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Batman: The Animated Series – “Zatanna”

zatanna title cardEpisode Number:  54

Original Air Date:  February 2, 1993

Directed by:  Dan Riba, Dick Sebast

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  Zatanna, Zatara (flashback)

 

For episode 54 we have a rare dual-directed episode by Dan Riba and Dick Sebast, so rare that it’s the only one. Sebast had left the show before the episode’s completion so Riba took over. What state the episode was in, I have no idea, but Riba previously had only directed one episode (“See No Evil”) and had primarily contributed as a character designer and storyboard artist on the show. From here on out though he’ll be a regular director. This episode is also the debut of Zatanna, the magician super heroine who seems to be somewhat of a fan favorite. Paul Dini wrote this one and he’ll later get to write for Zatanna in the comics, incorporating some of the details of this episode involving Bruce Wayne and Zatanna’s history making this yet another episode to influence how a character was portrayed in the source material.

Zatanna hello

Zatanna know what the boys come for.

The episode opens with Bruce Wayne and Alfred in the audience for a magic show. The presenter is Zatanna (Julie Brown), which we learn is someone Bruce once knew many years ago bringing us another flashback. Some 10 or 12 years ago, Bruce sought out training from a magician and escape artist named Zatara (Vincent Sciavelli) as he prepared to become a vigilante. Like the flashbacks from “Night of the Ninja,” they’re presented in a sepia tone so even if we didn’t recognize that Bruce looked younger we would still know it’s a flashback due to the coloring. Zatara had a daughter named Zatanna, and she and Bruce had a some-what flirtatious relationship. Zatanna seems fascinated by young Bruce, who is known to them under the alias John (Bruce, why would you go with John? It’s too close to John Doe) and is unusual in that he wants training as an escape artist, yet shows no interest in performing. Zatanna is puzzled and curious by this John, while Zatara seems to pay it no mind sensing something in the boy that compels him to teach him all that he knows. When Zatanna is caught spying on John’s lesson, the straightjacket escape trick which we’ve actually seen Batman put to good use in the past, her father sends her away.

Zatara_and_Bruce

Bruce once sought training from the great magician, Zatara, father to Zatanna.

Zatanna confronts John after his lesson and implores him to continue on tour with she and her father. John insists he cannot, and will be leaving for Japan in the morning (presumably to begin his training as a samurai). Zatanna tries to weaken him with an amorous hug. John does appear slightly flustered, but he appears to enjoy the affection. When Zatanna releases her grip on him he finds he’s been handcuffed to the wall. As Zatanna walks off, she playfully mocks him that any decent escape artists would wiggle out of those cuffs before she could finish her sentence. When she turns around to presumably taunt him further, she finds John has vanished leaving the cuffs dangling from the wall.

young bruce and zanna

Bruce and a young “Zanna.”

Back in the present, Zatanna is preparing for her grand finale. As part of her final trick, she brings a noted magician sourpuss Montague Kane (Michael York) to the stage. He has apparently made it his business to point out how magicians pull off their tricks. Joining him is Irving Fauncewater (Zale Kessler), the manager of the Gotham Mint. Zatanna intends to make $10 million disappear from the Gotham Mint’s cache and the money is piled high on stage. She walks through her presentation, and wouldn’t you know, she succeeds! Everyone is delighted, except Fauncewater who seems a little concerned. When Zatanna finds she can’t make the cash reappear his concern turns to outrage. Kane accuses her of stealing the money, and Zatanna soon finds herself in cuffs she either can’t escape, or chooses not to.

Zatanna_BTAS_episode

Bruce doesn’t get to do stuff like this too often.

Bruce knows Zatanna is no thief, and he immediately jumps into costume to investigate. Feeling the police will only focus on Zatanna, Batman decides he needs to free her from custody in order to investigate who really stole the money. He busts Zatanna out of the paddy wagon and she joins him in the Batmobile, somewhat reluctantly for he has now made her a fugitive. Batman explains he can help her, and she inquires if they’ve met before. Batman, somewhat surprisingly, seems a tad flustered and offers a lame excuse about having a familiar face (even though he’s wearing a mask).

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There’s no way this guy on the right isn’t a villain.

