The New Batman Adventures – “You Scratch My Back”

you scratch my backEpisode Number:  5 (90)

Original Air Date:  November 15, 1997

Directed by:  Butch Lukic

Written by:  Hilary J. Bader

First Appearance:  Nightwing

After briefly checking in with Dick Grayson (Loren Lester) at the end of the second episode we now get the official introduction of Nightwing, Grayson’s new alter-ego. We’re still going to have to wait to find out what happened to cause the former Boy Wonder to break away from his mentor, but at least we’ll get a look at how Nightwing operates. We’ll also be reintroduced to a certain femme fatale in the form of Catwoman (Adrienne Barbeau). This episode is going to play up the tension that exists between Batman and Nightwing as well as the tension between he and his old adversary. Catwoman is going to be happy to squeeze her way in between the two. Also caught in the middle, but less eager to be, is Batgirl who is the frustrated bystander who just wants to see everyone get along.

water tower

Some people just always like to invite themselves to the party.

The episode opens with Nightwing on a water tower scoping out some shipping docks. He apparently expects something to go down with some gun smugglers, and Batman and Batgirl soon arrive on the scene. Nightwing is not particularly happy to see them, rebuffing Batgirl’s friendly vibes while being rather straight with Batman. Once a forklift is deployed, Nightwing jumps into action. His suit is similar to a wing suit or the classic Spider-Man costume with the webbed under-arm portions. He glides in effortlessly, which looks ridiculous because the wings are far too small. Also, he now has a mullet. Aside from that, the simple black suit with blue logo and domino mask looks fine, better than that garish old Robin costume. In addition to the new threads he also has his own theme song which feels bright and upbeat (similar to Superman’s) which stands in contrast with Batman’s moody tunes. It’s a nice touch, but it almost feels corny. It’s a tad overused in this episode and I hope it’s not something that’s repeated a lot.

Nightwing gets the drop on the bad dudes and gets to work. He demonstrates he’s still plenty good at this crime fighting thing, and even shows off some new shurikens (Wing-a-rangs? Night-a-rangs?) of his own making. He tangles with one goon in a forklift, impossibly dodging bullets and depositing said forklift into the harbor. As he dusts himself off he fails to notice another thug closing in on him from behind with ill intentions. Batgirl swings in for the save, but Nightwing hardly seems grateful for the help. The two have a little argument that’s interrupted by a fleeing thug. He runs among some stacked shipping crates and finds Batman just casually leaning against some of the crates. He ignores the thug, who seems shocked, but eventually continues on his way.

batman inaction

Must be his night off.

Nightwing comes through the same way and seems irritated with Batman’s inaction, though he was recently agitated with Batgirl for the opposite. Batman gestures which way the perp ran with a “He’s all yours,” and Nightwing goes after him. Before he gets to him he can hear a commotion. Nightwing races around the corner to find the crook bound and gagged, and the person responsible is Catwoman. Sporting a new all black attire, Catwoman immediately acts cozy with the young Nightwing by blowing a kiss his way and goes into her backflip routine as she fades from view leaving Nightwing to wonder what that was all about.

img_4161

Nice crib, Dick.

The next night, Barbara pays Dick a visit at his loft to warn him not to trust Catwoman. Surprisingly, she never brings up her prior partnership with the same villain. Dick’s loft is rather fancy, making me wonder what he ended up doing for work or if this is all Wayne money. It has a dojo-like vibe to it as well, suggesting maybe Dick has sought out some teachings similar to what Bruce did before becoming Batman. Anyways, he has a cool motorcycle now and when Barbara points out there’s room for two on that bike he declines leaving her to lock-up.

catwomans affection

Catwoman knows how to get close to a man.

Seeking to follow a lead on the same drug-smuggling ring, Nightwing arrives in position where he can spy on a penthouse. Catwoman soon arrives and reveals she knows a thing or two about these guys. The guy they’re after goes by the name of Ricky the Hook (Sal Lopez) on account of his hook hand. Nightwing is reluctant to engage her, but she insists she’s on his side. When Nightwing allows for a slight opening in this job, thanks to some distractingly flirtatious behavior on the part of Catwoman, she takes it and the lead and heads over to the penthouse forcing Nightwing to pursue.

