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The New Batman Adventures – “Sins of the Father”

sin of the father titleEpisode Number:  2 (87)

Original Air Date:  September 30, 1997

Directed by:  Curt Geda

Written by:  Rich Fogel

First Appearance:  Tim Drake, Manny, Mo

Last week’s debut episode for The New Batman Adventures was an odd way to bring the caped crusader and his crime-fighting family back to the world of television. It was odd because it was an anthology-styled episode, something Batman: The Animated Series seldom dabbled in. Mostly though, it was weird because it contained a new Robin character without any setup for where this kid came from. Episode 2 will rectify that as this is the introduction of Tim Drake (Mathew Valencia) who will become this series’ version of Robin.

The episode is directed by Curt Geda and Rich Fogel, both new to these roles. For Fogel, this is his first contribtuon to Batman after working on Superman. He’ll work on Batman Beyond as well as other DC animated shows. For Geda, this is basically a promotion. After working on storyboards during the original run of the show he now finds himself in the director’s chair for the first time. Apparently, the company liked what he did because he’ll direct several more episodes in this series before moving on to Batman Beyond in the same role.

tim donuts

Tim Drake is a kid that will go to great lengths for some donuts.

“Sins of the Father” is not a flashback episode, it just takes place before the events of “Holiday Knights” even though it came after that episode in both production order and air date order. We’ll come to learn that at some point between the end of BTAS and the beginning of this series that Dick Grayson had a falling out with Batman. That won’t be explored until a later episode, but the important thing to know is that the role of Robin is open for audition. This Robin is actually the third Robin to appear in the comic books in the regular timeline. To no one’s surprise, the animated series is skipping Jason Todd who is mostly known for being horribly murdered by The Joker. I know we talked about last week how this series is a bit more violent and willing to flaunt it when compared with BTAS, but it’s not violent enough to have Robin get beaten to death.

This version of Tim Drake isn’t a carbon-copy of the one from the comic book. He actually has an origin similar to Jason Todd which is a nice way to incorporate the spirit of that character into this series. Tim Drake differs from Dick Grayson’s presentation in the previous series largely by being a kid, essentially bringing Robin back to the character’s roots. Grayson’s Robin that we were introduced to was an adult student attending college. I don’t know if that decision was done to appease the censors as they could place an adult in greater danger than a child or if the writers and showrunners just preferred an adult Robin to a kid. Personally, I do prefer the adult version as I just find the notion that Batman would pal-around with a kid to be ludicrous. Tim Drake is going to have to prove his worth to me, and it doesn’t help that his origin is naturally going to be compared with “Robin’s Reckoning” which was one of the better episodes in the series.

tim meets two-face

Tim is going to find himself in a lot of trouble in this episode.

The episode begins at night with a police officer chasing after…a donut thief. Hey, they can’t all be super villains. The thief is not a bald, fat, man with yellow skin, but a spry and acrobatic young man who this cop probably has no hope of catching. That must have been a good donut or a really expensive one though, because this cop isn’t giving up. As the kid bounds up a fire escape in impressive fashion he comes to a window that’s locked. The cop thinks he’s got him now, but the kid pulls out something the cop likely never expected:  a Batarang. He tosses the stylish shuriken with impressive precision taking out a nearby clothesline which binds the officer up aiding in the boy’s eventual escape.

Elsewhere, a pair of trouble-makers, Manny (Peter Jason) and Mo (Loren Lester), are banging on an apartment door demanding a fellow named Drake answer. When no one does they break the door down and enter the rather messy interior. No one is around, but they do spy a collage on the wall of various Batman stories from newspapers. Suddenly, the window opens and in comes our little donut thief. The thugs grab him and demands he tell them where his father is. The kid proves to be pretty resourceful once again using his ill-gotten donuts to momentarily blind the duo and remove himself from their clutches. He performs some Kevin McCallister styled antics to drop them and escape while the two actually open fire on the kid. When it looks like our young friend is home free, he bumps into some real trouble:  Two-Face.

new batboat

The new Batboat makes its debut in this one.

Two-Face (Richard Moll) and his goons take the kid down to the docks to see if they can get some information out of the kid about his old man. He’s tight-lipped, forcing Two-Face to have his men search his possessions. They find a letter addressed to him, Timmy, from his dad explaining he had to flee town for a bit and he left him a key, which Two-Face recognizes. Two-Face snatches the key, and satisfied, starts walking away. The guys ask him what to do with the kid, so Two-Face pulls out his trusty coin. The odds were not in Tim’s favor this day, for Two-Face orders them to kill him, once again driving home that this show is going to be more direct with its villains.

sins escape

He’s in no condition to drive.

Before Manny and Mo can do as their boss requested, a pair of Batarangs come sailing in knocking their guns from their hands. Batman takes on Two-Face’s thugs while Tim works on his own restraints. He’s able to wriggle his way out of them, but things aren’t going well for Batman. Distracted by the thugs, Two-Face is able to grab a crane hook and whack Batman with it sending him flying into a bunch of drums. As Batman lays there, some reddish liquid is pouring out and we’re about to find out it’s flammable. The bad guys open fire causing an actual fire to break out, and eventually explosions. Batman is hurt pretty bad, and he knows when he’s beat. Before things can get any worse he grabs Tim and spins off the dock to the waters below. There, a redesigned Batboat awaits them. It looks very similar to the Bat Ski Boat from Batman Returns only it possesses the submarine qualities of the previous Batboat. Inside the cabin, Tim frantically tries to get the thing started but is having no luck. Batman gestures to him to sit back and then commands the boat to head for home, and like a good little boat, it hears and obeys.

tim and costume

One had to assume this shot would appear in this episode. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

The pair arrive at the Batcave and Alfred (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) is there waiting. He’s a bit alarmed to see Tim with Batman, but at the same time you almost get a feeling like Alfred is used to this stuff. He naturally pays more attention to getting Batman out of the boat which allows Tim to roam around the Batcave. He stares in awe at the various tech and the Robin suit on display (which is an homage to the Jason Todd memorial in the comics) before he manages to find the exit. Able to wander around the mansion, Tim easily figures out the identity of Batman and even tries to pocket some choice items. Batgirl then drops in to scold him – nice timing Barbara.

new alfred

This episode contains out first look at the new design for Alfred. He appears to have aged quite a bit between shows.

Batgirl takes Tim back down to the Batcave to share his findings with Alfred and Batman. Tim swears their secret is safe with him, but Batman doesn’t seem concerned. He just wants to know what Two-Face wanted with Tim. Tim explains he didn’t want him, but his father, who used to work for Two-Face before skipping town. Batgirl appears sympathetic towards the kid, but he doesn’t apparently want it. He swears he can take care of himself and he demonstrates so with the same Batarang we saw earlier. He hands over the letter that Two-Face apparently let him keep and Batman is able to tell what kind of key it was wrapped around previously due to the imprint it left. It’s a locker key, and Batman thinks it belongs to a locker at Gotham Airport.

bat jump kick

Now that’s how you kick a guy.

Batman and Batgirl leave Tim with Alfred to go check out the airport. They arrive there too late though as Two-Face is already there retrieving a satchel from a specific locker. They flee at the sight of the Bat people and this new version of the Dynamic Duo chase after them, but following a thrilling chase involving a luggage carrier, are forced to return to the Batcave unsuccessful.

dad is gone

Tim learns the truth about his dad.

Back at the Batcave, Batman is at his wonder computer with Batgirl trying to find a lead on Tim’s father. What he ends up finding out is that a “John Doe” was found recently and all signs point to it being the elder Drake. As Batgirl wonders how they treat this information in regards to Tim, he walks in and tells them he knows what it means for his dad to be branded a John Doe. He wipes a few tears away while still maintaining that he’s fine and can take of himself. This is where we get our first demonstration of the direction this show wants to take with its cast. Batgirl does the sensible thing and tries to comfort Tim while remaining hopeful about his father, while Batman coolly confirms his dad isn’t coming back.

Alfred interrupts the conversation to tell the others there’s something on television that will interest them. Apparently Two-Face is borrowing a play from Joker’s playbook by hijacking the Gotham airwaves with a threat for the city’s inhabitants. That key apparently gave him access to a deadly gas, and if Two-Face isn’t paid 22 million dollars by 2 AM he’ll release it in Gotham killing millions. Batman insists they have no time to waste, but before he can leave Tim chimes in with a suggestion on where Two-Face may be hiding out. Batman takes the info as he and Batgirl hop into the redesigned Batmobile. It looks more like a sports car now and bares little resemblance to the Burton films. It even dropped flame from the rear of the car, which as someone who loved this feature on the 60s show, I find this disappointing.

new batmobile

The new Batmobile.

Tim, naturally, tries to go along with Batman and Batgirl, but Batman refuses to entertain the thought. As the Batmobile speeds away, Tim expresses his disappointment to Alfred who turns to regard the Robin costume on display and remarks how Batman and Master Dick used to clash. What the hell, Alfred? Are you trying to get the kid to rush off into harm’s way?

new dynamic duo

Batgirl almost got an entire episode to be the lone sidekick. Time to share the spotlight, Babs.

Batman and Batgirl arrive at the location Tim gave them, the Janus Theater. Two-Face and his men are there waiting and it’s just about time to unleash the gas. As they put on their gas masks they hear a cry from outside. Two-Face tells his guys “They’re here,” as they ready for the arrival of Batman. Batman pops in from behind some crates and takes out one guy. As another tries to run Batgirl swoops in to prevent him.

bus surfing

That’s one way to get around Gotham.

