Tag Archives: batman the animated series

The Hot Wheels Batman Series

Hot Wheels gave their Batmobiles a makeover.

I’m not much of a car collector, but when I was a kid I went through a Hot Wheels and Matchbox phase. My favorite car was a small, black, one that I only barely remember. I have no idea what make or model the car was, but what I liked about it was that it had something on the rear that reminded me of the turbine on the back of the Batmobile from the Batman television show. As a kid, that was my Batman and I loved watching reruns of the 1966 show even though the cliffhanger endings always bothered me as a kid. I loved that car though, but I’d eventually replace it when the 1989 Batman movie arrived for with it came a ton of merchandise, including a Hot Wheels sized Batmobile. I don’t remember if it was actually a Hot Wheels brand or not, but it worked with the few sets I had and I very much liked having it. I also got out of cars not that long after though, so it would be the only tiny Batmobile I’d ever have.

When my son was around the age of 2, I started buying him Hot Wheels and one of the first priorities I had as a dad was to get him a Batmobile. And I did, getting him a variation of the ’89 Batmobile and later one based on the design from Batman: The Animated Series, but his love affair with small scale cars didn’t last very long. He still has a bunch of them, and also has the giant garage and some track sets, but he’s moved on much like I did when I was his age.

In my numerous trips to Target in search of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and assorted other action figures, I’ve come across a new line from Mattel’s Hot Wheels brand. It’s a line of Batman vehicles, but they’re not at the usual roughly 1:64 scale of a traditional Hot Wheels car. The regular BTAS Batmobile is rougly 3 1/8″ long while this new scale puts it at 4 1/2″. They’re also not the same price since they’re around 9 dollars after tax. I’m not sure what the scale of these cars are. Their construction though is largely the same as they’re a mix of diecast and plastic with Mattel using diecast on the more prominent pieces with the plastic often used for the base. And since they’re bigger, they look better and they stand out.

My childhood affection for the Batmobile is something that’s never really left me. When I bought those Batmobiles for my son, I was tempted to buy an extra for myself. I never did, but when I saw these larger ones it had me thinking these could be daddy’s Batmobile. I still didn’t jump right away, as that price was a turn-off initially, but I just couldn’t keep turning them down. Eventually I caved, repeatedly, and now I have a small assortment of miniature vehicles from Batman. On an individual basis, there isn’t much to talk about, but now that I have a small assortment I figured it made sense to take a look at them in a blog post. I’m going to start with the one that made me jump into this line first.

Mattel went a little too far with this one including things it didn’t need to.

The 1989 Batmobile from the movie Batman might be my favorite. I say might be, because I really have a hard time deciding between it and the next two we’re going to look at. It’s just a cool design though that combines a flashy aesthetic with something that’s actually functional. This thing looks drive-able, even though it would be a bit long and cumbersome to steer. It’s sort of like the car Cruella DeVille drives, but with armor and a bat theme. Seeing the Batmobile self-drive in the movie was a huge thrill for a kid at the time, and when I got a chance to see the real thing at a car show I begged my parents to pay for a photo of us with the Batmobile.

Mmm that backend.

This Hot Wheels version of the Batmobile pretty much nails the likeness. It’s cast all in black and has all of the little details you probably remember from the film like the ribbed rear panels, the ports for the machineguns, and even the little side hatch for that grappling hook it can fire. Mattel did take some liberties with the coloring though as maybe they felt it was just too black as presented on film. They used a metallic silver for portions of the engine on each side of the vehicle, on the gas tank access, and on the hubcaps. From what I can tell based on shots from the film, the gas tank access points weren’t black, but they definitely don’t stand out as much as they do here. I’m guessing their color was closer to a gunmetal finish. The hubcaps though are definitely too shiny and bright. They do have the little bat logo on the center, but they should be black and it does kind of bother me that they are not. It’s still better than the standard Hot Wheels I got for my son, which has a random, red, racing stripe on it for some reason.

Neat, but unnecessary.

What might bother me more though, is the little action feature Mattel included. The hatch on the Batmobile is functional and it slides forward to reveal the innards of the car. It’s not super detailed inside, but it looks pretty neat. What’s not neat is how they engineered it. In order for it to slide forward, Mattel had to cut a track into the vehicle’s hood. It’s an eyesore, and what kind of sucks about it is that the car is packaged with the hatch open so you don’t see this eyesore until you open the box. It looks fine when open, but I bet most people want to display it closed. I don’t really know of a way Mattel could have engineered this without cutting an ugly track somewhere into the car. Tracks on the side would have probably looked worse, and sticking in a hinge instead would be inaccurate. I think I would have just not included the feature if it was up to me, or maybe try to attach the hatch with a magnet. That though would have required the hatch be engineered differently too as it’s plastic, which is also a bit of a bummer as it’s noticeably more shiny than the diecast portion. It doesn’t ruin this toy, but it’s far from perfect.

If I had to pick a favorite Batmobile this might be the one.

The Batmobile from Batman: The Animated Series was my second purchase from this line, and unlike the 89 Batmobile, it’s pretty damn near perfect. It feels a bit more weighty than the 89 one as I think there’s more diecast in use here. It gives it a wonderful feel with a lovely matte finish. The hatch doesn’t function and instead it has a blue piece of plastic serving as the windshield. It’s a little odd, but it contrasts nicely with the all black exterior. And that’s basically the only nitpick I have with this one. The Batmobile from BTAS wasn’t black, but dark blue. Most of the toys though cast it in black, which always annoyed me. It’s similar to how many Batman action figures make Batman’s cape and cowl black instead of blue. The best solution is probably to make it black with blue highlights to make it look like it was pulled right from an animation cel, but if a company isn’t going to invest that much in the paint application, then just make it blue. The standard sized one my son has was given a dark blue, sparkly, paint job. It’s pretty cool, though the sparkles might have detracted at this scale, but at least they tried to capture that color-changing aspect of the source material.

A more exciting paint-job and this thing would be perfect.

Aside from that, I really can’t find anything to complain about. The “ribbed” portion of the hood looks great, the front-end is accurate, the hubcaps are the right color, and even the headlight placement looks good. I do think Mattel probably had to dull the points on the back of the car to adhere to safety standards, but it doesn’t harm the look of the car. There are no treads on the tires, which is a little odd, but you can’t really see the tires unless you flip it over so it’s not really an issue. Of some interest to me is the 2017 copyright on the bottom of this one so I guess this thing isn’t new, but it’s new to me.

I can’t look at this and not hear the theme song.

The first Batmobile I fell in love with was indeed that 1966 one from the television show Batman. This Batmobile, based on a Ford concept vehicle, is definitely more of a style over substance vehicle. The previous Batmobiles we looked at are like luxury tanks or something, but this one is just a slick car. Except for that siren in the middle, that’s a little dorky. It’s all black though with logos on the doors and hubcaps. The open top design meant that Batman and Robin could just jump right in, rarely utilizing the doors, though it also meant that Batman might have been slow to respond to distress calls from Commissioner Gordon if it was raining out. The dual, bubble dome, windshield is such an “of its era” design that remains charming. By far though, my favorite feature of this Batmobile when I was a kid was that turbine on the rear of the car in which flames would burst when Batman hit the gas. That feature is so awesome and stylish that future versions of the Batmobile made sure to keep it.

Nice car, but what is up with this?!

The Hot Wheels version does a good job of replicating the car from the show. The proportions and front end look great, and they even sculpted a Batphone in-between the two seats. What hurts it a little is that this is a design that calls for finer details, and even though this is bigger than a typical Hot Wheels car, it’s not really big enough to capture those finer details. Some of the interior comes across as a red-orange blob because of paint limitations, and they chose to paint the siren the same color rather than use translucent plastic. There’s also a blemish on the passenger windshield on mine that’s disappointing, but not truly detracting. What really confounded me though was the presence of a trailer hitch. It’s weird to look at the rear of the car for that iconic shot from the show where the flames burst forth, only to see it obstructed by a trailer hitch, something that definitely wasn’t present on the actual vehicle from the show. If Batman wants to tow something he should probably just get a Bat Truck.

When the streets just won’t do.

This line isn’t just Batmobiles though. There’s actually a bunch of other vehicles, like Penguin’s duck and the Batcopter, but I didn’t want any of those things. What did catch my eye though is the Batwing from Batman: The Animated Series. The Batwing from that show is heavily influenced by the same vehicle from the film. Its proportions are altered slightly, but the general design of replicating the classic Batman logo is preserved. It’s definitely a cool vehicle, and I had the Kenner version of the movie Batwing as a kid and loved it. When I saw this at the store, which is from the second series of vehicles, it was an easy buy.

The stand is simple, but pretty cool.

This Batwing is basically just a solid piece of black metal. It’s extremely satisfying to hold and I instinctively started flying it around my head and making soaring noises when I pulled it out of the package. Like the BTAS Batmobile, Mattel utilized translucent blue plastic for the windshield which looks pretty cool. The subtle, sculpted, details on the top of the plane look nice and sharp, and this thing is just all-together a little slice of cool. The points on it are dulled to a degree, but it’s not something that truly takes away from the toy. It doesn’t have any additional features, but Mattel did include a little flight stand. It’s just a ball peg that snaps into the underside which lifts the Batwing about 2″ off of the surface it’s on. The ball-peg connection means it can pivot a bit to either side or up and down to give you some display options. This one just simply gets the job done, and it might be my favorite of the bunch as a result, though that BTAS Batmobile is right there with it.

Batman, the maritime warrior!

That 66 Batmobile is pretty cool too, but that trailer hitch is confounding. Or at least it was until I saw my latest purchase from this line: the Bat Boat! The Bat Boat from the 1966 television show is part of series 2 and with it comes a trailer. Now, I remember the boat from the show and the movie, but I don’t remember ever seeing Batman tow the thing with the Batmobile. It probably wouldn’t be a good idea to hitch a trailer right where flames fire out of a car, but that era was definitely style over substance. It’s definitely a humorous image to conjure up of Batman waiting in line at a public boat launch towing his Bat Boat with the Batmobile, then struggling to launch or pull it out, getting his boots wet or his cape hung up.

Even Batman’s trailer is tricked out.

The Bat Boat certainly looks the part though at it’s a metallic blue with white underside. This one is mostly plastic and it has a very light feel in the hand. It’s definitely not as cool as the Batmobile as it has these dorky flame decals on the side, but it does have that giant engine on the back so it was capable of shooting out flames as well. I do like the metallic blue finish it has though as the glossy look works well for the source material. The trailer is just all plastic, but it does have bat fins over the tires and the big, orange, bat logo on the hubcaps. The details around the hitch are actually pretty well done and it looks like a real boat trailer and the boat itself rests on it well enough. The actual connection to the Batmobile is a bit odd as Mattel basically put a ring at the end instead of an actual hitch design which is cupped and rests on top of the ball on the back of the vehicle. The ring design makes it look like the Batmobile hitch should snap into this ring, but it doesn’t really work with mine. Just resting it works okay and the Batmobile can actually pull this thing. Was it worth it to ugly the design of the Batmobile with that trailer hitch? I don’t know, but I guess I would have displayed the two connected if given the chance. I just wish the hitch was easily removed from the Batmobile. It is a separate piece so maybe I could work it out if I was determined. At any rate, if I never wanted the boat and hated that hitch I could definitely remove it, but I might destroy it in the process. Since I do have the boat, I’m not willing to take that risk.

So that’s why we have a trailer hitch on the Batmobile.

That’s it for now though. As mentioned earlier, there are other vehicles in this line that are mostly different versions of the Batmobile or one of Batman’s other flying vehicles. I don’t really like any of the Batmobiles that followed BTAS, so I’m good. The only tempting one is the Super Friends Batmobile which looks a lot like the 66 version, but it’s blue and has softer features since it came from a cartoon. As for future vehicles, I’d probably be interested in the 89 Batwing, but I’m not into the 66 Batcopter or the Bat Ski Boat from Batman Returns. Maybe there are other Bat vehicles I’m spacing on, but for now, this is a fun little assortment of Batman vehicles and if it never grows beyond this then I’ll be perfectly content.

Bat cars! Assemble!

Batman – The Adventures Continue #50: Batman

If you’re a repeat visitor here at The Nostalgia Spot, then you’ve probably noticed that around here there is a high opinion of the television show Batman – The Animated Series. I did a re-watch of the series that spanned more than two years and also checked out the various films based on the property. What I have never touched upon are the toys. Back in the 90s, there was a toyline from Kenner that was sold wherever toys were sold. It was fine, from what I remember, though I was too into X-Men to spare many resources when it came to that one. Of more interest to people my age now, is the line of action figures released by DC Collectibles. Over the past several years, I’ve seen this line sold at various comic shops and at online retailers, but I’ve never been able to pull the trigger. The figures do an okay job of matching the television show’s aesthetics, but at the cost of articulation. The figures never looked particularly imaginative, and since they usually featured a rather high price point I was never able to convince myself this was a line worth investing in.

