Batman 66: Hi Diddle Riddle/Smack In the Middle

by Drew Kiess

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“Hi Diddle Riddle/Smack in the Middle” is the first two-parter of the Bill Dozier Batman series staring Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward as Robin. Frank Gorshin guest stars as Riddler. The episodes were directed by Robert Butler and written by Lorezon Semple, Jr., and premiered on January 12th and 13th, 1966.

 

When Gotham’s police force is intimidated by the return of the joyful devil Riddler, they realize they have only one choice: the Caped Crusader, deputy of the law, Batman and his faithful ward Robin must be called into action! Batman and Robin track down their arch enemy, and wrongfully accuse him of a crime. Riddler sues Batman, which threatens Batman’s secret identity- millionaire playboy Bruce Wayne. 

 

Frank Gorshin steals this first double-header. We know that Adam West’s earnest performance as Batman is legendary, but Gorshin sets the tone for all the villains in this show with an over-the-top, manic performance. His movements are like a cartoon character and are surprisingly more controlled than Jim Carey’s turn as the Riddler in Batman Forever. Through all the mania, you can see the intelligence on Gorshin’s face. In this world, he is the smartest man in the room. This madness improves the comedy of West’s earnest performance. The whole thing is gloriously ridiculous. In one corner, a deadly serious, deputized crime fighter in a cape and cowl who labels his utility belt so he doesn’t have to memorize the contents, and in the other, the most intelligent, maniacal cartoon character to ever wear flesh. 

 

But Riddler has one weakness- he must prove that he’s the smartest man in the room, and that room must also include the Dynamic Duo. “Crime is no fun unless he’s outwitting us,” Robin observes. Batman and Robin fall into the Riddler’s trap at the “What a Way to Go-Go” discotheque (but not before giving the world the Bat-tutsi dance). Batman manages to escape, but Robin is not so lucky.

 

Here we have the staple trope of the Dozier Batman series- the dramatic cliff-hanger! Will Robin escape? Tune in tomorrow, same time same channel. Riddler enlists “Molly”, played by Bond-girl Jill St John to impersonate Robin using a rubber mold of his face. When Molly wears the mask, Burt Ward replaces her, meaning Ward is playing St John playing Molly. Ridiculous. Even more ridiculous is that a rubber mask can take someone shaped like Jill St John and turn them into someone shaped like Burt Ward. But the less said about that, the better.

 

Batman is never fooled, and when Molly realizes her plan was foiled, she attempts to escape by climbing on an atomic pile. Batman attempts to save her, but she falls to her death to the line, “What a terrible way to go-go.” Batman rescues Robin and puts an end to Riddler’s plot for good.

 

Bizarrely, Batman appears perfectly fine with the potential that Riddler was killed at the end of the episode, and perhaps even disappointed that he didn’t know for sure. That aside, what we see in this episode is an incredibly faithful representation of the Batman character from the 1950s. The 50s were a bad decade for comics, having been put under the Comics Code Authority after Seduction of the Innocent through mud on the industry. What resulted was a nerfed version of the medium that gained popularity during the second world war. That nerfing is what Bill Dozier’s series was satirizing. Understanding the show in that context and recognizing that, yes, it is supposed to be funny, can bring back the enjoyment of a series that many fans of the character’s more dark and brooding tone look sideways at. 

 

Yes, this Gotham looks more like the kind of big city Sheriff Andy Taylor would visit rather than the hell breaking through concrete vision of Tim Burton or the dirty Chicago vibe of the Nolan series. But for viewers of Batman in 1966 who were familiar with the book, this was Batman. Serious enough for kids to be enthralled by, and funny enough for adults to be entertained by. Campiness as serious art.

 

“Hi Diddle Riddle/Smack in the Middle” is a strong start. It introduces a classic, core villain, and sets the tone for all the major characters in the series. The pieces are in place for Batmania to begin.

 

Final Grade: A

Justice League Dark: Apokolips War Review

by Drew Kiess

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In 2013, DC animation took on a new style and tone when they released Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox. From there, they built a continuity with 15 more films starring several characters from the four corners of the DC Universe. It’s sequel, Justice League: War saw Darkseid launch an invasion of Earth, and established the tone and design of this new continuity as steeped in the New 52.

For the most part, with a few bumps and bruises along the way, this universe provided quality films and has been a major part of this writer’s anticipated films lists yearly. With the ending of Reign of the Supermen promising that the Justice League would take the war to Darkseid, fans of this series were eagerly anticipating the announcement of the next film.

What follows may be considered spoilers, but with the major twist of the movie occurring in the first five minutes, what else can I do?

Surprisingly, it wasn’t another Justice League sequel, but the sequel to 2017’s Justice League Dark that would take us to Apokolips. Turns out, for the story they wanted to tell, it was the right call. Justice League Dark: Apokolips War, directed by Matt Peters and Christina Sotta and written by Mairghread Scott and Ernie Altbacker, focuses on John Constantine, who is battling his demons regarding the failed mission to overtake Darkseid. War survivors Clark Kent and Raven seek him out to launch a desperate mission to free Earth from the oppression of Apokolips.

