Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – The Ultimate Collection Vol. 5

tmnt vol5It’s been a long break in between posts about this subject. So long that I’d rather not point it out any further! At long last though I have finally finished reading fifth volume of The Ultimate Collection, a line of hardbound, oversized, compendiums of comic books spanning the Eastman and Laird era of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by Mirage Comics. The volumes are published by current TMNT comic publisher IDW and are presented in their original black and white appearance with new artwork by Kevin Eastman used for the back and front cover. Both Eastman and TMNT co-creator Peter Laird provide thoughts and reactions following each issue as they provide insight into their thought process and elaborate on where an idea may have come from.

This fifth volume is essentially the finale to this series, though two additional volumes follow. This one wraps up the City at War arc (issues #56-62) which was basically the grand finale for Eastman and Laird. At this point, they already had stopped drawing and inking the books and had moved onto managing the brand more than anything. These seven issues were originally published in 1993 when TMNT was past its peak, but still very much a money-maker. Artist Jim Lawson had basically taken over all of the pencil duties and was even contributing to the story at this point. Keith Aiken and Jason Temujin Minor handled the inking while Eric Talbot did the tones and Mary Kelleher the lettering.

karai

Karai has arrived and is ready to make her move.

In case you haven’t read my write-up on Volume 4, City at War tells the tale of the Turtles returning to New York to find that the Foot Clan has split into various competing factions with the loss of Shredder. Karai, leader of the Foot Clan in Japan, has arrived to clean things up and she’s targeting the heroes in a half shell who are currently holed up in an abandoned water tower. Splinter is injured and trapped by the Rat King, making his mainline debut. Meanwhile, April is off living in LA with her sister Robyn while Casey is engaged to a pregnant woman named Gabe and trying to start a new life himself after giving up on chasing April.

I found many of the issues in Volume 4 of this collection to be long and slow. It didn’t help that I wasn’t enamored with Jim Lawson’s take on the Turtles and I was badly missing the art of Eastman and Laird. Even though their art was often rough and had an amateurish quality at times, it was a good fit for the property and it was also improving. It was rewarding to see that maturation take place right before my eyes.

For this round of issues, my enthusiasm is much higher. It gets right to the point with the revelation of who is holding Splinter captive and also has Karai spring her Foot ninja on the Turtles early. This sets up the main conflict which is Karai’s wish to take out Shredder’s remaining Foot Elite, and she wants the Turtles to help. There’s a good scene of the brothers debating the merits of jumping back into the fray. They acknowledge, for the first time, that a lot of the violence is the result of their lost master’s quest for revenge. They were born to avenge Splinter, and they were successful, but their actions have not lead to a better New York for anyone. It’s a really introspective look at the Turtles and not something I was expecting. My only disappointment is that it didn’t eventually lead to a conversation on the subject with Splinter himself.

img_1021

Splinter goes through some real shit in these books.

For April, these issues also bring her back to New York. Her father passes away suddenly forcing her and her sister to come to New York for the services. Once there, she decides to stay, and it’s only a matter of time until her path crosses with her old friends. For Casey, tragedy brings him back as well in a rather bold way. The writing for him isn’t as strong as it is for the Turtles, but it still covers subject matter I wasn’t really expecting. For Splinter, he spends much of his time in a delirium and his sequences are pretty visceral. I am not sure what the overall message is supposed to be with Splinter, I guess they wanted him to embrace his primal side at the expense of his learned humanity. It was interesting though and it was nice to finally care about Splinter.

As would be expected from a title with the word “war” in it, there’s a lot of action across these pages. This is where Lawson gets to shine as an artist. His style seems to improve throughout and by the time I made it to the end I was onboard with his Turtles. He is able to convey movement so well and some of the detail work is gorgeous. This is easily a much nicer book to look at than the previous one, and Lawson is the main force behind that.

img_1020

I was way more into the artwork this time around and a lot had to do with the brilliant sequencing by Jim Lawson.

The story is a pretty satisfying one, though the ending is a bit unexpected. This is possibly the best arc Mirage ever tackled and much of the good stuff is contained in these issues. I am definitely glad I finally got around to going through it, even if I’ve had it since it was released. Eastman and Laird don’t provide too much in their comments. Eastman is at least good at setting the mood and placing the reader back in 1993. After that, he mostly just gushes about the talent involved in this project. Laird is a bit more critical and willing to point out things that didn’t work, though ultimately he just plain has very little to say.

A sixth volume in this set was released following this one, but it’s just one-shots and short stories not done by Eastman and Laird. A seventh volume is supposedly on the way as well which is basically going to be an art book. If you’re like me and just wanted to experience the original creators’ interpretation of these characters, then the five volumes are the only ones you need to concern yourself with. I’m not sure if any are still in print, but they have yet to become expensive to acquire. This is a good gift for any Turtle-loving person in your life. Though I feel obligated to point out that these stories are intended for mature audiences as these aren’t the pizza-loving dudes from the cartoons, but chances are if you’re even interested in these works you’re well aware of that fact.


Dragon Quest: Your Story

dq your storyIn the 1980s, game designer Yuji Horii set out to create a role-playing experience similar to a pen and paper RPG for a video game console. The goal was to blend elements of those experiences with statistical and complex Western PC games like Wizardry and Ultima as the back bone. In order to make it appeal to a Japanese audience, he wanted to infuse it with what he had learned working with manga and add character and story to the equation. The end result of that was Dragon Quest, known for a time as Dragon Warrior in the West. In creating Dragon Quest, Horii gave birth to the genre we know and love as the Japanese Role-Playing Game, or JRPG for short.

Dragon Quest was a cultural phenomenon in Japan when it arrived for the Famicom game system in 1986. Three sequels would follow and all would be brought to the Nintendo Entertainment System in the West. The series never caught on outside of Japan, and the series skipped the Super Nintendo all-together and didn’t return to a global release until Dragon Quest VII on the PlayStation. The series was the flagship title for game developer Enix, who would eventually be acquired by Squaresoft who had found great success with its Dragon Quest clone:  Final Fantasy. Those two franchises have come to define the JRPG genre and are still to this day looked to as being the trend-setter for the genre, which has admittedly sailed past its hey-day.

No matter, for Dragon Quest still has a dedicated and loyal following. And while the somewhat recently released Dragon Quest XI has taken it in a more modern direction, it still seems that the favorite game of the series amongst the fanbase is Dragon Quest V, also known as Dragon Quest V:  Hand of the Heavenly Bride.

dqv

Dragon Quest: Your Story is based on Dragon Quest V which is easily the most beloved entry in the long-running series.

Dragon Quest V, released in 1992 and eventually in North America in 2009, was the first game in the series released on the Super Famicom and also the first to skip North America initially. Like basically every game in the series, the player controls a silent protagonist that they’re allowed to bestow a name upon. They journey with that player on a lengthy quest partaking in turn-based battles that result from random encounters on both a world map or a dungeon sequence. Where Dragon Quest V seems to really distinguish itself though is in the scope of the journey and subversion of expectations. During the course of the game, the player will be faced with a choice of whom to take as a bride and that marriage will result in the birth of twins who eventually join your party as playable characters. There’s also a monster collecting element at play that undoubtedly influenced the Pokémon series in which after defeating a monster some will randomly request to join your party becoming playable as well. The game ends up following the hero from child to adult and players seemed to really enjoy that aspect of the experience as it breads attachment. It’s actually surprising more games haven’t attempted the same.

To celebrate the franchise, Dragon Quest:  Your Story was conceived and released in Japan in 2019. It has just now become available on Netflix outside of Japan. The film adapts Dragon Quest V for the big screen with a CG adventure that takes the viewer through the events of the game basically from start to finish. The film is written and directed by Takashi Yamazaki with additional directing credits going to Ryuichi Yagi and Makoto Hanafusa. Shirogumi Inc was chosen to handle the animation with additional effects done by Robot Communications.

luca sabrecat

The film opted to go with CG in place of two-dimensional, hand-drawn, animation.

