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The New Batman Adventures – “Chemistry”

chemistryEpisode Number:  22 (107)

Original Air Date:  October 24, 1998

Directed by:  Butch Lukic

Written by:  Stan Berkowitz

First Appearance:  None

This week’s episode brings back another classic villain with a fairly familiar scheme, as it relates to this series. It’s also going to retread some of the themes of Mask of the Phantasm, but in a much more simplified and truncated manner given the runtime of an episode of television. “Chemistry” essentially posits what Bruce Wayne would do about Batman were he to fall in love. I don’t know that the answer is particularly surprising or satisfying, but it leads to at least one dramatic moment. That money shot, as it were, happens basically before the midway point of the episode so it’s interesting to see if the rest of the story can matter following Wayne’s declaration. This episode is a bit of a mystery, with the reveal of the villain saved for the penultimate act, so in the interest of not spoiling things I am going to recommend ahead of time that you view this one yourself before reading my reaction. However, it’s not the sort of thing that would prevent you from enjoying the episode if you knew about it beforehand. Nevertheless, on with the show!

susan and bruce

In this episode, Bruce meets a new woman and becomes instantly taken by her.

The episode opens at the estate of one Veronica Vreeland (Marilu Henner), or perhaps her father. It’s the site of a wedding as Veronica has decided to tie the knot to a mysterious man with piercing green eyes by the name of Michael (Tim Matheson). He seems familiar, but he’s not, he just reminds me of the villain from “See No Evil.” Veronica tosses her bouquet and a green-eyed blond by the name of Susan (Linda Hamilton) is the one who ends up with it. A photographer then asks if she’d mind posing with the gentleman who caught the garter and she’s more than happy to do so. That gentleman happens to be Bruce Wayne and as the two pose for a picture Bruce confesses he hates these sort of things. When Susan responds with a joke, it goes over Bruce’s head, but the two seem to have a mutual understanding. Veronica and Michael soon approach the two and Veronica mentions that Susan is a friend of Michael’s. She also reveals the two only dated about two weeks before deciding to tie the knot.

Elsewhere, Tim and Barbara are attendants as well. Tim I suppose was brought along by Bruce, as for Barbara I have no idea what her connection to Veronica or her husband would be for her to be in attendance. Tim is not having a particularly good time, but at least there’s cake. When a horn sounds it’s Alfred there to retrieve Tim and Bruce. Tim is eager to get out of there, but Bruce is lagging behind for he’s dancing with Susan. Alfred and Tim take notice and the camera lingers on Bruce’s contented face.

dopey batman

The look of love.

The scene transitions from Bruce’s face to Batman’s as he’s wearing a really dopey smile, a rare occurrence for him. Robin then gets in his ear as the two are apparently on a stake out of some kind. Four biker-looking dudes just hit a shop and Robin is ready to go. Batman snaps at him a bit to let him know he’s ready and the two head down to the street. Inside, they smack around the bikers. Batman then lets his guard down after taking out the third guy only for Robin to nail the fourth with a Batarang. He then reprimands Batman for forgetting that he told them there were four, and Batman apparently realizing his mistake has no response.

At the Batcave, Robin is sharing the events of the night with Alfred. As he does, Alfred begins removing Robin’s cape to hang up. Does he undress Robin every time he returns from a night out? If so, these rich boys are more helpless than I thought. Anyway, Robin remarks that Batman’s head isn’t in the game and Alfred seems to pay it no mind. We then see that Batman is still out on the town and being quite the creep too as he’s using binoculars to spy on Susan as she struts around her apartment.

susan says yes

I think that’s a “Yes.”

We’re then taken to a rather luxurious looking yacht. Bruce has invited Susan out and she’s happy he called, though she admits she thought he wouldn’t. He’s a bit taken aback by that, but she points out she assumed that based on what he had told her about being too busy for relationships. Bruce confesses he’s been thinking about her a lot and he gives her a box of white roses. She’s pleased, and seemingly prepared for the next gift:  a diamond ring. She says nothing when Bruce springs it on her and the two kiss.

At the Batcave, Bruce has summoned Tim, Barbara, and Dick to tell them something. As he paces in front of them he explains that the pain he feels over the murder of his parents isn’t gone, but it’s not as bad as it used to be. He explains these past few weeks with Susan have made him feel something he has never felt before. When Tim chimes in with “happiness” he gets a frown in response. Bruce then tells them he’s asked Susan to marry him, and when Dick gestures to the Batman costume and asks what he’s going to tell her, Bruce lets them know he has no intention of being Batman anymore (enter dramatic music).

The wedding is held at Wayne Manor and the guests at the wedding present the opportunity for some fun cameos. I won’t list them out, but feel free to watch this scene a few times to try and spot them all. Lucius Fox (Mel Winkler) makes a toast to the bride and groom while Dick grumbles to Barbara that it will never last. Barbara mistakes him for suggesting the marriage won’t last, but Dick corrects her and says there’s no way Bruce is done playing super hero. Barbara is more optimistic and suggests it could happen to Dick some day, but he rebukes her and suggests she’s hoping that’s the case. Barbara is quick to deny that was her aim.

michael gash

Veronica’s new husband shares some traits with T-1000, which is interesting because Linda Hamilton has a guest role in this episode.

Bruce is soon lured away from his wedding by a phone call. He’s reluctant to take it, but Alfred informs him it’s an emergency and Veronica is the one on the other end. He excuses himself and takes the call and finds a near hysterical Veronica on the line. She tries to tell him that something is up with her new husband, but before she can explain they’re disconnected. Michael is shown emerging from the bathroom and Veronica tells him to stay away. They appear to be in her bedroom. As Michael approaches her he tries diffusing the situation, but Veronica retreats to a panic room that’s protected by laser bars. She tells him he’d die if he tried to get in, and he simply sports a wicked smile and forces himself in. The lasers cut through his skin and he holds his head in position so that one beam is going right through it like one of those gag headbands with an arrow sticking out. Veronica is terrified, and as Michael pushes through his body is left a greenish brown where the lasers burned him. The wounds close, and he’s able to move in.

bruce through flames

Bruce to the rescue.

Bruce informs Susan that something is up with Veronica and she’s supportive of him checking on her. He races over to her house and finds the doors locked. When he barges in an explosion goes off knocking him back. With the house fully engulfed in flames, Bruce throws his jacket over his head and runs in. He races upstairs to find Veronica unconscious in her panic room with no sign of Michael anywhere. Bruce is able to get her out using a tri-panel mirror to deflect the lasers and to a hospital. It’s then that Michael shows up. He claims he had been at a business meeting. Bruce doesn’t pry, but informs him they’ll know what’s going on when Veronica wakes up. Until then, Bruce has hired security to watch over her as the police suspect arson. Bruce then takes his leave and once outside the hospital he whips out an old flip phone and instructs Robin and Batgirl to keep an eye on their boy Michael, for he has a boat to catch.

Michael, likely knowing he’s screwed when Veronica wakes up, quickly flees the hospital and heads for some sort of botanical garden. Batgirl and Robin follow and soon they see who’s really behind all of this:  Poison Ivy (Diane Pershing). Ivy is not happy to see Michael, but he explains that he’s in trouble since he tried to kill Veronica and failed. She admonishes him for doing it so soon as he was supposed to wait for the cruise. When she asks why he did it, he removes his shirt to say she saw “this.” “This” refers to some leaves apparently sprouting from his chest. Ivy realizes there’s a flaw in her plan as she thought she had more time. She then grabs Michael’s face and rips it off, along with the skin of his arms and torso. Robin practically retches when she does so. Underneath, Michael is a plant monster and he more resembles Killer Croc than the plant monsters we saw last season in “House & Garden.”

Ivy and her plant minion take off as they have a boat to catch allowing Batgirl and Robin to inspect the area. They realize this probably relates to Bruce and his new bride somehow, but before they can get out of there Ivy’s defense mechanisms kick in. Vines start grabbing them and they’re forced to use some chemicals Ivy left laying around to kill them. This appears to give them a solution for how to combat Ivy’s monsters.

plant susan

Susan’s secret revealed.

Aboard a luxury cruise liner, Bruce is chatting about his new bride with a pair of wealthy newlyweds. They boast about how agreeable and perfect their green-eyed brides are. The green eyes serves as a tip-off for Bruce and he soon returns to his cabin. There he finds Susan and confronts her. She’s defensive, though who wouldn’t be if their spouse came barging in and started demanding answers about their past? They apparently never discussed such details, and Susan plays coy. Bruce then grabs her, making this situation a bit uncomfortable to watch. Susan begins to sweat, and as she does her true appearance reveals itself as green streaks appear on her forehead. Bruce has dealt with Poison Ivy enough in the past to know this is her work. Susan doesn’t hide it, and starts using her vines to whip Bruce around the cabin. He eventually breaks free and gets out, pinning the door shut behind him with a ladder.

ivy and michael

Ivy arrives with her Killer Croc knock-off.

