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Batman: The Animated Series – “Trial”

btas trialEpisode Number:  68

Original Air Date:  May 16, 1994

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Paul Dini and Bruce Timm

First Appearance(s):  None

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

janet trial

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

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

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

captured batman

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

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

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

trial jury

Batman’s jury hardly seems fair and impartial.

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

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

harleys tampering

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

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

van dorn and judge joker

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

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

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

batman electric chair

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

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

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

preacher joker

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

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

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

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Batman: The Animated Series – “The Worry Men”

the worry menEpisode Number:  65

Original Air Date:  September 16, 1993

Directed by:  Frank Paur

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  None

Well, it’s taken awhile, but we’ve finally arrived at the final episode of season one. The 65 episode order was initially meant to be it, but the show was such a hit that Fox ordered another 20. It terms of air date, this episode is part of season two, but I suppose it doesn’t matter. Since the order for another 20 came during production on season one, it makes me think this was never intended as a potential series finale. It stars a returning villain, who is also one of the lesser villains of the show, and is really a very stand-alone type of episode. Not a bad one or anything, just not what one would expect of a finale.

The episode opens at a social gathering. The host is Veronica Vreeland (Marilu Henner) and she has just returned from a trip to the rain forest. And just in case she didn’t get a chance to tell anyone, she is making sure people know via her attire. Bruce Wayne is in attendance and he’s hanging by the bar with a new face, Hayden Sloan (LeVar Burton), a stock broker who is a bit worried about the current economic climate. As he voices his concerns to Bruce, Veronica approaches to inform the pair that she has a way to get rid of those troublesome worries – little dolls. Sloan is understandably dismissive, but Veronica insists she bought them from a native while on her trip and swears by them. She’s even giving them out as party favors. Above, a man decked out in Mayan attire is snooping on the proceedings down below, and Bruce apparently takes notice and excuses himself.

veronica safari

Veronica Vreeland is back to do what she does best – throw parties!

The man continues to spy on the party-goers, until Batman surprises him. He says nothing as Batman questions what he’s doing and responds by throwing a bladed device in Batman’s direction. He has no problem avoiding the projectile and has a little retort ready for him to show he is not impressed. They do a little dance, and the Mayan Shaman eventually connects with a ball that at first misses Batman, but then bounces around to hit him from behind. I don’t know what it’s made of, but apparently it’s enough to at least knock Batman down allowing the fellow to make his escape.

At home, Bruce tells Alfred about his interesting evening. When he questions what a man dressed as a Mayan Shaman would be doing spying on a social gathering, Alfred asks if this is some question being posed by The Riddler. Bruce shares all of the info he can, while Alfred finds one of Veronica’s little dolls in his jacket and asks what it is. Bruce explains how it’s supposed to take away your worries, and Alfred is about as dismissive as Bruce regarding it, but just for fun he puts it under Bruce’s pillow.

bruce worry man

Bruce with one of Veronica’s worry men dolls.

The next morning, Bruce strolls into work in a sunny disposition while his secretary, Dana (Vernee Watson-Johnson), expresses some concern over the phone to someone. She has a briefcase for Mr. Wayne, but seems reluctant to give it to him. He takes it though and heads into his office. There he opens it to find it’s full of cash, smiles, and then places it outside his window on a ledge. He then sits down at his desk to flip through some mail when Dana comes in to once more express concern about him carrying around so much money. Bruce has no idea what she’s talking about, and she goes on to explain that he called her from his car and told her to withdraw 20 million dollars and put it all in a briefcase. Bruce is still confused until the man in the Mayan attire appears, snatches the briefcase, and takes off.

In the Batcave, Batman watches the news as Sloan is arrested for embezzlement. He, along with a few others from Veronica’s party, are in hot water over disappearing funds. Bruce is on the list as well, though apparently his loss of money hasn’t resulted in arrest, yet. Noting the connection, Batman decides to seek out Veronica and finds her on a small cruise ship with a large briefcase of her own. He surprises her and offers to help her with her luggage. Veronica is surprised and a bit unnerved in the presence of Batman, but she doesn’t resist. Batman opens the case to find her jewelry, and she’s just as surprised as he is. Then, three men dressed like jaguars board the ship. Batman is able to fend them off, and failing to get the suitcase, they choose to flee. Veronica is confused and angry and decides to take her frustrations out on her little worry men dolls she has pinned in her hair. Batman stops her from tossing them overboard, and instead questions her about them. She tells Batman how she bought them from an english man in the rain forest, and Batman removes the backing on one to find a microchip.

