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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.

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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.


Batman: The Animated Series Blu-ray Collection

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

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

img_2908

A lot of stuff.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The first page.

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


Batman: The Animated Series – “Fear of Victory”

Fear_of_Victory-Title_CardEpisode Number:  24

Original Air Date:  September 29, 1992

Directed by:  Dick Sebast

Written by:  Samuel Warren Joseph

First Appearance(s):  None

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

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

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

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

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Scarecrow’s new look is appropriate.

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

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

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

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

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Okay, now I’m scared.

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


Batman: Mask of the Phantasm Blu Ray

Batman-Mask-of-the-Phantasm-Blu-rayI’ve written about Batman: Mask of the Phantasm on more than one occasion, often in glowing terms. I dubbed it the definitive take on the Batman character for film and ranked it pretty highly on my list of best Batman movies of all time. In addition to that, I did a straight-up review of the film as well. Most of these articles are old by the standards of this blog, but all of those write-ups were based on the DVD release of the film. It’s taken Warner years to finally put this film on Blu Ray, but it’s finally here and I’m going to tell you about it.

Now since I’ve already done an actual review of the film, I’m not going to go into much detail though I did re-read my review and I have some embellishments I can make in order to pad this post out. The Blu Ray itself is what is important for this post. Mask of the Phantasm is a film I always felt would benefit from a high-definition transfer because of all of the deep blacks, particularly in the backgrounds. The DVD release was an old one and not particularly good by the standards of DVD. It was re-released in multi-packs with the direct-to-video Batman films based on the animated series and I don’t know if any of those were handled better than the version I have. As far as the transfer goes, the Mask of the Phantasm Blu Ray is a mixed bag. My assumption the blacks would benefit was spot-on. Not only are they rich, but the deep blue of Batman’s cape looks great as well and the animation is nice and fluid. Sadly, there’s some blurring that takes place, particularly early in the film. I’m not sure if it persisted throughout at times and I just became engrossed in the plot or if it was confined to the beginning of the picture. Either way, it’s disappointing the transfer isn’t better.

The other disappointing aspect of the release is the complete lack of special features. The DVD did the same as both only include a standard definition version of the trailer for the film and nothing else. I find it hard to believe the likes of Paul Dini and Bruce Timm weren’t interested in doing something for this release, be it a commentary or a short piece on the making of the film. The subpar transfer and lack of special features really makes it feel like Warner cared little about the integrity of this release, which is a shame because it’s a film deserving of more respect.

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What you see is what you get.

And what a film it is! In re-watching it for this write-up I’m just reminded of how well it gets the Batman character. Seeing Bruce’s early years as a vigilante really drives home the tragedy of the Batman character. And I don’t mean the sad origin of Batman, but in how Bruce has given up any chance at a healthy life by committing to being Batman. He’s fighting an un-winnable battle to rid Gotham of crime and foregoing marriage, children, and the simple pleasures of life. He’s unquestionably doing good in the community and helping people, but it’s probably not a fulfilling lifestyle.

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The Joker could have felt tacked-on to give the film a recognizable villain, but his inclusion pays off

The other aspect of this film that really merits praise, because it feels overlooked in light of The Dark Knight, is its depiction of The Joker. The Joker of the cartoon series is somewhat of a cornball. There’s some danger to the character, but standards and practices kind of holds him back. He’s overshadowed by the likes of Mr. Freeze and Two-Face as far as memorable villains go. Instead he’s kind of the old reliable stand-by for Batman as decades of Joker material from the comics means it’s relatively easy to come up with a decent episode. Here we get The Joker that the animated series probably wanted to give us, but couldn’t. He’s still a nut, but so much more menacing. There’s a real tension in his scenes because he feels unpredictable. Is he going to aid a character? Kill him? What’s his endgame? It’s a shame he doesn’t share screen time with a character we as an audience are invested in, instead he’s paired with scum and we don’t mind if Joker opts to murder them. And what more can be said of Mark Hamill’s performance as The Joker? He’ll always be my favorite.

