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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 4

stonechairWelcome back for the fourth installment in the Batman: The Animated Series episode ranking. This week, we’ll be taking a look at entries 39 through 20. 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. The episodes are already quite hard to separate from one another at this point, with only a true handful of episodes clearly establishing themselves as worthy of being in the top 10. These episodes are all pretty great, and hopefully it’s merely a matter of preference for what type of story viewers prefer or favorite villains that causes these to move up and down. Now, for entry number 39:

catwomans affection39 – You Scratch My Back

This was a logical plot to explore when the dynamics between Batman and the crime fighter formerly known as Robin, now known as Nightwing, changed. Catwoman, always the opportunist, uses her unique charms to basically seduce Nightwing causing friction between he and Batman as well as Batgirl. The soapish plot ends up having a nice payoff allowing it to overcome its otherwise lackluster villain of the day. Catwoman, post redesign looks rather lame, but her personality is a perfect fit. If only we could have had more of this character in the first two seasons.

38 – Sins of the Father

Dick Grayson got an origin story, so I suppose his successor deserved one as well. Tim Drake enters Batman’s life in what is essentially real-time in relation to the rest of the series as opposed to a flashback. This makes him a true Boy Wonder as opposed to an adult one, and while his tale isn’t as gut-wrenching as Dick’s, it’s still appropriately tragic. It also incorporates Two-Face which feels like a nod to the film Batman Forever.

hex vs duvall37 – Showdown

I didn’t care for this episode as a kid because of its lack of Batman, but as an adult I find it to be a great deal of fun and a nice change of pace. It’s somewhat quietly the best Ra’s al Ghul episode as it’s partially an origin tale for him, but mostly it feels like a backdoor pilot for Jonah Hex. Hex is a stereotypical gruff old cowboy, but the portrayal works. And I like that he’s one and done, and his tale also has a nice payoff in the present timeline leading to a very interesting conclusion.

36 – The Demon’s Quest: Part I

“Showdown” is arguably the best Ra’s al Ghul episode, but I just barely place this one above it. “The Demon’s Quest” is Ra’s al Ghul at his best:  mysterious, manipulative, conceited, obtuse, uncompromising, and pretty much insane. This is the episode we learn how Ra’s views himself and the world. He has all of the answers and deals in absolutes. Sometimes, to build a better world you need to start over. Batman, of course, does not share this world view, but he’s forced to go along for the ride as both Robin and Talia have been kidnapped. Adding a nice through-line to the episode is the little game between Batman and Ra’s al Ghul’s bodyguard, Ubu, which has a satisfying conclusion.

not good35 – Blind as a Bat

Can Batman perform blind as a bat, as the saying goes? It’s a simple premise, but an effective one. Bruce Wayne is injured when Penguin swipes a fancy helicopter being put on display by Wayne Tech leaving him temporarily blind. Not one to sit on the sidelines while a villain is on the prowl, Batman enlists the help of Leslie Thompkins to create a new helmet that allows him to see, and also has the added benefit of giving him glowing red eyes. The helmet doesn’t last very long, forcing Batman to go it alone without the aid of arguably his most important sense as a crime fighter. I’m not sure if the fact that he comes out alive says more about the prowess of Batman or the ineptitude of Penguin.

34 – I Am the Night

This one feels like a bookend to “Appointment in Crime Alley.” Batman deals with something he rarely has to:  failure. This time, his fatigue, both mental and physical, causes him to be late to a bust. His late arrival seems to have little impact, but it only further weighs him down later when Commissioner Jim Gordon is shot by the Jazzman. Batman mostly receives support from Leslie, Barbara, and Alfred, but Bullock lays into him when he goes by the hospital to see Gordon. Batman basically enters into a depression. He’ll bounce back, but it’s quite an emotional ride getting there as Batman ponders his worth and important questions like “Am I even making a difference?” It’s the most human the character will ever be portrayed.

HeartofSteel133 – Heart of Steel: Part I

The Blade Runner inspired “Heart of Steel” introduces the super computer H.A.R.D.A.C. which was created to construct robots with sophisticated artificial intelligence, but it soon goes rogue. The A.I. in the robots is too good making them able to blend in seamlessly with humanity. This causes problems when they start committing crimes, and both Bruce Wayne and Batman get pulled into it. It’s very compelling and for some reason the robots were really chilling to me as a kid, so I suppose it’s stuck with me partly for that reason.

32 – The Strange Secret of Bruce Wayne

Hugo Strange has invented a machine capable of extracting sensitive information from his patients under the guise of being beneficial for mental health. He ends up biting off more than he can chew when his machine is used on Bruce Wayne revealing his big secret. Strange immediately goes to Gotham’s most famous rogues:  Joker, Penguin, and Two-Face seeking to profit from the information. It doesn’t go well for him, and Bruce’s solution to his problem is pretty clever, even if it takes advantage of the medium perhaps too well.

new scarecrow31 – Never Fear

Scarecrow’s redesign in The New Batman Adventures was the most memorable. He went from pretty creepy looking to downright scary. This new persona really helps drive this episode as he’s created a new toxin that actually takes away fear, leaving his victims completely reckless. Batman gets a taste of it once again and basically loses his mind, putting him at odds with Robin. He’s a full on maniac in this one, and it’s kind of uncomfortable to watch. All turns out well in the end, but it’s hard to shake that side of Batman that was revealed here.

30 – Riddler’s Reform

Riddler has returned once again, only this time he’s reformed. Batman is skeptical, though he has no reason to be aside from a gut feeling. He’s a bit of a jerk as a result, but as usual he’s proven right when it turns out the Riddler is up to his old tricks once again. Before that is revealed though it’s actually pretty amusing seeing Riddler have fun at Batman’s expense when he has the support of the people of Gotham. It also has one of Riddler’s best traps, and Batman’s ability to escape it is what ends up driving him mad in the end.

dead eyed stare29 – His Silicon Soul

This episode is just plain cool. H.A.R.D.A.C. is gone, but before it was destroyed by Barbara and Batman it created one final robot:  a Batman robot. Armed with the knowledge that Bruce Wayne is Batman, it was able to create a perfect copy, but this isn’t revealed right away. We first see the robot burst into action in stopping a robbery, and then we get to feel the same sense of shock as the machine does when it sustains damage revealing the circuitry within. The robot thinks it’s human, making for a really compelling case study. Can Batman destroy that which is sentient? It’s just a wonderfully composed episode.

28 – If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?

Riddler’s debut took awhile to arrive, but it was worth the wait. This episode is really interesting because Riddler is the bad guy, but the guy he’s menacing is worse. And that guy is his old boss, a real piece of work who loves to work people to death and steal their ideas for his financial gain. It’s actually really topical in this day and age. And I like that in the end, Batman and Robin save him, but he doesn’t have a happy ending. And Riddler even gets away! I guess it actually is a happy ending, after all.

old chums

27 – Legends of the Dark Knight

This show did not do anthology episodes too often, but when it did they were quite good. This one has a group of kids basically telling tall tales about Batman. The fun aspect of the episode is that we get to see the show tackle a take on the 1960s Batman and Robin as well as an adaptation of the seminal The Dark Knight Returns. Maybe it’s a bit more style over substance, but I was a sucker for the nostalgia inherent and even the way it brought the real Batman into their orbit was pretty satisfying.

26 – Perchance to Dream

This is a bit of a gimmick episode, but it’s done extremely well. Batman is caught in a trap by The Mad Hatter, but it’s not blatant at the episode’s onset. Bruce appears to wake from a nightmare, but he awakens in a world in which he is not Batman. He remembers being Batman, but no one else does. He’s engaged to Selena Kyle and his parents are still alive. And perhaps weirdest of all, Batman is real, he’s just not Bruce. He doesn’t know if he’s delusional, insane, or if something else is going on here. It’s obviously the latter, but the episode does a good job of planting the seed in your head that maybe this is the way things are meant to be. A real fun one.

goodbye annie25 – Growing Pains

Clayface might have the best average episode score of any villain in this show. He manages to return in The New Batman Adventures without really missing a beat (I don’t count that weird appearance in “Holiday Knights”). He’s somehow gained the ability to create sentient clay people from his own body, and one such creation takes the form of a little girl who comes in contact with Robin. She doesn’t know much about her existence, only that she needs to get away from Clayface. For us, that reveal doesn’t come until the final act and much of the episode is just Robin trying to lead this girl away from apparent danger. It’s thrilling, and the revelation ends up being heart-breaking in the end. One of the best endings to any episode in the final season.

