Tag Archives: superhero cartoons

Batman: The Animated Series – “Mad As A Hatter”

MadasahatterEpisode Number:  27

Original Air Date:  October 12, 1992

Directed by:  Frank Paur

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  The Mad Hatter

 

Our fourth Paul Dini episode contains yet another lesser foe from Batman’s rogues gallery for him to enrich. After elevating Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze (his other episode was a Joker one) Dini is going to try to bring the same touch to The Mad Hatter. As you can probably guess from the villain’s name, he’s a take on the same character from the famous Lewis Carroll novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, which seems like a pretty silly source of inspiration for a villain (and rather lazy, since he even goes by the same name). He sounds like a villain more appropriate for the 1960’s series, and lo and behold he was a part of that, though not a well remembered part. He appeared in a handful of episodes and was played by David Wayne. In that series, he was less a man with a fondness for Lewis Carroll and instead just a guy obsessed with hats, and in particular, Batman’s cowl. He wore his signature top hat which would sprout two eyes and hypnotize people. Really, he might have a bone to pick with Mario’s Cappy. It’s kind of amusing though that he was featured in that series, because his voice actor for this show is a veteran of that program as well:  Roddy McDowall. I don’t know if they ever entertained the notice of hiring Wayne (he may have been retired since his last credits date back to the late 80s, he’d die in 1995 at the age of 81), but McDowall previously played The Book Worm in the 1960’s Batman television show.

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Get a load of this goon.

For Batman:  The Animated Series a more serious take on The Mad Hatter was needed. Just how does one make him a villain with the Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland affinity without making him too silly? Well, for one they make him a scientist researching mind control. Jervis Tetch works for Wayne Corporations as a researcher and has discovered a way to control the minds of laboratory rats, which is depicted at the start of the episode by showing Tetch command the rats to have an adorable little tea party. He has a secretary named Alice (Kimmy Robertson), because of course he does, and he’s pretty smitten with her. The problem is, she has a boyfriend. Also of problem is Tetch’s boss, Marcia Cates (Loretta Swift), who is constantly on his case. She brings Wayne by to get an update on the research Tetch is working on. Wayne refers to his research as being aimed at unlocking the potential of the human mind, leading the viewer to conclude that mind control isn’t exactly what Tetch is being paid to research. He also plays coy and doesn’t reveal the device to Cates or Wayne. While Cates seems like she’d prefer to terminate him, Wayne is far more sympathetic and assures Tetch that he’s a valued employee. When Alice steps out for lunch later and returns in tears after a fight with her boyfriend, Billy (David Haskell), Tetch sees an opening for himself. After monologuing the pros and cons of just simply controlling her, this sudden break-up gives him the confidence tot ry and win her over and use his device and circuit cards to aid him. Outfitting a top hat with his mind control device and dressing lavishly as The Mad Hatter, he treats Alice to a night out. Utilizing the hat and little playing cards outfitted with his tech, he’s able to control the minds of those they encounter and come across as a big shot. Unfortunately for Jervis, after dropping Alice off at her home Billy is there waiting and the two reconcile.

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In spite of his outlandish attire, Tetch is able to make an impression on Alice.

When Jervis shows up for work the next day, still in costume and with a bundle of roses, he hears the “good news.” Not only did Alice and Billy make-up, but he also proposed and Alice is over the moon and totally oblivious to how this will make Jervis feel. Not that she’s responsible for his feelings, she even fails to notice the roses and that Jervis is squeezing them so tightly his hand bleeds on account of the thorns and a single drop lands on the photo of Alice and Billy on her desk. Jervis retreats to the lab where he is now determined to win her love. Emboldened by how well his mind control device had worked the night before, he now feels he can use it to win her over, and as a last resort, he could always just control her as well. He starts by taking control of Billy so he can break up with Alice once more. And when Alice returns home from work to find dozens of flowers in her apartment, Jervis is there to console her. By now she’s a little freaked out, forcing Jervis to utilize his last resort.

Unfortunately for Jervis, Bruce Wayne was in the office earlier that day and noticed Alice’s crying. During their date, Jervis had utilized his mind control cards when the two were mugged to command the would-be muggers to jump in the river. Batman was there to thwart the apparent suicide and also uncover the cards Tetch uses to control the minds of others. Since he’s familiar with his work as a scientist, and the likeness of the cards to the Carroll character depicted in Tetch’s office, he goes to pay Tetch a visit and is intrigued further by the unusual behavior of Alice’s boyfriend. He decided to pay Alice a visit at her home later as Batman, and is there to confront The Mad Hatter who makes off with Alice.

