Category Archives: batman the animated series

Batman: The Animated Series – “The Laughing Fish”

The_Laughing_Fish-Title_CardEpisode Number:  34

Original Air Date:  January 10, 1993

Directed by:  Bruce Timm

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  None

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

Laughing_Fish_Smiles

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

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

Laughing_fish

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

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

tumblr_nrrp4yKE3S1ub7n3do1_1280

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

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

Joker-Fish-batman-6896069-500-383

Here kitty…on second thought, maybe not.

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

22-3

This sequence is pretty stupid.

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

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

fish6-e1410171736816

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

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

MV5BNzYxNzMyODctZjUyMS00NmEzLWExOGItMzk2MGMxYTFlNzI5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjI4OTE1MTA@._V1_

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

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

30-4

Farewell, sweet clown prince. For now, anyway.

Advertisements

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

Robin's_Reckoning_Part_IIEpisode Number:  33

Original Air Date:  February 14, 1993

Directed by:  Dick Sebast

Written by:  Randy Rogel

First Appearance(s):  None

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

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

tumblr_m0ssjzYWxE1r5a7i5

Alfred, you might want to get in here.

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

07-3

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

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

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

Robins-Reckoning1

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

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

Batman_reveals_himself_to_Dick

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

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

tony-zucco-1504720520

The years have been unkind to Tony.

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

Dick_Grayson_DCAU_005

All right, this is pretty bad ass.

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

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

hqdefault-36

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

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

btas037_27

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

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

Robinreckoning

“So, umm, buds again?”

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


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

Robins_Reckoning-Title_CardEpisode Number:  32

Original Air Date:  February 7, 1993

Directed by:  Dick Sebast

Written by:  Randy Rogel

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

 

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

robinsreckoning2

Robin, getting some of that action he was craving.

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

4f761c0fbc6cda81fec73c6b1c8d0ead

I love “menacing” Batman.

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

tumblr_m0phws4Wfm1r5a7i5

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

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

Tony_Zucco_data

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

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

e405edf517e3c97644f7a7ba6d109308eed08fb209992c0eb5a9e10ed25c0c67

The Flying Graysons.

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

20-3

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

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

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

tumblr_m0quxlsnhg1rn4kcfo1_500

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

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

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

279c8f97961cc897fc1e2373d7668f44

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

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


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

The_Cape_and_Cowl_Conspiracy-Title_CardEpisode Number:  31

Original Air Date:  October 14, 1992

Directed by:  Frank Paur

Written by:  Elliot S. Maggin

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

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

Josiah_Wormwood

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

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

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

1280x720-fqZ

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

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

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

6nr8x3m

He’s got a solution for everything.

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

Screen-shot-2012-11-10-at-10.18.02-AM

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

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

Cape_and_Cowl_Twist

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

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

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


Batman: The Animated Series – “Perchance to Dream”

Batman_perchance_to_dreamEpisode Number:  30

Original Air Date:  October 19, 1992

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Laren Bright, Michael Reaves, and Joe R. Lansdale

First Appearance(s):  Martha Wayne

“Perchance to Dream” is one of my favorite episodes of Batman:  The Animated Series, and in looking around the internet, I’m apparently not alone in my enjoyment of it. It’s a story that originated in part from Detective Comics #633 and it’s a story that’s basically been retold several times over, just in a different fashion. When drilled down to its core, it’s simply a story of what-if Bruce Wayne gave up being Batman or never became Batman to begin with. The way it’s presented in this episode is fun and clever, and for a young adolescent mind, it was delightfully confusing even if everything about the episode’s resolution is telegraphed basically from the start. Because the episode does revolve around a mystery, I’ll just say you should watch it before reading this. It’s fun and not something I want to spoil for anyone, but there’s some really obvious clues too so it’s no Rosebud.

The episode opens, as many do, with Batman pursuing some criminals in the Batmobile. They flee into a warehouse and Batman gives chase, but he stumbles into a trap. We get a quick cut of Batman looking up at something descending from the ceiling onto him and then a jump-cut to Bruce Wayne waking up in a cold sweat. Alfred is there to open his curtains and get him up and also inquire about the alarmed state Bruce awoke in. He brushes it off as a bad dream and gets on with his day. When he goes to open the entrance to the Batcave he finds it’s not there. When he asks Alfred about it he’s confused and thinks Bruce is playing a joke. This just annoys Bruce and he seems about to get angry until his dad enters the room.