24 – Pretty Poison

Poison Ivy makes a splashy debut alongside Harvey Dent, who she’s dating in this one. She’s an eco-terrorist, and she uses her charm to get close to Harvey and poison him with her deadly kiss. When Dent lands in the hospital, Batman has to solve the mystery of what happened to his friend and he winds up at Ivy’s doorstep. This is Poison Ivy in her best role as a femme fatale. I think she has at least one better stand-alone episode to herself, but I wouldn’t blame you if you felt this was her finest moment.

mask off

23 – Old Wounds

When The New Batman Adventures arrived and it was revealed that Dick Grayson had gone off on his own as Nightwing, viewers instantly wanted to know, “Why?” “Old Wounds” is the answer to that question as it’s largely a flashback told by Dick to Tim while out on the town. It’s a rather well-constructed story and we really saw the genesis for this break-up in past episodes when Batman’s stubborn approach to certain issues rubbed Dick the wrong way. It was a split that needed to happen, and I’m glad the show dedicated an entire episode to it.

22 – Harlequinade

When Joker gets his hands on an atomic bomb, Batman is forced to resort to desperate measures to find the clown and disarm him. As a result, he’s forced to turn to Harley Quinn for assistance as she travels alongside Batman and Robin as they track down Joker. It makes for a wonderful blend of action and comedy as Harley is just a true screen magnet. She is so charismatic, which is why she receives a lot of attention in season two of the show. This ended up being a sign of things to come as Harley would have an even better solo outing not long after.

21 – Trial

Batman finds himself once again imprisoned in Arkham, only this time the inmates are literally running the asylum. His only ally is the new Gotham District Attorney, Janet Van Dorn, who had previously sworn an oath to Gotham that she would be the one to bring Batman to justice blaming him for the creation of these so-called super villains. A bunch of rogues are brought together for a kangaroo court style trial that Batman and Van Dorn improbably win, but Joker, the presiding judge, still decides to kill him anyway! It’s a wacky episode, but it doesn’t sell-out its villains by having them all lumped together with Batman emerging triumphant.

MWKB_67_-_Sid_and_Thorne20 – The Man Who Killed Batman

What an interesting title. Very few cartoons are allowed to use a form of the word “Kill,” let alone in an episode title prominently splashed on a title card. This one tells the story of Sid the Squid, a nobody looking to become a big shot in crime. Through a comedic series of events during an encounter with Batman, Sid ends up “killing” Batman. He’s obviously not dead, but the episode tries to convince you he is as Sid ends up attracting all kinds of attention thanks to being known as the one who finally defeated Batman. Some thugs challenge him, while Joker actually seeks to murder him because by killing Batman he’s ruined Joker’s fun. The funeral Joker holds for Batman is probably the funniest scene in the entire show’s run and one of its most memorable.


The New Batman Adventures – “Chemistry”

chemistryEpisode Number:  22 (107)

Original Air Date:  October 24, 1998

Directed by:  Butch Lukic

Written by:  Stan Berkowitz

First Appearance:  None

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

susan and bruce

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

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

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

dopey batman

The look of love.

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

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

susan says yes

I think that’s a “Yes.”

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

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

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

michael gash

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

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

bruce through flames

Bruce to the rescue.

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

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

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

plant susan

Susan’s secret revealed.

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

ivy and michael

Ivy arrives with her Killer Croc knock-off.

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

melting michael

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

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

robin goo

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

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

drowning susan

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

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

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

batman ring

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

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

ivy bash

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

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

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

 


The New Batman Adventures – “Girl’s Night Out”

girls night outEpisode Number:  20 (105)

Original Air Date:  October 17, 1998

Directed by:  Curt Geda

Written by:  Hilary J. Bader

First Appearance:  Livewire, Supergirl

It was bound to happen eventually. Since Batman: The Animated Series was resurrected as The New Batman Adventures largely to pair it with Superman on the new WB Network you knew a cross-over had to occur. Batman had already appeared in Superman during the arc “The World’s Finest” which featured a team-up between the heroes to combat the villainous team-up of Lex Luthor and The Joker. This one is similar in principal, though much smaller in scope (one episode vs three), as it features a team-up of the female heroes Batgirl and Supergirl in Gotham to combat a trio of female villains. Team-ups and cross-overs in general rarely impress me, but the added wrinkle of this being an all female episode of Batman certainly intrigues me. It’s also encouraging because a woman wrote the episode, Hilary J. Bader, in what would be her last contribution to the show.

girl team

Today’s episode features a team-up many might not have been expecting.

The episode begins with a police officer (Hal Rayle) escorting a prisoner via truck to GothCorp. That villain happens to be Livewire (Lori Petty), a woman who possesses electrical powers and has tangled with Superman in the past. She is being taken to GothCorp for treatment, which I assume means they’re going to try and cure her of her affliction. Her body, as we’ll soon learn, is essentially like a living battery that can stockpile electricity. She can also discharge it in the form of lightning bolts and even turn her entire body into living lightning to move through electrical wires. Not being familiar with her appearances in Superman, I have no idea if she actually wants to be cured. Her powers I assume are partly responsible for her blue-white skin so perhaps she would like to appear more “normal.” Her costume is very much a Bruce Timm design as it it’s basically a black leotard with a neckline that goes down to her naval (and is in the shape of a lightning bolt for added flair) along with some thigh-high boots.

If Livewire desires a cure, she doesn’t act like it. The police truck is forced to slow down for an accident up ahead. Another cop informs the driver that he can proceed, but he should avoid the downed wires. This is most convenient as Livewire needs to be exposed to electricity to take advantage of her powers, and downed wires are precisely what she needs to escape her confines. When the truck passes them, Livewire basically makes them dance with a telepathic ability. She absorbs the electricity within them and turns herself into living light to pass through the back of the truck into the cabin. She taunts the driver a bit, then makes her dramatic and attention-grabbing escape.

meet livewire

Meet Livewire, seen here introducing herself to Batgirl.

The Batmobile is shown speeding through the streets of Gotham, but it isn’t Batman whose behind the wheel. It’s Batgirl, and she’s out on her own looking for Livewire. Batman appears briefly on a video chat in the cockpit so he can maintain his streak of appearing in every episode. He appears to be piloting the Batwing somewhere and he tells Batgirl he won’t be back in Gotham for at least 48 hours. He tells her he’ll try to get her some backup, but Batgirl thinks that won’t be necessary and assumes Livewire is heading back to Metropolis now that she’s escaped.

Oh, how wrong you are, Ms. Gordon. Batgirl sees Livewire atop some power lines right when the call is ended. Worse, Livewire sees her and jumps down onto the Batmobile. The show then demonstrates it doesn’t understand how electricity works as Livewire is able to attack Batgirl through the car with her powers.

kara kent

Kara not enjoying a quiet night in Metropolis.

Elsewhere, Kara Kent (Nicholle Tom) is bored house-sitting for her cousin, Clark Kent until she gets a phone call. It’s Batman, only she doesn’t know it’s him. He gives her a message to leave for Clark about a breaking story in Gotham. He’ll need to get there right away. As Batman emphasizes that part Kara says he sounds “like a cape” causing Batman to hang up. Realizing her night just got less dull, Kara heads for the closet for an outfit change.

Batgirl uses the eject feature on the Batmobile to get out of Livewire’s shocking trap. Once ejected, Batgirl descends via a handheld glider and comes to rest harmlessly on the street. Livewire resumes her attack and starts blasting Batgirl with her powers. Batgirl is forced to use the glider like a shield until it’s knocked away. As she runs, she manages to dodge all of Livewire’s blasts despite them traveling at the speed of light – a most impressive feat by Batgirl or just really poor aim on the part of Livewire. Failing to strike her, Livewire emits a huge electrical pulse that’s essentially unavoidable for Batgirl which knocks her on her back. Before Livewire can finish her off though, Supergirl flies in for the save.

super rescue

It’s nice having allies that can fly.