Batman and Zatanna return to the scene of the crime in order to figure out how the real crook managed to make the money vanish. Batman, because of his seemingly infinite knowledge, reveals Zatanna’s secret. The trick relied on a hologram to take the place of the actual money. Someone got to the trick before her show, probably the night before, and stole the money replacing it with yet another hologram to make it seem like the money was still there. Zatanna is impressed, and the two suspect Kane of being the one behind it, because who else? The guy both looks and sounds like a bad dude.

The heroes head off to Kane’s mansion to investigate further. Along the way Batman attempts to pry at Zatanna to learn more about her love life, and about her father. Much to his enjoyment, I presume, he finds out Zatanna has no one in her life from a romantic standpoint. She claims to have no time for relationships now that she has taken over for her father, who passed away. Batman offers his condolences while revealing he saw Zatara perform as a child, which once again causes Zatanna to question if they’ve met before.

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He’s smiling on the inside.

When Batman and Zatanna arrive at Kane’s home, they find a trap waiting for them. They wind up in a cliché, the old spiked-wall closing in on them after falling through a trap door. Batman some-what crudely disarms the trap by jabbing at the wall’s gears with one of the spikes. They then use the spikes to climb out of the room. Batman takes note of a picture of a seaplane and assumes, correctly, that Kane is using such to flee Gotham. Batman and Zatanna are able to get to the plane and confront Kane, who like any good villain in this town, has some goons to throw at Batman. They’re no match for him, but Zatanna is apparently not accustomed to crime fighting and finds herself in the clutches of Kane himself. Using her as leverage, Kane gets Batman to surrender. He makes a gross comment towards Zatanna suggesting there are things she could do for him in order to spare her life, which results in him getting a stiletto jammed in his foot.

chained up

I’d say things aren’t going well for our heroes, but they’re escape artists, surely these chains can’t bind them forever.

Kane, now angered, has his men chain Zatanna to Batman. Kane’s plan, with the plane airborne, is to toss the two out of the cargo door to a messy end. Batman, referring to Zatanna as “Zanna,” tells her to reach into his glove. The little nickname was something John used to use with her and it alarms Zatanna to hear it from the lips of Batman. She does as she’s told and removes a lock pick. She’s able to free the two from their chains, but unfortunately not before Kane’s men tossed them from the plane. Batman was able to hook his foot in some sort of cargo net in the plane which was fastened to the plane itself. The goons start firing while Kane tries to cut the net as the two dangle in midair. Batman uses the chain that once bound them to lasso Kane and pull him out of the plane forcing him to order his men to stop shooting. Kane is able to climb the net and reach the plane before Batman and Zatanna, allowing him to shut the door.

zatanna punch

After being mostly ineffective during the fighting, it’s kind of nice to see Zatanna get the last blow.

With the door shut, Batman and Zatanna are forced to scale the plane’s hull. Kane heads for the cockpit to try and jerk the plane around and dispatch the two. He also orders his men to go after them, apparently not at all concerned for their well-being. Once again, the nameless goons are no match for Batman, who dumps them off the plane (they’re over water and fairly low, so Batman isn’t a murderer). As the two scream, Kane thinks they’re the cries of Batman and Zatanna and prematurely celebrates only for Zatanna to appear behind him to deliver a swift right fist.

With that all out of the way and the plane docked safely, the Gotham police are able to arrest the real crooks. Apparently, they’re not at all concerned with Zatanna’s fugitive status as she’s free to have a little chat with her new/old buddy Batman. Batman apologizes for never writing to Zatanna as he had promised to do as John, but she doesn’t seem to mind and acknowledges that he’s been a busy man. They trade words of encouragement, with Zatanna assuring him her father would be so proud to see how he’s made use of his teachings. Batman offers her a ride and gestures to the Batmobile, only to turn and find Zatanna has vanished in a puff of smoke (how does it feel, Batman?) leaving behind a signed poster for “John” imploring him to write this time.

Zatanna_Good_Bye

Parting is such sweet sorrow, ain’t it, Batman?

“Zatanna” is another episode that reveals a small piece of Batman’s past. It’s nice to now have an explanation for how Batman could wrangle out of some pretty dangerous traps in the previous episodes, and for fans of the comics they got to see someone make the leap from print to television. This version of Zatanna doesn’t appear to possess any remarkable talents beyond being a good illusionist. It’s also possible she kept her true powers a secret too, but I would think if that were the case the audience would have been treated to something behind Batman’s back. The added wrinkle to both character’s back story is a nice addition. It’s a little surprising she doesn’t make another appearance in the show as a featured character, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s disappointing.

