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The New Batman Adventures – “Holiday Knights”

holiday knightsEpisode Number:  1 (86)

Original Air Date:  September 13, 1997

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Paul Dini

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

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

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

TNBA trio

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

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

TNBA redesigns

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

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

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

TNBA logo

New show, new logo.

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

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

new ivy

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

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

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

bruce ivy harley

Not the women Bruce was hoping to take home.

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

harley ivy shopping

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

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

santa bullock

Santa Bullock, ho, ho, ho.

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

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

batgirl crowd control

Batgirl showing off her new attire.

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

new joker

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

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

jokers favors

Joker’s party favors.

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

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

joker champagne

This will be a short-lived victory for Joker.

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

bat gordon toast

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

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

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

clayface hk

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

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

harley and the tree

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

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

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

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Batman: The Animated Series – “House & Garden”

house and garden title cardEpisode Number:  70

Original Air Date:  May 2, 1994

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  None

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

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

mr and mrs carlyle

The happy couple.

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

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

bruce attacked

Damn backseat drivers.

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

batman caught in the act

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

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

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

plant monster attacks

He’s a big boy.

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

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

Batman The Animated Series CR: Warner Bros. Animation

Unsettling, but not really threatening. Yet.

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

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

ivy copy

She’s a slippery one.

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

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

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


Batman: The Animated Series – “Trial”

btas trialEpisode Number:  68

Original Air Date:  May 16, 1994

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Paul Dini and Bruce Timm

First Appearance(s):  None

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

janet trial

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

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

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

captured batman

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

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

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

trial jury

Batman’s jury hardly seems fair and impartial.

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

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

harleys tampering

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

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

van dorn and judge joker

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

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

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

batman electric chair

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

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

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

preacher joker

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

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

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


Batman: The Animated Series – “Harley and Ivy”

Harley_and_Ivy-Title_CardEpisode Number:  56

Original Air Date:  January 18, 1993

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  None

Episode 56 brings us to the end of the second volume of Batman:  The Animated Series. As I’ve mentioned probably too many times though, this is still production season one and we won’t be done with that for several more weeks. This is a pretty monumental episode for the series though, as it’s the first pairing of Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin) and Poison Ivy (Diane Pershing). Since Harley was such a break-out star for the show that made the move to print, I suppose anything that added to her character in this series is equally as important. The Ivy/Harley friendship became very popular, and though it was mostly shelved for the rest of the series, it was returned in The New Batman Adventures. It too has made the move to the comics and I’m sure the hardcore fans of the characters are hoping to see it one day captured on the big screen. Not to be lost in the Harley/Ivy pairing is the fact that this episode also further delves into the relationship between Harley and her beloved Mr. J. Up until now, she’s mostly been portrayed as his number 1, but this episode further explores her obsession with Joker and hints that there is a bit more to their working relationship than just boss and henchwoman.

The episode opens like many do with Batman in hot pursuit of this week’s villain. In this case, he’s chasing Joker (Mark Hamill) and Harley in the Batmobile with Harley driving and Joker relaxing in the backseat. Harley is pretty stressed as she tries to escape from Batman while Joker’s feet are propped up and he remarks on how beautiful an evening it is. He, as he often does, snaps between glee and irritation ordering Harley around including making ill-advised suggestions on where to turn. When Harley tries to point out that it might not be a good idea he just gets angry. When his decision turns out bad, he blames Harley. Such is the life of a goon. Joker calls for his gun and Harley hands it to him. Unfortunately, she gave him the gag gun which just fires “Bang!” flags. The opening allows Batman to grapple onto the rear of Joker’s vehicle, but they were prepared for such and Harley is able to eject the rear of the car and escape.

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Joker is eager to put the blame on anyone but himself, and poor Harley is his lamb.

Joker and Harley return to their hideout where Joker rants and raves about their encounter with Batman to the other henchmen. He puts the blame for tonight’s failure square on Harley, and when she sticks up for herself he just lays into her worse. He asks if she thinks she’s a better crook than him and it’s enough to actually anger Harley. When she suggests that maybe she is, Joker literally tosses her out of the hideout. Harley shows some defiance and determination, but also some sadness as she leaves her life with Mr. J behind.

