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Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman

mystery of the batwomanOriginal Release Date:  October 21, 2003

Directed by:  Curt Geda, Jennifer Graves (Sequences), Tim Maltby (Sequences)

Written by: Alan Burnett, Michael Reaves, Paul Dini (Chase Me)

Animation:  DR Movie Ltd., Warner Bros. Animation (Chase Me)

Running Time:  75 minutes

The final episode of The New Batman Adventures aired on January 16, 1999. “Mad Love” was the chosen finale and it came more than two months after the preceding episode (Beware the Creeper). It was a bit of an inauspicious end to Batman: The Animated Series, not because the episode wasn’t great (it most certainly was), but that it was never written to be the finale. The staff for the show assumed another episode order was bound to happen, but it never did. Instead, Warner Bros. wanted to try something different. Seeing rival comic company Marvel having success with its younger characters and perhaps fearing Batman’s aura was damaged by the flop Batman & Robin, Warner had the braintrust on the series come up with a new, younger, Batman. That became Batman Beyond which premiered the same month The New Batman Adventures came to an end.

Batman Beyond would produce 52 episodes and a single film coming to a close in 2001. That obviously wasn’t the end for DC Animated productions as team-focused shows would follow. For some reason, Warner decided to revisit Batman: The Animated Series in 2003 with the direct-to-video Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman. From an artistic perspective, there’s never a bad reason to do a Batman film, especially one set in this much beloved universe. From a business end, it’s a bit unclear why this film exists. Following the show’s conclusion, there were a few video games produced including one in 2003, Rise of Sin Tzu, but I can’t see Warner commissioning a new film to promote a video game. My best guess is this was just a little something to keep Batman in the minds of fans as the company was preparing to bring the Caped Crusader back to theaters in 2005 with Batman Begins. It also allowed those who worked on the show to explore a period in time not touched on previously, namely the gap in time between the end of The New Batman Adventures and the death of Joker as explored in Batman Beyond: Return of the Joker.

batwoman wave

Batwoman is the latest vigilante to wind-up in Gotham

Whatever the reason may be, it’s certainly not a bad thing to have more Batman set in this universe. Mystery of the Batwoman, as the title implies, is a mystery tale with the subject being a new vigilante in Gotham, Batwoman. If that sounds too similar to Mask of the Phantasm well then let me point out right away that Batwoman is not a homicidal vigilante getting Batman in trouble. The plots are different enough and the mystery is sound. It’s also preceded on most releases with an animated short titled Chase Me. It’s pretty interesting to see a short subject set in this universe as one had never been done before, even though it would have made a lot of sense to pair the theatrically released Mask of the Phantasm with one. It’s a cute little piece of animation though done in-house at Warner in which Batman chases Catwoman through Gotham. It contains no voice acting and is mostly just a visual treat. It’s been included on basically every release of this film and is worth checking out.

Chase Me runs about five minutes long and its title says it all. When Bruce is shown out of his element at a ball being held at Wayne Enterprises, he slips away from his many suitors and retreats to his office only to find Catwoman robbing him. He gives chase as Batman as the two traverse the city of Gotham winding up at a zoo. Along the way there’s a cameo from Bullock and Batman does battle with some big cats. It ends with Catwoman cornered and she makes her usual play of appealing to Batman in only a way she can. At first he rebuffs her, but then moves in for a long, lingering, kiss as the police arrive. He then gives her a smile and leaves with the sack of money she swiped. She thinks he’s letting her go, but she soon realizes he handcuffed her to a gate. It then returns to the shot it began on with Bruce staring forlornly at the city from the ball implying it was all a fantasy as a blond woman taps him on the shoulder to lead him back to the party.

chase me end

Chase Me is brief, but fun.

Chase Me contains no dialogue and is set to an original piece of music. It’s uncharacteristic in nature for the series as it contains elements of jazz and has an obvious Latin flavor to it. It works for the romantic and seductive parts, but not so much for the action bits. The designs for the characters are taken from The New Batman Adventures, which is a bit of a shame as I don’t care for this take on Catwoman. Otherwise though it’s pretty entertaining and provides a little window into Bruce’s mind and what really gets him going.

