Batman: The Animated Series – “The Laughing Fish”

The_Laughing_Fish-Title_CardEpisode Number:  34

Original Air Date:  January 10, 1993

Directed by:  Bruce Timm

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  None

“The Laughing Fish” is our second episode of Batman:  The Animated Series to be directed by Bruce Timm and written by Paul Dini* (asterisk on the written by credit which I’ll get to). You may remember the first as being pretty damn good: “Heart of Ice.” Interestingly, both that episode and this one are the only two so far to not feature a true title card as each opts for a focused shot on a subject that’s simply part of the first scene (in this case, a swinging sign on a pier for a company that could share a name with the episode title). This episode, unlike “Heart of Ice,” is not an original story by Timm and Dini and instead is an amalgamation of three different stories from the comics. Those stories being “The Joker’s Five-Way Revenge (1973)” by Denny O’Neil and “The Laughing Fish” and “Sign of the Joker! (1978)” both by Steve Englehart. If you hadn’t guessed from the title of the episode, then surely you know by now based on those titles from the comics that we’re dealing with The Joker this week as he seeks to utilize his Joker toxin in a fairly unique manner in order to win money and score laughs.

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I don’t care what Batman says, there’s no way I’m eating one of those.

This episode is quite stylized from the get-go and will remain so. It features some brief narration by our hero, Batman, which I believe is a first for the series. The fish being harvested in the waters of Gotham are all sporting a tell-tale Joker grin. Batman suspects the worst, but when he dissects a fish he finds there’s no danger to humans when consumed, which just makes him more curious. This is a good thing because the ghastly visage of these fish apparently isn’t stopping the local fisherman from harvesting and selling the things as we soon see Joker himself pay a visit to a local paper-pusher at a patent office about licensing rights. That poor sap, G. Carl Francis (George Dzundza), finds himself in the crosshairs of The Joker when he can’t help him file a trademark on the fish. It would seem The Joker thought he’d be able to earn money on every fish sold since they bare his likeness, but he’s frustrated to find out that isn’t the case. His lovely associate, Harley (Arleen Sorkin), sprays poor Francis with some icky perfume while remarking that she has a strong dislike of fish which the perfume should eliminate. Joker informs Francis he has until midnight to reconsider his patent claim. Joker then goes to his old standby – television, to essentially broadcast his threat against Francis so his old chum Batman can be aware of his plans.

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Poor Harley is going to have a rough time with all of the fish in this one.

When Joker leaves the office angry, Francis does the right thing and enlists the aid of the Gotham Police Department for protection. They setup a watch for Joker that Batman soon crashes, much to the ire of Detective Bullock. They all patiently wait around for The Joker to make his presence felt, but noting comes. When Francis starts rubbing at his hands and makes the offhand remark that he never got to wash off the stuff Harley sprayed him with, Batman basically freaks out and starts demanding medical attention for Francis. He’s too late though as a speeding truck launches a swordfish through the window that stabs into the wall. It releases a gas and Francis begins to laugh uncontrollably, his face turns an ashen color and his mouth stretches into a hideous smile. Batman injects him with his anti-Joker compound and Francis begins to settle down. Batman deduces that whatever Harley sprayed on him mixed with the toxin in the swordfish to infect him. Joker soon appears on television to taunt Batman and also name his next victim:  copyright office bureaucrat Thomas Jackson.

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These transformation scenes felt genuinely disturbing to me as a kid, which is perhaps why this episode actually debuted in prime time as opposed to during normal children’s hours.

Having failed to stop Joker once, the police and Batman give it another shot with Jackson. They set up a security ring around him as well with Gordon and Bullock arguing over their approach. Apparently they’re doing this one Batman’s way and Bullock is less than thrilled. When Jackson’s cat comes waltzing into the room everyone soon notices it’s carrying a Joker fish in its mouth. The cat lunges at Batman and is able to bite him breaking the skin. Batman soon breaks out into laughter as his face becomes round and unrecognizable. Jackson jumps in to administer the anti-toxin, and it’s revealed that Jackson and Batman had actually switched places to try and fool Joker, unfortunately they couldn’t fool the cat.

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Here kitty…on second thought, maybe not.

Batman makes the obvious observation that the fish the cat dragged in is a tropical fish not native to Gotham’s waters. This means Joker must be at the local aquarium. Batman, however, is the second person to figure this out as Bullock has already fled Jackson’s residence to head there himself (“I didn’t need no Batcomputer to tell me that weird-looking minnow came from the aquarium,”) and confront The Joker. It doesn’t go well for him and he soon finds himself strung up by a crane like a worm at the end of a fishing line for Joker’s pet shark. Joker is having a good time until he realizes that if Bullock was smart enough to figure out his location then surely Batman will too. He decides to use Bullock as Bat-bait instead and, what do you know, it works.

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This sequence is pretty stupid.

Batman comes charging in and Joker’s two goons are no match for him. Joker has his ace though in Bullock and Batman is forced to hand himself over to secure Bullock’s freedom. Joker is happy to make the switch and Batman is tossed into the shark tank. As Bullock looks on, Joker decides he should go for a swim too and shoves him in (Batman couldn’t have possibly expected Joke to not do something like this) and then covers the tank depriving the two of precious oxygen. No matter, as Batman demonstrates his shark battling abilities. It’s a bit ridiculous, though I suppose it’s less ridiculous than the time Batman successfully fought off several crocodiles. He’s able to break the tank and free himself and Bullock as Joker takes off.

B4rpth8Batman and Joker square-off outside the aquarium on a large dock. It’s the most physical we’ve seen these two get as Joker gets ahold of a large wrench and gives Batman a good strike with it (in a bit of censorship, the screen flashes as Joker connects reminding me of the old Pow! Bam! effects from the 60s Batman show). Joker, not to be confused as Batman’s equal in fisticuffs, is soon subdued and cornered. His last resort is to simply leap off the tall structure revealing a get-away float around his waist. He laughs and taunts Batman from the waters below, until his shark-buddy shows up and drags him under. The episode closes teasing Joker’s demise as a tearful Harley says her goodbyes. Batman, apparently aware that this is only episode 34 of an 85 episode run, tells Commissioner Gordon he doubts The Joker is truly gone. Truer words were never spoken.

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The Batman fake-out definitely fooled me as a kid, as well as frightened.

“The Laughing Fish” is a very stylized episode of Batman: The Animated Series. It’s sound production and setup are very film noir and evocative of old crime dramas, with obviously a super hero twist. It’s an amusing plot with Joker just out for money and Batman gets a chance to demonstrate just how well he understands his foil. It’s a fun episode to re-watch as well especially for the scene in Jackson’s home. They don’t cheat, like they often do, the reveal of Batman and Jackson switching places by having Batman speak in Jackson’s voice and vice versa. Rather you never see either man speak until after the reveal. Joker is also at his best as he’s pretty cruel throughout the episode. He obviously can’t actually murder anyone, but it feels clear his intention is to do just that. It’s also interesting to see his relationship with Harley evolving. Here it’s very business-like with her referring to him mostly as “boss,” but it’s obvious she’s higher on the pecking order than the other goons since Joker bothers to remember her name. It’s also fun to see her broken up over Joker’s apparent demise, making it obvious she has an unhealthy devotion to the man.

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Joker and Harley get to demonstrate a taste of their chemistry in this one. Here Joker makes her his mermaid.

Where the episode does sort of cheat the viewer is in its resolution. Joker obviously is not dead and will return for many more episodes. The episode doesn’t offer a plausible explanation for how Joker survived a shark attack, and it won’t bother trying to explain it the next time he shows his face in this show. He’ll just reappear and this won’t be the last time he cheats death in such a way.

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Farewell, sweet clown prince. For now, anyway.

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Marvel Legends Series 6 – Deadpool

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The name is Deadpool, Captain Deadpool.

In celebration of the release of Deadpool 2 I thought it would be a good opportunity to take a look at one of my favorite action figures from the Marvel Legends line – Deadpool! Marvel Legends is a series of action figures that originated with the now defunct ToyBiz and is now owned by Hasbro. The series launched around the turn of the millennium and was a sister series of sorts to the Spider-Man Classics line. It was a collector oriented line that likely grew from the diminished sales and interest in the standard ToyBiz figures. This was also after McFarlane kind of changed the game in terms of what an action figure could be with its Spawn line. McFarlane placed greater emphasis on the sculpting process realizing that spending just a little more time tooling a figure could give it broader appeal. Adding more detail to a sculpt really adds little cost to the individual toy and this proved to be a wise move. I’d even wager the Spawn toys were likely more popular than the comic.

