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The Batman TAS Episode Ranking – Part 5

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

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

hqdefault-3119 – Joker’s Favor

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

18 – House & Garden

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

17 – Second Chance

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

batgirl unmasked16 – Shadow of the Bat: Part II

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

15 – Shadow of the Bat: Part I

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

14 – Mudslide

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

tumblr_nrrp4yKE3S1ub7n3do1_128013 – The Laughing Fish

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

12 – Feat of Clay: Part II

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

getaway11 – Harley and Ivy

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

10 – Robin’s Reckoning: Part II

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

9 – Feat of Clay: Part I

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

harleys back8 – Harley’s Holiday

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

7 – Almost Got ‘Im

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

6 – Beware the Gray Ghost

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

twoface5 – Two-Face: Part I

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

4 – Robin’s Reckoning: Part I

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

harley tears

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

3 – Mad Love

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

2 – Over the Edge

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

Heart-of-Ice-Batman1 – Heart of Ice

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


The Batman TAS Episode Ranking – Part 3

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

59 – Paging the Crime Doctor

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

FearofVictory58 – Fear of Victory

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

57 – It’s Never Too Late

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

960-2

Captain Clown, we hardly knew ye.

56 – The Last Laugh

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

55 – Double Talk

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

54 – Baby-Doll

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

cross blades53 – The Demon’s Quest: Part II

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

52 – The Mechanic

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

30-251 – Appointment in Crime Alley

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

50 – Bane

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

offbalance49 – Off Balance

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

48 – Mad as a Hatter

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

smilingtwoface147 – Two-Face: Part II

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

46 – A Bullet for Bullock

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

45 – What is Reality?

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

HS_II_41_-_Batman

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

44 – Heart of Steel: Part 2

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

43 – Dreams in Darkness

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

calendar girl revealed42 – Mean Seasons

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

41 – Judgement Day

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

joker limo40 – Joker’s Millions

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


The Batman TAS Episode Ranking – Part 1

batman and selinaWe have arrived at the ultimate end game of our feature on Batman: The Animated Series. After doing a blog entry on all 109 episodes, plus each film, it is time to determine just what is the best of the best. This is always an exercise in futility as people are going to disagree on what is ostensibly a subjective exercise. Still, it feels like a worthwhile way to put a bow on the coverage here as it was the biggest undertaking this blog has done.

To arrive at these rankings I basically added a subjective score to each episode. At first, I started with a 5 point scale, but found that lacked nuance. Inevitably I ended up with a lot of 3 and 3.5 grades without a tidy way to arrange those episodes. I then switched to a 10 point scale and found that much easier to work with. I’m not going to include these ratings with the episode as I don’t think they’re really worth much. It was just a way to make arranging 109 data points in a more manageable fashion. And ultimately, what separates an episode with a rating of 8 with one awarded a rating of 8.5? I don’t really know, it just felt right. Mostly it was me going over the episodes and comparing them. Maybe I did score two episodes the same, but in isolating them I felt one deserved to be ranked higher than the other and thus the 8.5 rating was born. In that, I felt like an old professor I had in college who explains how he approached grading on a curve. If he awarded one student an A and another an A-, but felt they both demonstrated the same knowledge of the material in an equal fashion, he bumped the A- recipient to an A. And there are quite a few episodes of this show that I felt were pretty much equal to one another in terms of quality and enjoyment.

Mostly, this ranking was about separating the episodes I liked from the ones I loved. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some bad ones, but none managed to receive a rating of 0 from me. It also ended up being a bit of a Bell curve in the end as I had three episodes with a perfect score and three with a score of 1 or less. I didn’t do that on purpose, but it amused me to see it play out that way.

Anyway, if you disagree with my list then that is totally fine. I would not expect anyone’s list to match mine. I did not consult any other publications to see what they felt was the best and worst episodes of the show and it has honestly been a long time since I did view such a list. And since there are so many episodes, it didn’t make sense to cram this all into one post as I want to provide a sentence or two to justify my ranking for each one as opposed to just presenting a list. I’m also just doing the episodes and not the films as it hardly seems fair to weigh a feature-length subject against a 23 minute television episode. And if you’re curious, I’d rank the moves in order of release anyways with Mask of the Phantasm being the clear cut best of the three. Let’s get this show on the road though with my pick for worst episode of Batman: The Animated Series.

trio clever names

There’s a trio to fear.

109. –The Terrible Trio

So this episode basically sucks. I hate to be so negative right out of the gate, but I’m not going to say that often so I feel fine with it for now. Basically, three rich kids decide life is boring and turn to crime to get their kicks. It’s not very compelling, nor is the animation particularly enjoyable. Not every episode needs a marque villain, but it needs something better than these clowns. Let’s move on.

108. – Prophecy of Doom

A con artist dupes Gotham’s wealthy into handing over their money as part of a doomsday cult. It’s pretty incredible, and why should Batman care if a bunch of rich people get taken for a ride? A fool and his money are soon parted.

107 – The Underdwellers

This one felt like the show pandering to children. It almost feels like it started with the notion of Batman admonishing a child for handling a firearm and then the episode was created around it, and rather haphazardly. This is the one where Batman has to go into the sewer to beat up a jerk who dresses like a pirate and has pet crocodiles. It is one of the most “anime” looking episodes which at least makes it visually interesting at times.

106 – The Forgotten

If you had asked me to name my least favorite episode of Batman when I was a kid, I probably would have named this one. As an adult, it’s merely the fourth worst episode. Batman spends much of the episode with amnesia trapped in a slave labor camp being run by a morbidly obese man who seems to always have food in his mouth. It’s just not a compelling story and the payoff of Batman getting this guy doesn’t make up for it. Plus, I really dislike the music in this one which is a criticism I can really only say about this particular episode.

Cape_and_Cowl_Twist105 – The Cape and Cowl Conspiracy

Batman is lead through a series of traps by some joker named Josiah Wormwood who wants his cape and cowl to give to some other jerk. It ends up being a long con by Batman himself to basically entrap the guy which makes it feel rather pointless in the end.

104 – The Worry Men

Another one of Gotham’s wealthy is victimized once again, this time it’s Veronica Vreeland who brings back little dolls from a vacation she recently returned from. They end up being mind control devices created by the Mad Hatter, so this is the first appearance of what I would consider a noteworthy villain on this list. Once again, it’s just not a very compelling plot, but at least it does an okay job of holding back on the reveal of the plan’s mastermind, something even the good mystery-based episodes fail to do.

103 – Moon of the Wolf

Steroids are bad, kids, which seems to be the message in this one. Anthony Romulus seeks an edge and winds up a werewolf courtesy of Dr. Milo, one of the worst of the reappearing villains. There’s also some animation gaffes and some odd visual choices which further hurt this one.

102 – Fire From Olympus

Another one I detested far more as a kid than I do now. At least I can find humor in this one which depicts Maxie Zeus as a guy basically out of his mind. He thinks he’s the actual Zeus from Greek mythology with Batman serving as Hades. It’s almost too ludicrous though for an episode of Batman. Some laughs can be had, but little else.

TT_41_-_Cat-Woman

A new look for Catwoman.

101 – Tyger, Tyger

Batman does The Island of Dr. Moreau, only here it’s Catwoman who serves as a victim. This one may be a favorite of those who identify as Furries considering Catwoman is essentially nude throughout it and covered in fur, but for the rest of us it’s just merely a dud.

100 – Lock-Up

This episode has a solid premise, but the execution is just so-so. Lock-Up is a more extreme vigilante who views himself as judge, jury, and executioner which obviously doesn’t mesh with Batman’s world view. It does a good job of laying the groundwork before falling apart in the second act. It also contains one of Batman’s sillier “transformation” techniques when he uses a briefcase full of smoke to hide so he can change into his Batman costume.

99 – The Lion and the Unicorn

This is basically an Alfred solo episode, and no disrespect to the world’s most famous butler, but he’s a bit out of his element. It also marks the return of lesser villain Red Claw, someone no one needed to hear from again. The story takes our characters over to London though which at least makes for some new backgrounds.

 

klarion in control

98 – The Demon Within

Our first appearance of The New Batman Adventures. In short, if you’re a fan of Etrigan the Demon then you’re mad at me right now. If you’re like me and you care not for the character, then you’re probably in agreement that this is one of the lesser episodes in the series. Batman doesn’t do supernatural real well, and there’s a lot of that going on here. It’s just not an episode I was ever able to get into.

97 – Eternal Youth

The episode where we are introduced to Alfred’s friend, or girlfriend, Maggie. She will not be heard from again and I suppose that was for the best. They get lured to a resort being operated by Poison Ivy and wind up turned into trees. Yet another episode where a villain preys on the stupidity of Gotham’s wealthy. At least Batman has a personal stake this time and the rich aren’t just being extorted out of their money, but also their lives, unless you consider existing as a tree living.

96 – The Cat and the Claw – Part II

The follow-up to the show’s premiere was…okay? Batman and Catwoman team-up to stop Red Claw from basically nuking Gotham. A Batman/Catwoman team-up could have been appointment television, but it happened way too fast killing the novelty. Plus Red Claw just wasn’t up to the task of being the big baddie who gets the pair to cooperate anyway.

95 – Joker’s Wild

Our first appearance of the Joker! His episodes are usually pretty good, but this was a rare dud. Joker gets lured into attacking a casino baring his likeness in what amounts to an insurance scheme. It’s a bit amusing to see Joker get played, but this sort of thing would be executed far better in a later episode. It’s also a real low point in terms of animation as this episode basically lead to Akom Production Co. getting fired from the show after producing several other season one episodes.

94 – Chemistry

Poison Ivy’s lone solo outing in The New Batman Adventures comes in at 94. She basically just repeats her cloning trick from “House & Garden” only this time she creates a spouse not for herself, but for (you guessed it) Gotham’s wealthy singles. Bruce is part of the scheme and he ends up getting married to a plant lady. There are some interesting choices in this one, but mostly the plot just isn’t believable which ruins the whole mystery of it all.

bruce mantis

93 – Critters

A much derided episode that Paul Dini is at least willing to stand up for. He can like whatever he wants to like, but I’m just going to have to disagree here. I never wanted to see Batman battle giant bugs or anything similar. The humor the episode aims for also just doesn’t really land.

