Batman: The Animated Series – “Mudslide”

Mudslide-Title_CardEpisode Number:  52

Original Air Date:  September 15, 1993

Directed by:  Eric Radomski

Written by:  Alan Burnett, Steve Perry

First Appearance(s):  None

 

In real-time, it had been just over a year since Clayface debuted in Batman:  The Animated Series during its first week on television. For most viewers, this was their introduction to Matt Hagen and his incredible shape-shifting powers. His two-part debut, “Feat of Clay,” was a showcase for what this show could achieve in terms of visual fidelity and story-telling creating a villain who was sympathetic and compelling. As an audience, we’re forced to choose between Hagen’s revenge trip and Batman’s justice. At the end of those episodes, Hagen took a pretty big jolt of electricity and tried to play it off as a death scene, he being an actor in his previous life. Batman didn’t buy it though, and just to make sure we were in agreement with him there was a little teaser at the end of the episode letting us know Clayface was alive and well. Though we’re about to find out, he is indeed very much alive, but maybe not so well.

clayface melt

Guess whose back.

“Mudslide” opens at a new location:  Tarnowar Financial. So often we see capers at a building relating to Bruce Wayne that it becomes easy to forget that Wayne Enterprises can’t be the only financial institution in the region. A pair of security guards are just doing their jobs when one heads out to make some rounds. He returns quickly to say he forgot to check Mr. Tarnowar’s office and makes for an elevator, while the other guard, Billy (Rob Clotworthy), remains at his post. He notices though, that his partner is indeed in the parking lot making his rounds via a security camera and immediately suspects the person who is en route to the office is a crook. He sets off the silent alarm and heads up to the office. The other guard, now inside, hears him and ducks behind a large portrait of Mr. Tarnowar. When the guard orders him out, Mr. Tarnowar emerges from behind the portrait and orders the kid to head back to his post. Rattled, Billy does as he’s told, but stops to question when Mr. Tarnowar got back from his vacation and what happened to his accent? Before any more questions can come out of his mouth, Billy is hit in the face with a glob of clay and the camera pans back to reveal it came from the arm of Tarnowar, who is obviously Clayface (Ron Perlman).

With Billy out of the way, Clayface is free to rip-off Tarnowar’s safe. Unfortunately for him though, when Billy activated the silent alarm before heading upstairs Batman was alerted as well. He comes crashing in, but before he can survey the situation Clayface has already taken on the appearance of Billy and tells Batman he caught a thief. Batman examines the supposed thief, notices it’s actually the security guard, and also takes note of the glob of clay on his face and immediately knows who he is dealing with. As he turns around though, Clayface is waiting to smash him with one of his many creative arm formations. Clayface, apparently not interested in getting into a fight, immediately flees after knocking Batman down forcing Batman to give chase.

Clayface is not as fleet as most villains, and worse off, he seems to be losing his integrity – his physical integrity. Sloppy and muddy in appearance, Batman takes note that Clayface is in rough shape. He catches up to him rather easily and offers help. Clayface, as expected, refuses help from the caped crusader. He ends up escaping, rather conventionally, in a getaway car being driven by an unknown woman.

Mudslide_Love

It’s rather surprising that his first name is Matt instead of Oscar.

We’re shown Clayface’s rather swanky hide-out. It’s a rather large house, perhaps even considered a mansion, on a cliff face. It has a real mad scientist vibe about it. Inside is a laboratory and Clayface’s female accomplice, Stella (Pat Musick), has him lay in a machine that has a mold on it in the shape of a human body. A press closes down on top of it, and when the press lifts Clayface is in a smooth form that resembles an Academy Award, an obvious nod to his acting background. He’s actually been encased a suit because his body is falling apart. Exhausted, he sleeps it off, but awakens later to find Stella crying over the end of a Matt Hagen movie. He explodes, and frightens Stella, but soon is forced to apologize. It’s clear Stella harbors feelings for Hagen, though it’s unclear if the affection is returned. I want to say it is, but Hagen is an actor, after all, and he clearly needs Stella in his life or else he likely wouldn’t have one at this point.

Stella takes to Hagen’s comforting and calms down enough to show him something. A rare isotope called Mp40 which when combined with a part of Hagen returns its integrity. Hagen is excited, though Stella tries to temper his enthusiasm. In order to stabilize Matt, she’ll need a lot more of the stuff and it’s rather costly and hard to come by. The only place with a sizable cache is Wayne Biomedical (who else?), but Clayface doesn’t see that as too big an obstacle.

At the Batcave, Batman has had a chance to examine a piece of clay left behind by Clayface. He takes note of the reduced structural integrity of the sample and deduces that Clayface must be searching for a way to reverse this degenerative process. He has Alfred assist him in pouring over documents relating to Hagen’s film career in hopes of identifying the woman who came to his aid.

melting

Clayface melting on the train is fairly unsettling.

Clayface sets off to infiltrate Wayne Biomedical, apparently the next night as Wayne is there at work. He disguises himself as a female researcher and quite cleanly gets in and out. His ruse is enough to fool the guards, but Batman takes note of the woman fleeing through the parking lot. She hops onto the subway where a small child takes note of how muddy she looks. Eventually, Clayface begins to melt and the sight causes the other passengers to panic and flee in terror. Batman busts in to find the melting monstrosity and the two trade blows. Clayface, being rather sloppy, has a hard time dealing with Batman who counters with some sort of freezing canister. In all honesty, I’m not sure why Batman would utilize such a device since partially freezing Clayface would appear to help him hold himself together. Feeling he can’t defeat Batman, Clayface hurls himself through the glass window and lands in a truck far below the bridge on which the subway car was traveling. Aside from attracting attention, his mission is a success as he both escaped from Batman and managed to steal the Mp40 canister.

Batman returns to the Batcave and Alfred has some good news for him. He was able to determine that Clayface’s likely accomplice is a Stella Bates who was a medical consultant on Hagen’s films (incidentally, the one cited is the film we saw Stella watching earlier, Dark Interlude). Alfred even found an address, and Batman immediately sets off to investigate.

Clayface_smothers_batman

Almost equally unsettling is Clayface trying to smother Batman.

At Stella’s home,  Clayface is set to receive the Mp40 treatment. He’s in his suit with various tubes plugged into him. Stella begins administering the treatment and Hagen is growing excited. It appears to be working, but Batman shows up to ruin the party. He switches off the machinery, causing Stella to throw herself at him. Clayface angrily rises from the surface he was laying on and explodes out of his containment suit. Determining the only way to save himself is to kill Batman, he grabs onto him and stuffs him inside his body. Stella protests killing Batman, but mostly backs down when Clayface declares it’s the only way. Batman struggles to get out of Clayface’s body, but each time he gets close Hagen forces him back in. He mentions he can feel Batman’s heartbeat slow, but inside Batman was able to grab his grapple gun and fires it through Clayface’s head, rising to safety.

curtains going down

The curtain’s going down.

Their fight soon spills outside onto the cliff face where it also happens to be raining heavily. Stella begs Hagen to come inside fearing his body will completely fall apart in the rain, but he refuses. Citing a need to ends this once and for all, he and Batman do battle until both spill over the edge of the cliff. Batman is able to hang onto the ledge, and Clayface grabs ahold of Batman. Below is the ocean, and falling into that would seem to spell the end of Clayface. Batman tries to help Clayface up, but it’s too late. Clayface, accepting his fate, lets his arm detach from Batman’s grasp and plunges into the waters below. We see a dark outline of his body in the water as it dissolves. From a high angle, Batman is shown climbing back up onto the ledge. He offers some comfort to a crying Stella as he leads her away.

“Mudslide” provides a great book-end to “Feat of Clay,” essentially completing a Clayface trilogy. I love Clayface as a villain because he’s a sympathetic one and he’s a visual treat. The complexity involved in properly animating Clayface is essentially why he only appears in these three episodes. It also sounds like he wasn’t even a planned repeat villain, but he was received so well in his initial appearance that he was indeed brought back for an encore, or would curtain call be more appropriate? This episode was handled by Studio Junio who had previously worked on “The Underdwellers” as well as “Dreams in Darkness.” Despite being possibly the worst episode of the show, I did generally like the look of “The Underdwellers” though it required nothing on the scale of this episode in terms of special effects. “Dreams in Darkness” possesses some interesting scenes, in particular Batman’s hallucinations, which is perhaps what gave the showrunners confidence in handing “Mudslide” over to them. While it’s perhaps not quite as good as “Feat of Clay Part II,” it’s still wonderfully animated. The part where Clayface is posing as the researcher is especially creepy as she melts before our eyes. I also think they did a great job of showing how much weaker Clayface has become. He’s very muddy in texture with his sickle-like arms basically bending like wet noodles when he flails at Batman.

clayface falls

That is a pretty horrifying visual, right there.

As for the character himself, I like the direction they took with Clayface. He’s essentially accepted his fate as this sort of monster at this point, but has no interest in falling apart and essentially dying. It’s weird to try and figure out how his physiology actually works, but that’s a road not really worth exploring. By making his crimes this time just him stealing, first for money and second for the isotope, as a means of survival helps him maintain his sympathetic status. The writing does really lean into Matt Hagen’s show-business background, probably a little too much. Seemingly everything out of his mouth is some kind of Hollywood pun that borders on 1960s Batman in terms of corn. It didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the episode or anything, but some restraint would have served the episode well.

