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The Batman TAS Episode Ranking – Part 5

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

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

hqdefault-3119 – Joker’s Favor

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

18 – House & Garden

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

17 – Second Chance

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

batgirl unmasked16 – Shadow of the Bat: Part II

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

15 – Shadow of the Bat: Part I

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

14 – Mudslide

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

tumblr_nrrp4yKE3S1ub7n3do1_128013 – The Laughing Fish

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

12 – Feat of Clay: Part II

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

getaway11 – Harley and Ivy

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

10 – Robin’s Reckoning: Part II

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

9 – Feat of Clay: Part I

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

harleys back8 – Harley’s Holiday

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

7 – Almost Got ‘Im

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

6 – Beware the Gray Ghost

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

twoface5 – Two-Face: Part I

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

4 – Robin’s Reckoning: Part I

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

harley tears

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

3 – Mad Love

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

2 – Over the Edge

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

Heart-of-Ice-Batman1 – Heart of Ice

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


The Batman TAS Episode Ranking – Part 4

stonechairWelcome back for the fourth installment in the Batman: The Animated Series episode ranking. This week, we’ll be taking a look at entries 39 through 20. As a reminder, this feature encompasses all of the episodes produced under the banner of Batman, The Adventures of Batman & Robin, and The New Batman Adventures which are collectively referred to as Batman: The Animated Series. If you wish to view my thoughts on the episodes as a whole each episode here is linked to the write-up. If you prefer to explore more, simply head on over to the index page for all things BTAS. The episodes are already quite hard to separate from one another at this point, with only a true handful of episodes clearly establishing themselves as worthy of being in the top 10. These episodes are all pretty great, and hopefully it’s merely a matter of preference for what type of story viewers prefer or favorite villains that causes these to move up and down. Now, for entry number 39:

catwomans affection39 – You Scratch My Back

This was a logical plot to explore when the dynamics between Batman and the crime fighter formerly known as Robin, now known as Nightwing, changed. Catwoman, always the opportunist, uses her unique charms to basically seduce Nightwing causing friction between he and Batman as well as Batgirl. The soapish plot ends up having a nice payoff allowing it to overcome its otherwise lackluster villain of the day. Catwoman, post redesign looks rather lame, but her personality is a perfect fit. If only we could have had more of this character in the first two seasons.

38 – Sins of the Father

Dick Grayson got an origin story, so I suppose his successor deserved one as well. Tim Drake enters Batman’s life in what is essentially real-time in relation to the rest of the series as opposed to a flashback. This makes him a true Boy Wonder as opposed to an adult one, and while his tale isn’t as gut-wrenching as Dick’s, it’s still appropriately tragic. It also incorporates Two-Face which feels like a nod to the film Batman Forever.

hex vs duvall37 – Showdown

I didn’t care for this episode as a kid because of its lack of Batman, but as an adult I find it to be a great deal of fun and a nice change of pace. It’s somewhat quietly the best Ra’s al Ghul episode as it’s partially an origin tale for him, but mostly it feels like a backdoor pilot for Jonah Hex. Hex is a stereotypical gruff old cowboy, but the portrayal works. And I like that he’s one and done, and his tale also has a nice payoff in the present timeline leading to a very interesting conclusion.

36 – The Demon’s Quest: Part I

“Showdown” is arguably the best Ra’s al Ghul episode, but I just barely place this one above it. “The Demon’s Quest” is Ra’s al Ghul at his best:  mysterious, manipulative, conceited, obtuse, uncompromising, and pretty much insane. This is the episode we learn how Ra’s views himself and the world. He has all of the answers and deals in absolutes. Sometimes, to build a better world you need to start over. Batman, of course, does not share this world view, but he’s forced to go along for the ride as both Robin and Talia have been kidnapped. Adding a nice through-line to the episode is the little game between Batman and Ra’s al Ghul’s bodyguard, Ubu, which has a satisfying conclusion.

not good35 – Blind as a Bat

Can Batman perform blind as a bat, as the saying goes? It’s a simple premise, but an effective one. Bruce Wayne is injured when Penguin swipes a fancy helicopter being put on display by Wayne Tech leaving him temporarily blind. Not one to sit on the sidelines while a villain is on the prowl, Batman enlists the help of Leslie Thompkins to create a new helmet that allows him to see, and also has the added benefit of giving him glowing red eyes. The helmet doesn’t last very long, forcing Batman to go it alone without the aid of arguably his most important sense as a crime fighter. I’m not sure if the fact that he comes out alive says more about the prowess of Batman or the ineptitude of Penguin.

34 – I Am the Night

This one feels like a bookend to “Appointment in Crime Alley.” Batman deals with something he rarely has to:  failure. This time, his fatigue, both mental and physical, causes him to be late to a bust. His late arrival seems to have little impact, but it only further weighs him down later when Commissioner Jim Gordon is shot by the Jazzman. Batman mostly receives support from Leslie, Barbara, and Alfred, but Bullock lays into him when he goes by the hospital to see Gordon. Batman basically enters into a depression. He’ll bounce back, but it’s quite an emotional ride getting there as Batman ponders his worth and important questions like “Am I even making a difference?” It’s the most human the character will ever be portrayed.

HeartofSteel133 – Heart of Steel: Part I

The Blade Runner inspired “Heart of Steel” introduces the super computer H.A.R.D.A.C. which was created to construct robots with sophisticated artificial intelligence, but it soon goes rogue. The A.I. in the robots is too good making them able to blend in seamlessly with humanity. This causes problems when they start committing crimes, and both Bruce Wayne and Batman get pulled into it. It’s very compelling and for some reason the robots were really chilling to me as a kid, so I suppose it’s stuck with me partly for that reason.

32 – The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne

Hugo Strange has invented a machine capable of extracting sensitive information from his patients under the guise of being beneficial for mental health. He ends up biting off more than he can chew when his machine is used on Bruce Wayne revealing his big secret. Strange immediately goes to Gotham’s most famous rogues:  Joker, Penguin, and Two-Face seeking to profit from the information. It doesn’t go well for him, and Bruce’s solution to his problem is pretty clever, even if it takes advantage of the medium perhaps too well.

new scarecrow31 – Never Fear

Scarecrow’s redesign in The New Batman Adventures was the most memorable. He went from pretty creepy looking to downright scary. This new persona really helps drive this episode as he’s created a new toxin that actually takes away fear, leaving his victims completely reckless. Batman gets a taste of it once again and basically loses his mind, putting him at odds with Robin. He’s a full on maniac in this one, and it’s kind of uncomfortable to watch. All turns out well in the end, but it’s hard to shake that side of Batman that was revealed here.

