Category Archives: Comics

Batman: The Animated Series – “Tyger, Tyger”

Tyger_Tyger-Title_CardEpisode Number:  42

Original Air Date:  October 30, 1992

Directed by:  Frank Paur

Written by:  Michael Reaves, Randy Rogel, and Cherie Wilkerson

First Appearance(s):  Emile Dorian, Tygrus

A 65 episode order must feel like both a blessing and an unbearable burden. On one hand, that’s a big pay day. Plus 65 episodes also means syndication which is a pathway to even more riches. On the other hand, that’s suddenly 65 stories to be developed, 65 screen plays to be written, 65 story boards to be parsed through, not to mention the actual production. All of this is following what was likely months of work on a pilot and series bible so that everything was good to go for a successful pitch to the network. In the case of a property like Batman, at least there’s over 50 years worth of comic books to go through for ideas and few characters are created from scratch. No one wants to just adapt other people’s work though, so the bulk of the stories are mostly original. And they come with deadlines.

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I like the Garth from Wayne’s World better.

Such a daunting task is probably how you end up with an adaptation of The Island of Dr. Moreau in a Batman cartoon. Batman has always been one of the more grounded super heroes. His villains usually don’t possess actual super powers and instead are just mentally deranged individuals with wrestling gimmicks and henchmen. This series did establish right from the first episode that there can at least be room for some science fiction via mad scientist quackery. “Tyger, Tyger” doubles-down on that with Dr. Emile Dorian (Joseph Maher) who is basically a stand-in for old Dr. M. He’s a genetic scientist driven away from society because of his crazy ideas and crimes against nature. He’s also a big-time cat enthusiast, proving you really can’t trust those crazy cat folks (I say this as someone who has only ever had cats as pets). And since he’s a cat person, well obviously we’re going to need to bring in our old friend Catwoman, Selina Kyle (Adrienne Barbeau), to assist with this story.

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Selina meet Tygrus, he’s going to be your mate!

The episode opens with Ms. Kyle visiting a zoo at night. It seems an odd thing to do, but she’s kind of an odd person. She’s looking mournfully at a tiger, a rather odd looking tiger at that, when someone from the trees behind her takes aim at her with a rifle and fires. The weapon is armed with some sort of dart, and after striking her the assailant bounds from the trees to claim his prey. He’s an ape man (voiced by Jim Cummings), and Selina tries putting up a fight, but is no match for the brute. A security guard comes to her aid, but he winds up in the tiger pen as a result while the ape-man makes off with Selina.

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Old friend Kirk Langstrom gets to make a cameo.

Bruce Wayne is shown waiting at a restaurant and his date is obviously late since he’s checking his watch. He phones home to see if his date, Selina, called Alfred to cancel (apparently Bruce can’t afford a 1992 cell phone). A member of the waitstaff lets him know that Selina called to say she was stopping by the zoo and would be late. He heads over there to find the crime scene. The cops are interviewing the guard who is obsessing over the ape man, and has really nothing to offer about Selina. Bruce finds a spent dart near the tiger pen (once again, the Gotham PD proves its incompetence) and brings it home for analysis.

Selina is shown a prisoner of a mad scientist – Dr. Emile Dorian. He’s all about cats and wants to experiment on her and turn her into some cat-lady. He thinks she’ll like it, but Selina seems less than thrilled.

Batman discovers the chemical compound contained in the dart is similar to the serum that turned Kirk Langstrom (Marc Singer) into the Man-Bat way back in episode number one, “On Leather Wings.” He brings a sample to Langstrom for confirmation, and the good doctor lets him know he’s correct. He hypothesizes that it’s the work of disgraced geneticist Dr. Emile Dorian and even shows Batman one of Dorian’s early experiments he just so happens to keep right there in the lab – a half cat, half monkey creature. He gives Batman a tip on where to find him, and Batman wastes no time in heading off to Dorian’s island.

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In this episode, Batman gets to see Selina naked. It’s not what he expected.

Once there, Batman finds a huge citadel-like structure and scales the wall 60s style. He’s met on the roof by Garth, the ape-man from earlier, and the two crash through the ceiling into the lab. It’s there he sees Selina, now in an enclosure. He’s horrified to see that she’s been transformed into a human-cat hybrid. Her entire body is covered in a mustard colored fur and she has claws and cat ears to match. She seems content, but Batman reacts violently and starts smashing the place to get at her. This attracts the attention of Dorian’s prized creation – Tygrus (Cummings). Unlike Selina, Tygrus was created “from scratch” and is a massive cat-man creature with sleek features and a barrel chest. He overpowers Batman, while Selina indicates she still has some humanity within her and reacts to the presence of her old crush.

Dorian informs Batman that Selina’s transformation is not yet complete. It can still be undone, but if Batman wants to do that he’ll have to defeat Tygrus. He sets the two loose, with Batman getting a head start, on his island. Tygrus is instructed by Dorian to kill Batman, and it looks like he has no issues obeying his father. Meanwhile, Dorian and Garth set out to administer the final component of the transformation formula to Selina, Dorian obviously having no intention of playing by his own rules.

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Dorian and his “son,” Tygrus.

Batman is forced to duke it out with Tygrus who is a more than formidable foe. He is able to incapacitate the creature long enough to find out it can talk. Since it can talk, it can also be reasoned with. Batman is able to convince the rather dim creature that he’s not his enemy just because his father says he is, and the two return to the lab. By now, Selina has decided she doesn’t want to remain a cat and has broken away from Dorian. This sets up a confrontation where Tygrus is caught in between Dorian and the others. He wants Selina to stay and remain a cat (and he apparently intends to mate with her), but he’s apparently learned enough about consent and he isn’t going to force it upon her. This puts him into direct conflict with his father, and he ends up destroying the lab in a fiery explosion.

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Imagine what they could have been.

Batman, Selina, and Garth escape, but there’s no sign of Tygrus or Dorian. At first. Tygrus soon emerges from the burning wreckage with Dorian in his arms. He lays him down at Batman’s feet with the hope that Batman will see to him. He makes one last play for Selina, and when she rejects a life as a cat, he quietly slips the antidote into her hands. She implores him to come with them, but he turns and remarks he doesn’t belong with them, or anywhere, and our episode ends on a somber note with Batman reciting a portion of the William Blake poem “The Tyger” as the episode fades out.

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Tygrus bids us all a sad goodbye.

Even with the call back to the Man-Bat, there’s no shaking that this is a weird episode. It’s not an all together bad episode, it’s just not a favorite of mine. The story is kind of rushed, and Tygrus is easily persuaded into a noble role. I also don’t particularly care for his design, though the episode looks fine as a whole. Dorian is a simple villain with no redeeming qualities so the episode doesn’t have to work hard to get us to hate him. I would have liked to see more of his creations, but since what we did see was so visually uninteresting then maybe it’s fine we didn’t. Selina is again kind of mishandled by the show. She’s lost all touch with her Catwoman persona at this point and is in need of some serious rehabilitation. Worse, she’s been pushed into this damsel in distress role which is borderline insulting. Her cat look is kind of stupid, and I have no idea why they went with the color that they chose for her fur. I guess it helps to make her pop against the dark and drab backgrounds and it’s a similar shade to her hair color. It’s also fun to have veteran voice actor Jim Cummings play a large role in an episode, though he isn’t given a whole lot to work with.

What we’re left with is not a particularly good episode of Batman:  The Animated Series, and it’s in an odd place as three out of four episodes will feature a genetic engineering subplot. It’s an odd obsession for the show to settle on, but it’s also something that the show leaves behind. We won’t hear from Dorian or Tygrus again, and I’m not particularly broken up about that. Meanwhile, Selina Kyle will finally get to go back to being Catwoman in a few weeks, though once again in more of an anti-hero role as opposed to true foil. It will be awhile before we see her do anything remotely villainous again.

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Batman: The Animated Series – “Joker’s Wild”

Jokers_Wild-Title_CardEpisode Number:  41

Original Air Date:  November 19, 1992

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  None

 

Episode 41 of Batman:  The Animated Series is written by show runner Paul Dini and it plays like a love letter to old Warner cartoons. It’s timely that we’ve arrived at this episode right now as we just recently we celebrated the 30th anniversary of Who Framed Roger Rabbit, a film that could also be described as a love letter to classic cartoons. And if you’re going to do a send-up to the old Looney Tunes then who better to man that ship than The Joker (Mark Hamill) himself?

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Joker and Poison Ivy sharing a moment.

