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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 – “Shadow of the Bat – Part II”

Shadow-Of-The-Bat-2Episode Number:  58

Original Air Date:  September 14, 1993

Directed by:  Frank Paur

Written by:  Brynne Stephens

First Appearance(s):  None

 

Last episode, the Batman-viewing audience was introduced to a new crime fighter:  Batgirl. I think most viewers saw this one coming from a mile away, but it’s always exciting when a new character is officially introduced. In trying to remember this show as a kid, I do wonder if there was Batgirl artwork and promotional material ahead of her debut. Usually action figure companies have a way of spoiling things like this so it wouldn’t surprise me if Batgirl’s arrival was well-telegraphed. They even saved it for the September period when a lot of new programming is unveiled. Then again, Batgirl didn’t have a great reputation in 1993 since the audience mostly knew her from the 1960s show which DC was trying to distance itself from as much as possible. In the comics, she had already been paralyzed by Joker in the famous Alan Moore story “The Killing Joke” so her star had faded. Still, this was a nice way to bring her back into the spotlight and after seeing what motivated her to dawn the cape and cowl we now get to see how she is at this crime-fighting stuff, while also tackling a number of other loose ends.

robin and alfred

With Batman off playing dress-up, it’s up to Robin and Alfred to figure out their next move.

The episode opens with Batgirl (Melissa Gilbert) staking out the home of Gil Mason (Tim Matheson). Robin (Loren Lester) drops in on her, and not knowing who is behind her, she takes a swing at him. He drops her with a leg sweep and pounces on her rather suggestively and it’s obvious we’re going to be playing some games with Robin and Batgirl. The two are a little combative with each other, but they turn their attention to Mason when he takes a call on his patio. Robin is able to fire a similar device to what Batman used in the previous episode to communicate with Gordon onto Mason’s patio. He’s able to eavesdrop on Mason’s call this way, and shuts Batgirl out. She produces a pair of ordinary binoculars and eavesdrops the more traditional way. Lucky for Robin, Mason repeats aloud the address he’s supposed to head to, and lucky for Batgirl he also writes it down where she can see it. More playful banter ensues as Robin basically tells her to go home, not realizing she was able to spy the address. She, to his surprise, agrees while using a mock child’s voice that is just dripping with sarcasm. Robin doesn’t pick up on it, while Batgirl notes that he’s not the brightest bulb.

robin whoa

Easy there, Boy Wonder!

The two crime fighters head for an old subway station that has seen better days. Batgirl is shown to be a little clumsy as she traverses Gotham, but it’s understandable since she’s new at this. She arrives and finds Robin is already there. While he stealthily takes out some lookouts, Batgirl slips in and finds Mason with a group of men. It’s Two-Face (Richard Moll) and his goons and they want Mason to have a look at our buddy Matches Malone. It would seem Two-Face was only half-genuine in his death threat to Malone as he’s still alive. Mason doesn’t recognize him, and he’s pretty irritated about being dragged down to have a look considering it would seem this Batgirl is onto him. Two-Face lets him know he has nothing to fear, as he’s moving up the timeline and going for Gordon. As Batgirl sneaks in for a closer look, one of the guys Robin tied up is able to trip her and she stumbles into the Boy Wonder. This rouses the gang before Two-Face can finish revealing their full plan, and Malone shouts out a warning to Robin as they open fire.

shadow batgirl

She may be new to this, but Batgirl already knows how to cast an imposing image.

As Batgirl and Robin try to avoid getting lit up, Malone rolls onto the subway tracks and underneath the platform. Two-Face, having heard the warning to Robin, correctly guesses that Malone is actually Batman in disguise and unloads his tommy gun on the shadows. Mason implores him to run, and Two-Face apparently agrees as they take off and head for the surface. Mason is understandably worried about Batman uncovering their scheme, but Two-Face is less concerned as he orders his man to bomb the place. Mad Dog, the rat-faced guy from before, deposits a pair of grenades down the stairs which seals off the exit. Not wanting to leave anything to chance, Two-Face also activates some additional explosives with a remote device in his possession.

embarrassed batgirl

Batman pulling a power move.

