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Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman

mystery of the batwomanOriginal Release Date:  October 21, 2003

Directed by:  Curt Geda, Jennifer Graves (Sequences), Tim Maltby (Sequences)

Written by: Alan Burnett, Michael Reaves, Paul Dini (Chase Me)

Animation:  DR Movie Ltd., Warner Bros. Animation (Chase Me)

Running Time:  75 minutes

The final episode of The New Batman Adventures aired on January 16, 1999. “Mad Love” was the chosen finale and it came more than two months after the preceding episode (Beware the Creeper). It was a bit of an inauspicious end to Batman: The Animated Series, not because the episode wasn’t great (it most certainly was), but that it was never written to be the finale. The staff for the show assumed another episode order was bound to happen, but it never did. Instead, Warner Bros. wanted to try something different. Seeing rival comic company Marvel having success with its younger characters and perhaps fearing Batman’s aura was damaged by the flop Batman & Robin, Warner had the braintrust on the series come up with a new, younger, Batman. That became Batman Beyond which premiered the same month The New Batman Adventures came to an end.

Batman Beyond would produce 52 episodes and a single film coming to a close in 2001. That obviously wasn’t the end for DC Animated productions as team-focused shows would follow. For some reason, Warner decided to revisit Batman: The Animated Series in 2003 with the direct-to-video Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman. From an artistic perspective, there’s never a bad reason to do a Batman film, especially one set in this much beloved universe. From a business end, it’s a bit unclear why this film exists. Following the show’s conclusion, there were a few video games produced including one in 2003, Rise of Sin Tzu, but I can’t see Warner commissioning a new film to promote a video game. My best guess is this was just a little something to keep Batman in the minds of fans as the company was preparing to bring the Caped Crusader back to theaters in 2005 with Batman Begins. It also allowed those who worked on the show to explore a period in time not touched on previously, namely the gap in time between the end of The New Batman Adventures and the death of Joker as explored in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker.

batwoman wave

Batwoman is the latest vigilante to wind-up in Gotham

Whatever the reason may be, it’s certainly not a bad thing to have more Batman set in this universe. Mystery of the Batwoman, as the title implies, is a mystery tale with the subject being a new vigilante in Gotham, Batwoman. If that sounds too similar to Mask of the Phantasm well then let me point out right away that Batwoman is not a homicidal vigilante getting Batman in trouble. The plots are different enough and the mystery is sound. It’s also preceded on most releases with an animated short titled Chase Me. It’s pretty interesting to see a short subject set in this universe as one had never been done before, even though it would have made a lot of sense to pair the theatrically released Mask of the Phantasm with one. It’s a cute little piece of animation though done in-house at Warner in which Batman chases Catwoman through Gotham. It contains no voice acting and is mostly just a visual treat. It’s been included on basically every release of this film and is worth checking out.

Chase Me runs about five minutes long and its title says it all. When Bruce is shown out of his element at a ball being held at Wayne Enterprises, he slips away from his many suitors and retreats to his office only to find Catwoman robbing him. He gives chase as Batman as the two traverse the city of Gotham winding up at a zoo. Along the way there’s a cameo from Bullock and Batman does battle with some big cats. It ends with Catwoman cornered and she makes her usual play of appealing to Batman in only a way she can. At first he rebuffs her, but then moves in for a long, lingering, kiss as the police arrive. He then gives her a smile and leaves with the sack of money she swiped. She thinks he’s letting her go, but she soon realizes he handcuffed her to a gate. It then returns to the shot it began on with Bruce staring forlornly at the city from the ball implying it was all a fantasy as a blond woman taps him on the shoulder to lead him back to the party.

chase me end

Chase Me is brief, but fun.

Chase Me contains no dialogue and is set to an original piece of music. It’s uncharacteristic in nature for the series as it contains elements of jazz and has an obvious Latin flavor to it. It works for the romantic and seductive parts, but not so much for the action bits. The designs for the characters are taken from The New Batman Adventures, which is a bit of a shame as I don’t care for this take on Catwoman. Otherwise though it’s pretty entertaining and provides a little window into Bruce’s mind and what really gets him going.

The actual film, Mystery of the Batwoman, is a procedural mystery. It quickly tasks Batman (Kevin Conroy) with uncovering who Batwoman (Kyra Sedgwick) is, even by having her simply tell him to figure it out when the two first meet. It’s a mostly Batman affair, with a dash of Robin who is slightly older (and now voiced by Eli Marienthal) from when we last saw him. Barbara pops in only briefly to phone Bruce about this new person in Gotham stealing her gimmick and Nightwing is never mentioned.

batman robin batwoman

Batman and Robin will cross paths with Batwoman, but if you were hoping to hear from Batgirl and Nightwing then you’ll be disappointed.

Batwoman is targeting a weapons ring organized by The Penguin (David Ogden Stiers) and Rupert Thorne (John Vernon, making his first appearance since Season Two of BTAS). They’ve hired Carlton Duquesne (Kevin Michael Richardson) to provide security for their operation and when Batwoman proves to be too much for him they bring on Bane (Hector Elizondo). Batman, for his part, is mostly concerned with Batwoman and what her motives are.

kathy duquesne

Kathy Duquesne is suspect number 1. She’ll also have a bit of a romantic fling with Bruce Wayne.

These sort of mysteries are often undone because the list of suspects is often small and limited to whoever is new. Mystery of the Batwoman is prepared for that by introducing three candidates for the role of Batwoman. And to make it harder, they all have different voice actresses including Batwoman herself. The first introduced is the daughter of Carlton, Kathy Duquesne (Kimberly Brooks) who carries a grudge against her father and his choice of work as it was his profession that got her mother killed years before the events of the film. She also has the added wrinkle of being named Kathy Duquesne, with her last name pronounced as “Do Kane,” making her name very similar to Kathy Kane, the name of Batwoman in the comics.

rocky and tim

Rocky works for Bruce, but seems to form more of a connection with Tim than her boss.

