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The New Batman Adventures – “Joker’s Millions”

Jokers-MillionsEpisode Number:  7 (92)

Original Air Date:  February 21, 1998

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance:  None

After starring in a segment of the series premiere, “Holiday Knights,” The Joker (Mark Hamill) returns to helm his own stand-alone episode. And for the first time, our little feature on this show is running up against continuity from the other DC Animated Universe show at the time – Superman. In the three part episode “World’s Finest,” Joker arrives in Metropolis to accept a contract from Lex Luther that would have paid him one billion dollars if he could kill Superman. He fails, and old Bats is partly responsible as this was the first crossover event for the two super heroes.

Joker had gone to Metropolis because he was having money problems back home. Considering he failed at taking out Superman, his woes have continued. Here we find a broke Joker taking unnecessary risks in order to acquire more cash to finance his unique lifestyle. These risks naturally put him at odds with Batman and the other vigilantes of Gotham. “Joker’s Millions” is based on a comic of the same name from 1952 and also shares some similarities with the 1985 film Brewster’s Millions. It’s largely a comedy piece, as Joker episodes tend to stray in that direction, only this time more so than usual.

The episode opens with Joker and Harley (Arleen Sorkin) robbing what appears to be an electronic’s convention or museum. Joker is seen running around decked out in a new purple trench coat and hat blasting away as civilians run around screaming. Joker is running from Batman and Batgirl and he doesn’t appear to be having his usual good time, especially when Batman lands a punch on his jaw. He runs out of ammo and soon comes across Harley who’s racing around as well. She informs him they’re all out of bullets forcing Joker into a game of fisticuffs with Batman, which he loses. He’s able to fool Batman and Batgirl momentarily after taking a hit to the eye. He lets out a scream and lets a fake eye hit the ground which soon explodes providing the duo enough of a cover to escape.

harley and joker flee


Harley is a bit irritated with Joker’s money problems.

Outside, Harley and Joker are shown speeding away in a rather mundane looking getaway car. As the two flee, they soon realize they forgot the cash they just attempted to steal and soon run out of gas. When Joker admonishes Harley for not filling the tank like he told her to, she responds that they’re broke and asks what she was supposed to do – fill the tank and then shoot the guy?! Joker responds with an emphatic “Yes!” as Harley bemoans their situation. Batman and the cops soon arrive and Joker is forced to eject. Unfortunately for Harley, he could only afford one ejector seat and she’s left behind to get arrested.

joker's inheritance


Joker gets the good news.

Joker is then shown arriving at the Chelsea Arms apartment building. It’s looking a lot worse from when we first saw it in “Double Talk.” Joker walks in and gets his mail while the super complains about his rent being late. He heads inside a rather dilapidated looking apartment and is greeted by his pet hyenas, Bud and Lou. Joker settles down on the couch and reads the letter the super gave him which informs him that a crime boss he never cared for, King Barlow, has passed on. Joker is amused to know this, but then grows excited when he finds out Barlowe has left him his entire fortune valued at 250 million dollars!

We then see a brief montage of sorts where Joker is shown using his new found wealth to hire some fancy lawyers to clear his name framed as a news piece. One is clearly a parody of Johnnie Cochran who offers up the line “If a man’s filled with glee, that man must go free!” A psychiatrist is also interviewed who claims he’s tested Joker rigorously and found he’s no longer a danger to society. When the interviewer points out the accusation that Joker is just bribing doctors and lawyers to say what he wants, the man insists such a notion is preposterous. As he does, the camera pans out to reveal the doctor is driving a fancy new car. This gag feels like something we would have seen on Animaniacs. The segment ends at the Batcave with Batgirl wondering if Joker will now go straight since he’s got plenty of money. Batman can only growl in response as he snaps some expensive looking object in half.

Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon are shown standing in line waiting to get into a swanky new club:  The Iceberg Lounge. The club is owned by none other than The Penguin (Paul Williams), making his first appearance with his new redesign. Penguin had previously been modeled after the version of the character seen in Batman Returns, but for The New Batman Adventures he’s been restored to his classic look which is that of a short, rotund, man with a long nose. He emerges from the club to say they’ve reached capacity forcing Barbara to use her status as the commissioner’s daughter to gain entry with Dick. Penguin, apparently wanting to keep the cops off of his back, acquiesces though not happily.

joker and new penguin


A more dignified Penguin on display.

