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Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero

Batman_&_Mr._Freeze_SubZeroOriginal Release Date:  March 17, 1998

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Boyd Kirkland and Randy Rogel

Animation:  Dong Yang Animation Co., Koko Enterprises Co., LTD.

Running Time:  67 minutes

I feel like we can’t move onto The New Batman Adventures without first talking about Batman & Mr. Freeze:  SubZero. This direct to video feature is essentially the true finale to the original run of Batman:  The Animated Series. It’s existence can be owed to the fact that Warner Bros. wanted to do a tie-in film with the upcoming feature film Batman and Robin which featured Mr. Freeze as the main antagonist. This was supposed to be released alongside that, but since that film was so poorly received it was held back until March of 1998. This complicates things as by that time The New Batman Adventures was airing on Kids WB and had even aired a Mr. Freeze episode that follows the events of this story. It was released to video, which in 1998 meant VHS, and also aired on Kids WB. I could only find one release date listed online so I’m not sure when the television premiere took place (it could have been the same day), but that’s how I first saw this one.

freeze and bears

Mr. Freeze has returned, and he brought polar bears this time.

Mr. Freeze was first introduced to the animated viewing audience via “Heart of Ice” which first aired in 1992 as part of the show’s first season. It was so successful at rebooting the previously campy Mr. Freeze into an A-tier villain that the writers were reluctant to return to the character out of fear that whatever they came up with couldn’t possibly match “Heart of Ice.” Eventually, they relented and Mr. Freeze appeared in the penultimate episode “Deep Freeze” in which he partnered with Walt Disney Grant Walker in an evil scheme, but eventually turned and become a reluctant hero in the end. The episode basically proved what the staff feared initially as it wasn’t nearly as good or on par with “Heart of Ice.” It’s not a bad episode, but hardly a highpoint for the series. As a result, SubZero feels like a second attempt at capturing the magic once again and perhaps the lengthened running time will help tell a worthy story.

For the film, most of the principal players from BTAS were able to return. In the director’s chair is Boyd Kirkland who directed many episodes in the series as well as the show’s other feature, Mask of the Phantasm. Kirkland also co-wrote the film with Randy Rogel, another individual who had several writing credits in the main series. The voice cast was also largely returned for this one including Kevin Conroy as Batman, Loren Lester as Robin, and Michael Ansara as Mr. Freeze. The only notable change is Mary Kay Bergman taking over the role of Barbara Gordon for Melissa Gilbert. This would be Bergman’s only performance as Gordon as she would be voiced by Tara Strong in The New Batman Adventures. The other notable absences are Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, who were credited with this new version of Freeze. They were likely busy working on Superman and The New Batman Adventures during the development of the picture. Also missing is composer Shirley Walker who was replaced by Michael McCuistion, who had previously worked on some episodes of the show. He would go on to score 3 episodes of The New Batman Adventures as well as several more for other DC animated productions. Walker would also contribute to the sequel series.

gordons and dick

Barbara has a new voice actress, Mary Kay Bergman, and a new beau.

The film basically picks up where the series ended. Victor Fries has made a home for himself in the arctic alongside his still in stasis wife, Nora. He’s acquired a pair of polar bear companions as well as a twelve-year-old Inuit orphan named Koonak (Rahi Azizi). When an expedition by a US submarine disturbs their home and destroys the containment unit keeping Nora alive, Fries is forced to once again don his Mr. Freeze persona.

Nora cannot survive for long outside her containment unit which brings Freeze back to Gotham and in contact with an old colleague, a cryogenics expert by the name of Gregory Belson (George Dzundza). Belson just so happens to be in great financial distress as he tried to game the system with some insider trading in the futures market that didn’t pan out. He’s desperate for cash, and Freeze has access to a gold ore vein in the arctic. He needs Belson’s help to perform an operation for the only hope Nora has at survival is via an organ transplant. Unfortunately, she also has a rare blood type and no organs are available and are unlikely to become available in time, so they’ll need to harvest them from a living donor.

nora fries opening

Once again, it’s the welfare of Nora that motivates Freeze.

That’s where Barbara Gordon comes in. She’s the unlucky one who matches Nora’s rare blood type and is also of similar build. Mr. Freeze abducts her from a club while she is on a date with her new boyfriend:  Dick Grayson. It would seem Barbara got over her Bat-crush and settled on the Boy Wonder, though the film makes it seem like everyone is still keeping each other in the dark regarding alter-egos. Freeze, along with his two polar bear companions, takes Barbara to an abandoned offshore oil platform where the surgery will be performed against her will.

Most of the film involves the setup before transitioning to a focus on Batman and Robin’s detective work which will eventually force a showdown with Mr. Freeze. At a mere 67 minutes, the mystery of where Freeze took Gordon and what he wants with her isn’t lingered on for too long and there’s plenty of time saved for the climax on the oil rigging. It’s paced well and the movie moves along without feeling rushed. If anything is sacrificed, it’s the final confrontation at the end. Batman and Freeze really don’t have much of a confrontation, as circumstances force them to contend with a burning platform. It’s a similar setup to the episode “Deep Freeze” in that regard, but with smaller, more obvious, stakes.

batman robin batcave

Batman and Robin have some detective work ahead of them, but at least Robin’s gloves are now the proper shade of green.

The film in large part feels like a referendum on “Deep Freeze.” If you recall, in that episode Freeze learns his wife is still alive and then immediately agrees to help a wealthy man destroy the planet to revive her. It was a pretty outlandish setup which is why Batman was able to convince Mr. Freeze to not go along with Walker’s plan. In this film, Nora’s life is on a timer and in order to save her Freeze merely has to sacrifice one woman he doesn’t even care about. While it would have been interesting to see how he would have responded had someone been able to reason with him that Nora would never want an innocent to die so she could live, that’s never broached and it’s conceivable to think Freeze would not be swayed. He’d likely rather Nora live and despise him than for her to die. Freeze’s desperation causes him to act impulsively throughout the picture, and his relationship with Belson gives him a plausible reason to return to Gotham in an effort to save his wife knowing it will likely put him in the crosshairs of The Batman.

dr belson

Belson is pretty much a slime ball.

In many ways, it’s Dr. Belson that ends up being the film’s ultimate villain. He’s described by others as a jerk and he’s essentially a criminal for engaging in insider trading. Had he been successful with his futures play he might have been caught. When Freeze first approaches him for aid the film teases he won’t go along with murder, but he’s mostly feigning his apprehension and just uses it to leverage more money out of his old colleague.

barbara fighting back

Barbara may spend most of the film kidnapped, but she never stops fighting.

Barbara Gordon’s kidnapping may be the main plot device that gets this film rolling, but she’s hardly playing the role of damsel in distress. Her kidnapping is voluntary, as she doesn’t want Mr. Freeze to harm any of the patrons of the club she’s abducted from, especially Dick. She also tries to escape her confines more than once and realizes she has a sympathetic ear in Koonak. It would have been disappointing if the woman who is Batgirl just sat around and waited for Batman and Robin to save her, but Rogel and Kirkland know what they’re doing.

The film is visually quite nice and a noticeable cut above the television series. Dong Yang Animation, which animated most of season 2 and some of season 1, did the traditional spots with Koko Enterprises doing the CG. The colors are an obvious upgrade as Robin’s costume actually features two shades of green instead of that odd blue. The scenes on the flaming oil platform are especially spectacular and it’s obvious more care was put into this project as a whole. I also really like a spot at the beginning of the film where Fries emerges from the arctic waters. His body is coated in a thin layer of ice which cracks and breaks apart as he moves. The CG is used probably more often than I would like. It’s dated, but not woefully so. It’s a touch distracting in some of the chase sequences and with the Batwing, but it looks nice at the film’s onset with Fries swimming in the arctic amongst a swarm of CG salmon. The only real disappointment I have with the look of the picture is that it’s presented in 4:3 instead of 16:9. I assume that’s the aspect ratio it was created for since it was going to be broadcast on television, and since this was before the proliferation of 16:9 television sets, there was basically no need to develop for that if it was only ever going to be viewed on a TV set.

koonak and barbara

I hope you didn’t get too attached to Koonak, because he’s not coming back.

This film is the final presentation of Batman and the other denizens of Gotham in this art style. For some characters, like Summer Gleeson (Mari Devon), this is their final appearance all together. Veronica Vreeland (Marilu Henner) also has a cameo, but as a blonde now instead of her traditional red hair. It’s also the last appearance of Nora Fries and the only appearance for Koonak. I definitely miss this art style and the change for The New Batman Adventures is what kept me from getting into that series initially. When this surfaced on television it was like going back to an old friend.

Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero is a worthy follow-up to “Heart of Ice.” Even with the benefit of triple the minutes, it’s still not quite as captivating as that episode and I think that’s largely due to the surprise that initial episode had going for it. This film at least takes the character of Mr. Freeze and gives him a reason to act like a villain once more. It’s surprising that Paul Dini and Bruce Timm weren’t involved, but maybe turning to the duo of Kirkland and Rogel meant the pressure of doing something worthwhile with the character was largely removed freeing them to explore him unencumbered. For both, this was their last contribution to Batman: The Animated Series and it’s a worthy note to go out on. Had this been a theatrically released venture we’d probably unfairly compare it with Mask of the Phantasm where it would come up short, but for a direct-to-video venture this is more than acceptable.

Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero was originally released on VHS, but has since been released on DVD and Blu-Ray. It’s also streaming, if that’s your preference. The best way to view it, for my money, is via the Batman:  The Animated Series Blu-Ray set which includes this film as well as Mask of the Phantasm in one package alongside the entire television series.