Fans of Dragon Quest V seemed elated at the thought of the game becoming a feature-length film. Animation is definitely the way to go, though I wonder if many were disappointed to find out it would be a CG animated feature and not a more traditional two-dimensional anime. By including the tagline “Your Story,” it seems the film is also aiming to replicate the RPG experience each player goes through, even if it means this time around the hero needs a name.

Like the video game it is based on, Dragon Quest:  Your Story tells the tale of a hero named Luca (Yuri Lowenthal) who at a young age loses his mother to monsters. Together with his father Pankraz (Parker Simmons), Luca embarks on a mission to retrieve the fabled Zenithian Blade in the hopes that it will help them free their beloved. The blade can only be wielded by the Heavenly Hero, whom Pankraz believes to be his son. Along the way, Pankraz will meet his end forcing Luca to go it alone. Only, he’s not alone and will soon be joined by a sabre cat cub and a curious slime. He has allies in the young prince Harry (Zeno Robinson), scrappy Bianca (Stephanie Sheh) and magical Nera (Xanthe Huynh).

dq slime

Yes, we have a slime in this one.

Adapting a roughly 25 hour game to a 103 minute film is certainly a daunting task. Much of those hours in the game are spent grinding away through dungeons and such, but even stripping those away still leaves a lot of ground to cover. As a result, the film can’t really attempt at introducing everything the game throws at the player and basically boils it all down to a few key bullet points. There’s also a liberal dose of montage at work making this film really only accessible for those who played the game. To those who did not it will feel more like an animated summary with no room to breath or to form actual attachments to the characters presented here. This format might actually make it more accessible for younger kids with short attention spans, but older viewers with no familiarity with the brand will probably tune out.

The visuals for the film hold up quite well throughout. Series artist Akira Toriyama was not on-hand for the development of this film, but it’s clear his original art was referenced for the film’s visuals. The sabre cat in particular has a very Toriyama-like appearance as do others. Where the visuals suffer is in the dubbing. Either a direct translation was insisted upon for the English dub or there just wasn’t much attention paid to it because the mouth flaps of the characters rarely sync up naturally. It’s distracting, but this is a film that isn’t exactly dialogue heavy so it’s not as killer as it could have been. There are subtitled options available, and if you’re not averse to reading them it might be the better way to go. Much of the film’s music and sounds were lifted directly from the game, but updated with an actual orchestra where appropriate. It makes the film feel incredibly authentic in its presentation.

Where the film has garnered controversy though lies in its aim. Much of the film up until the climactic battle with the monstrous Bishop Ladja feels like a love letter to Dragon Quest V, but that’s ultimately not the film’s intention. Dragon Quest:  Your Story is aiming a bit higher. It wants to be a celebration of Dragon Quest itself and not just a particular game. Dragon Quest V is merely the chosen vehicle for that delivery. The end contains a twist that is rather high concept. I don’t wish to spoil it, but even if the idea sounded great on paper the execution is a bit awkward. It definitely torpedoes the excitement of the climax adding a layer of complexity onto a story that, up until that point, was anything but.

bianca

Bianca was probably my favorite aspect of the film, though given the rapid-pace of the film she ends up not being featured all that much.

As someone who does not have any particular attachment to Dragon Quest or Dragon Quest V, I can say that the ending did not anger me, though I certainly wasn’t satisfied either. I have played Dragon Quest V, so I was familiar with the story going into this and could follow the film. The ending to the game is possibly the least interesting aspect of it, so changing things up doesn’t bother me on the surface. The execution here is just clumsy, and some of the elements of the ending might have served the film better had they been introduced from the start. This isn’t the type of story that needs or wants a big twist. It doesn’t have enough depth to pull the viewer in and then reap the reward of dumping them on their head. For those unfamiliar with the game, it just feels like a noisy, dumb, fantasy picture that commands little attention. For those who love the source material, they just want to see it to its conclusion likely enjoying the ride well enough while knowing it’s incomplete and only scratches the surface. The film basically spends 90 minutes making fans of the game happy, then the last ten angry.

dragon-quest-your-story-smoke

Dragon Quest fan groups reacting to the ending.

As a result, Dragon Quest:  Your Story is a film that doesn’t really please anybody. Newcomers will likely find it dry, while longtime fans will be angry with the ending. I suppose Dragon Quest fans that aren’t that enamored with Dragon Quest V might be able to better appreciate what the film was striving for, but I have yet to meet a fan that fits that definition. For me, a casual player of Dragon Quest, I got very little out of this one. The visuals and music are mostly nice, even if I would have preferred a more traditional anime look. The action pieces are dull and the pace of the film is far too quick for any of the emotional beats to land with much impact. I found Luca charming and Bianca especially was charismatic, though she is in maybe 10 minutes of the film as a functioning character, when all is said and done. Dragon Quest:  Your Story is a flawed and ultimately disposable piece of entertainment. It’s ending will give fans something to talk about, which unfortunately is likely to become the film’s legacy rather than as a celebration of a beloved franchise.


Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

sonic 2020It was an interesting journey for the world’s most famous hedgehog to go from the small screen to the big screen, but the journey was finally completed Valentine’s Day 2020. Originally set to debut last Thanksgiving, Sonic the Hedgehog famously was delayed when fans reacted unfavorably to the title character’s design. Like Detective Pikachu before it, Sonic the Hedgehog was attempting to bring a CG version of the titular character into a real world setting. Fans were justified in their reaction to the debut of the character as he was only vaguely a representation of a character that’s been around for 30 years. The extra time, money, and effort to redesign Sonic has apparently paid off as the film raced out to an impressive debut weekend topping the weekend box office.

From the start, Sonic was always engineered to be pleasing to the eye. He was famously designed as a mash-up of two iconic characters:  Mickey Mouse and Felix the Cat. The fact that someone tied to this film decided to deviate from such a simple and effective premise feels like an ego-driven maneuver, but it’s likely it was just a result of over-thinking. Sonic the character doesn’t fit into the “real world.” He basically has one giant eye with two pupils in it, he’s a  blue hedgehog, but he doesn’t really have visible fur. And his head is bigger than his body in his classic iteration, though he’s since been elongated and given a more sleek figure over the years. The original stab at the character included fur (or quills), which was to be expected. What was odd was the attempt at shaping the face to something more rodent-like, I suppose. The end result was more of a combination of late 90s Michael Jackson and the transformed monkey kid from the original Jumanji. He had an oddly pointed nose and more natural shaped eyes to go along with a toothy smile that seemed to make viewers quite uncomfortable. His body was lean and slightly muscular – a runner’s body. Instead of white gloves he had white fur and was just all-together unpleasant to look at. The redesign basically took things back to the character’s roots. Physically, he’s more Sonic Adventure than Sonic from the Genesis. He still has textured fur as director Jeff Fowler felt that was important for a mostly live-action film, and he has two distinct eyes. He got to put his gloves back on though and his overall facial design is much more true to what fans expected. All in all, he looks nice.

bad sonic

This is not the Sonic fans wanted…

Which is certainly a start. An unappealing lead is hardly a death-knell for a movie, but it doesn’t help when the character is supposed to be visually appealing. It’s not something that can rescue a bad movie though, and I would guess most assumed Sonic the Hedgehog would be a bad movie. It’s not like video game to film adaptations have a good track record. I liked Mortal Kombat as a kid, but I’d hesitate to call it a good film. I did take the family to Detective Pikachu last year and felt it was fine for what it was. I know there are some fans out there that enjoy some of the Resident Evil and Tomb Raider films, but I do not number myself among them. Expectations for a video game movie are low, and will remain low until a Marvel-like run of success so expecting anything out of Sonic felt foolish.

good sonic

Much better!

