Batman: The Animated Series – “The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy”

The_Cape_and_Cowl_Conspiracy-Title_CardEpisode Number:  31

Original Air Date:  October 14, 1992

Directed by:  Frank Paur

Written by:  Elliot S. Maggin

First Appearance(s):  Josiah “The Interrogator” Wormwood, The Bat-Signal

Episode 31 turns its attention to a seldom used villain in Josiah Wormwood, also known as The Interrogator. It’s his lone appearance in the series and he is appearing chiefly because the writer for today’s episode, Elliot S. Maggin, is essentially adapting his own story from Detective Comics #450 – “The Cape and Cowl Death Trap!” It’s not the first time we’ve seen a writer cross-over from comics to television to adapt their own story for this series and it probably isn’t the last. Maggin, as best I can tell, is now a retired comic book writer, but he’s worked on a lot of the major characters for both of the big companies including Batman, Superman, Spider-Man and Hulk. He’s also written scripts for other super hero cartoons and even tried getting into politics on three separate occasions, all three resulting in either his defeat at the ballot box or withdrawal. Perhaps because we have an outsider for this episode, “The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy” has a unique feel. It involves Batman being tested by his foe repeatedly in a sort of game over his trademarked cape and cowl as opposed to some bid to either kill Batman or pull an elaborate caper. It also features some interesting behavior on the part of our hero who has a more playful, and boastful, persona in this one.

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Meet The Interrogator Josiah Wormwood, you will likely forget all about him at the conclusion of this week’s episode.

The episode opens with a nameless courier (Mark Taylor) being lured to an amusement park or something in the middle of the night to retrieve some bearer bonds. He’s being guided by a letter composed of block letters cut and pasted from a periodical while a voice booms over an audio system urging him on. He seems annoyed, and soon finds himself stumbling into quicksand. Ahh quicksand, one of those things I had a tremendous fear of as a child because it seems to only pop-up as a threat in cartoons. As an adult, no such fear. He escapes with his life, but the criminal behind the trap acquires the bonds he was after. We soon join Batman and Commissioner Gordon in Gordon’s office as Batman is informed of the theft that took place. The courier was supposed to retrieve some bonds that were being donated to charity and was intercepted by noted criminal Josiah Wormwood (Bud Cort). Batman is pretty familiar with him, though it doesn’t sound like the two have come face to face before. He also knows that Wormwood has a connection in Gotham to a Baron Waclaw Jozek (John Rhys-Davies) who is some sort of con-man able to live openly in society, apparently his dealings occur on the edge of the law.

Jozek happens to be speaking at a banquet that night and as he approaches the podium to speak Batman brazenly swoops in and nabs the guy. He swings him around the room and drags him through a cake before ending up on a balcony. It’s a rather impressive feat of strength for the caped crusader as the Baron is a man of generous proportions. There’s also a quick cut of the audience laughing as Batman circles the room. It leads me to believe that director Frank Paur felt it important the crowd react that way as opposed to in fear. I think if I saw Batman do that I’d probably freak out as there’s nothing about his demeanor, nor Jozek’s, that suggests what’s taking place should be funny. Maybe it’s just an open secret among the group that Jozek is a scumbag, but what does that say about them if they’re there to hear him speak?

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The Baron does not take too kindly to Batman’s meddling, but is he actually going to do something about it or just take that suggested vacation?

Batman does his usual interrogation on the Baron in order to suss out some information on Wormwood and his movements in Gotham. The Baron is rather terrified, but has little information to offer resulting in Batman leaving an angry Jozek on a rooftop with a recommendation he take an extended vacation. Later on in the evening, we see Jozek  seated at a desk in a penthouse. Wormwood struts in indicating he was asked to come here to meet with the Baron and talk business. Jozek informs Wormwood that he wants him to acquire Batman’s cape and cowl for him, but he won’t reveal why. When Wormwood asks, Jozek informs him he’ll tell him only if Jozek tells him how he acquired the bearer bonds from the other night. The two part with Wormwood agreeing to do the job and the two will revisit their discussion when the job is done.

