Tag Archives: batman returns

The Toys that Got Away

My whole life I have loved toys. Anytime I had money as a kid I wanted to spend it on a new toy, for my birthday I always wanted more toys, and when it came time to write Santa a letter I asked for more toys. Most kids like toys, that’s a given, but I feel like many mix in some other loves as well. Maybe arts and crafts, movies, books, comics, etc. And I liked a lot of that stuff too, but not enough to sacrifice even a tiny fraction of my toy allotment. As an adult, my love continues though I’m not as single-minded when it comes to my pursuits and hobbies. Though even now, few things thrill me in such a unique way as a brand new toy.

For a kid with a middle-class upbringing, I really wasn’t left wanting for too much. My parents usually delivered around the holidays and I had a grandmother that seemed to enjoy buying me toys as much as I enjoyed receiving them. It also helped that I liked action figures and they usually weren’t too expensive. Most Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cost less than a Barbie, and I never really got into more expensive properties like Transformers and Lego. Sure, I had a few from both lines here and there, but for the most part I focused on one major franchise.

Even though I rarely lacked for anything, inevitably there’s always something that remains elusive. Either the toy was hard to find or it arrived at an inopportune time, but there are a few items that vexed me as a child enough to still leave a lasting imprint. Now that I’m an adult, there’s sometimes a temptation to try and fill that void now that I have the means, even though I know doing such is often fleeting. A recent reintroduction of a certain property to my life has recalled some of these feelings though and is serving as the genesis for this post, and I’ll save those for last. This post though is about the toys I never got as a kid, but am sorely tempted to seek out now.

Venom II – Toy Biz 1992

Toy Biz had the comic book figure on lockdown in the 80s and 90s. It even held both the Marvel and DC license at the same time, before it eventually became owned by Marvel through one of the venerable comic book company’s many bankruptcy filings. Toy Biz no longer exists now, but it was best known for its Marvel action figures and the first line was simply referred to as Marvel Super Heroes. As part of that line’s second series, a Venom action figure was introduced. It came with a plastic spider that resembled the insignia on Venom’s chest. It could be inserted into a rather large hole on the figure’s back and squeezing it caused black goo to ooze from a hole on the figure’s chest. Eventually, a running change would be made to replace the spider with a generic red plunger that was instead intended to just use water instead of slime. The lame gimmick, combined with the giant hole it required exist in the figure, made this Venom kind of shitty.

Toy Biz rectified this with a new figure in 92. I recalled seeing it for what felt like a year on the back of other card-backs, but never could find it in stores. This Venom was leaner with a bit more articulation. It’s gimmick was a tongue-flicking action controlled by a little button on the figure’s back which was simple and didn’t detract much from the sculpt. It also came with a chest attachment that I guess was meant to create the illusion of a living costume, but it was kind of dumb. Venom would become my favorite Marvel character, due mostly to my dad taking me to a flea market where he bought me a copy of Lethal Protector #1. When the Spider-Man cartoon arrived in 94, it meant more Venom action figures so even though I really wanted this one, the sting of never finding him was mostly removed. This is the only toy on this list that I did seek out as an adult. Since I have him now, I can say if I had been able to find one in 92 it probably would have been one of my favorite toys for a long time, at least until the Venom II from the cartoon line with removable mask.

Monty Moose – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1993)

I had a lot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles toys as a kid, most of which are now gone which is unfortunate (kids, don’t let your parents throw away your old action figures!). That line was fairly easy to collect because it was well distributed and also pretty affordable. When the first figures came out, they retailed for $3.99 in my area – that’s a mere two visits from the Tooth Fairy! Because for a few years Turtles were all I wanted I usually cleaned-up at Christmas and birthdays and as a result there were only a few I didn’t get that I really wanted. Some of them included really popular characters like Baxter Stockman and the Rat King, but for some reason the only one that bothers me a little today is Monty Moose.

Monty even got featured in a commercial, though he never made it into the cartoon.

I don’t know what it was about Monty Moose I found so appealing. Moose are kind of funny looking in general, and Monty Moose certainly looked a bit odd with his huge antlers and long snout. I also really liked the blue and red color combo as a kid, so he was just eye-catching to me. And I saw him in a store on one occasion. It was an Osco Drug, which I don’t think even exists anymore. For those who don’t remember, Osco Drug is basically like a CVS or Walgreen’s and it was a store that was never known for its toy selection. My mom and I had to go into one for a prescription for some reason, it wasn’t our usual pharmacy, and we walked down the toy aisle and I saw Monty Moose staring back at me. I tried to get my mom to buy it for me, but I think my birthday was coming up so she was in no mood to buy me a toy with that on the horizon. My birthday would come and go and I had to beg my mom to take me back to that specific store now that I had some birthday money. She thought it was silly to go to a pharmacy, of all places, to spend birthday money, but she took me and of course the figure was gone. I’d never see him again.

Batman Returns Batmissile Batmobile – Kenner 1993

Despite being a bit dark, the Tim Burton Batman films were a merchandising behemoth for DC and Warner Bros. I had a few toys from the first film and the supplemental series Kenner produced in-between, but what really caught my attention was the Batmobile from Batman Returns. If you recall, in the film, the Batmobile demonstrates a new ability to shed the sides of the vehicle to take on the form of a skinny, missile-like, vehicle to fit through a narrow alley. Kenner made a Batmbile that could do the same with the push of a button, and when I saw the commercial I immediately wanted it.

