Category Archives: Comics

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 


Final Thoughts on Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars

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Bucky O’Hare raced onto television screens in September of 1991.

Another series is in the bag as the past 13 weeks have covered 90s relic Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars. As evidenced by my posting on the toy line by Boss Fight Studio as well as other pieces of Bucky media, this show has a special place in my heart. It was something I loved intensely as only a child can for a short duration that then broke my heart, but I got over it because for kids most things are short term. I found something else to obsess over and didn’t think about Bucky O’Hare much until I reached adulthood when suddenly looking back on childhood things held new meaning.

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The animation is sloppy and careless, such as with this scene in which Dogstar is mistakenly included as part of Bucky’s infiltration team when he’s actually piloting the ship.

I won’t lie to you all and say that Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars is a great television series. I’m not even sure I can say it’s a great children’s show. It does have things going for it, and then it doesn’t. It certainly suffered from a small budget, which isn’t a surprise as the property wasn’t exactly tried and true nor was it backed by a major studio. Those putting up the dollars to make the show likely viewed it as a toy commercial primarily with the hope it would find a footing so more money could be made off of it via other merchandise. Had the show arrived in the 80s it would have largely fit in with other shows on television, but for a 1991 show it was rather shoddy looking. The animation is choppy, there’s numerous visual errors, and few sequences that seemed to attempt anything truly artistic. The classic cartoon where a lavish intro serves as a red herring for what’s to follow.

In addition to the rather poor visual fidelity, the budget is further constrained in the sound department. A small cast of voice actors was forced to shoulder the load. When a new character shows up there wasn’t a thought to getting a guest voice actor (or if there was at the time of recording it was abandoned before release) so get used to a lot of characters sounding the same. This isn’t a knock on the cast, all of which I thought did a good job with the scripts provided, but a short-coming nonetheless. The music also suffers in the same manner. Doug Katsaros handled the music, including the memorable opening and closing number, and was apparently only hired to write and arrange about five tracks which are recycled through every episode. I like the music in the show and consider it perhaps the show’s greatest attribute, but it certainly was becoming repetitive by season’s end.

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Willy’s interactions with bullies in the early episodes are among the lowest points for the show.

Those are the show’s most obvious flaws production-wise. Serving as both a strength and weakness is the show’s writing. There are some early sequences, namely anything involving Willy DuWitt’s time on Earth, that are dreadful. Just pandering, talking down to the audience kind of stuff. The show also had pacing problems, particularly early on, where the episodes tried to cover too many things and never had a chance to breathe. The end of the first episode is supposed to be stressful so I don’t fault the writing there, but there were other episodes where plot points were basically glossed-over or the end felt rushed. The show is happy to use Willy’s genius as a deus ex machina to get the gang out of trouble on many occasions which probably won’t entertain an adult, but kids may have been more forgiving. I know for me personally as a kid characters like Willy and Donatello from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles annoyed me a bit with how they could seemingly invent their way out of any problem, but I don’t know if I was the exception or the norm.

Another aspect of the show that works, but also doesn’t, is the nature in which Willy was approached. He’s clearly meant to be the audience stand-in. As more of this universe is unveiled, we experience it alongside Willy. Whenever the show takes us to another world, we experience that world via Willy who has to learn about the cat people on Jenny’s world and learn how to deal with pirates in the Dead-Eye episode. It’s the type of approach that probably sounds good on paper, but in practice it’s not as successful. Willy just isn’t interesting, and having almost every episode center around him in some way harms the show. The only episode I actually felt this approach worked was the finale, and that’s because the crew was hiding something from Willy and thereby hiding it from the viewer as well.

Otherwise, the writing for Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars could be really ambitious and even better than the average slop thrown at children in 1991. The first three episodes are serialized and even the fourth fits into that as well. For the rest of the season, the show often reflects back on past events and there’s a feeling of continuity throughout, for the most part. Networks were loathe to attempt this sort of thing with kids as many just don’t respect the intelligence of the audience. Serialized story-telling isn’t necessary for every show, but it is rewarding for viewers in the right setting and that’s true of adults and kids. It’s why I found the show riveting as a child, and I believed there were more stakes here than was the case with the other shows I watched.

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Mimi LaFloo was an excellent addition to the show, I just wish we saw more of her.

