one of the saddest decisions in the history of television. :-(

    3. I've actually wondered if a fourth season of Batman would've DELAYED "The" Batman from returning to comics, as well as Robin going to college?

      The way Superman was influenced by the Reeves TV show makes me wonder that. Would we have seen the "sillier" Batman well into the 1970's, instead of the grimmer, darker Batman? We've had discussions about just this on a message board I frequent. :)

  2. Yeah I agree that Batman was a classic show. The entire batman enemies had dangerous looks though at times they looked funny too. The penguin was my favorite enemy; he was just like a joker.