ToyBiz, as well as other toy manufacturers, were forced to play catch-up. ToyBiz would end up not only improving its sculpts, but would also prioritize articulation correctly assuming that collectors who removed toys from its packaging would want to be able to create dynamic poses for their mini heroes. ToyBiz would only get better as the years went on before Marvel eventually decided it no longer wanted to be in the toy manufacturing business. ToyBiz was owned by Marvel and the Marvel toys it put out represented basically the entirety of the company’s catalog. Rising oil prices were making plastic more expensive and Marvel probably felt it could make more money, while assuming less risk, by simply licensing their intellectual properties to other manufacturers, which is how Hasbro eventually took over. It was a bit of a bumpy start for Hasbro and for awhile the line was discontinued all together, but its made a return of sorts over the last couple of years.

Marvel Legends Series 6 arrived basically during the height of the line’s popularity in late summer 2004. ToyBiz had yet to tap into all of Marvel’s hottest properties so there was still great anticipation for every line. They had also hit on some new sculpts and were packing their figures full of articulation. In particular, a figure of Daredevil for the Spider-Man Classics line (which had been rebranded as simply Spider-Man with an emphasis on a younger audience) that would go on to be the base of many other ToyBiz figures, including this one of the Merc with a Mouth – Deadpool.

Back when this figure first came out, Deadpool was far from a household name. He was largely a character getting by on his cool design, even if it was derivative of several other heroes and villains from comics. His comic was niche, but certainly unique given the character’s lunacy and penchant for breaking the fourth wall. This was in an age when the only popular Marvel properties were really Spider-Man and the X-Men. In a pre Marvel Cinematic Universe world, the likes of Iron Man and Captain America were for comic geeks only, though the Ultimate Universe was gaining in popularity and The Ultimates, the version of the Avengers for that world, were a pretty big reason why.

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A meeting of the minds.

Marvel Legends Series 6 was a notoriously difficult series to find at retail. By now, the secondary market and specialty shops were fully aware of the line’s popularity and collectors were forced to battle with scalpers at the big box stores in order to land the toys they coveted. I don’t think I ever came across the entirety of this series at retail, which also included figures of Wolverine (brown costume), Juggernaut, Phoenix, Cable and The Punisher (Thomas Jane). Since The Punisher was based on a movie likeness, he was the only one I ever saw at retail because few people wanted him. I knew I wanted Wolverine, Deadpool, and Juggernaut especially so I actually pre-ordered them through an online retailer. I paid a premium, but it proved to be the right move as they quickly went up in price basically every where they weren’t sold out. I eventually traded with another collector for a Phoenix, and I never got my hands on Cable which is a shame since he would have paired nicely with Deadpool.

Deadpool was easily my favorite of what was otherwise a good series of figures. The Daredevil base is obvious given the tell-tale shoulders, but ToyBiz even left the holster on his right leg for Daredevil’s baton weapon. For Deadpool it makes a good holster for his sai, which were holdovers form a prior Elektra figure. In addition to those weapons he also came with two AKs, two katana, a handgun, and an alternate unmasked head. He also came packaged with Doop, not pictured because I never cared for the Slimer knock-off and didn’t bother to dig him out of storage. He also has an action stand which was becoming commonplace for the line in lieu of a more elaborate base. Eventually the bases would be dropped all-together for build-a-figure pieces to construct much larger figures. Deadpool also features a belt that’s separate from his sculpt. I suppose you could remove it if you really wanted to. It has holsters for his weapons plus molded on grenades and his adorable little mask-logo on the belt buckle.

Deadpool possesses extensive articulation which is befitting a ninja. He can be posed in almost any position you can think of. His joints are nice and tight and he really only needs the stand for more dramatic aerial poses as he can comfortably stand on his own just fine. The sculpting on the body is fairly simple and relegated mostly to just his musculature. His face features subtle, but effective, sculpting suggesting an angry expression is lurking underneath. His secondary, Freddy Krueger-like head, looks spectacularly disturbing and sports a character appropriate wild grin. The only short-comings with the sculpt lie with the hands and shoulders. The bulky shoulders were the cost of making the arms capable of posing in basically any position. They were the main draw-back to this character base. The hands are also articulated and we’ve come to learn over the years that articulated hands just don’t work well to hold weapons. Deadpool’s weapons are all nice and light, so he can hold them just fine, but you will be constantly tweaking them to get them just right (and don’t bother with the sai as they’re almost too thin for any worthwhile pose). If he were made today he’d probably just have swappable hands or just non-articulated ones capable of gripping both a sword and gun.

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What always stood out for me with this figure is the simple look of Deadpool. The red on black is striking and there’s little that can be messed up as a result. The loads of accessories are also a huge benefit. Even if the sai kind of stink, they’re still nice to have and look good in that thigh pouch. The handgun is tucked away neatly on a holster while the katana and AKs can be stored on the back of his belt. The AKs don’t seat all that well, but it can be done. Lots of accessories plus places to store them is something i appreciate in any action figure, especially since keeping track of numerous little pieces can be a huge pain. The only thing he can’t store on his person is the second head, but that would be a little odd if he could.

As you can imagine, the Legends line has taken new stabs at Deadpool, especially in light of his growing popularity thanks to the film franchise. I have never been tempted to buy another though because I’ve always been happy with this one. Had I purchased one I’d probably be forced to concede it’s an improvement, but that wouldn’t diminish my fondness for this one. Deadpool is perfectly suited for the world of plastic and movies so it’s great to see this character’s popularity explode. And as a legacy piece, those who were at ToyBiz should be proud they made an awesome Deadpool when few people wanted one and it can still hang with today’s action figures more than 10 years later.


Unifive Ultimate Evolution Vegeta

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My, my, what do we have here?

In America, we’ve always got kind of the short end of the stick when it comes to high quality Dragon Ball Z toys. Sure, Irwin did some okay things with the license, which I covered recently by highlighting Vegeta, one of the more popular characters from the franchise. We would even get a few imports courtesy of Jakks Pacific who brought over Bandai’s Ultimate Fighters series. Now a days, we have more access to imports and the Internet is full of retailers who will bring these things over here. Even Gamestop and Barnes & Noble carry the SH Figuarts brand.

During the mid 2000s though we were still mostly left in the dark. While Jakks was running the line into the ground, a small toy maker named Unifive was putting out some really interesting action figures based on Dragon Ball Z. Dubbed the Ultimate Evolution series, these figures aimed to capture the many different looks of the shows Saiyan characters. It started off with Goku and Vegeta and expanded to include Future Trunks and Teen Gohan. Unifive also made other Dragon Ball Z toys, but these were the only true action figures, and they’re pretty unique.

Since they had to be imported, I only purchased one – Vegeta. Had I waited for all four to be available I may have opted for Trunks or Gohan instead, but I can’t say I’m disappointed with what I have here. During this time in my life I was a recent college graduate so I didn’t have much money for toys, and the money I did mostly went towards Marvel Legends. For a long time, this Vegeta toy was the last DBZ related piece of merchandise I had bought up until recently.

As the name implies, this Vegeta is intended to be the ultimate representation of the character. It’s intended to cover all of Dragon Ball Z from the character’s first appearance in the Saiyan Saga into the Buu Saga. As you will see, it doesn’t quite hit the mark. Unifive would do a better job of reflecting this with basically all of the other characters in this line. Part of that is a willingness to include more pieces with the likes of Trunks, and part of that is simply due to the fact that a character like Goku didn’t change much through the life of the show and manga. Vegeta had basically three distinct looks:  Saiyan Saga with tail and shoulder pads, Android Saga with the vest armor and ability to go Super Saiyan, and Buu Saga without armor and the Majin Vegeta look. There are other more minor looks like Namek Vegeta or the much loved Bad Man shirt look, but I’d say those three are the most iconic.