Aboard the deck, the other patrons are shocked when the boat comes to a screeching halt. It seems living seaweed is the culprit, and before long Poison Ivy is boarding the ship with Michael in tow. It’s there she reveals her scheme to her wealthy victims. Her pheromone-laced plant people were able to seduce the rich, marry them, and now Poison Ivy intends to drown them. Only the plant spouse will survive to inherit the riches, which Ivy can claim for her own. As she explains her plan, Bruce watches from a distance. Soon, the Batwing arrives and Robin pops out armed with a tank of weed killer and knapsack containing Bruce’s preferred attire. He sarcastically asks how the honeymoon is going and Bruce just winces in response.

melting michael

Robin seems to be enjoying himself as he melts a sentient being.

Batgirl apparently remains behind in the cockpit of the Batwing as Batman and Robin attack. Some of the rich decide to fight back as well, but they’re no match for the plant people. When Michael appears ready to dump a pair over the railing, Robin blasts him with his gun full of weed killer causing him to melt into a hideous puddle. Poison Ivy grabs him, and Batman moves in to help as Ivy dumps Robin over the railing where he lands harmless on a pipe. She hits Batman with a cloud of something which knocks him to his knees. As she goes in for a potentially lethal kiss, Robin alerts her that he’s not done with her. As she turns to looks at him, he smacks her across the face with the barrel of his gun which has to be one of the most visceral pieces of violence we’ve seen on this show. It’s certainly the most direct violence we’ve seen perpetrated by a male character against a female.

robin goo

You kind of deserve that for taking enjoyment in killing these plant people, Robin.

The vines below the water’s surface start to break the ship apart, and the battle soon turns into a rescue mission. Batman and Robin ferry everyone to the boat Ivy arrived on which Robin pilots. Batman though has to stay back when Poison Ivy attacks him once again, but he orders Robin to disengage from the sinking vessel. The ship breaking apart separates Ivy and Batman. Batman is able to grab a rope ladder dangling from the Batwing, and as he swings past Poison Ivy she calls out for help. He reaches for her, but they don’t connect and she disappears under a wave. As the Batwing flies away, Batman looks and sees Susan staring at him from the porthole to their cabin. With a look of horror on her face, the vessel submerges taking her with it. Batman then holds up his wedding band and flicks it into the ocean.

drowning susan

The last we’ll see of Susan. That’s probably a better fate than melting, at least.

“Chemistry” is a bit familiar, but also fun. It’s yet another Poison Ivy story that pits her against not just Batman, but Bruce Wayne. Almost all of her schemes put her in contact with rich folk, so it makes sense she would target Bruce Wayne multiple times. It’s a bit funny that she has yet to figure out who’s under Batman’s mask, as a result. It’s nice to see her get a solo story though, as she was previously used in the anthology premiere “Holiday Knights” and then as part of an ensemble in “Girl’s Night Out.” Her reveal is concealed rather well with the only clue really being the episode’s title, which is certainly less blatant than past Poison Ivy episodes. The green of Susan and Michael’s eyes stand out and is a bit of a clue as well, though since the clones in “House & Garden” did not possess such eyes it isn’t exactly a big give-away.

The episode is fairly entertaining, though it does fall apart when one begins to think scrutinize it in greater detail. Bruce apparently knows nothing of Susan even after their marriage. I can see how him being under a pheromone induced spell could dull his senses, but there’s no way Bruce is capable of planning a wedding by himself. Someone, most likely Alfred, probably handled that and you would think he’d raise an eyebrow at Susan not inviting any family to the event. This also probably happened at every wedding orchestrated by Poison Ivy, and if Michael had that leaf problem then surely others did too. These folks are all newlyweds, so they’re probably seeing a lot of each other naked meaning there’s little chance to hide such a detail. I also feel like I should point out that seemingly only the rich people on that cruise ship were saved. A cruise ship populated by only the wealthy would probably have a huge cast of servers and cooks who were apparently all left for dead.

batman ring

Of course, the episode needs a dramatic shot of Batman discarding his wedding band.

This being one of the last episodes in the series, it features many final appearances for a lot of characters. Many cameos at Bruce and Susan’s wedding are obviously the last time we’ll see some of those faces. Many of those characters had not been seen in a long time, so it was good to see them return albeit briefly. This is the final appearance of Loren Lester as Dick Grayson. We had already passed Nightwing’s final mission, and this is the last we’ll see of Dick. Lester would not return to voice the character in future series. This is also Batgirl’s last appearance which is a shame as we never explored what happened between she and Dick. Unlike with Lester, Tara Strong would continue to voice Batgirl in other shows and has become more or less synonymous with the character. It’s also the last we’ll see of Veronica Vreeland. While she had a tendency to show up in bad episodes, she was an entertaining character and a fun foil for Bruce. And this is also the last of Poison Ivy. She’s not dead, despite how the episode ended, as she would return in both Gotham Girls, Static Shock and Justice League. She was perhaps the best female villain on the show not named Harley Quinn, and I can honestly says she never had a true dud of an episode and often made things better just by being there.

ivy bash

If you slow this sequence down, there’s a flash of light just as Robin’s gun strikes Ivy. It’s no less impactful though, especially at normal speed.

This episode has holes, but I ultimately found it to be a fun experience. The drama of Bruce giving up his Batman persona doesn’t really work as I doubt anyone would buy into it, but I appreciate them repurposing part of the score from Mask of the Phantasm since that film dealt with the same issue. Of course, in that film it was handled far better. Maybe if this one had been a multi-part episode it would have worked better, especially if it were the final episode of the show. I still have my doubts though, so I don’t consider this a missed opportunity. Even though the plot is executed in a corny and soapish manner, it’s supported with some really mature moments and somewhat shocking moments of violence. I mentioned how Robin striking Ivy really caught me off guard, but also Michael being exterminated via melting was pretty surprising. As he’s turned into a puddle of green goo his eyeballs pop out to land atop the smoldering heap before being absorbed. It’s a nice, albeit gross, piece of animation. There’s also the scene of Veronica calling Bruce where it appears like she and her spouse were in the midst of some marital relations given their state of dress. And even Dick is shown with a big mug of beer at the wedding reception.

All in all, a fine episode if a bit shallow. It at least accomplishes the goal of giving several characters a curtain call of sorts before the show’s conclusion, which is appreciated. It’s also never boring, and at the end of the day that’s probably what we desire most from our television programs.

 


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.

img_0174

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).

img_0175

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


The New Batman Adventures – “You Scratch My Back”

you scratch my backEpisode Number:  5 (90)

Original Air Date:  November 15, 1997

Directed by:  Butch Lukic

Written by:  Hilary J. Bader

First Appearance:  Nightwing

After briefly checking in with Dick Grayson (Loren Lester) at the end of the second episode we now get the official introduction of Nightwing, Grayson’s new alter-ego. We’re still going to have to wait to find out what happened to cause the former Boy Wonder to break away from his mentor, but at least we’ll get a look at how Nightwing operates. We’ll also be reintroduced to a certain femme fatale in the form of Catwoman (Adrienne Barbeau). This episode is going to play up the tension that exists between Batman and Nightwing as well as the tension between he and his old adversary. Catwoman is going to be happy to squeeze her way in between the two. Also caught in the middle, but less eager to be, is Batgirl who is the frustrated bystander who just wants to see everyone get along.

water tower

Some people just always like to invite themselves to the party.

The episode opens with Nightwing on a water tower scoping out some shipping docks. He apparently expects something to go down with some gun smugglers, and Batman and Batgirl soon arrive on the scene. Nightwing is not particularly happy to see them, rebuffing Batgirl’s friendly vibes while being rather straight with Batman. Once a forklift is deployed, Nightwing jumps into action. His suit is similar to a wing suit or the classic Spider-Man costume with the webbed under-arm portions. He glides in effortlessly, which looks ridiculous because the wings are far too small. Also, he now has a mullet. Aside from that, the simple black suit with blue logo and domino mask looks fine, better than that garish old Robin costume. In addition to the new threads he also has his own theme song which feels bright and upbeat (similar to Superman’s) which stands in contrast with Batman’s moody tunes. It’s a nice touch, but it almost feels corny. It’s a tad overused in this episode and I hope it’s not something that’s repeated a lot.

Nightwing gets the drop on the bad dudes and gets to work. He demonstrates he’s still plenty good at this crime fighting thing, and even shows off some new shurikens (Wing-a-rangs? Night-a-rangs?) of his own making. He tangles with one goon in a forklift, impossibly dodging bullets and depositing said forklift into the harbor. As he dusts himself off he fails to notice another thug closing in on him from behind with ill intentions. Batgirl swings in for the save, but Nightwing hardly seems grateful for the help. The two have a little argument that’s interrupted by a fleeing thug. He runs among some stacked shipping crates and finds Batman just casually leaning against some of the crates. He ignores the thug, who seems shocked, but eventually continues on his way.

batman inaction

Must be his night off.

