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Batman: The Animated Series – “House & Garden”

house and garden title cardEpisode Number:  70

Original Air Date:  May 2, 1994

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  None

It’s taken a few episodes, but we’ve finally arrived at our first “special” episode of the second season. That’s not to say the first five have been bad, they’ve just been a tad underwhelming. “House & Garden” puts the show back into a role it’s best suited for in which it takes a villain and applies a sympathetic edge to the character. Sounds simple, right? It’s not so easy though as the villain does need to earn our sympathy and it’s on the writers and animators to pull that off. Good thing then we have Paul Dini on this one, who has written some of the show’s best thus far. And the subject this time around, and the title probably gives it away, is Poison Ivy (Diane Pershing) once again. In her final appearance in the original series as a featured villain, Ivy demonstrates that the old adage “save the best for last” still applies. And that’s no small statement, as I’m a big fan of her debut episode “Pretty Poison” and her team-up with Harley Quinn was one of the most entertaining episodes of season one. She’s basically played the part of small-time eco-terrorist without much of a relatable aspect to her personality making her the perfect candidate for an episode like this one.

The episode opens on a giant creature infiltrating an apartment building. He’s shadowed, but it’s obvious he’s pretty imposing and probably not human. It’s obviously fairly smart as it knows where to locate a safe in the residence, and when the creature is interrupted by the presumed owner of this dwelling, it takes him out quickly and flees with the loot. At the police department sometime later, Gordon and a police scientist are examining the facts on the crime we just witnessed. Some green residue was left behind that the scientist identifies as a plant-based poison. Batman emerges from the shadows to name the one suspect we’re all thinking:  Poison Ivy. Normally, Gordon is one to go with Batman’s hunch, but this time he tells the Dark Knight to think again. Apparently Poison Ivy, real name Pamela Isley, was recently released from Arkham. She was able to complete her post-release therapy and even ended up marrying her therapist, Steven Carlyle (Peter Strauss).

mr and mrs carlyle

The happy couple.

This is probably the episode’s lone weak point as it’s hard to believe that Batman would not be up to date on the whereabouts of one of his famous adversaries. The guy prides himself on being up to date with the criminal underworld, and him not knowing that Ivy not only was released, but married, stretches belief. Nonetheless, Batman needs to see for himself so he and Gordon pay the new Mrs. Carlyle a visit. There they meet Steven, as well as Pamela’s step sons Chris (Scott McAfee) and Kelly (Christopher Pickering). She expresses an understanding that she would naturally be a suspect in these crimes given the circumstances, but insists she’s innocent and is quite content with her new life as a wife and mother. Steven stands up for his wife as well, and with Gordon convinced, Batman is forced to concede it’s possible the former villain has reformed.

Our setting then shifts to Gotham University where Dick Grayson (Loren Lester) is putting the moves on a co-ed by the name of Cindy (Megan Mulally). As one assumes happens to Dick often, his potential romance is put on hold by a phone call from Batman. It would seem that Dr. Carlyle is a professor at Gotham U and Batman wants some info on him. Dick knows him, and even had a class with him, and he agrees to keep an eye on him. When the call is over, Dick notices a shadow in his room. He at first thinks it’s Cindy and he’s probably ready to turn back on that old Grayson charm, but it turns out to be the creature from before. He trashes the room and batters Dick, who didn’t see it coming.

bruce attacked

Damn backseat drivers.

The police are called to Dick’s dorm as the ward of Bruce Wayne has been kidnapped. Cindy is there speaking with the police in hysterics and Bruce is there as well. Gordon tells Wayne he worries this may be an extortion scheme, which Bruce seems to take seriously. Later, he’s shown driving in his car when the creature (Jim Cummings) that abducted Dick pops up from behind him. He was hiding out in the backseat of Bruce’s car, and we get a good look at him. He resembles a human cactus with spikes for fingers which are placed perilously close to Bruce’s neck. He demands five million dollars and instructs Bruce to meet him at the docks at midnight or Dick’s life is forfeit.

batman caught in the act

This seems to happen to Batman a lot when he messes with Ivy.

The creature escapes, and Bruce is left to return to his home. It’s early in the day, so he has some time to kill and chooses to essentially stalk Pamela Carlyle as Batman. He follows her all day and observes her doing boring, housewife, stuff. Shopping, picking up the kids from school, nothing incriminating. His last stop is the Carlyle residence and as he observes from the roof some sentient vines take hold of him. They drop Batman to ground level, where Pamela confronts him. She reminds him that trespassing is a crime, and again insists she’s clean. Batman actually seems to believe her this time.

Bruce arrives at the docks with the money, seeing no alternative to getting Dick back safely. True to its word, the creature shows up, but like any true villain it doesn’t hand over Dick even after Bruce produces the money instead choosing to attack. Bruce dodges and lets the monster force him off the dock, so that he can emerge from the waters as Batman! It’s a bit dramatic, but Batman does enjoy the theatrics. Dick is tied up and still in danger when Batman attacks severing the creature’s claws with a Batarang. The creature appears unnerved by the loss of its claws and panics a bit, but is able to knock Batman into some crates giving him an opening to escape.

plant monster attacks

He’s a big boy.

Batman lets the creature go, instead turning his attention to Dick who is bound. They then are shown in the Batmobile and Dick is in his Robin costume. Batman explains he’s already checked out Poison Ivy and believes her when she says she’s found happiness with her new husband and sons. Robin is surprised to hear this, as he mentions that while attending one of Carlyle’s lectures his ex-wife brought their children by for a visit revealing that Chris and Kelly were girls.

The Dynamic Duo head for the Carlyle residence. It’s after midnight, and Robin observes that everyone appears to be asleep except Pam. Batman noses around, and eventually the two stumble upon a hidden laboratory. Inside they find Steven Carlyle – the real Steven Carlyle. He’s in a tub of goo and when he’s awakened he says that he was fooled by Ivy. Before they can talk further, some plants start to move around and in one of the creepiest events in this show some babies emerge.

Batman The Animated Series CR: Warner Bros. Animation

Unsettling, but not really threatening. Yet.