Harley sets her sights on the precious Harlequin Diamond which is on display at the Gotham Museum. We get to see just how adept at sneaking and stealing Harley is as she makes her way towards her target, only for the alarms to be set off by another criminal. Poison Ivy is also there and she’s swiping some plant specimens. Irritated by Ivy’s presence, Harley abandons all notions of stealth and just grabs the diamond. She then helps Ivy escape from the police, and the pair use Ivy’s getaway car.

getaway

And the pairing begins!

The two flee to Ivy’s hideout, a little house smack-dab in the middle of a toxic waste dump. Ivy is immune to the chemicals in the air and she’s devised a serum that can pass that onto others, the only problem is it has to be administered via injection which does not sit well with Harley. She goes through with it though, and the two have a long conversation about Harley’s relationship with Joker. Ivy, not surprisingly, is well aware of how poorly Joker mistreats her, but nothing she can say makes Harley see the light. Still, the two are eager to form a partnership to take on Gotham as a two-woman crime team.

Harley and Ivy first target a men’s only club before hitting other spots in Gotham. Their crime spree gains media attention and the two are dubbed The Queens of Crime. This is enough to get the attention of two other noted individuals. First up is Batman, who naturally has an interest in putting a stop to any crime spree that occurs in his city. And then there’s Joker. He’s not exactly bursting with pride to his former protegé having success without him, and with Poison Ivy, no less. He wants to be on the front page, and he vows to put an end to Harley’s fun.

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Harley missing her Mr. J.

Despite his intentions, there’s little Joker can actually do to slow Harley and Ivy in any meaningful way. He doesn’t know what the two are planning or where they’re hiding out. At least, he wouldn’t if Harley wasn’t homesick for her beloved clown. She secretly phones him from Ivy’s home and he keeps her on the line long enough to trace the call. Unknown to the women, Batman is on to them. He was able to analyze the soil left behind by Ivy’s car and traced it back to the waste dump. Upon arrival he’s attacked by Ivy’s plant guardians and the two women taunt him and chain him to a table. Ivy tries to target Batman’s masculinity by asking if he ever thought he’d be taken down by two women, but Batman won’t bite remarking a sick mind knows no gender.

harley calls joker

Not Harley’s finest moment, but abusive relationships aren’t easy to escape.

Ivy and Harley dump Batman into some toxic water without his gas mask on. Satisfied, they turn their attention back to the house where a certain clown awaits them. Joker, dressed rather dapper, is acting kind of friendly, but also has his goons scooping up Harley and Ivy’s loot. He’s almost immediately confrontational with Ivy, putting Harley in the middle. He tries to gas Ivy with his boutonniere, but it has no effect on her due to her other toxic immunities. Ivy puts him on his rear, and makes off with an obviously conflicted Harley.

joker vs ivy

It’s never easy when the old partner confronts the new.

Joker orders his men after them, but they soon run into Batman. Did you think that little stunt with the table would end Batman? Of course not. He wriggled out of it and now he’s ready to knock some skulls. Joker, upon seeing his mortal enemy, whips out a tommy gun and opens fire. Batman points out that doing so is a bad idea since all of the gas in the area makes the place a powder keg, and sure enough, the whole place goes up in flames. Batman is able to take out the Joker following the commotion, while Harley and Ivy flee in their car. As Ivy announces that no man can take them prisoner, the car is taken out by a shot to the tires. The one responsible is one of Gotham’s finest, officer Renee Montoya, essentially proving Ivy right. Next stop for our villains is Arkham Asylum. Harley and Ivy are gardening while Joker is confined to his own cell in a straitjacket screaming about how he’s going to swear off women when he gets out. Despite that, Harley remains hopeful that she and her “puddin'” can salvage their relationship while Ivy reacts with disgust while tossing soil in her face.