Underground, Batman and Robin are in no mood to deal with Batgirl. She’s happy to see Robin produce Batman’s costume, as he curtly asks her “Do you mind?” as he begins to get changed. Following that, he basically gives her the tough love speech and orders her to stay out of their way. Batgirl is understandably hurt, but considering she did foul things up she doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on. As Robin and Batman search the tunnels for a way out, a noise Robin initially mistakes for a train turns out to be rushing water. The tunnel quickly fills and Batman is able to jump back onto the platform while Robin gets swept away. A well placed lasso from Batgirl finds its mark, and she and Batman are able to pull Robin to safety, thereby at least partially redeeming her in the process.

batgirl lectured

Batman’s first instinct is to treat Batgirl like a child. It’s what he does.

They’re not out of the woods yet though, as the water quickly overtakes everything and pushes them into a new cavern. Batman affixes some plastic explosive to his grapple gun and blasts a hole in the tunnel’s roof. Robin whips out his gun and is able to grapple onto the street above. They send Batgirl up first with instructions on how to send the receiver back down to them. She does as she’s told, but before Batman or Robin can escape the water comes rushing in leaving Batgirl with nothing but the grapple gun in her possession.

flood

That’s going to be a problem.

Back at police headquarters, Jim Gordon is stewing in his cell complaining about the food while Bullock awkwardly devours a particularly gooey slice of pizza from the other side of the bars. As the two discuss the merits of prison food, a bundle of dynamite appears on Gordon’s windowsill. The two try to duck for cover as the bomb goes off. Two hooded men enter Gordon’s cell and grab him, saying aloud that “Rupert Thorne never forgets who his friends are,” to cover their tracks. Bullock is left to watch helplessly from the hall demanding someone get some keys down there. It also falls to Bullock to deal with the media in the aftermath, a task he’s not well-suited for. As he angrily storms into the jail a cop is handling the phones. He can’t understand what the woman on the other end is saying, suspecting the phone lines have been damaged, but tells her if she wants the story on Gordon’s escape to come down to HQ. On the other end, it’s Batgirl who’s horrified to find out that Two-Face has Gordon.

In the subway, Batman and Robin take shelter in an old subway car as they try to find a way out. Batman decides to disengage the breaks on the old car and let the water take them wherever it wishes. This proves to be a sound plan as it smashes through the wall leading them to relative safety. As the subway car dangles from the newly created hole, Batman is forced to use a handle from the car as makeshift grappling hook since both he and Robin are without their grapple guns. It’s enough to get them to ground level and the two head for the wharf assuming Two-Face has already abducted Gordon.

gil mason set to kill

Gil has some evil intentions.

Batgirl gets there first and finds Mason, Two-Face, and his men have Gordon in their possession. Mason is preparing to execute Gordon, but first he has to lay it on thick and even mentions making sure Barbara is taken care of. Proving she’s a quick study, Batgirl tosses a couple of Batarangs Robin had given her to disarm some of the men. She then tosses some tear gas their way and is able to extricate Gordon. “Batgirl, I presume,” he says as they duck for cover under heavy fire. As the bad guys bare down, Batman and Robin swoop in to offer their assistance. Robin even slips in a playful “Miss me?” upon seeing she and Gordon. As they deal with Two-Face, Mason is able to slip away via a motorboat and Batgirl gives chase. As for Two-Face, he heads for a marina dubbed the Silver Dollar which has a gigantic version of his coin on the facade. Batman is able to knock it down and on top of Two-Face to incapacitate him, his face almost cartoonishly squashes as it lands on him.

Left alone to deal with Mason, Batgirl pulls herself into the speeding boat as Mason takes aim. His shot misses, but does hit the fuel tank causing a fire to break out. Batgirl climbs aboard and kicks Mason’s gun away. The two wrestle and Mason is able to yank her mask off and is shocked to find the face of Barbara Gordon beneath it. He backs off slightly, allowing Barbara an opening to take him out. She jumps off the boat with Mason’s unconscious body as it smashes into Gotham’s version of the Statue of Liberty.

Batman_vs_Two-Face

Batman and Two-Face are left to duel, I just wish the 60s theme played during this scene.

The scene shifts to a press conference outside Gotham PD HQ the next day. Summer Gleeson (Mari Devon) is there to ask Gordon how it feels to be a free man, while he notes that Mason is in a coma, but has been indicted for his crimes. Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson are on the steps behind Gordon for some reason, along with Barbara. Gleeson asks Gordon what he thinks of the mysterious Batgirl and he says she’s as welcomed in Gotham as Batman and Robin. Dick asks Bruce a similar question about if he thinks they’ll see her again. He seems to look Barbara’s way as he playfully says there’s always room for one more and suggests they’ll probably see her again. This prompts Barbara to not so coyly say “I wouldn’t be at all surprised.”

batgirl vs gil

Batgirl doesn’t need a gun, a well-placed kick will do.

