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The New Batman Adventures – “Sins of the Father”

sin of the father titleEpisode Number:  2 (87)

Original Air Date:  September 30, 1997

Directed by:  Curt Geda

Written by:  Rich Fogel

First Appearance:  Tim Drake, Manny, Mo

Last week’s debut episode for The New Batman Adventures was an odd way to bring the caped crusader and his crime-fighting family back to the world of television. It was odd because it was an anthology-styled episode, something Batman: The Animated Series seldom dabbled in. Mostly though, it was weird because it contained a new Robin character without any setup for where this kid came from. Episode 2 will rectify that as this is the introduction of Tim Drake (Mathew Valencia) who will become this series’ version of Robin.

The episode is directed by Curt Geda and Rich Fogel, both new to these roles. For Fogel, this is his first contribtuon to Batman after working on Superman. He’ll work on Batman Beyond as well as other DC animated shows. For Geda, this is basically a promotion. After working on storyboards during the original run of the show he now finds himself in the director’s chair for the first time. Apparently, the company liked what he did because he’ll direct several more episodes in this series before moving on to Batman Beyond in the same role.

tim donuts

Tim Drake is a kid that will go to great lengths for some donuts.

“Sins of the Father” is not a flashback episode, it just takes place before the events of “Holiday Knights” even though it came after that episode in both production order and air date order. We’ll come to learn that at some point between the end of BTAS and the beginning of this series that Dick Grayson had a falling out with Batman. That won’t be explored until a later episode, but the important thing to know is that the role of Robin is open for audition. This Robin is actually the third Robin to appear in the comic books in the regular timeline. To no one’s surprise, the animated series is skipping Jason Todd who is mostly known for being horribly murdered by The Joker. I know we talked about last week how this series is a bit more violent and willing to flaunt it when compared with BTAS, but it’s not violent enough to have Robin get beaten to death.

This version of Tim Drake isn’t a carbon-copy of the one from the comic book. He actually has an origin similar to Jason Todd which is a nice way to incorporate the spirit of that character into this series. Tim Drake differs from Dick Grayson’s presentation in the previous series largely by being a kid, essentially bringing Robin back to the character’s roots. Grayson’s Robin that we were introduced to was an adult student attending college. I don’t know if that decision was done to appease the censors as they could place an adult in greater danger than a child or if the writers and showrunners just preferred an adult Robin to a kid. Personally, I do prefer the adult version as I just find the notion that Batman would pal-around with a kid to be ludicrous. Tim Drake is going to have to prove his worth to me, and it doesn’t help that his origin is naturally going to be compared with “Robin’s Reckoning” which was one of the better episodes in the series.

tim meets two-face

Tim is going to find himself in a lot of trouble in this episode.

The episode begins at night with a police officer chasing after…a donut thief. Hey, they can’t all be super villains. The thief is not a bald, fat, man with yellow skin, but a spry and acrobatic young man who this cop probably has no hope of catching. That must have been a good donut or a really expensive one though, because this cop isn’t giving up. As the kid bounds up a fire escape in impressive fashion he comes to a window that’s locked. The cop thinks he’s got him now, but the kid pulls out something the cop likely never expected:  a Batarang. He tosses the stylish shuriken with impressive precision taking out a nearby clothesline which binds the officer up aiding in the boy’s eventual escape.

Elsewhere, a pair of trouble-makers, Manny (Peter Jason) and Mo (Loren Lester), are banging on an apartment door demanding a fellow named Drake answer. When no one does they break the door down and enter the rather messy interior. No one is around, but they do spy a collage on the wall of various Batman stories from newspapers. Suddenly, the window opens and in comes our little donut thief. The thugs grab him and demands he tell them where his father is. The kid proves to be pretty resourceful once again using his ill-gotten donuts to momentarily blind the duo and remove himself from their clutches. He performs some Kevin McCallister styled antics to drop them and escape while the two actually open fire on the kid. When it looks like our young friend is home free, he bumps into some real trouble:  Two-Face.

new batboat

The new Batboat makes its debut in this one.

