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Batman: The Animated Series – “House & Garden”

house and garden title cardEpisode Number:  70

Original Air Date:  May 2, 1994

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  None

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

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

mr and mrs carlyle

The happy couple.

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

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

bruce attacked

Damn backseat drivers.

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

batman caught in the act

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

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

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

plant monster attacks

He’s a big boy.

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

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

Batman The Animated Series CR: Warner Bros. Animation

Unsettling, but not really threatening. Yet.

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

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

ivy copy

She’s a slippery one.

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

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

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

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Batman: The Animated Series – “Avatar”

avatar_title_cardEpisode Number:  69

Original Air Date:  May 9, 1994

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Michael Reaves

First Appearance(s):  None

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

egypt explorer

This explorer has a pretty distinct haircut…

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

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

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

cairo lair

Bruce Wayne in dumb pants.

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

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

beautiful thoth

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

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

lich queen thoth

Well that took an unexpected turn.

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

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

batman vs tentacles

Batman gets to fend off some gross tentacles.

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

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

double crossed again

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

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

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


Batman: The Animated Series – “Trial”

btas trialEpisode Number:  68

Original Air Date:  May 16, 1994

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Paul Dini and Bruce Timm

First Appearance(s):  None

“Trial” could be described as one of our first big payoff episodes for the series as it draws heavily on the events of season one. After spending considerable time developing Batman’s rogues’ gallery, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm decided to play around with them like a kid diving into a toy box for this episode as many of Batman’s foes are brought back for an ensemble episode. It also refers back to “Shadow of the Bat” and Gotham’s new district attorney, Janet Van Dorn (Stephanie Zimbalist, replacing Lynette Mettey, and also the daugher of Alfred voice actor Efrem Zimbalist Jr.), who was first introduced there as a hard-nosed and rigid authority figure. Here her personality is essentially doubled-down on as we find out she has a strong dislike for Batman and Gordon’s reliance on the vigilante in combating the crime infecting Gotham. Her dislike of Batman is a bit more practical than that of Detective Bullock’s as Batman’s clearly breaking the law, or at least bending it, with his vigilante antics and it makes her job considerably more difficult. And since she is at odds with Batman, it only makes sense to lean into that conflict as the backbone for this episode.

janet trial

Goth DA Janet Van Dorn assumes the spotlight for her second appearance. She also has been slightly redesigned to appear more youthful.

“Trial” opens in a court setting. Pamela Isely (Diane Pershing), better known as Poison Ivy, is facing incarceration beyond just treatment at Arkham Asylum and Van Dorn is arguing for life in prison. Ivy is able to avoid jail-time due to her capture being at the hands of Batman, who naturally isn’t present to even testify against her. The judge sends her back to Arkham, not an outcome Ivy probably wanted but it’s still better than prison. When the media approaches Van Dorn following the verdict, she uses the camera time to blast Batman calling him a disgrace and placing the blame for the presence of criminally insane rogues in the city on him. She’s also not afraid to let Commissioner Gordon know how she feels, but as always, he’s willing to stand-up for Batman viewing him as their best weapon in the fight against crime. Batman even drops in on their little meeting, presenting a gang leader as a present (who is wearing a skull shirt that seems to resemble a certain Marvel character’s logo). When Van Dorn challenges him to take off the mask and put on a uniform, Batman says nothing and departs. She takes a batarang from the perp as a parting gift, I guess?

At Arkham, a somewhat somber looking Poison Ivy is returned to her room. Her pal Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin) tries to cheer her up, but she has little success. She mentions something big is about to go down though that will likely lift her spirits. We then see some zombie-like orderlies and doctors milling about and The Mad Hatter bursts into the picture to reveal he’s used his mind control cards to subdue them as chaos breaks out.

captured batman

Van Dorn and Batman find themselves tied together by the real foes of Gotham.

A fatigued Van Dorn is shown arriving at a restaurant for dinner. Her date this evening is none other than Bruce Wayne. If Bruce is romantically interested in Van Dorn or just looking to get inside the head of someone who could either be friend or foe to Batman is not shown. Given his dedication to his Batman persona, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if it was the latter. A waiter (clearly voiced by Mark Hamill, which is an unintentional piece of foreshadowing) comes to the table to tell Van Dorn she has a phone call. She never returns, and soon Batman is summoned by Gordon to find out the DA has been kidnapped. A ransom note was left behind containing a riddle. Batman deciphers it and heads for the court-house where he’s jumped by Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn.