This show was also really good to its female characters. Females were often an afterthought for shows aimed at boys. At most, they were often someone who needed to be rescued. April O’Neil was the gold standard at this point, a character who was confident and fearless, but ultimately always ended up captured by Shredder. In this show, we have Jenny who is the second in command and a powerful telepath. When she gets captured in episode three, it’s in addition to Bucky and Dead-Eye. It’s she who takes charge in her own episode to save her people, and in the final episode she gets captured on purpose as part of a master plan. The other female is Mimi LaFloo, a character determined to save herself and the other slaves who isn’t going to wait around for a hero. She becomes a captain herself, though we only get to see her in this role in one episode. The only negative is that these two characters are quite “catty” towards each other which feels too stereotypical. The most frequently used writer on the show is a female, Christy Marx, who wrote or co-wrote both episodes featuring Mimi so this may have been a contribution on her part or she was instructed to put these two at odds with each other. That aside, it’s cool to see the females in a heroic role and equally cool that a woman got to write them and I think it’s something that should be talked about as part of the show’s legacy.

The show also can be funny, and it’s not the sort of stupid humor I was accustomed to seeing in action shows. The show did tone down on the political humor with the obtuse and budget conscious S.P.A.C.E. bureaucrats. Some of it was retained, but I’m not surprised that Willy wasn’t made to sign-up for company healthcare before going on his first mission. Even the incompetent villains manage to remain funny throughout the season. Perhaps some of that is due to it only lasting 13 episodes, but at least the bumbling Air Marshall had yet to ware out his welcome.

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The villains are predictable, but also often amusing.

I largely view Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars as a flawed series, but still worth watching. It’s definitely worth watching for kids of 1991 as there wasn’t much better on TV as far as action cartoons were concerned. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was pretty dumb and The Real Ghostbusters was well past its prime. The Pirates of Dark Water might have been the best contemporary for the show, but I find Bucky O’Hare to be more interesting. Come 1992 the television landscape for this genre would be forever changed with Batman and X-Men, but for a brief period of time, Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars was at least in the conversation for best children’s action adventure program. It’s a shame the show isn’t readily available on DVD or at least streaming somewhere. I suppose it’s never too late, but it definitely doesn’t feel like that is something that is going to change anytime soon.

With my final thoughts out-of-the-way, I felt it would make sense to close the book on this series with a ranking of the 13 episodes. Let’s start with the worst:

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The only thing “On the Blink” has going for it are the scenes shared by Al Negator and the Air Marshall.

13. On the Blink – the Blinky episode on the koala planet is my least favorite. It feels inconsequential, and is, and has a lame resolution. It also was the first episode to really look poor. It does score points for showing Al Negator and the Air Marshall in golf attire.

12. The Warriors – Kamikaze Kamo would have made for a good action figure, but as a character he’s pretty annoying. I like that the episode gave us a new villain in Sly Leezard, and seeing the Air Marshall fired was amusing, but it’s a pretty ugly episode that didn’t do much to further the overall narrative of season one.

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This episode is just awful to look at.

11. Corsair Canards – This episode is all right, and the overall plot is solid, though some of the execution is a bit off. Mostly, it’s ranked this low because it is absolutely the low point in terms of animation. So many errors and just plain ugly sequences. With some polish, this could have been one of the better episodes.

10. Bye Bye Berserker Baboon – Bruiser’s homeworld is surprisingly low key, but at least there’s some Toad ingenuity on display here. Plus, the Terror Toad looks pretty cool. The baboons just get pretty annoying though and Bucky’s Bugs Bunny impression felt really off for this show.

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Al Negator, perhaps second only to Toadborg in the villain rankings, debuts in “A Fistful of Simoleans”

9. A Fistful of Simoleans – Now the list gets a bit tricky. I’ll put episode 2 here as it’s a bit slow and yet also over-stuffed. Al Negator is introduced and Bucky’s naivety is on display, though the message of the episode is kind of that racism can be okay? Basically, Bucky should have known not to trust Al because of his species, which is pretty shitty, but he’s also part of a fictional race of crocodiles so I guess it’s possible that they are all greedy, shifty, pieces of crap. I don’t think it was malicious on the part of the writers, but it comes off weird.

8. The Kreation Konspiracy – The plot for this episode is pretty cool, and I like the added Toad lore. Really, what knocks this one down a few pegs is the resolution with Willy converting a planet into a giant ape. And yet, the actual ending is possibly the best ending of any episode of the show as it’s genuinely funny, if rushed. At least Blinky got to do something to make up for the lackluster “On the Blink” episode.