PtD_04_-_Thomas_and_Martha_Wayne

We’ve seen and heard from Thomas Wayne before, but this is the first time Martha gets to speak (well, sort of).

Bruce is shocked to find his parents, Thomas (Kevin Conroy) and Martha (voiced by Adrienne Barbeau, the first time the character spoke) are alive and well and enjoying retirement. He doesn’t understand how this could be, and his parents are concerned. He soon finds out that he’s also engaged to be married – to Selina Kyle of all people. Bruce seeks out Leslie Thompkins for some guidance and she’s no help in sorting out what’s going on, but she is able to steer him towards being happy and accepting of his current life. Things get really weird though when he and Selina have a run-in with Batman. Batman apparently showed up in Gotham recently and he behaves just like how we would expect Batman to.

PtD_07_-_Bruce_and_Selina

You woke up engaged to the woman of your dreams Bruce, just go with it!

Bruce is left to assume that his life as Batman was nothing more than a dream. A very detailed dream. He’s resigned to accept this as his life is pretty great. After all, he’s still fabulously wealthy, has two living parents, and is engaged to a fine looking lady (we know from “The Cat and the Claw” that Selina is very much what Bruce finds attractive) who isn’t a cat burglar. Everything is fine until he opens up a book and finds it’s full of gibberish. He soon realizes all writing is just a nonsense collection of letters. He starts to get enraged and his parents are once again concerned about his well-being. He resolves that Batman is the key to what’s going on and he storms off to confront the caped crusader.

Can't_read

Looks like a worthwhile read.

Wanting to get Batman’s attention, Bruce sets his sights on an enormous clock tower in Gotham Cemetery. To make things a bit more challenging, the Waynes called the police about their son, and when Bruce runs from the cops they decide they need to give chase. He never expressly states his plan, but by climbing to the top of the clock tower it’s implied that Bruce wants to make Batman think he’s contemplating suicide. Sure enough, Batman does show up and the two are forced to confront each other. Meanwhile, a storm rages in the background and the setting for Bruce Wayne vs Batman takes on a sullen feeling as opposed to an exciting one. Bruce then brings us all up to speed about what he’s realized. The garbled text indicated to him that he’s living in a dream world, since dreams and the ability to read are located on different hemispheres of the human brain (this is the part where everyone watching begins to wonder if they’ve ever read in a dream). Batman is indifferent to Bruce’s claims and the two tangle, but Bruce is able to wrestle the mask off of Batman to reveal the face below – The Mad Hatter!

Wayne_and_Batman_fight

Not something you see everyday.

The Mad Hatter explains that he’s not really the Mad Hatter, just an aspect of him in Bruce’s mind. He’s not really there, and thus not privy to the details of what’s going on in Bruce’s head (in other words, he doesn’t know Bruce is really Batman). He’s placed Batman, in the real world, into his dream machine. The goal is to keep Batman happy and comatose so he’s free to do whatever it is he wants to do – which we really have no idea what that is since the last time we saw him he just wanted the affections of his assistant. Satisfied that The Mad Hatter has no knowledge of what’s really transpiring inside Batman’s head, Bruce jumps from the bell tower as the police storm in with horrified expressions on their faces. The suicidal act jolts Batman back to consciousness and we see him hooked up to some Dr. Frankenstein kind of machine. Mad Hatter is beside himself with frustration and is incensed that Batman would pull himself from an idyllic world just to foil his plans. He’s The Mad Hatter, so there’s little resistance he can put up once Batman is free and the cops show up to take him away. When Gordon asks Batman just what the machine does he replies with, “It’s the stuff that dreams are made of.” How poetic.

hqdefault-35

I love the lighting all through-out this sequence.

