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Batman: The Animated Series – “The Lion and the Unicorn”

lion and unicorn cardEpisode Number: 77

Original Air Date:  September 15, 1995

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Diane Duane, Peter Morwood, and Steve Perry

First Appearance(s):  Cousin Frederick

“The Lion and the Unicorn” brings with it some new additions and an old unfavorite. As far as the episode goes, we only meet one substantial new character, Alfred’s cousin Frederick (Roy Dotrice). This is mostly just interesting because after 76 episodes we still know very little about Alfred so anyone attached to him feels noteworthy. On the production side, we have two new writers in the husband and wife duo of Peter Morwood (who was mis-credited as Philip Morwood) and Diane Duane in their only contribution to this series. And then we have a returning face in Red Claw (Kate Mulgrew). Red Claw is a show creation of little importance. Her episodes aren’t great and she was never deemed worthy of introduction in the comic books. Her headlining role here is particularly noteworthy though since she debuted in “The Cat and the Claw.” That episode was chosen to be the series premiere, while this episode (her only other appearance aside from Part 2 of “The Cat and the Claw”) was the series finale. Now it wasn’t billed as such or setup as the finale, it was largely just circumstance as far as I know. Still, it’s pretty interesting given all of Batman’ celebrated villains that it’s Red Claw who gets to open and close the series.

alfred gets a call

In this episode Alfred gets a phone call!

The episode begins rather mundanely. Alfred is brushing lint off of Batman’s cape as he protests the criminals won’t care about the cleanliness of his costume while Dick works out on some gymnastics equipment. Alfred admonishes Dick for not wearing a shirt (it’s cold and dank in the Batcave) while Batman smiles as he watches the exchange and takes off in the Batmobile to go do crime-fighter stuff. Alfred leads Dick upstairs to the mansion while telling him where he can find his dinner. When they get up to the manor Alfred goes to answer the phone while Dick heads off to either get his food or take a shower or something. Alfred is surprised to find his cousin Frederick on the line. Frederick requests that Alfred meet him in what he calls the usual spot, and Alfred agrees to do so right away. As their conversation ends, we get a look at Frederick who’s tied up with a crimson-clad person behind. The tattoo of a clawed paw on her arm is a dead give-away for the identity of this nefarious individual.

alfred missing

Bruce, unsure how he’s going to get dressed without his trusty butler.

The next morning, Dick comes downstairs and playfully asks Bruce if there’s a butler strike because there’s no breakfast (the problems of the 1%). Bruce is standing in the same spot we last saw Alfred holding a note. He hands it to Dick and it’s from Alfred saying he needed to go to London right away because his cousin Frederick needed him. He apologizes, and even signs it as “Your obedient servant” which strikes me as kind of sad if that’s how Alfred thinks he should be viewed. Dick is surprised and a bit confused and this is the start of the episode showing us how Dick has viewed Alfred as some doting old guy. Bruce is more alarmed as he knows Alfred has no living relatives. He also knows Alfred was once a British agent and they often refer to their fellow agents as cousin.

foggy london

The London street scenes are dark and terrible.

We’re then taken to dark and foggy London. At least, I think that’s the effect Dong Yang Animation was going for. It’s a real dirty, grainy, image that’s not particularly enjoyable to look at. Alfred is at the spot requested, and two gentlemen approach him (they seem to be credited as Bert and Ernie, voiced by Adam Ant, [yes, the one from Adam and the Ants] and Richard Doyle, respectively) claiming to be sent on behalf of “Freddie.” Alfred knows Frederick hates being called Freddie, and he is immediately skeptical. When the two get hostile, he uses his umbrella to trip them up and then take off. Back at his hotel, Alfred is able to phone Bruce to fill him in on what’s going on. Before he can say much, Bert and Ernie cave in his door and Bruce is left to helplessly scream “Alfred!”

Alfred is then taken to some Scottish castle where he is reunited with Frederick. His hands are bound and the real captor emerges:  Red Claw. Alfred recognizes her, and I can’t tell if it’s because we’re supposed to think he tangled with her before or if he just remembers seeing her back on Batman’s massive computer.

red claw introduced

Red Claw is back and everyone is just super happy about it.

