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Batman: The Animated Series – “Perchance to Dream”

Batman_perchance_to_dreamEpisode Number:  30

Original Air Date:  October 19, 1992

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Laren Bright, Michael Reaves, and Joe R. Lansdale

First Appearance(s):  Martha Wayne

“Perchance to Dream” is one of my favorite episodes of Batman:  The Animated Series, and in looking around the internet, I’m apparently not alone in my enjoyment of it. It’s a story that originated in part from Detective Comics #633 and it’s a story that’s basically been retold several times over, just in a different fashion. When drilled down to its core, it’s simply a story of what-if Bruce Wayne gave up being Batman or never became Batman to begin with. The way it’s presented in this episode is fun and clever, and for a young adolescent mind, it was delightfully confusing even if everything about the episode’s resolution is telegraphed basically from the start. Because the episode does revolve around a mystery, I’ll just say you should watch it before reading this. It’s fun and not something I want to spoil for anyone, but there’s some really obvious clues too so it’s no Rosebud.

The episode opens, as many do, with Batman pursuing some criminals in the Batmobile. They flee into a warehouse and Batman gives chase, but he stumbles into a trap. We get a quick cut of Batman looking up at something descending from the ceiling onto him and then a jump-cut to Bruce Wayne waking up in a cold sweat. Alfred is there to open his curtains and get him up and also inquire about the alarmed state Bruce awoke in. He brushes it off as a bad dream and gets on with his day. When he goes to open the entrance to the Batcave he finds it’s not there. When he asks Alfred about it he’s confused and thinks Bruce is playing a joke. This just annoys Bruce and he seems about to get angry until his dad enters the room.

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We’ve seen and heard from Thomas Wayne before, but this is the first time Martha gets to speak (well, sort of).

Bruce is shocked to find his parents, Thomas (Kevin Conroy) and Martha (voiced by Adrienne Barbeau, the first time the character spoke) are alive and well and enjoying retirement. He doesn’t understand how this could be, and his parents are concerned. He soon finds out that he’s also engaged to be married – to Selina Kyle of all people. Bruce seeks out Leslie Thompkins for some guidance and she’s no help in sorting out what’s going on, but she is able to steer him towards being happy and accepting of his current life. Things get really weird though when he and Selina have a run-in with Batman. Batman apparently showed up in Gotham recently and he behaves just like how we would expect Batman to.

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You woke up engaged to the woman of your dreams Bruce, just go with it!

Bruce is left to assume that his life as Batman was nothing more than a dream. A very detailed dream. He’s resigned to accept this as his life is pretty great. After all, he’s still fabulously wealthy, has two living parents, and is engaged to a fine looking lady (we know from “The Cat and the Claw” that Selina is very much what Bruce finds attractive) who isn’t a cat burglar. Everything is fine until he opens up a book and finds it’s full of gibberish. He soon realizes all writing is just a nonsense collection of letters. He starts to get enraged and his parents are once again concerned about his well-being. He resolves that Batman is the key to what’s going on and he storms off to confront the caped crusader.

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Looks like a worthwhile read.

Wanting to get Batman’s attention, Bruce sets his sights on an enormous clock tower in Gotham Cemetery. To make things a bit more challenging, the Waynes called the police about their son, and when Bruce runs from the cops they decide they need to give chase. He never expressly states his plan, but by climbing to the top of the clock tower it’s implied that Bruce wants to make Batman think he’s contemplating suicide. Sure enough, Batman does show up and the two are forced to confront each other. Meanwhile, a storm rages in the background and the setting for Bruce Wayne vs Batman takes on a sullen feeling as opposed to an exciting one. Bruce then brings us all up to speed about what he’s realized. The garbled text indicated to him that he’s living in a dream world, since dreams and the ability to read are located on different hemispheres of the human brain (this is the part where everyone watching begins to wonder if they’ve ever read in a dream). Batman is indifferent to Bruce’s claims and the two tangle, but Bruce is able to wrestle the mask off of Batman to reveal the face below – The Mad Hatter!

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Not something you see everyday.