“Shadow of the Bat” is a wrap and it’s a satisfying way to conclude the story begun in Part I. An obviously new to crime-fighting Batgirl demonstrates some growing pains, but also gets to play a role in taking Mason down and exonerating her father. Batman and Robin are understandably hostile towards the presence of a rookie in their midst, especially when she messes things up for them and nearly gets them killed, but they certainly come around rather quickly. Robin is also quite playful throughout and it seems they’re teasing a potential romance for he and Batgirl. They are college students, after all. I also like the ambiguous end. While the setup of all three being in the same place is a bit odd (why would Gordon invite Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson to the press conference?), it’s understandably necessary to send the message it wants which is to basically let the audience know that Bruce and Dick aren’t so stupid as to not know who Batgirl is. Well, at least Bruce might not be as we’ll find out later that Dick is still in the dark (Batgirl did note he’s not too bright). What it doesn’t address is if Jim Gordon is in the dark or not. It’s hard to believe a simple mask would cause him to not recognize his own daughter, but perhaps it’s even harder to believe he would publicly give his blessing for Batgirl to operate in Gotham essentially putting his daughter in harm’s way. That’s all stuff for future episodes to deal with, though.

Dong Yang handled the animated for Part II, which is surprising because it’s very uniform with Part I. There’s even a shadowy Batgirl shot that looks similar to one from the first part. Had I not looked at the credits I would have assumed the same animation house did both episodes. It looks quite good though, and I like that Batgirl is differentiated from Batman even further by having a lighter shade of blue for her costume. And I don’t know if it was a deliberate choice, but I also like that Batgirl got ahold of a grapple gun so she should be able to freely use the handy gadget when she reappears eventually. And she will reappear. They also conveniently put Mason into a coma, so for now, Barbara’s identity is safe. His condition will never be followed-up, maybe he has memory loss or something.

batgirl unmasked

Mason makes an important discovery during his scuffle with Batgirl, but it has no repercussions so apparently it wasn’t very important.

As far as this being a vehicle for Two-Face, I suppose that’s the only spot where it comes up short. They must have wanted a marquee villain for Batgirl’s debut, and Two-Face does fit the bill. It also allowed them to use the Thorne red-herring, and it further makes sense that Two-Face would want to frame him. I suppose they could have just used Thorne, or really anyone, but it does add a little spice to go with one of the show’s standout villains. Unfortunately, his character just doesn’t have any growth and he’s even dispatched rather easily.

Even though I very much enjoyed these two episodes, I still maintain that my preference is for Batman to remain a solo act. As such, it does not disappoint me at all that this is Batgirl’s only appearance in season one. She will return for one episode in season two, but that’s all as far as the original series goes. She, like Robin, will be more of a featured player in The New Batman Adventures, but it may have disappointed some when she didn’t immediately become a more common sight. At least in the case of Batgirl, she brings quality over quantity.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Shadow of the Bat – Part I”

Shadow_of_the_Bat_Part_IEpisode Number:  57

Original Air Date:  September 13, 1993

Directed by:  Frank Paur

Written by:  Brynne Stephens

First Appearance(s):  Batgirl, Gil Mason

 

This show has really been killing it of late and today’s episode is no different. After introducing Barbara Gordon back in “Heart of Steel” we’ve now arrived at the moment we all knew was coming. At least, those of us who were even remotely familiar with Batman lore. Barbara has an important role to play, and “Shadow of the Bat” is where she starts to take on that role. Like many two-parters that are introducing a character, it’s in Part II where we’ll really see Gotham’s new heroine in action. This episode also marks the return of Two-Face as a proper villain. After his debut, he’s largely been a secondary character showing up only in ensemble episodes alongside other villains. His introductory episodes were almost too good in terms of portraying him as a sympathetic villain, so the writers found it hard to utilize him as just another villain going forward. His episodes need a bit more weight behind them, and these next two episodes at least do a good job of referencing his first appearance, even though he’s still largely portrayed as just another adversary. And if you’re following along with the DVD release of the show (or soon to be released Blu Ray), then this is also a noteworthy episode since it’s the first one of the Volume 3 set. Two volumes down, two to go.

gotham pd

Gordon and Gotham’s finest are on the scene to start this one.