And perhaps it’s that mindset that contributed the most to my enjoyment of Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s certainly easier to be pleasantly surprised by a film when expectations are low, but Sonic the Hedgehog managed to mostly achieve the same level of success as Detective Pikachu. And a lot of that can be attributed to the success of the main character. Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz who has quickly established himself as the best Sonic, sorry Jaleel) is charismatic. He has a manic personality as a result of living life faster than anyone while possessing a sense of honor and responsibility which are traits that lend well to heroism. He’s playful, chatty, inquisitive, and also a touch sympathetic. He’s essentially an orphan who was targeted by some bad dudes (who bare a strong resemblance to another Sonic frenemy) for his speediness and forced to flee his home world with the help of his magic rings. The rings in the film are magical devices capable of opening up portals to other worlds, which is how Sonic arrives on Earth as a kid and is forced to live in hiding. He badly just wants to make friends, and he’s taken a liking to a local cop he refers to as Donut Lord (James Marsden) mainly via peeping on his daily life. One night, in a fit of sadness, Sonic goes a bit too fast and produces something akin to an EMP pulse that knocks out power in the community which gets the attention of the US Government.

jim carrey robotnik

Carrey gets to bring his own personality to Robotnik, but he’s also kept in check and turns in a very fun performance.

The film wisely doesn’t focus much on the government stuff and instead uses a very loose scene to have those in charge select one Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) to investigate the cause of the phenomena. Carrey’s Robotnik bares little resemblance to the video game character (more commonly referred to as Eggman these days), but he possesses a quirky personality. Unlike a lot of iterations of Robotnik, he’s also a capable bad guy at times undone by his hubris. Carrey injects some of his usual comedic antics into the role, but nothing that becomes too over-the-top. He’s entertaining, and the only character other than Sonic capable of stealing a scene.

Robotnik quickly ends up on Sonic’s trail and from there the film turns into a road trip buddy comedy with Sonic forced to come out of hiding and seek the help of Donut Lord, aka Tom. The film does a good enough job of balancing the comedy with action. Tom and Sonic mostly get along from the start so it doesn’t play up tension too much between the leads. Not all of the comedy lands as this is a PG film primarily looking to entertain children. There’s a confrontation at a bar that’s a bit groan-inducing, as well as some jokes that amount to product placement, but the film doesn’t linger on anything long enough for it to grow boring or stale. The main plot beats are simple and easy enough to follow even for younger viewers making this one more about the ride than the final destination.

sonic ring

Sonic’s rings play an integral role in the film acting as portals between worlds for Sonic to escape into.

Visually, the film’s special effects hold up just fine. No, I don’t suppose I ever really bought into the concept of Sonic actually existing in this world like I may have at times with Pikachu, but I didn’t feel that harmed my enjoyment of the movie. The film makes liberal use of the slow-motion sequences popularized by the X-Men franchise when illustrating just how fast Sonic can move. Like Quicksilver, Sonic will appear to move at normal speed while the world around him is nearly frozen in time allowing him to correct a situation or just make mischief. It’s not exactly original, but it’s also not something that needed improving on. The film’s score and sound effects also make use of sounds fans of the game have grown up with. Honestly, the film could have used more of the original music as what is adapted for this film is basically the only music that stands out.

sonic friends

Sonic’s human allies, played by James Marsden and Tika Sumpter, don’t offer much, but they also don’t need to.

Beyond those sounds, there’s actually not a ton of fan-service in this one. There are some easter eggs, mainly the attackers early in the film, but the film mostly keeps everything in check. What’s here is enjoyable and most of it is easy to spot. Perhaps even too easy as I was hoping to come home and find out I missed a bunch of stuff that I could look for on another viewing, but I basically caught it all. I was a little disappointed that the film wasn’t able to make use of past voice actors, most notably Jaleel White, but maybe the studio tried and it just didn’t happen. The same can be said of past songs like the theme for the Saturday morning cartoon or the Sega CD “Sonic Boom” track. There is a post credits cameo that’s worth waiting for that all but guarantees a sequel as well, so if you like this then I guess that’s good news.

Sonic the Hedgehog is a competent take on the character that successfully adapts him for the big screen. It’s not a great film, but it is a short one coming it around 99 minutes and that’s all the time it needed. It’s a film worth seeing if you’re a big fan of the character, or if you’re like me and you’re just looking for a movie to take the kids to that won’t bore or annoy you. If you liked Detective Pikachu then I think that’s a pretty good comparison and a solid indicator on if you’ll like this one. Sonic moves at a faster pace and has fewer lulls, but it also doesn’t have as much heart. Its human characters are bland and uninteresting, but they thankfully are not tasked with carrying many scenes by themselves. This is a film that knows what its audience wants, and that’s Sonic. He’s front and center and quite enjoyable to spend time with. If you ever wanted to see a Sonic movie, it’s hard to imagine one turning out better than this.


Bucky O’Hare Wave 3.5 Aniverse Storm Toad Trooper

img_0978It’s been a long time between releases by Bucky O’Hare license holder Boss Fight Studio. The last figure released by the company was 2018’s Storm Toad Trooper, a figure that arrived at my doorstep on Boxing Day 2018. Since that time, Boss Fight Studio has had sculpts and specs to show off, most notablyBruiser, but no releases. Somewhat quietly though, this variant of the Storm Toad arrived at my door this week. I had not and still have not seen any mention of his release by Boss Fight’s social media accounts and he’s actually still listed as a pre-order item on their webstore. I know the company had some delays it had to deal with in 2018 relating to the offshore factory it utilizes to make the figures (which is why the previously set for release in the Fall of 2018 Bruiser is now slated for a Spring 2020 release) and I assume those delays impacted this figure as well.

img_3605

Some source material for this one.

Needless to say, it’s good to have some new Bucky product to talk about, even if it is a repaint of a previously released figure. If you’re going to re-release a figure though, it doesn’t hurt that it’s one of the best figures the company has put out. The Storm Toad Trooper is a marvel to look at. He looks like he was pulled right out of the comic from which he originated and there’s a ton of personality baked into this sculpt. Boss Fight smartly made sure he came with two heads and two pieces of headgear:  a hat and the traditional trooper helmet, which encouraged fans to buy two as it offered two distinct display pieces. And of course, there’s always the temptation to buy even more and “army build” the ranks of the Toads. At $35 a piece, slightly less if you opt for a two-pack, it’s a bit tough to justify building out a huge army of Troopers, but the temptation is certainly there.

In order to help maximize the value Boss Fight gets from each figure, the company has produced at least one variant of each sculpt it has released so far. For the Trooper, that means an Aniverse version. The Aniverse is the setting for the cartoon Bucky O’Hare and the Toad Wars and it simply means “Animated Universe.” Though considering all of the denizens of Bucky’s world are anthropomorphic animals from our world, it also works as an “Animal Universe” as well. The first run of all of Boss Fight’s action figures thus far have been based on the licensing art supplied by Continuity Comics. In order to make the show easier to animate, some characters were changed when moving to animation, though for the most part the changes were minimal. Boss Fight even showed off an Aniverse Bucky variant that seems to have been quietly cancelled, possibly because he underwent very minimal changes when changing mediums.

The Aniverse variant of the Storm Toad is the first such variant that has been produced. It makes sense considering the Storm Toad did change a bit. His jumpsuit was altered from black to blue, probably to help him stand out against the many black, space, backdrops in the show. All of the gold on his uniform was also changed to yellow, probably because yellow is cheaper, and in some episodes his gun switched from hot pink to light blue. The green of his helmet and trim are also darkened a touch and there’s less detail on his skin. For the figure, this means no green patches on his hands and head. Lastly, the lens covers on his helmet also went from hot pink to red.

img_0986

Two guns are better than one.

