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The New Batman Adventures – “Torch Song”

torch songEpisode Number:  10 (95)

Original Air Date:  June 13, 1998

Directed by:  Curt Geda

Written by:  Rich Fogel

First Appearance:  Firefly

One of the advantages in moving Batman from Fox to The WB was a lessening on restrictions placed on the character. It’s a bit funny since Fox was often the butt of many jokes, usually by shows it was airing, for being willing to put crass and outlandish content on its airwaves when compared with other networks. Maybe it’s just a simple case of escalation, but when The WB Network was launched it proved to be even less restrictive. When Batman was a part of Fox Kids, he had some rules he needed to follow. He couldn’t bleed and for some reason he couldn’t break glass. He often had to deal with his enemies indirectly, though at times he landed some solid blows (unlike Spider-Man who came later who wasn’t allowed to be seen punching a bad guy). Batman did enjoy a major concession by the network in that his foes could use realistic weaponry, so it’s not like it was all bad.

Something Fox was apparently loathe to include was fire. During production on Batman, the writers wanted to include the villain Firefly, a lesser villain but one who had been around for a long time in the comics. Firefly, as the name implies, likes to use fire as his main method of attack and that was apparently a no-no. It’s interesting because the same year Batman premiered, X-Men would as well and it was able to include the villain Pyro in its first season. Whatever. With the move to the new network though, former villains once shot down were now in-play, so here is the apparently long overdue episode introducing Firefly.

shannon

Bruce Wayne, always with a new girl.

“Torch Song” begins with Bruce Wayne taking a new girl to a concert. Her name is Shannon (Jane Wiedlin) and the episode seems to imply she’s a lot younger than Bruce. There’s either a generational gap here, or Bruce could just be really out of touch with pop music. He doesn’t seem too thrilled to be dragged here, but Shannon is quite eager to see tonight’s performer, Cassidy (Karla DeVito), and from some choice seats. As they head in to the venue, they pass Barbara who is apparently there solo. Her seats are much worse. She seems to be amused at the sight of Bruce literally being dragged into the show and into a situation he seemingly has no control over.

Backstage, Cassidy is getting ready to hit the stage. Cassidy is a short, curvy, blonde with a low voice. She’s played up to be rather sexy, but the visual style for this show makes all of the women just look weird to me. She’s in the midst of an exchange with someone who works backstage. He’s a large fellow by the name of Garfield Lynns (Mark Rolston) and he’s more than a little creepy. It would seem the two used to be an item, but now they’re not, and old Garfield isn’t too happy about that. Worse, he’s apparently in charge of the pyrotechnics and we’re about to find out they’re a pretty big part of the show. Cassidy is sick of the conversation and wants the guy fired, but apparently doesn’t see the danger in having a just-fired ex-boyfriend controlling the pyro for the show that’s about to begin.

cassidy stage

Even Iron Maiden would be impressed.

Cassidy takes to the stage. She’s on a podium surrounded by flames. Her voice actress, Karla DeVito, is a professional singer herself so Cassidy both looks and sounds the part of a singer. As she gets into the song, the fire rages around her. It soon reaches unsafe levels, but the crowd is in awe. Eventually, Cassidy can’t continue the performance because it’s too hot as she drops to her knees. The fire then rages out of control and people start to flee. Backstage, Cassidy’s manager tries to stop Lynns from making things worse, but he shoves him aside. Soon he realizes this thing it out of control, and bails.

Bruce doesn’t budge, despite the protests of Shannon. He stands there and is apparently scanning for any way he can get to the woman and save her, but nothing is opening up. Suddenly, Batgirl swings in and makes the save, letting Cassidy know she’s a big fan before taking off. Bruce is apparently not concerned about blowing their identities as he approaches Batgirl to praise her for the rescue. She reminds him sometimes it pays to get the cheap seats.

Detective Harvey Bullock (Robert Costanzo) is shown storming an apartment with a host of police officers in tow. It’s the home of Lynns and it’s basically a shrine to Cassidy. Lynns is no where to be found though, so Bullock helps himself to the contents of the guys’ refrigerator. Now feels like an appropriate time to note that Bullock’s character model has put on quite a few pounds between series. Lynns is then shown at work in a different building, vowing revenge.

cassidy shrine

Probably not the mark of a man in good mental health.

Cassidy is then shown at her apartment having a chat with her agent, Frank (David Paymer). She’s unconcerned with the apparent attempt on her life, and remains so even after opening a threatening letter that burns in her hands after she reads it. The letter contained a picture of her and the message “The star that burns brightest burns fastest.” She’s not going to let this threat prevent her from her next appearance at a new club calls Rock City that night, which is where Firefly chooses to make his entrance.

firefly

The villain of the day:  Firefly.

Firefly comes onto the scene dressed in what I think is an all metal suit. That would probably get really hot really fast, but I guess he’s not bothered by it. He has oversized lenses on his eyes giving him a bug-like appearance which the wings also add to. He has a gun and a tank on his bank making him visually resemble a Bizarro Mr. Freeze since his gun shoots fire instead of ice. His fire-bombing of the venue sends people fleeing, which attracts the attention of Batman and Batgirl who had been enjoying a drama-free evening up until now. They’re able to swoop in as Firefly confronts Cassidy amongst the flames.

fire sword

He’s got a sword made of fire. Better add that one to the notes, Batman.

Firefly demonstrates his wings aren’t just for show, as he blasts off out of there following a wicked right hook from Batman. Batman isn’t willing to let him go, as he uses one of his many ropes to grab onto Firefly. He’s then taken for a ride through the skies of Gotham, but his trip is cut short, literally, when Firefly produces a freaking flame-sword. He slashes the rope binding his ankles sending Batman plummeting pretty violently to the ground where Batgirl and Cassidy are waiting to check on him.

cassidy

Cassidy seems quite happy to see Batman.

Sometime later, Batman drops in on Cassidy for a little intel. She seems happy to see the caped crusader and immediately puts on a flirtatious act as she cozies up to the Batman. She tells Batman about Lynns and her past relationship with him. Interestingly, from her perspective they were never really an item, just a pair of people who had dinner a few times and he couldn’t take the hint that things weren’t going to progress any further. She then makes a play for Batman to be her personal bodyguard, but Batman pulls his disappearing trick to get out of that one.

Batman and Batgirl head out to an old warehouse connected to Lynns. Sure enough, it appears to be his hideout as it’s loaded with lots of pyrotechnic equipment. No Lynns though, and as Batman looks around Batgirl is ever chatty. This appears to be a theme for this show where Batman’s sidekick of the moment keeps yapping away while Batman remains stoic, only for the yapper to screw things up. In this case, Batgirl apparently wanted to shine some light on the area and throws a switch as Batman shouts at her not to. Too late, and the building explodes.

firefly kidnapping

Not the hero she was looking for.

As we’re left to ponder the fate of Batman and Batgirl, Cassidy is shown rehearsing in a studio. Things seem rather normal, until smoke starts to fill the studio. As people flee, Cassidy stumbles through the smoke in search of a helping hand. She finds one in Frank, and the two escape. Only, she though it was Frank, but it turns out to be Firefly who now has what he’s apparently sought for some time.

Back at that warehouse, the explosion apparently wasn’t as bad as the cut made it seem. Oh there is tons of fire, but Batman and Batgirl appear to be no worse for ware. The fire is too much for them to handle though, and they’re forced to flee out a window. Some debris falls on Batgirl and she lets out an awful scream. Batman finds her unconscious beneath a pile of rubble.

img_4530

It’s always Batgirl that seems to get hurt.

We immediately cut to the Batcave where Alfred is tending to Batgirl. This is apparently now a solo mission as Batman ponders how to deal with this new villain. The police have no leads on Cassidy’s kidnapping, but a matchbook Batman found has an address on it and he seems to think that’s where he should look next. Alfred then ends up being the one to suggest he dawn something more durable, which likely excited the marketing department at Warner since Batman will get a new outfit to turn into an action figure.

The matchbook Batman found was from the Mephisto Paint Company, and lo and behold, that’s where Firefly has taken Cassidy. She’s bound and doing the usual thing of trying to reason with her captor. He’s beyond reason though, and instead chooses to do the old villain routine of demonstrating how his fabulous and destructive scheme will go down. It would seem Lynns is a pretty smart guy when it comes to combustion, and he’s invented a gel that is highly flammable. As he demonstrates it for Cassidy, he explains he’s going to fill the Gotham sewer system with the stuff then set it ablaze. As the city burns, the two of them will make their escape out of Gotham and to a new life in parts unknown.

img_4531

There’s a Batman under there.

Before Firefly can set his plan in motion, Batman arrives. He really does have wonderful timing. Sporting an all black heat-resistant suit similar to Firefly’s, Batman goes after him demonstrating that it will take more than a few fireballs to take him out. Firefly turns to his trusty flame-sword to turn the tables on Batman, slicing up some piping and causing it to fall on him. He then sets his plan on motion by starting the gel feed, then turns his attention back to Batman. The flame-sword may have been a handy equalizer, but it’s also a useful tool for Batman to screw up Firefly’s plan. He kicks it out his hand, and it lands in the gel, igniting it. Since it didn’t have time to spread into the sewer, only the plant they’re in goes up in flames. That’s not an issue for two guys in fireproof suits, but poor Cassidy sure has a problem with it. Firefly runs off to apparently try and correct this error, while Batman goes after Cassidy. He’s able to get her to safety, and it must be his lucky day because Firefly stumbles out of the burning building and collapses due to exhaustion, or maybe heat stroke, who knows?

