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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.

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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.


Batman: The Animated Series – “The Underdwellers”

The_Underdwellers-Title_CardEpisode Number:  6

Original Air Date:  October 21, 1992

Directed by:  Frank Paur

Written by:  Tom Ruegger

First Appearance(s):  The Sewer King

For a long time, children’s shows were required to have some education content. That’s why we have such memorable segments from G.I. Joe with one of the Joe’s letting us know that “Knowing is half the battle.” These standards were either omitted or relaxed by the time the 90s rolled around, but this episode of Batman feels like it could have been made in the 80s.

The episode opens with a couple of kids playing chicken by riding on the roof of a train. Whoever bails first loses. Batman takes note and swoops in to put an end to such foolishness, and it’s a good thing too because one of the kids gets his foot caught on some cables and might have perished had he not. The boys are admonished by Batman with the line, “Play chicken long enough and you get fried.” See, Batman doesn’t just fight crime!

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Batman says, “Thumbs up, dude!”

Shortly after, a woman is robbed by a little person wearing a green cloak, prompting her to declare she was victimized by a leprechaun. Batman oversees this but is unable to catch the culprit, but seems to be buying her description for some reason. This even leads to a scene at the Batcave with Bruce asking Alfred if he thinks he’s crazy for claiming to see a leprechaun. Alfred smartly responds with sarcasm, before Batman heads out for further investigation. He ends up finding a secret entrance to Gotham’s sewer system, where he finds his leprechaun:  a young boy who’s apparently been living down there. For some reason, Batman deems it necessary to take the kid home with him and have Alfred look after him. I have no idea why he doesn’t bring him to the police and continue nosing around in the sewers, and sadly Alfred doesn’t question Master Bruce.

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This is The Sewer King. He sucks, though Michael Pataki gives a pretty good performance, all things considered.

The real reason for bringing the kid back is likely to pad out the episode as we get to watch Alfred struggle through a day trying to wash the kid, feed him, and even get him to do some chores. He’s a mute with a dislike of sunlight. In a separate scene we learn his name is Frog via his surrogate father:  The Sewer King. The Sewer King (Michael Pataki) is never named in the episode, and his name only appears as graffiti throughout the sewers. He’s some kind of madman dressed kind of like a pirate (complete with the eye patch) who has some obedient pet alligators to make him seem menacing. He also lords over a bunch of orphaned children who do his bidding. They’re forbidden to speak, and are only allowed above ground to steal for him. He’s cruel, but only emotionally. Apparently Standards & Practices wouldn’t let him be physically cruel to the children, which probably would have added more menace to the character. He’s enraged when a child other than Frog brings him his rolls for his dinner, and as the tired and malnourished children look on, he throws the food on the ground and sends them all away to find Frog.

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The Misadventures of Frog and The Butler

Meanwhile, Frog finds Bruce’s room full of antique weapons and plucks an old rifle off of a display. Batman shows up and is quick to remind the audience that children and guns don’t mix. Hey Bruce, I don’t disagree with that sentiment, but if you want to keep guns out of the hands of children maybe don’t just casually hang them on your wall within reach?

Batman and Frog head back to the sewers, where Batman is finally able to confront The Sewer King. He gets to do battle with the gators, and even dislocates the jaw of one of them in unrealistic fashion, but you don’t need me to tell you that Batman isn’t losing to some guy named The Sewer King. When he does finally catch The Sewer King, Batman implies he’s really tempted in this instance to take his life which apparently director Paur felt was necessary in establishing that Batman is a friend to all children.

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Shots like this are probably what caused Bruce Timm to declare it too anime-like in appearance, but I do think it works in places and love the blacks and blues seen here.

This is probably not a well-remembered episode of Batman. It deals with a D-level villain who will never resurface and is clearly aimed at just connecting Batman with a young audience. That said, I don’t feel it’s necessarily written poorly, I just wish it wasn’t so hammy with the lessons. The opening scene exists only for the show to make the statement that riding on top of trains is a bad idea, which feels like something that doesn’t need stating. If those kids were somehow followed-up on at the episode’s conclusion maybe it would have been worthwhile. Instead it feels like an episode that had a 15 minute story, and that scene, as well as Frog and Alfred, needed to be added to add more time. Though I should say, the scenes with Alfred and Frog might be the best of the episode as they are kind of funny, and the villain is so hard to be invested in that those lighter scenes end up working better.