Unifive’s Vegeta opts to use the Android Saga Vegeta as its base and it really can’t deviate much from it. This is due to the armor being sculpted on. They could have gone with a removable chest piece and separate bare arms to approximate the Buu Saga Vegeta, or just go with a whole new torso as they would with Trunks, but they chose not to. Somewhat more frustrating is the lack of removable shoulder pads to create the Saiyan Saga look. They’re included with one of the heads, an Oozaru/Great Ape head, but not one of the normal Vegeta heads. It’s really unfortunate because the regular, black-haired head includes a removable scouter and he also comes with a removable tail and a base featuring some emerging Saibamen. It’s almost perfect, and admittedly I still do like the look of him even without the shoulder pads and skirt, but it could have been more. Also notable is that this series uses the manga for inspiration over the anime so the coloring is a little different. Vegeta is a bit darker than his anime counterpart, this choice of coloring is most notable for Trunks who had a different colored jacket in the manga. There’s a nice paint wash applied to the body that gives his muscles some added definition. The gloves and boots have a gray wash as well and there’s liberal use of shading on the armor. He’s not as brightly colored as most DBZ figures, but he still looks pretty sharp on a shelf.

Since this Vegeta does not have removable armor, he also can’t pull-off a proper Buu Saga Vegeta despite the inclusion of a Majin Vegeta head. Majin Vegeta in Saiyan armor is kind of interesting, but obviously still lacking. Ignoring the issues of authenticity, this Vegeta does boast quite a bit of accessories to make up for that. He has four heads:  normal, super saiyan, majin, and great ape. As I mentioned earlier, the great ape head includes the shoulder pads from his armor, with one being battle damaged as it were during the actual appearance of this Vegeta in the show. Since the head is molded to the shoulder pads and chest, it can’t turn, but that’s all right considering how cool it looks. Even neater, the base comes with an attachment that covers the Saibamen heads with a rock formation that a tiny representation of Goku can be placed on to give off the illusion of scaling. Vegeta also has swappable feet, the second pair being fatter than the standard to add some bulk to the ape form though they mistakenly include yellow-gold toes when that Vegeta featured all white boots. His chest and arms could use some bulking up as well, but that would obviously be a lot harder to pull off. As it stands, this a pretty neat attempt at an oozaru Vegeta.

Vegeta also comes packed with several different hands for various poses. He has two fists, two open “Final Flash/Gallic Gun” hands, a Big Bang Attack hand, and one making kind of a piece sign. The only shortcoming with the hands is that the peace sign one is a right hand, but his scouter is worn over his left eye. Had it been a left hand, it would have worked as a way for him to “activate” his scouter. Speaking of which, he has a scouter with a red transparent lens. It looks great and pegs into the normal head. The other heads can’t wear it, unfortunately, but I suppose they didn’t need to. The normal head also has a peg hole in the back for a halo for dead Vegeta. I’m not sure why the super heads don’t have a peg hole, but it’s not that important. The halo is made of translucent plastic so it has a nice floating effect and is superior to the Irwin halo we saw on their Buu Saga Super Vegeta.

Each individual Vegeta head looks pretty great. The normal head features kind of a blank expression. He very much looks like Vegeta, but I would have preferred a cocky Vegeta since this is primarily his Saiyan Saga head. The Super Saiyan head is similar in that it’s a fairly neutral expression. The hair looks awesome, though there’s a weird paint imperfection beneath his left eye that is really visible in the pictures, more so than in reality. The Majin Vegeta head has an awesome arrogant Vegeta expression and is really appropriate for the character. It also sports the thick, black outline on the eyes that’s authentic to the look of that particular version of Vegeta. He even has that throbbing vein along his left temple he often sports in the anime. It’s a real shame the look of the body doesn’t match up, since this is the best head of the bunch. Though oddly, it sits real low on the neck ball peg, unlike the other heads. It looks fine and can be manipulated to look more like the others, but it takes away from his range of motion. The Oozaru head, as covered earlier, also looks great.

The body of these figures is comprised mostly of pegs and swivel joints. The only real socket joint is for the head. It’s a strange approach for creating an action figure, but it does mostly work as the figure is sturdy with a wide range of movement. Not as wide as he would have if he had ball-jointed limbs and standard hinge joints for his knees and elbows. The various pegs throughout his body means you could disassemble the figure fairly easily if you wanted to. The pegs for his hands and feet are easy to work with and they’re nice and thick so I’ve never felt I was in danger of breaking anything. It’s a figure you really have to play around with to get a feel for what kind of posing it’s capable of. I appreciate the oddball nature of it, though I wouldn’t want all of my action figures to be constructed this way.

This Vegeta figure from Unifive was a purchase I was really happy with at the time. I appreciate what it’s trying to achieve, even if it comes up short, and I find it’s construction really interesting even if it isn’t perfect. I was content with it, but not sold on it completely to the point that I even bought another figure in this line. I’m still tempted by the Future Trunks version, but given what it would cost I’d probably be better off just getting the SH Figuarts Trunks or even saving a few bucks with the Dragon Stars version. Neither achieve what Unifive tried to do, create one figure to stand-in for all of the various looks of the character, but they’re probably better action figures. As kind of a random oddball piece of my collection, this figure is pretty fun to have around and still looks good enough by today’s standards for display, as long you’re not going for a Majin Vegeta or proper Saiyan Saga look.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Robin’s Reckoning: Part II”

Robin's_Reckoning_Part_IIEpisode Number:  33

Original Air Date:  February 14, 1993

Directed by:  Dick Sebast

Written by:  Randy Rogel

First Appearance(s):  None

When we left off with “Robin’s Reckoning” last week, Batman was out trying to track down Tony Zucco (Thomas F. Wilson), he who murdered Robin’s parents. He was doing this while trying to keep Robin in the dark and on the sidelines, for what reason we’re not entirely sure. Robin wasn’t having any of it though, and once he realized what was going down he immediately chastised Batman over the radio and jumped on a Batcycle to go join in the manhunt. Even though it was not the first appearance of Robin in the series, “Robin’s Reckoning” was kind of a proper introduction to the Robin character. We see how his youthful enthusiasm contrasts with Batman’s more serious demeanor and we also learned why he’s a crime fighter as his origin is pretty much the same as Batman’s. We got to see how the two met in a very flashback heavy episode and the episode setup a pretty compelling story for this episode to continue.

The episode begins with Robin using a tracking device that’s in the Batcycle that is capable of homing in on the Batmobile. It would make sense for the two pieces of equipment to be able to communicate with each other in case Batman were to not come home one night due to an unfortunate accident or something. Unfortunately for Robin, the Batmobile alerts Batman that the tracking system has been engaged and he’s able to shut it down. This infuriates Robin, but he doesn’t dwell on the slight and instead vows to track down Zucco on his own like he did so many years ago. Cue the flashback!

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Alfred, you might want to get in here.

Yes, it’s another flashback. Perhaps you thought we were done with them after the prior episode. After all, the flashbacks there ended with Zucco getting away and Bruce being convinced that he needs to spend more time with Dick and less time trying to track down Zucco because it’s what Dick really needs most. That could have been enough to justify how Zucco was able to elude Batman all these years – when Batman halted his pursuit Tony cut town and never came back. Instead, we’re going to find out that it was a little more complicated than that.

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A young hero, a brutal pimp, and a hooker with a heart of gold.

The flashback begins with Bruce and Dick fencing with each other. Dick is impulsive and unable to land a strike on Bruce who tries to give him pointers. It’s a microcosm of their approach to crime fighting. Just before the two get into some real uncomfortable horseplay, Alfred interrupts to let Bruce know that Commissioner Gordon is here to see him. Bruce excuses himself to speak with Gordon and, naturally, Dick is able to slip away and eavesdrop. Turns out, Gordon has info on Zucco and says they’re closing in thanks to having the really brilliant idea of posting wanted fliers around the city. Unfortunately, there’s bad news too as they have intel suggesting he plans to skip town tonight and if he gets away they may never find him. This seems to suggest that either Gotham PD doesn’t get along with surrounding police forces for help or that Gordon has a low opinion of the FBI. At any rate, it’s no surprise so much crime occurs in Gotham if all you have to do to escape justice is simply leave town.