2020 marked the end of DC Collectibles. As that part of DC’s business was winding down, a final line of figures based mostly on BTAS was making its way to retail. Dubbed Batman – The Adventures Continue, many of these figures were re-releases of past figures that may have been limited releases, or were changed-up in some way. Some also never made it out and were cancelled, like the new Catwoman featuring an unmasked head. And some were also separate from BTAS, but appeared to emulate the show’s style like the Knightfall Azrael as Batman figure. I don’t know what the numbers ended up being like for this apparently final wave of figures, but I had a hard time tracking any down. Though I also was not frequenting any comic shops and was mostly limited to online shopping. They appeared to sell out rather quickly though, which was unfortunate as I held off on pre-ordering any because the promotional shots left a lot of unanswered questions for me. They were basically limited to just the figure, and it wasn’t clear if any accessories were even being included. It had me thinking these were just leftovers that DC was trying to make a quick buck off of, which was really driven home by the fact that the images for the actual Batman figure matched the aesthetics of a previously released figure that came with the Batcycle. That Batman had a rather ugly ab crunch so he could fit properly on the bike. It’s a necessary evil for a figure with that kind of need, but as a stand-alone figure it made little sense.

Pictured: not the figure that was released. In this case, that’s probably for the best, but I can understand if some felt misled.

When the Batman figure was finally released though, it ended up being in the style of the original Batman figure from the BTAS line. Only this figure had re-tooled and improved articulation and a new paint job. When it came to BTAS, many figures cheated and just gave Batman a black cape and cowl even though it’s clearly blue in the show. They just go with black because Batman is often only shown at night so much of his cape and cowl are painted black with blue highlights. For the DC Collectibles figure, they did him all in black, but made the underside of the cape blue which looked okay. For this new one, someone finally had the bright idea to just paint the damn figure like the animators painted the character – what a concept! That means he’s still mostly black, but with blue accents and shading. It looked terrific in promotional images, and even though I was still unsold on the actual figure, this Batman at least looked enough like the character from the show that I wanted it, even if it would be my lone figure based on the classic series.

Batman may like to dwell in the dark, but we’re gonna need that flash to bring out those sweet blue accents.

Of course, by the time all of that was determined the figure was sold out. There is one retailer still, to this day, taking pre-orders on the figure at MSRP, but every month they push the release out another month leaving me to believe it will eventually just get cancelled. As far as I know, DC Collectibles is all done and product is out the door, but I could be wrong. At any rate, being unable to track this figure down at brick and mortar or finding it sold out everywhere online, I was left to turn to the dreaded secondary market. A lot of the figures form this final wave have been marked up by a few sellers considerably, as they know numbers were low. How much did I want this figure? Enough to pay essentially double the MSRP on it? As the weeks and months dragged on it became evident to me that I was just too curious about this figure to not give in. And the longer I waited, the higher the price would likely climb, so give-in I did.

Hopefully the artwork in the background is making it obvious that this is the proper way to paint a Batman from this show.

The Adventures Continue line all come packaged on a standard, non-resealable, blister. There’s a shadowy Batman on the back of the card with a yellow (interesting choice) backdrop. There are no product shots or cross-sells on the package, but there is a little booklet inside the box showcasing the other figures in the line. The figure is easy to get a look at and the accessories are in plain view as well. The actual Batman figure is held in place by one plastic tie at the waist and the cape is fed through the back of the blister, which is quite tight. When removing him, definitely be careful with that cape as you don’t want to scratch it.

That emblem is just perfection.

Once removed, Batman stands about 6.5″ tall and I believe that’s roughly the same height as the prior BTAS figures. The paint job on him is pretty damn flawless. I am very impressed with what is before me. The gray of his costume is a matte finish with some shading on his muscles. The black and blue is also nice and saturated and the added blue on the cape just makes this guy pop. From what I can tell, the entire cape is cast in blue plastic and it’s the black that’s been added. All of the other pieces are likely the reverse including the hands and head. He’s got a nice, square, jaw and his eyes are narrowed as some hoodlum must have just pissed him off. The proportions look great and if I have any issues there it’s with the hands, which seem a bit small. The bat logo on his chest is all molded and painted and I am in awe of how clean it turned out. I really wasn’t expecting that considering even Medicom had some issues with a much simpler logo on their figure. The only area where the paint could have been improved is around the trunks, where the line work on the thighs isn’t as sharp. The belt is also just a bright yellow and I feel like it would have benefitted from a little shading, at least around the center buckle. Overall though, I’m quite pleased with how this figure looks and this is definitely the best representation of this version of Batman that I’ve seen.

I have a feeling this is going to be the default look for most collectors with this figure because it’s basically his only interesting pose.

The aesthetics of this guy weren’t a tremendous concern for me going in, what gave me pause was the engineering and articulation. Even keeping my expectations low, I can’t say this figure is well articulated. I’m not sure he’s even fair in that regard. If you add up all of the points of articulation, he sounds fine, but it’s just not particularly functional. For starters, the cape is just soft plastic that hangs off of his back. It looks fine and I wasn’t expecting anything extravagant, but no posing is present there. At the head, we have just a single ball joint. He can turn his head to the side a bit, but his massive chin will prevent him from looking too far off to the side. If set looking straight ahead, he can look up and down a little, but once you turn it you basically loose any up-down articulation which sucks for grapple gun poses. At the shoulders we have ball-hinges and they’re pretty tight. I handled this guy with kid gloves since he was a secondary market purchase and should he break I am screwed. His arms will raise out to the side, and rotate forward and back until they hit the cape. When rotating forward, watch his pecs as you don’t want the arms to rub on the edges. At the elbow, we have single joints and a swivel with no biceps swivel. He can’t achieve a 90 degree angle at the elbow, and once bent he ends up with this weird elbow point that sticks out. It’s not a great setup. At the wrist, we have rotation and in-out hinges with no vertical hinges. There’s a waist twist, but he can only go so far before it looks weird. At the thigh, this is the area most improved over past releases as he has a more standard ball-joint where the leg meets the torso. He can do splits and kick forward and back. There is no thigh swivel, which stinks, but now he does have double-jointed knees which work just fine. He does swivel at the boot, and at the ankle we have hinges and rockers. The ankles are easily the best part of the figure, which is a good thing because he has small feet and you really need good rockers to get him to stand well.

The grapple gun pose is less convincing.

What holds this figure back is the lack of any thigh twist and the subpar arm articulation. You really don’t know how much you’ll miss something as simple as a thigh cut or twist until it’s gone, but it’s the legs that really add that dynamic quality to any pose. Some probably miss that ab crunch he was advertised as having, but I find that whole chest area too important to the sculpt of this particular version of Batman to want it broken up. I normally am not a fan of ab crunches, but I do like diaphragm joints, but the square-ness of Batman’s chest doesn’t lend itself well to such a joint so I’m not sad it isn’t present. I’ll make that sacrifice, but the arms and thighs could have easily been better. On the plus side, nothing is loose so this guy will hold a pose on your shelf. I am a little concerned about shelf dives out of him though since his feet are so small and he has a lot of added weight on his back due to the cape. He does have a peg hole on his right foot, but the feet are so small and thin resulting in a rather shallow peg hole that doesn’t fit any stands I have.

I suppose they did all right covering Batman’s essentials, but this is still an unimpressive array of accessories.

As far as accessories go, this Batman is pretty limited. He comes with fists out of the package and five additional hands: a set of gripping hands, a set of “batarang hands,” and a right hand with a grapple gun molded into it. He also has a batarang which also features the two-tone black/blue shading which looks pretty cool. It basically just rests in the included batarang hands so that you can position the figure as if he’s about to wind-up and throw it. If you want a tighter grip, it will fit in the gripping hands as well, but looks less elegant. Otherwise, those gripping hands serve no purpose on their own with this release. I don’t know if other figures come with something that would make sense for Batman to hold or not. I would have preferred something more dynamic like open hands or an alternate head in their place. The hands at least look fine and all have that blue shading on them. The paint on the grapple gun hand isn’t as clean. It will look fine from the shelf, but close inspection reveals they didn’t fill the space between his index and middle fingers where the grapple gun is exposed with gray paint. They also painted the area his thumb rests on the gun all black when it should probably be gray. The hands are easily removed from the figure and swapped, so that’s a plus.

Maybe with a good stand something more dynamic could be done with his lower half to sell this pose.

When all is said and done, this figure either met my expectations in some areas or exceeded them. I expected limited articulation, and I definitely found that. I expected the accessories to be a lon the slim side with nothing truly exciting, and that’s true as well. Where the figure exceeded expectations is with the paint-job. This is a very clean figure with some nice shading and little touches that really help it make a statement. I wish the articulation allowed him to show off a little more, but he looks sharp. It does feel like a missed opportunity that DC Collectibles couldn’t give us a second cape that draped around the arms for Batman’s more casual stance. The figure is so static that such an accessory would have made a lot of sense. And those gripping hands stand out as another missed opportunity since we could have had something else, like an effects piece for the grapple gun, which would have really been cool.

To close this one out, I guess we’ll compare the $25 figure to the $95 one. An unfair comparison to be sure, but it does drive home how static the BTAS Batman is. And yet, I do quite like him just for that toon aesthetic.

I had to pay over retail for this guy, but I’m not really bothered by that now that I have him. He really does get the job done and better than any of the other DC Collectibles versions of this character. I had considered going all out and springing for the expressions edition of the figure, but I’m glad I didn’t. That one has worse articulation and doesn’t have the paint touches this one has. Sure, extra heads are cool and all, but if the figure doesn’t really look the way I want it to then they won’t help much. Now I’m just left wondering if I want to add any other characters. Some are still easy to come by, most are not. The Joker from this line looks bad so he’s not something I want, but what about Mr. Freeze? He’s an awesome villain, though his figure looks even more static than Batman. I do wish I had grabbed Gray Ghost, and the H.A.R.D.A.C. Batman looks to have a really neat sculpt. We’ll see. If this ends up being the only figure I get from this line, at least I picked a good one and the most essential one, at that.


The Batman/Superman Movie – “World’s Finest”

Original Air Date: October 4, 1997

Directed by: Toshihiko Matsuda

Written by: Paul Dini, Stan Berkowitz, Alan Burnett, Rich Fogel, Steve Gerber

Animation: TMS – Kyuokoichi Corporation

Running Time: 61 minutes

Also Known As: Superman: The Animated Series episodes 39, 40, 41 “World’s Finest: Parts 1, 2, and 3”

When Warner Bros. launched its own network, The WB, in 1995 it had a bit of a conundrum on its hands. Warner had been in the business of producing hours upon hours of content, but it was all aired somewhere else and would be tied down by licensing agreements for yet a while longer. And in the 90s, most of those properties were airing as part of the Fox Kids Network and included the likes of Tiny Toon Adventures, Animaniacs, and Batman: The Animated Series. Warner needed to focus on parts of its portfolio that hadn’t already been licensed to Fox and it sure is nice to have a character like Superman to utilize as a fallback. While Fox held the broadcast rights to Batman, Warner essentially ceased taking episode orders for that show and instead tasked the team of Bruce Timm and Paul Dini that had done so well with Batman to do the same for Superman. Superman: The Animated Series was born, and unlike Batman, it was a brightly lit, modern styled, depiction of the classic hero. It was not quite as successful as Batman, but for a generation of comic book fans, this depiction of the man of steel is about as definitive as it gets replacing for many the character we saw on the big screen played by Christopher Reeve.

Following the successful first season of Superman, Warner once again had the broadcast rights to Batman and commissioned a new season. Re-titled, The New Batman Adventures, the caped crusader and his comrades would receive a makeover to bring it in-line with Superman while also accomplishing the goal of simplifying the models for overseas animation. The WB, which had launched its own children’s programming block called Kids’ WB, would air these new episodes of Batman alongside Superman creating The New Batman/Superman Adventures, an hour and a half block typically consisting of one Superman, one classic BTAS, and one New Adventures of Batman. To commemorate the union of these two titans of comics, a three-part episode was created for Superman called “World’s Finest” that would take-up the whole Batman/Superman block on October 4, 1997. These episodes would then be collected and released on VHS and DVD as The Batman/Superman Movie.

