Category Archives: batman the animated series

The New Batman Adventures – “Torch Song”

torch songEpisode Number:  10 (95)

Original Air Date:  June 13, 1998

Directed by:  Curt Geda

Written by:  Rich Fogel

First Appearance:  Firefly

One of the advantages in moving Batman from Fox to The WB was a lessening on restrictions placed on the character. It’s a bit funny since Fox was often the butt of many jokes, usually by shows it was airing, for being willing to put crass and outlandish content on its airwaves when compared with other networks. Maybe it’s just a simple case of escalation, but when The WB Network was launched it proved to be even less restrictive. When Batman was a part of Fox Kids, he had some rules he needed to follow. He couldn’t bleed and for some reason he couldn’t break glass. He often had to deal with his enemies indirectly, though at times he landed some solid blows (unlike Spider-Man who came later who wasn’t allowed to be seen punching a bad guy). Batman did enjoy a major concession by the network in that his foes could use realistic weaponry, so it’s not like it was all bad.

Something Fox was apparently loathe to include was fire. During production on Batman, the writers wanted to include the villain Firefly, a lesser villain but one who had been around for a long time in the comics. Firefly, as the name implies, likes to use fire as his main method of attack and that was apparently a no-no. It’s interesting because the same year Batman premiered, X-Men would as well and it was able to include the villain Pyro in its first season. Whatever. With the move to the new network though, former villains once shot down were now in-play, so here is the apparently long overdue episode introducing Firefly.

shannon

Bruce Wayne, always with a new girl.

“Torch Song” begins with Bruce Wayne taking a new girl to a concert. Her name is Shannon (Jane Wiedlin) and the episode seems to imply she’s a lot younger than Bruce. There’s either a generational gap here, or Bruce could just be really out of touch with pop music. He doesn’t seem too thrilled to be dragged here, but Shannon is quite eager to see tonight’s performer, Cassidy (Karla DeVito), and from some choice seats. As they head in to the venue, they pass Barbara who is apparently there solo. Her seats are much worse. She seems to be amused at the sight of Bruce literally being dragged into the show and into a situation he seemingly has no control over.

Backstage, Cassidy is getting ready to hit the stage. Cassidy is a short, curvy, blonde with a low voice. She’s played up to be rather sexy, but the visual style for this show makes all of the women just look weird to me. She’s in the midst of an exchange with someone who works backstage. He’s a large fellow by the name of Garfield Lynns (Mark Rolston) and he’s more than a little creepy. It would seem the two used to be an item, but now they’re not, and old Garfield isn’t too happy about that. Worse, he’s apparently in charge of the pyrotechnics and we’re about to find out they’re a pretty big part of the show. Cassidy is sick of the conversation and wants the guy fired, but apparently doesn’t see the danger in having a just-fired ex-boyfriend controlling the pyro for the show that’s about to begin.

cassidy stage

Even Iron Maiden would be impressed.

Cassidy takes to the stage. She’s on a podium surrounded by flames. Her voice actress, Karla DeVito, is a professional singer herself so Cassidy both looks and sounds the part of a singer. As she gets into the song, the fire rages around her. It soon reaches unsafe levels, but the crowd is in awe. Eventually, Cassidy can’t continue the performance because it’s too hot as she drops to her knees. The fire then rages out of control and people start to flee. Backstage, Cassidy’s manager tries to stop Lynns from making things worse, but he shoves him aside. Soon he realizes this thing it out of control, and bails.

Bruce doesn’t budge, despite the protests of Shannon. He stands there and is apparently scanning for any way he can get to the woman and save her, but nothing is opening up. Suddenly, Batgirl swings in and makes the save, letting Cassidy know she’s a big fan before taking off. Bruce is apparently not concerned about blowing their identities as he approaches Batgirl to praise her for the rescue. She reminds him sometimes it pays to get the cheap seats.

Detective Harvey Bullock (Robert Costanzo) is shown storming an apartment with a host of police officers in tow. It’s the home of Lynns and it’s basically a shrine to Cassidy. Lynns is no where to be found though, so Bullock helps himself to the contents of the guys’ refrigerator. Now feels like an appropriate time to note that Bullock’s character model has put on quite a few pounds between series. Lynns is then shown at work in a different building, vowing revenge.

cassidy shrine

Probably not the mark of a man in good mental health.

Cassidy is then shown at her apartment having a chat with her agent, Frank (David Paymer). She’s unconcerned with the apparent attempt on her life, and remains so even after opening a threatening letter that burns in her hands after she reads it. The letter contained a picture of her and the message “The star that burns brightest burns fastest.” She’s not going to let this threat prevent her from her next appearance at a new club calls Rock City that night, which is where Firefly chooses to make his entrance.

firefly

The villain of the day:  Firefly.

Firefly comes onto the scene dressed in what I think is an all metal suit. That would probably get really hot really fast, but I guess he’s not bothered by it. He has oversized lenses on his eyes giving him a bug-like appearance which the wings also add to. He has a gun and a tank on his bank making him visually resemble a Bizarro Mr. Freeze since his gun shoots fire instead of ice. His fire-bombing of the venue sends people fleeing, which attracts the attention of Batman and Batgirl who had been enjoying a drama-free evening up until now. They’re able to swoop in as Firefly confronts Cassidy amongst the flames.

fire sword

He’s got a sword made of fire. Better add that one to the notes, Batman.

Firefly demonstrates his wings aren’t just for show, as he blasts off out of there following a wicked right hook from Batman. Batman isn’t willing to let him go, as he uses one of his many ropes to grab onto Firefly. He’s then taken for a ride through the skies of Gotham, but his trip is cut short, literally, when Firefly produces a freaking flame-sword. He slashes the rope binding his ankles sending Batman plummeting pretty violently to the ground where Batgirl and Cassidy are waiting to check on him.

cassidy

Cassidy seems quite happy to see Batman.

Sometime later, Batman drops in on Cassidy for a little intel. She seems happy to see the caped crusader and immediately puts on a flirtatious act as she cozies up to the Batman. She tells Batman about Lynns and her past relationship with him. Interestingly, from her perspective they were never really an item, just a pair of people who had dinner a few times and he couldn’t take the hint that things weren’t going to progress any further. She then makes a play for Batman to be her personal bodyguard, but Batman pulls his disappearing trick to get out of that one.

Batman and Batgirl head out to an old warehouse connected to Lynns. Sure enough, it appears to be his hideout as it’s loaded with lots of pyrotechnic equipment. No Lynns though, and as Batman looks around Batgirl is ever chatty. This appears to be a theme for this show where Batman’s sidekick of the moment keeps yapping away while Batman remains stoic, only for the yapper to screw things up. In this case, Batgirl apparently wanted to shine some light on the area and throws a switch as Batman shouts at her not to. Too late, and the building explodes.

firefly kidnapping

Not the hero she was looking for.

As we’re left to ponder the fate of Batman and Batgirl, Cassidy is shown rehearsing in a studio. Things seem rather normal, until smoke starts to fill the studio. As people flee, Cassidy stumbles through the smoke in search of a helping hand. She finds one in Frank, and the two escape. Only, she though it was Frank, but it turns out to be Firefly who now has what he’s apparently sought for some time.

Back at that warehouse, the explosion apparently wasn’t as bad as the cut made it seem. Oh there is tons of fire, but Batman and Batgirl appear to be no worse for ware. The fire is too much for them to handle though, and they’re forced to flee out a window. Some debris falls on Batgirl and she lets out an awful scream. Batman finds her unconscious beneath a pile of rubble.

img_4530

It’s always Batgirl that seems to get hurt.

We immediately cut to the Batcave where Alfred is tending to Batgirl. This is apparently now a solo mission as Batman ponders how to deal with this new villain. The police have no leads on Cassidy’s kidnapping, but a matchbook Batman found has an address on it and he seems to think that’s where he should look next. Alfred then ends up being the one to suggest he dawn something more durable, which likely excited the marketing department at Warner since Batman will get a new outfit to turn into an action figure.

The matchbook Batman found was from the Mephisto Paint Company, and lo and behold, that’s where Firefly has taken Cassidy. She’s bound and doing the usual thing of trying to reason with her captor. He’s beyond reason though, and instead chooses to do the old villain routine of demonstrating how his fabulous and destructive scheme will go down. It would seem Lynns is a pretty smart guy when it comes to combustion, and he’s invented a gel that is highly flammable. As he demonstrates it for Cassidy, he explains he’s going to fill the Gotham sewer system with the stuff then set it ablaze. As the city burns, the two of them will make their escape out of Gotham and to a new life in parts unknown.

img_4531

There’s a Batman under there.

Before Firefly can set his plan in motion, Batman arrives. He really does have wonderful timing. Sporting an all black heat-resistant suit similar to Firefly’s, Batman goes after him demonstrating that it will take more than a few fireballs to take him out. Firefly turns to his trusty flame-sword to turn the tables on Batman, slicing up some piping and causing it to fall on him. He then sets his plan on motion by starting the gel feed, then turns his attention back to Batman. The flame-sword may have been a handy equalizer, but it’s also a useful tool for Batman to screw up Firefly’s plan. He kicks it out his hand, and it lands in the gel, igniting it. Since it didn’t have time to spread into the sewer, only the plant they’re in goes up in flames. That’s not an issue for two guys in fireproof suits, but poor Cassidy sure has a problem with it. Firefly runs off to apparently try and correct this error, while Batman goes after Cassidy. He’s able to get her to safety, and it must be his lucky day because Firefly stumbles out of the burning building and collapses due to exhaustion, or maybe heat stroke, who knows?

As an epilogue to the events of the episode, Cassidy is shown dining at a restaurant with Frank. She seems to have returned to her defiant and headstrong personality in spite of all that has happened to her as she brushes aside Frank’s concerns about her wellbeing. And Frank couldn’t be happier as all of the publicity created by Firefly has made her more popular than ever. As Frank goes on about incorporating a fire theme into her persona, Cassidy’s gaze goes to a dessert at nearby table which is ignited with flame. She flinches, and Frank takes notice by asking her what’s wrong. As the camera tightens on her face, a look of horror fills her eyes as the episode ends.

bat fire suit

It’s not often an episode gives us a new look for Batman.

Batman: The Animated Series had a lot of success in adapting B-tier villains and boosting their image. Sure, not every one of them was successful, but many were and they became favored villains for viewers of the show and even readers of the comics. Firefly sort of settles in the middle. He’s got a solid gimmick and he’s certainly creepy given the whole stalker aspect of his persona, but I never really bought into him as a high stakes villain. Batman suggests he is by going with this new suit, but it doesn’t really feel earned. Not that I mind the new duds which just strike me as practical. If you’re going to fight a guy who shoots fire, it’s probably a good idea to go with something flame-retardant.

The Cassidy character is fine. I like that they hired someone in Karla DeVito who could both handle the speaking role and do the singing to add some authenticity to her. I can’t decide if we’re supposed to think of her as just a very strong and self-confident individual or if we should view her as foolish for not taking Firefly’s threat seriously. I suppose it’s a little of both, though I admire her bravery. It makes the ending, which seems to implicate she’s going to be traumatized by the events of this episode for years to come, feel a bit mean. It’s similar to how the villain of Riddler’s debut episode turned out who was shown living in fear of The Riddler coming to get him. Cassidy didn’t earn that, and I can’t tell if the episode wants us to think she deserves this. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and presume we’re just getting a glimpse at the lasting impacts one of these supervillains can have. Even though his scheme ultimately failed, Firefly still left a mark that’s pretty significant. It’s not something we’re shown often.

