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Batman: The Animated Series – “The Lion and the Unicorn”

lion and unicorn cardEpisode Number: 77

Original Air Date:  September 15, 1995

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Diane Duane, Peter Morwood, and Steve Perry

First Appearance(s):  Cousin Frederick

“The Lion and the Unicorn” brings with it some new additions and an old unfavorite. As far as the episode goes, we only meet one substantial new character, Alfred’s cousin Frederick (Roy Dotrice). This is mostly just interesting because after 76 episodes we still know very little about Alfred so anyone attached to him feels noteworthy. On the production side, we have two new writers in the husband and wife duo of Peter Morwood (who was mis-credited as Philip Morwood) and Diane Duane in their only contribution to this series. And then we have a returning face in Red Claw (Kate Mulgrew). Red Claw is a show creation of little importance. Her episodes aren’t great and she was never deemed worthy of introduction in the comic books. Her headlining role here is particularly noteworthy though since she debuted in “The Cat and the Claw.” That episode was chosen to be the series premiere, while this episode (her only other appearance aside from Part 2 of “The Cat and the Claw”) was the series finale. Now it wasn’t billed as such or setup as the finale, it was largely just circumstance as far as I know. Still, it’s pretty interesting given all of Batman’ celebrated villains that it’s Red Claw who gets to open and close the series.

alfred gets a call

In this episode Alfred gets a phone call!

The episode begins rather mundanely. Alfred is brushing lint off of Batman’s cape as he protests the criminals won’t care about the cleanliness of his costume while Dick works out on some gymnastics equipment. Alfred admonishes Dick for not wearing a shirt (it’s cold and dank in the Batcave) while Batman smiles as he watches the exchange and takes off in the Batmobile to go do crime-fighter stuff. Alfred leads Dick upstairs to the mansion while telling him where he can find his dinner. When they get up to the manor Alfred goes to answer the phone while Dick heads off to either get his food or take a shower or something. Alfred is surprised to find his cousin Frederick on the line. Frederick requests that Alfred meet him in what he calls the usual spot, and Alfred agrees to do so right away. As their conversation ends, we get a look at Frederick who’s tied up with a crimson-clad person behind. The tattoo of a clawed paw on her arm is a dead give-away for the identity of this nefarious individual.

alfred missing

Bruce, unsure how he’s going to get dressed without his trusty butler.

The next morning, Dick comes downstairs and playfully asks Bruce if there’s a butler strike because there’s no breakfast (the problems of the 1%). Bruce is standing in the same spot we last saw Alfred holding a note. He hands it to Dick and it’s from Alfred saying he needed to go to London right away because his cousin Frederick needed him. He apologizes, and even signs it as “Your obedient servant” which strikes me as kind of sad if that’s how Alfred thinks he should be viewed. Dick is surprised and a bit confused and this is the start of the episode showing us how Dick has viewed Alfred as some doting old guy. Bruce is more alarmed as he knows Alfred has no living relatives. He also knows Alfred was once a British agent and they often refer to their fellow agents as cousin.

foggy london

The London street scenes are dark and terrible.

We’re then taken to dark and foggy London. At least, I think that’s the effect Dong Yang Animation was going for. It’s a real dirty, grainy, image that’s not particularly enjoyable to look at. Alfred is at the spot requested, and two gentlemen approach him (they seem to be credited as Bert and Ernie, voiced by Adam Ant, [yes, the one from Adam and the Ants] and Richard Doyle, respectively) claiming to be sent on behalf of “Freddie.” Alfred knows Frederick hates being called Freddie, and he is immediately skeptical. When the two get hostile, he uses his umbrella to trip them up and then take off. Back at his hotel, Alfred is able to phone Bruce to fill him in on what’s going on. Before he can say much, Bert and Ernie cave in his door and Bruce is left to helplessly scream “Alfred!”

Alfred is then taken to some Scottish castle where he is reunited with Frederick. His hands are bound and the real captor emerges:  Red Claw. Alfred recognizes her, and I can’t tell if it’s because we’re supposed to think he tangled with her before or if he just remembers seeing her back on Batman’s massive computer.

red claw introduced

Red Claw is back and everyone is just super happy about it.

