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Batman: The Animated Series – “Harley’s Holiday”

harleys holiday title cardEpisode Number:  81

Original Air Date:  October 15, 1994

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  General Vreeland

We’re down to the last five episodes of Batman, which means basically every episode contains a final appearance from someone in the show (and surprisingly, we still have a first appearance or two). For today’s episode, the last appearance falls to the show’s biggest star it created:  Harley Quinn. It’s actually her last in-costume appearance, as she’ll have a small role in the following episode. This is the second episode in this short second season to feature Harley as a main player. We last saw her in “Harlequinade” when Batman needed her help to stop The Joker. The episode concluded with Harley wanting to kill her beloved Mr. J, before abruptly making up giving the episode a “happy” ending of sorts. This episode leaves out Joker entirely and focuses all of its attention on Harley.

Through seeing just how abusive and awful Joker is towards her, Harley has become a sympathetic figure. It’s made easier by the fact that she’s a pretty jovial person and quite charismatic. She’s the comic relief in almost every episode she’s featured and I think viewers genuinely want to like Harley Quinn even though she’s technically a bad guy. Paul Dini likely recognized this and he too probably liked the character a lot and probably had to wrestle with the idea of just making her a good guy. This episode deals with that prospect to some degree. In what has become a running theme in the show’s second season, this is another reform episode for a villain. This time it’s Harley’s shot at redemption, but it will stop short of actually turning the character, but leaves that door open a crack. It’s basically her misadventures in Gotham flying solo and is yet another peek into the character’s soul.

harley skate

In this episode, Harley finds herself as a free woman.

The episode opens with Batman and Robin dropping off their latest catch at Arkham Asylum. Making his second appearance of the season is The Scarecrow (Henry Polic II), a real star in season one reduced to cameos in season two. He’s ranting and raving about being feared and demanding respect as the duo drop him off. While I feel like the character deserves better, I do admit this is a pretty humorous scene. Nearby, Harley (Arleen Sorkin) is receiving her clean bill of health from Dr. Joan Leland (Suzanne Stone) and she happily shares that news with Batman. To her surprise, Batman offers his hand as a sign of congrats, but does issue her a warning that he’ll catch her again if she doesn’t keep her nose clean. Harley asserts that she’s going on the straight and narrow and seems sincere. She takes his warning as a challenge and vows to show the world a new and better Harleen Quinzel.

She gets to it the next day in true Harley fashion. Sporting some short-shorts and roller skates, her precious hyenas pull her down the sidewalks of Gotham via a leash as she happily blows bubbles while fellow pedestrians duck for cover. Harley is confused by the terrified reactions of her fellow citizens but is otherwise unfazed by it. An advertisement for a clothing sale catches her attention causing Harley to duck into a department store, hyenas and all.

harley sane

Harley happily showing off her clean bill of health.

In that very same store, Bruce Wayne is doing some shopping as well along with socialite and fellow wealthy person Veronica Vreeland (Marilu Henner). Wayne doesn’t seem to be enjoying this little game of dress-up at Vreeland’s expense, while she remains blissfully ignorant of his enjoyment, or lack thereof. Harley soon approaches and stumbles into the arms of Wayne. She pauses to admire Wayne’s chin and even covers the rest of his face with her hand indicating she’s about to stumble upon something important, but just remarks that she recognizes him to be Bruce Wayne, the boy billionaire! Bruce has little time to be relieved as Harley’s hyenas, likely recognizing his scent, start barking rather viciously at him. Harley acts confused by their reaction, and then turns her attention to the lack of wedding band on Bruce’s finger and begins flirting with him. Vreeland takes exception, and Harley backs off thinking she’s a jealous girlfriend. She then asks Vreeland if she remembers her from a past job (“I was the clown holding a gun on you!”) before displaying her sanity diploma. The two take their leave, while Harley goes to pay for her dress.

harleys back

Well, that didn’t take long.

Harley heads to a checkout register, while the department store manager seems really anxious to be rid of her and her troublesome pets. Harley, happy with herself for actually paying for something, then goes to leave the store. Unfortunately, the clerk forgot to remove the security tag on her dress, and when the store alarm goes off at the door she panics. A security guard approaches in a some-what agitated manner to explain the problem, but Harley gets extremely defensive. She freaks out, swats him with a mannequin arm and makes a dash for the changing rooms all the while bemoaning her predicament, her tenuous hold on sanity apparently about to break. Outside, Bruce is helping Veronica into his car when he notices the commotion as the hyenas knock some mannequins through a store window. He runs inside to see what’s going on and is pointed towards the dressing rooms. When he gets there, he reassuringly calls to Harley that it’s just a misunderstanding and she should come out. She does, only now she’s in her Harley Quinn attire. She assaults Bruce with the same mannequin arm and runs for the exit, hyenas in tow, and commandeers Bruce’s car with Veronica inside.

Harley flees the scene as Veronica is dumped into the backseat with the hyenas. As she peels out, Detective Bullock (Robert Costanzo) nearly collides with her and instead crashes into the store. Enraged, he pulls out his siren in preparation for a pursuit, while Bruce Wayne is left flummoxed on the sidewalk.

sorry veronica

Veronica does not enjoy riding with Harley’s babies.