Janet Van Dorn finds herself locked-up in Arkham. As she demands to speak with someone, she’s greeted by the former district attorney, Two-Face (Richard Moll). They’re having a little trial and need Van Dorn to act as a defense attorney with Two-Face the acting DA. Her client? None other than Batman. And to make things more interesting, Van Dorn’s fate is to be tied to that of her client. As Killer Croc (Aron Kincaid) dumps Batman in the cell with her, she complains about their situation and suggests Batman is where he belongs. Batman has no interest in debating his existence with Van Dorn.

trial jury

Batman’s jury hardly seems fair and impartial.

The two are lead into the court room, where a bunch of raving inmates jeer the presence of Batman and Gotham’s DA. Harley Quinn is there to taunt Batman revealing she stole his belt. The Ventriloquist (George Dzundza) with a newly reconstructed Scarface (also Dzundza) are acting as the bailiff and the jury is rather stacked against Batman as it contains:  Poison Ivy, Harley, Mad Hatter (Roddy McDowall), Killer Croc, Scarecrow, and The Riddler (Scarecrow and Riddler are not voiced in this episode). The judge? Well, it has to be The Joker (Mark Hamill) who is looking resplendent in a black robe and wig.

After Dent makes a rather brief and to the point opening statement, the trial gets underway. The Mad Hatter is the first witness who blames Batman for creating him. Van Dorn is able to expose his sick side rather easily, recalling the events of his debut and his obsessive pursuit of a woman who spurned his advances. Harley is the next, and Van Dorn is quick to point out she’s improperly influencing the judge who is laying his head in her lap (they apparently made up). Van Dorn gets no where with that complaint, but during her questioning of Quinn she actually reveals her origin for the first time as a doctor at Arkham perverted by The Joker. She also reveals that Joker ratted her out during his last capture, which enrages Harley and forces Croc to carry her out kicking and screaming.

harleys tampering

Harely and Joker are shown to have a still combustible relationship, but Harley just can’t seem to dump the clown.

Poison Ivy is next up, and her past with trying to murder Harvey Dent is once again brought up. Van Dorn accuses Ivy of having more love for plants than humans, and when Ivy denies that, Van Dorn begins taunting her by plucking the petals off a flower. This sets her off, and Ivy attacks Van Dorn and the two have to be separated. Van Dorn then composes herself for her closing remarks, claiming she now sees that it wasn’t Batman who created these villains, but the villains are the ones who created Batman. Her argument is apparently persuasive, and the jury actually finds Batman innocent. Joker is quick to point out that this is a court composed of the violent and depraved, and as such, they’ll still sentence Batman to the same fate that would have befallen him had he been guilty. Quoting Porky Pig’s “That’s all folks,” Joker strikes the bench with a rubber chicken and the two are dragged away.

van dorn and judge joker

The straight-laced Van Dorn is forced to contend with the crazies of Arkham, something she proves she’s capable of.

The rogues drag Batman to an execution chamber where the electric chair awaits him. Joker enters dressed as a preacher now as Batman is taken out of his strait jacket and placed in the chair. It’s at this point Van Dorn remembers the batarang in her jacket from earlier, and she takes out the only light in the room with it. This gives Batman the only opening he needs as he slips out of his confines and returns to the shadows where he is oh so comfortable being.

The tables have now turned, and Batman lets them know they’re now locked-up in there with him (perhaps a nod to Watchmen?) as he starts picking them off. When he grabs Croc, Joker reaches for Scarface’s miniature, but functional, tommy gun and opens fire. When Scarface warns Joker that he’ll hit Croc, he responds with “What’s your point?”

batman electric chair

This seems like a bad situation for Batman to find himself in, but as usual, he’ll make the best of it.

Batman grabs Van Dorn and the two attempt to escape, but are met by a scythe-wielding Scarecrow on the stairs. Batman is able to parry his strikes, which result in Scarface losing his head, and dispatches of the villains closing in on them. They escape to the rooftop where The Joker awaits. Joker ropes Batman and tugs him off the building with the rope affixed to an abutment that allows Joker to swing from the other end. He tries to take Batman out with a giant mallet, but as always, Batman is able to escape and take him out in the process. By now, the police (who have been tracking Batman’s location this whole time) arrive to clean up the mess. In a brief sequence to close things out, Van Dorn admits to Batman she sees a need for him in Gotham, but adds she’ll still work to create a Gotham that no longer needs Batman. He responds with a smile and a simple “Me too.”

