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Batman Beyond – The Complete Series (Blu Ray)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The reverse side of the lenticulars.

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

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

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

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

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


The Batman TAS Episode Ranking – Part 5

batman_bewareWelcome back for the fifth and final installment in the Batman: The Animated Series episode ranking. This week, we’ll be taking a look at entries 19 through 1. As a reminder, this feature encompasses all of the episodes produced under the banner of Batman, The Adventures of Batman & Robin, and The New Batman Adventures which are collectively referred to as Batman: The Animated Series. If you wish to view my thoughts on the episodes as a whole each episode here is linked to the write-up. If you prefer to explore more, simply head on over to the index page for all things BTAS.

These remaining episodes represent the cream of the crop. When I applied an arbitrary numerical rating to each episode in the series these all came away scoring a 9 or better so they’re all episodes I love and treasure. These are the best works produced by the best animated show based on a comic to grace a television set. It should go without saying that if you haven’t seen all of these and consider yourself a fan of Batman or animation in general then you owe it to yourself to seek these out.

hqdefault-3119 – Joker’s Favor

When adapting a murderous psychopath for a kid’s show, some changes have to be taken. In the case of The Joker, it means finding a way to make him seem dangerous without actually allowing him to murder some of the citizens of Gotham. He could easily have just been reinterpreted as a prankster, a villain who can get a laugh and little more, but this show wasn’t content with that approach. “Joker’s Favor” sees Joker in a very uncomfortable setting as he forces a regular chum named Charlie (who reminds me of Tim Conway) to partake in a crime for him or else he’ll do some horrible things to Charlie’s family. The threats aren’t spelled out explicitly, but they don’t need to be. Also, this episode features the debut of a popular henchwoman named Harley, which is certainly a part of its legacy.

18 – House & Garden

Poison Ivy was one of the several villains to receive a redemption story in season two of the show. This is the one where a seemingly happy Pamela Isley is married and step-mother to two boys. When Batman finds out that Pam’s husband previously had daughters, not sons, he realizes something is up. He soon discovers that Poison Ivy has discovered a way to make plant-based clones of humans, though they can only be male, and she’s literally made a new life for herself. There’s some tense moments, but also some heartbreak, which is basically the mix that often makes an episode of Batman great.

17 – Second Chance

Ever since Harvey Dent was horribly disfigured leading to the rise of Two-Face, Batman and viewers of the show wanted to see him overcome his demons and return to being just plain old Harvey. In “Second Chance,” the wheels are in motion for that to finally happen, but Dent is kidnapped before the operation can begin and Batman has to find him and whoever is responsible. Like the prior episode, it has a bit of a sad ending and it’s one that reinforces who Two-Face is, for better or worse.

batgirl unmasked16 – Shadow of the Bat: Part II

The proper debut of Gotham’s newest vigilante:  Batgirl. Barbara Gordon has been pushed to take matters into her own hands, and since she happens to have a Batman costume on hand, she decides to borrow his gimmick. She’s rather green, but also crafty, and we see her determination shine as she looks to clear her dad’s name and expose a traitor within Gotham’s police force. It’s a spirited debut and one that leaves viewers wanting to see more of Batgirl.

15 – Shadow of the Bat: Part I

Before Barbara could become Batgirl though, she had to be properly motivated. The first part of the two-parter that leads to her transformation is a good little crime noir story. Commissioner Gordon has been wrongfully accused of misdeeds, and Barbara has to sort out who her allies or and who might be her foe. A rally is organized in support of Gordon and Barbara thinks Batman needs to be there, but he’s obviously busy investigating the culprits responsible for Gordon’s arrest. Feeling she has no one to turn to, Barbara decides to take matters into her own hands which sets her on the path we always knew she was destined to tread. Because of Batgirl’s presence in the title card at the episode’s start, viewers knew what this story was leading to, but it’s still thrilling to see Batgirl emerge at the end accompanied with a fun theme all her own.

14 – Mudslide

Clayface was one of the first B-tier villains to be elevated to the big time by this show. His debut was perfect as it was one born of tragedy, though some of which Matt Hagen brought on by himself. His “death” at the end was obviously staged, and his return was inevitable. When he does resurface, it’s as a mud monster who can barely hold his body together adding a new layer of tragedy to his character. He turns to thievery in an attempt to repair his body, and that no-good Batman screws it all up. It’s even frustrating when Batman shuts down the machine feeding some serum into Clayface during the episode’s climax as by then we’re actually rooting for Clayface! He proves self-destructive though, and the battle he chooses to force with Batman in a rain storm is hard to watch because we know how it will end. And while I like Clayface’s return in “Growing Pains,” it does almost ruin his apparent death at the end of this one, but not enough for me to rank it any lower than this.

tumblr_nrrp4yKE3S1ub7n3do1_128013 – The Laughing Fish

Joker’s classic scheme in which the fish in the waters around Gotham have been tainted by Joker poison giving them hideous smiles. It’s all a long con by Joker to make some money by securing a patent on the fish. His reasoning is since they look like him then surely he should profit from every sale of the seemingly harmless Joker fish. His reasoning turns out to be unsound (as usual), so Joker decides to inflict pain and misery on those who wouldn’t go along with the scheme by giving him what he wants. It features probably the best cat and mouse game the show will feature between Batman and Joker and the scene in which Batman appears to get a dose of Joker poison is pretty damn terrifying, especially when you’re 8. The only thing I dislike about the episode is that it tries to make us think Joker is dead in the end and they go for it so hard they don’t even include a plausible way for him to survive, he just will return as if nothing happened in a later episode. It’s cheap, but the episode still rules.

12 – Feat of Clay: Part II

This episode animated by the folks at TMS features easily the most impressive visual moment of the series. It happens at the end, when the newly created Clayface loses control of his shape-shifting powers when surrounded by a bunch of monitors baring his former likeness. And that’s not the only part of the episode that dazzles. Throughout, Clayface takes on some amazing forms with his body as he masters his pliable physique. My personal favorite is when his hand sprouts metal claws which he launches at Batman. Not that it necessarily needed all of these amazing pieces of animation to be a great episode as the story of Clayface was just wonderfully executed leading to the formation of a terrible, yet tragic, monster.

getaway11 – Harley and Ivy

The best pairing of any characters in this show is not Batman and Robin, it’s Harley and Ivy. The two females were paired up in this episode and a legend was seemingly born as their popularity has endured to this day with DC even taking things further by making them lovers. Back when this episode aired, that wasn’t even suggested, but that didn’t mean some horny artists couldn’t have some fun by putting the two in their underwear for parts of the episode. Anyways, Harley and Ivy have natural chemistry as a bit of an odd couple pairing. They’re also shown to be incredibly capable as criminals, undermining the more famous Joker. Speaking of whom, he’s along for the ride as well as Ivy has basically put herself in between he and Harley. His inclusion is not a bad thing, but it says a lot about the ladies that his part wasn’t exactly needed. It’s actually a shame we didn’t see more of these two together in later episodes.

10 – Robin’s Reckoning: Part II

After learning Robin’s origin in the first part of this two-part story, we get to see Robin go on a quest for revenge with flashbacks to his first attempt at such. It’s not as compelling as the first part, but it’s still an engrossing story and it has something to say about the relationship between Batman and Robin. There’s a sweetness there that is actually unexpected. It also is the first time we see the makings of a rift forming between Batman and his ward. And mostly, these rifts seem to form when Batman chooses to keep his motives to himself and shut Robin out. We see his heart is in the right place in the end, but it underscores how maybe a life largely spent chasing bad guys has withered Batman’s social skills.

9 – Feat of Clay: Part I

The creation of Clayface was one of my earliest introductions to this show, if not the first. As a result, it’s possible it’s getting a bit of a nostalgia boost as a result, but I prefer to think this is really one of the finest episodes the show produced. It is confidently slow to bring along Matt Hagen which makes the payoff at the end all the more impactful. It also has the subplot of Bruce Wayne being framed for attempted murder which injects a little extra spice. Roland Daggett is the main villain introduced here and he works very well as a white collar criminal. He’s quite detestable proving you don’t need a flashy gimmick to be a good Batman foil.

harleys back8 – Harley’s Holiday

I love this episode as it features my favorite portrayal of Harley Quinn. In this one, Harley tries to go straight, but a calamity of errors and confusion leads to her reverting back into her alter ego. It’s quite funny, but there’s a touch of sadness added which makes the viewer feel a bit guilty at laughing at her misfortunes. She ends up going on a Smokey and the Bandit styled romp with Veronica Vreeland as her hostage. Throughout it all, Harley actually has Veronica’s best interests in mind even though she’s using her, but obviously she’s not getting away from Batman. Which would make it a bit of a disappointing ending for Harley, but there’s a fun touch added onto the end and a humanizing moment from Batman. We see Batman in the role of bringing the criminally insane to Arkham, and rarely do we get a glimpse of him actually encouraging any of these inmates to properly reform.

7 – Almost Got ‘Im

Another classic. This is the episode where Batman’s most famous rogues are gathered for a game of poker and start telling tales about the time they came closest to putting Batman down. Unbeknownst to them, Batman is among them disguised as Killer Croc, whom he plays as a dim-witted fool. Some of that performance seemed to seep into Croc’s portrayal in later episodes, though he’s never this dumb. The construction of the episode is damn near genius as there are numerous bread crumbs sprinkled throughout. It’s extremely rewarding to watch it multiple times as once you know about the Batman performance you can notice how Batman steers the conversation where he needs it to go in order to find Catwoman, whom Joker has kidnapped. It’s maybe the funniest episode of the show, but it doesn’t sell itself out for a joke. And “I threw a rock at him,” is quite possibly the most memorable line the series ever produced.

