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Batman: The Animated Series – “Batgirl Returns”

batgirl returns cardEpisode Number:  85

Original Air Date:  November 12, 1994

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Michael Reaves and Brynne Stephens

First Appearance(s):  None

We have reached the end of the series. Episode 85 is the last produced episode of Batman:  The Animated Series, though it aired as the 8th episode of the third season. It’s not surprising then that this wasn’t aired as the series finale since it’s missing a pretty important ingredient:  Batman. Yes, that’s right. For the first time in this show Batman is going to sit on the sidelines. There have been episodes with smaller doses of Batman in the past, but none where he was absent. Bruce Wayne has a brief appearance to explain his absence, but that’s it. There is some screen time for Batman, but it’s right at the beginning and is part of a dream sequence, so technically he’s in it, but technically he’s not at the same time.

This last episode of production season two brings us another fairly major return, and it’s Batgirl. We last saw Batgirl in the two-parter “Shadow of the Bat” in which she helped to clear her father, Commissioner Gordon, of criminal charges. She’s kept quiet since as Barbara returned to her life as a college student. The ending of the episode made me wonder if Bruce and Dick knew who was under the cowl of Batgirl, and if they did, they sure don’t act like it here. In fairness, Bruce doesn’t get to react much to her presence, but Robin will. It seems hard to believe that Batman, who is pretty damn good at this sort of thing, couldn’t figure out who Batgirl is. On the other hand, we’ve seen a lot of Robin in this season and he hasn’t always looked too sharp so I am able to at least go along with him not knowing, and Bruce is under no obligation to share. I am not at all surprised we’re getting another Batgirl episode as her first appearance was well received, as far as I know. It’s just a little surprising it was reserved for the last episode in the production schedule.

batman batgirl steamy

It makes sense that she wouldn’t be into Robin.

The episode begins in a darkened museum. Someone has their eyes set on stealing a jade cat statue, but Batman is there to stop them. He’s soon struck with a laser of some kind, and we see it’s being fired by The Penguin! Batman is pressed up against a wall as a playing card comes flying in. In comes Joker followed by Two-Face. Given the events of past episodes, it seems odd for these three to be working together again, but when you have a common foe I guess it’s easy to look past old grudges. When all hope appears lost, help arrives. It’s Batgirl! She drives the crooks away and races over to check on Batman. He’s injured as she helps him up. He says her name, but appears too groggy to say much more. Their eyes meet as their capes billow in the wind. From afar, we see their silhouettes in the moonlight as they lean in for a kiss.

The sound of Dick calling her name wakes Barbra Gordon (Melissa Gilbert) from her dream. She’s surrounded by textbooks and homework and looking a little annoyed that her lovely dream was interrupted like that. She heads over to the window, and surprisingly Dick is right outside it. The way his shouts sounded seemed to indicate that Barbara’s dorm was not at ground level, but his head is literally less than a foot below her window. She yells to him as well, which makes me think when these lines were recorded the direction was that they were yelling to each from a much higher vantage point for Barbara, making this scene rather awkward. Dick just wants to know if Barbara is willing to take a pizza break, but she says she can’t as she needs to ace these midterms or her dad will lock her up. Dick doesn’t put up a fight and leaves her to her studying mercifully putting an end to this exchange. As she heads back for her books, the newspaper is delivered and slid under her door. The front page is covering the theft of the jade cat statue, which seems to give Barbara an idea.

the cat vs the batgirl

Time to tango.

The university museum has been broken into by none other than Catwoman (Adrienee Barbeau). However, it appears she’s the second person to enter as the lock on the skylight was melted away. She drops inside to inspect the case where the cat statue once stood and is surprised to be met by Batgirl. Batgirl accuses Catwoman of returning to the scene of the crime, but Catwoman is quick to point out the methods utilized by the actual thief before demonstrating how she would have done it with her claws. The two exchange silly superhero banter with Batgirl insisting she tell her tale to the police (she’s so like Batman). Robin drops in to interrupt the two, and Catwoman uses the distraction to her advantage and escapes. As Robin grabs Batgirl to help him chase after Catwoman, he ignores her protests.

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Batgirl is going to need some convincing.

On the rooftop, Catwoman uses a bola to entangle Robin and make her ultimate escape. Batgirl, knowing she didn’t steal the statue, lets her flee while Robin sarcastically remarks how much help she ended up being. She tries to tell him what she knows, but Robin isn’t listening. He tells her to stay out of his way and leaves. Some men…

The next day, as Barbara appears to be leaving the campus gym, she spies a cat-shaped card on a bulletin board addressed to “The Winged Mouse.” She reads it and finds an address and instructions to meet there tonight. Barbara does as she’s told, and that night Batgirl heads to the spot to find Catwoman waiting for her. Catwoman remarks she was impressed the prior night with Batgirl and proposes a team-up to find the real thief. Batgirl appears hesitant, but then naively agrees on the condition that if it turns out Catwoman is up to no good that she’ll turn herself in. Catwoman agrees, and the two shake hands forming their partnership.

At the Batcave, Robin is shown talking on the phone. He’s speaking with Bruce who is in France for an important meeting that he can’t bail on. He cautions Robin when dealing with Selina Kyle as she likes to play games. After their conversation ends, he openly remarks that he hopes Batgirl isn’t in over her head.

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They’re basically the only two major female characters in this show so of course they have to team up.

