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Batman: The Animated Series – “Shadow of the Bat – Part II”

Shadow-Of-The-Bat-2Episode Number:  58

Original Air Date:  September 14, 1993

Directed by:  Frank Paur

Written by:  Brynne Stephens

First Appearance(s):  None

 

Last episode, the Batman-viewing audience was introduced to a new crime fighter:  Batgirl. I think most viewers saw this one coming from a mile away, but it’s always exciting when a new character is officially introduced. In trying to remember this show as a kid, I do wonder if there was Batgirl artwork and promotional material ahead of her debut. Usually action figure companies have a way of spoiling things like this so it wouldn’t surprise me if Batgirl’s arrival was well-telegraphed. They even saved it for the September period when a lot of new programming is unveiled. Then again, Batgirl didn’t have a great reputation in 1993 since the audience mostly knew her from the 1960s show which DC was trying to distance itself from as much as possible. In the comics, she had already been paralyzed by Joker in the famous Alan Moore story “The Killing Joke” so her star had faded. Still, this was a nice way to bring her back into the spotlight and after seeing what motivated her to dawn the cape and cowl we now get to see how she is at this crime-fighting stuff, while also tackling a number of other loose ends.

robin and alfred

With Batman off playing dress-up, it’s up to Robin and Alfred to figure out their next move.

The episode opens with Batgirl (Melissa Gilbert) staking out the home of Gil Mason (Tim Matheson). Robin (Loren Lester) drops in on her, and not knowing who is behind her, she takes a swing at him. He drops her with a leg sweep and pounces on her rather suggestively and it’s obvious we’re going to be playing some games with Robin and Batgirl. The two are a little combative with each other, but they turn their attention to Mason when he takes a call on his patio. Robin is able to fire a similar device to what Batman used in the previous episode to communicate with Gordon onto Mason’s patio. He’s able to eavesdrop on Mason’s call this way, and shuts Batgirl out. She produces a pair of ordinary binoculars and eavesdrops the more traditional way. Lucky for Robin, Mason repeats aloud the address he’s supposed to head to, and lucky for Batgirl he also writes it down where she can see it. More playful banter ensues as Robin basically tells her to go home, not realizing she was able to spy the address. She, to his surprise, agrees while using a mock child’s voice that is just dripping with sarcasm. Robin doesn’t pick up on it, while Batgirl notes that he’s not the brightest bulb.

robin whoa

Easy there, Boy Wonder!

The two crime fighters head for an old subway station that has seen better days. Batgirl is shown to be a little clumsy as she traverses Gotham, but it’s understandable since she’s new at this. She arrives and finds Robin is already there. While he stealthily takes out some lookouts, Batgirl slips in and finds Mason with a group of men. It’s Two-Face (Richard Moll) and his goons and they want Mason to have a look at our buddy Matches Malone. It would seem Two-Face was only half-genuine in his death threat to Malone as he’s still alive. Mason doesn’t recognize him, and he’s pretty irritated about being dragged down to have a look considering it would seem this Batgirl is onto him. Two-Face lets him know he has nothing to fear, as he’s moving up the timeline and going for Gordon. As Batgirl sneaks in for a closer look, one of the guys Robin tied up is able to trip her and she stumbles into the Boy Wonder. This rouses the gang before Two-Face can finish revealing their full plan, and Malone shouts out a warning to Robin as they open fire.

shadow batgirl

She may be new to this, but Batgirl already knows how to cast an imposing image.

As Batgirl and Robin try to avoid getting lit up, Malone rolls onto the subway tracks and underneath the platform. Two-Face, having heard the warning to Robin, correctly guesses that Malone is actually Batman in disguise and unloads his tommy gun on the shadows. Mason implores him to run, and Two-Face apparently agrees as they take off and head for the surface. Mason is understandably worried about Batman uncovering their scheme, but Two-Face is less concerned as he orders his man to bomb the place. Mad Dog, the rat-faced guy from before, deposits a pair of grenades down the stairs which seals off the exit. Not wanting to leave anything to chance, Two-Face also activates some additional explosives with a remote device in his possession.

embarrassed batgirl

Batman pulling a power move.

Underground, Batman and Robin are in no mood to deal with Batgirl. She’s happy to see Robin produce Batman’s costume, as he curtly asks her “Do you mind?” as he begins to get changed. Following that, he basically gives her the tough love speech and orders her to stay out of their way. Batgirl is understandably hurt, but considering she did foul things up she doesn’t have much of a leg to stand on. As Robin and Batman search the tunnels for a way out, a noise Robin initially mistakes for a train turns out to be rushing water. The tunnel quickly fills and Batman is able to jump back onto the platform while Robin gets swept away. A well placed lasso from Batgirl finds its mark, and she and Batman are able to pull Robin to safety, thereby at least partially redeeming her in the process.

batgirl lectured

Batman’s first instinct is to treat Batgirl like a child. It’s what he does.

They’re not out of the woods yet though, as the water quickly overtakes everything and pushes them into a new cavern. Batman affixes some plastic explosive to his grapple gun and blasts a hole in the tunnel’s roof. Robin whips out his gun and is able to grapple onto the street above. They send Batgirl up first with instructions on how to send the receiver back down to them. She does as she’s told, but before Batman or Robin can escape the water comes rushing in leaving Batgirl with nothing but the grapple gun in her possession.

flood

That’s going to be a problem.

Back at police headquarters, Jim Gordon is stewing in his cell complaining about the food while Bullock awkwardly devours a particularly gooey slice of pizza from the other side of the bars. As the two discuss the merits of prison food, a bundle of dynamite appears on Gordon’s windowsill. The two try to duck for cover as the bomb goes off. Two hooded men enter Gordon’s cell and grab him, saying aloud that “Rupert Thorne never forgets who his friends are,” to cover their tracks. Bullock is left to watch helplessly from the hall demanding someone get some keys down there. It also falls to Bullock to deal with the media in the aftermath, a task he’s not well-suited for. As he angrily storms into the jail a cop is handling the phones. He can’t understand what the woman on the other end is saying, suspecting the phone lines have been damaged, but tells her if she wants the story on Gordon’s escape to come down to HQ. On the other end, it’s Batgirl who’s horrified to find out that Two-Face has Gordon.