30 – Riddler’s Reform

Riddler has returned once again, only this time he’s reformed. Batman is skeptical, though he has no reason to be aside from a gut feeling. He’s a bit of a jerk as a result, but as usual he’s proven right when it turns out the Riddler is up to his old tricks once again. Before that is revealed though it’s actually pretty amusing seeing Riddler have fun at Batman’s expense when he has the support of the people of Gotham. It also has one of Riddler’s best traps, and Batman’s ability to escape it is what ends up driving him mad in the end.

dead eyed stare29 – His Silicon Soul

This episode is just plain cool. H.A.R.D.A.C. is gone, but before it was destroyed by Barbara and Batman it created one final robot:  a Batman robot. Armed with the knowledge that Bruce Wayne is Batman, it was able to create a perfect copy, but this isn’t revealed right away. We first see the robot burst into action in stopping a robbery, and then we get to feel the same sense of shock as the machine does when it sustains damage revealing the circuitry within. The robot thinks it’s human, making for a really compelling case study. Can Batman destroy that which is sentient? It’s just a wonderfully composed episode.

28 – If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?

Riddler’s debut took awhile to arrive, but it was worth the wait. This episode is really interesting because Riddler is the bad guy, but the guy he’s menacing is worse. And that guy is his old boss, a real piece of work who loves to work people to death and steal their ideas for his financial gain. It’s actually really topical in this day and age. And I like that in the end, Batman and Robin save him, but he doesn’t have a happy ending. And Riddler even gets away! I guess it actually is a happy ending, after all.

old chums

27 – Legends of the Dark Knight

This show did not do anthology episodes too often, but when it did they were quite good. This one has a group of kids basically telling tall tales about Batman. The fun aspect of the episode is that we get to see the show tackle a take on the 1960s Batman and Robin as well as an adaptation of the seminal The Dark Knight Returns. Maybe it’s a bit more style over substance, but I was a sucker for the nostalgia inherent and even the way it brought the real Batman into their orbit was pretty satisfying.

26 – Perchance to Dream

This is a bit of a gimmick episode, but it’s done extremely well. Batman is caught in a trap by The Mad Hatter, but it’s not blatant at the episode’s onset. Bruce appears to wake from a nightmare, but he awakens in a world in which he is not Batman. He remembers being Batman, but no one else does. He’s engaged to Selena Kyle and his parents are still alive. And perhaps weirdest of all, Batman is real, he’s just not Bruce. He doesn’t know if he’s delusional, insane, or if something else is going on here. It’s obviously the latter, but the episode does a good job of planting the seed in your head that maybe this is the way things are meant to be. A real fun one.

goodbye annie25 – Growing Pains

Clayface might have the best average episode score of any villain in this show. He manages to return in The New Batman Adventures without really missing a beat (I don’t count that weird appearance in “Holiday Knights”). He’s somehow gained the ability to create sentient clay people from his own body, and one such creation takes the form of a little girl who comes in contact with Robin. She doesn’t know much about her existence, only that she needs to get away from Clayface. For us, that reveal doesn’t come until the final act and much of the episode is just Robin trying to lead this girl away from apparent danger. It’s thrilling, and the revelation ends up being heart-breaking in the end. One of the best endings to any episode in the final season.

24 – Pretty Poison

Poison Ivy makes a splashy debut alongside Harvey Dent, who she’s dating in this one. She’s an eco-terrorist, and she uses her charm to get close to Harvey and poison him with her deadly kiss. When Dent lands in the hospital, Batman has to solve the mystery of what happened to his friend and he winds up at Ivy’s doorstep. This is Poison Ivy in her best role as a femme fatale. I think she has at least one better stand-alone episode to herself, but I wouldn’t blame you if you felt this was her finest moment.

mask off

23 – Old Wounds

When The New Batman Adventures arrived and it was revealed that Dick Grayson had gone off on his own as Nightwing, viewers instantly wanted to know, “Why?” “Old Wounds” is the answer to that question as it’s largely a flashback told by Dick to Tim while out on the town. It’s a rather well-constructed story and we really saw the genesis for this break-up in past episodes when Batman’s stubborn approach to certain issues rubbed Dick the wrong way. It was a split that needed to happen, and I’m glad the show dedicated an entire episode to it.

22 – Harlequinade

When Joker gets his hands on an atomic bomb, Batman is forced to resort to desperate measures to find the clown and disarm him. As a result, he’s forced to turn to Harley Quinn for assistance as she travels alongside Batman and Robin as they track down Joker. It makes for a wonderful blend of action and comedy as Harley is just a true screen magnet. She is so charismatic, which is why she receives a lot of attention in season two of the show. This ended up being a sign of things to come as Harley would have an even better solo outing not long after.

21 – Trial

Batman finds himself once again imprisoned in Arkham, only this time the inmates are literally running the asylum. His only ally is the new Gotham District Attorney, Janet Van Dorn, who had previously sworn an oath to Gotham that she would be the one to bring Batman to justice blaming him for the creation of these so-called super villains. A bunch of rogues are brought together for a kangaroo court style trial that Batman and Van Dorn improbably win, but Joker, the presiding judge, still decides to kill him anyway! It’s a wacky episode, but it doesn’t sell-out its villains by having them all lumped together with Batman emerging triumphant.

MWKB_67_-_Sid_and_Thorne20 – The Man Who Killed Batman

What an interesting title. Very few cartoons are allowed to use a form of the word “Kill,” let alone in an episode title prominently splashed on a title card. This one tells the story of Sid the Squid, a nobody looking to become a big shot in crime. Through a comedic series of events during an encounter with Batman, Sid ends up “killing” Batman. He’s obviously not dead, but the episode tries to convince you he is as Sid ends up attracting all kinds of attention thanks to being known as the one who finally defeated Batman. Some thugs challenge him, while Joker actually seeks to murder him because by killing Batman he’s ruined Joker’s fun. The funeral Joker holds for Batman is probably the funniest scene in the entire show’s run and one of its most memorable.


The Batman TAS Episode Ranking – Part 3

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

59 – Paging the Crime Doctor

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

FearofVictory58 – Fear of Victory

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

57 – It’s Never Too Late

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

960-2

Captain Clown, we hardly knew ye.

56 – The Last Laugh

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

55 – Double Talk

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

54 – Baby-Doll

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

cross blades53 – The Demon’s Quest: Part II

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

52 – The Mechanic

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

30-251 – Appointment in Crime Alley

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

50 – Bane

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

offbalance49 – Off Balance

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

48 – Mad as a Hatter

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

smilingtwoface147 – Two-Face: Part II

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

46 – A Bullet for Bullock

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

45 – What is Reality?