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It was Toadborg’s time to shine in this one.

7. The Artificers of Aldebaran – This episode helped clarify how Jenny and her kind get their powers, even if it was pretty crazy given it involved a moon-sized demon in outer space. Mostly though, I rank this one here because I love how ruthless Toadborg is when negotiating with Jenny. He’s such a good villain and I feel like similar villains are rarely allowed to be this nasty in children’s shows.

6. Komplex Caper – This is just a fun action-heavy episode. The plot is a tongue-in-cheek commentary on television and works well in this show which is full of that stuff via Toad TV gags. We get to see Bucky take the fight to Komplex and also Dogstar’s crew gets a moment to shine. The only real negative for me watching as an adult is how the Toad fleet is weakened. In the first few episodes, Bucky and his crew couldn’t possibly hope to go toe to toe with so many enemies, but Dogstar’s crew seems unphased. Bonus points go to the humorous confrontation between Dead-Eye and the Toad Master Spy.

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“War of the Warts” introduced us to Bucky O’Hare and his crew.

5. War of the Warts – The debut episode is very lore heavy, but it’s necessary to establish the world. Really, the only parts I don’t like are Willy’s experiences on Earth dealing with bullies who will thankfully not make it out of Episode 3. This is also the episode that “killed” Bruce forever creating stakes kid-me never knew existed in cartoons.

4. The Search for Bruce – The episode that brought Bruce back, albeit as a ghost of some sort. It does a good job of showing a character, in this case Bruiser, actually experience grief which is something “War of the Warts” didn’t have time to explore. It’s a bit sad, but there’s also some fun stuff in the middle as well as the show’s most violent sequence. The only real drag is the constant references to bananas by the two baboons. I get it, they love bananas, I don’t need the constant reminder.

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The finale even finds time for the unheralded to get a moment, though maybe not a “shining” moment as it were for Digger.

3. The Taking of Pilot Jenny – The series finale does its job. While it has a few warts, namely with how Komplex is finally defeated, it’s largely a satisfying conclusion to the first season. Bucky gets to play hero and the mammals pull off an inventive scheme. Past plot points are revisited and the whole thing is just very satisfying. That last scene is still able to hit me in the feels, cheesy as it may be.

2. The Good, the Bad and the Warty – The conclusion to the first arch brings about the show’s first action-heavy episode. We get to see Bucky and his crew captured by the Toads and forced to escape. During which we see Willy’s ingenuity and Jenny’s impressive powers. It’s also our first real look at Toadborg and what he’s capable of and makes for an entertaining episode. There’s some more junk with Willy on Earth, but at least it also marks the end of his conflict with the bullies, something that felt really tacked on to make the show more “relatable” to its audience. The show in general features too much Willy, but at least he ditched the Earth problems for the most part.

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A debut for Mimi plus a dramatic and heroic moment from Bucky contribute to make “Home, Swampy Home” my favorite of the bunch.

1. Home, Swampy Home –  I had a feeling this one would be my favorite and it remained so after all was said and done. It does have the one real strange sequence of Bucky meeting his off-camera mentor who had some really on-the-nose advice for the captain, but aside from that it’s pretty cool and a lot of fun. It showcases how the other hares idolize Bucky and view him as their Superman, in a way. He will save them, no questions asked. It also gives us Mimi LaFloo, who is a really interesting character for a 1991 cartoon aimed at boys. She’s an anti-princess, a female who isn’t going to wait around for someone to save her. She looks down on her fellow captives, the hares, because they’re just waiting for Bucky to save them while she intends to save herself. And while Bucky’s help is needed in the end, she’s rewarded for her efforts by being named captain of her own frigate. This was an era where pretty much every female cartoon character was just a damsel in distress, so seeing an empowered female character was pretty cool. Bucky’s dramatic reveal to Mimi and the hares is also my favorite moment from the show.

