old book bindings

I thought I’d take a moment to talk about one of my favorite minor rogues in the Batman canon.  It’s not Clock King, it’s not Condiment King, it’s not even Killer Moth…

This is A.S. Scarlet, AKA The Bookworm, a character that was introduced in the 1966 Adam West TV series.  The creators came up with the idea for him in honor of National Reading week, so no points for guessing what his shtick is.  But it’s the details that makes me really love him.

First of all, the costume and gadgets.  I love this costume so much—it hits the sweet spot between goofy and kind of awesome.  The brown pleather jacket is meant to echo “rare old book bindings” (because books are bound with leather…?) and while it looks more than a bit uncomfortable (it seriously creaks whenever he moves!), the tailoring on it is great.  Plus it manages to look rather dapper.

The reading lamp on the fedora is pretty neat, but what I really love are the glasses.  When he turns a knob on the side of the left frame, it opens a radio frequency that allows him to communicate with his henchmen. A few years later, the Green Hornet TV show would come up with a similar device, but I love the fact that a one-off Batman villain came up with it first.

Second of all, the henchmen themselves.  Typically the henchmen on the ‘66 show, even moreso than in modern Batman media, were big dumb galoots who had to be led around by their nose to obvious answers by their bosses.  But these guys didn’t really fit that stereotype.  Yeah, they were crappy fighters and got their butts handed to them by Batman easily, but they were miles more intelligent than your average goons. They were articulate, kind of snobby, and always thinking on the same wavelength as their boss.  That, and they were efficient—every scheme they wanted to pull went off without a hitch. Plus they’ve got some awesome codenames (Pressman, Typesetter, and my favorite, Printer’s Devil).

And of course, there was the moll—Lydia Limpet (Francine York).  Most of the time the ‘66 molls were there just to be empty-headed eye-candy, but not this girl.  Not only does she have some genuinely adorable chemistry with Bookworm—

(I ship these two like freaking FedEx.)

–but she is also darn intelligent in her own right. When she’s taken into the Batcave and hypnotized to try to weasel out her boss’s ultimate plan, she immediately twigs to the fact that the Dynamic Duo know more than they should and feeds them false information.  She also tricks Robin into gassing himself into unconsciousness.  All while literally having her hands tied.  She also has quite a bit in common with Bookworm, sharing his love of literature.  And then at the end, while most molls try to weasel their way out by pleading with Batman and claiming they were just innocent girls who tangled with the wrong crowd, Lydia accepts her fate and allows herself to be arrested.  She’s completely unapologetic about the entire scheme, and I love that about her.

And third of all, the character of the Bookworm himself.  He’s played by one of the great character actors, Roddy McDowall—

(whom you might know better as this little scamp)

–who makes Bookworm into much more than a one-note baddie.  He’s intelligent, certainly, with high standards and an eidetic memory; and he’s also very theatrical and cheerfully practically in a Riddler sort of way.  But he’s also freaking scary.  Most of the time, he has a very genteel, calm demeanor with this constant smile of slight “you poor simple fools”-style amusement on his face.  But when things don’t go his way, or when someone even says a wrong thing, he completely flips his gourd.  In the beginning of his two-parter, Lydia asks him why, with his brain and enthusiasm, he hasn’t written his own book.  And he blows up at her, admitting that for all his brilliance he doesn’t actually have any originality, resorting to “stolen plots” from other books, and accuses her of insulting him further.  He then picks up the heaviest book in his lair and attempts to bash her brains in with it…all over an honest mistake.  

Of course, he’s back in perfect control within minutes, but for the rest of the episode you’re on edge every time he so much as snaps at anyone.  And it’s not the only time he flies off the handle like that, either—after Batman and Robin escape one of his deathtraps, he has another brief freakout before getting back to business.  He’s a fascinating character to watch and played by a fantastic actor to boot.

The two-part 1966 episode he’s in is a wild ride from start to finish, including a possible assassination attempt, the first window cameo ever, and some truly outrageous and convoluted deathtraps (appropriate for a rogue who “like any struggling novelist, overcomplicates the plot!”).  One of which involves a giant cookbook.  I am not making that up.  All the expected ‘60s weird is there, but it’s still a lot of fun.

Unfortunately, that was the only appearance he made in Batman media for a long time.  McDowall wanted to come back for another two-parter, but his busy schedule got in the way.  He didn’t show up again until a 1989 Huntress arc that gave him a new grim ‘n’ gritty backstory.

“A victim of child abuse, his mother would lock him in a closet while she worked on puzzles. (Alexander) Wyvern once started a fire in the closet in a desperate attempt to get his mother to release him – only to wind up badly burned and, after he got his mother’s attention, badly beaten. Psychologically damaged, the boy grew into a serial killer.  Though the violent character bore little resemblance to the literature-obsessed felon of the 1960s, this version did still leave Riddler-style clues for the police to hunt him down.  Bookworm ultimately met his demise when he set a deadly trap for the Huntress. Huntress dressed as his mother, frightening him into running away and tripping his own contraption, killing him.”