What we have here is a mixed bag, a great film undermined by a mediocre release. Even so, the Blu Ray is an easy recommend for those who do not have the film already, especially if you’re into Batman and you’ve never seen it. It may be a brief experience, but it’s worthwhile. For those like me who already had the DVD, it’s a tougher sell. This strikes me as a release that will be discounted to the ten dollar bin by this time next year, so maybe waiting on it is the right move if you’re not eager to re-watch. If you’re perfectly happy with the DVD then sure, feel free to pass on this one. I don’t feel burned by it, but I do feel like at 19.99 it’s probably five bucks too expensive. Next year is the film’s 25th anniversary so perhaps there’s an outside shot of Warner doing a more robust release, but I kind of doubt it. This is probably all we’ll get with maybe a future two-pack coming along with an HD transfer of Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero, but I doubt that would feature any additional content aside from the films themselves.


#8 Best in TV Animation: Gargoyles

disney-has-gargoyles-legally-streaming-on-youtube-socialWhen I started this feature I swear I did not intend to list the best cartoons aimed at children, that’s just how it’s worked out so far. I promise the next few are going to trend older. That said, Gargoyles is a pretty terrific show whether you’re 8 or 18. The show borrowed heavily from comics and was obviously influenced by the likes of Batman and X-Men. Like most cartoons geared towards boys, the show featured plenty of action but also contained plenty of drama. It asked a lot of its viewers, opting for a more serialized narrative structure with numerous callbacks to older episodes. Sometimes, plots required multiple episodes to develop and pay-off which is probably one reason why the show aired weekdays as opposed to Saturday mornings (though the final season was moved to Saturdays). Lastly, as a Disney produced and developed cartoon show, the program featured slick animation and stellar production values all around.

Gargoyles first began airing in 1994 and centered around the character Goliath, the leader of a clan of Gargoyles displaced by time and forced to adapt to life in New York City. The premise for the show was established over the first five episodes and the lore of the world is firmly established here. Gargoyles are beast-like creatures that are active at night, and stone by day. During the middle ages they protected a castle inhabited by humans in Scotland but were betrayed with most of the gargoyles destroyed while they slept. Magic is also a part of this world, and the remaining gargoyles that survived the attack were placed under a spell that would keep them stone until the castle they inhabited rose above the clouds. Of course, this would happen when a man by the name of David Xanatos purchased the castle and placed it atop a skyscraper in New York.

MacBeth is one of the more prominent antagonists in the series.

MacBeth is one of the more prominent antagonists in the series.

Over the resulting episodes, the gargoyles would come to view Xanatos as an enemy, as well as many others. Surviving outside of the curse is Goliath’s old flame, Demona, a female gargoyle who is like the Magneto to Goliath’s Xavier. She wishes to exterminate humanity while Goliath sees value in forging alliances with people and serving as their protectors. Goliath and his clan, consisting of fellow gargoyles Hudson, Broadway, Lexington, Brooklyn, and Bronx, forge a bond with detective Elisa Maza and basically become protectors of New York. They don’t run around like Batman, but their presence draws out and attracts the attention of various foes, many from the past. Some are more interesting than others. Throughout the series, Demona is a worthy foe for the clan. She’s ruthless and cunning, and even though she often finds herself on the losing side the writers manage to maintain her credibility as a villain. MacBeth is another stand-out foe. He and Demona share a bond as a result of a curse and neither one can die unless the other is killed which makes for an interesting dynamic. MacBeth is no friend to Goliath and company, leading to numerous instances where the gargoyles are caught between MacBeth and Demona, who despise one another.

