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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.


MAFEX No. 105 – Batman: Hush

Enter The Dark Knight and his massive cape.

You may have been wondering why I decided to devote an entry earlier this week to a nearly twenty year old action figure of mediocre quality, and if so, now you know why. I wanted to take a look at the DC Direct Batman based on his appearance in the Jeph Loeb written, Jim Lee illustrated, story Hush in anticipation of a look at what should be a much better figure based on the same Batman. The MAFEX Batman should be everything the DC Direct one was not as MAFEX action figures pride themselves on being highly detailed as well as super articulated. They’re also super expensive so they should be awesome.

My only experience with Medicom prior to this was nearly 15 years ago. Back then, Medicom was known to me for vinyl toys which were often stylized and often pretty expensive. Medicom did a deal with musician Glenn Danzig back then, and if you have not noticed that’s a favorite subject at The Nostalgia Spot, and I grabbed one. Medicom issued three figures, one based on each of Danzig’s bands, and I grabbed the one based on the band Danzig. The figure is basically a vinyl doll, it swivels at the arms and fists, but nowhere else. It might have swiveled at the head if not for the hair-sculpt. It was stylized though with its own unique look featuring an oversized head and fists with a somewhat round nose and underbite. It was cool, but also around $75 in 2006 money so it was hardly cheap and the reason why I only grabbed one.

I am very excited to open this guy up.

My experience with Medicom is not at all applicable to its MAFEX line of figures. The only comparison is that both are expensive. I have seen plenty of MAFEX offerings over the years that looked pretty good and were thankfully not attractive to me since they do a lot of superhero stuff. I’ve also had some reservations as I’ve seen and heard many complaints about the MAFEX quality control over the years. Joints breaking, paint applications iffy, and so on. Often times reputations are earned, but it’s also important to remember not everyone’s experiences, or expectations, are the same. I’ve certainly seen a lot of complaints about NECA’s quality control online recently and yet I own somewhere in the neighborhood of 75 NECA figures and have yet to have one break. The worst I encountered was my toon Slash which arrived with a detached backpack strap which was easily fixed with a dab of glue.

I feel like his thighs look bigger here than they do on the figure, but it could just be perspective messing with me.

Even with that reputation starting to build for MAFEX, it wasn’t the thing still giving me the greatest pause, it was the price. And it’s not necessarily the idea of spending around $100 on a figure. When I saw this Batman unveiled I was very interested as I felt this was THE Batman for me and I’d never need another and that has a pretty high price for me. It’s more what you get for the price. Each MAFEX figure is 1:12 scale which is fancy for six inch scale, for the most part. They’re not identical, but most people won’t notice the difference. You’re getting a figure with a good sculpt and a lot of articulation to go along with numerous extra parts like hands and heads, as well as character appropriate accessories and often (always?) a stand. It’s a good assortment of stuff, but the fact remains that quality figures in this scale just don’t carry this high a price. Bandai’s SH Figuarts are very comparable in terms of scale and quality and they usually retail for $60, at their high end (up until recently, of course, as we’re currently seeing a rise across the industry in prices). What is MAFEX doing to justify the added cost? It’s possible the licenses they go for just plain cost more, but Bandai has done Marvel and kept the price down, so that leaves me largely with one conclusion.

Here he is!
And here’s that cape!

And that conclusion is “because they can.” We’ve been seeing a lot of boutique style collectibles start to crop up that really push what is expected in terms of price. And I think some manufacturers have realized that collectors are willing to pay a lot, and some are now willing to charge a lot as a result. Action figures are not known for having fantastic profit margins, but they do exist and most companies figure out a price that works for them. And then we have other companies that want more. It’s basically just capitalism at work, and if collectors buy it then producers are going to charge it. Did I want to contribute to making it acceptable to buy a 1:12 figure at $100? The short answer is, “No,” but I am both making an exception here and I felt I should have some personal experience with such a product before forming a final opinion, so here we are. And maybe I’m just ill-formed and Medicom pays its employees way better than the competition and thus, has to charge more. I doubt that’s the case, but since it’s a possibility I figured I would mention it.