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Probably not the scariest group Batman has had to deal with, but maybe the creepiest.

As an actual foe, The Mad Hatter presents little opposition for Batman, but he’s able to utilize his “powers” to quickly gather a following. This is challenging for Batman since he’s confronted with adversaries, who are apparently made stronger by the mind control, who aren’t actually trying to harm him since they’re being controlled. It’s a moral dilemma, but Batman doesn’t seem to mind too much as he beats the Walrus and the Carpenter unconscious. Of course, The Mad Hatter ends up holed up in a Storybook Land amusement park in the Wonderland section. He orders his mind controlled henchman, which include Billy and Cates, to kill Batman, but all Batman has to do is free one. Since the other henchman are only focused on Batman, freeing Billy means Billy can just walk up and remove the cards from the other possessed individuals which seems like a pretty big hole in The Mad Hatter’s plan. Alice is still under The Mad Hatter’s control, and she’s now in full Alice in Wonderland attire, which is kind of gross because it implies Jervis made her change and who knows what kind of liberties he took. Once Tetch is isolated against only Batman it’s not much of a contest putting at least a temporary end to his plans. He does spout the classic villain line, “You made me do this,” at Batman, which feels kind of forced. I know most of the villains place blame on Batman for their crimes, but Batman really entered this arc kind of late.

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He’s certainly got the “mad” part down.

I will give Dini credit, I don’t hate The Mad Hatter. While he’s kind of a gross sort of character, interested in mind controlling a woman to love him, he’s at least believable and not too over the top with his gimmick. It’s always going to be inherently silly, but he definitely could have been a lot worse. Even still, he’s kind of hard to take seriously because his motivations are rather small making it seem kind of odd that he’d bother to return again as a villain (and he will). This is a tight, simple story and there is at least some degree of sympathy to be found in Jervis Tetch. Most people can understand what it means to lack confidence in dealing with a potential mate, though Tetch goes from sweet to creepy almost too fast basically quashing any sympathy the viewer could have built up. I suppose what I’m trying to get at is that I find this episode good without being sold on The Mad Hatter, which is different from how I felt about Poison Ivy and Mr. Freeze. Though in looking ahead, The Mad Hatter will inexplicably be the main villain of one of my favorite episodes, so perhaps this episode has zero baring on the long-term relevance of The Mad Hatter.

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Batman: The Animated Series – “Fear of Victory”

Fear_of_Victory-Title_CardEpisode Number:  24

Original Air Date:  September 29, 1992

Directed by:  Dick Sebast

Written by:  Samuel Warren Joseph

First Appearance(s):  None

It’s been awhile, but making just his second appearance of the series (and first since episode two) is Robin, coming back to play a fairly large role in this week’s episode “Fear of Victory.” This episode was actually the television debut of Robin, since his first appearance came in the Christmas episode which was held back to air closer to the holiday. As a kid, I remember seeing the preview for this episode which featured Robin and getting all excited about it. I really don’t know why since I’ve always much preferred Batman to Robin, maybe it was just because it was something different? Plus, Robin had yet to appear in anything Batman related in quite some time, outside of the comics, so it had been a long while since I had interacted with The Boy Wonder.

As you can probably guess from the title, our villain for this episode is The Scarecrow. Making also his second appearance, Scarecrow has a re-design that makes him look far more fearsome than how he did in “Nothing to Fear.” His face is more interesting to behold and features a crooked mouth full of oddly shaped teeth. In some respects he reminds me of Clayface, and the animators take some liberties with his mask to make him look more fearsome when they want to. He also now has a mass of straw hair under his hat, further adding to the whole scarecrow thing he has going on. Over all, definitely an improvement over that eggplant shaped head he had going on previously. This episode is also noteworthy since it tries to show us how Batman’s enemies might go about getting money for their nefarious schemes. Scarecrow isn’t trying to exact revenge or take over Gotham or anything crazy, he’s just trying to scam bookies by rigging sporting events using his fear toxin. Since he was fired from his university post, he likely needs some funds to get a good lab up and running to further his experiments, though the lack of which apparently didn’t prevent him from creating what he needed for this episode.