In the subway, Batman and Robin take shelter in an old subway car as they try to find a way out. Batman decides to disengage the breaks on the old car and let the water take them wherever it wishes. This proves to be a sound plan as it smashes through the wall leading them to relative safety. As the subway car dangles from the newly created hole, Batman is forced to use a handle from the car as makeshift grappling hook since both he and Robin are without their grapple guns. It’s enough to get them to ground level and the two head for the wharf assuming Two-Face has already abducted Gordon.

gil mason set to kill

Gil has some evil intentions.

Batgirl gets there first and finds Mason, Two-Face, and his men have Gordon in their possession. Mason is preparing to execute Gordon, but first he has to lay it on thick and even mentions making sure Barbara is taken care of. Proving she’s a quick study, Batgirl tosses a couple of Batarangs Robin had given her to disarm some of the men. She then tosses some tear gas their way and is able to extricate Gordon. “Batgirl, I presume,” he says as they duck for cover under heavy fire. As the bad guys bare down, Batman and Robin swoop in to offer their assistance. Robin even slips in a playful “Miss me?” upon seeing she and Gordon. As they deal with Two-Face, Mason is able to slip away via a motorboat and Batgirl gives chase. As for Two-Face, he heads for a marina dubbed the Silver Dollar which has a gigantic version of his coin on the facade. Batman is able to knock it down and on top of Two-Face to incapacitate him, his face almost cartoonishly squashes as it lands on him.

Left alone to deal with Mason, Batgirl pulls herself into the speeding boat as Mason takes aim. His shot misses, but does hit the fuel tank causing a fire to break out. Batgirl climbs aboard and kicks Mason’s gun away. The two wrestle and Mason is able to yank her mask off and is shocked to find the face of Barbara Gordon beneath it. He backs off slightly, allowing Barbara an opening to take him out. She jumps off the boat with Mason’s unconscious body as it smashes into Gotham’s version of the Statue of Liberty.

Batman_vs_Two-Face

Batman and Two-Face are left to duel, I just wish the 60s theme played during this scene.

The scene shifts to a press conference outside Gotham PD HQ the next day. Summer Gleeson (Mari Devon) is there to ask Gordon how it feels to be a free man, while he notes that Mason is in a coma, but has been indicted for his crimes. Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson are on the steps behind Gordon for some reason, along with Barbara. Gleeson asks Gordon what he thinks of the mysterious Batgirl and he says she’s as welcomed in Gotham as Batman and Robin. Dick asks Bruce a similar question about if he thinks they’ll see her again. He seems to look Barbara’s way as he playfully says there’s always room for one more and suggests they’ll probably see her again. This prompts Barbara to not so coyly say “I wouldn’t be at all surprised.”

batgirl vs gil

Batgirl doesn’t need a gun, a well-placed kick will do.

“Shadow of the Bat” is a wrap and it’s a satisfying way to conclude the story begun in Part I. An obviously new to crime-fighting Batgirl demonstrates some growing pains, but also gets to play a role in taking Mason down and exonerating her father. Batman and Robin are understandably hostile towards the presence of a rookie in their midst, especially when she messes things up for them and nearly gets them killed, but they certainly come around rather quickly. Robin is also quite playful throughout and it seems they’re teasing a potential romance for he and Batgirl. They are college students, after all. I also like the ambiguous end. While the setup of all three being in the same place is a bit odd (why would Gordon invite Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson to the press conference?), it’s understandably necessary to send the message it wants which is to basically let the audience know that Bruce and Dick aren’t so stupid as to not know who Batgirl is. Well, at least Bruce might not be as we’ll find out later that Dick is still in the dark (Batgirl did note he’s not too bright). What it doesn’t address is if Jim Gordon is in the dark or not. It’s hard to believe a simple mask would cause him to not recognize his own daughter, but perhaps it’s even harder to believe he would publicly give his blessing for Batgirl to operate in Gotham essentially putting his daughter in harm’s way. That’s all stuff for future episodes to deal with, though.

Dong Yang handled the animated for Part II, which is surprising because it’s very uniform with Part I. There’s even a shadowy Batgirl shot that looks similar to one from the first part. Had I not looked at the credits I would have assumed the same animation house did both episodes. It looks quite good though, and I like that Batgirl is differentiated from Batman even further by having a lighter shade of blue for her costume. And I don’t know if it was a deliberate choice, but I also like that Batgirl got ahold of a grapple gun so she should be able to freely use the handy gadget when she reappears eventually. And she will reappear. They also conveniently put Mason into a coma, so for now, Barbara’s identity is safe. His condition will never be followed-up, maybe he has memory loss or something.

batgirl unmasked

Mason makes an important discovery during his scuffle with Batgirl, but it has no repercussions so apparently it wasn’t very important.

As far as this being a vehicle for Two-Face, I suppose that’s the only spot where it comes up short. They must have wanted a marquee villain for Batgirl’s debut, and Two-Face does fit the bill. It also allowed them to use the Thorne red-herring, and it further makes sense that Two-Face would want to frame him. I suppose they could have just used Thorne, or really anyone, but it does add a little spice to go with one of the show’s standout villains. Unfortunately, his character just doesn’t have any growth and he’s even dispatched rather easily.