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Batman: The Animated Series – “Deep Freeze”

deep freeze titleEpisode Number:  84

Original Air Date:  November 26, 1994

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Paul Dini and Bruce Timm

First Appearance(s):  Grant Walker, Nora Fries, Bat-Mite

Thanksgiving 1994 brought fans of Batman:  The Animated Series something they had been looking forward to for over two years. The penultimate episode, and final broadcast episode of Season 3, marks the return of Mr. Freeze who was last seen in “Heart of Ice” which aired September 7, 1992. That episode was so well-received that the writers didn’t really know where to go with Freeze following it. He couldn’t just become some garden variety super villain who shows up from time to time. His story was fairly complete when that episode ended:  Freeze, devoid of all emotion except vengeance, set his sights on the man who wronged him. While Freeze was unable to kill Ferris Boyle, he did out him as something of a monster and it’s presumed his life was ruined as a result. He may even be in jail, which is where we last saw Freeze pining for his wife in a cell coated in ice and snow.

That ending image to “Heart of Ice” was so well done that it was essentially re-shot for the feature film Batman & Robin. It was about the only thing that film got right when it came to the character. For Freeze to return he would need a new motivation, but how do you motivate a guy who claims he has no emotion? The answer is Nora Fries. We had only seen Nora in a flashback, and she was presumed dead as a result of Boyle’s actions, but Freeze is about to find out that isn’t the case. If Freeze could bring his wife back would it restore the humanity he once felt inside? And to what lengths would he go to in order to save her? Those are the pertinent questions Paul Dini and Bruce Timm had to ask themselves before determining if it was worth pursuing. For some reason, the answer to that question is going to partly include a Walt Disney parody. Confused? Read on.

freeze escapes

Mr. Freeze is kidnapped, and only Batman can find out by whom.

“Deep Freeze” opens in an interesting way as the camera finds a robot outside what I believe is Stonegate Penitentiary. The setting by the seas looks right and Fries is in a prison jumpsuit, though other write-ups I checked assume it’s Arkham.  The robot is fairly large, somewhat boring looking, but it has no problem getting past the security measures. In a scene that feels similar to Magneto’s debut in the X-Men episode “Enter Magneto”, the robot zeroes in on a specific cell. We know it to be the cell of Victor Fries, also known as Mr. Freeze, because it’s filled with ice and snow. Inside, Fries (Michael Ansara) watches the robot approach and begins to panic. He’s actually scared, as he bangs on his cell door and calls out for help. The robot breaks through the wall and approaches, grabs him, and jams him inside its body. As this unfolds, the camera pans back to reveal the music box/statue of the ballerina Fries associated with his late wife has been shattered in the process.

At the Batcave, Batman and Robin review the security tape of Fries’ abduction. Robin is impressed with the lengths he went to escape, while Batman points out that for a man who claims to feel no emotion, he sure looks scared on film. Batman is fairly certain that this was not orchestrated by Mr. Freeze and that someone has abducted him against his will. The presence of a robot offers one lead and we’re about to pay a visit to another old friend.

bat-mite

A character I never expected to see in this show:  Bat-Mite.

Batman and Robin arrive at the office of Karl Rossum (William Sanderson), the Blade Runner homage whom we last heard from in “His Silicon Soul.” Interestingly, Rossum’s debut came in “Heart of Steel” so this episode is a marriage of the two prior “Heart of…” episodes from this series. Anyway, when the heroes knock on the door they’re greeted by a flying, Batman inspired robot. Fans will recognize this little fellow as Bat-Mite (Pat Fraley), who in the comics is a transdimensional imp who idolizes Batman. He’s mostly comic relief, and really wouldn’t fit into the tone of this show, which is what makes his appearance suitable here as he’s a robot designed by Rossum. Batman and Robin find out Rossum now just uses his brains to make toys, if he’s given up on farming he doesn’t say, and he’s a little surprised to see the two pay him a visit. Batman shows him an image of the robot that abducted Fries and Rossum does recognize it as one of his designs, only his version was much smaller. It was designed for theme park operator Grant Walker who would use it for his attractions as a little animatronic. Rossum theorizes that Walker was able to reverse engineer the robot and build it in a larger scale.

grant walker

Meet Grant Walker, who bares a strong resemblance to a real world theme park mogul.

It just so happens that Grant Walker (Daniel O’Herlihy) is putting the finishing touches on a new park:  Oceania. That’s where the robot who abducted Fries has taken him. As its name implies, Oceania is located in the ocean off the coast of Gotham. It’s a floating artificial island and the robot enters it from below the water’s surface. It appears in a tube and Fries is let out. There he’s confronted by the elderly Walker, who is something of an admirer of Fries’ work. He says Fries is going to help him complete Oceania, while Fries is doubtful. Walker instructs him to get comfortable and he and the robot disappear in the tube. As they leave, someone contacts Walker to say they’ve detected a vessel approaching and Walker instructs him to deal with it in the usual fashion.

Knowing where to find Walker, Batman and Robin board the Batboat and start heading for Oceania. Oceania’s security measures detect the approaching watercraft and Walker orders it be fired upon, so this is apparently more than just some park. Batman is unable to avoid the torpedoes from Oceania, and the Batboat is destroyed in the process. Walker is informed that the watercraft has been taken care of, and he’s free to turn his attention back to his would-be business partner.

nora fries

Walker knows how to make Mr. Freeze play along.

Fries is then reunited with his suit and freeze ray. Once again as Mr. Freeze, he turns to Walker and questions what is stopping him from using his weapon against him. Walker then turns on the charm. Walker believes that due to the accident Fries endured that his body’s aging process has been essentially frozen in place. In other words, he’s immortal or as close to immortal as a human can get. Walker wants to achieve the same for himself, as he’s nearing his own end and wants to see his life’s work to completion. Fries initially refuses, and even seems insulted, but then Walker reveals he has something that Fries would be very interested in:  his wife Nora.

Sometime after the accident that supposedly killed Nora and turned Victor Fries into Mr. Freeze, Walker was able to acquire the body of Nora who is still suspended in a capsule. She’s there, in a liquid floating as if she’s a human snow globe. Fries is shocked to find his beloved wife is still alive, and Walker insists his team of scientists has the ability to restore her. If Fries would like to be reunited with his wife, he’ll need to help Walker get what he wants.

batman spotted

Batman and Robin’s infiltration does not go well.

Batman and Robin are able to eject, and continue on to Oceania. They sneak in, and end up in a town square of sorts where Walker addresses the inhabitants of Oceania from a large video screen in the sky. It’s here we get a good look at just what Oceania is. It’s basically Walker’s attempt at Utopia, which makes sense since it shares a name with a country from George Orwell’s 1984. Walker also isn’t planning on just creating a community that will live in peace and isolation, he intends to destroy everything around it. Deeming humanity too cruel to exist, he’s created a giant version of Mr. Freeze’s freeze gun and is planning on freezing all of Gotham as a start to completing his vision.

toony batman

Sometimes, Batman gets real stretchy and toon-like in this one.

Naturally, this isn’t something Batman and Robin are going to allow to stand, but they’re noticed by the security robots. They’re swarmed by flying droids, and they’re unable to handle them. The two get to toss some righteousness at Walker, but their words hold little sway. The robots then take them down below where they then come face to face once again with Mr. Freeze. He gets to do the aim at the camera gag again as he fires upon the heroes.

walkers new duds

Walker gets what he wants, as billionaires often do.

Batman and Robin get to watch from frozen restraints as Freeze prepares to do to Walker what Boyle unwittingly did to him. Walker climbs into a suit of his own and Freeze administers whatever it is that freezes a man. Walker’s skin turns pale blue, and he doesn’t die, indicating the process was a success. Walker seems quite happy to find his suit has enhanced his strength. With his job done, Freeze just wants to return to his wife as he considers his business with Walker concluded.

freeze reckoning

Mr. Freeze has to abandon his short-term goal of reviving his wife in order to save Gotham.

Batman and Robin are with Freeze as he tends to his wife, not really doing much of anything. From there, Batman is able to appeal to Freeze by referencing his wife. He reasons that should she wake up in a world of ice and snow created with the help of Freeze that she’ll resent him, even hate him. Freeze is initially dismissive, but apparently he reaches the same conclusion. He frees Batman and Robin, and decides to help them prevent Walker from carrying out his plan.

They attack Walker’s command center. There they’re forced to contend with Walker’s robotic minions once more, but this time they’re prepared and with the aid of Mr. Freeze they prove to be no match. Walker is shocked to see Freeze has betrayed him, and he’s helpless since he didn’t think to arm himself with an ice gun of his own. Freeze encases Walker in a giant ice cube and also freezes the controls to his massive ice canon. He uses the console to set the core to overload before broadcasting a message to the inhabitants of Oceania that if they value their lives they should escape. He tells Batman and Robin to do the same, but they insist he come with them. Freeze refuses, insisting his place is beside his wife.

robins cold

Mr. Freeze’s solution to his problem is very much in character.

As the ice begins to engulf Oceania, Batman appeals once more to Freeze. To put an end to the discussion, Mr. Freeze uses his freeze ray on Robin, instructing Batman that he’ll need medical attention and soon. Batman is forced to abandon Freeze, who returns to his wife. The place is falling apart, but Freeze appears resigned to his fate as Batman and Robin are shown escaping in the last lifeboat. As for Grant Walker, he’s found himself in a giant ice cube and he rages as it sinks into the water where he’ll never be heard from again.

In the Batcave, Dick is still thawing out as Alfred tends to him. Dick remarks he thought he’d end up like Walker, frozen in an ice cube forever, which is an interesting point since it makes it clear the duo know how he ended up, but it sounds like they have no intention of trying to extract him. An unusual dose of cruelty from the Dynamic Duo. As he shakes away the chills, he asks Bruce if he thinks they’ll hear from Mr. Freeze again (I feel like they’ve done this before). Bruce reasons that if his condition has really made Freeze immortal then there’s a good chance they will. On cue, we cut to a block of ice floating in arctic waters. Inside, the ice is apparently hollow as we see a silhouette of Mr. Freeze kneeling before Nora’s capsule. He extends a hand towards her as the episode ends.

freezes vigil

Not quite as good as the image of Freeze in his cell at the end of “Heart of Ice,” but still an effective and memorable way to end the episode.