The aftermath of the episode would seem to indicate that Clayface is indeed gone for good. In a real world sense, he’s too expensive to bring back and where do you really go from here in terms of story? Clayface would not appear in season two, but when the show was resurrected as The New Batman Adventures he would indeed return. I would have preferred he remain dead, as much as I like the villain, but that’s a discussion for another day. Judged on its own, “Mudslide” is a worthy follow-up to one of the season one highlights and a great episode all on its own.

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The Mini Console Wars are Upon Us

ps classicPlug and Play games have been around for several years now. They’re those cheap little Atari-styled joysticks you see at electronics stores that when plugged into a television allow one to play games like Pac-Man and Asteroid. They’re novelty machines and an inexpensive way to say to someone “Remember this?” I don’t know how successful they’ve ultimately been, but they’ve persisted and may be responsible for bigger publishers to look at and say there’s more here than meets the eye.

Companies love money, and they love finding ways to make money off of things that require little or no capital. When Nintendo launched its Virtual Console service with the Wii it was a simple and inexpensive way for the company to monetize outdated games. Previously, Nintendo’s path to doing so was via its portable line which was always a generation behind the main consoles in terms of power. Porting a SNES game to Gameboy Advance was cheap, and gamers liked playing games they enjoyed roughly five years past on-the-go. It was a novelty, but a good game is a good game. When consoles finally reached the point where DVD and Blu Ray mediums meant storage was no longer an issue, retro compilations came into fashion. Few sold big numbers, but they didn’t have to since the cost to emulate the software was fairly cheap.

pacman

The start of the retro craze?

All of that changed when Nintendo unveiled its NES Classic Edition System in 2016. The tiny device was immediately attractive to older gamers because it was so cute and tastefully done. Pre-packaged with 30 “classic” games at an attractive low MSRP of $60 helped to make it the hottest item of the 2016 holiday season. Nintendo famously could not meet demand, and it’s taken the company nearly two years to finally make the system readily available. Since then it’s also released the SNES Classic Edition. That came with a second controller and 21 games for the higher MSRP of $80, roughly approximating the price Nintendo has always placed on its NES games relative to its SNES games via the now dead Virtual Console service.

Since Nintendo had such unbelievable success with its products, it’s no surprise then that other companies have followed suit. Sega has licensed its Genesis hardware for similar mini consoles with the added feature that most have contained an actual cartridge slot to play physical Genesis software. The results have been less well received though as the Genesis knock-offs have been rather clunky. Prior to that, Sega was arguably ahead of the curve by licensing its product for portable systems. They too were pretty clunky though and I’ve never had someone actually recommend one to me.

neo geo x

SNK and Tommo tried to make the Neo Geo affordable and practical, but it didn’t work out.

The newest entrant to hit retail is actually an older one as well. SNK too was ahead of the curve with its Neo Geo X released in 2012. The NGX was basically the precursor to the Nintendo Switch. It was a handheld console with 20 pre-loaded Neo Geo games and room for expansion via game cards. It came with a dock that resembled the Neo Geo AES console and once placed inside that dock the games could be played on a television with the included AES style joystick. It was an ambitious, and expensive (but what Neo Geo item isn’t?), toy manufactured by Tommo as opposed to being a true SNK console. The hardcore fanbase didn’t have pleasant things to say. From stretched visuals to input lag, the NGX was more of a novelty than a true way to experience the Neo Geo. After all, most of the system’s best games are available across many consoles now and emulated quite well. SNK was so dissatisfied with the machine that it eventually ordered Tommo to cease and desist production less than a year after release.

The NGX may have been a failure, but it didn’t discourage SNK from trying something similar again. Likely influenced by Nintendo, the Neo Geo Mini is now a thing set for release next month. Unlike the Nintendo machines, the SNK Mini is both a portable and a dedicated home console machine. It resembles a little arcade cabinet and comes with 40 games pre-installed. It looks like it will be rather clunky and cramped when enjoyed as a portable, but it supports standard Neo Geo controller pads so it likely will get the job done when plugged into a television. Like all things Neo Geo, it’s pricier than the competition and will set you back 90-110 dollars, but SNK has an extremely loyal fanbase that will likely guarantee this thing is a sell-out.

neo geo mini

The Neo Geo Mini certainly scores points for cuteness, but how functional it is seems suspect when not plugged into a television.

And of course, the impetus for this post, is the just announced PlayStation Classic. Unlike the Neo Geo Mini, the PlayStation Classic looks to be a straight-up knock-off of Nintendo’s products. A mini PlayStation with 20 pre-loaded games and a single controller for $100, it’s a fairly no-frills duplicate. Sony has only announced 5 of the 20 games, and they’re a pretty representative snapshot of what the original PSX offered:  Final Fantasy VII, Jumping Flash, Wild Arms, Tekken 3, and Ridge Racer Type 4. Sony made the decision to package the system with one standard PlayStation controller, which means no analog. The choice to do so is being spun as a way to celebrate the original release of the console nearly 25 years ago, but I’m guessing it was really done for cost reasons. The machine also resembles the original launch model right down to the additional port on the system’s rear (it’s guarded by a removable plastic tab and I don’t know if its present for aesthetic reasons on the PS Mini or if it’s hiding an additional function).

genesis classic

Sega has made half-hearted attempts to duplicate Nintendo’s success, but the results have been subpar at best.

The PlayStation was the highest selling console of the 1990s so there’s likely a lot of gamers who hold the system in high regard. Even so, there are factors working against Sony with the PlayStation Classic. For one, Sony has actually been very good at making its classic games easily available. The PlayStation 4 may have been left in the dust in some respects, but both the Vita and PS3 can download and emulate almost all of the biggest games released for the original PSX. They’re not free, but they’re also not prohibitively expensive and the cost varies from publisher to publisher. Likely Sony’s biggest ally in those days was Squaresoft, now Square-Enix, which has made almost all of its PSX games available in Sony’s Eshop. And if you’re one of the few who (like me) purchased a PlayStation TV then you have yet another avenue for experiencing these games. Even games like the ultra rare Suikoden II can be played rather effortlessly these days.

ps classic close

The PlaySation Classic is about what you would expect.

The other issue Sony is going to run into is its price point and lack of analog support. Some classic PSX games made full use of the Dual Shock controller including Metal Gear Solid and Ape Escape. Other games were retro-fitted to utilize the new controller and made better, like Resident Evil 2. Since the console does utilize USB for its controller input it’s possible it will support the Dual Shock 3 and 4 as an input method, but it stinks to not just include that out of the box. And of course, the $100 price point is another tough sell. It follows the path Nintendo laid out with its retro machines of adding another 20 dollars for each successive console generation, but it does feel like there is a limit for what people are willing to spend. Gaming enthusiasts will still have interest, but will Sony be able to successfully attract that casual crowd that really drove sales for the Nintendo units? Considering the Sony brand isn’t as famous as Nintendo’s, despite the obvious success of the PlayStation consoles, it would appear that this unit is destined to be less popular. And on the business side of things, Sony just doesn’t have as many firs-party titles as Nintendo making the licensing more expensive. That’s likely reflected in the price-point, but it’s also possible that Sony also just isn’t going to pull in the same profit per unit that Nintendo can manage.

Revealing only 5 of the included 20 games from the start feels like a gamble on Sony’s part. Does the company think that the excitement of the initial announcement will be enough to drive pre-orders into near sell-out numbers? It’s possible, but it also feels like there’s a lack of confidence in the software. A lot of Sony’s biggest games come with obvious licensing hurdles. Gran Turismo boasted hundreds of actual vehicles. Tony Hark’s Pro Skater contains the likeness of dozens of unaffiliated skaters as well as sponsorships as well. Even Jet Moto and Wipeout featured in-game sponsorships or licensed music. It’s unlikely these licensing agreements factored in new retail releases down the road and license holders need to be re-engaged in some cases in order to include them. All of these things cost Sony money and might discourage the company from including some of the system’s most memorable games.

psc ad

The choice of controller may be a hindrance, but we’ll see.

Just like the remaining 15 games, it also remains to be seen how Sony views its newly launched Mini Console business. Does the world really need a PS2 Mini at this point? I’d argue no, but I also would not be surprised to see Sony try. They may wait to see if Sega or Nintendo jumps into that generation first though before dipping their toe into those waters. It’s also possible Sony sees this as the first of multiple mini PlayStation devices. Perhaps a second could mimic the redesign of the PSOne and include analog support. Maybe this one due out in December is to be expandable or new versions could arrive that include a different variety of games. We don’t yet know if there will be regional differences with these consoles as there were with the Nintendo ones too. And lastly, we don’t know how well this system will be at emulating these games. While many hold up from a fun-factor perspective, visually they have not aged well and may look troublesome on modern televisions. Sony at least has experience with the PlayStation TV (I bet Sony really kicks themselves now for not designing the PS TV to resemble a mini PlayStation) so we know they can make a quality plug and play device at a modest price point, but we also don’t know if we can expect the same level of quality from this device. All of these questions, and the fact that I still own most of my favorite PSX era games in a physical form, has me less than enthused about the PlayStation Classic. I’m not pre-ordering it, but I’m also not ruling out a purchase somewhere down the road. It is fun to think about though, and it certainly reaffirms the notion that we’re not through yet with mini consoles.


Dragon Ball Z: Wrath of the Dragon

wrath of the dragonJapanese Title:  Dragon Fist Explosion!! If Goku Can’t Do It, Who Will?