The actual film, Mystery of the Batwoman, is a procedural mystery. It quickly tasks Batman (Kevin Conroy) with uncovering who Batwoman (Kyra Sedgwick) is, even by having her simply tell him to figure it out when the two first meet. It’s a mostly Batman affair, with a dash of Robin who is slightly older (and now voiced by Eli Marienthal) from when we last saw him. Barbara pops in only briefly to phone Bruce about this new person in Gotham stealing her gimmick and Nightwing is never mentioned.

batman robin batwoman

Batman and Robin will cross paths with Batwoman, but if you were hoping to hear from Batgirl and Nightwing then you’ll be disappointed.

Batwoman is targeting a weapons ring organized by The Penguin (David Ogden Stiers) and Rupert Thorne (John Vernon, making his first appearance since Season Two of BTAS). They’ve hired Carlton Duquesne (Kevin Michael Richardson) to provide security for their operation and when Batwoman proves to be too much for him they bring on Bane (Hector Elizondo). Batman, for his part, is mostly concerned with Batwoman and what her motives are.

kathy duquesne

Kathy Duquesne is suspect number 1. She’ll also have a bit of a romantic fling with Bruce Wayne.

These sort of mysteries are often undone because the list of suspects is often small and limited to whoever is new. Mystery of the Batwoman is prepared for that by introducing three candidates for the role of Batwoman. And to make it harder, they all have different voice actresses including Batwoman herself. The first introduced is the daughter of Carlton, Kathy Duquesne (Kimberly Brooks) who carries a grudge against her father and his choice of work as it was his profession that got her mother killed years before the events of the film. She also has the added wrinkle of being named Kathy Duquesne, with her last name pronounced as “Do Kane,” making her name very similar to Kathy Kane, the name of Batwoman in the comics.

rocky and tim

Rocky works for Bruce, but seems to form more of a connection with Tim than her boss.

The second suspect is an employee of Wayne Tech by the name of Rocky Ballantine (Kelly Ripa). She’s invented a metal that can be programmed to take whatever shape she wants it to, which is pitched to the board of Wayne Enterprises and then utilized by Batwoman in an attack on The Penguin later. She also has the added motivation of wanting get back at Penguin for he framed her fiancé sending him to jail for 9 years.

bullock sonia

Bullock has a new partner in Sonia leaving Montoya out in the cold.

The third is Bullock’s new assistance, Sonia Alcana (Elisa Gabrielli), who is a dead-ringer for Elektra from the Cowboy Bebop movie. She may be a cop now, but she lost her home and her parents’ business to a fire started by Rupert Thorne. Batman saved her, but she and her family lost everything and to make it worse, Thorne escaped prosecution.

All three women will cross paths with either Bruce Wayne or Batman, with Kathy serving as a romantic interest as well. It’s engaging to watch Batman search for clues and even run into apparent dead ends as he focuses on one girl, then is forced to consider another. The film actually reveals who Batwoman is by the end of the second act leaving the third to contain mostly action as Batman is forced to basically save the villains from Batwoman while also facing off with Bane. There’s a bit of a twist to the mystery, but it works and I mostly enjoyed what the film gave me.

rupert thorne tnba

Rupert Thorne makes his first appearance since the second season of the show. He has some new card gimmick for some reason in which he’s always fidgeting with playing cards.

Continuity wise, this film tries to address some of the things opened up by Batman Beyond, but commits to very little. When Barbara calls Bruce from college, it’s clear she harbors a romantic interest in him that he is uncomfortable dealing with. Such was implied by Barbara in Batman Beyond, and it’s odd to see Bruce basically ghosting before the term was invented. I would have liked to see more of this subplot, but it basically amounts to a tease. The end of the film provides a plausible explanation for what happened to Penguin and Thorne, though there’s little there that’s definitive. It’s a bit of a spoiler, but the ending for Bane makes it appear as if he perished, which is somewhat odd considering he’s one of the few villains from this era to show up in Batman Beyond. I suppose it’s possible this is meant to be his final encounter with Batman.

