The Batman ’66 Episode Guide 1×09: Zelda the Great
The 1966 Batman television show was one of the most successful and influential adaptations of comic books to mass media of all time. Over the course of three seasons and 120 episodes, the series became a cultural force with its unique combination of tongue-in-cheek humor, thrilling superhero adventure and celebrity guest stars, and shaped the way the public would view the Caped Crusader for the next five decades. Now, in the midst of a well-deserved renaissance of the show, ComicsAlliance is proud to present The Batman '66 Episode Guide, an in-depth examination of every single adventure, arch-criminal and deathtrap cliffhanger of the series.
This week, Zelda the Great plots to ensnare Batman in an Inescapable Doom Trap... and attacks Wayne Manor to do it!
Episode 1x09: Zelda the Great
Script: Lorenzo Semple, Jr.
Director: Norman Foster
Original Air Date: February 9, 1966
Special Guest Villain: Anne Baxter as Zelda the Great
Batman's fifth adventure marks a few notable firsts in the history of the series. First, it marks the first (and, I believe, only) time that our Special Guest Villain would go on to play a different arch-criminal later in the series. There are a few actors who pull double duty -- most notably Lee Meriwether, who was Catwoman in the big-screenBatman '66 movie and would later return as Bruce Wayne's girlfriend, Lisa Carson -- but Anne Baxter plays both Zelda the Greatand Olga, Queen of the Cossacks, who shows up in Season 3 to menace the Caped Crusaders alongside Egghead.
More importantly, though, it's the first time the TV series has created a villain thatwasn't from the comics. Sort of.
See, while the story of this episode is based on John Broome and Sheldon Moldoff's "The Inescapable Doom Trap," from 1965's Detective Comics #346, the character of Zelda the Great wasn't in the original story. Instead, it was a male magician named Carnado, a genuinely terrible name for anything that is not a cyclone made of automobiles.
The weird thing is, Eivol Ekdol, the "Albanian Genius" who designs the eponymous Doom Trap, is from the comics. So while Zeldais the first original villain for the TV series,she's not quite cut from whole cloth. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
Our story opens at exactly 8:37 PM on April 1 -- which is pretty weird since last week it was July and all both of these adventures aired in February -- at the First National Bank, where a camera-shaking explosion breaks open the vault, giving a crook in a gas mask the chance to make off with $100,000 in cash. A guard goes to stop the robber but, despite firing off two shots from a revolver at point-blank range, seems to have no effect and winds up getting clobbered by the bag full of money.
At City Hall, Commissioner Gordon claims that the thief escaped "cleaner than a hound's tooth" due to a bulletproof vest, and we find out that these April 1 robberies of exactly $100,000 -- no more, no less -- have been an annual occurrence in Gotham for three years in a row. Gordon spends a moment dressing down his men for not being able to make any progress in the two years that they've been working on the case, which, to be honest, sounds fair, and then makes the inevitable call on the Hotline, which goes... unanswered?!
The reason is Bruce, Dick and Alfred's session of stargazing. Bruce claims that this is to give them perspective that "reminds us how little we are, really," which is awfully big talk about blowing things out of proportion from a man whose parents' murder caused him to wear a bat costume and punch criminals every single night of his life. But, you know, that's a debate for another time.
For now, there is crime to be fought, and after they spot the Bat-Signal in the sky above Gotham City in one of its rare appearances on the show, the Dynamic Duo is on the case.
It's worth noting that we get a different sequence here after the credits, too. Since the usual shot of Batman and Robin arriving at police headquarters is shot in the daytime and it's already been established that this particular piece of the story is happening at night, we get a rarely-seen shot of the Batmobile arriving at what I assume is meant to be a parking lot around back:
From there, they're informed of the crime, and it seems that the major sticking point for our heroes is the amount of the crime: Exactly $100,000 and no more, "leaving another half million untouched!" The question is why their mysterious felon wouldn't take more, and their only clue is a bullet that was recovered after striking the crook's bulletproof vest.
In the absence of anything else to go on, Batman decides that it's time to make a surprisingly dishonest move of planting a false news story. The next day, the Gotham City Times runs with a front-page headline about how the bank robber made off with $100,000 in counterfeit money, meant to lure the criminal into making another play for their annual cash. While the story circulates, Batman and Robin head back to the Batcave to examine the bullet with the aid of the Hyper Spectrographic Analyzer, which reveals that it passed through"thirteen layers of brightly colored silk" and bears traces of ambergris.