Original Release Date:  July 15, 1995

English Release:  September 12, 2006

Directed by:  Mitsuo Hashimoto

Screenplay by:  Takao Koyama

Running Time:  52 minutes

 

We’ve finally reached the thirteenth and final film in the main Dragon Ball Z film-verse:  Wrath of the Dragon. Like our last film, Fusion Reborn, we get a title that’s at least slightly ambiguous and not just the name of the film’s villain. And unlike most of the movies, this one could actually take place during the timeline of the anime since it takes place after the events of the Buu Saga (though don’t confuse that statement for canon, since Dragon Ball Super ignores the events of this movie as it does basically all of the others). As a last hurrah, Toei produced a movie that’s very different in tone from the other 12 features. Even though the running time makes it pretty typical of the other films, it moves a lot slower with the emphasis of the film’s plot resting squarely on something seldom seen in DBZ movies:  character development. Rather than simply have some super-powered villain show up and challenge Goku, the film focuses on a new character, Tapion, and the fascination an existing character, Trunks, has with him.

The film opens with a young boy (Aaron Dismuke) in a frantic state. He’s on a darkened planet and armed with a sword. He has pointed years and a mohawk-like hairstyle and probably is not of Earth. He appears to be searching for an unseen danger, when from behind a giant foot emerges and apparently squashes the poor boy. An unsettling laugh is then heard.

Saiyamen

The heroes we need.

On Earth, the Great Saiyaman is out keeping the residents of one of Earth’s many cities safe. And he’s no longer a solo act. Great Saiyaman II, or Great Saiyawoman, is by his side in a similar costume to Saiyaman’s original look (as opposed to the bandana and sunglasses disguise) and they’re fouling a robbery. There’s some fun, atypical action in this piece as Gohan (Kyle Hebert) and Videl (Kara Edwards) play super hero, but a shadowy figure is watching and it’s pretty clear he’s going to play some sort of role in this story – and soon. At school, Gohan and Videl are a bit tired from their exploits, and also late for class. After just arriving in his class, Gohan is again summoned by city officials to prevent an old man from committing suicide. He has to excuse himself, much to the shock of his professor, once more to go deal with the situation.

saiyaman saves hoi

Not everything they do is battle tough space villains.

Gohan and Videl arrive in costume to see the old man dangling from a ledge. Gohan springs into action and rescues the little old man, who introduces himself as Hoi (Troy Baker). The cloaked, possibly alien, character is the same who had been spying on the two earlier. He tells the two about a legendary hero named Tapion (Jason Liebrecht) who has been sealed away in a music box that Hoi just so happens to have in his possession. He warns Gohan that the Earth will soon have need of this Tapion, and that they need to free him from the music box in order to secure his aid. Videl seems suspicious of the old man, who really looks the part of a villain, but Gohan falls for it – he is his father’s son, after all. Unfortunately, even Gohan’s mighty strength can’t turn the crank on the music box and they’re forced to go elsewhere for help.

hoi

That is a face that can be trusted.

Hoi encourages them to utilize the power of the Dragon Balls to free Tapion, so Gohan takes the box to Bulma’s (Tiffany Volmer). Goku (Sean Schemmel), Goten (Edwards), and Trunks (Laura Bailey) are there as well and even Goku can’t get the music box handle to budge. He’s game though for a Dragon Ball hunt, and the group does just that summoning Shenron (Christopher Sabat) in short order. He’s more than capable of freeing Tapion from the music box, but once released they soon find out that Tapion did not wish to be free.

tapion

The Legendary Hero Tapion.

Tapion, a warrior who looks much like the child from the beginning of the film only an adult, is angered to see Hoi and dismayed to see the music box shattered as a result of Shenron freeing him. Hoi flees, and Tapion is left with the others. Trunks takes an almost immediate interest in the strange, sword-wielding warrior from another world, only Tapion is not interested in idle chit-chat. He too retreats to a remote area near Capsule Corp in what looks to be an abandoned hangar of some kind. Trunks and Goten try and visit him, often with food, but Tapion refuses to engage the children at all.

trunks and goten

Even though he’s kind of a jerk, Trunks and Goten think Tapion is pretty cool.

It’s clear at this point that Tapion was sealed away for a reason, and that becomes even more clear when a strange Kaiju-like monster appears in nearby West City. Gohan and Videl confront the being, and are shocked to see it’s basically just a pair of massive, bug-like legs with no torso or upper body to speak of. They’re unable to do much of anything to the creature, but Tapion appears. Armed with an ocarina, he plays a haunting melody on the instrument which causes the monster to vanish. Gohan and Videl are both astonished and more than a little confused to see Tapion is connected to this monster in some form.

Tapion_and_minotia

Tapion and his little brother say good bye.

Back at Tapion’s hideout, Trunks once again attempts to bond with the sullen warrior and is again rebuffed. Hoi shows up though and attempts to steal Tapion’s ocarina when he briefly slips into sleep. Trunks is able to get the ocarina from him, and when Hoi attempts to coerce Trunks into giving it back to him, he instead returns it to Tapion. Hoi flees, but after the gesture Tapion is suddenly interested in conversing with the young Saiyan. It’s clear that Trunks is simply seeking out an older brother figure, likely a little jealous of what his good friend Goten has with Gohan, and he’s overjoyed that Tapion is finally speaking with him. He’s able to convince Tapion to join him at his home, and the warrior finally relents.

Tapion_and_bulma

Bulma just making sure this guy who has taken a liking to her kid checks out.

At Capsule Corp, Tapion visits with Trunks and puts him to bed. Following that, he encounters Bulma in the hallway and she invites him to sit down for a talk, since she knows her son has taken quite a liking to the hero. It’s at the dinner table that Tapion tells his story to Bulma. The monster Gohan confronted is named Hirudegarn (Robert McCollum). Long ago on Tapion’s homeworld, he and his people were able to defeat Hirudegarn following his creaton by a group of evil black magicians. Hirudegarn could not be destroyed though, so following his defeat his essence was split in two by a powerful sword with one half being sealed away inside Tapion and the other in his younger brother, Minotia. To prevent the monster from re-appearing, Tapion and Minotia were locked away inside the magic music boxes never to be awakened and jettisoned to opposite ends of the galaxy. The lower half of the monster was sealed inside Minotia, and with that appearing in West City Tapion fears his brother is no more. The upper half of the being is inside Tapion, and he can’t afford to fall asleep or lose his magical ocarina and sword or else the upper half of the beast could escape. After hearing all of this, Bulma decides to create a special room based on the design of Tapion’s music box in hopes that it can accomplish the same goal and allow the poor guy to finally get some sleep.

Hirudegarn_better

Look who got put back together.

As Hirudegarn’s lower half reappears, Tapion attempts to sleep inside the chamber Bulma was able to create (very quickly). Nightmares overwhelm him though which result in him accidentally destroyed the chamber. Goku and the others arrive the next morning and are checking out the damage, when Tapion reappears with a request. He wants them to kill him, hoping that by doing so the half of Hirudegarn inside of him will die too. The others are understandably reluctant to do so, but before Tapion can convince him Hirudegarn and Hoi show up. Tapion is unable to play the melody that controls Hirudegarn in time and the presence of the monster’s lower half causes the release of the upper half from Tapion’s body. Now fully formed, Hirudegarn is a true monstrosity.

vegeta vs hiru

Vegeta gettin in his one shot.

Even though he’s massive and not particularly fast, Goku, Goten, and Gohan are unable to land any substantial blows on Hirudegarn due to his ability to teleport. The battle all but ruins Bulma’s home as the battle spills into the city. When it looks like the monster is about to squeeze the life out of Gohan, Vegeta finally makes his first appearance of the film to save the day. He’s a little irritated at losing his house to the monster and lets him know, but he’s unable to really do anything about it. Hirudegarn knocks him into an office building and unleashes a massive blast in Vegeta’s direction. Vegeta is forced to expend all of his energy corralling the blast with a barrier to spare the inhabitants of the building. Exhausted, he collapses, and as quickly as he entered the picture he has now departed.

bug hirudegarn

Meet the new Hirudegarn, better than the old?

Seeing the others having no success against Hirudegarn, Trunks and Goten decide to fuse and unleash Super Saiyan 3 Gotenks. The cocky fused persona of the two Saiyan children has some nifty attacks, and for a moment it looks like Hirudegarn has been defeated. Since this is a Dragon Ball Z movie though, we know the villain most likely still has a trump card to play. His body hardens and cracks and soon the outer carapace shatters. Like a butterfly emerging from a cocoon, a new version of Hirudegarn emerges. Only unlike a butterfly, this thing is quite ugly and terrifying to look at (though arguably not as scary as the first form with its skull-like head). He thrashes Gotenks, causing the being to split back into Trunks and Goten. Gohan and Videl are soon taken out, and it comes down to Goku.

DBZ Wrath of the Dragon Tapion

Don’t ask a kid to kill you, man, just do it yourself.

As even Goku finds it hard to keep up with Hirudegarn, Tapion emerges. He plays his ocarina and the melody causes Hirudegarn to once more become sealed inside of him. With the beast now gone, Tapion turns to Trunks and begs him to use his magic sword to kill him. Trunks is taken aback by the request and struggles to come to terms with it. Tapion pleads with him, and when it starts to look like Trunks just might do it, Hirudegarn breaks free. Worse, the ocarina is destroyed in the process and Hoi emerges once again. He taunts Tapion for his failure to contain the beast, but his victory is short-lived as Hirudegarn crushes him thus at least destroying the last of the evil wizards who helped create him.

dragon fist

That’s one way to kill a giant bug.