“Perchance to Dream” is largely fun because of the what-if question it poses. Like most of the episodes of this show, you can pick it apart incessantly in a bid to ruin it. Why didn’t The Mad Hatter unmask Batman once he had him restrained? Why not just kill him? He seemed to try and kill Batman in their last encounter so it doesn’t seem like he’s averse to murder. I suppose it is different to try and kill someone in the act of fighting them as opposed to killing a sleeping enemy. Basically, he had Batman beat and blew it. Also, the whole way the dream world unravels with the writing thing doesn’t really hold up in the real world. It’s the type of fact you might read about and form your own conclusions, it certainly sounds clever. If you’re actually dreaming you can certainly read things because it’s just your subconscious telling you what it is you’re seeing. I think what the writers were trying to get at is that the dream world inhabited by Bruce is partly created by his subconscious, but also partly created by the device he’s strapped into. If he were to pick up a random book that was put there by The Mad Hatter’s invention then Bruce’s subconscious wouldn’t be able to have a frame of reference to fill the book with words. It also would explain how Bruce would need to open a book or newspaper to realize this, as his subconscious could easily fill in the blank spot on a McDonald’s sign or something because it’s a familiar sight (though there is a background clue during the episode that features a jumbled sign briefly so maybe I’m putting more thought into this than the writers did).

There is a quiet tragedy to this episode as well. As a viewer, part of me wants to see Bruce give into The Mad Hatter and just be happy. Batman is cool and all, but what kind of life is that really? We know Bruce was very much taken by Selina in her prior appearance and I think most viewers root for the Bruce/Selina pairing. Obviously, it’s not to be. As a vehicle for The Mad Hatter, this plot is satisfying since it draws on his mind control device, though this is another example of villains just existing outside of Arkham with no explanation of how they got there. The Mad Hatter will not be a frequently relied upon villain, which I’m okay with since he’s kind of lame, and this is easily his best appearance of the series. I did find it funny that they use The Mad Hatter’s theme over the title card, something I didn’t notice in previous viewings, which blatantly gives away the villain of the episode. On television, The Mad Hatter’s first two appearances were only separated by a week so the theme was still fresh in the minds of viewers. The mystery isn’t what makes the episode a success though, so I suppose it doesn’t matter. You could replace him with basically any villain and the episode would still be fun. The episode worked so well that I have to believe it at least partly inspired the much later episode of The New Batman Adventures “Over the Edge,” which is often considered the best of that batch of episodes. It’ll be awhile before I get to that one.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Eternal Youth”

Captura_de_pantalla_2011-09-20_a_las_02.44.27Episode Number:  29

Original Air Date:  September 13, 1992

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Beth Bornstein

First Appearance(s):  Maggie Page

 

Sometimes there are episodes I really look forward to re-watching and blogging about, and sometimes there are those I dread. And on a rare occasion, there’s an episode I dread that I end up enjoying, which is the case for this week’s entry:  “Eternal Youth.” As I go through this series again, I’m finding my attitude towards each episode is still firmly grounded in the opinion I held as a kid, even though I have seen all of these episodes as both a kid and an adult. And in the case of an episode like this one, I probably had a negative perception because it’s light on action and the plot revolves around a pair of sexagenarians in Alfred Pennyworth and the debuting Maggie Page (Paddy Edwards) coupled with a villain I still wasn’t too familair with:  Poison Ivy.

The episode opens with a frightened older woman running from a shadowy subject. It’s pretty obvious the person she’s frightened of is Poison Ivy. She warns she knows things and she’s seen what Ivy has done to the others, but that seems to only provoke Ivy into passing the point of no return. Since this is a kid’s show, and Ivy isn’t so boorish as to simply shoot her victims, she instead sprays the woman with some kind of green chemical cloud that looks similar to weed killer which freezes the old gal in place. We cut quickly to Bruce Wayne angrily ordering someone on the phone to back out of some business dealing because it will endanger a rain forest. Alfred remarks it was a good thing he noticed what was transpiring, while Bruce remarks he was lucky to notice, and we have our establishing plot.

MaggiePage

Meet Maggie, but don’t get too attached as you’ll never see her again.

Poison Ivy is out to get CEO’s and business types who have made money at the expense of the environment. We don’t know just how far is too far with Ivy, but destroying a rain forest probably fits the bill. The plot needs her attention to fall on Wayne, but the show can’t make Wayne some monster who bulldozes endangered ecosystems for profit, so it establishes right away that he’s against such behaviour, but Wayne Enterprises is so big (and he’s rather consumed by his other profession) that it’s possible some things could sneak by. Or maybe Ivy just heard about this business deal while it was in the planning stages before Bruce squashed it. Either way, we’ve established that Bruce Wayne is in Poison Ivy’s crosshairs (or whatever aiming device is on that weed killer gun) while also making him innocent of being a menace to the environment.