Back in Gotham, Bruce fills Dick in on what happened as well as Alfred’s background. Dick is surprised to find out Alfred used to be a government agent, which is a running theme of the episode. The two decide they need to help their friend, and they depart for London as Batman and Robin in the Batwing. Once there, they investigate Alfred’s room as Dick and Bruce, which gets the attention of Bert and Ernie who have been staking the place out apparently expecting someone to come nosing around. They try to tail them as they leave, but they don’t realize they’re tailing pros. Batman and Robin drop in on them, and give them a good beating. When the commotion is over, Robin inspects one of the men and finds Red Claw’s marking on his arm.

A meeting between British agents is going down. Two men and a woman are discussing what’s going on, noting Frederick’s disappearance and Red Claw’s occupation of a castle. Apparently that castle houses a missile silo and Red Claw wants to take control of it to hold Britain hostage. Batman and Robin then drop in, and the three agents seem to regard the duo with a ho-hum manner. I’d assume that Batman is pretty popular world-wide, but they essentially have no reaction to his presence in London. Actually, they’re a touch hostile. Batman alerts them that Red Claw also has Alfred Pennyworth and requests their help, but they don’t really see value in that. When he promises to deliver Red Claw, they change their tune and tell Batman where she’s hiding out and the two depart.

batman truth serum

She has ways of making men sing,

At the castle, Red Claw records a message for the British government. She lets them know she has control of the silo, and unless they pay up they’re going to get a taste of it. As the video signal is cut off, it’s revealed that Red Claw was bluffing, to a point. She has yet to get control of the missile because Frederick and Alfred each possess a unique code needed to activate it. They’re not going to talk, but Red Claw has her ways. She produces some truth serum, and apparently her crew is concerned about maintaining a sterile environment as one of her goons swabs Alfred’s arm before it’s administered. Both are given a dose and Frederick is the first to sing while Alfred just sort of mumbles away. Red Claw hardly seems dismayed though and is content to wait for the serum to do its thing.

Outside, some sentries hear a sound and go to investigate. That’s a mistake, as it allows Batman and Robin to take them out. They start making their way through the castle, picking off other men as they go along. In one fun sequence, a quartet of men are walking along in a diamond formation and Batman and Robin keep dashing back and forth and picking them off one by one.

smokey red claw

It’s even foggy indoors over there.

Inside the command room, Alfred finally cracks. He’s singing a song about the lion and the unicorn, a reference to the Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom. Red Claw mistakes it as nonsense at first, then realizes it’s the code. After she enters it into the terminal, the silo becomes armed and she is free to launch it whenever she pleases. By now, they’ve become alerted to Batman’s presence so she and her men arm themselves and set out to take out the intruders. They burst into a room and open fire on Batman and Robin. The heroes use cover to try and take them out one at a time, and thankfully everyone can’t shoot.

Robin eventually makes his way to the room where Alfred and Frederick are being held. He opens the door, but finds a gun pointed at his face by the one woman who stayed back to guard the prisoners. He smiles sheepishly, and then the woman gets taken down from behind by Alfred wielding a chair. He expresses some remorse at smashing the chair as it apparently dated back to Louis the XV. Robin congratulates him, but the celebration is short-lived as Red Claw chops him from behind knocking him out. She then heads straight for the terminal, Alfred apparently has no desire to try and fight her, and launches the missile and takes off as Batman busts in.

red claw stow away

Go for the face!

Batman immediately takes off for the Batwing. His only hope is to shoot it down as there’s no way to cancel the launch command from the terminal. As he flies towards it and gets it in his sights, Red Claw emerges from behind him. She’s a stow-away, and grabs at Batman’s face and pulls on his cowl, successfully removing it in the process. This causes her to fall back into her seat allowing Batman to eject it sending her parachuting into the waters below. Batman then has to re-find the missile all while dealing with the fact that the Batwing’s hatch is open. We know Batman doesn’t like guns, and he doesn’t use them, but apparently that apprehension doesn’t extend to missiles. He locks onto the missile heading for London and then fires a pair of his own missiles. They do their job and take out the rogue-fired weapon and it detonates harmlessly in the London skies.