Catwoman leads Batgirl to a dive bar called The Stacked Deck. Batgirl is disgusted to be there declaring it the sleaziest bar in Gotham, which is why Catwoman says they’re going to check it out. If anyone knows anything about that stolen statue, they’ll likely be in here. The two stroll in and the gathering of basically all men turn to admire the women. Catwoman narrows her focus on a guy who looks like a stereotypical scientist and begins interrogating him. This guys goes by the name of The Chemist (Scott Valentine), and Catwoman thinks he would know where the acid used in the robbery came from. He lists off a couple of possible locations in a hushed voice, one of which being the chemical plant that gave birth to The Joker, before making a run for it. The bar then erupts in violence forcing Batgirl and Catwoman to battle their way outside.

the chemist

If Hugo Strange combined with Professor Farnsworth you would end up with The Chemist.

Once there, Catwoman commandeers a motorcycle (really guys, why leave your keys in the ignition at a bar where criminals frequent?) and Batgirl jumps on the back of it. The two speed away just as the cops show up. One squad car goes after them and Catwoman leads them on a chase onto a freeway that’s still under construction. Conveniently, the overpass is complete except for a six-foot gap that the bike can easily clear, but a police car cannot.

bike escape

I’m legitimately surprised they were able to do this scene without helmets.

Catwoman declares she has a good idea who is behind the robbery and takes Batgirl to an old abandoned factory. Batgirl recognizes it as a building once belonging to Roland Daggett and it’s the same building where Clayface was born. Catwoman confirms this while also adding it’s the same place where a virus was developed that nearly killed her (“Cat Scratch Fever”). The two head inside and Catwoman easily locates the jade cat statue. Too easily, as soon a flood light clicks on and the two find themselves staring down the gun of Roland Daggett (Ed Asner) himself, along with some of his men.

captured by daggett

Nice of Daggett to save his first appearance of season two for the final episode.

Apparently not willing to risk getting shot, Catwoman and Batgirl are then shown with their hands bound and Daggett’s men around them. They’re on a catwalk which is running over some imposing looking vats of green, bubbly, acid. Daggett explains his legal fees relating to his last encounter with Batman have bankrupt him. He needs money from the sale of this cat statue to start life, and business, somewhere else and stealing it provided the perfect cover since everyone in Gotham would assume Catwoman was behind it. Batgirl then notices Catwoman is keeping them talking because she’s using one of her claws to cut through her restraints. Batgirl does the same and tries to guess at the death trap awaiting them. Daggett corrects her though:  there’s no trap, he’s just going to have his men shoot them. Before they can react, Robin swings in to take out some of Daggett’s goons. Catwoman then frees herself and goes after another while Batgirl is forced to fight with just her legs. Catwoman even tosses a man over the railing, but he lands on a pipe running over the acid bath, sparing himself a rather nasty end. Batgirl winds up in a precarious position when it looks like one of the crooks is going to toss her overboard, but Robin makes the save by cutting her restraints with a batarang which is enough for Batgirl. As the two congratulate each other, they realize Daggett and Catwoman are missing.

batgirl needs saving

It’s a bit annoying how often Batgirl needs saving, hopefully she improves for the next series.

Daggett, with the jade cat statue in hand, is shown running across a darkened catwalk. Catwoman calls out to him, and he spins and fires at shadows not realizing the voice came from above. She uses her whip to disarm Daggett before dropping in on him. She retrieves the cat statue and while regarding it Daggett finds a metal hook lying around and tries to take her out. She easily avoids the old man and lets him tumble over the railing catching his foot in a chain. As he dangles over the acid, Catwoman seems content to let him fall as payback for the whole virus thing. Batgirl arrives and uses the classic super hero line of “You’re just as bad as him if you let him go,” and Catwoman basically laughs her off and lets go. Batgirl makes the save by grabbing the chain, but is having a hard time hauling Daggett up which allows Catwoman to flee once again. Robin then shows up and the two pull Daggett to safety.

catwoman daggett

Yeah, he’s not getting away from her.

On the rooftop, Catwoman swings from building to building with the aid of her whip, but soon finds Batgirl on her tail. Batgirl uses a bola of her own to catch the cat burglar, and the two then have a little chat. Catwoman confesses that it was always her intention to steal the statue, causing Batgirl to remind her of their deal. Catwoman proposes the two team-up, but Batgirl is sticking with the law. The police arrive on the scene and Catwoman surprisingly agrees to the terms of the deal as she lets the arriving officers place her in handcuffs. While they lead her away she tells them Batgirl is innocent, which is apparently good enough for them.

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Robin with the premature celebration.

Batgirl and Robin observe as the two officers place Catwoman in their squad car. They take off while the two basically have a moment to congratulate each other again. As they watch the car speed away, it begins to swerve. Soon the doors open and both cops are tossed. They run over to help the officers, who rise to their feet and realize their guns are missing. Catwoman then yells from the car that she agreed she’d let the police take her, but she never said how far. As she takes off, Robin starts to go after her, but Batgirl grabs him by the cape insisting there will be another time. She must have been really certain there was going to be a season three!

And that’s how the series comes to an end, with Batgirl and Catwoman having a cheeky little romp through Gotham. Catwoman, due to her playful nature, is as good a villain as any for this type of story. She’s returned to her life of crime following the events of “Catwalk” (which would awkwardly air after this episode) so no explanation is needed for her ulterior motives. It’s interesting that this was the first chance for her to interact with Robin as one could see her using her feminine charms on him, but they have few interactions. The episode also serves as a curtain call for Roland Daggett, a pretty big player in season one who will never be seen again. I guess the in-universe explanation would be that since he’s no longer wealthy he couldn’t afford a good attorney to keep him out of prison this time.

batgirl returns pose

Batgirl may still be new at all of this, but she’s definitely got the poses figured out.