A VHS is delivered to Bruce that Alfred runs by him. It’s apparently for a spa of some kind. At the same time, Alfred’s apparent girlfriend Maggie shows up and is eager to see the tape. It’s for a resort that claims it can slow down and even reverse the aging process, and as a demonstration of what it can do, has extended a free invite to Bruce. He’s not interested, but when he suggests Alfred and Maggie take his place Maggie is very eager, while Alfred not so much. It’s a bit hard to pin down just what this relationship is. Alfred almost seems annoyed by her presence while she seems to very much enjoy him. I don’t know if she’s just trying to get some affection thrown her way, or if they are actually dating. Maggie will make a few comments here and there that sort of support both theories, and when they part after returning from the spa a vigorous feeling Alfred merely plants a kiss on her cheek. Some parting gift.

EY_32_-_Alfred_and_Maggie

That’s about as romantic as these two are going to get.

The two do head to the spa and while Alfred is a sour puss at first, he soon comes around when he samples the refreshments and enjoys being waited on for a change. The two are sad to see their time there end. When Alfred returns home he brings along some of the spa’s goodies, namely some additive that’s mixed with water, and he decorates the Bat Cave with plenty of flora. Batman finds the behaviour a bit odd, but doesn’t seem too concerned until Alfred passes out. After some rest, Alfred wakes up and basks in the sun. Maggie soon shows up and the two decide they must return to the spa – they can’t stop thinking about it.

Meanwhile, various other notable individuals have turned up missing. The police haven’t turned up anything in their investigation, and Gordon basically gives Batman the okay to rummage through one of the missing person’s apartments. And wouldn’t you know, Batman notices the same VHS tape Bruce Wayne received for the Eternal Youth spa in the missing woman’s VCR. Really, Gotham PD? It doesn’t take long for Batman to realize something is up. He’s analyzed the junk Alfred brought home with him, finding out it creates some kind of crazy, living plant when he mixes it with human plasma (I wonder if they couldn’t say blood) prompting Batman to go pay a visit to the spa.

22-2

Admittedly, that’s kind of disturbing,

Unfortunately, Batman is too late to help Alfred and Maggie. Upon return, the two were shown what really happens at the spa. All of the guests have been turned into trees! Yes, trees. Admittedly, it’s pretty silly to read about, but the episode kind of pulls it off by showing all of the individuals with frozen expressions of horror on their faces. Alfred and Maggie fall victim to the same fate thanks to Poison Ivy and her two lovely assistants Lily (Julie Brown) and Violet (Lynne Marie Stewart). When Batman arrives, he sees the grisly sight and Ivy tries to do the same to him. Too bad for her he coated his cape in a herbicidal antidote – hah! I got a real 60s vibe out that one. With her spray stuff rendered toothless, Ivy doesn’t have much else to choose to do except run. She tries to use the cover of the nearby forest to ambush Batman, and even makes use of that nifty little wrist-mounted crossbow she has, but it’s to no avail. Batman gets his girl, and he also reverse engineers a cure for all of the folks turned to wood.

Alfred and Maggie are forced to spend some time in the hospital after their ordeal. A few plant puns are made as Maggie sits beside Alfred’s bedside. We end the episode on a bit of a joke, as Maggie remarks Bruce isn’t too bright when he attempts to cheer them up with a plant – which is met with revulsion. This episode is quite fine. There’s a bit of a horror element to Ivy’s scheme which helps inject some danger into the proceedings. A lot of the episode rests on the chemistry of Alfred and Maggie, which is surprisingly amusing. Too bad for Maggie this is her lone appearance in the show. Batman kind of takes a back seat to things, as he really often does, but he doesn’t come away looking omnipotent or anything, though he is a pretty impressive chemist. The episode has a some-what understated look, but it animates well. Ivy is especially impressive bounding through the forest during her attack on Batman.

hqdefault-34

I always liked it when Poison Ivy actually fired that weapon, so often it’s just treated like a decorative piece.