Even though I very much enjoyed these two episodes, I still maintain that my preference is for Batman to remain a solo act. As such, it does not disappoint me at all that this is Batgirl’s only appearance in season one. She will return for one episode in season two, but that’s all as far as the original series goes. She, like Robin, will be more of a featured player in The New Batman Adventures, but it may have disappointed some when she didn’t immediately become a more common sight. At least in the case of Batgirl, she brings quality over quantity.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Shadow of the Bat – Part I”

Shadow_of_the_Bat_Part_IEpisode Number:  57

Original Air Date:  September 13, 1993

Directed by:  Frank Paur

Written by:  Brynne Stephens

First Appearance(s):  Batgirl, Gil Mason

 

This show has really been killing it of late and today’s episode is no different. After introducing Barbara Gordon back in “Heart of Steel” we’ve now arrived at the moment we all knew was coming. At least, those of us who were even remotely familiar with Batman lore. Barbara has an important role to play, and “Shadow of the Bat” is where she starts to take on that role. Like many two-parters that are introducing a character, it’s in Part II where we’ll really see Gotham’s new heroine in action. This episode also marks the return of Two-Face as a proper villain. After his debut, he’s largely been a secondary character showing up only in ensemble episodes alongside other villains. His introductory episodes were almost too good in terms of portraying him as a sympathetic villain, so the writers found it hard to utilize him as just another villain going forward. His episodes need a bit more weight behind them, and these next two episodes at least do a good job of referencing his first appearance, even though he’s still largely portrayed as just another adversary. And if you’re following along with the DVD release of the show (or soon to be released Blu Ray), then this is also a noteworthy episode since it’s the first one of the Volume 3 set. Two volumes down, two to go.

gotham pd

Gordon and Gotham’s finest are on the scene to start this one.

The episode opens on some dark warehouse where a couple of crooks are up to no good. They’re not too happy about the working conditions, but their boss Rupert Thorne (John Vernon) pops in unannounced to give them a good jolt. Soon the cops show up and surround the place. Thorne declares he can’t be seen there and heads for the roof while his two lackeys create a diversion. The police unveil a sleek new battering ram of an armored truck that plows into the warehouse and there’s not much the two can do with that. They’re apprehended rather quickly, but Thorne was able to ascend a ladder and to the roof. The problem for him though, is that’s exactly where bats like to roam and he soon encounters the Dark Knight. Thorne demonstrates how terrible a shot he is when he misses Batman at what could be considered point-blank range. The police, Gordon, Montoya, Bullock and a new face named Gil Mason (Tim Matheson), arrive on the roof. Gordon makes it a point to offer a word of caution to this new guy, Mason, who starts ordering Thorne to show himself. A sarcastic quip from the darkness confirms what we already suspected – Batman has subdued the crime boss and left him strung-up.

gil mason

Meet Gil Mason, Gotham’s new hot-shot deputy commissioner.

At Wayne Manor, Bruce is watching the coverage of Thorne’s capture. A lot of the credit is given to Gotham’s new deputy commissioner, Gil Mason, who issues a warning to all of the other scum in Gotham. Alfred delivers Bruce a tall, frosty, glass of milk (he’s a role model, kids), but notices Bruce doesn’t seem to be delighting in the coverage like he should. Credit is also given to a shadow informant, and Bruce would love to know who that is.

Gordon_arrested

Gordon? Arrested?! What is this, Bizarro World?

At the Gordon household, we see young Barbara practicing her gymnastics routine. She’s quite adept on the balance beam and it’s pretty important for the show to reveal her skill at this point. Commissioner Gordon is there as well, and the two start talking about Mason. Gordon considers him a godsend, and even suggests to Barbara he’s single which she needles him about. A knock at the door interrupts their conversation, and they’re shocked to see it’s none other than Gil Mason flanked by a couple of officers. They’re here to arrest Jim Gordon for accepting bribes, and both of the Gordons are furious as Jim is led away in handcuffs. Someone else is also furious, Wayne, when he sees the coverage in the paper the next morning.

barbara and janet

Another new face is Harvey Dent’s replacement as DA, Janet Van Dorn. She’ll play a bigger role in a later episode.

At the jailhouse, Barbara is seen pleading with the district attorney Janet Van Dorn (Lynette Mettey) to reconsider the decision to deny bail to her father. The kids watching the program get a nice lesson in what a flight risk is, while also learning the details of Gordon’s crime. They found evidence of laundered deposits being sent into Gordon’s accounts and even some offshore ones. Barbara is aghast, but Van Dorn won’t budge on her decision and suggests maybe she doesn’t know her father as well as she thought. As Van Dorn walks away, Bullock pops in to reassure Barbara that the entire force is on her side. He lets her know they even planned a rally for the commissioner, and who organized it? None other than Gil Mason. He assures Barbara he was just doing his job the night before, but he also supports her dad. Barbara is elated at the thought of a rally, but she does suggest it needs a star attraction to really drive the point home.

Meanwhile, Batman is snooping through the police evidence room. A patrolling officer pops in forcing Batman to sneak out through the ventilation, but not before he got a look at the evidence against Gordon. He heads to the jail and fires a little bat-shaped device into Gordon’s cell. It’s a transmitter, and he’s able to communicate with Gordon through it. He lets him know he took a look at the evidence and thinks it’s a quality forgery. He rules out the work of Thorne, but mentions he’s heard word about a new syndicate moving into Gotham. Gordon is understandably more concerned about the well-being of his daughter, and asks Batman to check on her and he agrees. True to his word, Batman drops in on Barbara, but all she wants to talk about is the rally for her dad. She begs Batman to attend, but he tells her he has more important things to worry about. He advises her to stay out of it, but that only angers Barbara. As he swings away, Barbara vows rather ominously that Batman will appear at her father’s rally.

At a rundown old building, a shadowy figure reads a newspaper. A rat-faced hoodlum (Greg Burson) enters the room to see what his boss wants. A throaty, unmistakable, voice gives him his orders, and the rat-faced man takes his leave.

matches

Bruce Wayne’s most famous alter-ego:  Matches Malone.

At the Batcave, Bruce is getting into his latest disguise – Matches Malone. Robin is there to beg to be brought along or for Bruce to at least wear a wire, but Bruce denies him. He does ask if Robin is up for making a public appearance though, which leads us to the rally for Gordon. Robin looks on as Mason delivers a speech to a raucous crowd outside police headquarters. Before Robin can swoop in and make his appearance known, Batman drops in! Robin is shocked to see the figure of Batman swing down and make a brief demonstration on a nearby building before running off. At street level, Bullock is also less than amused declaring him a show-off.

imposter batman

Batman’s got some sleek new curves.