Armed with this new information, Bruce sets out as Batman that night to try and nab Zucco once and for all. Also slipping out is young Dick armed with a nifty hat and the picture from one of the wanted posters. He heads to the rough part of town and starts looking for Zucco the old fashioned way. No one is really interested in helping him out, but he does stumble upon what appears to be a disagreement between a prostitute and her pimp. The pimp is dressed like basically every bad guy in this show in a three-piece tan suit and not garish traditional pimp attire. The two don’t say anything that confirms their situation, but he’s demanding she hand over some more money because he thinks she’s holding out on him. If she’s not a prostitute then I don’t know what their arrangement could possibly be. Dick isn’t going to stand for this though and he jumps to the woman’s defense. He’s able to dispatch of the slime ball and the two flee to a diner where the woman presumably pays for his meal. It’s there he gets a tip from the waitress who recognizes Zucco as some jerk who appears to be living around the wharf.

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Dick, furious with Batman for saving him and letting Zucco get away.

Dick hastily leaves the diner to go check out the building the waitress pointed out and, sure enough, he finds Zucco who’s stuffing his belongings into a suitcase. Before he can call the cops though, Zucco spots him and recognizes him immediately as the boy from the circus. Things look bleak for poor Dick, but thankfully Batman was also hard at work this evening tracking Zucco down and arrives just in time. He tosses Zucco aside sparing Dick, but Dick can’t control himself and runs at Zucco pounding on him. Zucco shoves him aside, and Dick strikes a guardrail that gives way and he plunges into a fast moving river. Batman is forced to choose between Zucco and Dick, and of course he’s going to go after Dick. Perhaps I’m more ruthless than Batman, but I wouldn’t have just left Zucco there – I would have tossed him in too. As Batman leaves, Zucco adjusts his suit and remarks, in a very Biff Tannen-like way, “That takes care of The Bat and The Brat.” He’s going to bring the schtick in this episode.

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“Don’t you feel like an idiot now, Dick?”

Batman saves Dick, because obviously if he did not then we wouldn’t have a Robin today, and brings him back to the Batcave. It’s there he reveals his identity, and Dick can only smile sheepishly. It’s presumed at that point Dick’s Robin training must have started, but we don’t know for sure since the flashback ends at roughly the episode’s halfway point. Robin then heads to Dolan’s house, he being the guy Batman and Robin caught earlier in the night who gave them the name Billy Marin, an alias used by Tony Zucco. He uses Dolan’s phone and hits redial, and sure enough, Zucco picks up. Robin has this neat little gadget that’s able to do a caller ID kind of trick when he does this that even gives him the number’s address. I don’t know if such a device ever existed, but it’s certainly not the most far-fetched thing we’ve seen in the series.

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The years have been unkind to Tony.

Batman, presumably by virtue of his offscreen interrogation of Dolan in the prior episode, already knows where Zucco is and arrives well before Robin. An older Zucco is ranting to his hired help and comes across as paranoid about Batman. It’s at this point if you didn’t realize that the voice actor for Zucco, Thomas Wilson, was Biff in the Back to the Future trilogy then you probably would now. He’s in total Biff mode and it’s kind of amusing to see him basically go nuts and fire his gun at noises. Turns out, he wasn’t being overly paranoid since by blasting out the ceiling of their hideout he forces Batman to come crashing in. He wrenches his knee during the fall, and Zucco takes notice immediately. Batman is forced to use a smoke bomb to escape, but as Zucco points out, he won’t be able to get far with such a limp.

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All right, this is pretty bad ass.

Batman is able to fashion a crude splint and starts methodically taking out Zucco’s goons, but eventually he finds himself cornered by the fiend. Fear not, for Robin is there to swoop in on his bike and grab Zucco by the collar. He drags him down the docks from his bike before eventually letting go. He tosses him around a few times, remarking menacingly how he’s waiting a long time for this. Zucco is both confused and frightened, and just when it seems like Robin is going to cross a line he’s called off by Batman. Appearing slightly embarrassed, Robin relents as the police arrive.

After things are cleaned up, Batman and Robin have a moment. Robin apologizes saying Batman was right the whole time and knew he wouldn’t be able to control himself. Batman says that wasn’t his fear. Tony Zucco had taken so much from Robin, he was afraid he might take Robin too. The two get all chummy and the episode ends kind of abruptly on what is supposed to be a tender moment.

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I’m not sure that fall would kill him, but maybe the censors wouldn’t let them get away with more.

Supposed to be? Yeah, I didn’t really buy it when I first watched it and I still don’t. The entire last act of this episode has a lot of problems. First of all, the way Robin ambushes Zucco and lets him know he’s been looking forward to this basically gives away his identity. Zucco isn’t the brightest bulb, but he’s not so dumb that he shouldn’t be able to figure out that Robin is the circus boy. If he didn’t in the moment then he surely would after this since he’d be put on trial for the murder of the Graysons and Dick would be called to testify as the chief witness. Which inevitably would lead Zucco to conclude that not only is Dick Robin, but that Bruce Wayne is most likely Batman. Robin basically needed to kill Zucco to protect himself and Batman, but he’s left as a loose end that the show has no intention of ever addressing.

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We do get a glimpse of Robin’s dark side in this episode, but it’s nothing that the show ever returns to.

Batman’s explanation of fearing Zucco would murder Robin also feels like a cop-out. Batman Forever, of all things, would end up better addressing how Batman feared Robin would betray his morals and murder his parents’ killer to exact revenge. Perhaps the show runners here felt like they couldn’t tackle such a subject on a kid’s show, but they did so well in presenting the murder of the Graysons just an episode earlier that it blows my mind they couldn’t have found a way to do something more artful here. Now, perhaps you want to play wordsmith and suggest Batman didn’t literally fear Zucco killing Robin, but feared losing the Robin he knew by virtue of him taking Zucco out. Unfortunately, Robin basically suggests that to Batman as the reason why he wasn’t including him in the hunt for Zucco and he’s quick to say, “No.” I think he’s speaking plainly here and his fear of losing Robin just doesn’t carry much weight. They’ve tangled with far worse than Tony Zucco, so Batman’s fear would be pretty irrational by comparison and Batman is, above all, a pretty rational kind of guy.

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“So, umm, buds again?”

Unfortunately, “Robin’s Reckoning” suffers from the same Part II malaise that the other two-parters fell victim to, save for maybe “Clayface.” The writers and directors for this show have demonstrated they know how to utilize the full 22 minutes of an episode to craft an exceptional setup for a part two, but haven’t demonstrated an ability to truly capitalize on it. They’ll have other chances, but it is a little frustrating as a viewer. Part One of “Robin’s Reckoning” is really one of the show’s best episodes, while part two is just kind of ho-hum. The flashback is fine, though a bit long, and the climax just can’t deliver. That is due in part to Standards and Practices as Robin can’t just start wailing on Zucco in a kid’s show, instead he can only judo toss him a couple of times (though dragging him from a motorcycle is pretty violent, even though he shows no real injury from it) and act like a tough guy. Robin also accepts Batman’s explanation and views him as being in the right this whole time, seemingly brushing aside this conflict the episode was hinging on between Batman and Robin. There’s no lasting damage done to the relationship meaning we get sort of the classic sitcom reset by episode’s end which feels like a missed opportunity. In the end we did get some nice insight into how Robin came to be, but it would have been nice to build onto that with further character development. Oh well, perhaps I’m just asking too much of this show and being unfair, but I don’t want to dumb down my expectations just because this is a kid’s show.


The Prince of All Saiyans – In Action Figure Form!

IMG_2274Jumping back into the world of Dragon Ball, and especially the SH Figuarts Vegeta figure, has made me especially nostalgic for all things Dragon Ball Z. Back in the early 2000s, I was an avid collector of Irwin Toys’ Dragon Ball Z line of action figures. When Dragon Ball Z first showed up in America, Irwin licensed the old Bandai Super Battle Collection line of toys for distribution in North America. This proved a smart move because the show didn’t catch on so Irwin wasn’t out a ton of capital. The Bandai toys, and also a series also licensed by Irwin from a company called AB, were pretty dated in the late 90s. They contained minimal articulation, almost no accessories (something DBZ didn’t really lend itself well to, in fairness), and were just an adequate representation of the characters from the anime. Arguably their best feature was the nice box-styled packaging, something that was probably expensive relative to other toys so the Irwin ones came in standard blisters with “loud” 90s styling.