For Poison Ivy, this is her second appearance on the show as a featured villain. She had a cameo in one of the Scarecrow episodes, but this kind of establishes what to expect from future repeat villains. For The Scarecrow, we’ve been shown that he’s escaped Arkham to reek havoc on Gotham, and for The Joker we’re usually given no explanation for how he’s out and about once again. For Poison Ivy, she’s given The Joker treatment, so if we thought he was just a special case that’s shown to be not exactly true. Most villains are just going to come and go on this show with little explanation for how they got back on the streets. While it’s nice to have that information provided, I can totally understand the writers and directors not wanting to devote time for some prison breakout every time they want to re-use a villain. Perhaps it’s lazy, but for a show that only has about 22 minutes to work with it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t make sense.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Dreams in Darkness”

Dreams_in_Darkness-Title_CardEpisode Number:  28

Original Air Date:  November 3, 1992

Directed by:  Dick Sebast

Written by:  Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens

First Appearance(s):  None

Episode 28 of Batman:  The Animated Series is one noteworthy and packed episode. This episode is both based on a story from the comics and also the inspiration for an even bigger story. It features, once again, The Scarecrow who is making his third appearance in this cartoon as a featured villain. This is pretty remarkable as prior to this series The Scarecrow wasn’t exactly a household name. He had appeared in some versions of The Super Friends television shows, but he was hardly popular. More prominent villains like Catwoman and The Penguin, fresh off starring in Batman Returns, have only been featured in 3 episodes total, and one was a two-parter. In the case of The Penguin, he was featured in the sort of throw-away goofy “I’ve Got Batman in my Basement” episode which is not exactly a prominent spot considering he’s foiled by kids for most of that one. Another classic and fan-favorite villain The Riddler hasn’t even been featured in one yet! It’s pretty cool that the show is able to elevate a villain like The Scarecrow, as his episodes have generally been pretty solid and this one is no different. This episode will go on to inspire much of Batman Begins as both feature The Scarecrow trying to poison Gotham’s water supply via Arkham Asylum’s basement. Presumably, Scarecrow was included in that film because he hadn’t been used in prior feature films starring Batman and if you’re going to look for Scarecrow stories you could do worse than looking at Batman:  The Animated Series. The main notable difference between the two is the inclusion of Ra’s Al Ghul in the film’s version of the plot as the mastermind behind everything.

hqdefault-33

Not the way we’re used to seeing our hero.

“Dreams in Darkness,” not to be confused with the upcoming “Perchance to Dream,” also draws inspiration from the tale “Batman:  The Last Arkham” as both feature Batman as an inmate in Arkham Asylum. It’s also been a part of Batman’s character that some citizens of Gotham view him similarly to the weird, costumed villains he fights against. Batman walks a fine line between righteousness and obsession, which can teeter on the edge of sanity. This show won’t dive too deep into those themes, but it is a part of his character that I do find interesting. For this episode, he becomes an inmate of Arkham by being exposed to Scarecrow’s fear toxin. It makes him hallucinate and act a bit crazy. He has an antidote this time, but a doctor tells him he’ll need to rest a couple of days after taking it and he just doesn’t have that kind of time. All of Gotham is in danger, and Batman needs to convince the doctors at Arkham that he needs to be set free so he can stop The Scarecrow from infecting all of Gotham with his hallucinogenic drug.

What adds a nice twist to the episode is it’s largely a flashback. The episode opens from the perspective of a doctor and some orderlies at Arkham discussing their latest inmate, which is revealed to be Batman. Batman then narrates us on how he ended up in this state, before the story catches up to the present and Batman is forced to get creative to free himself. In some ways, the real antagonist of the episode is Dr. Batholomew (Richard Dysart) who doesn’t believe Batman’s tale of imminent danger, or that The Scarecrow could be behind it because he’s safely imprisoned at Arkham. The Scarecrow himself appears only really for the climax of the episode.

btas-dreamsindarkness15

Despite spending a good portion of the episode cowering in fear, Batman still finds time to look like a bad ass.

Most of the episode is devoted to Batman’s narrated flashback. He gets poisoned when stopping an attempt by one of Scarecrow’s goons to poison the water supply at a spa. The goon in this case has a missing right hand and in its place is an attachment that features a welding torch and a drill, the latter of which is used to create a tense little moment where it looks like Batman is going to have his heart exhumed. Batman stops him, but during the confrontation the crook accidentally smashes his machinery causing a red gas to seep out. At the time, Batman is unaware it has anything to do with The Scarecrow which is why he seeks medical advice after experiencing hallucinations such as seeing The Joker in the Batcave or nearly running over an illusion of Robin with the Batmobile. It’s when he visits the crook he took out at the hospital that he learns he’s been diagnosed with fear hallucinations, which is all Batman really needs to hear to know The Scarecrow is behind it.