At Gotham Police Headquarters, Commissioner Gordon (Bob Hastings) is receiving an undressing in his office by General Vreeland (Frank Cover), Veronica’s father. He’s irate that his daughter has been kidnapped and is convinced the police aren’t doing enough. Gordon tries reasoning with him as he reiterates what the audience knows which is that Harley fled in a moment of panic over a mistake. He fears an aggressive pursuit could just put Veronica in further danger. General Vreeland is not receptive to the argument, and in his rage he knocks over a cup of coffee on Gordon’s desk. He then gets quiet and apologizes and asks Gordon if he could have a moment to collect himself. Gordon happily obliges and leaves the general alone in his office, but Vreeland uses the time to pick up the phone and place a call to the army.

boxys back

I bet fans are happy we get to check in with Boxy one more time.

Batman and Robin are on the scene and they conclude that Harley needs to head to a friendly place, possibly to skip town. They pick her up on a tracking device, and as they close in on Harley so does Bullock. His car is fine now, but it soon won’t be as he crashes into a hydrant. Harley challenges Batman to a race, while he tries to get her to stop. She’s able to shake him eventually.

As is often the case, Batman’s hypothesis is correct and Harley heads for the current hideout of Boxy Bennett (Dick Miller). Bennet is still angry with Harley after their encounter in “Harlequinade” and isn’t thrilled to see her show up at his doorstep this time. She explains the situation, and also uses the fact that Bennett is sweet on her to her advantage. Bennett agrees to help her out, but he wants Vreeland in exchange since she’s a pretty valuable hostage. Harley is unwilling to do that declaring she intends to let the woman go, but Bennett won’t budge in his demands. Batman and Robin show up when things start to look dark, and a fight breaks out. Harley eventually gets to assault Boxy with a fish(his hideout is at a wharf), but eventually he corners she and Vreeland at gunpoint. Harley is forced to summon her babies to her aid, and they take out Boxy and occupy him long enough for Harley to grab Vreeland and flee. Batman and Robin are forced to give chase in the Batmobile, while Bennett ends up in a box truck (pun intended?) to do the same.

harleys sorry

Veronica and Harley have a little heart to heart while escaping.

It’s at this point the episode takes on a sillier tone. We already saw Bullock crash once, and he rejoins the chase and this time his car is looking rather damaged. He’ll end up crashing once more, and his car will gradually deteriorate in what feels like an obvious homage to Smokey and the Bandit. Meanwhile, as Harley and Veronica flee the two have a heart to heart. Veronica is somewhat touched to find out Harley meant what she said back there, and in a showing of good faith, tells Harley she won’t press any charges if she can get her home in one piece. Harley is positively elated to hear that and just when she thinks her luck is changing, she runs into General Vreeland.

general vreeland

This guy is pretty nuts.

General Vreeland confronts the two on Gotham’s most famous bridge from the confines of a tank. Even though his daughter is in the vehicle, it doesn’t stop him from firing upon it. Harley is forced to swerve and turn around, but soon finds herself with assailants from all directions:  General Vreeland, Bullock, and Bennett. She somehow makes it through a four-way intersection only to come face to face with the Batmobile in an alley, forcing her to turn around. Her other pursuers come barrelling after her and end up crashing in a humorous manner. General Vreeland even runs over Harvey’s car, but not before the ladies bail. Skating through all of that without so much as a scratch is the Batmobile.

Batman and Robin hop out to survey the damage of the big crash. As they look around, Harley calls to them from above and drops Vreeland into Robin’s arms unexpectedly. General Vreeland runs over to greet his daughter. Boxy tries to flee, but Robin lassos him before he can get away. As he shouts out that he’s got nothing on him, a soaking wet Bullock grabs him by the collar and assures him he can find something.

harley grenade

Harley refusing to go quietly.

Batman chases after Harley onto the Gotham rooftops. As he pursues her he tries to urge her to give it up as he knows what happened to cause all of this. Harley, seemingly beyond help at this point, just rants about her terrible day. She’s convinced the world is against her and is rather down. She attacks Batman wildly, who doesn’t seem like he really wants to fight back. Harley winds up on a billboard and whips out a Joker bomb and tosses it at Batman. A comedy of errors resulting from the explosion leaves Harley dangling precipitously from another billboard. She makes a crack about going out on a joke before plummeting to her would-be demise when the structure breaks. Batman is able to make the save and use his trusty gadgets to get them both to ground level safely, but not before Harley makes a mess on his cape.

harleys dress returned

She may be back in Arkham, but at least she got her dress.

Batman and Robin then bring Harley back to Arkham, where she apparently still belongs. Harley is dismayed, but Dr. Leland is there to greet her and assures her that her stay won’t be as long this time. Vreeland isn’t pressing charges, which perks her up. Harley then turns to Batman and asks why he keeps looking out for her, even though she’s obviously a real pain in the neck for him. He responds by telling her he can sympathize with her desire for a normal life adding that he once had a bad day too. He then presents Harley with the dress she bought earlier, the one that started all of this, and she happily takes it and places a kiss of gratitude on his lips. She pauses to regard what she did, while a big smile spreads across her face. Harley tosses the dress then goes back in for a much longer, and more sensual, kiss that seems to surprise Batman quite a bit. Robin looks on with amusement, while Poison Ivy looks on from her cell like she feels betrayed. Harley then instructs Batman to call her, who then tries to play it cool with a “Don’t press your luck,” and fails miserably. The heroes depart, while Harley heads for a cell. Noticing the amused look of Poison Ivy, she sticks her chin up and responds with a “What are you looking at?”

harley kiss

Parting is such sweet sorrow.