Back in Gotham, Bruce fills Dick in on what happened as well as Alfred’s background. Dick is surprised to find out Alfred used to be a government agent, which is a running theme of the episode. The two decide they need to help their friend, and they depart for London as Batman and Robin in the Batwing. Once there, they investigate Alfred’s room as Dick and Bruce, which gets the attention of Bert and Ernie who have been staking the place out apparently expecting someone to come nosing around. They try to tail them as they leave, but they don’t realize they’re tailing pros. Batman and Robin drop in on them, and give them a good beating. When the commotion is over, Robin inspects one of the men and finds Red Claw’s marking on his arm.

A meeting between British agents is going down. Two men and a woman are discussing what’s going on, noting Frederick’s disappearance and Red Claw’s occupation of a castle. Apparently that castle houses a missile silo and Red Claw wants to take control of it to hold Britain hostage. Batman and Robin then drop in, and the three agents seem to regard the duo with a ho-hum manner. I’d assume that Batman is pretty popular world-wide, but they essentially have no reaction to his presence in London. Actually, they’re a touch hostile. Batman alerts them that Red Claw also has Alfred Pennyworth and requests their help, but they don’t really see value in that. When he promises to deliver Red Claw, they change their tune and tell Batman where she’s hiding out and the two depart.

batman truth serum

She has ways of making men sing,

At the castle, Red Claw records a message for the British government. She lets them know she has control of the silo, and unless they pay up they’re going to get a taste of it. As the video signal is cut off, it’s revealed that Red Claw was bluffing, to a point. She has yet to get control of the missile because Frederick and Alfred each possess a unique code needed to activate it. They’re not going to talk, but Red Claw has her ways. She produces some truth serum, and apparently her crew is concerned about maintaining a sterile environment as one of her goons swabs Alfred’s arm before it’s administered. Both are given a dose and Frederick is the first to sing while Alfred just sort of mumbles away. Red Claw hardly seems dismayed though and is content to wait for the serum to do its thing.

Outside, some sentries hear a sound and go to investigate. That’s a mistake, as it allows Batman and Robin to take them out. They start making their way through the castle, picking off other men as they go along. In one fun sequence, a quartet of men are walking along in a diamond formation and Batman and Robin keep dashing back and forth and picking them off one by one.

smokey red claw

It’s even foggy indoors over there.

Inside the command room, Alfred finally cracks. He’s singing a song about the lion and the unicorn, a reference to the Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom. Red Claw mistakes it as nonsense at first, then realizes it’s the code. After she enters it into the terminal, the silo becomes armed and she is free to launch it whenever she pleases. By now, they’ve become alerted to Batman’s presence so she and her men arm themselves and set out to take out the intruders. They burst into a room and open fire on Batman and Robin. The heroes use cover to try and take them out one at a time, and thankfully everyone can’t shoot.

Robin eventually makes his way to the room where Alfred and Frederick are being held. He opens the door, but finds a gun pointed at his face by the one woman who stayed back to guard the prisoners. He smiles sheepishly, and then the woman gets taken down from behind by Alfred wielding a chair. He expresses some remorse at smashing the chair as it apparently dated back to Louis the XV. Robin congratulates him, but the celebration is short-lived as Red Claw chops him from behind knocking him out. She then heads straight for the terminal, Alfred apparently has no desire to try and fight her, and launches the missile and takes off as Batman busts in.

red claw stow away

Go for the face!

Batman immediately takes off for the Batwing. His only hope is to shoot it down as there’s no way to cancel the launch command from the terminal. As he flies towards it and gets it in his sights, Red Claw emerges from behind him. She’s a stow-away, and grabs at Batman’s face and pulls on his cowl, successfully removing it in the process. This causes her to fall back into her seat allowing Batman to eject it sending her parachuting into the waters below. Batman then has to re-find the missile all while dealing with the fact that the Batwing’s hatch is open. We know Batman doesn’t like guns, and he doesn’t use them, but apparently that apprehension doesn’t extend to missiles. He locks onto the missile heading for London and then fires a pair of his own missiles. They do their job and take out the rogue-fired weapon and it detonates harmlessly in the London skies.