Sculpted bat logo – good. Paint not quite lining up with the sculpt – bad.

I am going to keep this review objective, because that’s what I always do, and because subjectively I’m almost guaranteed to enjoy this action figure. The version of Batman depicted in Hush is fantastic, as far as I’m concerned, and this figure need only capture that. Price is a factor though, so I have to keep that in mind. This figure by itself might be great, but it needs to justify its cost. I can overlook some lazy sculpting or iffy paint in a Marvel Legends and still declare it’s pretty awesome because that figure costs around $25, but such things are not so easily overlooked when the price is quadrupled.

Good elbow clearance.

Well, for starters, MAFEX presents a good figure. The figure comes packaged in a collector friendly window box with appropriate colors and artwork. The rear features numerous product shots to demonstrate how the figure can be posed, and unlike a Lightning Collection release, I suspect all of these potential poses are actually achievable. I do wonder if these are actual product shots though as the colors are a bit different and the figure looks a bit beefier, especially the legs. It’s likely they’re just edited post photo, or the figure depicted is a final test sample that turned out a little differently. The figure comes in a blister tray with some actual Jim Lee artwork serving as the backsplash. The tray has a plastic overlay to keep everything in place and the included stand is taped to the back. I recommend removing that stand before removing the tray cover because that cover is the only thing securing all of the accessories and figure. Don’t do what I did and remove the cover and decide now is a good time to take off the stand and accidentally dump all of your parts on the floor. It’s not a fun time searching for batarangs on a carpeted floor.

I have real mixed feelings about this cape.

There is no tape or tie-downs inside the box, so once that tray cover is removed you are free to pull your Batman out. He is pretty light to the touch and your first reaction is likely going to be, “Wow, that’s a big cape!” It’s massive and made of some kind of cotton, I assume. It’s well put together, but it will arrive wrinkled. Had Mafex used spandex or something more rubbery it likely would not wrinkle so easily. The stitching is clean though and I don’t see any fraying, so that’s a plus. It’s glued under the cowl and it’s a little messy and I worry about that piece eventually lifting off of the torso. Holding and moving Batman feels a lot like handling a SH Figuarts release. The joint system is pretty familiar and just the overall build quality feels pretty much the same, and that’s a good thing. The only negative for me right out of the box is that one of the blades on his left forearm came out bent and curled over, which you’ll see in virtually all of the images in this post. Since taking all of the pictures I was able to apply some heat to that curled blade and straighten it out a little. It’s not where it needs to be and it’s something I’ll have to keep at if I want to straighten out completely, or just learn to live with.

I’m actually a little surprised at how well the old figure looks next to the luxury model. If only he didn’t have the paint blemishes on his face.
Here the Mafex figure shows off its superior head-sculpt, but the DC Direct one still gets to brag about its massive chest.

Once placed on a surface, Batman stands right around 6.5″ to the top of his ears, probably a little less. He’s shorter than the DC Direct figure I looked at who was around the same height to the crown of his noggin. The Mafex version is also less substantial. He’s a leaner Batman in comparison, which is not really page-accurate if we’re being technical. His chest could use a bit of beefing up as well as his thighs, though his biceps and shoulders look pretty good. The head shape is much better on this version and more reflective of the art, as is the color palette utilized which is a pale blue, almost a gray-blue, for the cape, cowl, gloves, boots, and trunks. The yellow belt is also pale and a little dingy. I think a touch of brown might have better achieved the effect they were going for, but in checking the source material this looks pretty close. The paint on this figure isn’t terrific. The head-sculpt must have been cast in blue because it shows through the flesh-colored paint around his mouth. There’s even a blue line under his lip, which isn’t great. It also shows through the teeth of the alternate head. On a shelf, it’s probably not a big deal, but this is a pricey figure so this shouldn’t be an issue. The paint around the bat emblem on his chest doesn’t fill the sculpted-out symbol giving it a gray outline, which is irritating. There’s a gray speck on one of the belt pouches and the paint around the boot cuffs is bad. It’s frustrating because there’s not a lot of paint that needed to be done, and what little there is wasn’t done particularly well. At least, the eyes came out well and there does appear to be a wash on the gray parts that looks good and brings out the musculature of the figure, though there is some paint slop on the left thigh of my figure.