As an epilogue to the events of the episode, Cassidy is shown dining at a restaurant with Frank. She seems to have returned to her defiant and headstrong personality in spite of all that has happened to her as she brushes aside Frank’s concerns about her wellbeing. And Frank couldn’t be happier as all of the publicity created by Firefly has made her more popular than ever. As Frank goes on about incorporating a fire theme into her persona, Cassidy’s gaze goes to a dessert at nearby table which is ignited with flame. She flinches, and Frank takes notice by asking her what’s wrong. As the camera tightens on her face, a look of horror fills her eyes as the episode ends.

bat fire suit

It’s not often an episode gives us a new look for Batman.

Batman: The Animated Series had a lot of success in adapting B-tier villains and boosting their image. Sure, not every one of them was successful, but many were and they became favored villains for viewers of the show and even readers of the comics. Firefly sort of settles in the middle. He’s got a solid gimmick and he’s certainly creepy given the whole stalker aspect of his persona, but I never really bought into him as a high stakes villain. Batman suggests he is by going with this new suit, but it doesn’t really feel earned. Not that I mind the new duds which just strike me as practical. If you’re going to fight a guy who shoots fire, it’s probably a good idea to go with something flame-retardant.

The Cassidy character is fine. I like that they hired someone in Karla DeVito who could both handle the speaking role and do the singing to add some authenticity to her. I can’t decide if we’re supposed to think of her as just a very strong and self-confident individual or if we should view her as foolish for not taking Firefly’s threat seriously. I suppose it’s a little of both, though I admire her bravery. It makes the ending, which seems to implicate she’s going to be traumatized by the events of this episode for years to come, feel a bit mean. It’s similar to how the villain of Riddler’s debut episode turned out who was shown living in fear of The Riddler coming to get him. Cassidy didn’t earn that, and I can’t tell if the episode wants us to think she deserves this. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and presume we’re just getting a glimpse at the lasting impacts one of these supervillains can have. Even though his scheme ultimately failed, Firefly still left a mark that’s pretty significant. It’s not something we’re shown often.

Visually, this episode is pretty neat given all of the fire on display. I feel hot just watching it, though maybe that’s because I’m writing this during a brutal heat wave. Firefly is a bit silly looking, but at least his suit appears functional. The look of it would have fit I quite well with the previous iteration of this show as it has a retro design. Batman’s fire suit is a little more bland by comparison as it’s just an all black suit with no mouth opening or cape. It’s easy to animate at least, and like Firefly’s suit, it certainly looks functional which is probably what Batman would prioritize over style. It’s just not something I’d be clamoring for an action figure of.

cassidy fire eyes

Poor Cassidy is going to have some stuff to work through.

Firefly will not be a one and done villain as he has one other appearance yet to come. As I said earlier, he’s fine and so is this episode. It’s nice to get some new blood into the mix and not every villain needs a sympathy angle. As for Cassidy, this is it for her so we’ll never learn what lasting damage Firefly inflicted upon her. Maybe she would have been brought back had this show received a second order of episodes, but that was not to be. I actually would have liked to have caught up with her again. Since the show declined to follow-up on her, I’ll take the road of the optimist and assume she got the help she needed and was able to live a well-adjusted life going forward. It feels cruel to assume otherwise.

 

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The New Batman Adventures – “Growing Pains”

growing pains titleEpisode Number:  8 (93)

Original Air Date:  February 28, 1998

Directed by:  Atsuko Tanaka

Written by:  Paul Dini and Robert Goodman

First Appearance:  Annie

“Growing Pains” is the first episode of this new series to make me actually happy there are no title cards this time around. I largely miss them for their artwork, but one thing I don’t miss them for is their tendency to spoil parts of the story. There have been a few episodes where the villain of the episode is a mystery, but only if you happened to miss the title card. This is another such episode, but the absence of a title card actually preserves the mystery for much of the episode. The only way to know the identity of today’s bad guy is to recognize the voice, and since guests sometimes do multiple characters there’s still some mystery even in that scenario. If you’ve never seen this episode, and you don’t want it spoiled, maybe skip this entry until you do.

annie

A mysterious young girl is the star of today’s episode.

This episode opens in Gotham at night under that ominous red sky. A young girl is running through a run-down area and she seems quite scared. She’s decked out in a long red coat and she has black hair cut at an even length. She reminds me of Coraline. Some bikers see her and immediately start giving her a hard time. They surround her, and I guess they’re just bad guys as she doesn’t look like someone who would be in possession of any valuables, though I suppose if you’re open to kidnapping then any kid has some value.

robin places to be

It’s not everyday you get cock-blocked by a fancy light bulb.

Fear not, for this young lady has someone looking out for her. Unfortunately though, she apparently drew the short straw tonight because it’s Robin, and only Robin, who comes to her aid. The bikers aren’t impressed with Robin’s threats, but he makes them regret their hubris in style. Some lumber was just laying around, and Robin knocks one biker off his mount with a javelin-like toss of the wood. The others make a hasty retreat as Robin checks on the girl. She (Francesca Marie Smith) is in a real panic and seemingly can’t remember who she is or where she’s from. The only thing she knows is that she has to keep moving. Robin wants to help, but the girl takes off on him. Up in the sky, the Bat Signal flies high and Robin is forced to let the girl go to tend to his other responsibility. As she runs off, so too does Robin in the opposite direction. The real drag of being an actual boy wonder off on his own means the only mode of transportation he has are his feet.

batmans tough love

Batman dishing out some life lessons on love and the battlefield.

Batman and Robin convene in Gordon’s office to view some surveillance footage of a violent robbery. A very large man can be seen on camera and Gordon suspects the guy has acquired some super strength via chemical means. Batman doesn’t recognize him, but both key-in on his wild looking gaze. His eyes appear to be all white, which is sort of interesting of them to acknowledge since it seems like a fairly common thing for comic book villains (and heroes) to possess which almost always goes unnoticed. As the two discuss what they see, Batman notices Robin is staring off into space. When he asks him about it he mentions the girl he ran into earlier. Gordon remarks “teenagers…” and then makes a comment about being glad daughter Barbara is past those “wild” days which causes Batman to give him an odd look. As the two leave, Robin talks about the girl and wanting to help her, but Batman cold as ever, tells him they can’t help her. He needs him to focus on the task at hand which is finding this big dude while also passing on some Batman tough love.

The next day, Tim complains to Alfred while he’s being chauffeured around Gotham that Bruce always treats him like a kid (a line that really needs to go away). Alfred points out that he is a kid and Tim gets bent out of shape about him taking Bruce’s side. He then spots the girl from the previous night, and tells Alfred there’s been a change in plans. Alfred tells him he was told to bring him straight home, but that smart-ass just gives him the whole “Tim’s not here,” thing as he gets into costume. Alfred then lets him out of the car in his Robin attire. He doesn’t even pull off into an alley or anything, he just stops and lets him out in the middle of the city. He then gives old Master Bruce a call who’s currently at work.

Robin races off into what looks like a bus terminal, a very large bus terminal, and catches up with the girl. The girl cries and collapses into his arms, which was probably the reaction Robin dreamed about. They have a nice little chat where she reiterates that she remembers nothing of her past, even her name. Robin decides to arbitrarily give her a name. Spying a girl holding a Raggedy Ann knock-off, he decides to call her Annie and the girl seems to like it. She goes on to explain that she’s running from someone. She doesn’t know who the person is, but he’s a man and she can sense his presence. She then jumps and points at a shadowy area declaring the man is there!

robin vs big guy

Robin has his hands full with this guy.

Robin looks and from the darkness emerges the burly fellow from the surveillance tape. His eyes look pretty normal, but he is indeed a very large individual. He starts yelling at Annie and demands she come home. Robin puts himself between the two and demands the man identify himself. He ignores the request and Robin is forced into action. He jumps at him and rains blows upon him, but they’re not very effective. The bad guy gets his mitts around Robin and lifts him over his head, but then Batman comes swooping in.

Seeing Batman seems to frighten the big guy, and he decides to turn tail and run. Robin tells Annie to stay put as he and Batman give chase. They wind up chasing him through a parking garage or something and into a tunnel. Batman enters from one side while Robin swings around and enters from the other. When the two meet up in the middle, there’s no sign of the big guy. Batman looks around, but the only way out he can find is a grate. Robin tries removing it, but it’s sealed shut. Without any additional clues they return to Annie, only to find out she’s gone too. As Robin wonders where she could have gone, Batman scrapes some mud off the ground that came off the guy’s shoe. He tells Robin they’re done here and that they’re going back. Robin gets angry, saying he doesn’t want to wait around while Batman looks at some mud. He defiantly shouts “No,” when told to return to the Batcave and Batman looks surprised. Robin then takes off to go after Annie and Batman doesn’t stop him.