All of these little details have been captured by Boss Fight Studio with this version of the character. Beyond the change to the color scheme, the figure is essentially the same as released in 2018. For a brief rundown, this means he has a pair of trigger finger hands, two open palm hands, one pointing finger hand, a grinning head, a head with a sort-of side grin, helmet, hat, pistol, rifle, and hooked bayonet. A small piece of the rifle can be removed and swapped with the bayonet if you so desire. All of the weapons can be stored on the little peg holes on the figure’s belt or held. The figure itself is pretty loaded with articulation, though the details of the outfit hinder him a bit in ways the other characters in this series were not. It’s mainly those shoulder, elbow and knee pads which limit things a touch. He also has a very wide stance which doesn’t really lend itself well to dynamic posing, but it gets the job done.

Since this is basically a repaint, the figure has all of the pluses the previous one had. It also possesses the same negatives as well, of which there are few, but still worth a mention. His helmet is a real challenge to get onto the alternate head. You can try heating it up to make it more pliable, but that still might not get the job done. I could never get it to sit flush like it does on the stock head (which it snaps onto with satisfying ease) when it came to the original release, but this time I actually got it on! The second head doesn’t move as well though on the ball joint, but maybe I just pushed it in too far. The lens effect on the helmet is also achieved with a translucent plastic that runs throughout the entire inner part of the helmet and does leave red smudges on the head, something I never noticed with the first version. The alternate hat also doesn’t really snap in place, but it also doesn’t really need to as it looks fine even if it’s basically just floating on the head. The heads are a touch challenging to swap so be careful, but the hands are fairly simple. The included rifle looks great, but it is hard to get him into an appropriate rifle pose. If you can get him to hold it properly with his finger on the trigger you may be tempted to just leave it there as I did with the 2018 figure. I failed to do so this time around and a little stress crack was forming on the rifle handle so I backed off.

The Aniverse Storm Toad Trooper comes in Boss Fight’s collector friendly blister packaging. It’s a card-back with a plastic bubble that can be removed and reinserted with ease. Boss Fight even updated the artwork to reflect the new Toad with a some-what janky looking individual that’s reminiscent of the toon itself. It would have been neat if the little comic strip could have been updated to include scenes from the cartoon, but that probably would have meant cutting a check to Hasbro (who holds the rights to the cartoon) and I understand the decision to not do so there. Interestingly, the blister has changed slightly from past figures as the actual bubble is lower than before which necessitated moving the name plate up above the bubble and below the logo as opposed to on the bottom. If you’re curious, this figure is considered number 11 in the series. The bio card on the back is unchanged from the first release.

img_0976

It’s hardly what I would call an army, but it’s a start.

Because I’ve just always liked the look of the character, the Storm Toad Trooper is still one of my favorites from this toy-line, a line in which it’s really hard to pick a true favorite as all have been exceptional. I also really like this color scheme and I think I prefer it to the original, though I’m glad I didn’t have to choose between the two. For the first release, I did opt for the two-pack, but this time around I only pre-ordered the one. Interestingly, when I ordered it I had elected the option to pick it up at Boss Fight’s brick and mortar location in Norwood, MA, but the company shipped it to me instead, so a sincere thanks to Boss Fight for the free shipping! I don’t know if it was shipped in error or if they have stopped taking orders for pickup. A quick look at their website seems to suggest that option is still available, so maybe it was simply a “Thanks for being patient with this line,” gift of sorts.

I can safely say though that this is my favorite variant so far produced by this line. Holiday Bucky was pretty clever, but I really like the idea of doing cartoon versions of the characters. I don’t think Bucky and Dead-Eye necessarily need Aniverse versions, but it would be neat to see Jenny get one if they decide to do another variant of her. The upcoming Bruiser and Mimi LaFloo could also easily be adapted for Aniverse paint applications as well. I would also love to see this particular sculpt re-used for a Frix and Frax. My dream would have been for Boss Fight to include a Frix and or Frax head with this release, but I understand the desire to not add more cost. They probably would also prefer to do a more proper release with the characters getting their own card art and so forth.

img_0989

I hope to add several more figures to this display (pay no mind to the Christmas décor in the background, it has to go somewhere after the holidays).

Hopefully, the wait for the next figure in this line won’t be quite as long as it was for this figure. Bruiser is tentatively scheduled for the spring, and Boss Fight even sent a sample to Pixel Dan last year for him to review so he can’t be that far off. The company is also accepting pre-orders for Mimi and her approval process by Continuity went quickly so hopefully she’s on track for a 2020 release. And of course, Toy Fair is right around the corner now and we’ll have to see if Boss Fight and Bucky O’Hare will have a presence. Boss Fight showed off artwork for a line of mini figures last year and I would guess we’ll get more info about those soon. 2020 is already shaping up to be a good year for the funky fresh rabbit courtesy of Boss Fight Studio.


The Batman TAS Episode Ranking – Part 5

batman_bewareWelcome back for the fifth and final installment in the Batman: The Animated Series episode ranking. This week, we’ll be taking a look at entries 19 through 1. As a reminder, this feature encompasses all of the episodes produced under the banner of Batman, The Adventures of Batman & Robin, and The New Batman Adventures which are collectively referred to as Batman: The Animated Series. If you wish to view my thoughts on the episodes as a whole each episode here is linked to the write-up. If you prefer to explore more, simply head on over to the index page for all things BTAS.

These remaining episodes represent the cream of the crop. When I applied an arbitrary numerical rating to each episode in the series these all came away scoring a 9 or better so they’re all episodes I love and treasure. These are the best works produced by the best animated show based on a comic to grace a television set. It should go without saying that if you haven’t seen all of these and consider yourself a fan of Batman or animation in general then you owe it to yourself to seek these out.

hqdefault-3119 – Joker’s Favor

When adapting a murderous psychopath for a kid’s show, some changes have to be taken. In the case of The Joker, it means finding a way to make him seem dangerous without actually allowing him to murder some of the citizens of Gotham. He could easily have just been reinterpreted as a prankster, a villain who can get a laugh and little more, but this show wasn’t content with that approach. “Joker’s Favor” sees Joker in a very uncomfortable setting as he forces a regular chum named Charlie (who reminds me of Tim Conway) to partake in a crime for him or else he’ll do some horrible things to Charlie’s family. The threats aren’t spelled out explicitly, but they don’t need to be. Also, this episode features the debut of a popular henchwoman named Harley, which is certainly a part of its legacy.

18 – House & Garden

Poison Ivy was one of the several villains to receive a redemption story in season two of the show. This is the one where a seemingly happy Pamela Isley is married and step-mother to two boys. When Batman finds out that Pam’s husband previously had daughters, not sons, he realizes something is up. He soon discovers that Poison Ivy has discovered a way to make plant-based clones of humans, though they can only be male, and she’s literally made a new life for herself. There’s some tense moments, but also some heartbreak, which is basically the mix that often makes an episode of Batman great.

17 – Second Chance

Ever since Harvey Dent was horribly disfigured leading to the rise of Two-Face, Batman and viewers of the show wanted to see him overcome his demons and return to being just plain old Harvey. In “Second Chance,” the wheels are in motion for that to finally happen, but Dent is kidnapped before the operation can begin and Batman has to find him and whoever is responsible. Like the prior episode, it has a bit of a sad ending and it’s one that reinforces who Two-Face is, for better or worse.

batgirl unmasked16 – Shadow of the Bat: Part II

The proper debut of Gotham’s newest vigilante:  Batgirl. Barbara Gordon has been pushed to take matters into her own hands, and since she happens to have a Batman costume on hand, she decides to borrow his gimmick. She’s rather green, but also crafty, and we see her determination shine as she looks to clear her dad’s name and expose a traitor within Gotham’s police force. It’s a spirited debut and one that leaves viewers wanting to see more of Batgirl.

