Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

spider-verse posterOver the years, the comic book movie has changed immeasurably. Prior to the year 2000, you could basically count the successful superhero movies on one hand and the only heroes able to really break through were Superman and Batman. This meant Marvel was completely shut out despite feeling like the hotter publication for a long time. That company’s forays into the world of cinema were largely terrible and the only semi-successful venture was probably The Incredible Hulk television series.

Now though it seems like anything Marvel wants to send to the big screen is a massive success. It’s not that surprising that X-Men eventually worked or that Spider-Man could become a big player. Captain America? That one is pretty surprising considering how lame he was when I was a kid. Basically everyone associated with The Avengers had been pushed aside. Those were the heroes your parents might have read about, but us 80s and 90s kids wanted mutants, pouches, and clones, damn it! We once thought that in order for these movies to be successful they needed to be more grounded than a comic and basically not look like one. Drab costumes for the X-Men, realistic villains for Iron Man, and so on. Now we’ve learned that doesn’t matter. Bright spandex is in, heroes leave the planet, and a big, purple, bad guy can lead one of the most successful movies of all time.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse pushes the super hero movies even closer to the world of comic books. It’s a bold movie on the part of Sony Pictures and Marvel, though considering the budget for this film is far less than what is spent on a typical live-action super hero film it’s perhaps not perceived as being a great risk. Spider-Verse is a film aimed at the longtime fans of Spider-Man. It’s not really made for those who liked Spider-Man comics as a kid and then moved on, or simply know the character from his other films. This film is modern, it contains references to the old Peter Parker who fell in love with and married Mary Jane Watson, something Marvel has undone. It also references a Spider-Man who divorced MJ, a Spider-Man who is actually a woman, and a Spider-Man who is black. Only in comics could all of these different, yet all valid, versions of one character exist and this film seeks to throw them all into one movie. It’s a transdimensional gathering of Spider-People (and animals) which is the type of story usually reserved for the world of comics as comic fans are used to differentiating from Earth-616, Pre-Crisis, Ultimate, etc. It sounds complicated, and it kind of is, but Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse ends up being far more accessible than it has any right to be.

spider-people

I hope you like Spider-Man, because there’s a lot to go around.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is based on a screenplay from Phil Lord and Rodney Rothman directed by Rothman, Bob Persichetti, and Peter Ramsey. It’s a computer-animated film that seeks to emulate the look of a comic book. Movement is intentionally janky as a low frames-per-second was utilized to make sure that basically every moment of the film could work as a still image from a comic book panel. It’s the careful planning of the screenplay and the direction that allows the viewer to ease into this one as it slowly peels away layers making the plot more complicated as it goes along without becoming overwhelming.

miles morales

Miles never leaves home without his trusty Sony headphones.

The movie focuses first on teenager Miles Morales (Shameik Moore). Morales is a young man who is an only child to police officer Jefferson Davis (Brian Tyree Henry) and nurse Rio Morales (Luna Lauren Velez). His father is african american and mother Puerto Rican, and even though he shares a last name with his mother, his parents are a couple and they all live together in Brooklyn. Miles though is sent to a special academy for schooling which functions like a boarding school. He doesn’t like it, but his father insists it’s for his own good. His mother is more sympathetic to his concerns, but not enough to interfere on behalf of her son. Miles is quite smart and apparently gifted, but he desires to be what he feels is normal. As a result, he has a kindred spirit in his uncle Aaron (Mahershala Ali) who encourages Miles’ preferred form of expression:  tagging. Aaron and Jefferson apparently had a falling out of some kind and aren’t on speaking terms, so Miles has to sneak around to hang out with him.

It’s partly through sneaking out with his uncle that causes Miles to run into Spider-Man (Chris Pine). While tagging a tunnel in the subway, Miles is bit by an odd looking spider. The next day, he feels off and finds he’s sticking to everything and unable to make sense of it. When he returns to find the spider that bit him he encounters Spider-Man, who is battling with a massive, monstrous, version of the Green Goblin who is working for Wilson Fisk (Liev Schreiber), also known as The Kingpin. Kingpin also employs The Prowler and Tombstone and they’re trying to prevent Spider-Man from destroying a particle accelerator. He will be unsuccessful, and it’s the turning on of that particle accelerator that opens up a rift between the various dimensions which causes other versions of Spider-Man to enter Miles’ world.

store bought costume

Spider-Man may be in the title, but this is a Miles Morales movie.

Most of the movie will then center around Miles and one of the other Spider-Men, played by Jake Johnson. With Miles trying to figure out his own spider-powers, he turns to Peter B. Parker, but unfortunately for Miles this version of Parker is older, out of shape, and not really a good teacher. They need to steal a code from Fisk in order to destroy the accelerator and return Peter to his own dimension. It becomes apparent that they’ll need help though, and gradually more versions of Spider-Man are introduced including Spider-Gwen (Hailee Steinfeld) and Spider-Man Noir (Nicholas Cage). Each time a new one is introduced, they get a little 30 second origin story that all utilize the same concept. It’s both informative and amusing and never gets old.

While a lot of different versions of the classic character appear, the film never loses sight of the fact that this is really Miles’ story. He has to deal with disappointing his father and trying to find his footing amongst a group of people that have all been at this Spider-Man thing for quite awhile. He’s insecure, and unsure of himself. He just wants to be a normal kid, and while we see right away he’s a fan of Spider-Man, it’s not really something he necessarily wants to be. It’s a movie of self-discovery, camaraderie, and family. Most of the villains are simply physical adversaries, though some time is given to Fisk, and yet the film doesn’t suffer because of it.

spider odd couple

A good chunk of the movie is devoted to an odd couple pairing of inexperienced Miles with past his prime Peter B. Parker.

The story in the film is well-told, but the major take-away from the film will be its look and style. It’s computer-animated, but there’s a hand drawn quality to everything present not seen in something  from the likes of Dreamworks or Pixar. It’s bright, bold, and unafraid to take chances. There’s a sequence where Miles and Peter are stuck via webstring to a subway car and are pulled throughout New York at night. They pinball off of cars, slam into pillars, and slide across windows. It’s a chaotic, visual, experience that never gets out of hand or hard to follow. The finale is even more ambitious as the heroes battle the villains while the accelerator goes nuts and starts sucking in buildings and vehicles from other dimensions with everything suspended in a surreal setting. The film doesn’t need those tricks to be interesting though as even watching Miles walk down the street or emerge from a subway car is visually engauging. Sony stumbled onto something that really works here and I doubt this is the last we’ll see of this style.

spider hide

There are a lot of big fights and moments in this one, but no matter what there’s always going to be a scene where Spider-Man needs to hide from someone in an amusing manner.

The vocal cast is wonderful with not a bad performance to be found and the music the film turns to is appropriate as well. The film opens with Miles listening to the film’s featured song, “Sunflower” performed by Post Malone and Swae Lee, and the rest of the songs used in the film all sound like something Miles would listen to. It’s heavy on hip hop and R&B, while composer Daniel Pemberton mixes similar concepts within a traditional superhero score. Like the film’s visual, the soundtrack and score meld beautifully with the scenes and characters and it’s hard to imagine the film having a soundtrack that could possibly be more appropriate than what is here.

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is a technical and artistic marvel in cinema. It’s a film made for the Spider-Man fan, but one that isn’t exclusive to that fan base. The character of Miles Morales is portrayed in such an authentic manner that it’s almost unfathomable to think someone could watch this film and not fall in love with the character of Miles. His journey from typical teen with typical problems to full-fledged Spider-Man could feel too familiar, but the film makes it compelling and interesting every step of the way. It’s also impossible to talk about the film and not mention how important and refreshing it is to see a character of mixed race assume the spotlight in a superhero film. I’m just a dumb white guy, so perhaps my opinion isn’t relevant, but I found it exciting and awesome to see Miles assume the mantel of Spider-Man and make it his own. The message of the film is that a hero can come from anywhere, anyone can be Spider-Man, and it’s a message the film takes to heart. And it isn’t just Miles as we also get a wonderful portrayal of Spider-Woman via the Gwen Stacy character. I’d love to see another adventure from Miles, and I’d also love to see a Spider-Gwen movie because I found her character really compelling as well. Hell, I’d even take a Peter B. Parker movie to see how things turned out for him.

gwen stacy

I would love another movie centered on Miles, but if Sony wants to give us a Spider-Gwen I won’t be complaining.

I suspect that given the success of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse that we’re not done with this setting. I don’t expect a sequel to feature dimension-hopping unless it’s flipped and Miles journeys to help another Spider-Man. I think more likely is that a more conventional plot is scripted for Miles. However it happens, it needs to because Miles is too wonderful to only receive top-billing in a single film. I think most who see this film will walk away pondering if it’s their favorite Spider-Man film or close to it. I want to watch it again, but I think I would put Homecoming ahead of it, but it’s not an easy call. This film may be crowded with Spider-People, but it understands Spider-Man and presents what is a perfect Spider-Man story. It may be animated, but it’s paced like a live-action film and definitely isn’t aiming to lure in children, like many animated films developed primarily for a western audience aim for. If you passed on this one because it’s not tied into the Marvel Cinematic Universe or are intimidated by the plot then you made a mistake. There’s time to fix that mistake though and I urge you to do so.

