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Batman: The Animated Series – “See No Evil”

See_No_Evil-Title_CardEpisode Number: 17

Original Air Date:  February 24, 1993

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Martin Pasko

First Appearance(s):  Lloyd Ventrix

“See No Evil” is a relatively early production episode of Batman, but for whatever reason it was held until February of 1993. When a show receives a full 65 episode order right out of the gate, what gets to air first often is whatever is finished first. Sometimes a marquee villain or two-parter will be held until a nice ratings spot is needed, or a prime time window is available, so maybe this one just took awhile. And since it contains a no-name villain there likely wasn’t much excitement around it at Fox to get it to air.

“See No Evil” is an interesting episode because it’s both very grounded in terms of the story it’s telling, a father denied parental rights wanting to spend time with his daughter by any means necessary, while also containing some elements of the super natural in the form of an invisibility suit. Lloyd Ventrix (Michael Gross) is our antagonist and he’s a simple con-man who was formerly incarcerated, but has since been released. As a result of his run-in with the law he lost his wife and he lost all visitation rights with his kid. We’re not entirely sure, but it seems he may have tried to get his life in order. He got a job, at least, but when the episode opens he’s doing some not very legal things.

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Jimmy talking to her “imaginary” friend, Mojo.

Kimmy (Elisabeth Moss) is a seemingly regular girl being raised by her mother. As is not an uncommon trait among young children, Kimmy has an imaginary friend she calls Mojo. Her mother thinks nothing of it, but it turns out Mojo isn’t just a figment of Kimmy’s imagination. He’s seen, or unseen, bringing her physical gifts and he actually speaks to her despite seemingly having no material form. Meanwhile, jewelry stores and the like are being knocked off and our caped crusader is having trouble figuring out who’s behind it since no one is picked up on security cams.

Naturally, there’s an explanation and it turns out Mojo is actually Ventrix in disguise. When he got out of prison he landed a job at a laboratory that was working on an invisibility material and decided to knock it off. It’s unclear if he’s still working there, but he’s been able to enrich himself thanks to the suit. This allows him to at least look the part of a well-adjusted individual and basically stalks his ex-wife Helen (Jean Smart) and tries to stage a simple run-in to demonstrate he’s a changed man. Helen doesn’t by it, and since she has a restraining order out against him she wisely flees warning him to stay away from her and Kimmy. This is essentially the last straw for Ventrix, and Mojo decides to lure Kimmy out of her house in a bid to kidnap her. When Mojo successfully does so he reveals himself to Kimmy, but she’s been well coached by her mother and runs.

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Nice suit, who’s your tailor?

All this time, Batman has been slowly unraveling the mystery of Gotham’s invisible man. He’s able to figure out where the tech came from, and the ex-con on the payroll is a bit of a smoking gun. He’s able to intercept Ventrix during his abduction attempt and a fight and chase ensues. This is the episode’s strength as pitting Batman against a foe he can’t see is pretty entertaining to animate. Not only does Ventrix possess the ability to make himself invisible, he can even make the car he’s in invisible as well. When he tries to escape Batman via automobile, Batman jumps onto the roof of the car as it speeds away. Other motorists can only see what appears to be Batman flying above the road zoom past them and it’s a pretty amusing visual.

Being invisible is definitely an advantage to have over Batman, but it doesn’t make-up for the huge gap in fighting ability between Ventrix and the Dark Knight. Batman is able to foil the plans of Mojo, and a tidy little bow is placed on the whole thing. There’s also a sweet little scene to end the episode that I like, and old Ventrix is never heard from again.

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There’s some great artwork in the fight scene that climaxes the episode. Batman has never looked so bad ass.

As a kid, I probably wasn’t that interested in this episode since it doesn’t feature one of Batman’s familiar enemies, but the simple and relatable premise of the episode makes it rather endearing. The show is careful to portray Ventrix as a selfish criminal who’s quick to anger and probably possesses a violent side. As a result, we can only sympathize with him on a surface level. Yes, it’s terrible to not have even limited visitation rights with your child, but the courts typically reserve that fate for the truly bad individuals in society and Ventrix happens to be one of them. He presumably had a path to his daughter that involved getting a stable job, a place to live, and he probably had to stay out of trouble for a certain length of time and at that point he probably could have had some visitation restored. He’s impatient though and thinks he can win back his ex-wife with money, money that just so happens to be ill-gotten. Helen assumes the worst of him, but she’s also right. Batman is there to provide the action, and the scenes of him battling with Ventrix in his invisibility suit are pretty special from an animation perspective. It might not be the first episode people think of when they hear Batman: The Animated Series, but it’s a pretty good one.