Outside the building, Tim is on his way dressed in the Robin costume. He rides atop a bus to get there and prepares to enter the building as the fighting rages on. As Batman and Batgirl tangle with Two-Face’s men, he’s able to activate a 3 minute timer on the bomb (that should have been a two-minute timer, I hope someone got fired for that blunder). He also whips out a Tommy gun and starts unloading on the vigilantes. Maybe the mask makes it hard to shoot because his aim is especially terrible. Robin then bursts in to try and turn the tides, but he’s actually not very good at this whole crime-fighting thing. He ends up getting grabbed by “Puke-Face,” who apparently doesn’t notice that this Robin is different from the past one, based on the comments he makes. Robin once again turns to his Batarang and uses it to cut some ropes on a grate or scaffolding above the bad dudes which falls onto Two-Face’s men. Two-Face himself avoids it, but he can’t avoid Batman who subdues him. Batgirl gets to the bomb and deactivates with a cool 2 seconds to spare. When Batgirl expresses a desire to head home, Tim pipes in that he’s looking forward to it too and searches for some praise, but Batman is not accommodating.

twoface and robin

Tim is going to need some practice.

At Wayne Manor, Tim is getting a lesson from the master himself. Bruce is wailing on Tim with what I’m told are pugli sticks. Basically, it looks like Joust from American Gladiators. As Bruce pummels the kid, he shouts out rules to Tim about what it will take to work with him. He comes across as strict and uncompromising, which I suppose he would have to be if he’s seriously considering letting a kid run around in tights fighting murderous bad guys. Dick Grayson (Loren Lester) pops in to offer his two cents and everyone acts surprised to see him, though Bruce is the only one who doesn’t smile.

no praise

Robin will have to learn that praise is hard to come by.

The Bruce/Dick dynamic will have to wait for another day. “Sins of the Father” is a suitable introduction to the show’s take on Tim Drake. Like Dick, there is an element of tragedy to it, but since we never meet the elder Drake it’s not nearly as affecting as what we saw in “Robin’s Reckoning.” Tim does get to demonstrate his skill with a Batarang, but it will take more than that to pull-off the role of Robin. The episode doesn’t really attempt to convince the viewer he’s up to the task, as he’s basically a one-trick-pony right now. I guess we’re supposed to assume a little sparring with Bruce is all that’s needed.

bat joust

This is all the boy needs to take on psychos and homicidal maniacs.

The inclusion of Two-Face in Tim’s origin story feels like another nod to Jason Todd. Two-Face was part of his origin, and he was also part of Dick’s origin in Batman Forever. He’s a villain adept at creating Robins, apparently. Plus, he also created this version of Batgirl. He’s just a ruthless bad guy here ultimately just out for money. It’s a bit dry considering how conflicted he was last time we saw him in “Second Chance.” He’ll get some proper attention eventually, but this is a nondescript performance for the villain. His redesign is possibly the least severe of all of the villains. He’s allowed to keep his black and white suit and everything else is basically as it was, just with this new style incorporated. That means more straight lines and less detail on the facial features. The white portion of his hair is also spiky now as opposed to curly. There’s also a little piece of blue skin on his face that stretch to the “good side” under his bottom lip. This might be a statement that his bad side is winning or something. He doesn’t look better, but it’s so similar to his past appearance that there’s no reason to get up in arms over it.

new two-face

The new Two-Face is more or less the same as the old Two-Face.

This episode was our first look at the new Alfred, who like Commissioner Gordon, just basically looks older. I already mentioned I don’t much care for the new Batmobile, it’s just boring looking compared with prior ones. The new Batboat looks fine, though it doesn’t look like anything that could possibly function as a submarine. This was also our first look at Dick in this series, albeit it’s quite brief. He looks a little older, but that’s it. He does have long hair now, but you don’t really get a true sense of that from his brief appearance here.

“Sins of the Father” probably should have been the series premiere for The New Batman Adventures. I suppose it’s not really that big of a deal that it wasn’t. It brings Tim into the fold, though I don’t feel the connection with him I had for Barbara or Dick in the past. Of course, Dick wasn’t introduced in a grand way as that version of Batman and Robin essentially existed before the show began, but the flashback episode for his origin fleshed that out. Tim’s story looks fine on paper, but I just feel indifferent to him at this point. I mentioned I’m already predisposed to not like the Boy Wonder version of Robin so perhaps that’s part of the reason, but I mostly wish he wasn’t even part of the show. It’s only episode 2 so he still has time to prove his worth, I suppose.

 

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The New Batman Adventures – “Holiday Knights”

holiday knightsEpisode Number:  1 (86)

Original Air Date:  September 13, 1997

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance:  Robin (Tim Drake), Mo, Lar, Cur

After pausing for a week to discuss the 1998 film Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero we have now finally arrived at The New Batman Adventures era of the show. This is essentially the start of a sequel series, but it’s been retconned over the years (or just simplified) as Season 3 of Batman: The Animated Series. The Blu Ray set released in 2018 simply refers to it as such and the intro for each episode is the Season One intro from the Fox Kids era. The show largely exists thanks to two new developments since the previous series ended in 1995:  the WB network, and Superman.

Warner Bros. and Fox had a nice relationship in the 1990s where WB created several shows that Fox aired as part of its Fox Kids lineup on weekday afternoons and Saturday morning. At some point, the executives at WB decided it would just make more sense for them to start their own network. On January 11, 1995 The WB was launched and alongside it came Kids’ WB. That block of programming would be occupied by cartoons primarily, most of which included characters WB owned. Gradually, as the license agreements with Fox expired the shows WB had created for that network migrated to its network.

TNBA trio

The New Batman Adventures placed greater emphasis on Batman’s supporting cast.

The network’s flagship action cartoon was Superman, or Superman: The Animated Series. It was decided that it would make a lot of sense for Superman to simply be partnered with Batman to form an hour programming block of DC’s hottest heroes. It would make sense for the two to cross paths, and so WB commissioned a new Batman series envisioned as a sequel to BTAS. Like the second season of that show, this one would focus on Batman and a supporting cast of heroes. Dick Grayson would return, but not as Robin but rather Nightwing. In his place was a new, much younger, Robin and Batgirl would be there as well. The show would need to be updated to match the style of Superman and to also make the show cheaper to produce. “Dark Deco” was now out, in its place was a modern Gotham with cell phones and (gasp!) color TV. Oddly, Gotham would also feature a red sky apparently to heighten the darkness of the show vs the much brighter Superman. There is a reduction of shadows as well making everything lighter in appearance. Perhaps something that disappoints only me is the dropping of title cards. I loved the title cards on BTAS and I was so bummed to see they weren’t continued here. It also makes each one of these posts a little less interesting to look at.

TNBA redesigns

A look at the various villains from the show, some old some new.

This new style meant character redesigns. Batman would ditch the blue of his prior costume opting for a strictly black and gray ensemble. His belt was also muted in tone and more utilitarian in appearance. Robin’s costume dropped the green and Batgirl ditched the gray as well. On the villain’s side things were a bit more extreme. We’ll mostly get to them as they show up. To highlight a few; Scarecrow received an entirely new look while Joker featured an aggressive redesign that removed the sclera of his eyes and the red of his lips. Some of these redesigns are quite interesting on their own, while some are just plain inferior to the previous look. The characters had to be simplified to reflect the shrinking budget, but some sacrifices just aren’t worth making.

Most of the creative staff was returned for the new series. Paul Dini and Bruce Timm served as executive producers alongside Alan Burnett. Dini and Timm would both contribute to multiple episodes as writer while Dan Riba returned to direct multiple episodes as well. Also returning was the majority of the voice cast from the prior series, with the only notable change being Tara Strong (then known as Tara Charendoff) as Barbara Gordon/Batgirl. A lot of new blood was also brought in, many of which would hang around the DC Animated Universe which was about to expand to include The Justice League and Teen Titans. This is basically the beginning of an expansive television universe by WB and DC which is basically the television equivalent of the current Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’m primarily only interested in Batman when it comes to DC, so don’t expect me to do this for the other shows. Hopefully no one is disappointed.

TNBA logo

New show, new logo.

The New Batman Adventures was released on DVD as Volume 4 of Batman: The Animated Series and is included in both the DVD and Blu Ray box set of the series as Season 3. For this feature, I considered simply sticking with the BTAS title, but decided this show was different enough to change it up. I’ll include both the episode number as it relates to this series as well as how it relates to the entire series. We’re also sticking with production order as opposed to air date order. The show was ordered as one season, but aired as two seasons of 13 and 11 episodes respectively concluding in January of 1999. At some point I’ll summarize my thoughts on the whole of Batman: The Animated Series, but since we’re getting started with The New Batman Adventures I’ll say upfront that I find this series to be inferior to its predecessor. It’s less unique looking and not as well written. The new villains introduced aren’t as memorable and we also lose a little bit of Batman by switching to an ensemble format. He’s made to be more grim, apparently to heighten how different he is from his younger companions, and as such loses some of his humanity in the process. He’s overall just less interesting as a character, and the focus on the others doesn’t really make up for that. It feels like a diservice to the excellent Kevin Conroy, who simply has less to work with in regards to Batman and Bruce Wayne.

Anyways, let’s finally start talking about this first episode, shall we? First airing just over 2 years after the conclusion of BTAS, “Holiday Knights” is a pretty bizarre way to kick-off this series. For one, it’s a Christmas/New Years episode that’s presented in anthology format with three separate mini stories starring different heroes and villains. It’s based on the Batman Adventures Holiday Special released in 1995 written by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini. Oddly, WB chose to air this as the premier as well in September rather than stashing it away until closer to Christmas like Fox did with “Christmas with the Joker,” the second episode from BTAS. Also complicating things, the new Robin (Mathew Valencia) debuts here even though the second episode is the one that details how he met Batman and came to assume this persona. Clayface is also the featured villain of the middle tale, but his actual return from the events of “Mudslide” is recounted in a later episode as well. This episode almost feels non-canon as a result, and it’s just overall a weird and confusing way to bring the series back.

new ivy

Ivy has apparently spent the past couple of years avoiding the sun.

