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Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero

Batman_&_Mr._Freeze_SubZeroOriginal Release Date:  March 17, 1998

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Boyd Kirkland and Randy Rogel

Animation:  Dong Yang Animation Co., Koko Enterprises Co., LTD.

Running Time:  67 minutes

I feel like we can’t move onto The New Batman Adventures without first talking about Batman & Mr. Freeze:  SubZero. This direct to video feature is essentially the true finale to the original run of Batman:  The Animated Series. It’s existence can be owed to the fact that Warner Bros. wanted to do a tie-in film with the upcoming feature film Batman and Robin which featured Mr. Freeze as the main antagonist. This was supposed to be released alongside that, but since that film was so poorly received it was held back until March of 1998. This complicates things as by that time The New Batman Adventures was airing on Kids WB and had even aired a Mr. Freeze episode that follows the events of this story. It was released to video, which in 1998 meant VHS, and also aired on Kids WB. I could only find one release date listed online so I’m not sure when the television premiere took place (it could have been the same day), but that’s how I first saw this one.

freeze and bears

Mr. Freeze has returned, and he brought polar bears this time.

Mr. Freeze was first introduced to the animated viewing audience via “Heart of Ice” which first aired in 1992 as part of the show’s first season. It was so successful at rebooting the previously campy Mr. Freeze into an A-tier villain that the writers were reluctant to return to the character out of fear that whatever they came up with couldn’t possibly match “Heart of Ice.” Eventually, they relented and Mr. Freeze appeared in the penultimate episode “Deep Freeze” in which he partnered with Walt Disney Grant Walker in an evil scheme, but eventually turned and become a reluctant hero in the end. The episode basically proved what the staff feared initially as it wasn’t nearly as good or on par with “Heart of Ice.” It’s not a bad episode, but hardly a highpoint for the series. As a result, SubZero feels like a second attempt at capturing the magic once again and perhaps the lengthened running time will help tell a worthy story.

For the film, most of the principal players from BTAS were able to return. In the director’s chair is Boyd Kirkland who directed many episodes in the series as well as the show’s other feature, Mask of the Phantasm. Kirkland also co-wrote the film with Randy Rogel, another individual who had several writing credits in the main series. The voice cast was also largely returned for this one including Kevin Conroy as Batman, Loren Lester as Robin, and Michael Ansara as Mr. Freeze. The only notable change is Mary Kay Bergman taking over the role of Barbara Gordon for Melissa Gilbert. This would be Bergman’s only performance as Gordon as she would be voiced by Tara Strong in The New Batman Adventures. The other notable absences are Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, who were credited with this new version of Freeze. They were likely busy working on Superman and The New Batman Adventures during the development of the picture. Also missing is composer Shirley Walker who was replaced by Michael McCuistion, who had previously worked on some episodes of the show. He would go on to score 3 episodes of The New Batman Adventures as well as several more for other DC animated productions. Walker would also contribute to the sequel series.

gordons and dick

Barbara has a new voice actress, Mary Kay Bergman, and a new beau.

The film basically picks up where the series ended. Victor Fries has made a home for himself in the arctic alongside his still in stasis wife, Nora. He’s acquired a pair of polar bear companions as well as a twelve-year-old Inuit orphan named Koonak (Rahi Azizi). When an expedition by a US submarine disturbs their home and destroys the containment unit keeping Nora alive, Fries is forced to once again don his Mr. Freeze persona.

Nora cannot survive for long outside her containment unit which brings Freeze back to Gotham and in contact with an old colleague, a cryogenics expert by the name of Gregory Belson (George Dzundza). Belson just so happens to be in great financial distress as he tried to game the system with some insider trading in the futures market that didn’t pan out. He’s desperate for cash, and Freeze has access to a gold ore vein in the arctic. He needs Belson’s help to perform an operation for the only hope Nora has at survival is via an organ transplant. Unfortunately, she also has a rare blood type and no organs are available and are unlikely to become available in time, so they’ll need to harvest them from a living donor.

nora fries opening

Once again, it’s the welfare of Nora that motivates Freeze.

That’s where Barbara Gordon comes in. She’s the unlucky one who matches Nora’s rare blood type and is also of similar build. Mr. Freeze abducts her from a club while she is on a date with her new boyfriend:  Dick Grayson. It would seem Barbara got over her Bat-crush and settled on the Boy Wonder, though the film makes it seem like everyone is still keeping each other in the dark regarding alter-egos. Freeze, along with his two polar bear companions, takes Barbara to an abandoned offshore oil platform where the surgery will be performed against her will.