The episode opens on some dark warehouse where a couple of crooks are up to no good. They’re not too happy about the working conditions, but their boss Rupert Thorne (John Vernon) pops in unannounced to give them a good jolt. Soon the cops show up and surround the place. Thorne declares he can’t be seen there and heads for the roof while his two lackeys create a diversion. The police unveil a sleek new battering ram of an armored truck that plows into the warehouse and there’s not much the two can do with that. They’re apprehended rather quickly, but Thorne was able to ascend a ladder and to the roof. The problem for him though, is that’s exactly where bats like to roam and he soon encounters the Dark Knight. Thorne demonstrates how terrible a shot he is when he misses Batman at what could be considered point-blank range. The police, Gordon, Montoya, Bullock and a new face named Gil Mason (Tim Matheson), arrive on the roof. Gordon makes it a point to offer a word of caution to this new guy, Mason, who starts ordering Thorne to show himself. A sarcastic quip from the darkness confirms what we already suspected – Batman has subdued the crime boss and left him strung-up.

gil mason

Meet Gil Mason, Gotham’s new hot-shot deputy commissioner.

At Wayne Manor, Bruce is watching the coverage of Thorne’s capture. A lot of the credit is given to Gotham’s new deputy commissioner, Gil Mason, who issues a warning to all of the other scum in Gotham. Alfred delivers Bruce a tall, frosty, glass of milk (he’s a role model, kids), but notices Bruce doesn’t seem to be delighting in the coverage like he should. Credit is also given to a shadow informant, and Bruce would love to know who that is.

Gordon_arrested

Gordon? Arrested?! What is this, Bizarro World?

At the Gordon household, we see young Barbara practicing her gymnastics routine. She’s quite adept on the balance beam and it’s pretty important for the show to reveal her skill at this point. Commissioner Gordon is there as well, and the two start talking about Mason. Gordon considers him a godsend, and even suggests to Barbara he’s single which she needles him about. A knock at the door interrupts their conversation, and they’re shocked to see it’s none other than Gil Mason flanked by a couple of officers. They’re here to arrest Jim Gordon for accepting bribes, and both of the Gordons are furious as Jim is led away in handcuffs. Someone else is also furious, Wayne, when he sees the coverage in the paper the next morning.

barbara and janet

Another new face is Harvey Dent’s replacement as DA, Janet Van Dorn. She’ll play a bigger role in a later episode.

At the jailhouse, Barbara is seen pleading with the district attorney Janet Van Dorn (Lynette Mettey) to reconsider the decision to deny bail to her father. The kids watching the program get a nice lesson in what a flight risk is, while also learning the details of Gordon’s crime. They found evidence of laundered deposits being sent into Gordon’s accounts and even some offshore ones. Barbara is aghast, but Van Dorn won’t budge on her decision and suggests maybe she doesn’t know her father as well as she thought. As Van Dorn walks away, Bullock pops in to reassure Barbara that the entire force is on her side. He lets her know they even planned a rally for the commissioner, and who organized it? None other than Gil Mason. He assures Barbara he was just doing his job the night before, but he also supports her dad. Barbara is elated at the thought of a rally, but she does suggest it needs a star attraction to really drive the point home.

Meanwhile, Batman is snooping through the police evidence room. A patrolling officer pops in forcing Batman to sneak out through the ventilation, but not before he got a look at the evidence against Gordon. He heads to the jail and fires a little bat-shaped device into Gordon’s cell. It’s a transmitter, and he’s able to communicate with Gordon through it. He lets him know he took a look at the evidence and thinks it’s a quality forgery. He rules out the work of Thorne, but mentions he’s heard word about a new syndicate moving into Gotham. Gordon is understandably more concerned about the well-being of his daughter, and asks Batman to check on her and he agrees. True to his word, Batman drops in on Barbara, but all she wants to talk about is the rally for her dad. She begs Batman to attend, but he tells her he has more important things to worry about. He advises her to stay out of it, but that only angers Barbara. As he swings away, Barbara vows rather ominously that Batman will appear at her father’s rally.

At a rundown old building, a shadowy figure reads a newspaper. A rat-faced hoodlum (Greg Burson) enters the room to see what his boss wants. A throaty, unmistakable, voice gives him his orders, and the rat-faced man takes his leave.

matches

Bruce Wayne’s most famous alter-ego:  Matches Malone.