Nightwing comes through the same way and seems irritated with Batman’s inaction, though he was recently agitated with Batgirl for the opposite. Batman gestures which way the perp ran with a “He’s all yours,” and Nightwing goes after him. Before he gets to him he can hear a commotion. Nightwing races around the corner to find the crook bound and gagged, and the person responsible is Catwoman. Sporting a new all black attire, Catwoman immediately acts cozy with the young Nightwing by blowing a kiss his way and goes into her backflip routine as she fades from view leaving Nightwing to wonder what that was all about.

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Nice crib, Dick.

The next night, Barbara pays Dick a visit at his loft to warn him not to trust Catwoman. Surprisingly, she never brings up her prior partnership with the same villain. Dick’s loft is rather fancy, making me wonder what he ended up doing for work or if this is all Wayne money. It has a dojo-like vibe to it as well, suggesting maybe Dick has sought out some teachings similar to what Bruce did before becoming Batman. Anyways, he has a cool motorcycle now and when Barbara points out there’s room for two on that bike he declines leaving her to lock-up.

catwomans affection

Catwoman knows how to get close to a man.

Seeking to follow a lead on the same drug-smuggling ring, Nightwing arrives in position where he can spy on a penthouse. Catwoman soon arrives and reveals she knows a thing or two about these guys. The guy they’re after goes by the name of Ricky the Hook (Sal Lopez) on account of his hook hand. Nightwing is reluctant to engage her, but she insists she’s on his side. When Nightwing allows for a slight opening in this job, thanks to some distractingly flirtatious behavior on the part of Catwoman, she takes it and the lead and heads over to the penthouse forcing Nightwing to pursue.

Rick the Hook

Enrique El Gancho, aka Rick the Hook.

The two infiltrate the penthouse and uncover some shipping schedules. As Nightwing downloads the information, he’s confronted by The Hook and some of his men. Worse, Catwoman has apparently left him high and dry. As The Hook confronts an irritated Nightwing though, Catwoman reappears to take out the hired help. As The Hook reels from the surprise appearance of the feline, Nightwing takes the opportunity to hit the man as hard as he can in the face. It seems to only stun him. Catwoman takes a whack at taking him down as well, but to similar results. The gunmen gather themselves and force the two to flee. They leap through a skylight and into an indoor pool. The gunmen fire from their vantage point down into it forcing Nightwing to take out the lights allowing for their eventual escape, but not before they engage in some slight slapstick by using pool equipment on the thugs.

Now out of danger, the unlikely partners go over what just happened. Catwoman pushes the idea of the two teaming up, and this time Nightwing is receptive to the proposal. This job clearly requires more than one person, and maybe he’s being seduced by Catwoman’s innate charms. Nearby though, Batman is watching and listening and he doesn’t look too happy.

Sometime later, or another day, Selina Kyle is lounging in her apartment amongst her cats. She’s apparently done well for herself since returning to a life of crime as this apartment appears to be every bit as nice as her old one. She’s also cut her hair short and dyed it black, in keeping with her comic look at the time (the prior blonde look was likely done to resemble Michelle Pfeiffer). Batman soon appears in her apartment and this isn’t a friendly visit. He warns Selina to stay away from Nightwing. She seems amused and opines that the Man Wonder can make his own decisions, implying that it must be common knowledge that Robin has grown up and transitioned to this Nightwing persona. Because drama demands it, Nightwing too shows up. He’s not at all pleased to see Batman sticking his nose in his business, but rather than get into an argument, Batman chooses to leave quietly. As he does, Nightwing looks up to see Batgirl watching and a brief, pained, expression crosses his face as she too departs.

Selina Kyle Short Hair

Selina is feeling frisky after ditching the bat.

With him gone, Nightwing informs Selina that he analyzed the files they took from Ricky the Hook and knows where the next big shipment will take place, and that it’s to take place tonight. Selina seems pleased and moves in closer to Nightwing causing him to stop her. It’s not that he’s rejecting the affectionate advance, but he’s spotted something:  a bat-shaped tracking device on Selina’s whip.

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A last ditch effort to keep the Man Wonder on her side.

Now in costume, Catwoman releases her cat Isis into the Gotham night. And on her collar is Batman’s tracking device. He and Batgirl are shown in the Batmobile falling for the ruse, as Catwoman and Nightwing head out to their rendezvous spot with some gun smugglers. Once they arrive at the docks, the two slip onto a ship and start nosing around the shipping containers. Catwoman seems especially eager, and Nightwing will soon learn why. As Nightwing breaks into some crates, he finds a priceless artifact rather than guns. He finds more, and when he goes to share this information with Catwoman he finds she’s rather consumed with her own affairs. It seems that Catwoman was recently in South America and stole an item called the Cat’s Eye Emerald and stashed it on this boat in order to bring it back to Gotham. She’s busy smashing a bunch of statues until she eventually finds it. Nightwing is rightly angry with her, but Catwoman is prepared for this reaction. She tries to smooth things over with her womanly charms resorting to the tired old villain line of pointing out the money she’ll get for this emerald will allow them to go anywhere they want. She tries to seal the deal with a kiss, but Nightwing rebuffs her. Catwoman informs him he can’t blame her for trying, before quickly tripping him and using her whip to drop a cargo net on top of him.

Batman and Batgirl soon burst onto the scene. Batman frees Nightwing from the net, who brushes himself off to tell Batman his hunch was right and that Catwoman led them right to the emerald. Catwoman is surprised to learn the two played her for a fool. As she lets them know how she feels about being conned, The Hook and his men arrive forcing Batgirl to deploy some smoke grenades to allow the three to escape.

batman vs the hook

The fight you never knew you wanted.

With the smoke obscuring the vision of the gunners, the trio take out the goons with ease. Nightwing gestures to Ricky the Hook informing Batman he’s all for him while he pursues a fleeing Catwoman. The two trade blows with Ricky the Hook even drawing blood from Batman. He eventually gets the upper hand on the Dark Knight, but as he goes to deliver a killing blow with his hook, Batman blocks it with a nearby fire extinguisher. The foam inside the extinguisher gets in Hook’s eyes and he stumbles back getting his hook caught in some chains. This causes a large crate to release from above which crashes down on top of him. For a moment, it looks like he’s going to brush this off as well, but then he collapses in a heap.

From the ship’s deck, Nightwing spots Catwoman attempting to flee via motorboat. He glides after her, but she takes notice and begins firing a flare gun at him. He avoids the projectiles, and as he descends onto the boat Catwoman accidentally hits the vessel causing it to go up in flames. Worse, they’re speeding towards an ocean liner which for some reason has its prop exposed above water. Catwoman tries to drown Nightwing by shoving his head underwater over the side of the boat, which is quite a vicious turn for her, but Nightwing pulls himself back onto the boat. Catwoman is apparently unaware of the impending collision, as Nightwing grabs her and leaps from the boat as it smashes into the ocean liner. The resulting explosion was apparently enough to knock out Catwoman, but not Nightwing. As he clings to a piece of the former motorboat with Catwoman draped on it as well, Batgirl arrives with the Batboat to see if he needs a hand. Nightwing responds by telling her he’s always happy to have some help as the episode ends.

nightwing could use a hand

The explosion conveniently knocks out the bad guy while leaving the good guy fully conscious.

“You Scratch My Back” is an interesting episode because it reintroduces us to Dick Grayson by showing us that his relationship with Batman has become strained. And yet, by the end of it we’re left to wonder how much of that was real and how much was just show to keep Catwoman in the dark. It makes me wonder if the show was afraid to make them too confrontational and wanted to have it both ways:  a fraught relationship, but also a buddy ensemble. Nightwing was made to be so naive though when it came to Catwoman that it basically had to go this way or else the character would have instantly lost all credibility. It would be one thing if the younger Robin were duped into something like this by a villain, but for Nightwing to fall for it would be absurd.

dick and barbara photo

There appear to be some hard feelings in the past of Dick and Barbara.

The episode does not show any interest in revealing what caused the break-ups that occurred offscreen. We know things could get tense between Batman and Robin, but we don’t know if Dick just gradually distanced himself or if there was one thing that put him over the edge. Similarly, we don’t know what happened between he and Barbara. When we last saw the two together they were a couple, but now they’re not. While Dick is getting into costume, Barbara is shown looking at a picture of the two of them with a look of sadness on her face. And who is Dick’s barber? That hairstyle is brutal.