 


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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars – “The Taking of Pilot Jenny”

img_3765Episode Number:  13

Original Air Date:  December 1, 1991

Directed by:  Karen Peterson

Written by:  Neal Adams, Peter Stone

First Appearance:  Komplex-2-Go, Cousin Jeffrey

After three months of blogging, we have arrived at the final episode of Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars. The show began aggressively, with a three-part story that also bled into several other episodes to follow before transitioning to a format of stand-alone episodes. Those episodes were utilized to flesh out the world and characters in the show, while this finale will largely return to plots from the earlier part of the season. While not every one of those stand-alone episodes felt entirely relevant, it was a solid approach to story-telling for a relatively short season of television. It might seem like nothing, but for children’s programming it’s fairly ambitious. Networks aren’t too fond of such methods. They think it’s easier to just present simple, concise stories. Missing an episode can be a burden on viewers, or so some would think. And if there are production delays on a particular episode that can pose a problem when something has to air out of order. X-Men encountered these problems just a year later allowing the network to mandate future seasons of that show abandon the serialized format of its first season. And while some still hold onto the belief that serialized story-telling does more harm than good, the incredible success of that show makes a case that it’s also what children want.

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Hopefully you remember what this thing is because it’s important to today’s episode.

Unfortunately for Bucky O’Hare, it did few favors here. Whether it hurt or helped is unknown, but what is known is that the show did not continue past this episode. This episode not only serves as a season finale, but also as a series finale. It’s unknown if the writers expected that outcome, but there is at least some finality here. To further add to the episode’s importance, the producers brought out the big guns. Comic artist Neal Adams co-wrote this one with Peter Stone. It’s the only writing credit for Adams on the show, though he probably has had input on it throughout the development process.

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The episode opens with Jenny and Blinky immediately running into trouble. Why isn’t it called “The Taking of Pilot Jenny and AFC Blinky”? Poor Blinky.

The finale begins with Jenny and Blinky piloting the Toad Croaker through an asteroid field. Jenny is making some daring maneuvers that appear to have the android unnerved. She assures him everything is fine, but they’re behind schedule and need to make up for lost time. Blinky isn’t the only nervous one as Bucky O’Hare radios for an update. She advises him to stop worrying as well but they soon run into trouble. Toads up ahead force Jenny to take evasive action. When she wonders why they don’t pursue Blinky points out the reason why. Up ahead are dozens of Double Bubbles waiting for them.

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Willy is met with bad news when he enters the Aniverse.

Willy DuWitt is at home looking rather bored. He says aloud to himself that he hasn’t seen Bucky and the others in days and tries contacting Jenny through the memory stone she gave him. When she doesn’t respond he gets worried and activates his photon accelerator. He enters through his door to find the Righteous Indignation rather quiet. He calls out to the others and eventually runs into Dead-Eye as he climbs down from the cockpit area. When Willy asks what’s going on he tells him “They got Jenny,” but he does it in such a manner that it sounds like he means she’s dead. Willy appears to get the meaning and he heads up to tell Bucky they have to get her back. Bucky agrees and he’s traced the Toads to a specific location:  Warren.

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The captured pilot. Blinky is allowed to just hang around.

The Righteous Indignation approaches the Toad Mothership which is surrounded by the entire Toad fleet. Toadborg speaks on behalf of the Toads to tell them they have their pilot (no one seems to care about Blinky) and he shows the confined Jenny on the video monitor. He threatens to “cybertize” her, or something, and I guess that means they intend to make her a cyborg. Bucky demands her release, but Toadborg wants to make a deal. One pilot for one climate converter. It would seem the Toads have wanted to reclaim the converter they lost to the mammals on Kinnear back in episode 4, but the hares hope to use that to restore the climate on their home planet of Warren which is still under Toad occupation. Willy insists Bucky would never make that trade and the writers use his explanation as a way to remind viewers of what Toadborg is talking about. To Willy’s surprise, Bucky agrees and he orders the ship to head for Kinnear. Willy tries to protest, but Bucky orders him to engineering. Willy tries reasoning with Dead-Eye once the two leave the cockpit area and Dead-Eye has a rather logical explanation for why Bucky is willing to deal:  there are multiple climate converters out there, but only one Jenny.

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Dead-Eye seems rather on edge for being on a friendly planet.

The crew arrive on Kinnear and Bucky heads inside to meet with the hares still there while the others wait on a bridge. While waiting, Bruiser enjoys a large bundle of purple bananas so apparently they grow in other places besides the planet his brother presently calls home. Willy thinks the hares will never agree to give up their lone climate converter, but Bucky emerges from the meeting with them and they’re all in agreement:  Bucky gets the converter. Willy is astounded as everyone heads back to the ship.

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Frix and Frax get a little taste of what Jenny is capable of.

On the Toad Mothership, Frix and Frax are enjoying taunting Jenny. They question if she actually believes that Toadborg will set her free once they make the trade and laugh at her when she indicates that she does. While the two howl with laughter, Jenny uses her psychic powers to control them. She has one slap the other and then return the gesture until Toadborg enters to break things up.