92 – Sideshow

Killer Croc’s redemption story might have turned into a worthwhile episode if it was ever believable. Instead, we know he’s just a bad guy and it’s only a matter of time until Batman finds him among the circus folk he falls in with. There’s a solid fight scene though, and I like the logic of Croc being declared completely sane and thus deserving of jail as opposed to being placed in Arkham. It’s too bad that didn’t stick though.

91 – I’ve Got Batman in my Basement

A surprisingly divisive episode. Bruce Timm seems to despise it, and with some good reason. This one really talks down to its audience, and it also makes The Penguin look completely incompetent. There’s some fun bits in it though that make it hard to hate. I actually know some folks who think this is one of the best of the series! I disagree, but I can at least see what they might find appealing about it. Basically, if you like it when the show doesn’t take itself seriously, or ever wanted to save Batman as a kid, then you probably rank this one higher than I do.

90 – Girl’s Night Out

I want to like this one, but the character of Livewire just doesn’t do anything for me. She’s annoying and a bit overpowered for the likes of Batman, not that he’s in this one really. This is the one that features the Batgirl/Supergirl team-up and unfortunately that just isn’t nearly as interesting as the villainous ladies. Poison Ivy and Harley are along for the ride and their chemistry keeps this thing from floundering. They’re so much more interesting than the heroines that I wish the episode focused entirely on their perspective and eventual clash with Livewire rather than presenting something a bit too conventional in the end.

CSF_46_-_Batmobile-2

Let it snow!

89 – Cat Scratch Fever

Dr. Milo’s other outing. I think I have this one too high because it’s not among my favorites, by any means. It once again puts Catwoman in the role of the victim as Dr. Milo and his annoying goons target Gotham’s strays. I do give this one bonus points for all of the snow though as it is a great deal of fun to look at. I still think I could have ranked this one closer to 100 though.

88 – The Cat and the Claw – Part I

The premiere episode of the show put Batman and Catwoman at odds. It’s a solid episode, reminding me that once we got past #95 or so the episodes actually became fine, just nothing to write home about. As a stand-alone episode, there’s just not a ton to work with though, and it’s too bad the setup created by this episode had such woeful payoff. The episode is at its best when we get to see Catwoman and Batman play off each other and Adrienne Barbeau really nails the role of Catwoman.

87 – P.O.V.

This was an experimental episode in which three cops are forced to recount the events of the evening to Investigative Affairs and we’re left to figure out whose account is the most accurate. It’s written pretty well, but the nature of the beast means it’s also repetitive and I don’t think it quite manages to remain compelling for the entire duration. I like that the show tried something like this though and other episodes would attempt similar things and really knock it out of the park.

joker0286 – Christmas with the Joker

Maybe my most disappointing episode. I love Christmas so I want to love this, but it’s just okay. Joker at least gets to sing the popular alternate version of “Jingle Bells” and be genuinely amusing, it’s just the action spots that are a bit weak. Plus there are some awful puns and Robin really adds nothing in his series debut. Even though it’s not great, I still think it’s worth watching around the holidays.

85 – Day of the Samurai

The rematch few wanted, but most were fine with. Batman takes on the Ninja only this time it’s in Japan and we get a silly Touch of Death plot device added to raise the stakes. There’s a fun Bat-death fake-out and a fight around an erupting volcano which is pretty cool.

84 – Animal Act

The Mad Hatter returns only this time he’s decided to control the minds of animals rather humans to some degree of success. Nightwing gets to return to the circus which is cool, and Tim literally shovels poop. It’s also one of the better mystery plots the show did, which is worth something.

batman catwoman smokestack

83 – Cult of the Cat

Catwoman gets herself caught up in some cat worshiping cult that you just know is bad news. This puts her at odds with her masculine counterpart which just feels incredibly corny. I was definitely sick of victim Catwoman by the time this one came around which probably prevented me from enjoying it more. It’s basically just another average episode.

82 – Torch Song

A celebrity has herself a violent stalker in the form of Firefly. It’s a different setup from what we’re accustomed to, but a more worthwhile one than rich person gets extorted. I wish Firefly was just a better adversary though. It feels like Batman got scaled-down to be on more equal footing with him, but that’s a criticism I could level at a great many villains on this show.

81 – Deep Freeze

The much anticipated return of Mr. Freeze saw him team-up with the Walt Disney wannabe, Grant Walker. This one marked an extremely contrived way to bring back one of the show’s breakout stars. It nailed the motivation for Freeze, but the rest was a bit lacking. The film SubZero ended up being really similar and a much more suitable way to bring back Mr. Freeze making this episode feel nonessential as a result.

the condiment king strikes80 – Make ‘Em Laugh

Joker’s finale from the original run of the show had him seeking revenge on some comedians who dared to suggest he wasn’t funny once upon a time. It’s silly, but Joker is insane so I can’t say the plot doesn’t make sense. This has some of the funniest moments from the show in it such as the debut of The Condiment King. I think if the final act was more satisfying this could have been a classic, instead it’s just merely good.

This is where I’m going to cut-off Part I of this feature. This will be the longest entry in this series in terms of episodes covered with the rest spanning 20 episodes each until we spotlight them all. It seems only right to make this the Friday feature going forward as that’s what Batman was for the better part of two years on this blog. Check back next week for episodes 79 through 60. Same Bat-time, same Bat-blog.

 


Batman: The Animated Series Wrap-Up

btas redOne-hundred and nine episodes plus three features leading to one-hundred and twelve blog entries have been devoted to the subject of Batman: The Animated Series. It started as a celebration of the show turning 25 and then as a curiosity piece. Since its premiere in 1992, the show had become much celebrated and praised all over. It’s exceptionally rare in this age of social media to see anything basically universally loved, but that was the case for BTAS. I had a lot of good memories of the show myself. I watched it as a kid and when the show received a DVD release I bought it up. And I watched them all. Batman became a show I had experienced and enjoyed both as a kid and as an adult, but some ten years or so removed from when I last watched it in total I still wasn’t sure just how good the show was.

And so I watched it again. And after each episode I made a little blog entry afterwards. Well, at first they were fairly little as I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do. Did I want to do an episode review or did I want to do a recap? I started leaning more towards the review side while also inserting a brief summary. Perhaps being influenced by all of the recap style podcasts I listen to, the entries drifted more towards that style. And they grew. Oh, did they grow. This little weekly entry soon routinely ran for thousands of words. I’m not saying that makes them any better or worse, but it certainly transformed my little project from something I could regurgitate via my keyboard rather quickly to something much more demanding.

Even though my vision for this feature grew beyond my initial plans, that doesn’t mean I regret anything about it. Far from it, actually, as I really enjoyed my time with this show once again. I may have even enjoyed it more than ever as I found it much easier to find things I liked about episodes I previously wasn’t very high on. Some of those episodes are still rather poor, but I can at least see what the writers were thinking and for the most part the animation is always quite good. It’s a very entertaining program, and while it’s still primarily a children’s cartoon, there’s enough depth there to captivate an older audience.

2face revealed

The character of Batman drew people in, and villains like Two-Face and Mr. Freeze kept them coming back.

In re-watching the show I found there were certainly things that consistently worked and things that did not. When the show centered on a sympathetic villain it was usually at its best. Batman can be pretty ruthless in his application of justice, but the guy does have a heart. He often makes the right decision, though he’s also not perfect. Mr. Freeze, Two-Face, and Clayface ended up being my favorite villains. And when Harley Quinn was thrust into a sympathetic role she soared. Even Arnold Stromwell was interesting when we saw his softer side. That doesn’t mean everyone needs that to work though. Rupert Thorne was consistently nasty and thus interesting, same for Roland Daggett. The Joker was also often very entertaining and the show never made an attempt at deviating from what he is, which is something filmmakers today could learn from.

There were still a few duds when it came to the villains. Surprisingly, Catwoman was rarely compelling as the show didn’t seem to know what to do with her. For whatever reason, there was a desire to portray her as something other than a villain. Rather than make her an antihero, she more or less just became a victim. There was a bit of a course correction in season two, but only when the show returned as The New Batman Adventures did it feel like the show actually knew what it wanted to do with one of Batman’s most popular foils. Two-Face also tended to flounder after his strong debut. He was able to rebound a bit, but it was a shame to see so much of what his debut built up was seemingly cast aside. The Penguin, another famous Batman villain, was also rarely up to the task when called upon with many of his leading roles serving as the show’s worst. He was usually most entertaining when paired up with other villains to play off of them. The show seemed to acknowledge this by putting him in more of a supporting role later on when he became a club owner.

Mostly, when I consider the legacy of this show I mostly recall what it did for the lesser villains. Going into 1992, the only Batman villains I was really aware of were the ones featured in the Adam West show. The Riddler, Penguin, Joker, and Catwoman were the most famous, but I also recalled Mr. Freeze and, for some reason, King Tutt. This show is how I was introduced to other, lesser, villains such as Two-Face, Poison Ivy, Scarecrow, Clay-Face, and others. And for the most part I loved these “new” villains most of all. Sure, there were some duds for me like The Clock King or the one-off werewolf character and Lock-Up, but mostly the new guys were pretty interesting. And you can’t talk about this show without talking about what it did for Mr. Freeze. Previously more gimmick than character, Freeze became one of the most popular Batman villains seemingly overnight thanks to his portrayal in “Heart of Ice.” No, he never had another story as good as that one, but because that episode was so good it made any future appearance appointment television just to see if another Freeze story could match that one.

batncat

Oddly enough, the show seemed to struggle with Catwoman not knowing if it wanted to portray her as something of an antihero or as her more traditional cat burglar persona.

Since this show is primarily a half-hour cartoon intended for kids, it runs into some issues. The format it strived for is a limitation. That inaugural 65 episode first season included several two-part stories, but following that every other story was confined to a single episode. This limitation is only a limitation if the writers allow it to be one, but sometimes it felt like certain episodes were short-changed. It also leads to numerous instances of Batman just turning to his wonder computer to solve a problem. That was definitely my biggest pet peeve with the show this time around as it quickly became a trope of the show. Batman turning to his computer felt like The Simpsons using the living room television to either start or advance a plot. An episode can still be good when that element is present, but it certainly feels cheap.