The animation for this feature was handled by DR Movie Co., LTD. in what is its first opportunity to work on this series. The company did do work for The Zeta Project and would go on to do work for Justice League Unlimited. It adheres to the visual look of The New Batman Adventures with little embellishment. One welcomed return is the use of the Dark Deco look for certain exterior shots of Gotham which hadn’t been seen since the first two seasons of BTAS. The level of violence in the show is possibly less than what was present at times in The New Batman Adventures and there doesn’t appear to be any increase in budget for the feature over a traditional episode. The animation itself is good in places, and poor in others. When Kathy is introduced, for example, she’s supposed to have a sexy sway to her as she walks, but the character looks bendy instead. There’s also spots where the camera zooms in on an image that really isn’t detailed enough for the look. And since this was released in 2003, it’s formatted for a 4:3 picture as HD television sets had yet to really take over even though it was created in 1.78:1.

batwomans gilider

Batwoman gets to have fun zooming around on a glider like she’s some Spider-Man villain.

The character designs are basically all the same as what we saw in The New Batman Adventures. The only new character is Batwoman and her costume looks like a silver version of the Batman Beyond costume, but with a cape and different colored boots and gloves. She rides around on a giant glider that looks like the oversized glider Hobgoblin utilized in the Spider-Man animated series, only Batwoman chooses to kneel on it rather than stand. It’s also reminiscent of the glider utilized by Nausicaä from Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and it would not surprise me if that was an inspiration for the device.

batwoman penguin

A lot of people have an issue with Penguin in this one, including me as I don’t like his new voice.

Andrea Romano is back to handle the voice casting duties and she was able to return most of the voices we’re familiar with. In addition to Kevin Conroy as Batman, Bob Hastings returns to voice Commissioner Gordon and Robert Costanzo is at his side as Detective Bullock. Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. is also back to give voice to Bruce’s trusty butler, Alfred and he gets to be as cheeky as always. Eli Marienthal takes over as Robin and this is the only time he voices the character while Hector Elizondo takes over for Henry Silva as Bane. I’m not sure why Silva did not reprise the role of Bane, but Elizondo does fine. In what is a bit of a controversial move, Paul Williams was replaced by David Ogden Stiers as the voice of The Penguin. I do not mean this as an insult to the memory of Mr. Stiers, but my reaction to his Penguin is not favorable. Stiers uses his Cogsworth voice from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast and I do not understand the motivation behind the change. Bruce Timm has stated that writer/producer Alan Burnett felt the character needed more of a “mob boss” type of voice, but I don’t understand how this voice is superior to Williams’ performance given that direction. Timm has been too polite to say what most fans probably felt, but I think he agrees with the sentiment that Williams should have returned.

cherie

The musician Cherie gets to have a cameo in the Iceberg Lounge.

Lolita Ritmanis handled the score for the film. It makes use of Shirley Walker’s Batman theme while also going off and doing it’s own thing. There’s liberal use of a saxophone in the opening segment almost giving this film a Lupin feel at times. Once it gets going, the score largely blends in with the rest of the BTAS feel, though it’s certainly distinctive on its own. The only exception being the use of the licensed track “Betcha Neva” by Cherie, which was taken from her debut album. The song is played during a part that takes place inside Penguin’s Iceberg Lounge with Cherie essentially voicing the performer who is singing the song, even though it’s just her track that’s played. The sequence feels a bit odd for the film, but it does feature some of the best animation in the film in a brief shot of patrons dancing. The song is returned for the closing credits. It gives the film more of a feature feel to it, but in that inauthentic sort of way a lot of features are guilty of when bringing something from television to the big screen.

