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Batman: The Animated Series – “I’ve Got Batman In My Basement”

I've_Got_Batman_in_My_Basement-Title_CardEpisode Number:  13

Original Air Date:  September 30, 1992

Directed by:  Frank Paur

Written by:  Sam Graham and Chris Hubbell

First Appearance(s):  The Penguin

Happy Black Friday, we’ve got kind of a silly one today. After three some-what weighty episodes we’re treated to something a bit on the lighter side. “I’ve Got Batman In My Basement” is unapologetically written to appeal to kids. Imagine if you were the one in Sherman Grant’s shoes and you had to protect Batman from the villainous Penguin?

Making his series debut is none other than The Penguin (Paul Williams), who’s arguably Batman’s most famous foe at this point in time following The Joker. He was featured prominently in the 1960’s Batman television show (played by the late, great, Burgess Meredith) and had just recently been in Batman Returns. His animated series look is strongly influenced by his appearance in the Tim Burton film as he’s a bulbous character with malformed hands and long black hair. He’s not nearly as grotesque looking as Danny DeVito’s version of the character, nor does he dwell in a sewer. Instead he’s a rather refined sort of villain. Well-spoken, he also has a taste for expensive avian themed baubles and when the episode begins we find him trying to steal a Faberge egg. His henchman make off with the item and lead Batman to an old factory of some kind where they meet up with their boss.

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You’ve got to hand it to The Penguin, the man knows what he wants.

Unbeknownst to them all, an aspiring detective named Sherman (Matthew Brooks) and his friend Roberta (Denise Marco) noticed a very strange bird flying over their Gotham dwelling. Sherman tracks the bird, despite some neighborhood kids telling him he’s crazy for thinking it’s a vulture, and Roberta tags along. The bird leads them right to the Batman/Penguin confrontation and they get a bird’s eye view (no pun intended) of the encounter from a catwalk. Sherman recognizes The Penguin right away, so we know he’s an established villain in this universe and, much like The Joker, has likely tangled with Batman numerous times before the events of this show. They naturally slip up and everyone is alerted to their presence. Batman tries to help the kids to safety, but gets hit with some poison gas from The Penguin’s umbrella which does a job on him. He stumbles to the Batmobile, and Sherman and Roberta give chase to try and help the caped crusader. Despite being too young to have ever driven a car, the pair manage to fire-up the Batmobile and race to Sherman’s house where they drag the semi-conscious Batman to the basement to sleep off the effects of the gas.

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Every kid’s dream, minus being pursued by The Penguin. Though there are worse villains to be chased by, I suppose.

The Penguin’s vulture soon finds them (it’s rather hard to hide the Batmobile, after all) and eventually The Penguin and his two henchmen (one voiced by the incomparable Rob Paulsen) are at the front door. Sherman, along with Roberta and the two neighborhood kids Frank (Richard Gilliland) and Nick (Adam Carl) do their best to keep The Penguin away from Batman. Sherman is able to figure out that Batman needs some anti-toxin capsules he keeps in the Batmobile, and eventually he’s able to snap out of it and come to their aid, though not before Sherman’s house is a wreck. In an amusing scene, we see his mother’s (Lindsay Crouse) reaction to what happened only for Batman to emerge from the basement which apparently gets her a little flustered. We don’t know if Batman made everything right, but after his brush with greatness Sherman is scene even more determined to become a great detective.

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This episode is mostly harmless fun, but this scene where Batman and Penguin “sword fight” is pretty stupid.

“I’ve Got Batman in My Basement” is just a fun episode of the series. It’s a bit unusual for The Penguin to be introduced in such a comedic fashion, but maybe they wanted to distance him from the scarier take found in Batman Returns. I do like this version of the character, which strikes a nice balance between his comic book persona and that film’s visual style. In The New Batman Adventures he’ll be redesigned to basically resemble the classic version of the character, which also didn’t really bother me. I have no real complaints about this one, other than maybe they could have found a more prominent role for Rob Paulsen, this is just a good episode if you’re not looking for something as serious as many of the other episodes in this series. The script is kind of dumb, and I know the episode has its share of detractors (Bruce Timm included), but I find it hard to be offended by this one. It’s light without betraying the show’s overall tone and most shows need an episode like this every now and then. There are plenty of episodes a lot worse than this one.

Up next, is perhaps the greatest episode ever for a super hero cartoon:  “Heart of Ice.” Unfortunately, you will have to wait a little while for my thoughts on that one as this blog is going all out for Christmas starting on December 1st. The Christmas Spot will be bringing you Christmas cheer advent calendar style through Christmas Day, then return to its regularly scheduled programming. This means the next episode recap for Batman: The Animated Series won’t be arriving until December 29th. Hopefully, the Christmas stuff is enough to tide you over until then. So please return then for more Batman goodness, same Bat-time, same Bat-blog.

