A remarkably prescient political satire.
Filmation’s ’60s Batman cartoons will never been confused with the output by Bruce Timm and his crew 25 or so years later. They’re generally simplistic and aimed at an audience that’s decidedly juvenile.
Nevertheless, every so often the writers would slyly insert a line or two that might capture the ear of any adult in the room while little Johnny or Janie sat rapt in front of their console TV. John S. Drew and I have noticed this as we’ve been reviewing all the episodes on The Batcave Podcast. (Click here.)
But there’s one episode that goes above and beyond: Hizzoner the Joker, an outright political satire that is at home today as it was in the ugly, tumultuous year of 1968. For those of you with short memories, that was the year Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated; the Tet Offensive intensified opposition to the Vietnam War; protests at the Democratic National Convention devolved into violent chaos; and Richard Nixon was elected president. And those are just the “highlights.”
With all that in the zeitgeist, veteran cartoon writer Dennis Marks — credited as Denis Marks — scripted a story of corruption and shenanigans disguised as Saturday-morning fare. The episode premiered Nov. 2, 1968, just three days before Nixon defeated Hubert Humphrey at the polls.
But watching it nearly 50 years later, there are stark parallels to the 2016 election and the state of things today.
The episode, which has echoes of the 1966 live-action two-parter Hizzoner the Penguin, opens with the Joker planting stolen cash on the mayor then declaring that he wants to run for mayor so that he can Make Gotham Great Again Drain the Swamp take over the city. There’s even a bizarre image where the Joker speaks to the Fake News media and one of the radio station’s call letters is … KKK.
And he wins! He rigs the election — bigly — by using electronic devices to hack voting machines. But he’s not done yet: He installs the Penguin as chief magistrate and the Riddler as district attorney. Because it’s always shrewd to name department chiefs whose primary goal is to undo the vital work of their important agencies.
So what’s one of the Joker’s first executive orders? He locks ’em up! Batman, Robin, Commissioner Gordon and Chief O’Hara get tossed in the clink — the two-parter’s cliffhanger.
There’s a lot more to it and you can watch the episode here. Even better, you really should check out the latest Batcave Podcast — click here or get it on iTunes — where John and I put on our Meet the Press hats and go to town.