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Willy with the save!

The Righteous Indignation, along with the climate converter, enters the area and Willy asks Bruiser if he’s concerned about Bucky. It seems the captain hasn’t said a word since they left Kinnear and Willy is worried about him, but Bruiser just encourages him to have faith in their captain. Willy enters the cockpit area and speaks to Toadborg on behalf of the crew demanding the release of Jenny in exchange for the converter. In response, the Mothership fires on the Righteous Indignation striking Dead-Eye’s M.A.S.E.R. canons and knocking the duck from his seat. Willy is there to catch him and Dead-Eye compliments him on his reflexes, and justifiably since he went from the cockpit to the gunner position in seconds. A tractor beem then engulfs the Righteous Indignation and it’s pulled into the Toad Mothership.

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Captured again.

Aboard the Mothership, Bucky and the crew are lead into the same room as Jenny. Bruiser has his hands bound and a sack over his head, though they forgot to illustrate the sack in the establishing shot. Apparently that’s all that needs to happen to calm the other toads in his presence. How they actually got the restraints on him is not explained. As Toadborg celebrates his victory, he’s alerted that another mammal frigate has entered the picture. It’s the Indefatigable, and it has a message for Toadborg and that message comes from Captain Bucky O’Hare! It would seem he switched places with his cousin Jeffrey on Kinnear, which is why Bucky has been mute ever since and he also acquired a snazzy new space suit. They’re taking the fight to Warren, and it’s up to Toadborg to stop them. Toadborg is forced to summon a trio of spider-like androids (Tri-Bots) to serve as guards to watch the prisoners while he confers with Komplex. Before he leaves, Dead-Eye happily taunts Toadborg by relaying their plan to switch the climate converters and restore Warren’s natural climate. He then just runs from Toadborg and the whole sequence is rather amusing.

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Digger McSquint getting in on the action.

Aboard the Indefatigable, Rumble Bee and Digger McSquint get to have some dialogue of their own as they take up arms against the many Double Bubbles surrounding the Mothership. Rumble Bee fires from the customary gunner position while Digger has ports he can apparently shoot a rifle through. Dogstar pilots them to Warren and things get a bit confusing. They land on a climate converter and Bucky takes Dogstar’s crew with him leaving Dogstar aboard his ship. The climate converter appears to be in space, though establishing shots will make it look like it’s still on Warren, and Bucky and them emerge as if they’re floating in space.

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More Toad robots, nothing Jenny can’t handle.

Aboard the Toad Mothership, Bruiser has apparently grown sick of waiting around. He breaks his restraints and removes the bag on his head. He wants to squash toads, but the robots Toadborg left behind aren’t scared of him. They combine into a tower and blast Bruiser knocking him down taking out Dead-Eye and Jeffrey in the process. With those guys distracted, Jenny busts out her powers to destroy the Tri-Bots. She then urges everyone to follow her as they need to get back to the Righteous Indignation and retake the climate converter they launched from Kinnear, but before they can do that they need to sabotage this fleet.

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Even Blinky gets a moment to shine in this one.

They head for the command room and once there Bruiser peels back a piece of paneling and instructs Blinky to do his thing. There’s nothing behind the panel, leaving me to believe there should be circuitry of some kind. Blinky is able to seize control of the Toad Mothership’s many turrets and fires them at the surrounding Double Bubbles. The Toad pilots are shown to be both confused and reluctant to fire on their own Mothership. For some reaosn, the “K” emblem on their helmets has been replaced with a solid black oval. I’m guessing AKOM just got sick of drawing them.

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Komplex has a new trick to show off.

Toadborg is shown conferencing with Komplex. He’s forced to admit to mighty Komplex that he has been tricked by the mammals. He relays the mammal plan of switching the climate converter thus restoring Warren to its natural climate. Perhaps sick of Toad incompetence, Komplex tells Toadborg that it has a special surprise waiting for Bucky O’Hare and not to worry about the rabbit. We’re then shown a monitor aboard the climate converter with the Komplex visage upon it. The monitor removes itself from its housing and gathers up a bunch of stray parts to construct a body:  The Komplex-2-Go.

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Not wanting to be out done, Toadborg has a new trick as well.