6 – Beware the Gray Ghost

This episode is just a real delight as it’s basically a send-up to Adam West whom a generation of kids had grown up with as Batman. Adam really wanted to continue in the role, but he was obviously never going to land the part in Tim Burton’s take on the character. I don’t think he auditioned for this show, but he probably would have welcomed the chance to. This episode though was essentially made for him and it tells a wonderful story about an aging actor who once played a hero on television struggling to find work as a result of being forever linked to that character. And in-universe, that character happened to be a huge influence on Bruce Wayne and his creation of Batman. There’s some twists and turns and some excellent editing and animation along the way. And keep your eyes open for the Bruce Timm and Paul Dini cameo, though they’re hard to miss.

twoface5 – Two-Face: Part I

This show really did tragic villains so well, but I think the best of them all might be Two-Face. Like another rogue still to come on this list, Two-Face’s origin was so well crafted that it made it hard to bring the villain back because it could never be topped. Two-Face would end up fairing pretty well though, but it’s true his genesis was still his best moment. Watching Harvey be pushed to the edge by the mobster Rupert Thorne was truly compelling. The whole time there’s a sense that Batman will arrive and make everything better, and since Harvey had been put in danger before and saved, it seemed possible that his villainous turn would be delayed. At least it would have seemed plausible if not for the episode’s title, but I digress. This one is very dramatic and it deftly handles the drama better than anyone would have expected a cartoon would in 1992. Of course now, it’s practically the norm for the show.

4 – Robin’s Reckoning: Part I

Speaking of drama, it doesn’t get much more dramatic than seeing a kid lose his parents to murder. Robin’s origin story is told and it’s become the story most often associated with Dick Grayson, the former Boy Wonder. A small-time crook looking to run a protection racket sabotages some trapeze equipment causing Dick’s parents to perish in a circus performance. Bruce is there to witness it, and I love how the show chose to show the murder without actually showing it. We just see the silhouette of the performers and then a lone swinging cable as the audience gasps. It cuts to Bruce’s reaction before fading to black. It’s not all sad though, as it’s sweet to see Bruce take Dick in as the two share an unfortunate link in being a witness to the murder of their parents.

harley tears

Harley is full-blown crazy during these events as she’ll stop at nothing to win Joker’s affection.

3 – Mad Love

The New Batman Adventures was not as good or as successful as the first two seasons from the Fox years. Despite that though, two of the top 3 episodes are from that final season and I don’t think it’s particularly controversial either that they’re placed this prominently on my ranking. Coming in as the third best episode is “Mad Love,” a look at Harley and Joker’s complicated relationship. This one is both funny and tragic, a trait that has come to define the character of Harley Quinn. Her unhealthy relationship with Joker is detailed from the start and it becomes clear she’s dependent on him, but he is not with her. She’s just another target for his violence and abuse and it can be hard to watch. One of the saddest scenes in the entire show is Harley laying broken in a heap of trash after Joker shoved her out a window blaming herself for making him mad.

2 – Over the Edge

One of the most talked-about episodes of Batman is “Over the Edge.” The violence the network allowed to be shown on air is shocking the first time it’s witnessed and it remains shocking even on repeated viewings. Batgirl, shoved off the roof of a tall building by Scarecrow, crashes onto the hood of a police car occupied by her father, Commissioner Gordon. From there, Gordon makes the discovery that it’s been his daughter under the mask this whole time and he immediately turns his anger on Batman. With the whole city after him, Batman is forced to flee. Nightwing gets embroiled in the controversy and Robin is forced to distance himself from Batman and seek refuge somewhere else as their identities have all been revealed to the public. It’s surreal watching the whole thing unfold and the ride is so captivating that we forgive it for being basically a dream sequence the whole time. Actually, we’re glad to see that it was just a dream as the ending was fixing to be so horrible in resetting the status quo that we’re practically begging for someone to wake up. And after the reveal, it’s able to deliver one more heartfelt scene that was a long time coming.

Heart-of-Ice-Batman1 – Heart of Ice

As if it cold be any other episode. “Heart of Ice” is widely regarded as the show’s best episode, and I’ve felt that way ever since I first saw it back in 92 and I see no reason to change my mind now. It introduced to us a new take on Mr. Freeze, a villain few cared about before this show’s premiere. He was just another gimmick, but in the hands of Paul Dini he became a tragic figure moved to a mission of vengeance after witnessing the death of his wife at the hands of some rich prick by the name of Ferris Boyle. With his body forever altered and now requiring a sub-zero environment to thrive, Mr. Freeze sees no reason to live outside of revenge. Nothing can ever possibly move him to feel happy again and I’m genuinely curious what would have become of the villain had he simply succeeded. Of course, Batman is there to save the jerk responsible for the death of Nora Fries, but Boyle at least gets his comeuppance as well, just not in the manner Freeze would have chosen. Would Mr. Freeze have simply slunk off to the arctic like he eventually does with his mission accomplished, or maybe he would have just removed his suit and let nature take its course? As curious as I am about that, it’s hard for me to think it would have made for a better ending than what we got: a downtrodden Freeze looking longingly at an effigy of his wife in his jail cell surrounded by snow longing to touch her warm hand one more time.


The Batman TAS Episode Ranking – Part 3

did22Welcome back for the third installment in the Batman: The Animated Series episode ranking. This week, we’ll be taking a look at entries 59 through 40. As a reminder, this feature encompasses all of the episodes produced under the banner of Batman, The Adventures of Batman & Robin, and The New Batman Adventures which are collectively referred to as Batman: The Animated Series. If you wish to view my thoughts on the episodes as a whole each episode here is linked to the write-up. If you prefer to explore more, simply head on over to the index page for all things BTAS. We’re well into the real meat of the series at this point and none of the episodes we’re going to cover today are bad, but actually quite good. We just haven’t quite hit the “great” just yet. Let’s start with entry number 59:

59 – Paging the Crime Doctor

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

FearofVictory58 – Fear of Victory

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

57 – It’s Never Too Late

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

960-2

Captain Clown, we hardly knew ye.

56 – The Last Laugh

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

55 – Double Talk

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

54 – Baby-Doll

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

cross blades53 – The Demon’s Quest: Part II

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

52 – The Mechanic

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

30-251 – Appointment in Crime Alley

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

50 – Bane

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

offbalance49 – Off Balance

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

48 – Mad as a Hatter

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

smilingtwoface147 – Two-Face: Part II

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

46 – A Bullet for Bullock

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

45 – What is Reality?

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

HS_II_41_-_Batman

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

44 – Heart of Steel: Part 2

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

43 – Dreams in Darkness

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

calendar girl revealed42 – Mean Seasons

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

41 – Judgement Day

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

joker limo40 – Joker’s Millions

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


The Batman TAS Episode Ranking – Part 1

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

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

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

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

trio clever names

There’s a trio to fear.

109. –The Terrible Trio

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

108. – Prophecy of Doom

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

107 – The Underdwellers

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

106 – The Forgotten

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

Cape_and_Cowl_Twist105 – The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy

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

104 – The Worry Men

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

103 – Moon of the Wolf

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

102 – Fire From Olympus

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

TT_41_-_Cat-Woman

A new look for Catwoman.

101 – Tyger, Tyger

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

100 – Lock-Up

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

99 – The Lion and the Unicorn

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

 

klarion in control

98 – The Demon Within

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

97 – Eternal Youth

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

96 – The Cat and the Claw – Part II

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

95 – Joker’s Wild

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

94 – Chemistry

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

bruce mantis

93 – Critters

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

92 – Sideshow

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

91 – I’ve Got Batman in my Basement

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

90 – Girl’s Night Out

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

CSF_46_-_Batmobile-2

Let it snow!

89 – Cat Scratch Fever

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

88 – The Cat and the Claw – Part I

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

87 – P.O.V.

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

joker0286 – Christmas with the Joker

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

85 – Day of the Samurai

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

84 – Animal Act

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

batman catwoman smokestack

83 – Cult of the Cat

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

82 – Torch Song

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

81 – Deep Freeze

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

the condiment king strikes80 – Make ‘Em Laugh

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

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

 


Batman: The Animated Series Wrap-Up

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

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

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

2face revealed

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

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

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

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

batncat

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

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

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

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

newbatjoker

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

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

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

harley scream

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

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


The New Batman Adventures – “Mad Love”

mad love titleEpisode Number:  21 (106)

Original Air Date:  January 16, 1999

Directed by:  Butch Lukic

Written by:  Paul Dini, Bruce Timm

First Appearance:  None

During the development of The New Batman Adventures, Paul Dini always assumed there would be another season. There could have been some thought that Batman had peaked by then given the bomb that was Batman & Robin, but it’s hard to imagine someone thinking Batman wasn’t still a bankable character. To the surprise of probably not just Dini, Warner Brothers decided to go in a different direction with Batman leading to the creation of Batman Beyond. It seems like an unceremonious end for what started as Batman: The Animated Series, but when it came time to select a series finale the network did at least do the show right.

mad love comic

Like “Holiday Knights,” this story originated in the pages of Batman Adventures, the comic tie-in to BTAS.