15 – Shadow of the Bat: Part I

Before Barbara could become Batgirl though, she had to be properly motivated. The first part of the two-parter that leads to her transformation is a good little crime noir story. Commissioner Gordon has been wrongfully accused of misdeeds, and Barbara has to sort out who her allies or and who might be her foe. A rally is organized in support of Gordon and Barbara thinks Batman needs to be there, but he’s obviously busy investigating the culprits responsible for Gordon’s arrest. Feeling she has no one to turn to, Barbara decides to take matters into her own hands which sets her on the path we always knew she was destined to tread. Because of Batgirl’s presence in the title card at the episode’s start, viewers knew what this story was leading to, but it’s still thrilling to see Batgirl emerge at the end accompanied with a fun theme all her own.

14 – Mudslide

Clayface was one of the first B-tier villains to be elevated to the big time by this show. His debut was perfect as it was one born of tragedy, though some of which Matt Hagen brought on by himself. His “death” at the end was obviously staged, and his return was inevitable. When he does resurface, it’s as a mud monster who can barely hold his body together adding a new layer of tragedy to his character. He turns to thievery in an attempt to repair his body, and that no-good Batman screws it all up. It’s even frustrating when Batman shuts down the machine feeding some serum into Clayface during the episode’s climax as by then we’re actually rooting for Clayface! He proves self-destructive though, and the battle he chooses to force with Batman in a rain storm is hard to watch because we know how it will end. And while I like Clayface’s return in “Growing Pains,” it does almost ruin his apparent death at the end of this one, but not enough for me to rank it any lower than this.

tumblr_nrrp4yKE3S1ub7n3do1_128013 – The Laughing Fish

Joker’s classic scheme in which the fish in the waters around Gotham have been tainted by Joker poison giving them hideous smiles. It’s all a long con by Joker to make some money by securing a patent on the fish. His reasoning is since they look like him then surely he should profit from every sale of the seemingly harmless Joker fish. His reasoning turns out to be unsound (as usual), so Joker decides to inflict pain and misery on those who wouldn’t go along with the scheme by giving him what he wants. It features probably the best cat and mouse game the show will feature between Batman and Joker and the scene in which Batman appears to get a dose of Joker poison is pretty damn terrifying, especially when you’re 8. The only thing I dislike about the episode is that it tries to make us think Joker is dead in the end and they go for it so hard they don’t even include a plausible way for him to survive, he just will return as if nothing happened in a later episode. It’s cheap, but the episode still rules.

12 – Feat of Clay: Part II

This episode animated by the folks at TMS features easily the most impressive visual moment of the series. It happens at the end, when the newly created Clayface loses control of his shape-shifting powers when surrounded by a bunch of monitors baring his former likeness. And that’s not the only part of the episode that dazzles. Throughout, Clayface takes on some amazing forms with his body as he masters his pliable physique. My personal favorite is when his hand sprouts metal claws which he launches at Batman. Not that it necessarily needed all of these amazing pieces of animation to be a great episode as the story of Clayface was just wonderfully executed leading to the formation of a terrible, yet tragic, monster.

getaway11 – Harley and Ivy

The best pairing of any characters in this show is not Batman and Robin, it’s Harley and Ivy. The two females were paired up in this episode and a legend was seemingly born as their popularity has endured to this day with DC even taking things further by making them lovers. Back when this episode aired, that wasn’t even suggested, but that didn’t mean some horny artists couldn’t have some fun by putting the two in their underwear for parts of the episode. Anyways, Harley and Ivy have natural chemistry as a bit of an odd couple pairing. They’re also shown to be incredibly capable as criminals, undermining the more famous Joker. Speaking of whom, he’s along for the ride as well as Ivy has basically put herself in between he and Harley. His inclusion is not a bad thing, but it says a lot about the ladies that his part wasn’t exactly needed. It’s actually a shame we didn’t see more of these two together in later episodes.

10 – Robin’s Reckoning: Part II

After learning Robin’s origin in the first part of this two-part story, we get to see Robin go on a quest for revenge with flashbacks to his first attempt at such. It’s not as compelling as the first part, but it’s still an engrossing story and it has something to say about the relationship between Batman and Robin. There’s a sweetness there that is actually unexpected. It also is the first time we see the makings of a rift forming between Batman and his ward. And mostly, these rifts seem to form when Batman chooses to keep his motives to himself and shut Robin out. We see his heart is in the right place in the end, but it underscores how maybe a life largely spent chasing bad guys has withered Batman’s social skills.

9 – Feat of Clay: Part I

The creation of Clayface was one of my earliest introductions to this show, if not the first. As a result, it’s possible it’s getting a bit of a nostalgia boost as a result, but I prefer to think this is really one of the finest episodes the show produced. It is confidently slow to bring along Matt Hagen which makes the payoff at the end all the more impactful. It also has the subplot of Bruce Wayne being framed for attempted murder which injects a little extra spice. Roland Daggett is the main villain introduced here and he works very well as a white collar criminal. He’s quite detestable proving you don’t need a flashy gimmick to be a good Batman foil.

harleys back8 – Harley’s Holiday

I love this episode as it features my favorite portrayal of Harley Quinn. In this one, Harley tries to go straight, but a calamity of errors and confusion leads to her reverting back into her alter ego. It’s quite funny, but there’s a touch of sadness added which makes the viewer feel a bit guilty at laughing at her misfortunes. She ends up going on a Smokey and the Bandit styled romp with Veronica Vreeland as her hostage. Throughout it all, Harley actually has Veronica’s best interests in mind even though she’s using her, but obviously she’s not getting away from Batman. Which would make it a bit of a disappointing ending for Harley, but there’s a fun touch added onto the end and a humanizing moment from Batman. We see Batman in the role of bringing the criminally insane to Arkham, and rarely do we get a glimpse of him actually encouraging any of these inmates to properly reform.

7 – Almost Got ‘Im

Another classic. This is the episode where Batman’s most famous rogues are gathered for a game of poker and start telling tales about the time they came closest to putting Batman down. Unbeknownst to them, Batman is among them disguised as Killer Croc, whom he plays as a dim-witted fool. Some of that performance seemed to seep into Croc’s portrayal in later episodes, though he’s never this dumb. The construction of the episode is damn near genius as there are numerous bread crumbs sprinkled throughout. It’s extremely rewarding to watch it multiple times as once you know about the Batman performance you can notice how Batman steers the conversation where he needs it to go in order to find Catwoman, whom Joker has kidnapped. It’s maybe the funniest episode of the show, but it doesn’t sell itself out for a joke. And “I threw a rock at him,” is quite possibly the most memorable line the series ever produced.

6 – Beware the Gray Ghost

This episode is just a real delight as it’s basically a send-up to Adam West whom a generation of kids had grown up with as Batman. Adam really wanted to continue in the role, but he was obviously never going to land the part in Tim Burton’s take on the character. I don’t think he auditioned for this show, but he probably would have welcomed the chance to. This episode though was essentially made for him and it tells a wonderful story about an aging actor who once played a hero on television struggling to find work as a result of being forever linked to that character. And in-universe, that character happened to be a huge influence on Bruce Wayne and his creation of Batman. There’s some twists and turns and some excellent editing and animation along the way. And keep your eyes open for the Bruce Timm and Paul Dini cameo, though they’re hard to miss.

twoface5 – Two-Face: Part I

This show really did tragic villains so well, but I think the best of them all might be Two-Face. Like another rogue still to come on this list, Two-Face’s origin was so well crafted that it made it hard to bring the villain back because it could never be topped. Two-Face would end up fairing pretty well though, but it’s true his genesis was still his best moment. Watching Harvey be pushed to the edge by the mobster Rupert Thorne was truly compelling. The whole time there’s a sense that Batman will arrive and make everything better, and since Harvey had been put in danger before and saved, it seemed possible that his villainous turn would be delayed. At least it would have seemed plausible if not for the episode’s title, but I digress. This one is very dramatic and it deftly handles the drama better than anyone would have expected a cartoon would in 1992. Of course now, it’s practically the norm for the show.