Mr. Freeze’s return is certainly welcomed given how well he was portrayed in “Heart of Ice.” Using Nora as a means to motivate him is also in-character and really the most appropriate way of doing it. The only other option would be to return the villain with another revenge angle, either resuming his quest to murder Boyle or in revealing there was another person associated with the accident, which would have been the lazy way of doing things. The portrayal of Freeze here feels authentic and in-line with his prior appearance. The only issue I really had with it is likely due to time constraints. He changes on a dime when confronted by Batman. One would think he’d be so consumed with restoring Nora that he would not have acted until he knew how to achieve it. It’s possible Walker was bluffing, or that he intended her to be able to exist in a sub-arctic environment alongside her husband after his plan was completed. That isn’t really explained. Perhaps had this been a two-parter such questions could have been addressed, and maybe that’s partly why the character will return in a feature-length production shortly.

The aspect of the episode that I can’t get over resides with the Grant Walker character. He is very obviously a Walt Disney parody. A theme park operator, the cryogenic connection, and even his appearance evoke Disney. Of course, the whole cryogenics rumor regarding Disney being frozen is just an urban legend, but it was still pretty popular in the early 90s. Oceania is also an obvious reference to Disney’s original interpretation for EPCOT, his Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow. Now, it’s just Epcot with the acronym having been abandoned since it’s just a theme park, but his vision for it was more ambitious. As far as we know though, he never intended to create a utopia at the expense of the rest of the world. About the only thing missing is a reference to Walker being an anti-semite or something, though Batman does remark that people like Walker are obsessed with power and think they can do whatever they want.

The Disney part of the equation doesn’t offend me as someone who is a fan of Walt Disney. It’s just too on-the-nose to be clever, and in an episode centered around the show’s greatest villain and most melodramatic character feels off. The show was so reluctant to revisit Mr. Freeze because of how well “Heart of Ice” turned out, and yet what appeared to bring about his return feels like it began as a joke.

freeze bang

There are lots of visual callbacks to “Heart of Ice” in this one.

Like so many of this season’s episodes, this one is animated by Dong Yang Animation. It, more than some of the others, really seems to have that “toon” quality to it that shows up from time to time. Batman and Robin’s first fight with Walker’s robots being the best example of this, along with the character of Bat-Mite. With Bat-Mite, I assume that was the desired result as he’s basically a cartoon character. Still, I like it and Oceania is an interesting locale to visit. There’s also a fun visual callback to “Heart of Ice” when Freeze first confronts Batman. He’s drawn as a background with the only animated part being his mouth and his glowing, red, eyes. The return of the Freeze theme is also welcomed as it suits the character so well.

Since this is the next to last episode of the show, it obviously contains some final appearances. Grant Walker won’t be seen again, though he was returned in the comic tie-in to the show. Mr. Freeze will return once more in this form in the Batman & Mr. Freeze movie and will then transition to not only The New Batman Adventures, but Batman Beyond as well where his immortality is really put to the test. Most surprising though is that this episode is the sort of final appearance for Batman himself. He will appear in the last episode in a dream sequence, but otherwise is not a part of the plot. The episode also marks the last onscreen appearance for Alfred, though he doesn’t speak in either of his scenes. This is the final episode directed by Kevin Altieri, who has directed 19 episodes of the show including this one. Fans of this show likely encountered him next with The Spectacular Spider-Man. He currently works on Stretch Armstrong and the Flex Fighters, but surprisingly has never returned to the DC Animated Universe.

In the end, “Deep Freeze” is a semi-satisfying return for Mr. Freeze. His character isn’t betrayed in any way, and it’s mostly a good thing that the show gave him another episode. His return was always going to be compared to “Heart of Ice” and it was likely not going to live up to it. And really, none of his following appearances will match that one. It was just the right time for him and there was no way to recreate the surprise fans felt when they actually discovered there was a way to make the character resonate in an emotional fashion. Prior to that episode, Mr. Freeze was just a joke, an old guy who made stuff cold. Under Paul Dini and Bruce Timm, with an assist from voice actor Michael Ansara, Mr. Freeze became so much more and is now probably one of the most famous villains associated with the property. That episode alone basically lead to a feature film, even if that film wasn’t very good (which wasn’t the fault of the character, but of a lot of things). I do wish this episode had gone in a different direction and didn’t lean heavily on a joke character, but ultimately it’s fine. A mid-tier episode for an upper tier villain.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Lock-Up”

Lock-Up-Title_CardEpisode Number:  82

Original Air Date:  November 19, 1994

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Paul Dini, Marty Isenberg, Robert N. Skir

First Appearance(s):  Lock-Up

Even with four episodes left, there’s still room for new villains. And in today’s episode, that new villain is Lock-Up, a villain made for the series and not taken from the comic book world. Lock-Up is essentially an extreme take on Batman, a fellow vigilante who doesn’t just stop at taking the law into his own hands, but also the punishment. He thinks Gotham is full of enablers, be it the police, media, the doctors at Arkham Asylum, and even Batman himself. And in true nut-job fashion, only Lock-Up has the answers.

scared scarecrow

Who scared The Scarecrow?

Curiously, this episode begins in almost exactly the same situation as the previous one. Batman and Robin are, once again, returning The Scarecrow (Henry Polic II) to Arkham. He’s apparently quite good at escaping, but not at avoiding capture. The difference this time is that Scarecrow is not arrogantly defiant, but rather terrified at returning to Arkham. He’s afraid of someone, and for the self-declared Master of Fear to feel terror is pretty significant. There to greet him is apparently the one he fears:  Lyle Bolton (Bruce Weitz). He thanks Batman for his assistance, and assures him that Professor Crane won’t be an issue going forward now that he’s in charge. Batman seems to regard Bolton suspiciously, before taking his leave. As he and Robin leave, Robin acknowledges that Bolton is creepy, but he’s impressed with his dedication. Batman isn’t as complimentative and seems to think Bolton’s methods may be going too far.

enter bolton

Lyle Bolton knows how to make an entrance.

Some time later, a hearing is convened. Bruce Wayne is apparently responsible for it as he’s seated off to the side with Commissioner Gordon and Mayor Hill (Lloyd Bochner). Wayne explains that it was his company that created the position that Bolton is in and recommended him for the job and he wants to make sure everything is going smooth. Dr. Bartholomew (Richard Dysart) overhears this hearing and Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin) is brought in to offer testimony about Bolton’s methods. She takes one look at him and quickly says she has no problems, obviously intimidated by Bolton’s presence. Other inmates are given a chance to testify, including The Ventriloquist (George Dzundza) who has a handy new Scarface puppet, and Scarecrow. The Ventriloquist is the only one who appears ready to say something, but Scarface shuts him up. Even Scarecrow refuses to say anything bad about Bolton. Bolton, for his part, is cooperative and appears receptive to criticism, but since none is offered, Wayne has little choice but to declare he’s satisfied with the results of the hearing and proposes extending Bolton’s contract by another 18 months.

scarface lockup

Some familiar faces are asked to provide testimony for or against Bolton.

That declaration gets the inmates talking. Harley is the first to crack and others follow suit. They claim mistreatment at the hands of Bolton, who punishes them sometimes for no reason. The likely PG nature of the show prevents them from really going into graphic detail, but the accusations cause Bolton to lose his cool. He declares they’re all scum, and suggests they should be beaten to death. Dr. Bartholomew has seen and heard enough and fires Bolton on the spot. He responds by placing the blame for Gotham’s ills on all of the enablers in his presence:  the soft-hearted police, pandering doctors, and gutless bureaucrats, as he refers to them. He vows revenge on all as he’s dragged out of the room. We then cut to what appears to be Bolton’s home as he watches coverage of himself on the news which is delivered by Gotham’s favorite reporter, Summer Gleeson (Mari Devon). He then adds the liberal media to his list of enemies, completing his transformation into the drunk uncle at every family gathering.

bolton vs liberal media

Lyle Bolton owning the libs by smashing his own TV.

Six months pass and Bruce Wayne and Summer Gleeson are concluding a dinner together. Summer thanks Bruce for the meal and seems a bit flirtatious as Bruce walks her out. Before he can capitalize, a man with the restaurant steps outside to tell Bruce he has a phone call. He departs while Summer gets into her car, only she finds out it won’t start. She’s locked in, and an armored truck pulls up behind her and begins abducting her, car and all. A large man in a costume of black and blue with steel and chain accents emerges, and it’s clearly Bolton.

batman meets lockup

Batman meets his newest foe:  Lock-Up.

Bruce sees what’s going and tries to race outside to Summer’s aid. Bolton fires some locking mechanism which prevents Bruce from operating the revolving door. He then gets a bit Get Smart and opens up his briefcase and activates a smoke bomb. As the area fills with smoke, Bruce pulls out his Batman costume and changes quicker than Clark Kent. He busts through the door (seems like it would still be pretty easy to figure out what happened there, smoke or not) and confronts Bolton, who is now calling himself Lock-Up. He’s at first happy to see Batman and tells him that he can catch the bad guys, and he’ll do the rest. Batman is not amenable to this arrangement and the two are forced to fight. Lock-Up actually gets the better of Batman, and when a police squad car comes onto the scene Lock-Up tosses his baton at it causing it to crash. When Batman checks on the nameless cop and Bullock (Robert Costanzo) in the car, Lock-Up takes off with Gleeson. Bullock, to no one’s surprise, is not amused to find another “freak in a Halloween costume” has shown up in Gotham while Batman retrieves the lock Bolton had shot onto the revolving door.

At the Bat Cave, Batman is checking out the lock and identifies it as a device created by Bolton. Apparently Lock-Up isn’t just a clever name as he’s also quite good with locks. Robin makes a joke about Bruce’s company yet again creating a super villain which Batman doesn’t seem to find amusing. He turns to his computer, old reliable, to retrieve Bolton’s last known address and instructs Robin to check it out.