The second suspect is an employee of Wayne Tech by the name of Rocky Ballantine (Kelly Ripa). She’s invented a metal that can be programmed to take whatever shape she wants it to, which is pitched to the board of Wayne Enterprises and then utilized by Batwoman in an attack on The Penguin later. She also has the added motivation of wanting get back at Penguin for he framed her fiancé sending him to jail for 9 years.

bullock sonia

Bullock has a new partner in Sonia leaving Montoya out in the cold.

The third is Bullock’s new assistance, Sonia Alcana (Elisa Gabrielli), who is a dead-ringer for Elektra from the Cowboy Bebop movie. She may be a cop now, but she lost her home and her parents’ business to a fire started by Rupert Thorne. Batman saved her, but she and her family lost everything and to make it worse, Thorne escaped prosecution.

All three women will cross paths with either Bruce Wayne or Batman, with Kathy serving as a romantic interest as well. It’s engaging to watch Batman search for clues and even run into apparent dead ends as he focuses on one girl, then is forced to consider another. The film actually reveals who Batwoman is by the end of the second act leaving the third to contain mostly action as Batman is forced to basically save the villains from Batwoman while also facing off with Bane. There’s a bit of a twist to the mystery, but it works and I mostly enjoyed what the film gave me.

rupert thorne tnba

Rupert Thorne makes his first appearance since the second season of the show. He has some new card gimmick for some reason in which he’s always fidgeting with playing cards.

Continuity wise, this film tries to address some of the things opened up by Batman Beyond, but commits to very little. When Barbara calls Bruce from college, it’s clear she harbors a romantic interest in him that he is uncomfortable dealing with. Such was implied by Barbara in Batman Beyond, and it’s odd to see Bruce basically ghosting before the term was invented. I would have liked to see more of this subplot, but it basically amounts to a tease. The end of the film provides a plausible explanation for what happened to Penguin and Thorne, though there’s little there that’s definitive. It’s a bit of a spoiler, but the ending for Bane makes it appear as if he perished, which is somewhat odd considering he’s one of the few villains from this era to show up in Batman Beyond. I suppose it’s possible this is meant to be his final encounter with Batman.

The animation for this feature was handled by DR Movie Co., LTD. in what is its first opportunity to work on this series. The company did do work for The Zeta Project and would go on to do work for Justice League Unlimited. It adheres to the visual look of The New Batman Adventures with little embellishment. One welcomed return is the use of the Dark Deco look for certain exterior shots of Gotham which hadn’t been seen since the first two seasons of BTAS. The level of violence in the show is possibly less than what was present at times in The New Batman Adventures and there doesn’t appear to be any increase in budget for the feature over a traditional episode. The animation itself is good in places, and poor in others. When Kathy is introduced, for example, she’s supposed to have a sexy sway to her as she walks, but the character looks bendy instead. There’s also spots where the camera zooms in on an image that really isn’t detailed enough for the look. And since this was released in 2003, it’s formatted for a 4:3 picture as HD television sets had yet to really take over even though it was created in 1.78:1.

batwomans gilider

Batwoman gets to have fun zooming around on a glider like she’s some Spider-Man villain.

The character designs are basically all the same as what we saw in The New Batman Adventures. The only new character is Batwoman and her costume looks like a silver version of the Batman Beyond costume, but with a cape and different colored boots and gloves. She rides around on a giant glider that looks like the oversized glider Hobgoblin utilized in the Spider-Man animated series, only Batwoman chooses to kneel on it rather than stand. It’s also reminiscent of the glider utilized by Nausicaä from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and it would not surprise me if that was an inspiration for the device.

batwoman penguin

A lot of people have an issue with Penguin in this one, including me as I don’t like his new voice.

Andrea Romano is back to handle the voice casting duties and she was able to return most of the voices we’re familiar with. In addition to Kevin Conroy as Batman, Bob Hastings returns to voice Commissioner Gordon and Robert Costanzo is at his side as Detective Bullock. Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. is also back to give voice to Bruce’s trusty butler, Alfred and he gets to be as cheeky as always. Eli Marienthal takes over as Robin and this is the only time he voices the character while Hector Elizondo takes over for Henry Silva as Bane. I’m not sure why Silva did not reprise the role of Bane, but Elizondo does fine. In what is a bit of a controversial move, Paul Williams was replaced by David Ogden Stiers as the voice of The Penguin. I do not mean this as an insult to the memory of Mr. Stiers, but my reaction to his Penguin is not favorable. Stiers uses his Cogsworth voice from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and I do not understand the motivation behind the change. Bruce Timm has stated that writer/producer Alan Burnett felt the character needed more of a “mob boss” type of voice, but I don’t understand how this voice is superior to Williams’ performance given that direction. Timm has been too polite to say what most fans probably felt, but I think he agrees with the sentiment that Williams should have returned.

cherie

The musician Cherie gets to have a cameo in the Iceberg Lounge.

Lolita Ritmanis handled the score for the film. It makes use of Shirley Walker’s Batman theme while also going off and doing it’s own thing. There’s liberal use of a saxophone in the opening segment almost giving this film a Lupin feel at times. Once it gets going, the score largely blends in with the rest of the BTAS feel, though it’s certainly distinctive on its own. The only exception being the use of the licensed track “Betcha Neva” by Cherie, which was taken from her debut album. The song is played during a part that takes place inside Penguin’s Iceberg Lounge with Cherie essentially voicing the performer who is singing the song, even though it’s just her track that’s played. The sequence feels a bit odd for the film, but it does feature some of the best animation in the film in a brief shot of patrons dancing. The song is returned for the closing credits. It gives the film more of a feature feel to it, but in that inauthentic sort of way a lot of features are guilty of when bringing something from television to the big screen.

Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman is ultimately an entertaining ride. The 75 minutes runtime is appropriate for the story, and while it could have held onto the mystery a touch longer, it handles that aspect of the plot well. There’s some solid action pieces, but the presentation is very much in line with what the show produced making it a little disappointing in that regard. And while it seemed to promise a willingness to address some of the things left unexplained in between The New Batman Adventures and Batman Beyond, it ultimately revealed very little making the whole thing feel very inconsequential. It’s less a grand finale for the show as it apparently just wanted to give fans a chance to live in this world one final time. And if that is all it was going for then it turned out fine. It’s not at all comparable to Mask of the Phantasm, but it’s comparable in quality to SubZero.

bane carlton

This film may or not may not depict Batman’s final confrontation with Bane.