Robin winds up in a part of town full of homeless folks. As he walks around he pauses to look at a family of four sleeping on the ground. He looks a bit sad, but it’s hard to tell given the mask and all. He eventually finds Annie, or maybe it’s better to say Annie finds him. She tells him he shouldn’t be trying to help her, but Robin insists he can handle the guy that’s after her and likens him to his own father. Annie seems touched by Robin’s sincerity, and even plants a kiss on his cheek. As the two stand there, she notices some lights in the sky. She says they look familiar to her, only the light she’s trying to recall was higher and atop a tower of some kind. Robin smiles and seems to know what she could be talking about and tells her to come with him.

annie kiss

Annie is a lot happier to see Robin this time.

Robin leads Annie to the coastal shore and points out a lighthouse. Annie does indeed recognize it and she gets a bit excited. As they explore the area she takes note of some pipes spilling who knows what into the ocean. They’re connected to a chemical plant, something Gotham has no shortage of, and she and Robin head inside.

At the Batcave, Batman is doing his thing and having his computer check out that mud. Alfred joins him to inquire about Tim, but Batman assures him he’s keeping an eye on the boy. Alfred then remarks that he still has a tracer in his utility belt and confirms to Batman that he does indeed treat Robin like a child. Batman makes a sour face at this revelation as the computer dings that it’s done analyzing the sample. For the third time in this series, Batman drops an “Oh my God,” on us when he gets the results. He explains only that he knows who the assailant is and that Robin is in danger. He jumps into the Batmobile and rockets away leaving Alfred to look on with worry.

In the underbelly of this assumed chemical plant, Robin and Annie are walking in near darkness. Robin is too distracted by the girl and fails to notice an opening in the floor. They both fall down a pipe even further down into the plant. They’re fine, but there’s now only way to go and that way is soon blocked by the big mean guy. He seems to be in a better mood at least, and remarks to Annie that he’s glad to see she came home. Robin is ready to attack as the man approaches, but then his body starts to shift and change revealing his true identity:  Clayface!

clayface revealed

There’s that face we all know and love!

Clayface (Ron Perlman) moves in on the boy and reaches for Annie, but Robin slaps his hand away. They run, and Clayface does his extending arm trick which curls into a steel fence blocking their escape forcing Robin to smash through it. They run deeper into the plant to get away from the monster and as they regroup Annie notices that some of the clay splattered on her when Robin chopped at Clayface. Her body starts to absorb it and she seems horrified at first, but then a knowing calm settles over her. She shows Robin, then explains to him what happened.

robin smash

Robin seems unimpressed by this clay guy.

After the events of “Mudslide” Clayface could barely hold himself together. As he drifted through the water he arrived at this plant, and specifically, those pipes. Whatever chemical it was they were dumping into the ocean had an affect on Clayface’s makeup and it helped him to pull himself back together. He crawled into the pipes, too weak to do much else. Not wanting to be kept in the dark, he created a scout with a piece of his body That scout is Annie, and she was to explore the area surrounding the plant and then return to Clayface, only once she left his side her memory vanished and became lost. There’s no attempt to put a timeframe on any of this so who knows how long this girl was wandering around.

Robin is confused, and he probably should be, but undaunted. Annie has a different perspective, and tells Robin that he shouldn’t protect her because she isn’t real. Robin insists otherwise. He tells her to run as Clayface closes in and she obeys. Robin can only keep him away so long though, and Clayface gets agitated with the diminutive hero. He had been telling him to get out of here, but now he’s mad and grabs ahold of him. With Clayface seemingly intending to kill him, Annie can’t let that happen and throws herself at Clayface. He drops Robin, but that’s because he has her now and she is soon absorbed back into her “father.”

goodbye annie

Goodbye, Annie.

Robin is enraged by this development and demands that Clayface bring her back. He tells him he can’t and she’s gone. Robin starts throwing batarangs in his direction. At first, they seem like mild annoyances, but Robin strikes some containers full of solvent. They start emptying their contents and Clayface seems to find the substance quite painful. It’s causing him to fall apart, and as he backs away Robin targets more of the tanks full of the stuff forcing Clayface down a catwalk and into a dead end. Batman arrives and tries to stop Robin as he’s going to kill Clayface. As the two grapple, Clayface tries to kill them himself with his old blade hand trick. He misses and the metal causes a spark which ignites this solvent that’s all over the place. Batman grabs Robin and uses a grapple gun to get out of the area as it goes up in one big explosion.

The police are now on scene and Clayface is shown being loaded onto a truck. He’s in a tank of some kind full of water or some other liquid and appears to be unconscious. As Robin looks on, Batman walks up and attempts to console him. He’s not very good at it, and basically can only muster up a line about there not always being a happy ending. Robin says nothing, but overhears a cop going over a list of charges with Gordon concerning Clayface. Robin adds “murder” to the list before turning his back on the scene and walking off sullenly. The camera pans up towards the sky as he does to rest on the light from the lighthouse streaking across the sky.

“Growing Pains” is an episode that is quite a bit of fun for longtime viewers of Batman. It reintroduces fan favorite Clayface, and even ties up the loose end of how he’s still alive following his appearance in “Mudslide.” I wish he had not appeared in “Holiday Knights,” but at least he now looks better. And that’s because this is another TMS episode. The famed Japanese studio handled Clayface’s original appearance, so it’s only fitting they do his true return for this series. He’s been redesigned somewhat with a more rocky appearance. He’s also a darker shade of brown and the shape of his head has been altered some. He looks pretty great though, and the effects of his shape-shifting powers are quite spectacular. While it’s not as amazing as “Feat of Clay Part II,” it’s still mighty impressive. It’s also nice to see the studio get to extend itself a bit with the Clayface character, as the previous TMS episode “Never Fear” didn’t really allow for the usual flourish one associates with the studio.

clayface blade

He may look a little different, but Clayface still has the same old tricks up his sleeve.

And it’s not just Clayface that looks great. Some extra care was definitely put into Robin during his fight with the villain at the end. He makes some expressions we’re not accustomed to seeing, and overall just looks really intense. This is the first episode to really sell the audience on what Robin is capable of. He’s definitely been the least heard from hero, and it’s nice to see that when given a bigger role the character ends up shining rather than being an annoyance.

The plot of the episode is more than a little bonkers. As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, this one manages to keep the villain a secret for quite awhile. Ron Perlman voices him throughout the episode, and that’s basically the sole clue for much of the episode. I think most viewers probably at least figured it out when Batman started scraping mud, but it was still handled well. I have no idea what to make of Clayface suddenly being able to create life. It’s a pretty wacky power, but it does at least lend itself well to creating some drama here. I felt pretty bad for Robin in the end, but Annie took the news pretty well. Maybe she could have reacted differently and played up the sympathy angle, but it was interesting in its own way to see Annie just sort of accept the reality of her existence.

robin sad

There’s more Robin in this one than we’re used to, but it’s actually a good thing here.

The other underlying plot device is Batman’s treatment of Robin. The whole “He treats me like a kid,” thing is way overplayed in cartoons, so I don’t really find it very interesting. I’m also not sure if I should expect there to be some payoff of this down the road, and I don’t remember if there is. I suppose I could look ahead, but I’d rather take advantage of my faulty memory and hope to be surprised. My thought is there isn’t a payoff though, so there may be no surprise to come.

As for Clayface, I’m afraid this is goodbye. If you wanted to know more about where this life-creating power came from you’ll just have to look elsewhere I suppose. Clayface will stay gone this time, presumably imprisoned somewhere. He was one of the show’s best villains and certainly the character benefited from the show as prior to it I had never heard of Clayface. His debut episode was the first episode of this show I happened to see, so there is a touch of nostalgic affection on my part for the character. Even without that though I’m pretty sure he’d still be one of my favorites. It would have been fun to see him again, but TMS probably doesn’t come cheap and I don’t ever want to see the character done cheap again like he was in “Holiday Knights.” Clayface, you will be missed.


The New Batman Adventures – “Double Talk”

tnba double talkEpisode Number:  4 (89)

Original Air Date:  November 22, 1997

Directed by:  Curt Geda

Written by:  Robert Goodman

First Appearance:  None

“Double Talk” brings back another villain from the first iteration of this show:  Scarface. For the first time in this animated universe, The Ventriloquist is also given a name:  Arnold Wesker. Scarface was last seen in the episode “Catwalk” when he was once again destroyed and Wesker was sent off to Arkham for rehabilitation. This time, it’s going to work and Wesker gets his own rehab story which would have fit in quite well with the back half of season two. And like all of the villains from the prior series, he comes with a redesign. The prior version of Wesker was a short, bald, middle-aged man with glasses. This version appears a bit taller and is even more bald than before. His hair is almost completely gone save for these Abe Simpson-esque stray hairs on the side of his head. His head is also no longer pear-shaped and looks more like a thumb. It’s hard to tell where the head ends and the neck begins. His glasses are also transparent now instead of opaque and beneath them are just two dots for eyes. He sports a more casual gray suit with no tie and an unbuttoned collar as opposed to a tuxedo. All in all, it seems like not much of a drastic redesign on paper, and yet he’s basically unrecognizable without his dummy.

Scarface is also redesigned trading his blue pin-striped suit for a white one. He has black hair now and his scar runs the whole length of his face even going over his eye. He’s ditched the cigar and his tommy gun is now basically a full-sized one instead of a custom, tiny, one fit for a dummy. He’s a bit bland compared with the prior version as overall his design has been greatly simplified, but again, not a huge difference really.

wesker's nightmare

Scarface is back and now the stuff of nightmares.