“Mad Love” was the episode chosen to usher Batman out of the spotlight and into semi-retirement. Of course, Kevin Conroy’s Bruce Wayne would return in Batman Beyond and then eventually move onto Justice League, but he still deserved a good send-off of his own. “Mad Love” is a story that originated in a comic by Paul Dini and Bruce Timm that was done back in 1993. It centered on series break-out star Harley Quinn as it revealed her origin and explored her complicated relationship with the villainous Joker essentially filling in the gaps left unexplained by BTAS and taking advantage of Harley’s popularity. Somewhat surprisingly, it was not adapted for the second season of BTAS and maybe that’s because Dini and Timm felt the censors at Fox wouldn’t allow them to do the story justice. When the series was resurrected on Kids’ WB it made the adaptation realistic and was a pretty easy way to fill an episode order.

“Mad Love” the comic was also hugely successful. It won an Eisner Award for best single issue and Timm was nominated for an additional award for his artwork on the book. Even though the book takes place in the Animated Universe of Batman, it’s essentially been adopted as part of Batman canon for the regular line of comics and was even sourced for the Arkham series of Batman video games. At this point, it’s surprising the story hasn’t been adapted for film. This episode may only be 22 minutes or so, but it actually would not be all that difficult to pad it out into a feature length. Normally for classic stories DC commissions animated features, but the company probably feels that’s not necessary since this episode exists and it’s done really well.

joker dentist

Finally, a legitimate reason to avoid going to the dentist.

The episode opens with Commissioner Gordon (Bob Hastings) grumbling about a dentist appointment. As he heads into the office the dentist’s back is facing him and he’s directed to sit down. As Gordon yammers away it becomes quite clear to the viewer that this is not Gordon’s regular dentist, but the Clown Prince of Crime himself, the Joker (Mark Hamill)! And he’s not alone, as dental assistant Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin) is here as well to administer the laughing gas. Joker is ready to get started with a power drill as Gordon is restrained, but Gordon’s knight in dark and grim armor arrives in the form of Batman. He crashes through the window and tosses some chattering teeth on the ground. He reprimands Joker for getting sloppy and predictable, but Harley chimes in that the teeth were her idea as she blasts Batman with some gas. She makes a pun about it being a gas, which enrages Joker as he’s the one who’s supposed to deliver the jokes. Off his game, Joker then decides to run, but he leaves behind a parting gift – a grenade. As he tosses it, the script has some fun with Hamill by having Joker deliver the line “May the floss be with you!” Batman knocks the grenade away and sets to freeing Gordon who gets to deliver his own pun about always hating this appointment.

harley revs

Possibly the most “adult” reference from this show.

At the Funnibones Warehouse, an obviously unnerved Joker is working on some new blueprints for his next crime. He’s very intent on coming up with something much to the chagrin of Harely who comes strutting in wearing some lingerie as she tries desperately to get her man’s attention. In one of the more risqué gags, she even climbs onto the table Joker is working on to beckon him to “Rev up his Harley,” as she pantomimes riding a motorcycle. Joker swats her off the table and goes into a rant about how Batman is right and he is getting stale. He wants to correct this by doing the unthinkable – killing Batman! He expresses frustration at coming up with a way to do it and Harley suggests he just shoot him. This irritates Joker further who explains that the death of Batman needs to be something big as it will be his magnum opus. He then notices some old plans for a piranha tank trap he had planned for Batman. He wanted the fish to gobble him up while sporting Joker smiles, but he could never get his toxin to work properly on the miserable little fish.

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Joker inflicts much violence on Harley in this one. Some of it has a slapstick quality to it, but a lot of it is also painfully honest.

Joker then slumps in his chair assuming a defeated posture. Harley sees this as an opening to resume her romantic advances. The camera cuts to the alley outside and Harley comes flying into the picture. Apparently, there’s no room for love tonight. She then starts to walk away defeated with her babies, the hyenas Bud an Lou, in tow. As she does so she monologues about where her life went wrong. She blames Batman for messing things up between she and Mr. J and as she slumps against a brick wall she begins to let us in on how this all got started.

harley meets joker

Harley’s first encounter with The Joker.

Harleen Quinzel was a new hire at Arkham Asylum. On her first day she entered her office to find a single rose and a note from a “J” beckoning her to come see him some time. She confronts Joker in his cell and demands to know how this note made it into her office. He replies that he put it there, and when she suggests the guards would like to know this he responds that if she were going to tell them she would have done it already. He explains his interest in her is largely stemming from her name, Harley Quinzel, which sounds like harlequin when you drop the suffix. She remarks she’s heard it before, but as she walks away Joker calls out to her that he’s looking for someone to spill his secrets to which puts a smile on her face.

harleen and joker

This episode provides a good look at just how manipulative Joker can be.

It took three months, but eventually Harley was given the clearance to host Joker for some therapy sessions. As he lay on a sofa, Harley listened to his tales. He describes to her an abusive father and tells a story about his dad taking him to the circus to see the clowns. When he describes how he tried to recreate a gag from the show using his father’s pants as a prop, he’s able to make Harley laugh hard enough to produce tears setting her up for the real punchline which is that his dad broke his nose following the stunt. Harley narrates how Joker gained her trust and her sympathy and as she does we see flashbacks of Joker’s creation at the chemical plant and some battles with Batman (all new animation) as she puts the blame for his psychotic nature on his upbringing and the continued involvement of Batman. She admits her love for Joker and we see the tables have turned and it’s now Joker listening to her confessions. When Joker eventually escapes, he is brought back to Arkham in a sorry state by Batman and Harley is there to weep at his side. This was the final straw as we see her leave Arkham and head to a joke shop. She grabs a costume and even her prop gun she’s now known for and returns to Arkham. After clocking the security guard with a brick-stuffed rubber chicken, she blows open Joker’s cell and the two escape laughing all the way.

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The black and white television returns as Harley makes a plea for Batman’s help.

Harley is shown once again in the alley. With resolve in her voice, she once again pins blame for all of her life’s misfortunes since then on Batman. The scene cuts to the Bat Signal high in the sky over Gotham. Inside the police station, Gordon, Bullock, and Batman are viewing a tape from Harley in which she claims Joker has gone too far and is planning something horrific. She claims she needs their help, and to add gravitas to her words she removes her mask as she does so.

harley syringe

This is easily the most menacing Harley has ever looked in this show.

Harley is then shown, no mask and in a trench coat, at a dock. Batman spots her from a rooftop and as Harley paces with some blueprints for Joker’s crime Batman appears behind her. She hands over the plans and Batman looks at them eagerly. He says he wants Gordon to see them, but before they can discuss it further Joker shows up on a boat. He shouts about Harley being a stool pigeon and opens fire. Batman pulls Harley to the ground and hits Joker with a Batarang that takes his head off revealing it was a dummy. As Batman looks on with some confusion he winces in pain. As he falls Harley is standing behind him with a syringe.

harley traps batman

Batman is in a bit of a pinch, but he’s always so resourceful.

We’re then taken to a place called Aquacade which sounds like an aquarium crossed with an arcade which would be a rather interesting concept. The inside of the place makes it look more like a traditional aquarium, though there are bar stools. Batman is bound by chains and suspended over a tank of water swarming with piranhas. Harley is there in full costume adding more water. She explains she’s going to win Joker over by killing Batman using one of his plans that she tweaked a bit. She explains that with Batman hanging upside down, the piranhas will appear to be smiling from his perspective as they devour him. Before she lowers Batman further into the tank, she expresses some remorse as she explains she did kind of enjoy their encounters. She needs to do this for her beloved puddin’ though and when she suggests this will set everything right Batman does something a bit unexpected:  he laughs.

harley tears

Harley is full-blown crazy during these events as she’ll stop at nothing to win Joker’s affection.

Harley spins around clearly unnerved by Batman’s laughter. Batman goes on to explain that Joker couldn’t possibly love her because he only loves himself. When she tells him he’s wrong she justifies her convictions by citing how Joker opened up to her at Arkham. Batman, appearing amused, then starts citing all of the stories Joker has told others looking to gain their trust over the years. They align with what he told her, only with slight variations like his dad taking him to an ice show instead of the circus. Harley, clearly upset, decides to just ignore Batman’s words and sets out to finish the job, but Batman points out to her that the piranhas won’t leave much of him behind and that without a body Joker will never believe her. This causes worry to flash across Harley’s face.

harley's fall

Harley’s night ends in tragedy, though amazingly she survives this fall.

Joker is then shown pacing around his hideout clearly still trying to dream up the perfect way to kill Batman when the phone rings. It’s Harley, and when Joker finds out she’s got Batman trapped he races out of there in his purple convertible. Harley then approaches Batman smugly to tell him Joker is on his way. He apparently drove exceptionally fast because he then bursts through the doors. He immediately heads for Harley who is expecting praise, but instead gets a backhand. It’s delivered offscreen so we just here the “smack!” and then see Harley come flying into frame. She sets to calming him down by explaining how she changed the trap so the piranhas appear to be smiling which only irritates Joker further. It’s not a joke if you have to explain it, and as she backs away from him she ends up in front of a window. Joker, in a scene reminiscent of Catwoman’s creation in Batman Returns, shoves her through the window. We see her fall from his perspective and it happens in slow-motion. Harley crashes to the ground amidst boxes and trash. As she lays there broken with blood trickling from her mouth she pathetically blames herself for making Joker mad.