At the Batcave, Batman analyzes the little worry men pulled from Veronica’s hair and determines that the device inside them is intended to hypnotize people when they’re most susceptible to hypnosis – during their sleep. Alfred apologizes for his role in getting Bruce to lose 20 million bucks, but Batman seems unconcerned. He knows there is only one man who could pull off this scheme – The Mad Hatter.

mat hatter grin

Our true villain revealed!

At an old, defunct, costume shop, The Mad Hatter sits with his ill-gotten goods. He’s pretty jolly, until his men return empty-handed. They tell him what happened, and Mad Hatter even notices that Batman was able to tear away a piece of one of their masks which will undoubtedly lead him to their lair. He gets rather angry, but then cheers up remarkably quick. He’ll be ready for Batman.

mad hatter chews

They should just be happy he didn’t make them put on Alice in Wonderland costumes.

And just as The Mad Hatter predicted, Batman does trace the garment to the old shop. It’s a shop that Batman says has been closed for years, but costumes for recent rogues appear inside including Clayface and Riddler. No matter. Batman enters and confronts The Mad Hatter and soon finds himself being attacked by mannequins of some of his more famous foes. There’s a Penguin-like toy that tries to stab him, a rolling Riddler with a machine-gun, a Harley Quinn marionette, and a giant Joker Jack-In-The-Box with a pretty big knife. The three jaguar men are there as well, and they’re able to over-power Batman allowing for The Mad Hatter to explain his scheme like all villains should. He tells Batman how he was released from Arkham, and determined to start a new life free of crime, he needed money. He used what little he had on this scheme, and he brain-washed the native he met down there to help him (that’s the guy in the Mayan costume). The other three are just gutter-trash, per The Mad Hatter, and with that all out of the way he now wants Batman’s cowl as a parting gift, except Batman won’t let him just take it.

batman stuck

That looks dangerous.

After being booted away by Batman, The Mad Hatter orders his men to put Batman in a nearby guillotine. As the blade falls, Batman uses his legs to stop it and is left in a very uncomfortable and quite precarious position. As The Mad Hatter pushes down on the blade, Batman pulls out some sonic device that, when activated, seems to break the hypnotic spell the other men were under. The jaguar guys, having apparently heard what Mad Hatter called them, attack him. They’re about to do some real damage when the shaman stops them, insisting the police should take care of him. The Mad Hatter thanks his former slave, and then pulls a gun on him that he had been hiding in his rather large hat.

The commotion between The Mad Hatter and his former henchmen provided enough of an opportunity for Batman to escape. It would have been nice to see how he got out of that mess, but maybe it’s also better we didn’t see since that was quite a pickle. The Mad Hatter ventures into the darkness of the storage room to find him, and a Batman mannequin gets sent at him as a decoy, allowing for the real Batman to take him down from behind.

At Wayne Manor, Bruce explains to Alfred what happened after. The man The Mad Hatter encountered and brainwashed in the rain forest was allowed to head home, and apparently Wayne is paying for the tickets. Before he left he gave The Mad Hatter a parting gift, and we’re taken to Arkham to see what it is. As The Mad Hatter tosses and turns in his bed, his pillow is disturbed to reveal a little Batman worry man.

batman worry man

The Shaman’s parting gift for The Mad Hatter.

“The Worry Men” starts off on shaky ground. A rich person being taken advantage of has been done before on this show. At least this time they brought in Miss Vreeland, who is a bit annoying, but also interesting. She represents what Bruce would be if he didn’t care about his family’s legacy and since she at least means well in this episode she’s less a villain than she was in “Birds of a Feather.” I remain surprised at how often The Mad Hatter appeared in season one. He’s not one of my favorites, but Roddy McDowall is so good in the role that it’s hard for me to dislike him. He is a villain with no redemption, which makes it easy to bring him back again and again. That said, this is actually his final appearance as the featured villain of an episode until The New Batman Adventures. He’ll appear in season two with most of the other villains in “Trial,” but otherwise is reduced to cameos.