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Batman: The Animated Series – “The Cat and the Claw – Part II”

3366254-the+cat+and+the+claw+part+2Episode Number:  16

Original Air Date:  September 12, 1992

Directed by:  Dick Sebast

Written by:  Sean Catherine Derek and Laren Bright

First Appearance(s):  None

“The Cat and the Claw: Part I” was the big kick-off for Batman: The Animated Series. It was also the introduction of Catwoman, Batman’s closest foil, and portrayed her as a Robin Hood of sorts robbing from the rich to benefit the poor, neglected animals of Gotham. Her acts aren’t quite so noble as that, as she lives a pretty pampered lifestyle in a Gotham penthouse with an assistant on hand 24/7 so not all of those riches are going to the animals. It also introduced the relationship between Batman and Catwoman in which Catwoman has an attraction to Batman while Bruce Wayne has his eye on Catwoman’s alter-ego Selina Kyle.

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Ever remove the label from a can of Chef Boyardee?

Not to be forgotten, is the true villain of both episodes:  Red Claw. Red Claw is a soviet terrorist who has infiltrated Gotham and stolen a biological weapon in which she utilizes to hold all of Gotham at ransom. Catwoman is brought into the fold by virtue of the fact that a company Red Claw is conspiring with has seized a piece of land once intended as a sanctuary for large cats. Batman, naturally, just wants to make sure Gotham isn’t destroyed.

The episode picks up where the previous one left off. Catwoman has been followed back to her apartment by a member of the Red Claw gang and her identity is now known to her adversaries. Batman is tipped off about the gang’s intention of knocking off the plague weapon which is coming through Gotham on a train (seems to be some security flaws). Batman isn’t able to prevent the theft, obviously or else we wouldn’t have much of an episode, but he does get to come face to face with Red Claw.

The following day, Bruce and Selina are out to try and have a date once more when Bruce’s car is assailed by a member of the Red Claw gang. There’s a fun chase that ensues with the Red Claw car just trying to run Bruce and Selena off the road while Bruce gets to demonstrate his Batman driving skills as they eventually get away (Bruce can afford the repair bill). This was all the result of Red Claw knowing Catwoman’s identity, and since Selina has no idea about Bruce, she kind of figures out that they’re onto her. Bruce also notices traces of cat hair left behind by Selina and apparently this is good enough for him to know that she’s Catwoman.

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Thanks for the help, Batman. Next time, can you stop the bad guys with less fire?

The rest of the episodes ends up being a Batman/Catwoman team-up. Catwoman is portrayed as rather cocksure, as she was in the previous episode, and careless as a result, necessitating help from Batman. They both end up captured and have to escape from Red Claw. There’s some nice action sequences and their escape is actually pretty thrilling, even if it doesn’t seem in doubt. Red Claw proves to be rather ruthless, but just as ineffective as most Batman villains. A confrontation between her and Catwoman is setup, but doesn’t really pay off. Catwoman  is also teased to have some special connection with not just her pet Isis, but cats as a whole. I don’t recall this playing a role in a future episode, but I could be mistaken.

People hoping for a Batman/Catwoman pairing following this episode were probably let down by its ending. After the mess with Red Claw is cleaned up, Catwoman escapes and flees to her penthouse. Unknown to her, Batman has already been there to advise her assistant, Maven, to flee since Red Claw is looking for Selina. He’s there waiting for her and when she tries to turn on the charm to get out of the predicament he coldly slaps a pair of handcuffs on her while he suggests this hurts him more than it hurts her.

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Just kidding, want to come over to my place?

Trying to portray Batman’s arrest of Catwoman as some noble act feels kind of silly. I know they only have so much time to work with, but Bruce’s affection for Selena could best be summed up as a simple crush. They never get to know each other, though I suppose a life-harrowing event such as the car chase might leave more than a mark. I touched on it in the last episode, but Batman breaks the law all of the time in small ways and is able to justify it. Selina seems like she does the same and perhaps Batman could have steered her into a better direction. Nevertheless, he’s not willing to bend.