“Trial” is a fun examination of how Batman and his adversaries are connected. Van Dorn’s argument that the cartoonish villains of their world are created by Batman is a common one, while the episode makes the case that it’s the other way around. The reality is that the two are forever intertwined. A criminal act created Batman, but Batman has certainly had a hand in creating some of the villains he combats (Van Dorn even references Joker’s creation which follows that of Batman ’89). It’s a fun little debate, and getting a bunch of villains together in one place is also equally fun and basically the impetus for Batman:  The Movie. I like seeing how the villains also play off each other, though Croc is back to being a dim-witted piece of comic relief who just wants to throw a rock at Batman. Having Harley’s origins touched upon is a nice little nugget and something that will be explored down the road. I could certainly nitpick how easy it was for Mad Hatter to gain access to his special cards or how Van Dorn is a great shot on her first try wielding a batarang, but this episode is pretty packed as-is (supposedly, this plot was considered as the first movie, but was scrapped in favor of Mask of the Phantasm) and had it spent any additional time on such details it would likely not have worked out as well. The script is also delightful, making this perhaps the most quotable episode of the series. The only gaffe, plot-wise, is the presence of Killer Croc in Arkham when it was established in “Sideshow” he’s not insane, just a bad guy.

preacher joker

Preacher Joker is one of the fun little touches in this episode.

Dong Yang Animation does a nice job with this episode having to animate so many unique characters at once. They even went through the trouble of portraying the villains in jumpsuits initially, rather than taking the easy way out and just having them in costume from the start. Bruce Wayne also gets a new look as he’s ditched his old brown suit for a sharp-looking gray one that seems to be his new default look. The drab backgrounds of Arkham are juxtaposed against the colorful costumes everyone sports and it creates a nice look. I also really enjoyed Joker’s various attires and the toy collector in me wouldn’t mind an action figure of Judge Joker and Preacher Joker. Van Dorn also received a subtle make-over from her prior appearance. She wears a blue suit now and appears a bit more youthful than before. There are a couple little production gaffes, like a character’s mouth moving when it shouldn’t and Riddler just disappearing, but nothing glaring enough to take away from the overall presentation.

“Trial” is a good second season episode that really takes advantage of the lore and backstories established in season one, and even elsewhere. It’s the type of episode I like to see in a show’s second season, and for a show like Batman that typically focuses on stand-alone stories, I always get a little rush of excitement when past events are mentioned.


Batman: The Animated Series – “The Worry Men”

the worry menEpisode Number:  65

Original Air Date:  September 16, 1993

Directed by:  Frank Paur

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  None

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

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

veronica safari

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

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

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

bruce worry man

Bruce with one of Veronica’s worry men dolls.

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

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

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

mat hatter grin

Our true villain revealed!

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

mad hatter chews

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

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

batman stuck

That looks dangerous.

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

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

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

batman worry man

The Shaman’s parting gift for The Mad Hatter.

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

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

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


Batman: The Animated Series – “Read My Lips”

read my lipsEpisode Number:  64

Original Air Date:  May 10, 1993

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Alan Burnett and Michael Reaves

First Appearance(s):  Scarface, The Ventriloquist

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

scarface

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

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

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

scarface and dummy

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

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

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

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

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

interrogating ventriloquist

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

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

ventriloquist nervous

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

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

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

scarface double cross

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

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

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

dead scarface

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

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

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

new scarface carving

The episode ends basically the only way it can.

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

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

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

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


Batman: The Animated Series – “Fire From Olympus”

fire from olympusEpisode Number:  63

Original Air Date:  May 24, 1993

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Judith Reeves-Stevens and Garfield Reeves-Stevens

First Appearance(s):  Maxie Zeus

I hope all of that Christmas cheer the past month has re-energized you for another heaping dose of Batman. We’re not planning any more breaks until this thing ends right around this December, which feels crazy to think about. Our re-entry episode this week is a weird one, to say the least. Batman is going to tangle with Maxie Zeus (Steve Susskind), a head of a shipping company turned smuggler who also happens to think he is the god, Zeus. We’re used to seeing Batman tangle with foes who are obviously insane, but none make it quite so obvious as this guy.

maxie zeus

Meet Maxie Zeus, the goof-ball with a cool staff.