Two-Face (Richard Moll) and his goons take the kid down to the docks to see if they can get some information out of the kid about his old man. He’s tight-lipped, forcing Two-Face to have his men search his possessions. They find a letter addressed to him, Timmy, from his dad explaining he had to flee town for a bit and he left him a key, which Two-Face recognizes. Two-Face snatches the key, and satisfied, starts walking away. The guys ask him what to do with the kid, so Two-Face pulls out his trusty coin. The odds were not in Tim’s favor this day, for Two-Face orders them to kill him, once again driving home that this show is going to be more direct with its villains.

sins escape

He’s in no condition to drive.

Before Manny and Mo can do as their boss requested, a pair of Batarangs come sailing in knocking their guns from their hands. Batman takes on Two-Face’s thugs while Tim works on his own restraints. He’s able to wriggle his way out of them, but things aren’t going well for Batman. Distracted by the thugs, Two-Face is able to grab a crane hook and whack Batman with it sending him flying into a bunch of drums. As Batman lays there, some reddish liquid is pouring out and we’re about to find out it’s flammable. The bad guys open fire causing an actual fire to break out, and eventually explosions. Batman is hurt pretty bad, and he knows when he’s beat. Before things can get any worse he grabs Tim and spins off the dock to the waters below. There, a redesigned Batboat awaits them. It looks very similar to the Bat Ski Boat from Batman Returns only it possesses the submarine qualities of the previous Batboat. Inside the cabin, Tim frantically tries to get the thing started but is having no luck. Batman gestures to him to sit back and then commands the boat to head for home, and like a good little boat, it hears and obeys.

tim and costume

One had to assume this shot would appear in this episode. It’s like shooting fish in a barrel.

The pair arrive at the Batcave and Alfred (Efrem Zimbalist Jr.) is there waiting. He’s a bit alarmed to see Tim with Batman, but at the same time you almost get a feeling like Alfred is used to this stuff. He naturally pays more attention to getting Batman out of the boat which allows Tim to roam around the Batcave. He stares in awe at the various tech and the Robin suit on display (which is an homage to the Jason Todd memorial in the comics) before he manages to find the exit. Able to wander around the mansion, Tim easily figures out the identity of Batman and even tries to pocket some choice items. Batgirl then drops in to scold him – nice timing Barbara.

new alfred

This episode contains out first look at the new design for Alfred. He appears to have aged quite a bit between shows.

Batgirl takes Tim back down to the Batcave to share his findings with Alfred and Batman. Tim swears their secret is safe with him, but Batman doesn’t seem concerned. He just wants to know what Two-Face wanted with Tim. Tim explains he didn’t want him, but his father, who used to work for Two-Face before skipping town. Batgirl appears sympathetic towards the kid, but he doesn’t apparently want it. He swears he can take care of himself and he demonstrates so with the same Batarang we saw earlier. He hands over the letter that Two-Face apparently let him keep and Batman is able to tell what kind of key it was wrapped around previously due to the imprint it left. It’s a locker key, and Batman thinks it belongs to a locker at Gotham Airport.

bat jump kick

Now that’s how you kick a guy.

Batman and Batgirl leave Tim with Alfred to go check out the airport. They arrive there too late though as Two-Face is already there retrieving a satchel from a specific locker. They flee at the sight of the Bat people and this new version of the Dynamic Duo chase after them, but following a thrilling chase involving a luggage carrier, are forced to return to the Batcave unsuccessful.

dad is gone

Tim learns the truth about his dad.

Back at the Batcave, Batman is at his wonder computer with Batgirl trying to find a lead on Tim’s father. What he ends up finding out is that a “John Doe” was found recently and all signs point to it being the elder Drake. As Batgirl wonders how they treat this information in regards to Tim, he walks in and tells them he knows what it means for his dad to be branded a John Doe. He wipes a few tears away while still maintaining that he’s fine and can take of himself. This is where we get our first demonstration of the direction this show wants to take with its cast. Batgirl does the sensible thing and tries to comfort Tim while remaining hopeful about his father, while Batman coolly confirms his dad isn’t coming back.