Visually, this episode is pretty neat given all of the fire on display. I feel hot just watching it, though maybe that’s because I’m writing this during a brutal heat wave. Firefly is a bit silly looking, but at least his suit appears functional. The look of it would have fit I quite well with the previous iteration of this show as it has a retro design. Batman’s fire suit is a little more bland by comparison as it’s just an all black suit with no mouth opening or cape. It’s easy to animate at least, and like Firefly’s suit, it certainly looks functional which is probably what Batman would prioritize over style. It’s just not something I’d be clamoring for an action figure of.

cassidy fire eyes

Poor Cassidy is going to have some stuff to work through.

Firefly will not be a one and done villain as he has one other appearance yet to come. As I said earlier, he’s fine and so is this episode. It’s nice to get some new blood into the mix and not every villain needs a sympathy angle. As for Cassidy, this is it for her so we’ll never learn what lasting damage Firefly inflicted upon her. Maybe she would have been brought back had this show received a second order of episodes, but that was not to be. I actually would have liked to have caught up with her again. Since the show declined to follow-up on her, I’ll take the road of the optimist and assume she got the help she needed and was able to live a well-adjusted life going forward. It feels cruel to assume otherwise.

 

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The New Batman Adventures – “Love is a Croc”

love is a crocEpisode Number:  9 (94)

Original Air Date:  July 11, 1998

Directed by: Butch Lukic

Written by:  Steve Gerber

First Appearance:  None

 

There are no noteworthy first appearances in this week’s episode, “Love is a Croc,” but it almost feels like we have a pair. Killer Croc was a frequent contributor during the original run of Batman. He was sometimes portrayed as a vicious killer, and sometimes as a goof, but he was always voiced by Aron Kincaid. Kincaid is no longer a part of the show though, and he’s been replaced by Brooks Gardner. Perhaps less noticeable is the addition of Laraine Newman as the voice of Baby-Doll, replacing Alison LaPlaca. This is only less noteworthy because the character previously only had one appearance, but the difference between the two is pretty noticeable so I would guess that long-time fans picked up on it quite quickly.

chicken

Killer Croc is back with a new look, a new cell, and a new love for raw chicken. It’s finger-licking good!

The New Batman Adventures consists of many redesigns for villains, and today is no exception, and it also contains new directions for said characters. Perhaps the show was unsure of what to do with both Croc and Baby-Doll, so rather than create a new scheme for them on their own they decided to do an odd couple pairing. Baby-Doll is the sympathetic villain, as she has largely been victimized by her condition which is summed up in this episode as one that does not allow her to grow. Croc, on the other hand, has never been played for sympathy even though he has an obvious physical condition that could lend itself to such a portrayal, had the show wanted to explore that. Instead though, Croc seems quite happy as he is and enjoys looking rather freakish. Basically, Baby-Doll views her outward appearance as a betrayal of what she feels inside, while Croc’s is more like an accurate manifestation of the person, or reptile, he is on the inside. It’s certainly an interesting approach, so let’s see how it turned out.

The episode opens in black and white, a palette we were accustomed to in the first run of this show, but one that is now rare. And it’s colored that way because we’re watching an old clip of Love That Baby, the sitcom starring Mary Louise Dahl. It’s a little comedy piece that is there to remind us of Baby-Doll as we head into the episode proper.

mad mary

I think he made her mad.

A wife is helping her husband stumble into a hotel lobby. Judging by their attire, I’d say they’re on vacation in some place warm. The man is obviously drunk, which is probably a first for this show, and he’s lost his room key. The wife seems to have lost something as well, her patience, as she drops him and heads to the concierge. Working the desk is a diminutive woman with an oversized shirt on. She informs the guest that she can get her a duplicate. The woman watches as this host hops off of a large stool and pushes the stool over towards the wall where the keys are hanging. Drunk husband is also watching and he’s the first to notice her. Phrasing it as, “You used to be somebody,” he eventually remembers and starts reminding Mary of her past failures, including the whole trying to kill Batman thing. He tells her to do something funny, and eventually the former Baby-Doll snaps. She grabs the man by the nose and slams his face into a ledger before shutting it on his head violently. She then utters her catchphrase, “I didn’t mean to,” but not in her usual playful way.

Mary retreats to her own room where she angrily tosses aside her coat before settling into more of a depressive state. She asks why people can’t see her as an adult before plopping on the couch between two giant teddy bears (that might be contributing to your problem, Mary). Of course, her show is on television and she angrily changes the channel and finds some live courtroom show. Killer Croc is being presented to a judge and is shown pleading his case that he’s the victim of prejudice based on his appearance. And his new appearance is even more monstrous than before. He’s green-skinned now with monstrous eyes, claws, and these weird ridges on his body. In short, he more clearly resembles a crocodile.

croc escape

That seemed a little too easy.

The judge (Buster Jones) decides Croc is competent enough to stand trial, and Croc is not in agreement. Apparently wanting to prove the judge wrong, be breaks out of his restraints and goes on the attack. As he batters the police aside and makes his escape, Mary cheers him on from her couch apparently recognizing a kindred spirit.

croc batarang

Croc is clearly not impressed with Batman’s toys.

Croc’s escape from the courthouse does not mean he’s home free. Outside, he’s forced to contend with more police, and then a Batman. Batman swings in to deliver a nice kick, but Croc is up for a challenge. He starts putting on a show by tossing cars and crushing batarangs in his jaws, but he’s eventually subdued by the caped crusader. At this point, a crowd has formed to watch and Baby-Doll herself is among the spectators (so I guess her hotel is no where tropical?) and looks on with sadness as Croc is apprehended.

crocs confines

That bag of several chickens probably weighs more than she does.

Arkham Asylum is our next setting, and it seems they’ve made some modifications for old Croc. He’s shown swimming in a giant tube of water that’s open on top. A guard walks in to inform him that he has a visitor, and in strolls Baby-Doll. Croc has no interest in conversing with her, but she informs him she brought chicken. She tosses a whole, raw, chicken at Croc who devours it in one gulp bones and all. She’s brought more than one, and her strategy seems to have worked as Croc is willing to listen. She tells them their kindred spirits, and Croc seems disinterested owing to the fact that he’s being sent to jail tomorrow. Baby-Doll tells him not to lose hope by suggesting that accidents can happen on the way.

baby-doll and gun

They’ll let anyone be a villain these days.

The next day, Croc is being transported at night and everything seems to be going smooth, for now. The driver of the truck then notices a little girl appear in the road suddenly and he has to swerve in order to avoid her. The truck goes through a guardrail and flips over, and Baby-Doll is there to once again utilize that catch phrase. She goes around to the rear of the truck and finds two guards picking themselves up off the ground. They question what she’s doing there, and she pulls out a gun. It fires two suction cup-tipped darts that strike each man in the forehead. Each dart has a wire trailing out of it back to the gun and an electrical current shoots up it rendering the two unconscious. Baby-Doll then finds Croc inside and gives him a big hug (she’s about the size of his head and neck) while Croc wears a confused expression on his face as she tells him they can be together forever now.

croc welcome home

Welcome home, Precious.

Sometime later, Croc is shown returning home. Home appears to be in a sewer and it’s made up to look like a 1950’s kitchen. Croc comes strolling in to find Baby-Doll at the table in her high chair. She’s delighted to see that her precious has returned home, and Croc is equally delighted. He comes baring newspapers, local and out of town (The Daily Planet), which all feature he and Baby-Doll on the front page. It would seem they have a successful string of robberies under their collective belt, and the stacks of cash in the cupboard make Croc very happy indeed. He’s not here to chat long though as he tells Doll that he’s heading back out. He apparently subscribes to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle philosophy that a trench coat and hat are all you need to disguise an otherwise noticeable appearance. Baby-Doll is sad that he’s leaving and she grabs onto the end of his coat imploring him to take her along. She’s clearly regressed back to an almost child-like persona as she speaks in the third person referring to herself as Baby. Croc spins around like he’s about to backhand her, but he relents. He then resumes his leaving while Baby-Doll tries to tell him they should plan a new job, but he informs her (and us) that’s her job as he disappears down a tunnel.

Batman and Batgirl are shown zipping around in the Bat Boat apparently in search of Croc and Baby-Doll. Batman informs Batgirl that all of their jobs have so far taken place near water tipping him off that Baby-Doll is taking advantage of her new beau’s obvious strengths. A casino cruise ship just happens to be roaming Gotham Harbor and that’s about as likely a hit as one will find for this particular duo. Croc and Baby-Doll enter the casino floor. Baby-Doll plays with a ball which attracts the attention of a security guard who moves to remove “the child” from the area. As she does so, she abandons her position beside the cashier and Croc reaches into his window and rips him through the wall. He heads inside to get the cash as the guard abandons Baby-Doll to go after him. Baby-Doll throws her ball at her and it explodes releasing a gas that takes out the guard as other patrons flee. Baby-Doll joins her man as the two grab as much cash as they can before beating a retreat.

spoiled getaway

They act surprised to see Batman, but how long did they think they could really keep this up before he’d show up?

Getting away won’t be easy though, as Batman and Batgirl show up and block their escape. Croc is clearly unnerved as he turns tail and runs. He ends up chucking a giant roulette wheel at the two, which initially misses but causes a whole host of problems for the two. Batgirl gets squashed under a table while Batman gets nailed by the ricocheting wheel. This provides enough cover for the two to escape, only they lost most of the money. Batman recovers and tells Batgirl they’re getting away, who seems irritated with him for not first making sure she was all right via a sarcastic remark. Batgirl joins Batman on the ship’s deck, and Batman spies the villains heading into a large sewer pipe he assumes is taking them home.

Back at their lair, Croc is livid by Batman’s interference. Baby-Doll tries to calm him down, but he’s not listening. He tells her he’s going out, causing her to give chase once again. This time, Croc doesn’t pull his backhand and he swats her away. Baby-Doll looks hurt, emotionally, by this display of aggression as she watches Croc once again vanish down the sewer pipe. On the waterfront, Croc is shown leaving a place called Live Bait (gross) with a woman on each arm and lipstick on his cheek. He’s bragging to the girls that he’s about to fly solo and confirms that he plans to ditch Baby-Doll. From the shadows, Baby-Doll is shown watching as tears well up in her eyes.

baby-doll hurt

Someone’s been caught.

Croc is shown sleeping on the couch until Baby jumps on him. She wraps her arms around his head and apologizes for before promising he can go out whenever he wants. Croc seems confused, but not concerned. She gives him a kiss and he bushes her aside. As he walks away she tells him she has a new job. Croc gets excited as he learns that this is The Big One and Baby-Doll promises that it will be the one that will allow he and her to live in warmth forever and ever. Her delivery is more than a little creepy so I don’t think this job is going to end well.

Batman and Batgirl are shown walking in ankle deep sewer water. Batgirl is complaining that the two days they’ve spent doing this will result in her suit being forever ruined, as well as her nose. Batman simply replies that it’s better than sitting around the cave. They soon find the happy home of their targets, only it’s empty. As Batman examines a childish drawing of an exploding nuclear power plant, Batgirl picks up a doll that was left on the table. The head rolls off and soon Baby-Doll’s voice is heard admonishing the intruders. A stuffed crocodile opens its mouth and a bomb is revealed. Batman and Batgirl have just enough time to jump back into the sewer water to avoid the explosion. An angry Batgirl emerges from the water expressing a sentiment that this girl needs a spanking (and she’s a-hankering, for some spankering!).

croc baby reactor

I think they’re about to break-up.