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Batman: The Animated Series – “It’s Never Too Late”

It's_Never_Too_Late-Title_CardEpisode Number:  12

Original Air Date:  September 10, 1992

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Tom Ruegger

First Appearance(s):  Arnold Stromwell

Fresh off his debut in the two-part “Two-Face,” Rupert Thorne is at it again. Apparently there wasn’t enough dirt provided by Dent to put Thorne behind bars, or he just bought his way out, because he’s looking pretty comfortable in “It’s Never Too Late.” In this episode, we have Thorne playing the role of ultimate villain opposite the slightly less villainous drug dealing crime lord Arnold Stromwell (Eugene Roche). Stromwell is the old dog in the fight and even the media and Commissioner Gordon are predicting he’ll ultimately be overthrown by Thorne in the not too distant future.

Stromwell is naturally rather irritated with everything. And worst of all, his son has gone missing and he suspects Thorne is behind it. Batman is looking on as the war in the streets is apparently escalating between the two. Thorne arranged a meeting between the two syndicates at one of his restaurants and Stromwell agrees to go. Along the way we’re shown a flashback to a young “Arnie” boasting about owning Gotham one day to a kid named Michael. The flashback is in black and white, and a common stylistic choice for this program, and things get a bit harrowing when Arnie gets his leg caught in some train tracks with a train barreling down on him.

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Stromwell and Thorne are locked in a struggle for crime supremacy in Gotham.

In the present, Stromwell gets grabby with Thorne who insists he knows nothing about his kid. He claims to have a code of honor that prevents him from messing with family, how noble of him, but he doesn’t have a code about blowing up his adversary. He ducks into the back to help with the food before bidding Stromwell adieu. Fortunately for old Arnie, Batman is close by and is able to save him from the resulting blast. Prior to this, we saw Batman meeting with a priest to inform him “it’s going down tonight” which distresses the priest. He apparently has some ties to Stromwell.

With Stromwell saved, the episode kind of takes on an It’s A Wonderful Life/A Christmas Carol vibe as Batman shows him what his drugs have done to the city and to his family. He brings him to a hospital, where Stromwell finds his estranged wife (Katherine Helmond) looking over their son who apparently overdosed on something. When Stromwell vows to punish the one who got his son hooked on drugs his ex-wife admonishes him and lets him know in no uncertain terms that he is the one responsible. It would perhaps be an affecting scene if it wasn’t so close to a popular PSA that aired in the 80s and early 90s (“I learned it by watching you, dad!”), which makes the scene feel almost comedic.

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Stromwell does not appear to be very grateful for Batman’s aid.

Batman is able to arrange a meeting between Stromwell and the priest, at the very same tracks from Stromwell’s flashback. We are again taken to that day and see young Stromwell free himself from the tracks, only to jump onto the next set of tracks right into the path of another oncoming train. Michael saved him, but in the process lost his leg. We return to the present to find out that not only is Michael the priest standing before him, but also his younger brother. Thorne tries to take the two out, but Batman works in the shadows to take him and his goons out to allow the brothers to share a moment. They tearfully embrace, and as the police roll in Stromwell informs Gordon he has a statement he’d like to give. Batman looks on with satisfaction before his gaze turns to a church which the pans to, holds, and then we fade to black.

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The Father Michael and Stromwell dichotomy is reminiscent of the classic film Angels with Dirty Faces.

“It’s Never Too Late” is a decent story that unfortunately feels like an anti-drug PSA, and not just because of that one scene that really invokes that impression. This was the early 90s after all, and the War on Drugs was in full swing at this point and it was quite common for family and children’s shows to tackle the subject. Usually those episodes were even more hammy than this one, but even as a kid who sincerely thought drugs were just terrible I still resented these episodes. Did someone really think that Batman telling me drugs are bad is the thing that would keep me clean? Though what I really found distasteful is that last lingering shot on the church which feels like Batman’s silent way of advocating Christianity. At the risk of sounding like a god-hating atheist, it really bugs me whenever a kid’s show promotes organized religion as the cure for a problem. I think there is an artful way to incorporate religious characters into such shows, X-Men did it pretty well with Nightcrawler (excepting that show’s closing scene with Wolverine coming back to God), but do we really need Batman’s endorsement here?

“It’s Never Too Late” is a mostly forgettable episode of Batman. Stromwell doesn’t play a meaningful role in future episodes while Thorne apparently is never brought to justice as he’ll remain a player for years to come. I don’t mind the more grounded stories which offset the outlandish villains that otherwise dominate this program, but this show can do better.