“Batman” disappears into an alley and it soon becomes obvious that this isn’t Batman, but rather Barbara in a store-bought costume. The animation takes some liberties in hiding her identity, but does make it a point to show Barbara removing some padding and height extensions after the fact. Before she can slip away though a car comes speeding into the crowd. On the stage, Mason drops down and ducks behind the podium just before the car opens fire. They don’t appear to hit anyone aside from the search lights. Barbara, apparently feeling emboldened by the costume, goes into her gymnastics routine after the car. She leaps up to grab a banner that has been strung up. She seems surprised when it gives-away leading me to think she intended to use it as leverage, but the banner comes down over the car’s windshield causing it to crash. Robin swoops in and sees the imposter Batman and calls to her, but she takes off running. For some reason, Robin decides to give chase and ignore the gun-toting hoodlums in the car. He manages to grab the back of Barbara’s cowl causing a section to rip off exposing her hair. Robin stops in his tracks to marvel at the girl Batman, while a nearby Summer Gleeson (Mari Devon) snatches a camera and films the runaway Batgirl.

barbara revealed

Batgirl revealed.

By now, the criminals have emerged from their wreck and have taken note of this Batgirl. They open fire on her, but like most of the criminals of Gotham, they too are terrible shots as Barbara is able to vault and flip her way through the gunfire unscathed. They manage to hit the only searchlight they didn’t destroy before, causing Barbara to fall on her face. Before they can take advantage of her predicament, Robin pops in with some well placed Batarangs disarming the thugs. They take off while Robin checks on Barbara. He asks if she’s crazy, while she demonstrates she’s only interested in catching those guys. She urges him to come with her and the two take off in different directions after the pair of thugs. Barbara catches up with hers and takes him out by tossing a garbage can lid at the back of his legs. She pounces on him and removes the hood he’s wearing revealing the rat-faced goon from earlier. He tosses her aside into some garbage and gets away. Robin, apparently unsuccessful in apprehending his man, returns to the alley and finds Barbara gone leaving him to wonder where this Batgirl came from.

At Wayne Manor, Dick is watching the coverage which is being reported as an assassination attempt on the deputy commissioner’s life. A lot of the coverage is also focused on Batgirl and where she could have come from. Dick, apparently possessing DVR technology in 1993, rewinds the coverage when he sees something odd. Mason, on the stage during the attack, ducks behind the podium before seeing the guns. Dick and Alfred both find this suspicious.

MadDog

Rat Face. Despite his resemblance to the vermin, the credits tell me his name is actually Mad Dog.

The next morning, Bullock is aghast at the appearance of yet another masked vigilante, wondering when we’ll see Weasel Woman. He tosses the paper aside and then sees Barbara, which for some reason seems to embarrass him while Officer Montoya just smiles. The two leave Barbara just sitting there. It’s a rather awkward scene as we don’t know why she’s there and it’s rather odd that the officers didn’t ask. Anyway, there’s a collection of mug shots in a binder left behind and Barbara thumbs through it. Conveniently enough, she finds the rat-faced thug almost right away. We then shift locations to the home of Gil Mason. He answers his door and finds an excited Barbara who is about to tell him she knows who tried to kill him when she’s shocked to see he has company. The same rat-faced thug is in Mason’s parlor, and he excuses himself telling Mason he’ll see him at the “business meeting.” Mason then asks Barbara what she wanted to tell him, and she’s forced to improvise and says she just wanted to see how he was doing. He tries to offer her a drink, but she declines claiming she’s off to see her dad leaving Mason alone and confused.

barbara surprised

“Surprise” is not a great look for Barbara.

At a bar called The Stacked Deck, Matches Malone plays pool while rat-face talks on the phone. He’s in a phone booth and assures his boss that he can’t be heard. The camera zooms in on his lips and the narrowed eyes of Malone basically letting us know that Batman can read lips. What can’t he do? Rat-face tells his boss he’s on his way and he ducks out of the bar with Malone right behind him.

barbara and cowl

A character thoughtfully looking at a mask. Where could this lead, I wonder?

At her home, Barbara converses with her precious teddy bear Woobie wondering who she can turn to for help. With Mason apparently in on the job, she has no one to turn to since Batman is too busy for her. She takes notice of her discarded Batman costume and picks it up. Remarking it could use a little work, she smiles.

Malone has tracked the hoodlum to his hideout. A curious building looms before him. Half of it is well put-together and in over-all good shape, while the other half is dilapidated and ruinous. Malone fires a grapple gun and pulls himself onto a window sill. A shot inside the building lets us know the place is armed, and when Malone lifts the window open he’s electrocuted and collapses into the building. A shadowy figure looms.

Malone awakens to find himself face to face with none other than Two-Face (Richard Moll). It was pretty obvious who this was, but it doesn’t hurt to try to make the reveal feel dramatic. Malone tries to cover his tracks, insisting he’s just there to get in on whatever is going down. Two-Face lets him know he doesn’t like him, but since this is Two-Face, we’re going to let the coin decide Malone’s fate. Good heads and Malone gets a job, bad heads and he no longer gets to live. The coin does not go Malone’s way, and the rat-faced crook introduces Bruce’s face to the stock of his gun.

At police headquarters, a shadowy figure rummages through the armory. It’s Barbara, and talking to herself declares there’s only one person she can turn to now:  Batgirl!

batgirl begins

The only logical shot the episode could end on.

And with that, we’re left on a bit of a cliff-hanger. As an introduction for Batgirl, I’d say this one basically nails it. I’m on record as not being a fan of the whole Bat-family thing, I prefer my Batman solo, but if we’re going to have a Batgirl then you would be hard-pressed to come up with a better origin story than this one. Framed by the police, Commissioner Gordon finds himself jailed without bail and his daughter sets out to save him. While she perhaps gives up on the duo of Batman and Robin a bit too easily, it’s within her character (as established in previous episodes) for her to want to make sure her father goes free and that she would welcome that responsibility herself. She knows Mason is involved somehow, and she doesn’t know how deep it goes so she can’t naively go to Bullock or Montoya about her findings. She could possibly contact Batman, but as we saw with his little foray into the underworld, that wouldn’t have been fruitful anyway.