Croc and Baby-Doll are shown at the controls for Gotham’s nuclear power plant. There are no workers, no guards, and how they got there isn’t explained. Baby-Doll then cuts off the water supply which keeps the reactor cool. Croc is confused since they can’t accept ransom from a dead city. Baby-Doll informs him via limerick of her plan to destroy Gotham by causing a meltdown, in turn killing them as well. This is Baby-Doll’s punishment for Croc and the solution to his womanizing. First we had a drunk guy, now we have a plot involving a murder-suicide, this show sure has grown up.

Before the two can get into a lengthy argument, Batman comes swinging in and nails Croc. He tries to tell Batman that she’s crazy, but he responds with fists. Batgirl swings in and nails Baby-Doll before turning her attention to the controls. Batman asks if she can fix it, and she responds that he’ll either know in a minute, or he won’t care. She is successful, as Baby-Doll flees. Batman tells Batgirl to keep an eye on the reactor as Croc takes off after Baby-Doll and Batman is forced to pursue them both.

croc vs batman

It wasn’t that long ago we saw Bruce Wayne tangle with the real thing, so this doesn’t seem too threatening for Batman.

Croc reaches Baby-Doll first and he apparently isn’t going to forgive her for her little attempted murder. He grabs her, and dangles her over a large turbine seemingly intending to kill her. As he drops her, Batman is there to make the save as he usually does. This leaves him open to attack though as Croc pummels him into a wall. Hoisting him over his head, he heads back to the turbine to finish off Batman, only this time it’s Baby-Doll making the save. A little gun-like device fell off of Batman as Croc carried him, and Baby-Doll grabs it. It looks like an injection device, but when Baby-Doll uses it on Croc it behaves like a stun gun (shrugs). Croc is angered, but not really affected, but the distraction is enough to allow Batman to pull him down off of the catwalk they’re on and down onto another.

crying baby doll

Nothing but tears in the end for old Baby-Doll.

Croc then gets on top of Batman and tries forcing his head into the turbine (he’s really determined to make use of this turbine). As Batman’s “ears” enter the danger zone, the turbine clinks off of them revealing to us that Batman’s cowl is now reinforced with steel (clever bat). Batman kicks him off and into a wall covered with pipes. Croc ignores the warnings, and a verbal one from Batman, regarding the pipes and rips one off the wall. He’s rewarded with a face full of hot steam which knocks him to the ground. He looks dazed, and then appears to slip into unconsciousness. Beside him, Baby-Doll mourns for the relationship they could have had. Just as her debut episode ended, this one ends with her gentle sobs as Batman looks on.

This is another one of those episodes I wasn’t really looking forward to rewatching. Baby-Doll felt like a one-shot to me. She was fine in her original appearance and made for a unique and sympathetic villain. She was certainly memorable given her appearance, but she also struck me as someone who just needed some help and would then be able to live a semi-adjusted life. And apparently she did, for a time, until someone pushed her buttons too far and she was introduced to Killer Croc. It’s an odd pairing, but one that is mostly logical. Baby-Doll is a bit more mentally distressed it would seem, sd evidenced by her child-like state throughout the episode. It’s a bit strange as we were lead to believe she thinks of herself as an adult, but she certainly doesn’t act that way. She’s obviously not well though, so it’s not illogical to see her act this way, just different.

Killer Croc, on the other hand, is mostly true to his nature. It is a bit hard to get used to his new voice. Aron Kincaid brought this New York sleaziness to the character that is mostly replaced by just a deep, some-what monstrous, voice by Brooks Gardner. It’s fine on its own, but I definitely miss Kincaid. Otherwise, Croc just wants money and apparently girls, and remains a main without morals who just happens to resemble a crocodile.

With so much of the episode devoted to showing us the home life of our unlikely couple, there’s very little time for Batman and Batgirl to do much of anything. They write Batgirl much in the same way as they used to write Robin. She makes jokes and sarcastic remarks and is all together rather chatty compared with Batman. Batman is slightly more willing to banter now, as I feel like before he would have met Robin’s remarks with silence, but here he does not. When Batgirl openly wonders what Croc and Baby-Doll do on a date he takes a long pause before responding with a “I don’t want to think about it.” I think it would have been a touch more humorous to just have Batman let her question hang in the air rather than have him respond. I sometimes get the sense that the writers are trying to find Batman’s personality now that he’s always shown to have someone with him, where as his personality before was mostly just silent brooding. Something just feels “off” about Batman, and I keep waiting for things to click, but I’m not sure they will.

high angle croc ending

Baby-Doll’s second appearance ends the way her first did with an almost identical shot.

This is the final appearance for Baby-Doll, while Killer Croc will return. It was a surprise to see her brought back at all, so the fact that she won’t be making a third appearance is hardly a surprise. There’s only so much that can be done with her. Plus she basically tried to nuke Gotham, so she’s probably been sent somewhere that isn’t likely to set her free anytime soon. She did her job, and while her episodes are not among my favorites, they certainly weren’t bad.

 


The New Batman Adventures – “Growing Pains”

growing pains titleEpisode Number:  8 (93)

Original Air Date:  February 28, 1998

Directed by:  Atsuko Tanaka

Written by:  Paul Dini and Robert Goodman

First Appearance:  Annie

“Growing Pains” is the first episode of this new series to make me actually happy there are no title cards this time around. I largely miss them for their artwork, but one thing I don’t miss them for is their tendency to spoil parts of the story. There have been a few episodes where the villain of the episode is a mystery, but only if you happened to miss the title card. This is another such episode, but the absence of a title card actually preserves the mystery for much of the episode. The only way to know the identity of today’s bad guy is to recognize the voice, and since guests sometimes do multiple characters there’s still some mystery even in that scenario. If you’ve never seen this episode, and you don’t want it spoiled, maybe skip this entry until you do.

annie

A mysterious young girl is the star of today’s episode.

This episode opens in Gotham at night under that ominous red sky. A young girl is running through a run-down area and she seems quite scared. She’s decked out in a long red coat and she has black hair cut at an even length. She reminds me of Coraline. Some bikers see her and immediately start giving her a hard time. They surround her, and I guess they’re just bad guys as she doesn’t look like someone who would be in possession of any valuables, though I suppose if you’re open to kidnapping then any kid has some value.

robin places to be

It’s not everyday you get cock-blocked by a fancy light bulb.

Fear not, for this young lady has someone looking out for her. Unfortunately though, she apparently drew the short straw tonight because it’s Robin, and only Robin, who comes to her aid. The bikers aren’t impressed with Robin’s threats, but he makes them regret their hubris in style. Some lumber was just laying around, and Robin knocks one biker off his mount with a javelin-like toss of the wood. The others make a hasty retreat as Robin checks on the girl. She (Francesca Marie Smith) is in a real panic and seemingly can’t remember who she is or where she’s from. The only thing she knows is that she has to keep moving. Robin wants to help, but the girl takes off on him. Up in the sky, the Bat Signal flies high and Robin is forced to let the girl go to tend to his other responsibility. As she runs off, so too does Robin in the opposite direction. The real drag of being an actual boy wonder off on his own means the only mode of transportation he has are his feet.

batmans tough love

Batman dishing out some life lessons on love and the battlefield.

Batman and Robin convene in Gordon’s office to view some surveillance footage of a violent robbery. A very large man can be seen on camera and Gordon suspects the guy has acquired some super strength via chemical means. Batman doesn’t recognize him, but both key-in on his wild looking gaze. His eyes appear to be all white, which is sort of interesting of them to acknowledge since it seems like a fairly common thing for comic book villains (and heroes) to possess which almost always goes unnoticed. As the two discuss what they see, Batman notices Robin is staring off into space. When he asks him about it he mentions the girl he ran into earlier. Gordon remarks “teenagers…” and then makes a comment about being glad daughter Barbara is past those “wild” days which causes Batman to give him an odd look. As the two leave, Robin talks about the girl and wanting to help her, but Batman cold as ever, tells him they can’t help her. He needs him to focus on the task at hand which is finding this big dude while also passing on some Batman tough love.

The next day, Tim complains to Alfred while he’s being chauffeured around Gotham that Bruce always treats him like a kid (a line that really needs to go away). Alfred points out that he is a kid and Tim gets bent out of shape about him taking Bruce’s side. He then spots the girl from the previous night, and tells Alfred there’s been a change in plans. Alfred tells him he was told to bring him straight home, but that smart-ass just gives him the whole “Tim’s not here,” thing as he gets into costume. Alfred then lets him out of the car in his Robin attire. He doesn’t even pull off into an alley or anything, he just stops and lets him out in the middle of the city. He then gives old Master Bruce a call who’s currently at work.

Robin races off into what looks like a bus terminal, a very large bus terminal, and catches up with the girl. The girl cries and collapses into his arms, which was probably the reaction Robin dreamed about. They have a nice little chat where she reiterates that she remembers nothing of her past, even her name. Robin decides to arbitrarily give her a name. Spying a girl holding a Raggedy Ann knock-off, he decides to call her Annie and the girl seems to like it. She goes on to explain that she’s running from someone. She doesn’t know who the person is, but he’s a man and she can sense his presence. She then jumps and points at a shadowy area declaring the man is there!

robin vs big guy

Robin has his hands full with this guy.

Robin looks and from the darkness emerges the burly fellow from the surveillance tape. His eyes look pretty normal, but he is indeed a very large individual. He starts yelling at Annie and demands she come home. Robin puts himself between the two and demands the man identify himself. He ignores the request and Robin is forced into action. He jumps at him and rains blows upon him, but they’re not very effective. The bad guy gets his mitts around Robin and lifts him over his head, but then Batman comes swooping in.

Seeing Batman seems to frighten the big guy, and he decides to turn tail and run. Robin tells Annie to stay put as he and Batman give chase. They wind up chasing him through a parking garage or something and into a tunnel. Batman enters from one side while Robin swings around and enters from the other. When the two meet up in the middle, there’s no sign of the big guy. Batman looks around, but the only way out he can find is a grate. Robin tries removing it, but it’s sealed shut. Without any additional clues they return to Annie, only to find out she’s gone too. As Robin wonders where she could have gone, Batman scrapes some mud off the ground that came off the guy’s shoe. He tells Robin they’re done here and that they’re going back. Robin gets angry, saying he doesn’t want to wait around while Batman looks at some mud. He defiantly shouts “No,” when told to return to the Batcave and Batman looks surprised. Robin then takes off to go after Annie and Batman doesn’t stop him.

Robin winds up in a part of town full of homeless folks. As he walks around he pauses to look at a family of four sleeping on the ground. He looks a bit sad, but it’s hard to tell given the mask and all. He eventually finds Annie, or maybe it’s better to say Annie finds him. She tells him he shouldn’t be trying to help her, but Robin insists he can handle the guy that’s after her and likens him to his own father. Annie seems touched by Robin’s sincerity, and even plants a kiss on his cheek. As the two stand there, she notices some lights in the sky. She says they look familiar to her, only the light she’s trying to recall was higher and atop a tower of some kind. Robin smiles and seems to know what she could be talking about and tells her to come with him.

annie kiss

Annie is a lot happier to see Robin this time.

Robin leads Annie to the coastal shore and points out a lighthouse. Annie does indeed recognize it and she gets a bit excited. As they explore the area she takes note of some pipes spilling who knows what into the ocean. They’re connected to a chemical plant, something Gotham has no shortage of, and she and Robin head inside.