Visually, Bruce Timm expressed dissatisfaction with the episode, saying it too resembled anime. I can kind of see that in the design of the children, but the episode is actually animated rather well. Better than the previous episode, “Pretty Poison.” The lighting in the sewer, something which could have proved challenging, looks great and I felt Batman’s movements were noticeably smoother than they’ve been in some of the other episodes.

There’s no covering up for a mediocre antagonist, and while The Sewer King is easy to root against, he’s also hard to take seriously. With the way these episodes are structured, when the villain stinks the episode tends to follow which is why “The Underdwellers” is probably nobody’s favorite episode. I should add though, I was not looking forward to re-watching this episode for this feature, but I ended up enjoying it more than I thought I would, some of that was ironically. Still, probably not my least favorite episode of season one.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Pretty Poison”

Pretty_Poison-Title_CardEpisode Number: 5

Original Air Date:  September 14, 1992

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Paul Dini, Michael Reaves

First Appearance(s): Poison Ivy, Renée Montoya

“Pretty Poison” is another early production episode that’s confident to give viewers a lesser villain rather than a heavy hitter. As the title implies, this episode is the introduction of Poison Ivy (Diane Pershing) and she’s debuting as a new villain, not as one with a prior relationship with Batman (so far, only Joker has been introduced as an already existing villain) making this an origin story for her. Also central to the plot is Harvey Dent (Richard Moll). We saw him briefly in the pilot “On Leather Wings,” but this episode is really his introduction to the audience.

The episode opens in black and white as we see a pair of hands saving a wild rose from being torn up to make way for a new prison in Gotham. An old news broadcast serves to provide a framing device for this prison as it’s the brainchild of Gotham’s new district attorney, Dent, with considerable financial backing from some guy named Bruce Wayne. The show uses colored images to take us to the present, five years later, and a current prisoner of that fancy new establishment is making an escape with the help of a helicopter. This sets up a fun little back and forth where we’re shown scenes of Batman going after this guy and a scene of Dent enjoying dinner with a dashing redhead. They’re waiting for Wayne, and we get some humorous comments from Dent about his boring buddy who is always late while Batman is shown doing mostly Batman things. It’s a scene that will basically be adapted for the first Spider-Man movie.

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Bruce meets Harvey and his new girlfriend Pam for dinner.

Bruce eventually shows up at dinner, having thwarted the escape, and is introduced to Dent’s fiancé, Pam Isely. After she gives him a long, lingering, kiss she departs and Bruce begins to caution Dent on moving too fast (he’s only known her a few weeks). Dent begins to complain about not feeling well, and then passes out into his pudding and Gotham PD is alerted. Dent’s been poisoned, and Wayne naturally is on the case as Batman.

Through the use of his awesome computer, Batman discovers the poison is derived from an extinct species of rose. He also learns that Dent’s new flame is a botanist, who is currently giving a lecture on extinct plants. You would think Batman’s villains would be more careful? Anyway, it’s pretty clear who’s behind the poisoning and Batman confronts Isley, who’s hopped into a backless green outfit with a wrist-strapped crossbow and is now calling herself Poison Ivey. She has some sentient plants that do her bidding and basically makes it clear she values the life of the plant Dent drove into extinction by building his prison (apparently Gotham has a bad environmental works department) more than the life of Dent. I can’t help but wonder if Ivy was created by someone who thought vegetarians were crazy and that they valued animal life more than human life and decided to make a more extreme version?

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I always thought Poison Ivy’s mini crossbow was pretty cool.