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Robin starts freaking out pretty early in the episode – way to make a good first impression, Boy Blunder.

The episode opens on a sports highlight package that displays various performers collapsing in fear during their respective games. Dick Grayson is watching the program from his dorm when his roommate receives a telegram from a skinny, red-headed courier. I’ve got a pretty good memory, so I know who that guy is immediately (and the title card is a total give-away anyways). The telegram is from “a fan” and cautions Brian, Dick’s roommate and quarterback for the school’s football team, not to take fear lightly. When Robin is out on patrol with Batman he fills him in on the odd telegram, and they wonder if it has any connection to the odd things they’ve been seeing in the sports world, including his own roommate getting freaked out on the field. They fire off the first appearance of the crappy version of the grapple guns, the ones that just end in metal Batman logos and stab into the ledges. When Robin has a panic attack while confronting some goons, it tips off Batman that someone is poisoning the athletes and causing them to experience fear.

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Scarecrow’s new look is appropriate.

Some testing back at the lab confirms Batman’s hypothesis and naturally leads him to suspect The Scarecrow. They pay Arkham Asylum a visit where we get some cameos from the likes of Joker and Poison Ivy. Oddly enough, they’re all depicted in their regular villain attire instead of inmate jumpsuits. Batman arrives just as Dr. Crane’s food is being served and he witnesses an orderly tossing it in the garbage rather than delivering it to the appropriate inmate. Batman decides to check out Scarecrow’s cell, which the orderly really doesn’t want him to do, and he finds there’s a scarecrow there in his place. My guess is the writers/story boarders came up with this first and thus were pigeon-holed into putting the other villains in their regular attire as a result. All so they could have a scarecrow in place of The Scarecrow.

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When Brian hallucinates the animators get to have fun with some face-morphing animation to depict his fear.

Figuring out who is behind everything is obviously elementary. Dr. Crane is shown throughout the episode delivering the telegram and also collecting his winnings and each time he’s in disguise. This isn’t to hide the fact that it’s The Scarecrow from the viewer, but to seemingly hide his redesign which pays off when he scares his bookie’s hired muscle. We get an extreme closeup of his face where liberties are taken to add sharp, piranha like teeth to his mask and really make him look kind of freaky, at least I remember it being that way to me as a kid. And the guy he is scaring in that scene is voiced by Tim Curry, who was supposed to be The Joker before it was decided to go with Mark Hamill. They must have had him record some ancillary characters (Hamill voices the orderly in this episode) that they elected to keep. The real tension, I suppose, of the episode is Robin trying to overcome the fear toxin he was exposed to via his roommate’s telegram. He has a panic attack early that almost costs Batman dearly, and Batman has to kind of keep him at arm’s length for the confrontation with Scarecrow. Batman basically gives him tough love as there’s no cure for the toxin, you just need to power through until its effects ware off.

The Dynamic Duo figures out that Scarecrow is targeting the big Gotham Knights game. In a bit of hack story-telling, Batman and Robin’s “fight” with The Scarecrow is cut in sync with the actions of the football game, including Scarecrow’s vial being dropped cut with a fumble in the game. It’s stupid and the type of thing director’s can’t seem to resist when football pops into an action series (I remember contemporary series Rugrats doing something similar). There’s also a really long pass at one point in the game that’s animated to look more like a punt, making me wonder if the animators had ever seen American football (probably not). Since Scarecrow isn’t much of a physical threat, he’s caught rather easily once his threat to poison the entire arena is rendered toothless by Robin overcoming his fear and collecting the vial. Scarecrow suggests his one vial could have infected the whole stadium, which seems ludicrous. I guess since he was cornered in some scaffolding with no way out he could have just been lying in a desperate bid to escape, Batman seems to buy it though.

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Okay, now I’m scared.