At the Batcave, Batman is doing his thing and having his computer check out that mud. Alfred joins him to inquire about Tim, but Batman assures him he’s keeping an eye on the boy. Alfred then remarks that he still has a tracer in his utility belt and confirms to Batman that he does indeed treat Robin like a child. Batman makes a sour face at this revelation as the computer dings that it’s done analyzing the sample. For the third time in this series, Batman drops an “Oh my God,” on us when he gets the results. He explains only that he knows who the assailant is and that Robin is in danger. He jumps into the Batmobile and rockets away leaving Alfred to look on with worry.

In the underbelly of this assumed chemical plant, Robin and Annie are walking in near darkness. Robin is too distracted by the girl and fails to notice an opening in the floor. They both fall down a pipe even further down into the plant. They’re fine, but there’s now only way to go and that way is soon blocked by the big mean guy. He seems to be in a better mood at least, and remarks to Annie that he’s glad to see she came home. Robin is ready to attack as the man approaches, but then his body starts to shift and change revealing his true identity:  Clayface!

clayface revealed

There’s that face we all know and love!

Clayface (Ron Perlman) moves in on the boy and reaches for Annie, but Robin slaps his hand away. They run, and Clayface does his extending arm trick which curls into a steel fence blocking their escape forcing Robin to smash through it. They run deeper into the plant to get away from the monster and as they regroup Annie notices that some of the clay splattered on her when Robin chopped at Clayface. Her body starts to absorb it and she seems horrified at first, but then a knowing calm settles over her. She shows Robin, then explains to him what happened.

robin smash

Robin seems unimpressed by this clay guy.

After the events of “Mudslide” Clayface could barely hold himself together. As he drifted through the water he arrived at this plant, and specifically, those pipes. Whatever chemical it was they were dumping into the ocean had an affect on Clayface’s makeup and it helped him to pull himself back together. He crawled into the pipes, too weak to do much else. Not wanting to be kept in the dark, he created a scout with a piece of his body That scout is Annie, and she was to explore the area surrounding the plant and then return to Clayface, only once she left his side her memory vanished and became lost. There’s no attempt to put a timeframe on any of this so who knows how long this girl was wandering around.

Robin is confused, and he probably should be, but undaunted. Annie has a different perspective, and tells Robin that he shouldn’t protect her because she isn’t real. Robin insists otherwise. He tells her to run as Clayface closes in and she obeys. Robin can only keep him away so long though, and Clayface gets agitated with the diminutive hero. He had been telling him to get out of here, but now he’s mad and grabs ahold of him. With Clayface seemingly intending to kill him, Annie can’t let that happen and throws herself at Clayface. He drops Robin, but that’s because he has her now and she is soon absorbed back into her “father.”

goodbye annie

Goodbye, Annie.

Robin is enraged by this development and demands that Clayface bring her back. He tells him he can’t and she’s gone. Robin starts throwing batarangs in his direction. At first, they seem like mild annoyances, but Robin strikes some containers full of solvent. They start emptying their contents and Clayface seems to find the substance quite painful. It’s causing him to fall apart, and as he backs away Robin targets more of the tanks full of the stuff forcing Clayface down a catwalk and into a dead end. Batman arrives and tries to stop Robin as he’s going to kill Clayface. As the two grapple, Clayface tries to kill them himself with his old blade hand trick. He misses and the metal causes a spark which ignites this solvent that’s all over the place. Batman grabs Robin and uses a grapple gun to get out of the area as it goes up in one big explosion.

The police are now on scene and Clayface is shown being loaded onto a truck. He’s in a tank of some kind full of water or some other liquid and appears to be unconscious. As Robin looks on, Batman walks up and attempts to console him. He’s not very good at it, and basically can only muster up a line about there not always being a happy ending. Robin says nothing, but overhears a cop going over a list of charges with Gordon concerning Clayface. Robin adds “murder” to the list before turning his back on the scene and walking off sullenly. The camera pans up towards the sky as he does to rest on the light from the lighthouse streaking across the sky.

“Growing Pains” is an episode that is quite a bit of fun for longtime viewers of Batman. It reintroduces fan favorite Clayface, and even ties up the loose end of how he’s still alive following his appearance in “Mudslide.” I wish he had not appeared in “Holiday Knights,” but at least he now looks better. And that’s because this is another TMS episode. The famed Japanese studio handled Clayface’s original appearance, so it’s only fitting they do his true return for this series. He’s been redesigned somewhat with a more rocky appearance. He’s also a darker shade of brown and the shape of his head has been altered some. He looks pretty great though, and the effects of his shape-shifting powers are quite spectacular. While it’s not as amazing as “Feat of Clay Part II,” it’s still mighty impressive. It’s also nice to see the studio get to extend itself a bit with the Clayface character, as the previous TMS episode “Never Fear” didn’t really allow for the usual flourish one associates with the studio.

clayface blade

He may look a little different, but Clayface still has the same old tricks up his sleeve.

And it’s not just Clayface that looks great. Some extra care was definitely put into Robin during his fight with the villain at the end. He makes some expressions we’re not accustomed to seeing, and overall just looks really intense. This is the first episode to really sell the audience on what Robin is capable of. He’s definitely been the least heard from hero, and it’s nice to see that when given a bigger role the character ends up shining rather than being an annoyance.

The plot of the episode is more than a little bonkers. As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, this one manages to keep the villain a secret for quite awhile. Ron Perlman voices him throughout the episode, and that’s basically the sole clue for much of the episode. I think most viewers probably at least figured it out when Batman started scraping mud, but it was still handled well. I have no idea what to make of Clayface suddenly being able to create life. It’s a pretty wacky power, but it does at least lend itself well to creating some drama here. I felt pretty bad for Robin in the end, but Annie took the news pretty well. Maybe she could have reacted differently and played up the sympathy angle, but it was interesting in its own way to see Annie just sort of accept the reality of her existence.

robin sad

There’s more Robin in this one than we’re used to, but it’s actually a good thing here.

The other underlying plot device is Batman’s treatment of Robin. The whole “He treats me like a kid,” thing is way overplayed in cartoons, so I don’t really find it very interesting. I’m also not sure if I should expect there to be some payoff of this down the road, and I don’t remember if there is. I suppose I could look ahead, but I’d rather take advantage of my faulty memory and hope to be surprised. My thought is there isn’t a payoff though, so there may be no surprise to come.

As for Clayface, I’m afraid this is goodbye. If you wanted to know more about where this life-creating power came from you’ll just have to look elsewhere I suppose. Clayface will stay gone this time, presumably imprisoned somewhere. He was one of the show’s best villains and certainly the character benefited from the show as prior to it I had never heard of Clayface. His debut episode was the first episode of this show I happened to see, so there is a touch of nostalgic affection on my part for the character. Even without that though I’m pretty sure he’d still be one of my favorites. It would have been fun to see him again, but TMS probably doesn’t come cheap and I don’t ever want to see the character done cheap again like he was in “Holiday Knights.” Clayface, you will be missed.


The New Batman Adventures – “Joker’s Millions”

Jokers-MillionsEpisode Number:  7 (92)

Original Air Date:  February 21, 1998

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance:  None

After starring in a segment of the series premiere, “Holiday Knights,” The Joker (Mark Hamill) returns to helm his own stand-alone episode. And for the first time, our little feature on this show is running up against continuity from the other DC Animated Universe show at the time – Superman. In the three part episode “World’s Finest,” Joker arrives in Metropolis to accept a contract from Lex Luther that would have paid him one billion dollars if he could kill Superman. He fails, and old Bats is partly responsible as this was the first crossover event for the two super heroes.

Joker had gone to Metropolis because he was having money problems back home. Considering he failed at taking out Superman, his woes have continued. Here we find a broke Joker taking unnecessary risks in order to acquire more cash to finance his unique lifestyle. These risks naturally put him at odds with Batman and the other vigilantes of Gotham. “Joker’s Millions” is based on a comic of the same name from 1952 and also shares some similarities with the 1985 film Brewster’s Millions. It’s largely a comedy piece, as Joker episodes tend to stray in that direction, only this time more so than usual.

The episode opens with Joker and Harley (Arleen Sorkin) robbing what appears to be an electronic’s convention or museum. Joker is seen running around decked out in a new purple trench coat and hat blasting away as civilians run around screaming. Joker is running from Batman and Batgirl and he doesn’t appear to be having his usual good time, especially when Batman lands a punch on his jaw. He runs out of ammo and soon comes across Harley who’s racing around as well. She informs him they’re all out of bullets forcing Joker into a game of fisticuffs with Batman, which he loses. He’s able to fool Batman and Batgirl momentarily after taking a hit to the eye. He lets out a scream and lets a fake eye hit the ground which soon explodes providing the duo enough of a cover to escape.

harley and joker flee


Harley is a bit irritated with Joker’s money problems.

Outside, Harley and Joker are shown speeding away in a rather mundane looking getaway car. As the two flee, they soon realize they forgot the cash they just attempted to steal and soon run out of gas. When Joker admonishes Harley for not filling the tank like he told her to, she responds that they’re broke and asks what she was supposed to do – fill the tank and then shoot the guy?! Joker responds with an emphatic “Yes!” as Harley bemoans their situation. Batman and the cops soon arrive and Joker is forced to eject. Unfortunately for Harley, he could only afford one ejector seat and she’s left behind to get arrested.

joker's inheritance


Joker gets the good news.

Joker is then shown arriving at the Chelsea Arms apartment building. It’s looking a lot worse from when we first saw it in “Double Talk.” Joker walks in and gets his mail while the super complains about his rent being late. He heads inside a rather dilapidated looking apartment and is greeted by his pet hyenas, Bud and Lou. Joker settles down on the couch and reads the letter the super gave him which informs him that a crime boss he never cared for, King Barlow, has passed on. Joker is amused to know this, but then grows excited when he finds out Barlowe has left him his entire fortune valued at 250 million dollars!

We then see a brief montage of sorts where Joker is shown using his new found wealth to hire some fancy lawyers to clear his name framed as a news piece. One is clearly a parody of Johnnie Cochran who offers up the line “If a man’s filled with glee, that man must go free!” A psychiatrist is also interviewed who claims he’s tested Joker rigorously and found he’s no longer a danger to society. When the interviewer points out the accusation that Joker is just bribing doctors and lawyers to say what he wants, the man insists such a notion is preposterous. As he does, the camera pans out to reveal the doctor is driving a fancy new car. This gag feels like something we would have seen on Animaniacs. The segment ends at the Batcave with Batgirl wondering if Joker will now go straight since he’s got plenty of money. Batman can only growl in response as he snaps some expensive looking object in half.

Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon are shown standing in line waiting to get into a swanky new club:  The Iceberg Lounge. The club is owned by none other than The Penguin (Paul Williams), making his first appearance with his new redesign. Penguin had previously been modeled after the version of the character seen in Batman Returns, but for The New Batman Adventures he’s been restored to his classic look which is that of a short, rotund, man with a long nose. He emerges from the club to say they’ve reached capacity forcing Barbara to use her status as the commissioner’s daughter to gain entry with Dick. Penguin, apparently wanting to keep the cops off of his back, acquiesces though not happily.

joker and new penguin


A more dignified Penguin on display.

Inside we see Joker seated at a table ordering food and drink. The club is massive and has an ice theme going on with a gigantic pool in its center inhabited by seals. Penguin shows up to Joker’s table to toast the old rogue to his good fortune and adding that living well is the best means of revenge when it comes to getting back at Batman. Dick and Barbara watch from their table almost in awe of what they’re witnessing. The party is soon crashed by some gun-wielding dudes. One of them had been shown previously as part of the news report on Joker’s inheritance. He was the bodyguard for Barlowe and was perplexed why the crime boss left Joker everything, considering he hated Joker, and left his beloved bodyguard with nothing. He’s come to take what he feels is rightfully is.