I also can’t offer a proper conclusion on the show without talking about the move from Fox to the WB and the creation of The New Batman Adventures. The switch did lead to some good things. For one, it advanced characters like Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon and let us see some actual development. Some conflict between Batman and Robin was teased during the Fox years and it was rewarding to see that go somewhere. I think the show could have mined that conflict for more material, but it was mostly handled well. Barbara, on the other hand, was a bit glossed over. Sure, she was now an accepted ally as Batgirl, but we learned very little about her character. Did she have a new outlook on crime fighting? What was her end game? We also never even got to see what came between she and Dick, which was unfortunate.

Aside from that, the move to WB also allowed for less censorship. This didn’t have a huge impact on much unless you’re really turned on by seeing a thin line of blood streaking from a character’s mouth, but it did really open up The Joker. He went from being mostly just a lunatic to being a violent lunatic. He has a few moments to be truly mean during his time on WB giving the character a similar feel to how he was portrayed in Mask of the Phantasm. This did lead to some criticisms I had with the direction of Harley Quinn, but I think I did a good job of highlighting those issues in my posts on the episodes she appears in.

newbatjoker

No matter how many times I see the new-look Joker I just can’t fall in love with it.

What obviously stands out the most though in the change in networks was the new design. While some characters looked unchanged and a few looked better than before, I mostly disliked the new style choice. Less detail and odd choices are mostly to blame, but even the animation came across a bit too cartoony for this show. The whole tone of the show was also thrown off and I think that had to do with the ensemble cast and the simplified portrayal of each of the leads. The writers basically assigned one archetype to each character and mostly stuck with it. This left no room for nuance and it had the most drastic impact on our main lead, Batman himself. In the first two seasons we got to see different sides to the character, but in The New Batman Adventures he’s basically just grim and curt. He’s so boring, and sadly none of the other leads outside of Nightwing really offer much. Robin is mostly just a vehicle for bad puns and Batgirl offers even less.

As a result, I can comfortably say that The New Batman Adventures era is inferior to what came before it. That doesn’t mean there isn’t still quality to be found there. Much to my surprise, a few episodes actually rank quite highly and the worst of the show is still found in those first two seasons. A lot of that third season is just okay or average with few true stinkers. Though that is a post for another day.

harley scream

The show is exciting and fun and gave us some truly memorable characters. It’s one of the best things to ever happen to Batman, if not the best.

Ultimately, I set out to decide for myself if I felt Batman: The Animated Series was overrated or properly rated. It never occurred to me that it could be underrated, and it certainly is not. While the show didn’t deliver a slam dunk each episode, it also totaled 109 episodes and what show has ever hit a home run every episode for such a long time? Even much celebrated shows like Breaking Bad have a lesser episode here and there, and that particular show produced far fewer than 109 episodes (though to be fair, in terms of total minutes it’s probably much closer). And no, I’m not trying to compare this show to Breaking Bad, but making the point that it doesn’t have to “wow” the audience every time out to be a great show. Calling it the greatest television show based on a comic book feels right. It’s certainly the greatest cartoon, and I also came away feeling that it’s totally defensible for this to be someone’s favorite depiction of Batman in any medium. It’s a great show with a lot to offer. It’s primarily an action vehicle, and the wonderful animation allows it to be a pretty great show based on its action alone. What puts it over the top are the stories, the captivating villains, and it’s wonderful sense of style. The music of Shirley Walker, the performances of actors like Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill, it’s a production that oozes quality. So yes, Batman: The Animated Series is properly rated and if I am certain of anything it’s that I will watch this series in its entirety again. And again…


The New Batman Adventures – “Mad Love”

mad love titleEpisode Number:  21 (106)

Original Air Date:  January 16, 1999

Directed by:  Butch Lukic

Written by:  Paul Dini, Bruce Timm

First Appearance:  None

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

mad love comic

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

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

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

joker dentist

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

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

harley revs

Possibly the most “adult” reference from this show.

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

img_0318

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

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

harley meets joker

Harley’s first encounter with The Joker.

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

harleen and joker

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

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

img_0320

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

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

harley syringe

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

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

harley traps batman

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

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

harley tears

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

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

harley's fall

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

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

Harley didnt get the joke

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

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

joker smokestack

At least he got what was coming to him.

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

damaged harley

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

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

harley smiles

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

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

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

mad love two-pack

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

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

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

 


The New Batman Adventures – “Over the Edge”

over the edgeEpisode Number:  12 (97)

Original Air Date:  May 23, 1998

Directed by:  Yuichiro Yano

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance:  None

I have not encountered anyone who is willing argue that The New Batman Adventures is superior to the first two seasons of Batman: The Animated Series, but almost everyone agrees that “Over the Edge” is one of the best episodes of Batman ever produced. Coincidentally airing just over a week before the WWF event of the same name, “Over the Edge” is one of the most infamous episodes in the show’s history because of its subject matter and the visceral scenes it presents. A character falls from the sky and comes crashing down on a car and dies and the camera is not particularly shy about showing any of it. It was downright shocking the first time I saw it, and this is an episode with a twist ending. And because of that, I want to encourage anyone reading this right now who has not seen the episode to stop what you’re doing, bookmark the page, and come back to it after you’ve seen the episode. The twist isn’t completely without surprise given the advances in the plot, but it’s still worth it to not spoil it. These posts are one part synopsis and one part review, so spoilers ahead. You have been warned.

“Over the Edge” lives up to its name right from the start as it begins in the midst of some uncomfortable action. Commissioner Gordon (Bob Hastings) and the Gotham PD have stormed the Batcave in pursuit of Batman and Robin. Almost immediately, Gordon shouts out to Batman and refers to him as Bruce Wayne, letting you know something really big has happened offscreen and we have some serious catching up to do. Before that can happen though, Batman and Robin need to make their escape from the Batcave. As they run and dodge fire they first make a run for the Batmobile, but Gordon orders a cop with a rocket launcher to take it out. They aren’t messing around.

batman robin flee

Batman has been at the end of many a barrel, but seldom has it been attached to a Gotham PD firearm.

In order to create a diversion, Batman makes use of an old friend:  the giant penny from “Almost Got ‘Im.” As Robin and Batman run deeper into the Batcave, they’re confronted by Renee Montoya (Liane Schirmir) and a bunch of cops. Appearing to be cornered, Batman grabs Robin and the two jump off the ledge they were standing on. As they fall Robin rather sincerely makes the observation “We’re gonna die,” before Batman deploys a grapple gun to slow their descent towards the Batboat. As they run for it, Gordon tries to line Batman up in his sights (an impossible shot considering they’re several hundred yards away), but Alfred makes the save by tackling Gordon. He implores Bruce to run, who takes a look and utters a sad “Alfred,” before jumping in the boat.

batman penny

I knew he saved that penny for a reason.

As the Batboat fires out of the Batcave, a police boat is waiting to greet it. The boat is far more restrained than the forces inside the Batcave as it gives Batman a chance to surrender, which he obviously does not entertain. As the boat lines up the Batboat in its sights, Nightwing enters the fray riding on a jet ski, which seems really dangerous given all of the gunfire going on. Nightwing is able to distract the police and maneuver through its fire while also shooting off some torpedoes of his own. He successfully incapacitates the police boat allowing he and the others to seek shelter in another nearby cave.

It’s in this cave where we finally get a chance to breath. Batman takes a seat and appears to be in a sullen and despondent mood. Nightwing is in shock and he’s the first to mention the name Barbara. Where is Batgirl in all of this? Time to find out as Batman welcomes us to story-time.

batgirl falls

Usually this ends with the blast of a grapple gun. Usually.

The Scarecrow (who does not speak a line but does laugh at one point, which was performed by Jeff Glen Bennett in an uncredited role) had City Hall under hostage. The mayor and a bunch of others are tied up, but Batman, Robin, and Batgirl are there to dispense with the justice. As they wail on Scarecrow’s many goons, the big villain makes an escape and Batgirl goes after him. She chases him out onto the roof and there she spies the villain with his back towards her. She creeps in and then goes for a tackle only to find out what she thought was Scarecrow was actually a duster jacket draped over an antenna. As she turns around, the real Scarecrow is there (still in his coat, so apparently he carries a spare) to smack her with his stick. Robin arrives just in time to see Batgirl fall off the building.

Down below, Gordon and Detective Bullock (Robert Costanzo) are heading to the scene when they’re rudely interrupted. From inside the car, we see Batgirl strike the windshield causing Bullock to jerk the car to the right and come to an abrupt stop. The two jump out of the car and Gordon races to Batgirl’s side. It’s not a pretty situation, and Bullock points that out matter-of-factly, but with a hint of sadness in his voice. As Gordon orders him to call an ambulance, he notices Batgirl stir. He kneels down beside her as she calls out to him, “Daddy.” Shocked, Gordon removes the cowl to see his daughter’s face staring back at him. Immediately he begins to panic as Barbara tries to choke out something, but she dies there in his arms.

gordon's pain

It’s hard to think of a more honest depiction of death and grief in an American kid’s show.

Batman and Robin watched from above, and as Scarecrow laughs Batman very angrily punches him as hard as he can in the face. Gordon then cradles the body of his daughter in his arms as Batman arrives. He approaches cautiously, and obviously not knowing what to say, he can only utter a “Jim.” Gordon can only respond with a “How could you?” He’s hurt that the two could work so close together all of these years, and yet Batman never once told him his daughter was working alongside him. Before Batman can explain we hear a gun cock, and Bullock orders him to put his hands up referring to him as a murderer. Batman just looks at him and Bullock lets go a warning shot at his feet. From above, Robin strikes Bullock with a projectile and then beckons Batman to come with him. Batman does so as a bunch of cops arrive on the scene. He drops a smoke bomb to mask their escape. When Bullock starts shouting out orders for choppers and search parties Gordon calls him off. He concedes they’ll never catch him, not like that. When Bullock asks what they should do then, he simply says “Something I should have done a long time ago.”