With the ocarina now gone, the only thing left is to confront Hirudegarn with raw power. Goku powers up to his Super Saiyan 3 form and begins to battle it out with the monster. Trunks, not content to sit on the sidelines, charges in with Tapion’s blade and manages to slice off the tail of Hirudegarn. Goku orders Trunks to stand down as he prepares to unleash his latest technique. With an uppercut pose and a mighty yell, Goku unleashes his Super Dragon Fist which causes a golden Shenron to form around him. The dragon unloads on Hirudegarn wrapping around him, constricting him and ultimately exploding as Goku is left in a dramatic “shoryuken” pose.

goku pose

Nothing like a good victory pose.

With the monster finally defeated, all that’s left is for Tapion to go home. An unspecified amount of time passes, and Tapion is set to leave in Bulma’s time machine. It looks identical to the one Future Trunks used in the main series, and it’s assumed I suppose that Tapion is going to search for his little brother. Before he can leave though, he has to say goodbye to his surrogate little brother, Trunks. The young Saiyan is sad to see the hero leave, but he’s given Tapion’s sword as a parting gift. As the credits role, clips and images of Trunks, including Future Trunks armed with a similar sword, are shown with the obvious implication being this is how Trunks came to be a swordsman.

tapion goodbye

Time to say good bye. What’s that wink imply, Bulma?

Wrath of the Dragon Fist is an interesting Dragon Ball Z movie by itself, but also kind of an odd way to say good-bye to the series. With it being the last, it’s somewhat surprising that there isn’t more emphasis on getting the whole gang together, but aside from a cook-out scene early in the film, most of the regulars are no-shows. The defeat of Hirudegarn is a neat visual spectacle, but also really weird since we’ve never seen Goku do anything even remotely like that before. It’s kind of equally weird that it’s Goku at all who takes down the monster since he plays such a minor role in the film. It would have been better to just go all-in on the Trunks theme and have him take out Hirudegarn, but at least he got to cut off the beast’s tail. I guess they just wanted to give Goku a win in his Super Saiyan 3 form since that power-up has so few of them.

trunks with sword

Trunks gets a pretty swell parting gift. That thing is as big as him.

Rather than focus on a big ensemble story or another Goku piece, Toei and screen-writer Takao Koyama (who authored every one of these movies) decided to do a deep dive into Trunks and try and unite this version of the character with the Future Trunks we had seen earlier in the Androids Saga. It’s a solid premise for a movie and it’s nice to see a film choose to focus on exploring a character as opposed to just creating some big, bad, villain of the week. Trunks and his desire to form a bond with someone is easy to understand. He’s an only child and probably home-schooled. He’s had an absentee father for most of his childhood, and his only friend is a country boy named Goten who comes from a family in which he’s the little brother to Gohan. Trunks just wants a brother of his own, and maybe since Vegeta was such a crummy dad, he also seeks a role model too. His scenes with Tapion are cute, and it’s heart-breaking to see Trunks’ reaction to Tapion requesting he kill him. Thankfully, he didn’t have to go through with it as that would have been one Hell of a damaging episode for the poor kid.

tapion flute

Tapion proves to be a rather fine addition to the ensemble.

As far as our newcomer is concerned, Tapion is handled quite well. He has a simple, easy to understand back story that makes him a sympathetic figure. He projects a mysterious aura and also possesses a unique look for the series. Some probably look at an elf-like, sword wielding, ocarina playing, hero and think Link from The Legend of Zelda, but this movie predates Ocarina of Time and Tapion doesn’t look that close to the Link that existed prior to that. Since they do look so similar it’s possible they share a common source of inspiration, but what that may be I’m not certain. Hoi and his evil wizards (who are all dead) is kind of lame. He’s a blatantly obvious villain so it’s kind of frustrating to see him scheme his way to releasing Tapion, but the movie would be rather boring if he wasn’t successful. The only motivation he’s given is that he and the other wizards are genocidal monsters that want to destroy anything that isn’t them. Hirudegarn himself is just a mindless monster. Even though he’s as one-dimensional as it gets, he still manages to be interesting since we haven’t seen Goku and company take on such a massive enemy in a long time. It’s kind of like “What if Goku took on Godzilla?”

vegeta wrath of dragon

There apparently wasn’t enough room for Vegeta in this one.

My one major piece of lingering criticism of Wrath of the Dragon rests with its use of Vegeta. Perhaps because Fusion Reborn spent so much time with he and Goku exploring their relationship and rivalry, Koyama decided to avoid the Saiyan Prince here. I would have liked to see more of him though since so much of the movie takes place at his house. It’s just weird for him to not be seen until he makes his dramatic entrance. This was also the first chance to pair up Trunks and Vegeta in a movie, and since this follows Vegeta’s change of heart following the events of the Buu Saga, it would have been interesting to see how their relationship has changed. Come Dragon Ball Super, Vegeta is basically back to his prickly self, but it would have been interesting to juxtapose he and Tapion. Would it have made the film better if we saw a jealous Vegeta who feels threatened by Tapion’s presence? Perhaps, and perhaps not. It just feels like the movie had room to do something with Vegeta, and instead it reduced him to a cameo.

kid trunks and tapion

There’s a sweetness to be found in this one seldom seen in DBZ movies.

Aside from that piece of criticism, I really have nothing else to say about the movie that would be considered bad. Wrath of the Dragon is very different for a Dragon Ball Z movie. It’s a little light on action and humor and instead more procedural. It relishes in the quiet moments shared mostly between Trunks and Tapion, but also some other small scenes as well. Its emphasis on story and character make it a more rewarding and less disposable experience. We all like our flash and pizazz when it comes to Dragon Ball Z, but it’s nice to see one of the movies treat these characters more as actual characters as opposed to characters from a fighting video game. It’s because of that I feel Wrath of the Dragon is one of the best movies to come from Dragon Ball Z. It can still impress you with its excellent visuals and make you laugh at a few moments, and it may even make you tear-up a little. It’s so interesting from a narrative standpoint that I didn’t even expound on how wonderful the film looks. This is one of the best looking things the series has ever produced. Dragon Ball Z picked a great way to bow out, and it’s nice to know over 20 years later that it wouldn’t be the end for these characters as we knew them.


Batman: The Animated Series – “The Man Who Killed Batman”

man who killed batmanEpisode Number:  51

Original Air Date:  February 1, 1993

Directed by:  Bruce Timm

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  Sid The Squid

 

It’s always rare to see any form of the word “death” appear in children’s programming. Kill, die, murder, are all words characters will often dance around. Director Bruce Timm and writer for this episode Paul Dini are obviously well aware of that, which is probably why the word “killed” in this episode’s title card appears in bold. Batman is a show that has to appease the executives at Fox, but it’s also a show that will push the envelope in some areas. Normally we equate that notion with violence, though Batman isn’t any more violent than most action cartoons. It usually tried to push things just by taking a more serious, sometimes melodrama, approach to its story-telling. The series has used the word “god” in phrases like “My God,” which is something hardly any cartoons got away with. As such, it’s not surprising the show would try an episode like this one. An episode that hinges on the premise that the show’s hero and main character has been killed. It’s an episode of Batman without much Batman, but it works and it’s one of the more rewarding episodes in the show’s run.

The episode opens with a shadowy, but unimposing, figure running through a rainy night in Gotham. He’s clad in an oversized trench coat and hat, a fairly typical looking gangster aside from the fact that he’s clearly on the short side. He arrives at his destination in a panic and asks to see Rupert Thorne (John Vernon). He’s led into Throne’s private chambers where the rotund crime boss is pouring himself a hot beverage (no booze in a kid’s show) and gestures to his guest to have a seat. We now see the man in full light, and he’s even less impressive than before. Sidney Debris (Matt Frewer) is a short, balding, man with glasses who’s clearly intimidated by being in Thorne’s presence, but he’s also really unnerved and likely needs to be where he’s at. Thorne reveals through talking with Sidney that Sidney is the man who killed Batman and he’s very interested in hearing how it all went down. Sidney settles in to relay his story.

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Sidney is not exactly what you would expect from the man who killed Batman.

Sidney is a would-be criminal. A little man who wants to be something big. He’s been trying to break into the big time, but has had his struggles. He hears word on the street about a big drug run about to go down and is able to get in on the action. We see in the flashback that the other criminals on the run don’t see much use in having Sidney around, but the boss Eddie G. (Robert Picardo) says he’ll make for good “bat bait.” Sidney is given a nickname, Sid The Squid, and made the lookout where he childishly fantasizes about being a tough guy, until the Batman shows up that is. Batman, recognizing a squealer when he sees one, sets right into interrogating Sidney. A humorous exchange occurs where a bumbling and clumsy Sidney causes injury to Batman before falling off the building. Batman tries to save him, but Sidney squirms and panics. It’s a great exchange because Kevin Conroy does an excellent job of showing how irritated Batman is to be dealing with such a loser like Sidney. In the struggle, Sidney pulls on Batman’s cape causing him to tumble over. A brick had dislodged earlier and fallen onto a propane tank at ground level causing a leak. When Batman goes over, the tank goes “ka-boom!”

The other gangsters saw the commotion from the ground where it looked like Sid was going toe to toe with the Batman. When the tank explodes they come running over to see what happened. A distraught Sidney climbs down from the rooftop holding the Batman’s cape and cowl. He keeps apologizing to no one in particular while the other crooks look on in disbelief. It’s Eddie who is the first to point out that Sid The Squid took out Batman, though he hardly can believe it himself even though he was there to see it.

joker throne

You just know that Joker needs to get in on this, and he brought a new chair!