As for Selina, we can see she’s been living a life of crime and doing quite well for herself. She’s managed to become wealthy again without running afoul of Batman, as evidenced by the fact that she’s not in jail. Is she even living as Selina Kyle or has she adopted an alias? Her new look seems to be even more influenced by her appearance in Batman Returns as her costume is basically identical to the one present in that film, just without the stitching. There’s something very cartoonish about her head though that really takes away from the sex appeal she’s supposed to possess which ultimately hurts the character. Aside from that, I do like how she’s portrayed as she’s very physical and flirtatious which strikes me as very cat-like.

Overall, this is a rather fun story. Sure, it left me with some questions, but it does a solid enough job of not telegraphing the end. The conflict is largely kept to Batman, Nightwing, and Catwoman so it didn’t need an A-list villain to serve as the adversary. Ricky the Hook is at least a physical menace and he gives Batman a good brawl further showing how open to violence this series is. Batgirl is just along for the ride, mostly, and Tim Drake is sidelined which is fine as there’s plenty of characters here anyway. For director Butch Lukic, this is his first time in the big chair after being a storyboard artist for the previous series. He does a good job as the action pieces are well done and the many characters are utilized well. He’ll go on to direct four more episodes of this series, including the much beloved “Mad Love,” as well as many episodes of Batman Beyond.


Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero

Batman_&_Mr._Freeze_SubZeroOriginal Release Date:  March 17, 1998

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Boyd Kirkland and Randy Rogel

Animation:  Dong Yang Animation Co., Koko Enterprises Co., LTD.

Running Time:  67 minutes

I feel like we can’t move onto The New Batman Adventures without first talking about Batman & Mr. Freeze:  SubZero. This direct to video feature is essentially the true finale to the original run of Batman:  The Animated Series. It’s existence can be owed to the fact that Warner Bros. wanted to do a tie-in film with the upcoming feature film Batman and Robin which featured Mr. Freeze as the main antagonist. This was supposed to be released alongside that, but since that film was so poorly received it was held back until March of 1998. This complicates things as by that time The New Batman Adventures was airing on Kids WB and had even aired a Mr. Freeze episode that follows the events of this story. It was released to video, which in 1998 meant VHS, and also aired on Kids WB. I could only find one release date listed online so I’m not sure when the television premiere took place (it could have been the same day), but that’s how I first saw this one.

freeze and bears

Mr. Freeze has returned, and he brought polar bears this time.

Mr. Freeze was first introduced to the animated viewing audience via “Heart of Ice” which first aired in 1992 as part of the show’s first season. It was so successful at rebooting the previously campy Mr. Freeze into an A-tier villain that the writers were reluctant to return to the character out of fear that whatever they came up with couldn’t possibly match “Heart of Ice.” Eventually, they relented and Mr. Freeze appeared in the penultimate episode “Deep Freeze” in which he partnered with Walt Disney Grant Walker in an evil scheme, but eventually turned and become a reluctant hero in the end. The episode basically proved what the staff feared initially as it wasn’t nearly as good or on par with “Heart of Ice.” It’s not a bad episode, but hardly a highpoint for the series. As a result, SubZero feels like a second attempt at capturing the magic once again and perhaps the lengthened running time will help tell a worthy story.

For the film, most of the principal players from BTAS were able to return. In the director’s chair is Boyd Kirkland who directed many episodes in the series as well as the show’s other feature, Mask of the Phantasm. Kirkland also co-wrote the film with Randy Rogel, another individual who had several writing credits in the main series. The voice cast was also largely returned for this one including Kevin Conroy as Batman, Loren Lester as Robin, and Michael Ansara as Mr. Freeze. The only notable change is Mary Kay Bergman taking over the role of Barbara Gordon for Melissa Gilbert. This would be Bergman’s only performance as Gordon as she would be voiced by Tara Strong in The New Batman Adventures. The other notable absences are Bruce Timm and Paul Dini, who were credited with this new version of Freeze. They were likely busy working on Superman and The New Batman Adventures during the development of the picture. Also missing is composer Shirley Walker who was replaced by Michael McCuistion, who had previously worked on some episodes of the show. He would go on to score 3 episodes of The New Batman Adventures as well as several more for other DC animated productions. Walker would also contribute to the sequel series.

gordons and dick

Barbara has a new voice actress, Mary Kay Bergman, and a new beau.

The film basically picks up where the series ended. Victor Fries has made a home for himself in the arctic alongside his still in stasis wife, Nora. He’s acquired a pair of polar bear companions as well as a twelve-year-old Inuit orphan named Koonak (Rahi Azizi). When an expedition by a US submarine disturbs their home and destroys the containment unit keeping Nora alive, Fries is forced to once again don his Mr. Freeze persona.

Nora cannot survive for long outside her containment unit which brings Freeze back to Gotham and in contact with an old colleague, a cryogenics expert by the name of Gregory Belson (George Dzundza). Belson just so happens to be in great financial distress as he tried to game the system with some insider trading in the futures market that didn’t pan out. He’s desperate for cash, and Freeze has access to a gold ore vein in the arctic. He needs Belson’s help to perform an operation for the only hope Nora has at survival is via an organ transplant. Unfortunately, she also has a rare blood type and no organs are available and are unlikely to become available in time, so they’ll need to harvest them from a living donor.

nora fries opening

Once again, it’s the welfare of Nora that motivates Freeze.

That’s where Barbara Gordon comes in. She’s the unlucky one who matches Nora’s rare blood type and is also of similar build. Mr. Freeze abducts her from a club while she is on a date with her new boyfriend:  Dick Grayson. It would seem Barbara got over her Bat-crush and settled on the Boy Wonder, though the film makes it seem like everyone is still keeping each other in the dark regarding alter-egos. Freeze, along with his two polar bear companions, takes Barbara to an abandoned offshore oil platform where the surgery will be performed against her will.

Most of the film involves the setup before transitioning to a focus on Batman and Robin’s detective work which will eventually force a showdown with Mr. Freeze. At a mere 67 minutes, the mystery of where Freeze took Gordon and what he wants with her isn’t lingered on for too long and there’s plenty of time saved for the climax on the oil rigging. It’s paced well and the movie moves along without feeling rushed. If anything is sacrificed, it’s the final confrontation at the end. Batman and Freeze really don’t have much of a confrontation, as circumstances force them to contend with a burning platform. It’s a similar setup to the episode “Deep Freeze” in that regard, but with smaller, more obvious, stakes.

batman robin batcave

Batman and Robin have some detective work ahead of them, but at least Robin’s gloves are now the proper shade of green.

The film in large part feels like a referendum on “Deep Freeze.” If you recall, in that episode Freeze learns his wife is still alive and then immediately agrees to help a wealthy man destroy the planet to revive her. It was a pretty outlandish setup which is why Batman was able to convince Mr. Freeze to not go along with Walker’s plan. In this film, Nora’s life is on a timer and in order to save her Freeze merely has to sacrifice one woman he doesn’t even care about. While it would have been interesting to see how he would have responded had someone been able to reason with him that Nora would never want an innocent to die so she could live, that’s never broached and it’s conceivable to think Freeze would not be swayed. He’d likely rather Nora live and despise him than for her to die. Freeze’s desperation causes him to act impulsively throughout the picture, and his relationship with Belson gives him a plausible reason to return to Gotham in an effort to save his wife knowing it will likely put him in the crosshairs of The Batman.

dr belson

Belson is pretty much a slime ball.

In many ways, it’s Dr. Belson that ends up being the film’s ultimate villain. He’s described by others as a jerk and he’s essentially a criminal for engaging in insider trading. Had he been successful with his futures play he might have been caught. When Freeze first approaches him for aid the film teases he won’t go along with murder, but he’s mostly feigning his apprehension and just uses it to leverage more money out of his old colleague.

barbara fighting back

Barbara may spend most of the film kidnapped, but she never stops fighting.

Barbara Gordon’s kidnapping may be the main plot device that gets this film rolling, but she’s hardly playing the role of damsel in distress. Her kidnapping is voluntary, as she doesn’t want Mr. Freeze to harm any of the patrons of the club she’s abducted from, especially Dick. She also tries to escape her confines more than once and realizes she has a sympathetic ear in Koonak. It would have been disappointing if the woman who is Batgirl just sat around and waited for Batman and Robin to save her, but Rogel and Kirkland know what they’re doing.