As Joker is held up, Batgirl and Nightwing make the save proving they are incredibly quick at changing into costume. A Nightwing shuriken strikes the former bodyguard in the back and sticks in there while another gets booted into the seal pool. These seals are apparently quite violent as they attack the man immediately. Joker applauds the two heroes and even tries to pay them a tip for looking after him. They crumple up the offering in their fists and drop it on the floor causing Joker to howl with laughter.

joker limo


Joker living the good life.

We then go into another montage of Joker enjoying his wealth. He’s bought a new mansion and is having it painted purple, enjoying some time on the golf course at the expense of Bruce Wayne, and is shown riding around in a limo tossing money out the back to a crowd of people chasing after him. Harley watches all of this on a television set in Arkham and is enjoying it thoroughly. When Ivy (Diane Pershing) questions why she’s so happy to see her old beau enjoying his wealth she responds because she’s certain he’ll come bust her out any day now. Ivy then shows her a full-page ad in the newspaper she’s reading which was placed by the Joker. It seems he’s looking for a new henchwoman, and Harley reacts to this in the only way she could be expected to.

Joker is then shown auditioning for his opening. Several individuals in Harley costumes are lined up as Joker dresses them down:  too fat, too old, too short, etc. One is clearly modeled after Paul Dini and Joker doesn’t even really dignify the poor sap with a response. He soon settles on a new Harley, who looks like the old one only taller and a bit more curvaceous. This new Harley (Maggie Wheeler) is a bit slow and mistakenly refers to Joker as Mr. G. She’s happy to have the job though and Joker is happy to have something to look at. Meanwhile, the real Harley is trying to escape Arkham via the laundry chute, but she just ends up trapped in a washing machine which is turned on.

paul dini quinn


Sadly, he didn’t get the job.

Joker is about to find out he has a new problem though. A man from the IRS shows up to inform Joker he owes them quite a bit of cash as part of an inheritance tax. The sum is around 140 million, and Joker is surprisingly panicky about having the IRS on his case. He even tells one of his henchmen he’d much rather have to deal with Batman than old Uncle Sam. As he and his crew start filling bags with stacks of bills to pay off the debt, Fake Harley notices something strange about the money. Joker takes a closer look and notices the face of one Ben Franklin is missing from his hundreds, replaced by the ugly smirk of King Barlowe. He soon finds a video tape buried under the cash and is forced to put it on.

The tape is a recording of Barlowe (Allan Rich) himself from his hospital bed informing Joker that he’s been had. He only left Joker 10 million bucks, and he guesses that by the time Joker found this tape he had already blown through it. The other cash and assorted valuables are all fake, and he has a good laugh at Joker’s expense for he knows the clown is much too prideful to admit he’s been made the butt of a joke. Joker is understandably irate at the revelation, and quickly starts trying to think of a way to make back some money. When henchman Ernie (Sam McMurray) suggests he repeat his laughing fish scheme, he yells at him for such a thing would alert Batman that he’s returned to crime. He needs to acquire cash using a method he’s never been good at:  subtlety.

fke joker


Not Joker.

Bruce Wayne is shown at Penguin’s club. Penguin greets him briefly, and Wayne soon spies Joker alone at his table. He approaches to have a chat and Joker suggests he doesn’t recognize him. Wayne reminds him he recently threw him off a building (referencing the events of “World’s Finest” again) and Joker seems flustered. The voice may be right, but this is clearly not Joker as his conventional eyes give it away. He mops at the sweat on his forehead revealing a normal flesh-color below the white makeup and retreats to the restroom. Inside, we see it’s actually Ernie posing as Joker and as he frets about trying to keep up this charade Batman shows up to confront him in a bathroom stall. He begins his interrogation, while Penguin listens from outside. He’s prepared to put a stop to this poor treatment of his patron by Batman, but a growl from Batman and a flushing toilet convinces him otherwise.

batman john


Well, at least if the sight of Batman caused Ernie to mess himself he was in the right place.

We’re then shown a bunch of odd looking armored cars as they drive onto a ferry. They’re gray and rather blocky and frequently their doors disappear in what is easily the shoddiest piece of animation I’ve come across in this series. The occupants of the vehicles step out and are confronted by some shadowy individuals with guns. These guns are packed with gas that knocks them out and Joker emerges from the shadows sporting a ship captain’s hat. Fake Harley is steering the vessel, as Joker soon turns his attention to the money inside.

joker captured again


Joker’s fun appears to be done.

The ship rocks causing Joker to bark out at Harley, but things are about to get worse as Batman, Batgirl, and Nightwing show up. The fight is surprisingly brief, and Joker finds his feet bound by a rope from Batgirl as he teeters on the edge of the ship. She thinks he’s trying to save some money that blew away over the side of the ship, but Joker corrects her by informing her he just wants to go with it. Batman pulls him back onto the ship and in a parting shot flips him a quarter and tells him to go call his fancy lawyers.

On shore, the cops take it from here. Joker is loaded into a police wagon in shackles and he seems to be in an all right mood. He remarks it will be good to see the old gang again as a female cop looks on from inside the back of the wagon with him. She soon leans into the light and reveals to Mr. J she ain’t no cop, but rather Harley Quinn. Joker is a bit concerned by this development and tries to play it cool, but as the wagon drives away we can hear the sounds of Harley wailing on Joker with a nightstick to bring this one to a conclusion.

harleys revenge


In an episode that’s basically all about comedy, it’s Harley who gets the last laugh.

“Joker’s Millions” is a very comedic episode of Batman. There’s the show’s trademark violence on display as Batman lands some solid blows on Joker early on, but most of the scenes are practically slapstick in nature. It is a bit amusing to see Joker out of cash and then to see him go on a spending spree. It’s also interesting to see him use money to essentially buy his freedom and go straight, even though it doesn’t necessarily fit the character. I suppose we can hand wave this one though as being short term. Had Joker really inherited all of that money he likely would have eventually returned to crime as just living a wealthy life would likely grow stale for old Mr. J. Likewise, the scenes of Harley from Arkham are all played for laughs, with the washing machine gag being especially cartoonish in nature.

Because so much of the episode is spent with Joker, there’s actually very little for the heroes to do. Wayne just happens to be in the right place at the right time to find the fake Joker, so there’s little detective work on display. As was the case with “Riddler’s Reform,” Batman just doesn’t buy Joker being reformed and essentially is harassing him by keeping tabs on him. It was fun to see the new Penguin on display though. I’m a bit surprised they didn’t recast him considering the drastic change to his appearance, but that would also be no reason to get rid of a fine voice actor like Paul Williams.

Ultimately, this episode is fine. While I look forward to something a bit more menacing from Joker given the new standards of the show, an occasional comedy episode is okay. And if you’re going to have a comedy episode, why not feature The Joker? It’s a bit hard to believe that Joker could ever be out of money, or that being out of cash would be a problem for him, though it’s also even more unlikely he could rent an apartment anywhere. I’ll ignore that though, just like the episode basically is asking me to ignore the fact that Harley and Joker have once again patched things up offscreen. Their relationship is combative here, and I think that’s what can be expected going forward. The nice thing is that Harley now gives as good as she gets so things don’t seem so one-sided anymore.

We’re actually not going to hear a lot from Joker during this run of the series. He’ll be mentioned in a few episodes, and his likeness shows up in the anthology episode “Legends of the Dark Knight.” His next outing is actually a flashback in the episode “Old Wounds” and his real next episode isn’t until episode 21, the classic “Mad Love.” Too much Joker is obviously not a good thing, but I have a feeling I’m going to wish there was a bit more of him.

 


The New Batman Adventures – “Never Fear”

never fearEpisode Number:  6 (91)

Original Air Date:  November 1, 1997

Directed by:  Kenji Hachizaki

Written by:  Stan Berkowitz

First Appearance:  None

If you’re at all familiar with Batman: The Animated Series then one look at the title of this episode will tip you off to who the villain of the day is. The Scarecrow is back with a new look and a new voice actor. Pretty much every villain from the prior series received a redesign for this one, but The Scarecrow’s is one of the most extreme and memorable. It’s interesting because he was also the villain to receive the most severe redesign during the original series, moving from a tear-drop shaped mask in his debut to a much more hideous and frightening one in his subsequent appearances. For The New Batman Adventures, his redesign reads like a change in philosophy. He now resembles an undead preacher and the noose around his neck implies the manner of execution was a hanging. He wears a duster jacket and hat and wields a stick to complete the ensemble. We’re left to assume that underneath the new costume is still Dr. Jonathan Crane, though since he’s now voiced by Jeffrey Combs (replacing Henry Polic II) I suppose that could lead some to question if this is an all new villain. Combs portrays Scarecrow with a much softer and quiet voice, a lethal whisper, so to speak. It makes this version of the character similar to The Phantasm, minus the smoke effects.

new scarecrow

Behold the new Scarecrow!

Also returning is Scarecrow’s fear-based methods aided by his various serums and toxins. Both Batman and Robin have had to deal with Scarecrow’s fear-inducing methods previously and have overcome them, so how can the show change things up this time? The answer is by swinging in the total opposite direction. Where Scarecrow’s old gas once induced a debilitating terror in his victims, his new weapon now removes all traces of fear making the victims reckless and uncaring about consequences. It’s an interesting approach, but does it work?

The episode opens at night with a crowd of onlookers watching a man swinging around the buildings of Gotham. Only this man isn’t Batman, it’s just some paunchy guy (voiced by Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.) awkwardly swinging around. Batman and Robin spot him and make the determination that this activity appears quite unsafe. They swing after the guy, who just seems to keep going almost like the end of his rope is attached to a helicopter or something. The guy is having a good time, until he smashes into a neon sign causing him to lose his grip. The man apparently possesses great upper body strength, as well as finger strength, as he grabs a ledge on the way down saving himself. Batman and Robin have to take care of the debris from the sign so it doesn’t injure any of the onlookers, but soon turn their attention to their odd thrill-seeker.

acrophobic man

Just some guy out for an evening swing.

They eventually get to him and Batman asks him what he’s doing and advises against it. The man seems almost euphoric. He explains he has no fear, and apparently he sees no reason for the crime-fighting duo to put an end to his fun. He playfully shoulder tackles Batman off the ledge, forcing Batman to use his grapple-gun to save himself and grab ahold of the lunatic, who also had fallen. The crowd cheers as this little episode comes to a close.

Nearby, a man in a white suit looks on and seems a touch displeased. He heads inside to an auditorium and there we’re introduced to this new version of The Scarecrow. Scarecrow is angry with this gentleman, who goes by the name of Guru (Charles Rocket), for losing control over the crazy man we just saw swinging around Gotham. Apparently this guy was a test subject for Scarecrow’s new drug and he was supposed to be guarded closely.