They head to a nearby bar to celebrate the ultimate demise of the biggest thorn in their collective side. Sidney has what he wants; recognition, respect, and even a little fear. He’s feeling pretty good about himself, but when other patrons hear that the man who took down Batman is in their midst some try to challenge Sid to prove that they’re tougher than the guy who killed Batman. Sidney, being a meek individual, is happy to cede the role of Gotham’s toughest to the much bigger men there that night, but he’s apparently inspired a few loyalists who come to his aid and a fight breaks out. There’s a great shot during the fight of a bored bartender eating peanuts while looking on indicating this is a fairly routine occurrence in this establishment. Eventually the cops arrive to break things up and everyone is taken downtown and put in a holding cell.

While sitting there waiting out the night, Officer Montoya (Ingrid Oliu) is approached by Detective Bullock (Robert Costanzo) with some bad news. It would seem the underworld is alive with rumors of Batman’s demise, and a pretty dejected looking Bullock informs Montoya that Batman is dead. He also relays that Gordon is taking the news hard, and asks Montoya to go see him. When she’s gone he reverts into his more traditional tough guy persona as he starts demanding answers of the rabble he’s got locked up. Before anyone has a chance to even consider speaking up about Sid The Squid being there with them, a Ms. Harleen Quinzel walks in demanding the release of Mr. Debris. Clad in a red suit with blond hair, Bullock asks her if he’s seen her somewhere before. She indicates she served him a subpoena before, a small subpoena. Did we just get a dick joke in Batman?

harley crying

Joker isn’t the only one upset about Batman’s apparent demise.

Ms. Quinzel and Sid leave the jail and hop into a limo where the lawyer’s “real” persona is revealed – Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin). It would seem the exploits of Sid The Squid have aroused the curiosity of The Joker who would very much like to meet the man who killed Batman. She takes him to a theater that is currently serving as The Joker’s hideout and the two come face to face. The Joker vacillates from being delighted at meeting the man who took down Batman and from seeming rather angry with Sid. Since no one has found Batman’s body, Joker decides they need to run a little test to see if he really is dead. Joker decides to pull a heist, and when one henchman (Maurice LaMarche) questions him he turns his hyenas loose on the fool. Offscreen, the dogs lay into him while Harley mentions she’ll get the mop. It’s an exchange that’s both amusing and horrifying, while the henchman, Murph, does pop his head onto the screen briefly to give it a slightly more slapstick tone.

Joker and his gang head to a jewelry store. Almost right away we see the goon Joker had mauled earlier is in fact still alive, though not without a few blemishes. Joker sets Harley loose on the goods which only succeeds in drawing the attention of Gotham’s finest. Despondent over the lack of Batman, Joker seems to be entering into a violent form of depression. He strikes Harley when she questions him after he told her to return the jewelry and monologues his existence without Batman. Crime has lost its punchline.

joker tribute

A fitting tribute.

Joker decides they need to have a funeral for Batman, and what better place than the Ace Chemical Plant? This Joker is, after all, canonically related to The Joker from Batman 1989 so this is his recognized birthplace as The Joker. They place a pine box on a conveyor belt with Batman’s cape and cowl inside. At the end of the belt is a vat of acid which will consume the coffin. Joker decides to say a few words, and in eulogizing Batman he makes his utter contempt for Sidney crystal clear. He hates him for killing Batman, recognizing he’s just some schmuck who got lucky. He orders his men to stuff Sidney in the coffin with Batman’s belongings and seals it shut. As the coffin is carried along on the conveyor belt, Harley plays “Amazing Grace” on a kazoo while Sidney begs, and pleads for forgiveness and mercy from inside the coffin. Joker sheds a few tears, but as the coffin vanishes into the acid and Harley finishes her song, he snaps out of it, “Well, that was fun! Who’s for Chinese?”

dejected joker

A solemn Joker.

Inside the coffin, the acid is eating through and Sidney is in a real panic. There’s literally nothing he can do though. He pounds on the lid, but even if he broke through the acid would just come rushing in though that might be the better way to go than to have it slowly seep in. As he loses hope a funny thing happens. The coffin comes to a rest and the lid is practically blown off. He’s outside the plant at the edge of a river. Sidney deduces the coffin must have been sucked into a drain that lead out here before the acid could destroy the coffin. It’s from there that Sidney decided he needed to get out of Gotham and only Thorne could help him do that.

We’re back in the present, and Thorne has had a rather drastic change in demeanor. Previously he seemed to be humoring Sidney, genuinely interested in his story. Now he thinks Sidney is trying to pull a fast one on him and take over his drug operation. Theorizing that no one could possibly be as stupid or as lucky as Sid claims to be, he convinces himself that Sidney is here for him and pulls a gun on old Sid. Before he can shoot, gunfire is heard from outside the office. The tell-tale sounds of villains getting beat up by a familiar foe waft into the room before the door is kicked down. Batman is alive, and he takes rare delight is knocking Thorne around. The camera is careful to never let us see Batman actually punch Thorne, but each shot implies it and then we get to see the aftermath – a punch drunk Thorne.

MWKB_67_-_Sid_and_Thorne

It seems no one is ever happy with Sid for long, despite his reputation.

With Thorne unconscious, Sidney is finally able to apologize to Batman for what happened and also thank him for getting him out of this mess. Not only did Batman take out Thorne for him, but he’s also the one who sprung him from Joker’s death trap earlier. Turns out, being the man who killed Batman just isn’t for Sid, and he’s happy to go back to his old life. Of course, Batman can’t let him do that. He was an accessory to a drug ring and he owes a debt to society as a result, but Batman seems to think Sidney won’t mind where he’s going. The episode ends with Sidney being led through prison by a guard. Other prisoners cheer him on from their cells for to them he is the man who almost killed Batman. Finally, Sidney is allowed to feel like a big shot.

“The Man Who Killed Batman” is a playfully dark episode of Batman:  The Animated Series. It starts off as a tale about a guy named Sid The Squid, but it becomes a tale about the relationship of Batman and The Joker and how The Joker views his relationship with the caped crusader. Those areas are the episode’s true strengths as Paul Dini is a great Joker writer. Some of Joker’s best lines come from this episode and I love how psychotic and ruthless he’s allowed to be. He’s very violent towards his lackeys, in particular Murph and Harley. There’s a sequence where he grabs Harley by the front of her uniform and she makes a choking sound. It makes me wonder if originally he was supposed to grab her neck but they had to tone it down a bit. Either way, he comes across like a dangerous lunatic which is how The Joker should be written. His eulogy for Batman is delightfully insane and I also appreciate how he snaps back into place when the deed is seemingly done implying that, had Batman truly been dead, Joker likely would have just found someone new to terrorize.

big shot sid

A big shot at last!

The framing device of having Sidney relay the events of the night also adds a little mystery and intrigue to the episode. I doubt very much anyone watching this truly thought Batman was dead, but telling the tale in this way does inject a touch of suspense into the whole thing. This is the only episode that will feature Sid The Squid. While it might have been interesting to see what became of him, he basically served his purpose.

Sunrise worked on the production of this episode. Sunrise is an incredibly popular producer of anime in Japan, and this episode is their last contribution to Batman. Their episodes have been visually striking, and this one is no exception. The only negative I can give them is some of the actual animation comes off rather stiff. In particular, Joker has some odd movements and they had some trouble with his mouth flaps which is understandable since his grinning yellow teeth are always exposed. Because of their notoriety, they likely weren’t cheap which is probably why they didn’t have more contributions to the series and not because of a lack of quality.

“The Man Who Killed Batman” is a great episode for the series as we head into the home stretch for the first season. It has more laughs than the typical episode, but also balances them out with a sinister version of The Joker. Through Sid The Squid, we get a nice glimpse of the relationship of Batman and The Joker and we even get a little more insight into Joker’s relationship with Harley Quinn. Up until now, she’s strictly been a sidekick and hasn’t been portrayed as a romantic partner, but we’re getting there. We even got to see Bullock get a little teary over Batman adding a nice layer to their relationship as well. And considering who wrote and directed this one, I suppose none of this should be a surprise. Whenevr Dini and Timm team-up on an episode, the results are usually something special.


Danzig – Lyrics of the Left Hand Vol. II

danziglyricsv2Consider this a book-end to the coverage of Danzig’s 30th anniversary from a couple of weeks back. During my write-up for that, a celebration of all of Danzig’s original songs, I made a comment about one entry in particular (“Halo Goddess Bone”) where I mentioned how it would be neat to know just what Glenn is saying. I openly hoped it would be included on the then upcoming Hidden Lyrics of the Left Hand Volume II, which was slated for release in August. Well, that volume is now available and wouldn’t you know, “Halo Goddess Bone” was indeed included.

Lyrics of the Left Hand Vol. II is the follow-up to Hidden Lyrics of the Left Hand, which arrived almost 10 years ago. It’s a Verotik issue, Glenn Danzig’s publishing company that typically specializes in erotic-horror type comics, and both are illustrated by Simon Bisley, who has been an artist in the comic’s industry for decades and has also made numerous contributions to Danzig releases over the years, most famously the cover for Thrall: Demonsweatlive. The impetus for the original release was simply to get a bunch of lyrics into the hands of the fans. During Danzig’s career with The Misfits, his releases seldom contained lyrics and the actual content of those songs has been debated amongst fans for years. Samhain only produced lyrics for its first and third releases, and even the band Danzig omitted lyrics from later releases as well as anything that was limited to an EP or single. 2007’s The Lost Tracks of Danzig only added to the amount of songs without lyrics, so there was plenty of material to fill a comic, if so desired. Danzig’s approach ended up being a bit less ambitious. He handpicked songs from all three bands and then had Bisley do a black and white illustration for each song. Basically, you open the soft-bound book and you have an image on the left and the words on the right.