Harley didnt get the joke

“It’s my fault. I didn’t get the joke.”

Joker looks down on her and declares he never liked her pet name, puddin’, that she used for him. He then turns his attention towards Batman and essentially apologizes for the whole thing. He says he thinks they should just forget about all of this before heading for the door. He then stops and reconsiders his plan and returns to Batman. He pulls out a gun and is seemingly prepared to do what Harley suggested earlier and just shoot the guy, but Batman kicks him causing him to shoot the tank instead freeing the piranhas. As Joker fends off the fish, Batman hops around in the chains and grabs his utility belt with his teeth. While Joker makes a run for it, Batman picks the lock on his chains to free himself before giving chase.

joker smokestack

At least he got what was coming to him.

Joker reaches the roof of the aquarium and decides to make a jump. He crosses the huge gap which takes him over some train tracks and grabs onto a railing on another building. The railing breaks, and Joker cries out as he falls. Batman reaches the edge and looks over and finds a laughing Joker (“Made ya look!”) riding on top of a passing train. Joker enjoys himself for a moment and then turns to see Batman has jumped on the train as well. Batman then informs Joker that Harley came closer to killing him than he ever did. If it weren’t for Joker’s massive ego, she probably would have got the job done. He ends his explanation by dropping a “puddin'” on Joker and this infuriates him into attacking Batman. Joker gets in some shots, but he’s really no match in a one-on-one fight with the Dark Knight. Batman nails him with an uppercut, and Joker flies off of the train and plummets into a smoke stack.

damaged harley

The consequences of Joker’s violence towards Harley is shown.

A news program on an Arkham television is utilized to inform us that Joker’s whereabouts are unknown following his confrontation with Batman. The camera pans and we see a brief flash of inmates (one of which I swear is intended to look like Conrad Veidt from The Man Who Laughs, often cited as a real world inspiration for The Joker) and Harley in the background getting wheeled down the hall. She’s covered in bandages and her arm is in a sling. She then narrates for us how she finally sees Joker for what he is vowing that from now on things are going to change. As she’s placed in bed in her cell she lists off a bunch of negative adjectives that describe Joker. She then looks to her left to see a single rose on her nightstand with a note that says “Feel better soon. – J” and a smile crosses her face as she finishes her list of labels out loud describing Joker, the last word being “Angel.”

harley smiles

The final shot of the episode. She may be smiling, but it’s painfully sad.

Lets just get it out of the way and declare this one of the best episodes in the series. “Mad Love” encapsulates everything I love about Batman, Joker and Harley all in one episode. Batman is resourceful, and perhaps even a bit naïve in trusting Harley, but she and him have had a close moment in the past so his decision isn’t completely without merit. Joker is psychotic and truly evil. He’s entertaining, and even funny, but also unlikable and terrifying which is how the character should be. He’s not someone deserving of sympathy, and he doesn’t get it from the viewer. He does get it from Harley, who is truly a tragic figure. She’s grown over the course of this series, and in some respects her character here doesn’t reflect that. I chalk that up to this story being an old one relative to when this episode was adapted. Some of the plot points were reused for “Harley & Ivy,” mostly Harley trying to figure out where things went wrong, but it’s done well here so I don’t mind. Her sequence in the alley is what is utilized as reference for basically any video on the character, and her hopeless devotion to her beloved Mr. J is truly sad. Seeing her lying there in the rubble blaming herself for the violence inflicted upon her by her partner is almost too real as many abuse victims can attest. This might be the rare episode that’s actually too troubling for some people to watch. The ending, with her smiling and apparently forgiving Joker, is the only place I find it easy to criticize. It almost feels like it’s supposed to be funny, when really it’s tragic. I think the episode was fine to end this way, but the score could have been better utilized to make it absolutely clear that this is a sad ending for Harley.

Production wise, this is also a high point for the series. Maybe not visually, as there are a few gaffes here and there, but the voice acting across the board is stellar. Kevin Conroy, Arleen Sorkin, and Mark Hamill all turn in possibly their best work on the series. Maybe not so much for Conroy, but that’s only because he didn’t have as much to work with here as he has in the past. Even so, his delivery of Batman’s lines are biting. He’s remorseless in exploiting Harley and Joker’s mental state giving him a touch of viciousness we’re not used to. Part of me wishes he was worked into the end so we could see a showing of sympathy on his part towards Harley. His laugh is also well done. It sounds genuine and it’s even a touch unsettling, which is good because it helps us react to it in the same way Harley did. Sorkin has always been wonderful as Harley, but here she is able to inject both comedy and tragedy into her performance. It’s painful to see her expecting praise from Joker like a dog expecting a pat from its owner only to have pain inflicted upon her instead. And Hamill, what more can be said about his Joker? I may not like what this show did to Joker visually, but the loosening of the censors has been a boon for the character. It’s allowed Hamill to approach Joker in a more menacing manner giving the villain the chill he needs. He’s no longer just a punchline, but a dangerous psychopath.

mad love two-pack

In case you were wondering, you can indeed get an action figure two-pack based on this episode. And better yet, it features the season one version of Joker.

I am slightly disappointed that this episode isn’t the last we’ll see of Joker and Harley. It really is a great way for the show to end, but we’re going by production order which means the pair have one more appearance to make. This episode is the final appearance of Commissioner Gordon though in this series. He’ll return for the film based on this series, but he won’t be seen in any of the final episodes. The same is true for Detective Bullock, who was seen, but not heard in this episode. It feels weird to say goodbye to these characters after so long, but there’s more of that coming with only three episodes remaining so I guess I should get used to it.

“Mad Love” is on the short list for best episode in the series, and by series I mean Batman as a whole as this is considered season three for Batman: The Animated Series. If you just want a great Joker and Harley story then this is it. No other tale about the two has really come close and given the critical failure of Suicide Squad it surprises me that DC and Warner have yet to turn to this as a remedy. That’s a movie I’d be excited to see, but by no means is such a thing needed to legitimize this story or anything. Whether it’s experienced as a comic or television show, “Mad Love” is excellent as is. I’m partial to this episode as being the definitive take because the voice acting performances are so well done, but both are stories that should not be ignored.

 


The New Batman Adventures – “Legends of the Dark Knight”

legends of the dark knightEpisode Number:  19 (104)

Original Air Date:  October 10, 1998

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Robert Goodman, Bruce Timm

First Appearance:  Carrie

Over the years there has been a lot of Batman and a lot of Batmen. It might seem odd on the surface as to why there would be numerous versions of Batman, but one only needs to think about it briefly to realize why. Batman is a cultural touchstone, a character owned by DC and Warner Bros. but one that essentially belongs to all. Anyone who is tasked with writing and drawing an official Batman story inherits quite a responsibility, and since this character is so popular and so special they’re also limited in some capacity. Batman, for instance, is far too profitable to ever die. Sure, it can be teased here and there and made to even seem happen, but it’s not something that will ever stick. The same is basically true of any popular comic book character and is why characters like Superman and Captain America never stay dead. You don’t kill the golden goose.

As a way to work around those limitations, many writers over the years have done stories outside the normal Batman continuity. This very show is basically one such version. Sure these characters bare many similarities to what came before, but they also exist in their own bubble. Had Bruce Timm and Paul Dini wished to end the series with the death of Batman and a passing of the torch, they might have been allowed to do so (spoiler alert, that’s not the direction they’ll go). The movies basically all exist on their own, which is why Christopher Nolan was able to end his Batman movie trilogy with what is essentially Batman’s retirement.

Of all the stories in the comic books though to essentially feature an alternate universe Batman, by far the most popular is The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller. That Batman was one of the main influences for Tim Burton’s take on the character and was hugely popular in the 1980s. He was a violent, no compromises, sort of take on the character who after decades of doing things mostly by the book has had enough. It wouldn’t make sense for that sort of character to appear in this show, but “Legends of the Dark Knight” is going to try.

the three kids

Meet our story tellers for today’s episode: Nick, Carrie, and Matt.

This episode is essentially a love letter to Batman in all of his forms. It’s basically an anthology episode with the framing device being children sharing tales about their perception of Batman. And since Batman is a mysterious individual, their takes are going to exaggerate the character which is how we’ll get a taste of other versions of Batman from throughout history. It’s a fun concept for an episode, but what of the execution?

The episode begins on a newspaper kiosk. It seems there’s an arsonist on the loose in Gotham, which can only mean one suspect. Three kids approach the kiosk and take note that Batman is barely visible in the image on the front page shooting across the sky. This excites them as Batman isn’t as photogenic as Spider-Man. They appear to be a trio of Bat-enthusiasts, which I guess explains why they’re out and about at night which doesn’t seem like the safest of activities for kids their age. Nick (Jeremy Foley) is thrilled by the image and starts fantasizing about what Batman is really like, hypothesizing he’s more beast than man. The perhaps leader of this trio, Carrie (Anndi McAfee), sees Batman as just a really tough guy. Our third kid, Matt (Ryan O’Donohue), claims to have a secondhand account of what Batman is really like.

50s joker

Michael McKean gets to provide his take on a golden age Joker and knocks it out of the park.

Matt’s story takes us to the 1950s when his uncle was a security guard at some music exhibit for really large instruments. The guard (Charles Rocket) is seated at his desk when a voice comes over a loudspeaker which belongs to the Joker (Michael McKean in a brilliant piece of casting). The art design, dialogue, and even delivery of the lines are all very 1950s. The blue of the guard’s suit is especially reminiscent of the shade found in old comics and pulp magazines. Nick and Carrie even call Matt out on the corny dialogue he attributes to the characters, but he just claims that’s how his uncle tells the story.