Alfred interrupts the conversation to tell the others there’s something on television that will interest them. Apparently Two-Face is borrowing a play from Joker’s playbook by hijacking the Gotham airwaves with a threat for the city’s inhabitants. That key apparently gave him access to a deadly gas, and if Two-Face isn’t paid 22 million dollars by 2 AM he’ll release it in Gotham killing millions. Batman insists they have no time to waste, but before he can leave Tim chimes in with a suggestion on where Two-Face may be hiding out. Batman takes the info as he and Batgirl hop into the redesigned Batmobile. It looks more like a sports car now and bares little resemblance to the Burton films. It even dropped flame from the rear of the car, which as someone who loved this feature on the 60s show, I find this disappointing.

new batmobile

The new Batmobile.

Tim, naturally, tries to go along with Batman and Batgirl, but Batman refuses to entertain the thought. As the Batmobile speeds away, Tim expresses his disappointment to Alfred who turns to regard the Robin costume on display and remarks how Batman and Master Dick used to clash. What the hell, Alfred? Are you trying to get the kid to rush off into harm’s way?

new dynamic duo

Batgirl almost got an entire episode to be the lone sidekick. Time to share the spotlight, Babs.

Batman and Batgirl arrive at the location Tim gave them, the Janus Theater. Two-Face and his men are there waiting and it’s just about time to unleash the gas. As they put on their gas masks they hear a cry from outside. Two-Face tells his guys “They’re here,” as they ready for the arrival of Batman. Batman pops in from behind some crates and takes out one guy. As another tries to run Batgirl swoops in to prevent him.

bus surfing

That’s one way to get around Gotham.

Outside the building, Tim is on his way dressed in the Robin costume. He rides atop a bus to get there and prepares to enter the building as the fighting rages on. As Batman and Batgirl tangle with Two-Face’s men, he’s able to activate a 3 minute timer on the bomb (that should have been a two-minute timer, I hope someone got fired for that blunder). He also whips out a Tommy gun and starts unloading on the vigilantes. Maybe the mask makes it hard to shoot because his aim is especially terrible. Robin then bursts in to try and turn the tides, but he’s actually not very good at this whole crime-fighting thing. He ends up getting grabbed by “Puke-Face,” who apparently doesn’t notice that this Robin is different from the past one, based on the comments he makes. Robin once again turns to his Batarang and uses it to cut some ropes on a grate or scaffolding above the bad dudes which falls onto Two-Face’s men. Two-Face himself avoids it, but he can’t avoid Batman who subdues him. Batgirl gets to the bomb and deactivates with a cool 2 seconds to spare. When Batgirl expresses a desire to head home, Tim pipes in that he’s looking forward to it too and searches for some praise, but Batman is not accommodating.

twoface and robin

Tim is going to need some practice.

At Wayne Manor, Tim is getting a lesson from the master himself. Bruce is wailing on Tim with what I’m told are pugli sticks. Basically, it looks like Joust from American Gladiators. As Bruce pummels the kid, he shouts out rules to Tim about what it will take to work with him. He comes across as strict and uncompromising, which I suppose he would have to be if he’s seriously considering letting a kid run around in tights fighting murderous bad guys. Dick Grayson (Loren Lester) pops in to offer his two cents and everyone acts surprised to see him, though Bruce is the only one who doesn’t smile.

no praise

Robin will have to learn that praise is hard to come by.

The Bruce/Dick dynamic will have to wait for another day. “Sins of the Father” is a suitable introduction to the show’s take on Tim Drake. Like Dick, there is an element of tragedy to it, but since we never meet the elder Drake it’s not nearly as affecting as what we saw in “Robin’s Reckoning.” Tim does get to demonstrate his skill with a Batarang, but it will take more than that to pull-off the role of Robin. The episode doesn’t really attempt to convince the viewer he’s up to the task, as he’s basically a one-trick-pony right now. I guess we’re supposed to assume a little sparring with Bruce is all that’s needed.

bat joust

This is all the boy needs to take on psychos and homicidal maniacs.