These toys, as released by Irwin, were largely peg warmers. They paled in quality to the stuff being put out by Toy Biz and McFarlane and since the show didn’t catch on kids really didn’t want them. They eventually made it into the discount bins, which was when I got my Super Saiyan Vegeta figure for a mere four dollars. Eventually, Cartoon Network picked up Dragon Ball Z and began airing it during the afternoon timeslot. It soon caught on, and suddenly America was in love with this series from Japan that had long since ended. Funimation, the company distributing the show in North America, eventually went back to the series to dub it in its entirety which also gave Irwin the confidence to go all-in on the license and start creating its own toys. DBZ was mostly a show that appealed to an older audience, so Irwin made it a point to appeal to collectors and longtime fans, which was pretty cool from a collector’s standpoint, but maybe not the best marketing decision. They first concentrated on characters that Bandai never tackled such as Nappa, Krillen, and the non-final forms of Frieza, to name a few. They didn’t even release a Goku until Series 4, which is pretty damn crazy since almost every series of modern figures includes one Goku.

In light of my enjoyment of the Figuarts Vegeta, I decided to dig out all of my Vegeta toys from storage and take a look at them. They’re all Irwin releases, except one. Irwin eventually went bankrupt as DBZ was basically its only successful property. They were able to sell the license to Jakks Pacific who would continue the line for a few years. The Jakks toys initially were fine because they were mostly unreleased Irwin designed figures, but the Jakks originals were rather poor which is when I stopped collecting. Jakks seemed to use a lower quality plastic and a much simpler paint application giving their toys almost a rubbery look, even though they were hard plastic. Their only good releases really were the re-releases of older Irwin toys that they were able to make paint corrections to, most notoriously Perfect Cell who had a very blue skin and no purple sideburns as released by Irwin. Lets take a trip through the toys I did get though. I did not get every Vegeta released by Irwin, but I did get all of the main ones (I mostly skipped the gimmick lines, with one exception) and one of the Jakks releases. Let’s start with the first one, the re-release of the Bandai Super Battle Collection Super Saiyan Vegeta.

This figure is pretty damn basic for a toy. He’s mostly comprised of colored plastic with minimal paint applications and almost no articulation, which was par for the course for this line. His only articulation is in the shoulders, wrists, and calves. His hair is glued on and doesn’t look particularly great, but in a way it accentuates his receding hairline. The battle armor is removable and it’s just two pieces of plastic that snap together. This was the standard approach for this line as most characters had a removable shirt. His boots are missing the yellow/gold tips. Still, for the time, the likeness was fine and he mostly looks like Vegeta, especially from the side. Not a fun toy by any means, but at least his bum looks nice in blue spandex.

Our next figure was Irwin’s first attempt at a proper Vegeta. Based on his look in the Androids Saga, this was a Series 4 figure and a much anticipated one. He’s a solid representation of what Irwin’s approach was. They utilized ball joints for the shoulders to go with legs, knees, and head articulation. It was pretty standard for the time, but obviously not on pair with what we’re accustomed to today. After all, he basically can’t be posed in any of his signature stances and what you see is kind of what you get since he has no elbow or wrist articulation. Like the Bandai toys, he is mostly done with colored plastic as well, but the white and yellow of his armor is painted on. The blue of his suit is a deep royal blue and the tips of his boots are molded on, but not painted. This was an artistic approach for the figures as we’ll see with the Super Saiyan version, Irwin would go lighter on the suit and paint in the boot tips. The likeness is solid, though something is off a bit in the face and I think it’s the thickness of the eyebrows. Part of the likeness issues is probably due to the relatively small scale Irwin is working with. Vegetal stands just under 5″ at about 4 7/8″ to the tip of his hair. This line is basically in-scale with the Bandai line, though most of the figures were about the same height with only the obviously taller ones coming in greater than 5″. This figure does accentuate what I love about this look for Vegeta which is the contrasting bright white of the armor with the rich blue of the bodysuit. It pops, and making the armor molded onto the figure is a much better choice than making it removable.

The next figure is Irwin’s first go at Super Saiyan Vegeta. Coming in the very next series following the non-super version, this figure had an entirely new sculpt which was a positive as I feared they’d just put a new head on him and call it a day. There’s evidence of minor enhancements too in Irwin’s sculpting process. This figure is more rounded in the torso, possibly to accentuate the bulkiness of Super Vegeta. He also has molded kneecaps and a slightly open hand showing that Irwin wasn’t going to shy away from doing fingers. The hair is much spikier, and there’s a pearl finish to the white of the armor. As I mentioned with the previous figure, this one is a lighter blue and the yellow pieces are slightly lighter as well to give off the impression of that Super Saiyan glow. The yellow tips of the boots are also painted in as well. For some reason, Irwin associated that feature with the Super Saiyan form as they would repeat this with Trunks. The face sculpting was more ambitious as well as he has sunken in eyes, a furrowed brow, and more detail in his ears. He looks pretty solid, though the shape of the hair feels off and I wish he had a sneer instead of a scowl. The pupils of his eyes aren’t lined up either and he looks kind of goofy upon closer inspection. I was pretty satisfied with him though at the time, and he is an improvement on the previous Vegeta in many respects, though at the expense of looking a little less like Vegeta.

Our next figure is from the non-mainline series and from the Striking Z Fighters line of figures. These ones all featured some action they could perform. In the case of this Super Saiyan Vegeta, clad in his Buu Saga attire, he’s supposed to do a flip. It’s an exceedingly lame action feature as you basically just hold one arm between your fingers and literally flick at him to make him spin around. Basically any figure can do this, this one just features a ratchet joint in the shoulder so he’ll move more freely and easily without getting so loose that the figure can’t hold its arm up when posing. The good thing is this lame feature doesn’t harm the look of the figure, but it does mean he lost knee articulation and can only stand with his right foot slightly in front of his left. This stance makes him shorter than our other Vegeta figures, which actually makes him more in scale with the likes of Goku and Trunks. He’s a quieter looking figure too when compared with the prior Super Saiyan version as his hair is less spiky and his facial features are more simple. He has a sort-of angry, smug look on his face that’s almost the much-wanted Vegeta smirk but not quite. He looks fine, though I wish he posed better. He came with a plastic board originally that he could flip through that I didn’t drag out as it was pretty lame. And it was nice that Irwin made the effort to put him in different attire, even though the Buu Saga was still a little ways off at the time of release.

The next figure is the first Vegeta from the Buu era of the show in the main series and it’s Majin Vegeta. He had an interesting existence as the first version released to retail incorrectly colored his hair black. If you’re thinking this makes that version rare and valuable you would be wrong. While perhaps it could become that eventually, the figure was mass released and I honestly don’t know which is more rare – the error version or the running change yellow seen here. Since it was so obviously an error, I’m sure many people bought multiples and kept them carded in hopes of re-selling them later. Unfortunately for them, this line doesn’t command much money probably due to the abundance of better DBZ toys out there. Anyway, this figure was a bit of a disappointment. Series 6 for Irwin marked a new era of paint experimentation that included applying a paint wash to give the toys more definition and personality. They also tried to give them a bit of a dirty look as well. This Vegeta came well after that and Irwin toned it down some, but they still had’t quite figured things out. His clothing is very muted while his skin has a lot of red to it, including around the eyes which should have been heightened with black for this version of Vegeta. The M on his forehead is nice and sharp, though his hair should probably be spikier given this is also our first Super Saiyan 2 Vegeta. His arms are posed oddly, making it look like he’s riding an imaginary motorcycle. Maybe this was done to recreate the scene where he gives young Trunks a hug before sacrificing himself in a bid to kill Majin Buu. This figure disappointed me at the time, but at least they did finally give Vegeta a cocky grin.

Next up is I guess what you would call dead Vegeta. This is after he’s been brought back by the Kais to help Goku defeat Buu, marked with a halo above is head. He’s in his super form and it looks like the head of the first Super Saiyan Vegeta may have been re-tooled for this figure. At least the hair looks to be about the same. The only real different is he’s sporting an open mouth instead of a closed one. The outfit is less drab compared with Majin Vegeta as Irwin dialed back the dark blue wash they used on that figure. There’s also way less red in the flesh, though the center piece of plastic on the shoulders remains unpainted. His gloves feature a lot of grime on them, as do his boots. Interestingly enough though, Irwin finally adopted elbow articulation so this Vegeta can be posed a little better than others. For the first time he can kind of look like he’s getting ready to power-up his Final Flash attack, so at least that’s pretty cool. The halo is a little warped from storage, though I recall most had a little bend in them, and is supported by a very sturdy peg. It’s not removable, and the tallness of his hair does a solid job of hiding the peg when viewed from the front. This was the last official Irwin Vegeta in the 5″ line and you could argue it was their best take on the character which isn’t a bad way to go out.