 

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Batman: The Animated Series – “Bane”

Bane title cardEpisode Number:  75

Original Air Date:  September 10, 1994

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Mitch Brian

First Appearance(s):  Bane

 

Episode 75 brings us a relic from the 90s:  Bane. Bane has always felt like the Omega Red of DC. He’s kind of cool looking, yet also lame at the same time. Both characters were introduced into the comics in the early 90s, then fast-tracked to their respective animated counterparts. In the case of Bane, basically a year elapsed between his debut and this episode’s airing, so it was likely in development not long after Bane’s lore was created. Either as an indictment of that lore, or because things were still in flux, this version of Bane is merely a basic representation of the character from the comics. His look is largely intact, save for the superficial difference of his mask featuring an exposed mouth, and he’ll rely on the serum Venom to augment his strength. Almost everything else is different, and arguably for the better. He’s a mercenary here, rather than a guy tormented by visions of a bat monster, and the episode has no need to dive deep into his origins. So much of Bane’s comic book back story strikes me as ridiculous, and it’s rightly ignored for this episode. It’s just possible the lot of it was ignored or glossed over for time constraints rather than because of its quality.

knightfall bane

I guess when you do something like break Batman you get to make the leap from comic to TV rather quickly.

Bane, for all of his problems, is merely here to play the role of physical adversary for Batman. He can overpower Batman with no problem, and unlike a Killer Croc, he’s got brains to back-up his brawn. He’s portrayed as a tactician and takes to the task of destroying Batman in the way an expert hunter would approach its prey. It’s a unique approach for the series as really few have attempted to engage Batman in a similar manner. And for all his strength, Killer Croc has never been much of a problem for Batman in a fight. One could argue his toughest physical foe up to this point has been the ninja Kyodai Ken. Say what you will about Bane, he has a role to play on this show and it’s a role that had not been filled by anyone else.

This episode also marks the beginning of Fox’s third season of the show launched in September 1994. That makes “Bane” the first episode to feature the new opening. It’s set to Shirley Walker’s Batman theme, which some argue is superior to the Elfman theme. Obviously, Walker probably never would have arrived at this sound for her Batman theme without Elfman’s, but it’s a point worth taken. And even though I think this opening is inferior to the original, I do think it’s nice Walker’s theme got a chance to shine.

Candice meets Bane

An old enemy is introduced to Bane.

“Bane” begins inauspiciously at an airport. A rather large man emerges from a commercial flight and finds a car waiting for him. We don’t get a full-frame look at him, but get to see the vehicle buckle under his tremendous weight as he climbs in. Inside is a character we haven’t seen for quite some time. Candice (Diane Michelle), the assistant to Rupert Thorne whom we haven’t seen since “Two-Face,” welcomes the man. He sits beside her and speaks with a Spanish accent. She takes him to her employer, Thorne himself (John Vernon), who is in the middle of a work-out. His coach, in a bid to motivate Thorne to hit the punching bag harder, hits a sore spot when he brings up Batman and gets knocked out as a result. Thorne greets the big man, who we come to know as Bane (Henry Silva), and we find out he’s been hired to take out Batman. The caped crusader recently cost Thorne a lot of money, but he did manage to hang onto a suitcase full of diamonds which he uses to pay Bane. After payment, Bane hands over a newspaper with a cover story on Killer Croc, who recently escaped from Arkham (as we saw in “Trial,” he ended up there for some reason following the events of “Sideshow” in which he was supposed to be transferred to prison), and wants to know how he can find “the reptile.” Thorne isn’t really thrilled to see Bane targeting Croc when he’s supposed to be going after Batman, but Bane explains he wants to see the Batman in action before engaging him.

thornes hire

Rupert Thorne may be the man paying Bane to take out Batman, but we’ll learn that Bane has been looking forward to matching wits with the detective for some time.

Apparently not one to sit around, Killer Croc (Aron Kincaid) has assembled a small gang and is either on the run from Batman and Robin or is in the midst of having a crime foiled. He’s being chased through a construction yard or factory of some kind, a typical nondescript backdrop for the show, and Croc demonstrates his own impressive strength by mangling a series of pipes and tossing them at Batman and Robin, scoring a direct hit. This gives Croc time to flee into the sewer. Wanting Batman to follow, he makes no attempt to hide his escape and is shown waiting in the sewers with a pipe in hand quietly urging Batman to come on in. Behind, the wall smashes in and in comes Bane. He’s dressed like a giant lucha-libre performer (Mexican wrestler) complete with mask and singlet. He announces that Batman is his to destroy, and when Croc retorts with “Over my dead body,” Bane responds with “As you wish.” He flicks a switch on a wrist contraption and a liquid starts pumping from it into a tube connected to the back of Bane’s skull. His muscles begin to bulge and the background turns bright red to heighten the apparent adrenaline rush Bane receives. He grabs Croc by the skull, his hand now large enough to palm it effortlessly, and shoves his head underwater.

bane emerges

Killer Croc gets a look at Bane, now in full wrestling-inspired attire.

By now, Batman and Robin have entered the sewer and we can hear the sounds of Croc being pummelled, Bane apparently not content to merely drown him. He soon floats into sight, but Bane is gone. As the two haul Croc out of the sewer, Robin wonders if there’s a new vigilante on the block while Batman remains silent. They arrive at the Batmobile to find it’s been smashed. It’s there Batman agrees with Robin that whoever stopped Croc is tough because he notes the damage to the Batmobile was done with bare hands.

Later on, Batman pays Croc a visit at Arkham where he’s looked better. His head is bandaged and he has a broken arm and leg both of which are being suspended by slings on pulleys. Batman wants to have a chat, but Croc is in no mood. Batman basically uses some mild torture by messing with the pulley which is enough to make him sing. Croc tells him about Bane, in particular about the drug that pumps him up, and also taunts Batman a bit as he’s convinced Bane will snap him in two once he gets his hands on him. Batman doesn’t seem too concerned and departs with a, “Later gator.”

At the Batcave, Robin is working on the Batmobile while Batman is at the computer. Alfred comes strolling in (feels like we haven’t seen him in awhile) and mentions something about Bane to Batman who makes a quip about it being personal now that he totaled his car (Batman is on point with the jokes so far). Batman, having heard enough from Croc, already knows everything there is to know about Bane as his computer reveals all. Bane is the only man to escape from some notorious prison in Cuba. It was there he was experimented on with the substance that will be identified as Venom. Since escaping, Bane has fashioned himself into a merc for hire, and a real expensive one at that. His price starts at 5 million a job, and when Batman questions who has that kind of money and a desire to kill him Alfred hands him a newspaper (this again?) that inexplicably has a headline that just reads Rupert Thorne.

robin hides

Robin must not have been very good at hide and seek.

At Thorne’s office, Candice is seated with Bane while he does curls with a massive dumbbell. Earlier, Thorne had offered Bane the “services” of his assistant and Bane appears to be taking full advantage of said services. Candice tells him that he could own this city, and she, once he takes out the Batman. When he asks her about her boss, she just says “accidents happen,” and plants a kiss on his exposed lips. Thorne then enters and Candice takes her leave. When Thorne casually says “He’s out there, Bane,” referring to Batman, Bane respond with a “Closer than you think.” Across the way, Robin has been eavesdropping the whole time and recording the conversation too. As he’s putting his equipment away he notices Candice leave in her own vehicle and the Batmobile then appears and follows her. Behind Robin, a red-eyed shadowy figure emerges and starts racing up behind Robin. He spins around at the last second to find Bane. He dodges Bane’s attack, but soon finds himself in his clutches. As Bane dangles him over the ledge, Robin is able swing between Bane’s legs and upend the big man. He wisely doesn’t try to pick a fight with Bane and flees to another rooftop. He hides behind some ventilation as Bane walks by, but when Robin tries to sneak away Bane is there to wrap him in a bear hug. He turns his back to the camera so we don’t see Robin get choked out. When he turns back around he’s cradling an unconscious Robin in his arms and makes a remark that he may prove useful to him as he walks off.

bane cradles robin

It would be sweet had he not just choked Robin out.

Batman has followed Candice back to her apartment. He enters and confronts the woman about Bane. She seems rather casual and plops herself down on the couch to watch cartoons (surprisingly, not another Warner cartoon) while Batman yaps on. She then tells him he has no chance against Bane. He’s studied him since he was in prison and is obsessed with taking him down (a slight nod to Bane’s comic origin, I suppose). As she goes on, the phone rings and she tells him that it’s probably for him. Batman answers and it’s Bane, who lets him know that if he were a sniper he’d already be dead. He then threatens to get him by getting to whom he values most. Batman is alarmed and looks out the window to see Robin’s shirt and cape draped over an antenna on a rooftop across the street. In an action that was actually amusing to me, Batman smashes Candice’s window rather than open it so he can fire his grapple gun to retrieve Robin’s garment. A note is affixed to it with Robin’s apparent location on it.

The note instructed Batman to head to a wharf where a ship called The Rose’s Thorn is docked. I don’t know if it’s Thorne’s ship or if Bane picked it because it reminds him of his employer. There Robin has been chained up with a massive weight chained to his ankles. Candice managed to beat Batman there and tries to remove Robin’s mask, but Bane stops her for no apparent reason. Robin is then lowered into a pool on the ship that has water pouring in. Soon enough he’ll be underwater with no apparent way to escape.

bane vs batman

They should have just gone all-in and hired Jim Ross to do commentary.

Batman arrives to see Robin and goes for him, but Bane soon announces his presence from the top of a mast. He activates the Venom and jumps down, the camera shaking as he lands on the deck. Batman is tentative, but goes in eventually. The fight turns into a faux wrestling match with Bane no-selling Batman’s strikes as if he were The Undertaker. He tosses Batman into the ship’s railing, which cartoonishly bends like wrestling ring ropes allowing Batman to rebound off of them into a massive clothesline from Bane. Batman gets up and uses some lucha-libre of his own with a series of head-scissor takedowns on Bane. Eventually, the enraged behemoth just catches Batman and heaves him into a bunch of crates. Among the rubble, Batman finds some device which turns out to be a grappling hook gun. He plunges it into Bane’s midsection and fires catapulting the villain from the deck to the water below.