The inclusion of Two-Face in Tim’s origin story feels like another nod to Jason Todd. Two-Face was part of his origin, and he was also part of Dick’s origin in Batman Forever. He’s a villain adept at creating Robins, apparently. Plus, he also created this version of Batgirl. He’s just a ruthless bad guy here ultimately just out for money. It’s a bit dry considering how conflicted he was last time we saw him in “Second Chance.” He’ll get some proper attention eventually, but this is a nondescript performance for the villain. His redesign is possibly the least severe of all of the villains. He’s allowed to keep his black and white suit and everything else is basically as it was, just with this new style incorporated. That means more straight lines and less detail on the facial features. The white portion of his hair is also spiky now as opposed to curly. There’s also a little piece of blue skin on his face that stretch to the “good side” under his bottom lip. This might be a statement that his bad side is winning or something. He doesn’t look better, but it’s so similar to his past appearance that there’s no reason to get up in arms over it.

new two-face

The new Two-Face is more or less the same as the old Two-Face.

This episode was our first look at the new Alfred, who like Commissioner Gordon, just basically looks older. I already mentioned I don’t much care for the new Batmobile, it’s just boring looking compared with prior ones. The new Batboat looks fine, though it doesn’t look like anything that could possibly function as a submarine. This was also our first look at Dick in this series, albeit it’s quite brief. He looks a little older, but that’s it. He does have long hair now, but you don’t really get a true sense of that from his brief appearance here.

“Sins of the Father” probably should have been the series premiere for The New Batman Adventures. I suppose it’s not really that big of a deal that it wasn’t. It brings Tim into the fold, though I don’t feel the connection with him I had for Barbara or Dick in the past. Of course, Dick wasn’t introduced in a grand way as that version of Batman and Robin essentially existed before the show began, but the flashback episode for his origin fleshed that out. Tim’s story looks fine on paper, but I just feel indifferent to him at this point. I mentioned I’m already predisposed to not like the Boy Wonder version of Robin so perhaps that’s part of the reason, but I mostly wish he wasn’t even part of the show. It’s only episode 2 so he still has time to prove his worth, I suppose.

 

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Batman: The Animated Series – “Second Chance”

second chance cardEpisode Number:  80

Original Air Date:  September 17, 1994

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Paul Dini, Michael Reaves, Gerry Conway

First Appearance(s):  None

 

When Two-Face debuted back in his self-titled two-parter it made a big impact on me as a child. I really had never seen something comparable to a just character getting maimed and falling into a depression. The dual personality and all of the style wrapped in the character was equally fascinating and I felt genuine sympathy for Harvey Dent. It may have even been my first experience of not knowing who to root for:  the hero or the villain.

Two-Face’s introduction was almost done too well. His plight was clear, but it would be hard to sustain; perhaps even impossible. As a result, Harvey’s fiancé, Grace, never resurfaced and that hopeful ending was ignored. When Two-Face would come back to tangle with Batman he was just a conventional villain with a gimmick. It was a shame to see him brought to this, but I suppose the alternative was to either reform him or place him in therapy for the remainder of the series.

surgery prep

Harvey’s getting some work done.

“Second Chance” is the first episode since “Two-Face” to really tackle the villain from the same angle he was originally approached from. Harvey is getting a second chance at being Harvey Dent. When the episode begins he’s being brought, by the police, to a hospital for a procedure to try and repair the damage done to his face in that accident from season one. Batman and Robin are there to watch over the proceedings and to also introduce a flashback to Dent’s accident, in case anyone forgot.

As the procedure begins, a surgeon who reminds me of Leslie Thompkins, but is actually Dr. Nora Crest (Linda Gray), speaks enthusiastically to Harvey as she administers the anesthesia for surgery. Dent (Richard Moll) is lucid and shares the detail that Bruce Wayne is paying for the surgery. He refers to him as Good Old Bruce and shares a story of their earlier days hitting the Half Moon Club before passing out. Batman and Robin watch from a conveniently place skylight as masked thugs break in. They open fire on the surgical team and make it clear they’re here for Dent. One of the thugs remarks he’s not to be roughed up, as the boss wants to handle that task himself, as they haul him out.