“Fear of Victory” is an okay episode of Batman: The Animated Series. I like The Scarecrow and I like his new look, which he’ll hang onto until The New Batman Adventures. The little side story with Robin is fine and it makes sense since we’ve already seen Batman have to deal with the toxin, so why not Robin? It gives him some credibility since he does overcome it in the end, and since Batman doesn’t just tell him to stay home, it does tell us that Batman must value him as a sidekick. What is never really explained is just what drives Robin to actually accompany Batman on his various outings. Because his roommate got scared playing football? Okay. He’ll just kind of show up for no reason from time to time until season two. I prefer Batman as a solo act, so I’m fine with this arrangement and I’m fine with this episode.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Feat of Clay – Part II”

3366172-feat+of+clay+2Episode Number:  21

Original Air Date:  September 9, 1992

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Marv Wolfman and Michael Reaves

First Appearance(s):  None

Like “Two-Face” before it, “Feat of Clay” gets to benefit in its second act from a strong first act that set everything up. All of the establishing material has been taken care of. When we last saw Matt Hagen he had been mutated into a grotesque mass of clay thanks to Roland Daggett’s men and the Renuyu product. Meanwhile, Bruce Wayne found himself in an unfamiliar position:  arrested for the attempted murder of Lucius Fox.

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Meet Clayface.

“Part II” opens with Wayne making bail and heading into his car without speaking a word to the throng of reporters shouting questions at him. As Alfred drives away, Wayne is able to recount a bit of where he’s at in his investigation into who tried to knock off Fox. He knows it has something to do with Daggett (Ed Asner), that much he was able to get out of one of Daggett’s cronies, but he needs more information or else his case will hit a wall. Daggett is also sweating a bit as Fox is still out there and he knows about Daggett’s attempt at a hostile takeover of Wayne Enterprises and things could get back to him.

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Germs doesn’t want to get his suit dirty.

That’s stuff is all playing second fiddle though to what has happened with former actor turned criminal Matt Hagen (Ron Perlman). We only saw a glimpse of the monster he has become at the conclusion of “Part I,” but “Part II” wastes no time in showing Hagen in all his grotesque glory. Seated in front of a mirror in his trailer, Hagen is a massive clay-like golem with a hint of Slimer from The Real Ghostbusters in his face. He’s resigned to the fact that his career as an actor is over, as well as his life among normal people. His friend and stand-in Teddy (Dick Gautier) is trying to console him though, and the two soon realize that the Renuyu that made him this way still works as intended, meaning Hagen can mold his face to resemble others. And the ability is no longer limited to his face, Hagen can essentially re-shape his entire body to resemble anyone he can imagine, including clothing. For a brief moment, Teddy thinks Hagen can now continue on as an actor, only now better than ever. However, Hagen quickly loses concentration and reverts back to his new monstrous appearance. Frustrated, he explains that changing his form is like tensing a muscle, and maintaining that is just as hard. It’s a fun little nugget of info for the viewer and necessary information if we’re to believe that there’s no going back for Hagen.

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That’s a neat trick.

Daggett’s henchman Germs (Ed Begley Jr.) is sent to finish off Fox in his hospital room, but Batman having no real leads to pursue, is there waiting. Germs bolts, but Batman corners him in some research closet where different diseases are stored. Germs, having gained his nickname because he’s a germaphobe, is pretty freaked out and Batman places a jar of what he calls crimson fever on a shelf above the head of Germs. He interrogates him, and each time Germs doesn’t give him a suitable answer he punches the wall and the jar inches ever closer to the edge of the shelf. Germs reveals that Hagen was the one who impersonated Wayne, and Batman is dubious of Hagen’s ability to pull it off so convincingly. Before he can get anywhere further, a security guard interrupts them and we see the jar over Germ’s head was harmless sewer water.

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Hagen getting creative with his new-found abilities.

The guard though, is there for Germs as well. It’s Hagen, and he immediately attacks Batman by extending his arm into a mass of clay to slam Batman against the ceiling. He makes off with Germs and tries to escape via the rooftop, but Batman is there to meet him. They have a brief exchange, with Hagen getting creative with his shape-shifting abilities. In a scene that was often included in TV spots for the show, Hagen makes little steel tips pop-out of the ends of his fingers. They continue to extend until the clay recedes to reveal a steel hand that he then thrusts forward – the fingers extending like swords. Batman dodges, and eventually Hagen collapses under the stress of all of the shape-shifting. He escapes by diving off of the building and retreat’s to Teddy’s house.

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I guess he does kind of look like poop, but I don’t care, I think Clayface is pretty rad.