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

HS_II_41_-_Batman

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

44 – Heart of Steel: Part 2

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

43 – Dreams in Darkness

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

calendar girl revealed42 – Mean Seasons

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

41 – Judgement Day

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

joker limo40 – Joker’s Millions

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


The Batman TAS Episode Ranking – Part 2

Z_34_-_Batman_and_ZeeWelcome back for the second installment in the Batman: The Animated Series episode ranking. This week, we’ll be taking a look at entries 79 through 60. As a reminder, this feature encompasses all of the episodes produced under the banner of Batman, The Adventures of Batman & Robin, and The New Batman Adventures which are collectively referred to as Batman: The Animated Series. If you wish to view my thoughts on the episodes as a whole each episode here is linked to the write-up. If you prefer to explore more, simply head on over to the index page for all things BTAS. Now, lets take a look at the episodes coming in at number 79:

runaway bomb79 – Time Out of Joint

The return of the Clock King! Yeah, I’m not sure many were looking forward to that one, but we got it anyway. I was really down on the Clock King when I was a kid, as an adult I still really don’t care for him. There’s some fun time-lapse business here, but it’s still not an episode I care to return to.

78 – Birds of a Feather

Penguin’s attempt at redemption didn’t go too well for him, but at least he got to fly through the air with a Viking helmet! This was actually a fun story that just didn’t have a satisfying resolution.

77 – Terror in the Sky

Another return, this time it’s the Man-Bat from the first episode. We didn’t need another dose of this character, but I wasn’t opposed to the idea. This show sometimes stumbles with the supernatural, but the Man-Bat is the rare exception to that. This is a solid episode with a little bit of deja vu holding it back.

76 – The Clock King

The debut of the Clock King was low on my list of favorites as a kid. I did warm to it a bit as an adult because it’s just so silly. The Clock King is full of dubious puns and the image of him with his clock face glasses and cane does make me smile. The thing I disliked about this one though is how Batman plays down to his competition and that’s something I could never reconcile in my brain.

seenoevil175 – See No Evil

This is one of those early episodes of the show with a very grounded premise. An ex-con father wants to see his kid, but the law has wisely stripped him of that right, so he’s resorting to other means. This time it’s via an invisible suit which allows him to get close to his estranged daughter, whom he eventually kidnaps. It’s a good story, but I felt like it may have wanted me to feel a touch of sympathy at times for the bad dad when it really should have been more forceful to show him as in the wrong. This one earns bonus points for featuring the fun visual of Batman riding on the roof of an invisible car.

74 – Be a Clown

This one is actually rather similar to “See No Evil” as it once again involves an adult assuming a friendly persona to dupe a minor. In this case, it’s Joker who befriends the mayor’s son in a bid to get back at the mayor for saying some mean things. This one could have been a classic Joker episode if it went a bit further. It also included the somewhat annoying character of Jordan. Joker just wasn’t intimidating enough to make me, as both a kid and adult, fearful for Jordan while he was in Joker’s presence. I think this is the rare first season episode that may have been better served had it aired during the WB days.

thomas-wayne-273 – Nothing to Fear

The third episode of the show is mostly remembered for some wild visuals, including a giant skeleton harassing Batman, and for that early look at Scarecrow with the teardrop shaped mask. It ends up feeling a bit too by the numbers when examined with the rest of the material. As the third episode, it’s pretty good though.

72 – Beware the Creeper

This one is very much a mixed bag. The character of The Creeper is pretty entertaining as sort of a Loony Tunes character existing in this world. There’s also some gross stuff with Harley though which was growing tiresome at this point nearing the end of the show.  I guess ultimately I was okay with never hearing more from The Creeper.

71 – Holiday Knights

It was a bit of a surprise that The New Batman Adventures began with a Christmas/New Year’s episode. It was even more surprising it was better than the previous Christmas one, “Christmas With The Joker.” This little anthology episode is fine. It features a vicious (yet ugly) Joker, a fun romp with Harley and Ivy, and ends with a nice moment between Batman and Gordon. That’s not bad.

On_Leather_Wings_50_-_Batman_bleeds70 – On Leather Wings

The first episode of the series is more a feast for the eyes and ears than a great episode of Batman. It has a simple mystery with an obvious red herring, but the thriller aspects of the episode give it almost a horror vibe. The Man-Bat is a cool spectacle though and the sound effects may be the best in the entire run of the show. Solid action, great visuals, maybe I should actually put this higher?

69 – Avatar

The return of Ra’s al Ghul was a bit underwhelming. I was looking for a scheme on par with “The Demon’s Quest,” but we ended up with something lesser. Worse, it also had a feeling of retread with the Talia/Batman relationship. Batman is a world class detective and has to be one of the smartest men alive, but I guess he’s still a sucker for a pretty face. He’s only human.

68 – Read My Lips

The premise of this episode shouldn’t work, but it pulls it off. A ventriloquist gives life to a dummy that ends up taking charge. Scarface is the bad guy, not the “dummy” with his hand up his ass. The animators have some fun, as do the writers, with the premise. There’s still a ludicrous aspect at play to the plot, but it makes it work.

67 – Zatanna

One of the few team-up episodes of the show. In this case, it’s Batman and the sexy magician Zatanna. There’s some interesting character building in this one with it being revealed that Bruce studied under a magician to learn techniques that could benefit him as a crime fighter, namely the art of the escape. We already saw Batman get out of a dunk tank trap so this helps make that more believable in hindsight. Aside from that, the episode is a bit ho-hum.

Kyodai_Ken_subdues_Batman66 – Night of the Ninja

Kyodai Ken’s debut episode is a solid one. It posits that Batman is more Samurai than Ninja in his training, even though ninjas were considered pretty damn cool in the 90s. It fleshes out a bit how Bruce came to be such an accomplished fighter and gives him a win over an old rival. The Ninja might have been more interesting a villain had he bested Batman in one-on-one combat, but since he only came back once I guess it doesn’t matter.

65 – Vendetta

Killer Croc’s debut in the series portrayed him as a vengeful murderer, which is probably the persona I prefer as opposed to the dim-witted goof he sometimes embodies. The episode itself is a fun little mystery at first and it puts Batman in the position of helping Bullock, someone who is arguably more foe than friend to Batman. That part is arguably more interesting than Batman vs Croc, who while at first appears to be a villain Batman can’t just take on head-to-head, he still gets the job done with minimal suspense. This one does lose some points for featuring perhaps the dumbest scene in the entire show’s run. Bruce, looking to figure out who is after Bullock, is shown visiting a crocodile exhibit at a zoo and when the exhibit gives him a piece of on-the-nose info he turns (almost to the camera) and says “Of course!” If the episode were poking fun at shows that do this sort of thing that would be one thing, but it plays it totally sincere.

roxy vs batman64 – The Ultimate Thrill

This episode is certainly something. Roxy Rocket is a fun addition to the show, even if it can be hard to take her seriously. One could argue her motivations aren’t much different from The Terrible Trio, the villains of the most disliked episode of the bunch. At least she’s entertaining though, and the surprising innuendo of her encounter with Batman is shockingly funny for what is ostensibly a children’s cartoon.