A Joker-in-the-box is soon deposited at the feet of the guard which explodes with knock-out gas. The Joker then saunters in with two henchman and he looks like a spot-on interpretation of Dick Sprang’s version of the character. He makes corny jokes as he walks around the exhibit, pausing to glare at his henchmen when they don’t react favorably to his jokes forcing them to laugh and clap. Before long, Batman (Gary Owens) and Robin (Brianne Siddall) arrive and they too look ripped from a 1950s comic, or even the opening title of Batman the TV show. Batman is barrel-chested and sporting his blue, gray, and yellow ensemble while Robin has his classic threads on as well. They have that halted, dramatic, delivery to their lines like they did on old episodes of Superfriends and they immediately go after the Joker’s henchmen.

piano trap

A dastardly trap is laid, how will the Dynamic Duo escape this time?!

As the Dynamic Duo tangle with Joker’s lackeys, Robin is especially prone to puns which really is not all that different from the show’s regular depiction of Robin and Nightwing. As the bad guys get beat up, Joker cowers in relative safety reacting physically to the pain being inflicted upon his men. Eventually, Robin is undone by his own hubris as Joker is able to drop an oversized French horn on him. Batman goes to help him, but gets walloped from behind by Joker’s goon with a massive tuning fork. This sets up Joker to address the camera directly with another pun, a nice way to head to commercial.

When we return, Batman and Robin are bound to the chords of a giant grand piano. This is also quite in-line with comics of the era as these oversized contraptions were a popular gimmick of Batman co-creator Bill Finger, who along with Sprang and Frank Miller received an acknowledgement in the opening credits for the episode. With Batman and Robin tied down, this allows Joker to jump on the keys causing the giant hammers inside to strike a chord. Once he hits the right key, Batman and Robin will receive one hell of a headache. As Joker takes his sweet time playing a happy tune, Batman works on his restraints with what looks like a tiny chainsaw. Eventually, Joker finishes his melody and an off sounding note seems to herald the end of Batman and Robin. He takes a bow, but the unmistakable sound of skull on Batarang causes him to turn around in shock as his lackeys flee. Batman and Robin stand triumphantly from atop the piano, fists on hips. After another well-placed pun, they jump from above knocking the key-cover on top of Joker.

old chums

Old chums, now and forever.

The heroes are able to corral the fleeing lackeys when Robin hops onto a giant violin bow that Batman fires like an arrow. Why Robin decided to ride it, I don’t know, as it strikes and pins the goons to the wall. Joker uses this time to run, but Batman gives chase. Utilizing a giant saxophone, he captures Joker and then blows on the instrument to send the clown crashing into a giant harp in which he becomes entangled in the strings. Batman informs the security guard he can call the proper authorities for a pick-up and then turning to Robin he congratulates him on a job well done while mixing in an “old chum,” for good measure.

Nick and Carrie find this depiction of Batman by their friend Matt preposterous. They refuse to believe he’d speak in such a fashion or would come across like such a stiff. This prompts Carrie to tell her own story. While she doesn’t have a first or secondhand account to reference, this does allow her some dramatic license weave her own tale. And if you’re familiar with The Dark Knight Returns, then you’ve likely noticed that Carrie is the only one of our three kids modeled after an existing character from the comics which is a dead giveaway how her story will go.

carrie robin

Carrie takes some obvious creative liberties with her story.

For starters, Carrie informs her friends that Batman is actually much older than they perceive, in his 50s she assumes. Robin is also not a Boy Wonder, but a girl, and in her story Robin is clearly her in disguise (though I don’t think this is to be construed as her trying to claim she’s Robin to her friends). The art style once again changes as we go to a very dark place. The sky is an even brighter shade of red than we’re accustomed to seeing, and almost all of the setting and characters are done in black. Robin is after some mutants, and Batman drops in to help. He’s now voiced by Michael Ironside, another delightful bit of casting, and is depicted as much bigger than before. He’s a dead-ringer for Frank Miller’s take on the character, and he wants information from the guy he just pounced on.

The setting shifts to the wastelands where the leader of the mutants (Kevin Michael Richardson) is riling up his followers. The mutants cheering him on are all black save for the red goggles they wear. Two mutants providing some comic relief have their names in white on their shirt, Rob (Charles Rocket) and Don (Mark Rolston, doing a Tommy Chong impression by the sound of it) and those two will provide some occasional commentary. The mutant leader seems to think only Batman can prevent him from taking over Gotham, or what’s left of it, and he’s eager for a showdown.

batman tank

The interior of Batman’s tank is quite red.

Not one to disappoint, Batman arrives in style. He’s more than prepared for an army of mutants as he rolls in with a tank. Robin is with him, and as he rolls along he opens fire on the mutants. They drop like flies, and if you think this level of violence is inappropriate for such a cartoon then apparently you’re in agreement with the censors at The WB. Batman remarks to Robin that they’re rubber bullets, but he then odds an, “Honestly,” which sounds a bit sarcastic leaving his words open to interpretation, a nice little way to skirt around the censors. Robin leaves the confines of the tank to adorably go after the mutants herself armed with a slingshot. It’s a rather ridiculous course of action, but she’s also the one telling the story.

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Batman’s foe: Old Pointy Nips.

Batman eventually leaves the safety of the tank himself when challenged by the mutant leader. Batman is so damn huge that he’s the size of this mutated being he’s standing across from. The two grapple, and the mutant leader eventually gains the upper hand as they stumble into a pit of mud. The leader gets Batman under the mud and appears to suffocate him. Robin, seeing her mentor in trouble, fires off some ball-bearings from her slingshot which agitate the mutant leader. He turns to identify the source of the projectiles, which allows Batman to rise from the mud like he’s the Undertaker. He soon gains the upper hand on his foe, and delivers this little gem, “This isn’t a trash heap. It’s an operating table. And I’m the surgeon!” The camera pans to the sky briefly so we can hear the snapping of bones, before returning to a satisfied Robin.

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Batman is not one to cower in a tank.

Carrie’s friends are pretty captivated by her story and she has a look of smug satisfaction on her face. They then see something streak across the sky. It looks like Batman, but the being was clearly flying. They chase after it and wind up in a dilapidated looking theater. There they see a figure on the stage setting up something and it’s pretty clear this isn’t Batman. He steps into the light and the kids recognize him as the villain Firefly (Rolston). He’s clearly setting up for another arson job and the kids try to summon Batman with Matt’s store-bought Bat Signal flashlight. There’s a sizable hole on the roof of this building for such a tactic, but unfortunately for the kids the batteries die almost immediately. Worse, their chatter alerts Firefly to their presence and he tosses a flash grenade in their general direction for confirmation.

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The real villain of the episode.

Firefly clearly doesn’t feel threatened by kids and simply remarks “Tough break,” as he sets off the explosives he’s planted around the place. As the building goes up in flame, he flies out of the hole in the roof. This is when Batman makes his entrance as he knocks Firefly to the stage below. He then starts monologuing, explaining Firefly’s plan to him and seemingly for the benefit of his audience. Firefly is obviously agitated, and the two begin their dance. Wanting to hasten things along, Firefly pulls out his flame-saber, but Batman extinguishes it with a little can that’s basically just a fire extinguisher. He quickly takes the clown out, and then notices the kids. As they try to flee, fire blocks their way so Batman tosses an explosive Batarang at the wall to create a new exit. He orders the kids out, and they do as they’re told, with only Nick pausing to watch as Batman scoops up Firefly and leaves via the ceiling.

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Not one of Batman’s most exciting gadgets, but effective nonetheless.

Outside the burning building, the Gotham Police arrive and Detective Bullock takes note of the “present” Batman left behind – a dangling Firefly. He ponders who phoned in the 911, but apparently doesn’t care enough to turn around and see three kids standing beside a pay phone. As the trio walk off, they discuss with excitement what they just witnessed. Basically, all three are convinced what they just saw confirms their own belief of what Batman is with Matt seeing the gadgets as confirmation for his uncle’s account, Carrie focusing on the way he took out Firefly as proof of hers, and Nick thinks he simply flew away thus confirming he’s not human. The camera pans to the sky as their chattering continues to usher in the credits.

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So what if the place is burning, it’s not every day you get to see Batman in action. Sometimes the risks are worth taking.

This is a clever way to celebrate different aspects of Batman from the ages. It’s so good that I wish it had been a one-off television special so it could have been a little longer as it feels like it’s one act short. Supposedly, the showrunners wanted to include an homage to the 70s Batman popularized by Neal Adams and Denny O’Neil, but it just couldn’t happen. Settling on the 50s Batman popularized by Dick Sprang and Bill Finger was a wise move. And while I liked Gary Owens in the role as Batman for that segment, I do wish they could have brought Adam West back. The closing with the two shaking hands is an obvious tribute to the opening title sequence of the 66 television show. Mark Hamill will likely always be my favorite Joker, but bringing in Michael McKean to do a different take was a most excellent choice. His laugh is a perfect depiction of Joker from this era. The segment could be described as parody, but it’s so earnest in its portrayal of these golden age characters that it works on a celebratory level as opposed to a mocking one.