The episode begins at Arkham Asylum where the happily incarcerated Joker is fighting over the television in the common area with Poison Ivy (Diane Pershing). They bicker like children and it’s rather amusing to see The Joker reduce Ivy to that of a whiney child, but apparently he has that effect on people. He’s delighted to be causing her such consternation to the point that he doesn’t mind when the guard forces them to watch the news since they couldn’t agree on a show before (Joker wanted to watch Letterman, Ivy a gardening program). The news is covering the opening of a new casino by Cameron Kaiser (Harry Hamlin) and even Bruce Wayne is in attendance. When the casino is unveiled to contain a Joker motif, complete with a laughing depiction of The Joker’s unmistakable visage atop the building, the audience reacts in disgust – including Wayne. The Joker is immediately ticked off to see his likeness infringed upon and Ivy delights in seeing this change in mood from him. It’s all the motivation he needs though to break out of Arkham once again (revealing how pathetically easy it is to do so in the process) and set his sights on Kaiser and his shiny new casino – Joker’s Wild.

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Another instance of the show maintaining continuity with the Burton Batman film.

Joker arrives in his top hat and overcoat and is kind of impressed with what he sees. The place looks like a tribute to him complete with ushers dressed as The Joker and waitresses clad in Harley Quinn attire (who is not present in this episode marking a rather lengthy absence for her). Joker is immediately mistaken for a worker and is instructed by another attendant to go work the blackjack table where he immediately starts winning hand after hand. He may be there to wreck the place, but it’s pretty clear he’s going to have a little fun before he does.

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The head spins and laughs, because it wasn’t garish enough.

Bruce Wayne, after seeing the unveiling, decided to book a room knowing that there was no way The Joker would stand for this. It basically highlights how quickly The Joker broke out and got himself situated that Wayne is still there. Alfred brought him his gear, and Wayne points out how he thinks something is off with the place by pealing back some wallpaper to reveal an older design. He thinks this switch to a Joker theme was a last minute addition, and plans to do some sleuthing.

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Hard to imagine even The Joker himself designing a casino so lovingly dedicated to him.

Batman does some nosing around in Kaiser’s office and, because Kaiser is apparently stupid, finds all he needs to find. The casino is already deeply in debt, and apparently Kaiser has no faith in it generating enough money to pay down that debt in a timely fashion. Rather than file for bankruptcy, he made the (probably costly) change in theming to attract The Joker in hopes that he would sabotage the whole thing and Kaiser could collect on insurance. I do wonder how well that plan would have worked if the plan went off without a hitch. In a world where villains like The Joker are sort of commonplace I wonder if an insurance company would even payout for such an action? Batman attracts the attention of security, but it’s nothing he can’t handle, as he makes a hasty retreat.

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That is some room.

Joker has also attracted the attention of security (the guard is voiced by Ernie Hudson which seems like a really small role for him. I thought maybe he had a bigger part in another episode and just recorded some filler but I don’t see any other credits for him under this show) who alerts Kaiser of what’s going on. The Joker is seen clearly cheating on the security footage, but Kaiser doesn’t seem bothered and tells the guard to ignore him. Meanwhile, the patrons at Joker’s table have fled in disgust, but Bruce Wayne arrives to take their place. They make small talk, in which Bruce remarks on the distasteful decor which irritates Joker, before getting down to business. Joker hits a 20, but Bruce hits on 21 and pockets his cash and moves along. He saw what he needed, and in an exchange with Alfred, we see Bruce knows how to cheat at cards with the best of them.

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Even Wayne looks kind of off model here.

Having seen all he needs to see, Wayne hops into his Batman attire and goes to apprehend The Joker, only to find that he’s switched tables. When the real Joker sees Batman harassing a harmless worker, he decides to flee. He commandeers a Joker mobile, a dragster sort of car with Joker stylings, that was on display as a prize (I assume, because it looks like the sign to win it was lost in translation, literally, when animated overseas) and takes off. Batman jumps in, but Joker crashes the car into a pier causing Batman to plummet into the nearby bay while Joker is able to safely eject.

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I love how Joker needs to have his likeness on his own gun. No wonder why he’s so irritated at another man stealing that very likeness.

We next see Joker wheeling a bunch of explosives under the guise of a food service cart into a closed section of the casino. It looks like it’s supposed to be a play area someday as there’s a giant roulette wheel and some other things scattered about. Kaiser notices this on camera and immediately calls for his private helicopter to be prepared for a swift exit. Batman confronts him as he’s filling a suitcase full of money and reveals to him he knows what’s going on. Kaiser, unfazed, activates some sort of electrical floor trap beneath Batman which incapacitates him. He orders his two lackeys to bring Batman down to the Joker for disposal.

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Battle on the helicopter!

Batman stumbles out of an elevator only to be clobbered with a 2×4 by The Joker, knocking him unconscious. He wakes up to find he’s been bound to the enormous roulette wheel with its giant caricature of The Joker leering down at him. Joker taunts him, and while doing so the animation gets real wonky and he appears off-model numerous times. Batman reveals Kaiser’s plans to Joker, who seems pretty bummed that he’ll have to abort his plans to demolish the casino. That doesn’t get Batman off the hook though as Joker activates the roulette and leaves him with a live grenade bouncing around on the wheel. Joker makes the same mistake he always makes in leaving Batman to his own demise, which means he obviously is going to get out of this one. Using his trusty grapple gun, Batman makes a shot that’s even amazing by his standards as he not only hits the bounding grenade (while spinning at an extremely high rate of speed) with his grapple gun, but also causes the grenade to go into the giant Joker structure demolishing it in the process causing it fall on him and free him from his bindings. That is some crazy shot.

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Joker back in Arkham with very weird looking representations of Ivy, The Mas Hatter, and Scarecrow.

Joker is able to beat Kaiser to the helipad as he’s trying to flee the casino and takes over piloting duties of his helicopter (eerily similar to his actions in his last appearance, “The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne”). When Kaiser realizes it’s The Joker and not his pilot, he gets pretty angry that The Joker isn’t down there demolishing his casino. Joker reveals he’s decided to take over the casino instead, after he knocks off Kaiser, though he does compliment him on the attempted scheme. Batman arrives too late to get on the helicopter, but he somehow manages to get high enough to soar after it in his hang glider, much to the frustration of The Joker. The animators redeem themselves with a brief, but nice looking, chase sequence that ends with Batman and Joker tussling in the cockpit of the helicopter. They crash into the casino and not only do they manage to not kill anyone in the process, they all walk away from the crash despite not being restrained at all. Joker tries to get away, but Batman knocks him into a slot machine and change pours down over him. The still image looks rather poor and the bottom of the image almost looks like a half-finished animation cel that was supposed to be cut-off in the actual picture.

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Hey! I know that guy!

The episode concludes with Joker back in Arkham amongst cameos from Scarecrow and The Mad Hatter (looking really off model) while they all enjoy watching the coverage of Joker’s failure. He tries to change the channel to Looney Tunes, but they all shout at him in protest. The camera settles on Joker’s grumbling as “The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down,” better known as the Looney Tunes theme, plays before changing back to the news coverage, and eventually Joker’s theme, which takes us out. It’s a fitting way to end this one as throughout the whole episode we’ve had little Looney Tunes nuggets tossed about. The Joker is humming that very song early in the episode, while he also makes numerous one-liners basically lifted directly from those old cartoons. He even calls someone a “maroon.” It’s really silly, and I actually wouldn’t blame someone for thinking it’s too silly and a bit out of character for the show. We do often get dueling Jokers in this show where he’s sometimes really calculating and murderous, while other times he’s looney and breaks the fourth wall (as seen in his debut “The Last Laugh”). This episode might push things a little too far in that direction, but as someone who unabashedly loves the Looney Tunes, it’s hard for me to be too bothered by it.

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Joker’s eyes are right triangles in this show. I never want to see that again.

Our villain of the week, Cameron Kaiser, will never be heard from again. He served his purpose, but the conflict of him vs Joker means this episode doesn’t rely a whole lot on Batman. That’s nothing new for the show, but he feels especially buried in this one. He has some really generic and corny lines as the episode feels like its rushing through his scenes. It’s not the worst we’ve seen him, but it sticks out in a Paul Dini episode which are usually the show’s best. It’s also weird because kids don’t really understand insurance, for the most part, so they might not quite understand the plot and yet so much of the humor and direction feels aimed at children. In particular, the bickering of the inmates in which the line “I know you are, but what am I?” is uttered more than once. The hang glider thing also really bothered me. I know I should be willing to overlook how unrealistic it is for Batman to get as high as a helicopter without an obvious launching point, but some things just can’t be ignored. Just have him grapple gun the stupid helicopter!