The three soon find themselves entangled in vines, and Poison Ivy makes her dramatic entrance. She goes into the typical villain routine and explains her actions and what’s been going on. She’s uncovered a formula that allows her to make plant creatures. Unable to conceive children herself due to her unusual toxicity, these plant creatures are like her babies. She needed the DNA of Carlyle to complete the process, and reveals that the plant babies are actually short-lived. The creature Batman has been tangling with returns, and it’s apparently about to expire. Ivy feeds some of her babies a formula that will hasten their development. They grow and resemble Carlyle before mutating into hideous cactus creatures as well. Ivy was doing all of this because her new life needed money if it was ever able to get off the ground, hence why her creatures are thieves.

Batman and Robin are forced to do battle with them with Robin’s attention mostly diverted to keeping Carlyle safe. The creatures force them into the main house as they stick and move. Batman is apparently just trying to lure them into a trap as he had planted herbicide in Ivy’s sprinkler system when they first arrived. Once activated, the children of Ivy are destroyed leaving the villainess to ponder where she went wrong. As Batman approaches her, she begins to melt herself. She had created a plant-clone of herself allowing an easy escape. The police and Batman are unable to catch her, but Batman suspects these events have been hard on her. She’s shown leaving Gotham on an airplane, looking at a photo album. He suspects she was telling the truth when she told him that she was happy with her new life, and he’s apparently right as the tears well up in Isley’s eyes as the episode comes to a close.

ivy copy

She’s a slippery one.

“House & Garden” is an excellent example of this show finding a way to incorporate some sci-fi elements without losing its core. The previous episode, “Avatar,” was not successful at the same and it was my main point of criticism there. This one works because it introduces a human element. Poison Ivy, in creating these plant-monsters that start life as human-like babies, is compensating for her inability to conceive children. It’s something many women struggle with and I’m sure most people know someone in that boat, if they aren’t themselves. Her motivations for wanting a new life are honest, she just doesn’t really know any other way to get what she wants without breaking the law. The plant-babies are unsettling making this one of the creepier episodes in the series. It’s a good kind of unsettling, and helps this episode stand out and really feel like a true sci-fi story. The slow reveal of the plot is also handled well, and I do love how Batman discovers she’s been playing him via Robin’s revelation. Before that though, the viewer is also like Batman and left to wonder if she’s telling the truth, and I think like Batman, we want to believe her.

This is another Dong Yang episode and it’s another good showing for the studio. I like the design of the plant monster, who’s pretty fearsome and even a tad gross. The whole sequence in the lab though is the stand-out moment as the plant babies are made to be as cute and lovable as possible. It really helps sell their transformation as something awful. The subtle animation of Poison Ivy beginning to weep at the episode’s end is also a moment of beauty. She looks truly pained, and it’s the shot that was needed to really bring this one home.

ivy cries.jpgAs I mentioned before, “House & Garden” is Poison Ivy’s last featured episode. She’ll make a cameo in a future episode, but this is essentially her finale before returning in The New Batman Adventures. It’s a great way to go out, and since it is essentially her finale it makes it easier on the writing staff as they don’t really need to figure out where to take her next. Presumably this has no true lasting effect on her. She’s defeated and sad in the moment, but likely is forced to carry on. After all, this is a woman who weeps when someone steps on a pretty flower so maybe I’m making too much of her demeanor on that airplane. Regardless, this is quietly one of the better episodes in the series, and Poison Ivy is one of its best characters.

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Batman: The Animated Series – “Avatar”

avatar_title_cardEpisode Number:  69

Original Air Date:  May 9, 1994

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Michael Reaves

First Appearance(s):  None

Episode 69 (nice) brings us the surprising final confrontation between Batman and Ra’s al Ghul in this series. It won’t be the villain’s final appearance, but he will not tangle with Batman again, at least not to this kind of degree. He does appear in Superman and Batman Beyond, so this isn’t the end for him in what is now referred to as the DC Animated Universe. The character has such a presence though that it still surprises me that his mark isn’t felt again, but maybe that is due to him being a difficult character to write. He’s one of the few villains in this series that really breaks reality with magic and mysticism and all of that stuff. And this episode is really going to push the series into more fantasy than we’re accustomed to seeing.

egypt explorer

This explorer has a pretty distinct haircut…

“Avatar” begins in the past at an archaeological site somewhere in Egypt. An Anglo explorer is descending into an open tomb while natives around him work at the site. He’s handed a lantern by a young boy and vanishes into the hole (which appears to change shape more than once) via a rope. Inside, he sees various artifacts but his attention is drawn to a door which begins to emit an eerie glow. At ground level, the rope is pulled from the hands of those securing it. They regain control and try to pull the explorer up, but the only thing that returns is the end of the rope.

In the present, Lucius Fox (Brock Peters) and Bruce Wayne are visiting an exhibit at a museum. It seems Bruce has recently donated several artifacts to the display, including half of the Scroll of Osiris which is the oldest Egyptian document known to man. Bruce seems to be feigning indifference and making more of an effort to play-up his millionaire party-boy persona than he typically does which I appreciate as Bruce Wayne has mostly embodied a squeaky clean image in this show. That night, a thief is shown sneaking into the museum and targeting the fabled Scroll of Osiris. Batman, for some reason, is there to confront the thief and is able to unmask him revealing him to be Ubu (George Dicenzo), Ra’s al Ghul’s bodyguard and right-hand man. Ra’s (David Warner) himself then emerges from the shadows and attacks Batman in an unconvential manner by throwing a cobra at him. Batman is bitten, and the venom coursing through his body weakens him enough to allow the villains to escape. Batman, perhaps in the most “Bat Shark Repellent” moment of the show, just so happens to be carrying anti-venom on his person and is able to administer it.

At the Batcave, Batman is able to research the species of cobra Ra’s utilized, but it doesn’t provide any concrete leads. After conferring with Alfred, Batman elects to seek out the one person in the world who may know what Ra’s is up to:  his daughter Talia (Helen Slater).

cairo lair

Bruce Wayne in dumb pants.

Since the apparent death of her father, Talia has spent her time in Gibraltar. As Bruce Wayne, Batman journeys there to find her. He encounters a surprised Talia who claims to have no knowledge of her father’s state of being alive. She claims that he has not attempted to contact her, and Bruce seems willing to believe her. Talia does, however, know why Ra’s would steal that particular item from the museum:  he’s in possession of the other half of the Scroll of Osiris. Talia explains that the scroll is actually a map to the tomb of an Egyptian Queen by the name of Thoth Khepera and Ra’s has been obsessed with locating it. Why he is so obsessed with this particular tomb is unknown to Talia, but she suggests their best course of action is to head to a secret lair of Ra’s al Ghul in Cairo.