Batman finds himself summoned to Gotham PD via the Bat-Signal, the first time we’ve seen it used in the show. Batman even makes a comment about Gordon’s new “toy” so apparently Gordon commissioned the device in this version of Gotham (which is surprising, since so much of the series borrows from the Burton films in which Batman gifted the signal to Gordon). The scene is very familiar to the one that occurs at the end of Batman Begins, minus the exchange about thank you’s. Gordon received another one of Wormwood’s notes in block print, but this one contains more of a riddle about where to find him. He gives it to Batman, who immediately knows it’s referencing a train yard. Batman ends up inside a train there that immediately starts up. He’s trapped, and Wormwood speaks over an intercom taunting him. There’s a woman tied up on the tracks, and if Batman wants to save her he’s instructed to turn over his cape and cowl. Reluctant to do so, Batman is able to escape from the engine in just the nick of time only to find out there was no woman – it was just a hologram.

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He’s got a solution for everything.

A surprisingly upbeat Wormwood is then shown telephoning the Baron. He relays that Batman escaped him, but he has a new plan and will utilize a wax museum that he for some reason has access to. Batman, again, is summoned by Gordon to receive another riddle and, once again, he knows it’s referencing the wax museum. He heads there and almost immediately finds himself trapped in a room under a giant light bulb that’s apparently pretty hot. It’s melting the max, and Wormwood once again is there to taunt Batman over the intercom system (this is apparently his “thing”). Batman first tries to escape, but a steel door closes over the ceiling and it’s apparently strong enough to sever Batman’s grappling gun cable. As the wax sculptures around him melt away, Batman notices the metal endoskeleton the wax is draped over and fashions a crude spear to take out the giant heat lamp. Unfortunately, this just triggers some gas to start seeping in. Accepting defeat, Batman hands over his cape and cowl. Apparently, he was prepared for this fate though as he wears a second mask under his traditional one preserving his secret identity. Wormwood seems disappointed for only a moment, then seems to not care. It’s interesting that Wormwood isn’t interested in taking Batman out. As more of a game-player, he probably would rather Batman leave knowing he was bested and having to live with that defeat.

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An exercise equipment fight? Well, I suppose it’s better than the screwdriver vs umbrella fight from “I’ve Got Batman In My Basement.”

Wormwood returns to Jozek who is delighted to receive the cape and cowl. He offers Wormwood a drink (looks like sparkling water, since we can’t show adults drinking booze in a  kid’s show after all) and the two sit down to share information. Wormwood spills the beans on who arranged the job to steal the bonds the other night and where they’re located, producing a key which he is to give to his counterparty the next day. He then prods Jozek about the cape and cowl and what he could possibly want with it. Well, what does one typically do with such a thing – wear it of course! Only it’s revealed that Wormwood isn’t speaking with Baron Jozek at all, but Batman in disguise! He played him like a fool, and now he wants that key. Wormwood tries to run off, but Batman is too quick. The two have a little fight in a gym located in the penthouse that nearly results in Wormwood’s demise when he crashes through a window. The police arrive though and apparently they had the room bugged – Batman and Gordon orchestrated the whole thing. As a parting shot, we see Wormwood in jail receiving a package with a rhyming sort of note about keeping warm. The package is from Batman, and it contains a cape and cowl.

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Batman, like The Joker, seems to delight in having the last laugh.

“The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy” is one part mystery and one part thriller, but on a small scale. Wormwood may lack name recognition, but he’s fine for the role carved out for him in this episode. It’s sort of interesting seeing Batman defeated, but of course it’s only interesting upon the initial viewing since it’s revealed Batman was playing him the whole time. Also of interest is seeing Batman act like kind of a smug jerk in many of his exchanges with Gordon. When Gordon receives a note from Wormwood, each time he asks what it could be referring to only for Batman to essentially taunt him and quietly boast about his own intellect because he immediately knows what the letter is referencing. It’s especially smug on Batman’s part in regards to the wax museum clue since he actually knows the reference because Wormwood told him! What a dick! It’s also kind of neat to see Batman play a master of disguise in fooling Wormwood as Baron Jozek. It’s rather preposterous, but I guess it is just a cartoon. I do wish they tried to have Kevin Conroy voice Jozek so at least Batman’s ability to duplicate that voice exactly would have some basis in reality. For all I know they did and maybe they just weren’t happy with Conroy’s takes.

At the end of the day, “The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy” is a fine episode, but not really memorable or interesting. Even visually, it’s kind of boring and the different settings Batman is inserted into aren’t particularly inventive. Batman seems less stylized for the most part too, and with a pretty conventional adversary, the whole thing feels rather small. Wormwood is not exactly threatening looking with his receding hairline and ordinary outfit. I suppose not every villain needs to be this outrageous personality, but a little styling goes a long way. This episode is basically just filler, but we’ve got some good ones lurking over the next two weeks that will hopefully make up for it.


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