Robin scopes out Bolton’s apartment, while Batman heads to Arkham. There he finds the security guard bound and gagged at his desk. Rather than free him, Batman books it down the hall to Dr. Bartholomew’s office. He finds it empty, but spots the Bat-Signal in the Gotham sky. He heads over to the police HQ, but is surprised to find it was Bullock who turned on the signal. He’s also been handcuffed to the building, and informs Batman that Lock-Up kidnapped the commissioner. Batman removes the cuffs and tells Bullock he has a pretty good idea of where Lock-Up will strike next.

lockup inmates

Lock-Up has quite the collection.

Bullock is then shown in the home of Mayor Hill with some other cops. Hill thinks the security measures taken by his usual guards is sufficient, but Batman and Robin sneak in to prove he’s mistaken. They warn the mayor about Lock-Up, but before the conversation can move along gas fills the room, and soon the mayor is gone too. When Batman and Robin head for the Batmobile, they find a boot has been placed on it. It’s a wonder other villains haven’t thought of the same. It’s not a total loss though, as Lock-Up left behind a cargo locker and the serial number on it contains an important clue about his hideout.

The clue leads Batman and Robin to a decommissioned naval vessel off the coast of Stonegate Penitentiary. Sometime ago, Stonegate was remodeled and the ship was used as a temporary holding place for inmates and Bolton was the chief of security during that time. Batman and Robin infiltrate the ship, and Bolton sees them on his various monitors. He sicks traps upon them, but Batman is able to reach him while Robin is able to get to Bolton’s computer and deactivate the security measures

lockup gets batman

Lock-Up proves to be more than a match for Batman.

Bolton and Batman engage in some fisticuffs, while the ship becomes unmoored and sails right into some rocks. The hull is breeched as a result and water starts pouring in, which proves to be quite a problem for the captives locked up below deck. Robin is forced to go after them and undo their restraints while the water level rises. Up on deck, Batman and Lock-Up battle as the rain begins to fall. Once again, Lock-Up is proving to be a pretty fair match-up for Batman, and as the ship teeters Batman is knocked from the deck. It’s a long way down, but Batman manages to land on a rudder. As he gathers himself, Lock-Up drops down on-top of him. As the rudder tilts towards the whirling propellers, Batman throws mud in Lock-Up’s face to gain the upper hand. They both tumble off the rudder and disappear into the rocky waters below as Robin and the others emerge just in time to see the two fall. They stare down at the dark waters until a grappling hook comes rocketing out. Batman emerges, with an unconscious Lock-Up in-hand.

Bolton is then seen being paraded through Arkham. Apparently he’s been declared insane, and the other inmates are hooting and hollering to see him. They seem delighted, especially Scarecrow, at this turn of events, but so does Bolton. As he’s placed in his cell he sports a smile. In what feels like a nod to Rorschach from Watchmen, Bolton declares he’s not locked up with them, they’re locked up with him!

lock-up defeated

The unsatisfying conclusion to the big fight.

“Lock-Up” is a bit of an easy write for such a show. It takes the Batman premise, and just ups the intensity. Batman walks a fine line between justice and outlaw vigilante, and it’s not hard to imagine someone in his position taking things further. This sort of makes Lock-Up like Casey Jones from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It’s a simple premise, but the character of Lyle Bolton is presented well-enough that the episode turns out entertaining. He’s ruthless, and it’s nice to see someone who can actually go toe-to-toe with Batman in a fight. Though, it’s disappointing to see how that final confrontation is resolved essentially offscreen with both characters underwater. It’s not a satisfying conclusion, but maybe things were pressed for time.

bolton locked up

In the end, Lock-Up ends up locked up. Oh, the irony!

This episode is another solid effort from Dong Yang. It’s animated well, and night scenes in the rain are also fun to look at. Bullock has this weird curl thing going on with his ears that I never noticed before, but otherwise things look rather tidy. The visual trick of Bruce covering up his transformation into Batman with the gas briefcase is more clever than effective. It’s the type of thing that probably looked good on a storyboard or in print, but in the episode itself it’s rather ridiculous. A puff of smoke goes up around Wayne and only Batman emerges? Come on!

Like a few other characters from this show, Lock-Up would make the jump to the comics. There he hasn’t had the same impact as Harley Quinn or Renee Montoya, but it’s still another feather in the cap of Paul Dini and the show. As a villain, he’s fine and this serves as a pretty entertaining filler episode. Perhaps it’s a bit disappointing to see him featured instead of having a proper Scarecrow or Penguin episode in season two, but at least it’s a solid episode so it isn’t as if those characters were ignored for a bad one. This is also his only appearance in this series and the sequel series, so hopefully you didn’t like Lock-Up too much.  Not surprisingly, this is also the final appearance for Harley, Scarecrow, The Ventriloquist and Scarface. All three will return in the next series, though this is the last performance for Henry Polic II as Scarecrow. He’ll receive a drastic redesign in the new series which also included a new voice. It will be interesting to revisit that episode when the time comes as I really enjoy Polic’s work, but also really like the new Scarecrow’s look. Regardless of how the new Scarecrow is received, Polic’s contribution to the series should not go unnoticed. He will be missed.

 

 

 


Batman: The Animated Series – “Second Chance”

second chance cardEpisode Number:  80

Original Air Date:  September 17, 1994

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Paul Dini, Michael Reaves, Gerry Conway

First Appearance(s):  None

 

When Two-Face debuted back in his self-titled two-parter it made a big impact on me as a child. I really had never seen something comparable to a just character getting maimed and falling into a depression. The dual personality and all of the style wrapped in the character was equally fascinating and I felt genuine sympathy for Harvey Dent. It may have even been my first experience of not knowing who to root for:  the hero or the villain.

Two-Face’s introduction was almost done too well. His plight was clear, but it would be hard to sustain; perhaps even impossible. As a result, Harvey’s fiancé, Grace, never resurfaced and that hopeful ending was ignored. When Two-Face would come back to tangle with Batman he was just a conventional villain with a gimmick. It was a shame to see him brought to this, but I suppose the alternative was to either reform him or place him in therapy for the remainder of the series.

surgery prep

Harvey’s getting some work done.

“Second Chance” is the first episode since “Two-Face” to really tackle the villain from the same angle he was originally approached from. Harvey is getting a second chance at being Harvey Dent. When the episode begins he’s being brought, by the police, to a hospital for a procedure to try and repair the damage done to his face in that accident from season one. Batman and Robin are there to watch over the proceedings and to also introduce a flashback to Dent’s accident, in case anyone forgot.

As the procedure begins, a surgeon who reminds me of Leslie Thompkins, but is actually Dr. Nora Crest (Linda Gray), speaks enthusiastically to Harvey as she administers the anesthesia for surgery. Dent (Richard Moll) is lucid and shares the detail that Bruce Wayne is paying for the surgery. He refers to him as Good Old Bruce and shares a story of their earlier days hitting the Half Moon Club before passing out. Batman and Robin watch from a conveniently place skylight as masked thugs break in. They open fire on the surgical team and make it clear they’re here for Dent. One of the thugs remarks he’s not to be roughed up, as the boss wants to handle that task himself, as they haul him out.

Batman tries to fire his grapple-gun through the skylight, but it bounces off the glass harmlessly. He and Robin then head to cut the crooks off before they can escape. They evade Batman and Robin and manage to get Dent out of the hospital. They pile into two vehicles:  a sedan and a truck. The vehicles flee in opposite directions, and Batman and Robin are forced to split up. Robin tails the sedan, while Batman goes after the truck via the Batcycle. Robin tries to stop the sedan, but they give him the shake. Meanwhile, Batman gets nearly flattened by a tanker-truck on his bike, but manages to keep his target in sight. The crooks exit the freeway and nearly lose Batman who misses the turn. Rather than give up, Batman launches his bike off the overpass and crashes down on top of the truck. When he looks inside, he finds only two of the crooks and no Harvey.

two-face kidnapped

Batman and Robin fail once again.

Batman and Robin regroup and Batman theorizes there are two individuals who have a vendetta against Two-Face:  Rupert Thorne and The Penguin. Robin apologizes for losing his target, and really he kind of needs to at this point as he’s been pretty ineffective the last few episodes. Batman says, some-what curtly, “I’m sure you did your best,” and Robin takes offense. He says he’ll check in on Thorne, while Batman apologizes saying this one is personal and hard on him. Robin leaves the Batmobile while Batman presumably heads for The Penguin.

Robin is shown on the roof of Thorne’s home. He watches through a skylight (I seriously can’t stress this enough:  criminals of Gotham, get rid of all of the skylights) and pulls out a glass cutter and goes to work. As he does so a gun is placed between his shoulder blades and he’s ordered to get up by Frankie (Matt Landers), one of Thorne’s men. Robin says nothing and stuffs the glass cutter in his glove as he stands with his arms up. The sentry takes him inside to show him to his boss. Rupert Thorne (John Vernon) seems amused by Robin’s presence as he heats up a fire poker in his fireplace, in case he needs it. Robin is tied to a chair and he tells him that Harvey Dent was kidnapped. Thorne laughs off the thought that he would have done it, while admitting there’s no love lost between the two. He then orders his men to do to Robin what he planned to do to Dent and the two men haul him away.

robin tossed

Robin’s going for a swim.

Thorne’s men take Robin to a bridge. In the trunk of the car, Robin works at cutting his restraints with the glass cutter but doesn’t finish the job. As the two men haul him out, Frankie goes on and on about how he used to fish here, but now can’t, because of the pollution. Ever after they toss Robin off of the bridge he continues sharing his thoughts on the environmental tragedy. As Robin falls, he’s able to break free of the rope on his hands and fires a grapple-gun to the top of the bridge. He then swings in striking our environmentally cautious goon as he was sitting down in the car and the force pushes both men out the driver’s side knocking them unconscious.

penguin and birds

The Penguin seems to be enjoying his incarceration.