(From the Batman wiki)

It was lame, and we don’t talk about it anymore.

He made a few cameos in Deathstroke the Terminators and Teen Titans comics in the 90s, as well as a itty bitty nonspeaking appearance in Batman: The Brave and the Bold.

But in 2013 he made a glorious debut to comics in 2013 in the Batman ’66 line, setting new deathtraps and dropping new literary hints. In one of his best appearances, he sets himself up as an adversary to Batgirl, which is just perfect.  Who better to oppose Barbara Gordon, a librarian, than a book-themed supervillain?

(Yes, that is a giant bug demon.  Long story.)

And in 2014 he reappeared in Gotham Academy, this time as the school’s English and theater professor, which is even more perfect.

He’s a good teacher, if strict and a bit overdramatic.  And let’s be honest, what isn’t cool about having an ex-supervillain as a professor?

Also, this scene. This scene is awesome.

Yes, that is Egghead as played by Vincent Price.  Gotham Academy is just the best.

TL;DR, the Bookworm is an awesome, oft-overlooked Batman baddie whom I highly recommend every fan check out.  You won’t regret it!

Here’s a link to an episode of the Batcave Podcast discussing his ’66 two-parter: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2P3k0o_-Zvk

(All images courtesy of Google Stock.)

OTP Prompt

The smell of old book bindings haunts the aisles of the library. Faint swishes, the turning of pages… Like whispering ghosts, or characters calling out from the confinements of their stories. B runs a gentle finger across the spines of the shelved books. Some of the covers are smooth, some are rough. B subconsciously smiles every time they come across a worn cover, knowing that the book is well loved and used. B looks away from the books and sees A standing at the end of the row.

A absentmindedly plays with their hair, gently nibbling their lower lip, a light scowl settling across their brow. A’s nose is buried in a book. A silently observes B. The only thing better than well loved books is sharing a well loved book with someone else. B glances up and makes eye contact with A, then blushes.

“Oh. Uh… Hi. Am I in the way?” B asks.

“No no, sorry. Was just… Distracted. You looked like you were intently focused on the book,” A says.

“Yeah, it’s one of my favorites. Should read it sometime.” B writes something down on a small piece of paper. They nimbly slide it between the pages before handing the book to A. A reads the back of the book. By the time they look up, B is gone. A checks out the book. When opening the book, the piece of paper falls out. It has a number and a scribbled message.

“Call me when you’ve read the novel.”

7

Here is some eye candy to start your day: beautiful 19th century covers from the Hevelin Collection.  

Moore, Thomas, Lalla Rookh. Chicago and New York: Belford, Clarke & Company, date unknown.

The author of “The Dancing Imps of the Wine," The Adventures of an Atom. New York: Hurst & Co. Publishers, 1880

Dean sat down heavily on the couch with a long sigh, an old photo album clutched in his arm. He kicked his feet up on the coffee table before opening the old book, the binding cracking and creaking as the cover fell across his lap. The first page was blank except for a short note scribbled in an elegant scrawl across the middle of the page.

“From me to you,” it read. “I hope it helps. -Cas.”

Dean stared at the words for a moment after he’d read them, brushing his fingers lightly over the dried ink before flipping the page.

There were four polaroid pictures tucked into the plastic of the photo album, and Dean couldn’t help but smile slightly. No matter how many times he showed Cas how to use the camera on his cell phone, or even a digital camera, the ex-angel had always been fascinated with polaroid photography. Each photo had a short caption, written in the same script that stained the cover page.

A picture of Dean chowing down on a burger too big for his hands was captioned, “Our first official date, Mindy’s Diner.” Other photos chronicled similar events and possessed similarly simple captions. After another few minutes of perusing the album, he came across a photo with a small arrow, indicating that Dean should flip it over to the back.

He furrowed his brow slightly, pulling a photo of himself lounging on the hood of the Impala, looking up at the stars, from the protective plastic. He held it carefully by the edges as he flipped it over.

“The first night you told me you loved me,” the note read. “Not in so many words, but I understood. I love you, too.”

Dean stared at the note for a moment, taking in each letter by itself until the image of the handwriting was seared into his mind’s eye. Much to his dismay, he felt tears begin to burn behind his eyelids. He cleared his throat and shook his head before slipping the photo back into the album and flipping the page.

The unfamiliar images just made the tears threaten to spill over. He quickly wiped one away as it dropped to his cheek, the unshed pool of tears blurring his vision.

He blinked several times and soaked up the tears with his sleeve, staring at a photo of him and Cas in tuxedos, their fingers and lips smeared with cake.

The caption, “Our wedding, June 2nd,” was accompanied by a small arrow, and Dean’s shaking hands struggled to pull the photo from its place in the album.