In terms of episodes that are just plain fun, it’s hard to top “Harley and Ivy.” A lot of the episode is a Thelma & Louise style joy-ride shared by the two villains. Poison Ivy is depicted as the self-reliant, man-hater type while Harley is just along for the ride. Her good nature, for a criminal, and cheery demeanor inject a lot of personality into the episode. I love the little quirks given to Harley such as her affinity for nicknames be it Mr. J or her preferred name for Ivy, Red. Batman is often reduced to a side character in villain-packed episodes, and he definitely is here. The trio of starring villains leaves little room for our protagonist, but the episode doesn’t suffer. It’s also interesting how the episode essentially gets us to root for Ivy and Harley, though more so Harley. Most viewers probably find themselves conflicted. Joker is clearly an abusive boss who does not appreciate the talents of Harley. Meanwhile, Ivy has her own agenda. I think she is more interested in Harley’s well-being than Joker is, but both are clearly using her for their own benefit. As a result, whom does the viewer root for? It’s a fun conflict and something to ponder.

apprehended

In the end, they’re foiled by a woman.

This is another Dong Yang animated episode, and it looks and animates rather well though there are more errors than usual. There are a few continuity errors and one scene where the characters’ faces actually disappear. There are plenty of fun scenes though and I like the bits of home life shown between Harley and Ivy. It’s cute, like something you’d see in a film set in college or something. Harley, missing Joker, also manipulates the food on her plate to resemble his face.

As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, the Harley and Ivy pairing has been a pretty big success for both characters. They’re paired up often in the comics with many fans seemingly wanting to see the two as more than just a partnership, and DC even gave them what they want. The writers on the show would recognize how popular Harley had become and she gets multiple episodes centered around her in season two, though the pairing of these two isn’t really utilized again until The New Batman Adventures. Similarly, Harley’s relationship with Joker remains strained for the rest of the series. Aside from the episode “Trial,” where all three villains are involved in a plot with basically every reoccurring villain, they remain at odds with each other. A lot of Harley’s madness and her good side are explored in season 2 as their eventual make-up is put on hold. For a show that isn’t too concerned with continuity, it’s nice to see this fracture in their relationship isn’t something that’s just glossed over and reset for their next appearance.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Almost Got ‘Im”

200px-AlmostgotimEpisode Number:  46

Original Air Date:  November 10, 1992

Directed by:  Eric Radomski

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  None

It’s quite silly how excited I get when we’re coming up on a favorite episode of mine from this series. Nothing is stopping me from watching episodes like “Almost Got ‘Im” basically whenever I want, but for some reason this feature makes me feel like I’m being given permission to go watch these all over again. “Almost Got ‘Im” is a Paul Dini episode, and his tend to be pretty good. It’s a great concept for an episode that may or may not have been influenced by a series of comics in 1977 entitled “Where Were You on the Night Batman Was Killed?” Basically, we have a group of villains all hanging out and sharing a personal story about a time when they almost killed Batman and rid Gotham of him once and for all. We’re treated to numerous flashbacks recalling these moments (though this isn’t a clip show, these stories are all new) before everything comes together in the end to further a story in the present. Even though it’s an episode light on Batman, since we’re almost always looking at him from a villain’s perspective, I loved this one even as a kid and I still do today.

bar scene

When the girl walks in…

The episode opens over a game of poker. All we see are the hands of some recognizable villains from the show as they shoot the breeze and make plays. The players are Joker (Mark Hamill), Two-Face (Richard Moll), Penguin (Paul Williams), and Killer Croc (Aron Kincaid). The camera lingers on their hands, from the point of view of the person those hands belong to, and there’s some nice little touches adhering to the personalities of each guy. Joker, for instance, is shown pulling cards out of his sleeve while Two-Face discards two low number cards, but elects to hang onto a deuce (I love this). They’re ribbing each other for the most part, in particular Joker is pretty much all over Two-Face with several puns on his name. They appear to be in some kind of bar, but everything around them is covered in shadows. Soon Poison Ivy (Diane Pershing) comes strolling in and takes a seat at the table and that’s when the conversation turns to Batman.

ivy pumpkin

Joker mocker Ivy for her exploding pumpkins, and yet voice actor Mark Hamill would go on to voice the Hobgoblin who, wouldn’t you know, wields exploding pumpkins.