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The kids get to walk away from this one satisfied, a sentiment I can s

The Dark Knight Returns portion is also equally amusing. There’s some dry humor on display via Batman as this version is capable of puns as well and it’s interesting to see that the kids all seem to universally expect Batman to possess at least some form of a sense of humor. Right from the start, Carrie was clearly a dead-ringer for the Robin from that tale so it was no surprise to see where her story went. And even though this is essentially a kid’s show, the writers and artists did a really admirable job of adapting Miller’s work for this format, right down to the mutant leader’s pointy nipples.

Throughout the episode, there are also numerous Easter eggs further adding to the celebratory nature of the episode. In between stories, a kid named Joel (Phillip Van Dyke) pops in briefly to claim Batman wears a rubber suit and drives up walls. He’s standing outside a shoe store called Shoemaker, an obvious nod to Joel Schumacher and his version of Batman from Batman Forever and Batman & Robin. Is this reference mocking? Perhaps, though it feels like it’s in good fun. The music exhibit Joker hits in the 50s segment is named The Walker Music Center which is clearly named after series composer Shirley Walker. And the framing for this story is also quite similar to Batman #250 where Bruce Wayne takes some kids camping who all share stories about their perception of Batman (Bruce Timm claims this was coincidence though). Even Kevin Michael Richardson, brought on to voice the mutant leader, was a huge fan of The Dark Knight Returns and it’s no surprise the show would seek out fans of Batman for such an episode.

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The animators really nail the visual styles they were seeking to emulate.

Visually, this is one of the most interesting and fun episodes of the series to watch. It’s a Dong Yang production, and the studio should be commended for adapting the different art styles for each segment. It couldn’t have been easy, and further credit should go to James Tucker who handled the story boards for the episode. The 50s segment in particular is done so well that one could likely show a still from it to someone and convince them it’s from a different show.

“Legends of the Dark Knight” ends up being one of the more fun episodes of The New Batman Adventures and even Batman: The Animated Series. As a more kid-focused episode, it’s much better than the more juvenile “I’ve Got Batman in my Basement” from season one. It’s a clever way to explore the character of Batman, enough so that it was basically done before and has been done since. It’s a strong enough concept that it could easily be adapted for film as DC’s version of Into the Spider-Verse for Batman. I don’t think such a thing is likely, but it’s worth exploring. Especially because so many other versions of Batman are worth exploring. Even if such a production never does take place, at least we’ll always have this one.


The New Batman Adventures – “Animal Act”

animal actEpisode Number:  16 (101)

Original Air Date:  September 26, 1998

Directed by:  Curt Geda

Written by:  Hilary J. Bader

First Appearance:  None

“Animal Act” reintroduces the audience to a part of Dick Grayson’s life it may have forgotten:  the circus life. A string of robberies will put Batman and the gang in touch with the old act and give Dick a chance to take a stroll down memory lane. It will also reintroduce, officially, a villain from the previous iteration of the show that had yet to have an episode all to their own. The reveal of the villain is intended to be a surprise, and for this show, it’s actually kept under wraps pretty well. There’s no obvious giveaway in the title and the reveal is saved for the final act. The only real tell is the reintroduction of that villain’s theme, but if you had forgotten it then you’d be kept in the dark even longer. For that reason, I should put out a general warning that if you like experiencing these reveals on your own then maybe store this one away until you’ve seen the episode yourself.

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Just three dudes hanging out in their costumes on a roof at night.

The episode begins with Batman and Robin watching a suspicious character from a rooftop. The rather large looking man is on a nearby rooftop and heading for an antenna tower. Nightwing drops in on the two and he and Batman have their usual frosty disposition towards each other with Batman lecturing Nightwing to work on his stealth. They then turn their attention to the perp who has begun scaling the tower and looks to have its eyes on some control near the top.

Batman springs into action with quite possibly his most absurd act of stealth we’ve seen up to this point. As the suspect’s hand reaches for a device on the tower, Batman’s hand clamps down on its wrist. Batman basically went from one rooftop to a steel tower roughly one-hundred yards away and managed to land on the same tower as the perp and grab its hand all without being seen. That’s some damn fine stealth-work.

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Now angrily glare at the fleeing ape.

The perp immediately swats Batman away and he falls off the tower but is able to grab onto another one. The perp then tries to make a run for it, but gets ambushed by Robin and Nightwing. At this point it’s obvious that this isn’t a man for its arms are massive and it runs like a gorilla. When Robin tries to stop it with a bollo the creature breaks out and takes off again punching Robin as it goes by. Nightwing stops to check on the Boy Wonder before giving chase with his dorky little wingsuit. He catches up to the creature and is able to confirm that it is indeed a gorilla in human clothing. Furthermore, Nightwing knows this gorilla as Peaches. The surprise helps the gorilla to get away from Nightwing and escape the others.

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Dick recalling better days when he had parents and no pony tail.

The next day, Dick and Tim make a stop at the circus. It’s well before opening and the circus members are all milling about and getting ready for that night’s performance. As the two stroll through, the cast members all recognize Dick and make small talk as Tim takes it all in. He gets setup by Dick for embarrassment at the hands of a mime clown and marvels at the strong man and axe-tossers. Dick is really here though to check on Peaches and the two find her right where she’s supposed to be in her cage. She seems like a rather ordinary gorilla and Tim is skeptical that this could be the same as the one from the night before.

Dick’s reunion with Peaches is interrupted by her trainer, Miranda Kane (Jane Wiedlin). Miranda looks the part of a stereotypical animal trainer and even has a boa draped over her shoulders and coiled around her leg. She at first mistakes Dick for someone just snooping around and messing with her animals, but he tells her who he is and she soon remembers. It would seem she was a kid with the circus at the same time as “Dicky,” with her family being animal trainers. Her parents have retired to Sarasota (amusing to me for I knew a lot of old people who did the same around 98) and left the animals in her care. She seems some-what happy to see Dick again, though also a tad resentful of the life he ended up living as ward of the wealthy Bruce Wayne, though his name is never mentioned. She tells him he can’t touch the animals, for liability reasons, and eventually asks the two to leave as she has a lot of work to do.

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Miranda Kane is yet another character obviously named after Batman co-creator Bob Kane. Given what we now know about Kane, it’s unlikely many characters are being named after him these days.

Dick is then shown back at his loft flipping through an old photo album. He’s looking at pictures of his family-life from his days in the circus, until a familiar shadow crosses the page. Batman is there to inquire about his trip to the circus, and Dick tells him he doesn’t think Miranda had anything to do with the robbery from the night before. Batman counters by saying he checked all of the cities the circus had hit recently and all featured a nearby unexplained robbery. This leads to a stare-down between Dick and Batman that is kind of tense, until a pager on Batman’s belt forces him to look away. He growls an angry “What?!” into a communicator and it’s Robin on the other end informing him of a silent alarm that was just tripped at an auto manufacturing plant. Batman heads for the window, but calls back to Dick to ask if he’s coming. Dick grabs his suit and the pair take off.

Batman and Nightwing arrive at the factory and find an unconscious security guard in the parking lot. Batman checks his vitals, and confirming he’s all right, they turn their attention to a commotion coming from inside. As they slip in, the camera lingers on a keypad by the door which suggests that whoever gained entry did so legitimately, as in they entered the correct passcode. The duo creeps in and find a rather large, hairy, creature rummaging through a big container of components. It pops it’s head out of the container to regale the two and reveals itself to be a very large brown bear. Before the two can really react a second bear swats them from behind.

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Batman seems to fight enough animals that he should probably just carry tranquilizers at this point.

Nightwing and Batman recover and square-off against the two bears. Nightwing makes a lot of bad jokes and puns all throughout. He kicks some barrels at his bear, and the bear demonstrates it’s been trained by hopping on the barrel and riding it while standing on its hind legs. Batman is able to avoid the bear he pairs off with and ends up leading it towards a hydraulic lift for an automobile. With Batman on top of the lift and at the controls, he lowers it on top of the bear pinning it to the floor. Nightwing has considerably less luck with his opponent. He seems to think this bear behaves like a character from Punch Out!! as he searches for a soft spot to punch at. This goes about as well as expected and Batman is forced to make the save with a fire hose. Still, that only irritates the bear, but it allows Batman to get its attention long enough for Nightwing to return with a forklift. He’s able to pin the bear against the wall between itself and the forklift, but not before first comically driving around with the creature stuck on the front.

Later that night, Miranda is unloading the bears from a police van back into their cage and Detective Bullock (Robert Costanzo) is on hand to supervise. He’s his usual grumpy self and warns the woman that he’ll be back to file a police report (why isn’t he doing it now?) and she better come up with a better reason for how those bears got out than “I don’t know.” As he makes his way towards his car, the clown-mime that got Tim earlier is lounging on the hood of the cruiser. Bullock is not amused by the clown’s mime routine and threateningly pulls out his handcuffs. The clown persists with his act and Bullock lunges for him, but misses and ends up eating dirt. The clown then waves goodbye and mimes opening a door while Bullock growls about hating clowns. He seems like the type that would.

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Bullock seems like the type of mark a clown relishes to go after.

Miranda angrily heads into her trailer and is confronted by Dick when she does. He claims she left the door open, but that doesn’t diffuse the situation much. Miranda insists someone has been messing with her animals, and Dick seems to believe her. Later, Dick returns to his loft and finds Batman waiting for him. He muses about getting an alarm, apparently failing to see the irony in Batman doing to him what he just did to Miranda. Batman is there to show him the security tapes from the factory the night before. As the two watch, they observe the bears enter the building, turn off the lights, and enter in the passcode on the door. Dick remarks that they’re smart bears, while Batman adds “Too smart.”