“Harley’s Holiday” is a fun, at times even slapstick, story with a solid heart at its core. Even though it’s Harley’s first foray without Joker, his presence is somewhat felt in the whole notion of one bad day really messing things up as it feels like a callback to the classic Joker story The Killing Joke. For viewers, there is a frustrating component to this type of story as a character we’re rooting for keeps making destructive decisions based mostly on misunderstanding. And in the end, Harley is returned to the walls of Arkham with the rest of Gotham’s criminally insane, but there’s at least a hint at a silver lining. Plus her final exchange with Batman is a great way for the character to bow out of the series. It’s funny, and I like that Robin and Ivy’s reactions were included. It would have also been interesting to see Joker’s reaction, but I do actually prefer that he was kept out of this one all together so that Harley didn’t have her spotlight usurped for even a second. Though it is a bit odd to see Ivy in Arkham. Last time we saw her, she successfully evaded capture at the end of “House & Garden.” Apparently, she was captured offscreen once again.

The visuals of this episode are really quite fluid. It’s another Dong Yang episode and it’s one of their best. There are lots of new character models and scenery to make use of. The chase scenes are ludicrous with Bullock’s deteriorating vehicle and animated with a ton of charm. The final confrontation between Harley and Batman is also made interesting with the numerous neon billboards filling the background. Most of which are animated, so it wasn’t a simple task of just painting a new background. The glow of it at all certainly makes me think of the Joel Schumacher Batman films that would follow.

The comedy and also sweet undertone of the episode makes up for the frustrations it places on the viewer. It’s a bit of a shame that Harley’s reform did not, and will not, stick as she’s back to a life of crime in The New Batman Adventures. Which, I suppose, is for the better as it would be a shame to not have Harley Quinn opposite Batman from here on out. At the same time, it’s nice to be able to feel something for a character that began life as just a plucky henchwoman many episodes ago. Harley Quinn is quite possibly the greatest success of Batman: The Animated Series and it’s impossible to separate her from the show’s impactful legacy.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Catwalk”

Catwalk titleEpisode Number:  74

Original Air Date:  September 13, 1995

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  None

 

Batman:  The Animated Series has done a great job of elevating some of Batman’s lesser known villains. It’s really a big part of the show’s legacy. And the well-established villains like Joker and Riddler did just fine as well. One notable exception though is Catwoman. Perhaps the most famous foil for the caped crusader not wearing clown makeup, Catwoman has struggled when finding herself on-screen. Her debut, which was the show’s broadcast premiere, “The Cat and Claw” established her character as a cat burglar with an animal rights activist bend. She stole to help fund her efforts there, and also for fun. She also instantly fell for Batman, who’s alter ego Bruce Wayne found himself infatuated with Selina Kyle, the alter ego of Catwoman – naturally. This dance played out over two episodes with Batman and Catwoman finding a common enemy in Red Claw before everything ended with Gotham saved, and Catwoman behind bars.

Since then, Catwoman has returned, but really only in the role of victim. She needs to be rescued by Batman in all three of her return engagements, though at least in “Almost Got ‘Im” she can boast that he was only returning the favor. It’s been a rather toothless portrayal for a character that should be able to stand on her own, be she thief or vigilante or something in between. And the show really couldn’t decide what she was. She’s basically another crime fighter in “Almost Got ‘Im” and I hypothesized during my write-up that she was shoe-horned into the role of Robin so that the episode could end with its punchline. Her character is left uninteresting by season one’s conclusion, and it’s clear she needs a fresh approach.

Enter Paul Dini. Dini did not receive a writing credit on any of Catwoman’s prior appearances, though as one of the credited show creators it’s likely he had some input on virtually every episode to air. This is his first real try at course-correcting the character and it’s one that is going to bring Catwoman back to her thieving roots. It’s a sorely needed direction, the only question being is the character worth salvaging at this point so late in the game?

sad selina

Selina misses her old life.

The episode opens at a museum exhibit. Selina Kyle (Adrienne Barbeau) is staring forlornly at a stuffed leopard and thinking back on her life as Catwoman. She’s basically bringing the audience up to speed while placing some of the blame on her Catwoman-less existence for the first time on Batman, a common sentiment amongst his many enemies. Bruce Wayne and Veronica Vreeland (Marilu Henner) are also attending the same function and approach Selina. Vreeland tries to make small talk by mentioning her grandfather donated much of the display, but that doesn’t sit well with Selina. She accuses Vreeland’s grandfather of hunting many of these animals to extinction. Suggesting this place isn’t for her, she leaves while Veronica and Bruce can only stare with mouths agape. Bruce catches up to her to admonish her for her rude behavior, but Selina seems to feel no shame or need to apologize for the cat in her. She thanks Bruce for inviting her along (Yup, he’s still barking up that tree, or maybe I should say scratching at that post), but tells him she doesn’t fit in here and takes her leave.

selina abducted

The gangster puppet is back again.

As Selina leaves a rather large individual grabs her and tosses her into an ominous black car. It’s Rhino (Earl Boen) who is apparently still in the employ of one Scarface. He and The Ventriloquist (George Dzundza) are free from Arkham. If they were released or escaped, it isn’t explained. Selina is quite amused by the talking dummy, but Scarface has a job for her. Or rather, a job for Catwoman. Scarface wants to steal from the Vreeland family, and he’s apparently aware of Selina’s feelings towards them. Either he was spying on her just now or his intuition is remarkable. Selina is unable to resist the urge to not only get back at the Vreeland family, but also to be Catwoman once again. She takes the job.