Poison Ivy is the first to tell her little tale about the time she almost got Batman. Of all of the tales, hers is probably the least interesting as it’s basically just her gassing Batman with a jack-o-lantern. It’s most interesting contribution is a self-driving Batmobile segment and I’ve been a sucker for those ever since Batman ’89. Two-Face is up next, and his tale is a partial adaptation of a story from the comics in which Batman and Robin were tied to a giant penny. It’s a rather fun segment, but since we’ve got a bunch to get through, none are long so we’re mostly going for visual flair. Perhaps best of all, the giant penny in this flashback is going to remain a fixture in the Batcave in later shots as Batman was allowed to keep it for some reason.

Killer Croc is up next and his story is brief and makes me laugh every time. I don’t want to spoil it so I’ll say nothing further on the subject. Penguin goes after him after all the villains seem to agree to ignore Croc from here on out. Penguin’s story takes place in an aviary and involves attack hummingbirds. It’s preposterous, but what isn’t where this show is concerned? Penguin actually escapes at the conclusion of this tale, indicating he hasn’t faced any consequences.

Almost_Got_Im_Joker

Not a good predicament for our hero.

Saving the best for last is Joker. He actually insisted on going last and he does have a good reason for that. His story is typical Joker – he’s taken the Gotham airwaves hostage and setup Batman in a game show. The game in this case is to make the audience laugh which will cause Batman to be electrocuted. Did I mention Batman was strapped into an electric chair? The story of how he ended up in such a predicament is probably a good one, but apparently not deemed worth retelling by The Joker. Joker first tries to get the audience to laugh via threats, but it doesn’t produce great laughter. His next idea then is to simply fill the studio with laughing gas while Harley (Arleen Sorkin) reads the phone book. It proves effective, but before Batman can be fried to a crisp Catwoman (Adrienne Barbeau) barges in and saves him. Unfortunately for her though, while chasing Joker she’s attacked from behind by Harley and incapacitated. We then jump back to the card game where Joker reveals this all happened last night. He may not have got Batman, but he still has Catwoman and she’s currently about to be made into cat food and served to the cats of Gotham – ha ha ha!

Almost_Got_'Im

This is actually a good time to be committing petty crimes in Gotham since both Batman and the entire Gotham PD are apparently in this one bar.

It’s at this point one of our villains is revealed to be none other than Batman in disguise. He infiltrated this little game to presumably to find out what Joker had done with Catwoman. And he didn’t come alone as all of the patrons in the bar turn out to be undercover cops. With the villains all taken care of, Batman is free to go after Catwoman. Lucky for her, Harley has been waiting for Mr. J’s arrival before turning on the conveyor belt that will carry Catwoman into a vicious looking grinder. When Batman shows up instead, she does the old ploy of turning on the machine and taking off forcing Batman to choose between saving Catwoman or apprehending her. Batman, it turns out, can do both and it’s actually kind of funny. With that out of the way, Batman and Catwoman share a moment on the rooftop of the factory. When Catwoman tries to go in for a kiss, she’s distracted momentarily by the goings-on at ground level giving Batman an opening to take off on her. As he swings away Catwoman looks on with a wry smile and gives us the line of the show, “Almost got ‘im.”

Catwoman_in_danger

This seems like a real messy way to make cat food.

This episode is just fun. There’s tons of little details, mostly in the beginning of the episode, that add personality to our rogues gallery. I also really like that there’s an acknowledgement of Two-Face and Ivy’s previous relationship and their shared lines are some-what tense. It’s just a great framing device for an episode to have a bunch of interesting characters just hanging out and shooting the breeze. There are also loads of fantastic one-liners or little dialogue bits in this one.

btas-almost-got-im-catwoman

Not really sure why you’re running from this one, Batman. Maybe those trunks he wears doesn’t hide much?