At Stonegate Penitentiary, Batman is able to find The Penguin’s (Paul Williams) cell. Inside the stout villain has a pigeon coop and is tending to his flock. Batman stands on a ledge outside the window and questions The Penguin about the events from earlier in the evening. We as viewers know about Thorne and Dent’s relationship, but not of Penguin and Two-Face’s. Apparently Two-Face stole something out from under The Penguin’s nose recently, and while it did anger him, The Penguin insists he would never pull such an act of revenge against a fellow rogue – honor among thieves. He then tosses a bird in Batman’s face and soon all of the pigeons start harassing him causing him to lose his footing. Penguin tries to get the attention of a patrolling guard outside, but by the time a light is shone in his direction Batman is gone.

Batman and Robin then return to the scene of the crime as their only leads proved fruitless. They sport some nifty goggles that make them look like Cyclops from the X-Men as they examine the room in infrared. Batman finds footprints from the assailants and masonry dust within them. This is enough of a lead. He announces he knows who took Dent, but also that he needs to do this alone. As he leaves, Robin gives him a pretty nasty look behind his back like most teenagers would.

kidnapper revealed

The true kidnapper revealed.

Batman then shows up at a demolition site. It’s a rather large building called the Half-Moon Club, the same club from Dent’s story about he and Wayne from earlier, and way up by the top is where he finds the man who kidnapped Harvey Dent:  Two-Face. Dent’s Two-Face persona would never allow the procedure to go through and Batman seems embarrassed he didn’t realize it sooner. Two-Face’s men then capture Batman, and as they chain him to a wrecking ball Two-Face explains that he could never let Dent destroy him and that he needed to teach him some respect. He also explains he has dynamite rigged to the wrecking-ball he just tied Batman to and that Batman’s fate is now tied to his coin. Two-Face flips his signature item and Batman demands he let it hit the ground so he can see the result. Two-Face obliges, but is shocked to see the coin land on its edge. He flips it again and the same phenomena repeats. Two-Face starts to panic, while his men seem to decide on their own this is silly and open fire on Batman. They fail to hit Batman, as they always do, but manage to damage the bomb and electricity starts arcing from it.

Batman gets out of his restraints and swings down to take out the thugs leaving only Two-Face who is chasing his rolling coin around. He ends up out on a steel beam and as the coin rolls off the edge so too does Two-Face. He manages to grab the coin, while Batman gets ahold of him. Batman confesses he switched out Two-Face’s coin with a gimmicked one that will alway land on its edge. He needs Two-Face to drop the coin (apparently that suit has no pockets) and give him his other hand so he can help him up. With Batman distracted, the other thugs prepare to take him out, meanwhile the dynamite is getting ready to blow as the electricity from the detonator gets nearer and nearer to the actual explosives. Robin swings in to take out the thugs before they can shoot Batman from behind and deposits them in an elevator shaft.

frustrated two-face

Two-Face feels betrayed by his coin.

With that danger averted, there’s still the matter of the dynamite and Two-Face’s precarious position. Two-Face reluctantly lets the coin fall, and as he reaches for Batman he pauses and shouts, “Never!” He takes a swing at him instead causing Batman to lose his grip on Two-Face’s other hand. He jumps off the building after him and as he catches up to him he fires his grapple-gun as the dynamite explodes.

We’re then taken to Arkham Asylum. Two-Face, having survived the fall, is being led back into the facility in shackles. As he heads in, Bruce Wayne approaches. Dent looks at him, the shadows hiding his bad side, and remarks how Bruce has never given up on him. Bruce just smiles and places a hand reassuringly on Dent’s shoulder before the police lead him inside. Dick is there too and remarks that Harvey is lucky to have someone looking out for him. Bruce places an arm around Dick and says he’s lucky he’s always got Dick to be there for him.

old friends

A sweet ending to go out on.

“Second Chance” adds to the tragedy that is Harvey Dent and Two-Face. It’s perhaps melodramatic, but it is satisfying and the ending is rather sweet. As a viewer, it’s frustrating to see Dent blow his second chance, but his condition is something that can’t be cured so easily. The status quo is maintained by the episode’s end, but it was still a compelling ride getting there. It also fooled me when I first saw it, as I didn’t figure out who was behind the kidnapping and when it was revealed I was actually quite sad. I do wonder if it would have done the same had I been older. Harvey telling his story about the Half Moon Club before going under on the operating table certainly feels like foreshadowing as this show never mentions such a detail without it meaning something. Plus it’s called the Half Moon Club which fits the Two-Face gimmick. This is also another episode where a rift between Batman and Robin is teased. That will pay-off in the sequel series, though it’s mostly brushed aside by the end of this episode.

“Second Chance” is just a really good episode. I don’t even have any criticisms to offer other than the usual which is to say the villains can’t shoot. There’s some especially bad shooting in this one, though at least with the scene in the hospital it’s plausible the kidnappers didn’t want to kill any doctors. The Penguin is shoe-horned into this one, but it’s not something I mind. It’s nice to hear from him since he’s been missing in action throughout season two. This was actually, quietly, the last appearance of the Danny DeVito-like design for the villain. Next time we see him he’ll have his classic appearance restored. This is also the final appearance of Rupert Thorne. He won’t show up in The New Batman Adventures, but he gets an encore of sorts in Mystery of the Batwoman. Given the role he played in this series, it’s surprising that this is it for him.

Where does Two-Face go from here? It would seem back to being an everyday villain. He’ll show up again, so this isn’t the last we’ll see of him, but it is the last in the original series. His redesign will actually be one of the least extreme, which is a good thing since his look for this show is pretty damn great. He’s been one of the show’s best villains though, and this is the follow-up to his debut the character deserved. It may have taken longer than expected, but the show delivered like it almost always does.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Riddler’s Reform”

riddlers reform cardEpisode Number:  79

Original Air Date:  September 24, 1994

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Alan Burnett, Paul Dini, Randy Rogel

First Appearance(s):  None

 

We’re coming to the end of Batman: The Animated Series so just about every episode from here on out will feature a final appearance of a specific rogue. In today’s case, there’s even more finality than there will be for others. The Riddler (John Glover) is considered a notoriously difficult character to write. His “super power” is he’s really, really, smart and also quite clever. It’s not easy to just come up with riddles or puzzles to fill an episode worthy of The Riddler. As a result, his appearances have been few despite his popularity as a villain largely owing to the 1960s series and the performance of the late Frank Gorshin. Nonetheless, three starring episodes isn’t too bad, but the real sense of finality comes from this essentially being it for The Riddler. Most of the villains featured in this show will return in The New Batman Adventures with new schemes, new motivations, and new costumes. The Riddler will return, and with a new costume too, but he won’t receive an episode to call his own as he’s basically reduced to a cameo and brief, supporting, role.

Give that this episode is, more or less, his encore hopefully it’s a good one. It has an interesting premise right in the title as The Riddler looks to establish a life for himself outside of crime. We’ve seen both Catwoman and The Penguin attempt the same and eventually slip-up and fall back into their old villainous ways. Is there any reason to think The Riddler will be any different? Probably not. Last we saw him he was antagonizing Commissioner Gordon and Batman with a virtual reality device. At the episode’s conclusion he became trapped inside the VR world with Batman offering an ominous commentary on the situation that would lead the audience to believe he may be trapped there forever. If you were hoping to find out what happened, well you’ll be disappointed. Similar to how The Joker appeared to die in “The Laughing Fish” only to resurface later as fine as can be, we don’t know how Riddler got here. Maybe Batman was just wrong and they unplugged the console and he was fine. Or maybe he found his own way out. Your guess is as good as mine.

baxter and riddler

Riddler and his new buddy Baxter who owns a toy company.

This one opens at a nondescript warehouse. Before we get to the action, we get a shot of some newspapers being unloaded featuring a cover story about the release of The Riddler from Arkham. We’re then taken to the warehouse where some typical looking goon-types are carrying a large red box emblazoned with a purple question mark. They’re taking directions from The Riddler on where to place it. After setting it down, they get paid a visit by Batman and Robin who come swooping in to kick ass and ask questions later – literally. Riddler takes a seat on the box and seems amused by their presence. He’s evasive when Batman asks him what’s inside the box and when it looks like he’s about to get punchy they’re interrupted by a nicely dressed old man.

His name is Charles Baxter (Peter Mark Richman) and his name is either a direct call-back to the Baxter Box puzzle from an earlier Riddler appearance or a coincidence. He’s not a puzzle-creator, as we’ll learn, so if it’s a reference it would seem it’s merely for fun. Baxter demands to know what’s going on, and after Robin fills him in on who The Riddler is, he tells him he’s well aware. The Riddler is his new business partner. He purchased the rights to the character’s likeness and intends to use him to market Nygma’s toys. The box then springs open unveiling a toy display kiosk and Riddler even tosses one to Robin referring to him as a kid, which you know he takes well. Baxter orders them to leave, and the two head into the building leaving Batman and Robin to tuck their tails between their legs.

At Wayne Manor, Dick is having a tough time with the puzzle Riddler gave him while Bruce is reading the paper. The television is on in the background and a story about The Penguin is running before leading to another story about a robbery. Some ancient relics were stolen, and this gets Bruce’s attention. When Riddler explained to them the night before his desire to be on the straight and narrow he made references to ancient history and Batman thinks he was referring to the items stolen. A commercial featuring The Riddler then comes on hawking the new toys. He ends the commercial by displaying a number on a chalkboard and then flips it around to reveal a map. It’s a part of some contest, but Bruce isn’t buying it. He pulls out a map and uses the number as a coordinate which leads him to the First National Bank.

riddlers ladies

Riddler enjoying the perks of being a celebrity.

Batman and Robin stake-out the bank that night, but nothing is doing. Robin begins to wonder if maybe he is reformed, but Batman remembers Riddler flipping the chalkboard over in the commercial, thus flipping the number. He looks at the number which he wrote down on a scrap of paper and turns it around. Before it read “31753701” but when reversed it looks like “10 LESLIE” which Batman determines is an address. They head there to find a large building with a jewelry store in it and sure enough there are crooks inside. They infiltrate the store and take on the bad dudes, but when a large cabinet falls over on Robin the crooks escape. Robin urges Batman to go on without him as his ankle or knee appears injured thus ending his contribution to the episode.

boing

The woman who really seems to get Nygma’s attention.