Some have voiced displeasure with Catwoman as a whole and how the show handled her. Even Bruce Timm has suggested they could have done a better job with her and it’s hard to disagree. I wish she wasn’t so incapable of taking care of herself across two episodes, always needing help from Batman. I also think they couldn’t decide if she should be an anti-hero or a true villain and tried to have it both ways, which feels noncommittal and isn’t particularly satisfying. She’ll pop up again, but her future appearances seem to only exacerbate that aspect of her character.

Just as was the case with Part I, Part II does look great and the colors, animation, and style are some of the best the show would produce. I love the sequence of Catwoman just narrowly sliding under a closing steel door and the fire effects, perhaps dated, are still pretty spectacular. All of this leads me to render a verdict of style over substance in the case of “The Cat and Claw” as a whole, and especially Part II. Part I was decent setup, but the payoff wasn’t. At least they had the foresight to utilize a throw-away villain like Red Claw when the focus was going to be put on Batman and Catwoman. It just felt too early for those two to team-up and for Batman to figure out her identity. And for a character as prominent and popular as Catwoman I don’t think it would have been too risky to plan on featuring her in 2 or 3 episodes before this.


Batman: The Animated Series – “I’ve Got Batman In My Basement”

I've_Got_Batman_in_My_Basement-Title_CardEpisode Number:  13

Original Air Date:  September 30, 1992

Directed by:  Frank Paur

Written by:  Sam Graham and Chris Hubbell

First Appearance(s):  The Penguin

Happy Black Friday, we’ve got kind of a silly one today. After three some-what weighty episodes we’re treated to something a bit on the lighter side. “I’ve Got Batman In My Basement” is unapologetically written to appeal to kids. Imagine if you were the one in Sherman Grant’s shoes and you had to protect Batman from the villainous Penguin?

Making his series debut is none other than The Penguin (Paul Williams), who’s arguably Batman’s most famous foe at this point in time following The Joker. He was featured prominently in the 1960’s Batman television show (played by the late, great, Burgess Meredith) and had just recently been in Batman Returns. His animated series look is strongly influenced by his appearance in the Tim Burton film as he’s a bulbous character with malformed hands and long black hair. He’s not nearly as grotesque looking as Danny DeVito’s version of the character, nor does he dwell in a sewer. Instead he’s a rather refined sort of villain. Well-spoken, he also has a taste for expensive avian themed baubles and when the episode begins we find him trying to steal a Faberge egg. His henchman make off with the item and lead Batman to an old factory of some kind where they meet up with their boss.

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You’ve got to hand it to The Penguin, the man knows what he wants.

Unbeknownst to them all, an aspiring detective named Sherman (Matthew Brooks) and his friend Roberta (Denise Marco) noticed a very strange bird flying over their Gotham dwelling. Sherman tracks the bird, despite some neighborhood kids telling him he’s crazy for thinking it’s a vulture, and Roberta tags along. The bird leads them right to the Batman/Penguin confrontation and they get a bird’s eye view (no pun intended) of the encounter from a catwalk. Sherman recognizes The Penguin right away, so we know he’s an established villain in this universe and, much like The Joker, has likely tangled with Batman numerous times before the events of this show. They naturally slip up and everyone is alerted to their presence. Batman tries to help the kids to safety, but gets hit with some poison gas from The Penguin’s umbrella which does a job on him. He stumbles to the Batmobile, and Sherman and Roberta give chase to try and help the caped crusader. Despite being too young to have ever driven a car, the pair manage to fire-up the Batmobile and race to Sherman’s house where they drag the semi-conscious Batman to the basement to sleep off the effects of the gas.

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Every kid’s dream, minus being pursued by The Penguin. Though there are worse villains to be chased by, I suppose.

The Penguin’s vulture soon finds them (it’s rather hard to hide the Batmobile, after all) and eventually The Penguin and his two henchmen (one voiced by the incomparable Rob Paulsen) are at the front door. Sherman, along with Roberta and the two neighborhood kids Frank (Richard Gilliland) and Nick (Adam Carl) do their best to keep The Penguin away from Batman. Sherman is able to figure out that Batman needs some anti-toxin capsules he keeps in the Batmobile, and eventually he’s able to snap out of it and come to their aid, though not before Sherman’s house is a wreck. In an amusing scene, we see his mother’s (Lindsay Crouse) reaction to what happened only for Batman to emerge from the basement which apparently gets her a little flustered. We don’t know if Batman made everything right, but after his brush with greatness Sherman is scene even more determined to become a great detective.