Fans had to wait a long time to see these two pair-up, it would seem Batman was not looking forward to it though.

Given how long these two heroes have been around and in Warner’s portfolio, it’s actually rather incredible the two weren’t paired-up for a movie until 1997. This one is a bit of a cheat since it’s three episodes of an animated series, and Batman and Superman have shared space on the small screen for decades. They have since shared time on the big screen as well in one of the most love it or hate it film universes imaginable. In 1997, and even today, there is still a neat “geek” factor to the two teaming up, though I personally wish it could have happened sooner as come 97 I wasn’t watching much network television. I can recall catching bits and pieces of this story, but I don’t think I ever sat down and actually digested it. Since concluding the years long look-back at Batman: The Animated Series, the cross-overs with Superman were basically the few remaining missing links I had yet to look at, so I figured I would rectify that with a look at this pseudo movie.

“World’s Finest” is anchored by a pretty simple premise: How would Batman and Superman work together when their arch enemies team-up? It’s the type of thing any young, comic book, fan probably would have dreamed up as a starting point for a team-up as we have Joker (Mark Hamill) offering his services to Lex Luthor (Clancy Brown) to kill Superman (Tim Daly) for the not unreasonable sum of one billion dollars and it’s Batman (Kevin Conroy) who first sniffs out the scheme. It’s an interesting premise to see Joker turn himself into a hitman-for-hire, and especially interesting that he would be so arrogant that he would think he can take out Superman when he’s failed to do the same with Batman for years. Perhaps it owes to him not viewing Superman as his great rival as many have wondered if Joker really ever aimed to kill Batman, instead preferring to play with him like a cat and a ball of yarn, only in this case the ball of yarn always comes out definitively on top. There’s also a bit of shock factor to see Joker so nakedly offering to kill someone for money, but it is a nice callback, intentional or not, to Joker’s roots in this universe as a mob hitman as seen in Mask of the Phantasm.

Joker has a very big reason for his overconfidence.

Why is Joker offering to kill Superman for Luthor? For the simple fact that he needs money on account of Batman always foiling his plans and because he’s come across a rather large sum of kryptonite. Early in the film, Joker pulls off a heist in which he and Harley (Arleen Sorkin) snatch a dragon idol thought to be made of jade, but Batman knows otherwise and makes the move to Metropolis. It’s there he masquarades as Bruce Wayne, who has a business venture underway with Luthor, and makes acquaintances with both Lois Lane (Dana Delany) and Clark Kent. Lane is quite smitten with Wayne right out of the gate and the two start seeing quite a lot of each other, much to Clark’s disappointment.

The film wastes little time in establishing that Batman and Superman are going to be uneasy allies. Batman is setup to be Superman’s opposite. When we first see Batman inspecting the crime scene following Joker’s theft, Detective Bullock (Robert Costanzo) puts up a minor protest when Batman takes a piece of kryptonite left behind as tampering with a crime scene, but Commissioner Gordon (Bob Hastings) somewhat jokingly laughs it off suggesting to Bullock he be the one to stop Batman from doing what he wants. It’s played for laughs, but it’s kind of scary that Gordon essentially revealed he feels helpless when it comes to telling Batman what to do. Of course, we know he welcomes Batman’s aid in an unofficial capacity, but this scene seems to exist to remind the viewer that Batman operates outside the law. When he eventually crosses paths with Superman for the first time, Superman refers to him as a vigilante and that there’s no place for such in his town. Superman is our goody-two-shoes, the one who operates within the confines of the law, while Batman happily exists outside it. He’s also played as a jerk, as Batman introduces himself to Superman by arm-tossing him over his shoulder. It’s definitely beyond what we’re used to seeing out of the character previously in BTAS, that very patient detective working alongside Ra’s al Ghul and tolerating his subordinates slights is long gone. It’s somewhat in-line with the character we’ll see more of in The New Batman Adventures, but it’s definitely a change.

Batman is such a dick to Superman that I half-expected him to torture the guy for fun here.

The Batman/Superman dynamic is the main anchor of the feature, but also entering the fray is the Lois Lane situation in which it’s clearly spelled out she’s attracted to Superman and Bruce Wayne, but turned off by Clark Kent and Batman. There’s also multiple scenes in which Joker and Luthor are pitted against each other, mostly via tense negotiations or dealing with the fallout of a Batman or Superman encounter. They’re actually quite entertaining and this is the best Joker we’ve seen in awhile. It would seem the time off between the end of the second season of BTAS and this feature did Dini and his crew well as this Joker feels fresh and exciting. As does his main squeeze Harley and the two actually work quite well together in this one with less signs of abuse on the part of Mr. J. It does mean the story basically ignores how we left off with the pair and we’re just left to assume that Harley eventually came crawling back. It’s a pretty entertaining story, albeit one that only runs a mere 61 minutes. It does follow a predictable arc, and I dislike that the ending basically has zero consequences long-term, but I definitely had a good time following along. There were some segments that were a bit too liberal with the notion that every bad guy in these shows is a terrible shot. Batman should have probably died ten times in this thing, but it’s just accepted that our hero is never going to get shot no matter how improbable the situation.

Being that this movie exists within the Superman show, it follows the same visual style as that show and The New Batman Adventures. There are no additional effects applied like we saw with a true feature in Mask of the Phantasm, but that doesn’t mean this one doesn’t look nice. Warner at least opened up its wallet for TMS to handle the animation. TMS was once upon a time a semi-regular in Warner animation, but come the mid-90s the studio’s reputation was beyond reproach and their services were essentially beyond Warner’s television budget. The studio wasn’t even called upon to handle the second BTAS feature, SubZero, so it was a bit surprising to see them utilized here. It certainly pays off as “World’s Finest” looks terrific. The animation is so smooth and so consistent frame by frame and it pays off as there’s plenty of action. There’s even a classic “Superman saves an airplane” segment probably just so they could have TMS animate such a sequence, because it’s otherwise a scene that’s completely unneeded for the plot. It’s certainly fun though, so I’m not complaining! The only drawback the film possesses from a visual perspective rests with the character designs. I really don’t like the redesign on Joker, and it’s so apparent in the scenes he shares with Luthor. Luthor looks like a person, while Joker looks like he belongs in a different series, something far more toony. That’s a problem I have with The New Batman Adventures as a whole though, not one unique or born from this arc.

I think the writers want us to think Bruce has legitimate feelings for Lois, but it’s not convincing and you may exit this movie with a new opinion on the guy.

The Batman/Superman Movie is probably not the spectacle the pairing deserves, but if I’m being honest, I’d rather watch this than the live-action one that would follow years later. Despite the short duration, it doesn’t cry out for additional material. If it had been a true feature we probably would have just been treated to more of Wayne and Lane’s romance which does move quite fast in this one (she appears poised to move to Gotham at one point) so that’s probably not realistic, but billionaires certainly have a knack for getting their own way despite logic and reason. I suspect some might not like the portrayal of Batman in this one as he really is just an asshole towards Superman. One has to wonder if he’s only interested in Lois to stick it to Superman. And given that their relationship progressed far enough for Lois to talk about moving, I’m going to make the assumption that she and Bruce slept together and if Bruce slept with her just to make Superman jealous or angry then that’s some pretty lowlife behavior on his part. Even without that piece of head-canon on my part, I felt pretty bad for Lane at times in this one as she’s just being used left and right. Bruce uses her to get info on Superman, Joker uses her as Superman bait, and all the while she thinks she’s met someone she’s ready to run away with. It’s quite a ride for Lois, and I wonder if Dini contemplated tossing Barbara Gordon into this whole mess, but thought better of it.

“World’s Finest” was just the first cross-over event between Superman and The New Batman Adventures, and not the last. There were two more in Superman, “Knight Time” and “The Demon Reborn.” There was only one in Batman, “Girl’s Night Out,” which I covered some time ago. Since I’ve covered so much of Batman: The Animated Series here, I would like to some day talk about those additional crossovers, but I also have no plans to at this time since I don’t own Superman: The Animated Series. Perhaps that will change one day, but the availability of this movie is what made this possible. If you want to check it out for yourself, you can do so either via Superman which is available on DVD and streaming on HBO Max, or you could buy the stand-alone movie which is quite affordable. I picked up a copy at a secondhand media store for a mere $2.97. For less than 3 bucks, this is a rather nice piece of entertainment.


Batman Beyond – The Complete Series (Blu Ray)

Last year, when Warner Home Media announced a new Blu Ray set for the series Batman Beyond, I decided to wait. I had been an early consumer for the similar Batman: The Animated Series set the prior year and had some misgivings. The price on that set fell and a slimmed down version was even introduced at retail that really only omitted the outer box and Funko items. Plus, I had ordered that set from Amazon and had to go through multiples because the company packaged it so poorly. I also wasn’t in any hurry to order Batman Beyond since I had the DVD sets and had never really found them lacking in a visual sense.

My patience was rewarded as a recent Amazon Lightning Deal came up for the complete Batman Beyond Blu Ray package. Like Batman, Batman Beyond received both a deluxe release and a retail release, only this deal on Amazon ended up being the deluxe version marked down even lower than the retail version. I decided to pounce since it’s been awhile since I engaged with the property, and if I was going to do a re-watch, might as well make it a high-definition one.

Batman Beyond tells the story of Bruce (reluctantly) passing the mantle of Batman to Terry

If you’re unfamiliar with the series, Batman Beyond was the sequel series to Batman: The Animated Series. In actuality, it was the replacement. Series creators Bruce Timm and Paul Dini had operated under the assumption that The New Batman Adventures would continue beyond the one season order the WB network had given it. Instead, the network decided that Batman needed a refresh. Were they right? Probably not, as Batman has proven to be a timeless character. The New Batman Adventures wasn’t quite on par with the Fox seasons, but it was still pretty good and had legs. It would have been nice if the network had given it one more season, or even a half season, while also informing the crew that would be it. Then we could have received a proper finale, but instead we got Batman Beyond and a series of Justice League shows followed.

Given that, it would be easy to approach Batman Beyond with significant baggage. After all, the premise is essentially “Let’s make Batman younger by essentially making him Spider-Man.” If you told that to me before ever letting me watch the show I would instantly have a bad impression. It sounds like the foolish decision of a network executive and not a creative decision by an actual story-teller. Against all odds though, the show somehow worked. It made people care about a new, teen-aged, Batman and it also managed to serve as a bookend to the animated series by largely continuing that show’s continuity. Sure, there was a pretty big gap in time between the two properties and a great many loose strings are never addressed, but just by having Bruce Wayne (still voiced by the incomparable Kevin Conroy) onboard added an instant credibility to the program.

Batman Beyond is set in the year 2039. Gotham has apparently run out of room for expansion and has grown up instead of out. Colossal skyscrapers cover the landscape with roads upon roads on top of one another. The main character is Terry McGinnis (Will Friedle), a teenager who loses his father to a murder making him the ideal candidate to replace Bruce Wayne as Batman. As Batman, Terry is empowered with a futuristic suit that allows him to fly, turn invisible, fire a seemingly endless amount of batarangs, and even stick to surfaces like a certain wall-crawler I already referenced. He’s a bit more jokey than his predecessor, and several episodes act as a teaching moment for him as well. This is a Batman in training, though by the end of the show he is pretty much the real deal. It’s a bit amusing to see how future Gotham looks considering modern Gotham looked like it was frozen in the 1940s. It’s about what you would expect, though most automobiles appear to still possess wheels.

The setting is not really what’s important here. What is most interesting about Batman Beyond is watching an elderly Bruce Wayne manage a kid who has taken up his mantle. It arises in an unnatural way with McGinnis initially stealing the suit to investigate his father’s murder. Wayne is shown giving up his alter-ego in the first five minutes of the show, but also given a motivation to want to see Batman return to Gotham. And that’s Derek Powers (Sherman Howard), who has basically taken Wayne’s company from him turning Wayne Enterprises into Wayne-Powers. He’s setup early on to be the primary foil to Batman and Wayne, though the rogue’s gallery will be filled out quite a bit over the ensuing 52 episodes. It’s a lot of fun though to watch Terry and Bruce bust heads with each other as they seldom agree. They find a working relationship though, and it helps that we have the relationships between Bruce and his prior wards to fall back-on. It’s easy to see that this Bruce is trying his hardest not to repeat the same mistakes as he did once before, and the fact that he’s physically compromised in his old age actually helps him to be more patient with Terry than he was with both Dick and Tim.

To sum it up, Batman Beyond is indeed worth your time as a series, even if you have reservations about the whole thing. It does the impossible in being a worthy follow-up to Batman: The Animated Series. Chances are, if you’re reading this you already know that. What’s more pressing is did Warner do right by the series with this set? Considering it is now being sold for almost half of what it was initially, I would say yes.