The episode opens in a shadowy area of Gotham at night with Commissioner Gordon checking his watch apparently waiting for something to go down, and something does. A couple of sharp-dressed men are seen accosting a smaller gentleman, Yanni Stavros (Nicholas Savalas). They’re not very friendly and make reference to a “boss” not being happy with Stavros. Stavros is an informant, and whoever these guys are working for caught wind of what was going to happen. They chase him into an alley filled with used tires and Stavros is pinned between a whole pile of them and his assailants. A car pulls in and a shadowy figure emerges. Using quite flowery language, the figure expresses outrage that he has to journey to the mortal plane to deal with this problem and raises his arm. Condemning Stavros to Tarturus, a flash of lightning blasts the little man alerting Gordon (who is standing outside a Greek establishment of some kind). Gordon runs over to find Stavros, but no one else.

At the hospital, a nurse informs Gordon that the many rubber tires helped shield Stavros from the lightning strike. Gordon asks if he heard her right, because as far as he could recall the skies were clear that night. That’s what she’s going with though. Unfortunately, Stavros is in a coma so he can’t confirm the details at the moment. At police headquarters, Gordon shares this information with Batman before asking if he’s familiar with some new kind of weapon that’s basically a lightning canon. Batman is very familiar with it, and wouldn’t you know, the damn thing was recently stolen while in transit. Stavros works for Maximilian Shipping Lines and he likely would have known about the item and has a record of selling shipping schedules to smugglers. This seems like a pretty obvious lead for Batman to investigate.

Clio

Maxie’s assistant and lover Clio is pretty sick of the whole Zeus thing.

At the top of a very high building, our assailant dwells. Maxie Zeus, head of Maximilian Shipping Lines, has built his own Olympus atop this building. His assistant Clio (Bess Armstrong) is trying to impress upon him how reckless his actions have become. She reveals that Max is a smuggler and he’s never been caught, which is what she partly blames on his new god-like feeling of invulnerability. She also reveals that they’re a bit more than just boss and subordinate, and she pleads with Maxie to drop this Zeus stuff, but he won’t hear it. The man truly believes he is Zeus, and when the Batwing shows up alongside his home he is overjoyed to see the coming of his brother – Hades.

Batman is a bit unsure of what he walked into, but he remains his usual stoic self. Zeus beckons him in and even dismisses Clio, referring to her as his muse. Batman is not interested in pleasantries and cuts to the chase and asks Max if he knows anything about the stolen weapon. This angers Max who deems this a mortal problem and he questions why Hades would think he who can summon lightning bolts of his own would ever have interest in such a device? He gives Batman a demonstration of his interesting lightning staff as he melts down a little sculpture. He orders Hades to return to his domain and to never return unless summoned. To make the point clearer, he gestures to his “harpies” which are stone gargoyles with guns for eyes. They move at his command and aim at Batman, who gets the message and takes his leave. At ground level, Clio, having failed in an attempt to get Max’s handlers who happen to be the two guys who accompanied him in dealing with Stavros to intervene, looks up and sees the Batwing leave and bemoans the condition her boss/lover is in.

welcome hades

Most villains are not this happy to see Batman.

At her home, Clio is paid a visit by the old Batman where she reveals Max’s sad story. Well, it’s not that sad. He got into smuggling and she blames the stress of the gig as leading to his insanity. She hasn’t given up on him though and agrees to help Batman infiltrate his business and take him down. She drives the Dark Knight over to the main building, but as she enters Max’s goons confront her and take her prisoner.

Having disposed of Zeus, Maxie summons his lackeys Alex (Savalas) and “other guy.” Maxie rolls out the electronic canon that Batman and the police are looking for and intends to demonstrate his might. He fires the weapon at a patrolling police blimp causing it to burst into flames and fall from the sky. Clio is there to witness the horror and attempts to reason with the man once more. He teases for a moment that the fog inside his thick skull has lifted, only to snap-back into Zeus mode and declare Clio unfit to be in his presence. He has Alex affix her to the front of the canon; the next shot will obliterate her for sure.