The story seems straight-forward. Two-Face has partnered with Mason to frame Gordon and thereby weaken the police force, but there are still questions. I suppose chiefly is what will happen to Batman? Considering he’s the star of the show, I don’t feel too concerned for his well-being. There’s also what action will Robin take since he’s onto Mason as well? Will his investigation force him to cross paths with Batgirl? And furthermore, is Rupert Thorne part of this in any way? It would seem strange to open the episode with him, but given his connection to Two-Face he may yet have a role to play.

All of this will have to wait until next week when we dive into Part II of “Shadow of the Bat.” Like every two-parter so far, the first chapter has left me excited and interested in where this is going. Hopefully the second chapter pays off. The episode is well-executed and looks really sharp thanks to the work of Spectrum Animation Studio. There are lots of rich blacks, likely due to the fact that this episode contains a number of “shadowy figures.” The sequence of Barbara in her Batman costume running away from the rally is quite a bit of fun to watch in slow-motion. There are stills where it’s obvious the studio “cheated” and just drew Batman, but there’s also some cool shadowy shots of an obvious Batgirl in there as well. The costume Barbara unveils at the end is also a solid design. reminiscent of Catwoman’s look, it keeps things simple with an all-gray look. A loose hanging yellow belt and chest insignia differentiate it slightly from Batman’s looks, and she also kept the exposed hair flowing out of the back of the cowl. I suppose logically it would not be hard to figure out her identity, so in some respects it causes me to appreciate the Batgirl of the 60s TV show who wore a wig when in costume. Overall, I like the look though and this was a nice debut for Gotham’s featured heroine.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Heart of Steel: Part II”

Heart_of_Steel_Part_II_Title_CardEpisode Number:  39

Original Air Date:  November 17, 1992

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Brynne Stephens

First Appearance(s):  None

 

When we last saw our hero, Batman was being attacked by his own Batcave after it had been hacked by Randa Duane and H.A.R.D.A.C. The situation seemed some-what dire when the previous episode ended, but I mean come on, there’s no way Batman is being done in by his own devices. He extricates himself and gets the Batcave back under his control without too much fuss, and immediately his attention turns to Duane who is no where to be found. He had left her in the mansion alone and she works for a man who creates robots, and Batman is smart enough to realize the sabotage at his own home and her profession probably overlap.

Batman_TAS_Heart_of_Steel_27

Barbara gets to play detective in this one.

Meanwhile, Karl Possum (William Sanderson) is feeling some heat from the police and decides to have second thoughts about how much free will he programmed H.A.R.D.A.C. to possess. When he says this out-loud and starts to fiddle with the super computer’s innards, H.A.R.D.A.C. (Jeff Bennett) decides he’s not onboard with this and Rossum is soon incapacitated. This is the beginning of H.A.R.D.A.C.’s next phase as he communicates wth the imposter Commissioner Gordon about taking out Bruce Wayne. He also deploys a copy, which the show canon refers to as a duplicant, of Mayor Hill (Lloyd Bochner) who brazenly marches into the real mayor’s office to take his place.

Batman_TAS_Heart_of_Steel_29

Bullock’s been working out.

Caught up in all of this is Barbara Gordon (Melissa Gilbert). She knows something is up with her dad, and Detective Bullock (Robert Costanzo) gave her a tip about Rossum. Barbara does what I assume most people would want to do in this world when they have a problem, but maybe don’t have the means – she calls Batman. Activating the signal on the roof of Gotham PD summons the caped crusader who is surprised to find it’s the younger Gordon who called him this time. He’s concerned about what’s been going on in Gotham, but before they can get too into detail they’re confronted by Bullock. Now, Batman and Bullock have not had a particularly warm relationship in this show. Bullock is openly hostile towards Batman, probably some-what because he’s jealous of the fact that Batman gets to operate outside that pesky thing called “The Law” while he’s held to a higher standard. He also just plain doesn’t trust a guy in a mask, and who can blame him? Even though the two share no love for each other, they’ve worked together in the past and have never really appeared close to coming to blows or anything.

Heart_of_Steel_Emerge

It’s crazy what we look like on the inside.

That has all changed. Bullock approaches Batman this evening with the aim of instigating a fight. He’s ready to go, and much to Batman’s surprise, he’s pretty damn powerful. Batman is reluctant to fight at first, but is forced to defend himself. With a little help from Barbara, Batman is able to toss Bullock into the Bat-Signal which brings the fight to an end. Since this is a cartoon, tossing a body into anything electrical means it gets lit-up in a blaze of electricity! When this occurs, Bullock’s skin hardens and falls away revealing an android body underneath. In a move right out of a sci-fi movie, the robot crawls towards Batman fighting until the very end, forcing Batman to cut its head off with a shuriken. Seeing the imposter Bullock is enough evidence for Barbara to make the assumption that her father has been replaced with a robot as well. Batman, of course, knows what’s going on now and advises Barbara to go stay with a friend. She grabs his cape and tries to pull a power-move in announcing she’s coming with him, but Batman is having none of it.

Bruce Wayne has an appointment at some sort of rich person’s social club. He arrives and is greeted by Mayor Hill who possesses some tell-tale glowing red eyes, along with everyone else at the club. Randa Duane (Leslie Easterbrook) shows up with her little stun gun and tries to take out Bruce, who is able to get away and jumps into an elevator – a handy place for a quick costume change. Other robots pursue and pry the door open, but Batman is gone. He snuck out the top of the elevator car and cuts the cables, sending the robots to a smashing end.

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Robots are kind of goofy.

Barbara, not willing to take Batman’s advice, shows up at Cybertron’s lab and is able to cleverly sneak in past security. Unfortunately for her, she couldn’t have anticipated that basically everything in the lab is a robot, and a wastebasket takes notice of her intrusion, sprouts legs, and begins to follow her. Before she finds anything juicy, the robot transforms into a more humanoid machine and subdues her. Rossum and Duane then confront her and give her the cliche line of “You’ll be joining your father soon.”