Most of the film involves the setup before transitioning to a focus on Batman and Robin’s detective work which will eventually force a showdown with Mr. Freeze. At a mere 67 minutes, the mystery of where Freeze took Gordon and what he wants with her isn’t lingered on for too long and there’s plenty of time saved for the climax on the oil rigging. It’s paced well and the movie moves along without feeling rushed. If anything is sacrificed, it’s the final confrontation at the end. Batman and Freeze really don’t have much of a confrontation, as circumstances force them to contend with a burning platform. It’s a similar setup to the episode “Deep Freeze” in that regard, but with smaller, more obvious, stakes.

batman robin batcave

Batman and Robin have some detective work ahead of them, but at least Robin’s gloves are now the proper shade of green.

The film in large part feels like a referendum on “Deep Freeze.” If you recall, in that episode Freeze learns his wife is still alive and then immediately agrees to help a wealthy man destroy the planet to revive her. It was a pretty outlandish setup which is why Batman was able to convince Mr. Freeze to not go along with Walker’s plan. In this film, Nora’s life is on a timer and in order to save her Freeze merely has to sacrifice one woman he doesn’t even care about. While it would have been interesting to see how he would have responded had someone been able to reason with him that Nora would never want an innocent to die so she could live, that’s never broached and it’s conceivable to think Freeze would not be swayed. He’d likely rather Nora live and despise him than for her to die. Freeze’s desperation causes him to act impulsively throughout the picture, and his relationship with Belson gives him a plausible reason to return to Gotham in an effort to save his wife knowing it will likely put him in the crosshairs of The Batman.

dr belson

Belson is pretty much a slime ball.

In many ways, it’s Dr. Belson that ends up being the film’s ultimate villain. He’s described by others as a jerk and he’s essentially a criminal for engaging in insider trading. Had he been successful with his futures play he might have been caught. When Freeze first approaches him for aid the film teases he won’t go along with murder, but he’s mostly feigning his apprehension and just uses it to leverage more money out of his old colleague.

barbara fighting back

Barbara may spend most of the film kidnapped, but she never stops fighting.

Barbara Gordon’s kidnapping may be the main plot device that gets this film rolling, but she’s hardly playing the role of damsel in distress. Her kidnapping is voluntary, as she doesn’t want Mr. Freeze to harm any of the patrons of the club she’s abducted from, especially Dick. She also tries to escape her confines more than once and realizes she has a sympathetic ear in Koonak. It would have been disappointing if the woman who is Batgirl just sat around and waited for Batman and Robin to save her, but Rogel and Kirkland know what they’re doing.

The film is visually quite nice and a noticeable cut above the television series. Dong Yang Animation, which animated most of season 2 and some of season 1, did the traditional spots with Koko Enterprises doing the CG. The colors are an obvious upgrade as Robin’s costume actually features two shades of green instead of that odd blue. The scenes on the flaming oil platform are especially spectacular and it’s obvious more care was put into this project as a whole. I also really like a spot at the beginning of the film where Fries emerges from the arctic waters. His body is coated in a thin layer of ice which cracks and breaks apart as he moves. The CG is used probably more often than I would like. It’s dated, but not woefully so. It’s a touch distracting in some of the chase sequences and with the Batwing, but it looks nice at the film’s onset with Fries swimming in the arctic amongst a swarm of CG salmon. The only real disappointment I have with the look of the picture is that it’s presented in 4:3 instead of 16:9. I assume that’s the aspect ratio it was created for since it was going to be broadcast on television, and since this was before the proliferation of 16:9 television sets, there was basically no need to develop for that if it was only ever going to be viewed on a TV set.

koonak and barbara

I hope you didn’t get too attached to Koonak, because he’s not coming back.

This film is the final presentation of Batman and the other denizens of Gotham in this art style. For some characters, like Summer Gleeson (Mari Devon), this is their final appearance all together. Veronica Vreeland (Marilu Henner) also has a cameo, but as a blonde now instead of her traditional red hair. It’s also the last appearance of Nora Fries and the only appearance for Koonak. I definitely miss this art style and the change for The New Batman Adventures is what kept me from getting into that series initially. When this surfaced on television it was like going back to an old friend.

Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero is a worthy follow-up to “Heart of Ice.” Even with the benefit of triple the minutes, it’s still not quite as captivating as that episode and I think that’s largely due to the surprise that initial episode had going for it. This film at least takes the character of Mr. Freeze and gives him a reason to act like a villain once more. It’s surprising that Paul Dini and Bruce Timm weren’t involved, but maybe turning to the duo of Kirkland and Rogel meant the pressure of doing something worthwhile with the character was largely removed freeing them to explore him unencumbered. For both, this was their last contribution to Batman: The Animated Series and it’s a worthy note to go out on. Had this been a theatrically released venture we’d probably unfairly compare it with Mask of the Phantasm where it would come up short, but for a direct-to-video venture this is more than acceptable.

Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero was originally released on VHS, but has since been released on DVD and Blu-Ray. It’s also streaming, if that’s your preference. The best way to view it, for my money, is via the Batman:  The Animated Series Blu-Ray set which includes this film as well as Mask of the Phantasm in one package alongside the entire television series.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Make ‘Em Laugh”

make em laugh cardEpisode Number:  83

Original Air Date:  November 5, 1994

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Paul Dini, Randy Rogel

First Appearance(s):  The Condiment King

Episode 83 brings us the final Joker episode of Batman: The Animated Series in its original run. Not surprisingly, The Joker has done the most heavy-lifting of all the villains in this 85 episode series. As Batman’s most famous rogue, that was to be expected. What really wasn’t a given was just how consistently good Joker could be. Going into it, I would have expected Joker to be a silly villain used for comic relief as he was in the 1960s series when he was played by Cesar Romero. And there’s certainly aspects of Romero in this Joker, but the writers for this show were able to also incorporate that sinister side of Joker we’d come to see in the character throughout the 1980s. Sure, he’s never as malicious as he is in The Killing Joke or Death in the Family, but there’s an unsettling aspect to the character that comes out now and again making this version of The Joker possibly the best version.

And a lot of the credit should go to voice actor Mark Hamill. Back in the early 90s when this show was in its run, finding out the actor most famous for playing Luke Skywalker did the voice for Joker (as well as Spider-Man’s Hobgoblin) was like a revelation. Pre-internet, it was hardly common knowledge and I only knew about it via the Fox Kids newsletter. I was blown away, and sometimes I still am when I pause to consider the voice behind the role. Hamill’s Joker, despite somewhat famously being put-down by critic Gene Siskel in what was possibly the famed critic’s worst take, is what I will hear in my head now and forever whenever I read a line from the character. He’s so good at that manic, high-pitched, voice which he can pivot from to a lower, more threatening tone, on a dime. And that laugh brings it all together. Hamill’s Joker has been rightly celebrated for years now, but it’s important to remember that not enough good things can really be said of it. Mark Hamill is simply the best Joker we’ve ever had and quite likely will ever have.

the condiment king strikes

Introducing The Condiment King!

For The Joker’s final starring role in this series, the episode takes an interesting turn. This one is actually a mystery. Like most mysteries in this show, the solution is easy to solve, but at least this episode tries. So many episodes will show a shadowy figure in the darkness, and if that silhouette doesn’t make it obvious, the reveal comes almost immediately after. For a character that is often referred to as a detective, Batman has little detective work to do in this show aside from looking up information in his super computer. This episode actually has a deliberate twist, and while it really didn’t fool me even as a kid, it certainly gave me pause.

“Make ‘Em Laugh” opens in a swanky restaurant. A lot of what appear to be fairly well-off folks are about to have their dinner disturbed by The Condiment King (Stuart Pankin). If you’re picturing a man in a spandex suit with twin guns that fire ketchup and mustard then good for you because that is precisely how this character looks. He adds to the persona by speaking in puns which cite other popular condiments (“How I’ve relished this meeting!”). This guy is a show invention, but he’ll actually make the jump to the comics, hence why he gets tagged in the First Appearance section in the heading.

condiment king defeated

That looks like it hurt. A lot.

Batman will soon show up to deal with this guy, who despite not possessing weapons that can actually harm people has been relatively successful at extracting cash and jewelry from the patrons. Batman takes one look at his foe and despite The Condiment King’s eagerness for a fight, Batman does not seem willing to oblige. He even does something he almost never does:  he gives the guy a chance to go home and we’ll forget this all happened. The Condiment King never backs down though! Unfortunately for him, he sucks at this. As the two end up on a balcony, The Condiment King loses his balance and falls off landing back-first atop a police cruiser that just arrived. Renee Montoya (Liane Schirmer) is the responding officer and she unmasks the villain and discovers he’s popular comedian Buddy Standler.

the pack rat

You think we’re done with goofy villains, well here’s The Pack Rat!

At home, Batman and Robin have the television going and Standler’s agent is being interviewed by Summer Gleeson (Mari Devon). He expresses shock at what happened and doesn’t understand why his client chose to throw his career away like that. Evidently he’s not a great agent since most would at least attempt to explain the actions of their client or just offer a “no comment” instead. Robin is equally confused and remarks he and Alfred were supposed to see Standler judge a comedy competition soon.

batman introduces himself

Pack Rat, prepare to meet Batman.

The next day, Alfred is shopping at a department store called Mayfield’s. A small man in a trench coat approaches a woman and grabs her purse. He dumps the contents on the floor and apparently is only interested in the purse itself. He removes his coat and hat to reveal his own villainous attire of The Pack Rat (Grant Shaud)! He’s out to steal Gotham’s junk (though maybe the all male writing staff is unaware how expensive and valuable purses are) and he’d seem harmless if not for the fact that he’s armed with a submachine gun.

pack rat packin heat

Well that didn’t go the way they wanted it to.