Batman is able to put two and two together; the crook he stopped was trying to poison a water a supply for a spa and Scarecrow is not likely to stop there. He’s just now in Arkham and needs to get out. Dr. Bartholomew won’t even entertain Batman’s story, until someone finally bothers to check on Dr. Crane and finds out that he has, once again, escaped. Batman will soon do the same, and he’s able to extricate himself by taking an axe which was mounted on a hallway wall beneath a fire extinguisher. I’m no doctor, but having an axe in an easily accessible area of a mental hospital seems like a bad idea.

did22

Beware of Joker rat!

Since Batman is rigged up in a strait jacket for most of the episode, the writers have to find a way to explain why no one takes Batman’s mask off. Dr. Bartholomew offers some goofy medical reason why they should not, which I suppose is good enough. Of interest though, is when Dr. Bartholomew starts name-dropping other inmates of Arkham he uses their real names, including Jack Napier who is canonically established as Joker in this series. I suppose that makes sense given how heavily inspired it is by the Burton films. There’s also a really interesting dream sequence for Batman where he’s in a mostly red environment trying to chase after his parents. They disappear into a tunnel which morphs into the barrel of a gun dripping blood that blows Batman away. It’s pretty chilling and a good example of how hard it would be for Batman to simply push aside the hallucinations brought on by the drug.

dreamsindarkness7

Things get pretty weird underneath Arkham.

Eventually, Batman will reach the bowels of Arkham Asylum and find The Scarecrow trying to infect the river that runs underneath Arkham. Like the other Scarecrow episodes, Batman is forced to battle his own hallucinations more so than The Scarecrow. A series of timers rigged to Scarecrow’s gas is the source of the tension, but it just makes me wonder why Scarecrow doesn’t just eliminate the timer and shoot the stuff off. Batman’s hallucinations allow the artists to bring in other villains when a rat morphs into The Joker, Penguin rises from the ground, Two-Face emerges from Penguin and then melts into Poison Ivy. Robin and Alfred pop in to admonish Bruce for living in the darkness too long which is basically the only time the episode really dips its toe into the waters of “Bruce really belongs in Arkham” plot point. It’s some great animation, maybe not as great as the Clayface stuff but a similar effect is in play here. The only drawback is Batman uttering a hack kind of line, “No! You’re not real!” More embarrassing, is when Batman is being confronted by some of Scarecrow’s henchman he’s paralyzed with fear and resorts to whistling into a microphone which in turn paralyzes the henchmen. This is, by far, the dumbest thing we’ve seen Batman do in this cartoon thus far.

Batman does indeed stop The Scarecrow’s scheme, with only one second to spare. Scarecrow will have the ignominy of being exposed to his own gas and reduced to a raving lunatic at the episode’s end, at which point Dr. Bartholomew laughably suggests the orderlies keep him locked up this time. The guy has escaped twice in the past five episodes, so I’m not betting on Arkham this time. With Scarecrow taken care of, Batman is able to rest in the Batcave and have Alfred administer the antidote which will take him out of action for two days so hopefully the criminals of Gotham behave. It’s sort of sweet that Bruce chooses to rest up in the Batcave as opposed to Wayne Manor, likely feeling more at home there and more secure.

Dreams_in_Darkness_Own_Medicine

So long, Scarecrow, we’re going to miss you.

With this being episode 28 this also marks the final episode of the Batman:  The Animated Series Volume One DVD release. Amazon refers to it as season one, which is a bit of a lie as we’re actually not even halfway through season one yet, but it does feel like the first milestone for this little project. “Dreams in Darkness” is a great concept for an episode that I don’t think is fully realized here. It’s still a perfectly fine episode for the show with some great animation and a few trippy moments as well. It’s not my favorite of The Scarecrow episodes, that distinction still belongs to “Nothing to Fear,” but it maintains his consistently solid track record thus far. This is actually Scarecrow’s final turn as a featured villain in the show, which seems weird after seeing him so much over the course of the first 28 episodes. He’ll pop up in a lesser role though down the line before getting a redesign in The New Batman Adventures that many folks prefer to this one. He can be proud of the mark he made on this series though, which is more than some other villains can say.