Inside we see Joker seated at a table ordering food and drink. The club is massive and has an ice theme going on with a gigantic pool in its center inhabited by seals. Penguin shows up to Joker’s table to toast the old rogue to his good fortune and adding that living well is the best means of revenge when it comes to getting back at Batman. Dick and Barbara watch from their table almost in awe of what they’re witnessing. The party is soon crashed by some gun-wielding dudes. One of them had been shown previously as part of the news report on Joker’s inheritance. He was the bodyguard for Barlowe and was perplexed why the crime boss left Joker everything, considering he hated Joker, and left his beloved bodyguard with nothing. He’s come to take what he feels is rightfully is.

As Joker is held up, Batgirl and Nightwing make the save proving they are incredibly quick at changing into costume. A Nightwing shuriken strikes the former bodyguard in the back and sticks in there while another gets booted into the seal pool. These seals are apparently quite violent as they attack the man immediately. Joker applauds the two heroes and even tries to pay them a tip for looking after him. They crumple up the offering in their fists and drop it on the floor causing Joker to howl with laughter.

joker limo


Joker living the good life.

We then go into another montage of Joker enjoying his wealth. He’s bought a new mansion and is having it painted purple, enjoying some time on the golf course at the expense of Bruce Wayne, and is shown riding around in a limo tossing money out the back to a crowd of people chasing after him. Harley watches all of this on a television set in Arkham and is enjoying it thoroughly. When Ivy (Diane Pershing) questions why she’s so happy to see her old beau enjoying his wealth she responds because she’s certain he’ll come bust her out any day now. Ivy then shows her a full-page ad in the newspaper she’s reading which was placed by the Joker. It seems he’s looking for a new henchwoman, and Harley reacts to this in the only way she could be expected to.

Joker is then shown auditioning for his opening. Several individuals in Harley costumes are lined up as Joker dresses them down:  too fat, too old, too short, etc. One is clearly modeled after Paul Dini and Joker doesn’t even really dignify the poor sap with a response. He soon settles on a new Harley, who looks like the old one only taller and a bit more curvaceous. This new Harley (Maggie Wheeler) is a bit slow and mistakenly refers to Joker as Mr. G. She’s happy to have the job though and Joker is happy to have something to look at. Meanwhile, the real Harley is trying to escape Arkham via the laundry chute, but she just ends up trapped in a washing machine which is turned on.

paul dini quinn


Sadly, he didn’t get the job.

Joker is about to find out he has a new problem though. A man from the IRS shows up to inform Joker he owes them quite a bit of cash as part of an inheritance tax. The sum is around 140 million, and Joker is surprisingly panicky about having the IRS on his case. He even tells one of his henchmen he’d much rather have to deal with Batman than old Uncle Sam. As he and his crew start filling bags with stacks of bills to pay off the debt, Fake Harley notices something strange about the money. Joker takes a closer look and notices the face of one Ben Franklin is missing from his hundreds, replaced by the ugly smirk of King Barlowe. He soon finds a video tape buried under the cash and is forced to put it on.

The tape is a recording of Barlowe (Allan Rich) himself from his hospital bed informing Joker that he’s been had. He only left Joker 10 million bucks, and he guesses that by the time Joker found this tape he had already blown through it. The other cash and assorted valuables are all fake, and he has a good laugh at Joker’s expense for he knows the clown is much too prideful to admit he’s been made the butt of a joke. Joker is understandably irate at the revelation, and quickly starts trying to think of a way to make back some money. When henchman Ernie (Sam McMurray) suggests he repeat his laughing fish scheme, he yells at him for such a thing would alert Batman that he’s returned to crime. He needs to acquire cash using a method he’s never been good at:  subtlety.

fke joker


Not Joker.