Unfortunately, Mystery of the Batwoman was basically the lone holdout when Batman: The Animated Series was released as a Blu Ray set in 2018. The entire television series plus the other two films were included, but this one was strangely left out. It’s even odder because the film was already available on Blu Ray so it’s not as if it needed a new transfer. Perhaps there were licensing issues due to the Cherie song as it’s odd to leave this, and Chase Me, out of that set. Nonetheless, if you wish to view it yourself you have options. The film was released on both DVD and Blu Ray and it’s also available for paid streaming. The DVD, which I have, is old enough that it came in a snapback case and contains satisfactory visuals. There are some odd scanlines on parts of the image and I’m curious if that is corrected on the HD release. Neither is particularly expensive, so if you wish to own it (and if you already own the entire series you might as well) I’d say go for the Blu Ray as it’s likely a little better to look at and is probably presented in the proper aspect ratio.

This essentially wraps up our look at the complete Batman: The Animated Series. This blog is about to switch over to The Christmas Spot so it’s also the last Batman content for a little while. I will be back in the new year to share my thoughts on the series as a whole before moving onto one of my favorite exercises – ranking! Yes, after viewing all 109 episodes we need to decide which is the best the series produced. And following that, I’m not sure where this blog will take me. Batman Beyond is out there and certainly in play, but after 112 weeks of Batman coverage I may need to take a little break from the guy for a bit.

 


Batman: The Animated Series – “Second Chance”

second chance cardEpisode Number:  80

Original Air Date:  September 17, 1994

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Paul Dini, Michael Reaves, Gerry Conway

First Appearance(s):  None

 

When Two-Face debuted back in his self-titled two-parter it made a big impact on me as a child. I really had never seen something comparable to a just character getting maimed and falling into a depression. The dual personality and all of the style wrapped in the character was equally fascinating and I felt genuine sympathy for Harvey Dent. It may have even been my first experience of not knowing who to root for:  the hero or the villain.

Two-Face’s introduction was almost done too well. His plight was clear, but it would be hard to sustain; perhaps even impossible. As a result, Harvey’s fiancé, Grace, never resurfaced and that hopeful ending was ignored. When Two-Face would come back to tangle with Batman he was just a conventional villain with a gimmick. It was a shame to see him brought to this, but I suppose the alternative was to either reform him or place him in therapy for the remainder of the series.

surgery prep

Harvey’s getting some work done.

“Second Chance” is the first episode since “Two-Face” to really tackle the villain from the same angle he was originally approached from. Harvey is getting a second chance at being Harvey Dent. When the episode begins he’s being brought, by the police, to a hospital for a procedure to try and repair the damage done to his face in that accident from season one. Batman and Robin are there to watch over the proceedings and to also introduce a flashback to Dent’s accident, in case anyone forgot.

As the procedure begins, a surgeon who reminds me of Leslie Thompkins, but is actually Dr. Nora Crest (Linda Gray), speaks enthusiastically to Harvey as she administers the anesthesia for surgery. Dent (Richard Moll) is lucid and shares the detail that Bruce Wayne is paying for the surgery. He refers to him as Good Old Bruce and shares a story of their earlier days hitting the Half Moon Club before passing out. Batman and Robin watch from a conveniently place skylight as masked thugs break in. They open fire on the surgical team and make it clear they’re here for Dent. One of the thugs remarks he’s not to be roughed up, as the boss wants to handle that task himself, as they haul him out.

Batman tries to fire his grapple-gun through the skylight, but it bounces off the glass harmlessly. He and Robin then head to cut the crooks off before they can escape. They evade Batman and Robin and manage to get Dent out of the hospital. They pile into two vehicles:  a sedan and a truck. The vehicles flee in opposite directions, and Batman and Robin are forced to split up. Robin tails the sedan, while Batman goes after the truck via the Batcycle. Robin tries to stop the sedan, but they give him the shake. Meanwhile, Batman gets nearly flattened by a tanker-truck on his bike, but manages to keep his target in sight. The crooks exit the freeway and nearly lose Batman who misses the turn. Rather than give up, Batman launches his bike off the overpass and crashes down on top of the truck. When he looks inside, he finds only two of the crooks and no Harvey.

two-face kidnapped

Batman and Robin fail once again.

Batman and Robin regroup and Batman theorizes there are two individuals who have a vendetta against Two-Face:  Rupert Thorne and The Penguin. Robin apologizes for losing his target, and really he kind of needs to at this point as he’s been pretty ineffective the last few episodes. Batman says, some-what curtly, “I’m sure you did your best,” and Robin takes offense. He says he’ll check in on Thorne, while Batman apologizes saying this one is personal and hard on him. Robin leaves the Batmobile while Batman presumably heads for The Penguin.

Robin is shown on the roof of Thorne’s home. He watches through a skylight (I seriously can’t stress this enough:  criminals of Gotham, get rid of all of the skylights) and pulls out a glass cutter and goes to work. As he does so a gun is placed between his shoulder blades and he’s ordered to get up by Frankie (Matt Landers), one of Thorne’s men. Robin says nothing and stuffs the glass cutter in his glove as he stands with his arms up. The sentry takes him inside to show him to his boss. Rupert Thorne (John Vernon) seems amused by Robin’s presence as he heats up a fire poker in his fireplace, in case he needs it. Robin is tied to a chair and he tells him that Harvey Dent was kidnapped. Thorne laughs off the thought that he would have done it, while admitting there’s no love lost between the two. He then orders his men to do to Robin what he planned to do to Dent and the two men haul him away.

robin tossed

Robin’s going for a swim.