Even though Hagen failed to kill Germs, he feels empowered by his battle with the Batman. Teddy tries to talk him out of this path, but Hagen snaps at him, announces he’s to be called Clayface from now on, and leaves Teddy lying on the floor. Daggett is set to appear on a popular Gotham talk show hosted by Summer Gleeson, so we know where Clayface is heading. Batman has also made the same connection, and he’s there to set a trap. When Clayface, disguised as an audience member, confronts Daggett on television about the addictive properties of Renuyu, he reveals himself and forces Batman to spring into action. He’s able to lure Clayface into the control room, where monitors surround Clayface and display different parts Matt Hagen played in his career. Clayface loses control of his shape-shifting powers and a prolonged “death” scene occurs as Hagen smashes monitors and gets himself electrocuted. During the sequence, he even takes on the form of Wayne in full sight of the police which apparently was enough to prove Wayne’s innocence (and maybe Germs ended up cooperating with authorities, but Daggett escapes arrest so who knows?). After that, Batman is back in the bat cave with a piece of clay he recovered from Germs. He’s shocking it and it has no effect suggesting to Batman that the death of Clayface was just another performance. Cut to Teddy bidding farewell to his old friend, and a woman behind him laughs menacingly and her eyes go yellow.

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A bunch of monitors is apparently all you need to take down Clayface.

Clayface is a profoundly fun villain to watch. The animation utilized is possibly the best the show will ever have as Clayface is constantly morphing and changing, particularly in the fight scene with Batman. No shortcuts are utilized in showing how his hands turn into other objects, no puff of smoke or bright glowing lights or something to obscure the animation. He has this nice texture to his look that reminds me of earth clay as opposed to pottery. Ron Perlman’s deep and gravely voice also sounds appropriate coming out of Clayface and it’s hard to imagine another voice for the character. Animating him was probably costly, which might explain why he only appears in one more episode of Batman:  The Animated Series, and then one more in The New Batman Adventures. That’s the only thing that dampens my enthusiasm for the episode, just knowing we won’t see much more of this villain. While he doesn’t fit-in with other villains of the show, those that are mostly grounded in some basis of reality, Clayface is a purely fantastical creature. It does feel a touch out of place, but it’s handled well which makes the whole thing easier to accept at face value.

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When Clayface goes nuts the animators get to have a ton of fun with him, or maybe it was all miserable to animate. Either way, it looks awesome.

In the real world, it will be a year before we see Clayface again. For this blog, it will be less than that since it’s roughly 30 episodes away. It was pretty cool though for Clayface to disappear for some time as the ending of this episode makes you wonder what’s next for Clayface. Is he to become a recluse and hide from society? Can he learn to control his powers well enough to resume his life as Matt Hagen? We’ll find out eventually. Batman: The Animated Series only has a handful of two-parters, and it begs the question:  Which is the best? I know a lot of people love “Robin’s Reckoning” and it’s hard to argue against that one as best of the two-parters. “Two-Face” was great though the second act was a little underwhelming, at times. The others concern Batgirl, Ras Al Ghul, and a wacky computer. They’re actually all pretty good, from what I remember, but I think “Feat of Clay” is easily in the top two with “Robin’s Reckoning.” We’ll see how I feel about that two-parter when I get to it (spoiler alert:  in about 10 weeks).


Batman: The Animated Series – “Feat of Clay – Part I”

Feat_of_Clay-Title_CardEpisode Number:  20

Original Air Date:  September 8, 1992

Directed by:  Dick Sebast

Written by:  Marv Wolfman and Michael Reaves

First Appearance(s):  Roland Daggett, Clayface

I don’t know what happened that caused me to miss the first few broadcast episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, but “Feat of Clay” was the first episode I ever saw. It’s possible that my memory is just fuzzy and I did see the few episodes that aired before it, but my family had also just moved from New Hampshire to Virginia so it was a pretty hectic period for us. Regardless, assuming it was my introduction to the show it’s a pretty great way to have the ice broken. Though “Feat of Clay” is a bit more procedural an episode as opposed to action packed, it’s a well constructed and satisfying viewing experience and I remember being captivated by the show’s tone which just felt so much more “adult” than what I was used to.

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Roland Daggett is a made for TV villain that proves to be a worthy addition to Batman canon.