Bruce Wayne is shown at Penguin’s club. Penguin greets him briefly, and Wayne soon spies Joker alone at his table. He approaches to have a chat and Joker suggests he doesn’t recognize him. Wayne reminds him he recently threw him off a building (referencing the events of “World’s Finest” again) and Joker seems flustered. The voice may be right, but this is clearly not Joker as his conventional eyes give it away. He mops at the sweat on his forehead revealing a normal flesh-color below the white makeup and retreats to the restroom. Inside, we see it’s actually Ernie posing as Joker and as he frets about trying to keep up this charade Batman shows up to confront him in a bathroom stall. He begins his interrogation, while Penguin listens from outside. He’s prepared to put a stop to this poor treatment of his patron by Batman, but a growl from Batman and a flushing toilet convinces him otherwise.

batman john


Well, at least if the sight of Batman caused Ernie to mess himself he was in the right place.

We’re then shown a bunch of odd looking armored cars as they drive onto a ferry. They’re gray and rather blocky and frequently their doors disappear in what is easily the shoddiest piece of animation I’ve come across in this series. The occupants of the vehicles step out and are confronted by some shadowy individuals with guns. These guns are packed with gas that knocks them out and Joker emerges from the shadows sporting a ship captain’s hat. Fake Harley is steering the vessel, as Joker soon turns his attention to the money inside.

joker captured again


Joker’s fun appears to be done.

The ship rocks causing Joker to bark out at Harley, but things are about to get worse as Batman, Batgirl, and Nightwing show up. The fight is surprisingly brief, and Joker finds his feet bound by a rope from Batgirl as he teeters on the edge of the ship. She thinks he’s trying to save some money that blew away over the side of the ship, but Joker corrects her by informing her he just wants to go with it. Batman pulls him back onto the ship and in a parting shot flips him a quarter and tells him to go call his fancy lawyers.

On shore, the cops take it from here. Joker is loaded into a police wagon in shackles and he seems to be in an all right mood. He remarks it will be good to see the old gang again as a female cop looks on from inside the back of the wagon with him. She soon leans into the light and reveals to Mr. J she ain’t no cop, but rather Harley Quinn. Joker is a bit concerned by this development and tries to play it cool, but as the wagon drives away we can hear the sounds of Harley wailing on Joker with a nightstick to bring this one to a conclusion.

harleys revenge


In an episode that’s basically all about comedy, it’s Harley who gets the last laugh.

“Joker’s Millions” is a very comedic episode of Batman. There’s the show’s trademark violence on display as Batman lands some solid blows on Joker early on, but most of the scenes are practically slapstick in nature. It is a bit amusing to see Joker out of cash and then to see him go on a spending spree. It’s also interesting to see him use money to essentially buy his freedom and go straight, even though it doesn’t necessarily fit the character. I suppose we can hand wave this one though as being short term. Had Joker really inherited all of that money he likely would have eventually returned to crime as just living a wealthy life would likely grow stale for old Mr. J. Likewise, the scenes of Harley from Arkham are all played for laughs, with the washing machine gag being especially cartoonish in nature.

Because so much of the episode is spent with Joker, there’s actually very little for the heroes to do. Wayne just happens to be in the right place at the right time to find the fake Joker, so there’s little detective work on display. As was the case with “Riddler’s Reform,” Batman just doesn’t buy Joker being reformed and essentially is harassing him by keeping tabs on him. It was fun to see the new Penguin on display though. I’m a bit surprised they didn’t recast him considering the drastic change to his appearance, but that would also be no reason to get rid of a fine voice actor like Paul Williams.

Ultimately, this episode is fine. While I look forward to something a bit more menacing from Joker given the new standards of the show, an occasional comedy episode is okay. And if you’re going to have a comedy episode, why not feature The Joker? It’s a bit hard to believe that Joker could ever be out of money, or that being out of cash would be a problem for him, though it’s also even more unlikely he could rent an apartment anywhere. I’ll ignore that though, just like the episode basically is asking me to ignore the fact that Harley and Joker have once again patched things up offscreen. Their relationship is combative here, and I think that’s what can be expected going forward. The nice thing is that Harley now gives as good as she gets so things don’t seem so one-sided anymore.

We’re actually not going to hear a lot from Joker during this run of the series. He’ll be mentioned in a few episodes, and his likeness shows up in the anthology episode “Legends of the Dark Knight.” His next outing is actually a flashback in the episode “Old Wounds” and his real next episode isn’t until episode 21, the classic “Mad Love.” Too much Joker is obviously not a good thing, but I have a feeling I’m going to wish there was a bit more of him.