We cut to Wayne Manor where Bruce is seated behind his desk while Alfred and Tim mope about. The phone rings and it’s Gordon, who curtly informs Bruce it’s over. The implication of his meeting with Bullock seemed to suggest that Gordon had a suspicion regarding Batman’s identity, but he explains he learned the truth after looking at Barbara’s computer. Bruce tries to explain referencing the loss of his parents. When he says taking the law into his hands was the only way he knew to keep his sanity, Gordon replies with a “Now we’re even.” The cops then arrive at the mansion, and the three flee to the Batcave. Before Bruce departs, he takes one last look at the image of his parents and apologizes. And it’s at this point that I must point out that Bruce is a terrible father figure as he should have made Tim stay behind (and Alfred should have been in agreement, for that matter) as he’s a minor and likely had little to fear. Instead, he’s being put in harm’s way as a fugitive.

The story ends there. The three inhabitants of the cave seem pretty down and when Robin asks what’s next Batman just gestures to the ground. Nightwing says they’ll need supplies and volunteers to return to his loft. Batman thinks it’s a bad idea, but Nightwing seems to think the cops won’t find it and I have no idea why he would think that unless he rents or owns the place under an alias.

nightwing arrested

Nightwing’s plan turned out the way I thought it would.

We then go to Dick’s loft where Nightwing is making a quiet entrance. Predictably, he finds an army of cops waiting for him with Montoya in command. She starts reading him his Miranda Rights at gunpoint, but he politely waives them. As he flips around, the Gotham PD once more demonstrates that it’s collectively a terrible shot. Nightwing flees to the roof, only to be met by a helicopter. As it opens fire, it looks like the worst is about to happen.

it's over tim

It’s time for Tim to go his own way.

Instead, we cut to Nightwing being taken into custody as part of a news broadcast. His suit is torn up, but he looks no worse for ware. I don’t know how he survived, but whatever. Tim Drake is in the crowd, and he soon reports back to Batman on what happened. It’s then Batman finally realizes that maybe the best place for Tim isn’t at his side. He tells the boy it’s over, who doesn’t really protest with the tears streaming down his cheeks indicating he’s accepted this. When he asks Batman what he’ll do, he responds with an “I don’t know.”

talk show villains

A brief moment of comedy in an otherwise heavy episode.

Gordon is being confronted in his office by the mayor (Lloyd Bochner). He informs Gordon that this whole situation has made them look bad since Batman was basically allowed to operate outside the law with the Commissioner’s daughter as an accomplice. He tells him there will be an investigation, and that most view Gordon as unfit to lead the police department. Outside his office, Bullock and Montoya are watching a talk show featuring some familiar faces:  Harley Quinn, The Mad Hatter, The Riddler, and The Ventriloquist. Since Bruce Wayne has been outted as Batman, the rogues now see this as an opportunity for money and announce they intend to sue Wayne. The Johnny Cochran lawyer then makes his second appearance with another variation on that whole “You must acquit,” line. Did we really think Cochran parodies were this funny in 1998?

With Gordon apparently unable to get his revenge through legal means, we see him turning to possible illegal means. He makes a trip to Stonegate where he’s meeting with a very large inmate. The inmate says nothing and is kept in the shadows to preserve his identity, but Gordon indicates he can pull a few strings to get him released. A lame duck commissioner can do that? Okay, if it will advance the plot.

At Barbara’s funeral, Gordon is shown as one of the paul bearers. Batman is watching from above, and Gordon is shown to be wearing an earpiece. One of his cops tells him there’s no sign of Batman, but Gordon insists they keep looking because he will show up. The cops then spy him and Gordon orders them to take him out. Once again, Gotham police officers prove they can’t hit shit as they miss Batman who is just standing still. Gordon abandons his daughter’s casket to pursue Batman giving us a window into how important catching Batman is to him.

new bane vs batman

Bane’s back with a sexy new look.

As Batman flees, he’s met by a very large man in a gimp mask with a red tube coming out of his head. If the audience couldn’t figure out who this guy is, Batman clues them in by saying his name:  Bane. Bane (Henry Silva) goes after Batman and is quite eager to get his revenge following their last encounter. As he knocks Batman around he refers to him as a child murderer. Batman is able to hit him with a mace-like substance to gain some separation. As Bane smashes the concrete around them, Batman catches a bunch of the debris in his cape and uses that as a sack full of rocks to pummel the behemoth. He ends up knocking Bane off the building where he falls a very long distance to another rooftop below.

Batman swings down after him and Bane, showing no ill effects from such a fall, springs into action knocking him down. Gordon then appears on the rooftop shining the Bat Signal in Batman’s face, so apparently we’re on the Gotham Police Department. Bane wants Batman dead, but Gordon indicates he wants him taken alive so he can live out the rest of his years in Arkham with the freaks he’s created. Bane disagrees, and when Gordon gives him that old line “I thought we had a deal,” Bane just shrugs it off. He kicks the old man and surprisingly Gordon doesn’t break in half. He does, however, end up dangling from the edge of the roof for Bane to mock. He tells him to say hi to Barbara for him, but before he can stomp Gordon’s fingers, Batman makes the save. Bane gets him in a sleeper hold though and tells Batman it’s time for him to die, Batman gives him a “You first,” and then uses a knife to cut Bane’s hose and sever his supply of Venom. He smashes him into the Bat Signal, and then turns his attention to Gordon.

gordon bat signal

(In 1960s announcer voice) Is this the end for our caped crusader?!

Gordon looks up to see Batman, who extends a hand. He tells him to take it for Barbara, and Gordon looks down sullenly as if he intends to drop. It was just a fake-out though, and he grabs Batman’s hand. As he does so, Bane comes to and with his last ounce of strength he rips the Bat Signal from its mooring and rolls it at Batman. Batman pulls Gordon up, and then turns to see the massive steel wheel come barreling down on them. As it strikes he and Gordon, we hear a woman shout “No!” As the two fall off the building to their apparent demise, the voice continues to shout “No!” until we finally see who’s making all that noise.

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More falling without a grappling hook.

Barbara wakes up in an apparent hospital bed in shock. We soon see the bed is in the Batcave, and Batman, Robin, and Alfred are there to calm her down. She then hugs Batman, and gives everyone the cliff notes version of what she just saw in her dreams. Batman lets her know that The Scarecrow hit her with his fear toxin before she passed out and what she just witnessed was her greatest fear. She says she has to rectify this fear, indicating she intends to tell her father about her alter ego. Batman lets that hang a moment, before curtly letting her know that he understands.

We’re then taken to Barbra’s apartment and Jim Gordon is rising from the table indicating his daughter just fed him a pretty wonderful meal. Before he can depart though, Barbara takes him by the hand and tells him she has something to tell him. She takes him over to a window and sits him down on a window seat. She then sits beside him and tells him that she needs to tell him about a new job she recently took. Before she can continue, Gordon stops her. Taking her by the hand, he explains himself and it wouldn’t make sense for me to summarize it, so here’s the exchange:

img_0019

Barbara has a confession that’s been a long time coming.

Gordon:  Sweetheart, you’re capable of making your own decisions. You don’t need me to approve or even acknowledge them. And in this case, I can’t. All you need to know is I love you. All of you. (he kisses her forehead) And that is all I have to say on the subject.

Barbara:  Daddy! (they embrace)

The episode then ends as the camera pans to the full moon over Gotham. It’s a really sweet and revealing scene. Anyone who ever questioned how Gordon could possibly not know his own daughter was under that mask has their suspicions confirmed. The only gray area I see with Gordon’s statement is the sentence, “All of you.” When I first saw the episode, I though that referred to the rest of the team indicating Gordon knew who was under the masks of everyone. In watching it again, I think he’s just referring to Barbara and her two sides:  Barbara his daughter, and Batgirl. On the commentary for the episode, Paul Dini makes it a point to clarify that Gordon does indeed know that Barbara is Batgirl, but he doesn’t mention the others, leading me to believe my current interpretation is the proper one.

img_0020

The suspenseful and often uncomfortable episode ends on a sweet moment.

That’s a hell of an episode. What a roller coaster. After the flashback concludes I always think the episode is almost over, but it’s really only about halfway there. It’s impossible to overstate how shocking this one is on a first viewing. Gordon going after Batman, Batgirl’s death, and the fallout. The only reason to believe it’s a dream is due to how the episode basically writes itself into a corner. How could the show continue like this? Even so, Batman saving Gordon feels like it could be an out and maybe the show will just take a different turn from here on out. And considering the fate of Barbara in the comics, paralyzed by Joker, it makes her initial accident believable as well. Of course, that’s not the case and it’s probably the right call. Even with the old “Dusty finish” on this one, I’ve never felt cheated by this episode. It’s a great ride while it’s happening, and it’s actually so unbelievable and uncomfortable to see Batman at odds with Gordon that the reveal comes with a sigh of relief.

Bob Hastings really gets a chance to shine in this one as Jim Gordon. He has to be angry, sad, outraged, and cheerful. He hasn’t had much to work with during this season, so it’s nice to see one of the star members of the incredible voice cast get something meaty to chew on. Kevin Conroy also gets to do more with Batman here. This season has distilled Batman into a simpler character which has meant less room to work for Conroy. He’s the best to ever play the character, so it’s nice to see him get to work here.

There’s little to discuss in terms of shortcomings with this one. The Gotham PD is comically inept when it comes to hitting a target, and not just moving targets but even stationary ones. That’s nothing knew though as the good guys in this show are often impossible to hit. Some plot points are glossed over a bit,  but there’s also a lot packed into this one so some of that is by necessity. I really wish that dated Johnny Cochran joke wasn’t in here, as it wasn’t even particularly funny in 1998.

batman hits hard

One of the best shots of the episode is Batman here really reaching back for a punishing haymaker.