Batman is also snooping around Cybertron and slips inside the building. H.A.R.D.A.C. has been waiting for him though so there’s no sneaking for The Dark Knight this evening as some robot security robots pounce on him. He battles his way to the main lab where the massive H.A.R.D.A.C. is stored only to find that Barbara is the latest person to be captured by the super computer. Even though H.A.R.D.A.C. is not human, it demonstrates it’s still susceptible to pride and gleefully boasts (well, as gleeful as an emotionless robot can) about his grand plan to replace humanity with robots. Humanity is imperfect, and in H.A.R.D.A.C.’s estimation robots are superior because they don’t make mistakes. This idea was implanted in him by Rossum, who first created robots as a result of losing his daughter in a car accident. He felt he could improve upon humanity for some actions, but H.A.R.D.A.C. is taking that premise many steps forward. In some respects, it’s not really any different from our society’s own desire for self-driving vehicles.

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I’m pretty sure there’s a rule in entertainment that if you have humanoid robots you must include a shot where one loses half its face.

H.A.R.D.A.C. may be willing to replace humanity, but for some reason he’s not willing to destroy it. It reveals that the individuals who have been replaced are still alive, being kept in a sort of suspended animation floating in some water tank (why is it always a water tank?). Seeing the captives springs Batman into action, and he’s able to smash the tank freeing the likes of Gordon, Bullock, Hill, and the real Rossum. Batman is forced into conflict with the various robots while Barbara and the others try and escape. Rossum knows the ins and outs of his own lab and is able to lead everyone out, but when Batman doesn’t soon follow, Barbara races back in to help.

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Batman’s going to need some help here, and that lazy, good-for-nothing, ward of his is no where to be found.

Batman is forced into a fight with Randa, and it’s finally confirmed that she too is a robot. Batman is able to maneuver her under an elevator, which drops down and crushes her (kind of odd that they used the same method of an elevator crushing robots more than once). Batman is a little worse for ware following the fight, but Barbara shows up to aid him in getting out. H.A.R.D.A.C., feeling it has no other alternative, initiates a self-destruct mechanism to kill Batman and Barbara, but of course they make it out.

Following their escape, Barbara and her dad get to have a proper reunion while Rossum laments his role in all that happened. A surprisingly cheerful Mayor Hill comforts him and lets him know the resulting investigation will almost certainly clear him of any real wrong-doing (good luck dodging lawsuits, though). The usual “let’s go home,” line is uttered and the camera gets ready to pan out. Commissioner Gordon remarks he’s getting too old for this line of work, while Barbara says she enjoyed herself tonight. She might as well have winked at the camera after that one.

“Heart of Steel – Part II” does a good job of building off of the first episode in a satisfying way. The two-parters have demonstrated a strong ability to setup a story with a very methodical first half, but sometimes the second doesn’t really deliver. This one does as it relies a lot on action sequences. It saves answering the questions raised in Part I almost entirely for this second act, even though some of the questions had fairly obvious answers. It’s still satisfying though, and the writers and animators seem to have a lot of fun with giving Batman robotic enemies to destroy. Since they’re not living, Batman gets to act a bit more ruthlessly and does things he normally would not do, similar to the Captain Clown fight from way back in episode 4. Most importantly, the episode foreshadows the vigilante Barbara Gordon will become. It’s a far more satisfying way of introducing the character rather than immediately jumping to the Batgirl plot. The groundwork has been laid, so it will have more weight behind it when the change inevitably does come. The Barbara character is also handled exceptionally well. She’s smart and crafty and doesn’t pull-off anything in this episode that feels far-fetched. She comes off as natural and genuine and viewers likely wanted more of her following the events of this episode.

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And everybody’s happy in the end.

The episode is obviously influenced by films like The Terminator, as Terminator II was pretty popular around this time. The duplicants, which share a nod to Blade Runner’s replicants, function very similarly to the Terminators from that franchise with the only thing missing being time travel. H.A.R.D.A.C. is basically Skynet, a sophisticated A.I. gone rogue, with a logical motivation. It could have felt out of place in a Batman story, but the writers made it work. And if you enjoyed H.A.R.D.A.C. then I am happy to report that it will make one more appearance in the series before all is said and done.

“Heart of Steel” is a dark-horse contender for best two-parter in the show’s history. It moves along at a good clip and contains a fun, and interesting story. Perhaps it’s not all that unique given the obvious nods to other popular franchises, but the story is executed in a manner that feels fresh and is ultimately rewarding. The introduction of Barbara Gordon is icing on the cake. I am not much of a fan of Batgirl (or Robin, for that matter), but this episode at least makes me forget that. I don’t know if I’ll feel that way when Batgirl ultimately does show up, but for now I am not down on the character. I like that the show was willing to give Karl Rossum a tragic motivation for his inventions in the death of his daughter. It’s a plot device that works, I only wish they had delved into it a bit more, but maybe they felt that would be too heavy for a kid’s show. There are some moments of obvious corn. The resolution for the episode feels abrupt and a tad lazy given the bow put on everything. It also doesn’t make much sense for H.A.R.D.A.C. to have kept his captives alive, but I understand they don’t want to off a whole chunk of the supporting cast. And I’m still shocked that Batman defeating robots with an elevator on multiple occasions in this one episode made it past the storyboard stage. The short-comings are forgivable though and I can safely recommend “Heart of Steel” as a two-part episode that is very much worth watching.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Heart of Steel: Part I”

Heart_of_Steel_Part_IEpisode Number:  38

Original Air Date:  November 16, 1992

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Brynne Stephens

First Appearance(s):  Barbara Gordon, Karl Rossum, H.A.R.D.A.C.

