The New Batman Adventures – “Torch Song”

torch songEpisode Number:  10 (95)

Original Air Date:  June 13, 1998

Directed by:  Curt Geda

Written by:  Rich Fogel

First Appearance:  Firefly

One of the advantages in moving Batman from Fox to The WB was a lessening on restrictions placed on the character. It’s a bit funny since Fox was often the butt of many jokes, usually by shows it was airing, for being willing to put crass and outlandish content on its airwaves when compared with other networks. Maybe it’s just a simple case of escalation, but when The WB Network was launched it proved to be even less restrictive. When Batman was a part of Fox Kids, he had some rules he needed to follow. He couldn’t bleed and for some reason he couldn’t break glass. He often had to deal with his enemies indirectly, though at times he landed some solid blows (unlike Spider-Man who came later who wasn’t allowed to be seen punching a bad guy). Batman did enjoy a major concession by the network in that his foes could use realistic weaponry, so it’s not like it was all bad.

Something Fox was apparently loathe to include was fire. During production on Batman, the writers wanted to include the villain Firefly, a lesser villain but one who had been around for a long time in the comics. Firefly, as the name implies, likes to use fire as his main method of attack and that was apparently a no-no. It’s interesting because the same year Batman premiered, X-Men would as well and it was able to include the villain Pyro in its first season. Whatever. With the move to the new network though, former villains once shot down were now in-play, so here is the apparently long overdue episode introducing Firefly.

shannon

Bruce Wayne, always with a new girl.

“Torch Song” begins with Bruce Wayne taking a new girl to a concert. Her name is Shannon (Jane Wiedlin) and the episode seems to imply she’s a lot younger than Bruce. There’s either a generational gap here, or Bruce could just be really out of touch with pop music. He doesn’t seem too thrilled to be dragged here, but Shannon is quite eager to see tonight’s performer, Cassidy (Karla DeVito), and from some choice seats. As they head in to the venue, they pass Barbara who is apparently there solo. Her seats are much worse. She seems to be amused at the sight of Bruce literally being dragged into the show and into a situation he seemingly has no control over.

Backstage, Cassidy is getting ready to hit the stage. Cassidy is a short, curvy, blonde with a low voice. She’s played up to be rather sexy, but the visual style for this show makes all of the women just look weird to me. She’s in the midst of an exchange with someone who works backstage. He’s a large fellow by the name of Garfield Lynns (Mark Rolston) and he’s more than a little creepy. It would seem the two used to be an item, but now they’re not, and old Garfield isn’t too happy about that. Worse, he’s apparently in charge of the pyrotechnics and we’re about to find out they’re a pretty big part of the show. Cassidy is sick of the conversation and wants the guy fired, but apparently doesn’t see the danger in having a just-fired ex-boyfriend controlling the pyro for the show that’s about to begin.

cassidy stage

Even Iron Maiden would be impressed.

Cassidy takes to the stage. She’s on a podium surrounded by flames. Her voice actress, Karla DeVito, is a professional singer herself so Cassidy both looks and sounds the part of a singer. As she gets into the song, the fire rages around her. It soon reaches unsafe levels, but the crowd is in awe. Eventually, Cassidy can’t continue the performance because it’s too hot as she drops to her knees. The fire then rages out of control and people start to flee. Backstage, Cassidy’s manager tries to stop Lynns from making things worse, but he shoves him aside. Soon he realizes this thing it out of control, and bails.

Bruce doesn’t budge, despite the protests of Shannon. He stands there and is apparently scanning for any way he can get to the woman and save her, but nothing is opening up. Suddenly, Batgirl swings in and makes the save, letting Cassidy know she’s a big fan before taking off. Bruce is apparently not concerned about blowing their identities as he approaches Batgirl to praise her for the rescue. She reminds him sometimes it pays to get the cheap seats.

Detective Harvey Bullock (Robert Costanzo) is shown storming an apartment with a host of police officers in tow. It’s the home of Lynns and it’s basically a shrine to Cassidy. Lynns is no where to be found though, so Bullock helps himself to the contents of the guys’ refrigerator. Now feels like an appropriate time to note that Bullock’s character model has put on quite a few pounds between series. Lynns is then shown at work in a different building, vowing revenge.

cassidy shrine

Probably not the mark of a man in good mental health.