With the threat of Red Claw over, Batman and Robin apparently head home without Alfred to avoid suspicion. There’s no indication that they made good on their promise to deliver Red Claw to the British government, and she will never be heard from again. Alfred says goodbye to his “cousin,” who tries to coax him into returning to the agency. Alfred says he’s needed elsewhere though and heads back his life as the humble servant of Bruce Wayne.

red claw face

A curtain call for Red Claw. So long, you won’t be missed.

“The Lion and the Unicorn” is a bit of an atypical episode, but it gives Alfred more of a share of the spotlight than he’s had in awhile so it’s an episode I appreciate on that level. Especially since one of the other episodes to feature a heavy dose of Alfred is “The Forgotten,” one of my least favorite episodes of the series. Red Claw still kind of sucks, but she’s not really asked to do much. I like that she’s fairly ruthless and actually launches the missile. I don’t really get a sense of what’s motivating her here though. I guess money, or just general terrorism, but it’s not that important, I suppose.

The aspect of the episode that disappoints me the most though is some of the visuals. I mentioned it during the write-up, but the London night setting looks awful. I’m torn on if HD improves it or makes it worse. It’s so dark and grainy that it’s just frustrating to look at. My eyes are working too hard to make out the visuals. I don’t know if the animators were going for a fog effect, but it’s not good. The rest of the episode looks fine though, and the castle setting is new and interesting to look at. This castle apparently exists in the real world, though it’s an inland structure not located on the coast. I don’t know why they didn’t just make up a fake name then, but this was also back in the early 90s and the only way you were going to find out the depiction here isn’t authentic is if you found this thing in a book. In other words, it was information not as easily accessible as it is today.

If not for the unique setting and focus on Alfred, this episode would be pretty forgettable. The villain isn’t important, and there’s nothing flashy or memorable about the plot. It’s just a solid B- type of episode from the show. It’s miscast as the final aired episode of the show, and there’s a shame there wasn’t more of a “bang” to go out on, but the final fourth season Fox aired is mostly pretty mediocre so there wasn’t much to choose from. They could have chosen “The Terrible Trio,” so at least they didn’t go with that one.

 

 


Batman: The Animated Series – “The Forgotten”

The_Forgotten-Title_CardEpisode Number:  8

Original Air Date:  October 8, 1992

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Jules Dennis, Richard Mueller, and Sean Catherine Derek

First Appearance(s):  Batwing

A simple premise, what would Bruce Wayne do if he forgot he was Batman, turned into an episode. “The Forgotten” takes Batman out of his element and forces him to rely on his own skills as a fighter and lean heavily on his own instincts and moral code. It also gives us a deeper look at Alfred and his ability to function as a sidekick to Batman and show off his own detective skills. It’s also another episode without a traditional Batman villain, settling for the one-shot Boss Biggis as the main antagonist who will never re-appear (hence why I didn’t bother mentioning this as his first appearance).

The episode opens with Bruce volunteering at a homeless shelter. He learns some familiar faces have been disappearing and the police do not have the manpower to look into why homeless men are suddenly no longer around. Bruce decides to investigate, but not as Batman, but as Griff – the homeless guy! It’s while nosing around in his disguise that Bruce gets jumped by some men who at first appeared to be offering work. Distracted by a cat (foreshadowing future encounters, perhaps?), Bruce ends up getting walloped on the back of the skull and wakes up in a weird camp with no memory of who he is.

The-Forgotten-1

Bruce disguised as Griff, Salvo, and Riley

The camp is basically a slave camp, and Bruce befriends two men:  Riley (Dorian Harewood), a steel worker who was a fellow volunteer, and Salvo (Lorin Dreyfuss), just some homeless guy down on his luck. All of the men in this camp are the prisoners of Boss Biggis (George Murdock), an obese man with no regard for the well-being of others. He’s angry the men need to stop work to eat and sleep, and demands they work harder or be imprisoned in “The Box,” a small, metal, enclosure placed in direct sunlight. The men are to work in Biggis’ mines for gold. He’s truly a repugnant individual and series director Bruce Timm stated he intended for this one shot villain to be memorable, and the only way he knew how to make him memorable was to make him revolting. He’s almost always show with some food in his hands and stains on his clothes and he’s constantly gnawing away while complaining about the lazy bums he’s surrounded himself with.