He held it carefully, keeping his sleeve pressed to his cheekbone to ensure that no tears would fall on the polaroid as he read over the message.

“My vows to you have never been truer than they are today,” was scrawled across the back of the photo. “Whatever happens, I will be by your side. I love you more and more each day.”

Dean took a shaky breath and turned it back over to look at the photograph. His eyes were drawn to Cas’s face, which was alight with laughter and excitement. The photo proved to immortalize the look of adoration in Cas’s bright blue eyes as he gazed at Dean, and the elder Winchester couldn’t tear his eyes away.

“Why can’t I remember?” he muttered desperately to himself.

He finally slid the photo back into the album and flipped the page. Just one photo was protected by the shining plastic, a record of Dean in his pajamas searing a few strips of bacon in a skillet. He had a lazy smile on his face, and his hair was tousled from his pillow.

“The morning before the accident,” was scrawled beneath the photograph. The handwriting of this caption wasn’t as neat as the others, as if the hand that had written it was shaking during the process.

Dean stared at the photo for a long time, his eyes especially drawn to the unmarred skin of his forehead. He was so absorbed in the photograph that he didn’t notice when Cas sat down beside him, holding two mugs of coffee.

“Dean?” He said softly, finally pulling the elder Winchester from his reverie.

Dean started before looking up and catching Cas’s eye.

“Oh, hey,” he said quietly, rubbing his sleeve over his cheek again.

“You’re looking at the photo album,” Cas said, his brow furrowing in concern. He paused before adding, “Are you okay?”

At that last express of concern, Dean suddenly felt his chest swell with all of the sadness, frustration, and guilt that he’d felt over the past couple of weeks, and there was nothing he could do when the tears began cascading over his cheeks.

“I’m so sorry, Cas,” he said, unable to meet the other man’s eyes. “I’m so sorry I can’t remember. I want to, God, do I want to. But nothing’s coming back.”

“Hey, hey, don’t worry,” Cas said softly, cutting Dean off before he could spiral any further. “This isn’t about me. This is about you and making sure you’re okay.” He reached up and softly ran his fingers through Dean’s hair, careful to avoid the still-bandaged wound that cut across Dean’s forehead and disappeared into his hairline.

He leaned instinctively into Cas’s touch, his eyelids fluttering closed.

“I want to remember,” he murmured. “I want to remember us.”

“I know,” Cas said softly. He could almost feel his heart breaking at the sight of emotions playing themselves across Dean’s features. “I’ll do all I can to help. Anything for you.”

Dean let out a deep breath, the tension visibly disappearing from his muscles.

“Cas?” He said, after a moment of silence.

“Yes, Dean?”

“I do love you.”

A small smile tugged at Cas’s lips as his eyes grazed over Dean’s features. “I know,” he whispered.

7

The Beauty of Flowers in Field and Wood
containing the natural orders or families of British Wild Plants
with moral teachings illustrated
designed to make botany simple and field and wood rambles instructive and agreeable
John Thoedore Barker
Bath Binns and Goodwin - no date [1852]
London Whittaker and Co

unusual contemporary paper mache binding with a hand painted cover 

A superb example of the art of book binding - Cosway Style Binding.- Burns (Robert)
Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect,
Second (first Edinburgh) edition, first issue , engraved portrait frontispiece after J. Beugo by A. Nasmyth, green and purple morocco doublures, Cosway-style sunken panel miniature of Robert Burns within a bejewelled gilt frame on upper doublure, purple morocco for C. J. Sawyer by Sangorski & Sutcliffe, t.e.g., g.e., gilt floral motifs to spine with red morocco inlays, covers elaborately gilt with small floral tools and a central panel of the authors initials to upper cover and thistle motif to the lower cover, 8vo, Edinburgh, printed for the author and sold by William Creech, 1787

6

William Shakespeare - The Sonner’s and a lover’s complaint 

Folio Society 1989 - Fine bespoke design binding, full morocco leather gilt with an inlaid tooled leather panel to the front board and the same pattern blind embossed to the rear. hand made paste patterned end papers - all page edges gilt - Bound by Ann Thornton for Binder Vision in 1993

5

The Luttrell Psalter
London The Folio Society 2012
624 pages - Over 600 pages of illuminations
Limited edition 34/1480 copies only

Bound in the finest grade Nigerian goatskin, Blocked with a design by David Eccles using gold, silver and coloured foils
The binding design using motifs from the Psalter and the Luttrell coat of arms of six martlets argent.
Presented in a hand-made solander box, with a leather label, the Psalter is accompanied by Professor Michelle P. Brown’s fascinating scholarly commentary.

3

The Book of Common Prayer and Administration of the Sacraments
and other parts of the divine service for use in the Church of Scotland
with a paraphrase of the psalms in Metre by King James VI
Edinburgh James Watson MDCCXII [1712]
from the copy printed at Edinburgh in the year 1697 by Robert Young printer to King Charles I

later full paneled calf binding