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This episode is mostly harmless fun, but this scene where Batman and Penguin “sword fight” is pretty stupid.

“I’ve Got Batman in My Basement” is just a fun episode of the series. It’s a bit unusual for The Penguin to be introduced in such a comedic fashion, but maybe they wanted to distance him from the scarier take found in Batman Returns. I do like this version of the character, which strikes a nice balance between his comic book persona and that film’s visual style. In The New Batman Adventures he’ll be redesigned to basically resemble the classic version of the character, which also didn’t really bother me. I have no real complaints about this one, other than maybe they could have found a more prominent role for Rob Paulsen, this is just a good episode if you’re not looking for something as serious as many of the other episodes in this series. The script is kind of dumb, and I know the episode has its share of detractors (Bruce Timm included), but I find it hard to be offended by this one. It’s light without betraying the show’s overall tone and most shows need an episode like this every now and then. There are plenty of episodes a lot worse than this one.

Up next, is perhaps the greatest episode ever for a super hero cartoon:  “Heart of Ice.” Unfortunately, you will have to wait a little while for my thoughts on that one as this blog is going all out for Christmas starting on December 1st. The Christmas Spot will be bringing you Christmas cheer advent calendar style through Christmas Day, then return to its regularly scheduled programming. This means the next episode recap for Batman: The Animated Series won’t be arriving until December 29th. Hopefully, the Christmas stuff is enough to tide you over until then. So please return then for more Batman goodness, same Bat-time, same Bat-blog.


Batman: The Animated Series – “It’s Never Too Late”

It's_Never_Too_Late-Title_CardEpisode Number:  12

Original Air Date:  September 10, 1992

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Tom Ruegger

First Appearance(s):  Arnold Stromwell

Fresh off his debut in the two-part “Two-Face,” Rupert Thorne is at it again. Apparently there wasn’t enough dirt provided by Dent to put Thorne behind bars, or he just bought his way out, because he’s looking pretty comfortable in “It’s Never Too Late.” In this episode, we have Thorne playing the role of ultimate villain opposite the slightly less villainous drug dealing crime lord Arnold Stromwell (Eugene Roche). Stromwell is the old dog in the fight and even the media and Commissioner Gordon are predicting he’ll ultimately be overthrown by Thorne in the not too distant future.

Stromwell is naturally rather irritated with everything. And worst of all, his son has gone missing and he suspects Thorne is behind it. Batman is looking on as the war in the streets is apparently escalating between the two. Thorne arranged a meeting between the two syndicates at one of his restaurants and Stromwell agrees to go. Along the way we’re shown a flashback to a young “Arnie” boasting about owning Gotham one day to a kid named Michael. The flashback is in black and white, and a common stylistic choice for this program, and things get a bit harrowing when Arnie gets his leg caught in some train tracks with a train barreling down on him.

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Stromwell and Thorne are locked in a struggle for crime supremacy in Gotham.

In the present, Stromwell gets grabby with Thorne who insists he knows nothing about his kid. He claims to have a code of honor that prevents him from messing with family, how noble of him, but he doesn’t have a code about blowing up his adversary. He ducks into the back to help with the food before bidding Stromwell adieu. Fortunately for old Arnie, Batman is close by and is able to save him from the resulting blast. Prior to this, we saw Batman meeting with a priest to inform him “it’s going down tonight” which distresses the priest. He apparently has some ties to Stromwell.

With Stromwell saved, the episode kind of takes on an It’s A Wonderful Life/A Christmas Carol vibe as Batman shows him what his drugs have done to the city and to his family. He brings him to a hospital, where Stromwell finds his estranged wife (Katherine Helmond) looking over their son who apparently overdosed on something. When Stromwell vows to punish the one who got his son hooked on drugs his ex-wife admonishes him and lets him know in no uncertain terms that he is the one responsible. It would perhaps be an affecting scene if it wasn’t so close to a popular PSA that aired in the 80s and early 90s (“I learned it by watching you, dad!”), which makes the scene feel almost comedic.