The episode opens at Arkham Asylum. Or at least it appears to. We soon see Wesker (George Dzundza) passing through a darkened doorway. He turns to regard a chest behind him, and it soon starts to bang around. He runs and the scenery grows more surreal as it becomes obvious we’re witnessing a nightmare. Soon the Scarface voice is heard emanating from the chest, and even Scarface’s old henchmen Mugsy (Townsend Coleman) and Rhino (Earl Boen) make an appearance. Wesker eventually wakes up in his cell and sits on the edge of his bed. He looks to a piece of paper on his nightstand which is an official declaration claiming he’s been rehabilitated.

arnold therapy

The Ventriloquist has a name and it’s Arnold Wesker.

The next day, Wesker meets with Dr. Leland (Suzanne Stone) and tells her about his nightmare. It’s good to see he’s not hiding it, but Dr. Leland is unconcerned. She tells him it’s natural for him to be experiencing some anxiety about his condition as he prepares for his reintroduction to society. She mentions he’s been healthy for six months which is all the state requires. Wesker is then shown moving into a halfway house that’s apparently owned by Bruce Wayne, or sponsored by him, as it’s called Wayne Gardens. The woman running the place, Mrs. Segar (Patty Maloney) shows him his room and mentions he has a job at Wayne Enterprises as well. Wesker theorizes he must have a guardian angel looking out for him, but the camera pans to reveal Batman listening in from the fire escape and it’s obvious who is really looking out for him.

bruce meets arnold

I wonder if he always greets the new employees.

Lucius Fox (now voiced by Mel Winkler replacing Brock Peters) and Bruce Wayne are at work overseeing the delivery of some bearer bonds (which you know are going to eventually be stolen). Wesker strolls by pushing a mail cart and Wayne introduces himself. He tells Wesker he should be proud of himself for his rehabilitation and Wesker says that he is, and comes across rather convincing. That night though, he looks concerned as he heads to the bus stop and justifiably so apparently. Mugsy and Rhino approach and ask where Mr. Scarface is. Wesker insists he’s gone and that he wants nothing to do with them, but they’re persistent. Batman then swoops in and goes after Rhino. The two trade punches and Mugsy makes a couple of attempts to get in some offense but is dispatched effortlessly. Wesker runs off, while Batman eventually gains control of the situation and warns the two that Wesker is off limits.

mugsy and rhino

Mugsy and Rhino are very dependent on and loyal to a dummy.

Wesker returns to his apartment and grabs a glass of water from the faucet. I assume it’s water, since it came from a faucet, but the liquid looks almost white and is opaque. Maybe Arnie should invest in a water filter when he gets that first pay check. He then hears Scarface taunting him and drops the glass causing it to smash on the floor. He assumes a rather pitiful position kneeling on the floor clutching his ears as he attempts to drive away the voice.

wesker park

What are the odds? I mean, really, how often do you ventriloquists in the park?

The next day, a somewhat refreshed looking Wesker is strolling through the park (be on the lookout for the very quick Lois and Clark cameo in the background). I think this is our first outdoor scene in the new show at daytime. The sky, and all of the surrounding buildings, are colored yellow instead of red and black to brighten the image. Wesker sees a man working a ventriloquist dummy for some kids (that’s one crazy coincidence) and of course Wesker sees Scarface’s visage when the dummy turns towards him. He then runs to catch his bus, but sees Scarface in the window and doesn’t get on. At work, he’s distant and unnerved as he pushes the mail cart and haphazardly delivers the letters to other employees. He eventually tips the cart over and as he picks up the mail he notices a letter addressed to Dummy. It’s a note from Scarface telling him to be at his phone at 9 o’clock. Wayne notices Wesker and tries to talk to him but he runs away leaving Wayne to find the discarded envelop on the ground.

phone booth

Kids watching this will say “What the hell is that?” and they won’t be talking about the dummy.

That night, Wesker sits nervously by his phone. Sure enough, it rings, but he lets the answering machine get it. What he hears is Mr. Scarface ordering him to pick up the phone. He does, and as he’s instructed that they’re getting the gang back together we see Batman listening in. Wesker can’t believe what he’s hearing, and Scarface tells him to look across the street. In a phone booth, the outline of Scarface can be seen further unnerving Wesker. Batman sees it too, but before he can get to it the dummy vanishes. He picks up its trail though and we get the somewhat comical visual of Scarface actually running from Batman and firing his gun as well. Batman chases him into a stone factory of some kind where it looks like statues are prepared. He spots Scarface high up on a structure, but as he gets to it he’s smacked with a swinging block of stone. The dummy fires from above at Batman and drops a statue on him for good measure. Batman is able to avoid serious injury, but Scarface escapes.

Batman is then shown filling Batgirl in on what happened back at the Batcave. She’s confused at how this could be happening, but Batman distinctly heard Scarface on the phone with Wesker. He’s forced to conclude that someone is posing as Scarface to try and bring the persona out from within Wesker, and there’s really only two suspects for who that could be.

scarface is back

It must feel good to get that whole forearm back in there.

We then see Wesker arriving home and shutting off the lights and closing his blinds. He rips the phone out of the wall in a bid to avoid Scarface entirely. Unfortunately, someone has placed a new Scarface dummy on his couch, and Wesker is unable to resist the temptation to pick the dummy up and return it to his left arm. He then heads to the old hideout and finds Mugsy and Rhino. They seem almost surprises at first, but Scarface is back and he’s got a job for them.

At a rather sad looking apartment building, a little person is shown heading for his apartment. He stops to swipe his neighbors newspaper and milk delivery before heading in and is soon confronted by Batman and Batgirl. It would seem this fellow is Hips McManus (Billy Barty) a small-time crook (no pun intended) who was hired to play Scarface by Mugsy and Rhino, in case you hadn’t figured that out yet. Johnny Tight-lips he ain’t, as almost without any effort from Batman he spills the beans on a job Scarface and the boys are to undertake that evening.

scarface leaves scar

Scarface likes to leave scars, it would seem.

And that job? Why the bearer bonds – what else? Scarface has Lucius Fox at gunpoint and forces him to open the vault where the bonds are being kept. Fox can’t believe a dummy is threatening him, and he makes the mistake of trying to ignore Scarface and talk to the others which earns him a smack across the face with Scarface’s gun leaving a mark on his cheek. Fox opens the vault, and is then knocked out for his troubles as Mugsy and Rhino grab what they came for. Batman and Batgirl then show up, but when Scarface holds Fox hostage, they’re forced to obey. Scarface locks them in the vault and tosses a ticking time bomb in there for good measure. With less than a minute to work with there’s no time to hack the electronic lock forcing Batman to get crafty. He rips off a vent cover (which seems like a pretty obvious security flaw for a vault) and fires his grapple gun down it. He then affixes the handle to the bomb and presses the retract button. He and Batgirl take cover as the bomb explodes deep within the ventilation system.

mugsy and rhino betrayed

Mugsy and Rhino finding out they ain’t so smart after all.

On the roof, Scarface and his boys are making their escape. As they head across a catwalk, Scarface orders the men to stop and toss him the bonds. Confused, they obey as they then stare down the barrel of Scarface’s tommy gun. He scolds them for trying to bring him out on their own. He claims he was laying low until the heat was off Wesker and then he was going to re-emerge, but these two forced his hand. He remarks that when the muscle starts thinking it’s the brain, it’s time to amputate. Then for some reason, maybe he just likes explosives, he opts to toss another bundle of dynamite at Mugsy and Rhino rather than just shoot them. It explodes destroying the catwalk the pair were standing on. They grab onto the remains as it swings towards the opposite building. As they hang precariously, only then does Scarface open fire.

weskers revenge

A Batarang knocks the dummy from Wesker as Batman and Batgirl jump in. Batgirl goes off to save the two clowns, while Batman works on reasoning with Wesker. Scarface orders him to take out Batman and retrieve him, and Wesker initially grabs the gun. As Scarface taunts him, and Batman pleads with him, Wesker hesitates, but eventually he turns the gun on Scarface. The dummy gets sucked into a giant fan destroying it once again.

Wesker is then shown at the apartment of Mrs. Segar. She mentions she’s glad he’s doing better and encourages Arnold to seek out the other tenants, maybe check out the rec room (sounds like an invite for something else, Arnie). Wesker mentions that Mr. Wayne gave him his job back, so I’m not sure if this is all immediate or following another stay at Arkham. Anyway, Wesker says he will take her up on the offer eventually, but for now he’s happy being alone for a change indicating he might finally be rid of Mr. Scarface.

bye bye scarface

The last we’ll see of old Mr. Scarface.

And what do you know? This actually is a happy ending for a change as Scarface will not be heard from again. Wesker apparently was able to rehabilitate himself and unlike, say Harley Quinn, was not discouraged by the setbacks he initially experienced. Which is a good thing as I was getting a bit frustrated with Batman while I watched the episode. He knew someone was just toying with Wesker, and yet he never told him. It felt like that would have solved a lot of problems right there. No matter, I suppose. This was actually a pretty well told story and early contender for best episode of The New Batman Adventures. It won’t remain that way as I know of at least one episode to come that I enjoy more than this one, but that doesn’t diminish this one in any way. Which is somewhat surprising as I’ve never been enamored with the Scarface character, but the show has found interesting things to do with him.

ventriloquist reformed

The first successful rehabilitation in the history of Arkham Asylum!