The next day, Bruce Wayne is heading to his office. His secretary informs him that someone has been trying to get ahold of him all morning, while another person waits in his office for him. With a “Let me guess,” Bruce enters his spacious office to find Tim playing in his office chair. When he questions why the boy isn’t at school he points out it’s summer vacation. Tim wants to know if Bruce has any more info on the guy from last night. Bruce tells him he does, as the police learned an interesting fact about he him – he has acrophobia, a fear of heights. Before their conversation can continue, they’re interrupted by Seymour Grey (Ken Berry), a dissatisfied employee of Wayne’s and likely the one who has been calling all morning. He rants about being ignored for 18 years and claims to have a bunch of wonderful ideas, but he’s not here to share them. He just wants to yell finally tossing a bunch of papers in Wayne’s direction before declaring that he quits. On the way out, he takes a rather lurid peek at Wayne’s secretary and then grabs her and places a kiss on her. She does not take that well, and Bruce surprisingly doesn’t deck the jerk as security comes in to remove him. As Mr. Grey is taken away, Bruce notices he dropped his wallet and inside it is a business card for a company called Never Fear.

bruces bad disguise

He just doesn’t put the same effort into his disguises as he used to.

Bruce finds an address on the business card and heads to the location in perhaps his worst disguise yet. He just looks like Bruce Wayne, but with a really thin, fake mustache which is even less convincing than Superman’s alter ego. Nonetheless, no one appears to recognize him as he attends what turns out to be a self-help seminar hosted by the Guru. Not surprisingly, the seminar is all about letting go of fear and as Guru goes on and on Bruce slips away. He ducks into an office and starts nosing around. He picks the lock on a drawer and finds a bunch of canisters inside. Before he can figure out what it is, a shadowy figure emerges behind him and blasts him in the back of the head with a club. As Bruce crumbles to the floor, the camera pans up to reveal the Scarecrow as the assailant.

Bruce wakes up to find himself in a zoo. He’s just outside a crocodile exhibit and as he looks around he’s soon alerted by the presence of The Scarecrow. He wants to know what Bruce was doing in the office, and he too is apparently unaware of who Bruce is. Wayne plays dumb and says he was just scrounging around for cash which Scarecrow seems to buy. That doesn’t mean he’s going to let him off the hook though. He shoots Wayne with a gas gun and then dares him to approach. Scarecrow is positioned behind the crocodile enclosure, so Bruce opts to go through it. In a bit of a confusing scene, Wayne hops the fence and is in ankle deep water, but the crocs emerge from underneath it. They’re massive, and they drag Bruce under water, which is now apparently several feet deep. As the water turns cloudy with blood, a satisfied Scarecrow departs with a rather amusing taunt of “Welcome to the food chain.” We’ve seen Batman tangle with massive reptiles before though, and soon just the back of a croc breeches the surface limply as Bruce emerges, seemingly unscathed.

scarecrow meets wayne

This Scarecrow is surprisingly playful.

Alfred and Tim are just hanging around Wayne Manor when Bruce comes storming in soaking wet. Before they can even ask what happened he orders Tim to suit up and get in the plane. The Dynamic Duo then take off and Batman fills Robin in on what he saw. He explains that Scarecrow is behind a new gas that removes people’s sense of fear. Robin takes note of how recklessly Batman is operating the Batwing prompting him to ask if he was exposed to this new toxin. Batman confirms that he was, but curtly informs his young sidekick that he can handle it. Robin seems unconvinced of that as Batman continues to fly in an irresponsible manner.

guru

Nice chin, Guru.

The two return to Scarecrow’s hideout. They return to the office where Batman found the canisters as Bruce Wayne only to find they’re gone. The Guru then shows up with some armed men in tow. Batman charges at them and is more than fortunate to not get shot. Robin’s approach is more professional as he uses batarangs to disarm the thugs allowing Batman to bash them into oblivion. He sets his sights on Guru, but the sharply dressed man isn’t talking. Batman ropes him up and tosses him over a balcony. Guru is now frightened, but it isn’t until Batman starts slicing the rope and musing about how little he cares if Guru falls does he start talking. He tells them that Scarecrow took the gas to the subway where he plans to unleash it on the city. Batman, having received what he wanted, remarks that his plan is just in time for rush hour (I guess he’s referring to the morning rush hour) and simply turns his back on the man and heads for the Batwing. The rope snaps, forcing Robin to make the save as Guru screams and passes out from the experience. Robin, despite being about a third of the size of Guru, manages to haul him up.

On the rooftop, Batman is heading for the Batwing when his own rope is used against him. He falls to the ground in a bind with Robin standing over him. He’s incensed and demands to be untied, but Robin tells him he’s in no condition for this. He once again insists that he can handle the toxin, but Robin tells him to sit this one out and removes his utility belt. As Robin walks away, Batman softens his tone and tells him he’s right. Telling Robin that he’ll be in charge on this mission, he once again asks him to untie him. Robin approaches, but stops short, telling Batman he almost fooled him. Batman then again returns to a state of heightened agitation with a “Why you little…!” but he at least stops short of swearing at the kid who leaves him on the roof top.

robins stand

Robin does what must be done.

Robin enters the subway system to confront Scarecrow and whatever help he brought with him. He enters a train that Scarecrow has apparently commandeered. There he finds Scarecrow in the midst of recording a ransom video intended for the mayor. When he flashes an inhaler indicating it’s the antidote, Robin nails it with a batarang and barges in. As he prepares to handcuff the Scarecrow, one of his men creeps up behind Robin and clubs him with both hands knocking him out. They cuff him, and apparently they’re content to just let him hang around until the job is done.

Meanwhile, Batman has escaped from his restraints and made his way to the same subway train. He boards it, apparently retrieving his belt at some point (or Tim just left it on the rooftop), and thunders through the cars. He grabs Scarecrow’s men and tosses them from the moving train. He moves right past Robin and takes Scarecrow from behind in the control room. He manages to get his hands around Scarecrow’s neck and he looks intent on finishing the job. During the fracas, the controls are damaged and the car is now out of control. This also seems like a good time to point out that this is by far the weirdest subway tunnel I’ve ever seen, resembling more of a mine train setting than a subway.

batman v scarecrow

Batman in full-blown murder mode.

Robin is able to free himself of his own bonds and jumps on Batman’s back. He tries to talk Batman down, but he has no success. He then spies the inhaler on the ground that contains the antidote to Scarecrow’s gas. He gives Batman a good blast in the face with it, and he quickly snaps back into sanity. Batman recognizes the dire situation, and orders Robin to evacuate. Robin hesitates, but Batman insists he’s fine now and that he’ll get he and Scarecrow out of there. Robin does as he’s told, and Batman grabs Scarecrow and bails before the subway train plunges into a ravine.

As Batman, dragging Scarecrow, and Robin walk out of the tunnel, Robin tries to apologize for what he did, but Batman tells him it was the right thing to do adding that a little fear is a good thing. The only thing missing from this ending is a sweet hug.

“Never Fear” is an episode that quickly abandons its premise. We’re shown how removing someone’s sense of fear could change him through the acrophobic individual at the beginning and the Wayne employee Mr. Grey. It’s easy to understand why someone who had a fear of heights would want to do something daring after suddenly having the fear removed. Similarly, Mr. Grey was likely a meek employee afraid to speak up for himself for years and now finally has the courage to do so which explains his actions in Wayne’s office.

robins bravery

Batman is pretty awful in this one, so much so that it almost seems implausible that Robin could just brush it off as the effects of some drug.

For Batman though, this new drug goes well beyond removing fear. Batman is a murderous psychopath when on this drug. Not only is he no longer afraid of consequences, the drug has seemingly removed any sense of value he once placed on the lives of Gotham’s criminals. Is the episode implying that it’s simply the law that prevents Batman from murdering his foes? Essentially, I feel like the episode began with a premise, and then the staff realized that a fearless Batman just wasn’t enough so they needed the drug to just turn him into a rampaging beast. For that reason, I’m not sure if they intend for us to draw any further conclusions from Batman’s actions. Even so, this Batman is very unlikable and as a viewer I can’t just forgive and forget, which makes the ending feel unearned because that’s exactly what Robin does. I feel like that drug peeled back some layers on Batman’s character, and what has been seen cannot be unseen.

This episode is one of the few not animated by the tandem of Dong Yang and Koko Ltd. It’s the work of the much acclaimed Tokyo Movie Shinsha, or simply TMS, and was directed in-house by Kenji Hachizaki. This marks a new turn as TMS previously animated episodes back in season one, but directing responsibilities were still performed onshore. Of course, with animation arrangements like this sometimes the credited director isn’t always the one doing the most directing so the real credit should almost always go to multiple parties. Still, it’s a nice honor for Hachizaki which reflects the standing of TMS in 1997. The studio will animate a handful of other episodes in this run and most of them are among the show’s most memorable. TMS is perhaps the best 2D animators on the planet during the 90s, and the quality is easy to spot in anything the studio works on. Though with this more streamlined design, the differences in animation quality are far less obvious than they were before. Or maybe that’s just a complement to the likes of Dong Yang which really improved noticeably during the life of BTAS.

This is also the Batman debut for writer Stan Berkowitz. He had previously worked on Fox’s Spider-Man as well as a bunch of live-action stuff before joining the staff of Batman. Berkowitz will contribute to more episodes in this season as well as many episodes of Superman. He’ll transition to Batman Beyond where he wrote a number of episodes, including the pilot. He’s basically hung around the DCAU ever since and should be a familiar name if you’ve kept up with those properties.

shadowy scarecrow

One thing seemingly not up for debate is that this version of The Scarecrow is superior to the previous one.

As for The Scarecrow, this new take on the character is easily the greatest success in terms of character design for The New Batman Adventures. No other redesign works as well as this one to improve what came before. It’s also nice to see the character returned to a more prominent role as he had been reduced to comedic relief in the final episodes of BTAS. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get much exposure in this new series making that neat design feel almost wasted. He will return one more time in a role that features minimal screen time, but the effects of which result in what is probably the show’s finest episode. As for “Never Fear,” it’s a good debut for this new twist on the villain even if I have some issues with the tone and direction the episode took. I suppose if you’re more willing to forgive and forget the actions of Batman in this episode then you may feel it’s a great deal better than I think it is, and maybe one of the best. For me, it’s almost too uncomfortable and it’s hard for me to at least partially not associate The New Batman Adventures version of Batman with the character we saw here.


The New Batman Adventures – “You Scratch My Back”

you scratch my backEpisode Number:  5 (90)

Original Air Date:  November 15, 1997

Directed by:  Butch Lukic

Written by:  Hilary J. Bader

First Appearance:  Nightwing

After briefly checking in with Dick Grayson (Loren Lester) at the end of the second episode we now get the official introduction of Nightwing, Grayson’s new alter-ego. We’re still going to have to wait to find out what happened to cause the former Boy Wonder to break away from his mentor, but at least we’ll get a look at how Nightwing operates. We’ll also be reintroduced to a certain femme fatale in the form of Catwoman (Adrienne Barbeau). This episode is going to play up the tension that exists between Batman and Nightwing as well as the tension between he and his old adversary. Catwoman is going to be happy to squeeze her way in between the two. Also caught in the middle, but less eager to be, is Batgirl who is the frustrated bystander who just wants to see everyone get along.

water tower

Some people just always like to invite themselves to the party.

The episode opens with Nightwing on a water tower scoping out some shipping docks. He apparently expects something to go down with some gun smugglers, and Batman and Batgirl soon arrive on the scene. Nightwing is not particularly happy to see them, rebuffing Batgirl’s friendly vibes while being rather straight with Batman. Once a forklift is deployed, Nightwing jumps into action. His suit is similar to a wing suit or the classic Spider-Man costume with the webbed under-arm portions. He glides in effortlessly, which looks ridiculous because the wings are far too small. Also, he now has a mullet. Aside from that, the simple black suit with blue logo and domino mask looks fine, better than that garish old Robin costume. In addition to the new threads he also has his own theme song which feels bright and upbeat (similar to Superman’s) which stands in contrast with Batman’s moody tunes. It’s a nice touch, but it almost feels corny. It’s a tad overused in this episode and I hope it’s not something that’s repeated a lot.