I will say, this episode does look pretty great. Dong Yang continues to improve upon its prior work and I’m excited to revisit their season two episodes to see if this level of quality carries over. Batman looks especially dramatic in his rooftop battle with the Mayan Shaman, and there are a lot of new characters in this episode and none look short-changed. The lighting in the final act is great, and this one received quite a nice boost from the recent HD transfer.

That puts a wrap on season one. We’ve done 65 weeks of Batman, with still 44 to go so it’s not as if we’re nearing the end. It feels like quite a milestone though, and I’d regret not pausing to mention it. That means that there will still be a lot of Batman in 2019, but also that this feature will end in 2019 as well. This has been fun for me though and I look forward to getting into season two, even though I’ve seen those episodes multiple times as well. I definitely feel less familiar with them though than I do with season one, and we have some good ones still to come so I will see you back here next week for our first episode of season two:  “Sideshow.”


Batman: The Animated Series – “Perchance to Dream”

Batman_perchance_to_dreamEpisode Number:  30

Original Air Date:  October 19, 1992

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Laren Bright, Michael Reaves, and Joe R. Lansdale

First Appearance(s):  Martha Wayne

“Perchance to Dream” is one of my favorite episodes of Batman:  The Animated Series, and in looking around the internet, I’m apparently not alone in my enjoyment of it. It’s a story that originated in part from Detective Comics #633 and it’s a story that’s basically been retold several times over, just in a different fashion. When drilled down to its core, it’s simply a story of what-if Bruce Wayne gave up being Batman or never became Batman to begin with. The way it’s presented in this episode is fun and clever, and for a young adolescent mind, it was delightfully confusing even if everything about the episode’s resolution is telegraphed basically from the start. Because the episode does revolve around a mystery, I’ll just say you should watch it before reading this. It’s fun and not something I want to spoil for anyone, but there’s some really obvious clues too so it’s no Rosebud.

The episode opens, as many do, with Batman pursuing some criminals in the Batmobile. They flee into a warehouse and Batman gives chase, but he stumbles into a trap. We get a quick cut of Batman looking up at something descending from the ceiling onto him and then a jump-cut to Bruce Wayne waking up in a cold sweat. Alfred is there to open his curtains and get him up and also inquire about the alarmed state Bruce awoke in. He brushes it off as a bad dream and gets on with his day. When he goes to open the entrance to the Batcave he finds it’s not there. When he asks Alfred about it he’s confused and thinks Bruce is playing a joke. This just annoys Bruce and he seems about to get angry until his dad enters the room.

PtD_04_-_Thomas_and_Martha_Wayne

We’ve seen and heard from Thomas Wayne before, but this is the first time Martha gets to speak (well, sort of).

Bruce is shocked to find his parents, Thomas (Kevin Conroy) and Martha (voiced by Adrienne Barbeau, the first time the character spoke) are alive and well and enjoying retirement. He doesn’t understand how this could be, and his parents are concerned. He soon finds out that he’s also engaged to be married – to Selina Kyle of all people. Bruce seeks out Leslie Thompkins for some guidance and she’s no help in sorting out what’s going on, but she is able to steer him towards being happy and accepting of his current life. Things get really weird though when he and Selina have a run-in with Batman. Batman apparently showed up in Gotham recently and he behaves just like how we would expect Batman to.

PtD_07_-_Bruce_and_Selina

You woke up engaged to the woman of your dreams Bruce, just go with it!

Bruce is left to assume that his life as Batman was nothing more than a dream. A very detailed dream. He’s resigned to accept this as his life is pretty great. After all, he’s still fabulously wealthy, has two living parents, and is engaged to a fine looking lady (we know from “The Cat and the Claw” that Selina is very much what Bruce finds attractive) who isn’t a cat burglar. Everything is fine until he opens up a book and finds it’s full of gibberish. He soon realizes all writing is just a nonsense collection of letters. He starts to get enraged and his parents are once again concerned about his well-being. He resolves that Batman is the key to what’s going on and he storms off to confront the caped crusader.

Can't_read

Looks like a worthwhile read.

