Friday, April 22, 2011

And The Tommy Goes To...

The late William Woolfolk was one of pulp fiction's most versatile and prolific authors. He wrote novels, short stories, magazine articles, even scripts for the outstanding 1960s CBS drama THE DEFENDERS (series creator Reginald Rose was a friend). He was also a very busy writer of comic books, penning the adventures of Captain Marvel at Fawcett, Doll Man at Quality, Superman and Batman at DC Comics, and even Will Eisner's classic The Spirit. A lengthy though incomplete list of Woolfolk's comic book credits is here.

Not only that, but his wife Dorothy Woolfolk was a longtime writer and editor of romance comics at DC into the 1970s. So it isn't surprising that when it came time for someone to adapt DC's popular Batman and Robin duo in prose form, Woolfolk would get the assignment.

Credited to Winston Lyon, Woolfolk's BATMAN VS. 3 VILLAINS OF DOOM was published by Signet in April 1966, when the ABC television series was at its all-time peak. BATMAN, starring Adam West and Burt Ward as the Dynamic Duo, was not only a ratings smash, but also a pop-culture sensation that even landed West on the cover of LIFE magazine. Not wanting to take chances with a sure thing, Woolfolk used the TV show's camp approach, but dialed it down just a bit for easier reading.

The outlandish plot finds Gotham City's criminals gathered to award the Tommy, a trophy given every ten years to the city's best crook. The three finalists are the Joker, the Penguin, and Catwoman, who each set out to kidnap or kill Batman and Robin, figuring that will give them the edge over their opponents. Woolfolk's episodic structure has Batman and Robin battling each of the three villains separately before getting into a major skirmish with all of them at the climax. Of course, the two encounter insidious deathtraps, just like the TV show, that they have to ingeniously escape before winning the final fight.

The story wouldn't be out of place in a typical Batman comic book of the 1960s, and it runs only 128 pages here. Woolfolk knew the four-color characters quite well, but 3 VILLAINS OF DOOM shows he did his homework regarding Batman and Robin's portrayal on television. He nails the characters quite well, and it's not difficult to imagine West and Ward, as well as Cesar Romero, Julie Newmar, and Burgess Meredith, speaking Woolfolk's dialogue.

Also in 1966, Woolfolk wrote a sequel of sorts, BATMAN VS. THE FEARSOME FOURSOME, an adaptation of Lorenzo Semple Jr.'s screenplay for the BATMAN feature film that added the Riddler to the rogue's gallery. All Batfans should read 3 VILLAINS OF DOOM at least once.


Bunched Undies said...

I bought this at the drug store back in the day, read it 3 or 4 times. Think my Mom threw it away when I went college.
Great blog. Following you on Google and FB

Anonymous said...

Adam West's 'Batman' was the best. I found 'The Dark Knight' tedious and depressing. It was like 'Austin Powers' being made the star of a Daniel Craig-type 007 movie.

thingmaker said...

I was a little kid in the '60s and loved Batman. I took the TV series seriously and even integrated the wartime Batman serial into my vision of Batman. (During "Batmania" someone packaged the serial and re-released it in theaters). Later I became disgusted with the camp Batman and this book was one of the casualties - I dumped my copy. I'd give it a second chance now, though...
Gotta say, I find little value in the "Dark Knight" trilogy (second film was pretty good) but it still annoys me less than the TV Batman.