Being a late 90s/early 2000s show means this one really isn’t all that old, relatively speaking. The masters were all preserved and when the show received a transfer to DVD it came out great. In high-definition, it looks every bit as a good and obviously a little better. Blacks are deep and the brighter colors pop as expected. There’s no grain to speak of with this series, and everything has a very clean presentation. This was one of the last shows to be animated largely in a traditional manner for DC as they still used ink and paint on celluloid for the main animation. And unlike say Spider-Man 94, there’s no glaringly awful CG effects in use. Nothing is really working against the show in its transfer to HD, and that’s a good thing. Warner Home Video also wisely resisted any temptation to crop the image which seems like a given, but you never know when such will pop up.

The new extra features are all relegated to a bonus disc. There’s a round-table retrospective with the creators and actors of the series, though notably absent is Paul Dini. It’s mostly just 45 minutes or so of the people involved congratulating themselves for making a good show. There’s some interesting moments, like Bruce Timm acknowledging some of the controversial moves for the series following its completion that the others at the table get to weigh in on, but it’s not as juicy as it could have been. If you’re at all versed on this show, you probably won’t learn much from this discussion. There’s also a retrospect on Batman called Knight Immortal which consists of still images and some clips and surprisingly no talking heads. A lot of the main players involved with the character are heard from and it’s a decent look at Batman. Lastly, there’s a history of Detective Comics present. It’s a bit dry, but if you love DC then you’ll probably enjoy sitting through it. All of the DVD special features are also present.

The reverse side of the lenticulars.

Like the set for BTAS, this one doesn’t have any commentaries or anything like that added, just what was already available on DVD. Also like that set, it includes the feature associated with the series, in this case the excellent Return of the Joker. If it weren’t for Mask of the Phantasm, Return of the Joker would be my favorite Batman animated film and it’s still one of my favorite Batman films in general, possibly in my top 5. It’s the uncut version too, as expected. There’s also an optional digital version of the collection that can be downloaded. I haven’t redeemed my code though so I can’t speak to the quality (the BTAS set came with a standard definition digital copy) and I’m also note sure if it includes Return of the Joker.

This little booklet is just a glorified table of contents. No creator notes or anything.

Where this set differs from the BTAS one is in the presentation. It comes in a cardboard box with a window display for a chrome Batman Beyond Funko Pop! rather than mini ones. It’s a normal-sized Pop! so you probably know if you like it or not. Inside the box is a pretty standard Blu Ray set. It’s a hard cardboard slip case with folding digi-book styled case that houses the discs. It’s nothing extravagant, but it’s at least functional. While I loved the presentation of the leather-bound book for the BTAS set, getting the discs in and out was painful. There’s also some lenticular images and a little booklet that serves as a table of contents. It’s fine, just not particularly flashy. I imagine the standard retail release just omits the outer box and Funko figure.

If you want this show on physical media and in HD, then this is something you should seek out.

Batman Beyond – The Complete Series is essentially as advertised. If you had been waiting for a complete collection on Blu Ray, then you should be satisfied with this. Especially if you were able to get it on sale. If you like the show, and you’re still into physical media like I am, then you should probably grab it. Is it essential if you already have the DVDs? Probably not. The bonus features are something you’re likely to watch once and then never again. It would have been great if Warner had made an attempt to make this the full Batman Beyond experience by including the character’s appearances from other shows on here. That would have been especially useful for someone like me who has no interest in buying any of those other shows. And if this is something you want, I’d suggest grabbing whatever version is cheaper unless you really want that exclusive Pop! figure. Lastly, if you like Batman: The Animated Series but never gave Batman Beyond a chance, it’s worth the price of admission. You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised.


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 Batman TAS Episode Ranking – Part 3

did22Welcome back for the third installment in the Batman: The Animated Series episode ranking. This week, we’ll be taking a look at entries 59 through 40. 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. We’re well into the real meat of the series at this point and none of the episodes we’re going to cover today are bad, but actually quite good. We just haven’t quite hit the “great” just yet. Let’s start with entry number 59:

59 – Paging the Crime Doctor

Sometimes, this show attempted some really grounded plots that could be applied to almost anything. Often times, Dr. Leslie Thompkins was a featured player in those episodes and she is in this one. When Rupert Thorne needs a surgical procedure, he turns to his doctor brother to help him out. Due to Thorne’s crime links, Mathew Thorne lost his license to practice medicine and is now basically just a mob doctor for his brother’s syndicate. Needing help with the surgery, he’s forced to turn to Leslie who was a classmate with him in med school, along with Thomas Wayne. Thorne’s men kidnap her, and it’s up to Batman to uncover the mystery. Probably not a favorite for children since it doesn’t feature a ton of action or a bigger rogue personality, but as an adult I enjoy it for the drama. It’s also aided by one of the best endings to any episode in the series.

FearofVictory58 – Fear of Victory

Scarecrow is back to put his fear toxin to use once again, this time to take down popular athletes at the university that wronged him years ago. Robin is along for the ride as he attends school at the same institute and it’s he who gets a dose this time of the Scarecrow’s gas. It’s very similar to “Nothing to Fear,” just with the role reversal of Batman for Robin, but it’s rewarding to see Batman try to coach Robin through it since he experienced the same. It’s also the debut for the second version of Scarecrow which looks far more terrifying than the first, which is partly why I prefer this one to “Nothing to Fear.”

57 – It’s Never Too Late

Another very grounded tale, and perhaps with a PSA message embedded in it about drugs. Arnold Stromwell is forced to confront his past when his son goes missing. He blames his rival Thorne, but it will take help from Batman and Stromwell’s preacher brother to get him to see the error of his ways. It’s quite heavy-handed, and again it’s an episode I really wasn’t into as a kid. As an adult though, I definitely like these dramatic episodes more as it’s nice to see Batman in a more relatable setting rather than bashing clowns and ice men.

960-2

Captain Clown, we hardly knew ye.

56 – The Last Laugh

The title is an obvious indicator that this is a Joker episode, but I’m happy to report it’s not as final as it makes it seem. This is the one where Joker uses a floating barge of poisonous garbage to poison Gotham on April Fool’s Day, and it’s up to Batman to stop him. There are lots of humorous bits and a few bad puns, but it’s mostly entertaining. Also entertaining is Batman’s battle with Captain Clown, a Terminator-like robot who is quite difficult to bring down.

55 – Double Talk

The Ventriloquist Arnold Wesker gets a shot at redemption, like many other villains before him and still to come. The story presented here is almost heart-breaking, as the gentle natured Arnold is shown making a real attempt to get over his other personality, Scarface. It wouldn’t be much of an episode if he did though, and he’s taunted into thinking he’s still insane and under Scarface’s influence. It’s actually a bit heart-breaking to watch, and Batman really could have done a better job of helping the guy out, but I guess maybe he really wanted to bust the ones responsible or something. It has a nice ending though, and since we never see Scarface return after this one I guess we can assume old Arnold finally did overcome his demons.

54 – Baby-Doll

This one is a bit odd, but it manages to pull off the creation of yet another sympathetic villain. This time it’s Baby-Doll, the former actress afflicted with a disorder of some kind that basically makes her resemble a child well into adulthood. She once had a hit show, but now it’s gone, and she’s never learned to cope. It’s a bit crazy as it’s hard not to think of similar real life examples of people in her situation becoming mobsters and finding the image too hard to believe, but it pulls itself together in the end and delivers a conclusion that’s tragic and affecting.

cross blades53 – The Demon’s Quest: Part II

Two-parters in this show are often quite similar: tremendous build in the first part, a bit of a fall-off in the second. “The Demon’s Quest” suffers the same fate as the first part is a fun mystery, but it’s solved at the end in dramatic fashion. When the second begins, the drama is quickly doused and it just becomes a drawn-out sequence leading to a Batman and Ra’s al Ghul confrontation. There’s also an extremely well-placed Wayne Enterprises building literally in the middle of the mountains for no reason other than to be a deus ex machina for our heroes who were stranded in the cold. The episode at least looks great, and the battle at the end is solid.

52 – The Mechanic

In a bit of an adaptation of Batman Returns, we learn how the Batmobile was conceived and also how its mechanic can be used to get at The Dark Knight. The Penguin is able to figure out who works on the Batmobile after a destructive confrontation with it following a heist gone wrong, and he uses that info to take the mechanic and his daughter hostage and sabotage the Batmobile. Just like in the movie, Penguin gets to control it via remote while Batman and Robin are trapped inside it unable to regain control of the vehicle. The episode is able to make the mechanic, Earl, rather crafty in how he passes along info to Batman that basically tells him what he needs to know. Once that is done, it’s just the simple matter of taking down Penguin who has proven to be one of Batman’s least formidable rogues.

30-251 – Appointment in Crime Alley

The debut of Leslie Thompkins feels almost like a day-in-the-life piece about being Batman. Roland Daggett is trying to commit arson on a neglected part of Gotham derisively referred to as Crime Alley. Leslie is a bit of an idealist looking to take back this part of Gotham from the ruffians as it is also home to Gotham’s poorest citizens, many of him are ordinary, good, folk. Batman catches wind of Daggett’s scheme and he has to put a stop to it, all while making sure he doesn’t miss the appointment referenced in the title. And that appointment is a personal one for it’s the anniversary of the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne, and as the movie showed us, Bruce needs to return to that site every year to lay a pair of roses. There’s also a sweet touch in which we find out Leslie was one of the first to confront young Bruce that night via a picture she’s held onto.

50 – Bane

Bane was a 90s invention intended to be Batman’s better in terms of physical ability. He’s bigger, stronger, and far more ruthless. He’s portrayed as a tactician, who for some reason wears a luchador mask. In the show, he’s hired by Thorne to take down Batman and he very nearly does. We learn of his strength as he effortlessly dispatches Killer Croc and then goes onto really mess up the Batmobile. The episode loses a bit of luster in how it ends, and there’s also a ludicrous pro-wrestling quality added onto the fight scene in which Batman rebounds off of metal rails like ring ropes. Bane ends up being fairly easy to take out – you just go after the giant tube connected to his head and wrist. You would think a tactician such as Bane would have found an answer to that little weakness, no?

offbalance49 – Off Balance

The episode that introduced us to Talia, yet another woman whom Batman has an apparent weakness for despite her being pretty tied down to a life of crime. Batman has to retrieve a stolen piece of weaponry in a rather remote area, and it forces him to team-up with the mysterious Talia. During the events of the episode, she discovers his true identity and the two appear to work well as a team – too well. The double cross at the end is hardly a surprise, but it does introduce us briefly to the big daddy, Ra’s al Ghul, setting up for a future confrontation. One aspect of the episode I do really enjoy is the League of Shadow assassins who when caught basically activate a suicide device in their masks. Of course, this being a kid’s show means they don’t actually die, but rather have their minds completely erased.

48 – Mad as a Hatter

Another silly villain who finds a way to work in the confines of this show, The Mad Hatter debuts here and he’s basically just a guy who can’t take “No” for an answer. Jervis Tetch is an expert on mind control who also has a crush on his assistant, Alice. He also apparently has an affinity for Alice in Wonderland and when Alice rejects his advances he uses his mind control device to make her say “Yes.” Since he works for Wayne, the missing Alice does not go unnoticed and Batman is forced to find her and confront the newly christened Mad Hatter. I like this one as it makes a villain out of the type of guy who thinks that just because he’s nice towards a woman he deserves her affection. We’ve all met those types, and most women can probably recall similar, and maybe even some of us were that guy back in high school. It’s just part of growing up, but some take it into adulthood and never are able to understand that women are allowed to like whomever they like for whatever reason. Nice guys don’t finish last, but they aren’t entitled to first place either.

smilingtwoface147 – Two-Face: Part II

The first part of “Two-Face” is one of the best episodes the show did, the second may not be as good, but it’s still damn fine. We learn what happened to Harvey Dent after being horribly maimed in a confrontation with Rupert Thorne. Rather than return to his old life, he rebelled against it. He wants revenge and can’t go on until he gets it, but his moral side is still in play and the only way to make heads or tails of life is for him to literally flip a coin when confronted with a moral dilemma. It’s a tragic tale with almost no joy to be found in what happens, even in the end. It does end on a hopeful note, but it’s never really addressed in a later episode which is unfortunate.