Sad bat blade 😦
Lets see what this guy can do!

The overall presentation of the figure is a mixed bag. The sculpt is good enough, even factoring in the price, but the paint is not while the cape size is going to be more subjective. I think the cape could have been smaller, but it could also work at this size with some improvements. I think the bulk of the cape, in particular how it bunches up at the shoulders, contributes to my feeling like this Batman seems undersized. If I flip the cape over a shoulder and just look at how it compares to the head and width of the upper body it looks pretty good. The cape in the books is certainly large, but it’s illustrated rather thin and heavy, almost leathery in behavior like a, you know, bat! There’s not a lot of material around the neck area as there is with this figure so that’s what’s throwing things off for me. If it wasn’t glued under the cowl way up inside the shoulders and on the pectorals, it would look so much better. They just brought it forward way too far.

Lets see the 03 model pull this off!

I definitely have some nits to pick when it comes to the presentation of the figure, but I also haven’t talked about the articulation, so lets get to it. His head is on a ball peg which sits inside a neck piece that also connects via a ball peg in the torso. He can turn his head and look down pretty well, but the range going up isn’t great. What also isn’t great is that neck wants to turn with the head most of the time, and sometimes it doesn’t, and you may end up with Batman’s adam’s apple on the side of his neck or something. Something inside it also kind of chewed up the edge of the neck on mine as it rotated. It’s not a big deal because it sits far enough down in the torso that it can’t be seen unless you’re looking for it, but it’s something to watch out for. The shoulders are on ball-hinges with a butterfly joint that allows Batman to reach all the way across his chest. There’s a swivel at the biceps and double-jointed elbows that go well past 90 degrees and don’t look terrible. The hands are connected via ball pegs so they have pretty good range of motion, but they do pop off a little easily, which is better than the alternative. In the torso we have a ball-peg in the diaphragm so he can rotate and tilt pretty well. There is a waist swivel, but it’s a little tight. The belt is a separate piece that has a little give, but it’s either glued down or pegged in somewhere. The trunks are also a separate piece, but they’re pretty small and stay out of the way. The legs are on ball hinges so they can kick forward and back and raise out to the side far enough, but not a full split. They also can drop down for a little extra mobility and swivel at the thigh. The knees are double-jointed and molded at a slight angle so they look a little funky, but the joint is pretty clean. At the ankle we have a ball-hinge so they can raise up a little, go back a good amount, and rock side-to-side, though it takes a little finagling. There’s also a toe hinge.

Time to fly!
Is that your grappling hook or are you just happy to see me?!

The articulation is quite good. I like that Mafex avoided creating any real ugly joints on this guy. The clumsiest area is probably the shoulders where that giant cape works to the figure’s advantage. And speaking of the cape, it too is articulated. There are four, metal, wires running through it that connect at the cowl. Two wires run along the outer edge and then two more are inside. The wires on the outer part work very well to help pose this massive thing, while the two inner wires do very little. They basically help the cape to hold its shape, but what is missing is a center wire which would have aided this figure a whole lot. It certainly adds a fun dynamic to the figure since you can do a lot with that cape. And if you find it looks too bunched up at the shoulder, I recommend taking that outer wire and just sort of folding it back as opposed to trying to tuck the whole thing behind a shoulder.

We’ve got a lot to talk about.
Extreme close-up!