 

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The New Batman Adventures – “Double Talk”

tnba double talkEpisode Number:  4 (89)

Original Air Date:  November 22, 1997

Directed by:  Curt Geda

Written by:  Robert Goodman

First Appearance:  None

“Double Talk” brings back another villain from the first iteration of this show:  Scarface. For the first time in this animated universe, The Ventriloquist is also given a name:  Arnold Wesker. Scarface was last seen in the episode “Catwalk” when he was once again destroyed and Wesker was sent off to Arkham for rehabilitation. This time, it’s going to work and Wesker gets his own rehab story which would have fit in quite well with the back half of season two. And like all of the villains from the prior series, he comes with a redesign. The prior version of Wesker was a short, bald, middle-aged man with glasses. This version appears a bit taller and is even more bald than before. His hair is almost completely gone save for these Abe Simpson-esque stray hairs on the side of his head. His head is also no longer pear-shaped and looks more like a thumb. It’s hard to tell where the head ends and the neck begins. His glasses are also transparent now instead of opaque and beneath them are just two dots for eyes. He sports a more casual gray suit with no tie and an unbuttoned collar as opposed to a tuxedo. All in all, it seems like not much of a drastic redesign on paper, and yet he’s basically unrecognizable without his dummy.

Scarface is also redesigned trading his blue pin-striped suit for a white one. He has black hair now and his scar runs the whole length of his face even going over his eye. He’s ditched the cigar and his tommy gun is now basically a full-sized one instead of a custom, tiny, one fit for a dummy. He’s a bit bland compared with the prior version as overall his design has been greatly simplified, but again, not a huge difference really.

wesker's nightmare

Scarface is back and now the stuff of nightmares.

The episode opens at Arkham Asylum. Or at least it appears to. We soon see Wesker (George Dzundza) passing through a darkened doorway. He turns to regard a chest behind him, and it soon starts to bang around. He runs and the scenery grows more surreal as it becomes obvious we’re witnessing a nightmare. Soon the Scarface voice is heard emanating from the chest, and even Scarface’s old henchmen Mugsy (Townsend Coleman) and Rhino (Earl Boen) make an appearance. Wesker eventually wakes up in his cell and sits on the edge of his bed. He looks to a piece of paper on his nightstand which is an official declaration claiming he’s been rehabilitated.

arnold therapy

The Ventriloquist has a name and it’s Arnold Wesker.

The next day, Wesker meets with Dr. Leland (Suzanne Stone) and tells her about his nightmare. It’s good to see he’s not hiding it, but Dr. Leland is unconcerned. She tells him it’s natural for him to be experiencing some anxiety about his condition as he prepares for his reintroduction to society. She mentions he’s been healthy for six months which is all the state requires. Wesker is then shown moving into a halfway house that’s apparently owned by Bruce Wayne, or sponsored by him, as it’s called Wayne Gardens. The woman running the place, Mrs. Segar (Patty Maloney) shows him his room and mentions he has a job at Wayne Enterprises as well. Wesker theorizes he must have a guardian angel looking out for him, but the camera pans to reveal Batman listening in from the fire escape and it’s obvious who is really looking out for him.

bruce meets arnold

I wonder if he always greets the new employees.

Lucius Fox (now voiced by Mel Winkler replacing Brock Peters) and Bruce Wayne are at work overseeing the delivery of some bearer bonds (which you know are going to eventually be stolen). Wesker strolls by pushing a mail cart and Wayne introduces himself. He tells Wesker he should be proud of himself for his rehabilitation and Wesker says that he is, and comes across rather convincing. That night though, he looks concerned as he heads to the bus stop and justifiably so apparently. Mugsy and Rhino approach and ask where Mr. Scarface is. Wesker insists he’s gone and that he wants nothing to do with them, but they’re persistent. Batman then swoops in and goes after Rhino. The two trade punches and Mugsy makes a couple of attempts to get in some offense but is dispatched effortlessly. Wesker runs off, while Batman eventually gains control of the situation and warns the two that Wesker is off limits.

mugsy and rhino

Mugsy and Rhino are very dependent on and loyal to a dummy.