With the threat of Red Claw over, Batman and Robin apparently head home without Alfred to avoid suspicion. There’s no indication that they made good on their promise to deliver Red Claw to the British government, and she will never be heard from again. Alfred says goodbye to his “cousin,” who tries to coax him into returning to the agency. Alfred says he’s needed elsewhere though and heads back his life as the humble servant of Bruce Wayne.

red claw face

A curtain call for Red Claw. So long, you won’t be missed.

“The Lion and the Unicorn” is a bit of an atypical episode, but it gives Alfred more of a share of the spotlight than he’s had in awhile so it’s an episode I appreciate on that level. Especially since one of the other episodes to feature a heavy dose of Alfred is “The Forgotten,” one of my least favorite episodes of the series. Red Claw still kind of sucks, but she’s not really asked to do much. I like that she’s fairly ruthless and actually launches the missile. I don’t really get a sense of what’s motivating her here though. I guess money, or just general terrorism, but it’s not that important, I suppose.

The aspect of the episode that disappoints me the most though is some of the visuals. I mentioned it during the write-up, but the London night setting looks awful. I’m torn on if HD improves it or makes it worse. It’s so dark and grainy that it’s just frustrating to look at. My eyes are working too hard to make out the visuals. I don’t know if the animators were going for a fog effect, but it’s not good. The rest of the episode looks fine though, and the castle setting is new and interesting to look at. This castle apparently exists in the real world, though it’s an inland structure not located on the coast. I don’t know why they didn’t just make up a fake name then, but this was also back in the early 90s and the only way you were going to find out the depiction here isn’t authentic is if you found this thing in a book. In other words, it was information not as easily accessible as it is today.

If not for the unique setting and focus on Alfred, this episode would be pretty forgettable. The villain isn’t important, and there’s nothing flashy or memorable about the plot. It’s just a solid B- type of episode from the show. It’s miscast as the final aired episode of the show, and there’s a shame there wasn’t more of a “bang” to go out on, but the final fourth season Fox aired is mostly pretty mediocre so there wasn’t much to choose from. They could have chosen “The Terrible Trio,” so at least they didn’t go with that one.

 

 


Batman: The Animated Series – “The Cat and the Claw – Part I”

Cat_and_Claw-Title_CardEpisode Number:  15

Original Air Date:  September 5, 1992

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Sean Catherine Derek and Laren Bright

First Appearance(s):  Catwoman, Red Claw

This may be episode number 15, but it’s actually the very first episode of Batman: The Animated Series by air date. Airing as a special prime time sneak peak, “The Cat and the Claw – Part One” featured the debut of a very popular Batman foil – the not so villainous Catwoman. Like The Penguin, Catwoman was fresh off of starring in Batman Returns where she was played by Michelle Pfeiffer. Also like The Penguin, Catwoman was a regular on the Batman television series from the 1960s and was a featured villain in Batman: The Movie. In terms of Batman adversaries, few were as well known to audiences as Catwoman.

Catwoman_BTASUnlike The Penguin and Joker, Catwoman was not made an existing villain in this series. This episode marks her debut to both the television audience and to this version of Batman as well. They have never crossed paths before their meeting here, though one gets the impression that Catwoman has been up to this sort of thing for quite some time. She’s quite good at getting around and breaking and entering and even has little cat-shaped caltrops to make use of. Her outfit is very similar to Batman’s and I suppose that’s intentional. She even has a yellow-gold belt. Really, the only difference is she lacks a cape. This version of Catwoman is less an adversary and more another aspect of how Batman could operate. While he may be a vigilante out to do what’s right while largely adhering to the law of the land, Catwoman plays more fast and loose with the law and is willing to break it, going as far as thievery, if the ends are justified by the means. Batman’s ultimate goal is also to help the good people of Gotham by reducing crime, where as Catwoman is basically an animal rights activist who may or not prefer animals (in particular, cats) to people.

The episode opens with Catwoman (Adrienne Barbeau) out on the prowl. She’s after something and we get a look at how she operates. At her side is her trusty cat Isis whom has been trained to infiltrate locations and even deactivate traps. Catwoman is after a diamond necklace, but she attracts the attention of our hero. She and Batman have a playful little chase and it’s impressed upon us almost immediately that the Batman ignites something within Catwoman. Catwoman is able to elude Batman, in part because he stopped to save her precious cat from becoming roadkill. He seems willing to let her off and try another time.