Bruce and Talia wander the streets of Cairo until arriving at a shop. Bruce is dressed like a tourist and looks like a pretty big geek, but I guess he thinks he looks cool. Using an ultrasound device, he and Talia locate the secret entrance to the lair in a shop. The shopkeeper notices, and he sicks some goons on them that are no match for this particular duo. Inside the lair, the two find the completed scroll and Ra’s al Ghul. He’s apparently learned nothing from his previous encounters with Batman and explains why he wants to find the tomb. It is said that Thoth Khepera holds the secret to life and death (seems weird that she’s in a tomb then, but whatever). After his explanation is finished, a glass case is dropped over Bruce and Talia designed to kill them by depriving them of oxygen. Again demonstrating that he’s a slow learner, Ra’s leaves the two to their demise to presumably head to the tomb. This trap isn’t going to be the thing that kills Batman though, and he uses the same ultrasound device he utilized earlier to create enough vibrations to shatter the glass. Miraculously, Bruce and Talia avoid being horribly cut by the glass shattering all around them.

beautiful thoth

Now I see why Ra’s wanted to find this Thoth person.

This is now a job for Batman! Now in costume, he and Talia follow the map to the tomb and head in. It’s clearly the tomb we saw in the flashback to start the episode. Unknown to them, Ra’s and Ubu actually watch them enter possibly hoping they spring any traps that could be in place. Batman and Talia arrive at the sarcophagus, and that’s when Ra’s and Ubu show themselves. Perhaps unwisely, Ra’s orders Ubu to open it, but he only finds more scrolls that are so old they appear useless. Ra’s and Ubu brought thugs with them, and they set their attention on Batman and Talia who decide this is no place for them. While that fight goes on, Ra’s frets over this apparent dead-end, but then discovers a lever near the sarcophagus. Upon tripping it, he finds the real tomb of Thoth Khepera below.

lich queen thoth

Well that took an unexpected turn.

Inside the tomb, Ra’s finds a glowing green pool and many, many, skeletons scattered about. If the liquid in the pool is the same as what is in his famous Lazarus Pit, I’m not certain, but it seems like a fair assumption. Suspended above the pool is Thoth Khepera (Nichelle Nichols) herself. She appears youthful and beautiful and beckons to Ra’s to come to her if he wishes to gain her knowledge and the power of the gods. This proves quite tempting to Ra’s and he does indeed approach. The two embrace with a long kiss. As the camera pans around the duo, Thoth Khepera goes from being a beautiful woman to a withered hag. Ra’s is horrified, but is unable to pull himself away as Khepera drains the life from him leaving him withered and old.

Batman and Talia burst in and are able to interrupt the process, saving Ra’s for now, but incurring the wrath of Thoth Khepera. The lich summons forth tentacles from her creepy pool which attack Batman and Talia. Batman fends them off, while Talia is able to retrieve her father’s withered body. Thoth summons more enemies to fight Batman, who counters with a rare grenade that proves ineffective against Thoth. Seeing no alternative, he forces a collapse of the temple which is apparently enough to “kill” Thoth Khepera because the result causes Ra’s al Ghul to return to his normal state.

batman vs tentacles

Batman gets to fend off some gross tentacles.

Outside of the temple, Batman is cleaning up the mess and securing his new prisoners:  Ubu and Ra’s al Ghul. Apparently he is not interested in the others who attacked him, or they perished in the temple. Ra’s demonstrates his wily nature by forgiving his daughter, most likely knowing that appealing to her loyalty to him is his only way out of this current predicament. And it works. When Talia asks Batman what he intends to do with Ra’s, he responds by saying he’ll bring him to the proper authorities where he’ll have to answer for his crimes. Talia pulls a gun on him, and then sets her father free. She forces Batman from his horse, and the villains depart. As a showing of apparent respect, Ubu tosses Batman a canteen of water while the caped crusader vows there will be another time to settle this (and as we mentioned in the opening, there actually won’t be in this series).

“Avatar” is the anticipated follow-up to “The Demon’s Quest,” a fairly compelling two-parter that seemed to imply that Batman and Ra’s al Ghul were destined to continue this dance for sometime. It’s not a particularly successful follow-up though, as the messy plot takes a lot of shortcuts and ends up relying on Batman’s misplaced trust in Talia once again, which seems like the kind of mistake Batman normally learns from. “Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me,” is the end message here for Batman. The added supernatural elements feel misplaced as well for this series and just aren’t as compelling as the more grounded threats in most episodes.

double crossed again

You have to stop trusting this one, Batman. I know she looks amazing, but come on!

Studio Junio handled the animation for this episode, and they left their own mark. Bruce Wayne has some unique looks, including a dark suit when we first see him. The villains have a slightly different look to them as well, though it’s not particularly dramatic. Where the episode really distinguishes itself is in all of the subterranean scenes in the tomb. When Batman enters dark areas, he usually has a black and blue color scheme, but in this episode they actually went with brown accents. It gives the scenes a very earthy look to them. The special effects utilized are also well-done, and Thoth Khepera is quite unsettling for younger viewers. It’s just a shame the content of the episode doesn’t live up to the impressive visuals.

Ultimately, “Avatar” is an episode I want to like, but it’s not one I can get behind 100%. It’s not a bad episode, just a bit disappointing considering what it had to follow in “The Demon’s Quest.” Ra’s al Ghul seems too conventional, even if the plot machinations are unconventional given their fantastic nature. The Talia swerve is too predictable, and Ra’s insisting on being a cliché of a villain is exhausting. The visuals save it some since they’re quite far removed from what we’re used to seeing stylistically and in the various locations the plot takes us. It’s odd that the villain and Batman never clash again in this series given the conclusion. The two will cross paths in a few episodes, but in that episode Ra’s al Ghul is more of a vehicle to tell the tale of another character and only really crosses paths with Batman at its conclusion. Season 2 was a bit of a surprise so I can’t imagine they were holding out for a third season, even though one would be requested years later. The fact that he wasn’t dealt with there is also surprising, but as I mentioned he does show up in Superman. The writing in this episode leads me to believe that the staff wasn’t sure what to do with Ra’s al Ghul, so it opted to just leave things here. Perhaps it’s an unsatisfying end to the conflict with Batman, but if the staff did feel that way then it’s probably better than forcing the character into a plot that doesn’t serve him well.