We’ve talked about the sculpt, and we’ve now discussed the articulation, so really the last place for this figure to justify its cost rests with the accessories. And it’s a good thing that this figure has a boatload of accessories. For starters, he comes with a fairly neutral head and can swap to a teeth-gritting one. Both are pretty effective at evoking the Batman persona and which you display may come down to which has the better paint application. There’s also a Bruce Wayne head which has its own neck piece. The paint on that head looks much better since it’s probably not molded in blue and it’s fine, though who is going to display this figure as Wayne? Swapping heads is not terrible, but that neck joint is guaranteed to give away before the head so don’t be surprised when that neck releases the first time. Joining the three heads are seven sets of hands! Ready for them all: fists, fists with tiny tracks sculpted in them, fists with batarangs poking through from between the fingers, open hands, slightly open hands, curled hands (batarang hands), and grapple gun hands. That is a lot of hands, and they all actually seem viable. The fists with the tiny channels in them might stump some initially, but the opening is just wide enough to slide the cape edges into them and I think that’s their main function.

Do you prefer the figure be in focus…
…or the hook?!

Those channel hands can also handle the grappling hook wire, which is another accessory. There are two hooks: one with a short cable and one with a long cable. Both peg into either grappling gun hand rather easily and look pretty cool. The wire on the longer one is metal and it does not appear to be bendy, so don’t snap it! It pegs in fairly gently too, so don’t force it, but it’s in snug enough for posing. I love that they used metal since it’s unlikely to sag or loose its shape. It’s also light enough that it doesn’t cause the arm to slowly drop. The grapple gun hands also look nice and are page-accurate as far as the placement of the trigger goes. I half-expected the paint job to be lacking with these hands, but they turned out well. Swapping hands is a bit of an exercise in patience. The hands pop off easy enough, but every hand except for the fists he comes packaged with are rather snug. You can even see that the diameter of the peg hole is smaller on the extra hands versus the fists. Nevertheless, they will go on, just be patient and don’t try to jam them on there. The ball joint that the pegs are on will fight you, but it’s manageable. I did not feel discouraged from swapping hands, which I sometimes do with other figures.

Swing!
Locked and loaded.

What would Batman be without some batarangs? Not much of a Batman, I’d argue. This figures comes with four: two bat-shaped ones and two more rounded ones. Both work well with the curled, style-posed, hands that I referred to as “batarang” hands before. They can slide in between the middle and index finger, or even wedge between the thumb and index finger. The channel fist hands can also work with them, though I don’t know how natural it looks. It’s hard for me to decide how to eventually pose this figure on a shelf as I like the batarangs, but the grapple gun attachments are also really cool and unique to this figure. Decisions, decisions…

Old reliable.
For those who prefer a more moon shaped batarang.

Lastly, Batman comes with an included stand. I think all Mafex figures come with this particular stand and it’s pretty straight-forward. It comes in three pieces: the base, the articulating arm, and the claw. Snap it together and you’re good to go – or are you? If your stand is anything like mine, it will be way too loose to support the figure. He stands fine with out it, but if you want a swinging pose or something a bit more dramatic then you’ll need to grab a small, phillips head screwdriver and tighten each joint. Once you do then you should be fine as I had no problems getting the stand to support the figure’s weight, so long as I didn’t throw off the center of gravity too much. I wish there was a pre-drilled hole or something on the base to support a wall mount, but oh well. I suppose nothing is stopping me from adding one myself.

And then of course we’ve got these hands with a rather nasty application of the batarang.
I’m guessing he doesn’t use these on your garden variety hoodlum.

In terms of accessories, this figure came out quite well. There isn’t really anything missing. The only thing I would have liked to have seen included was yet another fist that had his Kryptonite ring sculpted onto it for battles with Superman. Apparently, that’s been included though with the Mafex Superman so that’s cool since you wouldn’t pose Batman with it on unless you have Superman, which I obviously do not and do not plan to get. That’s pretty much it though, these accessories are great, they’re easy to work with, and the only throw-away one really is the Bruce Wayne head. It looks fine, I’m just never going to choose to display a Batman figure without his mask.

I should probably show you the Bruce Wayne head since it did come with the figure.
He is rather handsome.