Thorne’s men take Robin to a bridge. In the trunk of the car, Robin works at cutting his restraints with the glass cutter but doesn’t finish the job. As the two men haul him out, Frankie goes on and on about how he used to fish here, but now can’t, because of the pollution. Ever after they toss Robin off of the bridge he continues sharing his thoughts on the environmental tragedy. As Robin falls, he’s able to break free of the rope on his hands and fires a grapple-gun to the top of the bridge. He then swings in striking our environmentally cautious goon as he was sitting down in the car and the force pushes both men out the driver’s side knocking them unconscious.

penguin and birds

The Penguin seems to be enjoying his incarceration.

At Stonegate Penitentiary, Batman is able to find The Penguin’s (Paul Williams) cell. Inside the stout villain has a pigeon coop and is tending to his flock. Batman stands on a ledge outside the window and questions The Penguin about the events from earlier in the evening. We as viewers know about Thorne and Dent’s relationship, but not of Penguin and Two-Face’s. Apparently Two-Face stole something out from under The Penguin’s nose recently, and while it did anger him, The Penguin insists he would never pull such an act of revenge against a fellow rogue – honor among thieves. He then tosses a bird in Batman’s face and soon all of the pigeons start harassing him causing him to lose his footing. Penguin tries to get the attention of a patrolling guard outside, but by the time a light is shone in his direction Batman is gone.

Batman and Robin then return to the scene of the crime as their only leads proved fruitless. They sport some nifty goggles that make them look like Cyclops from the X-Men as they examine the room in infrared. Batman finds footprints from the assailants and masonry dust within them. This is enough of a lead. He announces he knows who took Dent, but also that he needs to do this alone. As he leaves, Robin gives him a pretty nasty look behind his back like most teenagers would.

kidnapper revealed

The true kidnapper revealed.

Batman then shows up at a demolition site. It’s a rather large building called the Half-Moon Club, the same club from Dent’s story about he and Wayne from earlier, and way up by the top is where he finds the man who kidnapped Harvey Dent:  Two-Face. Dent’s Two-Face persona would never allow the procedure to go through and Batman seems embarrassed he didn’t realize it sooner. Two-Face’s men then capture Batman, and as they chain him to a wrecking ball Two-Face explains that he could never let Dent destroy him and that he needed to teach him some respect. He also explains he has dynamite rigged to the wrecking-ball he just tied Batman to and that Batman’s fate is now tied to his coin. Two-Face flips his signature item and Batman demands he let it hit the ground so he can see the result. Two-Face obliges, but is shocked to see the coin land on its edge. He flips it again and the same phenomena repeats. Two-Face starts to panic, while his men seem to decide on their own this is silly and open fire on Batman. They fail to hit Batman, as they always do, but manage to damage the bomb and electricity starts arcing from it.

Batman gets out of his restraints and swings down to take out the thugs leaving only Two-Face who is chasing his rolling coin around. He ends up out on a steel beam and as the coin rolls off the edge so too does Two-Face. He manages to grab the coin, while Batman gets ahold of him. Batman confesses he switched out Two-Face’s coin with a gimmicked one that will alway land on its edge. He needs Two-Face to drop the coin (apparently that suit has no pockets) and give him his other hand so he can help him up. With Batman distracted, the other thugs prepare to take him out, meanwhile the dynamite is getting ready to blow as the electricity from the detonator gets nearer and nearer to the actual explosives. Robin swings in to take out the thugs before they can shoot Batman from behind and deposits them in an elevator shaft.

frustrated two-face

Two-Face feels betrayed by his coin.

With that danger averted, there’s still the matter of the dynamite and Two-Face’s precarious position. Two-Face reluctantly lets the coin fall, and as he reaches for Batman he pauses and shouts, “Never!” He takes a swing at him instead causing Batman to lose his grip on Two-Face’s other hand. He jumps off the building after him and as he catches up to him he fires his grapple-gun as the dynamite explodes.

We’re then taken to Arkham Asylum. Two-Face, having survived the fall, is being led back into the facility in shackles. As he heads in, Bruce Wayne approaches. Dent looks at him, the shadows hiding his bad side, and remarks how Bruce has never given up on him. Bruce just smiles and places a hand reassuringly on Dent’s shoulder before the police lead him inside. Dick is there too and remarks that Harvey is lucky to have someone looking out for him. Bruce places an arm around Dick and says he’s lucky he’s always got Dick to be there for him.

old friends

A sweet ending to go out on.

“Second Chance” adds to the tragedy that is Harvey Dent and Two-Face. It’s perhaps melodramatic, but it is satisfying and the ending is rather sweet. As a viewer, it’s frustrating to see Dent blow his second chance, but his condition is something that can’t be cured so easily. The status quo is maintained by the episode’s end, but it was still a compelling ride getting there. It also fooled me when I first saw it, as I didn’t figure out who was behind the kidnapping and when it was revealed I was actually quite sad. I do wonder if it would have done the same had I been older. Harvey telling his story about the Half Moon Club before going under on the operating table certainly feels like foreshadowing as this show never mentions such a detail without it meaning something. Plus it’s called the Half Moon Club which fits the Two-Face gimmick. This is also another episode where a rift between Batman and Robin is teased. That will pay-off in the sequel series, though it’s mostly brushed aside by the end of this episode.

“Second Chance” is just a really good episode. I don’t even have any criticisms to offer other than the usual which is to say the villains can’t shoot. There’s some especially bad shooting in this one, though at least with the scene in the hospital it’s plausible the kidnappers didn’t want to kill any doctors. The Penguin is shoe-horned into this one, but it’s not something I mind. It’s nice to hear from him since he’s been missing in action throughout season two. This was actually, quietly, the last appearance of the Danny DeVito-like design for the villain. Next time we see him he’ll have his classic appearance restored. This is also the final appearance of Rupert Thorne. He won’t show up in The New Batman Adventures, but he gets an encore of sorts in Mystery of the Batwoman. Given the role he played in this series, it’s surprising that this is it for him.