Supergirl deposits Batgirl a safe distance away from Livewire and then goes on the attack. She’s not very effective, and Livewire tosses insults at her that probably sting a little as they draw unfavorable comparisons between her and Superman, whom Livewire essentially phrases as superior in every way. She gets Supergirl in her clutches and is really making this look easy, until her juice runs out. Realizing she needs to recharge, Livewire bids a cheerful goodbye to her foes and disappears in some nearby cables leaving Batgirl and Supergirl alone to face their failure together. To add further insult to injury, the pair are forced to explain to Detective Bullock (Robert Costanzo) that they failed to subdue Livewire. He mocks them by referring to them as rookies and even seems to wish Batman were available. Supergirl is naturally ticked off, but Batgirl is more calming and assures her they’ll get their girl.

weird toaster

I too make this face when the toaster does something odd.

Our setting changes to some old zoo. An unmistakable hyena appears to be searching for a place to relieve himself when a topiary comes to life and kicks him away. Inside a dwelling, Poison Ivy (Diane Pershing) expresses her displeasure to Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin) about where her hyena’s choose to urinate, but she doesn’t see the harm in it. Harley is much more interested in getting out of this hideout and going on a shopping spree. Ivy reaches out to her in an almost motherly fashion to remind her they have to lay low in order to avoid The Bat. Ivy doesn’t want to leave and draw attention to themselves until they have an edge in their seemingly eternal conflict. On cue, the toaster starts rumbling and shooting sparks and out pops Livewire. Declaring herself their edge, she proposes a team-up and the villainess duo is apparently now a trio.

harelys ire

Harley has a case of the old jealous eyes.

The newly formed team heads for the mall to do some shopping. It’s apparently well past closing time as Harley marches up to the door with her trusty mallet and starts swinging. She doesn’t get anywhere with such a tactic, and Livewire makes a comment at Harley’s expense as she brushes the woman aside and blasts the door down. As they head inside, Ivy and Livewire are quite chatty with each other while Harley lags behind looking a touch jealous. They’re soon confronted by a security guard, but Ivy saunters over (while a saxophone plays in the background) and leaves him unconscious with her unique gifts. They then set their sights on a cluster of cash machines. Ivy tosses some seeds in one which causes some vines to explode out of the machine freeing the cash inside. Declaring this too messy, Livewire one-ups Ivy by simply shooting a bolt of electricity into another machine causing it to dispense cash. As she waits for praise, the two hear grunting and turn to see Harley wailing on a third machine with her mallet. Livewire seems both amused and annoyed with Harley and simply blasts the cash out of the machine knocking Harley on her rear. She then orders the woman to bag up the cash while she goes shopping, causing Harley to gripe aloud, “When did we become the gang?”

batgirl rides supergirl

This is oddly intimidating.

Livewire heads for a clothing store and starts zapping herself into some dresses. As she does so her costume mysteriously disappears each time she appears in a new dress, so either that’s an animation goof or her powers allow her to create her costume, which if so, renders “clothes shopping” kind of pointless. Supergirl and Batgirl soon arrive, with Batgirl riding on Supergirl’s shoulders as she flew through the night sky, and corner Livewire by herself. Supergirl is able to knock her around this time, and Batgril nails her with a giant sphere that apparently contains powdered silicate which neutralizes Livewire’s powers.

ivys entrance

Ivy always has to make an entrance.

It’s at this point that Batgirl and Supergirl learn about the team-up as Ivy enters riding on a bunch of sentient vines. Supergirl, appearing over-confident, saunters towards Ivy and gets hit with some seeds that immediately produce more vines which coil around her. Harley uses one of her gimmick guns to knock down Batgirl allowing her to turn her attention to Livewire. Apparently no longer salty with the woman, Harley happily produces a giant seltzer bottle to wash the silicate dust off of Livewire. Of course, water and electricity are a bad combination and dousing Livewire causes her powers to go a bit haywire and appears to inflict some degree of pain as well. She grabs Harley and appears ready to punch her out of frustration (“Are you out of your mind?!” “…Yeah!”), but instead drops to one knee forcing Harley to help her to safety

Ivy corners Batgirl just as Supergirl finally frees herself from the vine trap. She makes her way towards the two as Ivy tosses more seeds at Batgirl. Supergirl uses her heat vision to incinerate them as Ivy runs. With that taken care of, Supergirl moves to block Ivy’s escape, but Ivy is happy to congratulate her for being so predictable. It seems those seeds required heat to activate a poison that’s quite lethal. Batgirl is trapped behind some glass doors as the gas spreads and soon collapses. Supergirl is forced to abandon Ivy in order to save her ally. Ivy then hops in her getaway car, a pink convertible named Rose Bud, with Harley and Livewire and the three escape.

Supergirl apparently takes Batgirl back to Barbara’s apartment. There she’s able to get some oxygen and gives us a little insight into her life beyond Batgirl. It seems she works for the police in a tech role which grants her access to all of their files. In a bit of a nod to her Oracle persona from the comics, she explains to Supergirl how she knows what’s going on with the police at all times and is able to hack into their system for more info. Supergirl is impressed, and the two trade compliments as each seems to desire the other’s life. It’s a bit forced and Batgirl makes it even more on the nose with a “grass is always greener,” comment as the two prepare to head out and track down the bad girls.

at the club

It would appear Livewire has found Harley’s last nerve.

At the Iceberg Lounge, the villainesses are celebrating their getaway. Harley and Ivy appear to be in a good mood, but Livewire still seems irritated with Harley. Worse for her is the location of the table by the seal pool, which amuses Harley but puts Livewire on edge given the abundance of water. They start to argue amongst themselves when Ivy finally sticks up for Harley which gets the attention of the club’s owner:  The Penguin (Paul Williams). He tries to quiet the trio down which just causes Livewire to address him as “Lard Butt.” Insulted, he demands they leave and in retaliation the three start trashing the place.

Batgirl and Supergirl, apparently learning of the commotion, show up in the aftermath of the trio’s attack on the Iceberg Lounge. Penguin, looking rather worse for ware, is unimpressed with the heroines and, like Bullock, seems to desire Batman’s presence. The women seem less insulted this time around and when they point out they’re all he’s got Penguin relents and gives up the dirt on where Ivy and Harley have been hiding out.

topiary elephant

Ivy has some interesting new methods of attack.

Livewire is not happy to be back at Ivy’s hideout. She dislikes the hyenas and isn’t much into the décor. She zaps one of Harley’s hyenas which understandably irritates Harley, but before the tension can escalate one of Ivy’s plants starts pulsating indicating intruders. It’s Batgirl and Supergirl, and this time Batgirl has a tank on her back loaded with silicate to take down Livewire. As Supergirl scans the area with her X-Ray vision, she finds Harley who sticks her tongue out at Supergirl indicating they’ve been spotted. As Supergirl warns Batgirl, Livewire attacks. Ivy comes riding in on an animated topiary in the shape of an elephant. Apparently living, animal-shaped, plants are Ivy’s new go-to weapon as Supergirl will soon be set upon by topiary tigers.

batgirl in trouble

Meanwhile, Livewire’s methods are a bit more straight-forward.

Batgirl is quickly separated from her weapon, while Harley takes herself out when her boxing glove gun bounces harmlessly off of Supergirl and knocks her out instead. Without her weapon, Batgirl is no match for Livewire. Once again, the show demonstrates its electrical shortcomings when Batgirl successfully blocks Livewire’s attacks with a metal trashcan lid. Fortunately for her though, her opponents are not very coordinated. As Ivy bares down on Supergirl from atop her elephant, Livewire’s blasts set its rump on fire causing Ivy to abandon the fight. Livewire gets Batgirl in her clutches and is preparing to off her, but Ivy activates a defunct waterslide to douse the flames on her “baby.” Livewire is directly in the path of the rushing water from the slide, and Batgirl is able to slither away as it strikes. Supergirl also frees herself from the tiger things and grabs Batgirl before the water reaches her. Livewire essentially shorts out, and the burst of electricity knocks Ivy out as well while Harley is still unconscious as a result of her own misfire.

high five

Ain’t that cute?