Our last 5″ figure is a Jakks Pacific release, but I’m pretty sure this was an Irwin design. This Vegeta was a bit of a surprise, but also a sign of where Jakks would take the line. This is Vegeta as he was on Planet Namek during his fight with Frieza. It features the Namek armor vest which lacked the yellow straps and it’s also battle damaged. The paint is a bit off though as the bodysuit is a very light blue, almost as light as the Super Saiyan Vegeta, when it should be a very dark blue that’s almost black. He also has the yellow tips on his boots when this particular version of Vegeta should have all white boots. The paint is a little sloppy in places, mostly where the vest ends and the bodysuit begins just before the neck, though overall I’d say it’s pretty good. The battle damage on the vest looks awesome and really adds depth to the armor pieces. He has a great looking cocky grin recalling the time just after Dende healed him and Vegeta challenged Frieza thinking he was a Super Saiyan. Best of all, he has more articulation than the other figures including ball-jointed elbows and twisting wrists. He even has ankle articulation, though the shape of the boots makes it very limited. Aside from the incorrect paint choice, the only drawback to this figure is his almost total absence of a nose. The nose is always one of the hardest parts to get right on these characters since they’re so small. It’s not awful, but his face looks a little weird as a result. After so many Super Saiyan versions of the character, it was nice to get another black-haired Vegeta. Jakks would release one more Vegeta that I believe originated as an Irwin sculpt, a version with a black jacket from the very end of DBZ. They would never top this one though.

Oh, but wait! We’re not done yet! In addition to the 5″ line of figures, Irwin also dabbled in the collector market. They first released a trio of figures in a 9″ scale – Goku, Super Saiyan 2 Gohan, and Super Saiyan Vegeta. These figures were more like statues and featured extensive battle damage. Goku looked pretty awful, but Gohan and Vegeta were pretty cool and both were depicted as they were during the Cell Games. This Vegeta is in sort of an odd pose as he almost looks like he’s surfing. As a result of the pose, he comes in at about 8 1/2″ tall. I’m not sure what the source material was, maybe the death of Trunks? What you see here is largely what you get. He does have a thin, black display stand I neglected to remove from storage that helps him stand, but he doesn’t need it. His attire is pretty well beat-up and there’s a real brightness to the blue of his suit. There’s some color blending on it as well that looks pretty sharp. The same trick is used for his skin tone and the color of his hair. It’s similar to what they did with their 5″ version of the character in an attempt to try and make it look like he’s glowing, only with this larger format the results are more convincing. He has a concerned look on his face which i suppose is appropriate. I would have preferred something else though. I really like the shape of his hair, and I wish they could have pulled this off with the smaller figures. He does have articulation in his shoulders and waist as well as his neck. No ball joints though. The rear of his vest has yellowed too, possibly due to when I had him on display which may have been in sunlight – I’m not sure. Oh well. At the time, this was one of my favorite pieces in my DBZ collection, but he’s kind of just so-so now.

Lastly, but not least, we have the IF Labs take on battle damaged Super Saiyan Vegeta from the film Cooler’s Revenge. After just the three figures in their special 9″ line, Irwin created the brand IF Labs (later re-named Giant Ape after the Jakks sale) for large scale collector figures. Most of the figures released in this line were based on the many DBZ films getting dubbed and released by Funimation, but they would eventually tackle DBZ characters like Vegito and Super Buu. This Vegeta is about 8″ tall, making him much shorter than most of the characters released in this line which actually put him in scale for once. His articulation is expansive when compared with the 5″ line – ball shoulders, neck, elbow, hips, knees, shins, and waist. He’s not capable of much in the way of dynamic poses, but his standard look is pretty nice on its own. The sculpting is the real stand-out with this Vegeta as his armor is cracked and broken in places, the bodysuit torn with fragments hanging, his skin is scratched and bleeding and is very evocative of the source artwork. He has an angry, but determined, look to his face and the hair is in two distinct pieces giving the spikes nice definition. There’s finer details as well like stitching on the boots and gloves really giving this figure a jolt of realism, even above what is present in the film. Some of that realism, like his teeth, actually take away from the figure slightly because he looks too real and unlike the actual cartoon. Otherwise, the attention to detail is rather impressive including the all-white boots which is film accurate, even though he always had gold-tipped ones when wearing this attire in the anime. The only thing that stinks about my particular figure is the tiny paint chip on the end of his nose, a terrible place for a spot of missing paint. This was probably my favorite Vegeta figure, until I got the Figuarts one, though I do have another non-Irwin/Jakks Vegeta I’m quite fond of. I suppose I would have preferred a really awesome, non-battle damaged version of the character in this line, but at least the battle damage looks good. They also did eventually do a normal Vegeta and he looked pretty terrible. A lot of the figures in this line suffered with scale as often the heads would be too small, but for at least this figure IF Labs nailed it.

Hopefully you had fun on this trip down memory lane with me and Vegeta. I plan on doing more Dragon Ball related posts in the not too distant future so if you like that franchise you might want to hit that subscribe button!


Batman: The Animated Series – “Robin’s Reckoning: Part I”

Robins_Reckoning-Title_CardEpisode Number:  32

Original Air Date:  February 7, 1993

Directed by:  Dick Sebast

Written by:  Randy Rogel

First Appearance(s):  Tony Zucco, The Flying Graysons

 

Up until now we’ve seen very little of the sidekick formerly known as The Boy Wonder – Robin. He’s only appeared in a couple of episodes and hasn’t really brought much to the table. For episode 32, we’re going to finally find out how this Robin came to be via the flashback heavy episode – “Robin’s Reckoning.” Fox held onto this one for a long time. It’s production order episode 32, but it’s air date episode 51 and the first episode we’re covering the was held over into 1993. Fox knew it had a pretty good tale on its hands, and since the episode is a bit heavy, the network chose to premier it in prime time on February 7th with Part II following the next week on Valentine’s Day. It would air in reruns during the regular afternoon and Saturday morning time slots so there wasn’t an issue with the content, but of the several episodes of this show to be shown-off in a prime time slot, this one is arguably the most deserving.

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Robin, getting some of that action he was craving.

The episode opens with Batman and Robin in the midst of a stake-out. Some crooks are expected to show-up at a construction yard where the steel beams of a future skyscraper have already been erected. They’re saboteurs and intend to take the thing down or compromise the building’s integrity through explosive means. When we join in with our heroes we learn through Robin’s complaining that they’ve already been waiting for over four hours. Robin is especially child-like in this brief sequence and let’s out a “wahoo!” when the crooks finally show. For whatever reason, we’re going to see more kid Robin in terms of his behavior during this episode than we’re accustomed to. He’ll even address Alfred as “Man,” injecting a little Bart Simpson into his vernacular. I assume it’s to highlight the difference in character between he and Batman, but it sounds rather forced.

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I love “menacing” Batman.

Robin goes in first and Batman follows. They tangle with the crooks, a trio of typical gangster types, that contains some fun action pieces since they’re fighting in a pretty dangerous environment. One guy even gets a hold of a rail gun that nearly takes off Robin’s fingers. Another unfortunate fool ends up dangling from a girder, and when the other two attempt to escape Batman instructs Robin to let them go since Mr. About-To-Fall-To-His-Messy-Death is the only guy they need to find out who’s hiring these guys. In an amusing exchange, the crook refuses to talk so Batman and Robin walk away. He shouts after them that the cops wouldn’t leave him in this state and Batman is quick to remind him that they’re not the cops. I like this ruthless side of Batman and it makes me kind of wish the guy did fall so we could see if Batman truly would have stood aside. My guess is he probably would not, but it’s fun to think he might not have. Anyways, the crook eventually talks and says he’s working for a guy named Billy Marin. As the name is spoken Batman reacts with surprise and the sound of a bell chime can be heard, as in, the name rings a bell. This is easily the most hack thing this show has done and I really wish it wasn’t part of an otherwise excellent episode. It’s literally an audible cue as there is nothing in the scene responsible for the sound – so lame. When Robin pounces on him for info Batman abruptly cuts him off and orders him to get the Batmobile. Confused and hurt, Robin slinks away leaving Batman alone with his prey. He growls about wanting answers and the scene ends.