4 – Robin’s Reckoning: Part I

Speaking of drama, it doesn’t get much more dramatic than seeing a kid lose his parents to murder. Robin’s origin story is told and it’s become the story most often associated with Dick Grayson, the former Boy Wonder. A small-time crook looking to run a protection racket sabotages some trapeze equipment causing Dick’s parents to perish in a circus performance. Bruce is there to witness it, and I love how the show chose to show the murder without actually showing it. We just see the silhouette of the performers and then a lone swinging cable as the audience gasps. It cuts to Bruce’s reaction before fading to black. It’s not all sad though, as it’s sweet to see Bruce take Dick in as the two share an unfortunate link in being a witness to the murder of their parents.

harley tears

Harley is full-blown crazy during these events as she’ll stop at nothing to win Joker’s affection.

3 – Mad Love

The New Batman Adventures was not as good or as successful as the first two seasons from the Fox years. Despite that though, two of the top 3 episodes are from that final season and I don’t think it’s particularly controversial either that they’re placed this prominently on my ranking. Coming in as the third best episode is “Mad Love,” a look at Harley and Joker’s complicated relationship. This one is both funny and tragic, a trait that has come to define the character of Harley Quinn. Her unhealthy relationship with Joker is detailed from the start and it becomes clear she’s dependent on him, but he is not with her. She’s just another target for his violence and abuse and it can be hard to watch. One of the saddest scenes in the entire show is Harley laying broken in a heap of trash after Joker shoved her out a window blaming herself for making him mad.

2 – Over the Edge

One of the most talked-about episodes of Batman is “Over the Edge.” The violence the network allowed to be shown on air is shocking the first time it’s witnessed and it remains shocking even on repeated viewings. Batgirl, shoved off the roof of a tall building by Scarecrow, crashes onto the hood of a police car occupied by her father, Commissioner Gordon. From there, Gordon makes the discovery that it’s been his daughter under the mask this whole time and he immediately turns his anger on Batman. With the whole city after him, Batman is forced to flee. Nightwing gets embroiled in the controversy and Robin is forced to distance himself from Batman and seek refuge somewhere else as their identities have all been revealed to the public. It’s surreal watching the whole thing unfold and the ride is so captivating that we forgive it for being basically a dream sequence the whole time. Actually, we’re glad to see that it was just a dream as the ending was fixing to be so horrible in resetting the status quo that we’re practically begging for someone to wake up. And after the reveal, it’s able to deliver one more heartfelt scene that was a long time coming.

Heart-of-Ice-Batman1 – Heart of Ice

As if it cold be any other episode. “Heart of Ice” is widely regarded as the show’s best episode, and I’ve felt that way ever since I first saw it back in 92 and I see no reason to change my mind now. It introduced to us a new take on Mr. Freeze, a villain few cared about before this show’s premiere. He was just another gimmick, but in the hands of Paul Dini he became a tragic figure moved to a mission of vengeance after witnessing the death of his wife at the hands of some rich prick by the name of Ferris Boyle. With his body forever altered and now requiring a sub-zero environment to thrive, Mr. Freeze sees no reason to live outside of revenge. Nothing can ever possibly move him to feel happy again and I’m genuinely curious what would have become of the villain had he simply succeeded. Of course, Batman is there to save the jerk responsible for the death of Nora Fries, but Boyle at least gets his comeuppance as well, just not in the manner Freeze would have chosen. Would Mr. Freeze have simply slunk off to the arctic like he eventually does with his mission accomplished, or maybe he would have just removed his suit and let nature take its course? As curious as I am about that, it’s hard for me to think it would have made for a better ending than what we got: a downtrodden Freeze looking longingly at an effigy of his wife in his jail cell surrounded by snow longing to touch her warm hand one more time.


The Saga of Crystar – Crystal Warrior #8

crystar8

The Saga of Crystar – Crystal Warrior #8 July 1984

There’s been a hole in my Danzig collection for quite some time. It was a hole that was easy to fill and actually quite cheap considering most Danzig records fetch well over $100 these days, but an important piece was missing. And that piece is not what one would necessarily expect, but I would assume most Danzig fans have this item in their collection, and that item is a copy of Marvel’s Crystar Crystal Warrior.

The eighth issue is the lone issue any Danzig fan likely cares about. No, Glenn Danzig did not write this particular comic like he would many under his own Verotik banner, nor did he illustrate it. He actually had no involvement with it what-so-ever. It seems unlikely this particular comic would hold much appeal for what Glenn Danzig seems to enjoy in a comic, though there are some demons present. There was one piece of artwork associated with this issue though that he seemed to like, and it’s staring anyone who picks this issue up right in the face.

danzig logoYes, that green demonic skull at the base of the cover should look familiar to anyone who is a fan of either Danzig or Samhain. Put that image in white and it’s what most recognize as the logo for those respective bands. That particular skull was present on the cover of Samhain’s debut LP Initium, which debuted a mere month or two after this issue, and it really came to life on the third LP, November-Coming-Fire. It was split in half in 1988 when the first Danzig record debuted so that half of it could occupy the record’s cover and the other half the back. Since then, it’s been featured on numerous t-shirts, posters, and promotional fliers. Interestingly, the image never again appeared so brazenly on the cover of another Danzig record. A waxy, red, version does appear on the cover of Danzig 7 and it was on the more recent covers record as well, albeit as a sticker on the cellophane.

Perhaps this isn’t particularly surprising since much of The Misfits was lifted from another source. The Misfits Fiend is simply The Crimson Ghost, a mostly forgotten film serial. The font the band often used was lifted from Famous Monsters of Filmland and many of the songs are basically ripped from horror comics or films. Lifting this image from a current Marvel publication was a bit more bold on the part of Danzig. It was from a failing comic and toyline, but it was current. And with how much financial problems Marvel would run into not long after, it’s actually pretty amazing there was never a lawsuit (that we know of). The creator of the image, artist Michael Golden, has never received recognition (or money) from the band or any of Danzig’s labels over the years for his contribution. Since the image was made for Marvel, it’s likely Marvel retained sole ownership of it and Golden may have had little to fallback on in terms of legal options. He has somewhat needled the band at conventions by selling t-shirts of the skull with the name Golden replacing Danzig. Numerous fans who have met him have had him sign their copy of the first Danzig LP so if he’s angry about the whole thing he doesn’t seem interested in directing it at fans of the band.

golden skull

Turn-about is fair play.

As for Marvel, it’s surprising the publisher has never gone after Danzig for some of that t-shirt money. By now more than 35 years later, the publisher probably forfeited any claim it could make at this point. Crystar is a long forgotten brand no longer associated with Marvel. I suppose they could republish the works in a trade as a way to strengthen a case, but is it really worth the trouble? It might be hard to even prove how much money the logo has made for Danzig making it hard to settle on a number. And it would be hard to prove damages at this late stage too. Back in 89 when Danzig was selling a shirt featuring the famed skull strangling Jesus would have been the right moment to claim such damages were being felt by the association of the two brands, but again, such claims don’t hold much weight over 30 years later.

Perhaps you are wondering at this point just what is Crystar Crystal Warrior? It seems important to note that the cover features that as a title, but the series is more commonly known as The Saga of Crystar – Crystal Warrior. The comic was apparently created by Marvel in response to Masters of the Universe. Marvel partnered with Remco, mostly known in the 80s for its WWF figures, to create a toyline with a companion comic, much like Mattel had done with He-Man. He-Man though was a success and scored an animated series while Crystar floundered for 11 issues and did not receive more than one line of action figures.

crystar toy ad

Not all that hard to see why this thing failed.