The film is visually quite nice and a noticeable cut above the television series. Dong Yang Animation, which animated most of season 2 and some of season 1, did the traditional spots with Koko Enterprises doing the CG. The colors are an obvious upgrade as Robin’s costume actually features two shades of green instead of that odd blue. The scenes on the flaming oil platform are especially spectacular and it’s obvious more care was put into this project as a whole. I also really like a spot at the beginning of the film where Fries emerges from the arctic waters. His body is coated in a thin layer of ice which cracks and breaks apart as he moves. The CG is used probably more often than I would like. It’s dated, but not woefully so. It’s a touch distracting in some of the chase sequences and with the Batwing, but it looks nice at the film’s onset with Fries swimming in the arctic amongst a swarm of CG salmon. The only real disappointment I have with the look of the picture is that it’s presented in 4:3 instead of 16:9. I assume that’s the aspect ratio it was created for since it was going to be broadcast on television, and since this was before the proliferation of 16:9 television sets, there was basically no need to develop for that if it was only ever going to be viewed on a TV set.

koonak and barbara

I hope you didn’t get too attached to Koonak, because he’s not coming back.

This film is the final presentation of Batman and the other denizens of Gotham in this art style. For some characters, like Summer Gleeson (Mari Devon), this is their final appearance all together. Veronica Vreeland (Marilu Henner) also has a cameo, but as a blonde now instead of her traditional red hair. It’s also the last appearance of Nora Fries and the only appearance for Koonak. I definitely miss this art style and the change for The New Batman Adventures is what kept me from getting into that series initially. When this surfaced on television it was like going back to an old friend.

Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero is a worthy follow-up to “Heart of Ice.” Even with the benefit of triple the minutes, it’s still not quite as captivating as that episode and I think that’s largely due to the surprise that initial episode had going for it. This film at least takes the character of Mr. Freeze and gives him a reason to act like a villain once more. It’s surprising that Paul Dini and Bruce Timm weren’t involved, but maybe turning to the duo of Kirkland and Rogel meant the pressure of doing something worthwhile with the character was largely removed freeing them to explore him unencumbered. For both, this was their last contribution to Batman: The Animated Series and it’s a worthy note to go out on. Had this been a theatrically released venture we’d probably unfairly compare it with Mask of the Phantasm where it would come up short, but for a direct-to-video venture this is more than acceptable.

Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero was originally released on VHS, but has since been released on DVD and Blu-Ray. It’s also streaming, if that’s your preference. The best way to view it, for my money, is via the Batman:  The Animated Series Blu-Ray set which includes this film as well as Mask of the Phantasm in one package alongside the entire television series.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Harlequinade”

Harlequinade_Title_CardEpisode Number:  72

Original Air Date:  May 23, 1994

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  Boxy Bennett

“Harley & Ivy” introduced some unhappiness to crime’s most celebrated couple. The Joker, angered with Harley, tosses her out forcing her to make it on her own where she finds a kindred spirit in Poison Ivy. That was back in episode 56, and Harley and Joker have made just one appearance each since and that was the ensemble episode “Trial” which seemed to reset their relationship while still drawing on their dysfunction for comedy. “Harlequinade” feels like the true follow-up to “Harley & Ivy” as a result. This is an episode that’s going to further establish that Harley and Joker do not share a relationship that anyone should aspire to emulate. It’s an abusive, toxic, relationship that will likely eventually end with one, or both, dead. And therein lies the strange dichotomy of this relationship as it’s largely presented for laughs, but writer Paul Dini isn’t afraid to peel back some of that surface-level humor to show what’s underneath.

In order for this episode to work, it’s going to ask of us to suspend our notion of disbelief. It begins with a mob auction, and what’s on the docket? An atomic bomb! The episode makes no mention of how the Gotham underbelly acquired such a destructive weapon, which really might be more interesting than the episode itself. Obviously, if a crime boss ever got ahold of something such as an atom bomb more than just the Gotham PD would be on-hand.

btas abomb

On the block today, one A-Bomb!

Those attending this auction aren’t particularly of interest. On one hand, it’s admirable that Dong Yang Animation didn’t re-use a bunch of season one characters, but it might have also made sense to see a Rupert Thorne in attendance. The bidding opens at a million, and it escalates from there, until someone interjects with a “zero!” That someone is The Joker (Mark Hamill), and when he walks on stage in his usual attire plus a fashionable top-hat (The Mad Hatter would be furious) all of the guns in the place soon find him. Before anyone can open fire, Joker removes his hat to reveal a lit bomb. Not a realistic one, mind you, but a cartoonish, spherical, black bomb. Everyone hightails it out of there, but Joker grabs the auctioneer (played by Neil Ross) and sticks him with the bomb. Predictably, it’s a gag-bomb, but it also houses a sinister purpose as Joker Gas soon pours out of it. The auction dealer bursts into hysterical laughter while his eyes look like they’re about to pop from their sockets. And now Joker is in possession of an atomic bomb. The setup may be silly, but I can’t lie, it’s an interesting situation.

sinister gag bomb

Did real bombs ever resemble this?

Commissioner Gordon is shown on the phone with Mayor Hill (Lloyd Bochner) who is stressing this needs to be hidden from the public. Why a mayor gets to make that call is not explained, but Gotham feels like it’s its own island. A quick cut to Hill on the phone reveals that the hand holding the receiver to his ear possesses a violet jacket and white glove, so someone is obviously being coerced into making this statement to Gordon. Batman is there to eavesdrop and makes the pronouncement that in order to catch The Joker they need to be able to think like him, and there’s only one person capable of doing that.

batmans proposal

Batman’s got a proposition for old Pig Tails.

Which brings us to Harley (Arleen Sorkin), who seems perfectly content by herself in her room at Arkham when Batman busts in on her. She’s not particularly thrilled by his presence, but Batman brings her up to speed and offers her a way out:  help him find The Joker and she can walk out of Arkham a free woman. Harley accepts and there’s some good visual humor as she enthusiastically waves Batman’s arm around while proclaiming herself his greatest female adversary. Batman, for his part, is able to convey a feeling a dread as he now has to put up with her for what could be a long night.

harley bat teamup

She may be a psycopath, but she sure is adorable.

They jump into the Batmobile, and after Harley nearly causes a crash (and Batman gets really angry with her, bravo Kevin Conroy on this piece of voice-acting), he tells her they should first head to Joker’s last known hideout. It’s some kind of dilapidated fun house, but it was obviously in use recently. Harley disappears a moment to “slip into something more comfortable” while Batman takes note of Joker’s vast surveillance network that includes City Hall, Gordon’s office, and Hill’s office. He also gets reacquainted with Harley’s babies, two massive hyenas that pounce on him and rip his costume a bit. Harley emerges form the back, now in her harlequin costume, and calls off her dogs who are delighted to see their mommy. This leads to an interesting conversation between Harley and Batman who questions why she’s so infatuated with Joker. She reveals another layer to her origin by explaining that she got sick of listening to other’s problems while she was a psychiatrist at Arkham and that Joker was the first one to listen to her’s. And he made it all seem fun. When Batman asks about the people Joker hurts, she crosses her arms and stubbornly responds with, “It’s just a joke.” Batman then offers up what can only be foreshadowing when he says she’ll think differently when it’s she who is on the receiving end.

harley and her babies

Harley reunited with her precious babies:  Bud and Lou.

Batman and Harley then head off to another old hideout and Batman radios ahead to Robin (Loren Lester) to meet them there. As Batman fires off a grappling hook to enter, Harley tries to impress him with one of her own, but only succeeds in hurting herself. They enter, and much to their surprise, find a thriving night club full of mobsters. They turn and notice Batman’s presence and start pulling out their guns. As Batman surveys the room, he’s struck from behind and knocked out cold by, who else, Harley Quinn.

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Silly and seductive.

She ties him up and tosses him on a roulette table announcing her presence with extreme authority. The host of this party is Boxy Bennett (Dick Miller), who has taken over this location from The Joker. Harley and Bennett apparently know each other as they reminisce and Harley soon jumps onto the stage and launches into a rendition of “Say that We’re Sweethearts Again.” It’s a humorous little number full of slapstick humor. It soon becomes obvious this performance is a distraction, and one that apparently is working as the men all hoot and holler and Bennett himself displays a disturbingly aggressive expression upon his face. As Harley sings, Robin sneaks in through a window and is able to cut the ropes on Batman’s wrists. After that, it’s a just matter of beating up the bad guys. As the dynamic duo take them all on, Harley encourages them in a rather cute manner referring to them as “B and R.” She also gets in on the action herself, swinging from a chandelier that she drops onto Bennett.

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Maybe they should just replace Batgirl with Harley.

As the trio escape into an alley, Harley cheerfully encourages Batgirl to eat her heart out while Robin asks Batman just what was she before she went nuts. They arrive at the Batmobile, and Robin came via motorcycle, and he gives Batman an update. No one has been able to locate the Joker, but Hill still refuses to evacuate Gotham. At that point Harley starts laughing. When Batman inquires why she responds with how better to tie-up the police than to tie-up the mayor himself?

We then cut to a bound Mayor Hill. He’s at his home and Joker soon struts into the picture wearing an old-fashioned striped swimsuit complete with sunglasses and his duck floaty from “The Laughing Fish.” The atomic bomb is the backdrop to Joker gleefully jumping into Hill’s swimming pool as ominous music thunders in the background and Joker laughs menacingly.

Outside Hill’s residence, Harley is happily congratulating herself for figuring out the scheme until Batman cuffs her once more and seals her in the Batmobile. She easily gets out of the cuffs and starts playing with some of the many buttons as Batman and Robin sneak in.

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Joker surprised, but hardly disappointed.

Done with his swim, Joker is happy to taunt Hill as he prepares to make his escape. Viewing Gotham’s annihilation as the ultimate punchline, he radios for his boys to bring in the plane and shoves a bound Hill into the pool. Batman bursts in and wacks Joker with a batarang before attending to Hill. Joker then attacks with his only weapon, a patio umbrella (first Mad Hatter, now Penguin!), which proves rather ineffective. It seems like the fight will end rather quickly, until Batman gets shot with a strange weapon. What basically look like steel “U” shaped stakes hit him in each wrist before going into a nearby tree, pinning him against it. The camera pans to Harley, who is armed with some kind of rifle she found in the Batmobile. She fires it again at Robin, who was busy untying Hill, and a bolo comes out and ensnares him before she jumps into Joker’s arms.

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What about the babies, Mr. J? WHAT ABOUT THE BABIES?!

Joker is about as surprised as he’s ever been to see Harley. It takes him a few moments to compose himself before eventually congratulating her and asking her how she got there. When Batman cries out to remind her they had a deal, she lets him know the deal’s off and that no one could turn her against her beloved Mr. J. An old-school looking Joker Plane then arrives and Joker activates a ten-minute countdown on the bomb. As the two head for the plane, Robin calls out to Harley that it’s a good thing they came because that countdown didn’t leave Joker enough time to swing by Arkham to get her before blowing the whole city up. Joker tries telling him to shut up, but this gets Harley’s mind racing. She starts bemoaning all of their friends who will soon be killed and she lists them off in amusing fashion:  Ivy, Two-Face, Hat Guy, Lizard Man, and Puppet-head. It’s Batman’s reminder that her precious pets will also be killed that puts her over the edge. Joker tries shoving her onto the plane, but she kicks him in the face and races over to Batman declaring for the first time that maybe Mr. J isn’t the right guy for her after all.

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Getting a real Snoopy vibe, here.

Undaunted, Joker climbs aboard the plane and emerges in the gunner position complete with flying attire. Batman is able to escape from his bounds just before some Joker bombs strike. Joker is discouraged to see his attack failed and he orders his men to circle back. They, understandably, protest given the presence of the atomic bomb about to explode and Joker responds by swinging the gun turret in their direction. Batman and Robin are able to cancel the bomb’s countdown, but Joker soon swoops in with machine guns blasting. He declares the bomb is going off no matter what, but they fly too close to the ground allowing for Harley to make a move. With one final bad ass line, “Laugh this one off, puddin!” she fires her jester-head device and lands a direct hit on Joker’s noggin. He lurches back, obviously concussed, with his hands still squeezing the triggers causing the turret to spin around wildly.

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Of course.

The plane crashes into Hill’s house, but Joker demonstrates once again his hidden super power of avoiding death as he merely stumbles out the backdoor, unharmed. He collapses on the ground as his chute deploys. He eventually looks up to find Harley standing over him with a gun aimed right at him. He stands up to confront her and declares she doesn’t have the guts while Batman calls to her to stop. She’s determined though, and yanks the trigger only for a “Rat Tat Tat” series of flags to emerge. Joker appears shocked, while Harley seems just as surprised and even a little disappointed. He soon smiles and declares “Baby, you’re the greatest!” She too smiles and jumps into his arms once again as the camera pans up to close out the episode with an iris shot in the shape of a heart. Before it fades to black, Joker’s two henchmen can be seen crawling from the wreckage of the plane as well, in case you were concerned.

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I guess they’re made for each other, for better or worse. Mostly just worse.

“Harlequinade” both explores the dysfunction of Joker and Harley’s relationship while also serving as a bit of a reset. We find out what it was that lead Harley into Joker’s life and get a little peek into both of their minds. For Harley, Joker is an obsession, a controlling force in her life not unlike addiction. Even when she proves to herself that she’s ready to move on, she still comes crawling (or jumping) back. For Joker, she’s merely another plaything. When she’s there to help with a punchline she’s useful, but when the joke doesn’t call for her he’s fine to move on. And moving on for Joker essentially means he no longer places any sort of value on her life. For Batman and Robin, the events of this episode probably help them to understand Harley a bit more and I presume even pity her. She demonstrated an ability to be heroic, but also further punctuated that her Joker obsession is far from over. It just further stresses that this relationship won’t have a happy ending.

Arleen Sorkin is delightful as Harley, as usual, but this time gets to show off some singing skills as well. It’s a fun sequence and it’s interesting to see the usually goofy Harley Quinn take advantage of her obvious sex appeal (that costume leaves little to the imagination). The whole sequence came about when Paul Dini heard Sorkin singing this same song and thought it would be perfect for Harley and Joker. This is also one of the better episodes from Dong Yang in terms of visuals. Batman looks especially intimidating, and it obviously helps when Kevin Conroy is playing up his angry side when he’s yelling at Harley. The only shortcoming is a goof with the piano player who appears to lack legs. The commentary also points out an issue with Robin’s green attire. They didn’t have access to a good dark green, so a lighter shade of blue is used for the shadows and I think it’s made more obvious by the HD transfers. It’s amusing that given the show’s budget, which was quite large for a cartoon, they couldn’t afford a dark green. It also seems obvious that the network wanted the characters to shy away from the atomic bomb and it’s really only inferred rather than stated explicitly.

Harley is truly the star though here. It’s not surprising to find out via the commentary that Paul Dini had developed a Harley and Ivy spin-off, but it obviously never made it into production. She plays well off of serious characters, and Batman is perhaps the most serious of them all (despite the fact the he wears a Halloween costume all of the time). She has a tremendous amount of character in all facets:  her mannerisms, the script, the acting performance. It’s actually a shame that spin-off never came about. The episode could be uncomfortable for some though, as when viewed through the lens of Harley as Joker’s victim, the story is less comical and more sad. That angle really isn’t played up and the ending feels like it’s intended to be almost cute while also being funny. Maybe it’s asking too much for what is a kid’s show to really wade into such dark waters, but I’m comforted by the fact that we have more episodes to come and more time to see if Harley can break away from the psychotic Joker.

 


Batman: The Animated Series – “Night of the Ninja”

Night_of_the_Ninja-Title_CardEpisode Number:  35

Original Air Date:  October 26, 1992

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Steve Perry

First Appearance(s):  Kyodai Ken

 

Episode 35 gives us perhaps the first true villain and foe for Batman created just for television. Up until now, the made-for-TV rogues have mostly been mob bosses and white collar crooks like Rupert Thorne and Roland Daggett. Harley Quinn, is of course, the one character from this show that everyone knows now, but she’s been strictly a henchman so far. This episode introduces Kyodai Ken (Robert Ito), or simply The Ninja, who is the first villain who can actually go toe-to-toe with Batman that was created by the show. In doing some digging online I could not find a credit for who created the character. Steve Perry wrote the episode, but I don’t know that he created Kyodai. It’s possible it was just a collaborative effort from the likely many writing sessions and roundtables that took place during the planning stages of the series.

However Kyodai Ken came to be, it’s not surprising that he exists. Ninjas were pretty popular in the 80s and 90s as villains in cartoons and comic books. Always looking cool and possessing awesome abilities, the ninja character was often a fan-favorite whether he was a hero or a villain. Having a generic ninja character in Batman:  The Animated Series helps to date the series, but in kind of a charming way. Kyodai Ken feels very “90s” as a result, but while he could have just been a simple physical foe for Batman, the show does add some depth via his past relationship with Bruce Wayne.

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Only a bad guy would get a tattoo like that.

The episode opens with our new villain infiltrating a Wayne Industries building. Clad all in black, the apparent ninja sneaks his way past security and what little resistance he meets he deals with quickly and efficiently (but not lethally, since we’re talking about a kid’s show). We’ll learn via news broadcasts that this robbery is part of a string on Wayne Industries. Bruce learns of the latest during a sparring match with Dick in which we get a small tidbit of information that Bruce is a black belt in whatever discipline his choice is while Dick is a green belt. If the belts didn’t make it obvious, then the contest will as Bruce is clearly the better and Dick seems to take exception to how seriously Bruce takes everything. When Alfred informs them of what’s taken place, Bruce gets really irritated.

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Batman has met his match? Say it ain’t so!