At the Batcave, Bruce is getting into his latest disguise – Matches Malone. Robin is there to beg to be brought along or for Bruce to at least wear a wire, but Bruce denies him. He does ask if Robin is up for making a public appearance though, which leads us to the rally for Gordon. Robin looks on as Mason delivers a speech to a raucous crowd outside police headquarters. Before Robin can swoop in and make his appearance known, Batman drops in! Robin is shocked to see the figure of Batman swing down and make a brief demonstration on a nearby building before running off. At street level, Bullock is also less than amused declaring him a show-off.

imposter batman

Batman’s got some sleek new curves.

“Batman” disappears into an alley and it soon becomes obvious that this isn’t Batman, but rather Barbara in a store-bought costume. The animation takes some liberties in hiding her identity, but does make it a point to show Barbara removing some padding and height extensions after the fact. Before she can slip away though a car comes speeding into the crowd. On the stage, Mason drops down and ducks behind the podium just before the car opens fire. They don’t appear to hit anyone aside from the search lights. Barbara, apparently feeling emboldened by the costume, goes into her gymnastics routine after the car. She leaps up to grab a banner that has been strung up. She seems surprised when it gives-away leading me to think she intended to use it as leverage, but the banner comes down over the car’s windshield causing it to crash. Robin swoops in and sees the imposter Batman and calls to her, but she takes off running. For some reason, Robin decides to give chase and ignore the gun-toting hoodlums in the car. He manages to grab the back of Barbara’s cowl causing a section to rip off exposing her hair. Robin stops in his tracks to marvel at the girl Batman, while a nearby Summer Gleeson (Mari Devon) snatches a camera and films the runaway Batgirl.

barbara revealed

Batgirl revealed.

By now, the criminals have emerged from their wreck and have taken note of this Batgirl. They open fire on her, but like most of the criminals of Gotham, they too are terrible shots as Barbara is able to vault and flip her way through the gunfire unscathed. They manage to hit the only searchlight they didn’t destroy before, causing Barbara to fall on her face. Before they can take advantage of her predicament, Robin pops in with some well placed Batarangs disarming the thugs. They take off while Robin checks on Barbara. He asks if she’s crazy, while she demonstrates she’s only interested in catching those guys. She urges him to come with her and the two take off in different directions after the pair of thugs. Barbara catches up with hers and takes him out by tossing a garbage can lid at the back of his legs. She pounces on him and removes the hood he’s wearing revealing the rat-faced goon from earlier. He tosses her aside into some garbage and gets away. Robin, apparently unsuccessful in apprehending his man, returns to the alley and finds Barbara gone leaving him to wonder where this Batgirl came from.

At Wayne Manor, Dick is watching the coverage which is being reported as an assassination attempt on the deputy commissioner’s life. A lot of the coverage is also focused on Batgirl and where she could have come from. Dick, apparently possessing DVR technology in 1993, rewinds the coverage when he sees something odd. Mason, on the stage during the attack, ducks behind the podium before seeing the guns. Dick and Alfred both find this suspicious.

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Rat Face. Despite his resemblance to the vermin, the credits tell me his name is actually Mad Dog.

The next morning, Bullock is aghast at the appearance of yet another masked vigilante, wondering when we’ll see Weasel Woman. He tosses the paper aside and then sees Barbara, which for some reason seems to embarrass him while Officer Montoya just smiles. The two leave Barbara just sitting there. It’s a rather awkward scene as we don’t know why she’s there and it’s rather odd that the officers didn’t ask. Anyway, there’s a collection of mug shots in a binder left behind and Barbara thumbs through it. Conveniently enough, she finds the rat-faced thug almost right away. We then shift locations to the home of Gil Mason. He answers his door and finds an excited Barbara who is about to tell him she knows who tried to kill him when she’s shocked to see he has company. The same rat-faced thug is in Mason’s parlor, and he excuses himself telling Mason he’ll see him at the “business meeting.” Mason then asks Barbara what she wanted to tell him, and she’s forced to improvise and says she just wanted to see how he was doing. He tries to offer her a drink, but she declines claiming she’s off to see her dad leaving Mason alone and confused.

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“Surprise” is not a great look for Barbara.