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The blackness around Joker’s eyes constantly pops in and out in this episode and it’s very distracting.

The animation for this one is all over the place. I made mention of it during the summary portion, but it warrants further mentioning. The Joker’s face is often tricky to animate as he’s always grinning, but the animators seemed to have more trouble than usual here as he sometimes has some off mouth flaps. The black around his eyes is really inconsistent too, and it’s particularly egregious when he’s confronting Batman. Batman is also really stiff and the action scenes don’t feel especially dynamic. He’s slow, and when he’s strapped to the spinning roulette wheel we don’t really get a sense of motion out of the scene. It feels very detached. The hang glider sequence is well done though, so maybe they blew the budget on that part. The backgrounds also look good, and since the setting is rather unique, there probably wasn’t too many opportunities for cost-savings. It was handled by Akom, who has been responsible for more bad than good episodes. I actually wasn’t aware of this while watching, but Akom was apparently fired because this episode came out so poorly. In addition to the issues I pointed out, there also just some silly gaffes in some shots, like items appearing and disappearing at random. Apparently Akom had a bad reputation amongst the staff often referring to it as “The Kiss of Death” when an episode was assigned to the studio.

“Joker’s Wild” is an okay piece of comedic filler for the series. It’s not the best Joker episode, but the images of the Joker casino help make it more memorable than it deserves. How much you enjoy the episode will partly hinge on if you enjoy the humor and the little nods to Looney Tunes shorts. At this time, Tiny Toon Adventures was a thing and the shows had some overlap in terms of talent so it isn’t surprising to see something like this make it to air. Previously we had seen some sight gags in past episodes, but this one really went for it and the results were…okay? We’ve got some less than stellar episodes upcoming though, so after about four weeks this one may seem positively divine by comparison.


Batman: The Animated Series – “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?”

If_You're_So_Smart,_Why_Aren't_You_RichEpisode Number:  40

Original Air Date:  November 18, 1992

Directed by:  Eric Radomski

Written by:  David Wise

First Appearances(s):  The Riddler

 

It only took 40 episodes, but we’ve finally made it to the debut of what I would consider the last of Batman’s most famous adversaries:  The Riddler. Thanks to his inclusion in the 60’s television series as well as Batman:  The Movie, The Riddler (John Glover) was a very well known villain and was so well known that it was basically considered a given that he would be the featured villain in the sequel to Batman Returns. And it turns out he was! That version of The Riddler, played by Jim Carrey, ended up being very similar in character to the one from the 60’s most famously portrayed by Frank Gorshin right down to the green spandex. For Batman:  The Animated Series, a more cerebral version of the character was chosen. Clad in a green and gray suit with bowler hat, he’s not very much like what we had seen before in popular media. He still is all about riddles though and the essence of the character is preserved. He’s also given an interesting motivation, and he’s yet another villain who was wronged in the past, but flouts the law in order to rectify what happened bringing him into conflict with the one and only Batman.

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Enter The Riddler.

Edward Nygma is a computer game designer who’s latest creation, The Riddle of the Minotaur, has become exceedingly popular. He works for Competitron, a company owned by Daniel Mockridge (Gary Frank), and unfortunately for Nygma all of his work has come under a work for hire agreement. He enters his office one day to find that he actually has no office. Mockridge is there gleefully waiting for him to let him know he’s being terminated. Nygma, irate at this treatment, points out how much money he’s made the company while Mockridge dangles his contract in front of him essentially boasting that he’s completely right, but there’s nothing he can do about it. Because he’s essentially a contractor, he receives no royalties for the game (or if he does, they’re not large) and no creative control. As a parting shot, Mockridge throws the episode’s title right in his face, “If you’re so smart, then why aren’t you rich?”

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Mockridge being taunted as he makes his pitch to Wayne and Fox.

The episode jumps forward two years and Mockridge is pitching Competitron to Bruce Wayne and Lucius Fox. Mockridge is looking to sell and cash-out of his growing business while Bruce is interested in moving the company to Gotham to create more jobs. As Mockridge is making his pitch, a word crawl on a building across the street (like one you would see outside a stock exchange) taunts him with a riddle and makes a reference to the big deal he’s trying to negotiate. Mockridge is unnerved, though Wayne and Fox aren’t aware of the message since it’s behind them, and are rather confused when the pitch is cut short. After Mockridge leaves, Wayne notices the riddle and begins reading it aloud while the shot transitions to the Batcave for Batman to finish the riddle. It’s a neat little trick as it points out how voice actor Kevin Conroy portrays Wayne and Batman just slightly differently.

Dick is also in the Batcave and he just so happens to be playing The Riddle of the Minotaur on the Batcave’s computer (which Alfred reveals cost 50 million dollars) which features sound effects lifted straight out of Super Mario Bros. Since Bruce Wayne had to pour over documents relating to the sale of Competitron to Wayne Enterprises, he knows about the creator of the game, Edward Nygma. The riddle also made reference to The Wasteland, which is both a region in the game and a night club owned by Mockridge. Batman decides that’s the most logical place to check-out and declares that Mockridge is in danger.

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There’s something “off” with how Riddler’s expressions are animated. It’s animation more befitting Tiny Toons or Animaniacs.

It turns out, Batman was correct. Mockridge arrives at his club’s office and finds Nygma seated at his desk. He’s now The Riddler and he taunts Mockridge with a ring puzzle. He also has help in the form of two very large goons. Batman and Robin soon arrive, dramatically crashing through a stained glass skylight, but they find no one. The Riddler soon appears to let them know they’re too late, and Mockridge is bound within the ring puzzle The Riddler had been playing with. They have a scuffle with the hired muscle, who put up a pretty good fight. Robin is rather proud of himself when he literally kicks one of them in the rear. The Riddler eventually traps Robin in an over-sized finger trap as a fire breaks out, forcing Batman to either save Robin or pursue The Riddler, who flees with Mockridge. Batman obviously decides to save his ward, allowing Riddler to escape.

As the dynamic duo speed away in the Batmobile, Robin notices all of the lights in the city are flickering on and off. Batman, affixing some sort of mini computer to his glove which looks kind of cool, recognizes that the lights are flickering in a pattern indicating Morse Code. The code contains a riddle, because what else would it, who’s solution leads them to a maze in a closed amusement park. During the prior confrontation, Batman revealed that he knows The Riddler’s identity, so The Riddler determined that he needs to take out Batman to protect his secret. By luring Batman and Robin to his maze he hopes to do just that while also taking care of Mockridge.

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The Riddler welcoming Batman and Robin to his maze.

The maze is a literal recreation of the one from Nygma’s game. Robin, having played it quite a bit, is familiar with it and Batman is gradually brought up to speed as they go along. Nygma has made this version of the maze much more lethal than the video game counterpart, and Batman and Robin have their hands full. The Riddler is able to taunt them from various video screens throughout the maze and he lets them know they only have a few minutes to make it to the center and save Mockridge, who is gagged and bound beneath the blade of the Minotaur. The problem is, no one has ever solved the riddle of the Minotaur and made it through the maze, meaning Batman and Robin will have to be the first if they want to save Mockridge and apprehend The Riddler.

Batman is willing to play along only so much, but when they make a wrong move The Hand of Fate is sprung on them. We saw the video game version earlier in the episode as The Hand of Fate is a game mechanic that punishes wrong answers by bringing the player back to the maze’s start. In the real world, it’s a literal flying hand that Batman and Robin are able to avoid. When it becomes apparent that they have no chance at making it to the center of the maze in time, Batman intentionally makes a wrong move to draw the hand to him. Using a piece of shrapnel from an earlier trap (The Riddler made them leave their utility belts outside the maze in order to gain entry), Batman is able to hack The Hand of Fate, and together with his little glove computer, is able to pilot the hand to the maze’s center. It’s cheating, but effective. There they have to answer one final riddle in order to prevent the Minotaur from killing Mockridge, and it’s actually a pretty simple riddle. Not content to make it so easy, The Riddler springs the Minotaur on them as one final obstacle that Batman is more than capable of dealing with, in his own way.

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A confrontation with the Minotaur awaits at the center of the maze.