Cassidy is then shown at her apartment having a chat with her agent, Frank (David Paymer). She’s unconcerned with the apparent attempt on her life, and remains so even after opening a threatening letter that burns in her hands after she reads it. The letter contained a picture of her and the message “The star that burns brightest burns fastest.” She’s not going to let this threat prevent her from her next appearance at a new club calls Rock City that night, which is where Firefly chooses to make his entrance.

firefly

The villain of the day:  Firefly.

Firefly comes onto the scene dressed in what I think is an all metal suit. That would probably get really hot really fast, but I guess he’s not bothered by it. He has oversized lenses on his eyes giving him a bug-like appearance which the wings also add to. He has a gun and a tank on his bank making him visually resemble a Bizarro Mr. Freeze since his gun shoots fire instead of ice. His fire-bombing of the venue sends people fleeing, which attracts the attention of Batman and Batgirl who had been enjoying a drama-free evening up until now. They’re able to swoop in as Firefly confronts Cassidy amongst the flames.

fire sword

He’s got a sword made of fire. Better add that one to the notes, Batman.

Firefly demonstrates his wings aren’t just for show, as he blasts off out of there following a wicked right hook from Batman. Batman isn’t willing to let him go, as he uses one of his many ropes to grab onto Firefly. He’s then taken for a ride through the skies of Gotham, but his trip is cut short, literally, when Firefly produces a freaking flame-sword. He slashes the rope binding his ankles sending Batman plummeting pretty violently to the ground where Batgirl and Cassidy are waiting to check on him.

cassidy

Cassidy seems quite happy to see Batman.

Sometime later, Batman drops in on Cassidy for a little intel. She seems happy to see the caped crusader and immediately puts on a flirtatious act as she cozies up to the Batman. She tells Batman about Lynns and her past relationship with him. Interestingly, from her perspective they were never really an item, just a pair of people who had dinner a few times and he couldn’t take the hint that things weren’t going to progress any further. She then makes a play for Batman to be her personal bodyguard, but Batman pulls his disappearing trick to get out of that one.

Batman and Batgirl head out to an old warehouse connected to Lynns. Sure enough, it appears to be his hideout as it’s loaded with lots of pyrotechnic equipment. No Lynns though, and as Batman looks around Batgirl is ever chatty. This appears to be a theme for this show where Batman’s sidekick of the moment keeps yapping away while Batman remains stoic, only for the yapper to screw things up. In this case, Batgirl apparently wanted to shine some light on the area and throws a switch as Batman shouts at her not to. Too late, and the building explodes.

firefly kidnapping

Not the hero she was looking for.

As we’re left to ponder the fate of Batman and Batgirl, Cassidy is shown rehearsing in a studio. Things seem rather normal, until smoke starts to fill the studio. As people flee, Cassidy stumbles through the smoke in search of a helping hand. She finds one in Frank, and the two escape. Only, she though it was Frank, but it turns out to be Firefly who now has what he’s apparently sought for some time.

Back at that warehouse, the explosion apparently wasn’t as bad as the cut made it seem. Oh there is tons of fire, but Batman and Batgirl appear to be no worse for ware. The fire is too much for them to handle though, and they’re forced to flee out a window. Some debris falls on Batgirl and she lets out an awful scream. Batman finds her unconscious beneath a pile of rubble.

img_4530

It’s always Batgirl that seems to get hurt.

We immediately cut to the Batcave where Alfred is tending to Batgirl. This is apparently now a solo mission as Batman ponders how to deal with this new villain. The police have no leads on Cassidy’s kidnapping, but a matchbook Batman found has an address on it and he seems to think that’s where he should look next. Alfred then ends up being the one to suggest he dawn something more durable, which likely excited the marketing department at Warner since Batman will get a new outfit to turn into an action figure.

The matchbook Batman found was from the Mephisto Paint Company, and lo and behold, that’s where Firefly has taken Cassidy. She’s bound and doing the usual thing of trying to reason with her captor. He’s beyond reason though, and instead chooses to do the old villain routine of demonstrating how his fabulous and destructive scheme will go down. It would seem Lynns is a pretty smart guy when it comes to combustion, and he’s invented a gel that is highly flammable. As he demonstrates it for Cassidy, he explains he’s going to fill the Gotham sewer system with the stuff then set it ablaze. As the city burns, the two of them will make their escape out of Gotham and to a new life in parts unknown.

img_4531

There’s a Batman under there.