At a bar called The Stacked Deck, Matches Malone plays pool while rat-face talks on the phone. He’s in a phone booth and assures his boss that he can’t be heard. The camera zooms in on his lips and the narrowed eyes of Malone basically letting us know that Batman can read lips. What can’t he do? Rat-face tells his boss his on his way and he ducks out of the bar with Malone right behind him.

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A character thoughtfully looking at a mask. Where could this lead, I wonder?

At her home, Barbara converses with her precious teddy bear Woobie wondering who she can turn to for help. With Mason apparently in on the job, she has no one to turn to since Batman is too busy for her. She takes notice of her discarded Batman costume and picks it up. Remarking it could use a little work, she smiles.

Malone has tracked the hoodlum to his hideout. A curious building looms before him. Half of it is well put-together and in over-all good shape, while the other half is dilapidated and ruinous. Malone fires a grapple gun and pulls himself onto a window sill. A shot inside the building lets us know the place is armed, and when Malone lifts the window open he’s electrocuted and collapses into the building. A shadowy figure looms.

Malone awakens to find himself face to face with none other than Two-Face (Richard Moll). It was pretty obvious who this was, but it doesn’t hurt to try to make the reveal feel dramatic. Malone tries to cover his tracks, insisting he’s just there to get in on whatever is going down. Two-Face lets him know he doesn’t like him, but since this is Two-Face, we’re going to let the coin decide Malone’s fate. Good heads and Malone gets a job, bad heads and he no longer gets to live. The coin does not go Malone’s way, and the rat-faced crook introduces Bruce’s face to the stock of his gun.

At police headquarters, a shadowy figure rummages through the armory. It’s Barbara, and talking to herself declares there’s only one person she can turn to now:  Batgirl!

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The only logical shot the episode could end on.

And with that, we’re left on a bit of a cliff-hanger. As an introduction for Batgirl, I’d say this one basically nails it. I’m on record as not being a fan of the whole Bat-family thing, I prefer my Batman solo, but if we’re going to have a Batgirl then you would be hard-pressed to come up with a better origin story than this one. Framed by the police, Commissioner Gordon finds himself jailed without bail and his daughter sets out to save him. While she perhaps gives up on the duo of Batman and Robin a bit too easily, it’s within her character (as established in previous episodes) for her to want to make sure her father goes free and that she would welcome that responsibility herself. She knows Mason is involved somehow, and she doesn’t know how deep it goes so she can’t naively go to Bullock or Montoya about her findings. She could possibly contact Batman, but as we saw with his little foray into the underworld, that wouldn’t have been fruitful anyway.

The story seems straight-forward. Two-Face has partnered with Mason to frame Gordon and thereby weaken the police force, but there are still questions. I suppose chiefly is what will happen to Batman? Considering he’s the star of the show, I don’t feel too concerned for his well-being. There’s also what action will Robin take since he’s onto Mason as well? Will his investigation force him to cross paths with Batgirl? And furthermore, is Rupert Thorne part of this in any way? It would seem strange to open the episode with him, but given his connection to Two-Face he may yet have a role to play.

All of this will have to wait until next week when we dive into Part II of “Shadow of the Bat.” Like every two-parter so far, the first chapter has left me excited and interested in where this is going. Hopefully the second chapter pays off. The episode is well-executed and looks really sharp thanks to the work of Spectrum Animation Studio. There are lots of rich blacks, likely due to the fact that this episode contains a number of “shadowy figures.” The sequence of Barbara in her Batman costume running away from the rally is quite a bit of fun to watch in slow-motion. There are stills where it’s obvious the studio “cheated” and just drew Batman, but there’s also some cool shadowy shots of an obvious Batgirl in there as well. The costume Barbara unveils at the end is also a solid design. reminiscent of Catwoman’s look, it keeps things simple with an all-gray look. A loose hanging yellow belt and chest insignia differentiate it slightly from Batman’s looks, and she also kept the exposed hair flowing out of the back of the cowl. I suppose logically it would not be hard to figure out her identity, so in some respects it causes me to appreciate the Batgirl of the 60s TV show who wore a wig when in costume. Overall, I like the look though and this was a nice debut for Gotham’s featured heroine.