TF_10_-_Boss_Biggis

The repulsive Boss Biggis.

Alfred notices Bruce’s absence the following morning, and finding the Batmobile still in the Batcave, is quite puzzled as to Bruce’s whereabouts. He notices one of the cars missing, which just so happens to have a tracking device implanted on it. He tracks it to a salvage yard where he removes the device and places it on a truck that’s being loaded with supplies, guessing this will lead him to Master Bruce. Once Alfred has a suspected location for Bruce, he decides air travel would be more appropriate (Bruce is in a desert so who knows how far away he ended up) which leads to the debut of the Batwing. Styled after the aircraft from the Tim Burton directed Batman, it’s strange to see the Batwing debut while being piloted by Alfred instead of Batman. Though perhaps it would be more appropriate to say the Batwing as piloted by the Batwing, as Alfred relies on the auto-pilot to reach Bruce. It should be noted, for television viewers the Batwing actually debuted in the two-part “Feat of Clay.”

TF_38_-_Alfred_piloting_the_Batwing

Alfred, in need of flying lessons.

Back at the camp, Salvo for some reason decides to mock Biggis with a fart noise, which leads to a scuffle when Riley and Griff come to his aid and all three men wind up in the box. Bruce’s memory is returned to him, triggered by Riley missing his family, and the escape is on. Bruce is able to find Alfred, following a particularly rough landing, and returns to the camp as Batman to take out Biggis and his lackeys. They end up battling in the mines, where Batman is triumphant. The episode ends with the three amigos back in Gotham. When Riley offers Bruce his home as a place to crash, Bruce politely declines and introduces himself officially to the two as Bruce Wayne, prompting Salvo to suggest Riley knock him out so that maybe he’ll wake up a millionaire.

“The Forgotten” tries something different, and it should be commended for doing so. I know more than one person who considers this a favorite, or at least memorable, episode of the series for them and I want to acknowledge that. For me, this is one of the weaker episodes. Amnesia plots have never been a favorite of mine, and it’s just hard to take Biggis and his men seriously as actual threats. I appreciate the Alfred side plot, and it’s probably my favorite part of the episode, but the rest I’m just sort of “meh” about. Riley is fine, but Salvo is intended to be a bit of a joker, but he’s just not funny. I would have also liked to have seen more concern for Bruce on the part of Alfred considering it’s probably his worst nightmare to get up in the morning and find he never came home.

btas-theforgotten-pic1

The best sequence in the episode is Bruce’s nightmare where he struggles to help all those who need his aid.

The score for the episode is something I find irritating. There’s a twangy theme used throughout the camp scenes that just sounds corny to me, like something that would have been featured in the 1960’s show. By the end of the episode I want to mute the television to stop hearing it. It’s even over-layed with elements of the Batman theme during the final chase sequence that makes it even worse. The episode looks fine, but the climactic moments in the mine aren’t a strong point. This show does so well putting its characters in dark environments, but they don’t blend well at all throughout this sequence. Boss Biggis is a rather huge individual too, but his model has no weight to it. He runs and bounces around like a balloon. More effort should have been made to convey just how heavy he must be.

I don’t hate “The Forgotten,” but it’s definitely one of the weaker episodes for me. I’m torn on if it’s my least favorite episode so far, as it’s between this and “The Underdwellers.” I think I probably would rank this one just ahead, but that’s not saying much.


Beware the Batman: “Hunted”

bewarethebatmantitlescreenIt’s hard to imagine a world where Batman isn’t a pop culture force to reckoned with.  He’s arguably the most popular comic book originated character today and easily has had more success than any other comic character in transitioning from one medium to another.  His popularity is not absent of peaks and valleys.  Batman is currently coming off one such peak following the conclusion of his most successful endeavor yet, Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, and DC Comics is looking to keep the fire going with a new animated series:  Beware the Batman.