Wanting to get Batman’s attention, Bruce sets his sights on an enormous clock tower in Gotham Cemetery. To make things a bit more challenging, the Waynes called the police about their son, and when Bruce runs from the cops they decide they need to give chase. He never expressly states his plan, but by climbing to the top of the clock tower it’s implied that Bruce wants to make Batman think he’s contemplating suicide. Sure enough, Batman does show up and the two are forced to confront each other. Meanwhile, a storm rages in the background and the setting for Bruce Wayne vs Batman takes on a sullen feeling as opposed to an exciting one. Bruce then brings us all up to speed about what he’s realized. The garbled text indicated to him that he’s living in a dream world, since dreams and the ability to read are located on different hemispheres of the human brain (this is the part where everyone watching begins to wonder if they’ve ever read in a dream). Batman is indifferent to Bruce’s claims and the two tangle, but Bruce is able to wrestle the mask off of Batman to reveal the face below – The Mad Hatter!

Wayne_and_Batman_fight

Not something you see everyday.

The Mad Hatter explains that he’s not really the Mad Hatter, just an aspect of him in Bruce’s mind. He’s not really there, and thus not privy to the details of what’s going on in Bruce’s head (in other words, he doesn’t know Bruce is really Batman). He’s placed Batman, in the real world, into his dream machine. The goal is to keep Batman happy and comatose so he’s free to do whatever it is he wants to do – which we really have no idea what that is since the last time we saw him he just wanted the affections of his assistant. Satisfied that The Mad Hatter has no knowledge of what’s really transpiring inside Batman’s head, Bruce jumps from the bell tower as the police storm in with horrified expressions on their faces. The suicidal act jolts Batman back to consciousness and we see him hooked up to some Dr. Frankenstein kind of machine. Mad Hatter is beside himself with frustration and is incensed that Batman would pull himself from an idyllic world just to foil his plans. He’s The Mad Hatter, so there’s little resistance he can put up once Batman is free and the cops show up to take him away. When Gordon asks Batman just what the machine does he replies with, “It’s the stuff that dreams are made of.” How poetic.

hqdefault-35

I love the lighting all through-out this sequence.

“Perchance to Dream” is largely fun because of the what-if question it poses. Like most of the episodes of this show, you can pick it apart incessantly in a bid to ruin it. Why didn’t The Mad Hatter unmask Batman once he had him restrained? Why not just kill him? He seemed to try and kill Batman in their last encounter so it doesn’t seem like he’s averse to murder. I suppose it is different to try and kill someone in the act of fighting them as opposed to killing a sleeping enemy. Basically, he had Batman beat and blew it. Also, the whole way the dream world unravels with the writing thing doesn’t really hold up in the real world. It’s the type of fact you might read about and form your own conclusions, it certainly sounds clever. If you’re actually dreaming you can certainly read things because it’s just your subconscious telling you what it is you’re seeing. I think what the writers were trying to get at is that the dream world inhabited by Bruce is partly created by his subconscious, but also partly created by the device he’s strapped into. If he were to pick up a random book that was put there by The Mad Hatter’s invention then Bruce’s subconscious wouldn’t be able to have a frame of reference to fill the book with words. It also would explain how Bruce would need to open a book or newspaper to realize this, as his subconscious could easily fill in the blank spot on a McDonald’s sign or something because it’s a familiar sight (though there is a background clue during the episode that features a jumbled sign briefly so maybe I’m putting more thought into this than the writers did).

There is a quiet tragedy to this episode as well. As a viewer, part of me wants to see Bruce give into The Mad Hatter and just be happy. Batman is cool and all, but what kind of life is that really? We know Bruce was very much taken by Selina in her prior appearance and I think most viewers root for the Bruce/Selina pairing. Obviously, it’s not to be. As a vehicle for The Mad Hatter, this plot is satisfying since it draws on his mind control device, though this is another example of villains just existing outside of Arkham with no explanation of how they got there. The Mad Hatter will not be a frequently relied upon villain, which I’m okay with since he’s kind of lame, and this is easily his best appearance of the series. I did find it funny that they use The Mad Hatter’s theme over the title card, something I didn’t notice in previous viewings, which blatantly gives away the villain of the episode. On television, The Mad Hatter’s first two appearances were only separated by a week so the theme was still fresh in the minds of viewers. The mystery isn’t what makes the episode a success though, so I suppose it doesn’t matter. You could replace him with basically any villain and the episode would still be fun. The episode worked so well that I have to believe it at least partly inspired the much later episode of The New Batman Adventures “Over the Edge,” which is often considered the best of that batch of episodes. It’ll be awhile before I get to that one.


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.