Where does Two-Face go from here? It would seem back to being an everyday villain. He’ll show up again, so this isn’t the last we’ll see of him, but it is the last in the original series. His redesign will actually be one of the least extreme, which is a good thing since his look for this show is pretty damn great. He’s been one of the show’s best villains though, and this is the follow-up to his debut the character deserved. It may have taken longer than expected, but the show delivered like it almost always does.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Bane”

Bane title cardEpisode Number:  75

Original Air Date:  September 10, 1994

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Mitch Brian

First Appearance(s):  Bane

 

Episode 75 brings us a relic from the 90s:  Bane. Bane has always felt like the Omega Red of DC. He’s kind of cool looking, yet also lame at the same time. Both characters were introduced into the comics in the early 90s, then fast-tracked to their respective animated counterparts. In the case of Bane, basically a year elapsed between his debut and this episode’s airing, so it was likely in development not long after Bane’s lore was created. Either as an indictment of that lore, or because things were still in flux, this version of Bane is merely a basic representation of the character from the comics. His look is largely intact, save for the superficial difference of his mask featuring an exposed mouth, and he’ll rely on the serum Venom to augment his strength. Almost everything else is different, and arguably for the better. He’s a mercenary here, rather than a guy tormented by visions of a bat monster, and the episode has no need to dive deep into his origins. So much of Bane’s comic book back story strikes me as ridiculous, and it’s rightly ignored for this episode. It’s just possible the lot of it was ignored or glossed over for time constraints rather than because of its quality.

knightfall bane

I guess when you do something like break Batman you get to make the leap from comic to TV rather quickly.

Bane, for all of his problems, is merely here to play the role of physical adversary for Batman. He can overpower Batman with no problem, and unlike a Killer Croc, he’s got brains to back-up his brawn. He’s portrayed as a tactician and takes to the task of destroying Batman in the way an expert hunter would approach its prey. It’s a unique approach for the series as really few have attempted to engage Batman in a similar manner. And for all his strength, Killer Croc has never been much of a problem for Batman in a fight. One could argue his toughest physical foe up to this point has been the ninja Kyodai Ken. Say what you will about Bane, he has a role to play on this show and it’s a role that had not been filled by anyone else.

This episode also marks the beginning of Fox’s third season of the show launched in September 1994. That makes “Bane” the first episode to feature the new opening. It’s set to Shirley Walker’s Batman theme, which some argue is superior to the Elfman theme. Obviously, Walker probably never would have arrived at this sound for her Batman theme without Elfman’s, but it’s a point worth taken. And even though I think this opening is inferior to the original, I do think it’s nice Walker’s theme got a chance to shine.

Candice meets Bane

An old enemy is introduced to Bane.

“Bane” begins inauspiciously at an airport. A rather large man emerges from a commercial flight and finds a car waiting for him. We don’t get a full-frame look at him, but get to see the vehicle buckle under his tremendous weight as he climbs in. Inside is a character we haven’t seen for quite some time. Candice (Diane Michelle), the assistant to Rupert Thorne whom we haven’t seen since “Two-Face,” welcomes the man. He sits beside her and speaks with a Spanish accent. She takes him to her employer, Thorne himself (John Vernon), who is in the middle of a work-out. His coach, in a bid to motivate Thorne to hit the punching bag harder, hits a sore spot when he brings up Batman and gets knocked out as a result. Thorne greets the big man, who we come to know as Bane (Henry Silva), and we find out he’s been hired to take out Batman. The caped crusader recently cost Thorne a lot of money, but he did manage to hang onto a suitcase full of diamonds which he uses to pay Bane. After payment, Bane hands over a newspaper with a cover story on Killer Croc, who recently escaped from Arkham (as we saw in “Trial,” he ended up there for some reason following the events of “Sideshow” in which he was supposed to be transferred to prison), and wants to know how he can find “the reptile.” Thorne isn’t really thrilled to see Bane targeting Croc when he’s supposed to be going after Batman, but Bane explains he wants to see the Batman in action before engaging him.

thornes hire

Rupert Thorne may be the man paying Bane to take out Batman, but we’ll learn that Bane has been looking forward to matching wits with the detective for some time.

Apparently not one to sit around, Killer Croc (Aron Kincaid) has assembled a small gang and is either on the run from Batman and Robin or is in the midst of having a crime foiled. He’s being chased through a construction yard or factory of some kind, a typical nondescript backdrop for the show, and Croc demonstrates his own impressive strength by mangling a series of pipes and tossing them at Batman and Robin, scoring a direct hit. This gives Croc time to flee into the sewer. Wanting Batman to follow, he makes no attempt to hide his escape and is shown waiting in the sewers with a pipe in hand quietly urging Batman to come on in. Behind, the wall smashes in and in comes Bane. He’s dressed like a giant lucha-libre performer (Mexican wrestler) complete with mask and singlet. He announces that Batman is his to destroy, and when Croc retorts with “Over my dead body,” Bane responds with “As you wish.” He flicks a switch on a wrist contraption and a liquid starts pumping from it into a tube connected to the back of Bane’s skull. His muscles begin to bulge and the background turns bright red to heighten the apparent adrenaline rush Bane receives. He grabs Croc by the skull, his hand now large enough to palm it effortlessly, and shoves his head underwater.

bane emerges

Killer Croc gets a look at Bane, now in full wrestling-inspired attire.

By now, Batman and Robin have entered the sewer and we can hear the sounds of Croc being pummelled, Bane apparently not content to merely drown him. He soon floats into sight, but Bane is gone. As the two haul Croc out of the sewer, Robin wonders if there’s a new vigilante on the block while Batman remains silent. They arrive at the Batmobile to find it’s been smashed. It’s there Batman agrees with Robin that whoever stopped Croc is tough because he notes the damage to the Batmobile was done with bare hands.

Later on, Batman pays Croc a visit at Arkham where he’s looked better. His head is bandaged and he has a broken arm and leg both of which are being suspended by slings on pulleys. Batman wants to have a chat, but Croc is in no mood. Batman basically uses some mild torture by messing with the pulley which is enough to make him sing. Croc tells him about Bane, in particular about the drug that pumps him up, and also taunts Batman a bit as he’s convinced Bane will snap him in two once he gets his hands on him. Batman doesn’t seem too concerned and departs with a, “Later gator.”