The Mad Hatter explains that he’s not really the Mad Hatter, just an aspect of him in Bruce’s mind. He’s not really there, and thus not privy to the details of what’s going on in Bruce’s head (in other words, he doesn’t know Bruce is really Batman). He’s placed Batman, in the real world, into his dream machine. The goal is to keep Batman happy and comatose so he’s free to do whatever it is he wants to do – which we really have no idea what that is since the last time we saw him he just wanted the affections of his assistant. Satisfied that The Mad Hatter has no knowledge of what’s really transpiring inside Batman’s head, Bruce jumps from the bell tower as the police storm in with horrified expressions on their faces. The suicidal act jolts Batman back to consciousness and we see him hooked up to some Dr. Frankenstein kind of machine. Mad Hatter is beside himself with frustration and is incensed that Batman would pull himself from an idyllic world just to foil his plans. He’s The Mad Hatter, so there’s little resistance he can put up once Batman is free and the cops show up to take him away. When Gordon asks Batman just what the machine does he replies with, “It’s the stuff that dreams are made of.” How poetic.

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I love the lighting all through-out this sequence.

“Perchance to Dream” is largely fun because of the what-if question it poses. Like most of the episodes of this show, you can pick it apart incessantly in a bid to ruin it. Why didn’t The Mad Hatter unmask Batman once he had him restrained? Why not just kill him? He seemed to try and kill Batman in their last encounter so it doesn’t seem like he’s averse to murder. I suppose it is different to try and kill someone in the act of fighting them as opposed to killing a sleeping enemy. Basically, he had Batman beat and blew it. Also, the whole way the dream world unravels with the writing thing doesn’t really hold up in the real world. It’s the type of fact you might read about and form your own conclusions, it certainly sounds clever. If you’re actually dreaming you can certainly read things because it’s just your subconscious telling you what it is you’re seeing. I think what the writers were trying to get at is that the dream world inhabited by Bruce is partly created by his subconscious, but also partly created by the device he’s strapped into. If he were to pick up a random book that was put there by The Mad Hatter’s invention then Bruce’s subconscious wouldn’t be able to have a frame of reference to fill the book with words. It also would explain how Bruce would need to open a book or newspaper to realize this, as his subconscious could easily fill in the blank spot on a McDonald’s sign or something because it’s a familiar sight (though there is a background clue during the episode that features a jumbled sign briefly so maybe I’m putting more thought into this than the writers did).

There is a quiet tragedy to this episode as well. As a viewer, part of me wants to see Bruce give into The Mad Hatter and just be happy. Batman is cool and all, but what kind of life is that really? We know Bruce was very much taken by Selina in her prior appearance and I think most viewers root for the Bruce/Selina pairing. Obviously, it’s not to be. As a vehicle for The Mad Hatter, this plot is satisfying since it draws on his mind control device, though this is another example of villains just existing outside of Arkham with no explanation of how they got there. The Mad Hatter will not be a frequently relied upon villain, which I’m okay with since he’s kind of lame, and this is easily his best appearance of the series. I did find it funny that they use The Mad Hatter’s theme over the title card, something I didn’t notice in previous viewings, which blatantly gives away the villain of the episode. On television, The Mad Hatter’s first two appearances were only separated by a week so the theme was still fresh in the minds of viewers. The mystery isn’t what makes the episode a success though, so I suppose it doesn’t matter. You could replace him with basically any villain and the episode would still be fun. The episode worked so well that I have to believe it at least partly inspired the much later episode of The New Batman Adventures “Over the Edge,” which is often considered the best of that batch of episodes. It’ll be awhile before I get to that one.

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Batman: The Animated Series – “Appointment in Crime Alley”

Appointment_In_Crime_Alley-Title_CardEpisode Number:  26

Original Air Date:  September 17, 1992

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Gerry Conway

First Appearance(s): Leslie Thompkins

 

After last week’s entry I’m feeling pretty eager to get the taste of The Clock King out of my mouth. This week, season one heavyweight Boyd Kirkland returns to direct “Appointment in Crime Alley.” Writing this one is famed Amazing Spider-Man writer Gerry Conway, he who killed Gwen Stacy. I’m not sure what about this episode appealed to Conway in order to bring him in, but the results speak for themselves. Batman is first and foremost a super hero cartoon. He may be the hero without powers, but his stories still pack a healthy amount of the fantastic. After all, even a man in peek physical condition couldn’t do what Batman does, such as falling off a building and utilizing an amazing grappling gun to save himself, without ripping his own arms off. Even so, since Batman’s rogues gallery is light on ultra-powerful comic book villains, he’s able to branch out and do more real world styled stories, and “Appointment in Crime Alley” is one of those stories.