Batman tries to fire his grapple-gun through the skylight, but it bounces off the glass harmlessly. He and Robin then head to cut the crooks off before they can escape. They evade Batman and Robin and manage to get Dent out of the hospital. They pile into two vehicles:  a sedan and a truck. The vehicles flee in opposite directions, and Batman and Robin are forced to split up. Robin tails the sedan, while Batman goes after the truck via the Batcycle. Robin tries to stop the sedan, but they give him the shake. Meanwhile, Batman gets nearly flattened by a tanker-truck on his bike, but manages to keep his target in sight. The crooks exit the freeway and nearly lose Batman who misses the turn. Rather than give up, Batman launches his bike off the overpass and crashes down on top of the truck. When he looks inside, he finds only two of the crooks and no Harvey.

two-face kidnapped

Batman and Robin fail once again.

Batman and Robin regroup and Batman theorizes there are two individuals who have a vendetta against Two-Face:  Rupert Thorne and The Penguin. Robin apologizes for losing his target, and really he kind of needs to at this point as he’s been pretty ineffective the last few episodes. Batman says, some-what curtly, “I’m sure you did your best,” and Robin takes offense. He says he’ll check in on Thorne, while Batman apologizes saying this one is personal and hard on him. Robin leaves the Batmobile while Batman presumably heads for The Penguin.

Robin is shown on the roof of Thorne’s home. He watches through a skylight (I seriously can’t stress this enough:  criminals of Gotham, get rid of all of the skylights) and pulls out a glass cutter and goes to work. As he does so a gun is placed between his shoulder blades and he’s ordered to get up by Frankie (Matt Landers), one of Thorne’s men. Robin says nothing and stuffs the glass cutter in his glove as he stands with his arms up. The sentry takes him inside to show him to his boss. Rupert Thorne (John Vernon) seems amused by Robin’s presence as he heats up a fire poker in his fireplace, in case he needs it. Robin is tied to a chair and he tells him that Harvey Dent was kidnapped. Thorne laughs off the thought that he would have done it, while admitting there’s no love lost between the two. He then orders his men to do to Robin what he planned to do to Dent and the two men haul him away.

robin tossed

Robin’s going for a swim.

Thorne’s men take Robin to a bridge. In the trunk of the car, Robin works at cutting his restraints with the glass cutter but doesn’t finish the job. As the two men haul him out, Frankie goes on and on about how he used to fish here, but now can’t, because of the pollution. Ever after they toss Robin off of the bridge he continues sharing his thoughts on the environmental tragedy. As Robin falls, he’s able to break free of the rope on his hands and fires a grapple-gun to the top of the bridge. He then swings in striking our environmentally cautious goon as he was sitting down in the car and the force pushes both men out the driver’s side knocking them unconscious.

penguin and birds

The Penguin seems to be enjoying his incarceration.

At Stonegate Penitentiary, Batman is able to find The Penguin’s (Paul Williams) cell. Inside the stout villain has a pigeon coop and is tending to his flock. Batman stands on a ledge outside the window and questions The Penguin about the events from earlier in the evening. We as viewers know about Thorne and Dent’s relationship, but not of Penguin and Two-Face’s. Apparently Two-Face stole something out from under The Penguin’s nose recently, and while it did anger him, The Penguin insists he would never pull such an act of revenge against a fellow rogue – honor among thieves. He then tosses a bird in Batman’s face and soon all of the pigeons start harassing him causing him to lose his footing. Penguin tries to get the attention of a patrolling guard outside, but by the time a light is shone in his direction Batman is gone.

Batman and Robin then return to the scene of the crime as their only leads proved fruitless. They sport some nifty goggles that make them look like Cyclops from the X-Men as they examine the room in infrared. Batman finds footprints from the assailants and masonry dust within them. This is enough of a lead. He announces he knows who took Dent, but also that he needs to do this alone. As he leaves, Robin gives him a pretty nasty look behind his back like most teenagers would.

kidnapper revealed

The true kidnapper revealed.

Batman then shows up at a demolition site. It’s a rather large building called the Half-Moon Club, the same club from Dent’s story about he and Wayne from earlier, and way up by the top is where he finds the man who kidnapped Harvey Dent:  Two-Face. Dent’s Two-Face persona would never allow the procedure to go through and Batman seems embarrassed he didn’t realize it sooner. Two-Face’s men then capture Batman, and as they chain him to a wrecking ball Two-Face explains that he could never let Dent destroy him and that he needed to teach him some respect. He also explains he has dynamite rigged to the wrecking-ball he just tied Batman to and that Batman’s fate is now tied to his coin. Two-Face flips his signature item and Batman demands he let it hit the ground so he can see the result. Two-Face obliges, but is shocked to see the coin land on its edge. He flips it again and the same phenomena repeats. Two-Face starts to panic, while his men seem to decide on their own this is silly and open fire on Batman. They fail to hit Batman, as they always do, but manage to damage the bomb and electricity starts arcing from it.