Alfred knows who to call, and Batman and Robin are soon on the scene. The Pack Rat is easily subdued with a rope which pins his arms at his sides. This seems effective for a moment, but he soon falls on his back which leaves the gun pointing straight ahead at the ankles of The Dynamic Duo. He starts spraying gunfire wildly forcing Batman and Robin to take cover. He eventually frees himself from his bounds and starts emptying his gun, which for some reason appears to be ejecting shotgun shells, but who cares? Batman is able to knock him into a display dislodging the gun. For the second consecutive entry, we get a Casey Jones from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reference out of me as Pack Rat emerges from the collection of junk armed with a golf club. He swings wildly at Batman missing him and inadvertently hits an electrical box. The resulting shock knocks him unconscious allowing Robin to realize that their enemy is another comedian, this time Harry Loomis. Batman also finds a tiny microchip that had been stuck to the man’s neck via an adhesive and he knows who specializes in such devices.

mad hatter gone mad

The Mad Hatter seems to be doing well.

Batman and Robin head for Arkham to have a chat with one of its famous inmates:  The Mad Hatter. They arrive at the villain’s cell and enter to find The Mad Hatter laying on his side, his back to them. They roll him over and find his face is in a frozen smile. He doesn’t respond to any of their words and Batman soon uncovers a mind control device has been planted on him as well. Someone is using his tech to go after comedians, and more detective work will be needed from our heroes.

While Batman was dealing with Pack Rat, a scene unfolded featuring another comedian:  Lisa Lorraine (Andrea Martin). Her name may sound similar to that of comedian Lisa Lampanelli, but this character is clearly stylized to resemble (and talk like) Roseanne Barr. She was sitting on her couch enjoying some snacks and television when a knock at the door forced her from this cozy spot. She irritably answers the door to find a pizza boy, but she didn’t order any pizza. No matter, she’ll take it, but when the delivery man opens the box noxious gas surrounds her face. The scene makes little effort in disguising the assailant:  The Joker.

smilin shecky

Smilin’ Shecky Rimshot has little to smile about.

With their lead failing them, Batman and Robin return to the Batcave to find out from Alfred that Lorraine has been kidnapped. She and the other two comedians turned rogues were to be the judges of a comedy competition that night. They do it every year, and Robin just happened to tape last year’s edition. Alfred, knowing that time is a factor, already has the video cued up for the pair and found something interesting. Just before the judges announced last year’s winner, an unknown comic burst onto the stage in an attempt to win them over. He refers to himself as Smilin’ Shecky Rimshot, but his voice gives him away. He was thrown off stage and while being hauled away did the usual villain routine of shouting about how he was being wronged and vows revenge. If the voice didn’t give it away, Batman isolates the man’s face, removes his hat and adds some makeup to reveal this man was none other than The Joker.

joker revealed

Hey, guess what? It was The Joker this whole time!

With the reveal officially out-of-the-way, we’re taken to Joker who’s getting ready to take the stage at this year’s Laugh-Off event. He once again dons the persona of Smilin’ Shecky Rimshot and declares himself the winner. He then reveals his real face and goes into his routine while also releasing a bunch of laughing gas to make sure he has a friendly audience. Batman and Robin get the drop on him and bat the gas canister away. Joker then teases the debut of his new female sidekick:  Mighty Mom! It’s Lisa Lorraine in a super hero costume armed with a mop and other household items. She’s under Joker’s control and gives the boys a little fight, but is eventually subdued.

Batman leaves Robin to deal with Mighty Mom while he goes after Joker who leads him to the roof of the club. Batman seems rather angry with Joker for what he did to those comedians and doesn’t understand the criminal’s desire for some trophy. Joker explains it’s not the trophy he wanted, but the title of Funniest Man in Gotham. Joker flees to a giant clown balloon and Batman goes after him. They do their little dance, and Joker produces a knife. When it seems like he might actually get Batman, Robin swings in with the save. The balloon is punctured in the process, and Joker is knocked from it with the trophy stuck on his head. Batman is able to use his grapple gun to catch Joker and they let the deflating balloon slowly bring them to ground level.

joker makes em laugh

Joker does indeed make them laugh in the end.

During the slow descent, Joker’s pants fall off and as he is gently deposited in the street the balloon lands on top of him. He emerges with his pants around his ankles and the trophy still stuck on his head. The many onlookers all react with laughter as the police move in and cuff him. To add more insult to the situation, Joker isn’t even allowed to pull up his pants as he is lead to the police transport and trips. Once inside, he grabs the trophy and puts it back on his head in a bid to hide his shame, or silence the laughter. And that’s the last we’ll see of Joker until The New Batman Adventures.

joker bows out

So Joker doesn’t go out with a bang, but this one is all right.