With Bane out-of-the-way, Batman races to Robin’s aid and finds the water level has reached his chin. He dives in and starts prodding at the chains around Robin’s wrists, but the boy wonder quickly directs Batman to the weights on his ankles. Batman goes under water and finds the chains padlocked. Expecting him to go to his belt for something to break the lock or chain with, Batman surprises me by pulling out a set of keys. Did he remove them from Bane during the fight? He frees Robin, but while Batman is busy Bane re-emerges behind Candice, who looked like she was about to flee.

robin vs candice

This isn’t the fight we were promised.

Bane waits for Batman to climb out of the pool before grabbing his head and tossing him. He merely kicks Robin back into the water, apparently not at all concerned about him. From the water, Robin spies Candice and beckons her into the water. For some reason she obliges, tossing aside her red pumps (but not her jacket) and dives in and the two start wrestling with each other. Likely owing to the show not wanting to show Robin assaulting a woman, Candice is shown to have the upper hand immediately.

bane scream

The animators at Dong Yang utilized a red background for some of Bane’s Venom scenes, which is pretty effective.

On the deck, Batman and Bane have resumed their fight. Batman, apparently running out of ideas to confront this beast, tosses a Batarang at Bane who catches it. He crumples it in his hand and taunts Batman for trying to fight him with toys. Now clearly with the upper hand, Bane methodically beats on Batman though the camera is careful not to show anything particularly gratuitous. He grabs Batman by the shirt and demands he scream his name, but of course Batman isn’t about to do that. Looking to end the fight, Bane lifts Batman over his head and announces that he will break him. He assumes another classic pro-wrestling position, that of the backbreaker. It’s at this point those who were familiar with Bane’s presence in the comics may have actually fallen for the tease. In the books, Bane does indeed break Batman’s back across his knee, but he won’t be so lucky here. Batman, holding onto the mangled remains of his Batarang, uses it to stab the pump on Bane’s wrist. This causes it to go haywire and continuously pump Venom into Bane’s noggin. He drops Batman and starts freaking out as he can’t control the Venom. His muscles keep increasing and we return to the red background to focus in on Bane’s face. The red lenses over his eyes pop off as his eyes bug out and the whole sequence is rather freaky. He’s in obvious pain and in a state of panic, but he also is in a state of disbelief that he could be defeated. Taking apparent pity on him, Batman rips the tube out of Bane’s head causing the massive man to collapse and begin returning to a normal size. At the same time, Candice climbs out of the water with Robin right behind her. She takes off running and Robin is prepared to go after her but Batman stops him since he knows where she’s heading.

batmans mercy

Batman’s mercy.

Batman drops by the office of Rupert Thorne on his way home. A still soaking wet Candice is cowering behind her boss’s chair as Batman presents the defeated Bane. He mocks Thorne as he pulls off Bane’s mask to reveal a baby-faced man beneath it who lets his head slam onto the desk. Still in a pretty good mood, Batman whips out a tape player and lets Thorne know he has a new release and even gives it a title, Better Luck Next Time. It’s the recording Robin made of Candice propositioning Bane where it’s insinuated they were going to knock-off Thorne. Batman then takes his leave while Thorne roars “Candice!”

And that’s all she wrote for Bane. He won’t show up again until the made for television move Mystery of the Batwoman which is part of The New Batman Adventures. I suppose it’s not surprising since Batman would be able to beat him the same way, kind of like how X-Men ruined The Juggernaut by revealing the blueprint for beating him in his first appearance. It’s also the final appearance for Candice, which is actually a little menacing. Did Thorne have her killed? If he really is a ruthless criminal he probably would. My guess is we’re supposed to assume she was fired. The ending scene feels like it’s played for laughs, but she just got caught plotting to have Thorne killed. He’s not going to let that slide.

bane unmasked better

The unthreatening face beneath the mask.

The whole tone of this episode is really amusing to me, though not necessarily in a good way. Mitch Brian is the writer, and he previously wrote “On Leather Wings” and “P.O.V.” which were not particularly humorous. For this one he really went all-in on the wrestling motif of Bane with the fight scene especially looking silly. I like wrestling, but Batman rebounding off of steel railings like they’re ring ropes was pretty over the top and it takes me out of the scene every time. Batman is also jokey, which is unconventional, though his dry delivery to Alfred helps sell his car line. The “Later gator” line is way more playful, and pretty out of character. Not offensively so, but it is jarring. I wonder if some of the humor was intended to soften the menacing undertones of the episode where a contract killer is out to get him.

The way Bane is made a fool of, and subsequently not utilized again, leads me to the conclusion that the staff wasn’t too high on Bane. Was he forced upon them because of Knightfall? I don’t know if anything was necessarily mandated upon, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they were encouraged to do Bane in season two. He’s fine, and the episode largely is as well. He’s not one of Batman’s greatest foes, but at least he’s not a big, dumb, strong man like so many similar villains. He didn’t need to come back, and I’m fine with this being his lone appearance. Not to be forgotten, this also marks Killer Croc’s final appearance in this show. Unlike Bane though, he’ll return in The New Batman Adventures where a reboot is sorely needed. He’s turned into a silly character who isn’t a threat to Batman despite his appearance. Most of all though, I’ll actually miss Candice. She’s just so nasty and a natural bad girl that it’s a shame she and Thorne were separated. It might have been fun to see her resurface with one of Thorne’s rivals down the road, but alas it was not to be, so pour one out for Candice.

 


Batman: The Animated Series – “Catwalk”

Catwalk titleEpisode Number:  74

Original Air Date:  September 13, 1995

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  None

 

Batman:  The Animated Series has done a great job of elevating some of Batman’s lesser known villains. It’s really a big part of the show’s legacy. And the well-established villains like Joker and Riddler did just fine as well. One notable exception though is Catwoman. Perhaps the most famous foil for the caped crusader not wearing clown makeup, Catwoman has struggled when finding herself on-screen. Her debut, which was the show’s broadcast premiere, “The Cat and Claw” established her character as a cat burglar with an animal rights activist bend. She stole to help fund her efforts there, and also for fun. She also instantly fell for Batman, who’s alter ego Bruce Wayne found himself infatuated with Selina Kyle, the alter ego of Catwoman – naturally. This dance played out over two episodes with Batman and Catwoman finding a common enemy in Red Claw before everything ended with Gotham saved, and Catwoman behind bars.

Since then, Catwoman has returned, but really only in the role of victim. She needs to be rescued by Batman in all three of her return engagements, though at least in “Almost Got ‘Im” she can boast that he was only returning the favor. It’s been a rather toothless portrayal for a character that should be able to stand on her own, be she thief or vigilante or something in between. And the show really couldn’t decide what she was. She’s basically another crime fighter in “Almost Got ‘Im” and I hypothesized during my write-up that she was shoe-horned into the role of Robin so that the episode could end with its punchline. Her character is left uninteresting by season one’s conclusion, and it’s clear she needs a fresh approach.

Enter Paul Dini. Dini did not receive a writing credit on any of Catwoman’s prior appearances, though as one of the credited show creators it’s likely he had some input on virtually every episode to air. This is his first real try at course-correcting the character and it’s one that is going to bring Catwoman back to her thieving roots. It’s a sorely needed direction, the only question being is the character worth salvaging at this point so late in the game?

sad selina

Selina misses her old life.

The episode opens at a museum exhibit. Selina Kyle (Adrienne Barbeau) is staring forlornly at a stuffed leopard and thinking back on her life as Catwoman. She’s basically bringing the audience up to speed while placing some of the blame on her Catwoman-less existence for the first time on Batman, a common sentiment amongst his many enemies. Bruce Wayne and Veronica Vreeland (Marilu Henner) are also attending the same function and approach Selina. Vreeland tries to make small talk by mentioning her grandfather donated much of the display, but that doesn’t sit well with Selina. She accuses Vreeland’s grandfather of hunting many of these animals to extinction. Suggesting this place isn’t for her, she leaves while Veronica and Bruce can only stare with mouths agape. Bruce catches up to her to admonish her for her rude behavior, but Selina seems to feel no shame or need to apologize for the cat in her. She thanks Bruce for inviting her along (Yup, he’s still barking up that tree, or maybe I should say scratching at that post), but tells him she doesn’t fit in here and takes her leave.

selina abducted

The gangster puppet is back again.

As Selina leaves a rather large individual grabs her and tosses her into an ominous black car. It’s Rhino (Earl Boen) who is apparently still in the employ of one Scarface. He and The Ventriloquist (George Dzundza) are free from Arkham. If they were released or escaped, it isn’t explained. Selina is quite amused by the talking dummy, but Scarface has a job for her. Or rather, a job for Catwoman. Scarface wants to steal from the Vreeland family, and he’s apparently aware of Selina’s feelings towards them. Either he was spying on her just now or his intuition is remarkable. Selina is unable to resist the urge to not only get back at the Vreeland family, but also to be Catwoman once again. She takes the job.

Catwoman returns to the museum and is able to sneak in undetected. As she goes for the jewels, a so-called business partner has other plans. It’s Scarface and his crew, and they’re making a brazen assault on the museum by detonating some explosives inside, which not only attract attention, but foil Catwoman’s escape. The security, and eventually police, key-in on Catwoman forcing her to make a daring escape while Scarface and his men have a much easier go of things. It’s obvious now Scarface only wanted to use Catwoman as a cover, but for what purpose we don’t know.

batman and selina

He sure looks smug.