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.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Sideshow”

sideshowEpisode Number:  66

Original Air Date:  May 3, 1994

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by: Michael Reeves, Brynne Stephens

First Appearance(s): Goliath, Billy the Seal Boy, Richard, May and June (none who will reappear)

We have arrived at the first episode of production season two! Fox broadcasting seems to consider the 5 episodes that aired in September of 1993 as the first of the second season, but this was the first produced. It was also the second episode to debut in 1994, with the first being production episode S02E05 “House and Garden.” The episode is credited to Michael Reeves and Brynne Stephens, though the story is very similar to one written by Dennis O’Neil for Detective Comics #410, with one pretty significant departure being the main villain of the stories. For this episode, it’s Killer Croc (Aron Kincaid) and he’s going to get a chance to be more than the punchline he started to become. Even though he was Batman in disguise back in “Almost Got ‘Im,” I still get the impression that version of the character is what people think of when they hear the name Killer Croc. The other villains in that episode certainly don’t bat an eye at his limited thinking skills making the performance feel authentic. That’s not the case for his first appearance in “Vendetta” when he’s a cold, hard, killer. We’re back to that version of Croc for this one, except he’s going to meet some people who might change how he feels. It’s as close to a deep dive as we’ll see from Croc, and while I don’t think of this as a particularly strong episode of Batman, it is at least interesting from that perspective.

croc jaws

Croc is about to give a lesson on crocodile anatomy.

The episode opens on a train. Killer Croc has been declared sane and is thus responsible for the many crimes he’s committed. He’s being transferred from Arkham to a penitentiary, but the cops didn’t take the assignment seriously enough. In the cabin, Croc demonstrates the strength of his jaws by biting through his restraints, much to the horror of the cop riding along with him. Before he can get a shot off at Croc the giant takes him out and escapes to the roof of the train, because that’s where everything always leads when the setting is a train. On the roof waiting for him is Batman. Evidently Batman felt the cops needed some added security to make sure Croc got where he needed to be. Batman is a pretty smart guy, but what would have been smarter would have been for him to recommend some different restraints.

Croc is quite ticked to find Batman on the train, and the two tangle. As Croc was fleeing the confines of the train though he was shot in the shoulder with a sedative. Batman cautions him about trying to fight with that coursing through his veins, but Croc doesn’t seem like the type who takes his doctor’s advice, let alone Batman’s. The two end up tumbling off the train and Batman is left unconscious. Croc grabs a giant boulder intending to smash Batman’s head, in a way making Batman’s false story about him come true, but the sedative has taken effect and he misses his target. Stumbling away, he ditches his prisoner attire and tries to put some distance between he and the Batman.

croc great outdoors

It’s odd to see an episode of this show take place out in the sunshine.

It’s at this point I feel like I should mention how this episode looks. I am watching it in HD, as I intend to watch every episode from here on out, which may be leaving a greater impression than it did previously. This episode though really stands out because it takes place almost entirely during the day and away from Gotham out in the countryside. It’s so weird to see Batman battling in daylight with nothing but green and brown in the background. We’ve seen Batman in a forest setting before, but usually at night. This must have been an expensive episode to produce given the new backgrounds and new characters to come.

croc rescued

Croc gets rescued by a kid that looks like a seal. That’s certainly different.

Croc and Batman are going to trail each other in the woods. Eventually, Batman will take a nasty fall that will deprive him the use of his grapple gun going forward, allowing Croc to escape. He takes a fall himself into some rushing water, and likely compounded with the sedative, it looks like he could be a goner if not for a nearby boy, a seal boy at that. The kid is named Billy (Whit Hertford) and his arms and legs are deformed to resemble flippers like that of a seal. He swims in after Croc and another guy, the much more physically imposing Goliath (Brad Garrett), helps get Croc to safety at a nearby farm.

When Croc awakens he finds himself in the company of “freaks.” A hunchback by the name of Richard (Kenneth Mars) introduces himself and the others, which include conjoined twins May and June (JoBeth Williams) in addition to Billy and Goliath. They were once part of a circus freak show, but once they earned enough money they stopped living that life and moved out into the country to be away from those who would pass judgement on them due to their unusual appearances. They view Croc as a kindred spirit, and while he does thank both Billy and Goliath for their aid, he still seems guarded.

croc meets the gang

Croc getting to know his new “family.”

The troupe is rather welcoming and they offer Croc lodging and food. He starts to see how he can take advantage of them and spins his own sad tale about being a fellow freak. He’s still wearing the remnants of the police shackles and uses those to his advantage to claim he was bound and held captive as a freak as well forced to eat fish heads. They buy his story hook, line, and sinker. At dinner, Goliath some-what foolishly lets it slip they’re also sitting on 50 thousand dollars which further intrigues Croc. That night while the others are sleeping, he noses around through the place in search of the money eventually finding it stashed in a pipe organ. As he holds the security box he looks around at the old freak show memorabilia decorating the place indicating that maybe he’s having reservations about stealing the cash. Before we can find out, Billy finds him and asks what he’s up to. Croc claims he’s just looking for a blanket and Billy offers to help. When he hops away, Croc puts the money back where he found it. Does he intend to come back for it?

goliath and croc

Goliath and the others accept Croc’s story with no questions asked.

Outside, Goliath is sleeping on a pile of straw having offered his bed up to Croc. Batman sneaks over and placing a hand over Goliath’s mouth he wakes him. He tells Goliath he’s looking for someone half-man, half-crocodile, and Goliath glances towards the building. Batman then assumes Croc is in there, and saying as much aloud causes Goliath to attack. Thinking Batman is one of the men who imprisoned Croc unjustly, he tells Batman that Croc is one of them. When Batman tries to reason with him it fails. He tells Goliath he doesn’t want to hurt him, and in response Goliath says, “You won’t.” That’s pretty bad ass, Goliath.

batman vs croc and goliath

Batman has his hands full with these two.

The commotion causes everyone else to run outside. Batman has his hands full with Goliath, but he seems to gain the upper hand. Once Croc joins the fight though he’s overwhelmed, and the two toss him into a caged wagon. Croc, proving once again that he really isn’t as dumb as we think, has the presence of mind to take Batman’s belt before locking him in the cage. Batman tries telling the others that Croc isn’t who he seems to be, but they view the shackles on his wrists as evidence that it is Croc who is telling the truth.

batman behind bars

Croc seems to enjoy this view.