“Feat of Clay” marks the debut of two characters we’ll see more than once over the course of the series. The first is crooked businessman Roland Daggett (Ed Asner). Rumor has it he was supposed to be Max Shreck from Batman Returns but supposedly Tim Burton wasn’t on board with that for some reason, so Daggett was created instead. He’s a businessman and slumlord who prioritizes money above human life. In this episode, he’s concerned with his chemical plant, Daggett Industries, and a certain client. Matt Hagen (Ron Perlman) is that client, a down on his luck actor once renowned for his ability to alter his appearance and mold himself for any role. Ever since an accident left his face horribly disfigured, he’s found it pretty hard to find work.

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Imposter Bruce wants that brief case.

The episode opens in confusing fashion (for an eight year old) with Bruce Wayne meeting Wayne Enterprises CEO Lucius Fox in the middle of the night at an old warehouse (Gotham is just full of these). Fox is confused, but he brought what Wayne was seeking – a briefcase containing documents which incriminate Daggett in an illegal attempt at taking over Wayne Enterprises. Wayne quickly double-crosses him and a horde of goons appear. They’re ordered to kill Fox, but lucky for him they’re a terrible shot. He’s eventually injured when one assailant is able to shoot out a rope and drop some debris on him. Apparently it’s a lot harder to shoot an adult male than it is a thin rope. Batman is also alerted to the gun fire and he shows up to clean up some of the mess, but he’s not in time to prevent Fox’s injury.

As a viewer, it was hard to believe Wayne would do anything to endanger one of his friends and the presence of Batman confirms this. Eventually we find out Wayne was none other than Matt Hagen in disguise. Hagen has found a topical cream that can cover up his scars, and more importantly, turns his face into a clay-like state which allows him to mold his own features to resemble others (no explanation given for how he alters his voice, that’s just cartoons for ya). The cream, Renuyu (pronounced Renew You), just so happens to be manufactured by Daggett Industries. As we know, Daggett wants to take over Wayne Enterprises, and the encounter with Fox was supposed to result in Fox’s death which would have been the catalyst for the takeover. With Hagen’s failure, Daggett has decided to cut-off Hagen’s supply of cream. He also orders his two primary henchman, Raymond Bell and Germs, to take Hagen out as he’s now a liability.

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Hollywood doesn’t have many roles for mugs like that one.

Unfortunately for Hagen, he needs the cream in order to keep working. It also has proven to be an addictive substance, though weather the cream is chemically addictive or just psychologically given it can erase scars is anyone’s guess and beside the point. Hagen feels like he needs it, and he is not willing to go without it.

Batman is of course trying to figure out what happened to Fox, oblivious at first that Bruce Wayne was framed for the attempted murder. Fox was able to tell the cops what happened, and naturally they want to speak with Bruce. Alfred covers for him while Bruce tries to figure out what happened back at the warehouse. Batman is able to trace Daggett back to Raymond Bell, who was there the night of Wayne’s framing. He tracks him down in the Batwing and runs Bell’s car off the road. In perhaps Batman’s finest interrogation, he uses the prongs on the front of the Batwing to impale and carry Bell’s car high above Gotham. Utilizing a mechanical arm, he extracts Bell from the car and dangles him over Gotham Harbor. He’s only able to find out that Wayne was not present the night of Fox’s attack, but Bell faints before he can fess up to who was behind it. The police show up and Batman is forced to hand over his prisoner. Now knowing that a Wayne imposter was present, he decides, against better judgement I’d say, to visit Fox in the hospital after hours which only makes Fox think he’s returned to finish the job. He’s arrested as a result.

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In order to hide his scars, Hagen is forced to rely on a cream provided by Daggett.

Not to be outdone, Hagen also decides to do some infiltrating and heads to Daggett’s lab. Using the last bit of Renuyu he possesses, Hagen is able to slip in undetected, but not for long. Daggett and his men discover him, and in a rather disturbing scene, Daggett basically drowns Hagen in the stuff by pouring it down his throat. The “murder” is only seen via shadows on the wall, but it’s effective. Hagen survives though, and his stand-in finds him later in his car where Daggett’s men had left him, but Hagen is different. We get just a brief look at him as he glances in the rear-view mirror before the episode ends with that which is oh so frustrating:  To be continued.

