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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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