As I mentioned in the opening paragraphs, the redesigns for Wesker and Scarface are not particularly drastic in principle, but they still look fairly different. Wesker in particular is almost unrecognizable when compared with his old design. I don’t really like this version and find him to be rather ugly. I’m not saying he is an ugly man, but rather there’s nothing stylistically about the character that I like. I do appreciate though that the animators didn’t play so fast and loose with the Scarface character this time. Every time a limb moves it’s clear that Wesker is doing it. Wesker’s lips still never so much as quiver when Scarface speaks, but that’s all right since he’s basically supposed to be the world’s greatest ventriloquist. I do miss Scarface’s little baby gun though. Also, it’s a nice touch that the two little people depicted in this episode, Mrs. Segar and Hips McManus, are voiced by actual little people. It’s also neat that a character like Mrs. Segar exists and her physical appearance isn’t a part of the plot at all. She’s just a little person. Though she might exist to offer a positive portrayal of a little person since a not so positive one existed within the plot in the person of McManus.

As for Scarface, I can’t say he’ll be missed, but he also wasn’t a dud like some of the other villains to come and go. He was fine and managed to contribute without overstaying his welcome. He was starting to become a bit too frequent a character in season two so I’m glad he won’t be utilized like that in this series. Ultimately, he did his job. And a lot credit goes to actor George Dzundza who is great in the role of both Wesker and Scarface. The two voices are so distinct that I assumed as a kid they cheated and hired two actors for the role. Unlike Scarface, the contributions of Dzundza will indeed be missed.

 


The New Batman Adventures – “Holiday Knights”

holiday knightsEpisode Number:  1 (86)

Original Air Date:  September 13, 1997

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance:  Robin (Tim Drake), Mo, Lar, Cur

After pausing for a week to discuss the 1998 film Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero we have now finally arrived at The New Batman Adventures era of the show. This is essentially the start of a sequel series, but it’s been retconned over the years (or just simplified) as Season 3 of Batman: The Animated Series. The Blu Ray set released in 2018 simply refers to it as such and the intro for each episode is the Season One intro from the Fox Kids era. The show largely exists thanks to two new developments since the previous series ended in 1995:  the WB network, and Superman.

Warner Bros. and Fox had a nice relationship in the 1990s where WB created several shows that Fox aired as part of its Fox Kids lineup on weekday afternoons and Saturday morning. At some point, the executives at WB decided it would just make more sense for them to start their own network. On January 11, 1995 The WB was launched and alongside it came Kids’ WB. That block of programming would be occupied by cartoons primarily, most of which included characters WB owned. Gradually, as the license agreements with Fox expired the shows WB had created for that network migrated to its network.

TNBA trio

The New Batman Adventures placed greater emphasis on Batman’s supporting cast.

The network’s flagship action cartoon was Superman, or Superman: The Animated Series. It was decided that it would make a lot of sense for Superman to simply be partnered with Batman to form an hour programming block of DC’s hottest heroes. It would make sense for the two to cross paths, and so WB commissioned a new Batman series envisioned as a sequel to BTAS. Like the second season of that show, this one would focus on Batman and a supporting cast of heroes. Dick Grayson would return, but not as Robin but rather Nightwing. In his place was a new, much younger, Robin and Batgirl would be there as well. The show would need to be updated to match the style of Superman and to also make the show cheaper to produce. “Dark Deco” was now out, in its place was a modern Gotham with cell phones and (gasp!) color TV. Oddly, Gotham would also feature a red sky apparently to heighten the darkness of the show vs the much brighter Superman. There is a reduction of shadows as well making everything lighter in appearance. Perhaps something that disappoints only me is the dropping of title cards. I loved the title cards on BTAS and I was so bummed to see they weren’t continued here. It also makes each one of these posts a little less interesting to look at.

TNBA redesigns

A look at the various villains from the show, some old some new.

This new style meant character redesigns. Batman would ditch the blue of his prior costume opting for a strictly black and gray ensemble. His belt was also muted in tone and more utilitarian in appearance. Robin’s costume dropped the green and Batgirl ditched the gray as well. On the villain’s side things were a bit more extreme. We’ll mostly get to them as they show up. To highlight a few; Scarecrow received an entirely new look while Joker featured an aggressive redesign that removed the sclera of his eyes and the red of his lips. Some of these redesigns are quite interesting on their own, while some are just plain inferior to the previous look. The characters had to be simplified to reflect the shrinking budget, but some sacrifices just aren’t worth making.

Most of the creative staff was returned for the new series. Paul Dini and Bruce Timm served as executive producers alongside Alan Burnett. Dini and Timm would both contribute to multiple episodes as writer while Dan Riba returned to direct multiple episodes as well. Also returning was the majority of the voice cast from the prior series, with the only notable change being Tara Strong (then known as Tara Charendoff) as Barbara Gordon/Batgirl. A lot of new blood was also brought in, many of which would hang around the DC Animated Universe which was about to expand to include The Justice League and Teen Titans. This is basically the beginning of an expansive television universe by WB and DC which is basically the television equivalent of the current Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’m primarily only interested in Batman when it comes to DC, so don’t expect me to do this for the other shows. Hopefully no one is disappointed.

TNBA logo

New show, new logo.

The New Batman Adventures was released on DVD as Volume 4 of Batman: The Animated Series and is included in both the DVD and Blu Ray box set of the series as Season 3. For this feature, I considered simply sticking with the BTAS title, but decided this show was different enough to change it up. I’ll include both the episode number as it relates to this series as well as how it relates to the entire series. We’re also sticking with production order as opposed to air date order. The show was ordered as one season, but aired as two seasons of 13 and 11 episodes respectively concluding in January of 1999. At some point I’ll summarize my thoughts on the whole of Batman: The Animated Series, but since we’re getting started with The New Batman Adventures I’ll say upfront that I find this series to be inferior to its predecessor. It’s less unique looking and not as well written. The new villains introduced aren’t as memorable and we also lose a little bit of Batman by switching to an ensemble format. He’s made to be more grim, apparently to heighten how different he is from his younger companions, and as such loses some of his humanity in the process. He’s overall just less interesting as a character, and the focus on the others doesn’t really make up for that. It feels like a diservice to the excellent Kevin Conroy, who simply has less to work with in regards to Batman and Bruce Wayne.

Anyways, let’s finally start talking about this first episode, shall we? First airing just over 2 years after the conclusion of BTAS, “Holiday Knights” is a pretty bizarre way to kick-off this series. For one, it’s a Christmas/New Years episode that’s presented in anthology format with three separate mini stories starring different heroes and villains. It’s based on the Batman Adventures Holiday Special released in 1995 written by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini. Oddly, WB chose to air this as the premier as well in September rather than stashing it away until closer to Christmas like Fox did with “Christmas with the Joker,” the second episode from BTAS. Also complicating things, the new Robin (Mathew Valencia) debuts here even though the second episode is the one that details how he met Batman and came to assume this persona. Clayface is also the featured villain of the middle tale, but his actual return from the events of “Mudslide” is recounted in a later episode as well. This episode almost feels non-canon as a result, and it’s just overall a weird and confusing way to bring the series back.

new ivy

Ivy has apparently spent the past couple of years avoiding the sun.

The episode begins on December 22 and quickly reintroduces us to a pair of villains:  Poison Ivy (Diane Pershing) and Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin). Harley largely looks the same as she did in the previous series, while Ivy has received a fairly dramatic makeover. Her hair is more stylized and her skin bone white. She displays what is basically the new female body-shape on the show:  short, pointed, with an oversized head. It’s a more “toon” presentation and is less realistic compared with BTAS. I personally don’t care for it, but it is what it is.

Harley is bored and not at all excited to be stuck in a slummy motel for the holidays. She bemoans their lack of a Christmas tree, which naturally sets Ivy off as she views them as a form of genocide against trees. Ivy insists she has a plan that will brighten up their holiday and urges her friend to trust in her. We’re then taken to a gathering of the wealthy at the Vreeland estate where we get our first look at the new Bruce Wayne. He dresses all in black now with a white shirt under his suit and red “power” tie. His hair is black as well and slicked back to give him a real douchey look befitting a billionaire playboy. He’s socializing with Veronica Vreeland (Marilu Henner) who has returned to her red-haired look after a brief dabble with being a blonde and seems amused when a gaggle of women swarm Bruce. While Bruce is being pushed around by the ladies, one of them plants a kiss right on his lips. It’s Ivy, and as we learned way back in “Pretty Poison” getting a kiss from her is not something anyone should desire.

bruce ivy harley

Not the women Bruce was hoping to take home.

Bruce leaves the party and as he heads for his car he’s invited into a limo by a pair of women. Bruce finds himself unable to control his own body as he’s subjected to Ivy and Harley’s whims. They then use Bruce and his fabulous wealth to go on a shopping spree. A montage plays which feels fitting for a holiday special and is set to a saxophone rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” The women seem to enjoy themselves while Bruce is helpless. As they force him to carry all of their purchases he begins to make some headway in fighting off the effects of the poison. The girls realize too late that he needs another dose, and as they approach to do so Bruce is able to back away falling into an open elevator shaft. The girls are indifferent to Bruce’s plight as they still have his credit cards and continue on with their evening. Meanwhile, the gloved hand of Batman reaches up from the depths of the elevator shaft.

harley ivy shopping

The Ivy and Harley montage is probably the best part of the whole episode.