The episode begins on December 22 and quickly reintroduces us to a pair of villains:  Poison Ivy (Diane Pershing) and Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin). Harley largely looks the same as she did in the previous series, while Ivy has received a fairly dramatic makeover. Her hair is more stylized and her skin bone white. She displays what is basically the new female body-shape on the show:  short, pointed, with an oversized head. It’s a more “toon” presentation and is less realistic compared with BTAS. I personally don’t care for it, but it is what it is.

Harley is bored and not at all excited to be stuck in a slummy motel for the holidays. She bemoans their lack of a Christmas tree, which naturally sets Ivy off as she views them as a form of genocide against trees. Ivy insists she has a plan that will brighten up their holiday and urges her friend to trust in her. We’re then taken to a gathering of the wealthy at the Vreeland estate where we get our first look at the new Bruce Wayne. He dresses all in black now with a white shirt under his suit and red “power” tie. His hair is black as well and slicked back to give him a real douchey look befitting a billionaire playboy. He’s socializing with Veronica Vreeland (Marilu Henner) who has returned to her red-haired look after a brief dabble with being a blonde and seems amused when a gaggle of women swarm Bruce. While Bruce is being pushed around by the ladies, one of them plants a kiss right on his lips. It’s Ivy, and as we learned way back in “Pretty Poison” getting a kiss from her is not something anyone should desire.

bruce ivy harley

Not the women Bruce was hoping to take home.

Bruce leaves the party and as he heads for his car he’s invited into a limo by a pair of women. Bruce finds himself unable to control his own body as he’s subjected to Ivy and Harley’s whims. They then use Bruce and his fabulous wealth to go on a shopping spree. A montage plays which feels fitting for a holiday special and is set to a saxophone rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” The women seem to enjoy themselves while Bruce is helpless. As they force him to carry all of their purchases he begins to make some headway in fighting off the effects of the poison. The girls realize too late that he needs another dose, and as they approach to do so Bruce is able to back away falling into an open elevator shaft. The girls are indifferent to Bruce’s plight as they still have his credit cards and continue on with their evening. Meanwhile, the gloved hand of Batman reaches up from the depths of the elevator shaft.

harley ivy shopping

The Ivy and Harley montage is probably the best part of the whole episode.

Harley and Ivy make their escape in their stolen limo being driven by another brainwashed lackey, but soon enough the cloaked outline of Batman flashes behind them. Harley warns Ivy about who’s on their tail and Ivy makes some evasive maneuvers to avoid The Dark Knight which leads them to a toy store – how fitting. Batman enters and encounters all manners of toy-related traps:  wooden soldiers, giant boxing gloves, and Harley’s trusty mallet. The ladies lure Batman through their fun house leading up a tower of toys before they hastily attempt a retreat. As the duo turn to rub salt in his wounds, Batman fires his redesigned grappling hook (it makes a less satisfying hissing sound when fired and features an end that’s just a bladed Batman logo) to hook the base of a massive Christmas tree. He topples it landing right on the thieves putting a damper on their holiday, but returning to the Christmas tree gag with Harley who’s strangely comforted by its presence.

santa bullock

Santa Bullock, ho, ho, ho.

Our second story takes place on Christmas Eve. Barbara is shopping at Mayfield’s Department Store for a gift for her father. As she’s paying for her gift, a crying child gets her attention and the clerk remarks it’s been like that all day. Not far from the checkout station is a department store Santa being played by none other than Detective Harvey Bullock (Robert Costanzo). Apparently, Bullock isn’t the best Santa and tends to leave the kids who sit on his lap in tears. Serving alongside him as his elf is Officer Renee Montoya (Liane Schirmir) and the two are apparently on a stake-out which is why Bullock isn’t exactly into this whole Santa schtick. Bullock does at least find the Christmas spirit momentarily when a little girl sits on his lap asking to have her dad back for Christmas. Apparently, her dad is a crook Bullock just helped get put away. Not really knowing what else to do, he gives her some money. That should cheer her up.

Barbara is amused by Bullock’s turn as Kris Kringle and makes her way for the exit. Along the way she notices a child who appears to be shoplifting. The daughter of Gotham’s police commissioner can’t stand idly by as someone commits a crime, so she reaches out to grab him only she comes away with a handful of mud instead. Montoya then receives word to be on the lookout for a rabble of child thieves which fellow detectives are chasing through the store. They corner the kids, who then all merge into one being right before their very eyes.

batgirl crowd control

Batgirl showing off her new attire.

It’s Clayface (Ron Perlman), and he’s not the type of bandit to go quietly. He immediately begins trashing the place forcing Barbara to duck out and re-emerge as Batgirl. She takes the fight right to Clayface knocking him through an oversized window and onto a skating rink outside causing him to smash through the ice. Santa and his elf arrive to provide backup, though their guns do little to bother Clayface. Batgirl hollers at them to stop wasting their ammo and to aim for the Santa. Bullock at first confuses her command to mean him, but above Clayface is a giant, lighted, Santa and lights and Bullock and Montoya blast it down to land on top of Clayface. The frayed wires land in the water around Clayface electrocuting him and putting a stop to his rampage. Montoya then leaves Bullock to handle the clean-up.

new joker

I don’t like this new Joker at all, but at least we still have Mark Hamill doing his voice.

Our final tale takes place on December 31 and involves The Joker (Mark Hamill). He’s sent out one of his famous broadcasts to the people of Gotham revealing his New Year’s resolution to not kill anyone in the new year. This means he needs to make up for it all tonight and send the current year out with a bang! A taping of this broadcast is being viewed by Batman and Robin in Commissioner Gordon’s office. It would seem Gordon stopped heading to the gym following the events of BTAS as he’s a lot smaller and older looking now than he was before. Gordon (Bob Hastings) informs Batman that they have a lead on Joker as a GothCorp scientist was murdered earlier in the day. The scientist specialized in sonics and had been working on a new weapon that could kill with sound. Batman deduces that Joker’s likely target will be The New Year’s Countdown in Gotham Square and it’s likely he’ll have this new weapon in hand.

jokers favors

Joker’s party favors.

Joker is shown at Gotham Square with some of his finest: Mo, Lar, and Cur (all voiced by Ron Perlman and obvious reference to The Three Stooges). They’re rigging the sonic bomb to a massive bell. Apparently at midnight, the bell goes up to ring in the new year and when that happens the bomb will go off. And to make things harder on Batman, Joker has some “party favors” to distribute.

Batman and Robin head for the party and realize finding Joker will be a bit harder than expected. Joker has distributed his Joker masks to all of the party-goers making it hard to find the real Joker. Batman peers through some binoculars and spots a clown in a purple suit at a piano in the middle of the gathering onstage. He’s wearing ear muffs and so are the rather large men flanking him. Figuring that’s his man, Batman and Robin head for the stage and Batman dings Joker’s head with a Batarang knocking off his ear muffs. They then turn their attention to Joker’s goons, but find they’re pretty hard to deal with. Joker ends up grabbing the upper hand by smashing a bucket full of ice and champagne over the back of Batman’s skull.

joker champagne

This will be a short-lived victory for Joker.

Joker grabs the bottle of champagne to celebrate and apparently die with everyone else. As Joker gloats over Batman, The Dark Knight is able to snatch the bottle of champagne and sprays it all over the controls to the bell shortening out the killing device. As he does so, Joker tries to stop him and shoots at him and actually hits Batman in the right arm. As Batman lays on the ground, Joker laughs like only he can. As he does so the bell begins to fall, and it just so happens to land right on Joker who offers a well-timed “Ouch,” from beneath it to close out the scene.

bat gordon toast

We’re introduced to an annual tradition for Gordon and The Dark Knight.

With Joker’s plot foiled once again, Commissioner Gordon is shown entering a diner around 2 AM. The owner (Corey Burton) ushers everyone out and tells them he’s closing up as Gordon takes a seat at a booth. The man brings him a mug of coffee as well as a second mug and wonders aloud if Gordon’s buddy is coming. Gordon assures him he is, and Batman soon enters through a rear door. He sits down and the two indicate this is a yearly tradition of theirs. They speak only a few words before Gordon turns to request something from the kitchen to go. When he turns back he finds an empty booth and a couple of bucks left on the table to cover the tab. Remarking he’ll one day beat him to the check, Gordon collects himself and heads out into the night while Batman is seen swinging off into the red sky himself.

As I said, this is an odd way to begin the series. Three fragmented stories which lean heavily into comic relief that contain characters who will require a true introduction (or reintroduction) further down the road. It at least gets a lot of characters on-screen though giving us a peek at this new look. In general, I’m not much of a fan for how this series looks. It uses mostly straight lines in its characters and the women and children have huge heads. I mostly hate the new Joker as his face just lacks personality and is so bland and wooden to look at. The removal of his lips also just makes his mouth flaps look odder as he’s all teeth gnashing together. He looked so great in BTAS so it’s just really disappointing to see him reduced to this. This practically elderly looking Commissioner Gordon is also not a favorite of mine and Bullock looks like he’s gained about 50 pounds.

clayface hk

Clayface doesn’t come across looking so hot. Meanwhile, less censorship apparently extends to Montoya’s attire as well.

Not surprisingly, Clayface isn’t as well animated as he was before. He still contorts his body into weapons and other beings, but not a lot of resources are spent on the transitioning animation. He’s also far more stable looking than he was in “Mudslide” and has almost a rocky appearance compared with his old one. It should also be pointed out he was previosuly immune to elecrocution so either that was a goof by Dini or they intentionally took that immunity away from him. I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but this is just a less interesting looking show. They wanted it to be in-line with Metropolis from Superman and it wouldn’t make sense to have Gotham look like it was trapped in the 1940s and Metropolis like something from the 90s.

harley and the tree

It’s nice to have a little Christas in June, right? Interestingly, the comic this episode is based on portrayed Harley as Jewish.