Kara and Barbara are then shown seated on Barbara’s couch eating ice cream in bath robes. On television, Bullock is being interviewed about the capture of Livewire, Ivy, and Harley and he credits it to a pair of rookies. This seems to irritate the two, but Bullock then adds that the two show promise and their demeanor changes to jubilation as the two share a high-five to end this one.

Accepting that a cross-over was going to happen, choosing to make that cross-over focus on a friendship between Batgirl and Supergirl is a solid enough choice. It gives the show a chance to highlight its female characters, including the villains, and it’s something the show should be commended for as an all-female episode is a rather bold move for a cartoon primarily aimed at boys. The only downside is that it places a spotlight on how weak the show’s female designs are, which I’ve harped on in the past. I just wish I liked the result more. This episode tries to do some interesting things, but it just doesn’t go for it. I liked seeing the early stages of a Livewire/Harley rivalry with Ivy caught in the middle, but it’s squashed almost immediately. They never come to blows or anything, and it would have been interesting seeing how the more pragmatic Ivy approached such a conflict. It’s also tiresome seeing so much of the episode focus on males discrediting Batgirl and Supergirl. While the women are triumphant in the end, it doesn’t feel like those characters were punished in any way for their misogyny. Bullock gives the two a little shout out at the end, so I guess he learned a lesson?

girls night out toys

This episode has been immortalized in action figure form, which is rather cool.

The other thing holding this episode back for me is the presence of Livewire. She’s not a villain I particularly enjoy. I do like that her powers are clearly defined with strengths and a glaring weakness and it makes sense that she would assume an alpha position amongst her co-conspirators. Her personality is boring to me, and no disrespect to Lori Petty, but I don’t like her voice on this character. It just bums me out because I find Harley and Ivy and their dynamic quite interesting, but it’s pushed aside to make room for Livewire. They never got their true follow-up to their initial pairing as the only other time we’ve seen them working together is in the anthology episode “Holiday Knights”. And with this showing winding down we have seemingly run out of opportunities for these two to create additional mischief.

Another long-running shortcoming highlighted by this episode is the lack of personality in the leads. Batgirl had some spunk to her in the original Batman: The Animated Series, but 20 episodes into this series and I feel like she still doesn’t have much of a personality. She gets to interject one-liners and such like Robin and Nightwing, but mostly she’s just a nice girl who fights crime. The scene between Supergirl and Batgirl in Barbara’s apartment was a chance to do something with the pair, but it just felt like shallow girl talk where they both envy the other’s station in life. Supergirl has even less personality, but in her defense, this isn’t her show. I gather she clearly has a bit of an inferiority complex where Superman is concerned which feels like a natural direction to take her in. She doesn’t really do much here though and basically exists to even up the muscle a bit.

I don’t want my criticisms to detract from the work of writer Hilary J. Bader. I imagine Bader was basically told to write an episode where Batgirl teams up with Supergirl to take on Livewire, Poison Ivy, and Harley Quinn. If this was the best she could do with that premise then so be it. That’s a lot to juggle in one episode with little time to establish a true conflict while also exploring a new bond between the protagonists. It’s not a terrible episode, just not a high point for the series. And Bader has had high points as she has been often tasked with the more female focused episodes like “You Scratch My Back” and “The Ultimate Thrill.” I think her best work was on “Mean Seasons,” an episode I thought was pretty damn good. The showrunners also must have felt confident in her abilities because she was tasked with the Mr. Freeze return in “Cold Comfort.” Given his reputation as it relates to the series that’s quite an honor. She would also get to write his Batman Beyond episode, “Meltdown,” along with several others. This is her last contribution to The New Batman Adventures and sadly she would pass away in 2002 after a battle with breast cancer. She was 50.

hilary j bader

Hilary J. Bader (April 27, 1952 – November 7, 2002)


The New Batman Adventures – “Holiday Knights”

holiday knightsEpisode Number:  1 (86)

Original Air Date:  September 13, 1997

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance:  Robin (Tim Drake), Mo, Lar, Cur

After pausing for a week to discuss the 1998 film Batman & Mr. Freeze: SubZero we have now finally arrived at The New Batman Adventures era of the show. This is essentially the start of a sequel series, but it’s been retconned over the years (or just simplified) as Season 3 of Batman: The Animated Series. The Blu Ray set released in 2018 simply refers to it as such and the intro for each episode is the Season One intro from the Fox Kids era. The show largely exists thanks to two new developments since the previous series ended in 1995:  the WB network, and Superman.

Warner Bros. and Fox had a nice relationship in the 1990s where WB created several shows that Fox aired as part of its Fox Kids lineup on weekday afternoons and Saturday morning. At some point, the executives at WB decided it would just make more sense for them to start their own network. On January 11, 1995 The WB was launched and alongside it came Kids’ WB. That block of programming would be occupied by cartoons primarily, most of which included characters WB owned. Gradually, as the license agreements with Fox expired the shows WB had created for that network migrated to its network.

TNBA trio

The New Batman Adventures placed greater emphasis on Batman’s supporting cast.

The network’s flagship action cartoon was Superman, or Superman: The Animated Series. It was decided that it would make a lot of sense for Superman to simply be partnered with Batman to form an hour programming block of DC’s hottest heroes. It would make sense for the two to cross paths, and so WB commissioned a new Batman series envisioned as a sequel to BTAS. Like the second season of that show, this one would focus on Batman and a supporting cast of heroes. Dick Grayson would return, but not as Robin but rather Nightwing. In his place was a new, much younger, Robin and Batgirl would be there as well. The show would need to be updated to match the style of Superman and to also make the show cheaper to produce. “Dark Deco” was now out, in its place was a modern Gotham with cell phones and (gasp!) color TV. Oddly, Gotham would also feature a red sky apparently to heighten the darkness of the show vs the much brighter Superman. There is a reduction of shadows as well making everything lighter in appearance. Perhaps something that disappoints only me is the dropping of title cards. I loved the title cards on BTAS and I was so bummed to see they weren’t continued here. It also makes each one of these posts a little less interesting to look at.

TNBA redesigns

A look at the various villains from the show, some old some new.

This new style meant character redesigns. Batman would ditch the blue of his prior costume opting for a strictly black and gray ensemble. His belt was also muted in tone and more utilitarian in appearance. Robin’s costume dropped the green and Batgirl ditched the gray as well. On the villain’s side things were a bit more extreme. We’ll mostly get to them as they show up. To highlight a few; Scarecrow received an entirely new look while Joker featured an aggressive redesign that removed the sclera of his eyes and the red of his lips. Some of these redesigns are quite interesting on their own, while some are just plain inferior to the previous look. The characters had to be simplified to reflect the shrinking budget, but some sacrifices just aren’t worth making.

Most of the creative staff was returned for the new series. Paul Dini and Bruce Timm served as executive producers alongside Alan Burnett. Dini and Timm would both contribute to multiple episodes as writer while Dan Riba returned to direct multiple episodes as well. Also returning was the majority of the voice cast from the prior series, with the only notable change being Tara Strong (then known as Tara Charendoff) as Barbara Gordon/Batgirl. A lot of new blood was also brought in, many of which would hang around the DC Animated Universe which was about to expand to include The Justice League and Teen Titans. This is basically the beginning of an expansive television universe by WB and DC which is basically the television equivalent of the current Marvel Cinematic Universe. I’m primarily only interested in Batman when it comes to DC, so don’t expect me to do this for the other shows. Hopefully no one is disappointed.

TNBA logo

New show, new logo.