With Mockridge saved, the only thing left is to catch The Riddler. Unfortunately for them, he’s no where to be found. He’s been speaking to them from aboard an airplane and he’s now long gone. In the episode’s epilogue, we find out the deal was completed and Mockridge came away with a cool ten million. Dick is kind of disappointed as they’re well aware that Mockridge is a creep who took advantage of Nygma’s genius, but Bruce points out that all the money in the world can’t buy a good night’s sleep as we’re shown a very paranoid Mockridge locking his doors at night and keeping a gun by his bed as he shivers in fear.

This episode very much reminded me of Mr. Freeze’s debut, “Heart of Ice.” The only difference is that Freeze’s adversary was a criminal himself, while Mockridge is just your typical corporate sleezeball taking advantage of a system that’s rigged in his favor at the expense of someone much poorer than he. Mockridge hasn’t broken any laws, but he’s obviously a morally bankrupt individual. It’s not that surprising to see a show who’s origins stem from a comic book incorporate such a villain into an episode as Mockridge’s tactics are similar to the ones comic publishers used to box out the artists and creators that made the comics successful. It would be many years later that we would find out a similar travesty occurred with Batman as Bill Finger never received credit for his contributions to the character during his lifetime. Finger, appropriately enough, was also the creator of The Riddler.

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Mockridge “enjoying” his money.

As a result of Mockridge being such a lame person, we’re in essence rooting for Nygma during this episode. In reality, he probably could have filed a lawsuit against Mockridge and Competitron and possibly could have won. For all we know he did during the two year time-jump and maybe lost. He chose to take things into his own hands though and turn to crime to exact revenge against the man and company that wronged him. How he was able to finance that ridiculous maze is not explained and I suppose we’re supposed to just ignore it so the episode can work. Even though we’re supposed to disagree with The Riddler’s methods, I have to assume we were supposed to take some satisfaction in his escape at the episode’s conclusion.

This episode is one of two animated by Blue Pencil, S.I., and it’s not a particularly strong episode. A lot of new backgrounds had to be utilized so there was some cost there, but the animation is inconsistent and there are numerous visual errors. The Riddler’s mask at one point changes from pink to gray and a key re-appears on a wall when it shouldn’t be there, among other little flaws. That stuff was common in a lot of kid’s cartoons of the era, though not so much in this one, so it stands out more. The Riddler himself is also some-what toon-like in his movements and mannerisms with his face stretching and contorting into odd shapes as he speaks. It looks out of place, and there’s some odd shots of Batman as well. The Minotaur at the episode’s conclusion, who is supposed to be a robot, also moves like this making it seem like he’s more flesh-like than steel. Blue Pencil only worked on one other episode, which we’ll get to in about a month from now, and I wonder if it’s because the quality wasn’t up to par.

The Riddler is not a villain we’ll be hearing from very much. It’s kind of a shame because John Glover’s take on the character is quite good and I much prefer it to the Gorshin and Carrey portrayal. I do wonder if he was avoided because it’s pretty hard to come up with clever riddles to dot his episodes with. The ones in this episode are kind of weak, but not embarrassingly so or anything. I can definitely see it being a very intimidating task to write a Riddler episode. I always liked The Riddler though and I kind of wish we saw him in the Nolan trilogy as I think he would have made his Riddler similar to this one. We had to wait awhile for him to show up in this series, but it would seem he was mostly worth the wait.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Heart of Steel: Part II”

Heart_of_Steel_Part_II_Title_CardEpisode Number:  39

Original Air Date:  November 17, 1992

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Brynne Stephens

First Appearance(s):  None

 

When we last saw our hero, Batman was being attacked by his own Batcave after it had been hacked by Randa Duane and H.A.R.D.A.C. The situation seemed some-what dire when the previous episode ended, but I mean come on, there’s no way Batman is being done in by his own devices. He extricates himself and gets the Batcave back under his control without too much fuss, and immediately his attention turns to Duane who is no where to be found. He had left her in the mansion alone and she works for a man who creates robots, and Batman is smart enough to realize the sabotage at his own home and her profession probably overlap.

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Barbara gets to play detective in this one.

Meanwhile, Karl Possum (William Sanderson) is feeling some heat from the police and decides to have second thoughts about how much free will he programmed H.A.R.D.A.C. to possess. When he says this out-loud and starts to fiddle with the super computer’s innards, H.A.R.D.A.C. (Jeff Bennett) decides he’s not onboard with this and Rossum is soon incapacitated. This is the beginning of H.A.R.D.A.C.’s next phase as he communicates wth the imposter Commissioner Gordon about taking out Bruce Wayne. He also deploys a copy, which the show canon refers to as a duplicant, of Mayor Hill (Lloyd Bochner) who brazenly marches into the real mayor’s office to take his place.

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Bullock’s been working out.

Caught up in all of this is Barbara Gordon (Melissa Gilbert). She knows something is up with her dad, and Detective Bullock (Robert Costanzo) gave her a tip about Rossum. Barbara does what I assume most people would want to do in this world when they have a problem, but maybe don’t have the means – she calls Batman. Activating the signal on the roof of Gotham PD summons the caped crusader who is surprised to find it’s the younger Gordon who called him this time. He’s concerned about what’s been going on in Gotham, but before they can get too into detail they’re confronted by Bullock. Now, Batman and Bullock have not had a particularly warm relationship in this show. Bullock is openly hostile towards Batman, probably some-what because he’s jealous of the fact that Batman gets to operate outside that pesky thing called “The Law” while he’s held to a higher standard. He also just plain doesn’t trust a guy in a mask, and who can blame him? Even though the two share no love for each other, they’ve worked together in the past and have never really appeared close to coming to blows or anything.

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It’s crazy what we look like on the inside.

That has all changed. Bullock approaches Batman this evening with the aim of instigating a fight. He’s ready to go, and much to Batman’s surprise, he’s pretty damn powerful. Batman is reluctant to fight at first, but is forced to defend himself. With a little help from Barbara, Batman is able to toss Bullock into the Bat-Signal which brings the fight to an end. Since this is a cartoon, tossing a body into anything electrical means it gets lit-up in a blaze of electricity! When this occurs, Bullock’s skin hardens and falls away revealing an android body underneath. In a move right out of a sci-fi movie, the robot crawls towards Batman fighting until the very end, forcing Batman to cut its head off with a shuriken. Seeing the imposter Bullock is enough evidence for Barbara to make the assumption that her father has been replaced with a robot as well. Batman, of course, knows what’s going on now and advises Barbara to go stay with a friend. She grabs his cape and tries to pull a power-move in announcing she’s coming with him, but Batman is having none of it.

Bruce Wayne has an appointment at some sort of rich person’s social club. He arrives and is greeted by Mayor Hill who possesses some tell-tale glowing red eyes, along with everyone else at the club. Randa Duane (Leslie Easterbrook) shows up with her little stun gun and tries to take out Bruce, who is able to get away and jumps into an elevator – a handy place for a quick costume change. Other robots pursue and pry the door open, but Batman is gone. He snuck out the top of the elevator car and cuts the cables, sending the robots to a smashing end.

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Robots are kind of goofy.

Barbara, not willing to take Batman’s advice, shows up at Cybertron’s lab and is able to cleverly sneak in past security. Unfortunately for her, she couldn’t have anticipated that basically everything in the lab is a robot, and a wastebasket takes notice of her intrusion, sprouts legs, and begins to follow her. Before she finds anything juicy, the robot transforms into a more humanoid machine and subdues her. Rossum and Duane then confront her and give her the cliche line of “You’ll be joining your father soon.”

Batman is also snooping around Cybertron and slips inside the building. H.A.R.D.A.C. has been waiting for him though so there’s no sneaking for The Dark Knight this evening as some robot security robots pounce on him. He battles his way to the main lab where the massive H.A.R.D.A.C. is stored only to find that Barbara is the latest person to be captured by the super computer. Even though H.A.R.D.A.C. is not human, it demonstrates it’s still susceptible to pride and gleefully boasts (well, as gleeful as an emotionless robot can) about his grand plan to replace humanity with robots. Humanity is imperfect, and in H.A.R.D.A.C.’s estimation robots are superior because they don’t make mistakes. This idea was implanted in him by Rossum, who first created robots as a result of losing his daughter in a car accident. He felt he could improve upon humanity for some actions, but H.A.R.D.A.C. is taking that premise many steps forward. In some respects, it’s not really any different from our society’s own desire for self-driving vehicles.

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I’m pretty sure there’s a rule in entertainment that if you have humanoid robots you must include a shot where one loses half its face.