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Robin’s been a pretty cheerful guy up until now, but we’re in for a lot of Angry Robin from here on out.

At the Batcave, Robin is distressed about being brought home suddenly. He apologizes for his behavior at the construction yard, but Batman won’t explain why he’s bringing Robin back. Citing some old rules they apparently agreed to long ago, he justifies his needs for privacy and takes off. Robin has now gone from upset to downright angry. Alfred is there to hear him out, and bring him some supper (it kind of bothers me that Alfred first shows up in his pajamas, then is seen serving Dick in his tux. I’d like to think Alfred doesn’t need to get dressed in the middle of the night just to serve food) while Robin rants about how selfish Batman is. Finally it dawns on him to just look up Billy Marin on Batman’s gigantic computer, and he finds out Marin is an alias for one Tony Zucco. Robin repeats the name menacingly as the screen fades to black – it’s flashback time!

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Sid the Squid, listed as another alias here for Zucco, will come up again in a later episode.

Tony Zucco (Thomas F. Wilson) is apparently a small time extortionist who once tried to get a circus owner to hire him for “protection.” This circus also happened to be the home of The Flying Graysons consisting of young Dick Grayson along with his mother and father. Dick, aged 10, witnessed his boss tossing Zucco out of his trailer ordering him to get lost. Zucco then issued a threat which foolishly included the tired old line of “You’ll remember the name of Tony Zucco!” or something to that effect. The next night, as the Graysons are preparing to take center stage for their trapeze act, Dick witnesses Zucco exiting the tent. He tries to warn his parents, but it’s their cue and they are performers, after all. Dick’s father heads out onto the trapeze rope with Dick to follow. They do their routine before Dick returns to the podium so his mother can take his place. As she swings off Dick notices the rope for the trapeze has been tampered with. We see the silhouette of his parents swinging against the tent backdrop. They swing out of picture, then just the rope swings back into it accompanied by a gasping sound from the audience.

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The Flying Graysons.

The episode doesn’t linger too long on the actual accident, instead jumping to the aftermath of Dick telling a young Commissioner Gordon what he saw and that he thinks this Zucco character is to blame. Bruce Wayne, who was in attendance, has waited around to ask about the boy since obviously he’s experienced something similar. Gordon mentions he’s worried Zucco might come for him, so Wayne offers to help. The next day, Dick bids a tearful goodbye to his friends at the circus before getting into a car with Gordon who takes him to Wayne Manor. There he’s given a bedroom larger than my house and time to settle in. We get a quick cut back to an angry Robin, before joining Batman in the Batmobile who’s now making it obvious he knows that Billy Marin and Tony Zucco are one in the same and we go back to the flashback (one that’s apparently now more from Batman’s point of view).

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I get a very Lupin the 3rd vibe from this guy.

During this flashback we see how Batman made it a mission of his own to find Zucco to make him pay for what he did to Dick’s family. This includes a younger Batman (in a costume that reminds me of Year One and a bit of The Dark Knight Returns with a softer blue and a fat, all black logo and a belt with many pouches) going undercover to dig up dirt on Zucco, finding out he’s hiding out with his uncle Arnold Stromwell (Eugene Roche). We first met a current version of Stromwell in the episode “It’s Never Too Late” and now we get to see him as a slightly younger version of himself living the good life. Batman pays him a threatening kind of visit, in which Stromwell claims to not know the whereabouts of his bum nephew. Batman leaves, but not before tapping the residence which allows him to listen in on Zucco congratulating his uncle for getting ride of “The Bat.” Stromwell, on the other hand, is not in a congratulatory mood and kicks his nephew out of the family for bringing Batman upon his empire. The episode says little about Stromwell, but we know from his other appearance that his empire is built on illegal drugs. Zucco is able to make an escape, but it leaves Batman feeling like he’s close. Upon returning home though, Alfred reminds him that he really needs to take the time to mentor Dick and help him through what he’s dealing with. At first, Bruce is taken aback by Alfred’s comments pointing out what he’s doing is all for Dick, but quickly realizes that justice isn’t exactly what Dick needs right in this moment and he elects to spend more time with him. We get a nice scene where Bruce tries to cheer up Dick, and in doing so lets him know that he went through something similar. The hurt won’t go away, but it will get better.

The episode jumps back to the present with Robin scolding Batman over the radio for not letting him be a part of this. Batman won’t budge though and shuts down communication. Robin doesn’t respond in the way Batman probably hoped he would as he angrily jumps onto a Batcycle vowing to not sit this one out and even slipping in some ominous threats for the future about no longer staying on the sidelines (something this series will never readdress but its sequel series will). Alfred can only watch as Robin speeds off out of the Batcave leaving us, the viewers, to wait until next week to see how this all gets sorted out.

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The smaller moments shared between Bruce and Dick work so well that I wish there were more.

Really, aside from that one really lame sound cue, this episode is exceptional story-telling for a children’s program. That sounds like a back-handed compliment, but it’s not intended to be. Children’s shows have to work around emotion sometimes. People can get mad, but they can only do so much to show it. They can also be sad, but rarely are they allowed to grieve for something as long-lasting and impactful as the murder of one’s parents. This episode does a great job of artfully telling its story in a way that pleased the censors. The death of the Graysons was especially artful with everything happening offscreen without just doing a “yada yada” thing. It’s there, and we experience it in the moment, we just don’t actually see the pair fall to their untimely deaths. And I also appreciate the small moments. The episode doesn’t put the camera on Young Dick for any real length of time to focus on his grief, but it illustrates his grief in smaller ways. When Bruce walks in on him at the end of the episode we see him wiping tears from his eyes letting us know that he’s probably just been sitting around in a state of distress. It’s possible he’s spent every day since the incident doing just that. We get enough of his sorrow to feel it without letting it become the focus of the episode.

What is kind of lost is the the focus of the episode is an opening of an old wound for our present day Robin and the potential start of a rift between he and Batman. Director Dick Sebast does as well as he can with the 22 minute runtime to balance things out between flashback and the present day anger of Robin. While his boyish antics early in the episode aren’t very convincing, his anger is. Voice actor Loren Lester does a great job in making us believe angry Robin is a force to be reckoned with. His anger at Zucco for what he did years ago and his anger directed at Batman for keeping vengeance from him is palpable. It’s a good a setup for Part II. The only other victim of the short runtime is perhaps Alfred. I get the sense the episode wants us to feel as if Alfred is being put in the middle, and he’s supposed to be a stand-in for the audience as well. We want to like and root for both Batman and Robin, as Alfred obviously does as well. We understand Robin’s anger, but we also know that Batman is only looking out for him. At least, that’s the understanding I have in regards to Batman’s motives, but that may be because he better explains that in the follow-up and I’m inadvertently recalling that tidbit of information as I watch this episode again. As a kid, there’s a good chance I felt Batman was being a jerk.

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The episode succeeds in giving us insight into the Robin character thereby justifying his existence in this cartoon, which before now, he kind of felt like he didn’t belong.

“Robin’s Reckoning” is justifiably a favorite episode of many and I’m happy to say it holds up well. I love Robin’s origin because it both ties him to Batman in their shared tragedy and because it provides a plausible reason for why Robin is so agile and graceful as an adult able to keep up with Batman. In re-watching it now I do see how the show really relies on the audience having an established relationship with the Robin character since this is only his third appearance and we’re kind of asked to take his side in his conflict with Batman, the character we’ve been spending every week day with. I suppose it’s simply an advantage to working with iconic characters like Batman and Robin who really need no introduction, though still a little surprising since how small a role Robin had played in the film franchise. I’ve always been on the fence about Robin as a character, the fact that Batman would let a kid play super hero is rather absurd. And I have a cynical opinion of him that he’s just around to give kids someone to relate to, which they really don’t need. Kids aren’t that dumb. This episode does help to justify his existence and thankfully it’s not the start of Batman no longer being a mostly solo hero.


