Category Archives: Television

PhatMojo DuckTales – Scrooge McDuck and Donald Duck

IMG_2498It’s been nearly a year since DuckTales returned to television airwaves. Scrooge McDuck, along with his nephews and surrogate niece Webby are back to solve mysteries and rewrite history. It’s a fun show that adheres more to the work of Carl Barks than to the series that ran in the 1980s while also doing its own thing. For the first time really ever, the nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie are distinguishable by more than just the color of their clothes and the cast is large enough that the writers don’t seem to feel pressured into fitting everyone into every episode. Sometimes Scrooge will be missing, other times Donald will be. It seems to be a show more about the kids and how they view the almost mythological Scrooge. And it also has other mysteries to uncover and it’s mostly good fun.

Back when the original series ran it surprisingly did not coincide with a ton of merchandise. Maybe this was a deliberate attempt by Disney to distinguish its cartoons from the competition which were often toys first, shows second. The only DuckTales toy I can remember owning was a Gizmoduck that came in a box of cereal. It seemed like this new incarnation was going to befall the same fate, but along came PhatMojo to rectify that. Now, I know nothing of this company and this is my first introduction to them, but I’ll say it’s mostly a positive one. Alongside some figurines and plush dolls, PhatMojo has put out its first line of DuckTales actions figures. Apparently exclusive to Target, the inaugural line contains single-carded figures of Scrooge, Donald, Launchpad, and Flintheart Glomgold. In addition to those figures are a pair of two-packs of Huey and Dewey and one of Webby and Louie. Also available is Launchpad’s airplane which also comes with his figure and Scrooge’s Money Bin playset, which seems more like a storage device for your toys than a full-fledged play set.

I have a weakness for toys, that is obvious to anyone who reads this blog, and perhaps a greater weakness for Donald Duck merchandise. Despite that, I’ve actually never owned a proper Donald Duck figure until now. I have statues and Lego mini-figures, but no action figures. Most of the is due to scarcity. There is a phenomenal Donald Duck figure available by a company called Herocross, but to import him is over $100. Yikes! There have been some Kingdom Hearts Donald Duck figures, but those have never spoke to me for one reason or another. Years ago there was a line of figures based on Mickey’s Christmas Carol and I do kind of kick myself for not collecting it. I was in high school when those came out and just didn’t have much money for action figures. I’m guessing if I looked them up on eBay right now I would not like what I see in terms of price too. As for Scrooge, he received a pretty darn good figure just last year from Funko, purveyors of those Pop! figures you’ve probably seen everywhere. That Scrooge was part of a line based on the old Disney Afternoon so it’s Scrooge with his blue coat. Herocross also released a version of Scrooge from that series and it’s both awesome and terribly expensive.

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“Hello?”

Not wanting to get too far into another line of toys, I forced myself to just stick with Donald and Scrooge when I encountered them over the weekend at my local Target. Might as well start with an overview of the line as a whole. These are mass-market retail figures, and even though I’m a man in his mid-30s, I can admit these are aimed at children. As such, it stands to reason you shouldn’t expect collector grade quality with these figures, and the price of 8.99 a piece captures that. The figures have unique sculpts with simple paint apps and even simpler articulation. The heads sit on a ball-joint that offers solid range of motion, but that’s it for fancy joints. The shoulders are on simple pegs and there’s no elbow or wrist articulation. The legs are also on simple peg joints at the hip with no knee articulation. As a result, these figures are very limited in what they can do as far as posing goes, but what’s there has a solid build and isn’t flimsy or anything.

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That’s the best he can do as far as taking a picture goes.

Let’s talk Donald Duck first. In case you are unfamiliar with the show or the work of Carl Barks, this Donald is in his comic accurate attire, which is how he’s presented in the show (his more popular light blue shirt gets set on fire in the first episode). His shirt is black with gold buttons and he wears a white hat instead of a blue one. The character is brought to life once again by Tony Anselmo and it’s really fun to see this Donald on television for the first time. He’s not as quick to anger as his personality in the cartoon shorts dictates and he’s very much a doting uncle most interested in the well-being of his nephews. Donald stands just under 4″ and comes with two accessories:  a camera and a smart phone.

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What you see is what you get, but what you see also is pretty good.