With Batman locked up, Croc tells the others they need to get rid of him or more will come. He grabs a pitchfork and is preparing to spear Batman when the others protest. They don’t want to see Batman murdered, and they quickly come around and realize that maybe Batman is telling the truth. Croc isn’t going to just walk away though and leave Batman breathing, so he pulls some smoke bombs from Batman’s belt and tosses them at the feet of the troupe. The gas released causes them to fall asleep, and Croc puts them all in another caged wagon and is forced to chain Goliath to one of the bars.

croc true colors

Croc makes a brief attempt at convincing the others Batman must die, but he’d rather just gas them.

As they wake up, Richard questions Croc why he’s doing this, but doesn’t really get an answer. Croc just suggests that they’re all lucky he hasn’t killed them. He returns to the home for the money and also grabs a hunting rifle. While he’s busy doing that, Batman is able to reach and remove a block from behind the wheel of the wagon he’s being held in while Goliath and Richard work at freeing themselves. When Croc returns with the gun, Batman slams his shoulder into the side of the wagon causing it to roll at Croc and over him and smash upon the rocks along the shore of a nearby river. Now free, he and Croc can do battle in the water and around the grounds.

Billy and the others are able to get free as well, and when Croc vanishes into the lumber mill, Billy offers to show Batman a secret way inside to get the drop on Croc. Batman takes his advice and meets Croc inside where the two battle until they fall out and into the river. They end up on a water wheel, with Croc above Batman as the wheel turns and he runs out of room. He gets crushed between the wheel and the building, though we don’t actually see it happen. The force of the wheel against the building causes it to break, and an unconscious Croc falls into the river below where Batman is waiting to drag him to shore.

croc in chains

Croc is heading back where he belongs.

The next morning the police arrive and Croc is once again chained up. This time he’s bound to a dolly with a cage over his head and a strait jacket for good measure. He won’t be getting out this time. As the police prepare to airlift him out of there, Billy approaches and does the predictable “Why?” routine. Croc responds by telling Billy it was he who told him he could be himself out here in the woods, and that’s just what he did. The chopper lifts him out of there as Batman looks on.

“Sideshow” is a solid take on Killer Croc. He’s a killer and a dangerous one at that. He’s not insane, just a bad guy. He’s given a chance to maybe reconsider that and ultimately doesn’t take it. Though really, in order to play up that angle more this episode would have needed to be longer or arranged differently. Croc doesn’t spend much time with his new “family,” making the whole “Why?” routine at the end feel rather forced. He doesn’t truly get a chance to reform, but that also could be because he never would have anyways. We saw him attempting to steal the money and he only replaced it when he got caught. Sure, I suppose he could have murdered Billy and ran off without anyone knowing until morning, but it also makes sense that he wouldn’t want to leave a mess behind. Chances are, if he just steals the money and runs the others who won’t come after him or bother alerting any authorities. Where as if he were to murder one of them, and a child at that, things likely would go differently.

The episode perhaps could have been strengthened with a time jump in the middle. Batman can’t find Croc so he returns home for the Batwing while Croc gets to further build a relationship with the others. Had it been Croc who first found Batman instead of Goliath, we could have seen a desperate Croc trying to hide Batman from the others and try to preserve his new life. Then again, I just think that was a story they didn’t want to tell and preferred to keep Croc in the “evil” bucket. His parting words with Billy further affirm that. And on a show where many villains are sympathetic, it’s actually not bad to have one who’s just a nasty person.

batman and robin intro

We’re now into the show’s second form, The Adventures of Batman & Robin, but to keep things simple we’re still just going to stick with Batman: The Animated Series.

Dong Yang Animation handled this one and it might be their best work yet on the show. I mentioned all of the work this one likely took to create because of the new setting and characters, but in addition to that it’s also just really well animated. There’s a sequence where Batman pulls himself onto a ledge and collapses to the ground in exhaustion and the animation on his cape looks so fluid and perfect. It’s easy to draw Batman’s cape when he’s swinging around Gotham and it’s open like a pair of giant bat wings, but when it’s just limp and falling over him that’s tough to pull-off. And while I definitely prefer the dark-deco look of Gotham to other settings, it’s a nice change of pace to see something different here.

Ultimately, this was an episode I wasn’t too excited to revisit, but I actually liked it better than I remembered. The forest setting is a touch off-putting because it’s so different, but I warmed to it. The parts spent with the former circus troupe are actually quite brief, and while they’re perhaps far too trusting of someone they just met, it’s also easy to see how they could view Croc in a sympathetic light. And Croc plays the role of bad guy quite well. This will never be my favorite or among my favorite episodes of the show, but it’s a worthwhile episode to watch and an interesting way to begin our journey into season two of Batman:  The Animated Series.


Batman: The Animated Series – “The Worry Men”

the worry menEpisode Number:  65

Original Air Date:  September 16, 1993

Directed by:  Frank Paur

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  None

Well, it’s taken awhile, but we’ve finally arrived at the final episode of season one. The 65 episode order was initially meant to be it, but the show was such a hit that Fox ordered another 20. It terms of air date, this episode is part of season two, but I suppose it doesn’t matter. Since the order for another 20 came during production on season one, it makes me think this was never intended as a potential series finale. It stars a returning villain, who is also one of the lesser villains of the show, and is really a very stand-alone type of episode. Not a bad one or anything, just not what one would expect of a finale.

The episode opens at a social gathering. The host is Veronica Vreeland (Marilu Henner) and she has just returned from a trip to the rain forest. And just in case she didn’t get a chance to tell anyone, she is making sure people know via her attire. Bruce Wayne is in attendance and he’s hanging by the bar with a new face, Hayden Sloan (LeVar Burton), a stock broker who is a bit worried about the current economic climate. As he voices his concerns to Bruce, Veronica approaches to inform the pair that she has a way to get rid of those troublesome worries – little dolls. Sloan is understandably dismissive, but Veronica insists she bought them from a native while on her trip and swears by them. She’s even giving them out as party favors. Above, a man decked out in Mayan attire is snooping on the proceedings down below, and Bruce apparently takes notice and excuses himself.

veronica safari

Veronica Vreeland is back to do what she does best – throw parties!

The man continues to spy on the party-goers, until Batman surprises him. He says nothing as Batman questions what he’s doing and responds by throwing a bladed device in Batman’s direction. He has no problem avoiding the projectile and has a little retort ready for him to show he is not impressed. They do a little dance, and the Mayan Shaman eventually connects with a ball that at first misses Batman, but then bounces around to hit him from behind. I don’t know what it’s made of, but apparently it’s enough to at least knock Batman down allowing the fellow to make his escape.