Batman: Mystery of the Batwoman is ultimately an entertaining ride. The 75 minutes runtime is appropriate for the story, and while it could have held onto the mystery a touch longer, it handles that aspect of the plot well. There’s some solid action pieces, but the presentation is very much in line with what the show produced making it a little disappointing in that regard. And while it seemed to promise a willingness to address some of the things left unexplained in between The New Batman Adventures and Batman Beyond, it ultimately revealed very little making the whole thing feel very inconsequential. It’s less a grand finale for the show as it apparently just wanted to give fans a chance to live in this world one final time. And if that is all it was going for then it turned out fine. It’s not at all comparable to Mask of the Phantasm, but it’s comparable in quality to SubZero.

bane carlton

This film may or not may not depict Batman’s final confrontation with Bane.

Unfortunately, Mystery of the Batwoman was basically the lone holdout when Batman: The Animated Series was released as a Blu Ray set in 2018. The entire television series plus the other two films were included, but this one was strangely left out. It’s even odder because the film was already available on Blu Ray so it’s not as if it needed a new transfer. Perhaps there were licensing issues due to the Cherie song as it’s odd to leave this, and Chase Me, out of that set. Nonetheless, if you wish to view it yourself you have options. The film was released on both DVD and Blu Ray and it’s also available for paid streaming. The DVD, which I have, is old enough that it came in a snapback case and contains satisfactory visuals. There are some odd scanlines on parts of the image and I’m curious if that is corrected on the HD release. Neither is particularly expensive, so if you wish to own it (and if you already own the entire series you might as well) I’d say go for the Blu Ray as it’s likely a little better to look at and is probably presented in the proper aspect ratio.

This essentially wraps up our look at the complete Batman: The Animated Series. This blog is about to switch over to The Christmas Spot so it’s also the last Batman content for a little while. I will be back in the new year to share my thoughts on the series as a whole before moving onto one of my favorite exercises – ranking! Yes, after viewing all 109 episodes we need to decide which is the best the series produced. And following that, I’m not sure where this blog will take me. Batman Beyond is out there and certainly in play, but after 112 weeks of Batman coverage I may need to take a little break from the guy for a bit.

 


The New Batman Adventures – “Beware the Creeper”

beware the creeperEpisode Number:  23 (108)

Original Air Date:  November 7, 1998

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Rich Fogel

First Appearance:  The Creeper

As we rapidly approach the end of The New Batman Adventures I find myself having some expectations of how the final episodes will go. I, of course, have watched all of these before, but I’m certainly thinking about them differently as I engage with them this time around. Last week’s episode, “Chemistry,” gathered a bunch of old faces from the first two seasons of Batman: The Animated Series for one giant cameo. That’s the sort of thing I would expect a show to do near its end. Next week’s finale is going to reexamine a villain who is very much associated with the program. That also seems like a thing to do. What does not is introducing a new face to the mix, but that’s exactly what this week’s episode, “Beware the Creeper,” is aiming to do.

There is a bit of a long game at play here. It’s not an obvious one though, but if you’ve been paying attention during the show’s run you may have noticed that Jack Ryder has essentially replaced Summer Gleason as Gotham’s go-to news anchor person. He’s appeared in multiple episodes, though he’s never played much of a role in any. He’s just been there. A long game designed around him doesn’t feel like it was in play, but today’s episode some-what rewards viewers for noticing him as he’s going to assume this new persona of The Creeper. And tied into it all is Joker, making his final appearance on the show.

The episode opens at a familiar location:  Ace Chemical Plant. This is where I remind you that the lore of this television show has largely been adapted from Tim Burton’s Batman from 1989. At least as it relates to Joker, anyway. Unlike in the comics where Joker’s origin is non-committal, in this series he was indeed born at this chemical plant. He was a mob hitman, as outlined in the film Mask of the Phantasm, who went by the name of Jack Napier. He encountered Batman one fateful night at this plant, and the resulting fight caused him to fall into a vat of chemicals and become disfigured leading to his current persona as The Joker.

joker gang

Joker and his gang are here to supervise the television special and make sure it’s accurate.