In a nearby high-rise, Riddler is getting ready for a party. He shows off a nifty little two-way radio that will be going to market soon and begins schmoozing with Baxter and the party-goers. Baxter is having a dreadful time with Nygma’s toy puzzle, but Nygma demonstrates it’s easy if you’re a genius. This earns him lots of laughter and even the attention of a fetching brunette in a blue dress (Patricia Alice Albrecht). When Riddler first lays eyes on her a cartoonish “boing” sound like a spring is heard. Yeah, the universal sound for a boner in a comedy setting. Riddler just popped a boner. Another female joins her and he’s very much enjoying their attention until a butler comes by to inform him he has a phone call. Riddler takes it in another room, but not before admiring himself in mirror. No one is on the line, but Batman is in the room. He mocks him a bit for his vanity, but Riddler quickly gains the upper hand in their conversation. He also activates his two-way radio, which one of them women had asked him to demonstrate. Since she’s holding the other one, all of the party-goers then overhear Batman threatening The Riddler. He doesn’t mind though, and opens the wall with a switch to introduce his guests to the one and only Batman. Batman, to his credit, doesn’t seem flustered by the display and tells Riddler he’ll get him eventually before taking his leave.

riddler batman

Look who crashed the party.

While Batman’s confidence remains intact, Riddler’s is not. He’s now convinced that Batman will indeed catch him. He has no desire to return to Arkham, so there’s really only one solution:  he must kill Batman.

riddler depressed

Sad Riddler is losing confidence in himself.

In order to set a trap, Riddler relies on yet another commercial to get Batman’s attention. This time the clues lead Batman to the Gotham Toy Fair. Batman heads for the local convention center and finds a rather large Riddler Box. The sides fall away, nearly crushing Batman, to reveal an equally large television inside. Riddler comes onto it, and he tells Batman farewell. It would seem the games are over, and rather than present Batman with a riddle, metal shades are dropped over all of the exits while Riddler reveals a bomb is about to go off that will kill Batman. Batman frantically searches for a way out, but the bomb detonates as Riddler said it would.

inflatable riddler

At some point Riddler had inflatable versions of himself made that could fire guns. Neat.

Back at his penthouse, Edward Nygma is burning his Riddler outfit. With Batman out-of-the-way, he has no need for it. No one to play with, and he vows now is the time to really reform his act. He doesn’t get to enjoy the satisfaction of victory for very long as Batman appears inside the room with him. Nygma is shocked to see Batman and absolutely perplexed at the thought of him escaping. He wants to know so bad that he’s willing to cut a deal. In exchange for the knowledge of how Batman escaped he’ll tell him where all of the stolen goods are hidden. Batman agrees, and Nygma explains his crime. Batman then produces Nygma’s own two-way radio and speaks into it “You get everything?” Commissioner Gordon is then heard on the other end confirming that he did. As Nygma is taken away he’s screaming at Batman to tell him how he escaped his trap, but Batman just smiles.

riddlers inmates

A couple of quick cameos of two famous rogues.

At Wayne Manor the next morning, Bruce and Dick are seated at the table and Dick asks just how he did escape. Bruce explains he couldn’t, but there was a safe on display and he climbed into it. It was strong enough to protect him from the explosion, though Bruce doesn’t say how he got out of it. Maybe it had a safety release on the inside. Dick says he never would have thought of that, and Bruce suggests The Riddler would not have either. We then cut to Arkham where several familiar faces are shown in their cells covering their ears as Nygma can be heard screaming from his own cell demanding to know how Batman escaped. It’s not going to be fun being locked-up with him for the foreseeable future.

raging nygma

Poor Eddie. It’s unlikely Batman will ever take pity on him enough to tell him how he escaped his death trap.

“Riddler’s Reform” is a fun little episode for The Riddler. It’s not particularly clever, but it’s interesting to see how Riddler’s mind operates. He literally can’t help himself when it comes to Batman and is compelled to commit crimes and leave behind clues just to see if Batman is smart enough to figure them out. There’s some situational humor, and seeing Batman with egg on his face to start things is an interesting look for our hero. It’s rare that he’s wrong. Of course, he wasn’t wrong in his hunch that Nygma was up to no good, it just took him a little while to prove it. The erection joke was a surprise, and it’s a greater surprise that it made it into the episode. It’s a low brow joke so it’s not really funny on its own, but amusing given the setting. The ending is perhaps a bit embellished I would think a man of Nygma’s intellect would figure out how Batman did it as he seems like the type who would have a near photographic memory. Maybe I’m giving him too much credit thought.

This is yet another episode animated by Dong Yang Animation Co., LTD. and it looks rather good. There’s some rainy sequences that look great and also some fun, shadowy shots of Batman. Riddler is animated in an amusing fashion as well as he’s quite expressive in costume when receiving female attention and I am just plain fond of his costume in this series. It’s too bad this is the last we’ll see of it as he’ll have a more classic look next we see him with a green unitard.

This is a good episode for Riddler to go out on. It was, after all, the rubber match or tie-breaker for these two. In Riddler’s first appearance he escaped capture while Batman emerged victorious in the second. With Batman foiling him here, and basically driving him even more insane, he earns a convincing win over the cerebral villain. I wish we got another starring episode out of the character, but I’m happy the writers never did a bad Riddler episode for the sake of doing another.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Showdown”

showdown cardEpisode Number:  78

Original Air Date:  September 12, 1995

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Kevin Altieri, Paul Dini, Bruce Timm, Joe R. Lansdale

First Appearance(s):  Jonah Hex, Arkady Duvall

 

We’re in an odd string of episodes, with perhaps this being the oddest, structurally speaking. It’s probably the episode to feature the least amount of screen-time for Batman up to this point, and there’s a good reason for that. Also, look at that “Written by” line – that’s a lot of cooks in the kitchen for one episode. The last name, Joe R. Lansdale, is credited with handling the teleplay so the other names handled the story – and they’re pretty big names. Kevin Altieri, Bruce Timm, and Paul Dini are the three most commonly credited with really bringing this series to life. Altieri has mostly handled directing duties and Timm producing with Dini leading the writers. It’s possible this episode was envisioned as a back-door pilot, but nonetheless, the list of writers gives this episode an aura of importance before it even begins.

jonah hex

For a lot of viewers, this was likely their introduction to Jonah Hex.

Most of all though, this episode is remembered as The Jonah Hex episode. Most of the episode occurs as a flashback to a time where Batman didn’t exist but there was Jonah Hex (William McKinney), a disfigured bounty hunter of the old west. Created by John Albano and Tony DeZuniga, Hex first appeared as an ad in Batman #237 in 1971 before officially debuting in the pages of All-Star Western #10 the following year. He mostly remained in the pages of Western themed comics before being catapulted into the future to appear in a post-apocalyptic kind of setting in the pages of Hex which was cancelled in 1987. He would eventually resurface on DC’s indie-inspired label Vertigo in the 90s. After limited runs in 93, 95, and 99 he vanished once more but received a new line of comics in 2005 which ran for 70 issues before ending in 2011. All-Star Western then got revived and lasted until 2014. There was also the film in 2010 starring Josh Brolin that was a huge flop. This episode, airing in 1995, came during his revival period. I would guess the writers liked the character and wanted to do a treatment of him, and since he debuted in an issue of Batman, it probably felt appropriate. The problem though is figuring out how to connect a modern-day hero in Batman with a bounty hunter from the 1800s. It just so happens though that Batman has an enemy who can provide a link since he lived through the era himself:  Ra’s al Ghul.

The episode opens at a rather unusual setting:  a retirement home. Ninja-like infiltrators are on the scene and they bare a resemblance to some old friends, The League of Shadows. What could they possibly want at a retirement home? All in due time. Batman and Robin show up and do battle with the men they encounter, but they’re after bigger fish, namely the leader of the group:  Ra’s al Ghul. He’s there as well, and is shown entering a long hallway that ends with an old man in a chair. Ra’s has apparently come for this man, and given his long life, there could be any number of reasons why. When Batman and Robin get to the same room they find an empty chair where the old man sat and a cassette tape (how dated). They don’t know what Ra’s could have wanted at the facility, but they take the tape and leave.

bat tape deck

For our younger readers, this is what’s known as a cassette tape deck.

Once in the Batmobile, the two examine some flight schedules and find one labeled Lazarus. It would seem Ra’s wants to be found. While they head to the airport, they decide to listen to the tape Ra’s left behind. When Robin presses play, the cabin of the Batmobile is filled with the voice of their enemy, it would seem he has a little story to share with them.

barmaind montgomery

The role of the barmaid is played by actress Elizabeth Montgomery in her final role originally airing four months after her passing.

Back in 1883 when the Transcontinental Railroad was nearing completion is where our story takes place. Out in the old west in a town called Devil’s Hole, an old man in a gray duster strolls into a bar. He’s got a pretty nasty looking disfigurement and it causes the barmaid (Elizabeth Montgomery, in her final role before her death) to recoil when she approaches him. He wants some water, but also information. He’s a bounty hunter looking for a fellow by the name of Arkady Duvall. The barmaid knows, and hates him, and she brushes aside the coins the bounty hunter tosses on the table and offers to help him for free. It would seem Duvall beat on some of her girls in the past and has been driven out-of-town, hence why she’d like to see the bastard get what’s coming to him. A sheriff (William Bryant) then barges in and confronts the bounty hunter. It’s then we learn his name, Jonah Hex, and it would seem he has a reputation for bringing his bounties in dead. The sheriff is mostly there to intimidate, as he says he’s got nothing on Hex, who in turn embarrasses the sheriff by pointing out his fly is down.