H.A.R.D.A.C. may be willing to replace humanity, but for some reason he’s not willing to destroy it. It reveals that the individuals who have been replaced are still alive, being kept in a sort of suspended animation floating in some water tank (why is it always a water tank?). Seeing the captives springs Batman into action, and he’s able to smash the tank freeing the likes of Gordon, Bullock, Hill, and the real Rossum. Batman is forced into conflict with the various robots while Barbara and the others try and escape. Rossum knows the ins and outs of his own lab and is able to lead everyone out, but when Batman doesn’t soon follow, Barbara races back in to help.

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Batman’s going to need some help here, and that lazy, good-for-nothing, ward of his is no where to be found.

Batman is forced into a fight with Randa, and it’s finally confirmed that she too is a robot. Batman is able to maneuver her under an elevator, which drops down and crushes her (kind of odd that they used the same method of an elevator crushing robots more than once). Batman is a little worse for ware following the fight, but Barbara shows up to aid him in getting out. H.A.R.D.A.C., feeling it has no other alternative, initiates a self-destruct mechanism to kill Batman and Barbara, but of course they make it out.

Following their escape, Barbara and her dad get to have a proper reunion while Rossum laments his role in all that happened. A surprisingly cheerful Mayor Hill comforts him and lets him know the resulting investigation will almost certainly clear him of any real wrong-doing (good luck dodging lawsuits, though). The usual “let’s go home,” line is uttered and the camera gets ready to pan out. Commissioner Gordon remarks he’s getting too old for this line of work, while Barbara says she enjoyed herself tonight. She might as well have winked at the camera after that one.

“Heart of Steel – Part II” does a good job of building off of the first episode in a satisfying way. The two-parters have demonstrated a strong ability to setup a story with a very methodical first half, but sometimes the second doesn’t really deliver. This one does as it relies a lot on action sequences. It saves answering the questions raised in Part I almost entirely for this second act, even though some of the questions had fairly obvious answers. It’s still satisfying though, and the writers and animators seem to have a lot of fun with giving Batman robotic enemies to destroy. Since they’re not living, Batman gets to act a bit more ruthlessly and does things he normally would not do, similar to the Captain Clown fight from way back in episode 4. Most importantly, the episode foreshadows the vigilante Barbara Gordon will become. It’s a far more satisfying way of introducing the character rather than immediately jumping to the Batgirl plot. The groundwork has been laid, so it will have more weight behind it when the change inevitably does come. The Barbara character is also handled exceptionally well. She’s smart and crafty and doesn’t pull-off anything in this episode that feels far-fetched. She comes off as natural and genuine and viewers likely wanted more of her following the events of this episode.

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And everybody’s happy in the end.

The episode is obviously influenced by films like The Terminator, as Terminator II was pretty popular around this time. The duplicants, which share a nod to Blade Runner’s replicants, function very similarly to the Terminators from that franchise with the only thing missing being time travel. H.A.R.D.A.C. is basically Skynet, a sophisticated A.I. gone rogue, with a logical motivation. It could have felt out of place in a Batman story, but the writers made it work. And if you enjoyed H.A.R.D.A.C. then I am happy to report that it will make one more appearance in the series before all is said and done.

“Heart of Steel” is a dark-horse contender for best two-parter in the show’s history. It moves along at a good clip and contains a fun, and interesting story. Perhaps it’s not all that unique given the obvious nods to other popular franchises, but the story is executed in a manner that feels fresh and is ultimately rewarding. The introduction of Barbara Gordon is icing on the cake. I am not much of a fan of Batgirl (or Robin, for that matter), but this episode at least makes me forget that. I don’t know if I’ll feel that way when Batgirl ultimately does show up, but for now I am not down on the character. I like that the show was willing to give Karl Rossum a tragic motivation for his inventions in the death of his daughter. It’s a plot device that works, I only wish they had delved into it a bit more, but maybe they felt that would be too heavy for a kid’s show. There are some moments of obvious corn. The resolution for the episode feels abrupt and a tad lazy given the bow put on everything. It also doesn’t make much sense for H.A.R.D.A.C. to have kept his captives alive, but I understand they don’t want to off a whole chunk of the supporting cast. And I’m still shocked that Batman defeating robots with an elevator on multiple occasions in this one episode made it past the storyboard stage. The short-comings are forgivable though and I can safely recommend “Heart of Steel” as a two-part episode that is very much worth watching.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Heart of Steel: Part I”

Heart_of_Steel_Part_IEpisode Number:  38

Original Air Date:  November 16, 1992

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Brynne Stephens

First Appearance(s):  Barbara Gordon, Karl Rossum, H.A.R.D.A.C.

 

There’s quite a bit to unpack in this one, which may seem odd since this is an episode that does not feature a “name” villain. Debuting in this episode is H.A.R.D.A.C. (Jeff Bennett), a clear nod to HAL2000 from 2001:  A Space Odyssey who’s existence in this cartoon probably owes a lot to James Cameron’s Terminator franchise which was red hot in ’92. H.A.R.D.A.C., which stands for Holographic Analytical Reciprocating Digital Computer, is basically an A.I. like Skynet capable of integrating with the machines around it, as well as able to construct robots that resemble humans. H.A.R.D.A.C. will obviously appear in the second part of this two-part story and will also make another appearance in the series, but the big debut this week is none other than the someday Batgirl, Barbara Gordon (Melissa Gilbert). Up until this point, we have seen nothing of Commissioner Gordon’s home-life, but anyone who grew up with the comics or watched the 60’s television series knew that Gordon had a daughter named Barbara and she is Batgirl. What we don’t know about this version of Barbara is where she is at currently in her life. We also don’t know anything about her mother, but it would seem Gordon is a single father and I honestly can’t recall if that’s ever addressed in a future episode. The episode is also written by Brynne Stephens, who now goes by Brynne Chandler and at one point as Brynne Chandler Reaves. You may recognize that surname if you’ve been paying attention to the writing credits in this show as her former husband, Michael Reaves, is also a writer for this show. Stephens is interesting because she was given the role of basically being the Barbara Gordon writer as she is the main writer for all of her appearances. They must have felt she had a good grasp on the character, and maybe the show runners were just smart enough to realize it’s a good idea to have a woman write their most important female character. In addition to her credits here, she also contributed to some other stellar (and admittedly some not so stellar) shows like Gargoyles and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the good episodes, trust me).

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Meet the newest addition to Batman’s rogues gallery:  Briefcase Robot!

The episode opens at Wayne Enterprises. A blond woman in a white dress is shown walking in from behind and starts chatting with the officer at the security desk. She places a briefcase on the floor and just walks out. Now, if this was done in 2018 security would likely notice it and call in a bomb squad, but in 1992 they probably would just consider it a lost item. That night, the briefcase reveals itself as some kind of a robot by sprouting legs and producing a little camera that kind of looks like an eyeball. It sneaks into a restricted area and produces a laser to cut its way into a safe to vacuum out what look like fairly large microchips. At the same time, Bruce Wayne is heading home and he needs security assistance to make sure he doesn’t trip the alarm as he leaves. As he’s being lead out, the alarm goes off and they see the odd device on a security camera. The guard ushers Wayne into a safe room and tells him to remain there, just to be safe, which of course Wayne has no intention of doing. He activates some sort of revolving corner in the room vanishing from sight.

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He really does have some wonderful toys.

As the little robot tries to escape, Batman emerges from an elevator armed with a trusty Batarang. Batman chases it to the rooftop where the robot fires off a rocket towards the beach. Apparently disabled, Batman retrieves a Bat-glider from a storage shed on the roof and takes off in the direction the rocket was fired. Meanwhile, the rocket touches down on the beach and the same woman from earlier is there to retrieve it. She picks up the stolen microchips and hops into a car with no traditional steering implements. She simply orders it “home” and the car obeys. Batman sees the vehicle speeding off from above. The woman notices, and the vehicle begins firing on Batman and strikes his glider knocking him from the sky.

Batman, failing to stop the thief, returns to the Batcave where Alfred is waiting. Some mechanical arms descend from the ceiling to hoist the battered Bat-Glider above for repairs. As Batman fiddles with it, Lucius Fox (Brock Peters) calls to inform him of what was stolen. The chips are apparently part of what Wayne Enterprises is referring to as wetware, a new advanced type of artificial intelligence. The good news though is that without the accompanying data files they’re useless, and the robot was not able to grab those from the mainframe.