46 – A Bullet for Bullock

Someone wants Detective Harvey Bullock dead, but that’s nothing new. The question is who would go through the trouble of threatening him first rather than simply doing it? Bullock tries to handle things himself, but he’s forced to turn to his rival of sorts in Batman. It’s not the first time the two are shown working together, but it’s the most involved they’ll get and it’s actually pretty entertaining. The two seem to learn a thing or two about the other, maybe not enough to declare they’re friends by the episode’s end, but I think there’s a bit more respect there. And to his credit, Bullock isn’t nearly as adversarial going forward when dealing with Batman. The ending also features a twist that is one of the better pieces of comedy the show ever attempted.

45 – What is Reality?

The Riddler’s return which is more puzzle based than riddle based. This time he’s using a very convoluted virtual reality system to trap important figures in Gotham, namely Commissioner Gordon. It’s certainly different, but what makes the episode work is just how fun it is to watch Batman and Riddler go at it. He’s just the right amount of smug and annoying and his ability to stay one step ahead, until the inevitable end, is rewardingly frustrating. The animators get to have fun with the VR landscape, and the ending is a touch haunting which helps make it memorable. Though like with other episodes, it’s never really resolved and the next time we see The Riddler he’s fine.

HS_II_41_-_Batman

That’s a view of Gordon I never expected to see.

44 – Heart of Steel: Part 2

The Blade Runner inspired first part is pretty interesting and even a touch unsettling. The second part is more straight-forward, but it does for the first time put Barbara Gordon in the driver’s seat as a heroine. No, she isn’t Batgirl yet, but it’s nice seeing the show actually lay the groundwork for her hero-turn down the road rather than just jump right into it. We also get to see Batman fight some creepy robots too, which is also a plus.

43 – Dreams in Darkness

Batman is once again exposed to Scarecrow’s fear toxin, only this time it happens off-screen and we’re left in the dark to start, no pun intended. Batman begins this one as a patient in Arkham Asylum, a place he’s sent many a rogue to. He has to overcome the toxin and convince the doctors there’s nothing wrong with him before he can stop the Scarecrow from poisoning Gotham’s water supply (a scheme that would be adapted for Batman Begins). Along the way we get to see some really unsettling imagery of Batman’s poison-induced nightmares and it’s pretty wonderful, in a terrifying sort of way. The resolution is almost inconsequential as a result, but this one is definitely all about the ride.

calendar girl revealed42 – Mean Seasons

Calendar Girl is one of the better villains introduced in The New Batman Adventures, maybe even the best. Her debut hits all of the right notes as a villain with a seemingly silly gimmick is able to make great use of it in stringing Batman along while the villain is made sympathetic along with the way and in the end. There’s a fun twist to the ending as well that actually just adds a touch more tragedy to the mix.

41 – Judgement Day

A mystery driven episode that does a good job of not tipping its hand along the way, or should I say scale? Maybe not what many envisioned as the final episode of the show, it does at least bring back a memorable villain in Two-Face and also puts Batman all on his own, a fun callback to the first season. Mostly, the mystery aspect just makes it a fun watch as we try to figure out who The Judge is.

joker limo40 – Joker’s Millions

What happens when the joke is on The Joker? This episode is just plain entertaining as Joker finds out he’s inherited a whole bunch of money from a deceased crime boss, only to come to find it’s mostly fake. Before he makes that discovery though, he spends lavishly and alienates his old gal, Harley, in the process. He’s then forced to turn back to crime to make up the money he owes debt collectors which puts him back at odds with Batman. Since the plot involves someone taking advantage of Joker, it feels a bit like “Joker’s Wild,” but it’s done much better. Also, be on the lookout for an amusing Paul Dini cameo.


The Batman TAS Episode Ranking – Part 2

Z_34_-_Batman_and_ZeeWelcome back for the second installment in the Batman: The Animated Series episode ranking. This week, we’ll be taking a look at entries 79 through 60. 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. Now, lets take a look at the episodes coming in at number 79:

runaway bomb79 – Time Out of Joint

The return of the Clock King! Yeah, I’m not sure many were looking forward to that one, but we got it anyway. I was really down on the Clock King when I was a kid, as an adult I still really don’t care for him. There’s some fun time-lapse business here, but it’s still not an episode I care to return to.

78 – Birds of a Feather

Penguin’s attempt at redemption didn’t go too well for him, but at least he got to fly through the air with a Viking helmet! This was actually a fun story that just didn’t have a satisfying resolution.

77 – Terror in the Sky

Another return, this time it’s the Man-Bat from the first episode. We didn’t need another dose of this character, but I wasn’t opposed to the idea. This show sometimes stumbles with the supernatural, but the Man-Bat is the rare exception to that. This is a solid episode with a little bit of deja vu holding it back.

76 – The Clock King

The debut of the Clock King was low on my list of favorites as a kid. I did warm to it a bit as an adult because it’s just so silly. The Clock King is full of dubious puns and the image of him with his clock face glasses and cane does make me smile. The thing I disliked about this one though is how Batman plays down to his competition and that’s something I could never reconcile in my brain.

seenoevil175 – See No Evil

This is one of those early episodes of the show with a very grounded premise. An ex-con father wants to see his kid, but the law has wisely stripped him of that right, so he’s resorting to other means. This time it’s via an invisible suit which allows him to get close to his estranged daughter, whom he eventually kidnaps. It’s a good story, but I felt like it may have wanted me to feel a touch of sympathy at times for the bad dad when it really should have been more forceful to show him as in the wrong. This one earns bonus points for featuring the fun visual of Batman riding on the roof of an invisible car.

74 – Be a Clown

This one is actually rather similar to “See No Evil” as it once again involves an adult assuming a friendly persona to dupe a minor. In this case, it’s Joker who befriends the mayor’s son in a bid to get back at the mayor for saying some mean things. This one could have been a classic Joker episode if it went a bit further. It also included the somewhat annoying character of Jordan. Joker just wasn’t intimidating enough to make me, as both a kid and adult, fearful for Jordan while he was in Joker’s presence. I think this is the rare first season episode that may have been better served had it aired during the WB days.

thomas-wayne-273 – Nothing to Fear

The third episode of the show is mostly remembered for some wild visuals, including a giant skeleton harassing Batman, and for that early look at Scarecrow with the teardrop shaped mask. It ends up feeling a bit too by the numbers when examined with the rest of the material. As the third episode, it’s pretty good though.

72 – Beware the Creeper

This one is very much a mixed bag. The character of The Creeper is pretty entertaining as sort of a Loony Tunes character existing in this world. There’s also some gross stuff with Harley though which was growing tiresome at this point nearing the end of the show.  I guess ultimately I was okay with never hearing more from The Creeper.

71 – Holiday Knights

It was a bit of a surprise that The New Batman Adventures began with a Christmas/New Year’s episode. It was even more surprising it was better than the previous Christmas one, “Christmas With The Joker.” This little anthology episode is fine. It features a vicious (yet ugly) Joker, a fun romp with Harley and Ivy, and ends with a nice moment between Batman and Gordon. That’s not bad.

On_Leather_Wings_50_-_Batman_bleeds70 – On Leather Wings

The first episode of the series is more a feast for the eyes and ears than a great episode of Batman. It has a simple mystery with an obvious red herring, but the thriller aspects of the episode give it almost a horror vibe. The Man-Bat is a cool spectacle though and the sound effects may be the best in the entire run of the show. Solid action, great visuals, maybe I should actually put this higher?

69 – Avatar

The return of Ra’s al Ghul was a bit underwhelming. I was looking for a scheme on par with “The Demon’s Quest,” but we ended up with something lesser. Worse, it also had a feeling of retread with the Talia/Batman relationship. Batman is a world class detective and has to be one of the smartest men alive, but I guess he’s still a sucker for a pretty face. He’s only human.

68 – Read My Lips

The premise of this episode shouldn’t work, but it pulls it off. A ventriloquist gives life to a dummy that ends up taking charge. Scarface is the bad guy, not the “dummy” with his hand up his ass. The animators have some fun, as do the writers, with the premise. There’s still a ludicrous aspect at play to the plot, but it makes it work.

67 – Zatanna

One of the few team-up episodes of the show. In this case, it’s Batman and the sexy magician Zatanna. There’s some interesting character building in this one with it being revealed that Bruce studied under a magician to learn techniques that could benefit him as a crime fighter, namely the art of the escape. We already saw Batman get out of a dunk tank trap so this helps make that more believable in hindsight. Aside from that, the episode is a bit ho-hum.

Kyodai_Ken_subdues_Batman66 – Night of the Ninja

Kyodai Ken’s debut episode is a solid one. It posits that Batman is more Samurai than Ninja in his training, even though ninjas were considered pretty damn cool in the 90s. It fleshes out a bit how Bruce came to be such an accomplished fighter and gives him a win over an old rival. The Ninja might have been more interesting a villain had he bested Batman in one-on-one combat, but since he only came back once I guess it doesn’t matter.

65 – Vendetta

Killer Croc’s debut in the series portrayed him as a vengeful murderer, which is probably the persona I prefer as opposed to the dim-witted goof he sometimes embodies. The episode itself is a fun little mystery at first and it puts Batman in the position of helping Bullock, someone who is arguably more foe than friend to Batman. That part is arguably more interesting than Batman vs Croc, who while at first appears to be a villain Batman can’t just take on head-to-head, he still gets the job done with minimal suspense. This one does lose some points for featuring perhaps the dumbest scene in the entire show’s run. Bruce, looking to figure out who is after Bullock, is shown visiting a crocodile exhibit at a zoo and when the exhibit gives him a piece of on-the-nose info he turns (almost to the camera) and says “Of course!” If the episode were poking fun at shows that do this sort of thing that would be one thing, but it plays it totally sincere.

roxy vs batman64 – The Ultimate Thrill

This episode is certainly something. Roxy Rocket is a fun addition to the show, even if it can be hard to take her seriously. One could argue her motivations aren’t much different from The Terrible Trio, the villains of the most disliked episode of the bunch. At least she’s entertaining though, and the surprising innuendo of her encounter with Batman is shockingly funny for what is ostensibly a children’s cartoon.

63 – Love is a Croc

An odd couple paring and one I would have never dreamed up returns Baby-Doll and introduced a new version of Killer Croc. Croc is reframed as a manipulator with an appetite for cash and women. He’s basically your garden-variety sleaze ball now who just so happens to resemble a crocodile. Baby-Doll has a severe case of arrested development now as she appears to be in worse shape emotionally than before. As a result, she ends up being even more sympathetic. I think if the episode leaned into that harder it would have been better, but it also wants to be funny and feels it needs an exciting climax in the form of a confrontation between the heroes and villains. It’s solid, but I prefer her debut episode to this one.

62 – Cold Comfort

The third Mr. Freeze episode is the most uninteresting. Unsure of what to do with the villain, but feeling like he needed to return for The New Batman Adventures, the writers basically just returned him to how he was when we first saw him:  a cold, uncaring, villain. Only now his motivation was lost. His wife is alive and well, but no longer with him. Given how SubZero ended, we were to assume this was okay for him, but now Freeze is just generally ticked off at the world because he had it so bad. He wants to make others feel the same. It’s a motivator that keeps him in the role of a villain, but removes the sympathy that made him so special.

61 – Batgirl Returns

Batgirl made her debut near the end of season one, so it made sense she would be brought back in season two. She even got the prestigious role of closing out the show in a solo adventure where she was paired up with the most famous female character in the show:  Catwoman. By now, Catwoman was back to a more villainous role and much of the episode has fun with the notion of how trustworthy can she be. Robin is also tossed in as one part voice of reason, and one part smug jerk who tries to hold Batgirl back. To her credit, Batgirl is still decisive in her decision-making and self-confident, but not to a fault. The pairing is fairly fun, in a disposable way. After her father’s framing being the motivating factor to get her to take on this new persona, it’s a little disappointing something on that level didn’t get Barbara to bring back Batgirl in this one, but at least she’s back.

catwoman alone60 – Catwalk

This is basically the re-debut of Catwoman. After toeing the line of thief and vigilante in much of the first season, this one returns her to the role of a thief. Nothing of significance causes that change, Selina is mostly just bored living the straight life. Predictably, she gets into some trouble that requires some help from Batman who naturally tries to implore her to change her ways. It’s a bit lacking in drama this time around, but I mostly rank this one as highly as I do because it ends on the right note.


The Batman TAS Episode Ranking – Part 1

batman and selinaWe have arrived at the ultimate end game of our feature on Batman: The Animated Series. After doing a blog entry on all 109 episodes, plus each film, it is time to determine just what is the best of the best. This is always an exercise in futility as people are going to disagree on what is ostensibly a subjective exercise. Still, it feels like a worthwhile way to put a bow on the coverage here as it was the biggest undertaking this blog has done.