Jack Ryder (Jeff Bennett) is hosting a special on the Joker titled “The Madness Behind the Laughter” from this location. It feels like one of those docu-series programs or an episode of Dateline, with the peculiar distinction that it’s being broadcast live. As Ryder walks across the scaffolding above the chemicals, he takes the viewer through Joker’s creation complete with dramatization. Interestingly, we find out this all happened a mere seven years ago, though Batman is depicted in his 1940s costume in the re-telling. Bruce Wayne is watching rather intently from home and Tim gives him some grief for being interested in hearing about how Joker was created.

reenactment

The reenactment of when Joker met Batman.

As Ryder goes about his business, high above in the rafters lurks Joker himself. The camera catches him in frame, and Wayne notices him right away as he and Tim race out of there. Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin) is with Joker (Mark Hamill) and asks him if he thinks Batman saw him. Joker responds in the affirmative (and quotes Tweety Bird in the process) as Batman is his biggest fan – there’s no way he’d miss this! Also with Joker today are his henchmen Mo, Lar, and Cur (Billy West) whom we haven’t seen since the first episode. It’s nice to see they’ve been doing well.

joker and ryder

Joker and Ryder just having some laughs.

Joker was going to wait for Batman, but he’s a bit bored. To make sure he’s noticed, he bombs Ryder and his crew with gas-filled rubber chickens. The crew starts laughing as Ryder barks at them that they’re on live TV. When Joker hops down he starts shouting for the viewers that this isn’t part of the show, but soon the gas gets him as well and he begins laughing uncontrollably. Joker then gives him a shove and he flips over the railing and into the same vat of chemicals that created Joker.

The Batmobile comes barreling in and Batman and Robin emerge. Harley and the boys hop down to take them on as she blows a whistle signaling the beginning of the fight. As Batman and Robin tangle with the big men, Ryder tries to climb out of the chemicals. He’s looking no worse for ware, but still laughing and Joker promptly kicks him back in. He again emerges and this time Joker shoves a cigar in his mouth. It’s a gag cigar that soon explodes. The image shifts to reveal a sign that says No Smoking and warns of explosive chemicals. Director Dan Riba apparently didn’t trust viewers to see the sign so the camera even zooms in on it to make sure.

ryder emerges

I think Ryder is going to be okay…

As the place starts to go up in flames, Batman is finally able to confront The Joker. Unfortunately, Joker has opened a valve on the chemical tub which is ejecting all of the chemicals into the ocean, including Ryder. Joker points this fact out to Batman and he’s forced to go after Ryder as opposed to Joker, completely forgetting he has a partner in Robin who could have probably tended to the reporter. When the two head to where the chemicals are being ejected, they see Ryder’s shirt which is on fire floating in the chemicals, but no Ryder. Assuming he’s dead, the two climb back into the Batmobile to presumably try and catch the Joker or alert the police of what transpired. As the Batmobile races away, a manhole cover opens and Ryder emerges. He’s still got a serious case of the giggles and a crazed grin to go along with it. His hair is green like Joker’s and his skin slightly yellowed. He basically mugs for the camera before running off.

Ryder then bounces around the streets of Gotham laughing to himself. It’s apparent these chemicals have really heightened his agility and strength as he effortlessly leaps from street level to the top of a street light. He tries to slow down and encourages himself to think logically about the situation. The sound of a coocoo clock going off is played and Ryder grimaces as if he has a headache. He jumps to a nearby ledge as he sees a woman inside. She is frightened and runs off and Ryder gets even more cartoonish by quoting Mindy from Animaniacs (“Okay-I-love-you-Buh-Bye!”) and bounds into a clothing store named Ditko’s, an obvious nod to Steve Ditko who created the character of The Creeper. Inside there he scares all of the patrons away, but a clearly bored store associate (E.G. Daily) just hangs around and even gives him fashion tips. She suggests green and hands him a little pair of green and black undies that he puts on along with some fashionable red gloves and boots. To complete the ensemble a large red boa is draped over his shoulders.

harley pie

She puts so much effort into her relationship with Joker and what does she get in return?