 


Batman: The Animated Series – “Two-Face: Part II”

Two-Face_Part_IIEpisode Number:  11

Original Air Date:  September 28, 1992

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Randy Rogel

First Appearance(s):  None

“Two-Face Part II” cruelly aired originally on a Monday, meaning we had a whole weekend to get through to find out what became of Harvey Dent. I suppose if you’re as glued to these recaps as I was to the show then the wait for you was even worse since it’s been a week since we discussed part one. Part II picks up an unspecified amount of time after part one, but enough time has passed for Dent to assume his Two-Face persona and put together a little gang and a hideout. He’s been passing his time knocking off businesses owned by Rupert Thorne as its clear that revenge is the only thing fueling him now. He’s decked out in a half white, half black suit and uses a coin to judge the outcomes of any given situation. When one of his guys wants to rob a woman who just happens to be at the business they’re hitting, Two-Face makes him flip for it. Heads she keeps her purse, tails he gets to take it. Though there actually isn’t a true “tails” to his coin as it’s a two-sided heads coin, one side just happens to be scratched and marked.

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Harvey’s got a new look.

Batman hasn’t given up on Dent and he’s been following Two-Face’s crimes. If he’s engaged with him at all we don’t know, but it seems safe to assume that he has not. After all, Batman knows these locations Two-Face is hitting are fronts for Thorne’s criminal activity so he isn’t exactly eager to help the crime boss, though he’s also not going to let Dent just keep getting away with it. Likewise, Harvey’s fiance Grace, hasn’t given up on him either and we see Two-Face hasn’t forgotten about her as well. His boys notice he’s heart-stricken over her and they push him to finally see her. Naturally, he had to flip for it.

Thorne is also pretty ticked that Two-Face keeps nailing him. His assistant Candace is the one who comes up the idea to use Grace to get to Two-Face and she’s able to trick Grace into thinking she means to help Harvey. Grace is instructed to contact her should Harvey reach out, and when he does she obliges. Harvey and Grace have a bittersweet reunion where she pleads with him to put a stop to his criminal activity. When Thorne shows up to spoil the reunion things get a little ugly. Two-Face feels betrayed, but not enough to put Grace in danger. He had stolen some incriminating files from Thorne and he hands them over to spare Grace. Thorne probably would have killed the two of them anyway, but Batman shows up.

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Harvey is reluctant to show Grace his scarred visage at first.

With Batman’s help, Dent and his henchmen are able to overpower Thorne. Batman comes out a little worse for ware, and when Two-Face is fixing to blow Thorne’s brains out, Batman is helpless. Still, Two-Face has to flip for the privilege of shooting Thorne and rather than risk an undesirable outcome, Batman is able to grab a drawer full of coins left sitting on a table and send them scattering all over the floor. Two-Face, unable to find his coin, panics, but Grace is able to calm him down. She gets him to surrender to the Gotham PD, who soon show up to clean up the mess. The two walk off in tears as Batman looks on, vowing to never give up on his friend.

“Two-Face:  Part II” has to follow the excellent first half and deliver a meaningful payoff, which it does and it doesn’t. The Two-Face character is portrayed well, and voice actor Richard Moll is stellar as the titular character. He uses his gravely Big, Bad, Harv voice, but injects nuance where needed. Murphy Cross is incredible as Grace and really comes across as a woman burdened by circumstance, torn about what’s right for her and what’s right for Harvey. And as always, Kevin Conroy’s Batman is the glue that holds everything together.

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The great equalizer.

Where the episode stumbles is in the conclusion. What happened to Harvey Dent cannot simply be undone, and seeing him surrender kind of gives us a happy ending. It’s an ending that will be undone by Two-Face’s future appearances, which do not really address the conclusion of this episode at all. He’s just another villain in Batman’s way from here on out (though he does have at least one more memorable turn) which is disappointing for a villain who began so promisingly. It also cheapens this episode, which should have probably just had Dent bid Grace a tearful goodbye and ran rather than fake like he was going to do what was necessary to continue his life with her before the accident.

Short-sighted ending aside, this is probably the best two-parter the show will tackle and I don’t say that lightly as we still have the excellent “Feat of Clay” and “Robin’s Reckoning” to look forward to. And even without the backstory, Two-Face the villain is still a lot of fun both visually and conceptually with his little morality coin. He was a bit obscure before this series began, but episodes like this are probably the reason why he was a big part of Batman Forever, which even had Batman use the same coin trick pulled off in this episode. It’s a great spot for the character and it’s good to see him recognized as one of Batman’s greatest foes.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Two-Face: Part I”

Two_Face-Title_CardEpisode Number:  10

Original Air Date:  September 25, 1992

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Alan Burnett

First Appearance(s):  Rupert Thorne, Candace,  Two-Face

The first nine episodes of Batman:  The Animated Series have been a little up and down. They’re entertaining for the most part, but for someone watching it for the first time there may be a tendency to wonder what all the hype is about. Well, “Two-Face:  Part I” is the first episode where things really pick up and a lot of that is due to the episode “Pretty Poison” which helps set this one up. In that episode, we were introduced to Harvey Dent, his personality, and his relationship with Bruce Wayne. When we last saw Harvey he was engaged to be married, but the woman he asked to be his bride turned out to be Poison Ivy. When her attempt to poison, and thus murder him, failed Harvey apparently went on with his life and in the process became engaged again to a woman named Grace Lamont (Murphy Cross).

