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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Batman: The Animated Series – “Two-Face: Part II”

Two-Face_Part_IIEpisode Number:  11

Original Air Date:  September 28, 1992

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Randy Rogel

First Appearance(s):  None

“Two-Face Part II” cruelly aired originally on a Monday, meaning we had a whole weekend to get through to find out what became of Harvey Dent. I suppose if you’re as glued to these recaps as I was to the show then the wait for you was even worse since it’s been a week since we discussed part one. Part II picks up an unspecified amount of time after part one, but enough time has passed for Dent to assume his Two-Face persona and put together a little gang and a hideout. He’s been passing his time knocking off businesses owned by Rupert Thorne as its clear that revenge is the only thing fueling him now. He’s decked out in a half white, half black suit and uses a coin to judge the outcomes of any given situation. When one of his guys wants to rob a woman who just happens to be at the business they’re hitting, Two-Face makes him flip for it. Heads she keeps her purse, tails he gets to take it. Though there actually isn’t a true “tails” to his coin as it’s a two-sided heads coin, one side just happens to be scratched and marked.

Two-Face

Harvey’s got a new look.

Batman hasn’t given up on Dent and he’s been following Two-Face’s crimes. If he’s engaged with him at all we don’t know, but it seems safe to assume that he has not. After all, Batman knows these locations Two-Face is hitting are fronts for Thorne’s criminal activity so he isn’t exactly eager to help the crime boss, though he’s also not going to let Dent just keep getting away with it. Likewise, Harvey’s fiance Grace, hasn’t given up on him either and we see Two-Face hasn’t forgotten about her as well. His boys notice he’s heart-stricken over her and they push him to finally see her. Naturally, he had to flip for it.

Thorne is also pretty ticked that Two-Face keeps nailing him. His assistant Candace is the one who comes up the idea to use Grace to get to Two-Face and she’s able to trick Grace into thinking she means to help Harvey. Grace is instructed to contact her should Harvey reach out, and when he does she obliges. Harvey and Grace have a bittersweet reunion where she pleads with him to put a stop to his criminal activity. When Thorne shows up to spoil the reunion things get a little ugly. Two-Face feels betrayed, but not enough to put Grace in danger. He had stolen some incriminating files from Thorne and he hands them over to spare Grace. Thorne probably would have killed the two of them anyway, but Batman shows up.

Two-Face Part2 3

Harvey is reluctant to show Grace his scarred visage at first.

With Batman’s help, Dent and his henchmen are able to overpower Thorne. Batman comes out a little worse for ware, and when Two-Face is fixing to blow Thorne’s brains out, Batman is helpless. Still, Two-Face has to flip for the privilege of shooting Thorne and rather than risk an undesirable outcome, Batman is able to grab a drawer full of coins left sitting on a table and send them scattering all over the floor. Two-Face, unable to find his coin, panics, but Grace is able to calm him down. She gets him to surrender to the Gotham PD, who soon show up to clean up the mess. The two walk off in tears as Batman looks on, vowing to never give up on his friend.

“Two-Face:  Part II” has to follow the excellent first half and deliver a meaningful payoff, which it does and it doesn’t. The Two-Face character is portrayed well, and voice actor Richard Moll is stellar as the titular character. He uses his gravely Big, Bad, Harv voice, but injects nuance where needed. Murphy Cross is incredible as Grace and really comes across as a woman burdened by circumstance, torn about what’s right for her and what’s right for Harvey. And as always, Kevin Conroy’s Batman is the glue that holds everything together.

smilingtwoface1

The great equalizer.

Where the episode stumbles is in the conclusion. What happened to Harvey Dent cannot simply be undone, and seeing him surrender kind of gives us a happy ending. It’s an ending that will be undone by Two-Face’s future appearances, which do not really address the conclusion of this episode at all. He’s just another villain in Batman’s way from here on out (though he does have at least one more memorable turn) which is disappointing for a villain who began so promisingly. It also cheapens this episode, which should have probably just had Dent bid Grace a tearful goodbye and ran rather than fake like he was going to do what was necessary to continue his life with her before the accident.