63 – Love is a Croc

An odd couple paring and one I would have never dreamed up returns Baby-Doll and introduced a new version of Killer Croc. Croc is reframed as a manipulator with an appetite for cash and women. He’s basically your garden-variety sleaze ball now who just so happens to resemble a crocodile. Baby-Doll has a severe case of arrested development now as she appears to be in worse shape emotionally than before. As a result, she ends up being even more sympathetic. I think if the episode leaned into that harder it would have been better, but it also wants to be funny and feels it needs an exciting climax in the form of a confrontation between the heroes and villains. It’s solid, but I prefer her debut episode to this one.

62 – Cold Comfort

The third Mr. Freeze episode is the most uninteresting. Unsure of what to do with the villain, but feeling like he needed to return for The New Batman Adventures, the writers basically just returned him to how he was when we first saw him:  a cold, uncaring, villain. Only now his motivation was lost. His wife is alive and well, but no longer with him. Given how SubZero ended, we were to assume this was okay for him, but now Freeze is just generally ticked off at the world because he had it so bad. He wants to make others feel the same. It’s a motivator that keeps him in the role of a villain, but removes the sympathy that made him so special.

61 – Batgirl Returns

Batgirl made her debut near the end of season one, so it made sense she would be brought back in season two. She even got the prestigious role of closing out the show in a solo adventure where she was paired up with the most famous female character in the show:  Catwoman. By now, Catwoman was back to a more villainous role and much of the episode has fun with the notion of how trustworthy can she be. Robin is also tossed in as one part voice of reason, and one part smug jerk who tries to hold Batgirl back. To her credit, Batgirl is still decisive in her decision-making and self-confident, but not to a fault. The pairing is fairly fun, in a disposable way. After her father’s framing being the motivating factor to get her to take on this new persona, it’s a little disappointing something on that level didn’t get Barbara to bring back Batgirl in this one, but at least she’s back.

catwoman alone60 – Catwalk

This is basically the re-debut of Catwoman. After toeing the line of thief and vigilante in much of the first season, this one returns her to the role of a thief. Nothing of significance causes that change, Selina is mostly just bored living the straight life. Predictably, she gets into some trouble that requires some help from Batman who naturally tries to implore her to change her ways. It’s a bit lacking in drama this time around, but I mostly rank this one as highly as I do because it ends on the right note.


The New Batman Adventures – “Beware the Creeper”

beware the creeperEpisode Number:  23 (108)

Original Air Date:  November 7, 1998

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Rich Fogel

First Appearance:  The Creeper

As we rapidly approach the end of The New Batman Adventures I find myself having some expectations of how the final episodes will go. I, of course, have watched all of these before, but I’m certainly thinking about them differently as I engage with them this time around. Last week’s episode, “Chemistry,” gathered a bunch of old faces from the first two seasons of Batman: The Animated Series for one giant cameo. That’s the sort of thing I would expect a show to do near its end. Next week’s finale is going to reexamine a villain who is very much associated with the program. That also seems like a thing to do. What does not is introducing a new face to the mix, but that’s exactly what this week’s episode, “Beware the Creeper,” is aiming to do.

There is a bit of a long game at play here. It’s not an obvious one though, but if you’ve been paying attention during the show’s run you may have noticed that Jack Ryder has essentially replaced Summer Gleason as Gotham’s go-to news anchor person. He’s appeared in multiple episodes, though he’s never played much of a role in any. He’s just been there. A long game designed around him doesn’t feel like it was in play, but today’s episode some-what rewards viewers for noticing him as he’s going to assume this new persona of The Creeper. And tied into it all is Joker, making his final appearance on the show.

The episode opens at a familiar location:  Ace Chemical Plant. This is where I remind you that the lore of this television show has largely been adapted from Tim Burton’s Batman from 1989. At least as it relates to Joker, anyway. Unlike in the comics where Joker’s origin is non-committal, in this series he was indeed born at this chemical plant. He was a mob hitman, as outlined in the film Mask of the Phantasm, who went by the name of Jack Napier. He encountered Batman one fateful night at this plant, and the resulting fight caused him to fall into a vat of chemicals and become disfigured leading to his current persona as The Joker.

joker gang

Joker and his gang are here to supervise the television special and make sure it’s accurate.

Jack Ryder (Jeff Bennett) is hosting a special on the Joker titled “The Madness Behind the Laughter” from this location. It feels like one of those docu-series programs or an episode of Dateline, with the peculiar distinction that it’s being broadcast live. As Ryder walks across the scaffolding above the chemicals, he takes the viewer through Joker’s creation complete with dramatization. Interestingly, we find out this all happened a mere seven years ago, though Batman is depicted in his 1940s costume in the re-telling. Bruce Wayne is watching rather intently from home and Tim gives him some grief for being interested in hearing about how Joker was created.

reenactment

The reenactment of when Joker met Batman.

As Ryder goes about his business, high above in the rafters lurks Joker himself. The camera catches him in frame, and Wayne notices him right away as he and Tim race out of there. Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin) is with Joker (Mark Hamill) and asks him if he thinks Batman saw him. Joker responds in the affirmative (and quotes Tweety Bird in the process) as Batman is his biggest fan – there’s no way he’d miss this! Also with Joker today are his henchmen Mo, Lar, and Cur (Billy West) whom we haven’t seen since the first episode. It’s nice to see they’ve been doing well.

joker and ryder

Joker and Ryder just having some laughs.

Joker was going to wait for Batman, but he’s a bit bored. To make sure he’s noticed, he bombs Ryder and his crew with gas-filled rubber chickens. The crew starts laughing as Ryder barks at them that they’re on live TV. When Joker hops down he starts shouting for the viewers that this isn’t part of the show, but soon the gas gets him as well and he begins laughing uncontrollably. Joker then gives him a shove and he flips over the railing and into the same vat of chemicals that created Joker.

The Batmobile comes barreling in and Batman and Robin emerge. Harley and the boys hop down to take them on as she blows a whistle signaling the beginning of the fight. As Batman and Robin tangle with the big men, Ryder tries to climb out of the chemicals. He’s looking no worse for ware, but still laughing and Joker promptly kicks him back in. He again emerges and this time Joker shoves a cigar in his mouth. It’s a gag cigar that soon explodes. The image shifts to reveal a sign that says No Smoking and warns of explosive chemicals. Director Dan Riba apparently didn’t trust viewers to see the sign so the camera even zooms in on it to make sure.

ryder emerges

I think Ryder is going to be okay…

As the place starts to go up in flames, Batman is finally able to confront The Joker. Unfortunately, Joker has opened a valve on the chemical tub which is ejecting all of the chemicals into the ocean, including Ryder. Joker points this fact out to Batman and he’s forced to go after Ryder as opposed to Joker, completely forgetting he has a partner in Robin who could have probably tended to the reporter. When the two head to where the chemicals are being ejected, they see Ryder’s shirt which is on fire floating in the chemicals, but no Ryder. Assuming he’s dead, the two climb back into the Batmobile to presumably try and catch the Joker or alert the police of what transpired. As the Batmobile races away, a manhole cover opens and Ryder emerges. He’s still got a serious case of the giggles and a crazed grin to go along with it. His hair is green like Joker’s and his skin slightly yellowed. He basically mugs for the camera before running off.