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Harvey and Grace during happier times.

We find Harvey now in a state of mostly happiness. His reelection campaign for Gotham District Attorney is going well and he and Grace are planning a wedding. Bruce is happy for his friend, but a little concerned about the stress the election is placing on him. Also of concern is the stress created by local crime boss Rupert Thorne (John Vernon). Thorne is a character from the comics and he’s sort of analogous to Marvel’s Kingpin. He’s a heavy-set crime boss who’s primary skill is money. His money wins him allies, including those in high places, and as a result he’s built up a reputation in the law enforcement circle as being untouchable. Worst of all, Thorne knows this and uses it to taunt Dent which only enrages the Gotham D.A. and brings out his darker side.

We find out that Harvey has been hiding something for years:  Big, Bad, Harv, his alter-ego who has manifested himself thanks to Harvey’s inability to face his inner demons. Dent is prone to mood swings which can get violent. He’s rather frightening at times, and voice actor Richard Moll does an excellent job of portraying Harvey when he’s got everything put together and the unhinged Harvey outraged that Thorne has managed slip off his hook yet again. As for Big, Bad, Harv, it seems that Dent can keep that side of his personality suppressed for the most part with him only taking over as a controlling personality when under hypnosis. Dent’s therapist is quite concerned, but maybe not enough, by Dent’s mood swings and it’s clear he needs a break, but with the election in full swing Dent feels now is not the time for a vacation.

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This episode marks the first appearance of Rupert Thorne, who will be a constant thorn in Batman’s side (I’m sure the pun was intended).

Even though Thorne is largely untouchable, he’s still unnerved by Dent’s determination to put him away and is growing desperate for a way to cool things off. His assistance Candace (Diane Michelle) is the one who digs up the dirt on Dent’s therapy sessions, and when Dent is celebrating his election win the mood is killed by a call from Thorne who’s obtained all of the information he needs to out Big, Bad, Harv. Dent is concerned his medical problems will kill his career, even with the re-election bid over, and agrees to meet with Thorne. Bruce Wayne sees him leave the post-election celebration in one of Thorne’s limos and elects to pursue him as Batman.

Thorne brings Harvey to a chemical plant to confront him with the damning medicals, but all he accomplishes is bringing out Dent’s dark side. He goes wild and starts fighting with Thorne’s men. Batman shows up to even the odds, but when Thorne makes a run for it Harvey gives chase. Some stray gunfire from one of Thorne’s men strike an electrical box causing an explosion that ensnares Dent. When Batman is able to get to him we see a look of horror flash across his face as he turns his friend over to survey the damage.

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Dent’s going to need a good plastic surgeon. A really good plastic surgeon.

We soon are taken to a hospital where a doctor is removing the bandages from Harvey’s face. He’s conscious, and able to see the damage caused by the blast. The doctor recoils in horror at the sight of Dent, and we get the classic “mirror!” demand that’s been used many times before in other media, and most recently by Jack Nicholson’s Joker in Batman. Dent is enraged at the sight of his own face and storms out of the room, only to run into Grace. It’s here we finally get a look at what the explosion did to him, turning his face lumpy, blue, and grotesque. Grace immediately faints at the sight, and a despondent Harvey bids her farewell.

The transformation of Harvey Dent into Two-Face is a seminal moment for the show. It’s the first time actual stakes are introduced as we see a character permanently altered by the events of the show. We also see our hero lose an important ally in his fight against crime, and not just an ally, but a close, personal friend at that. And at this point, Dent is really the only friend we’ve seen for Bruce besides Alfred and Dick so his loss feels particularly damaging. At the same time, this being part one of a two part episode, we don’t know how the story will resolve itself. When I first saw it I was just a kid. Prior to this series, my only exposure to the Dent character was Billy Dee Williams in Batman so I was in the dark the whole time about the Two-Face character. I’m pretty sure my assumption was that Batman would make everything right in the second act, but we’ll soon see I was mistaken.

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Thorne’s assistance Candace will be a fixture at his side throughout the series.

Villains work best when they have a human element and when their motivations are relatable. For Two-Face, we know he’s a good person and circumstance pushed him to this which makes him feel tragic. While true that we actually do not see him act as a villain in this episode, we soon will. Before Two-Face, we had villains we could relate to without necessarily feeling too sympathetic. We know it’s frustrating to be fired like Scarecrow was, and I think most people don’t want to see plants driven to extinction, but few are going to agree with the methods utilized by both Scarecrow and Poison Ivy in their bids for revenge. The other villains such as The Sewer King and Boss Biggis have just been terrible human beings who we’re supposed to hate, and do. And then, of course, there’s The Joker who’s motivations aren’t supposed to be relatable either and represents more of a chaotic force in Batman’s world.