Stylistically, the show is quite dark. This is to be expected since the primary protagonists are only active at night. The gothic influence in the look and music invite comparisons to another well-regarded cartoon; Batman: The Animated Series. So natural was the likeness that Batman producer Bruce Timm was asked about the show more than once and was said to be not a fan of Gargoyles. The tone of the show was certainly quite serious, even melodramatic. The serialized nature of the show and the human/gargoyle dynamic make it seem more comparable to X-Men, particularly the first two seasons. There’s even a beauty and the beast vibe going on (and the allusions were quite literal in one episode) between Elisa and Goliath. Their relationship starts off professional early on and gradually develops into something more. If you’re looking for pay-off though, you’ll have to consult the not safe for work fan-fiction of a few a diehards (you may want to enable safe search between doing a google image search of Elisa and Goliath) scattered across the internet.

Goliath and Elisa share a bond bordering on love that only intensifies as the series goes on.

Goliath and Elisa share a bond bordering on love that only intensifies as the series goes on.

One thing that Gargoyles did that I can appreciate is that it added to its cast. In X-Men, several mutants and other heroes would cameo on various episodes. These characters, like Archangel and Nightcrawler, were members of the team in the comics but would never join the roster on the television show. This used to bug me, though I understand why the show runners would want to try and keep the cast as manageable as possible. Gargoyles expanded its roster during the second season and it was cool to see. Villains were also eliminated or changed while others, like Xanatos, would become grayer as the series progressed.

Where the show opens itself up for criticism is within its tone and scope. Two things that I consider a strength, do sometimes bog it down. The show is so grim at times it feels joyless. There’s moments for comedic relief but not a lot when compared with contemporary programs. The show also became burdened with the lore it created, particularly during the last half of season two, and sometimes the show felt like it was becoming too big for its own good. It’s no surprise that the show kind of fizzled out towards the end and the final third season is rather poor.

Gargoyles earns its place on my list of top animated television shows because it scores very well across the board, even though it doesn’t quite knock-it-out-of-the-park in any one category. Though maybe I should amend that last sentiment because I’ve underplayed how stellar the animation is for a televised program. The first season especially is borderline feature-film worthy, which is something Batman can’t even boast. Gargoyles is a really unique program when compared with the other Disney Afternoon shows and it would be nice to see Disney try to revive the franchise in at least a small way (cough KingdomHeartsThree cough).

If you’re interested in reading more of my thoughts on Gargoyles, you can fine reviews for the three DVD releases here, here, and here as well as read my arguments for why it should be included in a popular gaming franchise here. Enjoy.


Gargoyles: Season One

Gargoyles - The Complete First Season (2004)

Gargoyles – The Complete First Season (2004)

In the early 90’s, Fox cornered the market when it came to television shows for young demographics, particularly boys in that 7-12 age group.  They had hit shows with Batman The Animated Series, X-Men, and Power Rangers and their Saturday morning programming was unrivaled.  Batman, in particular, ushered in an era of cartoons where the writers didn’t feel like they had to dumb-down the show to please its audience.  The stories were mostly grounded within the fantasy world the show created, while X-Men wasn’t afraid of creating serialized episodes that asked more from its viewers.  These weren’t stand-alone episodes with the same throw-away clichés prevalent in most children’s programming.  And while the shows were, first and fore-most, children’s shows they didn’t make adults feel like idiots for watching.

Disney, by contrast, had seen its viewership decline.  The once popular Disney Afternoon programming was mostly content to keep things the same.  Duck Tales and Tailspin were successful early on, and Darkwing Duck was Disney’s own answer to Batman but with a comedic core.  If Darkwing Duck was supposed to reel in Batman viewers then Disney missed the point.  Putting a cape and mask on a character and having him fight crime isn’t what people tuned into Batman for.  Those viewers wanted to see the show take itself seriously, present real threats, and overall just make it a credible show.  Disney needed a show that matched Batman’s tone and not his costume, so they turned to comic book writer Greg Weisman and from that relationship came Gargoyles.