Catwoman returns to the museum and is able to sneak in undetected. As she goes for the jewels, a so-called business partner has other plans. It’s Scarface and his crew, and they’re making a brazen assault on the museum by detonating some explosives inside, which not only attract attention, but foil Catwoman’s escape. The security, and eventually police, key-in on Catwoman forcing her to make a daring escape while Scarface and his men have a much easier go of things. It’s obvious now Scarface only wanted to use Catwoman as a cover, but for what purpose we don’t know.

batman and selina

He sure looks smug.

Catwoman is able to make it back to Selina Kyle’s penthouse. There she has a visitor in the form of Batman. Nothing happens in this town without Batman knowing, and he seems concerned for Selina. She makes up a story about wanting to return to the museum to apologize for her behavior earlier, and finding a robbery in progress, she decided to infiltrate the building as Catwoman in a bid to stop the perpetrators. Batman is insistent that she tell her story to the proper authorities and the two return to the museum. Once there, Catwoman notices that some rare extinct animal mounts are missing and assumes that’s what Scarface was really after. Batman can tell she’s not revealing the full truth. And just like that, the old Catwoman is back. She attacks Batman with what may be a kick to the Wayne family jewels, but the angle makes it unclear. It’s a good kick though since it gives her some time to ascend onto what appears to be a blue whale suspended from the ceiling. Batman meets her there, and the two make a pretty big mess and Catwoman ultimately escapes. Batman flees to the roof and pulls out a tracking device – he apparently bugged the Catwoman.

fighting on a whale

It’s been awhile since we had a good Batman vs Catwoman confrontation.

With Batman out-of-the-way, Catwoman is free to zero-in on her new prey:  Scarface. He’s holed up with his men at a sawmill and when we check in on him he’s speaking on the phone to The Penguin about a bird mount he swiped. Also with him is a rare Tasmanian Tiger that is being billed as the last of its kind. Catwoman enters, but not entirely successfully as the guards take her out. She ends up in a cliché, unconscious on a conveyor belt heading towards a whirling saw-blade. This time it’s her cat Isis who makes the save by licking her face to bring her to consciousness. She rolls away just in time, but now has Scarface and his men to deal with. She’s outnumbered and having a tough go of things, but Batman soon arrives to even the odds. He takes on Rhino, while Catwoman goes after Scarface.

catwoman captured

The artists always seem to find a way to get a butt-shot into every Catwoman episode.

She corners the maniacal puppet and his “dummy,” The Ventriloquist, in the command room of the mill. Scarface apparently never got around to reacquiring an adorable, tiny, tommy gun because he’s unarmed and unable to really do anything when confronted by Catwoman. She snatches Scarface from The Ventriloquist and tosses him on to the same belt she was on minutes earlier. She seems to enjoy how The Ventriloquist begs and pleads with her to let him help his beloved Mr. Scarface, but she’s not going to let that happen. He turns his back to her and grabs the Tasmanian Tiger and hurls it at Catwoman. When she moves he races in and shuts down the machine sparing his boss’s “life.” This proves to be a brief reprieve as Catwoman just pulls a crane release that drops a bunch of logs onto the machine smashing it, and Scarface, in the process.

bye byre mr scarface

The animators at Dong Yang do a great job of making The Ventriloquist look pained throughout his confrontation with Catwoman.

As The Ventriloquist weeps Catwoman smiles gleefully, but then things take a turn. She confronts The Ventriloquist with claws exposed and starts tearing at his clothes. When he insists that he and Scarface are two different people, she just reminds him that Scarface is locked inside him and her thirst for revenge has apparently not been sated by merely crushing the dummy. By now, Batman has finished tangling with the likes of Rhino and is able to put a stop to this. Catwoman insists he cease his actions so she can take her revenge on The Ventriloquist for costing her her freedom. Batman reminds her she did it to herself, and when he asks why she insists because she couldn’t live without being Catwoman. By now, the wreckage of Scarface has caught fire somehow and Catwoman tosses the Tasmanian Tiger into the middle of it (a Hell of a throw). She tells Batman he can’t let it burn because it’s priceless and the last of its kind. He apparently agrees as he swings in and snatches the mount from the flames, but by doing so allows Catwoman to escape. We cut her to her perched on a building and a voiceover from Catwoman declares she’s a cat who walks alone.

catwoman alone

I find it interesting that the title card of this episode is essentially a mirror image of its closing shot.

And so we have Catwoman essentially brought back to where she was when this series started. The only difference is the whole world knows who she is so she can no longer live the swanky lifestyle enjoyed by Selina Kyle. How she’ll manage to get by as a criminal on the run is a tale left for another day. For what this is, it’s successful and I do prefer a Catwoman who is a villain of sorts as opposed to an ineffective vigilante, or whatever she was. It will be a challenge to integrate her further into Batman’s foes, but it’s better than what had become of the status quo. As for Scarface, his use here was suitable. Some liberties were taken this time with his performance as one scene featured The Ventriloquist using both of his hands to manipulate Scarface’s arms, while his mouth continued to flap away. He was seated in The Ventriloquist’s lap so maybe he found a creative way to utilize another appendage? My only real issue with Scarface is the unexplained nature of his arrival on the scene. I get that it would be tiresome to always see how the villains manage to escape Arkham, but a throw-away line about The Ventriloquist getting a clean bill of health would have sufficed.