Nonetheless, this is a good episode with some pacing problems. I really enjoy the setup, and it’s great that we get to see the Bruce/Harvey friendship before a different tragedy befalls the Dent character. I like that Isley is not too on the nose at first. While it’s not hard to figure out who poisoned Dent, it’s handled about as well as it can be. Ivy does come across as a bit incompetent, even basically just giving up in the end after almost losing her precious plant. It’s always a challenge to put Batman at odds with a female because the censors don’t want Batman handling them in the same manner he would The Joker, but Ivy’s plant monsters work well to take a beating and they’re pretty cool looking. I can’t help but think this episode would have benefitted from being a two-parter though, as it wraps really fast. A second part would have allowed for the introduction of some red herrings to make things seem less obvious leading to a better pay-off in the end.

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Given how Ivy’s feminine features are very much a part of her arsenal, I really hope that mutant plant isn’t supposed to be representative of a certain part of the female anatomy.

Visually, this is a solid episode. There’s some stiff animation at times, but I liked the artistic take of utilizing black and white and color as a way to distinguish the past and present. Batman gets a little beat up too which is always kind of fun to see. There’s also a little visual humor as we get Gordon and his subordinates racing out of the police headquarters when that unnamed prisoner attempts a break-out repeated when they find out Dent gets poisoned. Both times Bullock is just trying to enjoy some donuts because he’s a cop, and he’s fat. Cheap humor, but for some reason it made me laugh a bit when the scenario was repeated. Alfred also gets some nice lines here, and he’ll be even better in the next episode, making him a dark horse early favorite for season MVP.

This episode is a good introduction for Poison Ivy, who could be considered one of the break-out players from this series. Prior to The Animated Series, Ivy wasn’t a big player in the comics, but this series treated her as Batman’s #1 female adversary (it would mishandle Catwoman, coming later), and yes I realize this is the show that gave us Harley Quinn. Without this show, she probably isn’t a featured villain in Batman & Robin, which was a pretty big moment for the character, even if the film is trash.


Batman: The Animated Series – “The Last Laugh”

The_Last_Laugh-Title_CardEpisode Number:  4

Original Air Date:  September 22, 1992

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Carl Swenson

First Appearance (s):  Batboat, Joker Gas

Despite the finality of the title, “The Last Laugh” is not the last appearance of The Joker, Batman’s greatest foil. While The Joker’s first production appearance in “Christmas With The Joker” featured a pretty slap-stick version of the character, The Joker depicted in “The Last Laugh” is a bit more dangerous and more in-line with his future appearances. Even though “The Last Laugh” marks The Joker’s second appearance in the series, it still isn’t the first appearance the character would make on television as we haven’t come to his broadcast debut yet. This is also the second holiday themed episode of the show, in this case April Fool’s Day, though thankfully The Joker would refrain from only appearing on holidays.

April Fool’s Day has arrived in Gotham, and with it a barge full of garbage is sailing down a canal in the city sending a foul order through-out that also happens to make all who inhale burst into uncontrollable laughter. This is obviously the work of The Joker, and our hero makes the same connection just as quickly as the viewer when the news reports break. Strangely, Batman doesn’t actually set out to put a stop to this until the gas creeps into Wayne Manor, turning Alfred (now voiced by Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) into a destructive force as he happily smashes various objects around the mansion.

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Joker, breaking the fourth wall, declares “When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping,” which is a line I can’t decide if it’s just not funny, or intentionally not funny.

Meanwhile, Joker and his goons are galavanting around Gotham happily looting stores and emptying the pockets of those who are paralyzed with laughter. Unlike other depictions of Joker’s famous Laughing Gas, this version appears to only induce laughter without the fatal component; appropriate for a kid’s show. Batman eventually tracks down the barge with the debuting Batboat, which also appears to function as a submarine (surprisingly, it does not resemble the Bat Ski-Boat from Batman Returns) when needed. Batman is forced into conflict with Joker’s henchman, where one turns out to be not a henchman at all, but an android that is able to surprise and overpower Batman. Captain Clown, as The Joker affectionately refers to his robotic minion, stuffs Batman in a trashcan with a lockable lid and tosses it into the bay, but not before Joker stabs a few air-holes in it. Batman, naturally, avoids death by drowning and tracks the Joker down to a waste management facility where he dispatches with the goons, and eventually corrals The Joker himself.

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The Joker always brings out Batman’s playful side.