Back at the circus, the previously silent clown is approaching the bears in their cages and congratulating them on a job well done. He removes some circuit boards from their fur, but is soon confronted by Miranda. She demands to know what he’s doing to her animals, and he’s more than happy to explain that he’s no humble clown, but the man formally known as Jervis Tetch, better known as The Mad Hatter (Roddy McDowall). He appears to be completely unafraid of what Miranda may do to him now that she’s discovered his secret, and that’s with good reason. Her boa soon constricts around her trapping her as the Mad Hatter looks on approvingly.

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Old Mr. Big Hat is at it again.

Batman and Nightwing arrive in the Batmobile. As Nightwing begins leading Batman to Miranda’s trailer, a scream alerts them that maybe they should head elsewhere. They race over towards the scream and find Miranda locked in a cage with a pair of lions. The heroes break in and Nightwing brandishes a whip to corral the beasts. He yells out to them by name, and I expected to see Miranda give him a look or something, but none comes. They’re able to get the male lion bound up, and Batman instructs Nightwing to get Miranda out of there. As the lion breaks through the ropes, Batman does the old school lion tamer routine of wielding a whip and a chair as he backs out of the cage and slams it shut behind him.

Miranda immediately starts into a tale about The Mad Hatter, but Nightwing cuts her off with a “We’re way ahead of you.” They head for the big tent and find their old foe back in his usual attire. Usual in that it’s clearly inspired by Alice in Wonderland, but like most of the villains old Jervis has received a rather drastic redesign. He’s apparently aged horribly since we last saw him as he’s small and shriveled, but still mostly lacking a chin. His once blond hair is now white and he’s considerably shorter than before. His green suit makes him look more like a leprechaun than the character we’re used to, and his ears are pointed which just makes that comparison even more apt.

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A crushing end for Jervis.

The Mad Hatter goes into a boastful routine about how he’s mastered the art of controlling animals, but explains that controlling humans still requires he be nearby. That’s the cue for Miranda and the other performers to become zombie-like creatures at the control of The Mad Hatter. They turn on the heroes and since they lack fear and don’t experience pain, they’re pretty formidable. Batman and Nightwing really have their hands full and it takes an errant blast of fire from the fire eater which strikes The Mad Hatter’s mind control hat to break the spell. The Mad Hatter, seeing his pawns suddenly free, takes off and slides under the tent. He ends up at the gorilla cage and it looks like he’s going to try and take control of Peaches again. Batman and Nightwing show up and Nightwing destroys the Mad Hatter’s hat with a whip-strike. The Mad Hatter still isn’t without a trick, as he pulls out a pistol to hold the good guys at bay. He starts monologuing once again, sort of apologizing for resorting to such a weapon, which lasts long enough for Batman to nail it with a batarang and Peaches to emerge from her cage and take him out.

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Not the resolution Tim wanted.

The next day, Dick and Bruce are shown strolling through the circus grounds. Dick tells Bruce that Tim expressed interest in the circus and he got him a job working with Miranda. Bruce seems to think this entails working with the animals, but Dick corrects him. Miranda is then shown telling Tim there’s a lot of work to get done as Tim is shown cleaning the gorilla cage. The episode ends with Dick making a crack about missing show business as the camera lingers on Tim literally shoveling shit into a bucket.

“Animal Act” is a touch unconventional given it pits Batman and Co. against circus animals, but it also fits the classic mold of an episode of Batman given its act structure. I like the save for the reveal on Mad Hatter and the clown character he portrays is not a dead give-away since he’s not voiced and the character’s redesign makes him look quite different from before. It’s an episode I want to dislike when I read the premise, but in action it’s actually fairly entertaining.

It’s not all sunshine though. The Nightwing character is a bit too much for my taste as his numerous quips and puns just aren’t funny – they’re tiresome. Even Batman has some bad lines, in particular when he explains the situation of the brainwashing of Miranda to Nightwing. It’s possibly Kevin Conroy’s worst line-read in the series, but I don’t place the blame at his feet as much as I do on the script. Batman is a character that works best when his speech is simple and direct, he talks too much throughout that fight and basically all of his lines are completely unnecessary.

Mad Hatter, on the other hand, can’t say enough. His lines are delightful and also wickedly playful too. His motivations for these crimes are perhaps not well explained. It seems he just needs microchips and circuit boards for his mind control tech, but he’s also insane which is perhaps all the explanation one needs. I don’t care for his new look, which was previously shown briefly in “Over the Edge,” but his actual character is about as good as it’s ever been.

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RIP and thanks to Roddy McDowall for his contribution to the series as The Mad Hatter.

This episode is the final appearance of The Mad Hatter. That’s partly due to there only being a handful of episodes after it, but also due to the passing of voice actor Roddy McDowall just a few days after the original airing of this episode. McDowall was terrific in the role and terrific in this particular episode so it’s not at all surprising that the character was not recast and brought back in one of the other DC Animated Universe shows. He did appear in the Superman episode “Knight Time,” which aired exactly one week after his death.

In researching this episode for this post I was surprised to find out that Bruce Timm considers it one of the worst episodes of the series. I certainly think the script left something to be desired, but the episode as a whole seems fine to me. I much prefer it to “Critters” and I can think of several episodes I’d rank behind this one (a feature for another day). As a Mad Hatter episode it’s appropriate and introduces a new wrinkle to that villain’s schemes. It brings back a piece of Dick Grayson’s past and doesn’t have any weird production inconsistencies or anything like that. Sure, there are better episodes out there, but I don’t think this is one the production staff should be embarrassed by.


The New Batman Adventures – “The Ultimate Thrill”

the ultimate thrillEpisode Number:  11 (96)

Original Air Date:  September 14, 1998

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Hilary J. Bader

First Appearance:  Roxy Rocket

Episode 11 brings us to the second season premiere of The New Batman Adventures. Even though the first season contained 13 episodes, this one was held back. My guess is Warner ordered the full series right away and just elected to air them in whatever order they were received or whatever made the most sense. As for why this one was given the prestigious spot of season premiere, that I cannot say. I can see why maybe the network wanted to juggle the order of these episodes some as this one is yet another Batman/Batgirl pairing meaning Robin and Nightwing have been MIA for quite a few weeks now. That part I get, but I’m surprised the network would go with a debuting villain for the season premiere. Maybe they thought highly of Roxy Rocket – who knows?

Roxy Rocket is a villain that was sort-of made for television. I say sort of because she was actually first created for the Batman Adventures comic, which was a tie-in with the animated series. Bruce Timm and Paul Dini apparently saw something in the character that made them want to bring her to television, though not enough to actually write the episode themselves. I don’t mind the new blood, but Roxy is a bit of an odd one. Her look would have fit in quite well with the dark-deco look of the prior series, but in this more modern one she looks out of place. She reminds me of The Rocketeer, just minus the helmet. And instead of a jetpack, she straddles a big old rocket. Yes, there’s going to be some suggestive elements to this character making Roxy Rocket possibly our horniest villain yet, not that there’s stiff competition for that title (pun, intended).

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Roxy is a villain who is all about taking risks.

The episode begins aboard a zeppelin, once again, something that would have fit with the style of the previous series, but not so much with this one. This is some kind of luxury airship full of wealthy party-goers, and Roxy Rocket (Charity James) is here to rob them. She’s holding up the patrons and collecting valuables. She’s in a rather jovial mood as she doesn’t even get upset when one woman can’t get her ring off, though Roxy claims it’s a fake. She snags a large, red, brooch off another woman then takes off by simply jumping out of the zeppelin.

As she falls through Gotham’s eerie red sky, a police helicopter spies her. Apparently they either know about the robbery, or they’ve been tracking her for awhile. They basically decide to wait for her to go splat, but Roxy has other ideas. Activating a beacon on her watch causes her rocket to show just as she disappears below the tallest buildings. As she jets off in celebratory fashion, one of the cops opens fire from the helicopter (this seems really reckless on his part). Roxy returns fire with some kind of gas canister gun which goes through the windshield taking out the helicopter.

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That’s a pretty solid way to introduce yourself to Batman.

The problem of the police may be solved, but another has just arrived in the form of the Batwing. Batman is behind the controls and Roxy seems positively delighted by this turn of events. As she makes quips and zips about, she remarks old Batman doesn’t have the right tools for the job. They play a little game of chicken in a tunnel, and Batman is the one who blinks. His Batwing has sustained some significant damage, and this allows Roxy to get away calling out to him, “Thanks for the first date. I’ll call ya!”

As Batman maneuvers the plane out to sea, Alfred pops up on the radio. Batman lets him know the wing is badly damaged and he doesn’t know if he can keep the thing airborne. He flies it toward a cliffside, which just so happens to be where the entrance to the Batcave is. He’s able to steer the Batwing into the tight opening and we get a little look at how this thing is setup. Like an aircraft carrier, a series of cables are used to slow the Batwing down and bring it to a stop. Once it does stop, Alfred is there to remark he’s taking the costs for repairs to the plane out of Bruce’s allowance. Batman is not amused.

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Alfred and Batgirl will take whatever screen time they can get in this one.