Catwoman is able to make it back to Selina Kyle’s penthouse. There she has a visitor in the form of Batman. Nothing happens in this town without Batman knowing, and he seems concerned for Selina. She makes up a story about wanting to return to the museum to apologize for her behavior earlier, and finding a robbery in progress, she decided to infiltrate the building as Catwoman in a bid to stop the perpetrators. Batman is insistent that she tell her story to the proper authorities and the two return to the museum. Once there, Catwoman notices that some rare extinct animal mounts are missing and assumes that’s what Scarface was really after. Batman can tell she’s not revealing the full truth. And just like that, the old Catwoman is back. She attacks Batman with what may be a kick to the Wayne family jewels, but the angle makes it unclear. It’s a good kick though since it gives her some time to ascend onto what appears to be a blue whale suspended from the ceiling. Batman meets her there, and the two make a pretty big mess and Catwoman ultimately escapes. Batman flees to the roof and pulls out a tracking device – he apparently bugged the Catwoman.

fighting on a whale

It’s been awhile since we had a good Batman vs Catwoman confrontation.

With Batman out-of-the-way, Catwoman is free to zero-in on her new prey:  Scarface. He’s holed up with his men at a sawmill and when we check in on him he’s speaking on the phone to The Penguin about a bird mount he swiped. Also with him is a rare Tasmanian Tiger that is being billed as the last of its kind. Catwoman enters, but not entirely successfully as the guards take her out. She ends up in a cliché, unconscious on a conveyor belt heading towards a whirling saw-blade. This time it’s her cat Isis who makes the save by licking her face to bring her to consciousness. She rolls away just in time, but now has Scarface and his men to deal with. She’s outnumbered and having a tough go of things, but Batman soon arrives to even the odds. He takes on Rhino, while Catwoman goes after Scarface.

catwoman captured

The artists always seem to find a way to get a butt-shot into every Catwoman episode.

She corners the maniacal puppet and his “dummy,” The Ventriloquist, in the command room of the mill. Scarface apparently never got around to reacquiring an adorable, tiny, tommy gun because he’s unarmed and unable to really do anything when confronted by Catwoman. She snatches Scarface from The Ventriloquist and tosses him on to the same belt she was on minutes earlier. She seems to enjoy how The Ventriloquist begs and pleads with her to let him help his beloved Mr. Scarface, but she’s not going to let that happen. He turns his back to her and grabs the Tasmanian Tiger and hurls it at Catwoman. When she moves he races in and shuts down the machine sparing his boss’s “life.” This proves to be a brief reprieve as Catwoman just pulls a crane release that drops a bunch of logs onto the machine smashing it, and Scarface, in the process.

bye byre mr scarface

The animators at Dong Yang do a great job of making The Ventriloquist look pained throughout his confrontation with Catwoman.

As The Ventriloquist weeps Catwoman smiles gleefully, but then things take a turn. She confronts The Ventriloquist with claws exposed and starts tearing at his clothes. When he insists that he and Scarface are two different people, she just reminds him that Scarface is locked inside him and her thirst for revenge has apparently not been sated by merely crushing the dummy. By now, Batman has finished tangling with the likes of Rhino and is able to put a stop to this. Catwoman insists he cease his actions so she can take her revenge on The Ventriloquist for costing her her freedom. Batman reminds her she did it to herself, and when he asks why she insists because she couldn’t live without being Catwoman. By now, the wreckage of Scarface has caught fire somehow and Catwoman tosses the Tasmanian Tiger into the middle of it (a Hell of a throw). She tells Batman he can’t let it burn because it’s priceless and the last of its kind. He apparently agrees as he swings in and snatches the mount from the flames, but by doing so allows Catwoman to escape. We cut her to her perched on a building and a voiceover from Catwoman declares she’s a cat who walks alone.

catwoman alone

I find it interesting that the title card of this episode is essentially a mirror image of its closing shot.

And so we have Catwoman essentially brought back to where she was when this series started. The only difference is the whole world knows who she is so she can no longer live the swanky lifestyle enjoyed by Selina Kyle. How she’ll manage to get by as a criminal on the run is a tale left for another day. For what this is, it’s successful and I do prefer a Catwoman who is a villain of sorts as opposed to an ineffective vigilante, or whatever she was. It will be a challenge to integrate her further into Batman’s foes, but it’s better than what had become of the status quo. As for Scarface, his use here was suitable. Some liberties were taken this time with his performance as one scene featured The Ventriloquist using both of his hands to manipulate Scarface’s arms, while his mouth continued to flap away. He was seated in The Ventriloquist’s lap so maybe he found a creative way to utilize another appendage? My only real issue with Scarface is the unexplained nature of his arrival on the scene. I get that it would be tiresome to always see how the villains manage to escape Arkham, but a throw-away line about The Ventriloquist getting a clean bill of health would have sufficed.

Batman, once again, proves how poor he is at managing Catwoman. Perhaps it’s an intentional weakness by the writers as even Catwoman points out he lets her get too close. I’m not sure I buy the concluding scene where Batman opts to “save” a dead and stuffed animal rather than apprehend a criminal. My own take on the scene is that Batman really didn’t want to arrest Catwoman, and when given an out, he took it.

catwoman flirts

Batman always letting Catwoman get too close, and this time she calls him out on it.

This is a good-looking episode for Dong Yang. We get some new backgrounds and the museum is a fun setting for a little skirmish between hero and villain. The fight scene at the mill is perhaps brief, but visually entertaining. Batman and Rhino for a moment take on a slightly rubbery, toon look at times. It’s not a look I’d want for every episode, but when it pops-in here and there it’s a bit fun as most of this show is rather rigid. Best of all though, they did a really nice job during the scene where Catwoman is essentially torturing The Ventriloquist as he watches Scarface near another untimely demise. The Ventriloquist has no pupils, so it’s a challenge to make him convey emotion, but it’s done well here and I almost pity the man as a result. Catwoman, on the other hand, looks positively evil in her enjoyment of the whole thing. It’s actually refreshing to see her embrace her dark side and helps to sell the overall narrative of the episode.

“Catwalk” is a good return to form. It has a few stumbles, but nothing serious. It feels like a stepping stone for Catwoman, though unfortunately I’m not sure it really pays off. Catwoman will make another appearance before this season ends, but from what I recall it doesn’t really refer back to this episode (it doesn’t even feature Batman). The bulk of her additional time will be spent in The New Adventures of Batman where basically everyone feels like they received a reboot. And by then, Catwoman will practically be a different character, but that’s not the fault of this episode. For what it’s worth, this episode is probably the best depiction of the iconic feline the show has.


Disney and Lego – What Happened?!

lego logoNearly three years ago The Lego Company released just its third ever line of mini figures based on a licensed property. Following two waves of figures based on The Simpsons, Lego turned to an old friend:  Disney. The Disney wave of mini figures contained 18 characters that covered some of Disney’s classic characters like Mickey and Donald, as well as film stars and even a few Pixar characters. A few months later, the wave was supplemented with the unveiling of the massive Cinderella’s Castle from Walt Disney World. The 4,000 piece set was pricey, but also quite impressive. It, along with the other figures, now adorn the mantle over my front door declaring that my home is indeed a Disney home.

I thought we were in for more Disney from Lego, but following that the Disney brand went away. Given that The Simpsons received two waves and two construction sets, I assumed Disney would get the same treatment. Instead, Lego pivoted to showcasing its movies with mini figure waves based on The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie along with waves of generic figures. Disney is an expensive brand, I assume, with characters that necessitate unique sculpts so I’m sure it’s pricier than a lot of other properties Lego could focus on, but I bet it’s also a big seller. Those Disney blind-bagged figures disappeared pretty fast from shelves wherever I saw them. The only place that seemed to maintain stock around me was a local comic shop that sold them for almost twice as much as The Lego Store or big box retailers. As for the castle, I have no idea how that did. It retailed for $350, but a lot of Disney enthusiasts are used to paying top dollar for anything Disney related. It’s still available at Lego’s webstore, so either it didn’t sell out or it’s still being produced. Aside from that, the only other readily available Disney products from Lego include Duplo, Lego Junior, and Lego Friends sets mostly based around Cars, Mickey, and the various Disney princesses.

lego cinderella

Pricey yes, but I would wager most who bought Lego’s take on Cinderella’s Castle from The Magic Kingdom were pretty happy with the end result.

Maybe Disney doesn’t perform as well for Lego as other properties. It would seem the company mostly caters to adolescent males with lots of Marvel and Star Wars sets. It’s possible that crowd looks down on Disney as being too kiddie or something. Whatever the reason, the lack of product feels like a mixed opportunity. Many characters were left out of that initial wave of mini figures and there are so many more landmarks and attractions from Disney parks that would look lovely in Lego form.

In terms of mini figures, the biggest omission from the first wave was Goofy. Goofy is one of Disney’s oldest characters along with Mickey and Minnie. Daisy Duck was likely included in that initial wave as a complement to Donald (and to reuse some of the duck parts), though Disney fans would certainly find Goofy more deserving of inclusion. The Mickey, Donald, and Goofy trio anchored many a cartoon short, and he would have been the most obvious inclusion in a wave two. In addition to Goofy, Pluto went missing as well. He’d look a little odd if done like a bipedal character, but Lego should have found a way to get him in even if it meant just doing a dog figure and single packing him. For The Simpsons, Lego made the pets accessories which also would have sufficed.

duplo goofy

If you want a Lego version of Goofy this is presently your best, and only, choice.

Goofy and Pluto are the only classic characters who went missing, but there were plenty of opportunities for complementary figures to what was released in the first series. Jafar would have made sense given the presence of Aladdin and Genie, and Woody and Jessie made sense given Buzz and the Alien were also included. Want more of The Incredibles? Elastigirl and the kids could have been featured and even Frozone. More classic movies could have also been explored. How about Pinocchio with Jiminy Cricket and Gepetto with Figaro and Cleo? The Beast would be a fun inclusion as would a pairing of Mowgli and Baloo. If they really wanted to go deep, while also reusing some sculpts, the Three Caballeros would certainly get my attention and another easy redo would be another Mickey but in his sorcerer’s attire or in black and white. Lastly, how about some Disney Afternoon figures? Scrooge McDuck, Launchpad, Darkwing Duck, the nephews – all would be welcomed and Lego really could have saved a few bucks if it released three separate figures for the nephews that are essentially just repaints of each other.