At the Batcave, Robin is working on the Batmobile while Batman is at the computer. Alfred comes strolling in (feels like we haven’t seen him in awhile) and mentions something about Bane to Batman who makes a quip about it being personal now that he totaled his car (Batman is on point with the jokes so far). Batman, having heard enough from Croc, already knows everything there is to know about Bane as his computer reveals all. Bane is the only man to escape from some notorious prison in Cuba. It was there he was experimented on with the substance that will be identified as Venom. Since escaping, Bane has fashioned himself into a merc for hire, and a real expensive one at that. His price starts at 5 million a job, and when Batman questions who has that kind of money and a desire to kill him Alfred hands him a newspaper (this again?) that inexplicably has a headline that just reads Rupert Thorne.

robin hides

Robin must not have been very good at hide and seek.

At Thorne’s office, Candice is seated with Bane while he does curls with a massive dumbbell. Earlier, Thorne had offered Bane the “services” of his assistant and Bane appears to be taking full advantage of said services. Candice tells him that he could own this city, and she, once he takes out the Batman. When he asks her about her boss, she just says “accidents happen,” and plants a kiss on his exposed lips. Thorne then enters and Candice takes her leave. When Thorne casually says “He’s out there, Bane,” referring to Batman, Bane respond with a “Closer than you think.” Across the way, Robin has been eavesdropping the whole time and recording the conversation too. As he’s putting his equipment away he notices Candice leave in her own vehicle and the Batmobile then appears and follows her. Behind Robin, a red-eyed shadowy figure emerges and starts racing up behind Robin. He spins around at the last second to find Bane. He dodges Bane’s attack, but soon finds himself in his clutches. As Bane dangles him over the ledge, Robin is able swing between Bane’s legs and upend the big man. He wisely doesn’t try to pick a fight with Bane and flees to another rooftop. He hides behind some ventilation as Bane walks by, but when Robin tries to sneak away Bane is there to wrap him in a bear hug. He turns his back to the camera so we don’t see Robin get choked out. When he turns back around he’s cradling an unconscious Robin in his arms and makes a remark that he may prove useful to him as he walks off.

bane cradles robin

It would be sweet had he not just choked Robin out.

Batman has followed Candice back to her apartment. He enters and confronts the woman about Bane. She seems rather casual and plops herself down on the couch to watch cartoons (surprisingly, not another Warner cartoon) while Batman yaps on. She then tells him he has no chance against Bane. He’s studied him since he was in prison and is obsessed with taking him down (a slight nod to Bane’s comic origin, I suppose). As she goes on, the phone rings and she tells him that it’s probably for him. Batman answers and it’s Bane, who lets him know that if he were a sniper he’d already be dead. He then threatens to get him by getting to whom he values most. Batman is alarmed and looks out the window to see Robin’s shirt and cape draped over an antenna on a rooftop across the street. In an action that was actually amusing to me, Batman smashes Candice’s window rather than open it so he can fire his grapple gun to retrieve Robin’s garment. A note is affixed to it with Robin’s apparent location on it.

The note instructed Batman to head to a wharf where a ship called The Rose’s Thorn is docked. I don’t know if it’s Thorne’s ship or if Bane picked it because it reminds him of his employer. There Robin has been chained up with a massive weight chained to his ankles. Candice managed to beat Batman there and tries to remove Robin’s mask, but Bane stops her for no apparent reason. Robin is then lowered into a pool on the ship that has water pouring in. Soon enough he’ll be underwater with no apparent way to escape.

bane vs batman

They should have just gone all-in and hired Jim Ross to do commentary.

Batman arrives to see Robin and goes for him, but Bane soon announces his presence from the top of a mast. He activates the Venom and jumps down, the camera shaking as he lands on the deck. Batman is tentative, but goes in eventually. The fight turns into a faux wrestling match with Bane no-selling Batman’s strikes as if he were The Undertaker. He tosses Batman into the ship’s railing, which cartoonishly bends like wrestling ring ropes allowing Batman to rebound off of them into a massive clothesline from Bane. Batman gets up and uses some lucha-libre of his own with a series of head-scissor takedowns on Bane. Eventually, the enraged behemoth just catches Batman and heaves him into a bunch of crates. Among the rubble, Batman finds some device which turns out to be a grappling hook gun. He plunges it into Bane’s midsection and fires catapulting the villain from the deck to the water below.

With Bane out-of-the-way, Batman races to Robin’s aid and finds the water level has reached his chin. He dives in and starts prodding at the chains around Robin’s wrists, but the boy wonder quickly directs Batman to the weights on his ankles. Batman goes under water and finds the chains padlocked. Expecting him to go to his belt for something to break the lock or chain with, Batman surprises me by pulling out a set of keys. Did he remove them from Bane during the fight? He frees Robin, but while Batman is busy Bane re-emerges behind Candice, who looked like she was about to flee.

robin vs candice

This isn’t the fight we were promised.

Bane waits for Batman to climb out of the pool before grabbing his head and tossing him. He merely kicks Robin back into the water, apparently not at all concerned about him. From the water, Robin spies Candice and beckons her into the water. For some reason she obliges, tossing aside her red pumps (but not her jacket) and dives in and the two start wrestling with each other. Likely owing to the show not wanting to show Robin assaulting a woman, Candice is shown to have the upper hand immediately.

bane scream

The animators at Dong Yang utilized a red background for some of Bane’s Venom scenes, which is pretty effective.