Wesker returns to his apartment and grabs a glass of water from the faucet. I assume it’s water, since it came from a faucet, but the liquid looks almost white and is opaque. Maybe Arnie should invest in a water filter when he gets that first pay check. He then hears Scarface taunting him and drops the glass causing it to smash on the floor. He assumes a rather pitiful position kneeling on the floor clutching his ears as he attempts to drive away the voice.

wesker park

What are the odds? I mean, really, how often do you ventriloquists in the park?

The next day, a somewhat refreshed looking Wesker is strolling through the park (be on the lookout for the very quick Lois and Clark cameo in the background). I think this is our first outdoor scene in the new show at daytime. The sky, and all of the surrounding buildings, are colored yellow instead of red and black to brighten the image. Wesker sees a man working a ventriloquist dummy for some kids (that’s one crazy coincidence) and of course Wesker sees Scarface’s visage when the dummy turns towards him. He then runs to catch his bus, but sees Scarface in the window and doesn’t get on. At work, he’s distant and unnerved as he pushes the mail cart and haphazardly delivers the letters to other employees. He eventually tips the cart over and as he picks up the mail he notices a letter addressed to Dummy. It’s a note from Scarface telling him to be at his phone at 9 o’clock. Wayne notices Wesker and tries to talk to him but he runs away leaving Wayne to find the discarded envelop on the ground.

phone booth

Kids watching this will say “What the hell is that?” and they won’t be talking about the dummy.

That night, Wesker sits nervously by his phone. Sure enough, it rings, but he lets the answering machine get it. What he hears is Mr. Scarface ordering him to pick up the phone. He does, and as he’s instructed that they’re getting the gang back together we see Batman listening in. Wesker can’t believe what he’s hearing, and Scarface tells him to look across the street. In a phone booth, the outline of Scarface can be seen further unnerving Wesker. Batman sees it too, but before he can get to it the dummy vanishes. He picks up its trail though and we get the somewhat comical visual of Scarface actually running from Batman and firing his gun as well. Batman chases him into a stone factory of some kind where it looks like statues are prepared. He spots Scarface high up on a structure, but as he gets to it he’s smacked with a swinging block of stone. The dummy fires from above at Batman and drops a statue on him for good measure. Batman is able to avoid serious injury, but Scarface escapes.

Batman is then shown filling Batgirl in on what happened back at the Batcave. She’s confused at how this could be happening, but Batman distinctly heard Scarface on the phone with Wesker. He’s forced to conclude that someone is posing as Scarface to try and bring the persona out from within Wesker, and there’s really only two suspects for who that could be.

scarface is back

It must feel good to get that whole forearm back in there.

We then see Wesker arriving home and shutting off the lights and closing his blinds. He rips the phone out of the wall in a bid to avoid Scarface entirely. Unfortunately, someone has placed a new Scarface dummy on his couch, and Wesker is unable to resist the temptation to pick the dummy up and return it to his left arm. He then heads to the old hideout and finds Mugsy and Rhino. They seem almost surprises at first, but Scarface is back and he’s got a job for them.

At a rather sad looking apartment building, a little person is shown heading for his apartment. He stops to swipe his neighbors newspaper and milk delivery before heading in and is soon confronted by Batman and Batgirl. It would seem this fellow is Hips McManus (Billy Barty) a small-time crook (no pun intended) who was hired to play Scarface by Mugsy and Rhino, in case you hadn’t figured that out yet. Johnny Tight-lips he ain’t, as almost without any effort from Batman he spills the beans on a job Scarface and the boys are to undertake that evening.

scarface leaves scar

Scarface likes to leave scars, it would seem.

And that job? Why the bearer bonds – what else? Scarface has Lucius Fox at gunpoint and forces him to open the vault where the bonds are being kept. Fox can’t believe a dummy is threatening him, and he makes the mistake of trying to ignore Scarface and talk to the others which earns him a smack across the face with Scarface’s gun leaving a mark on his cheek. Fox opens the vault, and is then knocked out for his troubles as Mugsy and Rhino grab what they came for. Batman and Batgirl then show up, but when Scarface holds Fox hostage, they’re forced to obey. Scarface locks them in the vault and tosses a ticking time bomb in there for good measure. With less than a minute to work with there’s no time to hack the electronic lock forcing Batman to get crafty. He rips off a vent cover (which seems like a pretty obvious security flaw for a vault) and fires his grapple gun down it. He then affixes the handle to the bomb and presses the retract button. He and Batgirl take cover as the bomb explodes deep within the ventilation system.

mugsy and rhino betrayed

Mugsy and Rhino finding out they ain’t so smart after all.