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

200px-AlmostgotimEpisode Number:  46

Original Air Date:  November 10, 1992

Directed by:  Eric Radomski

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  None

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

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When the girl walks in…

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

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

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

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

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Not a good predicament for our hero.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Batman: The Animated Series – “The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne”

The_Strange_Secret_of_Bruce_Wayne-Title_CardEpisode Number:  37

Original Air Date:  October 29, 1992

Directed by:  Frank Paur

Written by:  David Wise, Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens

First Appearance(s):  Hugo Strange

“The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne” is another episode of Batman:  The Animated Series that can trace its roots back to a story from Detective Comics, in this case issues #471 and #472 “The Dead Yet Live” and “I Am the Batman!” by Steve Englehart. It introduces Hugo Strange to the Bat-verse, a scientist with a penchant for extortion. Strange uses a machine that can read the minds of individuals. Under the guise of therapy, Strange seduces wealthy individuals into agreeing to his services and when he unearths something nefarious from their subconscious he’s able to blackmail them in exchange for keeping their secrets. If that sounds familiar, then you’ve probably seen Batman Forever, where The Riddler used a similar scheme. We’re only 37 episodes deep, but we’ve already seen a few instances of where this animated series influenced a movie to come. Batman Forever borrowed some of the Two-Face bits from the episode of the same name, and Batman Begins basically adapted The Scarecrow’s scheme from “Dreams in Darkness.” It’s just another example of how far reaching this show was. This episode also marks the first time we’ll see a team-up of sorts out of Batman’s rogues gallery when Joker, The Penguin, and Two-Face show up in the episode’s second act.

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Hugo Strange is today’s villain, and while there were tentative plans to bring him back, this ends up being his only appearance in the series.

The episode opens with a woman (who looks a lot like the woman being victimized by Poison Ivy in “Eternal Youth”) being approached on a bridge by some routine looking gangsters. The woman is revealed to be a judge in Gotham by the name of Maria Vargas (Carmen Zapata) and the gangsters want her to pay up in order to protect some information they have on her. Batman, apparently was tipped off or just happens to be in the right place at the right time, is watching from above as the judge hands over a briefcase full of money only to be told the price just went up. When she pleads with them that she can’t possibly pay more the crooks prepare to leave and Batman enters the fray. Vargas tries to take off and gets herself in some danger on the bridge, accidentally knocking herself out. Batman is forced to abandon his pursuit of the crooks in order to save her.

After the commotion is over and the police are on the scene, Commissioner Gordon explains he knows Vargas and can’t imagine her having a secret she doesn’t want out. He reveals he just dined with her recently and that she had just returned from vacation. He gets a call on his gigantic cell phone about the license plate on the limo the gangsters were driving and finds out it’s registered to the same resort Vargas just vacationed at. Batman then takes off via the Batwing, being piloted by Robin, and he playfully asks Robin if he seems stressed while remarking it may be time for a vacation.

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Strange’s memory extracting machine is a bad place for someone with an alter-ego to find themselves in.

Bruce Wayne and Alfred immediately depart for Yucca Springs, a resort that just so happens to be owned by Roland Dagget (a piece of info that’s never elaborated on) and is home to Dr. Hugo Strange (Ray Buktenica). Wayne signs up for a therapy session and finds himself in the doctor’s machine. He’s told the machine will help ease his stress by forcing him to confront his past. It seems a little risky for Bruce to enter such a device, but he goes along with it. Strange pries at Wayne to reveal information on his past, specifically the death of his parents. Bruce’s thoughts are transmitted to a screen for Strange to monitor, and when he pries further bats appear along with a gloved fist and an unmistakable logo. Bruce hops out of the machine and remarks it doesn’t seem to be an effective stress reliever for him. Strange tells him the first session is often hard, but they’ll do better tomorrow. As Bruce leaves he removes a tape from his machine and refers to him as Batman. Dun dun duuuuun!

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Bruce Wayne’s secret revealed!

Strange immediately starts calling around, and we’re treated to a pretty dark, but hilarious, answering machine greeting from The Joker. Strange is going to auction off his perhaps priceless information and in addition to Joker he also calls The Penguin and Two-Face. For Joker, this is the first time we’re seeing him since his apparent death in “The Laughing Fish” and no explanation for his survival is presented. It’s also a rare Joker appearance that occurs without Harley Quinn. For Two-Face, this is the first time we’ve seen him in anything more than a cameo since his debut. Apparently Arkham was unable to rehabilitate him. As for The Penguin, this is only his second appearance in the show after kind of a comedic debut in “I Have Batman in my Basement,” one of the more divisive episodes the show output.

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Three fellas who would likely be interested in knowing who Batman is under the mask.