Rick the Hook

Enrique El Gancho, aka Rick the Hook.

The two infiltrate the penthouse and uncover some shipping schedules. As Nightwing downloads the information, he’s confronted by The Hook and some of his men. Worse, Catwoman has apparently left him high and dry. As The Hook confronts an irritated Nightwing though, Catwoman reappears to take out the hired help. As The Hook reels from the surprise appearance of the feline, Nightwing takes the opportunity to hit the man as hard as he can in the face. It seems to only stun him. Catwoman takes a whack at taking him down as well, but to similar results. The gunmen gather themselves and force the two to flee. They leap through a skylight and into an indoor pool. The gunmen fire from their vantage point down into it forcing Nightwing to take out the lights allowing for their eventual escape, but not before they engage in some slight slapstick by using pool equipment on the thugs.

Now out of danger, the unlikely partners go over what just happened. Catwoman pushes the idea of the two teaming up, and this time Nightwing is receptive to the proposal. This job clearly requires more than one person, and maybe he’s being seduced by Catwoman’s innate charms. Nearby though, Batman is watching and listening and he doesn’t look too happy.

Sometime later, or another day, Selina Kyle is lounging in her apartment amongst her cats. She’s apparently done well for herself since returning to a life of crime as this apartment appears to be every bit as nice as her old one. She’s also cut her hair short and dyed it black, in keeping with her comic look at the time (the prior blonde look was likely done to resemble Michelle Pfeiffer). Batman soon appears in her apartment and this isn’t a friendly visit. He warns Selina to stay away from Nightwing. She seems amused and opines that the Man Wonder can make his own decisions, implying that it must be common knowledge that Robin has grown up and transitioned to this Nightwing persona. Because drama demands it, Nightwing too shows up. He’s not at all pleased to see Batman sticking his nose in his business, but rather than get into an argument, Batman chooses to leave quietly. As he does, Nightwing looks up to see Batgirl watching and a brief, pained, expression crosses his face as she too departs.

Selina Kyle Short Hair

Selina is feeling frisky after ditching the bat.

With him gone, Nightwing informs Selina that he analyzed the files they took from Ricky the Hook and knows where the next big shipment will take place, and that it’s to take place tonight. Selina seems pleased and moves in closer to Nightwing causing him to stop her. It’s not that he’s rejecting the affectionate advance, but he’s spotted something:  a bat-shaped tracking device on Selina’s whip.

img_4164

A last ditch effort to keep the Man Wonder on her side.

Now in costume, Catwoman releases her cat Isis into the Gotham night. And on her collar is Batman’s tracking device. He and Batgirl are shown in the Batmobile falling for the ruse, as Catwoman and Nightwing head out to their rendezvous spot with some gun smugglers. Once they arrive at the docks, the two slip onto a ship and start nosing around the shipping containers. Catwoman seems especially eager, and Nightwing will soon learn why. As Nightwing breaks into some crates, he finds a priceless artifact rather than guns. He finds more, and when he goes to share this information with Catwoman he finds she’s rather consumed with her own affairs. It seems that Catwoman was recently in South America and stole an item called the Cat’s Eye Emerald and stashed it on this boat in order to bring it back to Gotham. She’s busy smashing a bunch of statues until she eventually finds it. Nightwing is rightly angry with her, but Catwoman is prepared for this reaction. She tries to smooth things over with her womanly charms resorting to the tired old villain line of pointing out the money she’ll get for this emerald will allow them to go anywhere they want. She tries to seal the deal with a kiss, but Nightwing rebuffs her. Catwoman informs him he can’t blame her for trying, before quickly tripping him and using her whip to drop a cargo net on top of him.

Batman and Batgirl soon burst onto the scene. Batman frees Nightwing from the net, who brushes himself off to tell Batman his hunch was right and that Catwoman led them right to the emerald. Catwoman is surprised to learn the two played her for a fool. As she lets them know how she feels about being conned, The Hook and his men arrive forcing Batgirl to deploy some smoke grenades to allow the three to escape.

batman vs the hook

The fight you never knew you wanted.