First of all, this figure is a dead-ringer for the show. He has that rounded look in the head with harder lines on the beak. The paint app is simple because it doesn’t call for much, and my figure looks pretty good in that area (some on the pegs were less impressive). Because of the limited articulation, he can’t really do much with his accessories, but he can kind of hold the phone like he’s talking into it. My only criticism of the sculpt is in how the legs meet the body which looks odd, but it was obviously done this way to keep it simple. The little tassel on his hat is also molded to his head and I wish it was jutting out on its own to impart a touch more personality, but again, this is the simple approach. Donald has a sunny disposition to him which may have felt out of place for his toon counterpart, but for DuckTales this feels appropriate. Overall, this is a very solid figure that, while not much fun to pose, definitely nails the likeness.

For Scrooge, we have a slightly more ambitious design. His tophat, glasses, and overcoat make him slightly harder to sculpt, but once again PhatMojo pretty much nails it. His hat pushes him close to 4 1/2″ and he has his little tuffs of hair pushing out from underneath it. Some may be disappointed that the hat is non-removable, but I think it looks better this way. Like Donald, this Scrooge is more in-line with the design of Barks and features a red coat instead of the blue one from the 1980s. Voicing him in the show is David Tennant, and man did he have some pretty big shoes to fill, but so far he’s pretty much nailed it. He comes with two accessories of his own, his trusty cane and a little gold colored idol that just sort of sits there. His articulation is the same as his nephew, only his overcoat really limits what can be done with his legs. In fact, I can’t even tell if his legs are articulated or not since they basically can’t move.

Paint-wise, he’s a bit more of a mixed bag. I had a hard time finding a good one at the store and had to settle for what I have. He has a little red dot on the brim of his hat and in a few places on his coat is a dab of white or black that shouldn’t be there. It’s not killer, but I notice these things. His eyeglasses are also kind of funky. Rather than use a piece of transparent plastic like Funko did with their Scrooge, PhatMojo just made a block of plastic to place on his beak and painted on glasses. This means the open area where there are no glasses is just painted yellow. It looks okay from a head-on perspective, as his nose should probably be there anyway, but from an angle of any kind it’s a bit clumsy. Again, this feels like a cost-cutting move as cutting out the dead-space would mean a more fragile piece in the end, but I wish they did a little better here. All of the figures I saw also had a weird little gap underneath Scrooge’s belt buckle. Not really noticeable when the figure is just displayed, but pick it up and you’ll see it. It’s probably the result of how the bottom part of his overcoat was connected to his torso.

Even with the problems I highlighted with Scrooge, I still think he’s a sound figure and he looks great on my desk alongside Donald and Funko’s Scrooge. Both Donald and Scrooge look like they’re supposed to given the source material. And considering the price, it’s hard to quibble with them too much. When I was a kid, I paid upwards of 7.99 for ToyBiz figures and that was in the early and mid 90s. To only pay 8.99 for these in 2018 is a pretty tremendous value. I don’t know how fun they are for kids given how limited they are in what they can do, but I played with similar as a kid and had no shortage of good times. If you like the look of the new DuckTales and want some figures from it, give these a look. You may want to catch them in person rather than through the web given the paint issues I saw. And if you’re a stickler for scale you may be a little disappointed with the others as Launchpad is definitely on the small side and the kids a little too big relative to Scrooge and Donald. The two-packs also run a tad more expensive at 12.99 each, but given you’re getting two 3″ figures instead of one 4″ the value seems about equal. For me, I’m probably content to just stick with these two. If a Darkwing Duck or Gizmoduck shows up I may give them a look. I’ll also probably try and push my kid towards these things as I’m always looking to foster more duck-enthusiasm in him. Got to start them young!

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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.


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.


Dragon Ball Z Movie Mondays!

2VMZ1zRFPnUQtQp5K4WRXvDYBjhWhen I first started this blog back in 2011, I just wrote whenever I felt like it. I was a bachelor at the time with no significant other so you would be safe to assume that I had a lot of free time on my hands. Despite that though, I didn’t post a ton here. I felt like if I could do one post per week I was doing pretty well, and then I think that slid to twice per month. That’s not a lot of content, but I’ve also never blogged here for any reason other than pleasure so it’s not as if I really felt like I needed to do more. By and large, it doesn’t matter to me how many people read or follow what I do here, I just do it because it’s kind of fun to talk to myself via blogging and it’s rewarding to see my thoughts preserved. I love and appreciate any attention I get from subscribed readers and commenters, but I’d probably keep posting even if no one read at all.