At home, Bruce tells Alfred about his interesting evening. When he questions what a man dressed as a Mayan Shaman would be doing spying on a social gathering, Alfred asks if this is some question being posed by The Riddler. Bruce shares all of the info he can, while Alfred finds one of Veronica’s little dolls in his jacket and asks what it is. Bruce explains how it’s supposed to take away your worries, and Alfred is about as dismissive as Bruce regarding it, but just for fun he puts it under Bruce’s pillow.

bruce worry man

Bruce with one of Veronica’s worry men dolls.

The next morning, Bruce strolls into work in a sunny disposition while his secretary, Dana (Vernee Watson-Johnson), expresses some concern over the phone to someone. She has a briefcase for Mr. Wayne, but seems reluctant to give it to him. He takes it though and heads into his office. There he opens it to find it’s full of cash, smiles, and then places it outside his window on a ledge. He then sits down at his desk to flip through some mail when Dana comes in to once more express concern about him carrying around so much money. Bruce has no idea what she’s talking about, and she goes on to explain that he called her from his car and told her to withdraw 20 million dollars and put it all in a briefcase. Bruce is still confused until the man in the Mayan attire appears, snatches the briefcase, and takes off.

In the Batcave, Batman watches the news as Sloan is arrested for embezzlement. He, along with a few others from Veronica’s party, are in hot water over disappearing funds. Bruce is on the list as well, though apparently his loss of money hasn’t resulted in arrest, yet. Noting the connection, Batman decides to seek out Veronica and finds her on a small cruise ship with a large briefcase of her own. He surprises her and offers to help her with her luggage. Veronica is surprised and a bit unnerved in the presence of Batman, but she doesn’t resist. Batman opens the case to find her jewelry, and she’s just as surprised as he is. Then, three men dressed like jaguars board the ship. Batman is able to fend them off, and failing to get the suitcase, they choose to flee. Veronica is confused and angry and decides to take her frustrations out on her little worry men dolls she has pinned in her hair. Batman stops her from tossing them overboard, and instead questions her about them. She tells Batman how she bought them from an english man in the rain forest, and Batman removes the backing on one to find a microchip.

At the Batcave, Batman analyzes the little worry men pulled from Veronica’s hair and determines that the device inside them is intended to hypnotize people when they’re most susceptible to hypnosis – during their sleep. Alfred apologizes for his role in getting Bruce to lose 20 million bucks, but Batman seems unconcerned. He knows there is only one man who could pull off this scheme – The Mad Hatter.

mat hatter grin

Our true villain revealed!

At an old, defunct, costume shop, The Mad Hatter sits with his ill-gotten goods. He’s pretty jolly, until his men return empty-handed. They tell him what happened, and Mad Hatter even notices that Batman was able to tear away a piece of one of their masks which will undoubtedly lead him to their lair. He gets rather angry, but then cheers up remarkably quick. He’ll be ready for Batman.

mad hatter chews

They should just be happy he didn’t make them put on Alice in Wonderland costumes.

And just as The Mad Hatter predicted, Batman does trace the garment to the old shop. It’s a shop that Batman says has been closed for years, but costumes for recent rogues appear inside including Clayface and Riddler. No matter. Batman enters and confronts The Mad Hatter and soon finds himself being attacked by mannequins of some of his more famous foes. There’s a Penguin-like toy that tries to stab him, a rolling Riddler with a machine-gun, a Harley Quinn marionette, and a giant Joker Jack-In-The-Box with a pretty big knife. The three jaguar men are there as well, and they’re able to over-power Batman allowing for The Mad Hatter to explain his scheme like all villains should. He tells Batman how he was released from Arkham, and determined to start a new life free of crime, he needed money. He used what little he had on this scheme, and he brain-washed the native he met down there to help him (that’s the guy in the Mayan costume). The other three are just gutter-trash, per The Mad Hatter, and with that all out of the way he now wants Batman’s cowl as a parting gift, except Batman won’t let him just take it.

batman stuck

That looks dangerous.

After being booted away by Batman, The Mad Hatter orders his men to put Batman in a nearby guillotine. As the blade falls, Batman uses his legs to stop it and is left in a very uncomfortable and quite precarious position. As The Mad Hatter pushes down on the blade, Batman pulls out some sonic device that, when activated, seems to break the hypnotic spell the other men were under. The jaguar guys, having apparently heard what Mad Hatter called them, attack him. They’re about to do some real damage when the shaman stops them, insisting the police should take care of him. The Mad Hatter thanks his former slave, and then pulls a gun on him that he had been hiding in his rather large hat.

The commotion between The Mad Hatter and his former henchmen provided enough of an opportunity for Batman to escape. It would have been nice to see how he got out of that mess, but maybe it’s also better we didn’t see since that was quite a pickle. The Mad Hatter ventures into the darkness of the storage room to find him, and a Batman mannequin gets sent at him as a decoy, allowing for the real Batman to take him down from behind.

At Wayne Manor, Bruce explains to Alfred what happened after. The man The Mad Hatter encountered and brainwashed in the rain forest was allowed to head home, and apparently Wayne is paying for the tickets. Before he left he gave The Mad Hatter a parting gift, and we’re taken to Arkham to see what it is. As The Mad Hatter tosses and turns in his bed, his pillow is disturbed to reveal a little Batman worry man.

batman worry man

The Shaman’s parting gift for The Mad Hatter.

“The Worry Men” starts off on shaky ground. A rich person being taken advantage of has been done before on this show. At least this time they brought in Miss Vreeland, who is a bit annoying, but also interesting. She represents what Bruce would be if he didn’t care about his family’s legacy and since she at least means well in this episode she’s less a villain than she was in “Birds of a Feather.” I remain surprised at how often The Mad Hatter appeared in season one. He’s not one of my favorites, but Roddy McDowall is so good in the role that it’s hard for me to dislike him. He is a villain with no redemption, which makes it easy to bring him back again and again. That said, this is actually his final appearance as the featured villain of an episode until The New Batman Adventures. He’ll appear in season two with most of the other villains in “Trial,” but otherwise is reduced to cameos.

I will say, this episode does look pretty great. Dong Yang continues to improve upon its prior work and I’m excited to revisit their season two episodes to see if this level of quality carries over. Batman looks especially dramatic in his rooftop battle with the Mayan Shaman, and there are a lot of new characters in this episode and none look short-changed. The lighting in the final act is great, and this one received quite a nice boost from the recent HD transfer.