Before Max can settle on a target though, he takes note of Batman/Hades on a security camera. He activates a trap door which drops Batman into a lavishly decorated room. He taunts Batman over an intercom and watches as he tangles with his “hydra,” which is just a very large snake. We’ve seen Batman handle gators before, so a snake seems like small potatoes. It manages to get its coils around Batman, but he pulls a spray canister off his belt that knocks the reptile out. As he gathers himself, he hears some grunting from down the hall. A warthog bursts through the wall, which seems less threatening than even the very large snake. Batman ropes it, but the warthog pulls him around the room causing him to crash through a window. Maxie thinks that has taken care of his “brother,” but we know better as several stories below Batman demonstrates he has superhuman shoulder joints by hanging onto a ledge.

zeus shocked

Not his best idea of the episode.

Maxie then returns to the business with the canon. Taking aim at nothing in particular, he prepares to fire it and end Clio’s existence. Before he can do so, a batarang slams into the console. Maxie looks up to see the shadowy figure of Batman atop the building and orders his men to take him out. Alex expresses doubt, apparently he was fine with tying a woman to the end of a canon but attacking Batman is where he draws the line, which causes Maxie to train his “harpies” on him. Alex takes refuge in a swimming pool, while Batman topples the gun-toting statues. This leaves Batman to tangle with Maxie, which he is more than capable of handling even with Maxie armed with that lightning staff. He disables the canon and frees Clio, but by doing so he turned his back on Maxie. Maxie regains his lightning staff and fires upon Batman knocking him from the building. Satisfied that Batman is no more, Max returns to his throne and inexplicably leaves his staff out of arm’s reach. As he prepares to once more fire the canon, Batman re-emerges and grabs the lightning staff. Like a child who just had his favorite toy torn from him, Maxie screams out “That’s mine!” as Batman hurls it into the canon. Maxie jumps after it and grabs onto the end protruding from the canon. Electricity courses through him eventually causing him to fall many, many, feet and land with a sickening thud on a concrete ledge below.

maxies home

At last, Maxie is home.

Surprisingly, Maxie Zeus survived the fall and we next see him being wheeled through Arkham Asylum. He’s been allowed to keep his headdress apparently as he’s wheeled on through bound by a strait jacket. As he is pushed along he takes in his surroundings and mistakes various other inmates (who aren’t in Arkham-issued jumpsuits and instead are in full costume) for gods. Poison Ivy is Demeter, a  pseudonym she had used herself in a past episode. Two-Face is mistaken for the Roman god Janus, the god of beginnings and ends who was depicted with two faces. And Joker is mistaken for Hermes the trickster. As he’s left in his own cell, he’s actually quite happy and convinced that he is truly in Olympus now.

When I was a kid, “Fire From Olympus” was one of my least favorite episodes of Batman:  The Animated Series. I thought Maxie Zeus was just too lame, too over-the-top, and just plain stupid. He’s a villain that would have been a better fit for the 60s Batman show and not this more grounded entrant. As an adult, I hate it less. I view it now as more of an off-beat episode. It’s a bit silly, which in turn allows it to entertain in a way most episodes of this show do not. I still hesitate to call it good though as Maxie lacks an emotional component, but not for lack of trying. The writers try to make Maxie sympathetic, and rely on the Clio character to drum-up some of that sympathy, but in the end he’s a criminal driven insane by his own criminal actions. And Clio isn’t just an innocent bystander, she’s complicit in his crimes as well as she is the one who shields him from justice. She could have turned him in years ago, but probably enjoyed the lifestyle afforded by Maxie’s criminal activities. He’s obviously quite wealthy to have such a dwelling and lightning-blasting staffs are not created overnight and for cheap. Had the episode followed more of a Joker template it might have been better served.

joker hermes

Joker gets to sneak in a quick cameo in this one along with Two-Face and Poison Ivy.

For those interested in Greek and Roman mythology, I assume this episode is a bit more fun. Maxie makes many references in his speeches as he’s quite consumed by his Zeus persona. The performance by the late Steve Susskind as Zeus is easily the episode’s strongest point as he brings a theatrical presence to each scene he is in. I am far removed from learning about all of that stuff, but even I was entertained by the numerous references. It is a bit confusing to see Greek and Roman references used interchangeably, and I suppose purists of one over the other might even be annoyed at that. All of the lines are spoken by an obviously insane and confused man, so I suppose that’s the in-episode justification for the slip-ups.