I do wonder how well this thing actually worked.

I had that toy on my Christmas list for 1993, and when Christmas morning came there was indeed a Batmobile under the tree. Only it was the wrong one. I was never one to complain about gifts, so I was happy to have a Batmobile. This was one was a re-release of the first film’s Batmobile with pop-up machine guns. It was pretty cool, just not what I wanted. It was somewhat overshadowed though by another gift that year – a Sega Genesis. Sometime after the holiday, I even saw the Batmobile that I yearned for at the toy store. I had some money and nearly bought it, but I did the smart thing and decided to be happy with what I had and put that cash towards something else. And I feel good about the decision even now and I mostly have it on this list because I’m still curious if the gimmick worked well or not.

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Green Ranger and Dragonzord – Bandai 1993

And now we get to the real deal. Recently, my son has shown an interest in Power Rangers largely thanks to his best friend having some affection for the property. We’ve watched around ten episodes or so of the original run, and it’s stirring some memories. Painful memories.

Power Rangers burst onto the scene in the late summer of 1993. Saban Entertainment had found it hard to sell the property to American broadcast networks for years, and maybe because of that there was skepticism that the property would be a success. Whatever the reason, the show ended up being a smash hit, but Bandai of America was woefully unprepared to meet the demand for toys. Which sucked because the toys were awesome! The Rangers themselves were huge, around 9 or 10 inches, with loads of articulation. I had never seen an action figure with finger articulation before, and it blew my mind! I wanted them, but I wasn’t quite sure how much since the show was pretty new. I was also at an age where it was almost taboo to like it. I was supposed to be growing out of toys, but I found them way too compelling.

When these came out, I thought they were the most incredible action figures imaginable.

I didn’t get any Power Rangers toys in 1993 and I spent much of 94 chasing them without much luck. I would eventually get a Power-Morphing Green Ranger, but that was nearly all I got. What I really wanted was the deluxe Green Ranger who came bundled with the Dragonzord. I even found a page from a flyer sitting outside at my grandmother’s house advertising the set. I carried that thing around and clung to it reminding my mom and grandma that I really wanted that toy, but try as they might, it just didn’t happen.

He’s practically a statue, but damn does he looks cool.

I never once saw that toy in a toy store. To this day, I’ve never seen it in person. None of my friends had it, and because of that I still kind of want it. Looking at the set now, I still think that Green Ranger is pretty slick. The Dragonzord impresses me less, but he’s still a delightfully, chunky, robot dragon and robot dragons are pretty awesome on their own. It doesn’t do much beside just look cool, but that’s basically all I ask of my toys in this day and age.

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers Deluxe Megazord – Bandai 1993

As much as I wanted that Green Ranger and Dragonzord, I think the toy I wanted most that I never was able to my hands on was the Deluxe Megazord from the same line. Tommy the Green Ranger was my favorite of the Power Rangers for the time I watched this show (basically up to the first movie), so I naturally wanted the best toy based on him along with the zord. The White Ranger was cool too, but not as cool as the Green Ranger. The Megazord though, was just too awesome to ignore. It was five robots that combined into one massive robot – how awesome is that?! Yes, I realize this made the toy very similar to Voltron, but the Voltron toy from the 80s didn’t impress me much because it didn’t really look like the cartoon. It had to fudge with the scale of the lions a bit to work in real life, and that’s the type of thing that would bother me as a kid.

Now you can re-enact that same transforming sequence you see every episode!

The Megazord, however, seems like it was designed to be a toy from the very start. The toy basically imitated the transforming sequence from the show to perfection. The only compromise really was in the articulation of the finished product. The show would feature models to assemble the Megazord, but once formed it then swapped that out for a guy in a costume who would battle the monster of the week. He could obviously move in ways a clumsy toy could not, but that seemed like a small price to pay for such accuracy.

Robots that combine to form bigger robots are arguably the greatest toys ever made.

Unlike with the Green Ranger/Dragonzord set, I did actually see the Megazord in the flesh. A kid in my class brought one into school, maybe for show and tell or something, and he showed it to me at his desk. Cruelly, he wouldn’t let me touch it, but he at least demonstrated the transformation including both the robot and tank modes. I was floored by it and I wanted it so bad, but it was just so impossible to find! I never saw the thing in stores and I’m sure my grandmother likely never did as well.

I was able to get the Red Dragon Thunderzord (left), but never did get the rest.

When the showed moved on from the original zords, the toy supply improved. For Christmas, my grandmother was finally successful when it came to Power Rangers and she was able to get me the Red Dragon Thunderzord as well as some of the roleplay toys (blaster and morpher). The Red Dragon was pretty cool, and if I’m being honest, a better toy than the Dragonzord would be. I was never able to get the other zords though to form the new Megazord, and by the following Christmas the fad had passed for me. I would put all of my energy towards video games at that point, leaving toys behind for a few years.

In 2010, Bandai re-released the original Megazord, now often referred to as the Dino Megazord. It was almost an exact recreation of the 93 toy with a few changes to make the set cheaper to produce. The wheels were removed from the Triceratops and Sabre-toothed tiger, as well as the articulation on their guns. Otherwise though, it’s basically the same. It retailed for $75 and I am kicking myself now for not just buying it then. The 93 version, if you can find one in good condition, easily fetches thrice that on eBay and the re-releases are expensive too. I was tempted to buy one when I was first on my own, but got cold feet and didn’t really know what I would do with. Maybe my son or daughter will become obsessed and force my hand, or maybe Bandai will re-release it again when the show turns 30 in three years and I’ll finally take the plunge. Or maybe the Megazord is just a toy destined to haunt me for the rest of my days.


Batman: The Animated Series – “The Mechanic”

The_Mechanic_TCEpisode Number:  55

Original Air Date:  January 24, 1993

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Steve Perry, Laren Bright, Randy Rogel

First Appearance(s):  Earl Cooper

Last week we got a little peek into Bruce Wayne’s past before he became Batman. This week, we’re getting a peek at Batman’s past and how he came to possess his most wonderful of toys:  the Batmobile. For seemingly as long as there has been a Batman, there has been a Batmobile and it has almost always been awesome. Sure, everyone likely has their own favorite Batmobile (the 60s one can’t be topped in terms of aesthetics), but they’re all pretty awesome in their own right. This episode is also going to borrow rather heavily from Batman Returns. The Penguin (Paul Williams) is included and he’s going to basically utilize the same scheme that he had in that film in this episode, but with a few wrinkles in how the setup occurs. We’re also at another milestone for the series and this feature, as episode 55 marks the halfway point. Including The New Batman Adventures, 109 episodes were produced so technically the halfway point is the middle of this episode.

The_Mechanic_Crunch

That’s not going to be a cheap repair bill.

The episode opens with Batman and Robin in hot pursuit of The Penguin’s thugs Eagleton (John De Lancie) and Falcone (Walter Olkewicz)(I don’t think this is the same Falcone featured in Batman Begins). They can’t escape and their bullets do nothing to the Batmobile forcing the criminals to take drastic measures. They attempt to beat a diving bridge by going below the lowering slab and crashing onto a boat below. Batman and Robin aren’t so lucky and the Batmobile gets caught in-between the divider and the bridge proper doing a number on the Batmobile in the process. Batman remarks that someone named Earl is going to have his work cut-out for him.

The Batmobile was apparently still drivable after the collision with the bridge and Batman is able to get it to a garage run by Earl Cooper (Paul Winfield). Earl is apparently Batman’s mechanic and he tells him he’ll take care of it. The Batmobile will be out of commission of course so Batman and Robin leave via Batcycles to presumably go after Penguin’s men.

earl and marva

Earl and Marva survey the damage.

At Penguin’s sewer lair, the rotund crime boss is raving mad that his men stole the wrong stamps he requested. While he’s fuming, Falcone brings in an associate of his, a fellow by the name of Arnold Rundle (Steve Franken). Rundle has made an interesting discovery during his day job working for an auto parts manufacturer. Some rare parts have been ordered by an Earl Cooper, and based on what Falcone told him of their encounter with Batman, Rundle believes these parts are intended for the Batmobile. This immediately perks up The Penguin’s mood and he informs Rundle he’ll be rewarded for his aid this day. He escorts him to the famous duck boat and sets him off with a generous check. Rundle immediately becomes concerned when he sees the canal leads only to a large drain, while Penguin and his men ignore his plight. Rundle is then presumably drowned.

Penguin and his goons head to the garage Rundle pointed them to and find Earl and his daughter Marva (Lynn Moody) at work. Penguin finds it’s pretty easy to get what he wants from Early by threatening his daughter, but before he relays his scheme he does want to know how Earl and the Batman came to be acquaintances. Earl recounts his days as a designer for Global Motors. He noticed some significant safety defects with the company’s products that put lives at risk, but rather than listen to their man, they chose to fire him instead. They weren’t done with him though since Earl knew things that could harm the company if made public. They sent thugs after him, but Batman came to his rescue. Many months later after struggling to make ends meet thanks to being labeled a whistleblower in the industry, Earl ran into Batman once again. This time it was Batman who needed help. His car was looking pretty down and on its last legs. He proposed making Earl his private mechanic. He set him up with a new garage, let him design a new Batmobile, and best of all paid him really, really, well.

Original_Batmobile_(BTAS)

The version of the Batmobile seen in Earl’s flashback.

By putting Marva in danger, Earl is forced to comply with The Penguin and he assists in sabotaging the Batmobile. He informs Batman the car is ready, and he and Robin soon show up to claim it. As Batman and Robin are preparing to head out, they notice Earl is acting rather strangely. He informs Batman that Marva is not present because she is in the basement. He also mentions he fixed the air conditioner, even though Batman didn’t request it. Batman thanks him and he and Robin take off pondering why Earl seemed out of sorts.

CaptainPenguin

Look at him! He’s so happy!

With the Batmobile on the road, Penguin and his men are free to follow with Marva still their hostage. They get Batman’s attention and lead him on a chase. It’s at this point Penguin uses a remote control to take over the Batmobile. He smashes it into guard rails and drives rather recklessly. Batman and Robin find the eject button has been disabled, and start to thinking about how they can get out of this mess. Batman then realizes Earl was trying to warn him. “Down in the basement” is a racing term for crashing, and he immediately reaches for the AC. Turns out, Early re-wired the eject button to the AC and he and Robin are shot from the Batmobile their seats breaking apart into hang gliders.