That night, the barmaid leads Hex away from the town to a rock formation with strange light pouring from it. Duvall apparently has no home in town and isn’t staying at any of the inns. He’s the soft type, so she rules out him sleeping on the ground under the stars with the real cowboys and figures there’s something more to these strange lights. Hex thanks her for taking him out there, and she thanks him with a kiss and a wish of good luck before taking her leave.

monocle ra's

I wonder when he gave up on that monocle.

Hex investigates the formation and finds a cave, the inside of which is ludicrously massive. And it needs to be, because a group of laborers are building a massive dual-balloon zeppelin. And this isn’t some Good Year blimp, it’s coated in steel panels and looks to be heavily armed with canons and turrets. Near the sight, a moustached man in an expensive suit is whipping one of the workers. He’s soon stopped and accosted by a man in a top hat, and we know this man to be Ra’s al Ghul. Besides the funny attire, he looks more or less the same and even has that silly facial hair. He is angry at the man for beating on his workers and will not stand for it, and we learn the other man is Hex’s target, Arkady Duvall (Malcolm McDowell). Duvall falls in line with his boss, but not happily. Ra’s also fills us in on what is going on. The massive airship has been christened The Phoenix, and he intends to use it to smash the Transcontinental Railroad before taking it to Washington, D.C. where he’ll force the current President (Chester A. Arthur, if you’re curious) to surrender to him and make himself Master of America! The man is a dreamer.

angry ra's

Ra’s does not seem to be a big fan of Arkady Duvall. It’s a wonder he just doesn’t hand him over to Hex and get on his way.

As Hex watches the scene unfold, a noise behind him alerts him to the presence of some of Ra’s al Ghul’s men. He spins and fires his revolver, but the men are in large steel suits (kind of like old diver suits) and his bullets ricochet harmlessly away. They grab him and take him to Duvall, who immediately thinks he’s a government spy. Hex informs him he’s a bounty hunter, and that he’s come for him and him alone. He doesn’t really care about the railroad, or anything else going on here. Duvall doesn’t believe him and orders the men to drop him in a melted vat of lead. They chain him up and begin to lower him headfirst, but Duvall has the men pause before the ends of Hex’s hair touches the boiling metal to get some more taunts in. Ra’s shows up and is again outraged to see the measures Duvall has taken in addressing the problem. He orders Hex be taken down and placed in a holding cell for interrogation, and turns to Duvall to tell him he is no longer allowed to make decisions for himself.

While Ra’s and the others prepare to depart, Hex is thrown in a cell. It doesn’t take him long to devise an escape plan, and he tricks the guards into thinking he’s already escaped which in turn causes them to enter the cell allowing him to exit for real. And he does so just in time, as the mountain they’re occupying opens up (it’s pretty absurd, even by this show’s standards) and The Phoenix begins its departure. Hex is able to grab onto a rope ladder draping off The Phoenix as it leaves and the few men who notice are unable to shoot him down.

canonfire

That’s some rather intimidating fire power for 1883.

As Hex makes his way aboard The Phoenix, a local governor (voiced by current Vermont Senator and longtime Batman fan Patrick Leahy) is dedicating the railroad by driving in the last spike. The Phoenix comes into view and fires upon the town from a massive, rotating, turret. The locomotive is destroyed, among other things, and The Phoenix then turns broadside to unload a huge volley of cannonballs at the town itself. The local militia shows up, but their pitiful rifles don’t appear to bother The Phoenix one bit. A gunner on the airship unleashes another one of its many weapons, a crank-powered gatling gun, just adding to the lop-sided nature of this skirmish.

Hex shows up and takes out the gunner. He makes his way into the innards of the ships where the canons are manned and finds a stash of spherical, black, cartoon-styled bombs. He lights one and rolls it toward the men, who rather than try to get rid of it, all run like Hell. The place goes up, since it’s full of bombs and gun powder, but somehow doesn’t destroy the ship and everyone onboard in the process.

jonah hex knife

He’s pretty slick with that knife.

Hex then heads higher while some more men foolishly shoot at him. An officer (Michael Bell) orders them to cease-fire since they’re aiming right at the hydrogen filled balloons. Hex reaches a bridge, where more men come after him though this time they’re brandishing knives and swords. He’s able to illude them and eventually he comes face to face with Duvall. Duvall is surprised to see Hex aboard The Phoenix, but will be happy to force his exit. Armed with a sword, he approaches Hex, who rather than fight kicks a canon so that it points straight up and fires it right into one of the zeppelin balloons. It blasts right through it and the ship immediately begins to lose altitude.

Duvall is incensed and asks what Hex is up to. He explains he just doesn’t like them and will enjoy thwarting their scheme. Duvall then informs him he has no chance of beating him since he’s an expert fencer and Hex is only armed with a bowie knife. Undaunted, Hex welcomes the attack, though he soon retreats.

As those two fight, Ra’s al Ghul is ready to concede defeat. He launches himself from The Phoenix in a glider, but before he does he orders the others to evacuate. When the person he gives the order to asks about Duvall, he tells him to leave him to his fate.

hex vs duvall

Hex eventually gets his man.

Hex and Duvall continue their fight, and it’s moved to another part of the ship where a bunch of piping has been erected. An errant swing of the sword causes Duvall to strike the pipe and steam blasts him in the face as a result. The momentary distraction gives Hex enough of an opening to disarm him and as The Phoenix crashes into the mountains they’re able to jump off onto a nearby rocky outcropping. Once on the ground, the now unarmed Duvall begs for his life and Hex tells him he’s not going to kill him. He gives him a shove and then finds his hat on the ground, which he had lost while fleeing the men on the airship so this is quite a special hat. He remarks that he’s getting too old for this, as Ra’s al Ghul’s story comes to an end.

Robin is left puzzled with why Ra’s shared that story with them, while Batman claims he knows why (I call bullshit). They soon arrive at an airport runway and Ra’s is there with his loyal attendant Ubu and an old man in a wheelchair. Ra’s turns to face Batman as the duo approaches. It’s then revealed the old man is Duvall himself, and when Robin questions how he could possibly still be alive, it’s revealed that Duvall came into contact with a Lazarus Pit as a young man for he is the son of Ra’s al Ghul. Ra’s explains he recognized that Duvall was too cruel to take over for him as his true heir. Following his capture by Jonah Hex, he was sentenced to 50 years hard time. He surprised everyone by surviving the sentence, and Ra’s lost track of him until now. Telling Batman he still has a few good years left in him, he promises they can cross swords another time, but for now he just wants to take his boy home. Batman snaps his cape across his shoulders and turns around leaving Ra’s to do as he wishes.

ra's and duvall

Ra’s and his very old long lost son.

I touched upon this during the write-up of “Avatar,” the most recent appearance of Ra’s al Ghul, in that this is an odd final note for the character to go out on. Batman and Ra’s al Ghul were setup as enemies destined to confront each other for decades to come, but “Avatar” failed to capitalize on the excitement of “The Demon’s Quest” while this episode really doesn’t attempt to address it. Ignoring that short-coming, it’s still an interesting episode with a fun twist of an ending. This show reserves almost all of its twists for Ra’s, which is a bit amusing, and I like the Duvall twist at the end. It’s also interesting to see Batman acquiesce to Ra’s al Ghul’s request as we’ve seen him be rather inflexible at times in the past.

The portions of the episode set in the past confused me as a kid. I think I turned this one on for the first time having missed the beginning, because I remember being really confused. I could tell it was an episode of Batman given the style, and then the presence of Ra’s al Ghul, but for some reason I wasn’t able to let myself get absorbed into the story. As a result, I never looked forward to revisiting it when the show first hit DVD, and I still didn’t for this viewing. Now though, I just see it as a change of pace. It’s fun to see a new setting, and the character of Jonah Hex, while feeling like a cliché of classic characters, is entertaining enough. Some of the stuff that happens in the flashback is pretty ridiculous, but in an Indiana Jones kind of way. And it’s fine for Batman to step aside once in a while to let someone else soak up the spotlight. It’s not the last time he’ll do so.

“Showdown” is what I would consider a fun episode. Lots of action with the bonus of actually containing some interesting character development. It’s shortcomings are almost entirely due to the surrounding episodes featuring Ra’s al Ghul which seemed to promise something bigger, which the show never delivered. If Batman had one final showdown of his own with the villain before the series ended then it wouldn’t matter at all. On its own, it’s a good episode that’s a nice showcase for Jonah Hex at a time when he was far from being a household name.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Baby-Doll”

baby-doll titleEpisode Number:  76

Original Air Date:  October 1, 1994

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by: Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  Baby-Doll

Well, this is an interesting one. Batman:  The Animated Series has done well with original creations, and it’s also done not so well. Harley Quinn may have been a huge hit, but nobody likes Boss Biggs. Baby-Doll is yet another invention of the show and I’m curious how she came to be. Paul Dini, who has had to do some heavy lifting on the show’s second season, wrote this episode and presumably created the character. Baby-Doll is a Hollywood has-been with a rare genetic condition that makes her look like a child. Batman refers to the condition in the episode as systemic hypoplasia, but that’s a condition that usually impacts organs so Batman’s diagnosis is a bit off. The character is likely inspired by someone like Gary Coleman or maybe Emmanuel Lewis, two actors who played children on-screen even though they were older. Coleman had a kidney condition and his stunted development was the result of medication and complications from his disease, where-as Lewis apparently simply stopped growing. No matter, what’s important to know about Baby-Doll is she’s an adult female that resembles a child and she’s really unhappy with her life choices and how her career turned out. It’s certainly an unconventional premise for a Batman villain, but really, how many are truly conventional?

The episode opens as a play is letting out, Death of a Salesman. A young actor named Brian (Robbie Rist) waves goodbye to his cast mates and then is startled to hear crying. He finds a little girl with big, blonde, curls in the alley behind the theater. She’s lost, and apparently her brother is to blame. Brian goes to comfort her and when he gets a look at her face a shocked expression crosses his own. Before he can react further, he’s knocked out from behind and the girl apologizes for playing rough.

thats my baby

The cast of That’s My Baby, a show that probably would have aired on Nick at Night had it been real.

