Batman: The Animated Series – “Heart of Steel: Part II”

Heart_of_Steel_Part_II_Title_CardEpisode Number:  39

Original Air Date:  November 17, 1992

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Brynne Stephens

First Appearance(s):  None

 

When we last saw our hero, Batman was being attacked by his own Batcave after it had been hacked by Randa Duane and H.A.R.D.A.C. The situation seemed some-what dire when the previous episode ended, but I mean come on, there’s no way Batman is being done in by his own devices. He extricates himself and gets the Batcave back under his control without too much fuss, and immediately his attention turns to Duane who is no where to be found. He had left her in the mansion alone and she works for a man who creates robots, and Batman is smart enough to realize the sabotage at his own home and her profession probably overlap.

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Barbara gets to play detective in this one.

Meanwhile, Karl Possum (William Sanderson) is feeling some heat from the police and decides to have second thoughts about how much free will he programmed H.A.R.D.A.C. to possess. When he says this out-loud and starts to fiddle with the super computer’s innards, H.A.R.D.A.C. (Jeff Bennett) decides he’s not onboard with this and Rossum is soon incapacitated. This is the beginning of H.A.R.D.A.C.’s next phase as he communicates wth the imposter Commissioner Gordon about taking out Bruce Wayne. He also deploys a copy, which the show canon refers to as a duplicant, of Mayor Hill (Lloyd Bochner) who brazenly marches into the real mayor’s office to take his place.

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Bullock’s been working out.

Caught up in all of this is Barbara Gordon (Melissa Gilbert). She knows something is up with her dad, and Detective Bullock (Robert Costanzo) gave her a tip about Rossum. Barbara does what I assume most people would want to do in this world when they have a problem, but maybe don’t have the means – she calls Batman. Activating the signal on the roof of Gotham PD summons the caped crusader who is surprised to find it’s the younger Gordon who called him this time. He’s concerned about what’s been going on in Gotham, but before they can get too into detail they’re confronted by Bullock. Now, Batman and Bullock have not had a particularly warm relationship in this show. Bullock is openly hostile towards Batman, probably some-what because he’s jealous of the fact that Batman gets to operate outside that pesky thing called “The Law” while he’s held to a higher standard. He also just plain doesn’t trust a guy in a mask, and who can blame him? Even though the two share no love for each other, they’ve worked together in the past and have never really appeared close to coming to blows or anything.

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It’s crazy what we look like on the inside.

That has all changed. Bullock approaches Batman this evening with the aim of instigating a fight. He’s ready to go, and much to Batman’s surprise, he’s pretty damn powerful. Batman is reluctant to fight at first, but is forced to defend himself. With a little help from Barbara, Batman is able to toss Bullock into the Bat-Signal which brings the fight to an end. Since this is a cartoon, tossing a body into anything electrical means it gets lit-up in a blaze of electricity! When this occurs, Bullock’s skin hardens and falls away revealing an android body underneath. In a move right out of a sci-fi movie, the robot crawls towards Batman fighting until the very end, forcing Batman to cut its head off with a shuriken. Seeing the imposter Bullock is enough evidence for Barbara to make the assumption that her father has been replaced with a robot as well. Batman, of course, knows what’s going on now and advises Barbara to go stay with a friend. She grabs his cape and tries to pull a power-move in announcing she’s coming with him, but Batman is having none of it.

Bruce Wayne has an appointment at some sort of rich person’s social club. He arrives and is greeted by Mayor Hill who possesses some tell-tale glowing red eyes, along with everyone else at the club. Randa Duane (Leslie Easterbrook) shows up with her little stun gun and tries to take out Bruce, who is able to get away and jumps into an elevator – a handy place for a quick costume change. Other robots pursue and pry the door open, but Batman is gone. He snuck out the top of the elevator car and cuts the cables, sending the robots to a smashing end.

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Robots are kind of goofy.

Barbara, not willing to take Batman’s advice, shows up at Cybertron’s lab and is able to cleverly sneak in past security. Unfortunately for her, she couldn’t have anticipated that basically everything in the lab is a robot, and a wastebasket takes notice of her intrusion, sprouts legs, and begins to follow her. Before she finds anything juicy, the robot transforms into a more humanoid machine and subdues her. Rossum and Duane then confront her and give her the cliche line of “You’ll be joining your father soon.”

Batman is also snooping around Cybertron and slips inside the building. H.A.R.D.A.C. has been waiting for him though so there’s no sneaking for The Dark Knight this evening as some robot security robots pounce on him. He battles his way to the main lab where the massive H.A.R.D.A.C. is stored only to find that Barbara is the latest person to be captured by the super computer. Even though H.A.R.D.A.C. is not human, it demonstrates it’s still susceptible to pride and gleefully boasts (well, as gleeful as an emotionless robot can) about his grand plan to replace humanity with robots. Humanity is imperfect, and in H.A.R.D.A.C.’s estimation robots are superior because they don’t make mistakes. This idea was implanted in him by Rossum, who first created robots as a result of losing his daughter in a car accident. He felt he could improve upon humanity for some actions, but H.A.R.D.A.C. is taking that premise many steps forward. In some respects, it’s not really any different from our society’s own desire for self-driving vehicles.