Batman and Robin are driving around in the Batmobile when they receive a call from Alfred. It would seem Ryder actually paid for his new threads with his own credit card, and Alfred is relaying the tip. Meanwhile, Joker is heading back to his hideout in a bit of a rage as word on the street is someone is stealing his act. When he enters the hideout he finds a surprise waiting for him. Harley emerges from a giant cream pie. She’s covered head to toe in whipped cream, but the presence of her headdress seems to suggest she’s not nude underneath it all, but I suppose she could be. Joker is rather stunned and Harley kicks an oversized cherry his way. It would seem she wants to celebrate the anniversary of Joker’s creation and beckons her puddin’ to come play with her. She playfully informs him that he’ll enjoy her “pie” and probably want seconds. It’s yet another risqué joke the show somehow managed to get past standards and practices.

As was the case in “Mad Love,” Joker is in no mood for play. Once again, Harley is shown being thrown out on her ass and comes crashing down between her beloved hyenas who start licking the cream off of her. Joker tastes some of the filling stuck to his coat and recoils with dissatisfaction remarking she’s a good kid but a not so good cook. He also orders her to find the plagiarist stealing his act.

stacked deck

He’s not here to play pool.

We return now to another location we haven’t seen in awhile, the Stacked Deck club on Gotham’s waterfront. Mo, Lar, and Cur are inside playing pool when Ryder comes busting in. They refer to him as a creep, which Ryder likes and uses to create a new name from himself:  The Creeper! He then tangles with the trio, and Billy West voices Lar with his Stimpy voice which is both weird and funny. A mopey Harley then walks by and is nearly hit with a flying pool table. Above, the shadows of Batman and Robin are seen arriving as well.

Inside the club, Creeper mostly has things under control. He’s been made much stronger than a normal person, but he still has the same “appetites” as normal men. When Harley enters he’s immediately taken by the pale-skinned woman. The camera lingers on her sexualizing her in a very obvious manner, much as it did when she was covered in pie. He starts hitting on her, and Harley soon realizes he’s the one Mr. J is after. As the two stand and talk, Batman tries walking up behind Creeper who casually uppercuts him without taking his eyes off of Harley. Batman crashes into a pool table and soon Mo opens fire on he and Robin as Harley and Creeper take things outside.

creeper and harley

The Creeper has found himself a new target and Harley is not having any of it.

Creeper keeps advancing on Harley like, well, a creep while she shows no interest. She soon realizes she can use this attraction to her advantage though and beckons Creeper to come forward. As he does, she releases the restraints on some cargo dangling precariously over Creeper’s head which drops on him. Satisfied, she flips away as Batman and Robin race over. Batman tells Robin to help him check on Creeper and Robin suggests they get a mop. They tare down the walls of the battered crate and find a huge statue was inside. The head then breaks off and inside is Creeper. He jumps out and when Batman asks who he is he informs him that he is “…Yellow-skinned Wacky Man! But I prefer The Creeper!”

Creeper is not at all interested in chatting with the Dynamic Duo. He seems to desire revenge on Joker and Harley’s affection, possibly in that order, and he bounds away. Batman and Robin follow and they come across him sniffing around an alley like a dog. It’s at this point it dawns on the two that this guys is Jack Ryder, and Batman reasons that the combination of Joker’s laughing gas with the chemicals in the plant are what caused this odd mutation.

joker meets creeper

Joker coming face to face with his latest creation.

Creeper apparently locks on Harley’s scent and runs off causing Batman and Robin to lose him. Harley went running back to Joker’s hideout and she busts in on him while he’s refilling his boutonniere which nearly causes an explosion. She frantically tells Joker someone is after her, when Creeper busts in. He approaches and quickly lives up to his name by grabbing Harley and licking her face. She tells Joker he’s the guy stealing his act and swears she didn’t lead him on. He believes her, remarking he knows she’s a one man loon. He then asks Creeper if he’d like to head on a one-way trip to Metropolis and waves a vial threateningly.