While Strange is busy peddling his tape, Wayne sneaks into his laboratory to get a closer look at the machine. He finds the tape on Judge Vargas (as well as many other, most of which are Easter Eggs) and sees what she’s been hiding in her past. When she was a little girl, she was playing with matches which lead to a fire at the Gotham Docks, apparently a pretty big story back in its day, as well as a destructive blaze. Bruce realizes his tape is missing and Alfred, sneaking around outside, radios him to let him know who Strange just welcomed to the resort. Bruce then begins erasing all of the tapes before finally destroying the machine. Strange and his muscle come in just as Bruce really gets going. He’s disappointed at the loss of his device, but he still has the tape of Bruce’s alter-ego so he’s in a pretty good mood. Bruce is tied up and tossed somewhere with Alfred. Alfred apologizes for failing him, but Bruce is taking things in stride claiming everything is going according to plan as he produces a lock pick and gets to work.

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Making deals with the likes of Joker and Two-Face carries certain risks.

Meanwhile, Strange is presenting his finding to the villains. Surprisingly, they go along with the bidding and decide to pool their money together so they all can see what’s on the tape know it supposedly contains the true identity of Batman. I’m a bit puzzled why someone like The Joker wouldn’t just kill Strange and take the tape, but I’ll go along with it. Strange is very happy for his payment of approximately 50 million dollars, and gets ready to play the tape for them. Unknown to him, Batman is lurking in the rafters and he switches out the input on the projector to a different tape player. What plays is a video of Strange speaking with his cohorts about his plan to produce a phony tape about Batman in order to extort a bunch of villains out of their not so hard-earned money. This naturally enrages the attendants and Strange is forced to flee.

Joker, Two-Face, and Penguin eventually capture Strange and take him to the airport. Alfred, in their limo, picks up Batman and the two give chase while Alfred remarks he’s contacted Master Dick. The villains drag Strange onto an airplane and take to the sky. They plan to chuck him out and Strange starts begging for his life. He tells them Batman is Bruce Wayne, but no one believes him. Batman, able to stow-away on the plane, cuts the fuel line and the whole thing begins going down. It crashes, and somehow everyone on the plane is able to walk away fine just as the Gotham Police show up. As Strange is being lead away, he taunts Batman. He knows he used the machine to create a false tape of him to fool Joker, Penguin, and Two-Face. As he goes on and on, Bruce Wayne shows up, much to the shock of Strange. Batman says the two worked together to bring him down under the guise that Wayne and Judge Vargas are close friends and he wanted to get back at him. Once Gordon and Strange are out of earshot, Wayne is revealed to be Dick in disguise and everyone is ready to head home.

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Bruce Wayne?! Batman?! How could this be?!?

“The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne” is a fun story – what would someone do with Batman’s secret identity? Strange’s actions are entirely logical for an extortionist, even if it’s a bit unrealistic to think he could get in touch with the likes of Joker and company so easily. The episode does jump through some hoops to preserve Batman’s secret in the end. I don’t like how the writers are afraid to show Batman as being fooled, and he instead needs to be one step ahead of Strange the whole time. The Bruce Wayne impersonation is also pretty unrealistic since Dick not only is able to look exactly like Wayne, but also sound like him as well. It’s the kind of thing a cartoon can get away with that live action would not. I guess they’re just taking advantage of the medium, but it does feel cheap. A lot happens in this episode so it moves really fast, which is fine. I suppose you could argue that the plot could have been dragged out across two episodes, but I’m fine with it as is. I did find it odd that Two-Face’s coin never came into play, he was ready to toss Strange out of the airplane, but I do like how he mentions that he knows Bruce Wayne and it’s why he can’t possibly believe that he would be Batman. Still, it’s kind of surprising that it was never revisited in a later episode with one of the three villains at least entertaining the notion. I feel like the plot of this episode is memorable, making this one of the most popular episodes of the show. I don’t know if it’s a top 10 episode, but it’s probably at least in the top 25. Just a good, some-what flawed, but entertaining episode.


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

Two-Face_Part_IIEpisode Number:  11

Original Air Date:  September 28, 1992

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Randy Rogel

First Appearance(s):  None

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

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Harvey’s got a new look.

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

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

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

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

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

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The great equalizer.

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

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


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

Two_Face-Title_CardEpisode Number:  10

Original Air Date:  September 25, 1992

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Alan Burnett

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

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

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Harvey and Grace during happier times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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