This is another TMS episode and it’s arguably the best yet for this young series. The gray of Batman’s costume has a really cool tone to it, almost as if there’s a hint of blue in it. It works with the morose sentiment of the episode. The little scene of the other villains on TV is also interesting because it includes our first look at redesigns for Mad Hatter and Riddler. Riddler basically has the old Frank Gorshin costume now, while Mad Hatter looks like a little, old, elf or something. I don’t care for it, but I’ll say more when we get to his episode. As for Bane, he’s ditched the lucha libre gimmick for more of an S&M one. I think he looks kind of stupid, but not offensively so. This is actually his only appearance in the show, though he’ll show up in the film Mystery of the Batwoman. There’s some great action on the part of TMS, in particular Batman’s fight with Bane. The shot of Batgirl striking the police cruiser is also incredible and so raw. The images couple with the sound design add tremendous to impact to the scene that makes me wince every time I view it.

As for the fallout, well, there isn’t really any. And that’s okay. Gordon makes it clear he can’t even acknowledge his daughter’s role as Batgirl, so he doesn’t. For Scarecrow, he actually never returns which isn’t surprising considering there aren’t that many episodes remaining. Needless to say, this one doesn’t need any big, lasting, acknowledgements by future episodes. It’s probably the best episode of this new version of Batman and it rivals anything the prior iteration did. If you have somehow been a fan of Batman this whole time and slept on this one, do yourself a favor and change that as soon as possible.


The New Batman Adventures – “The Ultimate Thrill”

the ultimate thrillEpisode Number:  11 (96)

Original Air Date:  September 14, 1998

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Hilary J. Bader

First Appearance:  Roxy Rocket

Episode 11 brings us to the second season premiere of The New Batman Adventures. Even though the first season contained 13 episodes, this one was held back. My guess is Warner ordered the full series right away and just elected to air them in whatever order they were received or whatever made the most sense. As for why this one was given the prestigious spot of season premiere, that I cannot say. I can see why maybe the network wanted to juggle the order of these episodes some as this one is yet another Batman/Batgirl pairing meaning Robin and Nightwing have been MIA for quite a few weeks now. That part I get, but I’m surprised the network would go with a debuting villain for the season premiere. Maybe they thought highly of Roxy Rocket – who knows?

Roxy Rocket is a villain that was sort-of made for television. I say sort of because she was actually first created for the Batman Adventures comic, which was a tie-in with the animated series. Bruce Timm and Paul Dini apparently saw something in the character that made them want to bring her to television, though not enough to actually write the episode themselves. I don’t mind the new blood, but Roxy is a bit of an odd one. Her look would have fit in quite well with the dark-deco look of the prior series, but in this more modern one she looks out of place. She reminds me of The Rocketeer, just minus the helmet. And instead of a jetpack, she straddles a big old rocket. Yes, there’s going to be some suggestive elements to this character making Roxy Rocket possibly our horniest villain yet, not that there’s stiff competition for that title (pun, intended).

roxys getaway

Roxy is a villain who is all about taking risks.

The episode begins aboard a zeppelin, once again, something that would have fit with the style of the previous series, but not so much with this one. This is some kind of luxury airship full of wealthy party-goers, and Roxy Rocket (Charity James) is here to rob them. She’s holding up the patrons and collecting valuables. She’s in a rather jovial mood as she doesn’t even get upset when one woman can’t get her ring off, though Roxy claims it’s a fake. She snags a large, red, brooch off another woman then takes off by simply jumping out of the zeppelin.

As she falls through Gotham’s eerie red sky, a police helicopter spies her. Apparently they either know about the robbery, or they’ve been tracking her for awhile. They basically decide to wait for her to go splat, but Roxy has other ideas. Activating a beacon on her watch causes her rocket to show just as she disappears below the tallest buildings. As she jets off in celebratory fashion, one of the cops opens fire from the helicopter (this seems really reckless on his part). Roxy returns fire with some kind of gas canister gun which goes through the windshield taking out the helicopter.

roxy meets batman

That’s a pretty solid way to introduce yourself to Batman.

The problem of the police may be solved, but another has just arrived in the form of the Batwing. Batman is behind the controls and Roxy seems positively delighted by this turn of events. As she makes quips and zips about, she remarks old Batman doesn’t have the right tools for the job. They play a little game of chicken in a tunnel, and Batman is the one who blinks. His Batwing has sustained some significant damage, and this allows Roxy to get away calling out to him, “Thanks for the first date. I’ll call ya!”

As Batman maneuvers the plane out to sea, Alfred pops up on the radio. Batman lets him know the wing is badly damaged and he doesn’t know if he can keep the thing airborne. He flies it toward a cliffside, which just so happens to be where the entrance to the Batcave is. He’s able to steer the Batwing into the tight opening and we get a little look at how this thing is setup. Like an aircraft carrier, a series of cables are used to slow the Batwing down and bring it to a stop. Once it does stop, Alfred is there to remark he’s taking the costs for repairs to the plane out of Bruce’s allowance. Batman is not amused.

sleuthing in the batcave

Alfred and Batgirl will take whatever screen time they can get in this one.

Batman then turns to his computer to give us the rundown on just who Roxy Rocket is. It turns out she used to be a stuntwoman by the name of Roxanne Sutton. When the stunts got too dangerous, no one would insure her putting an end to that career. Roxy then did what any sane person would do and turned to a life of crime to get her rocks off. Batgirl is here as well to give her two cents and even make a playful remark towards Batman’s way about Roxy now getting a taste for him, which he doesn’t appear to appreciate. Batman remarks she’ll need a fence to unload her stolen goods, which lends nicely into the next scene.

penguins play

Penguin likes Roxy for the goods she brings him, but he’d also like to wet his beak in another manner.

Roxy’s fence turns out to be an old friend:  The Penguin (Paul Williams). It would seem Penguin’s new business isn’t as straight as it seems. He’s shown having a little meeting with Roxy and remarking on her newfound stardom. Penguin pays for the goods Roxy just knocked off, and she in turn asks if he wants to go double or nothing by drawing cards. She tries instigating him into doing so, but Penguin clarifies he does not take unnecessary risks. This in turn prompts him to warn her about her risk-taking ways for he’s not about to risk his business on someone who attracts too much attention from Batman. Roxy insists Batman is worth the thrill. When Penguin tries to suggest maybe she try and get the attention of a “bird of prey,” she shoots him down causing him to wrinkle his nose at her as she departs.

roxy steals from wayne

Roxy is a stranger to subtlety.

At Wayne Enterprises, Bruce and Lucius Fox (Mel Winkler) are unveiling for the board members some new artwork the company purchased. I have no idea why Wayne Enterprises is buying art, but it serves its purpose in a moment. As Bruce questions the lax security, Fox assures him no one can get in which means that someone is about to burst in. Roxy comes flying through the glass window, and I mean through, and she’s after the artwork. She grabs it and is delighted that it’s small enough to fit in her saddle bag. She doesn’t intend to just rip off some art though as she puts some cartridge into the end of her gun that has a Batman logo on it. When she fires it into the sky it explodes in a pattern of lights resembling the Batman signal, and sure enough here comes Batman. Bruce has either gotten really bold at this quick change thing, or Dick is impersonating him again (see The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne), for him to get there so fast. And since his plane is messed up, he’s got a fancy new jetpack to show off.

batman in pursuit

Batman with yet another toy to show off.

Roxy leads Batman on a chase throughout Gotham with a large part of it taking place in a tunnel once again, only this time amongst automobile traffic. She pulls a Maverick move out of her bag of tricks by hitting the brakes causing Batman to sail right past her and into a Farmer Brown truck (that will pay off slightly in a future episode). Roxy once more gains the upper hand, but Batman is able to hit her rocket with a Batarang causing it to short out. She dumps it in an unfinished building and flees to the top of the steel beams. Batman soon joins her and suggests she give up. She responds by tossing the artwork which was remarkably spared being damaged during her crash. Batman is forced to jump after it (maybe he had yet to insure it) leaving him hanging from one of the beams. Roxy blows him a kiss and presses a button on her wrist-thingy once again which causes her rocket to explode. Using the explosion as cover, she jumps from the building to land on an oversized balloon below to once again make her escape.

With Batman foiled once again, he’s in need of some good news and he gets it. Batgirl calls him on his cell, apparently, to tell him she’s figured out who Roxy’s fence is:  The Penguin. This leads us back to Penguin’s club where he’s none too pleased with Roxy and her reckless ways. Roxy doesn’t see the harm in having some fun, but Penguin makes it clear he considers her a loose end at this point. Deciding she isn’t worth the trouble, he pulls his umbrella on her. Normally, such an action wouldn’t seem all that threatening, but considering this is The Penguin an umbrella takes on a whole other meaning. As he prepares to off her, she tries reasoning with him and even resorts to a, “but I thought you liked me.” Penguin does, but he’s a pretty cold and ruthless business man. Before he can shoot her though, she kicks the umbrella out of his hands and flips over a railing into the sealion pool behind her.

penguin mad

He may look harmless, but Penguin isn’t really someone you want to piss off.

Roxy darts across floating chunks of ice avoiding Penguin’s fire. She eventually falls into the water and the sealions pounce. Penguin lowers his head remarking his way would have been much cleaner, but then Roxy emerges once again now riding a sealion as if it was her rocket. She manages to reach a glacier where she takes cover as Penguin’s umbrella is apparently switched to fully automatic mode. Having spent all of his ammo in a futile attempt to kill Roxy, Penguin can only watch as she uses a grappling hook to swing over the water and to the ceiling narrating her own escape. As Roxy vanishes, Penguin orders his minions (all women who look like Playboy Mansion rejects) to go after her and kill her, though in his usual poetic way.

penguins gun

Penguin with an actual gun? This feels wrong.

Penguin is shown freshening up in his penthouse. He’s in his robe and apparently ready to retire for the evening, but a shadowy figure lurks behind him. Batman makes his presence known and demands to know where Roxy Rocket is. Penguin back peddles towards his umbrella canister as Batman produces a ring. It’s one of the items Roxy stole from the zeppelin earlier and he found it in Penguin’s coat. As Penguin questions whether or not Batman is in possession of a search warrant, he steps on a lever on the umbrella canister and up pops….a machine gun? It would seem Penguin isn’t always in the mood for theatrics, as he catches the gun and opens fire on Batman. He only manages to lay waste to his beautiful furniture as Batman takes him out for some fresh air. Dangling him over the balcony, Penguin can only smile sheepishly as Batman suggests they have a little talk.