The other aspect of this episode that comes to mind when I reflect upon my first viewing of it is how even at the time I really enjoyed and appreciated it. Perhaps enjoyed isn’t the right word as I was unnerved by the outcome, but for a slow developing plot I don’t recall being bored. It’s that slow build that creates the payoff at the end and director Kevin Altieri certainly feels like the show’s MVP thus far. This episode both looks and sounds great, with excellent voice work all around. Murphy Cross is especially convincing as the heart-broken Grace, and she’ll get to really shine in Part II. I also love the little visual cue to Two-Face early in the episode when a flash of lightning in the doctor’s office causes Dent to resemble his future self for a split-second. And the actual reveal shot of Two-Face is also setup so well. Even though it’s only a few minutes that pass between Dent’s accident and the reveal of his new face, it feels like an eternity as the viewer is kept on the edge of their seat waiting to see just what the effects of that explosion were. Two-Face is particularly hideous looking, and while his scarred face doesn’t make much sense medically, it looks gross and it’s easy to understand how that could drive a man insane. I’m sure if they wanted to go with a grosser, more burned look like the original comics took and the one The Dark Knight would take many years later that Standards & Practices likely would have requested they tone it down. The only negative I have is that there’s a continuity error with the following episode as Harvey’s face is the only thing scarred in this episode, where-as going forward his left hand will be blue and lumpy as well.

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A little scene from early in the episode tipping its hand.

“Two-Face: Part I” is in my personal top three episodes for this show. And while I normally have a hard time separating episodes in a two-part sequence, in this case I do believe Part I is the stronger of the two as it’s the creation of Two-Face that is most memorable and most important as opposed to the actions he will take as a villain. That doesn’t mean Part II is bad, nor does it mean I can watch the first without immediately watching the second. You will have to wait until next week for my write-up of Part II, which feels appropriate given the first airing of this episode was on a Friday, meaning I had a whole weekend plus a Monday to endure before seeing Part II. To a kid, that felt like an eternity.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Be A Clown”

Be_A_Clown-Title_CardEpisode Number:  9

Original Air Date:  September 16, 1992

Directed by:  Frank Paur

Written by:  Ted Pedersen and Steve Hayes

First Appearance(s):  Jordan Hill

Thus far, Batman:  The Animated Series has basically given us an episode either featuring The Joker as the main antagonist or basically a no-name villain (at the time) for Batman to do battle with. Here we are at episode 9 and already it’s the third Joker episode for the series. The series will not be so Joker heavy much longer, and truthfully it’s hard to argue with the strategy of making new stars out of Poison Ivy and Scarecrow while also mixing in a liberal dose of Joker. This is also the second episode directed by Frank Paur, who gets a shot with a big-time villain following his series debut with “The Underdwellers.”

The episode opens with Mayor Hamilton Hill (Lloyd Bochner) giving a press conference when some hoodlums come speeding through to disrupt things. They’re fleeing Batman, who swoops in and nabs them before departing as quickly as he arrived. Unfortunately for Hill, this all happened while he was downplaying the amount of crime in Gotham and it prompts a reporter to ask him about the criminals, as well as Batman. Hill reveals himself to be of the Bullock mindset that Batman is no better than criminals like The Joker – cut to The Joker watching all of this on television which enrages him. He’s angry that anyone, especially the mayor of Gotham, would compare him to Batman and deems it a grievous insult.

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Mayor Hill doesn’t share his son’s enthusiasm for magic.

Sometime later, Hill is throwing a birthday party for his son Jordan (Justin Shenkarow), who isn’t particularly excited about it. Hill basically reveals himself to be a greasy politician who stocks his son’s birthday party with various political personalities in Gotham as well as wealthy individuals like Bruce Wayne. Jordan is not at all amused by any of this, but he is delighted when Jekko The Magnificent shows up to entertain the party goers. Jordan is an aspiring magician himself, so he’s drawn to the clown performer immediately. When asked how to become a great magician, Jekko tells Jordan he should run away and find a mentor. As viewers we are not fooled by The Joker’s disguise, and anyone who was is soon tipped off when Jekko places a stick of dynamite on the birthday cake which features a head sculpt of The Joker himself. Wayne notices, and finds a way to “accidentally” knock the cake into a swimming pool before it explodes. Interestingly, when Joker places the candle he instructs the children to run along indicating he’s only interested in blowing up the adults. It’s an interesting bit of morality from The Joker, and I wonder who’s decision it was to soften The Joker in this manner.

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The guests at Jordan’s party apparently aren’t too observant.