There is one advantage this show has over its predecessor and that appears to be with the level of violence on display. It’s blatantly discussed that Joker murdered someone and he has an apparent lust for carnage and mayhem that was more tip-toed around on Fox. Batman is also free to punch people while villains, and the police, are still able to wield realistic looking weapons. Warner must have desired a way to differentiate its network from Fox and upping the violence was apparently one such way.

As an episode, this is a pretty benign, disposable, piece of entertainment. And there is entertainment value for it largely as a comedic vehicle. I wish it had chosen to end on Batman and Gordon sipping coffee together rather than turn to the tired gag of Batman vanishing whenever someone turns their back on him. I think that would have been the way the old series would have ended this one with a somber, but also sweet, ending. I guess this is just one more way for this show to announce it’s here and it’s not the same one we’re used to. Since I am a bit of a Christmas cartoon junkie, I should add that as a Christmas episode this is also just all right. It doesn’t linger much on the holiday, but it also doesn’t beat anyone over the head with Christmas clichés. It’s probably a touch better than “Christmas with the Joker” actually though less memorable. I don’t think either makes a strong case to be included with annual Christmas viewings, but you could certainly do worse.


Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero

Batman_&_Mr._Freeze_SubZeroOriginal Release Date:  March 17, 1998

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Boyd Kirkland and Randy Rogel

Animation:  Dong Yang Animation Co., Koko Enterprises Co., LTD.

Running Time:  67 minutes

I feel like we can’t move onto The New Batman Adventures without first talking about Batman & Mr. Freeze:  SubZero. This direct to video feature is essentially the true finale to the original run of Batman:  The Animated Series. It’s existence can be owed to the fact that Warner Bros. wanted to do a tie-in film with the upcoming feature film Batman and Robin which featured Mr. Freeze as the main antagonist. This was supposed to be released alongside that, but since that film was so poorly received it was held back until March of 1998. This complicates things as by that time The New Batman Adventures was airing on Kids WB and had even aired a Mr. Freeze episode that follows the events of this story. It was released to video, which in 1998 meant VHS, and also aired on Kids WB. I could only find one release date listed online so I’m not sure when the television premiere took place (it could have been the same day), but that’s how I first saw this one.

freeze and bears

Mr. Freeze has returned, and he brought polar bears this time.

Mr. Freeze was first introduced to the animated viewing audience via “Heart of Ice” which first aired in 1992 as part of the show’s first season. It was so successful at rebooting the previously campy Mr. Freeze into an A-tier villain that the writers were reluctant to return to the character out of fear that whatever they came up with couldn’t possibly match “Heart of Ice.” Eventually, they relented and Mr. Freeze appeared in the penultimate episode “Deep Freeze” in which he partnered with Walt Disney Grant Walker in an evil scheme, but eventually turned and become a reluctant hero in the end. The episode basically proved what the staff feared initially as it wasn’t nearly as good or on par with “Heart of Ice.” It’s not a bad episode, but hardly a highpoint for the series. As a result, SubZero feels like a second attempt at capturing the magic once again and perhaps the lengthened running time will help tell a worthy story.

For the film, most of the principal players from BTAS were able to return. In the director’s chair is Boyd Kirkland who directed many episodes in the series as well as the show’s other feature, Mask of the Phantasm. Kirkland also co-wrote the film with Randy Rogel, another individual who had several writing credits in the main series. The voice cast was also largely returned for this one including Kevin Conroy as Batman, Loren Lester as Robin, and Michael Ansara as Mr. Freeze. The only notable change is Mary Kay Bergman taking over the role of Barbara Gordon for Melissa Gilbert. This would be Bergman’s only performance as Gordon as she would be voiced by Tara Strong in The New Batman Adventures. The other notable absences are Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, who were credited with this new version of Freeze. They were likely busy working on Superman and The New Batman Adventures during the development of the picture. Also missing is composer Shirley Walker who was replaced by Michael McCuistion, who had previously worked on some episodes of the show. He would go on to score 3 episodes of The New Batman Adventures as well as several more for other DC animated productions. Walker would also contribute to the sequel series.

gordons and dick

Barbara has a new voice actress, Mary Kay Bergman, and a new beau.

The film basically picks up where the series ended. Victor Fries has made a home for himself in the arctic alongside his still in stasis wife, Nora. He’s acquired a pair of polar bear companions as well as a twelve-year-old Inuit orphan named Koonak (Rahi Azizi). When an expedition by a US submarine disturbs their home and destroys the containment unit keeping Nora alive, Fries is forced to once again don his Mr. Freeze persona.

Nora cannot survive for long outside her containment unit which brings Freeze back to Gotham and in contact with an old colleague, a cryogenics expert by the name of Gregory Belson (George Dzundza). Belson just so happens to be in great financial distress as he tried to game the system with some insider trading in the futures market that didn’t pan out. He’s desperate for cash, and Freeze has access to a gold ore vein in the arctic. He needs Belson’s help to perform an operation for the only hope Nora has at survival is via an organ transplant. Unfortunately, she also has a rare blood type and no organs are available and are unlikely to become available in time, so they’ll need to harvest them from a living donor.

nora fries opening

Once again, it’s the welfare of Nora that motivates Freeze.

That’s where Barbara Gordon comes in. She’s the unlucky one who matches Nora’s rare blood type and is also of similar build. Mr. Freeze abducts her from a club while she is on a date with her new boyfriend:  Dick Grayson. It would seem Barbara got over her Bat-crush and settled on the Boy Wonder, though the film makes it seem like everyone is still keeping each other in the dark regarding alter-egos. Freeze, along with his two polar bear companions, takes Barbara to an abandoned offshore oil platform where the surgery will be performed against her will.

Most of the film involves the setup before transitioning to a focus on Batman and Robin’s detective work which will eventually force a showdown with Mr. Freeze. At a mere 67 minutes, the mystery of where Freeze took Gordon and what he wants with her isn’t lingered on for too long and there’s plenty of time saved for the climax on the oil rigging. It’s paced well and the movie moves along without feeling rushed. If anything is sacrificed, it’s the final confrontation at the end. Batman and Freeze really don’t have much of a confrontation, as circumstances force them to contend with a burning platform. It’s a similar setup to the episode “Deep Freeze” in that regard, but with smaller, more obvious, stakes.

batman robin batcave

Batman and Robin have some detective work ahead of them, but at least Robin’s gloves are now the proper shade of green.

The film in large part feels like a referendum on “Deep Freeze.” If you recall, in that episode Freeze learns his wife is still alive and then immediately agrees to help a wealthy man destroy the planet to revive her. It was a pretty outlandish setup which is why Batman was able to convince Mr. Freeze to not go along with Walker’s plan. In this film, Nora’s life is on a timer and in order to save her Freeze merely has to sacrifice one woman he doesn’t even care about. While it would have been interesting to see how he would have responded had someone been able to reason with him that Nora would never want an innocent to die so she could live, that’s never broached and it’s conceivable to think Freeze would not be swayed. He’d likely rather Nora live and despise him than for her to die. Freeze’s desperation causes him to act impulsively throughout the picture, and his relationship with Belson gives him a plausible reason to return to Gotham in an effort to save his wife knowing it will likely put him in the crosshairs of The Batman.

dr belson

Belson is pretty much a slime ball.

In many ways, it’s Dr. Belson that ends up being the film’s ultimate villain. He’s described by others as a jerk and he’s essentially a criminal for engaging in insider trading. Had he been successful with his futures play he might have been caught. When Freeze first approaches him for aid the film teases he won’t go along with murder, but he’s mostly feigning his apprehension and just uses it to leverage more money out of his old colleague.

barbara fighting back

Barbara may spend most of the film kidnapped, but she never stops fighting.

Barbara Gordon’s kidnapping may be the main plot device that gets this film rolling, but she’s hardly playing the role of damsel in distress. Her kidnapping is voluntary, as she doesn’t want Mr. Freeze to harm any of the patrons of the club she’s abducted from, especially Dick. She also tries to escape her confines more than once and realizes she has a sympathetic ear in Koonak. It would have been disappointing if the woman who is Batgirl just sat around and waited for Batman and Robin to save her, but Rogel and Kirkland know what they’re doing.

The film is visually quite nice and a noticeable cut above the television series. Dong Yang Animation, which animated most of season 2 and some of season 1, did the traditional spots with Koko Enterprises doing the CG. The colors are an obvious upgrade as Robin’s costume actually features two shades of green instead of that odd blue. The scenes on the flaming oil platform are especially spectacular and it’s obvious more care was put into this project as a whole. I also really like a spot at the beginning of the film where Fries emerges from the arctic waters. His body is coated in a thin layer of ice which cracks and breaks apart as he moves. The CG is used probably more often than I would like. It’s dated, but not woefully so. It’s a touch distracting in some of the chase sequences and with the Batwing, but it looks nice at the film’s onset with Fries swimming in the arctic amongst a swarm of CG salmon. The only real disappointment I have with the look of the picture is that it’s presented in 4:3 instead of 16:9. I assume that’s the aspect ratio it was created for since it was going to be broadcast on television, and since this was before the proliferation of 16:9 television sets, there was basically no need to develop for that if it was only ever going to be viewed on a TV set.

koonak and barbara

I hope you didn’t get too attached to Koonak, because he’s not coming back.

This film is the final presentation of Batman and the other denizens of Gotham in this art style. For some characters, like Summer Gleeson (Mari Devon), this is their final appearance all together. Veronica Vreeland (Marilu Henner) also has a cameo, but as a blonde now instead of her traditional red hair. It’s also the last appearance of Nora Fries and the only appearance for Koonak. I definitely miss this art style and the change for The New Batman Adventures is what kept me from getting into that series initially. When this surfaced on television it was like going back to an old friend.

Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero is a worthy follow-up to “Heart of Ice.” Even with the benefit of triple the minutes, it’s still not quite as captivating as that episode and I think that’s largely due to the surprise that initial episode had going for it. This film at least takes the character of Mr. Freeze and gives him a reason to act like a villain once more. It’s surprising that Paul Dini and Bruce Timm weren’t involved, but maybe turning to the duo of Kirkland and Rogel meant the pressure of doing something worthwhile with the character was largely removed freeing them to explore him unencumbered. For both, this was their last contribution to Batman: The Animated Series and it’s a worthy note to go out on. Had this been a theatrically released venture we’d probably unfairly compare it with Mask of the Phantasm where it would come up short, but for a direct-to-video venture this is more than acceptable.

Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero was originally released on VHS, but has since been released on DVD and Blu-Ray. It’s also streaming, if that’s your preference. The best way to view it, for my money, is via the Batman:  The Animated Series Blu-Ray set which includes this film as well as Mask of the Phantasm in one package alongside the entire television series.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Trial”

btas trialEpisode Number:  68

Original Air Date:  May 16, 1994

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Paul Dini and Bruce Timm

First Appearance(s):  None

“Trial” could be described as one of our first big payoff episodes for the series as it draws heavily on the events of season one. After spending considerable time developing Batman’s rogues’ gallery, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm decided to play around with them like a kid diving into a toy box for this episode as many of Batman’s foes are brought back for an ensemble episode. It also refers back to “Shadow of the Bat” and Gotham’s new district attorney, Janet Van Dorn (Stephanie Zimbalist, replacing Lynette Mettey, and also the daugher of Alfred voice actor Efrem Zimbalist Jr.), who was first introduced there as a hard-nosed and rigid authority figure. Here her personality is essentially doubled-down on as we find out she has a strong dislike for Batman and Gordon’s reliance on the vigilante in combating the crime infecting Gotham. Her dislike of Batman is a bit more practical than that of Detective Bullock’s as Batman’s clearly breaking the law, or at least bending it, with his vigilante antics and it makes her job considerably more difficult. And since she is at odds with Batman, it only makes sense to lean into that conflict as the backbone for this episode.

janet trial

Goth DA Janet Van Dorn assumes the spotlight for her second appearance. She also has been slightly redesigned to appear more youthful.

“Trial” opens in a court setting. Pamela Isely (Diane Pershing), better known as Poison Ivy, is facing incarceration beyond just treatment at Arkham Asylum and Van Dorn is arguing for life in prison. Ivy is able to avoid jail-time due to her capture being at the hands of Batman, who naturally isn’t present to even testify against her. The judge sends her back to Arkham, not an outcome Ivy probably wanted but it’s still better than prison. When the media approaches Van Dorn following the verdict, she uses the camera time to blast Batman calling him a disgrace and placing the blame for the presence of criminally insane rogues in the city on him. She’s also not afraid to let Commissioner Gordon know how she feels, but as always, he’s willing to stand-up for Batman viewing him as their best weapon in the fight against crime. Batman even drops in on their little meeting, presenting a gang leader as a present (who is wearing a skull shirt that seems to resemble a certain Marvel character’s logo). When Van Dorn challenges him to take off the mask and put on a uniform, Batman says nothing and departs. She takes a batarang from the perp as a parting gift, I guess?

At Arkham, a somewhat somber looking Poison Ivy is returned to her room. Her pal Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin) tries to cheer her up, but she has little success. She mentions something big is about to go down though that will likely lift her spirits. We then see some zombie-like orderlies and doctors milling about and The Mad Hatter bursts into the picture to reveal he’s used his mind control cards to subdue them as chaos breaks out.

captured batman

Van Dorn and Batman find themselves tied together by the real foes of Gotham.

A fatigued Van Dorn is shown arriving at a restaurant for dinner. Her date this evening is none other than Bruce Wayne. If Bruce is romantically interested in Van Dorn or just looking to get inside the head of someone who could either be friend or foe to Batman is not shown. Given his dedication to his Batman persona, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if it was the latter. A waiter (clearly voiced by Mark Hamill, which is an unintentional piece of foreshadowing) comes to the table to tell Van Dorn she has a phone call. She never returns, and soon Batman is summoned by Gordon to find out the DA has been kidnapped. A ransom note was left behind containing a riddle. Batman deciphers it and heads for the court-house where he’s jumped by Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn.

Janet Van Dorn finds herself locked-up in Arkham. As she demands to speak with someone, she’s greeted by the former district attorney, Two-Face (Richard Moll). They’re having a little trial and need Van Dorn to act as a defense attorney with Two-Face the acting DA. Her client? None other than Batman. And to make things more interesting, Van Dorn’s fate is to be tied to that of her client. As Killer Croc (Aron Kincaid) dumps Batman in the cell with her, she complains about their situation and suggests Batman is where he belongs. Batman has no interest in debating his existence with Van Dorn.

trial jury

Batman’s jury hardly seems fair and impartial.

The two are lead into the court room, where a bunch of raving inmates jeer the presence of Batman and Gotham’s DA. Harley Quinn is there to taunt Batman revealing she stole his belt. The Ventriloquist (George Dzundza) with a newly reconstructed Scarface (also Dzundza) are acting as the bailiff and the jury is rather stacked against Batman as it contains:  Poison Ivy, Harley, Mad Hatter (Roddy McDowall), Killer Croc, Scarecrow, and The Riddler (Scarecrow and Riddler are not voiced in this episode). The judge? Well, it has to be The Joker (Mark Hamill) who is looking resplendent in a black robe and wig.

After Dent makes a rather brief and to the point opening statement, the trial gets underway. The Mad Hatter is the first witness who blames Batman for creating him. Van Dorn is able to expose his sick side rather easily, recalling the events of his debut and his obsessive pursuit of a woman who spurned his advances. Harley is the next, and Van Dorn is quick to point out she’s improperly influencing the judge who is laying his head in her lap (they apparently made up). Van Dorn gets no where with that complaint, but during her questioning of Quinn she actually reveals her origin for the first time as a doctor at Arkham perverted by The Joker. She also reveals that Joker ratted her out during his last capture, which enrages Harley and forces Croc to carry her out kicking and screaming.

harleys tampering

Harely and Joker are shown to have a still combustible relationship, but Harley just can’t seem to dump the clown.

Poison Ivy is next up, and her past with trying to murder Harvey Dent is once again brought up. Van Dorn accuses Ivy of having more love for plants than humans, and when Ivy denies that, Van Dorn begins taunting her by plucking the petals off a flower. This sets her off, and Ivy attacks Van Dorn and the two have to be separated. Van Dorn then composes herself for her closing remarks, claiming she now sees that it wasn’t Batman who created these villains, but the villains are the ones who created Batman. Her argument is apparently persuasive, and the jury actually finds Batman innocent. Joker is quick to point out that this is a court composed of the violent and depraved, and as such, they’ll still sentence Batman to the same fate that would have befallen him had he been guilty. Quoting Porky Pig’s “That’s all folks,” Joker strikes the bench with a rubber chicken and the two are dragged away.

van dorn and judge joker

The straight-laced Van Dorn is forced to contend with the crazies of Arkham, something she proves she’s capable of.

The rogues drag Batman to an execution chamber where the electric chair awaits him. Joker enters dressed as a preacher now as Batman is taken out of his strait jacket and placed in the chair. It’s at this point Van Dorn remembers the batarang in her jacket from earlier, and she takes out the only light in the room with it. This gives Batman the only opening he needs as he slips out of his confines and returns to the shadows where he is oh so comfortable being.

The tables have now turned, and Batman lets them know they’re now locked-up in there with him (perhaps a nod to Watchmen?) as he starts picking them off. When he grabs Croc, Joker reaches for Scarface’s miniature, but functional, tommy gun and opens fire. When Scarface warns Joker that he’ll hit Croc, he responds with “What’s your point?”

batman electric chair

This seems like a bad situation for Batman to find himself in, but as usual, he’ll make the best of it.

Batman grabs Van Dorn and the two attempt to escape, but are met by a scythe-wielding Scarecrow on the stairs. Batman is able to parry his strikes, which result in Scarface losing his head, and dispatches of the villains closing in on them. They escape to the rooftop where The Joker awaits. Joker ropes Batman and tugs him off the building with the rope affixed to an abutment that allows Joker to swing from the other end. He tries to take Batman out with a giant mallet, but as always, Batman is able to escape and take him out in the process. By now, the police (who have been tracking Batman’s location this whole time) arrive to clean up the mess. In a brief sequence to close things out, Van Dorn admits to Batman she sees a need for him in Gotham, but adds she’ll still work to create a Gotham that no longer needs Batman. He responds with a smile and a simple “Me too.”

“Trial” is a fun examination of how Batman and his adversaries are connected. Van Dorn’s argument that the cartoonish villains of their world are created by Batman is a common one, while the episode makes the case that it’s the other way around. The reality is that the two are forever intertwined. A criminal act created Batman, but Batman has certainly had a hand in creating some of the villains he combats (Van Dorn even references Joker’s creation which follows that of Batman ’89). It’s a fun little debate, and getting a bunch of villains together in one place is also equally fun and basically the impetus for Batman:  The Movie. I like seeing how the villains also play off each other, though Croc is back to being a dim-witted piece of comic relief who just wants to throw a rock at Batman. Having Harley’s origins touched upon is a nice little nugget and something that will be explored down the road. I could certainly nitpick how easy it was for Mad Hatter to gain access to his special cards or how Van Dorn is a great shot on her first try wielding a batarang, but this episode is pretty packed as-is (supposedly, this plot was considered as the first movie, but was scrapped in favor of Mask of the Phantasm) and had it spent any additional time on such details it would likely not have worked out as well. The script is also delightful, making this perhaps the most quotable episode of the series. The only gaffe, plot-wise, is the presence of Killer Croc in Arkham when it was established in “Sideshow” he’s not insane, just a bad guy.

preacher joker

Preacher Joker is one of the fun little touches in this episode.