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Thompkins consoling Bruce after his parents’ murder.

The film Batman touched upon the lasting impact of the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne and how Bruce marks that anniversary. Pretty much ever since, just about every new iteration of Batman includes this aspect of his character and this episode touches on it. When it opens, we’re given a brief overview of Crime Alley, a rundown part of Gotham that I guess the real world would just refer to as “The Projects.” There’s a lot of empty buildings and a lot of crime, but it’s also a home for many of Gotham’s less fortunate. It’s also the setting for the murder of the Waynes, but the episode never explicitly tells us this. Early in the episode, Alfred remarks to Batman to not be late for an appointment, which he responds with “I never am,” and we’re left to speculate what the appointment is for, but the episode isn’t going to make it hard for us to guess.

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Leslie is a unique ally for Batman as she’s one of the select few who know his identity.

This episode also brings in Dr. Leslie Thompkins (Diana Muldaur). She’s introduced onscreen and via a scrapbook later in the episode which includes clippings relating to the Wayne murder and a touching image of her comforting young Bruce. We’ll learn in a later episode that she was close friends with the Waynes, in particular Thomas, and she’s been a constant in Bruce’s life ever since. She also lives in Crime Alley, and that miserable rat Roland Daggett is scheming to illegally level Crime Alley so he can rebuild it and make more money off of it. He coordinates with some hired goons, Nitro (David L. Lander) and Crocker (Jeffrey Tambor) – one being an explosives expert, to plant explosives all over the neighborhood to accomplish his stated plan. He’s at least not totally evil, since he tries to get the few residents of the area out, though he does it by sending hired muscle to intimidate people into leaving (and he’s not changing his plans for anyone who does stick around). One such attempt gets Batman’s attention while he’s heading for his appointment, clueing him into something nefarious going on.

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Daggett is such a scumbag, an easy villain to root against.

Meanwhile, Thompkins has taken note of the bombers trespassing on a condemned building. She decides to check it out and gets their attention, resulting in them kidnapping her. Now Batman can’t find his friend, and a homeless man who saw the abduction just so happened to pick up a blasting cap he found, and everything starts to come together for Batman. Unfortunately for him, people keep needing his help, like a suicidal man who’s taken a hostage, and it diverts his attention from finding Thompkins, who is tied up with the explosives. He will eventually locate her, but he can’t stop Daggett’s bombs from going off. There are no known fatalities, since this is a kid’s show after all, and Batman gets to confront Daggett at the end only to watch him drive away without arrest. It’s a bit depressing and it’s easy to see the frustration on Batman’s face even with so much of it being obscured by his cowl. Thompkins is there to comfort him, as she was so many years ago, and the two head to their appointment to lay flowers. The episode fades out on the newspaper clipping of Thompkins consoling young Bruce, and it’s probably the most touching ending we’ve had thus far.

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Promises to keep.

Gerry Conway will return in season 2 to pen another episode, and wouldn’t you know it’s another good one. “Appointment in Crime Alley” is one of those episodes of Batman that few will list as being among their favorites when prodded, but upon watching it they’ll be reminded of just how good it is. It’s kind of a day in the life piece, and if not for the special occasion of Batman’s appointment, that’s what it would be. It doesn’t contain an over the top villain, but a made for TV one in Daggett, who is quickly becoming one of the easiest villains to truly despise. This episode also has the distinction of being adapted from a comic story, in this case “There Is No Hope in Crime Alley” from 1976 which was written by Dennis O’Neil. Thompkins is also a nice addition to the show, though surprisingly she’ll only have a handful of appearances. It feels like she was in more than five episodes, but that’s it. And if IMDB is to be trusted, this was basically the last role for actress Diana Muldaur, which is kind of neat I suppose. Good news, she isn’t dead, just retired. This also continues a nice string of episodes for director Boyd Kirkland. After manning some of my least favorites early on, he’s in a nice groove and is probably the show’s top director. I try not to look ahead too much, but Kirkland has some good ones coming later on in the first season. It also seems like he gets some of the more grounded tales, since he also directed “It’s Never Too Late” and will also helm “I Am The Night.” He’s a featured director in season 2 as well so hopefully you’re enjoying his work as much as I am because he’s not going away.


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.