Jordan, predictably, runs away and stashes himself in Jekko’s van. The police are summoned for a missing person and also happen upon the real Jekko, whom The Joker had tied up and left on the side of the road. Bruce is still hanging around the Hill residence to hear all of this and races off to track down Joker and Jordan. He tracks them to an abandoned amusement park where Joker has somewhat reluctantly taken Jordan in as a protege of sorts. He actually sincerely shows Jordan a few tricks before Batman shows up. Jordan, distrustful of Batman thanks to his father and also a bit intimidated by his appearance, goes along with Jekko’s scheme to lure Batman into a trap that succeeds in knocking him out. When Batman awakes, he finds himself inverted in a water tank with a straight jacket and no utility belt. Jordan, realizing this trick is intended to kill Batman, tries to free him only for Joker to finally reveal himself.

Jordan runs off, and for some reason The Joker decides to give chase rather than watch Batman drown, which naturally helps to allow Batman to escape. A chase sequence ensues involving a roller coaster, and if you played the Super Nintendo game based on this series it will seem familiar to you. Batman is able to deal with The Joker, who falls into a nearby body of water. Jordan has to overcome his fear of Batman in order to be saved, but naturally everything works out. We don’t get any closure on The Joker, who we presume gets away since I doubt anyone thought he perished from his fall, nor do we see Mayor Hill’s reaction to learning his son was rescued by Batman.

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Joker in his Jekko gear corrupting young Jordan.

This episode does not mark the first appearance of Mayor Hill as he was a part of the pilot, but it might as well be his true introduction. It’s actually nice to see people who question Batman and I like that his only real ally at Gotham PD is Gordon (and apparently Montoya following “P.O.V.”). It is sort of surprising to see a politician come out against Batman as I also assumed the general population of Gotham approved of Batman, but maybe they don’t? This episode also has some fun easter eggs in it. When Jekko pulls out a poster for a magician named Prosciutto the drawing is clearly supposed to resembled famed comics writer Alan Moore. There’s also a clown robot at the amusement park which laughs at Jordan when he runs by it. The laugh was taken from Tim Curry’s Joker audition (uncredited) as he was originally cast as The Joker before losing the role due to bronchitis. It’s interesting to hear because it most likely represents what The Joker would have sounded like (at least when laughing) had Curry been retained.

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Batman dodging Joker’s bladed throwing cars is a fun little animation sequence in this episode and a warm up for the roller coaster chase.

“Be a Clown” is one of the better Joker episodes as it captures what I like about the character. He’s easily set off by some of the most mundane things and is more interested in stirring up trouble than doing lasting damage (though he probably did intend to murder some of those party-goers with his dynamite candle). It’s also interesting to see him try and corrupt a child. The Jordan/Mayor Hill dynamic is believable in that he’s more of a political prop for his dad and feels isolated as a result. Hill comes off as a bit of a slime ball, but we do see that he does genuinely care for his son so he’s not a true bad guy. The only thing I don’t particularly care for about the episode is Batman is given some one-liners that mostly fall flat. I don’t mind the writers injecting a little bit of dry humor into Batman, but it’s a delicate game and the script wasn’t up for the task this time. And as always, the score for any Joker episode is excellent as the playful, but somewhat malevolent, Joker theme is always welcomed.

As I stated in the intro, this is already The Joker’s third appearance in this show, but we still haven’t made it to his actual broadcast debut! The order is all over the place, but this is our best Joker episode so far and when all is said and done it will probably still place in the top five, I would guess


Batman: The Animated Series – “The Forgotten”

The_Forgotten-Title_CardEpisode Number:  8

Original Air Date:  October 8, 1992

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Jules Dennis, Richard Mueller, and Sean Catherine Derek

First Appearance(s):  Batwing

A simple premise, what would Bruce Wayne do if he forgot he was Batman, turned into an episode. “The Forgotten” takes Batman out of his element and forces him to rely on his own skills as a fighter and lean heavily on his own instincts and moral code. It also gives us a deeper look at Alfred and his ability to function as a sidekick to Batman and show off his own detective skills. It’s also another episode without a traditional Batman villain, settling for the one-shot Boss Biggis as the main antagonist who will never re-appear (hence why I didn’t bother mentioning this as his first appearance).

The episode opens with Bruce volunteering at a homeless shelter. He learns some familiar faces have been disappearing and the police do not have the manpower to look into why homeless men are suddenly no longer around. Bruce decides to investigate, but not as Batman, but as Griff – the homeless guy! It’s while nosing around in his disguise that Bruce gets jumped by some men who at first appeared to be offering work. Distracted by a cat (foreshadowing future encounters, perhaps?), Bruce ends up getting walloped on the back of the skull and wakes up in a weird camp with no memory of who he is.