A second wave of mini figures would be easy to fill. If anything, there would likely still be characters missing, but things would feel more complete than they are now. As for new sets, oh there would be many contenders, but the most obvious is Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. It would have to be relatively in-scale with Cinderella’s Castle so it would be a smaller set, and thus probably cheaper. The same loving detail would need to go into it though making sure the front of the structure is essentially picture-perfect with rooms around the back stuffed with nods to classic films. Given what was present in Cinderella’s Castle, this one could naturally spotlight other films. Aurora’s room would make sense and maybe a workshop resembling Gepetto’s. A bedroom with little beds in a nod to the Dwarfs’ cottage would be cute, though seven beds would probably be impossible. The only challenge would be not doubling-up on some of the references in the prior set, but that’s a nice problem to have. Cinderella’s Castle came with five mini figures, one of which (Tinker Belle) was exclusive. For this set, repaints of Mickey, Donald, Minnie and Goofy could be included with the exclusive being a dragon to resemble Maleficent.

spaceship earth

Disney’s secret best park would make for an attractive Lego set.

The most obvious set after that would be Spaceship Earth from Epcot. A version of which appears on the Lego Ideas site, but it doesn’t go far enough as a display piece (though I’m still backing it regardless). The designer attempted to build the actual ride, and in order to do so, didn’t create an outside for the spaceship similar to Lego’s take on the Death Star. I think to do it right, half of the set should be covered and textured like the actual Spaceship Earth, with the other hemisphere being uncovered to show the ride. That side could even be relatively flat as it would likely be impossible to make the ride truly resemble the real one. As for an exclusive character to include? None other than Epcot’s original mascot Figment, of course.

Spaceship Earth would be ambitious and probably as expensive as Cinderella’s castle. There are plenty of smaller exhibits from Disney parks that are just as iconic and popular with fans. Space Mountain is certainly unique looking and has been a park fixture for decades now. Splash Mountain would also be unique and fun and the characters associated with the ride would make for obvious mini figure tie-ins. Less ambitious, but no less iconic, would be Dumbo The Flying Elephant. Such a set would be small and probably quite cheap compared with the larger sets, but because of that and its status, it would probably sell quite well. The Haunted Mansion would be another fun one and would present an opportunity to possibly create mini figures based on The Nightmare Before Christmas since those characters are associated with the ride and are a lot better than the ghosts from that awful Eddie Murphy movie based on the attraction.

The only issue with embarking on such a path for Lego would be the demand for more. If they started making multiple sets based on attractions from Disneyland or the Magic Kingdom then fans would probably want more to essentially create a Lego version of the treasured parks. Imagine a Lego Main Street USA with the train station or the fire house with Walt Disney’s apartment over it. Disney enthusiasts would probably devote large portions of their homes to their displays as they layout the main entrance to the park leading to one of the castles in the center. Toon Town, The Matterhorn, The Mad Tea Party – these would be all things fans would suddenly want and Lego would be free to try and meet the demand, or not. Demand is a great problem to have for a manufacturer.

lego toy story 4

Well, at least we have Toy Story 4 sets to look forward to.

Lego and Disney obviously have a relationship and it certainly seems like it’s still pretty strong. It’s possible that Disney is hard to deal with when it comes to their classic characters and attractions. Maybe Disney made a lot of demands of Lego in regards to its take on Cinderella’s Castle. Square-Enix, makers of the Kingdom Hearts games, can certainly attest to how tough it can be to get Disney to approve things as it relates to its characters, Mickey in particular. And there is more Disney to come from the company, just no hint at anything like what I just laid out. Toy Story 4 sets will be arriving this spring which will include reissues of the Buzz Lightyear mini figure from 2016. He’ll be joined by Woody and others so fans who have the old mini figures will be able to at least add to them. And last year there were sets based on The Incredibles 2 so it was possible to add to them as well. Sadly, any sets based on Frozen 2 will likely be in the Lego Friends style, which is fine if that’s what you or your kids like, but they don’t pair all that well with traditional sets and mini figures. I suppose it’s always possible something like Sleeping Beauty Castle could be announced and maybe if there’s a break in Lego movie releases the opportunity for another Disney wave could present itself, but that seems unlikely at this point. For now, fans will have to try to supplement what they have with smaller releases related to new films while hoping something comes through the Lego Ideas contest and dream about what could have been.

UPDATE:  Of course, not long after this post went live Lego announced a new set that, while not from based on a Disney park, is in my wheelhouse:  Steamboat Willie. I considered taking this post in the direction of classic Disney shorts, but wanted to keep it focused on just Disney parks. A Steamboat Willie set is definitely something I’m interested in and I would love more sets based on classic shorts like “Mickey’s Trailer” or “Lonesome Ghosts.” I am guessing more won’t follow as Steamboat Willie is a tie-in with Mickey’s 90th birthday from last fall and that particular short is obviously quite famous and appropriate as a celebratory item. Where as the general public probably doesn’t care about a Mickey set featuring a camper.

UPDATE #2!:  Hot on the heels of the Steamboat Willie announcement comes the surprising announcement of Wave 2 for Disney minifigures! It contains some obvious inclusions like bagged releases of the black and white Minnie and Mickey that will be included with the steamboat. There’s also a Jafar as well as Uncle Scrooge and the nephews. They’re even doing princesses this time as Jasmine, Elsa, and Anna will see release too. Thankfully, they’re skipping out on Toy Story characters since they’ll be coming with the sets for Toy Story 4 this spring. Unfortunately, there is one rather large omission:  WHERE’S GOOFY?!


The Michael Jackson Post

leaving neverland

HBO’s new documentary has the world re-examining Michael Jackson nearly 10 years after his death.

I’ve been sitting on a Michael Jackson post for years. And lately, this blog has become a Batman blog. That’s partly because I suffered a recent injury to my right hand that necessitated surgery and it being immobilized. As you can probably guess, typing blog entries one-handed is a time-consuming and tedious process so it’s taken all of my time just to keep up with the weekly Batman entry. I also haven’t had much to say about other nostalgic topics, but now feels like a good time to finally make this entry.

Something I’ll never be able to explain to my kids is just how popular Michael Jackson was in the 1980s and into the early 90s. There’s been no comparison since and I don’t know if our current media landscape will even allow such a thing to happen again. When I was a kid, MTV sometimes felt like the Michael Jackson channel. Sometimes it literally way when the network would devote a weekend to just coverage of Jackson and playing his videos as well as videos by Janet Jackson and other Jackson-related artists. And it was all entertaining. His videos were usually great, the songs were catchy, and even people who claimed to not like him could often be seen tapping their feet or bobbing their head to his music.

And it wasn’t just MTV. Jackson was in commercials or featured in the news, often tabloids, and had a pretty big presence in the world at large. I remember seeing videos of people at concerts or that were just in his presence and sobbing. I couldn’t wrap my head around it and my mom would explain it as some people just get so excited they cry. Some would pass out, most would just scream, but it was so surreal to my adolescent brain.

weekend at michaels

I wanted to win one of these so bad as a kid, little did I know…

Things changed when Jackson purchased Neverland Ranch. Or at least, they seemed to. MTV would broadcast from there at times and you could see the carnival rides in the background and footage of Jackson walking around with a troupe of children getting cotton candy, going on rides, and heading to an on-premises movie theater. As a kid, I was so intensely jealous of the children I was seeing on television that got to hang out with Michael Jackson. I wanted to be one of those kids, but as an east coast dweller I had not a shot of ever going there so I could only watch and dream.

Michael Jackson came across like a big kid. He just wanted to hang out with other children because he apparently identified with them. He was the living embodiment of the famous Toys R Us jingle. To a fellow child, that was 100% understandable. To adults, it probably should have at least put them on guard. When the first allegations against Jackson surfaced in 1993, I watched the live broadcast of him describing in humiliating detail the ordeal he had to go through. He denied any wrong-doing, and his demeanor felt authentic to me. He came across like a kid accused of something he didn’t do. It’s something that happens to probably everybody at some point and it is an awful feeling. It’s when you learn as a child that sometimes the world isn’t a just place. Had I been an adult I don’t know if I would have felt different.

jackson super bowl

Jackson’s performance at Super Bowl XXVII was his last big showing before the allegations started to surface.

The backlash was surprisingly minimal. Jackson was so convincing that it seemed like most believed him. He was controlling the message though, and it was his face that was the sole public face related to the allegations. It was quite a brilliant strategy considering the victim was a child and would likely never make a public statement. The public was successfully swayed as the most common reaction seemed to be one of cynicism:  the accuser is trying to extort a famous artist. How could the man who organized “We Are the World” be a child predator? It seemed insane at the time, but hindsight probably doesn’t accurately portray that.

Those allegations were swept away. Jackson settled with the accusers, and once that happened they stopped cooperating with the investigation and no indictment took place. Jackson would then try and rehabilitate his image by marrying Lisa Marie Presley in 1994. To her credit, Presley has always maintained the relationship was real and pretty conventional, even claiming it was on and off for years after they divorced. From a modern lens it feels like a stunt including the famous kiss at the MTV Video Music Awards and the music video for “You Are Not Alone” (written by R. Kelly, another popular name for all the wrong reasons these days) which featured the couple nude.

