Friday, September 4, 2020


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *adventure*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological, sociological*

Stephen Kandel and Stanford Sherman collaborate on the first team-up of two major guest villains, the Joker and the Penguin. Despite the popularity of both super-fiends, Penguin plays a fairly minor role, just as Catwoman did in “The Sandman Cometh.” Joker is wholly responsible for conceiving the pattern for his crime-wave; that of stealing both valuable and valueless items to fufill his “Zodiac Crimes.” But the authors don’t manage to come up with twelve good crimes patterned after the astrological signs, and so they resort to some lame metaphorical interpretations. For instance, the Capricorn crime consists of the villains’ attempt to knock off the Dynamic Duo. Saith the Joker: “Batman’s the goat, and we’re going to get him!” Fortunately, there’s enough wild business going on that these failings don’t really spoil the overall fun.

Cesar Romero is at his best confounding the duo with numerous schemes, the most capricious being his ploy of polluting Gotham’s reservoir with “Joker jelly.” Predictably enough, all of the Clown Prince’s henchmen are named after the planets, but only one—his moll Venus (Terry Moore)—proves of consequence to the narrative. In “The Joker Goes to School” the villain figuratively seduces high-schooler Susie with the lure of quick riches. Here, though the script tells nothing of Venus’s background, there’s the suggestion that Joker has at the very least furthered the young woman’s dedication to villainy. Like many molls before her, Venus turns soft after beholding Batman’s manly charms. Usually, this earns them nothing but a sententious lecture on moral virtue from the hero. This time the moll becomes the bone over which hero and villain battle, each trying to convert her, either to good or to evil. Further, though Batman never steps over any lines of propriety, there’s a slight suggestion that he may be swayed by her charms, since he allows the repentant Venus to assist them in their crusade, rather than simply turning her over to police custody. Moore plays the part with campy flair, imitating Marilyn Monroe’s breathy pattern of speech, even when she’s in the act of betraying the duo. In one scene, the Joker arranges to ambush the crusaders in a museum, and what appears to be a female Greek statue comes to life, proving to be what Joker calls “Venus Unobserved.” (I assume that this is a clever literary reference, possibly either to a 1950 Christiopher Fry play or to a sixties slang term for a lesbian sexual position.)

As for Penguin, he doesn’t have a lot to do in the first two sections of the episode’s three parts. Still, Burgess Meredith gets a chance to shine as “Don Juan Penguin,” using his improbable masculine wiles to soft-soap the wishy-washy Venus into unintentionally betraying the crimefighters again. The episodic narrative concludes with a lively fight in the Batcave and some added humiliations for the super-crooks. Despite all the emphasis given to Venus’s reformation, there’s no mention of her fate in the coda, only some silly byplay about astrology with Aunt Harriet.

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