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Stromwell does not appear to be very grateful for Batman’s aid.

Batman is able to arrange a meeting between Stromwell and the priest, at the very same tracks from Stromwell’s flashback. We are again taken to that day and see young Stromwell free himself from the tracks, only to jump onto the next set of tracks right into the path of another oncoming train. Michael saved him, but in the process lost his leg. We return to the present to find out that not only is Michael the priest standing before him, but also his younger brother. Thorne tries to take the two out, but Batman works in the shadows to take him and his goons out to allow the brothers to share a moment. They tearfully embrace, and as the police roll in Stromwell informs Gordon he has a statement he’d like to give. Batman looks on with satisfaction before his gaze turns to a church which the pans to, holds, and then we fade to black.

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The Father Michael and Stromwell dichotomy is reminiscent of the classic film Angels with Dirty Faces.

“It’s Never Too Late” is a decent story that unfortunately feels like an anti-drug PSA, and not just because of that one scene that really invokes that impression. This was the early 90s after all, and the War on Drugs was in full swing at this point and it was quite common for family and children’s shows to tackle the subject. Usually those episodes were even more hammy than this one, but even as a kid who sincerely thought drugs were just terrible I still resented these episodes. Did someone really think that Batman telling me drugs are bad is the thing that would keep me clean? Though what I really found distasteful is that last lingering shot on the church which feels like Batman’s silent way of advocating Christianity. At the risk of sounding like a god-hating atheist, it really bugs me whenever a kid’s show promotes organized religion as the cure for a problem. I think there is an artful way to incorporate religious characters into such shows, X-Men did it pretty well with Nightcrawler (excepting that show’s closing scene with Wolverine coming back to God), but do we really need Batman’s endorsement here?

“It’s Never Too Late” is a mostly forgettable episode of Batman. Stromwell doesn’t play a meaningful role in future episodes while Thorne apparently is never brought to justice as he’ll remain a player for years to come. I don’t mind the more grounded stories which offset the outlandish villains that otherwise dominate this program, but this show can do better.

 


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.

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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.

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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.


#5 Best in TV Animation: Batman – The Animated Series

Batman_the_Animated_Series_logoChildren of today can probably hardly imagine a world in which super heroes aren’t dominating the pop culture landscape. We’re in an era where even the Fantastic Four have received three chances at making a successful movie and less popular characters like Antman and Dr. Strange have either become mainstream or soon will. That wasn’t the case before 1990. Prior to that, only Batman and Superman had ever made a buck at the box office while The Incredible Hulk had a semi-successful television series for Marvel. When it came to cartoons, there was basically the many variations on the Super Friends and the Marvel Action Hour. The quality for these cartoons was something less than satisfactory.

When Tim Burton and Michael Keaton helped to make Batman popular once again, the powers that be at DC and Warner Bros. decided to give television another go with the caped crusader. Instead of another colorful super hero mash-up they opted to adapt the more current iteration of Batman. The resulting “Batman” (often subtitled “The Animated Series)” returned Batman to the night from which he was born. Developed chiefly by Eric Radomski, Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, the show embodied much of the recent films as well as the tone of the current comics. Robin was there, but only in a handful of episodes initially and he no longer dressed like Tinker Bell’s older brother. Villains that were popular on the older 60’s television program returned, but with a more serious take. Joining them were the more grounded villains like Roland Dagget and Rupert Thorne, mobsters who waged war from the comfort of their homes. Adding even more of a sense of realism to the program was the fact that the villains (and cops) carried and fired realistic weaponry as opposed to cartoonish laser guns that are always conveniently set to stun.

The pervasive darkness of the show is like a character by itself.

The pervasive darkness of the show is like a character by itself.

The Batman present in the animated series was not the ever-present optimist from the 60’s with the serious, but often cheerful, demeanor. This Batman, voiced exceptionally well by Kevin Conroy, was a moody, no nonsense, hero who truly embodied the term The Dark Knight. He’s driven by a quiet anger, it’s root cause being the murder of his parents he bore witness to as a child. Batman is fiercely driven and consumed by his urge to avenge his parents by cleaning up the streets of Gotham, a seemingly never ending task. His alter-ego Bruce Wayne exists only as a cover for Batman. This Batman has a lot in common with Frank Miller’s, only the delivery isn’t so heavy-handed and extreme. As usual, Batman has allies around him. By his side is his butler, Alfred Pennyworth, who is more of a sidekick in the series as opposed to a moral arbiter. That role falls to Dr. Leslie Tompkins who often counsels Batman away from his life of crime-fighting. Commissioner Gordon heads the Gotham police department and relies on Batman probably more than he should while Detective Bullock is Gordon’s foil and often mistrusts the Batman. Robin is also around with an equally tragic backstory and Batgirl eventually comes into the fold during the second “season.”