Summer Gleeson (Mari Devon) makes a return to the show in a more prominent role as a constant thorn in Bruce Wayne’s side. She’s there to ask him the tough questions about the robberies, and ornery old Bruce wants to hear none of it as he checks out the crime scene. She gets to do the cliche reporter trope of asking aloud if there’s more to Bruce than meets the eye, and even refers to him as The Bruce on one occasion. Apparently this was to suggest the tabloids had a cute name for him that thankfully didn’t stick as I don’t believe he’s ever called that in a later episode.

Never one to trust that the police can handle things, Batman is ready for the next target of The Ninja – Wayne Cosmetics. It’s a garish looking building with huge neon lips that the ninja has targeted, but this time instead of encountering a security detail he finds Batman waiting for him on the roof. The two square-off, and The Ninja is intrigued when Batman takes a martial arts stance. The two fight and The Ninja appears to have the upper hand until Robin shows up. As he makes a run for it, Robin nails him in the back with a shuriken exposing to Batman a demon tattoo on his back.

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When Bruce was younger, he was sepia-toned. Everything was.

The tattoo means something to Batman, as we’ve been shown a series of flashbacks throughout the episode, with more to come. They’re all of Bruce Wayne’s training in Japan before he took on the Batman persona. There, Wayne was one of the star pupils but a rival by the name of Kyodai Ken proved to be his better on multiple occasions. Ken was rather cocky about it and seemed to resent Wayne for his rich upbringing (apparently the whole dead parents thing afforded him no sympathy). Sensei Yoru (Chao Li Chi) played peacemaker between the two, often being forced to admonish Ken for his dishonorable behavior. There’s more to the story though than just petty rivalry. One night, Ken tried to steal the Master’s prized blade – a weapon of considerable value. Wayne was there to catch him in the act, and Master Yoru interrupts their duel. Yoru banishes Ken from the dojo and he escapes further punishment, but Bruce never forgot the one man who could always beat him – the man with the demon tattoo on his back.

Batman is understandably irritated by the presence of Kyodai Ken in Gotham and he now knows that Ken is likely seeking retribution for Wayne’s role in getting him kicked out of the dojo all those years ago. Robin wants to accompany Batman in tracking him down, but Batman wants nothing to do with him. It becomes obvious that Batman is actually worried he can’t defeat this one (even though he’s got plenty of other tools beyond just his raw fighting ability, but whatever) and it’s taking a toll on his mood. Alfred fills in the details for Robin as he was there with Bruce to witness his many defeats at the hands of Ken.

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He’s a clever ninja.

Bruce Wayne is to attend a a charities reception and he goes alone. As he makes his way out of the event, Gleeson chases after him and hops into his car with him badgering him about the robberies. Bruce offers little and when the valet wishes him a good night Bruce realizes it’s Ken in disguise – too late though as Ken hits the pair with some kind of knock-out gas and jumps into the car. When Bruce awakens he finds his hands are bound and Gleeson is with him. They’re at some kind of textile plant, I would guess, since there’s rolled up carpeting behind them. Ken is happy to reveal himself to Bruce and boast about his massive plan to electronically drain all of Wayne’s accounts and wire the money to his own. Bruce tries to play to his ego, as does Gleeson calling him a crook, for abandoning the way of the samurai in favor of being a ninja. Ken doesn’t seem to care about their judgements.

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The confrontation that apparently started this whole thing.

Luckily for Bruce, Robin did not heed his advice and has located them thanks to a tracking device in Bruce’s car. He’s not the stealthiest vigilante as he trips Ken’s alarm and is forced to face him on the rooftop. Robin holds his own, but Ken is able to slash out the supports of a water tower (in classic anime fashion where the splitting of the supports only occurs after Ken sheaths his blade) spilling the contents onto the roof taking Robin with it. During their confrontation, Bruce was able to get free of the bindings Ken had used and is ready for a fight when Ken returns. Kyodai mocks Bruce and taunts him that he could never best him, and that appears to be true. Bruce gets knocked around while Robin sneaks into the building, much more successfully than before. He realizes that Bruce is holding back due to the presence of Summer looking on. He’s able to tamper with the carpeting rolled up along the wall to get one roll to unfold over Gleeson, obstructing her view of the fight. At that point Bruce is able to let go and he soon proves the better fighter. Recognizing his defeat, Kyodai Ken flees diving into the nearby river, but not before informing Bruce that this isn’t over.

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Oh, it’s on now!

After the police arrive, Bruce is able to thank Robin for his help. This small victory for Robin is enough to erase the frustration he felt earlier in the episode (and in “Robin’s Reckoning”) and he seems quite tickled to be praised by his mentor. Bruce also reveals that he told Gleeson Batman showed up to deal with Ken, which apparently was enough to get that reporter off his back (you would think she’d want to know more about the obvious past relationship between he and Kyodai Ken – some reporter she turned out to be) and put a nice bow on things, but with the obvious weight in the air suggesting that this rivalry is unsettled.

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Bruce gives as good as he gets.

As this episode doesn’t feature a villain from the comics, it has a B-level feel throughout that even shows in the episode’s production. There’s some sparse shots here and there and a few instances of characters looking a bit off. There’s one close-up of Gleeson that makes her look kind of frightening when she’s shoving a mic in Bruce’s face. The opening scene of Kyodai infiltrating the Wayne Industries building also has a worker character seated at a computer where only his arms are animated. Everything is very static, including his coffee which the illustrators gave the appearance of a rippling liquid but no one animated it further just making it look weird. Ken is also really simple being a ninja dressed from head to toe in all black with just his eyes exposed. He sports a red sash for his sword, but that’s it. The artists also resisted any temptation to add shading to Kyodai Ken so he is strictly black. Often times in cartoons you’ll see similarly colored outfits shaded with blue or a lighter color to add definition and depth to the image. Ken basically looks like a shadow, but since this show had a pretty substantial budget I like to think this was a stylistic choice as opposed to a cost one.

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If you enjoyed Kyodai Ken then good news, he will return!

“Night of the Ninja” is unofficially part one of a two-part story focusing on Batman and Kyodai Ken, so it feels a bit odd to judge it alone. By itself, it’s a solid episode and Ken is given a reason to exist in this universe by being Batman’s better. Their fight at the episode’s climax feels a bit brief, but perhaps that’s due to the follow-up episode having a more robust encounter. We’ll have to wait and see for their true showdown, but the simple fact that we’re left wanting more is a pretty good indication of the episode’s success at getting the audience to buy into a villain they’ve never seen before. It was also fun to get a glimpse of a Batman who’s confidence has been shaken. We’ve only seen a little of this side of Batman before, primarily when he first encountered The Scarecrow many episodes ago. That episode was more about an internal conflict of Batman vs his fears while this one presented a true physical foe that Batman was unsure if he could handle. We’ve seen plenty of bad guys go toe-to-toe with the caped crusader at this point, some more than holding their own, but we’ve never really been given any indication that Batman could possibly come up short in a fight. For that reason, Kyodai Ken fulfills a role and making him a character unique to this series means he’s not hampered by anything from the comics and the writers are free to do with him as they please. The episode ends up being probably better than most would assume if they heard it featured a villain created for television and I think it fits quite solidly into that tier of Batman episodes that’s pretty good, not great, but a better than average.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Robin’s Reckoning: Part II”

Robin's_Reckoning_Part_IIEpisode Number:  33

Original Air Date:  February 14, 1993

Directed by:  Dick Sebast

Written by:  Randy Rogel

First Appearance(s):  None

When we left off with “Robin’s Reckoning” last week, Batman was out trying to track down Tony Zucco (Thomas F. Wilson), he who murdered Robin’s parents. He was doing this while trying to keep Robin in the dark and on the sidelines, for what reason we’re not entirely sure. Robin wasn’t having any of it though, and once he realized what was going down he immediately chastised Batman over the radio and jumped on a Batcycle to go join in the manhunt. Even though it was not the first appearance of Robin in the series, “Robin’s Reckoning” was kind of a proper introduction to the Robin character. We see how his youthful enthusiasm contrasts with Batman’s more serious demeanor and we also learned why he’s a crime fighter as his origin is pretty much the same as Batman’s. We got to see how the two met in a very flashback heavy episode and the episode setup a pretty compelling story for this episode to continue.

The episode begins with Robin using a tracking device that’s in the Batcycle that is capable of homing in on the Batmobile. It would make sense for the two pieces of equipment to be able to communicate with each other in case Batman were to not come home one night due to an unfortunate accident or something. Unfortunately for Robin, the Batmobile alerts Batman that the tracking system has been engaged and he’s able to shut it down. This infuriates Robin, but he doesn’t dwell on the slight and instead vows to track down Zucco on his own like he did so many years ago. Cue the flashback!

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Alfred, you might want to get in here.