Batman, once again, proves how poor he is at managing Catwoman. Perhaps it’s an intentional weakness by the writers as even Catwoman points out he lets her get too close. I’m not sure I buy the concluding scene where Batman opts to “save” a dead and stuffed animal rather than apprehend a criminal. My own take on the scene is that Batman really didn’t want to arrest Catwoman, and when given an out, he took it.

catwoman flirts

Batman always letting Catwoman get too close, and this time she calls him out on it.

This is a good-looking episode for Dong Yang. We get some new backgrounds and the museum is a fun setting for a little skirmish between hero and villain. The fight scene at the mill is perhaps brief, but visually entertaining. Batman and Rhino for a moment take on a slightly rubbery, toon look at times. It’s not a look I’d want for every episode, but when it pops-in here and there it’s a bit fun as most of this show is rather rigid. Best of all though, they did a really nice job during the scene where Catwoman is essentially torturing The Ventriloquist as he watches Scarface near another untimely demise. The Ventriloquist has no pupils, so it’s a challenge to make him convey emotion, but it’s done well here and I almost pity the man as a result. Catwoman, on the other hand, looks positively evil in her enjoyment of the whole thing. It’s actually refreshing to see her embrace her dark side and helps to sell the overall narrative of the episode.

“Catwalk” is a good return to form. It has a few stumbles, but nothing serious. It feels like a stepping stone for Catwoman, though unfortunately I’m not sure it really pays off. Catwoman will make another appearance before this season ends, but from what I recall it doesn’t really refer back to this episode (it doesn’t even feature Batman). The bulk of her additional time will be spent in The New Adventures of Batman where basically everyone feels like they received a reboot. And by then, Catwoman will practically be a different character, but that’s not the fault of this episode. For what it’s worth, this episode is probably the best depiction of the iconic feline the show has.


Batman: The Animated Series – “The Worry Men”

the worry menEpisode Number:  65

Original Air Date:  September 16, 1993

Directed by:  Frank Paur

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  None

Well, it’s taken awhile, but we’ve finally arrived at the final episode of season one. The 65 episode order was initially meant to be it, but the show was such a hit that Fox ordered another 20. It terms of air date, this episode is part of season two, but I suppose it doesn’t matter. Since the order for another 20 came during production on season one, it makes me think this was never intended as a potential series finale. It stars a returning villain, who is also one of the lesser villains of the show, and is really a very stand-alone type of episode. Not a bad one or anything, just not what one would expect of a finale.

The episode opens at a social gathering. The host is Veronica Vreeland (Marilu Henner) and she has just returned from a trip to the rain forest. And just in case she didn’t get a chance to tell anyone, she is making sure people know via her attire. Bruce Wayne is in attendance and he’s hanging by the bar with a new face, Hayden Sloan (LeVar Burton), a stock broker who is a bit worried about the current economic climate. As he voices his concerns to Bruce, Veronica approaches to inform the pair that she has a way to get rid of those troublesome worries – little dolls. Sloan is understandably dismissive, but Veronica insists she bought them from a native while on her trip and swears by them. She’s even giving them out as party favors. Above, a man decked out in Mayan attire is snooping on the proceedings down below, and Bruce apparently takes notice and excuses himself.

veronica safari

Veronica Vreeland is back to do what she does best – throw parties!

The man continues to spy on the party-goers, until Batman surprises him. He says nothing as Batman questions what he’s doing and responds by throwing a bladed device in Batman’s direction. He has no problem avoiding the projectile and has a little retort ready for him to show he is not impressed. They do a little dance, and the Mayan Shaman eventually connects with a ball that at first misses Batman, but then bounces around to hit him from behind. I don’t know what it’s made of, but apparently it’s enough to at least knock Batman down allowing the fellow to make his escape.

At home, Bruce tells Alfred about his interesting evening. When he questions what a man dressed as a Mayan Shaman would be doing spying on a social gathering, Alfred asks if this is some question being posed by The Riddler. Bruce shares all of the info he can, while Alfred finds one of Veronica’s little dolls in his jacket and asks what it is. Bruce explains how it’s supposed to take away your worries, and Alfred is about as dismissive as Bruce regarding it, but just for fun he puts it under Bruce’s pillow.

bruce worry man

Bruce with one of Veronica’s worry men dolls.

The next morning, Bruce strolls into work in a sunny disposition while his secretary, Dana (Vernee Watson-Johnson), expresses some concern over the phone to someone. She has a briefcase for Mr. Wayne, but seems reluctant to give it to him. He takes it though and heads into his office. There he opens it to find it’s full of cash, smiles, and then places it outside his window on a ledge. He then sits down at his desk to flip through some mail when Dana comes in to once more express concern about him carrying around so much money. Bruce has no idea what she’s talking about, and she goes on to explain that he called her from his car and told her to withdraw 20 million dollars and put it all in a briefcase. Bruce is still confused until the man in the Mayan attire appears, snatches the briefcase, and takes off.

In the Batcave, Batman watches the news as Sloan is arrested for embezzlement. He, along with a few others from Veronica’s party, are in hot water over disappearing funds. Bruce is on the list as well, though apparently his loss of money hasn’t resulted in arrest, yet. Noting the connection, Batman decides to seek out Veronica and finds her on a small cruise ship with a large briefcase of her own. He surprises her and offers to help her with her luggage. Veronica is surprised and a bit unnerved in the presence of Batman, but she doesn’t resist. Batman opens the case to find her jewelry, and she’s just as surprised as he is. Then, three men dressed like jaguars board the ship. Batman is able to fend them off, and failing to get the suitcase, they choose to flee. Veronica is confused and angry and decides to take her frustrations out on her little worry men dolls she has pinned in her hair. Batman stops her from tossing them overboard, and instead questions her about them. She tells Batman how she bought them from an english man in the rain forest, and Batman removes the backing on one to find a microchip.