“Feat of Clay” is a slow moving episode of Batman, but necessarily so. The pacing allows us to really get inside Matt Hagen and sympathize with him. He’s driven to continue his life as it was before the accident that left him scarred and disfigured at all costs. He’s probably dealing with some depression, and the addictive Renuyu is probably the worst thing for him. His friend and stand-in Teddy is also the stand-in for the audience as he tries to talk Matt out of this path, but to no avail. He loves him too much to just abandon him, but we’re left to wonder if he’ll be pushed too far in the stories to come. Daggett, on the other hand, is a pretty conventional villain. He has no redeeming qualities and is easy to understand. He’s yet another gangster type who gives birth to a super-villain, following in the footsteps of Rupert Thorne and the role he played in creating Two-Face. Still, conventional as he may be, I always liked Daggett as a villain because there’s no compromise in him or an attempt to disguise his intentions. He’s not slimy like Thorne, just a cold, hard villain. Ed Asner is also perfectly cast in the role and my affection for him probably plays a role in my liking of Daggett.

As a result of all of the attention paid on Hagen, this ends up being an episode that’s rather light on Batman. The framing plot is engaging, when used, even if it felt rather similar to Batman Returns. He’ll get back to doing what he does best in Part II, but it is still a some-what shocking sight to see Bruce Wayne in handcuffs.

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The “murder” of Matt Hagen and the birth of Clayface.

Since “Feat of Clay” features some rather prominent voice actors, it’s not surprising this episode feels extra special. It also helps that the episode looks great. Hagen’s face is convincingly disfigured and the morphing properties of the cream he applies are fun to look at. Of course, we’re in for a far greater treat when Clayface truly debuts. The scene of his becoming Clayface though is almost incredible considering it’s taking place in a kid’s show. It was shocking to me as a kid and I watched with some disbelief. Also worth pointing out is the subtle personality quirks we get to see within Daggett’s gang. One guy apparently has a fear of germs (hence the name Germs) and Bell is always wearing headphones tuned to police scanners. It’s a small touch, but so often the hired muscle in these episodes are nameless, faceless, men with guns.

As the introduction for a new villain, and one that wasn’t well known outside of the comics, “Feat of Clay” is probably second only to “Two-Face.” It works in tandem with its follow-up, and I might argue it’s a more satisfying set of episodes than its predecessor. I suppose I’ll wait until I do a write-up on Part II before I make up my mind, but it should go without saying that these two episodes are among the best the show produced.


Batman: The Animated Series – Prophecy of Doom

Prophecy_of_Doom-Title_CardEpisode Number:  19

Original Air Date:  October 6, 1992

Directed by:  Frank Paur

Written by:  Dennis Marks, Seath Catherine Derek

First Appearance(s):  Nostromos, Frank Clark, Lisa Clark

Happy Ground Hog Day, or as I like to call it, Bill Murray Day!

With a show like Batman:  The Animated Series, it can sometimes be tempting to look ahead. The show had so many great episodes and there are certain ones I am eager to revisit. The show also has a tendency to have three or four great episodes all in a row, then a low point, before resetting itself. Today’s episode is one of those low points. “Prophecy of Doom” is another episode that does not feature a prominent villain for Batman to do battle with. This isn’t a death sentence as plenty of episodes are able to tell compelling stories without a popular villain. Last week’s episode, “Beware the Gray Ghost,” is a perfect example of such an episode. Usually these episodes need to entertain in a different manner. One way is they simply create a new villain that proves to be compelling without the name recognition. Other times they just tell a good story or explore the Batman character in a new fashion.

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Ethan is telling Bruce all about his new psychic pal while daughter Lisa looks bored.

“Prophecy of Doom” unfortunately does not really do any of those things. It’s a story about a con artist suckering some of Gotham’s super elite. Nostromos (Michael Des Barres) is a fortune teller of sorts who seems to only see the bad things that are about to happen. He’s able to convince his followers that he does indeed possess special gifts by making sure those misfortunes actually take place. He’s going to sucker some people close to Bruce Wayne, forcing him to “go undercover” in a way as a believer himself in order to find the truth in all of it.

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Now there’s a guy I’d entrust my fortune to.