Before Firefly can set his plan in motion, Batman arrives. He really does have wonderful timing. Sporting an all black heat-resistant suit similar to Firefly’s, Batman goes after him demonstrating that it will take more than a few fireballs to take him out. Firefly turns to his trusty flame-sword to turn the tables on Batman, slicing up some piping and causing it to fall on him. He then sets his plan on motion by starting the gel feed, then turns his attention back to Batman. The flame-sword may have been a handy equalizer, but it’s also a useful tool for Batman to screw up Firefly’s plan. He kicks it out his hand, and it lands in the gel, igniting it. Since it didn’t have time to spread into the sewer, only the plant they’re in goes up in flames. That’s not an issue for two guys in fireproof suits, but poor Cassidy sure has a problem with it. Firefly runs off to apparently try and correct this error, while Batman goes after Cassidy. He’s able to get her to safety, and it must be his lucky day because Firefly stumbles out of the burning building and collapses due to exhaustion, or maybe heat stroke, who knows?

As an epilogue to the events of the episode, Cassidy is shown dining at a restaurant with Frank. She seems to have returned to her defiant and headstrong personality in spite of all that has happened to her as she brushes aside Frank’s concerns about her wellbeing. And Frank couldn’t be happier as all of the publicity created by Firefly has made her more popular than ever. As Frank goes on about incorporating a fire theme into her persona, Cassidy’s gaze goes to a dessert at nearby table which is ignited with flame. She flinches, and Frank takes notice by asking her what’s wrong. As the camera tightens on her face, a look of horror fills her eyes as the episode ends.

bat fire suit

It’s not often an episode gives us a new look for Batman.

Batman: The Animated Series had a lot of success in adapting B-tier villains and boosting their image. Sure, not every one of them was successful, but many were and they became favored villains for viewers of the show and even readers of the comics. Firefly sort of settles in the middle. He’s got a solid gimmick and he’s certainly creepy given the whole stalker aspect of his persona, but I never really bought into him as a high stakes villain. Batman suggests he is by going with this new suit, but it doesn’t really feel earned. Not that I mind the new duds which just strike me as practical. If you’re going to fight a guy who shoots fire, it’s probably a good idea to go with something flame-retardant.

The Cassidy character is fine. I like that they hired someone in Karla DeVito who could both handle the speaking role and do the singing to add some authenticity to her. I can’t decide if we’re supposed to think of her as just a very strong and self-confident individual or if we should view her as foolish for not taking Firefly’s threat seriously. I suppose it’s a little of both, though I admire her bravery. It makes the ending, which seems to implicate she’s going to be traumatized by the events of this episode for years to come, feel a bit mean. It’s similar to how the villain of Riddler’s debut episode turned out who was shown living in fear of The Riddler coming to get him. Cassidy didn’t earn that, and I can’t tell if the episode wants us to think she deserves this. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and presume we’re just getting a glimpse at the lasting impacts one of these supervillains can have. Even though his scheme ultimately failed, Firefly still left a mark that’s pretty significant. It’s not something we’re shown often.

Visually, this episode is pretty neat given all of the fire on display. I feel hot just watching it, though maybe that’s because I’m writing this during a brutal heat wave. Firefly is a bit silly looking, but at least his suit appears functional. The look of it would have fit I quite well with the previous iteration of this show as it has a retro design. Batman’s fire suit is a little more bland by comparison as it’s just an all black suit with no mouth opening or cape. It’s easy to animate at least, and like Firefly’s suit, it certainly looks functional which is probably what Batman would prioritize over style. It’s just not something I’d be clamoring for an action figure of.

cassidy fire eyes

Poor Cassidy is going to have some stuff to work through.

Firefly will not be a one and done villain as he has one other appearance yet to come. As I said earlier, he’s fine and so is this episode. It’s nice to get some new blood into the mix and not every villain needs a sympathy angle. As for Cassidy, this is it for her so we’ll never learn what lasting damage Firefly inflicted upon her. Maybe she would have been brought back had this show received a second order of episodes, but that was not to be. I actually would have liked to have caught up with her again. Since the show declined to follow-up on her, I’ll take the road of the optimist and assume she got the help she needed and was able to live a well-adjusted life going forward. It feels cruel to assume otherwise.

 


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