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The Batman TAS Episode Ranking – Part 3

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

59 – Paging the Crime Doctor

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

FearofVictory58 – Fear of Victory

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

57 – It’s Never Too Late

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

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Captain Clown, we hardly knew ye.

56 – The Last Laugh

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

55 – Double Talk

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

54 – Baby-Doll

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

cross blades53 – The Demon’s Quest: Part II

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

52 – The Mechanic

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

30-251 – Appointment in Crime Alley

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

50 – Bane

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

offbalance49 – Off Balance

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

48 – Mad as a Hatter

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

smilingtwoface147 – Two-Face: Part II

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

46 – A Bullet for Bullock

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

45 – What is Reality?

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

HS_II_41_-_Batman

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

44 – Heart of Steel: Part 2

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

43 – Dreams in Darkness

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

calendar girl revealed42 – Mean Seasons

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

41 – Judgement Day

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

joker limo40 – Joker’s Millions

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


Batman: The Movie

Batman:  The Movie (1966)

Batman: The Movie (1966)

The Batman character certainly has changed a lot over the past 50 years. Sure, under the mask he’s still Bruce Wayne, his parents are still dead, and he can usually be found prowling the streets of Gotham City by night accompanied by a juvenile in a red and yellow costume. Many things have changed though. For one, Bruce Wayne is no longer content to be a millionaire so he’s jumped into the billionaire ranks. The blue and gray spandex Batman used to wear is now often black and gray and even armor-plated, depending on the artist. Robin, thankfully, isn’t parading around in tights either or a bright yellow cape (no wonder why he’s usually the one getting picked off as opposed to Batman) and sometimes he even gets to be an adult. Mostly though, the tone of the work has changed. A lot of writers have received credit for turning Batman into a more serious and mature character during the 70’s and 80’s with most of it going to Frank Miller, but the change was actually rather gradual. In order for a character to survive decades upon decades and remain relevant, he has to change with the times as the general tastes of the public are always evolving.

In 1965, Batman was faced with becoming irrelevant. His comic book sales were down and he hadn’t appeared in a film reel in decades. Television was still pretty new, and pretty limited, but the idea to give the caped crusader a shot at television came up and by 1966 Batman was more than relevant once again; he was a star! Starring Adam West and Burt Ward as the dynamic duo, Batman appeared twice a week (a rarity at the time) on television in a serialized nature, often with the first night’s program continuing into the second’s. The show was a hit with children mostly, but also adults who grew up reading the Batman comics. Color TV was new at the time, and Batman was presented in eye-popping color for those fortunate enough to have a color set. The jazz-infused soundtrack was catchy, and the wild cast of villains gave the show a new flavor each week. Stars were born, of course, with classic comic villains such as The Joker and The Penguin seeing their star burn even brighter while villains mostly abandoned by the books, such as Catwoman and The Riddler, found a new lease on life. The show was basically a farce, with Batman and Robin presented in an ever serious manner oblivious to the ridiculous circumstances they would find themselves in week after week. The supporting cast of Commissioner Gordon (Neil Hamilton) and Chief O’Hara (Stafford Repp) were equally oblivious while the villains came across as the only ones in on the joke. Batman and Robin would find themselves in dire situations often, but would always get out of it either thru ingenuity, sheer coincidence, or via an oddly situation specific “Bat” gadget. This was Batman in the 60’s and it’s what people wanted.

Look out, caped crusaders! The Joker, Catwoman, Penguin, and Riddler have joined forces!

Look out, caped crusaders! The Joker, Catwoman, Penguin, and Riddler have joined forces!

When the show was first conceived, it was decided that a movie would be created to help launch the program. Plans changed, however, when the network involved surprisingly picked up the show with production needing to start immediately to meet a January air date. The movie was back-burnered for awhile in order to focus on the television show, but filming resumed in the early spring to make a summer release possible. This ended up being a boon for the show, and the film as well, as Batman took off and created great anticipation for the film. The increased budget for a feature also meant that new gadgets and vehicles, such as the Batcopter and Batcycle, could be created for the film and then used again for the television show. In order to make the film feel bigger than the show, four villains were present instead of the usual one: Joker, Penguin, Riddler, and Catwoman. The only complication was Julie Newmar, Catwoman on the show, was unavailable so the part had to be recast and went to Lee Meriwether. Cesar Romero, Burgess Meredith, and Frank Gorshin were able to play their roles as Joker, Penguin, and Riddler, respectively, and the rest of the television cast was available for the film as well.