 

There’s quite a bit to unpack in this one, which may seem odd since this is an episode that does not feature a “name” villain. Debuting in this episode is H.A.R.D.A.C. (Jeff Bennett), a clear nod to HAL2000 from 2001:  A Space Odyssey who’s existence in this cartoon probably owes a lot to James Cameron’s Terminator franchise which was red hot in ’92. H.A.R.D.A.C., which stands for Holographic Analytical Reciprocating Digital Computer, is basically an A.I. like Skynet capable of integrating with the machines around it, as well as able to construct robots that resemble humans. H.A.R.D.A.C. will obviously appear in the second part of this two-part story and will also make another appearance in the series, but the big debut this week is none other than the someday Batgirl, Barbara Gordon (Melissa Gilbert). Up until this point, we have seen nothing of Commissioner Gordon’s home-life, but anyone who grew up with the comics or watched the 60’s television series knew that Gordon had a daughter named Barbara and she is Batgirl. What we don’t know about this version of Barbara is where she is at currently in her life. We also don’t know anything about her mother, but it would seem Gordon is a single father and I honestly can’t recall if that’s ever addressed in a future episode. The episode is also written by Brynne Stephens, who now goes by Brynne Chandler and at one point as Brynne Chandler Reaves. You may recognize that surname if you’ve been paying attention to the writing credits in this show as her former husband, Michael Reaves, is also a writer for this show. Stephens is interesting because she was given the role of basically being the Barbara Gordon writer as she is the main writer for all of her appearances. They must have felt she had a good grasp on the character, and maybe the show runners were just smart enough to realize it’s a good idea to have a woman write their most important female character. In addition to her credits here, she also contributed to some other stellar (and admittedly some not so stellar) shows like Gargoyles and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (the good episodes, trust me).

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Meet the newest addition to Batman’s rogues gallery:  Briefcase Robot!

The episode opens at Wayne Enterprises. A blond woman in a white dress is shown walking in from behind and starts chatting with the officer at the security desk. She places a briefcase on the floor and just walks out. Now, if this was done in 2018 security would likely notice it and call in a bomb squad, but in 1992 they probably would just consider it a lost item. That night, the briefcase reveals itself as some kind of a robot by sprouting legs and producing a little camera that kind of looks like an eyeball. It sneaks into a restricted area and produces a laser to cut its way into a safe to vacuum out what look like fairly large microchips. At the same time, Bruce Wayne is heading home and he needs security assistance to make sure he doesn’t trip the alarm as he leaves. As he’s being lead out, the alarm goes off and they see the odd device on a security camera. The guard ushers Wayne into a safe room and tells him to remain there, just to be safe, which of course Wayne has no intention of doing. He activates some sort of revolving corner in the room vanishing from sight.

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He really does have some wonderful toys.

As the little robot tries to escape, Batman emerges from an elevator armed with a trusty Batarang. Batman chases it to the rooftop where the robot fires off a rocket towards the beach. Apparently disabled, Batman retrieves a Bat-glider from a storage shed on the roof and takes off in the direction the rocket was fired. Meanwhile, the rocket touches down on the beach and the same woman from earlier is there to retrieve it. She picks up the stolen microchips and hops into a car with no traditional steering implements. She simply orders it “home” and the car obeys. Batman sees the vehicle speeding off from above. The woman notices, and the vehicle begins firing on Batman and strikes his glider knocking him from the sky.

Batman, failing to stop the thief, returns to the Batcave where Alfred is waiting. Some mechanical arms descend from the ceiling to hoist the battered Bat-Glider above for repairs. As Batman fiddles with it, Lucius Fox (Brock Peters) calls to inform him of what was stolen. The chips are apparently part of what Wayne Enterprises is referring to as wetware, a new advanced type of artificial intelligence. The good news though is that without the accompanying data files they’re useless, and the robot was not able to grab those from the mainframe.

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Bruce getting a little creepy with Barbara.

The next day, Wayne and Fox meet with the Gotham Police at Wayne Enterprises over the theft. Fox informs Bruce that a Cybertron Industries is a competitor in this field, and he thinks they’re the only ones who could possibly make use of the chips. He doesn’t accuse them of being behind it, but it’s enough of a lead that Batman wants to investigate. This is where Barbara also makes her debut as she comes into the room to check on her father, Commissioner Gordon. She just returned home from college, and Bruce sort of pokes fun at the beat-up old teddy bear in her purse. Apparently, her dad always brings it along when he picks her up from the airport. As everyone leaves, Barbara forgets the bear and Commissioner Gordon returns for it in kind of a cute, and humorous moment. The implication being he obviously has more of an attachment to his daughter’s childhood toy than she does.

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Randa Duane, who can blame Bruce for wanting to get to know her a little better?

It turns out, Wayne knows the founder of Cybertron, Karl Rossum (William Sanderson), who apparently taught Wayne about artificial intelligence. Bruce pays him a visit the and Rossum is happy to invite him into his laboratory to show him some of his work. He apparently knows about the break-in from the night before, but basically claims no knowledge of Wayne’s wetware seemingly because he wouldn’t need it. He then shows Bruce H.A.R.D.A.C., his newest A.I. which he seems to have high hopes for. He struggles to find the right words to explain how the colossal device functions, but they’re soon interrupted anyway by Rossum’s assistant who emerges from the machine. Clad all in a tight-fitting silver bodysuit, Wayne seems more than a little interested in Randa Duane (Leslie Easterbrook) and pulls the power move of asking her to dinner right in front of her boss (I mean, come on Bruce, you don’t know what her relationship is to Rossum) and she accepts.

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Judging by Rossum’s expression, it would appear he is not too thrilled with this development.

Satisfied with landing a hot date for the following night, Bruce departs and Duane returns to H.A.R.D.A.C. The A.I. is apparently sentient, and it scolds Duane for not getting it the information it needs to make use of the chips stolen the night before. At this point, Duane removes her hood to reveal herself as the blond woman who orchestrated the theft. She apologizes, as quick cuts to inside H.A.R.D.A.C. reveal he’s constructing a humanoid robot that is to aid them in securing whatever it is it seeks. There’s a bunch of smoke obscuring the robot’s face as it emerges from inside H.A.R.D.A.C., but Duane seems impressed.

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A couple of visitors at the Gordon residence.