At the Batcave, Batman analyzes the little worry men pulled from Veronica’s hair and determines that the device inside them is intended to hypnotize people when they’re most susceptible to hypnosis – during their sleep. Alfred apologizes for his role in getting Bruce to lose 20 million bucks, but Batman seems unconcerned. He knows there is only one man who could pull off this scheme – The Mad Hatter.

mat hatter grin

Our true villain revealed!

At an old, defunct, costume shop, The Mad Hatter sits with his ill-gotten goods. He’s pretty jolly, until his men return empty-handed. They tell him what happened, and Mad Hatter even notices that Batman was able to tear away a piece of one of their masks which will undoubtedly lead him to their lair. He gets rather angry, but then cheers up remarkably quick. He’ll be ready for Batman.

mad hatter chews

They should just be happy he didn’t make them put on Alice in Wonderland costumes.

And just as The Mad Hatter predicted, Batman does trace the garment to the old shop. It’s a shop that Batman says has been closed for years, but costumes for recent rogues appear inside including Clayface and Riddler. No matter. Batman enters and confronts The Mad Hatter and soon finds himself being attacked by mannequins of some of his more famous foes. There’s a Penguin-like toy that tries to stab him, a rolling Riddler with a machine-gun, a Harley Quinn marionette, and a giant Joker Jack-In-The-Box with a pretty big knife. The three jaguar men are there as well, and they’re able to over-power Batman allowing for The Mad Hatter to explain his scheme like all villains should. He tells Batman how he was released from Arkham, and determined to start a new life free of crime, he needed money. He used what little he had on this scheme, and he brain-washed the native he met down there to help him (that’s the guy in the Mayan costume). The other three are just gutter-trash, per The Mad Hatter, and with that all out of the way he now wants Batman’s cowl as a parting gift, except Batman won’t let him just take it.

batman stuck

That looks dangerous.

After being booted away by Batman, The Mad Hatter orders his men to put Batman in a nearby guillotine. As the blade falls, Batman uses his legs to stop it and is left in a very uncomfortable and quite precarious position. As The Mad Hatter pushes down on the blade, Batman pulls out some sonic device that, when activated, seems to break the hypnotic spell the other men were under. The jaguar guys, having apparently heard what Mad Hatter called them, attack him. They’re about to do some real damage when the shaman stops them, insisting the police should take care of him. The Mad Hatter thanks his former slave, and then pulls a gun on him that he had been hiding in his rather large hat.

The commotion between The Mad Hatter and his former henchmen provided enough of an opportunity for Batman to escape. It would have been nice to see how he got out of that mess, but maybe it’s also better we didn’t see since that was quite a pickle. The Mad Hatter ventures into the darkness of the storage room to find him, and a Batman mannequin gets sent at him as a decoy, allowing for the real Batman to take him down from behind.

At Wayne Manor, Bruce explains to Alfred what happened after. The man The Mad Hatter encountered and brainwashed in the rain forest was allowed to head home, and apparently Wayne is paying for the tickets. Before he left he gave The Mad Hatter a parting gift, and we’re taken to Arkham to see what it is. As The Mad Hatter tosses and turns in his bed, his pillow is disturbed to reveal a little Batman worry man.

batman worry man

The Shaman’s parting gift for The Mad Hatter.

“The Worry Men” starts off on shaky ground. A rich person being taken advantage of has been done before on this show. At least this time they brought in Miss Vreeland, who is a bit annoying, but also interesting. She represents what Bruce would be if he didn’t care about his family’s legacy and since she at least means well in this episode she’s less a villain than she was in “Birds of a Feather.” I remain surprised at how often The Mad Hatter appeared in season one. He’s not one of my favorites, but Roddy McDowall is so good in the role that it’s hard for me to dislike him. He is a villain with no redemption, which makes it easy to bring him back again and again. That said, this is actually his final appearance as the featured villain of an episode until The New Batman Adventures. He’ll appear in season two with most of the other villains in “Trial,” but otherwise is reduced to cameos.

I will say, this episode does look pretty great. Dong Yang continues to improve upon its prior work and I’m excited to revisit their season two episodes to see if this level of quality carries over. Batman looks especially dramatic in his rooftop battle with the Mayan Shaman, and there are a lot of new characters in this episode and none look short-changed. The lighting in the final act is great, and this one received quite a nice boost from the recent HD transfer.

That puts a wrap on season one. We’ve done 65 weeks of Batman, with still 44 to go so it’s not as if we’re nearing the end. It feels like quite a milestone though, and I’d regret not pausing to mention it. That means that there will still be a lot of Batman in 2019, but also that this feature will end in 2019 as well. This has been fun for me though and I look forward to getting into season two, even though I’ve seen those episodes multiple times as well. I definitely feel less familiar with them though than I do with season one, and we have some good ones still to come so I will see you back here next week for our first episode of season two:  “Sideshow.”