To arrive at these rankings I basically added a subjective score to each episode. At first, I started with a 5 point scale, but found that lacked nuance. Inevitably I ended up with a lot of 3 and 3.5 grades without a tidy way to arrange those episodes. I then switched to a 10 point scale and found that much easier to work with. I’m not going to include these ratings with the episode as I don’t think they’re really worth much. It was just a way to make arranging 109 data points in a more manageable fashion. And ultimately, what separates an episode with a rating of 8 with one awarded a rating of 8.5? I don’t really know, it just felt right. Mostly it was me going over the episodes and comparing them. Maybe I did score two episodes the same, but in isolating them I felt one deserved to be ranked higher than the other and thus the 8.5 rating was born. In that, I felt like an old professor I had in college who explains how he approached grading on a curve. If he awarded one student an A and another an A-, but felt they both demonstrated the same knowledge of the material in an equal fashion, he bumped the A- recipient to an A. And there are quite a few episodes of this show that I felt were pretty much equal to one another in terms of quality and enjoyment.

Mostly, this ranking was about separating the episodes I liked from the ones I loved. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some bad ones, but none managed to receive a rating of 0 from me. It also ended up being a bit of a Bell curve in the end as I had three episodes with a perfect score and three with a score of 1 or less. I didn’t do that on purpose, but it amused me to see it play out that way.

Anyway, if you disagree with my list then that is totally fine. I would not expect anyone’s list to match mine. I did not consult any other publications to see what they felt was the best and worst episodes of the show and it has honestly been a long time since I did view such a list. And since there are so many episodes, it didn’t make sense to cram this all into one post as I want to provide a sentence or two to justify my ranking for each one as opposed to just presenting a list. I’m also just doing the episodes and not the films as it hardly seems fair to weigh a feature-length subject against a 23 minute television episode. And if you’re curious, I’d rank the moves in order of release anyways with Mask of the Phantasm being the clear cut best of the three. Let’s get this show on the road though with my pick for worst episode of Batman: The Animated Series.

trio clever names

There’s a trio to fear.

109. –The Terrible Trio

So this episode basically sucks. I hate to be so negative right out of the gate, but I’m not going to say that often so I feel fine with it for now. Basically, three rich kids decide life is boring and turn to crime to get their kicks. It’s not very compelling, nor is the animation particularly enjoyable. Not every episode needs a marque villain, but it needs something better than these clowns. Let’s move on.

108. – Prophecy of Doom

A con artist dupes Gotham’s wealthy into handing over their money as part of a doomsday cult. It’s pretty incredible, and why should Batman care if a bunch of rich people get taken for a ride? A fool and his money are soon parted.

107 – The Underdwellers

This one felt like the show pandering to children. It almost feels like it started with the notion of Batman admonishing a child for handling a firearm and then the episode was created around it, and rather haphazardly. This is the one where Batman has to go into the sewer to beat up a jerk who dresses like a pirate and has pet crocodiles. It is one of the most “anime” looking episodes which at least makes it visually interesting at times.

106 – The Forgotten

If you had asked me to name my least favorite episode of Batman when I was a kid, I probably would have named this one. As an adult, it’s merely the fourth worst episode. Batman spends much of the episode with amnesia trapped in a slave labor camp being run by a morbidly obese man who seems to always have food in his mouth. It’s just not a compelling story and the payoff of Batman getting this guy doesn’t make up for it. Plus, I really dislike the music in this one which is a criticism I can really only say about this particular episode.

Cape_and_Cowl_Twist105 – The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy

Batman is lead through a series of traps by some joker named Josiah Wormwood who wants his cape and cowl to give to some other jerk. It ends up being a long con by Batman himself to basically entrap the guy which makes it feel rather pointless in the end.

104 – The Worry Men

Another one of Gotham’s wealthy is victimized once again, this time it’s Veronica Vreeland who brings back little dolls from a vacation she recently returned from. They end up being mind control devices created by the Mad Hatter, so this is the first appearance of what I would consider a noteworthy villain on this list. Once again, it’s just not a very compelling plot, but at least it does an okay job of holding back on the reveal of the plan’s mastermind, something even the good mystery-based episodes fail to do.

103 – Moon of the Wolf

Steroids are bad, kids, which seems to be the message in this one. Anthony Romulus seeks an edge and winds up a werewolf courtesy of Dr. Milo, one of the worst of the reappearing villains. There’s also some animation gaffes and some odd visual choices which further hurt this one.

102 – Fire From Olympus

Another one I detested far more as a kid than I do now. At least I can find humor in this one which depicts Maxie Zeus as a guy basically out of his mind. He thinks he’s the actual Zeus from Greek mythology with Batman serving as Hades. It’s almost too ludicrous though for an episode of Batman. Some laughs can be had, but little else.

TT_41_-_Cat-Woman

A new look for Catwoman.

101 – Tyger, Tyger

Batman does The Island of Dr. Moreau, only here it’s Catwoman who serves as a victim. This one may be a favorite of those who identify as Furries considering Catwoman is essentially nude throughout it and covered in fur, but for the rest of us it’s just merely a dud.

100 – Lock-Up

This episode has a solid premise, but the execution is just so-so. Lock-Up is a more extreme vigilante who views himself as judge, jury, and executioner which obviously doesn’t mesh with Batman’s world view. It does a good job of laying the groundwork before falling apart in the second act. It also contains one of Batman’s sillier “transformation” techniques when he uses a briefcase full of smoke to hide so he can change into his Batman costume.

99 – The Lion and the Unicorn

This is basically an Alfred solo episode, and no disrespect to the world’s most famous butler, but he’s a bit out of his element. It also marks the return of lesser villain Red Claw, someone no one needed to hear from again. The story takes our characters over to London though which at least makes for some new backgrounds.

 

klarion in control

98 – The Demon Within

Our first appearance of The New Batman Adventures. In short, if you’re a fan of Etrigan the Demon then you’re mad at me right now. If you’re like me and you care not for the character, then you’re probably in agreement that this is one of the lesser episodes in the series. Batman doesn’t do supernatural real well, and there’s a lot of that going on here. It’s just not an episode I was ever able to get into.

97 – Eternal Youth

The episode where we are introduced to Alfred’s friend, or girlfriend, Maggie. She will not be heard from again and I suppose that was for the best. They get lured to a resort being operated by Poison Ivy and wind up turned into trees. Yet another episode where a villain preys on the stupidity of Gotham’s wealthy. At least Batman has a personal stake this time and the rich aren’t just being extorted out of their money, but also their lives, unless you consider existing as a tree living.

96 – The Cat and the Claw – Part II

The follow-up to the show’s premiere was…okay? Batman and Catwoman team-up to stop Red Claw from basically nuking Gotham. A Batman/Catwoman team-up could have been appointment television, but it happened way too fast killing the novelty. Plus Red Claw just wasn’t up to the task of being the big baddie who gets the pair to cooperate anyway.

95 – Joker’s Wild

Our first appearance of the Joker! His episodes are usually pretty good, but this was a rare dud. Joker gets lured into attacking a casino baring his likeness in what amounts to an insurance scheme. It’s a bit amusing to see Joker get played, but this sort of thing would be executed far better in a later episode. It’s also a real low point in terms of animation as this episode basically lead to Akom Production Co. getting fired from the show after producing several other season one episodes.

94 – Chemistry

Poison Ivy’s lone solo outing in The New Batman Adventures comes in at 94. She basically just repeats her cloning trick from “House & Garden” only this time she creates a spouse not for herself, but for (you guessed it) Gotham’s wealthy singles. Bruce is part of the scheme and he ends up getting married to a plant lady. There are some interesting choices in this one, but mostly the plot just isn’t believable which ruins the whole mystery of it all.

bruce mantis

93 – Critters

A much derided episode that Paul Dini is at least willing to stand up for. He can like whatever he wants to like, but I’m just going to have to disagree here. I never wanted to see Batman battle giant bugs or anything similar. The humor the episode aims for also just doesn’t really land.

92 – Sideshow

Killer Croc’s redemption story might have turned into a worthwhile episode if it was ever believable. Instead, we know he’s just a bad guy and it’s only a matter of time until Batman finds him among the circus folk he falls in with. There’s a solid fight scene though, and I like the logic of Croc being declared completely sane and thus deserving of jail as opposed to being placed in Arkham. It’s too bad that didn’t stick though.

91 – I’ve Got Batman in my Basement

A surprisingly divisive episode. Bruce Timm seems to despise it, and with some good reason. This one really talks down to its audience, and it also makes The Penguin look completely incompetent. There’s some fun bits in it though that make it hard to hate. I actually know some folks who think this is one of the best of the series! I disagree, but I can at least see what they might find appealing about it. Basically, if you like it when the show doesn’t take itself seriously, or ever wanted to save Batman as a kid, then you probably rank this one higher than I do.

90 – Girl’s Night Out

I want to like this one, but the character of Livewire just doesn’t do anything for me. She’s annoying and a bit overpowered for the likes of Batman, not that he’s in this one really. This is the one that features the Batgirl/Supergirl team-up and unfortunately that just isn’t nearly as interesting as the villainous ladies. Poison Ivy and Harley are along for the ride and their chemistry keeps this thing from floundering. They’re so much more interesting than the heroines that I wish the episode focused entirely on their perspective and eventual clash with Livewire rather than presenting something a bit too conventional in the end.

CSF_46_-_Batmobile-2

Let it snow!

89 – Cat Scratch Fever

Dr. Milo’s other outing. I think I have this one too high because it’s not among my favorites, by any means. It once again puts Catwoman in the role of the victim as Dr. Milo and his annoying goons target Gotham’s strays. I do give this one bonus points for all of the snow though as it is a great deal of fun to look at. I still think I could have ranked this one closer to 100 though.

88 – The Cat and the Claw – Part I

The premiere episode of the show put Batman and Catwoman at odds. It’s a solid episode, reminding me that once we got past #95 or so the episodes actually became fine, just nothing to write home about. As a stand-alone episode, there’s just not a ton to work with though, and it’s too bad the setup created by this episode had such woeful payoff. The episode is at its best when we get to see Catwoman and Batman play off each other and Adrienne Barbeau really nails the role of Catwoman.

87 – P.O.V.

This was an experimental episode in which three cops are forced to recount the events of the evening to Investigative Affairs and we’re left to figure out whose account is the most accurate. It’s written pretty well, but the nature of the beast means it’s also repetitive and I don’t think it quite manages to remain compelling for the entire duration. I like that the show tried something like this though and other episodes would attempt similar things and really knock it out of the park.

joker0286 – Christmas with the Joker

Maybe my most disappointing episode. I love Christmas so I want to love this, but it’s just okay. Joker at least gets to sing the popular alternate version of “Jingle Bells” and be genuinely amusing, it’s just the action spots that are a bit weak. Plus there are some awful puns and Robin really adds nothing in his series debut. Even though it’s not great, I still think it’s worth watching around the holidays.

85 – Day of the Samurai

The rematch few wanted, but most were fine with. Batman takes on the Ninja only this time it’s in Japan and we get a silly Touch of Death plot device added to raise the stakes. There’s a fun Bat-death fake-out and a fight around an erupting volcano which is pretty cool.

84 – Animal Act

The Mad Hatter returns only this time he’s decided to control the minds of animals rather humans to some degree of success. Nightwing gets to return to the circus which is cool, and Tim literally shovels poop. It’s also one of the better mystery plots the show did, which is worth something.

batman catwoman smokestack

83 – Cult of the Cat

Catwoman gets herself caught up in some cat worshiping cult that you just know is bad news. This puts her at odds with her masculine counterpart which just feels incredibly corny. I was definitely sick of victim Catwoman by the time this one came around which probably prevented me from enjoying it more. It’s basically just another average episode.

82 – Torch Song

A celebrity has herself a violent stalker in the form of Firefly. It’s a different setup from what we’re accustomed to, but a more worthwhile one than rich person gets extorted. I wish Firefly was just a better adversary though. It feels like Batman got scaled-down to be on more equal footing with him, but that’s a criticism I could level at a great many villains on this show.

81 – Deep Freeze

The much anticipated return of Mr. Freeze saw him team-up with the Walt Disney wannabe, Grant Walker. This one marked an extremely contrived way to bring back one of the show’s breakout stars. It nailed the motivation for Freeze, but the rest was a bit lacking. The film SubZero ended up being really similar and a much more suitable way to bring back Mr. Freeze making this episode feel nonessential as a result.

the condiment king strikes80 – Make ‘Em Laugh

Joker’s finale from the original run of the show had him seeking revenge on some comedians who dared to suggest he wasn’t funny once upon a time. It’s silly, but Joker is insane so I can’t say the plot doesn’t make sense. This has some of the funniest moments from the show in it such as the debut of The Condiment King. I think if the final act was more satisfying this could have been a classic, instead it’s just merely good.