Some time later, Batman and Robin are watching video in Commissioner Gordon’s office. Today’s subject is an old sitcom titled Love That Baby and Gordon informs the vigilantes that cast members from the show have gone missing. The young man we saw earlier, Brian Daly, was a part of that show which starred Mary Louise Dahl (Alison LaPlaca) as the title character Baby. Batman knows her from reading a report on her condition which caused her to retain a child-like appearance into adulthood. Robin mostly just remembers watching the show, which he was not a fan of. Dahl hasn’t been seen or heard from in years, while one other actress from the main cast has yet to go missing:  Tammy Vance (Judy Strangis). Batman takes the tape to check it out further, but then Bullock comes over on the police scanner about gunfire where they’re currently providing protection for Ms. Vance.

At the studio, which looks really similar to the background from the prior night, armed gunmen are firing on police while trying to abduct Vance. The two gunmen have a Gilligan and Skipper look going for them, which is interesting if nothing else. Batman and Robin soon arrive to put a stop to the gun-play and rescue Vance, but before they get a chance to settle down an armored truck comes barreling down the alley. Batman has to get out of the way and Robin is nearly flattened. The distraction allows the goons to grab Vance and toss her in the truck. As they speed away, Batman uses the controls on his belt to summon the Batmobile, but when a kid runs out into the street the Batmobile is forced to swerve and crash while the bad guys get away. Robin scoops up the crying child, whose mother soon shows up to take. As she’s holding her daughter the girl says to her mother “I didn’t mean to.” Batman recognizes this as the catchphrase for the Baby character from the show, and when he goes to stop the pair the girl slams a ball she was carrying on the ground which explodes into a big, cloud of smoke to mask their escape.

baby-doll smil

Meet Batman’s newest foe:  Baby-Doll.

Batman and Robin then drop in on Summer Gleeson (Mari Devon) who recently had done a “Where Are They Now?” styled feature on the cast of Love That Baby. She has some tapes of the show, but when Batman asks why Dahl might have a grudge against her co-workers he finds out it’s they who should be angry with her. It would seem Dahl left the show to pursue a dramatic acting career, and Gleeson has a copy of her failed attempt at the notoriously unlucky MacBeth. Robin thinks it stinks and shares his opinion with the group. Apparently the critics and audiences felt the same way as the production was a flop. Following that high-profile failure, television networks no longer wanted to work with Dahl and the rest is history.

Meanwhile, Baby-Doll has assembled her old cast. Vance wakes up to find herself dressed as her old character and when she exits her bedroom she finds the old set and the familiar faces. The other actors include her TV father, Tod (Alan Young) mom June (LaPlaca) and brother Brian. They’re in costume as well and Baby-Doll comes strolling in with her favorite doll, Mr. Happy-Head. She’s very happy to have her “family” back, while the rest are pretty confused. She gathers them at the table where she lets them know they’re going to celebrate her birthday. It’s at this point that Tod has had enough. He tries to leave, but Baby-Doll’s assistant Mariam (Tasia Valenza) assaults him and he lumbers back to his seat at the table.

cousin spunky

Joker has tried this same thing. It too failed.

At the Batcave, Robin is suffering through the tapes they got from Gleeson and letting Batman how much he’s enjoying himself. He does stumble onto one potential lead though. In the show’s final season, to combat sagging ratings, it pulled a Cousin Oliver and added a new character named Cousin Spunky. Spunky would basically upstage Baby-Doll, and we see a clip of him slamming her face into her birthday cake from one episode. Apparently, it was the presence of that character that drove Dahl to quit and Batman assumes it’s only a matter of time until she sets her sights on the actor who played him.

We’re then taken to a suburban neighborhood where a heavy-set kid is playing guitar in his garage. A woman pushes a baby carriage up the driveway to him to complain about the loudness of the music claiming it woke her baby from her nap. The woman is Mariam, once again posing as a mom (she was the one who picked up Baby-Doll after the Batmobile incident) which means there’s only one person who could be in that stroller. When Spunky (James Marsden) looks in, he sees Dahl looking back at him and she shoots him with brown gas from her baby bottle.

batman and baby

I hope you weren’t expecting much of a fight scene from this one.

Back “on-set,” Spunky is now tied to a chair and at the dinner table with his other former cast mates. Like them, he’s really confused about the situation as Baby-Doll confronts him from on top of the dining room table. She blames him for ruining her birthday, while he tries to explain they were just acting. Baby-Doll will hear none of it though and she pushes a giant cake towards him. She then starts smearing cake on his face as revenge for what happened to her, but she’s not stopping there. Soon she places candles on the cake and a big ‘ol stick of dynamite right in the middle. She lights it then tells Spunky (we never learn his actual name) to blow it out, which he tries to do, but is unsuccessful. Seeing no other option, he grabs the dynamite with his mouth and flings it over his shoulder. It bounces onto another part of the set where it explodes harmlessly (the blast was quite large, so either Baby-Doll underestimated it or she planned on killing herself and her fake family in the process). disappointed, Baby-Doll whips out Mr. Happy-Head who apparently has a gun hidden in his head. She fires a shot which emerges from the doll’s eye socket and then starts towards Spunky in an obviously threatening manner.

Glass shatters above the table, and Batman drops in (seriously villains, avoid skylights)! He makes quick work of Gilligan and his buddy and knocks the doll from Baby-Doll’s hands. It’s at this point Spunky jumps up, free of his restraints, and reveals he was actually Robin in disguise (so did he have that dynamite thing the whole way or was Batman late in getting there?). The Dynamic Duo has played Dahl for a sucker, but things aren’t a wrap just yet. Mariam comes to her boss’s aid and she apparently has some moves. She blasts Batman into some rigging and takes out Robin as well, who can’t help but pay her a compliment. Batman is able to rope her ankle with a Batarang-hook, when Mariam goes for a jump-kick he gives it a tug and swings her into a wall putting an end to that threat.

baby-doll chase

She’s smart enough to know to lead Batman somewhere he won’t have as easy a time navigating as she will.

Batman then leaves Robin to tend to the actors while he goes after Baby-Doll. She’s taken off with her doll and made her way into a nearby amusement park. Unlike the parks Joker typically inhabits, this one is very much in use and Baby-Doll is able to hide amongst the patrons. When Batman drops in to survey the area, his appearance attracts attention as people flock to get a look at him. This works to his advantage as Baby-Doll hangs back and then takes off running. She ducks into a shooting gallery type of game. When Batman does the same, he finds himself staring down an over-sized gun that fires tennis balls. Baby-Doll, apparently forgetting she has a real gun, pummels Batman with tennis balls until he is able to grab a doll prize and throw it at her the force of which knocks her from her perch.

the real dahl

What Baby-Doll refers to as her real self.

Baby-Doll then flees into a fun house that’s closed for repairs. She taunts Batman apparently wanting him to follow her. He’s forced to crawl through plastic tubes which Baby-Doll can run through, putting him at a pretty big disadvantage. She continues to taunt him before slipping in some strikes. When she finally turns to her doll-gun, Batman fires his grapple gun at it to knock it from her hands. Baby-Doll exits the tube to retrieve her gun and finds herself in a room of mirrors. One of which reflects back an “adult” version of her. She identifies with this image as “the real me,” and seems to grow sad. Batman then appears and she swings around and fires only to find it was a reflection. As Batman appears in other mirrors, Dahl fires repeatedly at them destroying them all until the only one left is the one reflecting back her “real” self. With tears in her eyes, she fires once more destroying the image. She tries to continue firing but she’s run out of bullets. Batman removes the doll from her hands and she tearfully turns to him and repeats her catchphrase “I didn’t mean to.” She clutches at his leg as a high-angle shot from the camera lingers a moment, then fades to black.

“Baby-Doll” is an unconventional episode, no doubt about it. Or rather, the villain is unconventional in her design since really the story is just another insane individual looking for revenge on those she perceived wronged her. A lot of Batman villains can say the same. It’s also interesting that this episode follows “Bane,” an episode where the villain is a huge physical threat to Batman where-as Baby-Doll is really not one at all. I’m impressed that Dini came up with the funhouse as a way to put Batman at a disadvantage, since the thought of Baby-Doll taking him out is ludicrous on the surface.

angry baby-doll

When ever Baby-Doll gets mad, her voice deepens and the black around her eyes thickens. It’s a neat approach.

Obviously, part of the genesis for the episode stems from someone like Dini just working in television. The Cousin Oliver gimmick is interesting as it refers to Oliver from The Brady Bunch, who was played by Robbie Rist who voices Brian in this episode (I guess it would have been too on-the-nose to have him voice Spunky). Baby-Doll is a stand-in for many child actors who have had a tough time transitioning to adulthood. And in her case, the point is hammered home by having her physically remain like a child.

This episode marks the final contribution to this show by Studio Junio. Aside from their episodes seeming to contain lots of grammatical errors in the backgrounds, I must say I enjoyed their work. There’s a bit more of a cartoon vibe to their episodes and even some flashes of anime. Batman looks great in this episode and Junio apparently had access to better shades of green as Robin doesn’t have those turquoise accents on his gloves. Baby-Doll is perhaps a bit too cartoonish for my taste as she reminds me of Elmira from Tiny Toon Adventures. Her head is gigantic like a cartoon character, and it pulls me out of the scenes sometimes especially the closing shot with Batman.

I feel like “Baby-Doll” is an episode that should suck, to put it bluntly, but doesn’t. The story it tells actually proved compelling and the character of Dahl is made sympathetic in the end. A lot of that can be attributed to the voice work of Alison LaPlaca who does a great job in shifting tones from a higher, child-like voice, to a lower aged one when Dahl gets upset. There’s even a touch of a Child’s Play vibe as Dahl gets a little creepy when not using her Baby voice. This one works, in spite of its weirdness. It’s not anywhere near my top 10 episodes, and I don’t need to see Baby-Doll again (and we won’t until The New Batman Adventures), but I am fine with this episode existing.