Ryder then bounces around the streets of Gotham laughing to himself. It’s apparent these chemicals have really heightened his agility and strength as he effortlessly leaps from street level to the top of a street light. He tries to slow down and encourages himself to think logically about the situation. The sound of a coocoo clock going off is played and Ryder grimaces as if he has a headache. He jumps to a nearby ledge as he sees a woman inside. She is frightened and runs off and Ryder gets even more cartoonish by quoting Mindy from Animaniacs (“Okay-I-love-you-Buh-Bye!”) and bounds into a clothing store named Ditko’s, an obvious nod to Steve Ditko who created the character of The Creeper. Inside there he scares all of the patrons away, but a clearly bored store associate (E.G. Daily) just hangs around and even gives him fashion tips. She suggests green and hands him a little pair of green and black undies that he puts on along with some fashionable red gloves and boots. To complete the ensemble a large red boa is draped over his shoulders.

harley pie

She puts so much effort into her relationship with Joker and what does she get in return?

Batman and Robin are driving around in the Batmobile when they receive a call from Alfred. It would seem Ryder actually paid for his new threads with his own credit card, and Alfred is relaying the tip. Meanwhile, Joker is heading back to his hideout in a bit of a rage as word on the street is someone is stealing his act. When he enters the hideout he finds a surprise waiting for him. Harley emerges from a giant cream pie. She’s covered head to toe in whipped cream, but the presence of her headdress seems to suggest she’s not nude underneath it all, but I suppose she could be. Joker is rather stunned and Harley kicks an oversized cherry his way. It would seem she wants to celebrate the anniversary of Joker’s creation and beckons her puddin’ to come play with her. She playfully informs him that he’ll enjoy her “pie” and probably want seconds. It’s yet another risqué joke the show somehow managed to get past standards and practices.

As was the case in “Mad Love,” Joker is in no mood for play. Once again, Harley is shown being thrown out on her ass and comes crashing down between her beloved hyenas who start licking the cream off of her. Joker tastes some of the filling stuck to his coat and recoils with dissatisfaction remarking she’s a good kid but a not so good cook. He also orders her to find the plagiarist stealing his act.

stacked deck

He’s not here to play pool.

We return now to another location we haven’t seen in awhile, the Stacked Deck club on Gotham’s waterfront. Mo, Lar, and Cur are inside playing pool when Ryder comes busting in. They refer to him as a creep, which Ryder likes and uses to create a new name from himself:  The Creeper! He then tangles with the trio, and Billy West voices Lar with his Stimpy voice which is both weird and funny. A mopey Harley then walks by and is nearly hit with a flying pool table. Above, the shadows of Batman and Robin are seen arriving as well.

Inside the club, Creeper mostly has things under control. He’s been made much stronger than a normal person, but he still has the same “appetites” as normal men. When Harley enters he’s immediately taken by the pale-skinned woman. The camera lingers on her sexualizing her in a very obvious manner, much as it did when she was covered in pie. He starts hitting on her, and Harley soon realizes he’s the one Mr. J is after. As the two stand and talk, Batman tries walking up behind Creeper who casually uppercuts him without taking his eyes off of Harley. Batman crashes into a pool table and soon Mo opens fire on he and Robin as Harley and Creeper take things outside.

creeper and harley

The Creeper has found himself a new target and Harley is not having any of it.

Creeper keeps advancing on Harley like, well, a creep while she shows no interest. She soon realizes she can use this attraction to her advantage though and beckons Creeper to come forward. As he does, she releases the restraints on some cargo dangling precariously over Creeper’s head which drops on him. Satisfied, she flips away as Batman and Robin race over. Batman tells Robin to help him check on Creeper and Robin suggests they get a mop. They tare down the walls of the battered crate and find a huge statue was inside. The head then breaks off and inside is Creeper. He jumps out and when Batman asks who he is he informs him that he is “…Yellow-skinned Wacky Man! But I prefer The Creeper!”

Creeper is not at all interested in chatting with the Dynamic Duo. He seems to desire revenge on Joker and Harley’s affection, possibly in that order, and he bounds away. Batman and Robin follow and they come across him sniffing around an alley like a dog. It’s at this point it dawns on the two that this guys is Jack Ryder, and Batman reasons that the combination of Joker’s laughing gas with the chemicals in the plant are what caused this odd mutation.

joker meets creeper

Joker coming face to face with his latest creation.

Creeper apparently locks on Harley’s scent and runs off causing Batman and Robin to lose him. Harley went running back to Joker’s hideout and she busts in on him while he’s refilling his boutonniere which nearly causes an explosion. She frantically tells Joker someone is after her, when Creeper busts in. He approaches and quickly lives up to his name by grabbing Harley and licking her face. She tells Joker he’s the guy stealing his act and swears she didn’t lead him on. He believes her, remarking he knows she’s a one man loon. He then asks Creeper if he’d like to head on a one-way trip to Metropolis and waves a vial threateningly.

Batman and Robin are perched on a clocktower searching for Creeper. An explosion lets them know where he is and the two race to find Joker’s hideout. The explosion did little to discourage Creeper and Joker and Harley flee via a large parade float. Creeper races after them and hops into Joker’s convertible forcing Batman to grab onto the bumper. Robin hits it with a grapple gun and ends up on a dolly being pulled behind it.

creeper crash

He just can’t stop from acting like a creep at all times.

Joker leads the Creeper on a chase through the streets of Gotham and onto the freeway. Creeper is close behind the uncharacteristically fast parade float with Batman hanging onto the bumper and Robin being pulled behind. The parade float has a giant castle on it with a massive glove above which Joker knocks off. It crashes into Creeper’s car and smashes into pieces. Creeper starts fiddling with the various devices in the car and inadvertently fires off a bunch of rockets which nearly roast Batman and Robin and likely kill some unfortunate motorists offscreen. He then finds the rocket ejector seat which launches him onto the parade float.

Creeper crashes into Joker which knocks the both of them into Harley, who is trying to drive. This sends them careening off the overpass and into a waste disposal plant also conveniently owned by Ace. As they fly through the air, Creeper continues being a creep by gleefully chewing on one of Harley’s tassels from her costume. The car Creeper was once driving goes flying off the overpass as well and Batman is able to grab Robin and keep the two of them relatively safe. High above them, the other three have come to rest atop a giant heap of garbage. Creeper has Joker in a reverse chin-lock and eventually tosses him down to Batman. Joker, bleeding and on his knees, pleads with Batman to save him from the lunatic and Batman responds by slapping some bat-cuffs on him.

creeper assault

I do not like where this is going at all!

