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 he’s 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!

batgirl begins

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.


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

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