This is where I’m going to cut-off Part I of this feature. This will be the longest entry in this series in terms of episodes covered with the rest spanning 20 episodes each until we spotlight them all. It seems only right to make this the Friday feature going forward as that’s what Batman was for the better part of two years on this blog. Check back next week for episodes 79 through 60. Same Bat-time, same Bat-blog.

 


Batman: The Animated Series Wrap-Up

btas redOne-hundred and nine episodes plus three features leading to one-hundred and twelve blog entries have been devoted to the subject of Batman: The Animated Series. It started as a celebration of the show turning 25 and then as a curiosity piece. Since its premiere in 1992, the show had become much celebrated and praised all over. It’s exceptionally rare in this age of social media to see anything basically universally loved, but that was the case for BTAS. I had a lot of good memories of the show myself. I watched it as a kid and when the show received a DVD release I bought it up. And I watched them all. Batman became a show I had experienced and enjoyed both as a kid and as an adult, but some ten years or so removed from when I last watched it in total I still wasn’t sure just how good the show was.

And so I watched it again. And after each episode I made a little blog entry afterwards. Well, at first they were fairly little as I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do. Did I want to do an episode review or did I want to do a recap? I started leaning more towards the review side while also inserting a brief summary. Perhaps being influenced by all of the recap style podcasts I listen to, the entries drifted more towards that style. And they grew. Oh, did they grow. This little weekly entry soon routinely ran for thousands of words. I’m not saying that makes them any better or worse, but it certainly transformed my little project from something I could regurgitate via my keyboard rather quickly to something much more demanding.

Even though my vision for this feature grew beyond my initial plans, that doesn’t mean I regret anything about it. Far from it, actually, as I really enjoyed my time with this show once again. I may have even enjoyed it more than ever as I found it much easier to find things I liked about episodes I previously wasn’t very high on. Some of those episodes are still rather poor, but I can at least see what the writers were thinking and for the most part the animation is always quite good. It’s a very entertaining program, and while it’s still primarily a children’s cartoon, there’s enough depth there to captivate an older audience.

2face revealed

The character of Batman drew people in, and villains like Two-Face and Mr. Freeze kept them coming back.

In re-watching the show I found there were certainly things that consistently worked and things that did not. When the show centered on a sympathetic villain it was usually at its best. Batman can be pretty ruthless in his application of justice, but the guy does have a heart. He often makes the right decision, though he’s also not perfect. Mr. Freeze, Two-Face, and Clayface ended up being my favorite villains. And when Harley Quinn was thrust into a sympathetic role she soared. Even Arnold Stromwell was interesting when we saw his softer side. That doesn’t mean everyone needs that to work though. Rupert Thorne was consistently nasty and thus interesting, same for Roland Daggett. The Joker was also often very entertaining and the show never made an attempt at deviating from what he is, which is something filmmakers today could learn from.

There were still a few duds when it came to the villains. Surprisingly, Catwoman was rarely compelling as the show didn’t seem to know what to do with her. For whatever reason, there was a desire to portray her as something other than a villain. Rather than make her an antihero, she more or less just became a victim. There was a bit of a course correction in season two, but only when the show returned as The New Batman Adventures did it feel like the show actually knew what it wanted to do with one of Batman’s most popular foils. Two-Face also tended to flounder after his strong debut. He was able to rebound a bit, but it was a shame to see so much of what his debut built up was seemingly cast aside. The Penguin, another famous Batman villain, was also rarely up to the task when called upon with many of his leading roles serving as the show’s worst. He was usually most entertaining when paired up with other villains to play off of them. The show seemed to acknowledge this by putting him in more of a supporting role later on when he became a club owner.

Mostly, when I consider the legacy of this show I mostly recall what it did for the lesser villains. Going into 1992, the only Batman villains I was really aware of were the ones featured in the Adam West show. The Riddler, Penguin, Joker, and Catwoman were the most famous, but I also recalled Mr. Freeze and, for some reason, King Tutt. This show is how I was introduced to other, lesser, villains such as Two-Face, Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, Clay-Face, and others. And for the most part I loved these “new” villains most of all. Sure, there were some duds for me like The Clock King or the one-off werewolf character and Lock-Up, but mostly the new guys were pretty interesting. And you can’t talk about this show without talking about what it did for Mr. Freeze. Previously more gimmick than character, Freeze became one of the most popular Batman villains seemingly overnight thanks to his portrayal in “Heart of Ice.” No, he never had another story as good as that one, but because that episode was so good it made any future appearance appointment television just to see if another Freeze story could match that one.

batncat

Oddly enough, the show seemed to struggle with Catwoman not knowing if it wanted to portray her as something of an antihero or as her more traditional cat burglar persona.

Since this show is primarily a half-hour cartoon intended for kids, it runs into some issues. The format it strived for is a limitation. That inaugural 65 episode first season included several two-part stories, but following that every other story was confined to a single episode. This limitation is only a limitation if the writers allow it to be one, but sometimes it felt like certain episodes were short-changed. It also leads to numerous instances of Batman just turning to his wonder computer to solve a problem. That was definitely my biggest pet peeve with the show this time around as it quickly became a trope of the show. Batman turning to his computer felt like The Simpsons using the living room television to either start or advance a plot. An episode can still be good when that element is present, but it certainly feels cheap.

I also can’t offer a proper conclusion on the show without talking about the move from Fox to the WB and the creation of The New Batman Adventures. The switch did lead to some good things. For one, it advanced characters like Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon and let us see some actual development. Some conflict between Batman and Robin was teased during the Fox years and it was rewarding to see that go somewhere. I think the show could have mined that conflict for more material, but it was mostly handled well. Barbara, on the other hand, was a bit glossed over. Sure, she was now an accepted ally as Batgirl, but we learned very little about her character. Did she have a new outlook on crime fighting? What was her end game? We also never even got to see what came between she and Dick, which was unfortunate.

Aside from that, the move to WB also allowed for less censorship. This didn’t have a huge impact on much unless you’re really turned on by seeing a thin line of blood streaking from a character’s mouth, but it did really open up The Joker. He went from being mostly just a lunatic to being a violent lunatic. He has a few moments to be truly mean during his time on WB giving the character a similar feel to how he was portrayed in Mask of the Phantasm. This did lead to some criticisms I had with the direction of Harley Quinn, but I think I did a good job of highlighting those issues in my posts on the episodes she appears in.

newbatjoker

No matter how many times I see the new-look Joker I just can’t fall in love with it.

What obviously stands out the most though in the change in networks was the new design. While some characters looked unchanged and a few looked better than before, I mostly disliked the new style choice. Less detail and odd choices are mostly to blame, but even the animation came across a bit too cartoony for this show. The whole tone of the show was also thrown off and I think that had to do with the ensemble cast and the simplified portrayal of each of the leads. The writers basically assigned one archetype to each character and mostly stuck with it. This left no room for nuance and it had the most drastic impact on our main lead, Batman himself. In the first two seasons we got to see different sides to the character, but in The New Batman Adventures he’s basically just grim and curt. He’s so boring, and sadly none of the other leads outside of Nightwing really offer much. Robin is mostly just a vehicle for bad puns and Batgirl offers even less.

As a result, I can comfortably say that The New Batman Adventures era is inferior to what came before it. That doesn’t mean there isn’t still quality to be found there. Much to my surprise, a few episodes actually rank quite highly and the worst of the show is still found in those first two seasons. A lot of that third season is just okay or average with few true stinkers. Though that is a post for another day.

harley scream

The show is exciting and fun and gave us some truly memorable characters. It’s one of the best things to ever happen to Batman, if not the best.

Ultimately, I set out to decide for myself if I felt Batman: The Animated Series was overrated or properly rated. It never occurred to me that it could be underrated, and it certainly is not. While the show didn’t deliver a slam dunk each episode, it also totaled 109 episodes and what show has ever hit a home run every episode for such a long time? Even much celebrated shows like Breaking Bad have a lesser episode here and there, and that particular show produced far fewer than 109 episodes (though to be fair, in terms of total minutes it’s probably much closer). And no, I’m not trying to compare this show to Breaking Bad, but making the point that it doesn’t have to “wow” the audience every time out to be a great show. Calling it the greatest television show based on a comic book feels right. It’s certainly the greatest cartoon, and I also came away feeling that it’s totally defensible for this to be someone’s favorite depiction of Batman in any medium. It’s a great show with a lot to offer. It’s primarily an action vehicle, and the wonderful animation allows it to be a pretty great show based on its action alone. What puts it over the top are the stories, the captivating villains, and it’s wonderful sense of style. The music of Shirley Walker, the performances of actors like Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, it’s a production that oozes quality. So yes, Batman: The Animated Series is properly rated and if I am certain of anything it’s that I will watch this series in its entirety again. And again…


The New Batman Adventures – “Judgement Day”

judgement dayEpisode Number:  24 (109)

Original Air Date:  October 31, 1998

Directed by:  Curt Geda

Written by:  Rich Fogel, Alan Burnett

First Appearance:  The Judge

We have arrived at the final episode of The New Batman Adventures and what is essentially the final episode of Batman: The Animated Series. This third season seemed to go by fast, and while that’s certainly partly attributed to the fact that it was 23 episodes versus the 85 that totaled the first two seasons, that’s still more than six months of weekly blog posts. And this final episode certainly has an ominous title to it, doesn’t it? “Judgement Day” is the final produced episode of the show, though it was never envisioned as a series finale since most assumed the show would continue into a fourth season. It did not, as DC and Warner elected to instead create a sequel series in the form of Batman Beyond depriving us of what would be a true series finale.

Even though this wasn’t necessarily intended to be farewell, some aspects of this episode work as a series finale. For one, this is a Batman solo adventure. He’s going to do everything on his own in this one and even look to Alfred for a little help along the way giving this one a very season one feel to it. It’s also going to bring back a few villains we haven’t heard from much during the events of this third season. It also introduces a new one in the form of The Judge, who bares a rather strong resemblance to The Phantasm from the film Mask of the Phantasm. And like that persona, this one has its identity unveiled at the end so if you’ve never watched this one on your own, maybe do that before reading any further. It’s a fun and worthwhile reveal that I’d rather not spoil.

bartering

Just The Penguin taking care of some business.

The episode opens during some negotiations between rogues. The Penguin (Paul Williams) is haggling with Killer Croc (Brooks Gardner) over a diamond he’s brought him. Penguin is a tough negotiator and it’s getting under Croc’s skin. Penguin appears to think little of Croc, and even flaunts it when another rogue saunters in:  Two-Face (Richard Moll). Penguin is open about how he’s willing to pay someone of Two-Face’s stature more money than he would Croc and the two quickly complete a business transaction. Croc, grumbling, reluctantly takes what Penguin is offering and he has his two female associates, Lark and Raven, escort the men out.

judge strikes

The rogues of Gotham have a new problem, and he carries a big sword.

As he deposits his newly acquired goods in a safe, Penguin remarks to himself essentially how fun it is ripping off Croc. Unfortunately for him, he’s not alone. A hollow, yet booming, voice (Malachi Throne) causes Penguin to turn around. Before him is a large man dressed in a long black robe. His face is completely black and surrounded by an old-fashioned white judge’s wig. He admonishes Penguin for possessing no honor among thieves and brandishes a sword declaring he must pay for his many crimes. Penguin, for his part, appears unfazed and is ready to go toe-to-toe with this apparent vigilante, but his umbrella is no match for The Judge’s sword. He runs and calls for his associates, but he stumbles upon them tied up and hanging from the ceiling. As The Judge chases him, he hacks at a large penguin statue on wheels which rolls over and lands on the “legitimate businessman.” The result leaves him unconscious and looking rather worse for ware.

A news broadcast the next day is covering the attack and reveals that Penguin is in critical condition. Killer Croc is shown watching the report smugly while Bruce Wayne reacts somewhat angrily as he watches from his limo. When it’s revealed that a vigilante was responsible for the attack, Alfred asks Bruce if it’s a friend of his, but gets a growl in response. Two-Face also sees the story, but isn’t happy, unlike Croc. The news then pivots to another new face in Gotham, councilman J. Carroll Corcoran (Steven Weber). Corcoran remarks that everyone knows Penguin is not on the up-and-up, but no one was brave enough to take him on. He thanks the vigilante for his brand of justice and for doing what Gotham’s police and D.A. would not.

