In this issue, BATMAN ’66 makes a completely unexpected turn into darkness and even horror-territory. The opening scene starts with typical ’66 cheeriness, with two well-off men celebrating the discovery of a formula to make all fossil fuels obsolete. They are interrupted by the Penguin and his new partner (or is she something more?) the Black Widow. The Penguin burns the scientist’s notes while the Black Widow makes him forget the formula by sending a swarm of spiders into his ear. Wow. Worse still, it’s implied this might have left him permanently brain-damaged.
Of course the Caped Crusader and the Boy Wonder are on the case, but can they outwit this sinister spider-villain?
BATMAN ’66 #42 pulls off a darker vibe surprisingly well. After so much hope and optimism, having the rug pulled from under us has a stronger impact than it might have done in another comic. The swarm of brain-poisoning spiders in particular was a stroke of horror genius.
The design of the Black Widow is fantastic. She’s still recognizable as the villain from the original sixties show, but has been updated to include, among other things, possibly the most piercing ice-blue stare I’ve ever seen.
Some readers might be put off by the series’ sudden turn into darkness and light horror. It’s not done badly; it’s just that this comic has built itself on humor and cheerful characterization. The abrupt shift away from what got so many people into BATMAN ’66 may alienate some longtime readers.
I also groaned when the part of the Black Widow’s motivation turned out to be misandry. I know that’s fitting for the cultural time period BATMAN ’66 is parodying, but I was hoping DC Comics had left its man-hating villains behind. “Hates all men” has always been a bit iffy as a villain character trait, especially when it’s applied to one of the only women in the cast (Helllooooo Poison Ivy). Why can’t a female rob a bank because they just want to be rich?
Readers will also probably be confused by how much the Black Widow resembles her Marvel Comics counterpart. They even have the same logo! I’ve tried researching to see if one maybe ripped off the other, but they were created so close together it’s hard to tell. Batman Black Widow definitely had the same costume in her 1967 television debut, but Marvel Black Widow debuted in 1964, just three years earlier. Of course she didn’t have the same costume as she did now, with her look being updated in 1965 and 1970. I’ve haven’t got any of her early issues, so I can’t definitively say if she sported the look first.
BATMAN ’66 #42 is a surprisingly dark, but surprisingly fun issue.