On the garbage heap, Creeper is continuing to live up to his name as he moves in on Harley. He shoves her down and basically looks like he’s about to commit a rather serious crime. Batman then shows up and prevents the rape by injecting Creeper with a sedative. He remarks he’s getting sleepy and then collapses on Harley his head coming to rest right in between her breasts.

Batman, Robin, and Ryder are then shown at Ryder’s apartment. He’s mostly removed his costume, save for those fashionable green undies, and is a tad distraught that his career is over. Batman informs him no one knows he was The Creeper, and informs him a patch he’s placed on his shoulder should keep him as Jack Ryder. He tells him he’ll supply him with more as he and Robin take their leave. Ryder watches them go from his balcony and seems to act derisively towards the patch, referring to it as “a little piece of cotton.” He then peels it off and walks back into his apartment. The camera stays on the balcony as he vanishes with his laughter soon filling the night air.

ryder bandage

Ryder is not a fan of the patch.

It was surprising to see a new face like The Creeper introduced so late in the game. Apparently, there had been a desire to include him going all the way back to the Fox days but it just never came to pass. Paul Dini has also mentioned they thought another season would be ordered so introducing him at this stage probably wasn’t frowned upon since he was clearly being setup to return in a future episode. Eventually, he would be added to the Justice League, but obviously there was no second appearance for the character in a dedicated Batman show. This episode also marks the final appearance of Robin in the show. Mathew Valencia would not return to voice the character in Mystery of the Batwoman, but he did return for the Batman Beyond film Return of the Joker.

For Joker and Harley, this is a rather inauspicious conclusion to their time on the show. A lot of their screen time is a bit derivative of “Mad Love,” in particular Harley trying to woo Joker and failing. It was a bit cute in “Mad Love” to see Harley try and be sexy for her Mr. J, but here it feels more indulgent than anything. It feels like the writers are just horny for Harley at this point, and that’s further driven home when Creeper is given an unhealthy attraction to the woman. It apparently wasn’t enough for Harley to be constantly abused by Joker, now we need to have her be sexually assaulted by another lunatic. Creeper’s licking and groping of Harley is gross and again it feels like we’re supposed to laugh at her constant abuse. Maybe I’m being overly sensitive, but I didn’t find it funny and instead I was left feeling sorry for Harley once again.

creeper uppercut

There may be some comedic potential in a Batman/Creeper pairing, but this being his only appearance in the show means it was never meant to be, I suppose.

Aside from the fact that Creeper is a downright creep, it was a bit interesting to see Joker targeted by another maniac. His constant giggling and chattiness reminds me of Freakazoid, though less charming. His look is rather goofy, but I suppose it befits the character and was true to his comic book counterpart. I would have preferred to see him remain focused on getting back at Joker than turning into some horn-ball for Harley. I think a better avenue for the episode would have been Creeper trying to use Harley to get at Joker, only to come to find Joker doesn’t actually value Harley thus ruining his plan. That would put Harley in the victim role again, but at least it would force her to again confront that Joker doesn’t care about her and she needs to remove him from her life, which would be a good place to leave the character as it would at least give her some hope.

“Beware the Creeper” is an entertaining episode, though one that perhaps reveals a bit too much about the men working on the show. It’s hard to watch this and not feel slightly dirty with how Harley is portrayed since the camera practically humps her in several scenes. It was fun seeing Joker’s origin reenacted once again, and the show made it a point to reveal that his old alias of Jack Napier was just that, an alias, which is a bit of a departure from Batman. I like an ambiguous origin for Joker and seeing the show maintain some of that ambiguity was nice. Had the show continued, I don’t know that I would have needed to see Creeper again. It would have been interesting to see if he returned with a Joker plot, or if he would have come back in another capacity. He has some sense of justice to him, so it’s possible he would have just returned as a vigilante that Batman encountered and probably would rather not work beside. An odd couple paring for the two has some comedic potential, but it was apparently never meant to be.


The New Batman Adventures – “Mad Love”

mad love titleEpisode Number:  21 (106)

Original Air Date:  January 16, 1999

Directed by:  Butch Lukic

Written by:  Paul Dini, Bruce Timm

First Appearance:  None

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

mad love comic

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

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

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

joker dentist

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

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

harley revs

Possibly the most “adult” reference from this show.

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

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

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

harley meets joker

Harley’s first encounter with The Joker.

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

harleen and joker

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

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

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

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

harley syringe

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

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

harley traps batman

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

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

harley tears

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

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

harley's fall

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

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

Harley didnt get the joke

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

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

joker smokestack

At least he got what was coming to him.

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

damaged harley

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

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

harley smiles

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

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

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

mad love two-pack

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

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

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

 


The New Batman Adventures – “Old Wounds”

old woundsEpisode Number:  17 (102)

Original Air Date:  October 3, 1998

Directed by:  Curt Geda

Written by:  Rich Fogel

First Appearance:  None

Have you wondered what caused the rift between Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne? Of course you have, but The New Batman Adventures has decided to make you wait a while to find out. Well past the half way point of the series is “Old Wounds,” a mostly flashback episode detailing the fallout between Batman and the original Boy Wonder. It’s even going to touch on how Batgirl was truly brought into the fold as well, which really makes this one feel like it’s been a long time coming. Maybe it would have made sense to run this one earlier, but I suppose it’s not that big of a deal. Either way, these are questions that needed answers and at least we’ll finally have them.

The episode begins with some hoodlums making trouble in Gotham, which is what hoodlums do. Robin drops in to put a stop to them and have a little fun at their expense as well. Surprisingly, he appears to be all alone and without the aid of Batman which seems like an unwise thing to do, but Batman isn’t exactly known for his parenting skills. Robin looks like he’s going to make my fretting all for naught as he seems capable of taking care of these guys, but one drops a barrel over his head and suddenly things start to look a bit grim for the little guy. Luckily for him, someone is indeed looking out for him, only it’s not Batman, but Nightwing.

nightwings aid

At least someone is looking out for the kid tonight.

With Nightwing’s help, the two take out the goons. When the dust settles it’s time for Nightwing to give Robin a bit of the old tough love routine, which causes Robin to draw a comparison between Batman and Nightwing. Nightwing resents the comparison causing Robin to just finally ask what went down between the two so long ago. Nightwing tells him simply that “things change” and then tells Robin he should be asking Batman. Robin tells him he did, and he told him the exact same thing Nightwing just did.

That was apparently all Nightwing needed to hear to open up. He and Robin head to the docks, and while Nightwing skips stones he starts to tell Robin about what happened between he and Batman.