Batman is, first and foremost, a comic book superhero.  His overall popularity though, is tied more to his forays outside comics.  Batman’s television and film works have a chance at reaching the comic book audience and non alike.  His first exposure of merit was the television show in the 1960’s.  It’s easy to dismiss the campy program today as being inauthentic, but the Batman of the comics at that time wasn’t far removed from Adam West’s portrayal.  It wasn’t until the 70’s that Batman would rediscover his edge, completing the transformation in the 80’s which helped influence his next cultural milestone, Tim Burton’s Batman.  Batman:  The Animated Series would follow, and despite it being a cartoon aimed at younger audiences, it too managed to attract a wide audience and even spawned the theatrically released Batman:  Mask of the Phantasm.  Of course, a cartoon is unlikely to reach the same audience as a film and that has held mostly true, but the cartoons to follow have been even more obvious in their target audience, so much so as to alienate the comic book fans.

Beware the Batman, in response to series such as The Batman and The Brave and the Bold, feels like an attempt to keep comic fans and attract more than just the Saturday morning crowd.  Time will tell if it can duplicate the success of TAS, but it’s nice to see DC give it a shot.  With no clear plans for where Batman is headed on the big screen, it makes sense to try to build a bridge between the two.  The only complication is where do the creators of Beware the Batman take the series that TAS didn’t?  Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, the masterminds behind TAS, piggy-backed off of Burton to establish the look of Gotham, and then created a tone to suit the show.  Visually, it was unique and thematically it was too when compared with its peers.  The show was not afraid to make broad use of Batman’s rogue’s gallery and took chances on lesser villains Killer Croc and Scarface, while also not being afraid to introduce villains like Roland Dagget and Ruper Thorne, gangsters with no sexy gimmick to speak of.  Beware the Batman has been developed by Glen Murakami, a veteran of TAS spin-off Batman Beyond, and is being produced in tandem with Mitch Watson.  Greg Weisman is on board as a writer and he’s done extensive work with other comics and comic TV shows but is probably best known as the creator for Disney’s Gargoyles.

Anarky is expected to play a large role in Beware the Batman.

Anarky is expected to play a large role in Beware the Batman.

The talent appears to be in place to make BTB a success, and the show’s creators have come up with a vision for the program to help differentiate it from its predecessors.  For starters, the show is animated entirely in CG in a style similar to the Green Lantern series already airing.  In terms of color palette, it actually looks similar to TAS as there’s a lot of black and gray.  Batman, himself, is sporting a black and gray costume similar to the one he wore in the final season of TAS (often referred to as The New Animated Series) but with a more triangular head.  Alfred is said to have a larger role in this program, with his past exploits as a secret agent being a central part of the show’s plot.  Batman also has a new sidekick, Katana, a character first conceived in the 80’s who just this year received her own limited series.  Her design is unique to the show and seems to be, in part, due to wanting her to resemble Batman to some degree.  No word on how her presence will affect Robin.  The show’s brain-trust made the decision to avoid The Joker early on, and as a result, Batman’s primary antagonist appears to be Anarky.  Anarky is another 80’s character and in tone he’s similar to Allen Moore’s V from V for Vendetta, though Anarky has been forced to change to mirror whatever the current political climate of the world is.  There’s been little said on how he’ll be portrayed in the show, but it’s definitely a bold choice for what is a “kid’s show.”  If the character appears dumbed-down for television it will likely disappoint the comic book fans who tune in and could turn them off.

Beware the Batman seems to have a solid groundwork to start.  In addition to Anarky, the creators want to continue to use villains not previously seen on television to help further differentiate the show from the ones that came before.  This direction should be commended, as it’s certainly the bravest route, though I do expect some of Batman’s more popular villains will eventually show up if the program is allowed to continue for multiple seasons.  In order for that to happen though, season one needs to be a success.

Batman's look comes across as a mix of old and new.

Batman’s look comes across as a mix of old and new.