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I’m pretty sure there’s a rule in entertainment that if you have humanoid robots you must include a shot where one loses half its face.

H.A.R.D.A.C. may be willing to replace humanity, but for some reason he’s not willing to destroy it. It reveals that the individuals who have been replaced are still alive, being kept in a sort of suspended animation floating in some water tank (why is it always a water tank?). Seeing the captives springs Batman into action, and he’s able to smash the tank freeing the likes of Gordon, Bullock, Hill, and the real Rossum. Batman is forced into conflict with the various robots while Barbara and the others try and escape. Rossum knows the ins and outs of his own lab and is able to lead everyone out, but when Batman doesn’t soon follow, Barbara races back in to help.

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Batman’s going to need some help here, and that lazy, good-for-nothing, ward of his is no where to be found.

Batman is forced into a fight with Randa, and it’s finally confirmed that she too is a robot. Batman is able to maneuver her under an elevator, which drops down and crushes her (kind of odd that they used the same method of an elevator crushing robots more than once). Batman is a little worse for ware following the fight, but Barbara shows up to aid him in getting out. H.A.R.D.A.C., feeling it has no other alternative, initiates a self-destruct mechanism to kill Batman and Barbara, but of course they make it out.

Following their escape, Barbara and her dad get to have a proper reunion while Rossum laments his role in all that happened. A surprisingly cheerful Mayor Hill comforts him and lets him know the resulting investigation will almost certainly clear him of any real wrong-doing (good luck dodging lawsuits, though). The usual “let’s go home,” line is uttered and the camera gets ready to pan out. Commissioner Gordon remarks he’s getting too old for this line of work, while Barbara says she enjoyed herself tonight. She might as well have winked at the camera after that one.

“Heart of Steel – Part II” does a good job of building off of the first episode in a satisfying way. The two-parters have demonstrated a strong ability to setup a story with a very methodical first half, but sometimes the second doesn’t really deliver. This one does as it relies a lot on action sequences. It saves answering the questions raised in Part I almost entirely for this second act, even though some of the questions had fairly obvious answers. It’s still satisfying though, and the writers and animators seem to have a lot of fun with giving Batman robotic enemies to destroy. Since they’re not living, Batman gets to act a bit more ruthlessly and does things he normally would not do, similar to the Captain Clown fight from way back in episode 4. Most importantly, the episode foreshadows the vigilante Barbara Gordon will become. It’s a far more satisfying way of introducing the character rather than immediately jumping to the Batgirl plot. The groundwork has been laid, so it will have more weight behind it when the change inevitably does come. The Barbara character is also handled exceptionally well. She’s smart and crafty and doesn’t pull-off anything in this episode that feels far-fetched. She comes off as natural and genuine and viewers likely wanted more of her following the events of this episode.

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And everybody’s happy in the end.

The episode is obviously influenced by films like The Terminator, as Terminator II was pretty popular around this time. The duplicants, which share a nod to Blade Runner’s replicants, function very similarly to the Terminators from that franchise with the only thing missing being time travel. H.A.R.D.A.C. is basically Skynet, a sophisticated A.I. gone rogue, with a logical motivation. It could have felt out of place in a Batman story, but the writers made it work. And if you enjoyed H.A.R.D.A.C. then I am happy to report that it will make one more appearance in the series before all is said and done.

“Heart of Steel” is a dark-horse contender for best two-parter in the show’s history. It moves along at a good clip and contains a fun, and interesting story. Perhaps it’s not all that unique given the obvious nods to other popular franchises, but the story is executed in a manner that feels fresh and is ultimately rewarding. The introduction of Barbara Gordon is icing on the cake. I am not much of a fan of Batgirl (or Robin, for that matter), but this episode at least makes me forget that. I don’t know if I’ll feel that way when Batgirl ultimately does show up, but for now I am not down on the character. I like that the show was willing to give Karl Rossum a tragic motivation for his inventions in the death of his daughter. It’s a plot device that works, I only wish they had delved into it a bit more, but maybe they felt that would be too heavy for a kid’s show. There are some moments of obvious corn. The resolution for the episode feels abrupt and a tad lazy given the bow put on everything. It also doesn’t make much sense for H.A.R.D.A.C. to have kept his captives alive, but I understand they don’t want to off a whole chunk of the supporting cast. And I’m still shocked that Batman defeating robots with an elevator on multiple occasions in this one episode made it past the storyboard stage. The short-comings are forgivable though and I can safely recommend “Heart of Steel” as a two-part episode that is very much worth watching.


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