The Saga of Crystar tells the story of Crystar, The Crystal Warrior, who is the leader of the Forces of Order. They are opposed by The Forces of Chaos (it practically writes itself) who are led by Moltar, the leader of the lava men that comprise The Forces of Chaos and brother to Crystar himself. Not many credits seem to have retained regarding the creation of the series, perhaps because few actually wanted to be associated with such a cynical cash grab. This particular issue, titled Anniversary, was written b Jo Duffy with pencils by Ricardo Villamonte. Dave Simons handled the inking, Janice Chiang lettering, Andy Yanchus coloring, with Ralph Macchio as editor alongside editor-in-chief Jim Shooter. And of course, Michael Golden handled the cover.

Issue 8 basically occurs right in the thick of everything. It’s almost entirely a flashback to events that preceded the start of the series. Crystar and his people apparently were flesh and blood at one point, though he was peculiarly always named Crystar. They apparently became crystal to defeat the Forces of Chaos, who were able to enlist Crystar’s brother and turn him into a lava man. My guess is Moltar had affection for Crystar’s fiancé or something to help cause the rift.

img_0952

I was expecting something pretty terrible, but this is actually fine. Artwork is good, story is more developed than expected, though also not terribly interesting.

The issue begins with Crystar and his people seeking to forge an alliance with another faction. He’s a bit solemn though and his people wonder what’s up, prompting Crystar to tell a story about why today is so special. Apparently long ago, he and his brother were taking a break from war to visit their uncle who was hosting a party of sorts. When a sea monster threatens the coastal lands, the brothers head out to stop it. Finding it too difficult, they return to the village and regroup. A woman by the name of Ranilla has studied some scroll with a solution for their problem. She was recently wed to one of Crystar’s current (and future) allies, Koth, and they have a little chat that foreshadows Koth’s death.

It’s a fake-out! The men return to battle the sea monster armed with the knowledge that dislodging a crystal in its chest should kill it. A creepy wizard guy has been spying on them though, and he commands the demons of chaos to attack. It’s a chaotic scene, but during it Ranilla is killed instead of Koth. One of Crystar and his brother’s allies, Hyeth, comes to their rescue and takes out the monster when Crystar fails. He too dies when a straggler spears him from behind, and the issue ends with Moltar in the current day explaining to some of his minions that on this day he refuses to take up arms against his brother in memory of Hyeth’s heroic sacrifice.

It’s all very maudlin and actually quite slow. I was not prepared to read a story about hunky men wearing little more than bathing suits waxing poetic about unrequited love. The artwork is fine and the characters bare more than a striking resemblance to that of the more famous Atlanteans from Marvel. Crystar is definitely designed to resemble He-Man as the two basically have the same haircut and it’s even more apparent when he’s depicted as a human. If I were to compare the two, this property was definitely not as shallow as Masters of the Universe, but it also lacks the fun personalities found there. Apparently the series did cross-over into the broader Marvel Universe with Dr. Strange and even Nightcrawler making appearances, but it’s pretty crazy to imagine this occupying the same space as Marvel’s more famous titles. I suppose if you’re one of the few fans of Crystar still around, start petitioning Disney to include him in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

michael golden

Michael Golden

As for the character’s legacy, it’s basically just as the origin of the Danzig skull. Some toy and hobby enthusiasts likely remember the toys, but they were fairly unremarkable, though they did feature dragons which is always cool in my book. For me, this is a long-sought piece for my Danzig collection that I kept putting off for no particular reason. I think I always wanted to just run into it in a comic shop for ten cents or something, but nothing can really hide in this day and age. Virtually every eBay auction mentions Danzig in the title so it’s no longer a well kept secret. It is a cool-looking skull though, so for whatever it’s worth, thanks Michael Golden!

 


The Batman TAS Episode Ranking – Part 4

stonechairWelcome back for the fourth installment in the Batman: The Animated Series episode ranking. This week, we’ll be taking a look at entries 39 through 20. As a reminder, this feature encompasses all of the episodes produced under the banner of Batman, The Adventures of Batman & Robin, and The New Batman Adventures which are collectively referred to as Batman: The Animated Series. If you wish to view my thoughts on the episodes as a whole each episode here is linked to the write-up. If you prefer to explore more, simply head on over to the index page for all things BTAS. The episodes are already quite hard to separate from one another at this point, with only a true handful of episodes clearly establishing themselves as worthy of being in the top 10. These episodes are all pretty great, and hopefully it’s merely a matter of preference for what type of story viewers prefer or favorite villains that causes these to move up and down. Now, for entry number 39:

catwomans affection39 – You Scratch My Back

This was a logical plot to explore when the dynamics between Batman and the crime fighter formerly known as Robin, now known as Nightwing, changed. Catwoman, always the opportunist, uses her unique charms to basically seduce Nightwing causing friction between he and Batman as well as Batgirl. The soapish plot ends up having a nice payoff allowing it to overcome its otherwise lackluster villain of the day. Catwoman, post redesign looks rather lame, but her personality is a perfect fit. If only we could have had more of this character in the first two seasons.

38 – Sins of the Father

Dick Grayson got an origin story, so I suppose his successor deserved one as well. Tim Drake enters Batman’s life in what is essentially real-time in relation to the rest of the series as opposed to a flashback. This makes him a true Boy Wonder as opposed to an adult one, and while his tale isn’t as gut-wrenching as Dick’s, it’s still appropriately tragic. It also incorporates Two-Face which feels like a nod to the film Batman Forever.

hex vs duvall37 – Showdown

I didn’t care for this episode as a kid because of its lack of Batman, but as an adult I find it to be a great deal of fun and a nice change of pace. It’s somewhat quietly the best Ra’s al Ghul episode as it’s partially an origin tale for him, but mostly it feels like a backdoor pilot for Jonah Hex. Hex is a stereotypical gruff old cowboy, but the portrayal works. And I like that he’s one and done, and his tale also has a nice payoff in the present timeline leading to a very interesting conclusion.

36 – The Demon’s Quest: Part I

“Showdown” is arguably the best Ra’s al Ghul episode, but I just barely place this one above it. “The Demon’s Quest” is Ra’s al Ghul at his best:  mysterious, manipulative, conceited, obtuse, uncompromising, and pretty much insane. This is the episode we learn how Ra’s views himself and the world. He has all of the answers and deals in absolutes. Sometimes, to build a better world you need to start over. Batman, of course, does not share this world view, but he’s forced to go along for the ride as both Robin and Talia have been kidnapped. Adding a nice through-line to the episode is the little game between Batman and Ra’s al Ghul’s bodyguard, Ubu, which has a satisfying conclusion.

not good35 – Blind as a Bat

Can Batman perform blind as a bat, as the saying goes? It’s a simple premise, but an effective one. Bruce Wayne is injured when Penguin swipes a fancy helicopter being put on display by Wayne Tech leaving him temporarily blind. Not one to sit on the sidelines while a villain is on the prowl, Batman enlists the help of Leslie Thompkins to create a new helmet that allows him to see, and also has the added benefit of giving him glowing red eyes. The helmet doesn’t last very long, forcing Batman to go it alone without the aid of arguably his most important sense as a crime fighter. I’m not sure if the fact that he comes out alive says more about the prowess of Batman or the ineptitude of Penguin.