291

Attaboy Bruce!

The Batman/Catwoman dynamic isn’t anything new, and it’s not surprising to see them go this route. Also not surprising, is that Bruce Wayne and Selina Kyle, Catwoman’s real life persona, are destined to meet. Wayne is attending a charity auction where a date with Gotham’s most eligible bachelors is what’s up for bid. Kyle grossly outbids the other ladies for the services of Bruce and he’s immediately smitten with the blond bombshell. Kyle is disinterest though, as she was only doing it for the charity which is an animal charity. We’re given insight into Catwoman’s motivations for her thievery. Rather than enriching herself, it would seem her aim is a bit like Robin Hood (in her mind), though instead of giving to the poor she’s donating to animal rights groups.

Before Bruce and Selina can formalize plans for their date, that Bruce insists upon having, gunfire is heard and Batman is forced to spring into action (this seems to happen a lot to poor Bruce). Batman has to deal with some terrorists, and upon doing so is informed by Commissioner Gordon that a terrorist known as Red Claw is believed to be operating in Gotham.

batman-the-animated-series-season-1-episode-15-the-cat-and-the-claw-part-1

They would make for a nice looking couple.

The next day, Bruce shows up for his date just as Selina is informed by her lawyer that a proposed sanctuary for large cats is being acquired by a corporation that intends to bulldoze the preserve and put up a resort. Selina is irate, but Bruce happens to know the CEO of the corporation, Multigon International, and arranges a face-to-face between he and Selena. It’s fruitless, and Selina storms out angry alongside Bruce. As they leave, Red Claw appears to inform the CEO of Multigon, Stern, to keep an eye on Ms. Kyle. Red Claw is somewhat shadowed but we see Red Claw (Kate Mulgrew) is actually a woman and a pretty tough looking one at that.

The-Cat-And-The-Claw-Pt-1-batman-the-animated-series-16815876-540-405

Sort of forgotten in the debut of Catwoman is the real villain of the episode – Red Claw.

Selina and Bruce agree to end their date prematurely, since she’s not much in the mood following their meeting with Stern, and agree to try again tomorrow. That night, Catwoman returns to Multigon to do some sleuthing. She’s able to get in, but not undetected. Soon she’s swarmed by guards and manages to reach the rooftop only to find herself in a precarious situation on the edge of the building. Naturally, Batman is there to make the save. They have another playful exchange, though Batman gets serious with her and demands she unmask. Catwoman feigns being hurt by Batman’s rejection, which causes Batman to react sympathetically giving Catwoman an opening to flip him over her shoulder and escape.

Back at her apartment, Selina boasts to her assistant Maven that the night was a success, but we’re soon shown an individual affiliated with Red Claw has traced her back to her apartment. He utters an ominous warning for us, the viewers, before the episode ends.

Isis_cat

Isis is a bit of a scene-stealer.

The first part of “The Cat and the Claw” successfully introduces us to this version of Catwoman and the role she’ll play in Batman’s rogues gallery. Her intentions are mostly good, but her means are unlawful. You could argue Batman’s are as well since he routinely sneaks into places he’s not welcome and performs search and seizures outside of the law, but Catwoman’s willingness to steal is apparently the line for Batman. The little we see of Red Claw, a villain created for this show, depicts her as a pretty ruthless terrorist and we’ll have to wait for Part Two to see just how far she can be pushed. This show seems to clearly love having sympathetic villains, so this turn for Catwoman isn’t too surprising. She bares no real resemblance to the character we had just seen in Batman Returns, aside from the general look of her costume and whip accessory. I am left wanting to see more of the Selina character. I’d like to know more about what brought her to where she is, but we’re never really going to get that from this show unfortunately. I also do like the dynamic at play with Batman where Catwoman clearly has the hots for the caped crusader while Batman knows he needs to keep his distance. That’s in contrast to Bruce Wayne’s obvious interest in Selina Kyle, while she seems completely uninterested in Bruce as a potential partner. It’s not a unique setup, but it is effective at creating some drama. It’s also easy to see why this was picked as the premiere, because in addition to the familiar villain, the episode also looks great. Lots of sharp blacks and great animation, especially with Catwoman’s adorable little cat Isis. We’ll have to wait for Part Two to see how this all plays out.


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