Where the episode does come up short is mostly nitpicking. Once more we have Catwoman just in a weird spot. What is she? A villain or is she now a vigilante? I think clearly she was used in place of Robin to setup that little bit on the rooftop at the end, but it does feel off. She also should have been able to escape from Harley since she was just tied up and placed on a conveyor belt. Nothing that I can see was stopping her from just rolling off. I also wish the episode played with the concept of the unreliable narrator more. All of these stories are being told from the point of view of the villains and some embellishment on their part would have been fun. Especially since the format of the episode forces those flashbacks to be quite brief. And lastly, this is another episode where a character is probably way too good at being disguised, but that’s nothing new.

batman_ag_cg_productshot

This episode is popular enough to have spawned its own card game.

My issues with the episode are rather minor. This is one of my favorites, though I’ve never given it much thought beyond that. Is it in my personal top 25? Top 10? Top 3?! I’m not sure, but I’m at least leaning towards Top 10 and I’d have to do some more work to determine if I’d go further than that. Maybe that’s a feature for when this is all said and done, but we have a long way to go before we’re out of episodes.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Eternal Youth”

Captura_de_pantalla_2011-09-20_a_las_02.44.27Episode Number:  29

Original Air Date:  September 13, 1992

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Beth Bornstein

First Appearance(s):  Maggie Page

 

Sometimes there are episodes I really look forward to re-watching and blogging about, and sometimes there are those I dread. And on a rare occasion, there’s an episode I dread that I end up enjoying, which is the case for this week’s entry:  “Eternal Youth.” As I go through this series again, I’m finding my attitude towards each episode is still firmly grounded in the opinion I held as a kid, even though I have seen all of these episodes as both a kid and an adult. And in the case of an episode like this one, I probably had a negative perception because it’s light on action and the plot revolves around a pair of sexagenarians in Alfred Pennyworth and the debuting Maggie Page (Paddy Edwards) coupled with a villain I still wasn’t too familair with:  Poison Ivy.

The episode opens with a frightened older woman running from a shadowy subject. It’s pretty obvious the person she’s frightened of is Poison Ivy. She warns she knows things and she’s seen what Ivy has done to the others, but that seems to only provoke Ivy into passing the point of no return. Since this is a kid’s show, and Ivy isn’t so boorish as to simply shoot her victims, she instead sprays the woman with some kind of green chemical cloud that looks similar to weed killer which freezes the old gal in place. We cut quickly to Bruce Wayne angrily ordering someone on the phone to back out of some business dealing because it will endanger a rain forest. Alfred remarks it was a good thing he noticed what was transpiring, while Bruce remarks he was lucky to notice, and we have our establishing plot.

MaggiePage

Meet Maggie, but don’t get too attached as you’ll never see her again.

Poison Ivy is out to get CEO’s and business types who have made money at the expense of the environment. We don’t know just how far is too far with Ivy, but destroying a rain forest probably fits the bill. The plot needs her attention to fall on Wayne, but the show can’t make Wayne some monster who bulldozes endangered ecosystems for profit, so it establishes right away that he’s against such behaviour, but Wayne Enterprises is so big (and he’s rather consumed by his other profession) that it’s possible some things could sneak by. Or maybe Ivy just heard about this business deal while it was in the planning stages before Bruce squashed it. Either way, we’ve established that Bruce Wayne is in Poison Ivy’s crosshairs (or whatever aiming device is on that weed killer gun) while also making him innocent of being a menace to the environment.

A VHS is delivered to Bruce that Alfred runs by him. It’s apparently for a spa of some kind. At the same time, Alfred’s apparent girlfriend Maggie shows up and is eager to see the tape. It’s for a resort that claims it can slow down and even reverse the aging process, and as a demonstration of what it can do, has extended a free invite to Bruce. He’s not interested, but when he suggests Alfred and Maggie take his place Maggie is very eager, while Alfred not so much. It’s a bit hard to pin down just what this relationship is. Alfred almost seems annoyed by her presence while she seems to very much enjoy him. I don’t know if she’s just trying to get some affection thrown her way, or if they are actually dating. Maggie will make a few comments here and there that sort of support both theories, and when they part after returning from the spa a vigorous feeling Alfred merely plants a kiss on her cheek. Some parting gift.

EY_32_-_Alfred_and_Maggie

That’s about as romantic as these two are going to get.