Batman then turns to his computer to give us the rundown on just who Roxy Rocket is. It turns out she used to be a stuntwoman by the name of Roxanne Sutton. When the stunts got too dangerous, no one would insure her putting an end to that career. Roxy then did what any sane person would do and turned to a life of crime to get her rocks off. Batgirl is here as well to give her two cents and even make a playful remark towards Batman’s way about Roxy now getting a taste for him, which he doesn’t appear to appreciate. Batman remarks she’ll need a fence to unload her stolen goods, which lends nicely into the next scene.

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Penguin likes Roxy for the goods she brings him, but he’d also like to wet his beak in another manner.

Roxy’s fence turns out to be an old friend:  The Penguin (Paul Williams). It would seem Penguin’s new business isn’t as straight as it seems. He’s shown having a little meeting with Roxy and remarking on her newfound stardom. Penguin pays for the goods Roxy just knocked off, and she in turn asks if he wants to go double or nothing by drawing cards. She tries instigating him into doing so, but Penguin clarifies he does not take unnecessary risks. This in turn prompts him to warn her about her risk-taking ways for he’s not about to risk his business on someone who attracts too much attention from Batman. Roxy insists Batman is worth the thrill. When Penguin tries to suggest maybe she try and get the attention of a “bird of prey,” she shoots him down causing him to wrinkle his nose at her as she departs.

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Roxy is a stranger to subtlety.

At Wayne Enterprises, Bruce and Lucius Fox (Mel Winkler) are unveiling for the board members some new artwork the company purchased. I have no idea why Wayne Enterprises is buying art, but it serves its purpose in a moment. As Bruce questions the lax security, Fox assures him no one can get in which means that someone is about to burst in. Roxy comes flying through the glass window, and I mean through, and she’s after the artwork. She grabs it and is delighted that it’s small enough to fit in her saddle bag. She doesn’t intend to just rip off some art though as she puts some cartridge into the end of her gun that has a Batman logo on it. When she fires it into the sky it explodes in a pattern of lights resembling the Batman signal, and sure enough here comes Batman. Bruce has either gotten really bold at this quick change thing, or Dick is impersonating him again (see The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne), for him to get there so fast. And since his plane is messed up, he’s got a fancy new jetpack to show off.

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Batman with yet another toy to show off.

Roxy leads Batman on a chase throughout Gotham with a large part of it taking place in a tunnel once again, only this time amongst automobile traffic. She pulls a Maverick move out of her bag of tricks by hitting the brakes causing Batman to sail right past her and into a Farmer Brown truck (that will pay off slightly in a future episode). Roxy once more gains the upper hand, but Batman is able to hit her rocket with a Batarang causing it to short out. She dumps it in an unfinished building and flees to the top of the steel beams. Batman soon joins her and suggests she give up. She responds by tossing the artwork which was remarkably spared being damaged during her crash. Batman is forced to jump after it (maybe he had yet to insure it) leaving him hanging from one of the beams. Roxy blows him a kiss and presses a button on her wrist-thingy once again which causes her rocket to explode. Using the explosion as cover, she jumps from the building to land on an oversized balloon below to once again make her escape.

With Batman foiled once again, he’s in need of some good news and he gets it. Batgirl calls him on his cell, apparently, to tell him she’s figured out who Roxy’s fence is:  The Penguin. This leads us back to Penguin’s club where he’s none too pleased with Roxy and her reckless ways. Roxy doesn’t see the harm in having some fun, but Penguin makes it clear he considers her a loose end at this point. Deciding she isn’t worth the trouble, he pulls his umbrella on her. Normally, such an action wouldn’t seem all that threatening, but considering this is The Penguin an umbrella takes on a whole other meaning. As he prepares to off her, she tries reasoning with him and even resorts to a, “but I thought you liked me.” Penguin does, but he’s a pretty cold and ruthless business man. Before he can shoot her though, she kicks the umbrella out of his hands and flips over a railing into the sealion pool behind her.

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He may look harmless, but Penguin isn’t really someone you want to piss off.

Roxy darts across floating chunks of ice avoiding Penguin’s fire. She eventually falls into the water and the sealions pounce. Penguin lowers his head remarking his way would have been much cleaner, but then Roxy emerges once again now riding a sealion as if it was her rocket. She manages to reach a glacier where she takes cover as Penguin’s umbrella is apparently switched to fully automatic mode. Having spent all of his ammo in a futile attempt to kill Roxy, Penguin can only watch as she uses a grappling hook to swing over the water and to the ceiling narrating her own escape. As Roxy vanishes, Penguin orders his minions (all women who look like Playboy Mansion rejects) to go after her and kill her, though in his usual poetic way.

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Penguin with an actual gun? This feels wrong.

Penguin is shown freshening up in his penthouse. He’s in his robe and apparently ready to retire for the evening, but a shadowy figure lurks behind him. Batman makes his presence known and demands to know where Roxy Rocket is. Penguin back peddles towards his umbrella canister as Batman produces a ring. It’s one of the items Roxy stole from the zeppelin earlier and he found it in Penguin’s coat. As Penguin questions whether or not Batman is in possession of a search warrant, he steps on a lever on the umbrella canister and up pops….a machine gun? It would seem Penguin isn’t always in the mood for theatrics, as he catches the gun and opens fire on Batman. He only manages to lay waste to his beautiful furniture as Batman takes him out for some fresh air. Dangling him over the balcony, Penguin can only smile sheepishly as Batman suggests they have a little talk.

At an airplane hangar, three of Penguin’s girls are shown snooping around. Roxy is inside the hangar and she has several extra rockets in there. As the trio sneak around, Roxy pops out of the hangar to take one out. She plays with them a bit before knocking the other two into a biplane. She hits the lever on it and it takes off down the runway as Batman arrives in the Batmobile. He ignores the plane as it crashes into a water tower and we see the two occupants in a pool of water coughing, so apparently they’re fine.

Batman heads off into the hangar after Roxy and comes face to face with the front end of her rocket. He ducks out of the way as she blasts off through the hangar door to apparent freedom. Or so she thinks. Batman hops on one of her other rockets and takes off after her. This is actually a pretty risky maneuver since we know Roxy can control her rockets via her wrist device. Luckily for Batman, she apparently doesn’t feel like causing it to self-destruct with him on it. This is, after all, a game to her as she calls back to him “I love a man with staying power!” Yup, things are about to get a little blue.

roxy vs batman

So it’s come to this, Batman and Roxy face to face on a speeding death trap.

Roxy leads Batman on a chase into a canyon area. Remarking it’s “the third act climax,” she shoots Batman’s rocket down forcing him from it. He uses his grapple gun to get ahold of her rocket, which causes her to take him on a trip through some trees. Roxy thinks she lost him, but Batman pulls himself up and onto her rocket. She seems impressed as she tosses her jacket in his face. Turning around so that they’re face to face, Roxy explains the game to come. They’re now over water, and she tells Batman he can jump into it and maybe get off without injury. Or, he can stay on and smash into the canyon up ahead. When Batman remarks she will too, she confirms that’s the game as the two prepare to play another game of chicken.

Batman stares at her and crosses his arms, while Roxy smiles back. Eventually, she starts to grow concerned as Batman remains stoic. Roxy then shyly turns to press something on her control panel, but Batman grabs her wrist. Taunting her about seeking the ultimate thrill, Roxy at first appears worried. Then her smile returns and she gives him an “Oh baby!” As the rocket gets closer to annihilation, Batman grabs her and she starts wailing “Yes! Yes!” like that infamous scene from When Harry Met Sally. Batman pulls her off the rocket and to safety as it crashes while Roxy apparently enjoys herself. As the two fall towards the ground, she confesses she always knew it would end this way, and seems really content. When Batman pulls a parachute, she looks sad. As they land, she remarks they’ll live to play another day, but is then dismayed when Batman slaps some cuffs on her. He lets her know she lost, and this one ends somewhat abruptly right there.

roxys o

What I assume to be Roxy’s “O” face.

“The Ultimate Thrill” is certainly a cheeky one. Roxy Rocket is almost too much as the thrill-seeking villain of the hour. She’s rather one note, which I supposes makes her a decent one-off kind of villain. The show definitely pushed some boundaries as far as standards and practices go. While some of the suggestive language would fly over the head of younger viewers, there were probably a few parents who overheard Roxy’s climax and went to check on what their kids were watching. It certainly caught me by surprise the first time I saw this one, but voice actor Charity James seemed to have fun with it.

Batgirl was in this one, but only barely. This ended up being pretty much a Batman solo adventure. Combine that with the old school aesthetics of Roxy’s costume and the zeppelin scene and this one has a nice Batman: The Animated Series feel to it. I prefer my Batman solo, so this isn’t a problem in my book, but other viewers might be disappointed at the lack of heroes in it.

Roxy Rocket is indeed a one and done villain for this show. There’s enough to her personality that it wouldn’t have bothered me if she showed up again. And unlike the new take on Catwoman, Roxy actually does possess a certain amount of sex appeal to go along with her flirtatious attitude. Maybe it’s the bulky costume, but she doesn’t look like a kid with a giant head as so many of Gotham’s females do in this show. She does reappear in an episode of Superman called “Knight Time,” which actually aired about a month after this episode. Maybe that’s why this one was held over until season two so it could air closer to that episode. It was also nice to see Penguin wetting his beak, once again. His business is apparently fine at the end of this one, aside from being in need of some repairs, and we’ll hear from him again.


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.


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