At an airplane hangar, three of Penguin’s girls are shown snooping around. Roxy is inside the hangar and she has several extra rockets in there. As the trio sneak around, Roxy pops out of the hangar to take one out. She plays with them a bit before knocking the other two into a biplane. She hits the lever on it and it takes off down the runway as Batman arrives in the Batmobile. He ignores the plane as it crashes into a water tower and we see the two occupants in a pool of water coughing, so apparently they’re fine.

Batman heads off into the hangar after Roxy and comes face to face with the front end of her rocket. He ducks out of the way as she blasts off through the hangar door to apparent freedom. Or so she thinks. Batman hops on one of her other rockets and takes off after her. This is actually a pretty risky maneuver since we know Roxy can control her rockets via her wrist device. Luckily for Batman, she apparently doesn’t feel like causing it to self-destruct with him on it. This is, after all, a game to her as she calls back to him “I love a man with staying power!” Yup, things are about to get a little blue.

roxy vs batman

So it’s come to this, Batman and Roxy face to face on a speeding death trap.

Roxy leads Batman on a chase into a canyon area. Remarking it’s “the third act climax,” she shoots Batman’s rocket down forcing him from it. He uses his grapple gun to get ahold of her rocket, which causes her to take him on a trip through some trees. Roxy thinks she lost him, but Batman pulls himself up and onto her rocket. She seems impressed as she tosses her jacket in his face. Turning around so that they’re face to face, Roxy explains the game to come. They’re now over water, and she tells Batman he can jump into it and maybe get off without injury. Or, he can stay on and smash into the canyon up ahead. When Batman remarks she will too, she confirms that’s the game as the two prepare to play another game of chicken.

Batman stares at her and crosses his arms, while Roxy smiles back. Eventually, she starts to grow concerned as Batman remains stoic. Roxy then shyly turns to press something on her control panel, but Batman grabs her wrist. Taunting her about seeking the ultimate thrill, Roxy at first appears worried. Then her smile returns and she gives him an “Oh baby!” As the rocket gets closer to annihilation, Batman grabs her and she starts wailing “Yes! Yes!” like that infamous scene from When Harry Met Sally. Batman pulls her off the rocket and to safety as it crashes while Roxy apparently enjoys herself. As the two fall towards the ground, she confesses she always knew it would end this way, and seems really content. When Batman pulls a parachute, she looks sad. As they land, she remarks they’ll live to play another day, but is then dismayed when Batman slaps some cuffs on her. He lets her know she lost, and this one ends somewhat abruptly right there.

roxys o

What I assume to be Roxy’s “O” face.

“The Ultimate Thrill” is certainly a cheeky one. Roxy Rocket is almost too much as the thrill-seeking villain of the hour. She’s rather one note, which I supposes makes her a decent one-off kind of villain. The show definitely pushed some boundaries as far as standards and practices go. While some of the suggestive language would fly over the head of younger viewers, there were probably a few parents who overheard Roxy’s climax and went to check on what their kids were watching. It certainly caught me by surprise the first time I saw this one, but voice actor Charity James seemed to have fun with it.

Batgirl was in this one, but only barely. This ended up being pretty much a Batman solo adventure. Combine that with the old school aesthetics of Roxy’s costume and the zeppelin scene and this one has a nice Batman: The Animated Series feel to it. I prefer my Batman solo, so this isn’t a problem in my book, but other viewers might be disappointed at the lack of heroes in it.

Roxy Rocket is indeed a one and done villain for this show. There’s enough to her personality that it wouldn’t have bothered me if she showed up again. And unlike the new take on Catwoman, Roxy actually does possess a certain amount of sex appeal to go along with her flirtatious attitude. Maybe it’s the bulky costume, but she doesn’t look like a kid with a giant head as so many of Gotham’s females do in this show. She does reappear in an episode of Superman called “Knight Time,” which actually aired about a month after this episode. Maybe that’s why this one was held over until season two so it could air closer to that episode. It was also nice to see Penguin wetting his beak, once again. His business is apparently fine at the end of this one, aside from being in need of some repairs, and we’ll hear from him again.


The New Batman Adventures – “Growing Pains”

growing pains titleEpisode Number:  8 (93)

Original Air Date:  February 28, 1998

Directed by:  Atsuko Tanaka

Written by:  Paul Dini and Robert Goodman

First Appearance:  Annie

“Growing Pains” is the first episode of this new series to make me actually happy there are no title cards this time around. I largely miss them for their artwork, but one thing I don’t miss them for is their tendency to spoil parts of the story. There have been a few episodes where the villain of the episode is a mystery, but only if you happened to miss the title card. This is another such episode, but the absence of a title card actually preserves the mystery for much of the episode. The only way to know the identity of today’s bad guy is to recognize the voice, and since guests sometimes do multiple characters there’s still some mystery even in that scenario. If you’ve never seen this episode, and you don’t want it spoiled, maybe skip this entry until you do.

annie

A mysterious young girl is the star of today’s episode.

This episode opens in Gotham at night under that ominous red sky. A young girl is running through a run-down area and she seems quite scared. She’s decked out in a long red coat and she has black hair cut at an even length. She reminds me of Coraline. Some bikers see her and immediately start giving her a hard time. They surround her, and I guess they’re just bad guys as she doesn’t look like someone who would be in possession of any valuables, though I suppose if you’re open to kidnapping then any kid has some value.

robin places to be

It’s not everyday you get cock-blocked by a fancy light bulb.

Fear not, for this young lady has someone looking out for her. Unfortunately though, she apparently drew the short straw tonight because it’s Robin, and only Robin, who comes to her aid. The bikers aren’t impressed with Robin’s threats, but he makes them regret their hubris in style. Some lumber was just laying around, and Robin knocks one biker off his mount with a javelin-like toss of the wood. The others make a hasty retreat as Robin checks on the girl. She (Francesca Marie Smith) is in a real panic and seemingly can’t remember who she is or where she’s from. The only thing she knows is that she has to keep moving. Robin wants to help, but the girl takes off on him. Up in the sky, the Bat Signal flies high and Robin is forced to let the girl go to tend to his other responsibility. As she runs off, so too does Robin in the opposite direction. The real drag of being an actual boy wonder off on his own means the only mode of transportation he has are his feet.

batmans tough love

Batman dishing out some life lessons on love and the battlefield.

Batman and Robin convene in Gordon’s office to view some surveillance footage of a violent robbery. A very large man can be seen on camera and Gordon suspects the guy has acquired some super strength via chemical means. Batman doesn’t recognize him, but both key-in on his wild looking gaze. His eyes appear to be all white, which is sort of interesting of them to acknowledge since it seems like a fairly common thing for comic book villains (and heroes) to possess which almost always goes unnoticed. As the two discuss what they see, Batman notices Robin is staring off into space. When he asks him about it he mentions the girl he ran into earlier. Gordon remarks “teenagers…” and then makes a comment about being glad daughter Barbara is past those “wild” days which causes Batman to give him an odd look. As the two leave, Robin talks about the girl and wanting to help her, but Batman cold as ever, tells him they can’t help her. He needs him to focus on the task at hand which is finding this big dude while also passing on some Batman tough love.

The next day, Tim complains to Alfred while he’s being chauffeured around Gotham that Bruce always treats him like a kid (a line that really needs to go away). Alfred points out that he is a kid and Tim gets bent out of shape about him taking Bruce’s side. He then spots the girl from the previous night, and tells Alfred there’s been a change in plans. Alfred tells him he was told to bring him straight home, but that smart-ass just gives him the whole “Tim’s not here,” thing as he gets into costume. Alfred then lets him out of the car in his Robin attire. He doesn’t even pull off into an alley or anything, he just stops and lets him out in the middle of the city. He then gives old Master Bruce a call who’s currently at work.

Robin races off into what looks like a bus terminal, a very large bus terminal, and catches up with the girl. The girl cries and collapses into his arms, which was probably the reaction Robin dreamed about. They have a nice little chat where she reiterates that she remembers nothing of her past, even her name. Robin decides to arbitrarily give her a name. Spying a girl holding a Raggedy Ann knock-off, he decides to call her Annie and the girl seems to like it. She goes on to explain that she’s running from someone. She doesn’t know who the person is, but he’s a man and she can sense his presence. She then jumps and points at a shadowy area declaring the man is there!

robin vs big guy

Robin has his hands full with this guy.

Robin looks and from the darkness emerges the burly fellow from the surveillance tape. His eyes look pretty normal, but he is indeed a very large individual. He starts yelling at Annie and demands she come home. Robin puts himself between the two and demands the man identify himself. He ignores the request and Robin is forced into action. He jumps at him and rains blows upon him, but they’re not very effective. The bad guy gets his mitts around Robin and lifts him over his head, but then Batman comes swooping in.

Seeing Batman seems to frighten the big guy, and he decides to turn tail and run. Robin tells Annie to stay put as he and Batman give chase. They wind up chasing him through a parking garage or something and into a tunnel. Batman enters from one side while Robin swings around and enters from the other. When the two meet up in the middle, there’s no sign of the big guy. Batman looks around, but the only way out he can find is a grate. Robin tries removing it, but it’s sealed shut. Without any additional clues they return to Annie, only to find out she’s gone too. As Robin wonders where she could have gone, Batman scrapes some mud off the ground that came off the guy’s shoe. He tells Robin they’re done here and that they’re going back. Robin gets angry, saying he doesn’t want to wait around while Batman looks at some mud. He defiantly shouts “No,” when told to return to the Batcave and Batman looks surprised. Robin then takes off to go after Annie and Batman doesn’t stop him.