The New Batman Adventures was released on DVD as Volume 4 of Batman: The Animated Series and is included in both the DVD and Blu Ray box set of the series as Season 3. For this feature, I considered simply sticking with the BTAS title, but decided this show was different enough to change it up. I’ll include both the episode number as it relates to this series as well as how it relates to the entire series. We’re also sticking with production order as opposed to air date order. The show was ordered as one season, but aired as two seasons of 13 and 11 episodes respectively concluding in January of 1999. At some point I’ll summarize my thoughts on the whole of Batman: The Animated Series, but since we’re getting started with The New Batman Adventures I’ll say upfront that I find this series to be inferior to its predecessor. It’s less unique looking and not as well written. The new villains introduced aren’t as memorable and we also lose a little bit of Batman by switching to an ensemble format. He’s made to be more grim, apparently to heighten how different he is from his younger companions, and as such loses some of his humanity in the process. He’s overall just less interesting as a character, and the focus on the others doesn’t really make up for that. It feels like a diservice to the excellent Kevin Conroy, who simply has less to work with in regards to Batman and Bruce Wayne.

Anyways, let’s finally start talking about this first episode, shall we? First airing just over 2 years after the conclusion of BTAS, “Holiday Knights” is a pretty bizarre way to kick-off this series. For one, it’s a Christmas/New Years episode that’s presented in anthology format with three separate mini stories starring different heroes and villains. It’s based on the Batman Adventures Holiday Special released in 1995 written by Bruce Timm and Paul Dini. Oddly, WB chose to air this as the premier as well in September rather than stashing it away until closer to Christmas like Fox did with “Christmas with the Joker,” the second episode from BTAS. Also complicating things, the new Robin (Mathew Valencia) debuts here even though the second episode is the one that details how he met Batman and came to assume this persona. Clayface is also the featured villain of the middle tale, but his actual return from the events of “Mudslide” is recounted in a later episode as well. This episode almost feels non-canon as a result, and it’s just overall a weird and confusing way to bring the series back.

new ivy

Ivy has apparently spent the past few years avoiding the sun.

The episode begins on December 22 and quickly reintroduces us to a pair of villains:  Poison Ivy (Diane Pershing) and Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin). Harley largely looks the same as she did in the previous series, while Ivy has received a fairly dramatic makeover. Her hair is more stylized and her skin bone white. She displays what is basically the new female body-shape on the show:  short, pointed, with an oversized head. It’s a more “toon” presentation and is less realistic compared with BTAS. I personally don’t care for it, but it is what it is.

Harley is bored and not at all excited to be stuck in a slummy motel for the holidays. She bemoans their lack of a Christmas tree, which naturally sets Ivy off as she views them as a form of genocide against trees. Ivy insists she has a plan that will brighten up their holiday and urges her friend to trust in her. We’re then taken to a gathering of the wealthy at the Vreeland estate where we get our first look at the new Bruce Wayne. He dresses all in black now with a white shirt under his suit and red “power” tie. His hair is black as well and slicked back to give him a real douchey look befitting a billionaire playboy. He’s socializing with Veronica Vreeland (Marilu Henner) who has returned to her red-haired look after a brief dabble with being a blonde and seems amused when a gaggle of women swarm Bruce. While Bruce is being pushed around by the ladies, one of them plants a kiss right on his lips. It’s Ivy, and as we learned way back in “Pretty Poison” getting a kiss from her is not something anyone should desire.

bruce ivy harley

Not the women Bruce was hoping to take home.

Bruce leaves the party and as he heads for his car he’s invited into a limo by a pair of women. Bruce finds himself unable to control his own body as he’s subjected to Ivy and Harley’s whims. They then use Bruce and his fabulous wealth to go on a shopping spree. A montage plays which feels fitting for a holiday special and is set to a saxophone rendition of “The Twelve Days of Christmas.” The women seem to enjoy themselves while Bruce is helpless. As they force him to carry all of their purchases he begins to make some headway in fighting off the effects of the poison. The girls realize too late that he needs another dose, and as they approach to do so Bruce is able to back away falling into an open elevator shaft. The girls are indifferent to Bruce’s plight as they still have his credit cards and continue on with their evening. Meanwhile, the gloved hand of Batman reaches up from the depths of the elevator shaft.

harley ivy shopping

The Ivy and Harley montage is probably the best part of the whole episode.

Harley and Ivy make their escape in their stolen limo being driven by another brainwashed lackey, but soon enough the cloaked outline of Batman flashes behind them. Harley warns Ivy about who’s on their tail and Ivy makes some evasive maneuvers to avoid The Dark Knight which leads them to a toy store – how fitting. Batman enters and encounters all manners of toy-related traps:  wooden soldiers, giant boxing gloves, and Harley’s trusty mallet. The ladies lure Batman through their fun house leading up a tower of toys before they hastily attempt a retreat. As the duo turn to rub salt in his wounds, Batman fires his redesigned grappling hook (it makes a less satisfying hissing sound when fired and features an end that’s just a bladed Batman logo) to hook the base of a massive Christmas tree. He topples it landing right on the thieves putting a damper on their holiday, but returning to the Christmas tree gag with Harley who’s strangely comforted by its presence.

santa bullock

Santa Bullock, ho, ho, ho.

Our second story takes place on Christmas Eve. Barbara is shopping at Mayfield’s Department Store for a gift for her father. As she’s paying for her gift, a crying child gets her attention and the clerk remarks it’s been like that all day. Not far from the checkout station is a department store Santa being played by none other than Detective Harvey Bullock (Robert Costanzo). Apparently, Bullock isn’t the best Santa and tends to leave the kids who sit on his lap in tears. Serving alongside him as his elf is Officer Renee Montoya (Liane Schirmir) and the two are apparently on a stake-out which is why Bullock isn’t exactly into this whole Santa schtick. Bullock does at least find the Christmas spirit momentarily when a little girl sits on his lap asking to have her dad back for Christmas. Apparently, her dad is a crook Bullock just helped get put away. Not really knowing what else to do, he gives her some money. That should cheer her up.

Barbara is amused by Bullock’s turn as Kris Kringle and makes her way for the exit. Along the way she notices a child who appears to be shoplifting. The daughter of Gotham’s police commissioner can’t stand idly by as someone commits a crime, so she reaches out to grab him only she comes away with a handful of mud instead. Montoya then receives word to be on the lookout for a rabble of child thieves which fellow detectives are chasing through the store. They corner the kids, who then all merge into one being right before their very eyes.

batgirl crowd control

Batgirl showing off her new attire.

It’s Clayface (Ron Perlman), and he’s not the type of bandit to go quietly. He immediately begins trashing the place forcing Barbara to duck out and re-emerge as Batgirl. She takes the fight right to Clayface knocking him through an oversized window and onto a skating rink outside causing him to smash through the ice. Santa and his elf arrive to provide backup, though their guns do little to bother Clayface. Batgirl hollers at them to stop wasting their ammo and to aim for the Santa. Bullock at first confuses her command to mean him, but above Clayface is a giant, lighted, Santa as well as strings of Christmas lights. Bullock and Montoya take aim and blast the Santa down to land on top of Clayface. The frayed wires land in the water around Clayface electrocuting him and putting a stop to his rampage. Montoya then leaves Bullock to handle the clean-up.

new joker

I don’t like this new Joker at all, but at least we still have Mark Hamill doing his voice.

Our final tale takes place on December 31 and involves The Joker (Mark Hamill). He’s sent out one of his famous broadcasts to the people of Gotham revealing his New Year’s resolution to not kill anyone in the new year. This means he needs to make up for it all tonight and send the current year out with a bang! A taping of this broadcast is being viewed by Batman and Robin in Commissioner Gordon’s office. It would seem Gordon stopped heading to the gym following the events of BTAS as he’s a lot smaller and older looking now than he was before. Gordon (Bob Hastings) informs Batman that they have a lead on Joker as a GothCorp scientist was murdered earlier in the day. The scientist specialized in sonics and had been working on a new weapon that could kill with sound. Batman deduces that Joker’s likely target will be The New Year’s Countdown in Gotham Square and it’s likely he’ll have this new weapon in hand.

jokers favors

Joker’s party favors.

Joker is shown at Gotham Square with some of his finest: Mo, Lar, and Cur (all voiced by Ron Perlman and obvious reference to The Three Stooges). They’re rigging the sonic bomb to a massive bell. Apparently at midnight, the bell goes up to ring in the new year and when that happens the bomb will go off. And to make things harder on Batman, Joker has some “party favors” to distribute.