ROBIN: The crook was a lady!
BATMAN: Hardly a lady, Robin, but female, yes!
And we're about to find out who, as the scene cuts and Desmond Doomsday intones "Meanwhile, behind the facade of this innocent looking bookstore," a line that would be sampled thirty years later on White Zombie's "Cosmic Monsters, Inc." The establishment in question is The Gnome Book Store, which advertises "Occult & Arcane Works," and which is secretly the workshop of "a strange Albanian genius," Eivol Ekdal, who is being visited by his most notable client: the world-famous magician, Zelda the Great!
I want you to take a moment to look at Zelda's glasses. I mean really look at them. Breathe them in, just for a moment.
As it turns out, Ekdal is the one who's been providing Zelda with the gimmicked traps that she uses for her famous escape artist act, working in secret and charging her an annual fee of $100,000 for them, prompting her to make her daring robberies ever year to cover the charge. Why exactly Zelda, who seems to be pretty famous, doesn't just raise her ticker prices by a buck, and why Ekdal has chosen to labor in secret as though building props for stage magicians is a major crime, I have no idea. Take it up with Semple and Broome, I guess.
Unfortunately for Zelda, Ekdal read the paper that morning and believes that she tried to pay him off with bogus money, which puts Zelda in dire straits since her act is getting stale. Ekdal has the solution, of course, even if he won't give it to her until she puts up the money. He calls it... The Inescapable Doom Trap.
The trap is lifted directly from Broome and Moldoff's story, and it's a doozy: Made of "utterly unbreakable jet age plastic" that can stand up to even a barrage from a machine gun, with a great in the floor the dispenses poison gas. The cage is locked and the grate itself is electrified, meaning that there is no escape, unless one knows the secret. And Ekdal isn't selling the secret unless Zelda can come up with another hundred Gs.
For his part, Batman is hoping that she'll try to raise it via the second false news item that he planted in the paper: The Star of Samarkand (not to be confused with the previous week's Star of Kashmir), a massive emerald worth exactly $100,000, currently set to be displayed at a Gotham City jewelry store.
Thing is, it's a fake.
Batman has rigged up his own version of the famous emerald, complete with a homing device that will lead him straight to his unknown quarry. It's a good plan, but it turns out that Zelda is smarter than the average arch-criminal -- which we should probably already know by the fact that she's not leaving love notes at the scene of her crime or calling Commissioner Gordon to take credit for it. While she's initially tempted and starts plotting out the crime with Ekdal, she sees through the ruse after thinking about it for only a few seconds, and instead plots to use the trap to her advantage instead.
Here's how it goes down: As Batman and Robin are setting up their trap at Hilary Stonewin, Inc., with the fake emerald and the Batmobile hidden across the street under a tent from the Gotham City Power Company, Zelda is staking out the location herself -- and when she spots the setup, she actually turns to the camera and starts talking to us, the viewers:
That's not something that happens too often.
Since she's tumbled to the scheme, she then enacts her counter-plot, making a call to Wayne Manor under the name of "Miss Smith," claiming that Dick Grayson has been beaned on the head with a baseball and that they're sending a car to pick up Aunt Harriet.
On the day that Batman plans to spring his trap, Zelda arrives disguised as an old woman, but rather than falling for it, reveals that the emerald is a fake and then makes her escape with the aid of those two magician's best friends, (quite literal) smoke and mirrors:
Zelda escapes, but leaves the emerald in the gutter, prompting Batman to refer to her as a "tricky little she-devil," but then a call from Commissioner Gordon reveals the masterstroke of her plan. While Batman and Robin were distracted, she kidnapped one Harriet Cooper from Wayne Manor, and is holding her for the ransom of $100,000.
Batman's "HHHWHATTT?!" at the news of the kidnapping is in the running for Adam West's greatest line readings of all time.
So with Aunt Harriet trussed up and suspended above a pool of flaming oil, and Batman has only one hour to deliver the ransom! Will Aunt Harriet be saved, or will she be deep fried by Zelda the Great?! Be here next week, dear reader -- the worst is yet to come!
Index of Episode 1x09:
Hyper Spectrographic Analyzer
"Holy hole in a donut!"
Aunt Harriet suspended above a pool of flaming oil