Batman ’66: The Lost Episode

Batman ’66: The Lost Episode
DC Comics
Written by Len Wein, based on a television treatment by Harlan Ellison (inspired by “The Crimes of Two-Face” by Bill Finger)
Art by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez

For the last two years, DC Comics has been publishing original comics based on the Adam West Batman television series, ranging from digital shorts that have been published as Batman ’66 to a longer-form story by Kevin Smith that brings together, once more, Batman and Green Hornet.

This week, DC published Batman ’66: The Lost Episode, a story based on an outline Harlan Ellison wrote for Batman producer William Dozier in the 1960s, a story that would have involved Batman battling Two-Face, a major Batman character who never appeared in the series.  For a variety of reasons, which I went into when the book was announced in July, Ellison’s outline wasn’t bought by Dozier and the story was never produced.

Ellison’s involvement is this project is fairly minimal; though his outline is printed in the comic (to the tune of eleven pages), Len Wein handles the actual script.  Though there’s dialogue in Ellison’s outline, Wein uses none of it.  Instead, Wein takes Ellison’s outline as the basis for his own take on the world of Batman ’66.  It’s things like that that make the presence of the outline interesting; the reader can compare Wein’s script to Ellison’s story and see how the process of adaptation works.

That raises a curious omission.  Ellison’s outline, “The Two-Way Crimes of Two-Face,” was itself inspired by Bill Finger’s “The Crimes of Two-Face” from Detective Comics #66.  DC has published a collection of Batman stories that served as the inspiration for the Batman television series.  Perhaps DC could have published “The Crimes of Two-Face,” which is also the first appearance of Two-Face, in this special issue as well.

The story, it pains me to say, is weak.  Two-Face is committing a series of thefts, and then he gives back what he’s stolen with interest.  He doesn’t seem to be doing this for any reason other than he’s insane.  The lack of motive on the part of Two-Face has Batman and Robin passively following in Two-Face’s wake as they investigate his crimes, but that doesn’t bring them any closer to bringing Two-Face to justice until, finally, Batman stumbles across Two-Face’s second hidden lair.  Ellison’s story feels like a pedestrian — and aimless — Silver Age Batman story with some of the trappings of the television series rather than something that the television series would actually have done.  Wein’s script throws some bones in the directon of the Batman ’66 feel, like calling Two-Face “the double-crossing duke of duplicity” and additional alliterative aliases, but it’s far too serious to evoke the tongue-in-cheek feeling of the television series. 

The art of Batman ’66: The Lost Episode, on the other hand, is fantastic.  It’s by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, and one would expect no less.  Following the main story, DC publishes Garcia-Lopez’s pencils in full so that readers can see how detailed and impressive his artwork is.  Garcia-Lopez’s likenesses aren’t always spot on, but even so he conveys Adam West and Burt Ward quite well.  Two-Face doesn’t seem to have been “cast”; Two-Face looks like the standard DC Comics version of Two-Face.

And that raises an issue as well.  The tone of the piece is wrong.  Garcia-Lopez’s artwork doesn’t fit the ethos of Batman ’66.  It’s too refined and too modern.  His Two-Face looks like Two-Face; he doesn’t look like an actor who spent four hours in a make-up chair in 1966.  Add to the serious artwork Ellison’s serious story, and the result is something very strange — excellent artwork, weak story, not really Batman ’66.

Now, what if William Dozier had bought “The Two-Way Crimes of Two-Face”?  Could it have been made?

I have doubts.  This reads like an expensive story to me.  The cast is fairly small, most locations could be handled on the studio backlot, there would be a lot of crappy rear-projection work, such as with the Bat-Copter.  Batman’s aquatic adventure would have been difficult.  Two-Face has two hideouts — one in a lunar observatory, the other on a wooden pirate ship in an underground grotto — and one of them has a death trap.  And I’m not sure how they would have handled some of the coin tricks.  Had this gone to script, I suspect that Dozier would have had similar budget issues that Gene Roddenberry and Robert Justman faced with Ellison’s original script for “City on the Edge of Forever.”  Add to that the tonal issues in Ellison’s story that would have required rewrites to bring it in line with the series, and I am forced to conclude that “The Two-Way Crimes of Two-Face” was a bullet dodged for Batman.

However, had it worked, Star Trek fandom might’ve been spared the quarter-century Roddenberry/Ellison feud (since Ellison would’ve been busy with Batman at the time when Roddenberry was taking Star Trek pitches), and Batman fandom might’ve had stories of Ellison eating Dozier’s potted plants while he slaved away on his very-late script.

Conclusion?  I have a hard time recommending this, especially at its price point ($9.99).  The Garcia-Lopez artwork is fantastic.  The story from Ellison and Wein (and, to a lesser extent, Finger) is decidedly not.  Batman ’66: The Lost Episode is an interesting curiosity, but it’s not a lost classic.  I can’t say I was disappointed by it, but I was certainly left underwhelmed.