The episode opens on a casino ship listing in the ocean waters at night. It’s a rare example of Batman’s art looking rather cruddy as the black paper effect just makes the ship look flat. The camera pans throughout the ship’s interior giving us a look at the fun being had before resting on a wad of dynamite in the ship’s bowels that soon detonates. The rescue boats soon fill with screaming patrons and the ship eventually sinks, if anyone actually died we’re not told, but the show also doesn’t go out of its way to tell us no one was hurt which is rare for a children’s program. This whole scenario is a lead-in to a dinner date Bruce Wayne is having with Ethan Clark (William Windom) and his adult daughter Lisa (Heather Locklear). I’m assuming Ethan’s connection to Bruce, being that he’s an older gentleman, is that he was likely a friend to Bruce’s parents and he maintains a friendship with him. Ethan was apparently supposed to be on that casino ship, but he was warned not to board by Nostromos. Lisa is an apparent skeptic, but Ethan believes in Nostromos and encourages Bruce to seek him out. Bruce walks Lisa to her car after the dinner during which she reveals her dad has joined some secret brotherhood and expresses concern for him. She also even makes the observation that she thinks all of Nostromos’s predictions come true because he makes them.

Naturally, Bruce is intrigued and attends one of the demonstrations. He draws attention to himself, in a rather clever piece of story-telling, by acting sort of childishly skeptic of everything. Nostromos takes notice and singles out Bruce to make a prediction that something dire will happen! And sure enough, the very next day Bruce’s private elevator at Wayne Towers malfunctions. The accident is supposed to kill Wayne, but being Batman and all, he escapes and even finds his would-be assassin on the roof. The episode will brush this whole thing aside by simply saying Bruce stepped off the elevator, but I always found it preposterous no one makes the obvious Batman connection as a result.

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Nostromos can really work a crowd.

Anyways, Bruce did get Nostromos’s fingerprints at that meeting and looks him up in his crime lab. Amusingly, the mug shot for Nostromos, real name Carl Fowler, features him in his costume which feels kind of lazy. Or someone thought their audience wouldn’t be smart enough to know it’s the same guy if he looked different, even if Batman is there to tell us. Batman also discovers his partner, Lucas (Aron Kincaid). The two were busted for larceny years back, so all of the pieces are starting to fit. The audience even gets a glimpse of Nostromos and Lucas fretting over Wayne’s non-demise. Wayne bails him out though by having a change of heart. Now feigning that he’s a believer, Wayne is invited to join the brotherhood where he learns of Nostromos’s ultimate plan:  foretell a great economic collapse and get everyone to pool their money into a fund that he will eventually be able to control. He does a grand demonstration which includes the use of a wire to fly to sucker them all in. Lisa gets snoopy though and Lucas kidnaps her, which I suppose I should have seen coming.

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This is more dangerous than it looks.

Nostromos uses Lisa to get Ethan to sign over control of the fund the other “brothers” have invested in. He and Lucas then attempt to kill them off, but Batman has other ideas. The climax looks like it’s going to be a reward, of sorts, for the viewers as Batman schools these chumps, but instead Lucas gives him a fight. It looks awkward and clumsy, but the coloring is flashy as it’s all in black and white to make it look like they’re fighting in a dark room. Lisa is strapped to a ceiling model of what appears to be Mars while other planets revolve around her. Nostromos smashes the machine that controls it which is apparently enough to make the planets come out of alignment and collide with one another. Our only real suspense for the scene is will Batman stop the bad guys and save the girl in time? It’s been done.

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I did enjoy how this fight scene was colored, so the episode isn’t a total loss. Though Batman really didn’t need to sell for this chump.

You know how it ends so I’ll spare you the details. This episode is not only a bit on the boring side, but it also doesn’t look great. There’s an animation spot where Batman walks to the Batmobile and he looks real awkward and unnatural. The additional characters added also look cheap and drab with Lucas especially seeming incapable of making a facial expression. The few times a character tries to make a joke it falls flat. There is one neat bit of violence where Batman throws a bat-a-rang at Lucas and it lodges in the back of his knee. I don’t think we’ll see anything similar in another episode. That’s part of Batman’s first encounter with him following the failed elevator spot and it’s just not at all believable that he could escape Batman, especially after the knee injury (which is apparently fine by the time the two tangle again). Perhaps an inordinate amount of the budget of this episode was spent securing Heather Locklear for the role of Lisa, a character that you think Bruce might have some romantic interest in, but is ultimately shelved following this episode. “Prophecy of Doom” is just a dud, not unwatchable, but not an episode you’re likely to return to after seeing it once. Next week’s though? One of the best – see you then!


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.


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.