Fans of Zatanna may have been disappointed to see her costume was altered slightly to not include her traditional fishnet stockings. That’s due to the medium as fishnet would be harder to animate than Spider-Man’s costume. This is another episode handled by Dong Yang Animation and it looks pretty good. Dong Yang handled more episodes of the show than any other company and their work is always consistent. The designs of Kane and his goons are a little on the dull side, since this isn’t a villain with a gimmick, but the plane sequence is pretty thrilling. And if you were worried Zatanna wouldn’t look good without her fishnets, don’t worry, she’s got plenty of sex appeal and it’s easy to see why Batman seems to have taken a liking to her.

Overall, “Zatanna” is a tight little story that works just fine as a stand-alone episode and as a fun cameo piece for the character Zatanna. It’s the first superhero team-up episode for the series (Gray Ghost feels like the first, but that character did not exist outside of this show), though if that’s something you like don’t get too excited. Batman will largely resist those temptations, though we get more when the show returns as The New Batman Adventures as DC was more interested in building an animated universe come then. Not being a huge a consumer of DC print material, the cross overs never added anything for me, but the good thing about this one is I didn’t need to know anything about Zatanna to enjoy the episode. And for a show that tries to tell self-contained stories in 23 minutes, that’s the right approach.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Eternal Youth”

Captura_de_pantalla_2011-09-20_a_las_02.44.27Episode Number:  29

Original Air Date:  September 13, 1992

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Beth Bornstein

First Appearance(s):  Maggie Page

 

Sometimes there are episodes I really look forward to re-watching and blogging about, and sometimes there are those I dread. And on a rare occasion, there’s an episode I dread that I end up enjoying, which is the case for this week’s entry:  “Eternal Youth.” As I go through this series again, I’m finding my attitude towards each episode is still firmly grounded in the opinion I held as a kid, even though I have seen all of these episodes as both a kid and an adult. And in the case of an episode like this one, I probably had a negative perception because it’s light on action and the plot revolves around a pair of sexagenarians in Alfred Pennyworth and the debuting Maggie Page (Paddy Edwards) coupled with a villain I still wasn’t too familair with:  Poison Ivy.

The episode opens with a frightened older woman running from a shadowy subject. It’s pretty obvious the person she’s frightened of is Poison Ivy. She warns she knows things and she’s seen what Ivy has done to the others, but that seems to only provoke Ivy into passing the point of no return. Since this is a kid’s show, and Ivy isn’t so boorish as to simply shoot her victims, she instead sprays the woman with some kind of green chemical cloud that looks similar to weed killer which freezes the old gal in place. We cut quickly to Bruce Wayne angrily ordering someone on the phone to back out of some business dealing because it will endanger a rain forest. Alfred remarks it was a good thing he noticed what was transpiring, while Bruce remarks he was lucky to notice, and we have our establishing plot.

MaggiePage

Meet Maggie, but don’t get too attached as you’ll never see her again.

Poison Ivy is out to get CEO’s and business types who have made money at the expense of the environment. We don’t know just how far is too far with Ivy, but destroying a rain forest probably fits the bill. The plot needs her attention to fall on Wayne, but the show can’t make Wayne some monster who bulldozes endangered ecosystems for profit, so it establishes right away that he’s against such behaviour, but Wayne Enterprises is so big (and he’s rather consumed by his other profession) that it’s possible some things could sneak by. Or maybe Ivy just heard about this business deal while it was in the planning stages before Bruce squashed it. Either way, we’ve established that Bruce Wayne is in Poison Ivy’s crosshairs (or whatever aiming device is on that weed killer gun) while also making him innocent of being a menace to the environment.

A VHS is delivered to Bruce that Alfred runs by him. It’s apparently for a spa of some kind. At the same time, Alfred’s apparent girlfriend Maggie shows up and is eager to see the tape. It’s for a resort that claims it can slow down and even reverse the aging process, and as a demonstration of what it can do, has extended a free invite to Bruce. He’s not interested, but when he suggests Alfred and Maggie take his place Maggie is very eager, while Alfred not so much. It’s a bit hard to pin down just what this relationship is. Alfred almost seems annoyed by her presence while she seems to very much enjoy him. I don’t know if she’s just trying to get some affection thrown her way, or if they are actually dating. Maggie will make a few comments here and there that sort of support both theories, and when they part after returning from the spa a vigorous feeling Alfred merely plants a kiss on her cheek. Some parting gift.