Hidden Lyrics of the Left Hand may have been smaller in scope than fans wanted, but it was still appreciated. It wasn’t printed in huge numbers, nor was it so limited that fans had a hard time getting it and Verotik still prints small batches for release at concerts and to sell through its eBay store. The presiding feeling on that initial release was a thirst for more. Fans tend to want to know everything, and so long as there are no official lyrics for even a single song they’ll keep asking for it. A second volume seemed like a no-brainer, but it still took several years to happen, and it underwent a pretty significant change as well.

SimonBisley

Artist Simon Bisley has been a frequent collaborator with Danzig for decades.

I think I pre-ordered the new book back in April or May. At the time, it was titled Hidden Lyrics of the Left Hand Vol. II. I purchased it through an online comic book store that ended up pre-selling out and hasn’t bothered to restock the item or take further orders. By the time it was released, the title had changed to simply Lyrics of the Left Hand Vol. II, and that’s because this time out the book contains the lyrics for songs that were previously unavailable but also some that were. It’s a bit disappointing, as I don’t need another source for the lyrics to “Killer Wolf,” especially when there are so many songs still outstanding. The counter-argument to that is you’re getting a piece of art to go with those lyrics, but no disrespect to the work of Simon Bisley, I’m primarily interested in this for the lyrics. The full list of songs included is below:

  • Last Ride
  • Black Laden Crown
  • Devil on Hwy 9
  • But a Nightmare
  • Skull Forrest
  • 1,000 Devils Reign
  • i Luciferi
  • Black Mass
  • Halo Goddess Bone
  • Killer Wolf
  • Her Black Wings
  • Am I Demon
  • November’s Fire
  • I Am Misery
  • Archangel
  • Devilock
  • Bloodfeast
  • Braineaters
  • Halloween
  • London Dungeon
  • Who Killed Marilyn?
  • Come Back

The book begins with a little foreword by Glenn Danzig that summarizes how the book came to be. The text is gray on black and kind of fuzzy, but the font size is large enough that it’s not too hard to read. For the actual lyrics, the font is in white which is a much better choice. As for the lyrics themselves, it’s not surprising to see a lot of later day Danzig material since those booklets either skipped some songs or excluded them entirely (in the case of the most recent album). I noticed only a typo or two. The cover is cardstock and glossy and the black pages do have that tendency to acquire fingerprints, but all in all, it looks quite nice.

verotik samples

Verotik released a few promotional images ahead of the book’s release.

As for the actual illustrations, your enjoyment of them will likely vary from song to song. A lot are a duplicative of each other as several contain one, or all, of the following: breasts, demons, a Danzig caricature, skulls. The illustration for “Last Ride” is just the cover art for the single, and “November’s Fire” is basically a reinterpretation of the cover art to Samhain III. My least favorite might be “i Luciferi” which is just a Glenn caricature with a flaming hand – it’s a bit dull. “Halo Goddess Bone” is also just a feminine skeleton that also happens to have huge breasts, despite having no flesh anywhere else, which looks more silly than sexy. All of the illustrations are done in black and white, and some have more of a sketch quality than others. I personally like that look, but if you’re into full-color illustrations then you might be let down.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are some that are pretty neat and it’s a shame they couldn’t be leveraged for a single release or something. “Devil on Hwy 9” is kind of funny in that it’s a demonic character just giving the finger to a cop. There’s a subtle, really nice, horizon in background of the image that almost gets lost. It’s the rare humorous image. The picture for “Halloween” is almost wickedly cute. It features a Bisley version of the Jack-o-lantern from the single cover with a burning, hanging, body in the foreground. Three little trick-or-treaters are looking on and one is a Misfits ghost, a Samhain ghost, and a little Danzig demon. “I Am Misery” doesn’t really fit with my interpretation of the lyrics at all, but the image is still pretty cool. It’s a girl (Death? Misery?) spreading open a cloak and inside are the faces of various killers and tyrants from history. “Who Killed Marilyn?” includes a depiction of the famous crime scene with the Kennedy brothers looking on. I don’t want to run through too many of them since the surprise is part of the enjoyment, but those ones stuck out the most. “1,000 Devils Reign” was also pretty damn cool and is probably the busiest of the Bisley illustrations.

With a release like this, you probably know if you’re going to get it or not at the moment you find out it exists. For hardcore fans of Glenn Danzig’s music, it’s practically essential. The MSRP is $24.95, though I found it for sale for $19.99. Getting it is a bit of challenge as I don’t know of many places selling it outside of Verotik’s eBay store. Their copies seem to go up for sale every other day and usually sell out. They’ve mostly been selling signed copies as well, which is cool if you want Danzig’s signature on your book, but less cool if you don’t want to pay an extra $15 for such a thing. I’m not sure if they put up unsigned copies for MSRP. Some of their proceeds do go to charity, so that’s pretty cool. Comparing this release with the first, which I never did a write-up on, I would say it’s of the same quality. I’m not sure which has the better illustrations, but they’re comparable. This one is less exciting since several of the songs have had their lyrics released in the past, but at least there are a few here that I personally have wanted lyrics to (in particular; “Halo…”, “Devilock,” and “I Am Misery”). If you’re a fan and want these lyrics, get it. If you never cared about the lyrics to the songs anyway, then I’m surprised you read this far.

 

 


Dragon Ball Z: Fusion Reborn

7e1c12908c1fd2ee3b2f5b99932706c8Japanese Title:  Fusion Reborn!! Goku and Vegeta

Original Release Date:  March 14, 1995

English Release Date:  March 17, 2006

Directed by:  Shigeyasu Yamauchi

Screenplay by:  Takao Koyama

Running Time:  51 minutes

The penultimate film in the original run of Dragon Ball Z movies is thus far the one with the closest translated title with the actual English title. Fusion Reborn is a pretty wild one that happily embraces the silliness of the Majin Buu Saga of DBZ. Almost the entire film is set in Hell as a being of supreme evil has cast a spell over Other World causing the barrier between the living world and the dead to cease to be. It’s timing in the DBZ universe is even muddier than usual, with both Goku and Vegeta being dead, but with Gohan yet to achieve his “mystic” form. It’s also the first film since Bojack Unbound to feature Vegeta and it’s the first to not feature Krillin. It’s also the only one of the 13 films to not receive a completely uncut edition in the US, but we’ll explain why later on.

oTu1KUa

This dude is about to have an unfortunate accident.

The film starts in Other World with Goku (Sean Schemmel) and Pikkon (Kyle Hebert, utilizing a voice basically identical to that of his narrator role, which is distracting) battling in the latest edition of the Other World Tournament. The Kais are all looking on and rooting for their respective fighters with seemingly everyone rooting against King Kai and his fighter, Goku. At the Earth’s check-in station, something major is about to go down. Saike Demon (Jim Frond, with the character credited as simply Young Rocker in the Funimation dub) is in charge of making sure all of the souls inbound for Hell are purged of their negative energy, but he’s too busy rocking out with his head stuck between some headphones. He’s admonished by another worker after King Yemma (Chris Rager) complains about being able to hear the music from his desk. He’s allowed to continue to listen to his music after his superior seems to take pity on the lad, but he forgets to swap out the tank that stores the evil energy and it overflows. All of Other World begins to tremble, and the purple goo takes over the kid transforming him into Janemba.

Goku_et_Paikuhan

Goku is way too excited about meeting Janemba.

Janemba (Foronda) is a colossal monster that looks like a cross between Majin Buu and the baby from Dinosaurs. He’s infant-like, apparently only capable of saying his own name, and his presence causes the entire check-in station to be encased in an amber like substance. Weird, gigantic, jelly beans float all around him and dot the background. With the check-in station frozen, King Yemma informs us that the barrier between the living world and Other World is down and spirits can freely move between the two. The dead who were sent to Hell and denied their bodies, are now fully restored and able to reek havoc once again.

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Goku battles Fat Janemba in Hell amidst a backdrop of candy and jelly beans.

The Grand Kai (Evan Jones) stops the match between Goku and Pikkon and sends the two to see what’s going on at the Earth check-in station. The two happily head there and encounter Janemba. Goku is extremely eager to take on the baby-like monster and is able to convince Pikkon to stay behind and try to break through the barrier holding King Yemma and the check-in station. Pikkon, reluctantly agrees while Goku leads Janemba down to Hell where they can fight freely.

Fusionreborn14

Look who’s back.

On Earth, Videl (Kara Edwards) is dining with Gohan (Kyle Hebert) and his family at their house when she receives a call about some weird occurrences back in the city. The dead have risen and zombies are now roaming the streets of Satan City. Gohan puts on his Great Saiyaman costume and the two head out to see what’s going on. There they’re confronted by hordes of zombies and a dictator baring a strong resemblance to a real world villain is roaming the streets with an army of Panzers. Of more concern to Gohan is the presence of Frieza (Linda Young) who would love to get revenge on Goku by killing his son. Gohan is more than happy to dispatch the former tyrant with a single blow, heightening in a comical fashion how much has changed since we last saw Frieza. Legions of other fallen enemies fill the sky though, and it’s a lot of fun to pause these scenes to see who you can spot.

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Admit it, you’ve always wanted to see a Super Saiyan kick the crap out of Hitler.