Robin winds up in a part of town full of homeless folks. As he walks around he pauses to look at a family of four sleeping on the ground. He looks a bit sad, but it’s hard to tell given the mask and all. He eventually finds Annie, or maybe it’s better to say Annie finds him. She tells him he shouldn’t be trying to help her, but Robin insists he can handle the guy that’s after her and likens him to his own father. Annie seems touched by Robin’s sincerity, and even plants a kiss on his cheek. As the two stand there, she notices some lights in the sky. She says they look familiar to her, only the light she’s trying to recall was higher and atop a tower of some kind. Robin smiles and seems to know what she could be talking about and tells her to come with him.

annie kiss

Annie is a lot happier to see Robin this time.

Robin leads Annie to the coastal shore and points out a lighthouse. Annie does indeed recognize it and she gets a bit excited. As they explore the area she takes note of some pipes spilling who knows what into the ocean. They’re connected to a chemical plant, something Gotham has no shortage of, and she and Robin head inside.

At the Batcave, Batman is doing his thing and having his computer check out that mud. Alfred joins him to inquire about Tim, but Batman assures him he’s keeping an eye on the boy. Alfred then remarks that he still has a tracer in his utility belt and confirms to Batman that he does indeed treat Robin like a child. Batman makes a sour face at this revelation as the computer dings that it’s done analyzing the sample. For the third time in this series, Batman drops an “Oh my God,” on us when he gets the results. He explains only that he knows who the assailant is and that Robin is in danger. He jumps into the Batmobile and rockets away leaving Alfred to look on with worry.

In the underbelly of this assumed chemical plant, Robin and Annie are walking in near darkness. Robin is too distracted by the girl and fails to notice an opening in the floor. They both fall down a pipe even further down into the plant. They’re fine, but there’s now only way to go and that way is soon blocked by the big mean guy. He seems to be in a better mood at least, and remarks to Annie that he’s glad to see she came home. Robin is ready to attack as the man approaches, but then his body starts to shift and change revealing his true identity:  Clayface!

clayface revealed

There’s that face we all know and love!

Clayface (Ron Perlman) moves in on the boy and reaches for Annie, but Robin slaps his hand away. They run, and Clayface does his extending arm trick which curls into a steel fence blocking their escape forcing Robin to smash through it. They run deeper into the plant to get away from the monster and as they regroup Annie notices that some of the clay splattered on her when Robin chopped at Clayface. Her body starts to absorb it and she seems horrified at first, but then a knowing calm settles over her. She shows Robin, then explains to him what happened.

robin smash

Robin seems unimpressed by this clay guy.

After the events of “Mudslide” Clayface could barely hold himself together. As he drifted through the water he arrived at this plant, and specifically, those pipes. Whatever chemical it was they were dumping into the ocean had an affect on Clayface’s makeup and it helped him to pull himself back together. He crawled into the pipes, too weak to do much else. Not wanting to be kept in the dark, he created a scout with a piece of his body That scout is Annie, and she was to explore the area surrounding the plant and then return to Clayface, only once she left his side her memory vanished and became lost. There’s no attempt to put a timeframe on any of this so who knows how long this girl was wandering around.

Robin is confused, and he probably should be, but undaunted. Annie has a different perspective, and tells Robin that he shouldn’t protect her because she isn’t real. Robin insists otherwise. He tells her to run as Clayface closes in and she obeys. Robin can only keep him away so long though, and Clayface gets agitated with the diminutive hero. He had been telling him to get out of here, but now he’s mad and grabs ahold of him. With Clayface seemingly intending to kill him, Annie can’t let that happen and throws herself at Clayface. He drops Robin, but that’s because he has her now and she is soon absorbed back into her “father.”

goodbye annie

Goodbye, Annie.

Robin is enraged by this development and demands that Clayface bring her back. He tells him he can’t and she’s gone. Robin starts throwing batarangs in his direction. At first, they seem like mild annoyances, but Robin strikes some containers full of solvent. They start emptying their contents and Clayface seems to find the substance quite painful. It’s causing him to fall apart, and as he backs away Robin targets more of the tanks full of the stuff forcing Clayface down a catwalk and into a dead end. Batman arrives and tries to stop Robin as he’s going to kill Clayface. As the two grapple, Clayface tries to kill them himself with his old blade hand trick. He misses and the metal causes a spark which ignites this solvent that’s all over the place. Batman grabs Robin and uses a grapple gun to get out of the area as it goes up in one big explosion.

The police are now on scene and Clayface is shown being loaded onto a truck. He’s in a tank of some kind full of water or some other liquid and appears to be unconscious. As Robin looks on, Batman walks up and attempts to console him. He’s not very good at it, and basically can only muster up a line about there not always being a happy ending. Robin says nothing, but overhears a cop going over a list of charges with Gordon concerning Clayface. Robin adds “murder” to the list before turning his back on the scene and walking off sullenly. The camera pans up towards the sky as he does to rest on the light from the lighthouse streaking across the sky.

“Growing Pains” is an episode that is quite a bit of fun for longtime viewers of Batman. It reintroduces fan favorite Clayface, and even ties up the loose end of how he’s still alive following his appearance in “Mudslide.” I wish he had not appeared in “Holiday Knights,” but at least he now looks better. And that’s because this is another TMS episode. The famed Japanese studio handled Clayface’s original appearance, so it’s only fitting they do his true return for this series. He’s been redesigned somewhat with a more rocky appearance. He’s also a darker shade of brown and the shape of his head has been altered some. He looks pretty great though, and the effects of his shape-shifting powers are quite spectacular. While it’s not as amazing as “Feat of Clay Part II,” it’s still mighty impressive. It’s also nice to see the studio get to extend itself a bit with the Clayface character, as the previous TMS episode “Never Fear” didn’t really allow for the usual flourish one associates with the studio.

clayface blade

He may look a little different, but Clayface still has the same old tricks up his sleeve.

And it’s not just Clayface that looks great. Some extra care was definitely put into Robin during his fight with the villain at the end. He makes some expressions we’re not accustomed to seeing, and overall just looks really intense. This is the first episode to really sell the audience on what Robin is capable of. He’s definitely been the least heard from hero, and it’s nice to see that when given a bigger role the character ends up shining rather than being an annoyance.

The plot of the episode is more than a little bonkers. As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, this one manages to keep the villain a secret for quite awhile. Ron Perlman voices him throughout the episode, and that’s basically the sole clue for much of the episode. I think most viewers probably at least figured it out when Batman started scraping mud, but it was still handled well. I have no idea what to make of Clayface suddenly being able to create life. It’s a pretty wacky power, but it does at least lend itself well to creating some drama here. I felt pretty bad for Robin in the end, but Annie took the news pretty well. Maybe she could have reacted differently and played up the sympathy angle, but it was interesting in its own way to see Annie just sort of accept the reality of her existence.

robin sad

There’s more Robin in this one than we’re used to, but it’s actually a good thing here.

The other underlying plot device is Batman’s treatment of Robin. The whole “He treats me like a kid,” thing is way overplayed in cartoons, so I don’t really find it very interesting. I’m also not sure if I should expect there to be some payoff of this down the road, and I don’t remember if there is. I suppose I could look ahead, but I’d rather take advantage of my faulty memory and hope to be surprised. My thought is there isn’t a payoff though, so there may be no surprise to come.

As for Clayface, I’m afraid this is goodbye. If you wanted to know more about where this life-creating power came from you’ll just have to look elsewhere I suppose. Clayface will stay gone this time, presumably imprisoned somewhere. He was one of the show’s best villains and certainly the character benefited from the show as prior to it I had never heard of Clayface. His debut episode was the first episode of this show I happened to see, so there is a touch of nostalgic affection on my part for the character. Even without that though I’m pretty sure he’d still be one of my favorites. It would have been fun to see him again, but TMS probably doesn’t come cheap and I don’t ever want to see the character done cheap again like he was in “Holiday Knights.” Clayface, you will be missed.


The New Batman Adventures – “Joker’s Millions”

Jokers-MillionsEpisode Number:  7 (92)

Original Air Date:  February 21, 1998

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance:  None

After starring in a segment of the series premiere, “Holiday Knights,” The Joker (Mark Hamill) returns to helm his own stand-alone episode. And for the first time, our little feature on this show is running up against continuity from the other DC Animated Universe show at the time – Superman. In the three part episode “World’s Finest,” Joker arrives in Metropolis to accept a contract from Lex Luther that would have paid him one billion dollars if he could kill Superman. He fails, and old Bats is partly responsible as this was the first crossover event for the two super heroes.

Joker had gone to Metropolis because he was having money problems back home. Considering he failed at taking out Superman, his woes have continued. Here we find a broke Joker taking unnecessary risks in order to acquire more cash to finance his unique lifestyle. These risks naturally put him at odds with Batman and the other vigilantes of Gotham. “Joker’s Millions” is based on a comic of the same name from 1952 and also shares some similarities with the 1985 film Brewster’s Millions. It’s largely a comedy piece, as Joker episodes tend to stray in that direction, only this time more so than usual.

The episode opens with Joker and Harley (Arleen Sorkin) robbing what appears to be an electronic’s convention or museum. Joker is seen running around decked out in a new purple trench coat and hat blasting away as civilians run around screaming. Joker is running from Batman and Batgirl and he doesn’t appear to be having his usual good time, especially when Batman lands a punch on his jaw. He runs out of ammo and soon comes across Harley who’s racing around as well. She informs him they’re all out of bullets forcing Joker into a game of fisticuffs with Batman, which he loses. He’s able to fool Batman and Batgirl momentarily after taking a hit to the eye. He lets out a scream and lets a fake eye hit the ground which soon explodes providing the duo enough of a cover to escape.

harley and joker flee


Harley is a bit irritated with Joker’s money problems.

Outside, Harley and Joker are shown speeding away in a rather mundane looking getaway car. As the two flee, they soon realize they forgot the cash they just attempted to steal and soon run out of gas. When Joker admonishes Harley for not filling the tank like he told her to, she responds that they’re broke and asks what she was supposed to do – fill the tank and then shoot the guy?! Joker responds with an emphatic “Yes!” as Harley bemoans their situation. Batman and the cops soon arrive and Joker is forced to eject. Unfortunately for Harley, he could only afford one ejector seat and she’s left behind to get arrested.

joker's inheritance


Joker gets the good news.