I’ve found over the years though that creating goals for myself in relation to this blog is what gets me to actually write. And the more I write, the more rewarded I feel. Doing annual Christmas posts gives me a goal and something to work towards and starting the feature on Batman: The Animated Series last year gave me a goal to keep up with throughout the whole year (as well as provided me a good reason to revisit an old cartoon I enjoy). Since starting that I’ve been in search of another goal. Writing about Batman constantly does get a bit old, which is why it’s probably a good thing I at least limited myself to one a week. If you like that feature though, don’t worry, it’s not going anywhere and I’m as committed to it now as I was when it started, but I am posting today to announce my next little project:  the movies of Dragon Ball Z!

As a smaller project than Batman, blogging about the 13 theatrically released Dragon Ball Z movies accomplishes similar goals, just on a smaller scale. I’ve wanted to revisit the movies for a long time, and a few I’ve actually never seen. They’re quite affordable on DVD, and since there are only 13 it makes for a nice summer time feature. Which is why every Monday this summer I’ll post a review/synopsis of each of the 13 original DBZ movies. Now you may be thinking to yourself, “What about the other two movies released in the last few years?” Well, I already did reviews for them, and if you want to check out my thoughts for Battle of Gods or Resurrection ‘F’ you can do so. Even though they are branded as Dragon Ball Z films, they’re actually part of Dragon Ball Super, but I suppose it’s all the same anyways.

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Most of the movies can be purchased in multi-pack DVDs or as two-part Blu Rays.

The original 13 films were produced and created by Toei without input from series creator Akira Toriyama. They’re supplemental stories to the overall narrative of the Dragon Ball Z story. They all have an obvious, general time in which they take place relative to the story, but almost none of them could actually exist in the main story for the simple reason that it doesn’t contain room for them. Movie 3 for instance, The Tree of Might, obviously takes place around the time that Goku fought Vegeta because of how powered-up Goku is, but Goku spent that time either in a hospital bed or in a spaceship heading for Planet Namek so the events of that movie could not have possibly occurred in the same universe. And that’s fine, why should it have to? These movies are just for fun and not intended to intrude upon the actual Dragon Ball Z plot. The sooner you’re able to get past that the sooner you can start enjoying them for what they are.

For my reviews, I’ll be going in chronological order and using the English release titles and character names for simplicity’s sake. These movies are all available both dubbed and subtitled so you can enjoy them however you wish, it makes little difference. They’re mostly extended fight scenes with minimal plot developments rendering the non-visual aspects of each film kind of moot. That’s not to say that some aren’t better than others. For the most part, the films all seem to try and take some aspect of the main series, like Goku unlocking the ability to turn Super Saiyan, and truncating that story into a 45 minute movie. Most of the films are under an hour with the longest only lasting 72 minutes, so there’s not a lot of room for complicated narratives. I mostly want my posts to be spoiler-free reviews, but I found my main point of criticism is often in how the film’s choose to wrap-up the story and they’ve turned into more of a discussion/analysis than a true review. I don’t really think there’s much to spoil in these movies, since often the cover art or title gives away most of the plot and each film needs to reset the status quo at the end. I’ll still try my best to avoid them though and warn those who haven’t watched these movies ahead of time if I’m about to spoil something major.

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Since the movies are non-canon, you’ll sometimes get to see match-ups that you would have never seen in the main series, like Trunks vs. Tien.

If you haven’t seen all of them though then I encourage you to watch along with me as I go. Dragon Ball Z is largely an imperfect series, but it’s also inherently fun. Because of the wish-fulfilling Dragon Balls, the stakes are often pretty low even when they seem vast and the movies are full of plenty of humorous moments as well. They’re often a place for the underused characters, especially Oolong, to have a little moment to themselves which is often quite nice. The super-powered Saiyans seem to soak up a lot of the attention in the series, and they do in the movies too, but it’s easy to forget that the franchise boasts some pretty entertaining supporting characters as well. If this all sounds like fun to you, then check back this Monday for our very first movie – Dead Zone! And if you’re seeing this for the very first time and I’m well into the series, use the drop-down menu to your right to find all of the Dragon Ball Z movie reviews in one handy place. And if you love Dragon Ball, but don’t care for the movies so much, well good news because I have a few other posts on the way concerning the subject. I hope to see you Monday!


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.