On the roof, Scarface and his boys are making their escape. As they head across a catwalk, Scarface orders the men to stop and toss him the bonds. Confused, they obey as they then stare down the barrel of Scarface’s tommy gun. He scolds them for trying to bring him out on their own. He claims he was laying low until the heat was off Wesker and then he was going to re-emerge, but these two forced his hand. He remarks that when the muscle starts thinking it’s the brain, it’s time to amputate. Then for some reason, maybe he just likes explosives, he opts to toss another bundle of dynamite at Mugsy and Rhino rather than just shoot them. It explodes destroying the catwalk the pair were standing on. They grab onto the remains as it swings towards the opposite building. As they hang precariously, only then does Scarface open fire.

weskers revenge

A Batarang knocks the dummy from Wesker as Batman and Batgirl jump in. Batgirl goes off to save the two clowns, while Batman works on reasoning with Wesker. Scarface orders him to take out Batman and retrieve him, and Wesker initially grabs the gun. As Scarface taunts him, and Batman pleads with him, Wesker hesitates, but eventually he turns the gun on Scarface. The dummy gets sucked into a giant fan destroying it once again.

Wesker is then shown at the apartment of Mrs. Segar. She mentions she’s glad he’s doing better and encourages Arnold to seek out the other tenants, maybe check out the rec room (sounds like an invite for something else, Arnie). Wesker mentions that Mr. Wayne gave him his job back, so I’m not sure if this is all immediate or following another stay at Arkham. Anyway, Wesker says he will take her up on the offer eventually, but for now he’s happy being alone for a change indicating he might finally be rid of Mr. Scarface.

bye bye scarface

The last we’ll see of old Mr. Scarface.

And what do you know? This actually is a happy ending for a change as Scarface will not be heard from again. Wesker apparently was able to rehabilitate himself and unlike, say Harley Quinn, was not discouraged by the setbacks he initially experienced. Which is a good thing as I was getting a bit frustrated with Batman while I watched the episode. He knew someone was just toying with Wesker, and yet he never told him. It felt like that would have solved a lot of problems right there. No matter, I suppose. This was actually a pretty well told story and early contender for best episode of The New Batman Adventures. It won’t remain that way as I know of at least one episode to come that I enjoy more than this one, but that doesn’t diminish this one in any way. Which is somewhat surprising as I’ve never been enamored with the Scarface character, but the show has found interesting things to do with him.

ventriloquist reformed

The first successful rehabilitation in the history of Arkham Asylum!

As I mentioned in the opening paragraphs, the redesigns for Wesker and Scarface are not particularly drastic in principle, but they still look fairly different. Wesker in particular is almost unrecognizable when compared with his old design. I don’t really like this version and find him to be rather ugly. I’m not saying he is an ugly man, but rather there’s nothing stylistically about the character that I like. I do appreciate though that the animators didn’t play so fast and loose with the Scarface character this time. Every time a limb moves it’s clear that Wesker is doing it. Wesker’s lips still never so much as quiver when Scarface speaks, but that’s all right since he’s basically supposed to be the world’s greatest ventriloquist. I do miss Scarface’s little baby gun though. Also, it’s a nice touch that the two little people depicted in this episode, Mrs. Segar and Hips McManus, are voiced by actual little people. It’s also neat that a character like Mrs. Segar exists and her physical appearance isn’t a part of the plot at all. She’s just a little person. Though she might exist to offer a positive portrayal of a little person since a not so positive one existed within the plot in the person of McManus.

As for Scarface, I can’t say he’ll be missed, but he also wasn’t a dud like some of the other villains to come and go. He was fine and managed to contribute without overstaying his welcome. He was starting to become a bit too frequent a character in season two so I’m glad he won’t be utilized like that in this series. Ultimately, he did his job. And a lot credit goes to actor George Dzundza who is great in the role of both Wesker and Scarface. The two voices are so distinct that I assumed as a kid they cheated and hired two actors for the role. Unlike Scarface, the contributions of Dzundza will indeed be missed.

 


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.

 


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.

caught by the shark

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.

the would be assassin

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.

nevins

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.