34 – I Am the Night

This one feels like a bookend to “Appointment in Crime Alley.” Batman deals with something he rarely has to:  failure. This time, his fatigue, both mental and physical, causes him to be late to a bust. His late arrival seems to have little impact, but it only further weighs him down later when Commissioner Jim Gordon is shot by the Jazzman. Batman mostly receives support from Leslie, Barbara, and Alfred, but Bullock lays into him when he goes by the hospital to see Gordon. Batman basically enters into a depression. He’ll bounce back, but it’s quite an emotional ride getting there as Batman ponders his worth and important questions like “Am I even making a difference?” It’s the most human the character will ever be portrayed.

HeartofSteel133 – Heart of Steel: Part I

The Blade Runner inspired “Heart of Steel” introduces the super computer H.A.R.D.A.C. which was created to construct robots with sophisticated artificial intelligence, but it soon goes rogue. The A.I. in the robots is too good making them able to blend in seamlessly with humanity. This causes problems when they start committing crimes, and both Bruce Wayne and Batman get pulled into it. It’s very compelling and for some reason the robots were really chilling to me as a kid, so I suppose it’s stuck with me partly for that reason.

32 – The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne

Hugo Strange has invented a machine capable of extracting sensitive information from his patients under the guise of being beneficial for mental health. He ends up biting off more than he can chew when his machine is used on Bruce Wayne revealing his big secret. Strange immediately goes to Gotham’s most famous rogues:  Joker, Penguin, and Two-Face seeking to profit from the information. It doesn’t go well for him, and Bruce’s solution to his problem is pretty clever, even if it takes advantage of the medium perhaps too well.

new scarecrow31 – Never Fear

Scarecrow’s redesign in The New Batman Adventures was the most memorable. He went from pretty creepy looking to downright scary. This new persona really helps drive this episode as he’s created a new toxin that actually takes away fear, leaving his victims completely reckless. Batman gets a taste of it once again and basically loses his mind, putting him at odds with Robin. He’s a full on maniac in this one, and it’s kind of uncomfortable to watch. All turns out well in the end, but it’s hard to shake that side of Batman that was revealed here.

30 – Riddler’s Reform

Riddler has returned once again, only this time he’s reformed. Batman is skeptical, though he has no reason to be aside from a gut feeling. He’s a bit of a jerk as a result, but as usual he’s proven right when it turns out the Riddler is up to his old tricks once again. Before that is revealed though it’s actually pretty amusing seeing Riddler have fun at Batman’s expense when he has the support of the people of Gotham. It also has one of Riddler’s best traps, and Batman’s ability to escape it is what ends up driving him mad in the end.

dead eyed stare29 – His Silicon Soul

This episode is just plain cool. H.A.R.D.A.C. is gone, but before it was destroyed by Barbara and Batman it created one final robot:  a Batman robot. Armed with the knowledge that Bruce Wayne is Batman, it was able to create a perfect copy, but this isn’t revealed right away. We first see the robot burst into action in stopping a robbery, and then we get to feel the same sense of shock as the machine does when it sustains damage revealing the circuitry within. The robot thinks it’s human, making for a really compelling case study. Can Batman destroy that which is sentient? It’s just a wonderfully composed episode.

28 – If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?

Riddler’s debut took awhile to arrive, but it was worth the wait. This episode is really interesting because Riddler is the bad guy, but the guy he’s menacing is worse. And that guy is his old boss, a real piece of work who loves to work people to death and steal their ideas for his financial gain. It’s actually really topical in this day and age. And I like that in the end, Batman and Robin save him, but he doesn’t have a happy ending. And Riddler even gets away! I guess it actually is a happy ending, after all.

old chums

27 – Legends of the Dark Knight

This show did not do anthology episodes too often, but when it did they were quite good. This one has a group of kids basically telling tall tales about Batman. The fun aspect of the episode is that we get to see the show tackle a take on the 1960s Batman and Robin as well as an adaptation of the seminal The Dark Knight Returns. Maybe it’s a bit more style over substance, but I was a sucker for the nostalgia inherent and even the way it brought the real Batman into their orbit was pretty satisfying.

26 – Perchance to Dream

This is a bit of a gimmick episode, but it’s done extremely well. Batman is caught in a trap by The Mad Hatter, but it’s not blatant at the episode’s onset. Bruce appears to wake from a nightmare, but he awakens in a world in which he is not Batman. He remembers being Batman, but no one else does. He’s engaged to Selena Kyle and his parents are still alive. And perhaps weirdest of all, Batman is real, he’s just not Bruce. He doesn’t know if he’s delusional, insane, or if something else is going on here. It’s obviously the latter, but the episode does a good job of planting the seed in your head that maybe this is the way things are meant to be. A real fun one.

goodbye annie25 – Growing Pains

Clayface might have the best average episode score of any villain in this show. He manages to return in The New Batman Adventures without really missing a beat (I don’t count that weird appearance in “Holiday Knights”). He’s somehow gained the ability to create sentient clay people from his own body, and one such creation takes the form of a little girl who comes in contact with Robin. She doesn’t know much about her existence, only that she needs to get away from Clayface. For us, that reveal doesn’t come until the final act and much of the episode is just Robin trying to lead this girl away from apparent danger. It’s thrilling, and the revelation ends up being heart-breaking in the end. One of the best endings to any episode in the final season.

24 – Pretty Poison

Poison Ivy makes a splashy debut alongside Harvey Dent, who she’s dating in this one. She’s an eco-terrorist, and she uses her charm to get close to Harvey and poison him with her deadly kiss. When Dent lands in the hospital, Batman has to solve the mystery of what happened to his friend and he winds up at Ivy’s doorstep. This is Poison Ivy in her best role as a femme fatale. I think she has at least one better stand-alone episode to herself, but I wouldn’t blame you if you felt this was her finest moment.

mask off

23 – Old Wounds

When The New Batman Adventures arrived and it was revealed that Dick Grayson had gone off on his own as Nightwing, viewers instantly wanted to know, “Why?” “Old Wounds” is the answer to that question as it’s largely a flashback told by Dick to Tim while out on the town. It’s a rather well-constructed story and we really saw the genesis for this break-up in past episodes when Batman’s stubborn approach to certain issues rubbed Dick the wrong way. It was a split that needed to happen, and I’m glad the show dedicated an entire episode to it.

22 – Harlequinade

When Joker gets his hands on an atomic bomb, Batman is forced to resort to desperate measures to find the clown and disarm him. As a result, he’s forced to turn to Harley Quinn for assistance as she travels alongside Batman and Robin as they track down Joker. It makes for a wonderful blend of action and comedy as Harley is just a true screen magnet. She is so charismatic, which is why she receives a lot of attention in season two of the show. This ended up being a sign of things to come as Harley would have an even better solo outing not long after.

21 – Trial

Batman finds himself once again imprisoned in Arkham, only this time the inmates are literally running the asylum. His only ally is the new Gotham District Attorney, Janet Van Dorn, who had previously sworn an oath to Gotham that she would be the one to bring Batman to justice blaming him for the creation of these so-called super villains. A bunch of rogues are brought together for a kangaroo court style trial that Batman and Van Dorn improbably win, but Joker, the presiding judge, still decides to kill him anyway! It’s a wacky episode, but it doesn’t sell-out its villains by having them all lumped together with Batman emerging triumphant.

MWKB_67_-_Sid_and_Thorne20 – The Man Who Killed Batman

What an interesting title. Very few cartoons are allowed to use a form of the word “Kill,” let alone in an episode title prominently splashed on a title card. This one tells the story of Sid the Squid, a nobody looking to become a big shot in crime. Through a comedic series of events during an encounter with Batman, Sid ends up “killing” Batman. He’s obviously not dead, but the episode tries to convince you he is as Sid ends up attracting all kinds of attention thanks to being known as the one who finally defeated Batman. Some thugs challenge him, while Joker actually seeks to murder him because by killing Batman he’s ruined Joker’s fun. The funeral Joker holds for Batman is probably the funniest scene in the entire show’s run and one of its most memorable.


%d bloggers like this: