Batman: The Animated Series – “Fire From Olympus”

fire from olympusEpisode Number:  63

Original Air Date:  May 24, 1993

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Judith Reeves-Stevens and Garfield Reeves-Stevens

First Appearance(s):  Maxie Zeus

I hope all of that Christmas cheer the past month has re-energized you for another heaping dose of Batman. We’re not planning any more breaks until this thing ends right around this December, which feels crazy to think about. Our re-entry episode this week is a weird one, to say the least. Batman is going to tangle with Maxie Zeus (Steve Susskind), a head of a shipping company turned smuggler who also happens to think he is the god, Zeus. We’re used to seeing Batman tangle with foes who are obviously insane, but none make it quite so obvious as this guy.

maxie zeus

Meet Maxie Zeus, the goof-ball with a cool staff.

The episode opens in a shadowy area of Gotham at night with Commissioner Gordon checking his watch apparently waiting for something to go down, and something does. A couple of sharp-dressed men are seen accosting a smaller gentleman, Yanni Stavros (Nicholas Savalas). They’re not very friendly and make reference to a “boss” not being happy with Stavros. Stavros is an informant, and whoever these guys are working for caught wind of what was going to happen. They chase him into an alley filled with used tires and Stavros is pinned between a whole pile of them and his assailants. A car pulls in and a shadowy figure emerges. Using quite flowery language, the figure expresses outrage that he has to journey to the mortal plane to deal with this problem and raises his arm. Condemning Stavros to Tarturus, a flash of lightning blasts the little man alerting Gordon (who is standing outside a Greek establishment of some kind). Gordon runs over to find Stavros, but no one else.

At the hospital, a nurse informs Gordon that the many rubber tires helped shield Stavros from the lightning strike. Gordon asks if he heard her right, because as far as he could recall the skies were clear that night. That’s what she’s going with though. Unfortunately, Stavros is in a coma so he can’t confirm the details at the moment. At police headquarters, Gordon shares this information with Batman before asking if he’s familiar with some new kind of weapon that’s basically a lightning canon. Batman is very familiar with it, and wouldn’t you know, the damn thing was recently stolen while in transit. Stavros works for Maximilian Shipping Lines and he likely would have known about the item and has a record of selling shipping schedules to smugglers. This seems like a pretty obvious lead for Batman to investigate.

Clio

Maxie’s assistant and lover Clio is pretty sick of the whole Zeus thing.

At the top of a very high building, our assailant dwells. Maxie Zeus, head of Maximilian Shipping Lines, has built his own Olympus atop this building. His assistant Clio (Bess Armstrong) is trying to impress upon him how reckless his actions have become. She reveals that Max is a smuggler and he’s never been caught, which is what she partly blames on his new god-like feeling of invulnerability. She also reveals that they’re a bit more than just boss and subordinate, and she pleads with Maxie to drop this Zeus stuff, but he won’t hear it. The man truly believes he is Zeus, and when the Batwing shows up alongside his home he is overjoyed to see the coming of his brother – Hades.

Batman is a bit unsure of what he walked into, but he remains his usual stoic self. Zeus beckons him in and even dismisses Clio, referring to her as his muse. Batman is not interested in pleasantries and cuts to the chase and asks Max if he knows anything about the stolen weapon. This angers Max who deems this a mortal problem and he questions why Hades would think he who can summon lightning bolts of his own would ever have interest in such a device? He gives Batman a demonstration of his interesting lightning staff as he melts down a little sculpture. He orders Hades to return to his domain and to never return unless summoned. To make the point clearer, he gestures to his “harpies” which are stone gargoyles with guns for eyes. They move at his command and aim at Batman, who gets the message and takes his leave. At ground level, Clio, having failed in an attempt to get Max’s handlers who happen to be the two guys who accompanied him in dealing with Stavros to intervene, looks up and sees the Batwing leave and bemoans the condition her boss/lover is in.

welcome hades

Most villains are not this happy to see Batman.

At her home, Clio is paid a visit by the old Batman where she reveals Max’s sad story. Well, it’s not that sad. He got into smuggling and she blames the stress of the gig as leading to his insanity. She hasn’t given up on him though and agrees to help Batman infiltrate his business and take him down. She drives the Dark Knight over to the main building, but as she enters Max’s goons confront her and take her prisoner.

Having disposed of Zeus, Maxie summons his lackeys Alex (Savalas) and “other guy.” Maxie rolls out the electronic canon that Batman and the police are looking for and intends to demonstrate his might. He fires the weapon at a patrolling police blimp causing it to burst into flames and fall from the sky. Clio is there to witness the horror and attempts to reason with the man once more. He teases for a moment that the fog inside his thick skull has lifted, only to snap-back into Zeus mode and declare Clio unfit to be in his presence. He has Alex affix her to the front of the canon; the next shot will obliterate her for sure.

Before Max can settle on a target though, he takes note of Batman/Hades on a security camera. He activates a trap door which drops Batman into a lavishly decorated room. He taunts Batman over an intercom and watches as he tangles with his “hydra,” which is just a very large snake. We’ve seen Batman handle gators before, so a snake seems like small potatoes. It manages to get its coils around Batman, but he pulls a spray canister off his belt that knocks the reptile out. As he gathers himself, he hears some grunting from down the hall. A warthog bursts through the wall, which seems less threatening than even the very large snake. Batman ropes it, but the warthog pulls him around the room causing him to crash through a window. Maxie thinks that has taken care of his “brother,” but we know better as several stories below Batman demonstrates he has superhuman shoulder joints by hanging onto a ledge.

zeus shocked

Not his best idea of the episode.

Maxie then returns to the business with the canon. Taking aim at nothing in particular, he prepares to fire it and end Clio’s existence. Before he can do so, a batarang slams into the console. Maxie looks up to see the shadowy figure of Batman atop the building and orders his men to take him out. Alex expresses doubt, apparently he was fine with tying a woman to the end of a canon but attacking Batman is where he draws the line, which causes Maxie to train his “harpies” on him. Alex takes refuge in a swimming pool, while Batman topples the gun-toting statues. This leaves Batman to tangle with Maxie, which he is more than capable of handling even with Maxie armed with that lightning staff. He disables the canon and frees Clio, but by doing so he turned his back on Maxie. Maxie regains his lightning staff and fires upon Batman knocking him from the building. Satisfied that Batman is no more, Max returns to his throne and inexplicably leaves his staff out of arm’s reach. As he prepares to once more fire the canon, Batman re-emerges and grabs the lightning staff. Like a child who just had his favorite toy torn from him, Maxie screams out “That’s mine!” as Batman hurls it into the canon. Maxie jumps after it and grabs onto the end protruding from the canon. Electricity courses through him eventually causing him to fall many, many, feet and land with a sickening thud on a concrete ledge below.

maxies home

At last, Maxie is home.

Surprisingly, Maxie Zeus survived the fall and we next see him being wheeled through Arkham Asylum. He’s been allowed to keep his headdress apparently as he’s wheeled on through bound by a strait jacket. As he is pushed along he takes in his surroundings and mistakes various other inmates (who aren’t in Arkham-issued jumpsuits and instead are in full costume) for gods. Poison Ivy is Demeter, a  pseudonym she had used herself in a past episode. Two-Face is mistaken for the Roman god Janus, the god of beginnings and ends who was depicted with two faces. And Joker is mistaken for Hermes the trickster. As he’s left in his own cell, he’s actually quite happy and convinced that he is truly in Olympus now.

When I was a kid, “Fire From Olympus” was one of my least favorite episodes of Batman:  The Animated Series. I thought Maxie Zeus was just too lame, too over-the-top, and just plain stupid. He’s a villain that would have been a better fit for the 60s Batman show and not this more grounded entrant. As an adult, I hate it less. I view it now as more of an off-beat episode. It’s a bit silly, which in turn allows it to entertain in a way most episodes of this show do not. I still hesitate to call it good though as Maxie lacks an emotional component, but not for lack of trying. The writers try to make Maxie sympathetic, and rely on the Clio character to drum-up some of that sympathy, but in the end he’s a criminal driven insane by his own criminal actions. And Clio isn’t just an innocent bystander, she’s complicit in his crimes as well as she is the one who shields him from justice. She could have turned him in years ago, but probably enjoyed the lifestyle afforded by Maxie’s criminal activities. He’s obviously quite wealthy to have such a dwelling and lightning-blasting staffs are not created overnight and for cheap. Had the episode followed more of a Joker template it might have been better served.

joker hermes

Joker gets to sneak in a quick cameo in this one along with Two-Face and Poison Ivy.

For those interested in Greek and Roman mythology, I assume this episode is a bit more fun. Maxie makes many references in his speeches as he’s quite consumed by his Zeus persona. The performance by the late Steve Susskind as Zeus is easily the episode’s strongest point as he brings a theatrical presence to each scene he is in. I am far removed from learning about all of that stuff, but even I was entertained by the numerous references. It is a bit confusing to see Greek and Roman references used interchangeably, and I suppose purists of one over the other might even be annoyed at that. All of the lines are spoken by an obviously insane and confused man, so I suppose that’s the in-episode justification for the slip-ups.

If you’re more like the child version of me, then you’re probably happy to know that this is the lone appearance of Maxie Zeus in the series. Even though I am more receptive in my older age to this episode, I am quite fine with this being the only appearance of Zeus. He’s not really the kind of villain we need to check-in with. I suppose it would have been entertaining to see him play a role in an upcoming episode where Batman finds himself inside Arkham, but there are plenty of other villains available to do the heavy-lifting. Had he returned as a featured villain in another episode he likely just would have been trying to steal something else that could be connected to Greek mythology and it would have just been filler. An episode where he regains his sanity and wrestles with his other persona also probably wouldn’t matter much considering he’s just not sympathetic enough. As a one and done villain, he’s at least memorable for his goofy alter-ego and kids probably thought his lightning staff was pretty cool. That’s better than being the Sewer King or Boss Biggis, at least.

 


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