And that’s just the set up.

I truly cannot say much more about the film without fully going into spoilers, but what this creative team managed to accomplish with Apokolips War is something that should be experienced. The script manages to tie up loose threads from 15 films and brings finality to a universe in a way that a big budget universe feature never could. By the time the credits roll, there is no doubt of the finality of the events.

The bleakness may prevent this from being in regular rotation for me, but it is one of the best efforts from this universe. The film captures everything I love about “end of continuity” stories, because there’s no such thing as an unbreakable toy. The whole box is smashed without hesitation, and it is done in a way that reminds you that these films are love letters to comic books. But just like the comics, continuity wears thin and needs an update from time to time. It’s time for something new from these DC animated movies. I hope this isn’t the last time we see DC construct an animated movie continuity (Superman: Man of Tomorrow releases in August, but there’s no word on if it is a launchpad for a new continuity or if it is a standalone picture), but I will undoubtedly be looking forward to the next story.

 

Final Grade: A

Joker Review: A Medley Of Madness

By Drew Kiess

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Joker stars Joaquin Phoenix and is directed by Todd Phillips. Based on the villain we all know and love to hate from DC Comics, Joker is a one-and-done psychological thriller that has no franchise ambition, which is something that the comic book movie sub-genre is sadly lacking. Sequels and franchise-starters are the name of the game, and if nothing else, maybe that trend will finally be bucked. One can dream.

Once upon a time, I wrote about how dumb of an idea I thought a Joker movie was. I am happy to report that in the case of this film, I was dead wrong. Joker is a freight train and it hits hard. Like its subject, the film slithers and contorts as it weaves an uncomfortable story about the relationship of mental illness and violence, as well as explore, more superficially, how a character like the Joker could possibly come to exist.

This film is not unique in its depiction of madness. As has been pointed out by many before me, Taxi Driver, King of Comedy, and American Psycho all have shown a main character fall into murderousness. But when you take the most high profile villain in the most high profile subgenre of film and entertainment and give him a similar treatment, people are going to react. It’s not part of the plan. And that reaction has been harsh. Some are simply trying to score woke points in a world where clicks equal dollars (I don’t get paid to write these reviews, by the way). Others are striking against a preconceived idea of what a film like this ought to be. But Joker has opened up conversations like no other movie in recent memory, regardless of its quality.

Luckily, it is quite good. I will even dare to say that Joker is great. It is repetitive at this point to praise Joaquin Phoenix’s performance as Arthur Fleck and Joker, but I will do it anyways because it is deserving of the praise. What Phoenix manages to pull off is incredible. He is physically unlikable at all points in this movie, yet somehow manages to maintain a certain quality of helplessness that it is reasonable to feel some empathy towards him early in his downward spiral. However, that quality of helplessness vanishes as we reach the final stage of development in this two hour thriller. Fears that Joker would somehow make the Joker’s violence attractive are, in my opinion, unmerited. In any other story, a likeable character would choose option “A” at critical moments in his narrative. Arthur, every time, chooses option “B”, moving him further away from the character we as an audience empathized with at the beginning. The film, instead of glorifying the violence, makes us mourn for the fall of the offender. We wanted better for him and he fell short of that hope. It is a tragedy, which is nothing new to the arts. Just ask Bill Shakespeare.

It is a shame that we will never see this Joker get punched in the face by a man dressed like a bat, but for once, the Joker will get all the press in this film. But if you are a Batman fan, fear not: there are so many nods to other iterations of the character, and his eighty year legacy is honored well by the Phillip’s script. From references to Cesar Romero and Heath Ledger, to plot points ripped from the pages of Alan Moore’s The Killing Joke and Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns, this elseworld’s tale does not shy away from its comic book lineage. There is a wonderful blend of source material and creative license that keeps us on our toes while never straying away from the black heart of the clown prince.

Joker is one of those movies that it is hard to fully commit to an opinion on. It is deserving of long conversations and quiet reflection. While the internet is buzzing about whether or not it will lead to gun violence, it bluntly asks whether our monsters are born in a vacuum, or are they born out of a society going to hell? Perhaps in a climate of over-sensitivity and stark black and white morality, this question lands with a dud, but, it might just be the kind of important questions we need to be asking as our handbasket closes in on its final destination.

The film is not for everyone. It is audacious, violent, uncomfortable, and beautifully gross. It is also fascinating, thought provoking, and provocative. It is tempting for me to believe that those who do not see the message in the film are those who want to avoid it, but I also think that there are many who are simply not ready to have that conversation just yet. How are we responsible for our monsters? What have we done to create the awful world our villains live in? These are the questions that we are left with, and I hope that we begin to ask them.

Final score: Full House