That puts a wrap on season one. We’ve done 65 weeks of Batman, with still 44 to go so it’s not as if we’re nearing the end. It feels like quite a milestone though, and I’d regret not pausing to mention it. That means that there will still be a lot of Batman in 2019, but also that this feature will end in 2019 as well. This has been fun for me though and I look forward to getting into season two, even though I’ve seen those episodes multiple times as well. I definitely feel less familiar with them though than I do with season one, and we have some good ones still to come so I will see you back here next week for our first episode of season two:  “Sideshow.”


Batman: The Animated Series – “Read My Lips”

read my lipsEpisode Number:  64

Original Air Date:  May 10, 1993

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Alan Burnett and Michael Reaves

First Appearance(s):  Scarface, The Ventriloquist

For the second week in a row we have a rather unusual villain for Batman to tangle with. Some would even say comical, but in the case of Scarface, the execution is better. The unique nature of Scarface makes this a memorable episode. It’s title card some-what gives away the villain’s twist, but I’ll still suggest making sure you’ve either seen this episode already or you’re familiar with this foe before reading this.

scarface

“Say hello to my little friend,” takes on new meaning with this Scarface.

The episode opens on a boxing match. When the fight concludes we see the money that the fight generated getting moved around amongst the bowels of the arena, until a trio of muggers intercept it. They beat a hasty retreat to the roof of the building. When a truck stops at a nearby red light, the robbers jump off the building to land in the back of it unseen. The truck is then able to simply drive away when the light turns green as the police arrive on the scene. The robbers return to their hide-out where they greet their boss, who like many villains, dwells in the shadows. They boast of their success, while the boss, Mr. Scarface (George Dzundza), assures them this is only the beginning.

Following that declaration we get a trope. Spinning newspapers detail the new crime wave hitting Gotham, and it’s all flummoxed the commissioner. Gordon is shown at his desk when Batman emerges from the shadows of his office to give him a startle. He tells Batman they’ve been unable to get anywhere with this new gang and hands Batman a VHS some amateur home video maker passed along which shows the gang in action. Batman says he’ll take a look before vanishing as he always does. It’s the second episode in a row that begins with a crime, a shadowy boss-figure, and Gordon essentially passing it onto Batman.

scarface and dummy

Scarface and his “dummy” make for quite a pair.

At the Batcave, Batman analyzes the tape Gordon handed him along with Alfred. He remarks the thieves are clever and careful to make sure they’re always masked and wearing gloves, which strikes me more as common sense as opposed to cleverness, but I’m not the expert here. Batman is able to notice a tattoo on one of them revealed when he crashes through a fence (further proving my thought this isn’t the work of clever men) and his sleeve is torn. The man is a behemoth, and the tattoo is of a rhino breaking out of a cage. Batman turns to his trusty tattoo database, which looks more like a collection of mudflap designs, and finds a match linking the tattoo to a fellow who goes by the name of Rhino, who could have guessed?

Batman confronts this Rhino (Earl Boen), who is out for an evening stroll and dressed like a classic gangster. Rhino thinks Batman is trying to provoke him into a fight, but he won’t bite. Batman tells him he has him confused with the police and that he wants answers. Batman comes off as rather threatening here, a nice edge for him. Rhino, despite just claiming he wouldn’t fall for it, does indeed try to inflict some harm on Batman, but he just sidesteps him. The commotion attracts the attention of a police cruiser and two cops pop out to see what’s going on. Batman takes his leave and the cops are able to have a little fun at Rhino’s expense. He shuts his mouth and leaves, but proving he has the physique as well as the brains of a rhinoceros, he heads straight for Scarface’s hideout.

Batman pursues him from the rooftops and watches through a skylight as Rhino confronts a rather meek looking individual. He demands to see Scarface, but the bald, little man with glasses (Dzundza) insists that the boss is sleeping and disturbing him would be a bad idea. Rhino needs only to mention that Batman is nosing around their operation to get the man to rouse Scarface. He disappears into a bedroom and Scarface can be heard chastising the man for waking him, but he reluctantly gets up. As he emerges from the bedroom, it’s revealed that Scarface is a dummy, and the other guy is a ventriloquist which causes Batman to make his shocked face with the half-circle eyes.

Rhino fills Scarface in on what happened, causing Scarface to think they have a squeeler among them. A rat-faced looking guy (who goes by the name Ratso and is voiced by Neil Ross) is alarmed by Batman snooping around and makes the mistake of speaking his concerns to the ventriloquist and not Scarface, which nearly gets him killed. Scarface soon returns to his room, leaving Rhino, Ratso, and Mugsy (Joe Piscopo) to talk amongst themselves. When Ratso questions the relationship between Scarface and the ventriloquist, Rhino points out that it’s Scarface who is the brains of the operation implying he is fully onboard with this setup as presented.

interrogating ventriloquist

The ventriloquist turns out to be rather meek and pathetic, by villain standards.

Batman waits until later when everyone is asleep to infiltrate Scarface’s bedroom. There, he cautiously approaches the dummy as it lays in bed with the covers drawn up to its chin. He taps the dummy on the nose and its eyes spring open, startling Batman. He then merely closes them, and probably silently calling himself silly for being so cautious around a dummy, resumes his sleuthing. He doesn’t seem to uncover anything when the ventriloquist comes in to check on Scarface. Batman is able to grab him from behind, covering his mouth, and pulls him into another room for questioning. He approaches the interrogation as if the ventriloquist was the brains behind the whole thing. When the ventriloquist appears to be playing dumb, Batman instructs him that he may think he’s a dummy but not to speak to him as if he is one. Scarface starts calling out from his bed, and the ventriloquist gets real concerned. He starts sweating and pleads with Batman to let him go insisting that Scarface tells him nothing. Batman does, as the ventriloquist goes to attend to his boss, Batman plants a listening device on the ventriloquist’s tux which was hanging on the door. In Scarface’s room, the ventriloquist is clearly nervous as he converses with Scarface, who notices that something is up, but seems to accept the explanation of a bad dream. As the ventriloquist closes the window from which Batman had entered, he sees the caped crusader swinging away.

ventriloquist nervous

Even when he isn’t being watched, The Ventriloquist still acts like Scarface presents a real danger.