As expected, I do like this figure. I have some quibbles about the overall aesthetics, but I think it looks like Batman and it’s easy to tell this is the version of the character from the Hush books. The articulation is great and I very much enjoy the accessories, but I’m still not sold on that price tag. This guy came out last summer and can still be purchased at various online shops and probably in some local comic book stores. No matter where you buy him, he’s going to end up costing right around $100 which is a lot for a figure in this scale. Some places will have him for around $80-$85, but they’ll likely have steep shipping charges while a place like Big Bad Toy Store has cheap shipping, but prices this guy at just under $95. Comparing him to my SH Figuarts Vegeta, which I paid $50 for not on clearance, and there’s just no comparison when it comes to value. That figure is physically shorter than this one so there’s less plastic involved, but the articulation is there, the sculpt is there, he has a ton of extra hands and faces, and is also an import figure of a popular licensed character. I can accept this Batman costing more than that figure, but nearly twice as much? No way.

“WHERE’S THE MUTAGEN?!”
“Help! Krang!”

That’s what it comes down to with the Mafex Batman figure from the pages of the Hush story. He’s a nice figure and if you like that version of the character you will like this action figure. What you are unlikely to enjoy about it is the sticker price. There are plenty of collectors out there who will convince themselves they’re getting an item that is definitely worth a hundred bucks and be fine with it – whatever floats your boat. I just, objectively speaking as someone who likes this figure, don’t see a justification for that kind of price here. And I especially don’t considering the iffy paint and slight inaccuracies when it comes to the source material and the sculpt. At this price and at this scale this figure should be objectively flawless in those areas, and it’s not. However, I still enjoy it and I’m happy to have it. It’s possible for an action figure to be both good and overpriced. I’m just not going to make a habit out of buying Mafex action figures.

“Nice costume, dude! Who’s your tailor?”
I bet you would like some comparisons, so here’s a couple: NECA Shredder and Super7 Raphael.

Lastly, if you like this figure and feel like it’s worth adding to your collection, then by all means do so. However, I do want to point out there is a new version coming out any day now. It changes the color scheme of the figure swapping out the blue parts for black ones, but it also looks like Mafex did some adjustments with the cape. I think it’s still the same material and still features four wires, but the promotional images make it look like they adjusted how it’s glued to the figure and basically did it in the same manner I suggested in my review (this isn’t me taking credit for that since that figure was obviously designed way before I posted this, just in case anyone were to think I was trying to do so) which looks a lot better. They’re just promo images though in which the figure is supposed to look awesome, so maybe seek out some reviews or something. It does look like some people already have it. Mafex also swapped out the Bruce Wayne head, and maybe some hands, in favor of a gargoyle base for the figure which looks fantastic. I’m actually kind of mad at myself that I can’t be happy with a black and gray Batman as that edition honestly looks better than this one. I’m a blue boy though, so here we are. Whichever version you decide to get, or don’t, will result in you having a pretty nice Batman figure. Your wallet may just disagree on how valuable that is.

And a final comparison with the Hasbro White Ranger and SHF Vegeta.

DC Direct Hush Batman

Probably the best pose in this entry, it’s all downhill from here!

In the mid 90s the action figure underwent a rather substantial change. The gross, detailed, sculpted works of 80s and early 90s toy lines had started to fade away. In their place was the super hero from the likes of Toy Biz and Mattel which opted for simple sculpts, subtle paint, and a fairly standard roll out of articulation. Sure, there were some intentionally done “super articulated” editions of characters like Spider-Man, but largely the action figure had been distilled to the following joints: head, shoulder, elbow, leg, knee. All either swivel or hinges. Some might have a waist twist, or a wrist swivel, but most followed that general format.