It all started when Dick graduated from college. He received the highest honors in his class, but who do you think missed his graduation ceremony? Oddly, it was held at night rather than during the afternoon and Batman had somewhere to be. Barbara was there with Alfred, and she remarks to the trusty butler that Dick will be crushed if Bruce misses this. Alfred suggests that maybe Bruce had car trouble and the scene is spliced with images of Batman foiling a robbery. In a humorous exchange, Batman is riding on the crook’s hood and he orders him to stop warning someone is going to get hurt. The crook agrees, and pulls out a gun and attempts to shoot Batman in the face. Of course he misses and he is indeed the one who gets hurt, but I enjoyed the man’s misplaced confidence.

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Did they slip wine past the censors? Maybe we’re supposed to assume it’s just juice.

After the ceremony, an apparently not-crushed Dick is having dinner with Barbara at a nice looking restaurant. They’re sipping wine or champagne as Barbara asks what’s next for Dick. He tells her he’s done living off of Bruce’s dime and informs her he has a trust compliments of the circus. It seems he received an insurance settlement following the death of his parents, which actually doesn’t make much sense since they were murdered though maybe it was never ruled a homicide. A beeping noise reminds us that this was made in the 90s as Dick pulls out a pager. He excuses himself to return the call and naturally it’s from Batman. It seems he’s going to need some help tonight. When Dick tells him that now is not a good time, Batman replies curtly that he doesn’t make schedules. Dick surrenders and returns to Barbara and comes up with a rather terrible excuse that he has to leave to help clean out the fridge back at his dorm. He bails leaving Barbara standing there in disbelief.

Robin, in his old green and red threads, drops in on Batman who has a warehouse staked out. Batman immediately informs him he’s late, a fairly typical Batman observation. Thankfully, Dick was pulled away from his night of celebration for a good reason as it’s revealed the villain of the hour is the clown prince of crime himself – the Joker (Mark Hamill)! Joker has himself a trio of henchmen this time, the returning twin lugs named Rocco (Townsend Coleman) and Henshaw (Neil Ross) and a new guy named Connor (Ian Buchanan).

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Joker introducing himself to the new guy.

Joker and his gang make their way inside, and soon Batman and Robin drop in on them through a skylight. Joker is able to match my mood as he ponders why the two would want to smash through a skylight in place of something less messy (“Either you’ve never heard of a door or you just like pulling glass out of your shorts.”). Joker has some sort of rocket ready to go that he blasts at the two and actually connects. Joker even remarks it was easier than expected dealing with the two as he and the others make their exit. Robin is the first to emerge from the rubble and he goes to help Batman who barks at him to go after them instead.

Robin does as he’s told and sees Joker make his escape in a getaway van with some sort of equipment. He’s also left Connor behind though and Robin follows him through the various alleys of Gotham right to what he probably hoped was a hideout. Instead, Connor actually leads him to his apartment, and he runs inside and orders his family to run via the fire escape. His wife, Geena (Pamela Hayden), is clearly alarmed, but his young son is too consumed with playing space ranger or something to take his dad seriously.

the interrogation

Robin is a bit too good at the “Good Cop” role.

Robin enters and confronts Connor, but is alarmed to see his surroundings. The little boy takes aim at Robin with a toy gun and Robin seems like he’s unsure of what to do. Batman then comes smashing through a window and slams Connor up against a wall. He demands to know what the Joker is up to and where he’s hiding, while Connor seems almost paralyzed with fear. Robin looks at the woman and child cowering in terror and somewhat quietly urges Batman not to do this in front of them. Batman tells him he’ll stop as soon as Connor gives up the Joker. This angers Robin, who informs Batman he’ll have no part in this and takes off leaving Batman stunned.

dick and barabra

Barbara is very understanding for someone who was just rudely awakened.

Later that night, at 3:14 AM to be exact, Barbara is woken up by knocking on her door. She gets out of bed and tosses a robe on and opens the door of her modest studio apartment to find Dick. He rambles about being sick of “him” as he paces around the room. Barbara tries to get him to calm down and talk to her, but he sounds more like a mad man. He decides this was a bad idea and apologizes for coming over. He tells her he’ll call her tomorrow and then leaves as quickly as he arrived.

The next day, Barbara pays Bruce a visit at home to tell him about Dick’s visit. She wants to know what’s happened between the two of them, but Bruce is his usual stoic self. He declares that she really cares about him, and then beckons her to follow. He takes her over to the grandfather clock, the entrance to the Batcave, and opens it. As he descends the stairs down, Barbara seems understandably wary. A billionaire playboy just opened up his weird, creepy, sex dungeon to an attractive young woman and told her to enter – I’d think about running if I were her!

barbara bat cave

This is probably scarier than it looks.

Barbara follows though and steps into the Batcave. She’s wide-eyed as she looks around and then Alfred walks in. He’s alarmed to see Barbara, and then does what any loyal servant would do – confesses that he is indeed the Batman. Before Barbara can laugh, Bruce informs him that it’s all right. He then informs Batgirl that he’s aware of her secret as well, and Alfred informs them they should turn on the news. When they do they find Joker up to his old tricks. He’s broadcast his ransom to Gotham and by doing so has unveiled what he was up to the night before. It would seem he’s stolen some radar jamming equipment that will make it impossible for aircraft to operate over Gotham. This could cause unsuspecting aircraft to suddenly crash and that’s obviously not a good thing. To make sure this doesn’t happen, Joker is demanding 40 million dollars. Bruce tells Alfred to contact Dick, and he’s told he’s already tried, but can’t get ahold of him. Barbara volunteers to help, and the two leave in the Batmobile.

After those two leave, Dick predictably shows up. He comes into the Batcave wondering where Barbara is as he noticed her car parked outside. Alfred tells him that she left with Master Bruce and they had some “errands” to take care of. Dick’s eyes take note of the missing Batmobile, which tells him all he needs to know.

joker hat

Joker, always dressed for the occasion.

Batman and Batgirl, in her normal attire and not throwback grays, arrive on the scene where Joker is sending out his radar jamming signal. They’ll need to head to the top of a rather large building, and to help him out Batman has brought along that nifty jetpack we’ve seen him use from time to time. He swoops in and takes Joker and his men by surprise, but they surprisingly have little trouble shooting him out of the sky. Batgirl then arrives and it’s apparent this is her first confrontation with Joker, who seems a bit taken by the new sidekick. Not that it means he’ll not try to kill her, as he and his men go to work.

Robin arrives via motorcycle and looks up to see the silhouette of Batgirl battling Joker’s henchmen. It’s obvious he’s surprised so apparently he’s not as perceptive as Batman and was in the dark about his girlfriend’s alter ego. Joker whacks a piece of equipment into Batgirl, causing her to fall off the roof. As she plummets towards her demise, Robin stares up in horror. He then shows off a new trick as the housing for the handles on his bike blast off like some mini jetpack or ejector seat. He closes the gap between he and Batgirl and is able to catch her and stop their descent with a trusty grapple gun blast. As the two land safely, Robin apparently wants to talk, but Batgirl informs him now is not the time and that “he” needs their help.