With the smoke obscuring the vision of the gunners, the trio take out the goons with ease. Nightwing gestures to Ricky the Hook informing Batman he’s all for him while he pursues a fleeing Catwoman. The two trade blows with Ricky the Hook even drawing blood from Batman. He eventually gets the upper hand on the Dark Knight, but as he goes to deliver a killing blow with his hook, Batman blocks it with a nearby fire extinguisher. The foam inside the extinguisher gets in Hook’s eyes and he stumbles back getting his hook caught in some chains. This causes a large crate to release from above which crashes down on top of him. For a moment, it looks like he’s going to brush this off as well, but then he collapses in a heap.

From the ship’s deck, Nightwing spots Catwoman attempting to flee via motorboat. He glides after her, but she takes notice and begins firing a flare gun at him. He avoids the projectiles, and as he descends onto the boat Catwoman accidentally hits the vessel causing it to go up in flames. Worse, they’re speeding towards an ocean liner which for some reason has its prop exposed above water. Catwoman tries to drown Nightwing by shoving his head underwater over the side of the boat, which is quite a vicious turn for her, but Nightwing pulls himself back onto the boat. Catwoman is apparently unaware of the impending collision, as Nightwing grabs her and leaps from the boat as it smashes into the ocean liner. The resulting explosion was apparently enough to knock out Catwoman, but not Nightwing. As he clings to a piece of the former motorboat with Catwoman draped on it as well, Batgirl arrives with the Batboat to see if he needs a hand. Nightwing responds by telling her he’s always happy to have some help as the episode ends.

nightwing could use a hand

The explosion conveniently knocks out the bad guy while leaving the good guy fully conscious.

“You Scratch My Back” is an interesting episode because it reintroduces us to Dick Grayson by showing us that his relationship with Batman has become strained. And yet, by the end of it we’re left to wonder how much of that was real and how much was just show to keep Catwoman in the dark. It makes me wonder if the show was afraid to make them too confrontational and wanted to have it both ways:  a fraught relationship, but also a buddy ensemble. Nightwing was made to be so naive though when it came to Catwoman that it basically had to go this way or else the character would have instantly lost all credibility. It would be one thing if the younger Robin were duped into something like this by a villain, but for Nightwing to fall for it would be absurd.

dick and barbara photo

There appear to be some hard feelings in the past of Dick and Barbara.

The episode does not show any interest in revealing what caused the break-ups that occurred offscreen. We know things could get tense between Batman and Robin, but we don’t know if Dick just gradually distanced himself or if there was one thing that put him over the edge. Similarly, we don’t know what happened between he and Barbara. When we last saw the two together they were a couple, but now they’re not. While Dick is getting into costume, Barbara is shown looking at a picture of the two of them with a look of sadness on her face. And who is Dick’s barber? That hairstyle is brutal.

As for Selina, we can see she’s been living a life of crime and doing quite well for herself. She’s managed to become wealthy again without running afoul of Batman, as evidenced by the fact that she’s not in jail. Is she even living as Selina Kyle or has she adopted an alias? Her new look seems to be even more influenced by her appearance in Batman Returns as her costume is basically identical to the one present in that film, just without the stitching. There’s something very cartoonish about her head though that really takes away from the sex appeal she’s supposed to possess which ultimately hurts the character. Aside from that, I do like how she’s portrayed as she’s very physical and flirtatious which strikes me as very cat-like.

Overall, this is a rather fun story. Sure, it left me with some questions, but it does a solid enough job of not telegraphing the end. The conflict is largely kept to Batman, Nightwing, and Catwoman so it didn’t need an A-list villain to serve as the adversary. Ricky the Hook is at least a physical menace and he gives Batman a good brawl further showing how open to violence this series is. Batgirl is just along for the ride, mostly, and Tim Drake is sidelined which is fine as there’s plenty of characters here anyway. For director Butch Lukic, this is his first time in the big chair after being a storyboard artist for the previous series. He does a good job as the action pieces are well done and the many characters are utilized well. He’ll go on to direct four more episodes of this series, including the much beloved “Mad Love,” as well as many episodes of Batman Beyond.


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