As a Joker episode, “Make ‘Em Laugh” is definitely more of the comic variety and probably no one’s favorite. The slow reveal of who is behind the real criminal activity is appreciated, and the payoff is mostly satisfactory. Joker being humiliated isn’t new, but the spectacle of this particular ending is a bit more than we’re used to. Many of these season two episodes seemed to try and inject more comedic relief into the series. Either via one of Robin’s numerous jokes, or in this example some really silly villains in The Condiment King and Pack Rat. Sometimes the show has gone a little too far in really changing the tone of the show, but for the most part it’s fine and the comedy bits certainly work better with Joker episodes.

Interestingly, I found myself missing the presence of Harley Quinn here. She’s become so synonymous with The Joker that her absence is almost always felt. I’m not saying the two should be a packaged deal, but I feel like the episode could have used her. At the same time, I’m also glad it did not without at least providing a plausible explanation as to why the two would be working together again.

In terms of last appearances, this episode contains the last appearance of TV news reporter Summer Gleeson. She’ll have two non-speaking cameos in the following series, but her role as convenient TV host and sometimes plot device is over, as far as the main series is concerned. She will pop-up in a voiced role one more time for the feature Batman & Mr. Freeze:  SubZero. This is also the last contribution, again aside from that feature to come, for director Boyd Kirkland. He’s directed 21 of the show’s 85 episodes plus the feature Mask of the Phantasm. He would go on to direct episodes of other popular series such as X-Men: Evolution and The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Sadly, Kirkland passed away in 2011 due to complications from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis while waiting for a lung transplant. He was 60 years old.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Perchance to Dream”

Batman_perchance_to_dreamEpisode Number:  30

Original Air Date:  October 19, 1992

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Laren Bright, Michael Reaves, and Joe R. Lansdale

First Appearance(s):  Martha Wayne

“Perchance to Dream” is one of my favorite episodes of Batman:  The Animated Series, and in looking around the internet, I’m apparently not alone in my enjoyment of it. It’s a story that originated in part from Detective Comics #633 and it’s a story that’s basically been retold several times over, just in a different fashion. When drilled down to its core, it’s simply a story of what-if Bruce Wayne gave up being Batman or never became Batman to begin with. The way it’s presented in this episode is fun and clever, and for a young adolescent mind, it was delightfully confusing even if everything about the episode’s resolution is telegraphed basically from the start. Because the episode does revolve around a mystery, I’ll just say you should watch it before reading this. It’s fun and not something I want to spoil for anyone, but there’s some really obvious clues too so it’s no Rosebud.

The episode opens, as many do, with Batman pursuing some criminals in the Batmobile. They flee into a warehouse and Batman gives chase, but he stumbles into a trap. We get a quick cut of Batman looking up at something descending from the ceiling onto him and then a jump-cut to Bruce Wayne waking up in a cold sweat. Alfred is there to open his curtains and get him up and also inquire about the alarmed state Bruce awoke in. He brushes it off as a bad dream and gets on with his day. When he goes to open the entrance to the Batcave he finds it’s not there. When he asks Alfred about it he’s confused and thinks Bruce is playing a joke. This just annoys Bruce and he seems about to get angry until his dad enters the room.

PtD_04_-_Thomas_and_Martha_Wayne

We’ve seen and heard from Thomas Wayne before, but this is the first time Martha gets to speak (well, sort of).

Bruce is shocked to find his parents, Thomas (Kevin Conroy) and Martha (voiced by Adrienne Barbeau, the first time the character spoke) are alive and well and enjoying retirement. He doesn’t understand how this could be, and his parents are concerned. He soon finds out that he’s also engaged to be married – to Selina Kyle of all people. Bruce seeks out Leslie Thompkins for some guidance and she’s no help in sorting out what’s going on, but she is able to steer him towards being happy and accepting of his current life. Things get really weird though when he and Selina have a run-in with Batman. Batman apparently showed up in Gotham recently and he behaves just like how we would expect Batman to.

PtD_07_-_Bruce_and_Selina

You woke up engaged to the woman of your dreams Bruce, just go with it!

Bruce is left to assume that his life as Batman was nothing more than a dream. A very detailed dream. He’s resigned to accept this as his life is pretty great. After all, he’s still fabulously wealthy, has two living parents, and is engaged to a fine looking lady (we know from “The Cat and the Claw” that Selina is very much what Bruce finds attractive) who isn’t a cat burglar. Everything is fine until he opens up a book and finds it’s full of gibberish. He soon realizes all writing is just a nonsense collection of letters. He starts to get enraged and his parents are once again concerned about his well-being. He resolves that Batman is the key to what’s going on and he storms off to confront the caped crusader.

Can't_read

Looks like a worthwhile read.