This is another directorial effort from Dan Riba, who was given an expanded role back when Dick Sebast left the show. Unlike the directors for the past two episodes, Riba will stay on for the next iteration of Batman. Joining him will be Dong Yang Animation which will animate all of the episodes of The New Batman Adventures save for five. This isn’t their best work as some of the animation seems a bit stiff. Perhaps it’s due to animating the more slight female characters as opposed to Batman. This is the final appearance of Melissa Gilbert as Barbara Gordon/Batgirl. She’ll be replaced by Mary Kay Bergman in Batman & Mr. Freeze:  SubZero and then by Tara Strong in The New Batman Adventures. This is also Dick Grayson’s last appearance as Robin in an episode of the show, though he’ll be in the upcoming movie.

As a series finale, “Batgirl Returns” is miscast, but it’s not a bad episode by any means. This is a fun, entertaining, reintroduction for Batgirl. She’s painfully naive throughout, but since she’s new at this I suppose I can overlook it. Robin and the police both overlooking Catwoman and her ability to escape are less forgivable as this episode really puts an exclamation point on how inept the Gotham PD is. And Robin, for that matter.

Even if the series finale isn’t what one would have expected, it doesn’t diminish what Batman:  The Animated Series meant for children’s cartoons and Batman as a whole. It’s the show that helped re-legitimize the character for a new generation which had grown up on reruns of the 1960s show. The show arguably gave us the best Batman (Kevin Conroy), the best Joker (Mark Hamill), and absolutely the best Mr. Freeze and Two-Face. When I decided to revisit the show in this format as a celebration of the show’s 25th anniversary there was some skepticism on my part. I didn’t think the show would hold up as well as it did. I knew “Heart of Ice” and other select episodes would be great still, but I was surprised to find that most of the episodes I didn’t remember fondly I ended up having a more positive reaction to this time around. There’s still a few duds, but by and large the show is very consistent and very entertaining. It gives me hope for The New Batman Adventures as I don’t have great memories of that show so I’m hoping I’ll like it more now than I have in the past. One thing I do know though is that it isn’t as good as the original two seasons. This is still my favorite portrayal of Batman, and I doubt that will ever change.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Cat Scratch Fever”

Cat_Scratch_Fever_Title_CardEpisode Number:  36

Original Air Date:  November 5, 1992

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Sean Catherine Derek, Buzz Dixon

First Appearance(s):  Professor Milo

 

After watching so many episodes of Batman:  The Animated Series some patterns start to become obvious. A typical episode is split into two main parts: the discovery phase and the climactic confrontation between Batman and the villain of the day. Sometimes the episodes are uneven with one end of the episode not able to hold its own weight. Most of the time they’re both perfectly fine, but sometimes you get an episode where neither half really works, which brings me to “Cat Scratch Fever.” Aside from the fact that the title invokes unpleasant thoughts of Ted Nugent, in a Batman context it certainly brings to mind a certain woman, a cat woman, if you will. After a pretty lengthy layoff, we’re finally going to check-in with Selina Kyle (Adrienne Barbeau) and see what she’s up to while also getting a look at Roland Dagget’s latest scheme. This is also a noteworthy episode because it’s the final one animated by Akom. Akom was a frequent player in television animation. Based out of Korea, they would get a contract for work and often outsource it to other studios of varying quality (they famously did some rather shoddy work on X-Men’s pilot) and as a result they’ve produced some great episodes of animated television and some not so great, this episode being of the not so great variety which lead to their dismissal from the series.

Cat_Scratch_Fever_Trial

Selina facing the music.

The episode opens with Ms. Kyle at a hearing concerning the events of “The Cat and the Claw.” If you need a refresher, Catwoman and Batman foiled the plans of Red Claw who could have unleashed devastation on Gotham City if not for their intervention. Her heroic deeds did not score her many points with Batman however, as following the defeat of Red Claw Batman still placed her in handcuffs for petty burglary. This was a case of the show trying to have Batman be stoic in his attitude towards the law – it’s not for him to decide if Catwoman should be punished, but the court. It’s hypocritical considering Batman breaks the law all of the time with forced entry and witness intimidation. It’s why he’s a vigilante after all, so he can operate above the law. Thankfully our unnamed judge here (played by Virginia Capers) sees things my way as she gives Selina probation on the condition that she never dawn her Catwoman costume to commit crimes (so I guess she’s free to break the law out of costume?).

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A friend to cats everywhere.

An elated Selina returns home to her penthouse apartment and her assistant Maven is still there. We don’t know how much time has passed between appearances, but it seems like this is the first time Selina is home even though I would think she would have been able to post bail. Anyway, Maven informs her that her precious kitty Isis is missing and she supposes the cat went out looking for Selina, so Selina goes out looking for Isis. Deciding against dressing as Catwoman, she’s just plain old Selina. While looking for Isis, she stumbles upon a couple of hoodlums out collecting strays. They’re not with the pound, and Selina suspects the worst of them. Jessy (Denny Dillon) and Paunch (who isn’t voiced) are the two goons and they put up a fight. When things look like they’re going bad for Selina, guess who shows up. With Batman’s help, the two are put away effortlessly (the animation is careful to make sure Batman doesn’t strike the female thug, Jessy), but before Selina can thank him properly, Batman runs off as the police arrive. Finding a recently released individual like Selina Kyle in such a situation naturally prompts the arriving officers to bring her to the precinct, but Selina’s other knight in shining armor is there to bail her out.