Penguin and his men did not see the caped crusaders eject and only witness the Batmobile plunge off a cliff. They celebrate prematurely and even let Earl know the “good” news, who was back at the garage being held hostage by Falcone. Hearing that Batman and Robin were killed is enough to motivate Earl to act drastically and he turns on Falcone eventually hoisting him in the air with some rigging equipment tearfully reflecting on Batman and Robin, and likely worrying for his daughter.

penguin and marva

Perhaps the most villainous we’ve seen The Penguin act yet in this series.

Batman and Robin pursue Penguin into an airport and stop the car. Penguin tries to escape and takes Marva hostage while firing from his umbrella at Batman. Marva stomps his foot to escape, and Robin swoops in to finish him off. An angry Penguin has been foiled once again.

Back at the garage, Earl is happily packing up his belongings with Marva while Batman and Robin look on. He’s happily going on about redesigning the Batmobile and seems totally unphased about having to move to a new garage. Batman lets him know he’ll set up some dummy corporations to order the parts through with the goal being to never put Earl and his daughter in harm’s way again. For his part, Earl just seems delighted everything turned out okay. At least for them. Penguin finds himself back in prison and polishing license plates. As a final insult a new plate comes his way reading 1BAT4U, which he angrily snaps in two.

Arnold_Rundle

Let’s take a moment to remember our old buddy Arnie. You were too good for this world.

“The Mechanic” is a fun little action-packed episode with some exciting sequences. Car chases can be tricky, especially with a vehicle as long as the Batmobile which has a tendency to start bending and stretching with the animation. Dong Yang Animation is able to avoid those mistakes in delivering a quite fine looking episode. It’s always fun to see how something came to be where Batman is concerned, and seeing the genesis of his car is pretty fun. The flashback contains Batman’s 1940s Batmobile, which is a nice touch. Earl’s story in general is rather heart-warming and it’s nice to see good things happen to good people. Penguin gets to bring his feature-film scheme to the small screen. In the movie, the taking over of the Batmobile is but a small part, and here it’s used quite well to hinge an episode on. It’s arguably done better if anything, as Penguin getting to Batman’s mechanic is a better setup than his men just seemingly knowing how to sabotage the fancy vehicle.

This episode of Batman isn’t the greatest, I’m not even sure if it’s top 10 material, but it is entertaining. The actors give convincing performances, as they so often do, and the plot is nice and tidy with both suspense and emotion to drive it along. Earl and his daughter Marva won’t be seen again, but as far as one hit wonders go, they scored pretty high.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Birds of a Feather”

Birds_of_a_FeatherEpisode Number:  47

Original Air Date:  February 8, 1993

Directed by:  Frank Paur

Written by:  Chuck Menville, Brynne Stephens

First Appearance(s):  Veronica Vreeland, The Duck Boat

 

It would seem the writers of Batman:  The Animated Series had the hardest time with the two primary antagonists from the then recently released Batman Returns:  Catwoman and The Penguin. We’ve seen Catwoman portrayed as a cat burglar with a heart of gold, but following her debut she’s been in flux relegated to damsel in distress and sometimes vigilante. With The Penguin, he debuted in the divisive “I’ve Got Batman in my Basement” in which he’s outwitted by a bunch of kids. Because it was so obviously pandering to its young audience, that episode is often cited as one of the worst in the series, but since it was effective at that pandering, there seem to be an equal amount of folks who really enjoyed it. Since that episode though, The Penguin has been more of a side character as he was in “The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne” and “Almost Got ‘Im.” We haven’t seen The Penguin in another solo outing, until now that is. And even here, we have an atypical episode as it’s not focused on Penguin’s next scheme, but on his reform. In that, it is somewhat similar to Batman Returns because we’re going to see Penguin engage with high society and try to find social acceptance among the elite, only to be humiliated and lash out in only a way a super villain can.

veronica

Prepare to meet Veronica Vreeland.

The episode opens with Penguin (Paul Williams) robbing a museum. In a bid to remain classy, he probably dilly-dallies too long trying to impress the guards giving Batman time to show up and put a stop to the robbery. Penguin is sent off to prison, since he’s not considered insane and thus not bound for Arkham Asylum, and it’s there he serves out his sentence to the end. At which point he declares himself reformed, and whether or not he’s sincere is unknown. He expects his old entourage to arrive with a limo to pick him up, but when no one shows he’s forced to ride the bus in disgrace. He has the bus drop him off at his penthouse where he walks in expecting to find a party celebrating his release. He even indicates he expects the other various rogues to be present like Joker and Two-Face, but instead he finds an empty home with sheets draped over the furniture. Penguin isn’t alone though as Batman is there to remind him that he’ll be keeping an eye on him. Penguin asserts that he’s reformed, but Batman doesn’t seem convinced, though he leaves him be.

Pan03-3

Not the entourage Penguin was expecting.