If you’re more like the child version of me, then you’re probably happy to know that this is the lone appearance of Maxie Zeus in the series. Even though I am more receptive in my older age to this episode, I am quite fine with this being the only appearance of Zeus. He’s not really the kind of villain we need to check-in with. I suppose it would have been entertaining to see him play a role in an upcoming episode where Batman finds himself inside Arkham, but there are plenty of other villains available to do the heavy-lifting. Had he returned as a featured villain in another episode he likely just would have been trying to steal something else that could be connected to Greek mythology and it would have just been filler. An episode where he regains his sanity and wrestles with his other persona also probably wouldn’t matter much considering he’s just not sympathetic enough. As a one and done villain, he’s at least memorable for his goofy alter-ego and kids probably thought his lightning staff was pretty cool. That’s better than being the Sewer King or Boss Biggis, at least.

 


Batman: The Animated Series – “His Silicon Soul”

His_Silicon_SoulEpisode Number:  62

Original Air Date:  November 20, 1992

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Marty Isenberg and Robert N. Skir

First Appearance(s):  Batman Duplicant

Episode 62 of Batman is one where my memory has apparently betrayed me. “His Silicon Soul” first aired on Friday, November 20, 1992 and yet I swear I first saw it in prime time. If it was re-shown in prime time, I can’t confirm, as I suppose it’s possible I missed it in its first showing. Since we’re talking about 26 years in the past though, it’s also possible I created a false memory. It’s just odd to me because I definitely remember my reaction to this one as a kid as it’s a pretty memorable episode. It’s a follow-up to the two-part story “Heart of Steel” which occurred way back in episodes 38 and 39, though in relation to this episode it had aired just days prior with only two episodes airing in between. It ties up basically one loose end from that episode:  What did H.A.R.D.A.C. do with the knowledge that it gained from the Batcave?

robot guts

That’s never happened before.

The episode opens with three seedy gentlemen poking around a warehouse at night. When one questions why they’re here, the apparent leader of this operation says an old computer factory went up in flames and some of the high-end tech it contained was moved here. They come upon a crate and emblazoned on the crate is the H.A.R.D.A.C. logo. They have no idea what that logo means and begin prying at the crate. It soon shakes, and a fist punches through the top. It’s Batman, and the trio of crooks are soon shaken to their core. They attack with crowbars, and Batman remarks how pathetic their attempt is to take him out as he catches their swings. He tosses them around, but one of the crooks whips out a gun and pops off a few shots. They remarkably connect, and when Batman is still standing the crook drops the weapon and flees screaming “He’s not human!” Batman, with a look of shock on his face, looks down to find he’s been wounded and there’s nothing but circuitry spilling out of him.

hardac reflection

I know that image.

At Wayne Manor, an injured Batman ascends the stairs to Bruce Wayne’s study. He pauses at a mirror and traces his face with his finger on it and the image of H.A.R.D.A.C. appears. Alfred emerges thinking there’s a prowler and is relieved to see it’s only Batman. When Batman indicates he needs help, Alfred notices the damage and immediately makes the connection to H.A.R.D.A.C. This duplicant Batman reacts with confusion, insisting he needs help and implying bewilderment over his condition. Alfred flees into the Batcave where he’s able to activate a clever security measure that fills the Batcave with gas while he puts on a gas mask. At least, it would be clever if his assailant wasn’t a robot, so I’m not sure what Alfred expected, and the duplicant soon emerges and pulls the gas mask off of Alfred. With Alfred unconscious, the robot accesses the computer database for information relating to H.A.R.D.A.C.

Elsewhere in Gotham, the police have stumbled upon the would-be burglars who faced-off with the robot Batman. The real Batman shows up as well and Commissioner Gordon suggests he not hang the guys so high next time. They lower the bound thugs and Gordon removes a Bat-a-rang from the rope and gives it back to Batman. “Yours, I presume,” he remarks to which Batman responds with “So it would seem.”

Batman notices the guys are pretty shaken up at his presence and he pulls Gordon aside. He explains to Gordon that he didn’t apprehend these men, despite how it looks. Batman seeks information on what the crooks were going after, and finds a microchip stuck to the jacket of one of them.

farm bot

So when is this robot going to rebel and start killing people?

We’re taken to a farm that’s being attended to by various little robots. It’s the home of H.A.R.D.A.C. creator Karl Rossum (William Sanderson) who has given up on creating advanced robots in favor of a more simpler, but still quirky, lifestyle. Batman approaches him from behind, as he always does, and startles the skittish farmer. He questions if more duplicants could exist, specifically if H.A.R.D.A.C. could have created one of him. Rossum insists H.A.R.D.A.C. is no more and that the police seized everything from his old lab. Batman apologizes for bringing up the past, before taking his leave.

