Batman ’66 #19: “The Villain of Vapor Street/Foggy Bats Can’t Be Beat”
Written by Jeff Parker
Illustrated by Leonardo Romero
Colors by Tony Aviña
Letters by Wes Abbott

After seeing that cover, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this was going to be an old-fashioned mystery, something to really stretch the abilities of the World’s Greatest Detective.  In fact, considering the Batman of ’66 hardly uses his deductive mind beyond solving basic riddles, a full-blown detective story would have been a welcome change of pace.

That’s not what’s going on here, though.  Instead, the story we’re presented with is pretty uneven.  It’s never outright bad, but save for a few genuinely funny panels this issue is fairly forgettable.

Things start off promisingly enough, with the citizens of Gotham dressed in Victorian-era attire to celebrate a festival in he renovated “Old Gotham,” the city’s first borough.  It’s actually a pretty charming opening and something that I absolutely believe would have made it on to the show at some point.  If nothing else, this series is great at capturing the tone of the Sixties television series, and Gotham having a Victorian festival perfectly fits the bill.

Anyway, this being Batman ’66, things quickly turn when a villain attacks.  Our special guest this month: that lowlife from Londinium, Professor Marmaduke Ffogg!

And his gaggle of schoolgirls, too.

Yeah, I'm sure you'd know, Dick.
Yeah, I’m sure you’d know, Dick.

Side note: Professor Ffogg has to be the same character as Lord Marmaduke Ffogg, even though they look nothing alike and I’m pretty sure “professor” is a demotion from “lord.”

Those sweet chops are definitely an upgrade, though, so it's a wash.
Those sweet chops are definitely an upgrade, though, so it’s a wash.

What follows is a pretty by the numbers plot involving vapor being released from various points in the city, including a giant pipe in Old Gotham (yes, really) and then Ffogg and his family… plundering the city, I guess?  Other than an almost throwaway line their endgame isn’t ever made clear beyond “take out Batman and Robin.”  Of course, the same could be said about most of these villains’ plans, so he gets a pass.

The main problem I had with the story is it feels derivative of other stories in the canon.  “Gas the city and take it over” is pretty much Tuesday for Batman and Robin, and even the giant pipe is pretty much lifted from the giant umbrella gag in the Penguin’s first appearance on the show.  It’s not bad, it’s just been done before.

The saving grace of the issue is the trademark humor.  The gas turns Gothamites into an angry mob with cockney accents, which is funny enough on its own, and there are some fun sight gags that are good for a laugh.

Including some... questionable onomatopoeias.
Including some… questionable onomatopoeias.

Even if the plot itself is nothing special, Jeff Parker has more than proven that he knows the right tone and handles it well.  There’s a dud of a one-liner that closes the book, but the rest of the dialogue is fun to read.  Most surprisingly is a reference Ffogg makes to previous issues and the failed plans from those villains, which is a rare bit of nod to continuity and something I wish would be done more often.

Leonardo Romero’s pencils are quite nice as well, as the posted panels can attest.  It’s really difficult to find an artist whose style doesn’t fit this series, and Romero is one of the better pencilers in recent issues.  His lines are just rough enough to be distinct, and Aviña’s colors really bring them to life.  Even though his Ffogg looks nothing like Rudy Vallee, I really like the character design, as well as the interpretations of the other actors.   The main draw, though, is his use of sight gags, including one that approaches being just as risqué as the infamous chain filing scene from “The Foggiest Notion.”  It’s… pretty blatantly shady, almost to the point of discomfort, but the payoff makes it work.

In all this wasn’t a terrible issue.  Part of it may have been I was expecting something else, but the plot never really hooked me. Even so, this was still a funny, mostly enjoyable read that serves to whet my appetite until I maybe possibly can hopefully someday get the set of the series on DVD and/or BluRay.  But I digress.

Until next time, stay positive, chums.

Recommended if:

  • You love Batman in all forms.
  • You like seeing more obscure villains get the spotlight.
  • I had you at “angry mob with cockney accents,” didn’t I?
  • Hey, that cover is pretty great, right?

Overall: By no means a disaster, this issue was ultimately forgettable mostly because it didn’t take any risks and seemed like a retread of better stories.  Regardless, this book is almost always fun and a welcome breath of campy, tongue firmly in cheek fresh air.

SCORE: 6.5/10