The style of the television show was incorporated into the film. The art direction is distinctly pop for the era. There’s an abundance of bright, primary colors. When the characters are put into a more realistic setting, such as Batman during the infamous bomb segment, they stand-out against the background and appear as out of place as a man in a batsuit should (though the extras in the shots carry on as if this is business as usual). The action sequences are surprisingly kept to a minimum, but when a fight breaks out expect many haymakers and somersaults (the editors saved the famous “pow” animations for the film’s climactic battle). The Batman theme is present but in small doses. The film’s main theme is perhaps relied upon a bit too heavily as it’s used for every long shot of Batman and Robin in their various vehicles used throughout the film.

Still the coolest Batmobile ever created.

Still the coolest Batmobile ever created.

The plot from the film is rather rudimentary. The four villains have teamed up to kidnap the world leaders using a bizarre dehydrating ray that reduces any human it touches into a pile of dust to be rehydrated later. The protagonists deduce their foes’ motives thru absurd means presented as deductive reasoning but are either lazy writing or an attempt at humor. Batman is the straight man while Robin is more of a hot-head (and possibly a sociopath who wants to murder alcoholics). The villains are as over-the-top as their TV personalities. Gorshin and Romero present their characters as cackling madmen with The Riddler having the added flaw of feeling compelled to leave Batman and Robin clues in the form of riddles. The film actually draws attention to how similar the two villains became once they hit television, but both actors perform so well in their roles it’s mostly forgiven. Meredith is a delight as The Penguin. He waddles everywhere and gets so much personality out of that long cigarette holder always stuck between his teeth. Meriwether’s Catwoman is basically the same as Newmar’s with her always feeling compelled to use the word “perfect” when describing something she approves of, but drawing it out into a long “purrrrrfect” because she is, after all, a crazy cat-person. Catwoman also gets to have an alter-ego in the form of Miss Kitka, who seduces Bruce Wayne to lure him into a trap so that he may be used as bait for Batman. As a kid, I found it odd how easily Batman is able to see thru a disguise The Penguin uses later in the film, but he’s blind to Catwoman’s. Apparently, even Batman sometimes ends up thinking with the wrong head from time to time.

The special effects in the film will impress no one accustomed to the movies of today. When Batman is attacked by a shark early in the film it’s clearly made of rubber and its teeth leave no imprint on Batman or draw blood. A scene of some ducks in the water are obviously decoys, and every character who throws a punch whiffs by about six inches on their target. And who could forget the climbing scenes? Scene thru the lens of today, these shortcomings just add to the campy charm. The comical bomb Batman is forced to dispose of is cheeky and the ray-gun effects are delightfully cliche.

Some days, you just can't get rid of a bomb (I had to do it!).

Some days, you just can’t get rid of a bomb (I had to do it!).

The film is a farce, an exercise in the absurd, and it is entertaining. I grew up watching the television show in syndication during the 80’s. I suspect my generation may be the last who can say that as I assume most kids today have never seen Adam West as Batman and I wonder if they would appreciate it. Perhaps if this is the fist Batman they’re exposed to they’ll see what the kids of the 60’s saw, or maybe they’ll just see a very ordinary looking man in gray and blue spandex. Batman was fun for me as a kid with all of the different villains and bat-gadgets and as an adult I find it funny and charming. It’s not really clever comedy, but I wouldn’t call it stupid either. The Batman premise is one that’s far-fetched and unrealistic, and the writers approach the character as such. While writers and filmmakers today are more interested in a realistic portrayal of a masked vigilante, it’s kind of fun to see the character portrayed in the only manner he could actually exist. The entire 1960’s television series is finally set for release this holiday season in a massive, and expensive, box set. That might be overload but for anyone seeking out just a taste of the Batman from 1966, the movie represents a good, and cheap, snap-shot. The blu ray from which this review is for, looks great considering the film’s age. The colors pop as they should, the picture is sharp, and there’s quite a bit of extra content. The film doesn’t look as old as it really is, which is often the best compliment one can give to such an old movie. This was my first Batman on television and I would go on to enjoy Tim Burton’s take on the character and fall in love with The Animated Series. I never lost my affection for this Batman though, and even though I view it in a different way than I did as a five year old, I am still charmed by it. Hopefully, I’m not the only one.


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