Batman: The Animated Series – “Trial”

btas trialEpisode Number:  68

Original Air Date:  May 16, 1994

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Paul Dini and Bruce Timm

First Appearance(s):  None

“Trial” could be described as one of our first big payoff episodes for the series as it draws heavily on the events of season one. After spending considerable time developing Batman’s rogues’ gallery, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm decided to play around with them like a kid diving into a toy box for this episode as many of Batman’s foes are brought back for an ensemble episode. It also refers back to “Shadow of the Bat” and Gotham’s new district attorney, Janet Van Dorn (Stephanie Zimbalist, replacing Lynette Mettey, and also the daugher of Alfred voice actor Efrem Zimbalist Jr.), who was first introduced there as a hard-nosed and rigid authority figure. Here her personality is essentially doubled-down on as we find out she has a strong dislike for Batman and Gordon’s reliance on the vigilante in combating the crime infecting Gotham. Her dislike of Batman is a bit more practical than that of Detective Bullock’s as Batman’s clearly breaking the law, or at least bending it, with his vigilante antics and it makes her job considerably more difficult. And since she is at odds with Batman, it only makes sense to lean into that conflict as the backbone for this episode.

janet trial

Goth DA Janet Van Dorn assumes the spotlight for her second appearance. She also has been slightly redesigned to appear more youthful.

“Trial” opens in a court setting. Pamela Isely (Diane Pershing), better known as Poison Ivy, is facing incarceration beyond just treatment at Arkham Asylum and Van Dorn is arguing for life in prison. Ivy is able to avoid jail-time due to her capture being at the hands of Batman, who naturally isn’t present to even testify against her. The judge sends her back to Arkham, not an outcome Ivy probably wanted but it’s still better than prison. When the media approaches Van Dorn following the verdict, she uses the camera time to blast Batman calling him a disgrace and placing the blame for the presence of criminally insane rogues in the city on him. She’s also not afraid to let Commissioner Gordon know how she feels, but as always, he’s willing to stand-up for Batman viewing him as their best weapon in the fight against crime. Batman even drops in on their little meeting, presenting a gang leader as a present (who is wearing a skull shirt that seems to resemble a certain Marvel character’s logo). When Van Dorn challenges him to take off the mask and put on a uniform, Batman says nothing and departs. She takes a batarang from the perp as a parting gift, I guess?

At Arkham, a somewhat somber looking Poison Ivy is returned to her room. Her pal Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin) tries to cheer her up, but she has little success. She mentions something big is about to go down though that will likely lift her spirits. We then see some zombie-like orderlies and doctors milling about and The Mad Hatter bursts into the picture to reveal he’s used his mind control cards to subdue them as chaos breaks out.

captured batman

Van Dorn and Batman find themselves tied together by the real foes of Gotham.

A fatigued Van Dorn is shown arriving at a restaurant for dinner. Her date this evening is none other than Bruce Wayne. If Bruce is romantically interested in Van Dorn or just looking to get inside the head of someone who could either be friend or foe to Batman is not shown. Given his dedication to his Batman persona, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if it was the latter. A waiter (clearly voiced by Mark Hamill, which is an unintentional piece of foreshadowing) comes to the table to tell Van Dorn she has a phone call. She never returns, and soon Batman is summoned by Gordon to find out the DA has been kidnapped. A ransom note was left behind containing a riddle. Batman deciphers it and heads for the court-house where he’s jumped by Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn.

Janet Van Dorn finds herself locked-up in Arkham. As she demands to speak with someone, she’s greeted by the former district attorney, Two-Face (Richard Moll). They’re having a little trial and need Van Dorn to act as a defense attorney with Two-Face the acting DA. Her client? None other than Batman. And to make things more interesting, Van Dorn’s fate is to be tied to that of her client. As Killer Croc (Aron Kincaid) dumps Batman in the cell with her, she complains about their situation and suggests Batman is where he belongs. Batman has no interest in debating his existence with Van Dorn.

trial jury

Batman’s jury hardly seems fair and impartial.

The two are lead into the court room, where a bunch of raving inmates jeer the presence of Batman and Gotham’s DA. Harley Quinn is there to taunt Batman revealing she stole his belt. The Ventriloquist (George Dzundza) with a newly reconstructed Scarface (also Dzundza) are acting as the bailiff and the jury is rather stacked against Batman as it contains:  Poison Ivy, Harley, Mad Hatter (Roddy McDowall), Killer Croc, Scarecrow, and The Riddler (Scarecrow and Riddler are not voiced in this episode). The judge? Well, it has to be The Joker (Mark Hamill) who is looking resplendent in a black robe and wig.

After Dent makes a rather brief and to the point opening statement, the trial gets underway. The Mad Hatter is the first witness who blames Batman for creating him. Van Dorn is able to expose his sick side rather easily, recalling the events of his debut and his obsessive pursuit of a woman who spurned his advances. Harley is the next, and Van Dorn is quick to point out she’s improperly influencing the judge who is laying his head in her lap (they apparently made up). Van Dorn gets no where with that complaint, but during her questioning of Quinn she actually reveals her origin for the first time as a doctor at Arkham perverted by The Joker. She also reveals that Joker ratted her out during his last capture, which enrages Harley and forces Croc to carry her out kicking and screaming.

harleys tampering

Harely and Joker are shown to have a still combustible relationship, but Harley just can’t seem to dump the clown.