Dong Yang Animation does a nice job with this episode having to animate so many unique characters at once. They even went through the trouble of portraying the villains in jumpsuits initially, rather than taking the easy way out and just having them in costume from the start. Bruce Wayne also gets a new look as he’s ditched his old brown suit for a sharp-looking gray one that seems to be his new default look. The drab backgrounds of Arkham are juxtaposed against the colorful costumes everyone sports and it creates a nice look. I also really enjoyed Joker’s various attires and the toy collector in me wouldn’t mind an action figure of Judge Joker and Preacher Joker. Van Dorn also received a subtle make-over from her prior appearance. She wears a blue suit now and appears a bit more youthful than before. There are a couple little production gaffes, like a character’s mouth moving when it shouldn’t and Riddler just disappearing, but nothing glaring enough to take away from the overall presentation.

“Trial” is a good second season episode that really takes advantage of the lore and backstories established in season one, and even elsewhere. It’s the type of episode I like to see in a show’s second season, and for a show like Batman that typically focuses on stand-alone stories, I always get a little rush of excitement when past events are mentioned.


Batman: The Animated Series – “A Bullet For Bullock”

bullock title cardEpisode Number:  67

Original Air Date:  September 14, 1995

Directed by:  Frank Paur

Written by:  Michael Reaves

First Appearance(s):  None

Episode 67 brings us a bit of a re-tread as it’s another unlikely pairing of Batman and Detective Harvey Bullock (Robert Costanzo). This one is based off of Detective Comics #651 written by Chuck Dixon, though he doesn’t have a writing credit on the episode. Batman and Bullock have had a bit of a combative relationship throughout this series. Bullock distrusts Batman because he wears a mask and operates outside the law. He views him as a freak, just one who happens to be on their side as opposed to being like Joker or Two-Face. Batman just hasn’t cracked yet. There’s also likely some jealousy on the part of Bullock due to Commissioner Gordon placing more trust in his pet bat than he does the police force. Batman also gets to blatantly work outside the confines of the law, something Bullock would likely love to do. The animosity, up until now, has seemed mostly one-sided with Batman largely ignoring Bullock’s rants and insults. He even expressed some admiration for the detective, or perhaps respect is a better word, when he investigated him during the events of “Vendetta” when Killer Croc tried to frame him. When Bullock needed help in that episode, Batman came calling. Bullock needs help again, only this time he’s not being framed and he’s going to reach out to Batman personally. I’m not sure if there is more to mine from this relationship, and this episode was not a particularly memorable one for me, so it was one I was more eager to re-watch for this feature than others. And after just doing our first episode of 1994, we’re already doing our first one from 1995! That’s because this episode was held back for awhile, relative to production order, as it ended up being the 84th episode to air. And if you know you’re Batman: The Animated Series, then you know that means it was the second to last episode of the series to make it to air. Are we really that close to the end?!

targeting bullock

We’re going to find out that Harvey Bullock is a guy with more enemies than friends.

First of all, this one begins with the intro for The Adventures of Batman and Robin, even on the recently released Blu Ray edition. I had spot-checked episodes when I reviewed the set and found the season one intro to be in use through-out, but apparently I didn’t check well-enough. That’s because, by air date, Fox considered this to be part of the fourth season. When watching in production order, the episodes are all over the place and it was only Fox’s Seasons 3 and 4 (which was a scant 5 episodes) that contained the new intro.

The episode opens at night with Bullock walking the streets of Gotham likely heading home. Someone tries to take him out with their car, but fails. Bullock gets a look at the vehicle and fires off a shot, but the culprit escapes him. Either later that night or the following night, the Bat Signal lights up the Gotham sky summoning the Batman. When Batman arrives at police headquarters he finds not Commissioner Gordon, but Bullock. Bullock tells Batman that he needs help as someone is trying to take him out. He further explains he doesn’t want to go internal because he doesn’t want Internal Affairs nosing around in his business. This prompts Batman to question if Bullock is on the take, which insults the detective as he denies he’s ever taken a dime. He just suggests his methods of investigating perps isn’t always in agreement with company policies. He tosses in a “we’re the same” message Batman’s way which insults Batman. He declares he’ll help, but makes it clear they’re not the same.

bullock needs help

Bullock needs help and he knows who to turn to.

This exchange was rather interesting. Batman is pretty thorough, so I’m not surprised he’d question if Bullock was taking bribes even though he’s previously said he’s a good cop. Expecting an honest answer had he been is probably a bit fool-hardy though. Batman’s disgust at Bullock’s notion though that they’re similar in their methods rings rather hollow. What could Bullock do that Batman would not? Aside from obviously not sharing the same discipline for physical fitness, I’d assume they’re pretty similar. Batman is constantly breaking and entering, conducts searches without a warrant, and threatens witnesses and suspects on the regular. Unless Bullock has a history of shooting first and asking questions later that isn’t explored, it would seem they’re quite similar. Get off your high horse, Batman.

Bullock gives Batman a copy of his case file on a floppy disc and Batman takes it back to his comically gigantic computer at the Batcave (seriously, does he have vision problems or something?) and shares some info with Alfred. Bullock, having handed the data over, goes home to his apartment where he’s confronted by his landlord Nivens (Jeffrey Jones) over his filthy living habits. Bullock pays him no mind though and is his usual rude self, further demonstrating that he’s the type of guy that probably doesn’t have many friends.

Sometime later, Bullock and Montoya (Liane Schirmer) are shown busting up a gang of bank robbers. One flees to the roof, and Bullock chases after him armed with a shotgun instead of his usual revolver. He’s about to take a bullet to the back when Batman swoops in for the save. Bullock is less than grateful about being baby-sat by Batman and asks him if he’s found any suspects. Batman has not, and Bullock tells him to meet him later while he takes care of the perp. Batman does his usual disappearing routine in mid-sentence.

bullock pizza

Bullock’s homelife.

Bullock then arrives home and finds someone is in his apartment. He enters with gun drawn to find Batman, who’s inspecting the threatening letters he’s been sent. The two talk about the case, with Batman suggesting whoever is after him may just be trying to put a scare in him as he doesn’t think this is the work of a professional. Bullock makes a good point that it doesn’t matter if the guy is a pro or not, for had he succeeded in running him over the other night, he’d still be dead. Batman takes off, and Bullock is left to himself. The next night, he’s shown leaving a donut shop and heading for the subway. While waiting for the next train, someone shoves him from behind into the train’s path. Bullock gives the typical terrified look, but then rather unceremoniously just gets out of the way and back onto the platform. At work, he’s visibly shaken up and Montoya takes notice. She tells him he looks terrible, then corrects herself that he always looks terrible and he just looks a bit more terrible today. Bullock reacts appropriately and Montoya tries to laugh it off. She asks him what he’s doing for New Years, and he quips back “the same thing I did for Christmas:  my laundry.” Apparently, Bullock lives a rather lonely life.

batman grabby

Batman seems to have a strong dislike for Bullock. I guess 65 episodes of being treated like dirt by the detective took its toll.

As the snow starts falling, Batman makes an appearance. He tells Bullock he has a lead:  Vinnie the Shark. A drug-dealer who was on the verge of cementing his empire, Vinnie was taken down by Bullock and even threatened him openly in court. It would seem Vinnie was a model prisoner at Stonegate and was let out after serving 8 years of a 10-20 year sentence. Batman instructs Bullock to pay a visit to Summer Gleeson, who had recently conducted an expose on the crack houses of Gotham (nice city). When Bullock objects to being bossed around by Batman, Batman gets grabby. He reiterates the importance of figuring this out to Bullock, and tells him he has other leads to chase before disappearing out the window.

batmans methods

Batman knows how to get what he wants.

Bullock drops in on Gleeson (Mari Devon) who is editing something for the news. She’s not thrilled to see Bullock, but tells him to come back in an hour. As Bullock leaves, he notices her office and decides to sneak in. Elsewhere, Batman swoops in and picks off a drug-dealer who just completed a transaction (he’s apparently unconcerned about the kid running off with some drugs) and takes him to a rooftop. He tells him he wants info on The Shark, but when the dealer insists he has no knowledge of what he’s up to, Batman tosses him off the building. He uses his grapple-gun to stop his fall and barely pulls him out of the way of a passing truck, before getting the guy to sing. See, Batman is no worse than Bullock! Meanwhile, Gleeson catches Bullock making a mess of her office and orders him out. He tries to tell her someone is trying to kill him, but he’s apparently burned his last bridge with her.

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Vinnie The Shark gets the drop of the Dynamic Duo 2.0 for a moment, but it’s a brief moment.

Out on the street, Bullock tries to hail a cab, but with no luck. Apparently they don’t think much of him either. Batman pulls up in the Batmobile and grabs Bullock by the shirt collar and hauls him in, which seems unnecessary. Bullock has a few moments to wonder at the instruments in the Batmobile before the two get down to business. Batman has tracked The Shark to his hideout where a new drug ring is operational. The two enter and quickly have a car dropped on them. Or rather, the hollowed out, frame-less, husk of a car. Batman gets them out of the mess with his smoke bombs, and he and Bullock successfully take down Vinnie The Shark and all of his men. As Bullock cuffs The Shark, he tells Batman that he had to be the guy and thanks him for his help, but of course, Batman has vanished before he can get that out of his mouth.

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Lots of gunpoints in this episode, this one the most threatening.