Batman and Robin head for the party and realize finding Joker will be a bit harder than expected. Joker has distributed his Joker masks to all of the party-goers making it hard to find the real Joker. Batman peers through some binoculars and spots a clown in a purple suit at a piano in the middle of the gathering onstage. He’s wearing ear muffs and so are the rather large men flanking him. Figuring that’s his man, Batman and Robin head for the stage and Batman dings Joker’s head with a Batarang knocking off his ear muffs. They then turn their attention to Joker’s goons, but find they’re pretty hard to deal with. Joker ends up grabbing the upper hand by smashing a bucket full of ice and champagne over the back of Batman’s skull.

joker champagne

This will be a short-lived victory for Joker.

Joker grabs the bottle of champagne to celebrate and apparently die with everyone else. As Joker gloats over Batman, The Dark Knight is able to snatch the bottle of champagne and spray it all over the controls to the bell shortening out the killing device. As he does so, Joker tries to stop him and shoots at him and actually hits Batman in the right arm. As Batman lays on the ground, Joker laughs like only he can. As he does so the bell begins to fall, and it just so happens to land right on Joker who offers a well-timed “Ouch,” from beneath it to close out the scene.

bat gordon toast

We’re introduced to an annual tradition for Gordon and The Dark Knight.

With Joker’s plot foiled once again, Commissioner Gordon is shown entering a diner around 2 AM. The owner (Corey Burton) ushers everyone out and tells them he’s closing up as Gordon takes a seat at a booth. The man brings him a mug of coffee as well as a second mug and wonders aloud if Gordon’s buddy is coming. Gordon assures him he is, and Batman soon enters through a rear door. He sits down and the two indicate this is a yearly tradition of theirs. They speak only a few words before Gordon turns to request something from the kitchen to go. When he turns back he finds an empty booth and a couple of bucks left on the table to cover the tab. Remarking he’ll one day beat him to the check, Gordon collects himself and heads out into the night while Batman is seen swinging off into the red sky himself.

As I said, this is an odd way to begin the series. Three fragmented stories which lean heavily into comic relief that contain characters who will require a true introduction (or reintroduction) further down the road. It at least gets a lot of characters on-screen though giving us a peek at this new look. In general, I’m not much of a fan for how this series looks. It uses mostly straight lines in its characters and the women and children have huge heads. I mostly hate the new Joker as his face just lacks personality and is so bland and wooden to look at. The removal of his lips also just makes his mouth flaps look odder as he’s all teeth gnashing together. He looked so great in BTAS so it’s just really disappointing to see him reduced to this. This practically elderly looking Commissioner Gordon is also not a favorite of mine and Bullock looks like he’s gained about 50 pounds.

clayface hk

Clayface doesn’t come across looking so hot. Meanwhile, less censorship apparently extends to Montoya’s attire as well.

Not surprisingly, Clayface isn’t as well animated as he was before. He still contorts his body into weapons and other beings, but not a lot of resources are spent on the transitioning animation. He’s also far more stable looking than he was in “Mudslide” and has almost a rocky appearance compared with his old one. It should also be pointed out he was previosuly immune to elecrocution so either that was a goof by Dini or they intentionally took that immunity away from him. I don’t want to beat a dead horse, but this is just a less interesting looking show. They wanted it to be in-line with Metropolis from Superman and it wouldn’t make sense to have Gotham look like it was trapped in the 1940s and Metropolis like something from the 90s.

harley and the tree

It’s nice to have a little Christas in June, right? Interestingly, the comic this episode is based on portrayed Harley as Jewish.

There is one advantage this show has over its predecessor and that appears to be with the level of violence on display. It’s blatantly discussed that Joker murdered someone and he has an apparent lust for carnage and mayhem that was more tip-toed around on Fox. Batman is also free to punch people while villains, and the police, are still able to wield realistic looking weapons. Warner must have desired a way to differentiate its network from Fox and upping the violence was apparently one such way.

As an episode, this is a pretty benign, disposable, piece of entertainment. And there is entertainment value for it largely as a comedic vehicle. I wish it had chosen to end on Batman and Gordon sipping coffee together rather than turn to the tired gag of Batman vanishing whenever someone turns their back on him. I think that would have been the way the old series would have ended this one with a somber, but also sweet, ending. I guess this is just one more way for this show to announce it’s here and it’s not the same one we’re used to. Since I am a bit of a Christmas cartoon junkie, I should add that as a Christmas episode this is also just all right. It doesn’t linger much on the holiday, but it also doesn’t beat anyone over the head with Christmas clichés. It’s probably a touch better than “Christmas with the Joker” actually though less memorable. I don’t think either makes a strong case to be included with annual Christmas viewings, but you could certainly do worse.


Batman: The Animated Series – “House & Garden”

house and garden title cardEpisode Number:  70

Original Air Date:  May 2, 1994

Directed by:  Boyd Kirkland

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance(s):  None

It’s taken a few episodes, but we’ve finally arrived at our first “special” episode of the second season. That’s not to say the first five have been bad, they’ve just been a tad underwhelming. “House & Garden” puts the show back into a role it’s best suited for in which it takes a villain and applies a sympathetic edge to the character. Sounds simple, right? It’s not so easy though as the villain does need to earn our sympathy and it’s on the writers and animators to pull that off. Good thing then we have Paul Dini on this one, who has written some of the show’s best thus far. And the subject this time around, and the title probably gives it away, is Poison Ivy (Diane Pershing) once again. In her final appearance in the original series as a featured villain, Ivy demonstrates that the old adage “save the best for last” still applies. And that’s no small statement, as I’m a big fan of her debut episode “Pretty Poison” and her team-up with Harley Quinn was one of the most entertaining episodes of season one. She’s basically played the part of small-time eco-terrorist without much of a relatable aspect to her personality making her the perfect candidate for an episode like this one.

The episode opens on a giant creature infiltrating an apartment building. He’s shadowed, but it’s obvious he’s pretty imposing and probably not human. It’s obviously fairly smart as it knows where to locate a safe in the residence, and when the creature is interrupted by the presumed owner of this dwelling, it takes him out quickly and flees with the loot. At the police department sometime later, Gordon and a police scientist are examining the facts on the crime we just witnessed. Some green residue was left behind that the scientist identifies as a plant-based poison. Batman emerges from the shadows to name the one suspect we’re all thinking:  Poison Ivy. Normally, Gordon is one to go with Batman’s hunch, but this time he tells the Dark Knight to think again. Apparently Poison Ivy, real name Pamela Isley, was recently released from Arkham. She was able to complete her post-release therapy and even ended up marrying her therapist, Steven Carlyle (Peter Strauss).

mr and mrs carlyle

The happy couple.

This is probably the episode’s lone weak point as it’s hard to believe that Batman would not be up to date on the whereabouts of one of his famous adversaries. The guy prides himself on being up to date with the criminal underworld, and him not knowing that Ivy not only was released, but married, stretches belief. Nonetheless, Batman needs to see for himself so he and Gordon pay the new Mrs. Carlyle a visit. There they meet Steven, as well as Pamela’s step sons Chris (Scott McAfee) and Kelly (Christopher Pickering). She expresses an understanding that she would naturally be a suspect in these crimes given the circumstances, but insists she’s innocent and is quite content with her new life as a wife and mother. Steven stands up for his wife as well, and with Gordon convinced, Batman is forced to concede it’s possible the former villain has reformed.

Our setting then shifts to Gotham University where Dick Grayson (Loren Lester) is putting the moves on a co-ed by the name of Cindy (Megan Mulally). As one assumes happens to Dick often, his potential romance is put on hold by a phone call from Batman. It would seem that Dr. Carlyle is a professor at Gotham U and Batman wants some info on him. Dick knows him, and even had a class with him, and he agrees to keep an eye on him. When the call is over, Dick notices a shadow in his room. He at first thinks it’s Cindy and he’s probably ready to turn back on that old Grayson charm, but it turns out to be the creature from before. He trashes the room and batters Dick, who didn’t see it coming.

bruce attacked

Damn backseat drivers.