Jackson’s star power diminished in the mid-90s. The music industry moved on without him and the wave of new pop artists made it hard for him to stand-out. His appearance had also changed so drastically by this point that he was nearly unrecognizable as the man who made “Thriller.” He had made millions upon millions, and it almost seemed like he just didn’t want to be a celebrity anymore, so he settled into a more private life in which he surrounded himself with children while also becoming a father for the first time.

By that point, I had grown out of any Michael Jackson obsession I had. My opinion of him had not really changed much, it was just over for me. And it had been for awhile. I would say my Jackson fandom spanned from 88-93 for the most part. I was there when “Scream” premiered on network television in 1995, but by then it was mostly out of curiosity. Somehow while just sitting in my dorm room on a rather boring night, I happened onto the television special Living with Michael Jackson. I watched as Jackson asked interviewer Martin Bashir what could be more beautiful than sharing your bed with someone you love? The answer was a response to if Jackson let children sleep with him. It was uncomfortable, even for someone who felt he had been wrongfully accused as I had, and yet I still wasn’t convinced.

neverland ranch

Neverland Ranch has taken on a sinister profile since Jackson’s death which is probably part of the reason why it’s still on the market.

More allegations followed almost immediately afterward. Jackson was arrested and this time charged with seven counts of child molestation. The really sick part was the accused was a cancer survivor and it was his disease that basically put him in contact with Jackson. The backlash this time since it went to trial was especially brutal, and not towards Jackson. The general public seemed convinced this was another money-grab. It wasn’t as one-sided as the 93 allegations, but it was a reminder that even absent the spotlight, Jackson was still a tremendous star. And he beat the charges. The acquittal came in June of 2005 after a lengthy process. Some blamed the testimony of the victim’s mother as the deciding factor, but had she been a perfect witness I’m still not convinced things would have turned out differently.

Following that trial Jackson basically went away, fleeing to Bahrain. For me, I was more open to the idea that something wasn’t right with what happened, but I found it easier to believe we were dealing with an extreme case of arrested development. Michael Jackson seemed like a 10-year-old at heart. He wanted to have fun and hang out with like-minded individuals. To him, another 10-year-old was more like a peer than a fellow 40-year-old. It would be easy to take advantage of that and exploit it for riches, or so I wanted to believe. In that, the portrayal of him on the television show South Park felt pretty much dead-on. Jackson was a kid at heart and therefore an irresponsible adult and maybe even a bad father.

The rest of the story is that Michael Jackson’s expensive lifestyle caught up with him. He hadn’t made a new album in years and no longer toured. He was broke, so in order to satisfy various creditors he announced a comeback tour titled This Is It. It would be both a comeback and a farewell, and during the lead-up to it he would pass away. Jackson was still a big enough star in 2009 that when I was walking through Boston Common with a friend I got a text message from my best friend that Jackson was dead. I stopped walking to read it. To my knowledge, my best friend and I had never had a meaningful conversation about Michael Jackson, but like me he lived through his height. We all loved him as kids, and his death felt like a big deal. I went home and watched coverage of his death all night. I picked up magazines and newspapers that featured it and watched a bunch of music videos I hadn’t seen in years. I even purchased some music. It was surreal. I watched his memorial service on television, and when his daughter Paris bid him goodbye it affected me.

jackson time

Of course I bought this.

Ever since Michael Jackson died I wondered if more allegations would surface. I even wondered if some of the accusers would recant. It was mostly quiet, but his estate was sued in 2013 over more allegations, but it didn’t receive a ton of press. The accusers, Wade Robson and James Safechuck, had previously helped Jackson beat those 2003 charges and earn an acquittal back in 2005. For them to claim otherwise seemed odd, but in actuality it’s really not odd for abuse victims to remain loyal. Especially when that abuse occurs to a child.

You may have heard about a documentary called Leaving Neverland by now. It just aired this past weekend on HBO and was the target of Jackson’s estate which is suing HBO for airing it. It tells the story of Robson and Safechuck, whose suit is still under appeal, and the abuse they suffered at the hands of Michael Jackson. In a post MeToo world, these victims seem to finally be getting a fair shake. As a society, we’ve been encouraged over the past few years to believe victims. Some are liars, but the vast majority are not. They deserve to be heard. Robson and Safechuck were not compensated for Leaving Neverland nor were they for the follow-up media. Sure, they may eventually profit if their suit prevails or they strike a book deal, but for now these are two people trying to make peace with what happened nearly 30 years ago. Leaving Neverland is a painful, uncomforable, watch, whether you’re prepared to believe them or not. Fellow abuse survivors should probably not watch it, because it’s raw, and there’s a lot of hurt to go around that may be triggering.

In the wake of the documentary some radio stations have decided to stop playing Michael Jackson’s music. As of right now, the various streaming services out there seem to be holding serve, but it would not be a surprise to see things change very quickly. The biggest move so far has been by The Simpsons. Creators Matt Groening and James L. Brooks along with current showrunner Al Jean issued a statement saying the season 3 premiere “Stark Raving Dad,” which features guest work by Jackson, will no longer be shown. It will be removed from the FXX channel rotation and the streaming service Simpsons World. They even took the extra step of saying it won’t be on any future physical media release. As of right now, I don’t think there are any plans to re-issue the season 3 DVD, but it will be interesting if the series ever gets some massive collected works release down the road when it wraps up (which may never happen anyways).

leaving neverland cast

Together with director Dan Reed, Wade Robson and James Safechuck are shedding light on the uncomfortable truth about Michael Jackson.

As for me, I can no longer ignore or dismiss what Michael Jackson has been accused of. Too many allegations have surfaced. Even after his death, more details about the 93 case were unveiled that are pretty damning. I now believe this man’s sickness went beyond just thinking he was a child, far beyond. He may have been a brilliant artist, but he was also a terrible monster and that can’t be ignored or forgiven. Because he was such a huge star, he still has plenty of defenders, but I’m not one of them. I couldn’t put it any better than Wesley Morris did for The New York Times who wrote a painfully honest reaction to Leaving Neverland and what it means for the fan in him. I don’t know what this means for my relationship with his music. A part of me think it’s timeless and nothing can take away from its magic completely, but I do know that right now it’s not something I’m interested in exploring. I’ll figure that out some day. For now, I’m content to live a Jackson-free life.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Time Out of Joint”

Time_Out_of_Joint_Title_CardEpisode Number:  73

Original Air Date:  October 8, 1994

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Alan Burnett, Steve Perry

First Appearance(s):  None

No one’s favorite villain, The Clock King (Alan Rachins) is back once again to resume his quest for vengeance against Mayor Hamilton Hill (Lloyd Bochner) who had the audacity to make him late long ago. The Clock King, real name Temple Fugate, hasn’t been heard from in quite some time. He was thought dead after his first appearance, but Batman had a premonition he’d return like so many others. When last we saw him, Fugate was little more than a man of extreme punctuality which was his only defense against Batman. It was quite the mismatch though Batman has a way of scaling down to his adversaries to make things seem more equitable. This time, Fugate has wisely shown up armed with a new device that can manipulate time. It’s pretty fantastic and makes for some fun visual flair though it does open up some plot holes here and there. The creative staff, perhaps wisely, chose to ignore the questions such a device raises and just try to have fun with it. In other words, shut your brain off for this one.

The episode opens with Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson attending a charity auction. Dick is acting like a child and is bored out of his skull while Bruce reminds him they’re doing this for a good cause. An antique clock goes up for sale and that attracts the attention of The Clock King. He comes strolling in but soon starts blinking in and out and moving at an impossible speed. He befuddles anyone he comes across and startles one woman (Tress MacNeille) while inquiring with her if the Louis XVI clock went on the block yet. When she tells him it did, he blinks out of sight.

happy clock king

Back in black.

In the galley, Bruce places a sizable bid on the clock while Dick remarks he wouldn’t even use it for a doorstop (he really has become spoiled). Dick then catches a glimpse of The Clock King as he vanishes and reappears all over the room. He alerts Bruce (apparently Dick read up on him in the Batcave because he’s never tangled with The Clock King) and as the auction ends the clock disappears. In an alley outside, The Clock King looks over his new prize. Remarking he has one already, he tosses it on top of a pile of trash which at least should reduce his crime from theft to something more along the lines of criminal mischief.

At Commissioner Gordon’s office, Batman and Robin replay security footage of the clock theft. They’re able to make out a hand reaching for the clock as it vanishes when slowing the tape down. Given what Dick saw just before the theft, Batman believes it’s the work of Fugate and advises Gordon to warn Fugate’s old nemesis, the mayor.

wakati and harold

Dr. Wakati and “Harold”

At a rather lavish looking mansion, an old scientist by the name of Wakati (Roscoe Lee Browne) is working on an experiment. He’s created a small, infinity shaped, device that can slow or advance time. His butler Harold strolls in with his breakfast, right on time, and we see it’s Fugate. Wakati apparently doesn’t know him by his real name and likely is ignorant of Fugate’s criminal past. Fugate marvels at the device while Wakati tells him about all of the wonderful things it could accomplish for mankind like speeding up the deterioration of radioactive material or placing terminal patients into a stasis until a cure is found for what ails them. Fugate rather aggressively snatches a device to take a closer look, but Wakati does not object to the intrusion as he turns to his breakfast. Fugate pockets the device, and leaves while making bad time puns.

Mayor Hill is shown on the phone at his residence. Whomever he’s speaking with is being told how little Hill fears Fugate thanks to his beefed up security. Batman and Robin are lurking on the roof keeping an eye out expecting Fugate’s arrival at any moment. And lo and behold he does show up, but with the time device he “freezes” everything around him and simply strolls in. We’re shown that time isn’t actually frozen when he passes by a small fan which is spinning ever so slowly. Realizing he can’t use the elevator, he’s forced to take the stairs and makes a remark as he passes by a woman who’s about to take a rather bad fall. When he arrives at Hill’s office he knocks several times, and to Robin this sounds like machine-gun fire over his ear piece.

fugate vs the cops

With the ability to freeze time the Gotham police force is somehow even less effective than before.