On the deck, Batman and Bane have resumed their fight. Batman, apparently running out of ideas to confront this beast, tosses a Batarang at Bane who catches it. He crumples it in his hand and taunts Batman for trying to fight him with toys. Now clearly with the upper hand, Bane methodically beats on Batman though the camera is careful not to show anything particularly gratuitous. He grabs Batman by the shirt and demands he scream his name, but of course Batman isn’t about to do that. Looking to end the fight, Bane lifts Batman over his head and announces that he will break him. He assumes another classic pro-wrestling position, that of the backbreaker. It’s at this point those who were familiar with Bane’s presence in the comics may have actually fallen for the tease. In the books, Bane does indeed break Batman’s back across his knee, but he won’t be so lucky here. Batman, holding onto the mangled remains of his Batarang, uses it to stab the pump on Bane’s wrist. This causes it to go haywire and continuously pump Venom into Bane’s noggin. He drops Batman and starts freaking out as he can’t control the Venom. His muscles keep increasing and we return to the red background to focus in on Bane’s face. The red lenses over his eyes pop off as his eyes bug out and the whole sequence is rather freaky. He’s in obvious pain and in a state of panic, but he also is in a state of disbelief that he could be defeated. Taking apparent pity on him, Batman rips the tube out of Bane’s head causing the massive man to collapse and begin returning to a normal size. At the same time, Candice climbs out of the water with Robin right behind her. She takes off running and Robin is prepared to go after her but Batman stops him since he knows where she’s heading.

batmans mercy

Batman’s mercy.

Batman drops by the office of Rupert Thorne on his way home. A still soaking wet Candice is cowering behind her boss’s chair as Batman presents the defeated Bane. He mocks Thorne as he pulls off Bane’s mask to reveal a baby-faced man beneath it who lets his head slam onto the desk. Still in a pretty good mood, Batman whips out a tape player and lets Thorne know he has a new release and even gives it a title, Better Luck Next Time. It’s the recording Robin made of Candice propositioning Bane where it’s insinuated they were going to knock-off Thorne. Batman then takes his leave while Thorne roars “Candice!”

And that’s all she wrote for Bane. He won’t show up again until the made for television move Mystery of the Batwoman which is part of The New Batman Adventures. I suppose it’s not surprising since Batman would be able to beat him the same way, kind of like how X-Men ruined The Juggernaut by revealing the blueprint for beating him in his first appearance. It’s also the final appearance for Candice, which is actually a little menacing. Did Thorne have her killed? If he really is a ruthless criminal he probably would. My guess is we’re supposed to assume she was fired. The ending scene feels like it’s played for laughs, but she just got caught plotting to have Thorne killed. He’s not going to let that slide.

bane_unmasked

The baby face beneath the mask.

The whole tone of this episode is really amusing to me, though not necessarily in a good way. Mitch Brian is the writer, and he previously wrote “On Leather Wings” and “P.O.V.” which were not particularly humorous. For this one he really went all-in on the wrestling motif of Bane with the fight scene especially looking silly. I like wrestling, but Batman rebounding off of steel railings like they’re ring ropes was pretty over the top and it takes me out of the scene every time. Batman is also jokey, which is unconventional, though his dry delivery to Alfred helps sell his car line. The “Later gator” line is way more playful, and pretty out of character. Not offensively so, but it is jarring. I wonder if some of the humor was intended to soften the menacing undertones of the episode where a contract killer is out to get him.

The way Bane is made a fool of, and subsequently not utilized again, leads me to the conclusion that the staff wasn’t too high on Bane. Was he forced upon them because of Knightfall? I don’t know if anything was necessarily mandated upon, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they were encouraged to do Bane in season two. He’s fine, and the episode largely is as well. He’s not one of Batman’s greatest foes, but at least he’s not a big, dumb, strong man like so many similar villains. He didn’t need to come back, and I’m fine with this being his lone appearance. Not to be forgotten, this also marks Killer Croc’s final appearance in this show. Unlike Bane though, he’ll return in The New Batman Adventures where a reboot is sorely needed. He’s turned into a silly character who isn’t a threat to Batman despite his appearance. Most of all though, I’ll actually miss Candice. She’s just so nasty and a natural bad girl that it’s a shame she and Thorne were separated. It might have been fun to see her resurface with one of Thorne’s rivals down the road, but alas it was not to be, so pour one out for Candice.

 


Batman: The Animated Series – “Paging the Crime Doctor”

Paging_Crime_DoctorEpisode Number:  53

Original Air Date:  September 17, 1993

Directed by:  Frank Paur

Written by:  Mike W. Barr, Laren Bright, Randy Rogel, Martin Pasko

First Appearance(s):  Matthew Thorne

 

Episode 53 brings us to a much more grounded place than the previous episode, the supernatural “Mudslide.” It’s also a much more conventional and relatable story that feels like it would have been right at home on a prime time drama as opposed to a week day afternoon children’s program. It’s an episode the takes a broader look at two people in Batman’s life who have impacted him in two very different ways:  Dr. Leslie Thompkins and the gangster Rupert Thorne. This episode is also noteworthy as it was the final aired episode of season one, even though by production order there were still a dozen left.

bruce and leslie

Batman with the only doctor he trusts.

The episode opens rather conventionally though, with the heist of an armored car. The episode immediately earns bonus points by having the heist conducted in a unique manner. An ambulance pulls up alongside it, and thinking it’s an emergency vehicle, the armored car pulls over to let it pass only for the drivers of the ambulance to pull out guns. The crooks manage to knock off the armored car fairly easily, so easily in fact that they’re positively delighted by their effort, until Batman shows up. This isn’t the type of thing one gets away with in Gotham City very easily.

Eventually the ambulance crashes, and the crooks are forced to take Batman on the old-fashioned way where they will undoubtedly be at a disadvantage despite their numbers and weapons. That seems to be the case at first, until one of the crooks produces some kind of surgical laser gun that was in the ambulance and takes aim at Batman. He’s able to graze the cowl of the caped crusader causing Batman to tumble off a bridge and land on a cable car below. The crooks, thinking they’ve off’d the Batman, take off to see their boss, Rupert Thorne (John Vernon).

the thornes

Matt and Rupert have a complicated relationship.