The police are called to Dick’s dorm as the ward of Bruce Wayne has been kidnapped. Cindy is there speaking with the police in hysterics and Bruce is there as well. Gordon tells Wayne he worries this may be an extortion scheme, which Bruce seems to take seriously. Later, he’s shown driving in his car when the creature (Jim Cummings) that abducted Dick pops up from behind him. He was hiding out in the backseat of Bruce’s car, and we get a good look at him. He resembles a human cactus with spikes for fingers which are placed perilously close to Bruce’s neck. He demands five million dollars and instructs Bruce to meet him at the docks at midnight or Dick’s life is forfeit.

batman caught in the act

This seems to happen to Batman a lot when he messes with Ivy.

The creature escapes, and Bruce is left to return to his home. It’s early in the day, so he has some time to kill and chooses to essentially stalk Pamela Carlyle as Batman. He follows her all day and observes her doing boring, housewife, stuff. Shopping, picking up the kids from school, nothing incriminating. His last stop is the Carlyle residence and as he observes from the roof some sentient vines take hold of him. They drop Batman to ground level, where Pamela confronts him. She reminds him that trespassing is a crime, and again insists she’s clean. Batman actually seems to believe her this time.

Bruce arrives at the docks with the money, seeing no alternative to getting Dick back safely. True to its word, the creature shows up, but like any true villain it doesn’t hand over Dick even after Bruce produces the money instead choosing to attack. Bruce dodges and lets the monster force him off the dock, so that he can emerge from the waters as Batman! It’s a bit dramatic, but Batman does enjoy the theatrics. Dick is tied up and still in danger when Batman attacks severing the creature’s claws with a Batarang. The creature appears unnerved by the loss of its claws and panics a bit, but is able to knock Batman into some crates giving him an opening to escape.

plant monster attacks

He’s a big boy.

Batman lets the creature go, instead turning his attention to Dick who is bound. They then are shown in the Batmobile and Dick is in his Robin costume. Batman explains he’s already checked out Poison Ivy and believes her when she says she’s found happiness with her new husband and sons. Robin is surprised to hear this, as he mentions that while attending one of Carlyle’s lectures his ex-wife brought their children by for a visit revealing that Chris and Kelly were girls.

The Dynamic Duo head for the Carlyle residence. It’s after midnight, and Robin observes that everyone appears to be asleep except Pam. Batman noses around, and eventually the two stumble upon a hidden laboratory. Inside they find Steven Carlyle – the real Steven Carlyle. He’s in a tub of goo and when he’s awakened he says that he was fooled by Ivy. Before they can talk further, some plants start to move around and in one of the creepiest events in this show some babies emerge.

Batman The Animated Series CR: Warner Bros. Animation

Unsettling, but not really threatening. Yet.

The three soon find themselves entangled in vines, and Poison Ivy makes her dramatic entrance. She goes into the typical villain routine and explains her actions and what’s been going on. She’s uncovered a formula that allows her to make plant creatures. Unable to conceive children herself due to her unusual toxicity, these plant creatures are like her babies. She needed the DNA of Carlyle to complete the process, and reveals that the plant babies are actually short-lived. The creature Batman has been tangling with returns, and it’s apparently about to expire. Ivy feeds some of her babies a formula that will hasten their development. They grow and resemble Carlyle before mutating into hideous cactus creatures as well. Ivy was doing all of this because her new life needed money if it was ever able to get off the ground, hence why her creatures are thieves.

Batman and Robin are forced to do battle with them with Robin’s attention mostly diverted to keeping Carlyle safe. The creatures force them into the main house as they stick and move. Batman is apparently just trying to lure them into a trap as he had planted herbicide in Ivy’s sprinkler system when they first arrived. Once activated, the children of Ivy are destroyed leaving the villainess to ponder where she went wrong. As Batman approaches her, she begins to melt herself. She had created a plant-clone of herself allowing an easy escape. The police and Batman are unable to catch her, but Batman suspects these events have been hard on her. She’s shown leaving Gotham on an airplane, looking at a photo album. He suspects she was telling the truth when she told him that she was happy with her new life, and he’s apparently right as the tears well up in Isley’s eyes as the episode comes to a close.

ivy copy

She’s a slippery one.

“House & Garden” is an excellent example of this show finding a way to incorporate some sci-fi elements without losing its core. The previous episode, “Avatar,” was not successful at the same and it was my main point of criticism there. This one works because it introduces a human element. Poison Ivy, in creating these plant-monsters that start life as human-like babies, is compensating for her inability to conceive children. It’s something many women struggle with and I’m sure most people know someone in that boat, if they aren’t themselves. Her motivations for wanting a new life are honest, she just doesn’t really know any other way to get what she wants without breaking the law. The plant-babies are unsettling making this one of the creepier episodes in the series. It’s a good kind of unsettling, and helps this episode stand out and really feel like a true sci-fi story. The slow reveal of the plot is also handled well, and I do love how Batman discovers she’s been playing him via Robin’s revelation. Before that though, the viewer is also like Batman and left to wonder if she’s telling the truth, and I think like Batman, we want to believe her.

This is another Dong Yang episode and it’s another good showing for the studio. I like the design of the plant monster, who’s pretty fearsome and even a tad gross. The whole sequence in the lab though is the stand-out moment as the plant babies are made to be as cute and lovable as possible. It really helps sell their transformation as something awful. The subtle animation of Poison Ivy beginning to weep at the episode’s end is also a moment of beauty. She looks truly pained, and it’s the shot that was needed to really bring this one home.

ivy cries.jpgAs I mentioned before, “House & Garden” is Poison Ivy’s last featured episode. She’ll make a cameo in a future episode, but this is essentially her finale before returning in The New Batman Adventures. It’s a great way to go out, and since it is essentially her finale it makes it easier on the writing staff as they don’t really need to figure out where to take her next. Presumably this has no true lasting effect on her. She’s defeated and sad in the moment, but likely is forced to carry on. After all, this is a woman who weeps when someone steps on a pretty flower so maybe I’m making too much of her demeanor on that airplane. Regardless, this is quietly one of the better episodes in the series, and Poison Ivy is one of its best characters.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Trial”

btas trialEpisode Number:  68

Original Air Date:  May 16, 1994

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Paul Dini and Bruce Timm

First Appearance(s):  None

“Trial” could be described as one of our first big payoff episodes for the series as it draws heavily on the events of season one. After spending considerable time developing Batman’s rogues’ gallery, Paul Dini and Bruce Timm decided to play around with them like a kid diving into a toy box for this episode as many of Batman’s foes are brought back for an ensemble episode. It also refers back to “Shadow of the Bat” and Gotham’s new district attorney, Janet Van Dorn (Stephanie Zimbalist, replacing Lynette Mettey, and also the daugher of Alfred voice actor Efrem Zimbalist Jr.), who was first introduced there as a hard-nosed and rigid authority figure. Here her personality is essentially doubled-down on as we find out she has a strong dislike for Batman and Gordon’s reliance on the vigilante in combating the crime infecting Gotham. Her dislike of Batman is a bit more practical than that of Detective Bullock’s as Batman’s clearly breaking the law, or at least bending it, with his vigilante antics and it makes her job considerably more difficult. And since she is at odds with Batman, it only makes sense to lean into that conflict as the backbone for this episode.

janet trial

Goth DA Janet Van Dorn assumes the spotlight for her second appearance. She also has been slightly redesigned to appear more youthful.

“Trial” opens in a court setting. Pamela Isely (Diane Pershing), better known as Poison Ivy, is facing incarceration beyond just treatment at Arkham Asylum and Van Dorn is arguing for life in prison. Ivy is able to avoid jail-time due to her capture being at the hands of Batman, who naturally isn’t present to even testify against her. The judge sends her back to Arkham, not an outcome Ivy probably wanted but it’s still better than prison. When the media approaches Van Dorn following the verdict, she uses the camera time to blast Batman calling him a disgrace and placing the blame for the presence of criminally insane rogues in the city on him. She’s also not afraid to let Commissioner Gordon know how she feels, but as always, he’s willing to stand-up for Batman viewing him as their best weapon in the fight against crime. Batman even drops in on their little meeting, presenting a gang leader as a present (who is wearing a skull shirt that seems to resemble a certain Marvel character’s logo). When Van Dorn challenges him to take off the mask and put on a uniform, Batman says nothing and departs. She takes a batarang from the perp as a parting gift, I guess?