Short-sighted ending aside, this is probably the best two-parter the show will tackle and I don’t say that lightly as we still have the excellent “Feat of Clay” and “Robin’s Reckoning” to look forward to. And even without the backstory, Two-Face the villain is still a lot of fun both visually and conceptually with his little morality coin. He was a bit obscure before this series began, but episodes like this are probably the reason why he was a big part of Batman Forever, which even had Batman use the same coin trick pulled off in this episode. It’s a great spot for the character and it’s good to see him recognized as one of Batman’s greatest foes.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Two-Face: Part I”

Two_Face-Title_CardEpisode Number:  10

Original Air Date:  September 25, 1992

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Alan Burnett

First Appearance(s):  Rupert Thorne, Candace,  Two-Face

The first nine episodes of Batman:  The Animated Series have been a little up and down. They’re entertaining for the most part, but for someone watching it for the first time there may be a tendency to wonder what all the hype is about. Well, “Two-Face:  Part I” is the first episode where things really pick up and a lot of that is due to the episode “Pretty Poison” which helps set this one up. In that episode, we were introduced to Harvey Dent, his personality, and his relationship with Bruce Wayne. When we last saw Harvey he was engaged to be married, but the woman he asked to be his bride turned out to be Poison Ivy. When her attempt to poison, and thus murder him, failed Harvey apparently went on with his life and in the process became engaged again to a woman named Grace Lamont (Murphy Cross).

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Harvey and Grace during happier times.

We find Harvey now in a state of mostly happiness. His reelection campaign for Gotham District Attorney is going well and he and Grace are planning a wedding. Bruce is happy for his friend, but a little concerned about the stress the election is placing on him. Also of concern is the stress created by local crime boss Rupert Thorne (John Vernon). Thorne is a character from the comics and he’s sort of analogous to Marvel’s Kingpin. He’s a heavy-set crime boss who’s primary skill is money. His money wins him allies, including those in high places, and as a result he’s built up a reputation in the law enforcement circle as being untouchable. Worst of all, Thorne knows this and uses it to taunt Dent which only enrages the Gotham D.A. and brings out his darker side.

We find out that Harvey has been hiding something for years:  Big, Bad, Harv, his alter-ego who has manifested himself thanks to Harvey’s inability to face his inner demons. Dent is prone to mood swings which can get violent. He’s rather frightening at times, and voice actor Richard Moll does an excellent job of portraying Harvey when he’s got everything put together and the unhinged Harvey outraged that Thorne has managed slip off his hook yet again. As for Big, Bad, Harv, it seems that Dent can keep that side of his personality suppressed for the most part with him only taking over as a controlling personality when under hypnosis. Dent’s therapist is quite concerned, but maybe not enough, by Dent’s mood swings and it’s clear he needs a break, but with the election in full swing Dent feels now is not the time for a vacation.

parttwo5

This episode marks the first appearance of Rupert Thorne, who will be a constant thorn in Batman’s side (I’m sure the pun was intended).

Even though Thorne is largely untouchable, he’s still unnerved by Dent’s determination to put him away and is growing desperate for a way to cool things off. His assistance Candace (Diane Michelle) is the one who digs up the dirt on Dent’s therapy sessions, and when Dent is celebrating his election win the mood is killed by a call from Thorne who’s obtained all of the information he needs to out Big, Bad, Harv. Dent is concerned his medical problems will kill his career, even with the re-election bid over, and agrees to meet with Thorne. Bruce Wayne sees him leave the post-election celebration in one of Thorne’s limos and elects to pursue him as Batman.

Thorne brings Harvey to a chemical plant to confront him with the damning medicals, but all he accomplishes is bringing out Dent’s dark side. He goes wild and starts fighting with Thorne’s men. Batman shows up to even the odds, but when Thorne makes a run for it Harvey gives chase. Some stray gunfire from one of Thorne’s men strike an electrical box causing an explosion that ensnares Dent. When Batman is able to get to him we see a look of horror flash across his face as he turns his friend over to survey the damage.

twoface

Dent’s going to need a good plastic surgeon. A really good plastic surgeon.