Batman: The Animated Series – “Birds of a Feather”

Birds_of_a_FeatherEpisode Number:  47

Original Air Date:  February 8, 1993

Directed by:  Frank Paur

Written by:  Chuck Menville, Brynne Stephens

First Appearance(s):  Veronica Vreeland, The Duck Boat

 

It would seem the writers of Batman:  The Animated Series had the hardest time with the two primary antagonists from the then recently released Batman Returns:  Catwoman and The Penguin. We’ve seen Catwoman portrayed as a cat burglar with a heart of gold, but following her debut she’s been in flux relegated to damsel in distress and sometimes vigilante. With The Penguin, he debuted in the divisive “I’ve Got Batman in my Basement” in which he’s outwitted by a bunch of kids. Because it was so obviously pandering to its young audience, that episode is often cited as one of the worst in the series, but since it was effective at that pandering, there seem to be an equal amount of folks who really enjoyed it. Since that episode though, The Penguin has been more of a side character as he was in “The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne” and “Almost Got ‘Im.” We haven’t seen The Penguin in another solo outing, until now that is. And even here, we have an atypical episode as it’s not focused on Penguin’s next scheme, but on his reform. In that, it is somewhat similar to Batman Returns because we’re going to see Penguin engage with high society and try to find social acceptance among the elite, only to be humiliated and lash out in only a way a super villain can.

veronica

Prepare to meet Veronica Vreeland.

The episode opens with Penguin (Paul Williams) robbing a museum. In a bid to remain classy, he probably dilly-dallies too long trying to impress the guards giving Batman time to show up and put a stop to the robbery. Penguin is sent off to prison, since he’s not considered insane and thus not bound for Arkham Asylum, and it’s there he serves out his sentence to the end. At which point he declares himself reformed, and whether or not he’s sincere is unknown. He expects his old entourage to arrive with a limo to pick him up, but when no one shows he’s forced to ride the bus in disgrace. He has the bus drop him off at his penthouse where he walks in expecting to find a party celebrating his release. He even indicates he expects the other various rogues to be present like Joker and Two-Face, but instead he finds an empty home with sheets draped over the furniture. Penguin isn’t alone though as Batman is there to remind him that he’ll be keeping an eye on him. Penguin asserts that he’s reformed, but Batman doesn’t seem convinced, though he leaves him be.

Pan03-3

Not the entourage Penguin was expecting.

Elsewhere, socialite Veronica Vreeland (Marilu Henner) is bemoaning her plummeting social status to her associate Pierce (Sam McMurray) who suggests she throw a party to improve her reputation. She seems skeptical, but when he reminds her how another individual saw their reputation skyrocket following The Joker crashing her party, she starts to warm to the idea of a party. Pierce waves the front page of the local newspaper to her declaring The Penguin has been released, and we have our plot.

penguin laugh

Veronica, obviously charmed.

The Penguin is more than enthusiastic about dinner with Vreeland, who takes him to a fancy restaurant where he dines on sardines or whole fish of some kind. His presence is found to be a major turn-off for the other patrons, partly because of his grotesque eating habits and probably also because he’s a known criminal. Penguin is enjoying the dinner regardless, but he’s suspicious of Vreeland who insists she just wants to get to know him. Satisfied, he requests the check but the waiter tells him the meal is free if he leaves now. Thinking this is an acknowledgement of his high society status, Penguin happily leaves with Vreeland on his arm. Outside the restaurant, the two are accosted by a trio of muggers. Penguin looks the part of hero as he fights them off, but Batman shows up to clean up the mess. He grabs Penguin and assumes he was robbing Vreeland, but she steps in to correct him giving Penguin a moment to admonish Batman which he seems to enjoy. Just before the mugging, Penguin was invited to the party Vreeland is planning and he accepted, making this quite the night for the portly little fellow.

penguin reformed

Penguin showing off his heroic side. Never mug a man with an umbrella.

Veronica and Pierce are then shown discussing the events of the evening. Pierce finds The Penguin laughable and seems to think this party will be a huge hit at Penguin’s expense. Veronica though demonstrates that she may be warming to the former criminal as she found his behaviour with the thugs charming and sweet. Bruce Wayne interrupts their conversation and asks whom they’re discussing. Pierce spills the beans that Veronica is dating The Penguin as a publicity stunt, which concerns Bruce, naturally. He leaves them with a warning about The Penguin, but it doesn’t seem likely that they’ll actually take it to heart. That night, she and Penguin attend an opera and she’s obviously not taken by his horrid singing. She still doesn’t let her revulsion seem obvious when he turns to her and even permits him to lay a smooch on her hand. Bruce is there as well, being kind of a creeper, but he seems to notice that Penguin is genuinely showing affection for Veronica which only worries him more.

scheme revealed

Penguin looking dejected as he finds out he’s been played a fool.

Presumably the next night, Veronica’s party is underway. The Penguin feels he’s in his own element schmoozing with Gotham’s wealthy socialites, cracking witty jokes and attempting charming behaviour. He’s oblivious to the fact that everyone else is seemingly appalled by his appearance and is making jokes at his expense whenever he moves onto another conversation. Pierce is especially enjoying this, while Veronica is clearly feeling guilty. When Penguin steps out onto a balcony for a few quiet moments, he’s joined by Bruce Wayne. Penguin shows him a special brooch he plans to gift Veronica, and Bruce looks nearly distraught as he knows what’s going on. When Penguin heads back inside, he overhears Pierce and Veronica talking about what’s going on. Realizing he’s been played a fool, he lashes out blasting them in the face with knock-out gas from his umbrella (apparently he wasn’t reformed enough to cease carrying armed umbrellas). Bruce tries to intervene, but he’s unable to stop Penguin from kidnapping Vreeland.