Elsewhere, socialite Veronica Vreeland (Marilu Henner) is bemoaning her plummeting social status to her associate Pierce (Sam McMurray) who suggests she throw a party to improve her reputation. She seems skeptical, but when he reminds her how another individual saw their reputation skyrocket following The Joker crashing her party, she starts to warm to the idea of a party. Pierce waves the front page of the local newspaper to her declaring The Penguin has been released, and we have our plot.

penguin laugh

Veronica, obviously charmed.

The Penguin is more than enthusiastic about dinner with Vreeland, who takes him to a fancy restaurant where he dines on sardines or whole fish of some kind. His presence is found to be a major turn-off for the other patrons, partly because of his grotesque eating habits and probably also because he’s a known criminal. Penguin is enjoying the dinner regardless, but he’s suspicious of Vreeland who insists she just wants to get to know him. Satisfied, he requests the check but the waiter tells him the meal is free if he leaves now. Thinking this is an acknowledgement of his high society status, Penguin happily leaves with Vreeland on his arm. Outside the restaurant, the two are accosted by a trio of muggers. Penguin looks the part of hero as he fights them off, but Batman shows up to clean up the mess. He grabs Penguin and assumes he was robbing Vreeland, but she steps in to correct him giving Penguin a moment to admonish Batman which he seems to enjoy. Just before the mugging, Penguin was invited to the party Vreeland is planning and he accepted, making this quite the night for the portly little fellow.

penguin reformed

Penguin showing off his heroic side. Never mug a man with an umbrella.

Veronica and Pierce are then shown discussing the events of the evening. Pierce finds The Penguin laughable and seems to think this party will be a huge hit at Penguin’s expense. Veronica though demonstrates that she may be warming to the former criminal as she found his behaviour with the thugs charming and sweet. Bruce Wayne interrupts their conversation and asks whom they’re discussing. Pierce spills the beans that Veronica is dating The Penguin as a publicity stunt, which concerns Bruce, naturally. He leaves them with a warning about The Penguin, but it doesn’t seem likely that they’ll actually take it to heart. That night, she and Penguin attend an opera and she’s obviously not taken by his horrid singing. She still doesn’t let her revulsion seem obvious when he turns to her and even permits him to lay a smooch on her hand. Bruce is there as well, being kind of a creeper, but he seems to notice that Penguin is genuinely showing affection for Veronica which only worries him more.

scheme revealed

Penguin looking dejected as he finds out he’s been played a fool.

Presumably the next night, Veronica’s party is underway. The Penguin feels he’s in his own element schmoozing with Gotham’s wealthy socialites, cracking witty jokes and attempting charming behaviour. He’s oblivious to the fact that everyone else is seemingly appalled by his appearance and is making jokes at his expense whenever he moves onto another conversation. Pierce is especially enjoying this, while Veronica is clearly feeling guilty. When Penguin steps out onto a balcony for a few quiet moments, he’s joined by Bruce Wayne. Penguin shows him a special brooch he plans to gift Veronica, and Bruce looks nearly distraught as he knows what’s going on. When Penguin heads back inside, he overhears Pierce and Veronica talking about what’s going on. Realizing he’s been played a fool, he lashes out blasting them in the face with knock-out gas from his umbrella (apparently he wasn’t reformed enough to cease carrying armed umbrellas). Bruce tries to intervene, but he’s unable to stop Penguin from kidnapping Vreeland.

BF_23_-_Duck_Boat

It’s the duck boat!

Pierce is forced to head to the police where our always right Commissioner Gordon is correct in placing much of the blame for the current circumstances on he and Vreeland. Even so, it doesn’t excuse the fact that The Penguin has unlawfully abducted a woman ending his short-lived reform. Pierce is also a total jerk to Gordon, which is what prompted Gordon’s dressing him down. They soon receive a ransome note from The Penguin, and it demands that Pierce has to deliver the ransom of one million dollars personally. When the police bring Pierce to the drop-off location they find a pay phone and Penguin promptly calls him on it instructing him to head to a new spot without company. The new spot is a trap, of course, and Pierce finds himself dumped into the sewers where he lands on a big, yellow, duck boat! Yes, the very same one from Batman Returns, though this one looks a bit angrier.

BF_23.2_-_Trap

Not a place you want to find yourself.

The boat takes Pierce to a new location, and upon ascending some stairs, he finds himself in an opera house. There he finds Veronica chained to a chandelier. She pleads with Penguin to free her, and even confesses she was growing fond of him, but he doesn’t believe her. He’s too far gone now. Pierce is chained to a platform below the chandelier, and Penguin rummages threw the money and discovers a Bat-tracer (really, Batman, be more discrete). Enraged, Penguin goes to cut the rope on the chandelier which will surely kill both Vreeland and Pierce. She tries to talk him out of it, once more claiming to have grown fond of him, but it’s no good. Batman shows up to prevent the double homicide. Since Penguin can’t go one on one with Batman, he hops on a dragon prop that also apparently breathes fire. In what is possibly the most ludicrous visual we’ve seen on this show, Penguin flies around on this dragon with a viking helmet and sword. Batman has seen worse, and he takes the bird-boy down and frees the two wealthy jerks.

BF_25_-_Viking_Penguin

Now here’s something you don’t see every day.