Wanting to get Batman’s attention, Bruce sets his sights on an enormous clock tower in Gotham Cemetery. To make things a bit more challenging, the Waynes called the police about their son, and when Bruce runs from the cops they decide they need to give chase. He never expressly states his plan, but by climbing to the top of the clock tower it’s implied that Bruce wants to make Batman think he’s contemplating suicide. Sure enough, Batman does show up and the two are forced to confront each other. Meanwhile, a storm rages in the background and the setting for Bruce Wayne vs Batman takes on a sullen feeling as opposed to an exciting one. Bruce then brings us all up to speed about what he’s realized. The garbled text indicated to him that he’s living in a dream world, since dreams and the ability to read are located on different hemispheres of the human brain (this is the part where everyone watching begins to wonder if they’ve ever read in a dream). Batman is indifferent to Bruce’s claims and the two tangle, but Bruce is able to wrestle the mask off of Batman to reveal the face below – The Mad Hatter!

Wayne_and_Batman_fight

Not something you see everyday.

The Mad Hatter explains that he’s not really the Mad Hatter, just an aspect of him in Bruce’s mind. He’s not really there, and thus not privy to the details of what’s going on in Bruce’s head (in other words, he doesn’t know Bruce is really Batman). He’s placed Batman, in the real world, into his dream machine. The goal is to keep Batman happy and comatose so he’s free to do whatever it is he wants to do – which we really have no idea what that is since the last time we saw him he just wanted the affections of his assistant. Satisfied that The Mad Hatter has no knowledge of what’s really transpiring inside Batman’s head, Bruce jumps from the bell tower as the police storm in with horrified expressions on their faces. The suicidal act jolts Batman back to consciousness and we see him hooked up to some Dr. Frankenstein kind of machine. Mad Hatter is beside himself with frustration and is incensed that Batman would pull himself from an idyllic world just to foil his plans. He’s The Mad Hatter, so there’s little resistance he can put up once Batman is free and the cops show up to take him away. When Gordon asks Batman just what the machine does he replies with, “It’s the stuff that dreams are made of.” How poetic.

hqdefault-35

I love the lighting all through-out this sequence.

“Perchance to Dream” is largely fun because of the what-if question it poses. Like most of the episodes of this show, you can pick it apart incessantly in a bid to ruin it. Why didn’t The Mad Hatter unmask Batman once he had him restrained? Why not just kill him? He seemed to try and kill Batman in their last encounter so it doesn’t seem like he’s averse to murder. I suppose it is different to try and kill someone in the act of fighting them as opposed to killing a sleeping enemy. Basically, he had Batman beat and blew it. Also, the whole way the dream world unravels with the writing thing doesn’t really hold up in the real world. It’s the type of fact you might read about and form your own conclusions, it certainly sounds clever. If you’re actually dreaming you can certainly read things because it’s just your subconscious telling you what it is you’re seeing. I think what the writers were trying to get at is that the dream world inhabited by Bruce is partly created by his subconscious, but also partly created by the device he’s strapped into. If he were to pick up a random book that was put there by The Mad Hatter’s invention then Bruce’s subconscious wouldn’t be able to have a frame of reference to fill the book with words. It also would explain how Bruce would need to open a book or newspaper to realize this, as his subconscious could easily fill in the blank spot on a McDonald’s sign or something because it’s a familiar sight (though there is a background clue during the episode that features a jumbled sign briefly so maybe I’m putting more thought into this than the writers did).

There is a quiet tragedy to this episode as well. As a viewer, part of me wants to see Bruce give into The Mad Hatter and just be happy. Batman is cool and all, but what kind of life is that really? We know Bruce was very much taken by Selina in her prior appearance and I think most viewers root for the Bruce/Selina pairing. Obviously, it’s not to be. As a vehicle for The Mad Hatter, this plot is satisfying since it draws on his mind control device, though this is another example of villains just existing outside of Arkham with no explanation of how they got there. The Mad Hatter will not be a frequently relied upon villain, which I’m okay with since he’s kind of lame, and this is easily his best appearance of the series. I did find it funny that they use The Mad Hatter’s theme over the title card, something I didn’t notice in previous viewings, which blatantly gives away the villain of the episode. On television, The Mad Hatter’s first two appearances were only separated by a week so the theme was still fresh in the minds of viewers. The mystery isn’t what makes the episode a success though, so I suppose it doesn’t matter. You could replace him with basically any villain and the episode would still be fun. The episode worked so well that I have to believe it at least partly inspired the much later episode of The New Batman Adventures “Over the Edge,” which is often considered the best of that batch of episodes. It’ll be awhile before I get to that one.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Appointment in Crime Alley”

Appointment_In_Crime_Alley-Title_CardEpisode Number:  26

Original Air Date:  September 17, 1992

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Gerry Conway

First Appearance(s): Leslie Thompkins

 

After last week’s entry I’m feeling pretty eager to get the taste of The Clock King out of my mouth. This week, season one heavyweight Boyd Kirkland returns to direct “Appointment in Crime Alley.” Writing this one is famed Amazing Spider-Man writer Gerry Conway, he who killed Gwen Stacy. I’m not sure what about this episode appealed to Conway in order to bring him in, but the results speak for themselves. Batman is first and foremost a super hero cartoon. He may be the hero without powers, but his stories still pack a healthy amount of the fantastic. After all, even a man in peek physical condition couldn’t do what Batman does, such as falling off a building and utilizing an amazing grappling gun to save himself, without ripping his own arms off. Even so, since Batman’s rogues gallery is light on ultra-powerful comic book villains, he’s able to branch out and do more real world styled stories, and “Appointment in Crime Alley” is one of those stories.