Nightwing gets the drop on the bad dudes and gets to work. He demonstrates he’s still plenty good at this crime fighting thing, and even shows off some new shurikens (Wing-a-rangs? Night-a-rangs?) of his own making. He tangles with one goon in a forklift, impossibly dodging bullets and depositing said forklift into the harbor. As he dusts himself off he fails to notice another thug closing in on him from behind with ill intentions. Batgirl swings in for the save, but Nightwing hardly seems grateful for the help. The two have a little argument that’s interrupted by a fleeing thug. He runs among some stacked shipping crates and finds Batman just casually leaning against some of the crates. He ignores the thug, who seems shocked, but eventually continues on his way.

batman inaction

Must be his night off.

Nightwing comes through the same way and seems irritated with Batman’s inaction, though he was recently agitated with Batgirl for the opposite. Batman gestures which way the perp ran with a “He’s all yours,” and Nightwing goes after him. Before he gets to him he can hear a commotion. Nightwing races around the corner to find the crook bound and gagged, and the person responsible is Catwoman. Sporting a new all black attire, Catwoman immediately acts cozy with the young Nightwing by blowing a kiss his way and goes into her backflip routine as she fades from view leaving Nightwing to wonder what that was all about.

img_4161

Nice crib, Dick.

The next night, Barbara pays Dick a visit at his loft to warn him not to trust Catwoman. Surprisingly, she never brings up her prior partnership with the same villain. Dick’s loft is rather fancy, making me wonder what he ended up doing for work or if this is all Wayne money. It has a dojo-like vibe to it as well, suggesting maybe Dick has sought out some teachings similar to what Bruce did before becoming Batman. Anyways, he has a cool motorcycle now and when Barbara points out there’s room for two on that bike he declines leaving her to lock-up.

catwomans affection

Catwoman knows how to get close to a man.

Seeking to follow a lead on the same drug-smuggling ring, Nightwing arrives in position where he can spy on a penthouse. Catwoman soon arrives and reveals she knows a thing or two about these guys. The guy they’re after goes by the name of Ricky the Hook (Sal Lopez) on account of his hook hand. Nightwing is reluctant to engage her, but she insists she’s on his side. When Nightwing allows for a slight opening in this job, thanks to some distractingly flirtatious behavior on the part of Catwoman, she takes it and the lead and heads over to the penthouse forcing Nightwing to pursue.

Rick the Hook

Enrique El Gancho, aka Rick the Hook.

The two infiltrate the penthouse and uncover some shipping schedules. As Nightwing downloads the information, he’s confronted by The Hook and some of his men. Worse, Catwoman has apparently left him high and dry. As The Hook confronts an irritated Nightwing though, Catwoman reappears to take out the hired help. As The Hook reels from the surprise appearance of the feline, Nightwing takes the opportunity to hit the man as hard as he can in the face. It seems to only stun him. Catwoman takes a whack at taking him down as well, but to similar results. The gunmen gather themselves and force the two to flee. They leap through a skylight and into an indoor pool. The gunmen fire from their vantage point down into it forcing Nightwing to take out the lights allowing for their eventual escape, but not before they engage in some slight slapstick by using pool equipment on the thugs.

Now out of danger, the unlikely partners go over what just happened. Catwoman pushes the idea of the two teaming up, and this time Nightwing is receptive to the proposal. This job clearly requires more than one person, and maybe he’s being seduced by Catwoman’s innate charms. Nearby though, Batman is watching and listening and he doesn’t look too happy.

Sometime later, or another day, Selina Kyle is lounging in her apartment amongst her cats. She’s apparently done well for herself since returning to a life of crime as this apartment appears to be every bit as nice as her old one. She’s also cut her hair short and dyed it black, in keeping with her comic look at the time (the prior blonde look was likely done to resemble Michelle Pfeiffer). Batman soon appears in her apartment and this isn’t a friendly visit. He warns Selina to stay away from Nightwing. She seems amused and opines that the Man Wonder can make his own decisions, implying that it must be common knowledge that Robin has grown up and transitioned to this Nightwing persona. Because drama demands it, Nightwing too shows up. He’s not at all pleased to see Batman sticking his nose in his business, but rather than get into an argument, Batman chooses to leave quietly. As he does, Nightwing looks up to see Batgirl watching and a brief, pained, expression crosses his face as she too departs.

Selina Kyle Short Hair

Selina is feeling frisky after ditching the bat.

With him gone, Nightwing informs Selina that he analyzed the files they took from Ricky the Hook and knows where the next big shipment will take place, and that it’s to take place tonight. Selina seems pleased and moves in closer to Nightwing causing him to stop her. It’s not that he’s rejecting the affectionate advance, but he’s spotted something:  a bat-shaped tracking device on Selina’s whip.

img_4164

A last ditch effort to keep the Man Wonder on her side.

Now in costume, Catwoman releases her cat Isis into the Gotham night. And on her collar is Batman’s tracking device. He and Batgirl are shown in the Batmobile falling for the ruse, as Catwoman and Nightwing head out to their rendezvous spot with some gun smugglers. Once they arrive at the docks, the two slip onto a ship and start nosing around the shipping containers. Catwoman seems especially eager, and Nightwing will soon learn why. As Nightwing breaks into some crates, he finds a priceless artifact rather than guns. He finds more, and when he goes to share this information with Catwoman he finds she’s rather consumed with her own affairs. It seems that Catwoman was recently in South America and stole an item called the Cat’s Eye Emerald and stashed it on this boat in order to bring it back to Gotham. She’s busy smashing a bunch of statues until she eventually finds it. Nightwing is rightly angry with her, but Catwoman is prepared for this reaction. She tries to smooth things over with her womanly charms resorting to the tired old villain line of pointing out the money she’ll get for this emerald will allow them to go anywhere they want. She tries to seal the deal with a kiss, but Nightwing rebuffs her. Catwoman informs him he can’t blame her for trying, before quickly tripping him and using her whip to drop a cargo net on top of him.

Batman and Batgirl soon burst onto the scene. Batman frees Nightwing from the net, who brushes himself off to tell Batman his hunch was right and that Catwoman led them right to the emerald. Catwoman is surprised to learn the two played her for a fool. As she lets them know how she feels about being conned, The Hook and his men arrive forcing Batgirl to deploy some smoke grenades to allow the three to escape.

batman vs the hook

The fight you never knew you wanted.

With the smoke obscuring the vision of the gunners, the trio take out the goons with ease. Nightwing gestures to Ricky the Hook informing Batman he’s all for him while he pursues a fleeing Catwoman. The two trade blows with Ricky the Hook even drawing blood from Batman. He eventually gets the upper hand on the Dark Knight, but as he goes to deliver a killing blow with his hook, Batman blocks it with a nearby fire extinguisher. The foam inside the extinguisher gets in Hook’s eyes and he stumbles back getting his hook caught in some chains. This causes a large crate to release from above which crashes down on top of him. For a moment, it looks like he’s going to brush this off as well, but then he collapses in a heap.

From the ship’s deck, Nightwing spots Catwoman attempting to flee via motorboat. He glides after her, but she takes notice and begins firing a flare gun at him. He avoids the projectiles, and as he descends onto the boat Catwoman accidentally hits the vessel causing it to go up in flames. Worse, they’re speeding towards an ocean liner which for some reason has its prop exposed above water. Catwoman tries to drown Nightwing by shoving his head underwater over the side of the boat, which is quite a vicious turn for her, but Nightwing pulls himself back onto the boat. Catwoman is apparently unaware of the impending collision, as Nightwing grabs her and leaps from the boat as it smashes into the ocean liner. The resulting explosion was apparently enough to knock out Catwoman, but not Nightwing. As he clings to a piece of the former motorboat with Catwoman draped on it as well, Batgirl arrives with the Batboat to see if he needs a hand. Nightwing responds by telling her he’s always happy to have some help as the episode ends.

nightwing could use a hand

The explosion conveniently knocks out the bad guy while leaving the good guy fully conscious.

“You Scratch My Back” is an interesting episode because it reintroduces us to Dick Grayson by showing us that his relationship with Batman has become strained. And yet, by the end of it we’re left to wonder how much of that was real and how much was just show to keep Catwoman in the dark. It makes me wonder if the show was afraid to make them too confrontational and wanted to have it both ways:  a fraught relationship, but also a buddy ensemble. Nightwing was made to be so naive though when it came to Catwoman that it basically had to go this way or else the character would have instantly lost all credibility. It would be one thing if the younger Robin were duped into something like this by a villain, but for Nightwing to fall for it would be absurd.

dick and barbara photo

There appear to be some hard feelings in the past of Dick and Barbara.

The episode does not show any interest in revealing what caused the break-ups that occurred offscreen. We know things could get tense between Batman and Robin, but we don’t know if Dick just gradually distanced himself or if there was one thing that put him over the edge. Similarly, we don’t know what happened between he and Barbara. When we last saw the two together they were a couple, but now they’re not. While Dick is getting into costume, Barbara is shown looking at a picture of the two of them with a look of sadness on her face. And who is Dick’s barber? That hairstyle is brutal.

As for Selina, we can see she’s been living a life of crime and doing quite well for herself. She’s managed to become wealthy again without running afoul of Batman, as evidenced by the fact that she’s not in jail. Is she even living as Selina Kyle or has she adopted an alias? Her new look seems to be even more influenced by her appearance in Batman Returns as her costume is basically identical to the one present in that film, just without the stitching. There’s something very cartoonish about her head though that really takes away from the sex appeal she’s supposed to possess which ultimately hurts the character. Aside from that, I do like how she’s portrayed as she’s very physical and flirtatious which strikes me as very cat-like.

Overall, this is a rather fun story. Sure, it left me with some questions, but it does a solid enough job of not telegraphing the end. The conflict is largely kept to Batman, Nightwing, and Catwoman so it didn’t need an A-list villain to serve as the adversary. Ricky the Hook is at least a physical menace and he gives Batman a good brawl further showing how open to violence this series is. Batgirl is just along for the ride, mostly, and Tim Drake is sidelined which is fine as there’s plenty of characters here anyway. For director Butch Lukic, this is his first time in the big chair after being a storyboard artist for the previous series. He does a good job as the action pieces are well done and the many characters are utilized well. He’ll go on to direct four more episodes of this series, including the much beloved “Mad Love,” as well as many episodes of Batman Beyond.


The New Batman Adventures – “Double Talk”

tnba double talkEpisode Number:  4 (89)

Original Air Date:  November 22, 1997

Directed by:  Curt Geda

Written by:  Robert Goodman

First Appearance:  None

“Double Talk” brings back another villain from the first iteration of this show:  Scarface. For the first time in this animated universe, The Ventriloquist is also given a name:  Arnold Wesker. Scarface was last seen in the episode “Catwalk” when he was once again destroyed and Wesker was sent off to Arkham for rehabilitation. This time, it’s going to work and Wesker gets his own rehab story which would have fit in quite well with the back half of season two. And like all of the villains from the prior series, he comes with a redesign. The prior version of Wesker was a short, bald, middle-aged man with glasses. This version appears a bit taller and is even more bald than before. His hair is almost completely gone save for these Abe Simpson-esque stray hairs on the side of his head. His head is also no longer pear-shaped and looks more like a thumb. It’s hard to tell where the head ends and the neck begins. His glasses are also transparent now instead of opaque and beneath them are just two dots for eyes. He sports a more casual gray suit with no tie and an unbuttoned collar as opposed to a tuxedo. All in all, it seems like not much of a drastic redesign on paper, and yet he’s basically unrecognizable without his dummy.