At police headquarters, Bullock interrogates Vinnie (Gregg Berger) and demands to know why he sent him those letters. Vinnie insists he has no idea what Bullock is talking about, and some concern appears on Bullock’s face. Later on, Bullock is entering his apartment building when a masked man wielding a gun sneaks up from behind. Trembling, the man insists he didn’t want it to come to this and that he tried to make Bullock leave town, but now he has no choice. Bullock indicates that he recognizes the man, but can’t figure out who it is. Needless to say, it’s not looking good for him, which is when Batman drops in and kicks the would-be assassin knocking the gun from his hands. Batman hauls him to his feet and yanks off the mask to reveal it’s Nevins, Bullock’s landlord. Nevins starts rambling on and on about how much he hated Bullock and just wanted him to leave while Bullock looks rather dumb-founded. He eventually sheepishly cuffs Nevins and suggests to Batman that he owes him one. Batman demurs, suggesting Bullock has enough problems to sort out before taking off.

“A Bullet for Bullock” ended up being another unlikely pairing of Batman and Bullock while also serving as a bit of a character study of Bullock, which helps to differentiate it from “Vendetta” some-what. It’s more of a straight-forward team-up as well with both Batman and Bullock combining their brains and their brawn to take down one of Gotham’s criminals, even if it ended up being a different criminal than who they were after. Though since Bullock entered The Shark’s hideout alongside Batman and without a warrant, I wonder if they ended up taking him down at all? It adds to the relationship by revealing that Batman really dislikes Bullock, maybe even as much as Bullock dislikes him. Batman comes across as a hypocrite, while Bullock’s characterization as a gruff, rule-bending, cop is reinforced. It’s also shown that Bullock is a pretty lonely guy and his tough demeanor likely pushes people away. He’s basically a slave to his job as he doesn’t even have time for simple upkeep. When he returns home to find Batman in his apartment, he starts chowing down on a slice of pizza that was apparently left out all day on his kitchen table. Sure it reveals that Bullock is a slob, but also that maybe he doesn’t even leave himself enough time to go grocery shopping.

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Oh, it’s just his crazy landlord. Haha – who doesn’t want to see Bullock dead?

The tone of the episode is definitely noir, and Shirley Walker’s score goes for that right from the start. It’s a very jazzy score with a liberal use of horns. The action sequence at the end at Vinnie’s hideout in particular uses a hot jazz type of track that I wonder if it’s intended to serve as a theme for Bullock. It’s something I’ll be on the lookout for going forward. I could not recall him having a theme prior to this, but I could be mistaken. Studio Junio animated this episode, and I must say, I’ve really enjoyed their work on this series. A lot of shots of Batman feature a little blue triangle on the side of his nose. It’s a subtle touch that most studios don’t bother with, but it adds nice definition to Batman’s face. The coloring is also just really well-done here and I am a sucker for a snowy setting. Batman’s interrogation scene with the drug-dealer is also really well-animated and for an episode with minimal action, it does contain a lot of excitement thanks to the animation.

“A Bullet for Bullock” is ultimately mostly a re-tread of an idea, but it does at least offer something new. I don’t think it’s as successful or as good of an episode as “Vendetta,” and the punch-line ending it goes for is a bit off-brand for the show. It’s an episode more intent on spotlighting the relationship between Batman and Bullock while also showing a side of Bullock previously not shown. It’s less interested in the mystery of who is threatening Bullock as the writing doesn’t offer any nuggets for the viewer to track in an attempt to solve they mystery itself. Which is fine, as mystery has never really been the show’s strength. In the end, this is an unnecessary episode, but it has entertainment value so I wouldn’t call it unjustified in its existence.


Batman: The Animated Series Blu-ray Collection

img_2915Batman: The Animated Series premiered back in 1992 when home media wasn’t really that big of a business for television properties. Sure, a handful of episodes would make it to VHS and some shows that had a small episode count would have a full season available (like X-Men and the first season of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), but that was basically it. It was such an after-thought that some shows have been lost since studios didn’t see a reason to even preserve them, especially some one-off broadcasts. That all changed though with DVD. The new medium could store way more information than a VHS tape could and it was even cheaper to manufacture and distribute. Suddenly, collecting movies became far more mainstream because acquiring them was so easy and watching them had become far more convenient. Naturally, this lead to television shows getting the full season treatment and Batman was no exception.

Released first in 2004, the first volume of Batman was followed in 2005 by three additional volumes to complete the show’s entire Fox run plus The New Batman Adventures. These volumes contained what fans wanted:  all of the episodes in production order at an affordable price. And for a long time, fans were happy. Then came the HD era and suddenly studios were re-releasing all of their movies and shows on high-definition Blu-ray (and for a short time, HD DVD). A lot of people were willing to re-purchase their favorite movies and TV shows if it meant having them in HD, though it definitely seemed like the appetite on the TV side was a touch weaker. Many studios did not bother re-releasing their shows, but some did. As technology has advanced, many people are now moving away from physical media. With almost every movie and show available on some streaming service, there’s less appetite for physical things that can break and take up space.

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A lot of stuff.

Because of this seismic shift in media consumption, I never expected Batman to get a Blu-ray update. Mask of the Phantasm was some-what quietly reissued on Blu-ray last year and I thought that might be it. Of course, in my mind I was hoping Warner Bros. would reconsider and during the show’s 25th anniversary panel at last year’s New York Comic Con just over a year ago it was announced that the entire series would be coming to Blu-ray in 2018. Originally, it was supposed to be here in time for the 26th anniversary, but it got pushed back until October 30th, a rather minimal inconvenience considering this has been something fans have wanted for about a decade now.

You may be looking at the time-stamp on this post and wondering why I’m getting to it now and not during the release week. Well, for one I’m not a professional reviewer so I have to pay for my media and I don’t get advanced copies for review. You probably could have guessed that, though. Really though, I would have had a review up earlier if it weren’t for Amazon. Amazon was the lone place to pre-order this Blu-ray set and the online retailer had 69,048 to distribute. A regular retail version is coming, but this version had some special packaging including individually numbering each set, additional artwork, and three mini Funko Pop figures of Batman, Harley Quinn, and The Joker. It retailed for $110 to start, but gradually dropped down to about $87. It also sold-out, and Amazon upped the order to accommodate more purchases.

Now, if you’re Amazon and you secure the right to sell a so-called Deluxe Limited Edition of something and market it as a collectible, don’t you think you would take care to protect that investment? My package arrived on Tuesday the 30th, street date, in a simple padded envelope. It was beat to Hell with every corner dented and the top flap crushed to form a point in the middle of it. I’m not a stickler for packaging, but if I’m paying for a special edition of something that cost close to 100 bucks I want that thing to look nice. Why wouldn’t Amazon package this in a box with some protection? I went online and found out I wasn’t alone as many people complained of the same. I immediately requested an exchange that night, and the next morning I spoke with a rep via their live chat about my concerns with the packaging and was told my feedback was valued and passed onto the department handling my exchange, and so on.

That replacement arrived on Thursday packaged exactly the same way. This time the envelope was even partially opened, and while the contents were less damaged than before, every corner was still badly dented. The outside box is rather thin cardstock, like a DVD/Blu-ray slip cast, so it really doesn’t take much to damage or crease it. Rather than request the exchange through conventional means, I decided to speak with someone so that they could input the exchange and hopefully do something about the packaging. Again, in checking fan communities I was not alone as others received replacements that day in the same fashion. I first spoke to someone via the live chat again, and they actually referred me this time to the US phone number so I called that and spoke with another rep. She requested the exchange with a note about the packaging while also starting the return process for the second unit (I actually still have to send them back, at a cost to Amazon, though I did need to provide my own box for each one as it was recommended trying to send both in one would cause Amazon to lose track and thus bill me for an unreturned item) with the item set to arrive on Saturday. And it came, this time in a box, but with no additional packaging to protect it. One corner still got crunched pretty well, but Amazon successfully exhausted me into submission, so version 3 didn’t go back, but it’s hardly pristine.

img_2909The whole fiasco with Amazon has really been unfortunate because it’s marred what is otherwise a pretty nice release. The discs are housed in a nice book and the notes and artwork all look great. I don’t much care about the mini figures, but I suppose they’re nice. There’s a new featurette, though most of the bonus content is carried over from the DVD releases. There are a total of 12 commentaries which are also from the DVD releases so it’s disappointing new ones weren’t done. As a bonus though, both films from the original series are included: Mask of the Phantasm and Batman & Mr. Freeze – SubZero. For the sake of completion, I wish they had included Mystery of The Batwoman, but it’s not a great loss.