At Arkham, a somewhat somber looking Poison Ivy is returned to her room. Her pal Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin) tries to cheer her up, but she has little success. She mentions something big is about to go down though that will likely lift her spirits. We then see some zombie-like orderlies and doctors milling about and The Mad Hatter bursts into the picture to reveal he’s used his mind control cards to subdue them as chaos breaks out.

captured batman

Van Dorn and Batman find themselves tied together by the real foes of Gotham.

A fatigued Van Dorn is shown arriving at a restaurant for dinner. Her date this evening is none other than Bruce Wayne. If Bruce is romantically interested in Van Dorn or just looking to get inside the head of someone who could either be friend or foe to Batman is not shown. Given his dedication to his Batman persona, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if it was the latter. A waiter (clearly voiced by Mark Hamill, which is an unintentional piece of foreshadowing) comes to the table to tell Van Dorn she has a phone call. She never returns, and soon Batman is summoned by Gordon to find out the DA has been kidnapped. A ransom note was left behind containing a riddle. Batman deciphers it and heads for the court-house where he’s jumped by Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn.

Janet Van Dorn finds herself locked-up in Arkham. As she demands to speak with someone, she’s greeted by the former district attorney, Two-Face (Richard Moll). They’re having a little trial and need Van Dorn to act as a defense attorney with Two-Face the acting DA. Her client? None other than Batman. And to make things more interesting, Van Dorn’s fate is to be tied to that of her client. As Killer Croc (Aron Kincaid) dumps Batman in the cell with her, she complains about their situation and suggests Batman is where he belongs. Batman has no interest in debating his existence with Van Dorn.

trial jury

Batman’s jury hardly seems fair and impartial.

The two are lead into the court room, where a bunch of raving inmates jeer the presence of Batman and Gotham’s DA. Harley Quinn is there to taunt Batman revealing she stole his belt. The Ventriloquist (George Dzundza) with a newly reconstructed Scarface (also Dzundza) are acting as the bailiff and the jury is rather stacked against Batman as it contains:  Poison Ivy, Harley, Mad Hatter (Roddy McDowall), Killer Croc, Scarecrow, and The Riddler (Scarecrow and Riddler are not voiced in this episode). The judge? Well, it has to be The Joker (Mark Hamill) who is looking resplendent in a black robe and wig.

After Dent makes a rather brief and to the point opening statement, the trial gets underway. The Mad Hatter is the first witness who blames Batman for creating him. Van Dorn is able to expose his sick side rather easily, recalling the events of his debut and his obsessive pursuit of a woman who spurned his advances. Harley is the next, and Van Dorn is quick to point out she’s improperly influencing the judge who is laying his head in her lap (they apparently made up). Van Dorn gets no where with that complaint, but during her questioning of Quinn she actually reveals her origin for the first time as a doctor at Arkham perverted by The Joker. She also reveals that Joker ratted her out during his last capture, which enrages Harley and forces Croc to carry her out kicking and screaming.

harleys tampering

Harely and Joker are shown to have a still combustible relationship, but Harley just can’t seem to dump the clown.

Poison Ivy is next up, and her past with trying to murder Harvey Dent is once again brought up. Van Dorn accuses Ivy of having more love for plants than humans, and when Ivy denies that, Van Dorn begins taunting her by plucking the petals off a flower. This sets her off, and Ivy attacks Van Dorn and the two have to be separated. Van Dorn then composes herself for her closing remarks, claiming she now sees that it wasn’t Batman who created these villains, but the villains are the ones who created Batman. Her argument is apparently persuasive, and the jury actually finds Batman innocent. Joker is quick to point out that this is a court composed of the violent and depraved, and as such, they’ll still sentence Batman to the same fate that would have befallen him had he been guilty. Quoting Porky Pig’s “That’s all folks,” Joker strikes the bench with a rubber chicken and the two are dragged away.

van dorn and judge joker

The straight-laced Van Dorn is forced to contend with the crazies of Arkham, something she proves she’s capable of.

The rogues drag Batman to an execution chamber where the electric chair awaits him. Joker enters dressed as a preacher now as Batman is taken out of his strait jacket and placed in the chair. It’s at this point Van Dorn remembers the batarang in her jacket from earlier, and she takes out the only light in the room with it. This gives Batman the only opening he needs as he slips out of his confines and returns to the shadows where he is oh so comfortable being.

The tables have now turned, and Batman lets them know they’re now locked-up in there with him (perhaps a nod to Watchmen?) as he starts picking them off. When he grabs Croc, Joker reaches for Scarface’s miniature, but functional, tommy gun and opens fire. When Scarface warns Joker that he’ll hit Croc, he responds with “What’s your point?”

batman electric chair

This seems like a bad situation for Batman to find himself in, but as usual, he’ll make the best of it.

Batman grabs Van Dorn and the two attempt to escape, but are met by a scythe-wielding Scarecrow on the stairs. Batman is able to parry his strikes, which result in Scarface losing his head, and dispatches of the villains closing in on them. They escape to the rooftop where The Joker awaits. Joker ropes Batman and tugs him off the building with the rope affixed to an abutment that allows Joker to swing from the other end. He tries to take Batman out with a giant mallet, but as always, Batman is able to escape and take him out in the process. By now, the police (who have been tracking Batman’s location this whole time) arrive to clean up the mess. In a brief sequence to close things out, Van Dorn admits to Batman she sees a need for him in Gotham, but adds she’ll still work to create a Gotham that no longer needs Batman. He responds with a smile and a simple “Me too.”

“Trial” is a fun examination of how Batman and his adversaries are connected. Van Dorn’s argument that the cartoonish villains of their world are created by Batman is a common one, while the episode makes the case that it’s the other way around. The reality is that the two are forever intertwined. A criminal act created Batman, but Batman has certainly had a hand in creating some of the villains he combats (Van Dorn even references Joker’s creation which follows that of Batman ’89). It’s a fun little debate, and getting a bunch of villains together in one place is also equally fun and basically the impetus for Batman:  The Movie. I like seeing how the villains also play off each other, though Croc is back to being a dim-witted piece of comic relief who just wants to throw a rock at Batman. Having Harley’s origins touched upon is a nice little nugget and something that will be explored down the road. I could certainly nitpick how easy it was for Mad Hatter to gain access to his special cards or how Van Dorn is a great shot on her first try wielding a batarang, but this episode is pretty packed as-is (supposedly, this plot was considered as the first movie, but was scrapped in favor of Mask of the Phantasm) and had it spent any additional time on such details it would likely not have worked out as well. The script is also delightful, making this perhaps the most quotable episode of the series. The only gaffe, plot-wise, is the presence of Killer Croc in Arkham when it was established in “Sideshow” he’s not insane, just a bad guy.

preacher joker

Preacher Joker is one of the fun little touches in this episode.

Dong Yang Animation does a nice job with this episode having to animate so many unique characters at once. They even went through the trouble of portraying the villains in jumpsuits initially, rather than taking the easy way out and just having them in costume from the start. Bruce Wayne also gets a new look as he’s ditched his old brown suit for a sharp-looking gray one that seems to be his new default look. The drab backgrounds of Arkham are juxtaposed against the colorful costumes everyone sports and it creates a nice look. I also really enjoyed Joker’s various attires and the toy collector in me wouldn’t mind an action figure of Judge Joker and Preacher Joker. Van Dorn also received a subtle make-over from her prior appearance. She wears a blue suit now and appears a bit more youthful than before. There are a couple little production gaffes, like a character’s mouth moving when it shouldn’t and Riddler just disappearing, but nothing glaring enough to take away from the overall presentation.

“Trial” is a good second season episode that really takes advantage of the lore and backstories established in season one, and even elsewhere. It’s the type of episode I like to see in a show’s second season, and for a show like Batman that typically focuses on stand-alone stories, I always get a little rush of excitement when past events are mentioned.


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