We soon are taken to a hospital where a doctor is removing the bandages from Harvey’s face. He’s conscious, and able to see the damage caused by the blast. The doctor recoils in horror at the sight of Dent, and we get the classic “mirror!” demand that’s been used many times before in other media, and most recently by Jack Nicholson’s Joker in Batman. Dent is enraged at the sight of his own face and storms out of the room, only to run into Grace. It’s here we finally get a look at what the explosion did to him, turning his face lumpy, blue, and grotesque. Grace immediately faints at the sight, and a despondent Harvey bids her farewell.

The transformation of Harvey Dent into Two-Face is a seminal moment for the show. It’s the first time actual stakes are introduced as we see a character permanently altered by the events of the show. We also see our hero lose an important ally in his fight against crime, and not just an ally, but a close, personal friend at that. And at this point, Dent is really the only friend we’ve seen for Bruce besides Alfred and Dick so his loss feels particularly damaging. At the same time, this being part one of a two part episode, we don’t know how the story will resolve itself. When I first saw it I was just a kid. Prior to this series, my only exposure to the Dent character was Billy Dee Williams in Batman so I was in the dark the whole time about the Two-Face character. I’m pretty sure my assumption was that Batman would make everything right in the second act, but we’ll soon see I was mistaken.

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Thorne’s assistance Candace will be a fixture at his side throughout the series.

Villains work best when they have a human element and when their motivations are relatable. For Two-Face, we know he’s a good person and circumstance pushed him to this which makes him feel tragic. While true that we actually do not see him act as a villain in this episode, we soon will. Before Two-Face, we had villains we could relate to without necessarily feeling too sympathetic. We know it’s frustrating to be fired like Scarecrow was, and I think most people don’t want to see plants driven to extinction, but few are going to agree with the methods utilized by both Scarecrow and Poison Ivy in their bids for revenge. The other villains such as The Sewer King and Boss Biggis have just been terrible human beings who we’re supposed to hate, and do. And then, of course, there’s The Joker who’s motivations aren’t supposed to be relatable either and represents more of a chaotic force in Batman’s world.

The other aspect of this episode that comes to mind when I reflect upon my first viewing of it is how even at the time I really enjoyed and appreciated it. Perhaps enjoyed isn’t the right word as I was unnerved by the outcome, but for a slow developing plot I don’t recall being bored. It’s that slow build that creates the payoff at the end and director Kevin Altieri certainly feels like the show’s MVP thus far. This episode both looks and sounds great, with excellent voice work all around. Murphy Cross is especially convincing as the heart-broken Grace, and she’ll get to really shine in Part II. I also love the little visual cue to Two-Face early in the episode when a flash of lightning in the doctor’s office causes Dent to resemble his future self for a split-second. And the actual reveal shot of Two-Face is also setup so well. Even though it’s only a few minutes that pass between Dent’s accident and the reveal of his new face, it feels like an eternity as the viewer is kept on the edge of their seat waiting to see just what the effects of that explosion were. Two-Face is particularly hideous looking, and while his scarred face doesn’t make much sense medically, it looks gross and it’s easy to understand how that could drive a man insane. I’m sure if they wanted to go with a grosser, more burned look like the original comics took and the one The Dark Knight would take many years later that Standards & Practices likely would have requested they tone it down. The only negative I have is that there’s a continuity error with the following episode as Harvey’s face is the only thing scarred in this episode, where-as going forward his left hand will be blue and lumpy as well.

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A little scene from early in the episode tipping its hand.

“Two-Face: Part I” is in my personal top three episodes for this show. And while I normally have a hard time separating episodes in a two-part sequence, in this case I do believe Part I is the stronger of the two as it’s the creation of Two-Face that is most memorable and most important as opposed to the actions he will take as a villain. That doesn’t mean Part II is bad, nor does it mean I can watch the first without immediately watching the second. You will have to wait until next week for my write-up of Part II, which feels appropriate given the first airing of this episode was on a Friday, meaning I had a whole weekend plus a Monday to endure before seeing Part II. To a kid, that felt like an eternity.