Bruce and Alfred pick up Selina, who politely declines the advances of Bruce. She mentions the two thugs were quickly bailed out by Roland Dagget, which is a pretty good lead not just for Batman, but Catwoman as well. She somehow figures out that whatever is going on with the stray cat population is coming from a specific Dagget owned laboratory on the outskirts of Gotham. Inside, we get a peek at Dagget (Ed Asner) himself discussing some plans with a Professor Milo (Treat Williams, who I would have bet money on was Rob Paulsen) who has devised a rather nasty toxin. The toxin is placed into an animal which seems to cause the animal to react as if it’s rabid (he demonstrates on a dog). Their plan is to infect the stray animal population, which will in turn cause the disease to spread to humans, and then Dagget can sell the only cure for a rather tidy profit. We also see Isis is among the captured animals, and she’s Milo’s next specimen.

Cat_Scratch_Fever_Bite

Bad kitty!

When Catwoman enters the lab she finds it’s dark and quiet. She quickly locates her beloved cat and frees her from her cage. Isis at first seems docile, but she quickly turns on Catwoman and bites her, then flees out an open window. The thugs, Jessy and Paunch return along with Milo and Catwoman is forced to flee. Milo takes note of the bite wound she received and lets his cohorts know they don’t need to pursue aggressively as the toxin will do the work for them. And sure enough, Catwoman is rather woozy and off-balance almost right away. She discards her mask and collapses in the snow as Isis runs off.

Cat_Scratch_Fever

Paging Dr. Batman.

Elsewhere, Bruce Wayne has done some sleuthing on his own to figure out what the Dagget connection could be. Lucius Fox (Brock Peters) is able to provide some important info about a new drug Dagget is believed to be developing and no one knows what it’s for (the dialogue in this scene is very similar to another Dagget episode “Appointment in Crime Alley,” so much so that it had to be intentional though it could have also just been lazy writing). Batman heads out to investigate, which is a good thing since he finds Selina collapsed in the snow. He takes her to a nearby shack, of sorts, where she gets him up to speed on what happened before taking a little rest.

While Batman is busy tending to Selina, Dagget is getting impatient with the progress being made. He orders Milo to commence with the operation, while he explains he’s just waiting on Paunch to fetch some of the anti-toxin from another lab in case anything goes wrong. Unfortunately for Paunch, he’s going to run into Batman while he’s out doing Milo’s bidding. Batman was hoping to get some info out of Paunch, but he picked the wrong guy considering he’s mute and all. Still, Selina shared enough information with him to figure out Dagget’s scheme, but just in case he didn’t, Dagget and Jessy show up to confirm his suspicions (Dagget, like many villains, just can’t help himself).

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Not the most fearsome trio, but left to right is Milo, Jessy, and Paunch.

Batman is going to be forced to deal with the likes of Paunch and Jessy, who are now armed with machine-guns, as well as the infected dog from earlier. The show is careful to not show Batman being too mean to the dog, he’ll use his cape and wits to subdue him before embarking on a “super fun happy slide” of his own through the snow. Paunch and Jessy confront him on a frozen lake, and their guns are able to cause a huge mess of things. Batman goes through the ice, but of course he isn’t down for good and ends up subduing the brutes. He’s able to utilize the anti-toxin on Selina, as well as our poor canine friend.

The episode ends with Selina back at home. Maven informs her that she’s being hailed a hero once again for her part in stopping Dagget’s plot, and this time it sounds like Dagget won’t escape justice as he’s under investigation for his role in the whole thing. Selina should be happy, but she never found Isis and she’s despondent over her still missing cat. As she sees Maven out, a basket is lowered in the background from the roof of her building containing her precious kitty. It would seem Batman knows how to make a romantic gesture, and best of all, Isis has been cured of the toxin. The episode ends with Selina lovingly hugging the cute little cat.

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The episode mostly looks rather subpar, but it has its moments.

Your enjoyment of this episode likely hinges on how big an animal lover you are. I like them as much as most people, I suppose. I’ve had a cat all my life and when this episode aired I even had a little black cat like Isis myself. Even so, the whole poisoning of animals does little for me, and Professor Milo seems kind of cartoonishly evil. Jessy is especially annoying, but I suppose that’s by design. The whole scheme seems small and kind of odd, but I suppose it’s unique. The episode also re-establishes that Selina has a thing for Batman and only Batman, while Bruce lusts after her. By the conclusion, she’s also pushed to the sideline with an uncertain role going forward. She’s not really a villain, but does she have it in her to be some sort of vigilante on equal footing with Batman? The show will do a rather poor job with her from here on out, even the show runners have agreed as much.

What really can’t be denied is how crummy this episode looks. Character models are inconsistent and the facial details, in particular with Selina, look off-model at times. The effects on the infected dog are poor as well, with the foam/drool basically being the same color as the dog’s fur. I do appreciate the sort of rugged appearance of Jessy, though Paunch is so cartoonish he almost looks like he’s not from this series. He kind of reminds me of a Popeye character, or something. If I can give the visuals one compliment, it’s the the snowy scenery looks pretty good and it’s a nice change of pace from the usual visuals.

The only real noteworthy aspect of this episode is it reintroduces Catwoman, and also introduces a villain who will at least make a future appearance in Professor Milo. Milo isn’t exactly an A-list villain, but at least the episode does directly deal with the fall-out of a previous episode where Catwoman is concerned. It’s not one I was particularly excited to revisit, and one I won’t likely watch again anytime soon.


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

Appointment_In_Crime_Alley-Title_CardEpisode Number:  26

Original Air Date:  September 17, 1992

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Gerry Conway

First Appearance(s): Leslie Thompkins

 

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

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Thompkins consoling Bruce after his parents’ murder.

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

LeslieThompkins

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

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

AiCA_45_-_Batman_confronts_Daggett

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

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

Appointment_In_Crime_Alley_Mourn

Promises to keep.

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


12 Films of Christmas #2: Elf

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Elf (2003)

It’s pretty hard to come into an established industry with something new and find success.  And when it comes to holiday films and television specials, it seems like it’s especially hard. Sure, sometimes you get a Prep & Landing that really surprises, but mostly you get Shrek the Halls…

Jon Favreau is mostly known these days for directing the Iron Man films. In 2003, people may have mostly known him for his short-stint on the sitcom Friends when he played the boyfriend of Courtney Cox who wanted to be an ultimate fighting champion. He certainly wasn’t known for holiday films, but who knew he was about to preside over one of the best?

Elf, in some ways, follows one of my favorite Christmas formulas by adding to the legend of Santa Claus. It doesn’t add much, but gives us another look at how Santa goes about his business. It definitely gives us a peek at elf life. We learn their dietary habits, toy output, and that they actually make those toys that show up in department stores themselves (though I don’t know if we’re supposed to assume that all Etch-A-Sketch toys are made by elves). Mostly though, it tells the story of one elf:  Buddy. The twist is that Buddy is not actually an elf, but a human adopted by elves after he snuck into Santa’s sack one Christmas while Santa was visiting an orphanage.

Before getting to the meat of the story, I must say I definitely approve of the decision to model the elves and the North Pole after the look both have in Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Even the decor is that pale violet color that everything seemed to be cast in for that famous Christmas special. As a kid, it always annoyed me there was so little continuity between Christmas specials, even ones produced by Rankin/Bass. If I had seen this film as a six-year old I would have been even more delighted than I am as an adult.

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Ferrell is at his best when Favreau just lets him go nuts in a scene.

Now Buddy (Will Ferrell), is oblivious to the fact that he’s an elf even though he’s a lot bigger than his peers and can’t keep up with them in the toy-making field. It bums him out, and when he overhears the head elf (A Christmas Story’s Peter Billingsly) speaking with another about how Buddy will probably never realizes he’s human, he goes running to Papa Elf (Bob Newhart) to find out if it’s true. Upon doing so, he decides to set out to find his real father, who impregnated his biological mother unknowingly and has since passed away. All of the elves, including Santa (Ed Asner) wish him well, but Santa also has a revelation to reveal: Buddy’s dad is on the naughty list!

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I’m digging the Rudolph inspired look of the film.

If you have not guessed by now, Elf is a pretty silly movie. After Buddy leaves the North Pole, it becomes a fish-out-of-water tale as he journeys to New York City to find his dad. Turns out his dad is the head of a children’s book publishing firm, and right away we see how he values profits above doing the right thing when he approves a book with no ending for publishing. Walter Hobbs (James Caan) is naturally shocked to find out he has a son he never knew about, and wants nothing to do with an adult who thinks he’s a Christmas elf. He also has a wife, Emily (Mary Steenburgen), and a young son, Michael (Daniel Tay), who are equally dubious. Emily is the most receptive of Buddy, though Michael is more in-line with his dad in thinking the guy is nuts. Buddy also winds up in a department store where he meets Jovie (Zooey Deschanel), and mistakes her for someone into elf culture since she has to dress-up as one for work.

Buddy has a hard time adjusting to life in New York and makes things difficult for those around him. He gradually gets people to come around to him, starting with Michael, then Jovie, and eventually even his old man. There’s of course a big blow-up scene between him and his father that has to be resolved before Buddy can then help Santa save Christmas. It’s all rather conventional, but the film always straddles the line between cheese and just plain good fun, and one gets the impression it doesn’t take itself too seriously.

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Given her get-up, it’s not hard to see why Buddy gets a little excited when he sees Jovie.

Will Ferrell is very charismatic as Buddy. He’s annoying, as most characters played by Ferrell are, but still charming due to his child-like and honest persona. I know many people who dislike Ferrell but are charmed by his Buddy character. Maybe it’s the Christmas factor, I’m not sure, but Buddy seems to be his most-liked role. Asner’s gruff take on Santa Claus works really well in the film’s climax. He feels authentic, even when spouting nonsense about needing more Christmas spirit to get his sleigh off the ground. He’s so matter-of-fact about it that it helps the audience to buy-into what the film is selling. Caan is prickly as Hobbs, but understandably so given what his character has to deal with. He possesses some Scrooge-like qualities in the sense that he’s a workaholic who clearly doesn’t spend enough time with his family (as illustrated by Michael’s lack of respect for him). He has to come around to Buddy, and see the importance of family. He does so in semi-believable way, but considering this film exists mostly for laughs, he doesn’t need to go through a Scrooge-like transformation that unfolds over entire acts.

Elf works so exceptionally well because it’s just a joyful film. There’s plenty of humor, and enough heart to give it purpose and provide that emotional pay-off most expect of a Christmas movie. It’s a movie that I return to every year, and every time I watch it I wonder to myself if this is my favorite Christmas movie. So few are able to handle comedy and sentimentality as deftly as Elf does. The Santa Clause has some laughs, but becomes cloyingly sweet at the end. Bad Santa is plenty hilarious, but doesn’t have really much of an emotional payoff. The Miracle on 34th Street has some chuckle-worthy moments, but is hardly a comedy. Elf is able to be both, which makes it the rare modern Christmas movie that is contention for being one of the best.


Gargoyles: Season 2 – Volume 2

Gargoyles:  Season 2 - Volume 2 (2013)

Gargoyles: Season 2 – Volume 2 (2013)

It was a long wait for fans of Disney’s Gargoyles in between DVD releases.  Volume 1 of the second season was released back in 2005 in an attractive three-disc set.  Apparently the sales for the set were not up to Disney’s standards and volume 2 of the set was either pushed back or outright cancelled.  Volume 2 was only recently released this past summer, nearly six years following the release of volume 1 and it was done in a quiet fashion.  Now Disney has its own movie club which it uses as a vehicle for delivering to people DVD sets of their less popular shows as movie club exclusives.  These sets are cheaply done but for fans of the obscure it is currently the only avenue for them to get a physical copy of their beloved programs.  Such was the fate of volume 2 for Gargoyles.  The movie club exclusive contains a minimalist jacket with a gaudy yellow border.  The DVD case itself is like that of a standard DVD with a larger central tab where all three discs are stacked one on top of the other.  The only insert is an ad for the movie club and a number to register the DVD with.  The actual DVDs contain no bonus features of any kind, just the episodes and a mostly ugly DVD menu.  It’s about as bare-bones as it gets, but for fans waiting six years for the episodes, I suppose it’s better than nothing.

The set contains the final 26 episodes for season two.  It starts with the episode “Monsters,” which if one were to look at an official episode list for the show, should have been the final episode of volume 1.  Instead, the episode “Kingdom” was moved to volume 1 for pacing issues with “Monsters” getting pushed back.  That’s because these episodes comprise the World Tour section of season 2 where Goliath, Elisa, Angela, and Bronx are being sent to all parts of the world by the island Avalon for unknown reasons.  As a result, much of season 2 does not include the other characters such as Broadway or even Xanatos.  Often times, Goliath and co. will encounter a villain from back home while on their travels but just as often they’re paired with someone new.  They also encounter many new gargoyles as Goliath gradually learns that gargoyles are alive and well all around the globe.

Angela is added as a member of the main cast in the second half of season two and plays an important role in the development of the Goliath character.

Angela is added as a member of the main cast in the second half of season two and plays an important role in the development of the Goliath character.

Because of the World Tour format, the second half of season 2 is even more episodic than the first half, meaning the episodes function mostly as stand-alone stories.  I suppose one could argue there’s an overall plot since it’s Avalon that is sending them to these destinations, but it’s a fairly loose one.  Having the setting change each episode is an easy way to inject variety into the show, but the format grows stale.  The stories often feel like filler, and as a viewer I just wanted the group to get back home or for Avalon to finally unveil it’s true intentions.  Not all of the episodes follow the Would Tour group, as there are a couple that take place back in Manhattan.  In one such episode, “Pendragon,” the legendary King Arthur and the gargoyle Griff, two individuals encountered by Goliath and co. during their travels, wind up in New York and interact with the remaining members of the Manhattan Clan.  The World Tour basically lasts for 17 additional episodes of volume 2, with the two-part “The Gathering” representing its conclusion.  It’s far too long, and getting through those episodes started to feel like a chore for me (hence why it took me so long to get to reviewing this set) which is never a good feeling for television viewing.

Thankfully, the remaining handful of episodes are pretty interesting, as is the two-part “The Gathering,” though it’s not as grand as some of the series’ other multi-part arcs.  In that story, the god Oberon is attempting to steal the newborn son of Fox and Xanatos for he possesses some unusual abilities for a mortal.  It is interesting to see Xanatos and the gargoyles take on a god, though the resolution felt a little too neat and tidy for my tastes, but I can’t deny the alternative would have worked much better.  We learn some interesting tidbits about some of the supporting characters of the show, which is one of its great strengths.  The writers never miss an opportunity to focus on a secondary character and add importance to it.  As a result, just about any character who ever had even a minor role in a prior story returns at some point, including one background character viewers likely never noticed in “Vendettas.”  This type of writing helps make the show feel more rewarding for loyal viewers and it does add depth to what would otherwise be shallow characters.

The production values for volume 2 are largely the same as that for volume 1, though the DVDs this time around are of a lower quality.  The colors aren’t as rich and sometimes the image can be grainy, but that’s expected considering this was done on the cheap.  There are still episodes where the animation is of a noticeable lower quality, while others more resemble the quality of season one.  The A+ animation is largely reserved for the bigger stories, but even a stand-alone episode here and there (like “Future Tense”) is given a more striking look.  The score remains excellent as well and the voice acting is the usual high quality Disney output.

The alternate future depicted in "Future Tense" is one of the more fun stand-alone episodes in volume 2.

The alternate future depicted in “Future Tense” is one of the more fun stand-alone episodes in volume 2.

While from an episode quality standpoint I enjoyed this set less than the previous two, there are still some excellent stand-out episodes.  I mentioned “Future Tense” already as being a stand-out in terms of production values, but it’s also a really fun story that looks at an alternate future for Manhattan.  “Sanctuary” is one of the better World Tour episodes as it includes MacBeth, Demona, and Thailog.  Thailog also makes an appearance in another strong episode back in New York, “The Reckoning,” which contains the long anticipated confrontation between Angela and Demona.  The Goliath, Angela, Demona triangle is an anchor in a few stories, and the tension between Goliath and Angela over her lineage is done well.  I don’t think it’s giving away anything to reveal that Angela is the biological daughter of Goliath and Demona, but the writers do a good job of explaining Goliath’s and the clan’s view on children, which is that all gargoyles are children of the clan.  Angela, having been raised by humans, has a human’s perspective when it comes to parents and longs for Goliath to acknowledge her as his daughter.  She has similar feelings towards Demona, though they’re obviously complicated by the fact that Demona isn’t the most likable person/gargoyle.

The Goliath/Elisa relationship is handled quite tastefully by the writers of the show.

The Goliath/Elisa relationship is handled quite tastefully by the writers of the show.

Another tension of the series is the obvious affection Goliath and Elisa feel for each other that largely goes unstated between the two.  The conclusion to the set, “Hunter’s Moon,” addresses it for the first time in a very satisfying way.  It’s hard to write such a relationship because it takes care to make it believable that an attractive woman like Elisa would have romantic feelings for Goliath.  The writers sell it well though, and while I’m not sure they could have ever pulled off a full-on romance for the two, they did find a way to get the point across.  That conclusion, by the way, is a three-part story that actually brings everything full-circle for the gargoyles.  It would have been a fine way to end the series, but a thirteen episode season 3 was picked up by ABC for their then Saturday morning block.  Series creator Greg Weisman wrote the premier for that season, dubbed The Goliath Chronicles by ABC, but had no involvement in the remaining twelve episodes.  As a result, they are not considered canon by Weisman and the series actually continued in comic book form years later.  I may look into checking out those comics but I need to know more about them first and if they’re worthwhile.  I’m pretty happy with “Hunter’s Moon” as a conclusion, as I don’t expect a season three set, and I may choose to just leave Gargoyles with how season two ended.

As for this set, it is what it is.  For those who just want the episodes, it’s the only option save for bootlegs that are probably even worse quality.  When it was released last summer, it was available for a short time on eBay through Buena Vista’s store but once those copies were gone the movie club and secondary market were the only options.  The movie club is actually worth looking into for those looking to start a Disney collection.  For those (like me) who already own a ton of Disney DVDs and Blu Rays, it doesn’t make financial sense.  Very quietly though the set moves to the traditional Disney Store website and is available there for twenty bucks.  The secondary market has yet to adjust, it would seem, as the copies are still routinely priced in excess of forty dollars.  Even so, this is likely not going to be produced in large numbers so if you’re a fan of the show it’s probably a good idea to get it while it’s relatively cheap.  Bland set or not, it’s still 26 episodes of a pretty strong show for twenty bucks and if you already have the first two it’s basically a must-have.  Gargoyles is among the elite action cartoons of the 90’s, and for me it ranks among Batman and X-Men as the best of the best.


Gargoyles: Season One

Gargoyles - The Complete First Season (2004)

Gargoyles – The Complete First Season (2004)

In the early 90’s, Fox cornered the market when it came to television shows for young demographics, particularly boys in that 7-12 age group.  They had hit shows with Batman The Animated Series, X-Men, and Power Rangers and their Saturday morning programming was unrivaled.  Batman, in particular, ushered in an era of cartoons where the writers didn’t feel like they had to dumb-down the show to please its audience.  The stories were mostly grounded within the fantasy world the show created, while X-Men wasn’t afraid of creating serialized episodes that asked more from its viewers.  These weren’t stand-alone episodes with the same throw-away clichés prevalent in most children’s programming.  And while the shows were, first and fore-most, children’s shows they didn’t make adults feel like idiots for watching.

Disney, by contrast, had seen its viewership decline.  The once popular Disney Afternoon programming was mostly content to keep things the same.  Duck Tales and Tailspin were successful early on, and Darkwing Duck was Disney’s own answer to Batman but with a comedic core.  If Darkwing Duck was supposed to reel in Batman viewers then Disney missed the point.  Putting a cape and mask on a character and having him fight crime isn’t what people tuned into Batman for.  Those viewers wanted to see the show take itself seriously, present real threats, and overall just make it a credible show.  Disney needed a show that matched Batman’s tone and not his costume, so they turned to comic book writer Greg Weisman and from that relationship came Gargoyles.

Gargoyles could be described as modern fantasy mixed with Greek tragedy.  Stylistically, the show is reminiscent of the aforementioned Batman and X-Men with similarities to contemporary cartoon Jim Lee’s Wild C.A.T.S.  The color palette is muted with lots of deep violets and blues and plenty of black.  The first season has a split setting between modern-day New York and turn of the first millennium Scotland.  The gargoyles, lead by the hulking Goliath, are a humanoid, bat-like race that spends the daylight hours encased in stone and owns the night.  In 994 Scotland, they’re protectors of a castle inhabited by humans that, for the most part, view the gargoyles in an unfavorable light.  When the gargoyle clan finds itself betrayed by those it trusted, most are smashed to death during the day while the few survivors are magically encased within stone until the castle they inhabit rises above the clouds.

The Manhattan Clan (left to right):  Lexington, Brooklyn, Goliath, Hudson, and Broadway.

The Manhattan Clan (left to right): Lexington, Brooklyn, Goliath, Hudson, and Broadway.

The existence of the extraordinary gargoyle race is all but wiped away from history, but one noted wealthy individual by the name of David Xanatos, is well-aware of their past.  It is he who purchases the castle along with the gargoyles and moves them to Manhattan where he places it atop a massive skyscraper, thus ending the spell placed upon them.  The rest of the first season deals with the gargoyles coming to terms with what happened to them a thousand years ago and finding a way to relate to this new, modern world and find their place in it.  Themes of tragedy, isolation, trust, family, and acceptance help frame the show.  In this there are many similarities to X-Men as both the gargoyles and mutants find themselves as unwelcomed protectors of humanity.  Their isolation, seemingly alone in this world with the exception of their one human ally, Elisa, helps evoke the Batman similarities.

Detective Elisa Maza heads the short list of allies for the Manhattan Clan.

Detective Elisa Maza heads the short list of allies for the Manhattan Clan.