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Bruce disguised as Griff, Salvo, and Riley

The camp is basically a slave camp, and Bruce befriends two men:  Riley (Dorian Harewood), a steel worker who was a fellow volunteer, and Salvo (Lorin Dreyfuss), just some homeless guy down on his luck. All of the men in this camp are the prisoners of Boss Biggis (George Murdock), an obese man with no regard for the well-being of others. He’s angry the men need to stop work to eat and sleep, and demands they work harder or be imprisoned in “The Box,” a small, metal, enclosure placed in direct sunlight. The men are to work in Biggis’ mines for gold. He’s truly a repugnant individual and series director Bruce Timm stated he intended for this one shot villain to be memorable, and the only way he knew how to make him memorable was to make him revolting. He’s almost always show with some food in his hands and stains on his clothes and he’s constantly gnawing away while complaining about the lazy bums he’s surrounded himself with.

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The repulsive Boss Biggis.

Alfred notices Bruce’s absence the following morning, and finding the Batmobile still in the Batcave, is quite puzzled as to Bruce’s whereabouts. He notices one of the cars missing, which just so happens to have a tracking device implanted on it. He tracks it to a salvage yard where he removes the device and places it on a truck that’s being loaded with supplies, guessing this will lead him to Master Bruce. Once Alfred has a suspected location for Bruce, he decides air travel would be more appropriate (Bruce is in a desert so who knows how far away he ended up) which leads to the debut of the Batwing. Styled after the aircraft from the Tim Burton directed Batman, it’s strange to see the Batwing debut while being piloted by Alfred instead of Batman. Though perhaps it would be more appropriate to say the Batwing as piloted by the Batwing, as Alfred relies on the auto-pilot to reach Bruce. It should be noted, for television viewers the Batwing actually debuted in the two-part “Feat of Clay.”

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Alfred, in need of flying lessons.

Back at the camp, Salvo for some reason decides to mock Biggis with a fart noise, which leads to a scuffle when Riley and Griff come to his aid and all three men wind up in the box. Bruce’s memory is returned to him, triggered by Riley missing his family, and the escape is on. Bruce is able to find Alfred, following a particularly rough landing, and returns to the camp as Batman to take out Biggis and his lackeys. They end up battling in the mines, where Batman is triumphant. The episode ends with the three amigos back in Gotham. When Riley offers Bruce his home as a place to crash, Bruce politely declines and introduces himself officially to the two as Bruce Wayne, prompting Salvo to suggest Riley knock him out so that maybe he’ll wake up a millionaire.

“The Forgotten” tries something different, and it should be commended for doing so. I know more than one person who considers this a favorite, or at least memorable, episode of the series for them and I want to acknowledge that. For me, this is one of the weaker episodes. Amnesia plots have never been a favorite of mine, and it’s just hard to take Biggis and his men seriously as actual threats. I appreciate the Alfred side plot, and it’s probably my favorite part of the episode, but the rest I’m just sort of “meh” about. Riley is fine, but Salvo is intended to be a bit of a joker, but he’s just not funny. I would have also liked to have seen more concern for Bruce on the part of Alfred considering it’s probably his worst nightmare to get up in the morning and find he never came home.

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The best sequence in the episode is Bruce’s nightmare where he struggles to help all those who need his aid.

The score for the episode is something I find irritating. There’s a twangy theme used throughout the camp scenes that just sounds corny to me, like something that would have been featured in the 1960’s show. By the end of the episode I want to mute the television to stop hearing it. It’s even over-layed with elements of the Batman theme during the final chase sequence that makes it even worse. The episode looks fine, but the climactic moments in the mine aren’t a strong point. This show does so well putting its characters in dark environments, but they don’t blend well at all throughout this sequence. Boss Biggis is a rather huge individual too, but his model has no weight to it. He runs and bounces around like a balloon. More effort should have been made to convey just how heavy he must be.

I don’t hate “The Forgotten,” but it’s definitely one of the weaker episodes for me. I’m torn on if it’s my least favorite episode so far, as it’s between this and “The Underdwellers.” I think I probably would rank this one just ahead, but that’s not saying much.


Batman: The Animated Series – “P.O.V.”

POV-Title_CardEpisode Number:  7

Original Air Date:  September 18, 1992

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Mitch Brian

First Appearances(s):  Officer Wilkes, Lieutenant Hackle

Batman:  The Animated Series is largely a “villain of the week” kind of show, or in this case villain of the day since it aired six days a week. Sometimes though it will change-up the format and do something a bit different and this week’s episode, “P.O.V.,” is one such episode.