As the cops lead Penguin away, Veronica once again approaches him and tells him that she was really growing fond of him. Penguin, with perhaps a touch of sadness, rebuffs her once more, “I suppose it’s true what they say; society is to blame. High society.” Batman also looks on with no indication of satisfaction over what he’s seen. This one has no happy ending for anyone.

Birds_of_a_Feather_Over

Normally a triumphant scene, but here there’s a somber air over Penguin being lead away in handcuffs.

“Birds of a Feather” is a pretty weird episode for what is ostensibly a kid’s show. A reformed criminal trying to ingratiate himself into a wealthy circle, only to find he can never hope to fit in where he feels he belongs most. Thus, he turns back to crime and is reformed no more. It’s a very mature storyline, which I suppose he was owed after his debut. Kids are capable of empathy though, and I think this episode successfully makes Penguin out to be a sympathetic figure similar to what happened with The Riddler. Only in this case, The Penguin doesn’t get to escape in the end. He’s returned to jail, and the next time we see him he’s back to his old ways as he’s apparently abandoned all notions of reform. Vreeland will return as well as mostly the same character we see here, so she has apparently learned nothing in the end.

PierceChapman

We’ll see more of Vreeland, but Pierce and his smug, stupid, face are confined to just this episode.

This episode is one of the few that seems to successfully merge the classic portrayal of The Penguin, as an odd-looking but refined criminal, with the grotesque one from Batman Returns. He’s always been deformed in this show, but it’s never been a focal point as he mostly embodies the characteristics of the comic book character. In the restaurant scene we get a glimpse at the more monstrous side and Veronica is obviously grossed out by his appearance. The other wealthy characters poke fun at his appearance as well behind his back. There is humor though in seeing him try to fit in, especially when he, at the party, advises the manager of a bank he knocked off in the past to bolster security. His speech patterns and mannerisms embody the role he’s trying to play, but the subject matter is obviously inappropriate for the setting. Those little bits of humor play well and are needed since most of the episode is uncomfrotable to watch. We know The Penguin is being played, and he seems genuine in his attempt at reforming, but he’s also bound to find out he’s being made fun of and won’t respond well. The duck boat is a nice callback to the movie as well, and I can’t remember if it makes another appearance or not.

“Birds of a Feather” is an overlooked episode, but it’s also probably the best Penguin episode. I never count it among the show’s best, but whenever I sit down to watch it I’m entertained and pulled in by the story. It’s light on action, but the character development and setup is well done. It helps that it doesn’t need a lot of screentime to develop a character like Vreeland or Pierce,  and they’re not short-shrifted at all. It’s a dense episode and it makes good use of what time it has. There’s not a lot of Batman, but the episode doesn’t need it and his presence is still felt throughout. I really like how the episode is able to get the audience to turn on Batman in some respects, as I recall watching this as a kid and being irritated with Batman for going after Penguin when he had done nothing wrong. Then I ultimately felt conflicts when Penguin did do something wrong, but still felt like he was justified in his actions. The episode needed to have him basically attempt murder in order to make it acceptable to see him sent off to jail in the end. If this is an episode you’ve either slept on or forgotten about, give it a look. And if it’s one you may not have liked much as a kid, you may find it more enjoyable as an adult. This isn’t the last we’ll see of The Penguin bringing Batman Returns to the small screen, but it was the most well done.

 

 


Batman: The Animated Series – “Feat of Clay – Part I”

Feat_of_Clay-Title_CardEpisode Number:  20

Original Air Date:  September 8, 1992

Directed by:  Dick Sebast

Written by:  Marv Wolfman and Michael Reaves

First Appearance(s):  Roland Daggett, Clayface

I don’t know what happened that caused me to miss the first few broadcast episodes of Batman: The Animated Series, but “Feat of Clay” was the first episode I ever saw. It’s possible that my memory is just fuzzy and I did see the few episodes that aired before it, but my family had also just moved from New Hampshire to Virginia so it was a pretty hectic period for us. Regardless, assuming it was my introduction to the show it’s a pretty great way to have the ice broken. Though “Feat of Clay” is a bit more procedural an episode as opposed to action packed, it’s a well constructed and satisfying viewing experience and I remember being captivated by the show’s tone which just felt so much more “adult” than what I was used to.

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Roland Daggett is a made for TV villain that proves to be a worthy addition to Batman canon.

“Feat of Clay” marks the debut of two characters we’ll see more than once over the course of the series. The first is crooked businessman Roland Daggett (Ed Asner). Rumor has it he was supposed to be Max Shreck from Batman Returns but supposedly Tim Burton wasn’t on board with that for some reason, so Daggett was created instead. He’s a businessman and slumlord who prioritizes money above human life. In this episode, he’s concerned with his chemical plant, Daggett Industries, and a certain client. Matt Hagen (Ron Perlman) is that client, a down on his luck actor once renowned for his ability to alter his appearance and mold himself for any role. Ever since an accident left his face horribly disfigured, he’s found it pretty hard to find work.

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Imposter Bruce wants that brief case.