Despite the title, this episode is some-what short on laughs as writer Carl Swenson seems to view The Joker as the type of comedian who just makes bad jokes that only he finds funny. While it may not be all that humorous, the visual style is exceptional. There’s some wonky animation early in the episode with Bruce and a shower scene (not as sexy as it sounds), but after that the rest is gorgeous. The initial fight scene between Batman and The Joker’s men features Batman ably darting around and throwing punches. Captain Clown, being a robot, allows for Batman to really tee-off on him in a manner the censors likely wouldn’t allow had the character been human. He even gets to smash him repeatedly in the head with a steel pipe, the clown’s frozen expression is probably rather creepy for those who hate clowns. Batman’s eyes are also allowed to emote in their most expressive manner yet as they’re constantly changing shapes to show fear, worry, and even dizziness. Joker is allowed to get serious and even a little scary when he reacts to Batman “killing” Captain Clown. There’s also a fun playful moment at the end between Joker and Batman, and Bruce even gets to make a joke to close the episode out at Alfred’s expense. The only other criticisms I can levy at the episode from a technical perspective is one shoddy-looking Batman chest emblem at the 9:40 mark and the abundance of eye black on The Joker, which at times makes it look like he’s wearing a bandit mask. The animators also, at times, appeared to have trouble with Joker’s mouth movements. Either that, or they re-recorded some lines after the fact. I’ll have to be on the look-out for this in future episodes featuring The Joker.

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I’m not sure he’d still be smiling if he could help it.

Not to be outdone, the audio section of the episode is particularly lively this time around. Normally, the show can be a bit understated, relying on the Batman theme for its big moments. Joker has his jubilant theme which the series will return to time and again, and this episode has its own unique opening theme that’s really good. It has a nice build and I wish the show had returned to it more in other episodes, but then maybe it wouldn’t be as special.

This is a very good episode for the series, even if it probably isn’t among the very best. It’s harmed some-what by the mostly directionless Joker who has no real motivation here other than to rob Gotham. The show kind of does that sometimes with him as his primary goal appears to just be to stir up trouble and draw Batman out. Maybe I’d feel satisfied if we saw Joker just casually toss all of the stolen goods into the pile of garbage and not really care about it. Instead we don’t really see it at all. Even so, The Joker is easy to write as he’s Batman’s polar opposite so as long as the two get to share some screen time the results are typically entertaining.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Nothing to Fear”

Nothing_To_Fear-Title_CardEpisode Number:  3

Original Air Date:  September 15, 1992

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Henry T. Gilroy and Sean Catherine Derek

First Appearance (s):  The Scarecrow, Thomas Wayne

Episode 3 of Batman:  The Animated Series introduces us to what is probably the standard episode template. A physically unimposing villain with a gimmick shows up to cause some sort of havoc while leading a gang of incompetent muscle who mostly exist just to get pummeled by Batman. That’s not necessarily a criticism as its a format that works just fine so long as the main villain is interesting enough.

Enter The Scarecrow (Henry Polic II), a costumed villain armed with a fear-inducing toxin and a grudge. The Scarecrow will see a redesign later this season, but for his first appearance he’s uniquely toon-like with a tear-drop shaped masked head that’s not at all indicative of the shape of the skull beneath it. His eyes, like Batman’s, are void of pupils and his head will curve in natural ways. He’s rail-thin with claw-tipped fingers with a rather ordinary looking attire to go with it. He’s fairly creepy looking, probably because of the unique shape of his model. His future version will add pupils and a more natural shaped head as well as teeth to the hideous moth and some straw hair. This original version is basically the under-stated version, though I like it, despite the simplicity.

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The Scarecrow as seen in this episode. He will undergo a redesign before his next appearance in “Fear of Victory.”

This episode also introduces us to the Bruce Wayne character by showing us how some in the public view him. The episode opens with Gotham University head Dr. Long (Kevin McCarthy) fretting over a recent crime wave impacting the school and being chased down by Summer Gleason for comment. A chance encounter with Wayne, in which Long refuses to shake his hand before admonishing him, shows us that some view Bruce as just some billionaire play boy not living up to the Wayne name. It’s an aspect of the character that’s really not going to be explored much outside of this episode, but I’m glad it’s at least touched upon here. The comments naturally sting Bruce, even if his actions as Bruce are just an intentional cover for his Batman persona.