BF_23_-_Duck_Boat

It’s the duck boat!

Pierce is forced to head to the police where our always right Commissioner Gordon is correct in placing much of the blame for the current circumstances on he and Vreeland. Even so, it doesn’t excuse the fact that The Penguin has unlawfully abducted a woman ending his short-lived reform. Pierce is also a total jerk to Gordon, which is what prompted Gordon’s dressing him down. They soon receive a ransome note from The Penguin, and it demands that Pierce has to deliver the ransom of one million dollars personally. When the police bring Pierce to the drop-off location they find a pay phone and Penguin promptly calls him on it instructing him to head to a new spot without company. The new spot is a trap, of course, and Pierce finds himself dumped into the sewers where he lands on a big, yellow, duck boat! Yes, the very same one from Batman Returns, though this one looks a bit angrier.

BF_23.2_-_Trap

Not a place you want to find yourself.

The boat takes Pierce to a new location, and upon ascending some stairs, he finds himself in an opera house. There he finds Veronica chained to a chandelier. She pleads with Penguin to free her, and even confesses she was growing fond of him, but he doesn’t believe her. He’s too far gone now. Pierce is chained to a platform below the chandelier, and Penguin rummages threw the money and discovers a Bat-tracer (really, Batman, be more discrete). Enraged, Penguin goes to cut the rope on the chandelier which will surely kill both Vreeland and Pierce. She tries to talk him out of it, once more claiming to have grown fond of him, but it’s no good. Batman shows up to prevent the double homicide. Since Penguin can’t go one on one with Batman, he hops on a dragon prop that also apparently breathes fire. In what is possibly the most ludicrous visual we’ve seen on this show, Penguin flies around on this dragon with a viking helmet and sword. Batman has seen worse, and he takes the bird-boy down and frees the two wealthy jerks.

BF_25_-_Viking_Penguin

Now here’s something you don’t see every day.

As the cops lead Penguin away, Veronica once again approaches him and tells him that she was really growing fond of him. Penguin, with perhaps a touch of sadness, rebuffs her once more, “I suppose it’s true what they say; society is to blame. High society.” Batman also looks on with no indication of satisfaction over what he’s seen. This one has no happy ending for anyone.

Birds_of_a_Feather_Over

Normally a triumphant scene, but here there’s a somber air over Penguin being lead away in handcuffs.

“Birds of a Feather” is a pretty weird episode for what is ostensibly a kid’s show. A reformed criminal trying to ingratiate himself into a wealthy circle, only to find he can never hope to fit in where he feels he belongs most. Thus, he turns back to crime and is reformed no more. It’s a very mature storyline, which I suppose he was owed after his debut. Kids are capable of empathy though, and I think this episode successfully makes Penguin out to be a sympathetic figure similar to what happened with The Riddler. Only in this case, The Penguin doesn’t get to escape in the end. He’s returned to jail, and the next time we see him he’s back to his old ways as he’s apparently abandoned all notions of reform. Vreeland will return as well as mostly the same character we see here, so she has apparently learned nothing in the end.

PierceChapman

We’ll see more of Vreeland, but Pierce and his smug, stupid, face are confined to just this episode.

This episode is one of the few that seems to successfully merge the classic portrayal of The Penguin, as an odd-looking but refined criminal, with the grotesque one from Batman Returns. He’s always been deformed in this show, but it’s never been a focal point as he mostly embodies the characteristics of the comic book character. In the restaurant scene we get a glimpse at the more monstrous side and Veronica is obviously grossed out by his appearance. The other wealthy characters poke fun at his appearance as well behind his back. There is humor though in seeing him try to fit in, especially when he, at the party, advises the manager of a bank he knocked off in the past to bolster security. His speech patterns and mannerisms embody the role he’s trying to play, but the subject matter is obviously inappropriate for the setting. Those little bits of humor play well and are needed since most of the episode is uncomfrotable to watch. We know The Penguin is being played, and he seems genuine in his attempt at reforming, but he’s also bound to find out he’s being made fun of and won’t respond well. The duck boat is a nice callback to the movie as well, and I can’t remember if it makes another appearance or not.

“Birds of a Feather” is an overlooked episode, but it’s also probably the best Penguin episode. I never count it among the show’s best, but whenever I sit down to watch it I’m entertained and pulled in by the story. It’s light on action, but the character development and setup is well done. It helps that it doesn’t need a lot of screentime to develop a character like Vreeland or Pierce,  and they’re not short-shrifted at all. It’s a dense episode and it makes good use of what time it has. There’s not a lot of Batman, but the episode doesn’t need it and his presence is still felt throughout. I really like how the episode is able to get the audience to turn on Batman in some respects, as I recall watching this as a kid and being irritated with Batman for going after Penguin when he had done nothing wrong. Then I ultimately felt conflicts when Penguin did do something wrong, but still felt like he was justified in his actions. The episode needed to have him basically attempt murder in order to make it acceptable to see him sent off to jail in the end. If this is an episode you’ve either slept on or forgotten about, give it a look. And if it’s one you may not have liked much as a kid, you may find it more enjoyable as an adult. This isn’t the last we’ll see of The Penguin bringing Batman Returns to the small screen, but it was the most well done.

 

 


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