Yes, it’s another flashback. Perhaps you thought we were done with them after the prior episode. After all, the flashbacks there ended with Zucco getting away and Bruce being convinced that he needs to spend more time with Dick and less time trying to track down Zucco because it’s what Dick really needs most. That could have been enough to justify how Zucco was able to elude Batman all these years – when Batman halted his pursuit Tony cut town and never came back. Instead, we’re going to find out that it was a little more complicated than that.

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A young hero, a brutal pimp, and a hooker with a heart of gold.

The flashback begins with Bruce and Dick fencing with each other. Dick is impulsive and unable to land a strike on Bruce who tries to give him pointers. It’s a microcosm of their approach to crime fighting. Just before the two get into some real uncomfortable horseplay, Alfred interrupts to let Bruce know that Commissioner Gordon is here to see him. Bruce excuses himself to speak with Gordon and, naturally, Dick is able to slip away and eavesdrop. Turns out, Gordon has info on Zucco and says they’re closing in thanks to having the really brilliant idea of posting wanted fliers around the city. Unfortunately, there’s bad news too as they have intel suggesting he plans to skip town tonight and if he gets away they may never find him. This seems to suggest that either Gotham PD doesn’t get along with surrounding police forces for help or that Gordon has a low opinion of the FBI. At any rate, it’s no surprise so much crime occurs in Gotham if all you have to do to escape justice is simply leave town.

Armed with this new information, Bruce sets out as Batman that night to try and nab Zucco once and for all. Also slipping out is young Dick armed with a nifty hat and the picture from one of the wanted posters. He heads to the rough part of town and starts looking for Zucco the old fashioned way. No one is really interested in helping him out, but he does stumble upon what appears to be a disagreement between a prostitute and her pimp. The pimp is dressed like basically every bad guy in this show in a three-piece tan suit and not garish traditional pimp attire. The two don’t say anything that confirms their situation, but he’s demanding she hand over some more money because he thinks she’s holding out on him. If she’s not a prostitute then I don’t know what their arrangement could possibly be. Dick isn’t going to stand for this though and he jumps to the woman’s defense. He’s able to dispatch of the slime ball and the two flee to a diner where the woman presumably pays for his meal. It’s there he gets a tip from the waitress who recognizes Zucco as some jerk who appears to be living around the wharf.

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Dick, furious with Batman for saving him and letting Zucco get away.

Dick hastily leaves the diner to go check out the building the waitress pointed out and, sure enough, he finds Zucco who’s stuffing his belongings into a suitcase. Before he can call the cops though, Zucco spots him and recognizes him immediately as the boy from the circus. Things look bleak for poor Dick, but thankfully Batman was also hard at work this evening tracking Zucco down and arrives just in time. He tosses Zucco aside sparing Dick, but Dick can’t control himself and runs at Zucco pounding on him. Zucco shoves him aside, and Dick strikes a guardrail that gives way and he plunges into a fast moving river. Batman is forced to choose between Zucco and Dick, and of course he’s going to go after Dick. Perhaps I’m more ruthless than Batman, but I wouldn’t have just left Zucco there – I would have tossed him in too. As Batman leaves, Zucco adjusts his suit and remarks, in a very Biff Tannen-like way, “That takes care of The Bat and The Brat.” He’s going to bring the schtick in this episode.

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“Don’t you feel like an idiot now, Dick?”

Batman saves Dick, because obviously if he did not then we wouldn’t have a Robin today, and brings him back to the Batcave. It’s there he reveals his identity, and Dick can only smile sheepishly. It’s presumed at that point Dick’s Robin training must have started, but we don’t know for sure since the flashback ends at roughly the episode’s halfway point. Robin then heads to Dolan’s house, he being the guy Batman and Robin caught earlier in the night who gave them the name Billy Marin, an alias used by Tony Zucco. He uses Dolan’s phone and hits redial, and sure enough, Zucco picks up. Robin has this neat little gadget that’s able to do a caller ID kind of trick when he does this that even gives him the number’s address. I don’t know if such a device ever existed, but it’s certainly not the most far-fetched thing we’ve seen in the series.

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The years have been unkind to Tony.

Batman, presumably by virtue of his offscreen interrogation of Dolan in the prior episode, already knows where Zucco is and arrives well before Robin. An older Zucco is ranting to his hired help and comes across as paranoid about Batman. It’s at this point if you didn’t realize that the voice actor for Zucco, Thomas Wilson, was Biff in the Back to the Future trilogy then you probably would now. He’s in total Biff mode and it’s kind of amusing to see him basically go nuts and fire his gun at noises. Turns out, he wasn’t being overly paranoid since by blasting out the ceiling of their hideout he forces Batman to come crashing in. He wrenches his knee during the fall, and Zucco takes notice immediately. Batman is forced to use a smoke bomb to escape, but as Zucco points out, he won’t be able to get far with such a limp.

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All right, this is pretty bad ass.

Batman is able to fashion a crude splint and starts methodically taking out Zucco’s goons, but eventually he finds himself cornered by the fiend. Fear not, for Robin is there to swoop in on his bike and grab Zucco by the collar. He drags him down the docks from his bike before eventually letting go. He tosses him around a few times, remarking menacingly how he’s waiting a long time for this. Zucco is both confused and frightened, and just when it seems like Robin is going to cross a line he’s called off by Batman. Appearing slightly embarrassed, Robin relents as the police arrive.

After things are cleaned up, Batman and Robin have a moment. Robin apologizes saying Batman was right the whole time and knew he wouldn’t be able to control himself. Batman says that wasn’t his fear. Tony Zucco had taken so much from Robin, he was afraid he might take Robin too. The two get all chummy and the episode ends kind of abruptly on what is supposed to be a tender moment.

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I’m not sure that fall would kill him, but maybe the censors wouldn’t let them get away with more.

Supposed to be? Yeah, I didn’t really buy it when I first watched it and I still don’t. The entire last act of this episode has a lot of problems. First of all, the way Robin ambushes Zucco and lets him know he’s been looking forward to this basically gives away his identity. Zucco isn’t the brightest bulb, but he’s not so dumb that he shouldn’t be able to figure out that Robin is the circus boy. If he didn’t in the moment then he surely would after this since he’d be put on trial for the murder of the Graysons and Dick would be called to testify as the chief witness. Which inevitably would lead Zucco to conclude that not only is Dick Robin, but that Bruce Wayne is most likely Batman. Robin basically needed to kill Zucco to protect himself and Batman, but he’s left as a loose end that the show has no intention of ever addressing.

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We do get a glimpse of Robin’s dark side in this episode, but it’s nothing that the show ever returns to.

Batman’s explanation of fearing Zucco would murder Robin also feels like a cop-out. Batman Forever, of all things, would end up better addressing how Batman feared Robin would betray his morals and murder his parents’ killer to exact revenge. Perhaps the show runners here felt like they couldn’t tackle such a subject on a kid’s show, but they did so well in presenting the murder of the Graysons just an episode earlier that it blows my mind they couldn’t have found a way to do something more artful here. Now, perhaps you want to play wordsmith and suggest Batman didn’t literally fear Zucco killing Robin, but feared losing the Robin he knew by virtue of him taking Zucco out. Unfortunately, Robin basically suggests that to Batman as the reason why he wasn’t including him in the hunt for Zucco and he’s quick to say, “No.” I think he’s speaking plainly here and his fear of losing Robin just doesn’t carry much weight. They’ve tangled with far worse than Tony Zucco, so Batman’s fear would be pretty irrational by comparison and Batman is, above all, a pretty rational kind of guy.

Robinreckoning

“So, umm, buds again?”

Unfortunately, “Robin’s Reckoning” suffers from the same Part II malaise that the other two-parters fell victim to, save for maybe “Clayface.” The writers and directors for this show have demonstrated they know how to utilize the full 22 minutes of an episode to craft an exceptional setup for a part two, but haven’t demonstrated an ability to truly capitalize on it. They’ll have other chances, but it is a little frustrating as a viewer. Part One of “Robin’s Reckoning” is really one of the show’s best episodes, while part two is just kind of ho-hum. The flashback is fine, though a bit long, and the climax just can’t deliver. That is due in part to Standards and Practices as Robin can’t just start wailing on Zucco in a kid’s show, instead he can only judo toss him a couple of times (though dragging him from a motorcycle is pretty violent, even though he shows no real injury from it) and act like a tough guy. Robin also accepts Batman’s explanation and views him as being in the right this whole time, seemingly brushing aside this conflict the episode was hinging on between Batman and Robin. There’s no lasting damage done to the relationship meaning we get sort of the classic sitcom reset by episode’s end which feels like a missed opportunity. In the end we did get some nice insight into how Robin came to be, but it would have been nice to build onto that with further character development. Oh well, perhaps I’m just asking too much of this show and being unfair, but I don’t want to dumb down my expectations just because this is a kid’s show.


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