Gargoyles could be described as modern fantasy mixed with Greek tragedy.  Stylistically, the show is reminiscent of the aforementioned Batman and X-Men with similarities to contemporary cartoon Jim Lee’s Wild C.A.T.S.  The color palette is muted with lots of deep violets and blues and plenty of black.  The first season has a split setting between modern-day New York and turn of the first millennium Scotland.  The gargoyles, lead by the hulking Goliath, are a humanoid, bat-like race that spends the daylight hours encased in stone and owns the night.  In 994 Scotland, they’re protectors of a castle inhabited by humans that, for the most part, view the gargoyles in an unfavorable light.  When the gargoyle clan finds itself betrayed by those it trusted, most are smashed to death during the day while the few survivors are magically encased within stone until the castle they inhabit rises above the clouds.

The Manhattan Clan (left to right):  Lexington, Brooklyn, Goliath, Hudson, and Broadway.

The Manhattan Clan (left to right): Lexington, Brooklyn, Goliath, Hudson, and Broadway.

The existence of the extraordinary gargoyle race is all but wiped away from history, but one noted wealthy individual by the name of David Xanatos, is well-aware of their past.  It is he who purchases the castle along with the gargoyles and moves them to Manhattan where he places it atop a massive skyscraper, thus ending the spell placed upon them.  The rest of the first season deals with the gargoyles coming to terms with what happened to them a thousand years ago and finding a way to relate to this new, modern world and find their place in it.  Themes of tragedy, isolation, trust, family, and acceptance help frame the show.  In this there are many similarities to X-Men as both the gargoyles and mutants find themselves as unwelcomed protectors of humanity.  Their isolation, seemingly alone in this world with the exception of their one human ally, Elisa, helps evoke the Batman similarities.

Detective Elisa Maza heads the short list of allies for the Manhattan Clan.

Detective Elisa Maza heads the short list of allies for the Manhattan Clan.

The remaining gargoyles, now known as the Manhattan Clan, are a small group of varying personalities.  Goliath is the unquestioned leader.  He’s noble, proud and a bit stubborn at times.  He’s always learning and isn’t immune to mistakes, but he does everything with purpose and conviction.  Hudson is the elder statesman of the clan and its former leader.  He prefers to stay on the sidelines and leave the fighting to the younger gargoyles.  Brooklyn, Broadway, and Lexington are the younger members of the clan and rookery mates, which is gargoyle speak for siblings.  Brooklyn is a curious sort who seems to model himself after Goliath while Lexington is consumed by modern technology.  The gluttonous Broadway is sometimes relegated to comic relief though the show mostly avoid slapstick and jokes.  Rounding out the clan is the dog-like Bronx who is the only gargoyle incapable of speech and lacking in wings.  Detective Elisa Maza is the sole ally of the gargoyles in season one.  She’s a strong-willed character who is able to give the gargoyles leads on the goings-on of their enemies while also sometimes acting as almost a mentor to Goliath.

Much like the clan itself, the rogues gallery for the show is kept fairly compact for the first season.  It’s dominated by Xanatos, who poses as an ally early on to the clan but is soon revealed as duplicitous and self-serving.  His main weapons are cunning and money, but he also possesses some high-tech weaponry including his own cybernetic army of gargoyles.  He splits time as the main foe for the clan with Demona, Goliath’s former lover who was complicit in the destruction of their clan a thousand years ago.  While her intentions were without malice, her persona is consumed with a bloodlust for humanity as she blames them for their near extinction.  She is the Magneto to Goliath’s Charles Xavier.  Other villains include the sportsmen MacBeth and the television actors turned criminals The Pack, a group of men and women who fashion their personas after wild canines.

Demona, Goliath's former lover, is one of the primary antagonists for season one and beyond.

Demona, Goliath’s former lover, is one of the primary antagonists for season one and beyond.