Fugate strolls into Hill’s office, who is quite surprised to see he slipped past security. Fugate begins taunting him, and when Hill reaches for some alarm device Fugate uses his time-slip powers to snatch it away. Hill races for the window, but Fugate intercepts him. As he bares down on Hill, Batman and Robin swing through the open window after activating a light trap which momentarily blinds Fugate. Batman tries casually walking up behind Fugate, but gets swatted away by Fugate’s clock hand cane. He uses a Tazmanian Devil-like spin move to avoid Robin, and then again when Batman lassos him. He uses the time device to tie up Batman before stumbling down the stairs. The woman he passed by earlier has now fallen, and Fugate doesn’t see her and trips over her knocking him out of his stasis field and partially breaking the device. Confronted by the woman, Fugate is forced to run as she wails on him for essentially being a jerk. The security guard offers no resistance, apparently not realizing what just happened in his boss’s office.

Outside, Fugate is surrounded by the police as his vision returns. He’s able to get the time device functioning once again and gives them the slip by swiping a police car, but not before he audibly notes the presence of the Batmobile. Upstairs, Robin frees Batman, but Fugate is long gone. Gordon assures the mayor that they’ll find him since all of their cruisers are equipped with a tracking device. Back at the mansion of Wakati, the old scientists is alarmed when he can’t find his trusty Harold, but Fugate soon returns. He’s angered to see Wakati snooping around his room, and Wakati is further startled to see his time device affixed to Fugate’s person. Fugate leans in threateningly as the scene fades out.

frozen batmobile

Robin doesn’t respond well to the possibility of being a part of an atomic explosion.

The police have found the car Fugate used to escape in a canal. Batman and Robin are there as well and Batman takes note of the nearby train tracks. He recalls Fugate’s knowledge of train schedules from their last encounter and discerns that he likely utilized a passing train to escape. The only train to come by in the last six hours would have been heading towards the mountains, and Batman knows the only thing out there is Wakati’s mansion. As the two head out, the camera pans to show us that Fugate planted a time device underneath the Batmobile. As Batman is driving, the device switches on putting the Batmobile into a stasis field. From inside, cars are flying past as streaks of light as the outside world moves in what appears like incredible time to Batman and Robin. Batman also notes that if a car should strike them it could trigger an atomic explosion. He’s soon able to locate the device, and by firing his grapple gun through the floor, it smashes and the field is ended. The Batmobile rockets out of stasis, but there’s literally no other cars in sight. Batman is able to fishtail the car into a light post to bring it to a stop.

Batman and Robin arrive at Wakati’s residence via motorcycle and find the doctor trapped in a stasis field. They deactivate it and have a little conversation about Wakati’s servant. Fugate’s little trap with the Batmobile resuled in Batman and Robin being tied up for 48 hours real-time, and Hill is set to dedicate a new courthouse momentarily. They figure out, based on another bad pun Fugate left with Wakati, that he plans to strike at Hill during the ceremony, but it starts in two minutes and Wakati has no phone to alert the police (though given what has already transpired, they should be expecting this anyway). Their only chance is to use Wakati’s device to reach the ceremony in time.

runaway bomb

A bit different from the more famous Batman bomb scene.

For Fugate, he’s had two Batman-free days to plan for this, so how did he spend those two days? He made a bomb, and apparently not much else. With time frozen around him, he’s able to walk to the podium Hill will be giving a speech from and plant the bomb on the underside of it. He then heads into the crowd to watch apparently secure in thinking that no one will notice his understated super villain attire. Meanwhile, Batman and Robin are streaking towards the city on their bikes, and Robin just has to make a crack about being faster than a speeding bullet. Thankfully for them, Fugate wants to savor the moment of Hill’s demise and is watching the events unfold in slow-motion. Hill lifts a rather large gavel to strike the podium in a ceremonial fashion, which apparently will trigger the bomb (even though it looks like a time bomb). Batman and Robin arrive just as Hill strikes it forcing Batman to attach another time device to the bomb itself and run for the bay. As Batman appears to run at a tremendous speed, the bomb is detonating at an impossibly slow rate. It looks like an expanding ball of light and Batman is able to heave it into the river.

From the podium, Hill and the crowd are startled by the explosion off in the distance as The Clock King attempts to escape. Given that Robin is there with his own time manipulating device, Fugate has no edge and is apprehended easily. Batman and Robin are then shown back at Wakati’s residence where the scientist has decided to keep his invention a secret concluding that mankind isn’t ready for it. Batman is a bit dismayed at the thought, while Robin just makes a joke about Fugate likely wishing he could speed up time where he’s going. We’re then shown Fugate being stuffed into a paddy-wagon. As it takes off, the camera pans to a clock tower which reads three o’clock, the same hand position that appears on Fugate’s Clock King glasses.

clock king undone

So long, Fugate.

“Time Out of Joint” returns a lame villain, but it at least reduces the villain’s lameness with a new toy. As I noted in the intro, you do need to shut your brain off a bit for this one. For one, how far does Fugate’s device reach? It creates a bubble, one can see from its smaller applications, but it must have an end? And the whole thing with the Batmobile, while neat, begs further questions. To the outside world, the Batmobile would have appeared frozen. And since they sat there for two days, one would think a crowd or something would have formed around it. Fugate also could have made sure, in those two days, that his trap indeed proved fatal, but apparently he opted not to. And since he failed at basically everything, The Clock King sure comes up looking rather foolish for not making better use of his technological advantage. He even stole that clock at the beginning of the episode for no reason, which ended up tipping off Batman that he was back in town. Really, he might be the dumbest villain thus far.

All that said, I do like this episode better than the prior one featuring The Clock King. It plays with a new toy, and I suppose no one is better suited for it, thematically anyway, than The Clock King. Though I do wonder what Joker would be like with this device, or maybe Riddler. No matter, this episode is fine and it’s also thankfully the last we’ll see of the old Clock King which feels like a cause for celebration.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Harlequinade”

Harlequinade_Title_CardEpisode Number:  72

Original Air Date:  May 23, 1994

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  Boxy Bennett

“Harley & Ivy” introduced some unhappiness to crime’s most celebrated couple. The Joker, angered with Harley, tosses her out forcing her to make it on her own where she finds a kindred spirit in Poison Ivy. That was back in episode 56, and Harley and Joker have made just one appearance each since and that was the ensemble episode “Trial” which seemed to reset their relationship while still drawing on their dysfunction for comedy. “Harlequinade” feels like the true follow-up to “Harley & Ivy” as a result. This is an episode that’s going to further establish that Harley and Joker do not share a relationship that anyone should aspire to emulate. It’s an abusive, toxic, relationship that will likely eventually end with one, or both, dead. And therein lies the strange dichotomy of this relationship as it’s largely presented for laughs, but writer Paul Dini isn’t afraid to peel back some of that surface-level humor to show what’s underneath.

In order for this episode to work, it’s going to ask of us to suspend our notion of disbelief. It begins with a mob auction, and what’s on the docket? An atomic bomb! The episode makes no mention of how the Gotham underbelly acquired such a destructive weapon, which really might be more interesting than the episode itself. Obviously, if a crime boss ever got ahold of something such as an atom bomb more than just the Gotham PD would be on-hand.

btas abomb

On the block today, one A-Bomb!

Those attending this auction aren’t particularly of interest. On one hand, it’s admirable that Dong Yang Animation didn’t re-use a bunch of season one characters, but it might have also made sense to see a Rupert Thorne in attendance. The bidding opens at a million, and it escalates from there, until someone interjects with a “zero!” That someone is The Joker (Mark Hamill), and when he walks on stage in his usual attire plus a fashionable top-hat (The Mad Hatter would be furious) all of the guns in the place soon find him. Before anyone can open fire, Joker removes his hat to reveal a lit bomb. Not a realistic one, mind you, but a cartoonish, spherical, black bomb. Everyone hightails it out of there, but Joker grabs the auctioneer (played by Neil Ross) and sticks him with the bomb. Predictably, it’s a gag-bomb, but it also houses a sinister purpose as Joker Gas soon pours out of it. The auction dealer bursts into hysterical laughter while his eyes look like they’re about to pop from their sockets. And now Joker is in possession of an atomic bomb. The setup may be silly, but I can’t lie, it’s an interesting situation.

sinister gag bomb

Did real bombs ever resemble this?

Commissioner Gordon is shown on the phone with Mayor Hill (Lloyd Bochner) who is stressing this needs to be hidden from the public. Why a mayor gets to make that call is not explained, but Gotham feels like it’s its own island. A quick cut to Hill on the phone reveals that the hand holding the receiver to his ear possesses a violet jacket and white glove, so someone is obviously being coerced into making this statement to Gordon. Batman is there to eavesdrop and makes the pronouncement that in order to catch The Joker they need to be able to think like him, and there’s only one person capable of doing that.

batmans proposal

Batman’s got a proposition for old Pig Tails.

Which brings us to Harley (Arleen Sorkin), who seems perfectly content by herself in her room at Arkham when Batman busts in on her. She’s not particularly thrilled by his presence, but Batman brings her up to speed and offers her a way out:  help him find The Joker and she can walk out of Arkham a free woman. Harley accepts and there’s some good visual humor as she enthusiastically waves Batman’s arm around while proclaiming herself his greatest female adversary. Batman, for his part, is able to convey a feeling a dread as he now has to put up with her for what could be a long night.

harley bat teamup

She may be a psycopath, but she sure is adorable.