A couple of security guards are loading an armored car along one of Gotham’s suspension bridges. They apparently are collecting the haul from the tolls and making small talk, but we all know the only reason for an armored car to be in this show is for it to be robbed. And sure enough, lurking beneath the vehicle is Croc. He emerges from a manhole to grab onto the underside of the car as it pulls away. Once on the bridge, Croc demonstrates his claws are quite sharp by ripping through the underside of the vehicle and climbing inside. He quickly gets rid of the guards, but someone is on the vehicle’s roof and unwilling to let Croc get away.

croc and judge

If it works in Donkey Kong it will work on you, Croc.

That someone is The Judge. This time he’s armed with a giant hammer and he causes Croc to lose control and flip the vehicle. Once he climbs out he confronts the new vigilante who has come prepared with numerous trial-related puns. He’s so generous with the puns that he comes across like a menacing version of a 1960s villain. Croc appears to be in no mood to fight with this guy, and makes his escape. He apparently forgot that he’s part crocodile, because rather than dive into the waters below he instead climbs up the cables of the bridge. When he gets to the top, he finds out that The Judge is just as capable as Batman in scaling great vertical distances without notice as he’s there waiting for him. He clocks Croc with the mallet knocking him from his perch.

Fortunately for Croc, Batman was watching from a nearby rooftop. He makes the save before Croc can go splat on the pavement. When Batman looks up following the rescue The Judge is gone. How does it feel, Batman?!

corcoran

This guy Corcoran is basically a piece of shit and the episode isn’t interested in hiding that.

Councilman Corcoran is shown tossing some floppy disks across his desk. He says the data on them would prove invaluable for someone trying to track down Gotham’s most notorious villains. There to receive the data is The Judge. It would seem Corcoran’s endorsement of Gotham’s latest vigilante has been good for him in the polls, which is good news since there’s a primary on the horizon. He reasons that if Gordon can have his pet bat, why can’t he have The Judge? Really, everything he’s saying makes total sense given the reality of this world, but the delivery of his lines is done in such a way that it’s obvious this dude is a villain and there’s more to this story. The Judge, for his part, is fine with this arrangement and the two shake hands indicating they’ll be a force going forward.

riddler judgement day

The New Batman Adventures sure did The Riddler dirty.

We’re then shown another news report. This time it’s The Judge putting a stop to a crime being committed by The Riddler (John Glover). There’s footage of The Judge in action as Riddler is given just one brief line in which he’s not even allowed to deliver a riddle. Such an inauspicious way for his character to go out. Corcoran is again interviewed by the crew and heaps praise on The Judge. He confirms that the two are in communication and even issues a warning for Two-Face that he’s next on the list.

The image explodes as Corcoran issues his threat and it’s revealed we were watching this through a television in a bar. The bartender is initially pissed when his TV explodes, but he turns to see the responsible party and promptly shuts up. Apparently he forgot that Two-Face and his associates had sauntered into the bar, and since he didn’t like the program, he turned it off in his own special way. Two-Face then leaves and as he does another individual leaves as well. That individual is Wayne in disguise who quickly throws on his Batman attire and begins following Two-Face’s ride.

batman twoface gas

Don’t light a match.

Batman follows Two-Face to his hideout which is the same one from “Shadow of the Bat.” Two-Face is alone and soon Batman barges in. Two-Face is rather angry to see Batman on top of him, but Batman insists it’s for his own good as he’s trying to protect him from The Judge. Two-Face does not seem to want Batman’s help, but before the two can sort things out Two-Face’s security mechanisms take effect. Metal shutters cover the windows and doors turning the lounge into a panic room. A television then flips on and it’s The Judge. He delivers his judge-speak and sentences Two-Face to death by asphyxiation for his crimes. Gas then starts pouring into the room. With the doors and windows sealed, Batman demands to know where the secret exit is as he knows Two-Face would have one. He shoves Batman aside and then removes a trap door from the floor. He finds it’s been sealed with metal bars and then panic sets in. Two-Face claims no one knew that exit was there, but that doesn’t change the reality of the situation. Batman then tosses Two-Face over the bar and tells him to stay down. Ducking behind a wall, he pulls out an explosive Batarang and nails the source of the gas which results in a large explosion.

With the gas no longer a threat, Two-Face emerges from behind the bar. He finds Batman down on the floor and gives him a nasty kick. He then thanks him for saving his life and walks on by. This seemingly makes the two even.

Corcoran is shown on the phone having a conversation with The Judge. The Judge is angry with Batman for preventing The Judge from delivering justice to both Killer Croc and now Two-Face. He is seeking permission to deal with Batman from Corcoran, but he doesn’t think that would be a good look for anyone. The Judge hangs up in response and Batman soon appears. He wants info on who The Judge is, but Corcoran tells him he doesn’t know. He then goes off telling Batman that The Judge is good for Gotham and the people don’t mind if he kills the bad guys, as long as it gets them off the streets. Batman does his disappearing act, per usual, and Corcoran is actually happy by this development as he assumes it means Batman was in agreement.

two-face interrogates

Brought to a courtroom? This seems like something a judge would do…

Corcoran then heads for his car, his work done, when he’s confronted by Two-Face. Corcoran’s happy mood changes quickly and as he backs away he’s knocked out by Two-Face’s men. He is then taken to a courtroom and bound to a chair. Two-Face wants info on The Judge, but Corcoran swears he has nothing. The Judge always seeks him out, not the other way around. Two-Face consults with his men, who are seated where the jury normally would be, to see if they believe Corcoran’s story. Manny (Peter Jason) and Mo (Loren Lester) both say they believe him, but that doesn’t mean Corcoran is free to go. Two-Face consults his coin, and the results are not good for Corcoran. He tells the boys to do their thing, and they spring up armed with a knife. Corcoran is terrified as they approach, but the knife is just used to cut his restraints. As they lead him away, Corcoran begs with Two-Face. He reveals he has 100 grand in cash he can pay him with, all kick backs and bribe money he’s been taking. Two-Face says he wishes he knew that before he flipped the coin, but it’s too late now.

At the Batcave, Batman is examining the mallet The Judge wielded in his attack on Killer Croc. Alfred is there to monitor and wonders what Batman could be looking for since the police already checked it for prints. Batman is more interested in some holes in the mallet itself. He assumes there used to a plaque affixed to it and he turns to his omniscient computer for awards resembling mallets. He finds one, which is an award given out to lawyers and judges. He then pulls up a list of past winners and we’re not allowed to see the list of names. He asks Alfred if any look familiar, and he just gives us an “Oh my God!” in response. I think that’s a yes.

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This has been fun, but it’s time for these two to go one on one.

We now return to Corcoran who has been bound and blindfolded at the base of a giant Lady Justice statue. Manny and Mo appear ready to execute him and once more Corcoran tries to barter his way out. The two are amused that Corcoran would propose they two-time Two-Face and raise their guns to off the councilman. Suddenly, metal shackles snap onto their wrists. They’re apparently magnetized as not only do their wrists end up bound together, but they also end up pointing their guns at each other. The Judge then emerges once again armed with his sword. He knocks the men down and traps them with a wooden adornment. He then turns to Corcoran who is delighted that The Judge has come to rescue him.

Or not. It would seem The Judge was listening in on Corcoran’s attempts to bribe his way out of this predicament and he’s especially angry with Corcoran about the bribes he’s been taking. He takes aim with his sword, but a Batarang knocks his sword away. Batman informs Corcoran he’s not going to like what he’s about to reveal, but he’s unable to reach The Judge’s mask. Instead, The Judge flings the shackles he used on Manny and Mo at Batman binding his hands together. He then has to dodge The Judge’s sword strikes and use his body to knock him down. The Judge then uses another pair of shackles this time striking Batman’s ankles and binding them together. Realizing he can’t possibly fight like this, Batman uses a grapple gun on the ceiling and attempts to get away. The Judge won’t allow it though and jumps on Batman’s back. As the two rock towards the ceiling, Batman is able to swing himself into the statue of Lady Justice and knock The Judge from his back.

judge revealed

The Judge revealed. Is it surprising? Eh, close enough.

Batman returns to the ground where the judge lays unconscious, one of the scales having fallen on him. He takes the keys from The Judge to free himself from the shackles, then rather proudly informs Corcoran his life is about to get worse. He pulls the mask off of The Judge to reveal his identity:  Two-Face. Corcoran is shocked and soon the police and some reporters come storming in. They’re surprised to see Two-Face as well and Batman leaves Corcoran to explain this mess.

Bruce Wayne is shown reading the newspaper which contains a story about Corcoran being indicted and losing his primary. Alfred shows up to express how surprised he was to learn that Two-Face was The Judge all along, allowing Bruce to explain to the audience what happened. Two-Face essentially created a third persona, unknown to him, which is how The Judge knew about Two-Face’s hidden exit to his apartment. Alfred expresses pity for the man formerly known as Harvey Dent, which takes us to Arkham. The voice of The Judge can be heard demanding to know how Two-Face pleads when confronted with his crimes. Two-Face is shown in a strait jacket with his head hung low as he just repeats the word “Guilty” over and over, his face rising to reveal a haggard expression.

guilty

“Guilty…guilty…guilty…”

And that is how The New Batman Adventures comes to an end. One of the best villains the show produced is returned in yet another new role to disburse justice across Gotham. It’s a fitting sister episode to “Second Chance,” for in that episode it was Harvey’s bad side that took control to make sure an operation that would repair his face never took place. In this one, it was the side of him that is Harvey Dent, District Attorney, who found a way to manifest itself in the form of The Judge. The reveal is protected rather well, with the only tip-off being that The Judge was clearly either a judge or lawyer when not in costume. The only other clue was the throw-away line from Two-Face about his secret exit, but it’s not as if the exit was hidden well. It was plausible that if The Judge could gain entry to the apartment for long enough to hack the security system and plant the gas bombs that he also could have found the hidden exit. It works well as a clue though and helps to make sure the episode didn’t do anything unfair in hiding the real identity of the vigilante.

For Batman, he only has to do some simple detective work to figure this one out. And as we saw in “Second Chance,” Harvey is a tough villain for him to confront given his failure to protect him back when he was disfigured by Rupert Thorne. It makes sense for this to be a solo mission given that fact, and truthfully there wasn’t much room for anyone else given how this one moves along. It might have been nice to see Robin confront Two-Face again, but it wasn’t exactly needed either.

Corcoran is the only real weakness for this episode. His portrayal is so slimy in nature that the reveal that he’s a crooked politician was expected as opposed to surprising. If he had been played different or made to seem a little less self-serving it might have made that reveal a bit more shocking and effective, rather than just being ho-hum. The writers felt that Corcoran needed to be a villain, and since Gordon endorses a vigilante all of the time they had to make him different to further illustrate the difference between Batman and The Judge.

batman soars

It feels appropriate that the show ends like it started with a Batman solo tale.

For Harvey Dent, this is a sad end for him. He will not appear in any of the series that follow and clearly he’s no closer to regaining his sanity at the end of this one than he was at any time before. He feels like a lost cause, and even Bruce shows him no sympathy in the end which is in contrast to his appearance in “Second Chance.” They could have given him a line about how The Judge’s presence indicates that there’s still some of Harvey Dent locked inside of there somewhere, but alas they chose not to. I’m not complaining as I’m fine with the story of Two-Face essentially having a sad ending even considering it is the final episode of the series. And not to be forgotten, but this is also the final appearance of Paul Williams as The Penguin. The Penguin character will return in Mystery of the Batwoman, but Williams did not reprise his role. A lot of praise is heaped on Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill for being the definitive take on their respective characters, but I can never read a line of dialogue from The Penguin and not hear Paul Williams in my head.

And that is the inescapable reality of this one. The end of Batman: The Animated Series, possibly the greatest action cartoon of all time. I started this project as a celebration of the show’s 25th anniversary more than two years ago. I also wanted to do it as a chance to revisit the show with a critical eye and determine for myself if it’s still worthy of much of the praise heaped upon it. And while it is true that not every episode is great, the vast majority are more than entertaining and it leads me to believe that the show has a well-earned reputation. It’s not just nostalgia talking. I will return to this show again to do a proper wrap-up, but it will have to wait until possibly the new year. I could not have timed this better when I started for next week will be a review of the show’s feature length finale, Mystery of the Batwoman. After that comes December which means Christmas, so there won’t be room for Batman for awhile. If you have been reading this weekly since the start, or just popped in now, thanks for doing so. I know it’s not as fun to read about Batman as it is to watch it, but hopefully this has been an acceptable use of time for anyone choosing to spend that which is so precious on my humble little blog.

 


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