Then came McFarlane. Founded in 1994 by comic book artist and writer Todd McFarlane, the new approach was a return to sculpting. McFarlane reasoned that the only thing holding figures back from being highly detailed was just a little bit of effort. A mold costs the same whether it’s intricate or plain, and mold creation is the biggest cost in producing action figures. Of course, it’s a little more nuanced than that since better molds require better artists spending more time than before and we all know time is money, but his point was made. McFarlane’s line of action figures, largely consisting of his Spawn character, blew away the competition when it came to sculpts. What they did for sculpting was felt in the toy world, especially by Toy Biz who was making action figures based on the various characters of Marvel Comics. Toy Biz started to produce collector grade figures as well, but this came at the downside of a reduction in articulation and a heightening of the scale. Kids and collectors who had been dying for a Jim Lee era Jean Grey finally got one in the Onslaught wave of figures marketed to specialty shops, but she was way out of scale with what had come before and awkwardly pre-posed.

He strikes an impressive pose. Too bad it’s his only pose.

While McFarlane continued to refine its sculpts, it did so at the cost of articulation. Many of the McFarlane figures of the late 90s and early 2000s were little more than mini statues. Some had basic articulation, but a lot of it wasn’t particularly functional as the figures were meant to assume one, specific, pose and that was it. Toy Biz was not content with that sort of approach as it released a new line of Spider-Man Classics. These were carried by major toy retailers making them easier to get ahold of than the previous Onslaught series, and best of all the figures were highly articulated while still retaining an impressive approach to sculpting. The Venom figure in particular was quite ambitious as it referenced a classic piece of artwork in which the alien costume is extending from the face of Eddie Brock. From the front, the figure looks like a Venom one, but with an elongated maw. From the side though, one can see the smiling visage of Brock underneath. It was a sculpt that rivaled what McFarlane was producing, to a degree, but the figure also retained an impressive array of articulation.

His proportions are arguably better from the side. Except the ears.

That line was the precursor to the now long-running Marvel Legends. Toy Biz would embark on a journey through the Marvel Universe that included impressive sculpt-work for its era combined with a great degree of articulation. Hasbro now has control of the line and has continued to release affordable action figures of popular characters at retail that combine quality sculpts with functional articulation. Some would probably argue that the line has become the greatest line of action figures of all time considering its longevity and overall quality. I don’t collect it any longer, but it is a remarkably consistent product.

Lets turn on the flash to bring out those cape folds. It’s a pretty fine cape, all things considered.

Naturally, Toy Biz’s success lead to rival DC trying its own hand at collector-grade action figures of its classic characters. The company launched DC Direct to differentiate its products from the more mass market stuff that was being handled by Mattel. Unfortunately, DC Direct was seemingly always behind the curve when it came to its toys, and its 2003 line of action figures based on the Batman story Hush by writer Jeph Loeb and renowned artist Jim Lee is a great example.

For those who prefer their Batman bathed in light.

Jim Lee became famous largely for his work on X-Men in the early 90s. By the middle part of the decade he had gone freelance and worked on other properties while creating his own super hero team in WildCats. He ended up being a pretty big get for DC when they brought him onboard to work on Batman. The Hush story was basically DC’s way of getting Lee to draw Batman and basically every character of importance in his sphere. It could have been a mess, but it was actually a pretty entertaining read. Lee’s Batman was also a pretty big hit which paved the way for the action figure line. At the time, I was a casual at best fan of Batman. I had enjoyed the films and the animated series, but I dabbled infrequently in the comics. I found myself quite taken by Lee’s interpretation of the caped crusader, which made the action figure very appealing.

The worst place for paint defects.

Lee’s Batman is a muscle-bound, brooding, guy in a cape. He’s marked by a square jaw and short ears on his costume. He reminds me a bit of a cross between the Bruce Timm Batman and, oddly enough, the Adam West Batman. It’s the squareness of the head combined with those short ears that evokes both of those styles for me, but it’s Lee’s unique talents that bring it together. He has a gray and blue color scheme with a black emblem on his chest. The blue is a pale blue, and something about the choice of saturation really works for the character. I’ve always felt it made more sense for Batman to dress in black, or at least a really dark blue, but illogical as this outfit may seem, it looks terrific. It quickly became my favorite interpretation of the character and remains so to this day.