Harley and Ivy make their escape in their stolen limo being driven by another brainwashed lackey, but soon enough the cloaked outline of Batman flashes behind them. Harley warns Ivy about who’s on their tail and Ivy makes some evasive maneuvers to avoid The Dark Knight which leads them to a toy store – how fitting. Batman enters and encounters all manners of toy-related traps:  wooden soldiers, giant boxing gloves, and Harley’s trusty mallet. The ladies lure Batman through their fun house leading up a tower of toys before they hastily attempt a retreat. As the duo turn to rub salt in his wounds, Batman fires his redesigned grappling hook (it makes a less satisfying hissing sound when fired and features an end that’s just a bladed Batman logo) to hook the base of a massive Christmas tree. He topples it landing right on the thieves putting a damper on their holiday, but returning to the Christmas tree gag with Harley who’s strangely comforted by its presence.

santa bullock

Santa Bullock, ho, ho, ho.

Our second story takes place on Christmas Eve. Barbara is shopping at Mayfield’s Department Store for a gift for her father. As she’s paying for her gift, a crying child gets her attention and the clerk remarks it’s been like that all day. Not far from the checkout station is a department store Santa being played by none other than Detective Harvey Bullock (Robert Costanzo). Apparently, Bullock isn’t the best Santa and tends to leave the kids who sit on his lap in tears. Serving alongside him as his elf is Officer Renee Montoya (Liane Schirmir) and the two are apparently on a stake-out which is why Bullock isn’t exactly into this whole Santa schtick. Bullock does at least find the Christmas spirit momentarily when a little girl sits on his lap asking to have her dad back for Christmas. Apparently, her dad is a crook Bullock just helped get put away. Not really knowing what else to do, he gives her some money. That should cheer her up.

Barbara is amused by Bullock’s turn as Kris Kringle and makes her way for the exit. Along the way she notices a child who appears to be shoplifting. The daughter of Gotham’s police commissioner can’t stand idly by as someone commits a crime, so she reaches out to grab him only she comes away with a handful of mud instead. Montoya then receives word to be on the lookout for a rabble of child thieves which fellow detectives are chasing through the store. They corner the kids, who then all merge into one being right before their very eyes.

batgirl crowd control

Batgirl showing off her new attire.

It’s Clayface (Ron Perlman), and he’s not the type of bandit to go quietly. He immediately begins trashing the place forcing Barbara to duck out and re-emerge as Batgirl. She takes the fight right to Clayface knocking him through an oversized window and onto a skating rink outside causing him to smash through the ice. Santa and his elf arrive to provide backup, though their guns do little to bother Clayface. Batgirl hollers at them to stop wasting their ammo and to aim for the Santa. Bullock at first confuses her command to mean him, but above Clayface is a giant, lighted, Santa and lights and Bullock and Montoya blast it down to land on top of Clayface. The frayed wires land in the water around Clayface electrocuting him and putting a stop to his rampage. Montoya then leaves Bullock to handle the clean-up.

new joker

I don’t like this new Joker at all, but at least we still have Mark Hamill doing his voice.

Our final tale takes place on December 31 and involves The Joker (Mark Hamill). He’s sent out one of his famous broadcasts to the people of Gotham revealing his New Year’s resolution to not kill anyone in the new year. This means he needs to make up for it all tonight and send the current year out with a bang! A taping of this broadcast is being viewed by Batman and Robin in Commissioner Gordon’s office. It would seem Gordon stopped heading to the gym following the events of BTAS as he’s a lot smaller and older looking now than he was before. Gordon (Bob Hastings) informs Batman that they have a lead on Joker as a GothCorp scientist was murdered earlier in the day. The scientist specialized in sonics and had been working on a new weapon that could kill with sound. Batman deduces that Joker’s likely target will be The New Year’s Countdown in Gotham Square and it’s likely he’ll have this new weapon in hand.

jokers favors

Joker’s party favors.

Joker is shown at Gotham Square with some of his finest: Mo, Lar, and Cur (all voiced by Ron Perlman and obvious reference to The Three Stooges). They’re rigging the sonic bomb to a massive bell. Apparently at midnight, the bell goes up to ring in the new year and when that happens the bomb will go off. And to make things harder on Batman, Joker has some “party favors” to distribute.

Batman and Robin head for the party and realize finding Joker will be a bit harder than expected. Joker has distributed his Joker masks to all of the party-goers making it hard to find the real Joker. Batman peers through some binoculars and spots a clown in a purple suit at a piano in the middle of the gathering onstage. He’s wearing ear muffs and so are the rather large men flanking him. Figuring that’s his man, Batman and Robin head for the stage and Batman dings Joker’s head with a Batarang knocking off his ear muffs. They then turn their attention to Joker’s goons, but find they’re pretty hard to deal with. Joker ends up grabbing the upper hand by smashing a bucket full of ice and champagne over the back of Batman’s skull.

joker champagne

This will be a short-lived victory for Joker.

Joker grabs the bottle of champagne to celebrate and apparently die with everyone else. As Joker gloats over Batman, The Dark Knight is able to snatch the bottle of champagne and sprays it all over the controls to the bell shortening out the killing device. As he does so, Joker tries to stop him and shoots at him and actually hits Batman in the right arm. As Batman lays on the ground, Joker laughs like only he can. As he does so the bell begins to fall, and it just so happens to land right on Joker who offers a well-timed “Ouch,” from beneath it to close out the scene.

bat gordon toast

We’re introduced to an annual tradition for Gordon and The Dark Knight.

With Joker’s plot foiled once again, Commissioner Gordon is shown entering a diner around 2 AM. The owner (Corey Burton) ushers everyone out and tells them he’s closing up as Gordon takes a seat at a booth. The man brings him a mug of coffee as well as a second mug and wonders aloud if Gordon’s buddy is coming. Gordon assures him he is, and Batman soon enters through a rear door. He sits down and the two indicate this is a yearly tradition of theirs. They speak only a few words before Gordon turns to request something from the kitchen to go. When he turns back he finds an empty booth and a couple of bucks left on the table to cover the tab. Remarking he’ll one day beat him to the check, Gordon collects himself and heads out into the night while Batman is seen swinging off into the red sky himself.

As I said, this is an odd way to begin the series. Three fragmented stories which lean heavily into comic relief that contain characters who will require a true introduction (or reintroduction) further down the road. It at least gets a lot of characters on-screen though giving us a peek at this new look. In general, I’m not much of a fan for how this series looks. It uses mostly straight lines in its characters and the women and children have huge heads. I mostly hate the new Joker as his face just lacks personality and is so bland and wooden to look at. The removal of his lips also just makes his mouth flaps look odder as he’s all teeth gnashing together. He looked so great in BTAS so it’s just really disappointing to see him reduced to this. This practically elderly looking Commissioner Gordon is also not a favorite of mine and Bullock looks like he’s gained about 50 pounds.

clayface hk

Clayface doesn’t come across looking so hot. Meanwhile, less censorship apparently extends to Montoya’s attire as well.

Not surprisingly, Clayface isn’t as well animated as he was before. He still contorts his body into weapons and other beings, but not a lot of resources are spent on the transitioning animation. He’s also far more stable looking than he was in “Mudslide” and has almost a rocky appearance compared with his old one. It should also be pointed out he was previosuly immune to elecrocution so either that was a goof by Dini or they intentionally took that immunity away from him. I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but this is just a less interesting looking show. They wanted it to be in-line with Metropolis from Superman and it wouldn’t make sense to have Gotham look like it was trapped in the 1940s and Metropolis like something from the 90s.

harley and the tree

It’s nice to have a little Christas in June, right? Interestingly, the comic this episode is based on portrayed Harley as Jewish.

There is one advantage this show has over its predecessor and that appears to be with the level of violence on display. It’s blatantly discussed that Joker murdered someone and he has an apparent lust for carnage and mayhem that was more tip-toed around on Fox. Batman is also free to punch people while villains, and the police, are still able to wield realistic looking weapons. Warner must have desired a way to differentiate its network from Fox and upping the violence was apparently one such way.

As an episode, this is a pretty benign, disposable, piece of entertainment. And there is entertainment value for it largely as a comedic vehicle. I wish it had chosen to end on Batman and Gordon sipping coffee together rather than turn to the tired gag of Batman vanishing whenever someone turns their back on him. I think that would have been the way the old series would have ended this one with a somber, but also sweet, ending. I guess this is just one more way for this show to announce it’s here and it’s not the same one we’re used to. Since I am a bit of a Christmas cartoon junkie, I should add that as a Christmas episode this is also just all right. It doesn’t linger much on the holiday, but it also doesn’t beat anyone over the head with Christmas clichés. It’s probably a touch better than “Christmas with the Joker” actually though less memorable. I don’t think either makes a strong case to be included with annual Christmas viewings, but you could certainly do worse.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Avatar”

avatar_title_cardEpisode Number:  69

Original Air Date:  May 9, 1994

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Michael Reaves

First Appearance(s):  None

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

egypt explorer

This explorer has a pretty distinct haircut…

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

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

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

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Bruce Wayne in dumb pants.