The episode opens in confusing fashion (for an eight year old) with Bruce Wayne meeting Wayne Enterprises CEO Lucius Fox in the middle of the night at an old warehouse (Gotham is just full of these). Fox is confused, but he brought what Wayne was seeking – a briefcase containing documents which incriminate Daggett in an illegal attempt at taking over Wayne Enterprises. Wayne quickly double-crosses him and a horde of goons appear. They’re ordered to kill Fox, but lucky for him they’re a terrible shot. He’s eventually injured when one assailant is able to shoot out a rope and drop some debris on him. Apparently it’s a lot harder to shoot an adult male than it is a thin rope. Batman is also alerted to the gun fire and he shows up to clean up some of the mess, but he’s not in time to prevent Fox’s injury.

As a viewer, it was hard to believe Wayne would do anything to endanger one of his friends and the presence of Batman confirms this. Eventually we find out Wayne was none other than Matt Hagen in disguise. Hagen has found a topical cream that can cover up his scars, and more importantly, turns his face into a clay-like state which allows him to mold his own features to resemble others (no explanation given for how he alters his voice, that’s just cartoons for ya). The cream, Renuyu (pronounced Renew You), just so happens to be manufactured by Daggett Industries. As we know, Daggett wants to take over Wayne Enterprises, and the encounter with Fox was supposed to result in Fox’s death which would have been the catalyst for the takeover. With Hagen’s failure, Daggett has decided to cut-off Hagen’s supply of cream. He also orders his two primary henchman, Raymond Bell and Germs, to take Hagen out as he’s now a liability.

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Hollywood doesn’t have many roles for mugs like that one.

Unfortunately for Hagen, he needs the cream in order to keep working. It also has proven to be an addictive substance, though weather the cream is chemically addictive or just psychologically given it can erase scars is anyone’s guess and beside the point. Hagen feels like he needs it, and he is not willing to go without it.

Batman is of course trying to figure out what happened to Fox, oblivious at first that Bruce Wayne was framed for the attempted murder. Fox was able to tell the cops what happened, and naturally they want to speak with Bruce. Alfred covers for him while Bruce tries to figure out what happened back at the warehouse. Batman is able to trace Daggett back to Raymond Bell, who was there the night of Wayne’s framing. He tracks him down in the Batwing and runs Bell’s car off the road. In perhaps Batman’s finest interrogation, he uses the prongs on the front of the Batwing to impale and carry Bell’s car high above Gotham. Utilizing a mechanical arm, he extracts Bell from the car and dangles him over Gotham Harbor. He’s only able to find out that Wayne was not present the night of Fox’s attack, but Bell faints before he can fess up to who was behind it. The police show up and Batman is forced to hand over his prisoner. Now knowing that a Wayne imposter was present, he decides, against better judgement I’d say, to visit Fox in the hospital after hours which only makes Fox think he’s returned to finish the job. He’s arrested as a result.

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In order to hide his scars, Hagen is forced to rely on a cream provided by Daggett.

Not to be outdone, Hagen also decides to do some infiltrating and heads to Daggett’s lab. Using the last bit of Renuyu he possesses, Hagen is able to slip in undetected, but not for long. Daggett and his men discover him, and in a rather disturbing scene, Daggett basically drowns Hagen in the stuff by pouring it down his throat. The “murder” is only seen via shadows on the wall, but it’s effective. Hagen survives though, and his stand-in finds him later in his car where Daggett’s men had left him, but Hagen is different. We get just a brief look at him as he glances in the rear-view mirror before the episode ends with that which is oh so frustrating:  To be continued.

“Feat of Clay” is a slow moving episode of Batman, but necessarily so. The pacing allows us to really get inside Matt Hagen and sympathize with him. He’s driven to continue his life as it was before the accident that left him scarred and disfigured at all costs. He’s probably dealing with some depression, and the addictive Renuyu is probably the worst thing for him. His friend and stand-in Teddy is also the stand-in for the audience as he tries to talk Matt out of this path, but to no avail. He loves him too much to just abandon him, but we’re left to wonder if he’ll be pushed too far in the stories to come. Daggett, on the other hand, is a pretty conventional villain. He has no redeeming qualities and is easy to understand. He’s yet another gangster type who gives birth to a super-villain, following in the footsteps of Rupert Thorne and the role he played in creating Two-Face. Still, conventional as he may be, I always liked Daggett as a villain because there’s no compromise in him or an attempt to disguise his intentions. He’s not slimy like Thorne, just a cold, hard villain. Ed Asner is also perfectly cast in the role and my affection for him probably plays a role in my liking of Daggett.

As a result of all of the attention paid on Hagen, this ends up being an episode that’s rather light on Batman. The framing plot is engaging, when used, even if it felt rather similar to Batman Returns. He’ll get back to doing what he does best in Part II, but it is still a some-what shocking sight to see Bruce Wayne in handcuffs.

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The “murder” of Matt Hagen and the birth of Clayface.

Since “Feat of Clay” features some rather prominent voice actors, it’s not surprising this episode feels extra special. It also helps that the episode looks great. Hagen’s face is convincingly disfigured and the morphing properties of the cream he applies are fun to look at. Of course, we’re in for a far greater treat when Clayface truly debuts. The scene of his becoming Clayface though is almost incredible considering it’s taking place in a kid’s show. It was shocking to me as a kid and I watched with some disbelief. Also worth pointing out is the subtle personality quirks we get to see within Daggett’s gang. One guy apparently has a fear of germs (hence the name Germs) and Bell is always wearing headphones tuned to police scanners. It’s a small touch, but so often the hired muscle in these episodes are nameless, faceless, men with guns.