The extent to which his right arm can be raised.

Because I liked the design so much, I felt drawn to the figure released in 2003 by DC Direct. Unfortunately, it wasn’t particularly cheap and the articulation was a real turn-off. I would see this figure on my many trips to GameStop or comic shops and I’d debate with myself if it was worth picking up. By today’s standards, I don’t think it was expensive, but I honestly can’t remember. I want to say it was over 10 bucks, but not as high as 20, and in a world where Marvel Legends were often 6-8 bucks that felt like a lot. I was also in college and money wasn’t abundant and my addiction to Legends meant I had only a little cash to consider spending on other lines. Eventually, I caved, probably sometime in 2004 and this edition of Batman has remained the last 6″ scale Batman I’ve purchased over the ensuing years. And he’s basically always occupied a prominent spot in my home, usually on a nightstand or dresser, so I guess money well spent.

You’ll have to pretend he’s holding a grapple gun, because I can’t get that hand off.

Once upon a time, this figure came in a window box with the Hush era logo emblazoned upon it, but I’ve long since disposed of that box. Once removed, Batman stands six and a half inches to the top of his “ears” and strikes quite the intimidating posture on a shelf. His square-jawed head is set in a bit of a scowl with a lot of linework around the all-white eyes that have been tightened into narrow slits. The area around his neck has been sculpted for his cape with is almost seamlessly glued into the sculpted folds. It’s a rubbery material that hangs off of the figure and fans out ending at about the ankles. It’s smaller than what is depicted in the comic, but definitely more wieldy. Batman’s chest is puffed out with impressive mass and the logo is sculpted into his chest and painted a glossy black which contrasts well with the otherwise matte approach of the other colors. It’s hard to tell if the body is molded in gray or painted gray, but there’s definitely a paint application to bring out the muscles in his torso and biceps. The gloves have some nice detailing on them and the “fins” that stick off are slightly bendy so there’s less of a chance of any snapping. The belt is painted and features a tremendous amount of pouches, which was the style at the time. A black or gray wash has been applied to give it a worn, grimy, appearance which is suitable for the source material. There’s a liberal amount of gray paint on the legs and the blue-painted boots are fairly clean. A wash has been applied to them to bring out the folds around the ankle and the soles of the boots are painted black. The paint is sufficiently clean everywhere on my figure except the face, which unfortunately has a trio of blue dots around the mouth and chin. It also looks like some of the flesh-colored paint wound up on the very tip of his nose. I’ve never been able to get that speck off, even though I’m pretty sure the head is sculpted in blue plastic.

The grapple gun hand. It’s fine.

Even more than 15 years later, the figure largely looks the part. This is a very muscled Batman, but not overly so. The only aspect of the sculpt I’ve ever been not completely sold on are the rather massive thighs this guy has. It just seems like either they should be a little smaller, or the shoulders a little wider to compensate. The head might also be just a wee bit too small, but it’s pretty negligible. This looks good and I doubt anyone was really complaining about the figure’s aesthetics when it came out in 2003.

I think I would have preferred a second head since his posing sucks anyway. And maybe that one would have had a better paint job.

What they were critiquing though is the articulation, or lack thereof. With this figure, what you see is what you get. He’s not exactly pre-posed, but how he stands when removed from the box is basically all he can do. The head is on a ball-peg and it’s easily the best part about the figure, articulation-wise. Batman can rotate all the way around as well as look up pretty far, and even look down. There’s also a little tilt for good measure and no gapping is present when positioning his head. It’s great. After that though, everything gets bad. His shoulders are on some kind of a ball-peg system. They can rotate all the way around, but there’s no hinge and very little outward movement. The right arm can come out maybe 30 degrees while the left barely moves. This is for a reason, I suspect, we’ll get to when we talk about the accessories. And for the same reason, only the right wrist swivels at the glove while both arms have a single, elbow, hinge. There is no torso or waist articulation of any kind, which is a real bummer as a waist twist would help this guy out. At the leg, the thighs peg into the crotch so they can only go forward and back. He can extend pretty far in both directions, but the crotch starts to get ugly and weird looking as you do it. Plus, there’s a lot of rubbing and I would worry that extensive movement would harm the paint. You may be thinking to yourself, “Well, this is an older figure and there’s no rubbing yet,” but I also basically set this guy and left him as-is for 18 years. Batman does have knee hinges, but no boot cut.