Batman: The Animated Series – “The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy”

The_Cape_and_Cowl_Conspiracy-Title_CardEpisode Number:  31

Original Air Date:  October 14, 1992

Directed by:  Frank Paur

Written by:  Elliot S. Maggin

First Appearance(s):  Josiah “The Interrogator” Wormwood, The Bat-Signal

Episode 31 turns its attention to a seldom used villain in Josiah Wormwood, also known as The Interrogator. It’s his lone appearance in the series and he is appearing chiefly because the writer for today’s episode, Elliot S. Maggin, is essentially adapting his own story from Detective Comics #450 – “The Cape and Cowl Death Trap!” It’s not the first time we’ve seen a writer cross-over from comics to television to adapt their own story for this series and it probably isn’t the last. Maggin, as best I can tell, is now a retired comic book writer, but he’s worked on a lot of the major characters for both of the big companies including Batman, Superman, Spider-Man and Hulk. He’s also written scripts for other super hero cartoons and even tried getting into politics on three separate occasions, all three resulting in either his defeat at the ballot box or withdrawal. Perhaps because we have an outsider for this episode, “The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy” has a unique feel. It involves Batman being tested by his foe repeatedly in a sort of game over his trademarked cape and cowl as opposed to some bid to either kill Batman or pull an elaborate caper. It also features some interesting behavior on the part of our hero who has a more playful, and boastful, persona in this one.

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Meet The Interrogator Josiah Wormwood, you will likely forget all about him at the conclusion of this week’s episode.

The episode opens with a nameless courier (Mark Taylor) being lured to an amusement park or something in the middle of the night to retrieve some bearer bonds. He’s being guided by a letter composed of block letters cut and pasted from a periodical while a voice booms over an audio system urging him on. He seems annoyed, and soon finds himself stumbling into quicksand. Ahh quicksand, one of those things I had a tremendous fear of as a child because it seems to only pop-up as a threat in cartoons. As an adult, no such fear. He escapes with his life, but the criminal behind the trap acquires the bonds he was after. We soon join Batman and Commissioner Gordon in Gordon’s office as Batman is informed of the theft that took place. The courier was supposed to retrieve some bonds that were being donated to charity and was intercepted by noted criminal Josiah Wormwood (Bud Cort). Batman is pretty familiar with him, though it doesn’t sound like the two have come face to face before. He also knows that Wormwood has a connection in Gotham to a Baron Waclaw Jozek (John Rhys-Davies) who is some sort of con-man able to live openly in society, apparently his dealings occur on the edge of the law.

Jozek happens to be speaking at a banquet that night and as he approaches the podium to speak Batman brazenly swoops in and nabs the guy. He swings him around the room and drags him through a cake before ending up on a balcony. It’s a rather impressive feat of strength for the caped crusader as the Baron is a man of generous proportions. There’s also a quick cut of the audience laughing as Batman circles the room. It leads me to believe that director Frank Paur felt it important the crowd react that way as opposed to in fear. I think if I saw Batman do that I’d probably freak out as there’s nothing about his demeanor, nor Jozek’s, that suggests what’s taking place should be funny. Maybe it’s just an open secret among the group that Jozek is a scumbag, but what does that say about them if they’re there to hear him speak?

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The Baron does not take too kindly to Batman’s meddling, but is he actually going to do something about it or just take that suggested vacation?

Batman does his usual interrogation on the Baron in order to suss out some information on Wormwood and his movements in Gotham. The Baron is rather terrified, but has little information to offer resulting in Batman leaving an angry Jozek on a rooftop with a recommendation he take an extended vacation. Later on in the evening, we see Jozek  seated at a desk in a penthouse. Wormwood struts in indicating he was asked to come here to meet with the Baron and talk business. Jozek informs Wormwood that he wants him to acquire Batman’s cape and cowl for him, but he won’t reveal why. When Wormwood asks, Jozek informs him he’ll tell him only if Jozek tells him how he acquired the bearer bonds from the other night. The two part with Wormwood agreeing to do the job and the two will revisit their discussion when the job is done.

Batman finds himself summoned to Gotham PD via the Bat-Signal, the first time we’ve seen it used in the show. Batman even makes a comment about Gordon’s new “toy” so apparently Gordon commissioned the device in this version of Gotham (which is surprising, since so much of the series borrows from the Burton films in which Batman gifted the signal to Gordon). The scene is very familiar to the one that occurs at the end of Batman Begins, minus the exchange about thank you’s. Gordon received another one of Wormwood’s notes in block print, but this one contains more of a riddle about where to find him. He gives it to Batman, who immediately knows it’s referencing a train yard. Batman ends up inside a train there that immediately starts up. He’s trapped, and Wormwood speaks over an intercom taunting him. There’s a woman tied up on the tracks, and if Batman wants to save her he’s instructed to turn over his cape and cowl. Reluctant to do so, Batman is able to escape from the engine in just the nick of time only to find out there was no woman – it was just a hologram.

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He’s got a solution for everything.

A surprisingly upbeat Wormwood is then shown telephoning the Baron. He relays that Batman escaped him, but he has a new plan and will utilize a wax museum that he for some reason has access to. Batman, again, is summoned by Gordon to receive another riddle and, once again, he knows it’s referencing the wax museum. He heads there and almost immediately finds himself trapped in a room under a giant light bulb that’s apparently pretty hot. It’s melting the max, and Wormwood once again is there to taunt Batman over the intercom system (this is apparently his “thing”). Batman first tries to escape, but a steel door closes over the ceiling and it’s apparently strong enough to sever Batman’s grappling gun cable. As the wax sculptures around him melt away, Batman notices the metal endoskeleton the wax is draped over and fashions a crude spear to take out the giant heat lamp. Unfortunately, this just triggers some gas to start seeping in. Accepting defeat, Batman hands over his cape and cowl. Apparently, he was prepared for this fate though as he wears a second mask under his traditional one preserving his secret identity. Wormwood seems disappointed for only a moment, then seems to not care. It’s interesting that Wormwood isn’t interested in taking Batman out. As more of a game-player, he probably would rather Batman leave knowing he was bested and having to live with that defeat.

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An exercise equipment fight? Well, I suppose it’s better than the screwdriver vs umbrella fight from “I’ve Got Batman In My Basement.”

Wormwood returns to Jozek who is delighted to receive the cape and cowl. He offers Wormwood a drink (looks like sparkling water, since we can’t show adults drinking booze in a  kid’s show after all) and the two sit down to share information. Wormwood spills the beans on who arranged the job to steal the bonds the other night and where they’re located, producing a key which he is to give to his counterparty the next day. He then prods Jozek about the cape and cowl and what he could possibly want with it. Well, what does one typically do with such a thing – wear it of course! Only it’s revealed that Wormwood isn’t speaking with Baron Jozek at all, but Batman in disguise! He played him like a fool, and now he wants that key. Wormwood tries to run off, but Batman is too quick. The two have a little fight in a gym located in the penthouse that nearly results in Wormwood’s demise when he crashes through a window. The police arrive though and apparently they had the room bugged – Batman and Gordon orchestrated the whole thing. As a parting shot, we see Wormwood in jail receiving a package with a rhyming sort of note about keeping warm. The package is from Batman, and it contains a cape and cowl.

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Batman, like The Joker, seems to delight in having the last laugh.

“The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy” is one part mystery and one part thriller, but on a small scale. Wormwood may lack name recognition, but he’s fine for the role carved out for him in this episode. It’s sort of interesting seeing Batman defeated, but of course it’s only interesting upon the initial viewing since it’s revealed Batman was playing him the whole time. Also of interest is seeing Batman act like kind of a smug jerk in many of his exchanges with Gordon. When Gordon receives a note from Wormwood, each time he asks what it could be referring to only for Batman to essentially taunt him and quietly boast about his own intellect because he immediately knows what the letter is referencing. It’s especially smug on Batman’s part in regards to the wax museum clue since he actually knows the reference because Wormwood told him! What a dick! It’s also kind of neat to see Batman play a master of disguise in fooling Wormwood as Baron Jozek. It’s rather preposterous, but I guess it is just a cartoon. I do wish they tried to have Kevin Conroy voice Jozek so at least Batman’s ability to duplicate that voice exactly would have some basis in reality. For all I know they did and maybe they just weren’t happy with Conroy’s takes.

At the end of the day, “The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy” is a fine episode, but not really memorable or interesting. Even visually, it’s kind of boring and the different settings Batman is inserted into aren’t particularly inventive. Batman seems less stylized for the most part too, and with a pretty conventional adversary, the whole thing feels rather small. Wormwood is not exactly threatening looking with his receding hairline and ordinary outfit. I suppose not every villain needs to be this outrageous personality, but a little styling goes a long way. This episode is basically just filler, but we’ve got some good ones lurking over the next two weeks that will hopefully make up for it.