As the introduction for a new villain, and one that wasn’t well known outside of the comics, “Feat of Clay” is probably second only to “Two-Face.” It works in tandem with its follow-up, and I might argue it’s a more satisfying set of episodes than its predecessor. I suppose I’ll wait until I do a write-up on Part II before I make up my mind, but it should go without saying that these two episodes are among the best the show produced.


Batman: The Animated Series – “I’ve Got Batman In My Basement”

I've_Got_Batman_in_My_Basement-Title_CardEpisode Number:  13

Original Air Date:  September 30, 1992

Directed by:  Frank Paur

Written by:  Sam Graham and Chris Hubbell

First Appearance(s):  The Penguin

Happy Black Friday, we’ve got kind of a silly one today. After three some-what weighty episodes we’re treated to something a bit on the lighter side. “I’ve Got Batman In My Basement” is unapologetically written to appeal to kids. Imagine if you were the one in Sherman Grant’s shoes and you had to protect Batman from the villainous Penguin?

Making his series debut is none other than The Penguin (Paul Williams), who’s arguably Batman’s most famous foe at this point in time following The Joker. He was featured prominently in the 1960’s Batman television show (played by the late, great, Burgess Meredith) and had just recently been in Batman Returns. His animated series look is strongly influenced by his appearance in the Tim Burton film as he’s a bulbous character with malformed hands and long black hair. He’s not nearly as grotesque looking as Danny DeVito’s version of the character, nor does he dwell in a sewer. Instead he’s a rather refined sort of villain. Well-spoken, he also has a taste for expensive avian themed baubles and when the episode begins we find him trying to steal a Faberge egg. His henchman make off with the item and lead Batman to an old factory of some kind where they meet up with their boss.

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You’ve got to hand it to The Penguin, the man knows what he wants.

Unbeknownst to them all, an aspiring detective named Sherman (Matthew Brooks) and his friend Roberta (Denise Marco) noticed a very strange bird flying over their Gotham dwelling. Sherman tracks the bird, despite some neighborhood kids telling him he’s crazy for thinking it’s a vulture, and Roberta tags along. The bird leads them right to the Batman/Penguin confrontation and they get a bird’s eye view (no pun intended) of the encounter from a catwalk. Sherman recognizes The Penguin right away, so we know he’s an established villain in this universe and, much like The Joker, has likely tangled with Batman numerous times before the events of this show. They naturally slip up and everyone is alerted to their presence. Batman tries to help the kids to safety, but gets hit with some poison gas from The Penguin’s umbrella which does a job on him. He stumbles to the Batmobile, and Sherman and Roberta give chase to try and help the caped crusader. Despite being too young to have ever driven a car, the pair manage to fire-up the Batmobile and race to Sherman’s house where they drag the semi-conscious Batman to the basement to sleep off the effects of the gas.

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Every kid’s dream, minus being pursued by The Penguin. Though there are worse villains to be chased by, I suppose.

The Penguin’s vulture soon finds them (it’s rather hard to hide the Batmobile, after all) and eventually The Penguin and his two henchmen (one voiced by the incomparable Rob Paulsen) are at the front door. Sherman, along with Roberta and the two neighborhood kids Frank (Richard Gilliland) and Nick (Adam Carl) do their best to keep The Penguin away from Batman. Sherman is able to figure out that Batman needs some anti-toxin capsules he keeps in the Batmobile, and eventually he’s able to snap out of it and come to their aid, though not before Sherman’s house is a wreck. In an amusing scene, we see his mother’s (Lindsay Crouse) reaction to what happened only for Batman to emerge from the basement which apparently gets her a little flustered. We don’t know if Batman made everything right, but after his brush with greatness Sherman is scene even more determined to become a great detective.

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This episode is mostly harmless fun, but this scene where Batman and Penguin “sword fight” is pretty stupid.

“I’ve Got Batman in My Basement” is just a fun episode of the series. It’s a bit unusual for The Penguin to be introduced in such a comedic fashion, but maybe they wanted to distance him from the scarier take found in Batman Returns. I do like this version of the character, which strikes a nice balance between his comic book persona and that film’s visual style. In The New Batman Adventures he’ll be redesigned to basically resemble the classic version of the character, which also didn’t really bother me. I have no real complaints about this one, other than maybe they could have found a more prominent role for Rob Paulsen, this is just a good episode if you’re not looking for something as serious as many of the other episodes in this series. The script is kind of dumb, and I know the episode has its share of detractors (Bruce Timm included), but I find it hard to be offended by this one. It’s light without betraying the show’s overall tone and most shows need an episode like this every now and then. There are plenty of episodes a lot worse than this one.

Up next, is perhaps the greatest episode ever for a super hero cartoon:  “Heart of Ice.” Unfortunately, you will have to wait a little while for my thoughts on that one as this blog is going all out for Christmas starting on December 1st. The Christmas Spot will be bringing you Christmas cheer advent calendar style through Christmas Day, then return to its regularly scheduled programming. This means the next episode recap for Batman: The Animated Series won’t be arriving until December 29th. Hopefully, the Christmas stuff is enough to tide you over until then. So please return then for more Batman goodness, same Bat-time, same Bat-blog.


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