The stand is pretty cool, at least.

Because of the limited articulation, Batman is little more than a statue. You can pose him looking down from a high perch, looking straight-ahead, or looking up at a target, but that’s kind of it. The range on those elbow and knee hinges is terrible and his left hand is pre-posed at an awkward angle so he can’t even fake throwing a punch. His legs also come off of his body in such a wide stance that you basically can’t bend his knees at all and expect him to stand. A boot cut would have been nice as you could then move his feet and get him into a slight perch. One of the more iconic images from the Hush books is Batman on a ledge with one foot raised and placed on a gargoyle statue, a simple pose that this figure cannot hope to imitate. About the only thing he can do is aim his grapple gun because one of his two accessories is a swappable right hand with the grapple gun molded into it. I believe that is why his right arm has more range than the left so he can aim it in a semi-natural way, but it’s not that convincing. I also can’t get his hand to come off anymore to actually use it, but it’s not something most people likely chose to utilize in their display as it’s painted rather poorly and isn’t page accurate. The only other accessory is a display stand which is fine. It’s in the shape of the Batman logo of the era and it’s screen-printed rather well. There are two pegs on it, but curiously only one foot has a peg hole. The other has an indentation like one is supposed to be there, but nope. He stands fine without it, but the added stability is nice to have. Plus, the stand adds a little flair to the display which is welcomed considering this figure just can’t do much of anything.

So did you like that crossover with TMNT?
I didn’t have a Marvel Legends handy, so here’s a Hasbro Black Ranger and an old school Toy Biz Venom.

This is the type of figure that we had to deal with back in the early 2000s. Not everything was super-articulated, or even functionally articulated, and this Batman qualified. Now, obviously I’ve had this guy on display in my home as the lone Batman figure for years despite its shortcomings so clearly it got something right. It’s partly the result of a better figure just not coming along and capturing my attention, and the fact that I’m not a dedicated Batman collector has certainly helped to keep this guy around. This is a figure that is no longer available at retail, but the secondary market is plentiful enough for a figure almost 20 years old. And it’s a figure that really has not appreciated one bit. It’ll set you back only around 20 bucks if it’s something you want, and that’s for a figure in-box. If you’re shopping loose you might find a better deal. The sculpt is there, and the paint is solid, but the articulation is severely lacking so this is likely no one’s favorite depiction of Batman from this era. You can do better, though probably not cheaper if it’s a Hush Batman you’re after. I do like it, but it’s hard not to see a missed opportunity whenever I look at it.

We’ll end on a comparison with the RED Soundwave and the SHF Vegeta.

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 4

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

catwomans affection39 – You Scratch My Back

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

38 – Sins of the Father

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

hex vs duvall37 – Showdown

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

36 – The Demon’s Quest: Part I

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

not good35 – Blind as a Bat

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

34 – I Am the Night

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

HeartofSteel133 – Heart of Steel: Part I

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

32 – The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne

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

new scarecrow31 – Never Fear

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

30 – Riddler’s Reform

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

dead eyed stare29 – His Silicon Soul

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

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

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

old chums

27 – Legends of the Dark Knight

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

26 – Perchance to Dream

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

goodbye annie25 – Growing Pains

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

24 – Pretty Poison

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

mask off

23 – Old Wounds

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

22 – Harlequinade

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

21 – Trial

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

MWKB_67_-_Sid_and_Thorne20 – The Man Who Killed Batman

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


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…


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