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Thompkins consoling Bruce after his parents’ murder.

The film Batman touched upon the lasting impact of the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne and how Bruce marks that anniversary. Pretty much ever since, just about every new iteration of Batman includes this aspect of his character and this episode touches on it. When it opens, we’re given a brief overview of Crime Alley, a rundown part of Gotham that I guess the real world would just refer to as “The Projects.” There’s a lot of empty buildings and a lot of crime, but it’s also a home for many of Gotham’s less fortunate. It’s also the setting for the murder of the Waynes, but the episode never explicitly tells us this. Early in the episode, Alfred remarks to Batman to not be late for an appointment, which he responds with “I never am,” and we’re left to speculate what the appointment is for, but the episode isn’t going to make it hard for us to guess.

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Leslie is a unique ally for Batman as she’s one of the select few who know his identity.

This episode also brings in Dr. Leslie Thompkins (Diana Muldaur). She’s introduced onscreen and via a scrapbook later in the episode which includes clippings relating to the Wayne murder and a touching image of her comforting young Bruce. We’ll learn in a later episode that she was close friends with the Waynes, in particular Thomas, and she’s been a constant in Bruce’s life ever since. She also lives in Crime Alley, and that miserable rat Roland Daggett is scheming to illegally level Crime Alley so he can rebuild it and make more money off of it. He coordinates with some hired goons, Nitro (David L. Lander) and Crocker (Jeffrey Tambor) – one being an explosives expert, to plant explosives all over the neighborhood to accomplish his stated plan. He’s at least not totally evil, since he tries to get the few residents of the area out, though he does it by sending hired muscle to intimidate people into leaving (and he’s not changing his plans for anyone who does stick around). One such attempt gets Batman’s attention while he’s heading for his appointment, clueing him into something nefarious going on.

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Daggett is such a scumbag, an easy villain to root against.

Meanwhile, Thompkins has taken note of the bombers trespassing on a condemned building. She decides to check it out and gets their attention, resulting in them kidnapping her. Now Batman can’t find his friend, and a homeless man who saw the abduction just so happened to pick up a blasting cap he found, and everything starts to come together for Batman. Unfortunately for him, people keep needing his help, like a suicidal man who’s taken a hostage, and it diverts his attention from finding Thompkins, who is tied up with the explosives. He will eventually locate her, but he can’t stop Daggett’s bombs from going off. There are no known fatalities, since this is a kid’s show after all, and Batman gets to confront Daggett at the end only to watch him drive away without arrest. It’s a bit depressing and it’s easy to see the frustration on Batman’s face even with so much of it being obscured by his cowl. Thompkins is there to comfort him, as she was so many years ago, and the two head to their appointment to lay flowers. The episode fades out on the newspaper clipping of Thompkins consoling young Bruce, and it’s probably the most touching ending we’ve had thus far.

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Promises to keep.

Gerry Conway will return in season 2 to pen another episode, and wouldn’t you know it’s another good one. “Appointment in Crime Alley” is one of those episodes of Batman that few will list as being among their favorites when prodded, but upon watching it they’ll be reminded of just how good it is. It’s kind of a day in the life piece, and if not for the special occasion of Batman’s appointment, that’s what it would be. It doesn’t contain an over the top villain, but a made for TV one in Daggett, who is quickly becoming one of the easiest villains to truly despise. This episode also has the distinction of being adapted from a comic story, in this case “There Is No Hope in Crime Alley” from 1976 which was written by Dennis O’Neil. Thompkins is also a nice addition to the show, though surprisingly she’ll only have a handful of appearances. It feels like she was in more than five episodes, but that’s it. And if IMDB is to be trusted, this was basically the last role for actress Diana Muldaur, which is kind of neat I suppose. Good news, she isn’t dead, just retired. This also continues a nice string of episodes for director Boyd Kirkland. After manning some of my least favorites early on, he’s in a nice groove and is probably the show’s top director. I try not to look ahead too much, but Kirkland has some good ones coming later on in the first season. It also seems like he gets some of the more grounded tales, since he also directed “It’s Never Too Late” and will also helm “I Am The Night.” He’s a featured director in season 2 as well so hopefully you’re enjoying his work as much as I am because he’s not going away.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Pretty Poison”