The remaining gargoyles, now known as the Manhattan Clan, are a small group of varying personalities.  Goliath is the unquestioned leader.  He’s noble, proud and a bit stubborn at times.  He’s always learning and isn’t immune to mistakes, but he does everything with purpose and conviction.  Hudson is the elder statesman of the clan and its former leader.  He prefers to stay on the sidelines and leave the fighting to the younger gargoyles.  Brooklyn, Broadway, and Lexington are the younger members of the clan and rookery mates, which is gargoyle speak for siblings.  Brooklyn is a curious sort who seems to model himself after Goliath while Lexington is consumed by modern technology.  The gluttonous Broadway is sometimes relegated to comic relief though the show mostly avoid slapstick and jokes.  Rounding out the clan is the dog-like Bronx who is the only gargoyle incapable of speech and lacking in wings.  Detective Elisa Maza is the sole ally of the gargoyles in season one.  She’s a strong-willed character who is able to give the gargoyles leads on the goings-on of their enemies while also sometimes acting as almost a mentor to Goliath.

Much like the clan itself, the rogues gallery for the show is kept fairly compact for the first season.  It’s dominated by Xanatos, who poses as an ally early on to the clan but is soon revealed as duplicitous and self-serving.  His main weapons are cunning and money, but he also possesses some high-tech weaponry including his own cybernetic army of gargoyles.  He splits time as the main foe for the clan with Demona, Goliath’s former lover who was complicit in the destruction of their clan a thousand years ago.  While her intentions were without malice, her persona is consumed with a bloodlust for humanity as she blames them for their near extinction.  She is the Magneto to Goliath’s Charles Xavier.  Other villains include the sportsmen MacBeth and the television actors turned criminals The Pack, a group of men and women who fashion their personas after wild canines.

Demona, Goliath's former lover, is one of the primary antagonists for season one and beyond.

Demona, Goliath’s former lover, is one of the primary antagonists for season one and beyond.

The show opens with a very ambitious five-part mini-series titled “Awakening” (it was also released direct-to-video as Gargoyles:  The Movie) that sets up the series.  Right from the start, viewers are able to get a sense of the large-scale story-telling the show is aiming for while also being able to take in the peak of the show’s production values.  The animation quality is a grade above the usual afternoon cartoon fare, making it possibly the best looking cartoon of the mid 90’s.  The score is also exemplary and the voice acting contains notable actors such as Keith David (Goliath, various voices) and Edward Asner (Hudson) as well as numerous vets of various Star Trek programs.  Following the five-part debut, the show mostly settles into stand-alone episodes that also call upon happenings in previous ones.  Each gargoyle, with the exception of Bronx, is basically given his own episode to star in which helps the viewers get better acquainted with each one individually.  It’s similar to the tactic utilized by X-Men in season two and is an effective way to flesh out an ensemble cast.  There are thirteen episodes in total for season one, and pretty much all of them are good.  Some standouts include “Deadly Force,” which stresses the importance of gun safety without being ham-fisted (possibly created because main character Elisa is shown wielding realistic weaponry as opposed to fantasy, laser type devices).  “Her Brother’s Keeper” helps define what family means to the gargoyles and how it’s not so different from what it means to humans.  “Reawakening” is the bookend for the season and is a satisfying conclusion for the show’s first major arch.

Xanatos would be the other main foe for the gargoyles.

Xanatos would be the other main foe for the gargoyles.

What I appreciate most about the show is its commitment to realism.  This is a show starring unreal creatures but it takes them very seriously.  Their culture is defined as is their biology when Goliath points out early on that they can’t fly, merely glide on air currents.  As previously mentioned, Elisa is armed with a realistic handgun as are most of the police force.  Many of the villains do use lasers and other such fantasy fare but they come across as credible, in part due to a willingness to throw around phrases like “Die!” at their targets.  And when it’s called for, the show is not afraid to show blood which helps add severity to a scene.  The show also wasn’t afraid to be a little progressive as it’s revealed (casually) that Elisa is of mixed-race, having a white father and black mother.  And if you’re a fan of keeping movies and television as they were, you’ll be happy to know that the numerous shots of the New York skyline have not been edited to remove the twin towers.  Recent shows like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Beware the Batman have mostly empty city streets and lifeless scenery, it was refreshing to watch Gargoyles with its fully realized and very much alive New York.

The DVD release for season one is fairly basic.  There are animated menu screens depicting the gargoyles emerging from their stone prisons accompanied by music and sound effects.  The transfer is of good quality for this type of release and the case is a standard DVD case with a hinged insert for the second disc.  Bonus features include the original show pitch by Weisman which is worth a look just to see the original designs of the gargoyles.  There’s also a brief feature on The Gathering of the Gargoyles, a convention that used to be held in the US for fans of the show, that I suppose is worth a look though it’s basically just a bunch of fanboys and girls gushing over the program.  There’s also audio commentary on the fist five episodes, but I have yet to check it out (and probably won’t as it’s just not my kind of thing).

The show did not shy away from placing its characters in real danger.

The show did not shy away from placing its characters in real danger.

Gargoyles felt overlooked during its hey-day and today feels kind of like a forgotten series.  This is due, in part, to Disney’s stubbornness over releasing the entire series on DVD.  Season one was released in 2004 with the first half of season two following in 2005.  The rest of season 2 was in limbo until recently when it was released quietly as part of the Disney Movie Club.  Still remaining are the thirteen episodes from the abbreviated season three, rebranded as The Goliath Chronicles .  While fans would likely appreciate having those thirteen released, all but the season premiere were done without Weisman and thus are not considered canon by him for the show’s storyline, which lived on in comic book form for a short while following the show’s cancellation.  Unlike many cartoons from my youth that I have chosen to revisit, Gargoyles still holds up and impressed me a great deal.  I would love to see Disney revisit the show with Weisman for either a short fourth season or direct-to-video movie to provide additional closure.  Expect to see more of Gargoyles from me as I make my way through both volumes of season 2.


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