EY_32_-_Alfred_and_Maggie

That’s about as romantic as these two are going to get.

The two do head to the spa and while Alfred is a sour puss at first, he soon comes around when he samples the refreshments and enjoys being waited on for a change. The two are sad to see their time there end. When Alfred returns home he brings along some of the spa’s goodies, namely some additive that’s mixed with water, and he decorates the Bat Cave with plenty of flora. Batman finds the behaviour a bit odd, but doesn’t seem too concerned until Alfred passes out. After some rest, Alfred wakes up and basks in the sun. Maggie soon shows up and the two decide they must return to the spa – they can’t stop thinking about it.

Meanwhile, various other notable individuals have turned up missing. The police haven’t turned up anything in their investigation, and Gordon basically gives Batman the okay to rummage through one of the missing person’s apartments. And wouldn’t you know, Batman notices the same VHS tape Bruce Wayne received for the Eternal Youth spa in the missing woman’s VCR. Really, Gotham PD? It doesn’t take long for Batman to realize something is up. He’s analyzed the junk Alfred brought home with him, finding out it creates some kind of crazy, living plant when he mixes it with human plasma (I wonder if they couldn’t say blood) prompting Batman to go pay a visit to the spa.

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Admittedly, that’s kind of disturbing,

Unfortunately, Batman is too late to help Alfred and Maggie. Upon return, the two were shown what really happens at the spa. All of the guests have been turned into trees! Yes, trees. Admittedly, it’s pretty silly to read about, but the episode kind of pulls it off by showing all of the individuals with frozen expressions of horror on their faces. Alfred and Maggie fall victim to the same fate thanks to Poison Ivy and her two lovely assistants Lily (Julie Brown) and Violet (Lynne Marie Stewart). When Batman arrives, he sees the grisly sight and Ivy tries to do the same to him. Too bad for her he coated his cape in a herbicidal antidote – hah! I got a real 60s vibe out that one. With her spray stuff rendered toothless, Ivy doesn’t have much else to choose to do except run. She tries to use the cover of the nearby forest to ambush Batman, and even makes use of that nifty little wrist-mounted crossbow she has, but it’s to no avail. Batman gets his girl, and he also reverse engineers a cure for all of the folks turned to wood.

Alfred and Maggie are forced to spend some time in the hospital after their ordeal. A few plant puns are made as Maggie sits beside Alfred’s bedside. We end the episode on a bit of a joke, as Maggie remarks Bruce isn’t too bright when he attempts to cheer them up with a plant – which is met with revulsion. This episode is quite fine. There’s a bit of a horror element to Ivy’s scheme which helps inject some danger into the proceedings. A lot of the episode rests on the chemistry of Alfred and Maggie, which is surprisingly amusing. Too bad for Maggie this is her lone appearance in the show. Batman kind of takes a back seat to things, as he really often does, but he doesn’t come away looking omnipotent or anything, though he is a pretty impressive chemist. The episode has a some-what understated look, but it animates well. Ivy is especially impressive bounding through the forest during her attack on Batman.

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I always liked it when Poison Ivy actually fired that weapon, so often it’s just treated like a decorative piece.

For Poison Ivy, this is her second appearance on the show as a featured villain. She had a cameo in one of the Scarecrow episodes, but this kind of establishes what to expect from future repeat villains. For The Scarecrow, we’ve been shown that he’s escaped Arkham to reek havoc on Gotham, and for The Joker we’re usually given no explanation for how he’s out and about once again. For Poison Ivy, she’s given The Joker treatment, so if we thought he was just a special case that’s shown to be not exactly true. Most villains are just going to come and go on this show with little explanation for how they got back on the streets. While it’s nice to have that information provided, I can totally understand the writers and directors not wanting to devote time for some prison breakout every time they want to re-use a villain. Perhaps it’s lazy, but for a show that only has about 22 minutes to work with it’s hard to argue that it doesn’t make sense.


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