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Bruce getting a little creepy with Barbara.

The next day, Wayne and Fox meet with the Gotham Police at Wayne Enterprises over the theft. Fox informs Bruce that a Cybertron Industries is a competitor in this field, and he thinks they’re the only ones who could possibly make use of the chips. He doesn’t accuse them of being behind it, but it’s enough of a lead that Batman wants to investigate. This is where Barbara also makes her debut as she comes into the room to check on her father, Commissioner Gordon. She just returned home from college, and Bruce sort of pokes fun at the beat-up old teddy bear in her purse. Apparently, her dad always brings it along when he picks her up from the airport. As everyone leaves, Barbara forgets the bear and Commissioner Gordon returns for it in kind of a cute, and humorous moment. The implication being he obviously has more of an attachment to his daughter’s childhood toy than she does.

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Randa Duane, who can blame Bruce for wanting to get to know her a little better?

It turns out, Wayne knows the founder of Cybertron, Karl Rossum (William Sanderson), who apparently taught Wayne about artificial intelligence. Bruce pays him a visit the and Rossum is happy to invite him into his laboratory to show him some of his work. He apparently knows about the break-in from the night before, but basically claims no knowledge of Wayne’s wetware seemingly because he wouldn’t need it. He then shows Bruce H.A.R.D.A.C., his newest A.I. which he seems to have high hopes for. He struggles to find the right words to explain how the colossal device functions, but they’re soon interrupted anyway by Rossum’s assistant who emerges from the machine. Clad all in a tight-fitting silver bodysuit, Wayne seems more than a little interested in Randa Duane (Leslie Easterbrook) and pulls the power move of asking her to dinner right in front of her boss (I mean, come on Bruce, you don’t know what her relationship is to Rossum) and she accepts.

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Judging by Rossum’s expression, it would appear he is not too thrilled with this development.

Satisfied with landing a hot date for the following night, Bruce departs and Duane returns to H.A.R.D.A.C. The A.I. is apparently sentient, and it scolds Duane for not getting it the information it needs to make use of the chips stolen the night before. At this point, Duane removes her hood to reveal herself as the blond woman who orchestrated the theft. She apologizes, as quick cuts to inside H.A.R.D.A.C. reveal he’s constructing a humanoid robot that is to aid them in securing whatever it is it seeks. There’s a bunch of smoke obscuring the robot’s face as it emerges from inside H.A.R.D.A.C., but Duane seems impressed.

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A couple of visitors at the Gordon residence.

We’re then taken to the Gordon residence, where Barbara is working on some homework on the floor while her father is reading the newspaper on the coach beside the grubby old teddy bear. When there’s a knock at the door, Jim goes to see who it is. When he opens the door he’s met by Duane and another individual who looks exactly like him. Duane hits him with some kind of stun-gun device, and soon Jim returns to the living room. Barbara, concerned by what she heard, asks him if he’s all right and he replies curtly that he’s fine. She notices he feels ice cold, and he continues to assure her he’s fine. Then he smacks the teddy bear to the floor and sits down on the couch to resume reading his paper. Barbara is shocked by this action, but says nothing.

The next day, Bruce is back in his office discussing new security measures with Fox when Randa Duane comes waltzing in. She’s clad in her white dress and pulls out a compact mirror to freshen up as Bruce and Fox continue their discussion. When they’re through, they all take their leave, but Randa leaves behind her compact. Just like the briefcase from before, it sprouts robotic appendages and a camera and starts messing around on Bruce’s computer.

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H.A.R.D.A.C. has a continued presence throughout the episode, even though it’s rarely on screen.

At Wayne Manor, Bruce and Randa are enjoying a meal by the fire. Bruce is awkwardly still dressed in a full suit as he lays on the floor with her. He receives a call from Fox about a break-in at Wayne Enterprises, and he leaves to go check it out telling Randa to just sit tight. Once he leaves, H.A.R.D.A.C. contacts Randa (apparently he can communicate directly with her like some sort of robot telepathy) to inform her that the files the little spy robot acquired were false. They deduce together the real files must be at Wayne’s residence some where. She assures her robot overlord that she’ll find them, as Alfred comes into the room with tea. She unleashes that same stun weapon that she used on Gordon on Alfred and begins her search. Wearing some high-tech looking goggles, Randa is able to find the entrance to the Batcave, and lets H.A.R.D.A.C. know about her amazing discovery.

Wayne and Fox check out the database to see what the robot stole, and Wayne then lets Fox know about the dummy files. He tells him he has the real ones at home, and then calls to check-in on Randa and Alfred. When there’s no answer he leaves immediately. When he arrives home he finds Alfred unconscious. He wakes him up and Alfred is confused by what he happened, apparently not remembering what Randa did to him. Bruce puts on his Batman costume and heads into the Batcave. He quickly realizes his computer system has been hacked as it starts going crazy. The mechanical arms that once held the Bat-glider drop from the ceiling, grabbing Batman by the shoulders and hauling him high into the ceiling as the episode fades to black with the ominous “To Be Continued” emblazoned on the screen.

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Well, that wasn’t supposed to happen.

“Heart of Steel:  Part I” follows the same general formula as the other Part Ones that we have seen so far. It’s very methodical with little action as the main players are all introduced, and since we’re dealing with a lot of new characters, there’s a lot of information to unload on the viewer. There’s a mysterious aura around Rossum and Duane, but a lot of the lingering questions are answered by the narrative, just not explicitly. We obviously know that Jim Gordon has been replaced by a robot, and since he’s ice cold and Wayne made the same observation about Randa, we know she must be a robot as well. What we don’t know is how Rossum fits into all of this. Is he an unwilling participant in the crimes of his A.I.? He seemed almost afraid of H.A.R.D.A.C. when describing it to Bruce, but it’s possible he’s up to something. I’ve, of course, seen Part II before, but I’m purposely writing this before re-watching it as I don’t remember a lot of what happens, just bits and pieces.

Our villains are pretty intriguing though. We don’t know what exactly it is that H.A.R.D.A.C. wants out of Wayne’s wetware. We also don’t know how the issue of robot Commissioner Gordon is going to play out. He hasn’t been called on yet, but he obviously serves a purpose. Barbara also knows that something is up, but we’re not sure what she is capable of. For all we know, she’s already Batgirl, but since we’ve never heard even a whisper about that character we can probably assume that isn’t the case.

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This scene probably bothered me more than it should.

There are some fun little trivia bits in this episode as well. Randa Duane seems to clearly be modeled after Marilyn Monroe, and considering she was likely built by a middle-aged man in 1992, I suppose it’s not a surprise he would want to model her after the actress. Karl Rossum also has a lot built into his simple name. He’s likely a combination of Karl Capek, who is credited with creating the word “robot,” and “R.U.R” is a play of his. That acronym is seen on the license plate of the getaway car early in the episode which apparently stands for Rossum’s Universal Robots. To top it all off, he’s voiced by William Sanderson who played inventor J.F. Sebastion in Blade Runner, the inventor of that film’s replicants. And I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but Cybertron Industries also shares a name with the homeward of the Transformers from that franchise. It’s not uncharacteristic for the show to have a bunch of Easter Eggs in it, but I’m struggling to think of a single episode with this many.

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Crafty or Careless?

There are a few downers as well. This episode features a lot of people just walking and talking, which is notoriously hard to animate and it shows. There’s some awkward animation, and also one really bad image of Batman when he emerges from the elevator early in the episode. He looks really oafish and crude, like a Ren & Stimpy drawing. I also find it silly how many Bat-measures are built into Wayne Enterprises. The revolving corner of the safe room would be clearly visible, and storing a Bat-glider on the roof behind a rickety looking door seems pretty risky. I sort of touched on it in the write-up, but I also really hated the shot of Bruce casually laying on his side when dining with Randa while still wearing his full suit. They’ve shown Bruce in more casual clothes before, they couldn’t use one of those sheets? I suppose in an episode with a lot of new characters and backgrounds, some sacrifices had to be made somewhere.

There’s a lot going on in “Heart of Steel,” and it’s setup is pretty damn good. It somewhat lacks the shock value that “Two-Face” and “Feat of Clay” had at the end of their respective first chapters, but it feels like we’re well positioned for a successful conclusion next week. My main critique of the two-parters so far is that they’ve been really good at the build part, but the payoff has been disappointing. “Feat of Clay” is probably our current champion, but I’m optimistic that “Heart of Steel” can give it a run for its money.