Later on, Rossum is alone in his green house when Batman shows up once again. Rossum is agitated, but then realizes this isn’t the same Batman. It’s the robot Batman, and he’s there for help. He insists something has been done to him, that his mind was taken from his body and implanted in a robot. He needs help getting his body restored, or getting into a new robot one. Rossum explains that he’s not and has never been human but is in fact a robot. When the duplicant reacts angrily insisting it has memories, Rossum reveals that it’s all data driven. When he asks it to recall its first kiss or favorite song it’s unable to, because it’s never had that information. Rossum also reveals its body has been damaged beyond repair and its circuits will likely cease all functions within a few hours. This enrages the cyborg, and it looks like it’s about to inflict some pain on Rossum until the real Batman ambushes it from behind.

green house rumble

It’s time for a rumble in a green house, and this isn’t even a Poison Ivy episode!

The two fight and Batman is at a disadvantage. The robot copy of him fights like him, but with enhanced strength. He takes cover and uses a hose, of all things, to subdue the robot when he blasts the damaged area and exposed wires with water. Rossum runs up ready to destroy the robot with a hoe, but Batman stops him claiming they need this machine to lead them to whatever remains of H.A.R.D.A.C. The robot then “wakes up,” and now has sinister glowing red eyes instead of white. The fight resumes, and the main casualty is Rossum’s green house. The robot tosses Batman through the side of it, but when the green house starts to cave in, the robot Batman goes back to save Rossum. With Rossum tossed out of the falling structure, the whole thing comes down on the robot. Batman walks over to scour the remains, but the robot appears to have vanished. He jumps into the Batmobile and searches on his computer for where the confiscated material from Rossum’s lab ended up and it brings up a Gotham PD impound lot.

repair sequence

Repair sequence initiated. It’s oddly satisfying to watch.

Somehow, the duplicant Batman is already there despite apparently not lifting a Batcycle or Batwing from the Batcave. It enters the warehouse and finds some components. Once one in particular is identified, some latent programming takes over. The duplicant is clearly fighting it, but cannot resist. It pulls off the outer skin covering its mechanical head and inserts a chip into a slot on the forehead. Once done, the voice of H.A.R.D.A.C. (Jeff Bennett) starts telling the robot what is happening. All of H.A.R.D.A.C.’s data files are being downloaded and integrated with the duplicant Batman. It details the robot’s creation and also its new objective. Duplicant Batman is now essentially both a Batman clone and H.A.R.D.A.C. in one and it is to resume the operation to replace humanity with robots. Better yet, that chip activated a repair function that has undone the damage from earlier. The duplicant puts its “face” back on and moves to a window to see the Batmobile has just arrived. It declares it will replace all of humanity, starting with Batman.

Batman enters the warehouse and finds it quiet at first. The duplicant then attacks from behind and it’s Batman vs Batman once more. The only way to tell the two apart now is by the glowing, red, eyes of the robot version. The confrontation is brief as the robot slams Batman through a wall to plunge into the waters below.

robot eyes

When the eyes go red you know you’re in trouble.

The Batmobile arrives back at the Batcave and Alfred is at first relieved to see Batman emerge. He soon realizes, partly based on the more robotic speech pattern of the repaired duplicant, that this is not Batman. The robot declares there is only one Batman now, but it will let Alfred live and continue on as caretaker of the mansion until a replacement is constructed. It also reveals that it intends to use the Batcomputer (Richard Moll) to upload H.A.R.D.A.C.’s directive to all connected devices across the globe. From there it will take over defense systems and hold the world hostage forcing humanity to help build the era of robotics.

more swords

You just knew its face would end up like this at some point.

The real Batman shows up to declare this won’t happen. His cape was apparently torn in the last fight, and he has a comically small cape dangling from his back. The duplicant has activated its program though and a classic countdown has initiated with 5 minutes to go. Alfred tries to cancel it but gets electrocuted for his efforts. Seeing no alternative, Batman once more does battle with his imposter. As the two fight throughout the Batcave, Batman taunts the fake declaring it’s been made too well. Since it’s based on him, it won’t take a life. That’s why it didn’t finish him off earlier and it’s why it won’t kill him now. The robot denies this as the two fight, and Batman flings some acid in its face which was basically required as it burns off half of the robot’s face giving us a classic Terminator half-human half-robot look.

batman v batman

More sword fighting!