Scarface is also redesigned trading his blue pin-striped suit for a white one. He has black hair now and his scar runs the whole length of his face even going over his eye. He’s ditched the cigar and his tommy gun is now basically a full-sized one instead of a custom, tiny, one fit for a dummy. He’s a bit bland compared with the prior version as overall his design has been greatly simplified, but again, not a huge difference really.

wesker's nightmare

Scarface is back and now the stuff of nightmares.

The episode opens at Arkham Asylum. Or at least it appears to. We soon see Wesker (George Dzundza) passing through a darkened doorway. He turns to regard a chest behind him, and it soon starts to bang around. He runs and the scenery grows more surreal as it becomes obvious we’re witnessing a nightmare. Soon the Scarface voice is heard emanating from the chest, and even Scarface’s old henchmen Mugsy (Townsend Coleman) and Rhino (Earl Boen) make an appearance. Wesker eventually wakes up in his cell and sits on the edge of his bed. He looks to a piece of paper on his nightstand which is an official declaration claiming he’s been rehabilitated.

arnold therapy

The Ventriloquist has a name and it’s Arnold Wesker.

The next day, Wesker meets with Dr. Leland (Suzanne Stone) and tells her about his nightmare. It’s good to see he’s not hiding it, but Dr. Leland is unconcerned. She tells him it’s natural for him to be experiencing some anxiety about his condition as he prepares for his reintroduction to society. She mentions he’s been healthy for six months which is all the state requires. Wesker is then shown moving into a halfway house that’s apparently owned by Bruce Wayne, or sponsored by him, as it’s called Wayne Gardens. The woman running the place, Mrs. Segar (Patty Maloney) shows him his room and mentions he has a job at Wayne Enterprises as well. Wesker theorizes he must have a guardian angel looking out for him, but the camera pans to reveal Batman listening in from the fire escape and it’s obvious who is really looking out for him.

bruce meets arnold

I wonder if he always greets the new employees.

Lucius Fox (now voiced by Mel Winkler replacing Brock Peters) and Bruce Wayne are at work overseeing the delivery of some bearer bonds (which you know are going to eventually be stolen). Wesker strolls by pushing a mail cart and Wayne introduces himself. He tells Wesker he should be proud of himself for his rehabilitation and Wesker says that he is, and comes across rather convincing. That night though, he looks concerned as he heads to the bus stop and justifiably so apparently. Mugsy and Rhino approach and ask where Mr. Scarface is. Wesker insists he’s gone and that he wants nothing to do with them, but they’re persistent. Batman then swoops in and goes after Rhino. The two trade punches and Mugsy makes a couple of attempts to get in some offense but is dispatched effortlessly. Wesker runs off, while Batman eventually gains control of the situation and warns the two that Wesker is off limits.

mugsy and rhino

Mugsy and Rhino are very dependent on and loyal to a dummy.

Wesker returns to his apartment and grabs a glass of water from the faucet. I assume it’s water, since it came from a faucet, but the liquid looks almost white and is opaque. Maybe Arnie should invest in a water filter when he gets that first pay check. He then hears Scarface taunting him and drops the glass causing it to smash on the floor. He assumes a rather pitiful position kneeling on the floor clutching his ears as he attempts to drive away the voice.

wesker park

What are the odds? I mean, really, how often do you ventriloquists in the park?

The next day, a somewhat refreshed looking Wesker is strolling through the park (be on the lookout for the very quick Lois and Clark cameo in the background). I think this is our first outdoor scene in the new show at daytime. The sky, and all of the surrounding buildings, are colored yellow instead of red and black to brighten the image. Wesker sees a man working a ventriloquist dummy for some kids (that’s one crazy coincidence) and of course Wesker sees Scarface’s visage when the dummy turns towards him. He then runs to catch his bus, but sees Scarface in the window and doesn’t get on. At work, he’s distant and unnerved as he pushes the mail cart and haphazardly delivers the letters to other employees. He eventually tips the cart over and as he picks up the mail he notices a letter addressed to Dummy. It’s a note from Scarface telling him to be at his phone at 9 o’clock. Wayne notices Wesker and tries to talk to him but he runs away leaving Wayne to find the discarded envelop on the ground.

phone booth

Kids watching this will say “What the hell is that?” and they won’t be talking about the dummy.

That night, Wesker sits nervously by his phone. Sure enough, it rings, but he lets the answering machine get it. What he hears is Mr. Scarface ordering him to pick up the phone. He does, and as he’s instructed that they’re getting the gang back together we see Batman listening in. Wesker can’t believe what he’s hearing, and Scarface tells him to look across the street. In a phone booth, the outline of Scarface can be seen further unnerving Wesker. Batman sees it too, but before he can get to it the dummy vanishes. He picks up its trail though and we get the somewhat comical visual of Scarface actually running from Batman and firing his gun as well. Batman chases him into a stone factory of some kind where it looks like statues are prepared. He spots Scarface high up on a structure, but as he gets to it he’s smacked with a swinging block of stone. The dummy fires from above at Batman and drops a statue on him for good measure. Batman is able to avoid serious injury, but Scarface escapes.

Batman is then shown filling Batgirl in on what happened back at the Batcave. She’s confused at how this could be happening, but Batman distinctly heard Scarface on the phone with Wesker. He’s forced to conclude that someone is posing as Scarface to try and bring the persona out from within Wesker, and there’s really only two suspects for who that could be.

scarface is back

It must feel good to get that whole forearm back in there.

We then see Wesker arriving home and shutting off the lights and closing his blinds. He rips the phone out of the wall in a bid to avoid Scarface entirely. Unfortunately, someone has placed a new Scarface dummy on his couch, and Wesker is unable to resist the temptation to pick the dummy up and return it to his left arm. He then heads to the old hideout and finds Mugsy and Rhino. They seem almost surprises at first, but Scarface is back and he’s got a job for them.

At a rather sad looking apartment building, a little person is shown heading for his apartment. He stops to swipe his neighbors newspaper and milk delivery before heading in and is soon confronted by Batman and Batgirl. It would seem this fellow is Hips McManus (Billy Barty) a small-time crook (no pun intended) who was hired to play Scarface by Mugsy and Rhino, in case you hadn’t figured that out yet. Johnny Tight-lips he ain’t, as almost without any effort from Batman he spills the beans on a job Scarface and the boys are to undertake that evening.

scarface leaves scar

Scarface likes to leave scars, it would seem.

And that job? Why the bearer bonds – what else? Scarface has Lucius Fox at gunpoint and forces him to open the vault where the bonds are being kept. Fox can’t believe a dummy is threatening him, and he makes the mistake of trying to ignore Scarface and talk to the others which earns him a smack across the face with Scarface’s gun leaving a mark on his cheek. Fox opens the vault, and is then knocked out for his troubles as Mugsy and Rhino grab what they came for. Batman and Batgirl then show up, but when Scarface holds Fox hostage, they’re forced to obey. Scarface locks them in the vault and tosses a ticking time bomb in there for good measure. With less than a minute to work with there’s no time to hack the electronic lock forcing Batman to get crafty. He rips off a vent cover (which seems like a pretty obvious security flaw for a vault) and fires his grapple gun down it. He then affixes the handle to the bomb and presses the retract button. He and Batgirl take cover as the bomb explodes deep within the ventilation system.

mugsy and rhino betrayed

Mugsy and Rhino finding out they ain’t so smart after all.

On the roof, Scarface and his boys are making their escape. As they head across a catwalk, Scarface orders the men to stop and toss him the bonds. Confused, they obey as they then stare down the barrel of Scarface’s tommy gun. He scolds them for trying to bring him out on their own. He claims he was laying low until the heat was off Wesker and then he was going to re-emerge, but these two forced his hand. He remarks that when the muscle starts thinking it’s the brain, it’s time to amputate. Then for some reason, maybe he just likes explosives, he opts to toss another bundle of dynamite at Mugsy and Rhino rather than just shoot them. It explodes destroying the catwalk the pair were standing on. They grab onto the remains as it swings towards the opposite building. As they hang precariously, only then does Scarface open fire.

weskers revenge

A Batarang knocks the dummy from Wesker as Batman and Batgirl jump in. Batgirl goes off to save the two clowns, while Batman works on reasoning with Wesker. Scarface orders him to take out Batman and retrieve him, and Wesker initially grabs the gun. As Scarface taunts him, and Batman pleads with him, Wesker hesitates, but eventually he turns the gun on Scarface. The dummy gets sucked into a giant fan destroying it once again.

Wesker is then shown at the apartment of Mrs. Segar. She mentions she’s glad he’s doing better and encourages Arnold to seek out the other tenants, maybe check out the rec room (sounds like an invite for something else, Arnie). Wesker mentions that Mr. Wayne gave him his job back, so I’m not sure if this is all immediate or following another stay at Arkham. Anyway, Wesker says he will take her up on the offer eventually, but for now he’s happy being alone for a change indicating he might finally be rid of Mr. Scarface.

bye bye scarface

The last we’ll see of old Mr. Scarface.

And what do you know? This actually is a happy ending for a change as Scarface will not be heard from again. Wesker apparently was able to rehabilitate himself and unlike, say Harley Quinn, was not discouraged by the setbacks he initially experienced. Which is a good thing as I was getting a bit frustrated with Batman while I watched the episode. He knew someone was just toying with Wesker, and yet he never told him. It felt like that would have solved a lot of problems right there. No matter, I suppose. This was actually a pretty well told story and early contender for best episode of The New Batman Adventures. It won’t remain that way as I know of at least one episode to come that I enjoy more than this one, but that doesn’t diminish this one in any way. Which is somewhat surprising as I’ve never been enamored with the Scarface character, but the show has found interesting things to do with him.

ventriloquist reformed

The first successful rehabilitation in the history of Arkham Asylum!

As I mentioned in the opening paragraphs, the redesigns for Wesker and Scarface are not particularly drastic in principle, but they still look fairly different. Wesker in particular is almost unrecognizable when compared with his old design. I don’t really like this version and find him to be rather ugly. I’m not saying he is an ugly man, but rather there’s nothing stylistically about the character that I like. I do appreciate though that the animators didn’t play so fast and loose with the Scarface character this time. Every time a limb moves it’s clear that Wesker is doing it. Wesker’s lips still never so much as quiver when Scarface speaks, but that’s all right since he’s basically supposed to be the world’s greatest ventriloquist. I do miss Scarface’s little baby gun though. Also, it’s a nice touch that the two little people depicted in this episode, Mrs. Segar and Hips McManus, are voiced by actual little people. It’s also neat that a character like Mrs. Segar exists and her physical appearance isn’t a part of the plot at all. She’s just a little person. Though she might exist to offer a positive portrayal of a little person since a not so positive one existed within the plot in the person of McManus.

As for Scarface, I can’t say he’ll be missed, but he also wasn’t a dud like some of the other villains to come and go. He was fine and managed to contribute without overstaying his welcome. He was starting to become a bit too frequent a character in season two so I’m glad he won’t be utilized like that in this series. Ultimately, he did his job. And a lot credit goes to actor George Dzundza who is great in the role of both Wesker and Scarface. The two voices are so distinct that I assumed as a kid they cheated and hired two actors for the role. Unlike Scarface, the contributions of Dzundza will indeed be missed.