 


Batman: The Animated Series – “The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne”

The_Strange_Secret_of_Bruce_Wayne-Title_CardEpisode Number:  37

Original Air Date:  October 29, 1992

Directed by:  Frank Paur

Written by:  David Wise, Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens

First Appearance(s):  Hugo Strange

“The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne” is another episode of Batman:  The Animated Series that can trace its roots back to a story from Detective Comics, in this case issues #471 and #472 “The Dead Yet Live” and “I Am the Batman!” by Steve Englehart. It introduces Hugo Strange to the Bat-verse, a scientist with a penchant for extortion. Strange uses a machine that can read the minds of individuals. Under the guise of therapy, Strange seduces wealthy individuals into agreeing to his services and when he unearths something nefarious from their subconscious he’s able to blackmail them in exchange for keeping their secrets. If that sounds familiar, then you’ve probably seen Batman Forever, where The Riddler used a similar scheme. We’re only 37 episodes deep, but we’ve already seen a few instances of where this animated series influenced a movie to come. Batman Forever borrowed some of the Two-Face bits from the episode of the same name, and Batman Begins basically adapted The Scarecrow’s scheme from “Dreams in Darkness.” It’s just another example of how far reaching this show was. This episode also marks the first time we’ll see a team-up of sorts out of Batman’s rogues gallery when Joker, The Penguin, and Two-Face show up in the episode’s second act.

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Hugo Strange is today’s villain, and while there were tentative plans to bring him back, this ends up being his only appearance in the series.

The episode opens with a woman (who looks a lot like the woman being victimized by Poison Ivy in “Eternal Youth”) being approached on a bridge by some routine looking gangsters. The woman is revealed to be a judge in Gotham by the name of Maria Vargas (Carmen Zapata) and the gangsters want her to pay up in order to protect some information they have on her. Batman, apparently was tipped off or just happens to be in the right place at the right time, is watching from above as the judge hands over a briefcase full of money only to be told the price just went up. When she pleads with them that she can’t possibly pay more the crooks prepare to leave and Batman enters the fray. Vargas tries to take off and gets herself in some danger on the bridge, accidentally knocking herself out. Batman is forced to abandon his pursuit of the crooks in order to save her.

After the commotion is over and the police are on the scene, Commissioner Gordon explains he knows Vargas and can’t imagine her having a secret she doesn’t want out. He reveals he just dined with her recently and that she had just returned from vacation. He gets a call on his gigantic cell phone about the license plate on the limo the gangsters were driving and finds out it’s registered to the same resort Vargas just vacationed at. Batman then takes off via the Batwing, being piloted by Robin, and he playfully asks Robin if he seems stressed while remarking it may be time for a vacation.

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Strange’s memory extracting machine is a bad place for someone with an alter-ego to find themselves in.

Bruce Wayne and Alfred immediately depart for Yucca Springs, a resort that just so happens to be owned by Roland Dagget (a piece of info that’s never elaborated on) and is home to Dr. Hugo Strange (Ray Buktenica). Wayne signs up for a therapy session and finds himself in the doctor’s machine. He’s told the machine will help ease his stress by forcing him to confront his past. It seems a little risky for Bruce to enter such a device, but he goes along with it. Strange pries at Wayne to reveal information on his past, specifically the death of his parents. Bruce’s thoughts are transmitted to a screen for Strange to monitor, and when he pries further bats appear along with a gloved fist and an unmistakable logo. Bruce hops out of the machine and remarks it doesn’t seem to be an effective stress reliever for him. Strange tells him the first session is often hard, but they’ll do better tomorrow. As Bruce leaves he removes a tape from his machine and refers to him as Batman. Dun dun duuuuun!

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Bruce Wayne’s secret revealed!

Strange immediately starts calling around, and we’re treated to a pretty dark, but hilarious, answering machine greeting from The Joker. Strange is going to auction off his perhaps priceless information and in addition to Joker he also calls The Penguin and Two-Face. For Joker, this is the first time we’re seeing him since his apparent death in “The Laughing Fish” and no explanation for his survival is presented. It’s also a rare Joker appearance that occurs without Harley Quinn. For Two-Face, this is the first time we’ve seen him in anything more than a cameo since his debut. Apparently Arkham was unable to rehabilitate him. As for The Penguin, this is only his second appearance in the show after kind of a comedic debut in “I Have Batman in my Basement,” one of the more divisive episodes the show output.

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Three fellas who would likely be interested in knowing who Batman is under the mask.

While Strange is busy peddling his tape, Wayne sneaks into his laboratory to get a closer look at the machine. He finds the tape on Judge Vargas (as well as many other, most of which are Easter Eggs) and sees what she’s been hiding in her past. When she was a little girl, she was playing with matches which lead to a fire at the Gotham Docks, apparently a pretty big story back in its day, as well as a destructive blaze. Bruce realizes his tape is missing and Alfred, sneaking around outside, radios him to let him know who Strange just welcomed to the resort. Bruce then begins erasing all of the tapes before finally destroying the machine. Strange and his muscle come in just as Bruce really gets going. He’s disappointed at the loss of his device, but he still has the tape of Bruce’s alter-ego so he’s in a pretty good mood. Bruce is tied up and tossed somewhere with Alfred. Alfred apologizes for failing him, but Bruce is taking things in stride claiming everything is going according to plan as he produces a lock pick and gets to work.

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Making deals with the likes of Joker and Two-Face carries certain risks.

Meanwhile, Strange is presenting his finding to the villains. Surprisingly, they go along with the bidding and decide to pool their money together so they all can see what’s on the tape know it supposedly contains the true identity of Batman. I’m a bit puzzled why someone like The Joker wouldn’t just kill Strange and take the tape, but I’ll go along with it. Strange is very happy for his payment of approximately 50 million dollars, and gets ready to play the tape for them. Unknown to him, Batman is lurking in the rafters and he switches out the input on the projector to a different tape player. What plays is a video of Strange speaking with his cohorts about his plan to produce a phony tape about Batman in order to extort a bunch of villains out of their not so hard-earned money. This naturally enrages the attendants and Strange is forced to flee.

Joker, Two-Face, and Penguin eventually capture Strange and take him to the airport. Alfred, in their limo, picks up Batman and the two give chase while Alfred remarks he’s contacted Master Dick. The villains drag Strange onto an airplane and take to the sky. They plan to chuck him out and Strange starts begging for his life. He tells them Batman is Bruce Wayne, but no one believes him. Batman, able to stow-away on the plane, cuts the fuel line and the whole thing begins going down. It crashes, and somehow everyone on the plane is able to walk away fine just as the Gotham Police show up. As Strange is being lead away, he taunts Batman. He knows he used the machine to create a false tape of him to fool Joker, Penguin, and Two-Face. As he goes on and on, Bruce Wayne shows up, much to the shock of Strange. Batman says the two worked together to bring him down under the guise that Wayne and Judge Vargas are close friends and he wanted to get back at him. Once Gordon and Strange are out of earshot, Wayne is revealed to be Dick in disguise and everyone is ready to head home.

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Bruce Wayne?! Batman?! How could this be?!?

“The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne” is a fun story – what would someone do with Batman’s secret identity? Strange’s actions are entirely logical for an extortionist, even if it’s a bit unrealistic to think he could get in touch with the likes of Joker and company so easily. The episode does jump through some hoops to preserve Batman’s secret in the end. I don’t like how the writers are afraid to show Batman as being fooled, and he instead needs to be one step ahead of Strange the whole time. The Bruce Wayne impersonation is also pretty unrealistic since Dick not only is able to look exactly like Wayne, but also sound like him as well. It’s the kind of thing a cartoon can get away with that live action would not. I guess they’re just taking advantage of the medium, but it does feel cheap. A lot happens in this episode so it moves really fast, which is fine. I suppose you could argue that the plot could have been dragged out across two episodes, but I’m fine with it as is. I did find it odd that Two-Face’s coin never came into play, he was ready to toss Strange out of the airplane, but I do like how he mentions that he knows Bruce Wayne and it’s why he can’t possibly believe that he would be Batman. Still, it’s kind of surprising that it was never revisited in a later episode with one of the three villains at least entertaining the notion. I feel like the plot of this episode is memorable, making this one of the most popular episodes of the show. I don’t know if it’s a top 10 episode, but it’s probably at least in the top 25. Just a good, some-what flawed, but entertaining episode.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Cat Scratch Fever”

Cat_Scratch_Fever_Title_CardEpisode Number:  36

Original Air Date:  November 5, 1992

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Sean Catherine Derek, Buzz Dixon

First Appearance(s):  Professor Milo

 

After watching so many episodes of Batman:  The Animated Series some patterns start to become obvious. A typical episode is split into two main parts: the discovery phase and the climactic confrontation between Batman and the villain of the day. Sometimes the episodes are uneven with one end of the episode not able to hold its own weight. Most of the time they’re both perfectly fine, but sometimes you get an episode where neither half really works, which brings me to “Cat Scratch Fever.” Aside from the fact that the title invokes unpleasant thoughts of Ted Nugent, in a Batman context it certainly brings to mind a certain woman, a cat woman, if you will. After a pretty lengthy layoff, we’re finally going to check-in with Selina Kyle (Adrienne Barbeau) and see what she’s up to while also getting a look at Roland Dagget’s latest scheme. This is also a noteworthy episode because it’s the final one animated by Akom. Akom was a frequent player in television animation. Based out of Korea, they would get a contract for work and often outsource it to other studios of varying quality (they famously did some rather shoddy work on X-Men’s pilot) and as a result they’ve produced some great episodes of animated television and some not so great, this episode being of the not so great variety which lead to their dismissal from the series.