Pretty_Poison-Title_CardEpisode Number: 5

Original Air Date:  September 14, 1992

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Paul Dini, Michael Reaves

First Appearance(s): Poison Ivy, Renée Montoya

“Pretty Poison” is another early production episode that’s confident to give viewers a lesser villain rather than a heavy hitter. As the title implies, this episode is the introduction of Poison Ivy (Diane Pershing) and she’s debuting as a new villain, not as one with a prior relationship with Batman (so far, only Joker has been introduced as an already existing villain) making this an origin story for her. Also central to the plot is Harvey Dent (Richard Moll). We saw him briefly in the pilot “On Leather Wings,” but this episode is really his introduction to the audience.

The episode opens in black and white as we see a pair of hands saving a wild rose from being torn up to make way for a new prison in Gotham. An old news broadcast serves to provide a framing device for this prison as it’s the brainchild of Gotham’s new district attorney, Dent, with considerable financial backing from some guy named Bruce Wayne. The show uses colored images to take us to the present, five years later, and a current prisoner of that fancy new establishment is making an escape with the help of a helicopter. This sets up a fun little back and forth where we’re shown scenes of Batman going after this guy and a scene of Dent enjoying dinner with a dashing redhead. They’re waiting for Wayne, and we get some humorous comments from Dent about his boring buddy who is always late while Batman is shown doing mostly Batman things. It’s a scene that will basically be adapted for the first Spider-Man movie.

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Bruce meets Harvey and his new girlfriend Pam for dinner.

Bruce eventually shows up at dinner, having thwarted the escape, and is introduced to Dent’s fiancé, Pam Isely. After she gives him a long, lingering, kiss she departs and Bruce begins to caution Dent on moving too fast (he’s only known her a few weeks). Dent begins to complain about not feeling well, and then passes out into his pudding and Gotham PD is alerted. Dent’s been poisoned, and Wayne naturally is on the case as Batman.

Through the use of his awesome computer, Batman discovers the poison is derived from an extinct species of rose. He also learns that Dent’s new flame is a botanist, who is currently giving a lecture on extinct plants. You would think Batman’s villains would be more careful? Anyway, it’s pretty clear who’s behind the poisoning and Batman confronts Isley, who’s hopped into a backless green outfit with a wrist-strapped crossbow and is now calling herself Poison Ivey. She has some sentient plants that do her bidding and basically makes it clear she values the life of the plant Dent drove into extinction by building his prison (apparently Gotham has a bad environmental works department) more than the life of Dent. I can’t help but wonder if Ivy was created by someone who thought vegetarians were crazy and that they valued animal life more than human life and decided to make a more extreme version?

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I always thought Poison Ivy’s mini crossbow was pretty cool.

Nonetheless, this is a good episode with some pacing problems. I really enjoy the setup, and it’s great that we get to see the Bruce/Harvey friendship before a different tragedy befalls the Dent character. I like that Isley is not too on the nose at first. While it’s not hard to figure out who poisoned Dent, it’s handled about as well as it can be. Ivy does come across as a bit incompetent, even basically just giving up in the end after almost losing her precious plant. It’s always a challenge to put Batman at odds with a female because the censors don’t want Batman handling them in the same manner he would The Joker, but Ivy’s plant monsters work well to take a beating and they’re pretty cool looking. I can’t help but think this episode would have benefitted from being a two-parter though, as it wraps really fast. A second part would have allowed for the introduction of some red herrings to make things seem less obvious leading to a better pay-off in the end.

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Given how Ivy’s feminine features are very much a part of her arsenal, I really hope that mutant plant isn’t supposed to be representative of a certain part of the female anatomy.

Visually, this is a solid episode. There’s some stiff animation at times, but I liked the artistic take of utilizing black and white and color as a way to distinguish the past and present. Batman gets a little beat up too which is always kind of fun to see. There’s also a little visual humor as we get Gordon and his subordinates racing out of the police headquarters when that unnamed prisoner attempts a break-out repeated when they find out Dent gets poisoned. Both times Bullock is just trying to enjoy some donuts because he’s a cop, and he’s fat. Cheap humor, but for some reason it made me laugh a bit when the scenario was repeated. Alfred also gets some nice lines here, and he’ll be even better in the next episode, making him a dark horse early favorite for season MVP.

This episode is a good introduction for Poison Ivy, who could be considered one of the break-out players from this series. Prior to The Animated Series, Ivy wasn’t a big player in the comics, but this series treated her as Batman’s #1 female adversary (it would mishandle Catwoman, coming later), and yes I realize this is the show that gave us Harley Quinn. Without this show, she probably isn’t a featured villain in Batman & Robin, which was a pretty big moment for the character, even if the film is trash.


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