At the Batcave, Batman explains multiple personality syndrome to Alfred. Alfred has the good line of noting that even for Batman this Scarface is a bit of an odd one. Batman references his old mentor Zatara and how he taught him how to toss his voice, but remarks that this ventriloquist puts him to shame. He even claims the computer can’t tell that the two voices belonging to Scarface and The Ventriloquist originate from the same person. Thus far though, he also notes that The Ventriloquist was not lying when he said that Scarface shares nothing with him regarding his plans and he remarks he’ll just have to keep listening until something comes up.

And something does, as Scarface gathers his boys about a job he’s got. They’re going to knock-off a shipment of platinum which is currently just sitting on a cargo ship in Gotham harbor. Scarface warns that he feels a double-cross is coming and makes sure his boys know that if one of them turns on him they’re dead. They head out for the job and it’s going rather well for them. They pull up in a small boat alongside the ship and cut through the hull. Inside is a huge stack of platinum arranged in a pyramid and they just start unloading it. Batman arrives and first takes out the one man remaining in the boat before entering. He dives in and takes out the smaller man, but Rhino puts up a fight. He’s able to get behind the stack of platinum and actually shoves it over onto Batman. The camera pans over to show Batman’s hand sticking out of the pile of platinum bars.

scarface double cross

Now this is something you don’t see every day.

Batman once again proves he’s no normal man as he wakes up inside Scarface’s hideout dangling by his wrists from the ceiling. That stack of platinum really should have killed him or at least mangled him, but he seems fine. The villains have foolishly left his utility belt in place so we’ll have to see if that proves to be a big mistake, but for now his hands are bound. Below him are a bunch of mannequin parts and they’ve been sharpened to a point and look mighty nasty. Scarface and his men are standing around him ready to let him know he’s been got.

Scarface informs Batman that they set him up. The Ventriloquist filled him in on what happened and Scarface found the planted microphone on the suit. It would seem like Batman is in a bad spot, but he tells Scarface he was able to gain access to his hideout thanks to some inside help. Scarface, being a stereotypical gangster, gets agitated at the thought of a rat in his midst. He starts looking around suspiciously, while Rhino insists he’s not the rat and Scarface agrees noting he’s too stupid to be a betrayer. Batman plays coy, but when Scarface appears ready to end the discussion by dropping he reveals his source – The Ventriloquist. Scarface takes the bait, and immediately turns on his handler. He orders his men to take him out, but they’re understandably reluctant to shoot The Ventriloquist given what that would mean for Scarface. When they won’t do it, he decides he will and The Ventriloquist even helps Scarface point his adorable little tommy gun at his own face.

dead scarface

I know he’s just a puppet, but that’s still a bit unsettling.

Meanwhile, Batman demonstrates his proficiency at throwing his voice. In order to further provoke Scarface, he imitates The Ventriloquist and further riles him up. While everyone is distracted, Batman is able to free himself from the binds on his wrists. When it looks like Scarface is about to execute his handler, a whirling batarang severs his hand at the wrist. Batman then swings in to dispatch of the lackeys, though Rhino puts up a good fight. Batman at first tries to take him head-on, which is futile, and then resorts to misdirection to take him out. While dealing with Rhino though, Mugsy is able to grab a machine-gun. He opens fire at Batman, but misses and hits the Scarface dummy which had fallen to the ground. It gets riddled with bullets until Batman takes the guy out with another batarang to the forehead, which lucky for him didn’t get lodged in his skull. A weeping, hysterical, Ventriloquist picks up Scarface’s remains and cradles them in his arms as the camera pans out from high above.

At Arkham, two doctors are shown discussing the progress of their newest inmate in what appears to be a workshop. The other patients are all working on various crafts and one of the doctors approaches our pal The Ventriloquist from behind. He offers some praise on the work he’s doing, which he politely thanks him for, before moving on. Once the doctor is gone, the ventriloquist reaches for a wood-carving blade and turns his work over in his hands to reveal the face of a dummy. Plunging the blade into the dummy’s cheek, he drags it along leaving a wicked scar.

new scarface carving

The episode ends basically the only way it can.

“Read My Lips” is able to better straddle the line of comedy and thriller than the prior episode, “Fire From Olympus.” The plight of the character who is simply referred to as The Ventriloquist is perhaps a stretch, but plausible. Fiction writers have been having fun at the expense of those suffering from multiple personality syndrome for years, but doing it through a dummy is definitely one of the more eccentric methods. The actual dummy, Scarface, would be adorable if he weren’t so homicidal. He has a little pin-striped suit and fedora to go with his tiny gun. He even has a cigar affixed to his mouth to complete the look, which is apparently removable since he doesn’t have it while he “sleeps.” It’s amusing to see how his subordinates treat him, some being more into it than others, and even Batman is a bit unnerved by the dummy. George Dzundza is awesome as both Scarface and The Ventriloquist and I would have guessed the two roles were played by different actors. The little callback to Zatara is also nice, as I always like it when the show acknowledges some continuity, though Batman being able to perfectly imitate The Ventriloquist’s voice is a bit of a stretch.

Scarface was also right when he said at the start of the episode that this is only the beginning. He seemed to be a favorite of those who worked on the show as he’ll get to reappear more than once. He was given a makeover for this show, as he’s more of a comedy bit in the comics, and The Ventriloquist was as well going from a character who kind of stunk at ventriloquism to someone who is perhaps unrivaled. The Ventriloquist will even get a more in-depth look in the much later episode “Double Talk” where he tries to move on from Scarface. We’ll even eventually find out he has an actual name in Arnold Wesker, though it was never mentioned in this episode with Scarface preferring to just refer to him as Dummy.

Really the only thing I don’t like about this episode is more an issue of placement. It’s very similar in format to “Fire on Olympus.” Shadowy new villain emerges at the beginning, Gordon brings along Batman, Batman does some sleuthing, Batman gets trapped, Batman eventually wins, and the villain is shown in Arkham to close it all out. I suppose that’s a template for a great many episodes of this show, but it’s more obvious when back to back episodes follow the formula so closely. And I could have done without the pile of platinum falling on Batman. That would have been a nasty end for Batman, and sometimes I feel like the show is insulting my intelligence when it does something like that. Why not just have Rhino knock him on the head or maybe bear hug him into passing out?

My issues are minor, this is ultimately a fun episode. Maybe not a top 10, but possibly a top 20. Scarface is a ridiculous sight to behold, but ultimately a compelling villain. Hopefully I’ll still feel the same way after I re-watch his other episodes.