On the roof, Batman is getting reacquainted with Bud and Lou, the hyenas. He regains his footing as Batgirl and Robin arrive and the three take out Joker’s henchmen forcing Joker to declare he’ll have to do this himself. He grabs a machinegun and opens fire on the three. As an airplane approaches, things get a bit dire. Batgirl decides to go for it and flips her way towards the device sending the radar signal. Joker, in his attempt to shoot her, hits the radar dish and immediately regrets it. As sparks shoot out, Batman dives over and grabs Batgirl and the device explodes allowing the aircraft to pass by safely. Batman and Batgirl were able to avoid the explosion by hanging on the side of the building, while Joker wasn’t quite so fortunate. He makes a crack about Houston having a problem before passing out, leaving the three heroes to settle up.

robins right

Robin packs quite the right hook.

Robin immediately accuses Batgirl of keeping secrets from him, which is amazingly dense even for him. He’s hurt that she would tell Bruce, but she corrects him by saying he figured out her identity. Batman then adds it wasn’t his place to tell him. Robin is still angry with Batman though as he questions why he’d put her in danger. Batgirl tells him that he didn’t and she volunteered, but Robin tells her she’s wrong. He’s a manipulator, she only thinks she volunteered. Fed up with the whole situation, Robin informs Batman he’s had enough – he quits. Batman reaches out to try and stop him from storming off, but Robin turns around and decks him. Batman falls to the ground as Batgirl looks on with shock. Robin then removes his cape and mask and leaves it at Batman’s feet and storms off.

mask off

The dramatic discarding of the mask.

That’s where the flashback ends. Nightwing informs the new Robin that he never wore the costume again after that night. Robin still seems to think it’s silly the two never reconciled, but he’s obviously used to dealing with the both of them at this point. Nightwing then notices a wallet on the ground. The goons from earlier must have stolen it and he opens it up and is surprised to see who it belongs to.

nightwing wallet

Maybe his trust fund isn’t doing so well if he’s got to pick pockets.

The scene then shifts to a building owned by Wayne. A security guard is returning to his office when Nightwing and Robin drop in on him with his wallet. He’s alarmed for a moment, then is relieved to see it isn’t Batman. He then tells the two he had a run-in with Batman once before, which caused him to change his ways. It’s now obvious that this man is Connor from the flashback. After his encounter with Batman in front of his wife and kid, he decided to go straight. Bruce Wayne gave him a job and now knows him by name. He’s quite pleased to relay that Bruce asks about his son from time to time and Nightwing responds by adding that Bruce Wayne is a good man.

img_0177

Connor is here to conveniently tell Nightwing what he needs to hear about his old friend.

Nightwing and Robin take their leave. Robin is a bit surprised, but also a bit proud to point out to Nightwing that Bruce has a heart after all. Nightwing is quietly pleased. The Bat-Signal then flashes across the sky, and Robin remarks it’s time to go to work. He fires off a grappling hook, then turns to Nightwing and asks if he’s coming. Nightwing smiles in return and suggests it’s about time. The two then swing off into the blood-red sky towards the Bat-Signal as the Nightwing theme thunders in the background.

There you have it. Questions answered, for the most part, about what happened in between the first two seasons and this revamped third one. We still don’t know what ultimately drove Barbara and Dick apart. It could be that there is nothing more to tell of their story, as maybe when Robin left the two that night he left the both of them assuming Batgirl had made her choice to work with Batman. I believe we’ll learn a bit more in a future episode though, as things got a little heated between Batgirl and Batman eventually, which makes sense since they both share a gimmick. We also don’t know how long Dick went in between roles as Robin and Nightwing. It can be assumed he used his circus money to finance his loft and crime-fighting gig, though if he has a day job that’s still unclear.

img_0178

Nightwing – forever in Batman’s shadow.

As for the story itself, it’s mostly satisfying. It’s easy to assume that years of working with Batman would cause tension. He seems like a tough boss, and the two have had their differences before. Batman is more obsessive than Robin, and his actions in front of Connor’s family are somewhat understandable, though I can’t help but feel this isn’t how the Batman of the first two seasons would act. He would be far more sensitive to the presence of a child, which makes me feel like there’s still something missing. This version of Batman is harder than that one, and it feels like something should have happened to explain that which we have not seen, and never will. This Batman only exists as part of a revision of the character against his peers. He needs to act this way to better distinguish him from Robin, Batgirl, and Nightwing. It’s why this show has a different feel from the Batman: The Animated Series and it’s why I still tend to think of it as a different beast all together, despite how it’s marketed. The use of Connor is suitable for showing how Batman can leave a lasting, positive, mark on someone. Though it’s a bit muddled as his presence in the end feels like a justification for Batman’s erratic behavior from the flashback. This show has a tendency to “both sides” Batman and in the process it sometimes fails to really make a statement of any kind.

jokers new toy

Joker in a rare supporting role in this one, though he still finds time to hijack Gotham’s airwaves once more.

The presence of Joker in this one initially surprised me. He’s not needed to add weight to the action, and it’s unusual to see him featured in an episode where he’s not the focal point. In viewing this one though I think that’s the point. Joker needs no introduction nor does he need any moments to himself to explain his character to the audience. Rather, he can just be in the background making jokes and acting wicked and do just fine. He’s genuinely amusing for much of this one, and I suppose it’s a nice little treat to see Batgirl’s first encounter with him.

The episode leaves us in a more hopeful place where it concerns Batman and Nightwing, though I’m not sure we needed to be. It’s why I think it may have made more sense to air this one much earlier. We’ve already seen Batman and Nightwing working together. They’re not exactly old chums when they do, but they’re more than capable. They were even able to put together an elaborate trap for Catwoman and worked rather closely in busting the Mad Hatter. Dick even dropped in on them at Bruce’s home at the conclusion of the second episode, so it’s not like he was above a casual visit. This episode seems to want us to think there’s more conflict than has been presented. It works fine as a stand-alone episode in that respect, but when looked at in broader context it’s a bit less rewarding. I’m still glad they decided to tackle the subject, and despite my criticism I’d still say this is one of the better episodes of the season so far.

img_0176

This marks the last costumed appearance of Dick Grayson. We learned a little more about him, but sadly we’ll never learn the origin of his fabulous mullet.

The ending is hopeful, indicating that Batman and Nightwing are on the verge of a reconciliation that will perhaps lead to a better working relationship. At least, that’s the implication, but in actuality this is the final appearance of Nightwing in the series. It’s surprising, considering we still have several episodes left, but I guess the staff just felt like there were no further stories to tell with the character. Maybe they envisioned a spin-off for him now that he’s made his peace with Batman, but that obviously wouldn’t happen. We don’t yet have to say goodbye to Loren Lester and Dick Grayson, who has one future appearance left, but it does feel like the end of an era considering how long Robin has been a part of the show. He’s never been a favorite of mine, in any medium, but at least this show did some good with the character.


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