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

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

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

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

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Well that took an unexpected turn.

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

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

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Batman gets to fend off some gross tentacles.

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

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

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

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

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


Batman: The Animated Series – “Zatanna”

zatanna title cardEpisode Number:  54

Original Air Date:  February 2, 1993

Directed by:  Dan Riba, Dick Sebast

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  Zatanna, Zatara (flashback)

 

For episode 54 we have a rare dual-directed episode by Dan Riba and Dick Sebast, so rare that it’s the only one. Sebast had left the show before the episode’s completion so Riba took over. What state the episode was in, I have no idea, but Riba previously had only directed one episode (“See No Evil”) and had primarily contributed as a character designer and storyboard artist on the show. From here on out though he’ll be a regular director. This episode is also the debut of Zatanna, the magician super heroine who seems to be somewhat of a fan favorite. Paul Dini wrote this one and he’ll later get to write for Zatanna in the comics, incorporating some of the details of this episode involving Bruce Wayne and Zatanna’s history making this yet another episode to influence how a character was portrayed in the source material.

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Zatanna know what the boys come for.

The episode opens with Bruce Wayne and Alfred in the audience for a magic show. The presenter is Zatanna (Julie Brown), which we learn is someone Bruce once knew many years ago bringing us another flashback. Some 10 or 12 years ago, Bruce sought out training from a magician and escape artist named Zatara (Vincent Sciavelli) as he prepared to become a vigilante. Like the flashbacks from “Night of the Ninja,” they’re presented in a sepia tone so even if we didn’t recognize that Bruce looked younger we would still know it’s a flashback due to the coloring. Zatara had a daughter named Zatanna, and she and Bruce had a some-what flirtatious relationship. Zatanna seems fascinated by young Bruce, who is known to them under the alias John (Bruce, why would you go with John? It’s too close to John Doe) and is unusual in that he wants training as an escape artist, yet shows no interest in performing. Zatanna is puzzled and curious by this John, while Zatara seems to pay it no mind sensing something in the boy that compels him to teach him all that he knows. When Zatanna is caught spying on John’s lesson, the straightjacket escape trick which we’ve actually seen Batman put to good use in the past, her father sends her away.

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Bruce once sought training from the great magician, Zatara, father to Zatanna.

Zatanna confronts John after his lesson and implores him to continue on tour with she and her father. John insists he cannot, and will be leaving for Japan in the morning (presumably to begin his training as a samurai). Zatanna tries to weaken him with an amorous hug. John does appear slightly flustered, but he appears to enjoy the affection. When Zatanna releases her grip on him he finds he’s been handcuffed to the wall. As Zatanna walks off, she playfully mocks him that any decent escape artists would wiggle out of those cuffs before she could finish her sentence. When she turns around to presumably taunt him further, she finds John has vanished leaving the cuffs dangling from the wall.

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Bruce and a young “Zanna.”

Back in the present, Zatanna is preparing for her grand finale. As part of her final trick, she brings a noted magician sourpuss Montague Kane (Michael York) to the stage. He has apparently made it his business to point out how magicians pull off their tricks. Joining him is Irving Fauncewater (Zale Kessler), the manager of the Gotham Mint. Zatanna intends to make $10 million disappear from the Gotham Mint’s cache and the money is piled high on stage. She walks through her presentation, and wouldn’t you know, she succeeds! Everyone is delighted, except Fauncewater who seems a little concerned. When Zatanna finds she can’t make the cash reappear his concern turns to outrage. Kane accuses her of stealing the money, and Zatanna soon finds herself in cuffs she either can’t escape, or chooses not to.

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Bruce doesn’t get to do stuff like this too often.

Bruce knows Zatanna is no thief, and he immediately jumps into costume to investigate. Feeling the police will only focus on Zatanna, Batman decides he needs to free her from custody in order to investigate who really stole the money. He busts Zatanna out of the paddy wagon and she joins him in the Batmobile, somewhat reluctantly for he has now made her a fugitive. Batman explains he can help her, and she inquires if they’ve met before. Batman, somewhat surprisingly, seems a tad flustered and offers a lame excuse about having a familiar face (even though he’s wearing a mask).

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There’s no way this guy on the right isn’t a villain.

Batman and Zatanna return to the scene of the crime in order to figure out how the real crook managed to make the money vanish. Batman, because of his seemingly infinite knowledge, reveals Zatanna’s secret. The trick relied on a hologram to take the place of the actual money. Someone got to the trick before her show, probably the night before, and stole the money replacing it with yet another hologram to make it seem like the money was still there. Zatanna is impressed, and the two suspect Kane of being the one behind it, because who else? The guy both looks and sounds like a bad dude.

The heroes head off to Kane’s mansion to investigate further. Along the way Batman attempts to pry at Zatanna to learn more about her love life, and about her father. Much to his enjoyment, I presume, he finds out Zatanna has no one in her life from a romantic standpoint. She claims to have no time for relationships now that she has taken over for her father, who passed away. Batman offers his condolences while revealing he saw Zatara perform as a child, which once again causes Zatanna to question if they’ve met before.

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He’s smiling on the inside.

When Batman and Zatanna arrive at Kane’s home, they find a trap waiting for them. They wind up in a cliché, the old spiked-wall closing in on them after falling through a trap door. Batman some-what crudely disarms the trap by jabbing at the wall’s gears with one of the spikes. They then use the spikes to climb out of the room. Batman takes note of a picture of a seaplane and assumes, correctly, that Kane is using such to flee Gotham. Batman and Zatanna are able to get to the plane and confront Kane, who like any good villain in this town, has some goons to throw at Batman. They’re no match for him, but Zatanna is apparently not accustomed to crime fighting and finds herself in the clutches of Kane himself. Using her as leverage, Kane gets Batman to surrender. He makes a gross comment towards Zatanna suggesting there are things she could do for him in order to spare her life, which results in him getting a stiletto jammed in his foot.

chained up

I’d say things aren’t going well for our heroes, but they’re escape artists, surely these chains can’t bind them forever.

Kane, now angered, has his men chain Zatanna to Batman. Kane’s plan, with the plane airborne, is to toss the two out of the cargo door to a messy end. Batman, referring to Zatanna as “Zanna,” tells her to reach into his glove. The little nickname was something John used to use with her and it alarms Zatanna to hear it from the lips of Batman. She does as she’s told and removes a lock pick. She’s able to free the two from their chains, but unfortunately not before Kane’s men tossed them from the plane. Batman was able to hook his foot in some sort of cargo net in the plane which was fastened to the plane itself. The goons start firing while Kane tries to cut the net as the two dangle in midair. Batman uses the chain that once bound them to lasso Kane and pull him out of the plane forcing him to order his men to stop shooting. Kane is able to climb the net and reach the plane before Batman and Zatanna, allowing him to shut the door.

zatanna punch

After being mostly ineffective during the fighting, it’s kind of nice to see Zatanna get the last blow.

With the door shut, Batman and Zatanna are forced to scale the plane’s hull. Kane heads for the cockpit to try and jerk the plane around and dispatch the two. He also orders his men to go after them, apparently not at all concerned for their well-being. Once again, the nameless goons are no match for Batman, who dumps them off the plane (they’re over water and fairly low, so Batman isn’t a murderer). As the two scream, Kane thinks they’re the cries of Batman and Zatanna and prematurely celebrates only for Zatanna to appear behind him to deliver a swift right fist.

With that all out of the way and the plane docked safely, the Gotham police are able to arrest the real crooks. Apparently, they’re not at all concerned with Zatanna’s fugitive status as she’s free to have a little chat with her new/old buddy Batman. Batman apologizes for never writing to Zatanna as he had promised to do as John, but she doesn’t seem to mind and acknowledges that he’s been a busy man. They trade words of encouragement, with Zatanna assuring him her father would be so proud to see how he’s made use of his teachings. Batman offers her a ride and gestures to the Batmobile, only to turn and find Zatanna has vanished in a puff of smoke (how does it feel, Batman?) leaving behind a signed poster for “John” imploring him to write this time.

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Parting is such sweet sorrow, ain’t it, Batman?

“Zatanna” is another episode that reveals a small piece of Batman’s past. It’s nice to now have an explanation for how Batman could wrangle out of some pretty dangerous traps in the previous episodes, and for fans of the comics they got to see someone make the leap from print to television. This version of Zatanna doesn’t appear to possess any remarkable talents beyond being a good illusionist. It’s also possible she kept her true powers a secret too, but I would think if that were the case the audience would have been treated to something behind Batman’s back. The added wrinkle to both character’s back story is a nice addition. It’s a little surprising she doesn’t make another appearance in the show as a featured character, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s disappointing.

Fans of Zatanna may have been disappointed to see her costume was altered slightly to not include her traditional fishnet stockings. That’s due to the medium as fishnet would be harder to animate than Spider-Man’s costume. This is another episode handled by Dong Yang Animation and it looks pretty good. Dong Yang handled more episodes of the show than any other company and their work is always consistent. The designs of Kane and his goons are a little on the dull side, since this isn’t a villain with a gimmick, but the plane sequence is pretty thrilling. And if you were worried Zatanna wouldn’t look good without her fishnets, don’t worry, she’s got plenty of sex appeal and it’s easy to see why Batman seems to have taken a liking to her.