The show opens with a very ambitious five-part mini-series titled “Awakening” (it was also released direct-to-video as Gargoyles:  The Movie) that sets up the series.  Right from the start, viewers are able to get a sense of the large-scale story-telling the show is aiming for while also being able to take in the peak of the show’s production values.  The animation quality is a grade above the usual afternoon cartoon fare, making it possibly the best looking cartoon of the mid 90’s.  The score is also exemplary and the voice acting contains notable actors such as Keith David (Goliath, various voices) and Edward Asner (Hudson) as well as numerous vets of various Star Trek programs.  Following the five-part debut, the show mostly settles into stand-alone episodes that also call upon happenings in previous ones.  Each gargoyle, with the exception of Bronx, is basically given his own episode to star in which helps the viewers get better acquainted with each one individually.  It’s similar to the tactic utilized by X-Men in season two and is an effective way to flesh out an ensemble cast.  There are thirteen episodes in total for season one, and pretty much all of them are good.  Some standouts include “Deadly Force,” which stresses the importance of gun safety without being ham-fisted (possibly created because main character Elisa is shown wielding realistic weaponry as opposed to fantasy, laser type devices).  “Her Brother’s Keeper” helps define what family means to the gargoyles and how it’s not so different from what it means to humans.  “Reawakening” is the bookend for the season and is a satisfying conclusion for the show’s first major arch.

Xanatos would be the other main foe for the gargoyles.

Xanatos would be the other main foe for the gargoyles.

What I appreciate most about the show is its commitment to realism.  This is a show starring unreal creatures but it takes them very seriously.  Their culture is defined as is their biology when Goliath points out early on that they can’t fly, merely glide on air currents.  As previously mentioned, Elisa is armed with a realistic handgun as are most of the police force.  Many of the villains do use lasers and other such fantasy fare but they come across as credible, in part due to a willingness to throw around phrases like “Die!” at their targets.  And when it’s called for, the show is not afraid to show blood which helps add severity to a scene.  The show also wasn’t afraid to be a little progressive as it’s revealed (casually) that Elisa is of mixed-race, having a white father and black mother.  And if you’re a fan of keeping movies and television as they were, you’ll be happy to know that the numerous shots of the New York skyline have not been edited to remove the twin towers.  Recent shows like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Beware the Batman have mostly empty city streets and lifeless scenery, it was refreshing to watch Gargoyles with its fully realized and very much alive New York.

The DVD release for season one is fairly basic.  There are animated menu screens depicting the gargoyles emerging from their stone prisons accompanied by music and sound effects.  The transfer is of good quality for this type of release and the case is a standard DVD case with a hinged insert for the second disc.  Bonus features include the original show pitch by Weisman which is worth a look just to see the original designs of the gargoyles.  There’s also a brief feature on The Gathering of the Gargoyles, a convention that used to be held in the US for fans of the show, that I suppose is worth a look though it’s basically just a bunch of fanboys and girls gushing over the program.  There’s also audio commentary on the fist five episodes, but I have yet to check it out (and probably won’t as it’s just not my kind of thing).

The show did not shy away from placing its characters in real danger.

The show did not shy away from placing its characters in real danger.

Gargoyles felt overlooked during its hey-day and today feels kind of like a forgotten series.  This is due, in part, to Disney’s stubbornness over releasing the entire series on DVD.  Season one was released in 2004 with the first half of season two following in 2005.  The rest of season 2 was in limbo until recently when it was released quietly as part of the Disney Movie Club.  Still remaining are the thirteen episodes from the abbreviated season three, rebranded as The Goliath Chronicles .  While fans would likely appreciate having those thirteen released, all but the season premiere were done without Weisman and thus are not considered canon by him for the show’s storyline, which lived on in comic book form for a short while following the show’s cancellation.  Unlike many cartoons from my youth that I have chosen to revisit, Gargoyles still holds up and impressed me a great deal.  I would love to see Disney revisit the show with Weisman for either a short fourth season or direct-to-video movie to provide additional closure.  Expect to see more of Gargoyles from me as I make my way through both volumes of season 2.