Jenny leads the crew to the Righteous Indignation, Toadborg sees them and pursues. Jenny fires up the controls and the ship takes off, and so does Toadborg. Apparently he’s got some rockets of his own that we haven’t seen before and he blasts off after them. Frix and Frax see the mammal frigate heading for the exit and, fearing what Toadborg will do to them should they escape, they begin the door close sequence. Jenny calls down to Willy that she needs more power and he does as commanded. The ship barely squeaks by, but Toadborg gets caught in the closing doors. Frix and Frax are left to ponder if Toadborg knows it was them that closed the doors as he shouts to be set free. They decide to chance it that he did not, and leave him there. Jenny pilots the ship to the other climate converter and informs the others they need to get to Warren on the double – Bucky’s waiting for them!

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Time for Komplex to introduce itself to Bucky and…Dead-Eye?…Dogstar? Come on, AKOM…

Bucky leads Rumble Bee, Digger, and Wolf to the main hub of the climate converter. They intend to steal it, but will have an adversary they did not anticipate. As they get to work launching the converter from Warren, a gurney lifts up with Komplex-2-Go aboard it. It must have been waiting awhile for Bucky and decided to take a nap or something. The heroes are surprised to see this creation and are quick to take up arms against it. Komplex fires some missiles at Digger which destroy his gun and leave him looking comically charred. Komplex then targets Rumble Bee apparently damaging the android in the process. Wolf, climbing a tower-like structure, decides he’ll need to “take a hand.” He grabs some hanging wire and swings like a pirate calling out to Komplex a command to “Catch!” He tosses a spherical grenade which Komplex does indeed catch, only to have its arm blown off. Komplex then gives us the line of the season, “The filthy mammals blew off my arm!” The line reminds me of the famous Jack Nicholson line from Batman, “He took my balloons!” which amuses me since that film just turned 30.

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Wolf swinging into action!

It’s going to take more than that to take down Komplex. Bucky regroups with Digger and Rumble Bee and tells them they need more fire power. Rumble Bee agrees and changes modes in which he basically transforms into a turret. One blast from Rumble Bee like this is enough to knock Komplex down. Bucky then heads for the climate converter controls, which can be piloted like a ship. Bucky regains control of the converter, which has been flying around aimlessly since they launched it. He orders the other three to return to the Indefatigable. They try to talk him out of it but he says he needs to take this thing and destroy it. They then head out leaving Bucky to pilot the converter alone.

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And Komplex missing its arm.

The Indefatigable returns to the other climate converter where Jenny and the others await their arrival. Jenny has taken the pilot’s chair and orders Willy to join Dead-Eye below to learn how the thing functions. Bucky then appears in the stolen climate converter from Warren. As the two approach each other, Komplex begins to stir behind Bucky. Apparently it can self-repair, and as Bucky pilots the converter Komplex simply walks up behind him and blasts him. Unconscious, Komplex flings Bucky aside where he collapses in a heap.

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Dogstar and company have arrived. Nice to see Digger recovered.

Komplex uses the climate converter to shoot lightning bolts at the one piloted by the mammals. Under fire, Rumble Bee figures that Komplex must have taken out Bucky and retaken the converter in order for it to fire upon them. Jenny calls down to Willy that they need to return fire, but Willy claims he still needs a few minutes to figure things out. This is basically the first time Willy hasn’t been an instant genius with something. Since they don’t have two minutes, Jenny decides to take matters into her own hands. Commanding Dogstar to take over, she demonstrates another one of her special powers.

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It seems everyone has some new ability they want to show off today.

Jenny astral projects herself to the other converter. There she finds an unconscious Bucky. Initially, she tries to nudge him awake then admonishes herself for being a silly cat, she can’t touch anything in this ghost-like form. She then flits her fingers about and little colored lights flicker around them. I don’t know what they do, but it works and Bucky regains consciousness.

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Whatever Jenny did apparently worked.

Komplex turns around to regard the meddlesome mammal and fires away. Bucky admonishes Komplex for being too slow and bounds over it. From behind, Bucky can see a giant power supply feeding into Komplex via a simple wire. It didn’t appear to be in the machine prior to this moment, so this is quite convenient. Bucky simply rips the plug out and Komplex collapses.

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“I wonder what this will do?”

With Komplex dealt with, all that’s left is for Bucky to destroy the converter still laden with Toad programming. Willy helped get a start on that by getting the other converter to fire upon it and also create some sort of solar wind storm while Komplex still had control of it. Bucky places a detonator on the main console, then fastening on his space helmet, he takes off. As the device explodes, Bucky out runs the flames to safely arrive in space where the others can pick him up.