The two do head to the spa and while Alfred is a sour puss at first, he soon comes around when he samples the refreshments and enjoys being waited on for a change. The two are sad to see their time there end. When Alfred returns home he brings along some of the spa’s goodies, namely some additive that’s mixed with water, and he decorates the Bat Cave with plenty of flora. Batman finds the behaviour a bit odd, but doesn’t seem too concerned until Alfred passes out. After some rest, Alfred wakes up and basks in the sun. Maggie soon shows up and the two decide they must return to the spa – they can’t stop thinking about it.

Meanwhile, various other notable individuals have turned up missing. The police haven’t turned up anything in their investigation, and Gordon basically gives Batman the okay to rummage through one of the missing person’s apartments. And wouldn’t you know, Batman notices the same VHS tape Bruce Wayne received for the Eternal Youth spa in the missing woman’s VCR. Really, Gotham PD? It doesn’t take long for Batman to realize something is up. He’s analyzed the junk Alfred brought home with him, finding out it creates some kind of crazy, living plant when he mixes it with human plasma (I wonder if they couldn’t say blood) prompting Batman to go pay a visit to the spa.

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Admittedly, that’s kind of disturbing,

Unfortunately, Batman is too late to help Alfred and Maggie. Upon return, the two were shown what really happens at the spa. All of the guests have been turned into trees! Yes, trees. Admittedly, it’s pretty silly to read about, but the episode kind of pulls it off by showing all of the individuals with frozen expressions of horror on their faces. Alfred and Maggie fall victim to the same fate thanks to Poison Ivy and her two lovely assistants Lily (Julie Brown) and Violet (Lynne Marie Stewart). When Batman arrives, he sees the grisly sight and Ivy tries to do the same to him. Too bad for her he coated his cape in a herbicidal antidote – hah! I got a real 60s vibe out that one. With her spray stuff rendered toothless, Ivy doesn’t have much else to choose to do except run. She tries to use the cover of the nearby forest to ambush Batman, and even makes use of that nifty little wrist-mounted crossbow she has, but it’s to no avail. Batman gets his girl, and he also reverse engineers a cure for all of the folks turned to wood.

Alfred and Maggie are forced to spend some time in the hospital after their ordeal. A few plant puns are made as Maggie sits beside Alfred’s bedside. We end the episode on a bit of a joke, as Maggie remarks Bruce isn’t too bright when he attempts to cheer them up with a plant – which is met with revulsion. This episode is quite fine. There’s a bit of a horror element to Ivy’s scheme which helps inject some danger into the proceedings. A lot of the episode rests on the chemistry of Alfred and Maggie, which is surprisingly amusing. Too bad for Maggie this is her lone appearance in the show. Batman kind of takes a back seat to things, as he really often does, but he doesn’t come away looking omnipotent or anything, though he is a pretty impressive chemist. The episode has a some-what understated look, but it animates well. Ivy is especially impressive bounding through the forest during her attack on Batman.

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I always liked it when Poison Ivy actually fired that weapon, so often it’s just treated like a decorative piece.

For Poison Ivy, this is her second appearance on the show as a featured villain. She had a cameo in one of the Scarecrow episodes, but this kind of establishes what to expect from future repeat villains. For The Scarecrow, we’ve been shown that he’s escaped Arkham to reek havoc on Gotham, and for The Joker we’re usually given no explanation for how he’s out and about once again. For Poison Ivy, she’s given The Joker treatment, so if we thought he was just a special case that’s shown to be not exactly true. Most villains are just going to come and go on this show with little explanation for how they got back on the streets. While it’s nice to have that information provided, I can totally understand the writers and directors not wanting to devote time for some prison breakout every time they want to re-use a villain. Perhaps it’s lazy, but for a show that only has about 22 minutes to work with it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t make sense.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Pretty Poison”

Pretty_Poison-Title_CardEpisode Number: 5

Original Air Date:  September 14, 1992

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Paul Dini, Michael Reaves

First Appearance(s): Poison Ivy, Renée Montoya

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

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

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Bruce meets Harvey and his new girlfriend Pam for dinner.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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