Poison Ivy is next up, and her past with trying to murder Harvey Dent is once again brought up. Van Dorn accuses Ivy of having more love for plants than humans, and when Ivy denies that, Van Dorn begins taunting her by plucking the petals off a flower. This sets her off, and Ivy attacks Van Dorn and the two have to be separated. Van Dorn then composes herself for her closing remarks, claiming she now sees that it wasn’t Batman who created these villains, but the villains are the ones who created Batman. Her argument is apparently persuasive, and the jury actually finds Batman innocent. Joker is quick to point out that this is a court composed of the violent and depraved, and as such, they’ll still sentence Batman to the same fate that would have befallen him had he been guilty. Quoting Porky Pig’s “That’s all folks,” Joker strikes the bench with a rubber chicken and the two are dragged away.

van dorn and judge joker

The straight-laced Van Dorn is forced to contend with the crazies of Arkham, something she proves she’s capable of.

The rogues drag Batman to an execution chamber where the electric chair awaits him. Joker enters dressed as a preacher now as Batman is taken out of his strait jacket and placed in the chair. It’s at this point Van Dorn remembers the batarang in her jacket from earlier, and she takes out the only light in the room with it. This gives Batman the only opening he needs as he slips out of his confines and returns to the shadows where he is oh so comfortable being.

The tables have now turned, and Batman lets them know they’re now locked-up in there with him (perhaps a nod to Watchmen?) as he starts picking them off. When he grabs Croc, Joker reaches for Scarface’s miniature, but functional, tommy gun and opens fire. When Scarface warns Joker that he’ll hit Croc, he responds with “What’s your point?”

batman electric chair

This seems like a bad situation for Batman to find himself in, but as usual, he’ll make the best of it.

Batman grabs Van Dorn and the two attempt to escape, but are met by a scythe-wielding Scarecrow on the stairs. Batman is able to parry his strikes, which result in Scarface losing his head, and dispatches of the villains closing in on them. They escape to the rooftop where The Joker awaits. Joker ropes Batman and tugs him off the building with the rope affixed to an abutment that allows Joker to swing from the other end. He tries to take Batman out with a giant mallet, but as always, Batman is able to escape and take him out in the process. By now, the police (who have been tracking Batman’s location this whole time) arrive to clean up the mess. In a brief sequence to close things out, Van Dorn admits to Batman she sees a need for him in Gotham, but adds she’ll still work to create a Gotham that no longer needs Batman. He responds with a smile and a simple “Me too.”

“Trial” is a fun examination of how Batman and his adversaries are connected. Van Dorn’s argument that the cartoonish villains of their world are created by Batman is a common one, while the episode makes the case that it’s the other way around. The reality is that the two are forever intertwined. A criminal act created Batman, but Batman has certainly had a hand in creating some of the villains he combats (Van Dorn even references Joker’s creation which follows that of Batman ’89). It’s a fun little debate, and getting a bunch of villains together in one place is also equally fun and basically the impetus for Batman:  The Movie. I like seeing how the villains also play off each other, though Croc is back to being a dim-witted piece of comic relief who just wants to throw a rock at Batman. Having Harley’s origins touched upon is a nice little nugget and something that will be explored down the road. I could certainly nitpick how easy it was for Mad Hatter to gain access to his special cards or how Van Dorn is a great shot on her first try wielding a batarang, but this episode is pretty packed as-is (supposedly, this plot was considered as the first movie, but was scrapped in favor of Mask of the Phantasm) and had it spent any additional time on such details it would likely not have worked out as well. The script is also delightful, making this perhaps the most quotable episode of the series. The only gaffe, plot-wise, is the presence of Killer Croc in Arkham when it was established in “Sideshow” he’s not insane, just a bad guy.

preacher joker

Preacher Joker is one of the fun little touches in this episode.

Dong Yang Animation does a nice job with this episode having to animate so many unique characters at once. They even went through the trouble of portraying the villains in jumpsuits initially, rather than taking the easy way out and just having them in costume from the start. Bruce Wayne also gets a new look as he’s ditched his old brown suit for a sharp-looking gray one that seems to be his new default look. The drab backgrounds of Arkham are juxtaposed against the colorful costumes everyone sports and it creates a nice look. I also really enjoyed Joker’s various attires and the toy collector in me wouldn’t mind an action figure of Judge Joker and Preacher Joker. Van Dorn also received a subtle make-over from her prior appearance. She wears a blue suit now and appears a bit more youthful than before. There are a couple little production gaffes, like a character’s mouth moving when it shouldn’t and Riddler just disappearing, but nothing glaring enough to take away from the overall presentation.

“Trial” is a good second season episode that really takes advantage of the lore and backstories established in season one, and even elsewhere. It’s the type of episode I like to see in a show’s second season, and for a show like Batman that typically focuses on stand-alone stories, I always get a little rush of excitement when past events are mentioned.

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