The first episode aired today and is titled “Hunted.”  As is the case with most series premieres, the episode is concerned with introducing the main cast of the show to viewers while also giving us a taste for the action and spectacles we can expect going forward. Right off the bat (no pun intended), we’re shown Batman taking down some small-time thugs.  Disappointingly, the firearms used by the enemies look like toy squirt guns and fire lasers.  Beware the Batman is not the first cartoon to eschew realistic firearms, but it looks especially ridiculous here given the otherwise realistic look of the setting (the guns initially were going to look realistic following in the footsteps of TAS, but after the Aurora shooting the show was changed).  Realism does seem like it may be in short supply with this show.  While no one would expect a Batman show to possess a high degree of realism, it does seem like this one will at least be less so than TAS.  The villains in this first episode are Professor Pyg and Mr. Toad.  Professor Pyg is just a fellow with a pig mask, while Mr. Toad is some kind of mutant toad man (that looks more like a frog) with a super-sonic breath attack of some kind.  Professor Pyg arms himself with a saw that can apparently cut through anything except Batman’s gauntlets, and Mr. Toad likes wielding bombs that look like they were taken straight from a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

I’ll never prefer CG animation to traditional hand drawn animation, but the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon did leave me pleasantly surprised with how it turned out.  That show is not without faults, and those same faults are shared by BTB plus a few more.  It must consume too many resources to create an authentic looking city, because the streets of Gotham are empty aside from the main characters of a scene.  This means during the debut episode’s car chase sequence, the only cars on the road appear to be Batman, his enemy, and the enemy’s target.  The characters also do not animate as well as those on TMNT as they seem stiff.  When Batman runs, his body doesn’t look in sync with itself and he resembles a wind-up toy that’s supposed to mimic running.

Professor Pyg and Mr. Toad add a dash of comic relief while still retaining an element of danger.

Professor Pyg and Mr. Toad add a dash of comic relief while still retaining an element of danger.

Design wise, I already mentioned Batman.  The Batmobile is present in this debut episode and it resembles a Lamborghini and apparently it’s dual flame spouts on the back are meant to distinguish it from its predecessors.  Alfred is a mountain of a man who towers over Bruce Wayne.  His role as a bodyguard is emphasized in this episode with part of the plot revolving around his wanting to protect both Bruce Wayne and Batman, with Batman preferring he only concern himself with Bruce Wayne.  The individual who will become Katana is also shown.  Her design of a small asian woman is unremarkable, though she’s seen driving a red and yellow motorcycle which had me wondering if that was a Robin reference.

The voice work seemed more than capable, though getting used to the new Batman (Anthony Ruivivar) and Alfred (J.B. Blanc) will take some getting used to.  Professor Pyg (Brian George) was the stand-out from a voice acting perspective, his tone adding a layer of menace to an already unsettling looking character.  Simon Stagg was present, and I wonder what role he’ll play going forward.  The previously mentioned Anarky is not seen so apparently they’re holding off on his debut for a later episode.

The plot for this first episode revolves around Pyg and Toad kidnapping billionaires who are not eco-friendly.  Batman has to use some of his detective skills to determine who their targets are before the villains strike next.  There’s also the previously mentioned Alfred conflict, with him also wanting to find his own successor for when he can no longer protect Bruce/Batman.  Batman is shown to be somewhat sloppy, though we’re given no indication of how long he’s been at this whole crime-fighting vigilante business.  The creators of the show in all of the pre-release press boasted about how this show was going to show off Batman’s detective skills, but this episode mostly followed the same formula as TAS with Batman turning to his trusty super-computer to do most of the work for him.  Since much of the plot of this first episode is devoted to setting the series up for future episodes, there’s very little resolution to the Batman conflict with Professor Pyg and Mr. Toad.  We’re also only given a snippet of what drives the villains with hopefully more to come.

Expect Katana's full debut to occur in the coming episodes.

Expect Katana’s full debut to occur in the coming episodes.

Overall, I appreciate the direction the show’s creators are pushing it in, but I’m less in favor of the execution.  Pyg and Toad have potential as villains, though I would have preferred something more grounded for Mr. Toad.  The animation is what it is and unfortunately this is the most cost-effective way to do most shows these days.  I’ll reserve final judgement on the show until more episodes have aired though this debut was more of a C effort.  It’s probably unfair of me to compare this to The Animated Series, but if it can’t approach that level of quality, then what’s the point of it existing?  Hopefully the show is able to carve out its own niche that can be enjoyed by Batman fans of all ages.


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