Batman has no shortage of allies but he’d be nothing without his rogue’s gallery. The usual suspects are present such as The Joker (voiced by Mark Hamill) and Penguin. They’re presented well, but the show is best remembered for its fresh approach when adapting the lesser villains. Two-Face is introduced slowly as district attorney Harvey Dent before his eventual transformation. His character is handled with care and his sympathetic nature is sort of a calling card for the series. The villain most often cited as coming out of the show for the better is Mr. Freeze. Once a fairly corny player in the comics, the depiction of Freeze in the animated series is that of a vindictive killer. Juxtaposing his cold demeanor is the origins for his madness over his wife’s apparent murder. His debut episode, “Heart of Ice,” is often mentioned among the show’s best. The show doesn’t always rely on its villain of the week (day, actually, since the program aired week days originally) as illustrated in “Beware the Grey Ghost.” In this episode, the show runners have some fun by pairing Batman with an out of work actor typecast for his work as a super hero in an old television show. His voice actor? None other than Adam West.

The rogue's gallery for the show is a clever mix of classics and unknowns, with the unknowns often shining brightest.

The rogue’s gallery for the show is a clever mix of classics and unknowns, with the unknowns often shining brightest.

The artwork in the show is heavily based off of the set designs of Eric Radomski and the character designs of Bruce Timm. If you are not familiar with Timm’s work, it’s a low-detail approach with lots of angular lines. Lots of pointy-chinned females and square-headed males populate the show. His take on the various villains is often influenced by both classic works and the Burton films. Joker and Penguin are obviously takes on Jack Nicholson’s Joker and Danny DeVito’s more monstrous Penguin. Catwoman too resembles her look from Batman Returns but with the S&M aspect toned down. There’s a minimalist approach to the details with lots of flat, muted colors. Backgrounds were even done on black paper, most noticeably the opening title sequence, with light colors painted over them. This technique is credited to Radomski and often referred to as “Dark-Deco.” The show’s biggest contribution to the world of Batman though is easily the character of Harley Quinn, who first originated on television before making the leap to comics.

Whether you like the look of the show or not is a matter of opinion. It certainly needed to grow on me, but I appreciated the style of the show. Like the Burton films, Gotham is a modern city rooted in the stylings of the 30s and 40s. Batman possesses some pretty advanced technology but for some reason also watches a black and white television half the time. The low detail approach for the show’s look is a benefit to the animation itself. Rather than the somewhat stiff X-Men, Batman animates rather smoothly. The later series, The New Batman Adventures, who further reduce the detail to boost the animation but some would suggest they went too far as certain characters came across as too cartoonish.

The show maybe fairly serious in tone, but Batman still has plenty of toys at his disposal. Just no shark repellent this time.

The show maybe fairly serious in tone, but Batman still has plenty of toys at his disposal. Just no shark repellent this time.

Batman The Animated Series is truly one of the great achievements in kid’s programming. Its serious approach to the character of Batman and his many villains really enhanced the product above what is typically expected of children’s programming. The only thing holding it back is the show’s consistency. It was originally ordered as one season of 65 episodes which is a pretty daunting task to come up with 65 well-executed episodes. The show is often one of those programs where the good episodes are really special but there’s a lot of filler to work around. The show becomes more watered-down when the short second season is added to the mix as well as The New Adventures which surfaced years later. That run produced maybe 2 or 3 worthy episodes with the rest being kid stuff, sadly.

Even so, the good produced by Batman The Animated Series is worthy enough to place it at fifth on my top ten list for animated television programs. The show also spawned some feature films, though only one was released theatrically, the fantastic Mask of the Phantasm. When the films jumped the shark with Batman Forever and Batman and Robin, it was the animated series that kept Batman relevant. It’s unlikely another super hero show could ever surpass it.