Joker is then shown arriving at the Chelsea Arms apartment building. It’s looking a lot worse from when we first saw it in “Double Talk.” Joker walks in and gets his mail while the super complains about his rent being late. He heads inside a rather dilapidated looking apartment and is greeted by his pet hyenas, Bud and Lou. Joker settles down on the couch and reads the letter the super gave him which informs him that a crime boss he never cared for, King Barlow, has passed on. Joker is amused to know this, but then grows excited when he finds out Barlowe has left him his entire fortune valued at 250 million dollars!

We then see a brief montage of sorts where Joker is shown using his new found wealth to hire some fancy lawyers to clear his name framed as a news piece. One is clearly a parody of Johnnie Cochran who offers up the line “If a man’s filled with glee, that man must go free!” A psychiatrist is also interviewed who claims he’s tested Joker rigorously and found he’s no longer a danger to society. When the interviewer points out the accusation that Joker is just bribing doctors and lawyers to say what he wants, the man insists such a notion is preposterous. As he does, the camera pans out to reveal the doctor is driving a fancy new car. This gag feels like something we would have seen on Animaniacs. The segment ends at the Batcave with Batgirl wondering if Joker will now go straight since he’s got plenty of money. Batman can only growl in response as he snaps some expensive looking object in half.

Dick Grayson and Barbara Gordon are shown standing in line waiting to get into a swanky new club:  The Iceberg Lounge. The club is owned by none other than The Penguin (Paul Williams), making his first appearance with his new redesign. Penguin had previously been modeled after the version of the character seen in Batman Returns, but for The New Batman Adventures he’s been restored to his classic look which is that of a short, rotund, man with a long nose. He emerges from the club to say they’ve reached capacity forcing Barbara to use her status as the commissioner’s daughter to gain entry with Dick. Penguin, apparently wanting to keep the cops off of his back, acquiesces though not happily.

joker and new penguin


A more dignified Penguin on display.

Inside we see Joker seated at a table ordering food and drink. The club is massive and has an ice theme going on with a gigantic pool in its center inhabited by seals. Penguin shows up to Joker’s table to toast the old rogue to his good fortune and adding that living well is the best means of revenge when it comes to getting back at Batman. Dick and Barbara watch from their table almost in awe of what they’re witnessing. The party is soon crashed by some gun-wielding dudes. One of them had been shown previously as part of the news report on Joker’s inheritance. He was the bodyguard for Barlowe and was perplexed why the crime boss left Joker everything, considering he hated Joker, and left his beloved bodyguard with nothing. He’s come to take what he feels is rightfully is.

As Joker is held up, Batgirl and Nightwing make the save proving they are incredibly quick at changing into costume. A Nightwing shuriken strikes the former bodyguard in the back and sticks in there while another gets booted into the seal pool. These seals are apparently quite violent as they attack the man immediately. Joker applauds the two heroes and even tries to pay them a tip for looking after him. They crumple up the offering in their fists and drop it on the floor causing Joker to howl with laughter.

joker limo


Joker living the good life.

We then go into another montage of Joker enjoying his wealth. He’s bought a new mansion and is having it painted purple, enjoying some time on the golf course at the expense of Bruce Wayne, and is shown riding around in a limo tossing money out the back to a crowd of people chasing after him. Harley watches all of this on a television set in Arkham and is enjoying it thoroughly. When Ivy (Diane Pershing) questions why she’s so happy to see her old beau enjoying his wealth she responds because she’s certain he’ll come bust her out any day now. Ivy then shows her a full-page ad in the newspaper she’s reading which was placed by the Joker. It seems he’s looking for a new henchwoman, and Harley reacts to this in the only way she could be expected to.

Joker is then shown auditioning for his opening. Several individuals in Harley costumes are lined up as Joker dresses them down:  too fat, too old, too short, etc. One is clearly modeled after Paul Dini and Joker doesn’t even really dignify the poor sap with a response. He soon settles on a new Harley, who looks like the old one only taller and a bit more curvaceous. This new Harley (Maggie Wheeler) is a bit slow and mistakenly refers to Joker as Mr. G. She’s happy to have the job though and Joker is happy to have something to look at. Meanwhile, the real Harley is trying to escape Arkham via the laundry chute, but she just ends up trapped in a washing machine which is turned on.

paul dini quinn


Sadly, he didn’t get the job.

Joker is about to find out he has a new problem though. A man from the IRS shows up to inform Joker he owes them quite a bit of cash as part of an inheritance tax. The sum is around 140 million, and Joker is surprisingly panicky about having the IRS on his case. He even tells one of his henchmen he’d much rather have to deal with Batman than old Uncle Sam. As he and his crew start filling bags with stacks of bills to pay off the debt, Fake Harley notices something strange about the money. Joker takes a closer look and notices the face of one Ben Franklin is missing from his hundreds, replaced by the ugly smirk of King Barlowe. He soon finds a video tape buried under the cash and is forced to put it on.

The tape is a recording of Barlowe (Allan Rich) himself from his hospital bed informing Joker that he’s been had. He only left Joker 10 million bucks, and he guesses that by the time Joker found this tape he had already blown through it. The other cash and assorted valuables are all fake, and he has a good laugh at Joker’s expense for he knows the clown is much too prideful to admit he’s been made the butt of a joke. Joker is understandably irate at the revelation, and quickly starts trying to think of a way to make back some money. When henchman Ernie (Sam McMurray) suggests he repeat his laughing fish scheme, he yells at him for such a thing would alert Batman that he’s returned to crime. He needs to acquire cash using a method he’s never been good at:  subtlety.

fke joker


Not Joker.

Bruce Wayne is shown at Penguin’s club. Penguin greets him briefly, and Wayne soon spies Joker alone at his table. He approaches to have a chat and Joker suggests he doesn’t recognize him. Wayne reminds him he recently threw him off a building (referencing the events of “World’s Finest” again) and Joker seems flustered. The voice may be right, but this is clearly not Joker as his conventional eyes give it away. He mops at the sweat on his forehead revealing a normal flesh-color below the white makeup and retreats to the restroom. Inside, we see it’s actually Ernie posing as Joker and as he frets about trying to keep up this charade Batman shows up to confront him in a bathroom stall. He begins his interrogation, while Penguin listens from outside. He’s prepared to put a stop to this poor treatment of his patron by Batman, but a growl from Batman and a flushing toilet convinces him otherwise.

batman john


Well, at least if the sight of Batman caused Ernie to mess himself he was in the right place.

We’re then shown a bunch of odd looking armored cars as they drive onto a ferry. They’re gray and rather blocky and frequently their doors disappear in what is easily the shoddiest piece of animation I’ve come across in this series. The occupants of the vehicles step out and are confronted by some shadowy individuals with guns. These guns are packed with gas that knocks them out and Joker emerges from the shadows sporting a ship captain’s hat. Fake Harley is steering the vessel, as Joker soon turns his attention to the money inside.

joker captured again


Joker’s fun appears to be done.

The ship rocks causing Joker to bark out at Harley, but things are about to get worse as Batman, Batgirl, and Nightwing show up. The fight is surprisingly brief, and Joker finds his feet bound by a rope from Batgirl as he teeters on the edge of the ship. She thinks he’s trying to save some money that blew away over the side of the ship, but Joker corrects her by informing her he just wants to go with it. Batman pulls him back onto the ship and in a parting shot flips him a quarter and tells him to go call his fancy lawyers.

On shore, the cops take it from here. Joker is loaded into a police wagon in shackles and he seems to be in an all right mood. He remarks it will be good to see the old gang again as a female cop looks on from inside the back of the wagon with him. She soon leans into the light and reveals to Mr. J she ain’t no cop, but rather Harley Quinn. Joker is a bit concerned by this development and tries to play it cool, but as the wagon drives away we can hear the sounds of Harley wailing on Joker with a nightstick to bring this one to a conclusion.

harleys revenge


In an episode that’s basically all about comedy, it’s Harley who gets the last laugh.

“Joker’s Millions” is a very comedic episode of Batman. There’s the show’s trademark violence on display as Batman lands some solid blows on Joker early on, but most of the scenes are practically slapstick in nature. It is a bit amusing to see Joker out of cash and then to see him go on a spending spree. It’s also interesting to see him use money to essentially buy his freedom and go straight, even though it doesn’t necessarily fit the character. I suppose we can hand wave this one though as being short term. Had Joker really inherited all of that money he likely would have eventually returned to crime as just living a wealthy life would likely grow stale for old Mr. J. Likewise, the scenes of Harley from Arkham are all played for laughs, with the washing machine gag being especially cartoonish in nature.

Because so much of the episode is spent with Joker, there’s actually very little for the heroes to do. Wayne just happens to be in the right place at the right time to find the fake Joker, so there’s little detective work on display. As was the case with “Riddler’s Reform,” Batman just doesn’t buy Joker being reformed and essentially is harassing him by keeping tabs on him. It was fun to see the new Penguin on display though. I’m a bit surprised they didn’t recast him considering the drastic change to his appearance, but that would also be no reason to get rid of a fine voice actor like Paul Williams.

Ultimately, this episode is fine. While I look forward to something a bit more menacing from Joker given the new standards of the show, an occasional comedy episode is okay. And if you’re going to have a comedy episode, why not feature The Joker? It’s a bit hard to believe that Joker could ever be out of money, or that being out of cash would be a problem for him, though it’s also even more unlikely he could rent an apartment anywhere. I’ll ignore that though, just like the episode basically is asking me to ignore the fact that Harley and Joker have once again patched things up offscreen. Their relationship is combative here, and I think that’s what can be expected going forward. The nice thing is that Harley now gives as good as she gets so things don’t seem so one-sided anymore.

We’re actually not going to hear a lot from Joker during this run of the series. He’ll be mentioned in a few episodes, and his likeness shows up in the anthology episode “Legends of the Dark Knight.” His next outing is actually a flashback in the episode “Old Wounds” and his real next episode isn’t until episode 21, the classic “Mad Love.” Too much Joker is obviously not a good thing, but I have a feeling I’m going to wish there was a bit more of him.

 


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.


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