The PopCult Bookshelf
Two-Face is one of the most prominent villains in Batman’s comic book rogue’s gallery, yet he didn’t show up on the 1960’s television show. It turns out that he almost did, and it might well have been the most memorable episode of the series. Famed writer, Harlan Ellison, who was then lending his talents to episodic television, wrote a treatment for a screenplay that would have introduced former District Attorney, Harvey Dent, and his split-visage to television viewers.
The episode had been greenlit, but before work progressed on a full script, the American Broadcasting Company (that’s ABC to you and me) pulled the plug. It seems the network censors felt that a character who had half his face horribly scarred when acid was thrown at him was just too grotesque for a show that had a huge kid’s audience. The treatment went unread by the general public until Ellison published it in Brain Movies #5, a collection of previously-unseen movie and television pitches that also included his rejected ideas for episodes of Rat Patrol and Logan’s Run.
With DC currently publishing a great comic book set in the world of the 1966 Batman TV show, someone had the great idea to adapt Ellison’s treatment into comic book form as Batman ’66: The Lost Episode. They chose an incredible creative team for the job. Len Wein is not only a legendary comics creator (Swamp Thing, The New X Men), he’s also got a long history with the Caped Crusader as both a writer and editor. Likewise, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez is one of the most-respected artists in the comics industry, and has also provided art for a fair share of high-profile Batman projects.
Both are at the top of their game on this book. Wein seems to be having a ball writing a less-somber version of Batman, while Garcia-Lopez provides pure eye candy with his art and layouts. The story is a blast with Adam West as Batman, Burt Ward as Robin, and all the elements that make the Batman TV Show so much fun. Ellison’s original plot, while squarely keeping the style of the TV show, is way more respectful to the original comic books than any other scripts written for the show. Wein’s dialogue is crisp and witty and extremely entertaining.
I could go on and on about Garcia-Lopez’ art, which is incredible, but DC Comics chose to do something with it that might rankle a few readers. This comic book contains a 29-page story, but in order for all the creators to be paid what they’re worth, DC had to find a way to sell this project at a higher price than usual. One way they did this was to print the entire story a second time, only without any inks, color or lettering.
While some folks may cry “padding,” it’s a testament to Garcia-Lopez that, if you just read the penciled version of the story, you can still get the gist of it. It’s really cool to see how clean and tight Garcia-Lopez’ pencil work is. It almost makes you wonder why they bothered to have Joe Prado ink the book. They could have easily colored and lettered over the pencils–they’re that good. That’s not a knock on Prado, it’s just an observation of how good Garcia-Lopez is.
Another “bonus” for readers is the complete text of Ellison’s treatment for this story. It’s great that they printed this because it gives readers a way to see how much of the story is Ellison’s and how much Wein brought to the table. It turns out that Ellison provided a great foundation, and Wein did a magnificent job taking the story to its completion. Ellison’s original prose treatment, with photos from the show, takes up eleven pages of the book, and it’s a great read, particularly his pitch for and history of Two-Face.
Batman ’66: The Lost Episode is a tremendous amount of fun, but it’s understandable if people balk at the ten-dollar price tag for a story that’s less than thirty pages long. I found the extras to be well worth it, but your milage may vary. I think DC might find that they could sell a few thousand more of these if they do a standard edition without the bonus material for half the price.