As the two fight, they end up in an armory where Batman grabs a sword. The robot counters by doing the same, and for the second consecutive episode we get a sword fight. This one is brief though, and results in Batman falling into a chasm in the Batcave. The robot reacts in horror thinking it has taken a life. As it stands before the computer, it goes berserk and with only 2 seconds left it smashes everything in sight. An explosion results that tosses the robot back to smash against the Batmobile. The sprinkler system kicks on and the glowing eyes of the now badly damaged robot flicker out.

duplicant smash

Smashing a computer solves every problem.

Alfred heads back to where Batman fell and shines a light down below. A light is returned and Batman is shown hanging from some lighting affixed to the Batcave wall. He climbs back up and both he and Alfred go take a look at the deactivated robot. Batman ponders if, in the end, the duplicant possessed a soul hearkening back to the inspiration for all three of these robot episodes, the Phillip K. Dick story “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?” which was the inspiration for the film Blade Runner. The camera lingers on the face of the android, now mask-less, to ponder Batman’s question a moment before the credits take over.

“His Silicon Soul” is a fun follow-up to “Heart of Steel.” It was surprising that Batman never had to take on a Batman copy in that two-part episode, but it makes sense that the staff saved that confrontation for its own episode. I mentioned how, despite getting the air date wrong in my memory, that I did actually remember the first time I saw this episode and that’s because of the impact it made. I had somehow missed the first-run of “Heart of Steel” so I had no idea what that logo on duplicant Batman’s box was when I first saw this. Seeing Batman fight some guys and turn out to be a robot was shocking and confusing to me. I had no idea what was going on and it actually made the experience more exciting. It makes me wish that logo wasn’t present because it kind of deprives the audience of that initial shock at seeing Batman’s exposed robot parts.

dead eyed stare

A some-what unsettling image to end the episode on.

For the robot Batman and the fights between it and the real Batman, the episode obviously borrows from The Terminator franchise, which was incredibly popular at the time. It was noted for “Heart of Steel” how the duplicants resemble the Terminators from those films, and this episode even brings in that half-robot look. H.A.R.D.A.C.’s ambitions are essentially the same as Skynet’s and the only thing missing is time travel. Even if it is obvious, it’s still a lot of fun and taking a more Blade Runner approach towards the actual robots injects a little philosophy into the episode which The Terminator lacks. It’s not nearly as heavy-handed as Blade Runner, and the question raised by Batman is almost ridiculous regarding a silicon soul, though it’s also the type of thing that felt really impactful to me as a kid, so considering the audience, mission accomplished. The duplicant Batman would end up as a fan-favorite character and he was even brought back for a 2014 Batman Beyond short where he leads an army of Batmen into the Batcave. It’s nothing special, but it’s kind of fun since all of the other Batmen are costumed differently reflecting a Batman from a prior period in the real world. Aside from that, H.A.R.D.A.C. and its many duplicants will not be heard from again.

Dong Yang animated this episode and does a pretty good job with it. It’s worth noting since it had to follow the TMS episodes, but the robots and the robot Batman are all quite fun to look at. The whole removing of the robot’s face could have probably been embellished more, but they also likely didn’t want it to be too unsettling. I like the sound design for that sequence as it has a peeling sound that is a bit gross, even if the visual is rather tame. Early in the episode I did think the darker sequences did not hold up too well. The blue accents of Batman’s costume have an almost fluorescent quality to them and there are a few shots where Batman has a hook nose when shown from the side, and I always disliked hook-nosed Batman.

“His Silicon Soul” is overall a really fun and engaging episode of the show and it’s a good one to take a break on. It’s now post Thanksgiving and The Nostalgia Spot will soon morph into The Christmas Spot. In some sense it feels like poor timing since we only have three episodes left of season one. It also kind of stinks because our re-entry episode following Christmas is going to be one of the worst episodes of the season so far. I don’t control time though. If you come to this blog just to read about Batman:  The Animated Series then I hope you don’t mind the three-week break in programming here. And hopefully you return on December 28 for our next episode. Until then, I encourage you to indulge in the Christmas programming as the next 25 days will feature a new post about a holiday-inspired episode of television, or something similar, and I promise to even fit a super hero story or two in there.