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Selina facing the music.

The episode opens with Ms. Kyle at a hearing concerning the events of “The Cat and the Claw.” If you need a refresher, Catwoman and Batman foiled the plans of Red Claw who could have unleashed devastation on Gotham City if not for their intervention. Her heroic deeds did not score her many points with Batman however, as following the defeat of Red Claw Batman still placed her in handcuffs for petty burglary. This was a case of the show trying to have Batman be stoic in his attitude towards the law – it’s not for him to decide if Catwoman should be punished, but the court. It’s hypocritical considering Batman breaks the law all of the time with forced entry and witness intimidation. It’s why he’s a vigilante after all, so he can operate above the law. Thankfully our unnamed judge here (played by Virginia Capers) sees things my way as she gives Selina probation on the condition that she never dawn her Catwoman costume to commit crimes (so I guess she’s free to break the law out of costume?).

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A friend to cats everywhere.

An elated Selina returns home to her penthouse apartment and her assistant Maven is still there. We don’t know how much time has passed between appearances, but it seems like this is the first time Selina is home even though I would think she would have been able to post bail. Anyway, Maven informs her that her precious kitty Isis is missing and she supposes the cat went out looking for Selina, so Selina goes out looking for Isis. Deciding against dressing as Catwoman, she’s just plain old Selina. While looking for Isis, she stumbles upon a couple of hoodlums out collecting strays. They’re not with the pound, and Selina suspects the worst of them. Jessy (Denny Dillon) and Paunch (who isn’t voiced) are the two goons and they put up a fight. When things look like they’re going bad for Selina, guess who shows up. With Batman’s help, the two are put away effortlessly (the animation is careful to make sure Batman doesn’t strike the female thug, Jessy), but before Selina can thank him properly, Batman runs off as the police arrive. Finding a recently released individual like Selina Kyle in such a situation naturally prompts the arriving officers to bring her to the precinct, but Selina’s other knight in shining armor is there to bail her out.

Bruce and Alfred pick up Selina, who politely declines the advances of Bruce. She mentions the two thugs were quickly bailed out by Roland Dagget, which is a pretty good lead not just for Batman, but Catwoman as well. She somehow figures out that whatever is going on with the stray cat population is coming from a specific Dagget owned laboratory on the outskirts of Gotham. Inside, we get a peek at Dagget (Ed Asner) himself discussing some plans with a Professor Milo (Treat Williams, who I would have bet money on was Rob Paulsen) who has devised a rather nasty toxin. The toxin is placed into an animal which seems to cause the animal to react as if it’s rabid (he demonstrates on a dog). Their plan is to infect the stray animal population, which will in turn cause the disease to spread to humans, and then Dagget can sell the only cure for a rather tidy profit. We also see Isis is among the captured animals, and she’s Milo’s next specimen.

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Bad kitty!

When Catwoman enters the lab she finds it’s dark and quiet. She quickly locates her beloved cat and frees her from her cage. Isis at first seems docile, but she quickly turns on Catwoman and bites her, then flees out an open window. The thugs, Jessy and Paunch return along with Milo and Catwoman is forced to flee. Milo takes note of the bite wound she received and lets his cohorts know they don’t need to pursue aggressively as the toxin will do the work for them. And sure enough, Catwoman is rather woozy and off-balance almost right away. She discards her mask and collapses in the snow as Isis runs off.

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Paging Dr. Batman.

Elsewhere, Bruce Wayne has done some sleuthing on his own to figure out what the Dagget connection could be. Lucius Fox (Brock Peters) is able to provide some important info about a new drug Dagget is believed to be developing and no one knows what it’s for (the dialogue in this scene is very similar to another Dagget episode “Appointment in Crime Alley,” so much so that it had to be intentional though it could have also just been lazy writing). Batman heads out to investigate, which is a good thing since he finds Selina collapsed in the snow. He takes her to a nearby shack, of sorts, where she gets him up to speed on what happened before taking a little rest.

While Batman is busy tending to Selina, Dagget is getting impatient with the progress being made. He orders Milo to commence with the operation, while he explains he’s just waiting on Paunch to fetch some of the anti-toxin from another lab in case anything goes wrong. Unfortunately for Paunch, he’s going to run into Batman while he’s out doing Milo’s bidding. Batman was hoping to get some info out of Paunch, but he picked the wrong guy considering he’s mute and all. Still, Selina shared enough information with him to figure out Dagget’s scheme, but just in case he didn’t, Dagget and Jessy show up to confirm his suspicions (Dagget, like many villains, just can’t help himself).

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Not the most fearsome trio, but left to right is Milo, Jessy, and Paunch.

Batman is going to be forced to deal with the likes of Paunch and Jessy, who are now armed with machine-guns, as well as the infected dog from earlier. The show is careful to not show Batman being too mean to the dog, he’ll use his cape and wits to subdue him before embarking on a “super fun happy slide” of his own through the snow. Paunch and Jessy confront him on a frozen lake, and their guns are able to cause a huge mess of things. Batman goes through the ice, but of course he isn’t down for good and ends up subduing the brutes. He’s able to utilize the anti-toxin on Selina, as well as our poor canine friend.

The episode ends with Selina back at home. Maven informs her that she’s being hailed a hero once again for her part in stopping Dagget’s plot, and this time it sounds like Dagget won’t escape justice as he’s under investigation for his role in the whole thing. Selina should be happy, but she never found Isis and she’s despondent over her still missing cat. As she sees Maven out, a basket is lowered in the background from the roof of her building containing her precious kitty. It would seem Batman knows how to make a romantic gesture, and best of all, Isis has been cured of the toxin. The episode ends with Selina lovingly hugging the cute little cat.

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The episode mostly looks rather subpar, but it has its moments.

Your enjoyment of this episode likely hinges on how big an animal lover you are. I like them as much as most people, I suppose. I’ve had a cat all my life and when this episode aired I even had a little black cat like Isis myself. Even so, the whole poisoning of animals does little for me, and Professor Milo seems kind of cartoonishly evil. Jessy is especially annoying, but I suppose that’s by design. The whole scheme seems small and kind of odd, but I suppose it’s unique. The episode also re-establishes that Selina has a thing for Batman and only Batman, while Bruce lusts after her. By the conclusion, she’s also pushed to the sideline with an uncertain role going forward. She’s not really a villain, but does she have it in her to be some sort of vigilante on equal footing with Batman? The show will do a rather poor job with her from here on out, even the show runners have agreed as much.

What really can’t be denied is how crummy this episode looks. Character models are inconsistent and the facial details, in particular with Selina, look off-model at times. The effects on the infected dog are poor as well, with the foam/drool basically being the same color as the dog’s fur. I do appreciate the sort of rugged appearance of Jessy, though Paunch is so cartoonish he almost looks like he’s not from this series. He kind of reminds me of a Popeye character, or something. If I can give the visuals one compliment, it’s the the snowy scenery looks pretty good and it’s a nice change of pace from the usual visuals.

The only real noteworthy aspect of this episode is it reintroduces Catwoman, and also introduces a villain who will at least make a future appearance in Professor Milo. Milo isn’t exactly an A-list villain, but at least the episode does directly deal with the fall-out of a previous episode where Catwoman is concerned. It’s not one I was particularly excited to revisit, and one I won’t likely watch again anytime soon.