Batman gets out of his restraints and swings down to take out the thugs leaving only Two-Face who is chasing his rolling coin around. He ends up out on a steel beam and as the coin rolls off the edge so too does Two-Face. He manages to grab the coin, while Batman gets ahold of him. Batman confesses he switched out Two-Face’s coin with a gimmicked one that will alway land on its edge. He needs Two-Face to drop the coin (apparently that suit has no pockets) and give him his other hand so he can help him up. With Batman distracted, the other thugs prepare to take him out, meanwhile the dynamite is getting ready to blow as the electricity from the detonator gets nearer and nearer to the actual explosives. Robin swings in to take out the thugs before they can shoot Batman from behind and deposits them in an elevator shaft.

frustrated two-face

Two-Face feels betrayed by his coin.

With that danger averted, there’s still the matter of the dynamite and Two-Face’s precarious position. Two-Face reluctantly lets the coin fall, and as he reaches for Batman he pauses and shouts, “Never!” He takes a swing at him instead causing Batman to lose his grip on Two-Face’s other hand. He jumps off the building after him and as he catches up to him he fires his grapple-gun as the dynamite explodes.

We’re then taken to Arkham Asylum. Two-Face, having survived the fall, is being led back into the facility in shackles. As he heads in, Bruce Wayne approaches. Dent looks at him, the shadows hiding his bad side, and remarks how Bruce has never given up on him. Bruce just smiles and places a hand reassuringly on Dent’s shoulder before the police lead him inside. Dick is there too and remarks that Harvey is lucky to have someone looking out for him. Bruce places an arm around Dick and says he’s lucky he’s always got Dick to be there for him.

old friends

A sweet ending to go out on.

“Second Chance” adds to the tragedy that is Harvey Dent and Two-Face. It’s perhaps melodramatic, but it is satisfying and the ending is rather sweet. As a viewer, it’s frustrating to see Dent blow his second chance, but his condition is something that can’t be cured so easily. The status quo is maintained by the episode’s end, but it was still a compelling ride getting there. It also fooled me when I first saw it, as I didn’t figure out who was behind the kidnapping and when it was revealed I was actually quite sad. I do wonder if it would have done the same had I been older. Harvey telling his story about the Half Moon Club before going under on the operating table certainly feels like foreshadowing as this show never mentions such a detail without it meaning something. Plus it’s called the Half Moon Club which fits the Two-Face gimmick. This is also another episode where a rift between Batman and Robin is teased. That will pay-off in the sequel series, though it’s mostly brushed aside by the end of this episode.

“Second Chance” is just a really good episode. I don’t even have any criticisms to offer other than the usual which is to say the villains can’t shoot. There’s some especially bad shooting in this one, though at least with the scene in the hospital it’s plausible the kidnappers didn’t want to kill any doctors. The Penguin is shoe-horned into this one, but it’s not something I mind. It’s nice to hear from him since he’s been missing in action throughout season two. This was actually, quietly, the last appearance of the Danny DeVito-like design for the villain. Next time we see him he’ll have his classic appearance restored. This is also the final appearance of Rupert Thorne. He won’t show up in The New Batman Adventures, but he gets an encore of sorts in Mystery of the Batwoman. Given the role he played in this series, it’s surprising that this is it for him.

Where does Two-Face go from here? It would seem back to being an everyday villain. He’ll show up again, so this isn’t the last we’ll see of him, but it is the last in the original series. His redesign will actually be one of the least extreme, which is a good thing since his look for this show is pretty damn great. He’s been one of the show’s best villains though, and this is the follow-up to his debut the character deserved. It may have taken longer than expected, but the show delivered like it almost always does.


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.


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.

MadDog

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.

barbara surprised

“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.

barbara and cowl

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.