Bells and whistles are great and really help to make a release feel special and important, but ultimately this set is to be judged on its transfer. I was a bit let-down with the transfer on Mask of the Phantasm last year, so I was a bit guarded as the release of this approached. I have spent, as you probably have noticed, a lot of time with this show over the past year so I perhaps more than most was ready for a new transfer. Those DVDs are fine, but there is a grainy texture to a lot of the episodes. Some may find that charming, and a little grain does help to enhance that noir feel the show is going for, but a lot of it also just looks like something broadcast in standard definition being marred when converted to digital. It’s less a grain, and more a fog that’s present. I’m happy to say though that these new transfers really impress. They’re rich in color and it looks like the finished animation cel is being place right on the screen. The impact is the most dramatic with the first two seasons of the show, the Fox Kids run, as that image was more complex. There was more texture to the backgrounds and stronger lighting effects that makes this set feel like a whole new show.

img_2914There are at least two drawbacks I’ve noticed when watching this set. I obviously haven’t had time to watch the whole thing, though I do intend to, but I picked out select episodes from each season to get a feel for the set. The first episode I watched was “Beware the Gray Ghost.” It felt rather appropriate given the episode’s subject matter in relation to myself. That episode looks really awesome in HD given all of the explosions and dynamic actions of the characters and vehicles. The one thing that did standout as a negative though is the mouth flaps. The animation for them was never a strong suit for the show, with less attention paid to actually making it look like the characters were mouthing the words they were supposed to be speaking. It’s really apparent with The Joker, who almost always has those yellow teeth exposed smashing together with every sentence. This shortcoming is just more noticeable in HD, and in this episode in particular it was really distracting with the video store clerk who has a straw in his mouth for much of his scenes. There’s also the more vibrant coloring of the blue accents on Batman’s costume. They’re quite bright now, similar to how Batman looks in promo materials for this show, and it might be a touch too much, but it’s not killer or anything.

img_2912Aside from that though, I have little to complain about regarding the look of the series. The episodes are presented as seasons of the show, with the The New Batman Adventures now just referred to as season 3 of the show. For those episodes the intro has been removed and replaced with the season one intro. I never cared for the intro for that show so it doesn’t bother me they swapped it out, but that might irritate some out there. That third season also looks good in HD, it’s just not as dramatic an improvement compared with the first two seasons. The character designs were simpler and the lighting effects toned down. It’s mostly a series of flat colors so everything just looks richer and smoother. I have not watched it, but I assume the disc for Mask of the Phantasm is identical to the stand-alone release. The SubZero disc is new, and it includes all three episodes featuring Mr. Freeze as a bonus feature, plus the episode from Batman Beyond featuring the character, so you’re getting an extra episode. I did watch SubZero and can say the transfer looks better than the Mask of the Phantasm one, though the included episodes are presented in standard definition, so no preview of what Batman Beyond would look like in HD. The new feature on the series is on its own disc and it’s a solid retrospective on the series. It didn’t need its own disc, but it was probably easier to do than tacking it onto the end of another disc. There’s also a little feature on the creation of Harley Quinn included, which is too brief to merit even a single watch.

img_2913I do have one other nit to pick and it’s in regards to the packaging. The book that houses all of the discs looks great. It has artwork featuring the main villains and Batman throughout it, though one page has what looks like Joker from The New Adventures but colored to resemble the season one and two Joker, which is kind of ugly. Not a big deal though. What is more concerning is the stubborn nature of the sleeves that house the discs. Getting them out is nearly impossible without forcibly gripping the disc between a thumb and forefinger to yank it out. Some are more stubborn than others. I fear this is a set that if watched frequently would gradually damage the discs, so while the packing looks pretty great, it’s not quite so functional. There is a digital copy of the entire set included, so I suppose those concerned about damaging the discs could opt to watch it digitally instead, preserving the hard copies as a backup. I have not downloaded the files though so I don’t know how they work precisely. If they can be integrated with something like Amazon Prime that would make them available on multiple devices that would obviously be a plus.

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The first page.

Frustrations aside with acquiring a decent version of the item, I would say this is a pretty worthwhile set to own for fans of the series. If you already own the DVDs, as I do, it’s still worth the investment since the transfer is handled so well. In a world where physical media is dying, it’s also a plus that it looks nice on a shelf so if you have to have it at least it looks good. Naturally, if you’re a fan of the show, but never owned it before, then this makes it an even easier decision. If you’re opposed to physical media then you can hold out for a streaming option, but in the interim you’d be missing out. The inclusion of the two movies helps to push this one over the top for me, and I’m glad it’s a near complete release of every animation project associated with the franchise. I suppose those who were really invested in the Kids WB era will wish it included the cross-over episodes with Superman and Mystery of The Batwoman, but I didn’t need those. I do wonder what this means for the Superman cartoon as well as Batman Beyond. I never got into Superman, but I own all of Batman Beyond on DVD. Given how well The New Batman Adventures held up on transfer to DVD, I probably won’t be that interested in a Batman Beyond Blu-ray, but I reserve the right to change my mind down the road. For now, this is pretty much exactly what I wanted and I’m happy to have what is probably the greatest action cartoon ever created in high-definition.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Fear of Victory”

Fear_of_Victory-Title_CardEpisode Number:  24

Original Air Date:  September 29, 1992

Directed by:  Dick Sebast

Written by:  Samuel Warren Joseph

First Appearance(s):  None

It’s been awhile, but making just his second appearance of the series (and first since episode two) is Robin, coming back to play a fairly large role in this week’s episode “Fear of Victory.” This episode was actually the television debut of Robin, since his first appearance came in the Christmas episode which was held back to air closer to the holiday. As a kid, I remember seeing the preview for this episode which featured Robin and getting all excited about it. I really don’t know why since I’ve always much preferred Batman to Robin, maybe it was just because it was something different? Plus, Robin had yet to appear in anything Batman related in quite some time, outside of the comics, so it had been a long while since I had interacted with The Boy Wonder.

As you can probably guess from the title, our villain for this episode is The Scarecrow. Making also his second appearance, Scarecrow has a re-design that makes him look far more fearsome than how he did in “Nothing to Fear.” His face is more interesting to behold and features a crooked mouth full of oddly shaped teeth. In some respects he reminds me of Clayface, and the animators take some liberties with his mask to make him look more fearsome when they want to. He also now has a mass of straw hair under his hat, further adding to the whole scarecrow thing he has going on. Over all, definitely an improvement over that eggplant shaped head he had going on previously. This episode is also noteworthy since it tries to show us how Batman’s enemies might go about getting money for their nefarious schemes. Scarecrow isn’t trying to exact revenge or take over Gotham or anything crazy, he’s just trying to scam bookies by rigging sporting events using his fear toxin. Since he was fired from his university post, he likely needs some funds to get a good lab up and running to further his experiments, though the lack of which apparently didn’t prevent him from creating what he needed for this episode.

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Robin starts freaking out pretty early in the episode – way to make a good first impression, Boy Blunder.

The episode opens on a sports highlight package that displays various performers collapsing in fear during their respective games. Dick Grayson is watching the program from his dorm when his roommate receives a telegram from a skinny, red-headed courier. I’ve got a pretty good memory, so I know who that guy is immediately (and the title card is a total give-away anyways). The telegram is from “a fan” and cautions Brian, Dick’s roommate and quarterback for the school’s football team, not to take fear lightly. When Robin is out on patrol with Batman he fills him in on the odd telegram, and they wonder if it has any connection to the odd things they’ve been seeing in the sports world, including his own roommate getting freaked out on the field. They fire off the first appearance of the crappy version of the grapple guns, the ones that just end in metal Batman logos and stab into the ledges. When Robin has a panic attack while confronting some goons, it tips off Batman that someone is poisoning the athletes and causing them to experience fear.

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Scarecrow’s new look is appropriate.

Some testing back at the lab confirms Batman’s hypothesis and naturally leads him to suspect The Scarecrow. They pay Arkham Asylum a visit where we get some cameos from the likes of Joker and Poison Ivy. Oddly enough, they’re all depicted in their regular villain attire instead of inmate jumpsuits. Batman arrives just as Dr. Crane’s food is being served and he witnesses an orderly tossing it in the garbage rather than delivering it to the appropriate inmate. Batman decides to check out Scarecrow’s cell, which the orderly really doesn’t want him to do, and he finds there’s a scarecrow there in his place. My guess is the writers/story boarders came up with this first and thus were pigeon-holed into putting the other villains in their regular attire as a result. All so they could have a scarecrow in place of The Scarecrow.

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When Brian hallucinates the animators get to have fun with some face-morphing animation to depict his fear.

Figuring out who is behind everything is obviously elementary. Dr. Crane is shown throughout the episode delivering the telegram and also collecting his winnings and each time he’s in disguise. This isn’t to hide the fact that it’s The Scarecrow from the viewer, but to seemingly hide his redesign which pays off when he scares his bookie’s hired muscle. We get an extreme closeup of his face where liberties are taken to add sharp, piranha like teeth to his mask and really make him look kind of freaky, at least I remember it being that way to me as a kid. And the guy he is scaring in that scene is voiced by Tim Curry, who was supposed to be The Joker before it was decided to go with Mark Hamill. They must have had him record some ancillary characters (Hamill voices the orderly in this episode) that they elected to keep. The real tension, I suppose, of the episode is Robin trying to overcome the fear toxin he was exposed to via his roommate’s telegram. He has a panic attack early that almost costs Batman dearly, and Batman has to kind of keep him at arm’s length for the confrontation with Scarecrow. Batman basically gives him tough love as there’s no cure for the toxin, you just need to power through until its effects ware off.

The Dynamic Duo figures out that Scarecrow is targeting the big Gotham Knights game. In a bit of hack story-telling, Batman and Robin’s “fight” with The Scarecrow is cut in sync with the actions of the football game, including Scarecrow’s vial being dropped cut with a fumble in the game. It’s stupid and the type of thing director’s can’t seem to resist when football pops into an action series (I remember contemporary series Rugrats doing something similar). There’s also a really long pass at one point in the game that’s animated to look more like a punt, making me wonder if the animators had ever seen American football (probably not). Since Scarecrow isn’t much of a physical threat, he’s caught rather easily once his threat to poison the entire arena is rendered toothless by Robin overcoming his fear and collecting the vial. Scarecrow suggests his one vial could have infected the whole stadium, which seems ludicrous. I guess since he was cornered in some scaffolding with no way out he could have just been lying in a desperate bid to escape, Batman seems to buy it though.

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Okay, now I’m scared.

“Fear of Victory” is an okay episode of Batman: The Animated Series. I like The Scarecrow and I like his new look, which he’ll hang onto until The New Batman Adventures. The little side story with Robin is fine and it makes sense since we’ve already seen Batman have to deal with the toxin, so why not Robin? It gives him some credibility since he does overcome it in the end, and since Batman doesn’t just tell him to stay home, it does tell us that Batman must value him as a sidekick. What is never really explained is just what drives Robin to actually accompany Batman on his various outings. Because his roommate got scared playing football? Okay. He’ll just kind of show up for no reason from time to time until season two. I prefer Batman as a solo act, so I’m fine with this arrangement and I’m fine with this episode.