In Hell, Janemba is proving to be a tricky foe capable of even reflecting Goku’s attacks back at him. He has no choice but to debut his Super Saiyan 3 transformation in the film-verse, complete with extended transformation scene accentuated with some mid-90s CG effects. In this state, Goku is more than powerful enough to pulverize Janemba, but just when he thinks he has the monster defeated, he does what most enemies do – he transforms! Gone is Janemba’s (now voiced by Kent Williams) bulbous exterior and in its place is a sleek, demonic form capable of so much more. He can still reflect some attacks, while also demonstrating an ability to break-apart like a game of Tetris and re-form in an instant. Goku does a good job of hanging with him, but his strange fighting style packs enough surprises to knock him off his guard. He then forms a vicious looking sword out of a mallet just hanging around Hell, and utilizes that to great effect knocking Goku into a strange conical pond of blood and out of his Super Saiyan 3 form.

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Super Saiyan 3 Goku gets to work.

On Earth, Goten (Kara Edwards) and Trunks (Laura Bailey) are having a pretty good time taking out the dead while even Mr. Satan (Chris Rager) is proving useful in dispatching the many zombies roaming about. Goten and Trunks soon find themselves in the crosshairs of The Dictator (Christopher Bevins), who even with an army of tanks, poses no real danger to them. They go super anyways just for the fun of it, and The Dictator remarks how he should be impressed with the blonde haired, blue-eyed (even though they’re green), super warriors.

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“Toon” Trunks and Goten power-up to take on The Dictator!

As Goku is getting beat down, an old friend shows up to give him a hand. Vegeta (Christopher Sabat), having regained his body thanks to the weird goings-on, is eager to engage Janemba since his existence since death pretty much sucks (his words, not mine). Goku warns him that Janemba is too strong, but Vegeta doesn’t care. He gets taken care of pretty quickly, and Janemba tosses him into this vicious looking mountain made up entirely of giant spiked balls. Goku is able to prevent Vegeta from getting impaled, and the two share a quiet moment amidst their surroundings. Vegeta expresses frustration at how strong Goku has become, while he has remained the same. Goku kind of tries to downplay everything, but Vegeta sees right through him. Goku then proposes that the only shot they have at defeating their enemy is to fuse. Vegeta is staunchly opposed to the idea and remarks he’d rather be dead than fuse with Goku, which just prompts Goku to point out that he is in fact dead already.

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The transformed Janemba is a lot scarier than that pudgy thing.

Vegeta is eventually forced to concede that it’s their only option after a lot of back and forth. His admission reads like defeat, and the two perform the fusion dance only for the results to be not desirable. Veku is the result of their fusion, a monstrously bulbous individual whose only strength appears to reside in his powerful flatulence. Veku is forced to dance around Janemba and hope to survive the 30 minute duration of fusion without getting killed. He never dubs himself Veku, that’s the Kais watching via a television set as they provide some commentary on our fight. Eventually the transformation wares off, and Vegeta and Goku are free to attempt the technique again. Only they would be if not for the fact that Janemba has caught on and is not exactly feeling generous. Pikkon shows up though, after having discovered the barrier Janemba created is weak to insults (really), and is able to utilize the same method on Janemba giving the Saiyans time to perform the fusion dance one more time.

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Veku’s only offense is his potent flatulence. He also has a Rabbit Feet technique, which is just what he calls it when he runs away.

The resulting fusion is Gogeta, a supremely powerful being most likely rivaled only by Vegito from the main series. Sensing the transformation of their fathers prompts Goten and Trunks to do the same. Again, they didn’t have to, but Gotenks wasn’t going to miss out on being featured on the big screen. He unleashes his Kamikaze Ghost Attack on the imposter Hitler and the results are what you would expect.

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Gogeta!

In Hell, Janemba is no match for Gogeta and their confrontation is surprisingly brief. Rather than utilize some mash-up of Goku and Vegeta’s attacks (as he will in Dragon Ball GT), Gogeta does this weird attack that creates an energy ball that kind of looks like television static mixed with a rainbow. It’s not at all impressive, but it is effective. With Janemba gone things can return to normal. The fusion wares off and Goku and Vegeta share a surprisingly tender moment before Vegeta’s body fades away. The films ends with the living congratulating themselves on a job well done. Goten and Trunks are able to rib Gohan and Videl so we can get our usual comedic ending.

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Not wanting to be outdone, Gotenks decides to show himself.

Fusion Reborn is one of the better received Dragon Ball Z films, and for a lot of fans it’s the best. It’s easy to see how that can be since the film is able to deftly toe the line between being a comedy and taking its stakes seriously. The setup is admittedly bonkers even by Dragon Ball Z standards, but for the movies it’s also a welcomed change from the usual settings. The movie gets a lot of attention for the comedy bits involving the dead returning to life, but its real strength is in exploring the relationship of Goku and Vegeta. The proud Saiyan Prince still gets in his stale line of wanting to be the one to finish off Kakarot, but outside of that we’re mostly shown a vulnerable Vegeta. We saw a glimpse of this character in Bojack Unbound, but that was without Goku to interact with. I enjoyed how Goku went from being kind of a ridiculous caricature of himself to a very serious one once confronted by Vegeta. Their farewell is sweet, and it’s the type of thing I think Akira Toriyama deliberately avoids with Vegeta, not wanting to make him get too soft and show too much emotion, but the folks at Toei may not possess such hang-ups.

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The movie leans heavy into the Goku/Vegeta dynamic.

It’s not all a sappy love-fest though as much of the movie leans heavy into comedy. It’s kind of exciting to see someone like Frieza show up, and also funny to see him dispatched of so quickly. While I could have used more of him, I do see the value in the joke being made. It’s actually surprising that the film doesn’t delve more into the fan-service territory by having Gohan face off with more dead enemies from the past, but at 52 minutes this is already one of the longer DBZ movies. The stuff with The Dictator is also amusing from both a narrative and a visual style. When he’s onscreen, perhaps to lessen the real-life image of Hitler, the whole scene takes on a more toon-like vibe. The backgrounds are more colorful and the characters appear flatter, due mostly to the presence of thick, black, outlines. The inclusion of the failed fusion, Veku, is also handled well. He resembles Fat Gotenks from the main series, and for his voice Schemmel used something closer to his King Kai voice as opposed to his Goku one, while Sabbat does his interpretation of a fat Vegeta. It’s a nice touch and it adds to the comedy.

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It only took 12 movies, but King Yemma finally gets a turn on the big screen.

The Other World, and Hell especially, proves to be a pretty neat place to set a DBZ film. Hell is somewhat barren, but with some imaginative areas to spruce things up. The weird, cone-shaped pond of blood that Goku winds up in is pretty surreal, as is the mountain of spiked balls. The jelly bean background dominant before Janemba transforms is also wild, but it suits the personality of the villain. Janmeba, like Buu, is innocence run amok combined with absolute power and it’s a fun basis for a villain. Unlike Majin Buu, the short duration of a movie means Janemba doesn’t get to overstay his welcome.

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A side of Vegeta seldom seen.

As I mentioned in the first paragraph, this movie does feature some mild edits in the English version and you’re probably not surprised to read that they concern The Dictator character. His swastika has been replaced with an X on his hat and any mention of The Third Reich has been removed from the tanks and such. It’s a superficial edit. I’d probably be bothered by it if I were younger with a more absolutist take on cuts, but I don’t really care as an adult. I know why Funimation did it and it doesn’t do anything to harm the film. I don’t think they would have received any flak had they left those symbols in, but it’s understandable if it made them uncomfortable. Also, for some reason, the opening theme for the dub goes back to the Funimation English dub main theme. I’m not a fan of “We Gotta Power,” but it’s better than the instrumental theme Funimation crafted.

Dragon Ball Z:  Fusion Reborn lives up to the billing as one of the better Dragon Ball Z movies and I won’t fight you if you think it is the best of the bunch. I’m not sure I would put it that high, but after a couple lesser films, it was nice to sit down and watch this one. It has a good blend of action and humor and it doesn’t run on too long. Only one movie is left in our feature, so check back next week for the final Dragon Ball Z movie of the 90s, Wrath of the Dragon.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Off Balance”

Off_Balance-Title_CardEpisode Number:  50

Original Air Date:  November 23, 1992

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Len Wein

First Appearance(s):  Talia, Vertigo, Ra’s al Ghul (unnamed)

 

With “Off Balance” we have reached what feels like a fairly significant milestone. We’re now 50 episodes deep and we’ve also passed the one year mark for this little feature at this blog. You may be wondering why we’re not at 52 or 53 episodes if a year has passed, but that’s due to this feature pausing for the big Christmas advent calendar that goes on around here in December (expect more of the same this year). We’re also at some pretty notable and important debuts. Ra’s al Ghul, who feels like possibly the biggest break-out villain from this series, makes a brief appearance at the end of this episode. He’ll play a pivotal role in episodes to come, though it surprised me that when I looked back on it he only actually appears in five episodes, one of which is a two-parter and his true debut, “The Demon’s Quest.” He did cross-over into Superman and also shows up in Batman Beyond. Also debuting is his daughter, Talia, who is almost immediately cast as a potential love interest for our protagonist. Surprisingly, the least important debut is that of the actual villain of the episode, Vertigo, who appears to be based off of an old Green Arrow villain. This episode is actually his only appearance in the show and he never made the leap to other DC Animated Universe shows, to my knowledge. This episode is also a mostly direct adaptation of a story from the comics, in this case “Into the Den of the Death-Dealers” by Dennis O’Neil from Detective Comics #411.