Batman soon has his first encounter with The Scarecrow, who appears to be robbing a vault on university grounds but may in fact just be looking to harm the university by any means. He’s able to show off his toxin, first on a hapless guard and then on Batman himself. Dr. Long’s words come back in a big way by unveiling to the viewer that Batman’s greatest fear is that he’s letting his parents down. The Scarecrow escapes, but the effects of the toxin linger throughout the episode. It’s not until the climax, where Batman being confronted by a vision of his dead father as a giant skeleton, utters his most famous line from this show:  “I am vengeance! I am the night! I. Am. Batman!” It’s a bit corny, but I know at the time I thought it was awesome and it’s a still a fun little catch-phrase for Batman.

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That’s probably not how your dad wants you to remember him looking, Batman.

Batman naturally figures out The Scarecrow’s identity as that of Johnathon Crane, a former university employee specializing in fear. I should say, Batman’s computer figures out who Scarecrow is in what is easily my biggest pet peeve with this show. Batman’s computer basically knows everything and responds to voice commands in 1992 better than Siri does in 2017. The computer is often the detective with Batman taking all of the credit.

There are some fun little easter eggs in this episode. When Batman is confronted by Bullock after Scarecrow escapes, Bullock refers to him as Zorro with a mocking tone. Zorro is often cited as the real-life inspiration for the Batman character, although the in-universe inspiration will be established later. Also, when Batman is looking at a list of possible sources of The Scarecrow’s mask, Axis Chemicals pops up which is the same name as the chemical plant from the Batman movie that gave birth to The Joker. The vault guard from early in the episode is also seen reading an issue of Tiny Toon Adventures, and enjoying it immensely.

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If this is how everyone on Scarecrow’s toxin would view him, then maybe Batman should start arming himself with it.

Plot wise, this is the best episode so far and The Scarecrow is an interesting villain in his own right. Unfortunately, it’s a low point for the animation quality of the program. I already covered the minimalist approach taken in designing The Scarecrow, but also the character just animates unnaturally. Bruce looks especially off-model in his appearance early in the episode and we get a really bad shot of the Batmobile at one point, as well as the first instance of bendy Batmobile. The vault guard who is the first affected by The Scarecrow’s fear toxin hallucinates spiders all over his body, which strangely only appear to have four legs apiece. On the plus side, I like the added stubble on Bruce when he’s in the Batcave essentially withdrawing from The Scarecrow’s fear toxin. His hands are shaky as he tries to pick up a picture of his parents and he looks appropriately disheveled. There’s also a nice bit of artistic licensing in the closing shot of the episode where Bruce’s shadow is cast as Batman.

This is a good episode, and for a lot of kids this was probably their first look at The Scarecrow. He’s a unique villain who has a good look that gets better and his fear toxin is a fun weapon for the writers to play with. He’ll actually be one of the most used villains by the show which is a bit surprising on the surface, but his episodes tend to deliver which is why the show runners kept returning to him. Also of note, we get to see Batman actually driven to strike Bullock over his mocking, heightening their rivalry. We also get to see one of The Scarecrow’s henchmen, after being exposed to the toxin and revealing his fear as returning to prison, basically kill himself by jumping out of a zeppelin rather than risk capture by Batman. He lands on some trees with a nice leafy canopy. The censors probably intended for us to think those leaves cushioned his fall, but I’m not buying it. That guy is dead. This is also the last episode for Clive Revill as Alfred who will be recast. We hardly knew ye, Clive.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Christmas With The Joker”

Christmas_With_the_Joker-Title_CardEpisode Number: 2

Original Air Date: November 13, 1992

Directed By: Kent Butterworth

Written By: Eddie Gorodetsky

First Appearance(s):  Robin, Joker, Summer Gleason, Arkham Asylum

An interesting choice for a second episode of a series. It’s a Christmas episode, which feels kind of inline with Batman thanks to Batman Returns. It’s also the debut of The Joker, and introducing him through a Christmas themed episode also feels odd. Naturally, since the show premiered in September this episode was held back to be more topical when it did eventually air, though its original air date still came before Thanksgiving which still feels off.