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Time for the heroic run away from disaster shot.

The new climate converter is then placed on Warren. As it’s being activated, there’s still the matter of the Toads on Warren to deal with. Harking back to “On the Blink,” the crew uses Bruiser once again to broadcast a message of violence towards the Toads. It gets picked up by the various monitors likely constantly tuned to Toad TV and has the desired effect. The Storm Toads flee the planet in terror leaving it once again toad free.

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It should be noted that Bucky never apologizes for keeping Willy in the dark.

Once reunited, it’s revealed to Willy that the whole thing was a setup. Jenny wanted to get captured so that they could switch out the climate converter on Kinnear with the one on Warren and restore the planet’s natural climate. They basically explained they knew they could outsmart the Toads. When Willy asks why they didn’t let him in on it, Bucky explains because the plan was already well underway when he arrived. They felt his sincerity would be an asset in getting the Toads to go along with the scheme so they ran with it. Willy is apparently fine with this, though I wouldn’t have blamed him for getting mad.

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Check out the happy rabbit family.

On Warren, the climate is restored thanks to the climate converter reprogrammed by the hares on Kinnear. The hare population is shown returning and a small family emerges from their spaceship for a look around. A little kid asks his dad if they can finally return home and his dad says they sure can, thanks to the members of S.P.A.C.E. and Captain Bucky O’Hare! We then get our requisite shot of the Righteous Indignation making a dramatic fly over and cut to the entire crew onboard with Bucky giving a wave to close out the series.

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And there goes the Righteous Indignation speeding out of my childhood.

And that’s how Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars ends. It’s a fitting and satisfying way to close out the season as it harkens back to the start. Bucky’s homeworld, Warren, is taken over and converted into a swamp by the Toads. The hares are then enslaved and put to work making another climate converter which Bucky is able to liberate. The hare scientists then convert the converter to their specifications, get rid of any pesky Komplex presence on it, and are able to use that to restore their planet by season’s end. It’s a nice through-line and makes me wonder if another one would have been established for a season two, but that was not to be.

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There’s some pretty odd visual blunders in this one. Someone obviously thought Digger was supposed to be Dead-Eye, even though a couple of arms are missing.

That may be a satisfying way for the season to be approached, though the episode itself is not without its problems. Willy is a bit annoying as he constantly questions Bucky throughout the episode. I think the audience is supposed to agree with his line of questioning, but I didn’t feel it. There’s some animation blunders as well, which we’ve come to expect from this show. In one shot aboard the climate converter, Digger McSquint is colored like Dead-Eye and then in another he is Dead-Eye. Dogstar also appears alongside that crew more than once further muddying things. It’s mostly par for the course, but I was hopeful the finale would be a little more polished.

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This ended up being the last shot of Toadborg in the series. How fitting.

A lot of the plot points in this episode are also quite convenient. Jenny has a power she’s never used which can awaken Bucky, and Komplex was felled by a simple power cord. Wouldn’t they have noticed that during the initial confrontation? Maybe they would have had it actually been drawn into any of those frames as opposed to just magically appearing when Bucky needed it to. Toadborg was also ultimately felled by a door, but also by Toad incompetence on the part of Frix and Frax. Though after the events of episode 3, you would think the Toads would know to keep their doors closed or maybe just empty the captured Righteous Indignation of fuel or whatever powers it. Toad Air Marshall is also no where to be found which is rather curious. I don’t know that I missed him, more just that I was surprised by his absence. Also absent is Pit Stop Pete who isn’t shown aboard the Indefatigable at all. And it would have been nice if the plan included the Screaming Mimi as well, just to get all three ships together for the first time.

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There’s still a lot to like about this one as a season finale. It brought together most of the show’s characters and even brought back Warren and the climate converter.

All in all though, this is a suitable way for the season to end. Had it been written as a series finale there may have been more finality to it. I don’t think we’re supposed to think Komplex has finally been defeated or anything, and obviously Toadborg will be just fine. Instead it was just an important, major, victory for the mammals and Bucky can rest easy knowing his home is back the way it used to be. It has imperfections as an episode (or should I say warts?), but they all do. I wanted this to be the best episode of the series, and it’s not, but it’s one of the better ones. I’ll reserve my final thoughts on the series for a follow-up post next week, but right now I mostly feel content with how the series ended.