We’re then taken to the Gordon residence, where Barbara is working on some homework on the floor while her father is reading the newspaper on the coach beside the grubby old teddy bear. When there’s a knock at the door, Jim goes to see who it is. When he opens the door he’s met by Duane and another individual who looks exactly like him. Duane hits him with some kind of stun-gun device, and soon Jim returns to the living room. Barbara, concerned by what she heard, asks him if he’s all right and he replies curtly that he’s fine. She notices he feels ice cold, and he continues to assure her he’s fine. Then he smacks the teddy bear to the floor and sits down on the couch to resume reading his paper. Barbara is shocked by this action, but says nothing.

The next day, Bruce is back in his office discussing new security measures with Fox when Randa Duane comes waltzing in. She’s clad in her white dress and pulls out a compact mirror to freshen up as Bruce and Fox continue their discussion. When they’re through, they all take their leave, but Randa leaves behind her compact. Just like the briefcase from before, it sprouts robotic appendages and a camera and starts messing around on Bruce’s computer.

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H.A.R.D.A.C. has a continued presence throughout the episode, even though it’s rarely on screen.

At Wayne Manor, Bruce and Randa are enjoying a meal by the fire. Bruce is awkwardly still dressed in a full suit as he lays on the floor with her. He receives a call from Fox about a break-in at Wayne Enterprises, and he leaves to go check it out telling Randa to just sit tight. Once he leaves, H.A.R.D.A.C. contacts Randa (apparently he can communicate directly with her like some sort of robot telepathy) to inform her that the files the little spy robot acquired were false. They deduce together the real files must be at Wayne’s residence some where. She assures her robot overlord that she’ll find them, as Alfred comes into the room with tea. She unleashes that same stun weapon that she used on Gordon on Alfred and begins her search. Wearing some high-tech looking goggles, Randa is able to find the entrance to the Batcave, and lets H.A.R.D.A.C. know about her amazing discovery.

Wayne and Fox check out the database to see what the robot stole, and Wayne then lets Fox know about the dummy files. He tells him he has the real ones at home, and then calls to check-in on Randa and Alfred. When there’s no answer he leaves immediately. When he arrives home he finds Alfred unconscious. He wakes him up and Alfred is confused by what he happened, apparently not remembering what Randa did to him. Bruce puts on his Batman costume and heads into the Batcave. He quickly realizes his computer system has been hacked as it starts going crazy. The mechanical arms that once held the Bat-glider drop from the ceiling, grabbing Batman by the shoulders and hauling him high into the ceiling as the episode fades to black with the ominous “To Be Continued” emblazoned on the screen.

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Well, that wasn’t supposed to happen.

“Heart of Steel:  Part I” follows the same general formula as the other Part Ones that we have seen so far. It’s very methodical with little action as the main players are all introduced, and since we’re dealing with a lot of new characters, there’s a lot of information to unload on the viewer. There’s a mysterious aura around Rossum and Duane, but a lot of the lingering questions are answered by the narrative, just not explicitly. We obviously know that Jim Gordon has been replaced by a robot, and since he’s ice cold and Wayne made the same observation about Randa, we know she must be a robot as well. What we don’t know is how Rossum fits into all of this. Is he an unwilling participant in the crimes of his A.I.? He seemed almost afraid of H.A.R.D.A.C. when describing it to Bruce, but it’s possible he’s up to something. I’ve, of course, seen Part II before, but I’m purposely writing this before re-watching it as I don’t remember a lot of what happens, just bits and pieces.

Our villains are pretty intriguing though. We don’t know what exactly it is that H.A.R.D.A.C. wants out of Wayne’s wetware. We also don’t know how the issue of robot Commissioner Gordon is going to play out. He hasn’t been called on yet, but he obviously serves a purpose. Barbara also knows that something is up, but we’re not sure what she is capable of. For all we know, she’s already Batgirl, but since we’ve never heard even a whisper about that character we can probably assume that isn’t the case.

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This scene probably bothered me more than it should.

There are some fun little trivia bits in this episode as well. Randa Duane seems to clearly be modeled after Marilyn Monroe, and considering she was likely built by a middle-aged man in 1992, I suppose it’s not a surprise he would want to model her after the actress. Karl Rossum also has a lot built into his simple name. He’s likely a combination of Karl Capek, who is credited with creating the word “robot,” and “R.U.R” is a play of his. That acronym is seen on the license plate of the getaway car early in the episode which apparently stands for Rossum’s Universal Robots. To top it all off, he’s voiced by William Sanderson who played inventor J.F. Sebastion in Blade Runner, the inventor of that film’s replicants. And I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but Cybertron Industries also shares a name with the homeward of the Transformers from that franchise. It’s not uncharacteristic for the show to have a bunch of Easter Eggs in it, but I’m struggling to think of a single episode with this many.

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Crafty or Careless?

There are a few downers as well. This episode features a lot of people just walking and talking, which is notoriously hard to animate and it shows. There’s some awkward animation, and also one really bad image of Batman when he emerges from the elevator early in the episode. He looks really oafish and crude, like a Ren & Stimpy drawing. I also find it silly how many Bat-measures are built into Wayne Enterprises. The revolving corner of the safe room would be clearly visible, and storing a Bat-glider on the roof behind a rickety looking door seems pretty risky. I sort of touched on it in the write-up, but I also really hated the shot of Bruce casually laying on his side when dining with Randa while still wearing his full suit. They’ve shown Bruce in more casual clothes before, they couldn’t use one of those sheets? I suppose in an episode with a lot of new characters and backgrounds, some sacrifices had to be made somewhere.

There’s a lot going on in “Heart of Steel,” and it’s setup is pretty damn good. It somewhat lacks the shock value that “Two-Face” and “Feat of Clay” had at the end of their respective first chapters, but it feels like we’re well positioned for a successful conclusion next week. My main critique of the two-parters so far is that they’ve been really good at the build part, but the payoff has been disappointing. “Feat of Clay” is probably our current champion, but I’m optimistic that “Heart of Steel” can give it a run for its money.

 


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