Overall, “Zatanna” is a tight little story that works just fine as a stand-alone episode and as a fun cameo piece for the character Zatanna. It’s the first superhero team-up episode for the series (Gray Ghost feels like the first, but that character did not exist outside of this show), though if that’s something you like don’t get too excited. Batman will largely resist those temptations, though we get more when the show returns as The New Batman Adventures as DC was more interested in building an animated universe come then. Not being a huge a consumer of DC print material, the cross overs never added anything for me, but the good thing about this one is I didn’t need to know anything about Zatanna to enjoy the episode. And for a show that tries to tell self-contained stories in 23 minutes, that’s the right approach.


Dec. 23 – Teen Titans Go!: Second Christmas

Secondchristmas_title_118a

Original air date December 4, 2013

The Teen Titans are a super hero group consisting of all of the heroes no one cares about:  Robin, Starfire, Cyborg, Raven, and Beast Boy. They got a chance to shine in their own series, which was eventually spun-off into a satirical comedy series called Teen Titans Go! This series is basically a flash animated cartoon in which the team does little actual super hero stuff and mostly just confronts every day mundane activities in an overly dramatic way. It’s not a show I’m very familiar with, having only watched an episode here and there just because it seems to always be on Cartoon Network. My once infant son seemed to like the theme song and all of the colors, so I’d on occasion use the program to distract him for a few minutes. I’ve had people tell me it’s a really funny show, and others tell me it’s one of the worst things DC has ever done with its brand. I’m guessing if you have no affection for the comics then this show is mostly just dumb humor that’s not entirely annoying, but if you actually enjoy the Teen Titans as a super hero group then you probably have a negative opinion of this thing.

“Second Christmas” aired during the show’s first season in 2013. I may not be familiar with this show, but i am familiar with the post-Christmas blues. December 26th is often cited by me as the saddest day of the year – 364 days until next Christmas, 365 if it’s one of those wretched leap years. Boxing Day just doesn’t do it for me, and the premise of this episode is immediately appealing to me because the characters are dealing with that very same thing, and to combat it, they come up with Second Christmas.

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Who doesn’t enjoy a good Christmas sweater?

The episode opens on Christmas morning. We get some shots of the Titans’ HQ, a giant building shaped like the letter T, and it’s all decorated for Christmas with numerous DC references. The stockings are hung by the fireplace loaded with toys and goodies, implying Santa has come and gone. I very much like that Cyborg’s stocking is a giant steel boot. The camera zooms in on a Batman alarm clock which immediately goes off at 8:00 AM. What?! You mean in a building occupied solely by kids the inhabitants stay in bed until 8 on Christmas morning? Hell, I rarely let the sun beat me to Christmas morning. When the alarm goes off, the Titans come running out from their rooms. They observe the cookies have been consumed, the milk has been drunk, and they tare through their wonderful new gifts. The gifts are supposed to be kind of funny, I take it, but the only one I like is Starfire’s Dr. Seuss inspired thing that I couldn’t possibly spell.

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I feel like Beast Boy should really be a reindeer here and not a dog.

The Titans move onto ugly Christmas sweaters and food. The day, as it often does, goes by like a whirlwind and suddenly it’s the 26th. Everyone is feeling down except Robin, who channels my mom in this scene by gleefully pulling down all of the Christmas decorations. He’s the most straight-laced of the group and wants to get back to training and doing super hero stuff while the others just need to wallow. Starfire is less upset as she apparently has a Christmas-like holiday to attend on her home planet, or wherever she’s from. There some kind of purple dinosaur that isn’t Barney replaces Santa amid chaos and flames. Seems interesting. The others are a bit jealous that she gets to run off for more holiday shenanigans so Beast Boy comes up with the idea of telling her about Second Christmas. Raven and Cyborg play along, and they soon have Starfire convinced that Second Christmas is a real holiday complete with its own Santa, obviously named Second Santa. He’s tall, skinny, and wears a green track suit and flys around with a jet pack.

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Robin is pretty willing to move on from Christmas while the others are reluctant to do so.

Robin walks in on them and immediately tries to put this Second Christmas nonsense to bed, but Beast Boy informs Starfire that Robin is the Grouch of Second Christmas and she shouldn’t listen to him and instead punch him in the face – so she does. Second Christmas suddenly becomes a thing that occurs at the expense of Starfire as the others leave it to her to re-decorate the place, cook a new Christmas dinner (consisting of junk food like pizza and burritos), and handle all of the presents and such. Somehow a Second Christmas kite becomes thing, and Starfire is very much interested in meeting Second Santa. A Dr. Seuss-like narrator also pops in to add a little magic to Second Christmas. Starfire is happy to go along with everything as she’s promised a Second Christmas miracle by Beast Boy should everything go well.

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All decorated for Second Christmas.

A montage, very much a re-hash of the opening one that covered Christmas, takes place showing the Titans in celebration. Robin remains a grouch, but doesn’t continue to protest. He still gets punched in the face though for making a sour face during Second Christmas Carols. He finally voices concern when Starfire activates the many, many lights she’s strung up all over the building, drawing attention to the huge waste of money powering them all is. He notes that their generator can’t handle this much stress and tries reasoning with Starfire. He tries being sympathetic to her and explain that the others are playing a trick on her, then gets angry when that doesn’t work, only earning him yet another punch in the face. Starfire won’t be fooled by the Second Christmas Grouch, the narrator informs us as we get a look at the swelling generator.

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All seem quite pleased with how Second Christmas turned out, except Robin.

Inside, Beast Boy remarks how he’s beat from all of this Second Christmas celebrating and Raven and Cyborg are quick to point out how great it was. They all decide to head to bed, but not Starfire who did not miss her people’s most important holiday to not witness a Second Christmas miracle. Suddenly, the others show a bit of remorse, but they only tease copping to her about the whole thing. When they say “There’s something we should tell you,” it just leads to them bidding her good night after unsuccessfully trying to get her to go to bed herself. Robin can only look on with disappointment.

Starfire_attacks_the_Grouch

Starfire is pissed.

Starfire takes to the roof to fly her Second Christmas kite in hopes of spotting Second Christmas Santa. She tries to convince herself to believe, assuming that’s what will lead to a miracle, but nothing happens. The narrator comes in to recount all of the things she has done throughout the day to ensure Second Christmas was perfect. Just then, a flash of light bathes her in a warm glow! Second Santa? Nope, it’s just the elevator to the roof containing her teammates with Robin ordering them to tell her she’s been had. They finally come clean and hang their heads in shame, apologizing, but Starfire isn’t too accepting. She missed the most important day of the year for her home world for Second Christmas and she goes ballistic throwing nuclear snowballs at her “friends.” Even Robin isn’t spared as she still calls him the Grouch and punches him in the face. I’ve always thought Robin was pretty lame, but damn does he get abused in this episode.

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He is real! He’s really real!

After all of the Titans are trapped in the snow, a bright light appears. Even Robin and the others wonder if this is the coming of Second Santa, while Starfire turns to the light with renewed Second Christmas Spirit. Turns out it’s just the generator overloading and soon the whole thing explodes. We fade to white and find the Titans all waking up in hospital beds. Turns out the explosion put them all into comas and they’re just now all waking up simultaneously 363 days later – it’s Christmas Eve! A Second Christmas Miracle! The creation of their fake holiday has had the intended result as the Titans were not forced to wait for next Christmas, it came! They reflect on the miraculous event, as the camera leaves the confines of the hospital room to reveal the identity of the episode’s narrator as none other than Second Santa himself. He takes to the sky in his jet pack, just as Starfire approaches a window to witness him. He gives her a wink, and writes Happy 2nd X-Mas in the sky before flying off.

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I guess I should have run this on the 26th, but there’s no way I’m doing a 26th blog entry on Christmas this month!

“Second Christmas” is a pretty silly and, at times, mean-spirited little Christmas special. It’s also strangely relatable as who likes waiting a whole year for Christmas? I mean sure we all get sick of the songs at times and there’s always a few really annoying commercials each year, but Christmas is such a wonderful time of year it sometimes gets a little sad knowing it’s just one day out of the whole year. Of course, that one day has been stretched into two as Christmas Eve is basically a holiday at this point, and the entire Christmas season is eerily undefined. At retail it basically begins the week of Halloween while many at least push it off until after Thanksgiving. And then it kind of lingers through the new year before vanishing completely as kids return to school and adults back to work. As a concept, I love this episode and I like the little flourishes that give it a holiday special vibe such as the narrator or visual gags like a snowman coming to life when Cyborg places hie head upon it. As something that’s funny or entertaining, it’s less successful as there’s really no laugh-out-loud moments, but a short running time (about 11 minutes with opening and closing credits) keeps it from over-staying its welcome. As a result, I’m pretty lukewarm on the whole thing which pretty much matches my attitude toward the series as a whole.

Teen Titans Go! is run all of the time on Cartoon Network, it’s basically that channel’s SpongeBob, so I expect this episode to air numerous times during this holiday season. If the network is smart, it’ll be shown on the 26th to really capture the mood of the episode. As of this post, it’s scheduled to air on Christmas Eve at 1 PM. The show is also available on DVD and Blu Ray and streaming in various places on the web.