Thorne is on his way to visit his doctor, a doctor that specializes in treating criminals. It turns out, that surgical laser was part of the heist and Thorne intended to give it to his doctor, Matthew (Joseph Campanella), who just so happens to be Rupert’s younger brother. Matthew appears to be dissatisfied with his lot in life. The two, apparently self-aware about their audience, somewhat clumsily rehash what got them here. Apparently years ago Matthew was a respected physician, but when he failed to report that he removed a bullet from his brother to the police he subsequently lost his license to practice medicine. As a result, he’s now an unlicensed doctor who only treats his brother and associates of his brother and, while he’s probably paid pretty well, it’s not the kind of life he envisioned for himself. Rupert, feeling he’s more than paid his debt to his brother with his finances, feels no sympathy for Matthew and the two get into an argument. The argument ends when Rupert, clutching his chest, collapses before him.

Batman also has problems of his own. That laser did a job on him, and he seeks out the only person he trusts – Leslie Thompkins (Diana Muldaur). He collapses upon reaching her, but she’s able to treat him. She diagnoses him with a concussion and prescribes rest and some medication, even though she knows he’s unlikely to follow her orders.

After having collapsed, Matthew is forced to X-Ray his brother. He discovers a tumor that he believes to be benign in his brother’s chest. However, even though he doesn’t believe it’s cancerous the tumor does appear to be pressing against Rupert’s aorta restricting the blood flow to his heart. It needs to be removed, and Matthew insists Rupert go to the hospital and have the surgery done there. Rupert, fearing what his enemies would do should they find out he’s in for surgery, refuses and insists that Matthew perform the operation. Matthew says it’s impossible for him to do it alone, so they explore other ways to pull it off.

Crime_Doctor_Thank

Matt tries to be a nice guy, but there’s no making up for his creep-like behaviour.

That night, Leslie is paid a visit at her clinic as she’s closing up shop for the night. Three sketchy looking individuals barge in, and just as she’s preparing to fight them off, one of them reveals himself to be Matthew. It turns out Leslie and Matthew attended medical school together, along with Thomas Wayne. Unfortunately for Matthew, Leslie knows all about his past and how he lost his license. He explains the situation he’s in and asks her to assist in performing the operation on his brother. He offers money, but Leslie refuses knowing it’s dirty money. She won’t do it and risk her own license, forcing the other gentlemen with Matthew to get grabby. They take her back to Thorne’s where she is forced to assist in the operation. Matthew tries to thank her, even though she’s not there willingly, but she’ll have none of it. She warns him not to trust his brother, for there’s virtually no chance he’ll be able to get his license back.

Batman has done some investigating and is able to trace a fabric sample at the crime scene from earlier back to Rupert Thorne. It’s a bit of a stretch, but we’ll go with it. Batman is confused about what Thorne would want with a medical laser, and decides to pay Leslie a visit once more, this time as Bruce Wayne and with Alfred at his side. They find the place a mess and Leslie is no where to be found. A picture of Leslie and Thomas Wayne gets their attention. It was one Matt had handled for he was the photographer. Bruce checks behind the frame to see a message Matt left for Leslie on it. He turns to a yearbook and is able to find a Matt who signed the book for his father and Bruce takes note of that tell-tale last name:  Thorne.

Matthew and Leslie were able to successfully remove the tumor. As they clean up and prepare to part, they soon find out Rupert left his thugs with instructions to kill Leslie once the job was done. Batman shows up, but still reeling from the earlier concussion, finds it tough going against one of the orderlies. Matthew, meanwhile, is not onboard with murdering his old classmate and he and Leslie make a break for it. He first tricks one of the men by saying he’ll give Leslie an injection that will kill her, quick and painlessly. Instead he uses it on the goon which knocks him out. Leslie acts surprised, but Matthew insists he’d never stoop so low as to murder someone just to get his license back.

Matt_saves_Leslie

Because we need to see Matt do something heroic.

Another thug takes note of them, forcing Matthew and Leslie to flee to the roof of the building. Matthew jumps to an adjacent rooftop, but Leslie is less confident in her ability to do the same. She eventually does, but comes up short. She still manages to grab the ledge of the next building and Matthew springs into action. Unfortunately, this leaves them wide open for one of Rupert’s thugs to take them out. Fortunately, Batman makes it to the rooftop in time to prevent the thug from doing the worst, but Matthew loses his grip and Leslie falls. Batman is able to shake off the concussion-like symptoms to make the save and the police are able to take care of the rest.

bruce sad

“Tell me about my father.”

The episode shifts to prison where Matthew is led into a meeting room. Bruce Wayne is here for a visit, and Matthew doesn’t seem thrilled to see him. Bruce offers legal help, but implies it’s in exchange for a favor. Matthew, agitated and smelling a blackmail, insists he’s done doing that sort of thing and prepares to leave. Bruce stops him though and insists he’s not asking for anything illegal, and in a heartbreaking moment, he simply asks Matthew to tell him about his father. Matthew immediately softens, puts an arm around Bruce, and leads him back to the table for what was likely a long and pleasant discussion.

“Paging the Crime Doctor” is another Batman melodrama where a good person is caught between two opposing forces, crime and justice, with their family being on the side of crime. Matthew, largely due to partaking in the scheme to abduct Leslie, doesn’t come across as entirely in the right. He’s clearly made bad choices, and even though it’s understandable he’d want to help his brother, it’s not exactly an excuse. Like all good melodramas, he eventually is forced to choose between right and wrong and ultimately makes the right call. It feels like a small stakes episode as far as the main plot is concerned, but it does lead to that very poignant moment at the episode’s conclusion with Bruce and Matthew. That scene is done perfectly. The voice acting, the mannerisms of the characters within the animation, the setup making it seem like Bruce is indeed after something Matthew might not be interested in, and then the cut to Bruce’s grief-stricken face. It’s simple, but it’s perhaps the most touching scene in the show’s history.

Crime_Doctor_Talk

What can I say? The sweet ending worked on me.

As far as lasting implications, there are virtually none. Rupert Thorne will be back to a life of crime in no time, strong as an ox. Meanwhile, Matthew is never heard from again. He presumably did some time, but probably not a lot, especially if he ratted on his brother. He likely never got his license back, but at least he saved his soul. We’ll also see Leslie again fairly soon, but it will be her final appearance of the show.


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