The episode is basically broken up into two acts. The first act involves a botched sting on some drug dealers at a Gotham warehouse that results in an internal investigation of three of Gotham’s finest:  Detective Bullock, Officer Montoya, and rookie officer Wilkes. Each officer gets to recount what happened to investigating officer Lieutenant Hackle (John Considine) with Commissioner Gordon overseeing everything, but largely letting Hackle conduct the investigation as he sees fit. Gordon outranks him, so it makes me think either he gives Hackle a lot of authority and doesn’t want to question his methods in front of the other officers, or Hackle is part of Internal Affairs and Gordon has no authority over him. Anyway, the second act will resolve the first act as Montoya goes off on her own to right the wrongs of the botched sting.

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The scene of the interrogation.

This episode is not our introduction to Renee Montoya (Ingrid Oliu) as she was seen in the previous episode “The Underdwellers,” but it’s basically her debut as she actually gets to actually do something and affect the plot. Montoya is unique in that she was created for this show, but someone at DC apparently liked the character enough to add her to the comics where she ended up debuting before the air date of her first episode. She is one of the noteworthy creations of this show, and if not for Harley Quinn (still to come!), she would probably be the most important addition to the Batman comic-verse to come from it.

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Wilkes on the left, and Montoya in the background, as they race to make it to the sting on time.

The episode opens with Montoya and Wilkes (Robbie Benson) racing to a sting operation where they are to meet up with Bullock. When they arrive they find him nearly unconscious outside a burning building. Bullock claims they’re late, which they vehemently deny and chastise him for going rogue. The two officers race off to salvage what they can, while Bullock sees Batman on the roof and passes out. This takes us to police headquarters where the three officers are now seated and being questioned by Hackle. He’s clearly playing the role of bad cop, and he invites Bullock to recount his version of the events. Bullock shares his story, and while doing so we the viewer get to view what happened with Bullock narrating over the scenes. This means we get to see when he lies, and when he does not. Bullock doesn’t necessarily change the events of the story, but he embellishes a lot. He does falsely attribute the appearance of Batman as his motivation for going in without backup, but otherwise he basically just lies to cover-up his own futility (he says he doesn’t know what tipped off the bad guys to his presence, when it was his tripping that did it. He also claims he rescued Batman from the flames, when naturally it was the opposite) and sticks to his guns that the other two were late.

Wilkes is allowed to go second, and his story is mostly about his encounter with Batman. Like a rookie would, his story reflects the awe he was overcome with at the sight of the Batman in action. He mistakes Batman’s various gadgets for actual super powers, but he does pick up some useful info about a “doc” when Batman apprehends one of the goons. Montoya’s story is also largely about her encounter with Batman, who saves her from a collapsing ceiling, which may have resulted in the death of Batman.

Hackle is dissatisfied with the stories from the officers, and promptly suspends him. The sting resulted in the loss of 2 million dollars that the police had used as a plant and only succeeded in catching one of the gang members. While on her way home, Montoya guesses the one gang member they captured wasn’t talking about a doctor, but a dock in Gotham Harbor. She decides to go off and check it out alone, without her sidearm and badge, and finds Batman captured by the same gang. It’s quickly revealed that Batman was just waiting to score some info from the goons in charge of watching over him before he frees himself from the binds they’ve placed him in and starts taking them out. Montoya helps him out, and the two are able to incapacitate everyone after a fairly lengthy exchange and even nab the drug lord boss, who’s never really shown up close leading me to assume they just wanted the viewer to wonder if it would be a more popular character from Batman’s rogue’s gallery.

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Batman and Montoya taking cover from mostly inept gunfire.

The setup for this episode is fun and rewarding. It may have been inspired by the 1950 film Rashomon which used the same point of view gimmick to tell a story. I really enjoyed how we’re shown the actual events in the Bullock version, while hearing his version as a narration. It adds some fun and it helps to keep the viewer in a state of distrust concerning the Bullock character, which will pay off down the road. This gimmick of sorts also means that the episode doesn’t need a Joker to make it feel important. The only real criticism I have of the episode is that the enemies Batman and Montoya deal with are the first really bad shots we’ll see in this series. One guy manages to shoot around both Batman and Montoya without actually hitting them. It’s comically bad.

Visually this episode is a real joy to behold. It’s nice and dark, like so many episodes of this series, and the visual effects on the fire look great. The characters are well animated and everything is in time with the visuals on screen. Batman really looks like a machine in taking out the gang member in Wilkes’ version of events and it’s believable the same gang member would be terrified into talking with Batman.

Montoya will be a consistent presence in the show going forward, while Wilkes will have a small role. Interestingly, the credits include a character named Scarface, but he’s not THE Scarface who will show up later, just a placeholder name for one of the gang members who happens to have a scar on his face. There are no villains in this episode who will resurface in a meaningful capacity, which is fine as this was a story meant to give some personality to the sometimes nameless Gotham PD and it succeeds quite well in doing so. It gives Batman another ally in the police department in Montoya, who proves she’s a worthy and heroic cop. And in Bullock we have to take a wait and see attitude to know just how far he’ll go to get rid of Batman.