In this episode, we are immediately introduced to The Joker, who with other inmates at the famed Arkham Asylum, is decorating a Christmas tree and singing “Jingle Bells.” In a moment that would probably now be described as “metta,” Joker adds in the “Batman smells,” variation which probably delighted 8 year old me at the time while he improbably blasts away on a rocket-powered Christmas tree just as he arrives at the “and The Joker got away,” part of the song. Right away, we see this episode isn’t going to care much for realism as Joker is going to quickly establish lots of unique traps and engineer a few kidnappings in a short amount of time with zero explanation on how he accomplished any of that. And unlike many of the villains who will follow, this is not a depiction of Batman’s first encounter with The Joker. It’s pretty clear that the two have a relationship that predates the events of this show and have been at this game for years, assumedly, just as this isn’t Robin’s first foray into crime-fighting even though it’s his first appearance in the show (we’ll get to see his origin later).

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The Joker’s humorous, but improbable, escape from Arkham.

Batman is naturally unnerved by The Joker’s Christmas break-out, while Robin (Loren Lester) thinks even villains prefer to spend the holidays with family. Batman is quick to remind him that The Joker has no family. Naturally, Batman is right and when Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson sit down to watch a television broadcast of It’s A Wonderful Life they soon find the airwaves taken over by The Joker. Joker has kidnapped three pretty important figures in Gotham:  Commissioner Gordon, Detective Bullock, and television news reporter Summer Gleeson (Mari Devon). Joker, lacking a family to spend the holidays with, has dubbed this trio the Awful Lawful Family and given them personalities of Mommy, Daddy, and Baby (Bullock gets to wear the adorable bonnet). They’re hog-tied, and presumably in danger, as are other citizens of Gotham.

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The Joker and his “family.”

Joker lays some traps, including taking out a railroad bridge and arming an observatory with a giant cannon, all while tormenting his captors in a mostly PG sort of way on television. His use of a discontinued toy is what clues Batman in on the fact that The Joker must be housed in an abandoned toy factory and he and Robin race to the rescue. They have a mostly slapstick encounter with The Joker and his toy-themed gadgets, and Robin even gets to make a pretty terrible bat pun when Batman makes use of a baseball bat. The ultimate goal of The Joker’s crime is to get Batman to open a Christmas present from him, and it’s genuinely amusing and makes The Joker look like a psycho, albeit a G-rated one, and I kind of appreciated that fact.

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Merry Christmas, Batman.

“Christmas With The Joker” is a middling episode of this series that’s neither great nor bad. It’s hamstrung somewhat by the Christmas theme and just feels inappropriate as the debut for The Joker. Of course, if I were going in broadcast order it wouldn’t be The Joker’s debut, and those of us watching at the time were introduced to the character in a better fashion. As the debut of The Joker though, it still is a fine reception for Mark Hamill in his second most famous role. His Joker is often regarded as the best voice for the character. It’s mostly goofy and fun, especially in this episode, but when he needs to get a little more malevolent he can slip into a darker tone with ease. And his laugh is brilliant.

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Not to be forgotten, this episode also marks the first appearance of Robin.

As a Christmas episode, I will give this one props for not being an adaptation of a more popular Christmas story. At first, I was afraid it would go in a It’s A Wonderful Life direction (a non-Christmas episode kind of will much later this season) when Robin name-dropped the film, but it thankfully did not. I do hate how Gordon and Bullock are just assumed kidnapped, and the episode is too eager to “yada yada” over such details. It’s the only episode written by Eddie Gorodetsky, and if he could do better it’s too bad he didn’t get a chance to show it. For a show that does a good job of elevating what children’s entertainment could be, this one feels too close to the cartoons of the 80s which treated its audience as imbeciles. It’s not as bad as those old shows, but definitely lacking when compared to future episodes. I’m probably being a little too hard on it, as even this mostly serious show is entitled to just have fun now and then. It’s still a worthwhile episode to toss into your Christmas viewing experience though.