They jump into the Batmobile, and after Harley nearly causes a crash (and Batman gets really angry with her, bravo Kevin Conroy on this piece of voice-acting), he tells her they should first head to Joker’s last known hideout. It’s some kind of dilapidated fun house, but it was obviously in use recently. Harley disappears a moment to “slip into something more comfortable” while Batman takes note of Joker’s vast surveillance network that includes City Hall, Gordon’s office, and Hill’s office. He also gets reacquainted with Harley’s babies, two massive hyenas that pounce on him and rip his costume a bit. Harley emerges form the back, now in her harlequin costume, and calls off her dogs who are delighted to see their mommy. This leads to an interesting conversation between Harley and Batman who questions why she’s so infatuated with Joker. She reveals another layer to her origin by explaining that she got sick of listening to other’s problems while she was a psychiatrist at Arkham and that Joker was the first one to listen to her’s. And he made it all seem fun. When Batman asks about the people Joker hurts, she crosses her arms and stubbornly responds with, “It’s just a joke.” Batman then offers up what can only be foreshadowing when he says she’ll think differently when it’s she who is on the receiving end.

harley and her babies

Harley reunited with her precious babies:  Bud and Lou.

Batman and Harley then head off to another old hideout and Batman radios ahead to Robin (Loren Lester) to meet them there. As Batman fires off a grappling hook to enter, Harley tries to impress him with one of her own, but only succeeds in hurting herself. They enter, and much to their surprise, find a thriving night club full of mobsters. They turn and notice Batman’s presence and start pulling out their guns. As Batman surveys the room, he’s struck from behind and knocked out cold by, who else, Harley Quinn.

harleys performance

Silly and seductive.

She ties him up and tosses him on a roulette table announcing her presence with extreme authority. The host of this party is Boxy Bennett (Dick Miller), who has taken over this location from The Joker. Harley and Bennett apparently know each other as they reminisce and Harley soon jumps onto the stage and launches into a rendition of “Say that We’re Sweethearts Again.” It’s a humorous little number full of slapstick humor. It soon becomes obvious this performance is a distraction, and one that apparently is working as the men all hoot and holler and Bennett himself displays a disturbingly aggressive expression upon his face. As Harley sings, Robin sneaks in through a window and is able to cut the ropes on Batman’s wrists. After that, it’s a just matter of beating up the bad guys. As the dynamic duo take them all on, Harley encourages them in a rather cute manner referring to them as “B and R.” She also gets in on the action herself, swinging from a chandelier that she drops onto Bennett.

the dynamic trio

Maybe they should just replace Batgirl with Harley.

As the trio escape into an alley, Harley cheerfully encourages Batgirl to eat her heart out while Robin asks Batman just what was she before she went nuts. They arrive at the Batmobile, and Robin came via motorcycle, and he gives Batman an update. No one has been able to locate the Joker, but Hill still refuses to evacuate Gotham. At that point Harley starts laughing. When Batman inquires why she responds with how better to tie-up the police than to tie-up the mayor himself?

We then cut to a bound Mayor Hill. He’s at his home and Joker soon struts into the picture wearing an old-fashioned striped swimsuit complete with sunglasses and his duck floaty from “The Laughing Fish.” The atomic bomb is the backdrop to Joker gleefully jumping into Hill’s swimming pool as ominous music thunders in the background and Joker laughs menacingly.

Outside Hill’s residence, Harley is happily congratulating herself for figuring out the scheme until Batman cuffs her once more and seals her in the Batmobile. She easily gets out of the cuffs and starts playing with some of the many buttons as Batman and Robin sneak in.

harley n joker reunited

Joker surprised, but hardly disappointed.

Done with his swim, Joker is happy to taunt Hill as he prepares to make his escape. Viewing Gotham’s annihilation as the ultimate punchline, he radios for his boys to bring in the plane and shoves a bound Hill into the pool. Batman bursts in and wacks Joker with a batarang before attending to Hill. Joker then attacks with his only weapon, a patio umbrella (first Mad Hatter, now Penguin!), which proves rather ineffective. It seems like the fight will end rather quickly, until Batman gets shot with a strange weapon. What basically look like steel “U” shaped stakes hit him in each wrist before going into a nearby tree, pinning him against it. The camera pans to Harley, who is armed with some kind of rifle she found in the Batmobile. She fires it again at Robin, who was busy untying Hill, and a bolo comes out and ensnares him before she jumps into Joker’s arms.

harleys worried

What about the babies, Mr. J? WHAT ABOUT THE BABIES?!

Joker is about as surprised as he’s ever been to see Harley. It takes him a few moments to compose himself before eventually congratulating her and asking her how she got there. When Batman cries out to remind her they had a deal, she lets him know the deal’s off and that no one could turn her against her beloved Mr. J. An old-school looking Joker Plane then arrives and Joker activates a ten-minute countdown on the bomb. As the two head for the plane, Robin calls out to Harley that it’s a good thing they came because that countdown didn’t leave Joker enough time to swing by Arkham to get her before blowing the whole city up. Joker tries telling him to shut up, but this gets Harley’s mind racing. She starts bemoaning all of their friends who will soon be killed and she lists them off in amusing fashion:  Ivy, Two-Face, Hat Guy, Lizard Man, and Puppet-head. It’s Batman’s reminder that her precious pets will also be killed that puts her over the edge. Joker tries shoving her onto the plane, but she kicks him in the face and races over to Batman declaring for the first time that maybe Mr. J isn’t the right guy for her after all.

jokers attire

Getting a real Snoopy vibe, here.

Undaunted, Joker climbs aboard the plane and emerges in the gunner position complete with flying attire. Batman is able to escape from his bounds just before some Joker bombs strike. Joker is discouraged to see his attack failed and he orders his men to circle back. They, understandably, protest given the presence of the atomic bomb about to explode and Joker responds by swinging the gun turret in their direction. Batman and Robin are able to cancel the bomb’s countdown, but Joker soon swoops in with machine guns blasting. He declares the bomb is going off no matter what, but they fly too close to the ground allowing for Harley to make a move. With one final bad ass line, “Laugh this one off, puddin!” she fires her jester-head device and lands a direct hit on Joker’s noggin. He lurches back, obviously concussed, with his hands still squeezing the triggers causing the turret to spin around wildly.

harley rattattat

Of course.

The plane crashes into Hill’s house, but Joker demonstrates once again his hidden super power of avoiding death as he merely stumbles out the backdoor, unharmed. He collapses on the ground as his chute deploys. He eventually looks up to find Harley standing over him with a gun aimed right at him. He stands up to confront her and declares she doesn’t have the guts while Batman calls to her to stop. She’s determined though, and yanks the trigger only for a “Rat Tat Tat” series of flags to emerge. Joker appears shocked, while Harley seems just as surprised and even a little disappointed. He soon smiles and declares “Baby, you’re the greatest!” She too smiles and jumps into his arms once again as the camera pans up to close out the episode with an iris shot in the shape of a heart. Before it fades to black, Joker’s two henchmen can be seen crawling from the wreckage of the plane as well, in case you were concerned.

baby youre the greatest

I guess they’re made for each other, for better or worse. Mostly just worse.

“Harlequinade” both explores the dysfunction of Joker and Harley’s relationship while also serving as a bit of a reset. We find out what it was that lead Harley into Joker’s life and get a little peek into both of their minds. For Harley, Joker is an obsession, a controlling force in her life not unlike addiction. Even when she proves to herself that she’s ready to move on, she still comes crawling (or jumping) back. For Joker, she’s merely another plaything. When she’s there to help with a punchline she’s useful, but when the joke doesn’t call for her he’s fine to move on. And moving on for Joker essentially means he no longer places any sort of value on her life. For Batman and Robin, the events of this episode probably help them to understand Harley a bit more and I presume even pity her. She demonstrated an ability to be heroic, but also further punctuated that her Joker obsession is far from over. It just further stresses that this relationship won’t have a happy ending.

Arleen Sorkin is delightful as Harley, as usual, but this time gets to show off some singing skills as well. It’s a fun sequence and it’s interesting to see the usually goofy Harley Quinn take advantage of her obvious sex appeal (that costume leaves little to the imagination). The whole sequence came about when Paul Dini heard Sorkin singing this same song and thought it would be perfect for Harley and Joker. This is also one of the better episodes from Dong Yang in terms of visuals. Batman looks especially intimidating, and it obviously helps when Kevin Conroy is playing up his angry side when he’s yelling at Harley. The only shortcoming is a goof with the piano player who appears to lack legs. The commentary also points out an issue with Robin’s green attire. They didn’t have access to a good dark green, so a lighter shade of blue is used for the shadows and I think it’s made more obvious by the HD transfers. It’s amusing that given the show’s budget, which was quite large for a cartoon, they couldn’t afford a dark green. It also seems obvious that the network wanted the characters to shy away from the atomic bomb and it’s really only inferred rather than stated explicitly.

Harley is truly the star though here. It’s not surprising to find out via the commentary that Paul Dini had developed a Harley and Ivy spin-off, but it obviously never made it into production. She plays well off of serious characters, and Batman is perhaps the most serious of them all (despite the fact the he wears a Halloween costume all of the time). She has a tremendous amount of character in all facets:  her mannerisms, the script, the acting performance. It’s actually a shame that spin-off never came about. The episode could be uncomfortable for some though, as when viewed through the lens of Harley as Joker’s victim, the story is less comical and more sad. That angle really isn’t played up and the ending feels like it’s intended to be almost cute while also being funny. Maybe it’s asking too much for what is a kid’s show to really wade into such dark waters, but I’m comforted by the fact that we have more episodes to come and more time to see if Harley can break away from the psychotic Joker.