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It’s so creepy until you learn they’re not actually killing themselves.

The episode opens with Batman meeting an informant who goes by the name of Twitch (Chick Vennera) on what is apparently the Gotham version of The Statue of Liberty. Batman is seeking information on the Society of Shadows, and the appropriately named Twitch seems pretty jumpy when speaking about them. He can only offer Batman a little information, but is at least able to tell them they follow a guy by the name of Vertigo. Before Batman can get anymore info out of him, a ninja emerges from behind to strike. His attack is apparently just a feint, as a second ninja pops up behind Twitch and tosses him off the structure to the waters below. Batman, seemingly thinking Twitch is likely dead, is enraged and goes after the two ninjas. They manage to repel down from the statue’s torch to the crown where Batman catches up with them. Seeing no way to escape, they praise the Society of Shadows before activating what appears to be suicide gas in their masks. Batman removes the mask from one to see a face frozen in death while a dark-clad woman looks on from the shore.

Or that’s how it appeared. Batman soon drops in on Commissioner Gordon who is alone at the Gotham PD’s firing range. Gordon remarks that Twitch got away, seeming to suggest he either survived that fall or the police just haven’t turned up anything on him (he probably should be dead, this is clearly to please the censors). Batman also reveals that the gas activated by those ninjas wasn’t a suicide, but a special gas that erases one’s memory. Again, this was likely something they had to add in to please Standards and Practices, which stinks because this story really started off with a very high-stakes feel to it. Batman did learn from Twitch that the Society is planning on swiping some new high-tech weapon, and Batman is aware of such a weapon arriving by train that night to Wayne Enterprises.

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Say hello to Vertigo, just don’t get too attached.

The weapon in question is an ultrasonic drill. Because it’s associated with Wayne, we’re to believe this thing is only supposed to be used for benign purposes, hence why it’s called a drill and not a gun, but it’s capable of so much more. When the weapon arrives there are many on hand to oversee it including Detective Bullock and Wayne Enterprises own Lucius Fox. Vertigo (Michael York) soon appears though and demonstrates how he got that name. He wears a funky eyepatch with a swirling design on it, from which he can emit waves of radiation that cause those it touches to experience extreme vertigo thus disabling them. Batman shows up to see this for himself and also experience it. Batman is unable to do anything about it as the same mysterious woman appears again, only it would seem she’s there to fire at Vertigo. He and his men escape, forcing Batman to retreat to the Batcave and determine his next move.

At the Batcave, Alfred is polishing the enormous penny seen in “Almost Got ‘Im” while Batman busies himself at his computer recounting the events of the night to his trusty butler. We get another stupid Batman “eureka!” moment that is pretty much a carbon copy of a previous one involving Alfred (“Alfred, you’re brilliant!”) as Batman relies on a throw-away line from Vertigo about the tolling of the hour and realizes he fled to a place with a giant bell tower. He pulls up potential locations in his super computer, and settles on the one that looks like the type of place you would expect to find a super villain’s hideout. Especially a Batman super villain.

Batman wastes no time in heading out to this place and arrives to see the shadowy woman get attacked by some ninjas. Batman joins the fun and demonstrates he’s an amateur at playful banter (“Looks like you could use a hand,”) while the woman seems to welcome the help. One ninja successfully cuts off Batman’s prized utility belt without Batman noticing, while two more emerge on a plateau armed with the sonic drill. They fire not at Batman and the woman, but at the ground beneath them causing a huge chasm to open that both fall into.

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“No! My face! Not like this!”

Batman awakens some time later to find the woman washing the purple welts on his face. On his face! She’s removed his mask! He panics while she soothes him and urges him to be quiet before he can say his real name out loud. Batman gathers himself and puts his mask back on, only to then realize he’s without his belt. The two are in a locked room, seemingly dumped there by the bad guys. The woman, who reveals her name as Talia (Helen Slater), produces a hairpin as all women seem to carry and unlocks the door. From there the two escape and she takes lead, obviously knowing her way around the place as she mentions they need to get to the lab up ahead. Batman quizzes her on what her connection to the Society of Shadows is. She only offers up that she was sent here by her father to prevent Vertigo from stealing the sonic drill. Vertigo once worked for her old man, but once he saw the blackness in his soul, he cast him aside. When Batman asks why her father would care if Vertigo were successful she responds that he cares for all humanity.

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We have ourselves a team-up.

The two arrive at the lab and find it unlocked, indicating a trap is ahead which Talia points out. When they enter they’re confronted by Vertigo himself who reveals the whole room is rigged with his special vertigo effect. He flees with the drill, leaving the two helpless in a booby-trapped room. Batman urges Talia to take his hand and trust him to lead her through the room. She does and the two have a really corny face to face exchange before getting to the task at hand. Batman walks her slowly through the room, seemingly anticipating every trap that is sprung. When they finally emerge outside of the room Batman reveals he simply closed his eyes to prevent the vertigo effect from disabling him. He simply had to rely on his other senses to avoid the traps. Oh yes, Batman, very simple indeed to blindly avoid flying knives and spikes that shoot up from the floor.

As Vertigo is about to escape in a very odd-looking airplane with a helicopter propeller on top of it, Batman shouts at him from below. They’re running up the bell tower, and I guess Batman feared Vertigo would escape if he hadn’t shouted because otherwise it was a foolish move. Vertigo simply activates his eyepatch and then takes fire with the sonic drill from above them. He takes out the stairs ahead of Batman and Talia as well as behind, stranding them in place. Seeing no other way out, Talia jumps and grabs onto the ropes that run up to the many bells above. As they start clanging away, Vertigo loses his own balance and drops the drill which Batman jumps off the stairs to catch. It would seem letting it fall and break apart would have solved his problem, but it wouldn’t have looked as cool. It also would have screwed up the episode’s ending, which we’ll get to.

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Just when you started to like her…

Vertigo didn’t just lose his grip on the drill, he also lost his own footing and falls from the tower. The shot of him falling feels like an obvious homage to the film that bares his name, Vertigo. There’s water below, because there has to be in a cartoon, but Vertigo will not be heard from again so it’s safe to say this fall was fatal. Back at ground level, Batman and Talia are shown walking from the monastery lair with Batman having regained his utility belt and carrying the sonic drill. As the two bid farewell, Talia pulls a total dick move and draws a gun on Batman. It turns out she’s in league with the Society of Shadows and her father wants the drill. Batman is forced to angrily hand it over, but before he does he pulls some tiny, very specific looking device from his belt and inserts it into the tip of the drill. He warns Talia that this is not over, as the same weird-looking airplane returns to pick her up. Once high above Batman, she speaks over a video monitor to her father who is in a lair of his own somewhere. He congratulates her on a successful mission and then orders her to test the weapon. When she goes to fire it she realizes it’s been compromised by Batman, and drops it in a fit of rage. Her father closes the video link and turns to the camera repeating Batman’s own words toward it that this is not over.

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This image is important because it reveals that Talia does, in fact, possess a left eye.

“Off Balance” is definitely a setup episode, but that doesn’t mean it needs to be bad. Penned by legendary comic book writer Len Wein, it tries to be a little bit noir thriller and a little bit spy story. A ninja-like group of villains sounds like something that should be really cheesy, but the serious approach at the episode’s opening with the suicide gas and the taking out of informants works to make this one feel convincing. The mild undermining of the opening events in the next scene hurt, but don’t completely erase the feelings of that opening. Unfortunately what follows feels more like typical cartoon corn. It’s not always convincing to see Batman coolly figure out a villain’s motives and where their base of operations is, but the eureka moments are arguably worse. The episode also tries really hard to play up some sexual tension between Batman and Talia but the chemistry isn’t there. It feels really forced and amateurish, and Batman’s supernatural ability to avoid the many traps in Vertigo’s lab also didn’t sit well with me.

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He’s coming.

What the episode does get right though is its introduction of Ra’s al Ghul. If you were watching this for the first time and with no knowledge of who he is you would be left wondering quite a lot, as was the case for me when I saw it back in 92. He’s not named, but his apparent status as the leader of the Society of Shadows makes him very intriguing. His look is a bit goofy – a balding, older man, with a giant green cape, but he’s able to pull it off. A lot of that is due to the work of voice actor David Warner whose voice could make anything sound sinister and lethal without even trying. I’m a little less receptive to the Talia character, but that’s almost entirely due to the poorly constructed banter between she and Batman. Ignoring that, she’s portrayed as a capable spy herself and it seems like she didn’t need Batman’s help at all. How much of what transpired is staged and what isn’t is unknown since she too is a member of the Society. Vertigo’s betrayal was real and he likely had some loyal followers, but were the many ninjas encountered working for him or working for Talia and her father? I also really enjoy the voice work of Helen Slater as Talia. One odd thing though about her voice is that she has an accent (Austrian? I’m not good with accents) while her father doesn’t seem to have one. That might be explained in a later episode though. Vertigo himself, though he’s not really in much of the episode, is fun and I enjoyed his portrayal. I suppose Batman figuring out how to counter-act his device means he wouldn’t have been an interesting return villain so I’m fine with his apparent death.

As a setup episode, “Off Balance” does succeed in making me want to see what’s next. When Ra’s sees his scheme thwarted by Batman he doesn’t react with anger, but with a quiet admiration. There’s obvious unfinished business and this show isn’t really known for such teasing preferring to let the majority of episodes exist on their own. Removing that component, which granted is impossible, reduces this to an average or below average episode. It’s disappointing given the strong opening, but I guess they can’t all be winners.