Batman and Robin are perched on a clocktower searching for Creeper. An explosion lets them know where he is and the two race to find Joker’s hideout. The explosion did little to discourage Creeper and Joker and Harley flee via a large parade float. Creeper races after them and hops into Joker’s convertible forcing Batman to grab onto the bumper. Robin hits it with a grapple gun and ends up on a dolly being pulled behind it.

creeper crash

He just can’t stop from acting like a creep at all times.

Joker leads the Creeper on a chase through the streets of Gotham and onto the freeway. Creeper is close behind the uncharacteristically fast parade float with Batman hanging onto the bumper and Robin being pulled behind. The parade float has a giant castle on it with a massive glove above which Joker knocks off. It crashes into Creeper’s car and smashes into pieces. Creeper starts fiddling with the various devices in the car and inadvertently fires off a bunch of rockets which nearly roast Batman and Robin and likely kill some unfortunate motorists offscreen. He then finds the rocket ejector seat which launches him onto the parade float.

Creeper crashes into Joker which knocks the both of them into Harley, who is trying to drive. This sends them careening off the overpass and into a waste disposal plant also conveniently owned by Ace. As they fly through the air, Creeper continues being a creep by gleefully chewing on one of Harley’s tassels from her costume. The car Creeper was once driving goes flying off the overpass as well and Batman is able to grab Robin and keep the two of them relatively safe. High above them, the other three have come to rest atop a giant heap of garbage. Creeper has Joker in a reverse chin-lock and eventually tosses him down to Batman. Joker, bleeding and on his knees, pleads with Batman to save him from the lunatic and Batman responds by slapping some bat-cuffs on him.

creeper assault

I do not like where this is going at all!

On the garbage heap, Creeper is continuing to live up to his name as he moves in on Harley. He shoves her down and basically looks like he’s about to commit a rather serious crime. Batman then shows up and prevents the rape by injecting Creeper with a sedative. He remarks he’s getting sleepy and then collapses on Harley his head coming to rest right in between her breasts.

Batman, Robin, and Ryder are then shown at Ryder’s apartment. He’s mostly removed his costume, save for those fashionable green undies, and is a tad distraught that his career is over. Batman informs him no one knows he was The Creeper, and informs him a patch he’s placed on his shoulder should keep him as Jack Ryder. He tells him he’ll supply him with more as he and Robin take their leave. Ryder watches them go from his balcony and seems to act derisively towards the patch, referring to it as “a little piece of cotton.” He then peels it off and walks back into his apartment. The camera stays on the balcony as he vanishes with his laughter soon filling the night air.

ryder bandage

Ryder is not a fan of the patch.

It was surprising to see a new face like The Creeper introduced so late in the game. Apparently, there had been a desire to include him going all the way back to the Fox days but it just never came to pass. Paul Dini has also mentioned they thought another season would be ordered so introducing him at this stage probably wasn’t frowned upon since he was clearly being setup to return in a future episode. Eventually, he would be added to the Justice League, but obviously there was no second appearance for the character in a dedicated Batman show. This episode also marks the final appearance of Robin in the show. Mathew Valencia would not return to voice the character in Mystery of the Batwoman, but he did return for the Batman Beyond film Return of the Joker.

For Joker and Harley, this is a rather inauspicious conclusion to their time on the show. A lot of their screen time is a bit derivative of “Mad Love,” in particular Harley trying to woo Joker and failing. It was a bit cute in “Mad Love” to see Harley try and be sexy for her Mr. J, but here it feels more indulgent than anything. It feels like the writers are just horny for Harley at this point, and that’s further driven home when Creeper is given an unhealthy attraction to the woman. It apparently wasn’t enough for Harley to be constantly abused by Joker, now we need to have her be sexually assaulted by another lunatic. Creeper’s licking and groping of Harley is gross and again it feels like we’re supposed to laugh at her constant abuse. Maybe I’m being overly sensitive, but I didn’t find it funny and instead I was left feeling sorry for Harley once again.

creeper uppercut

There may be some comedic potential in a Batman/Creeper pairing, but this being his only appearance in the show means it was never meant to be, I suppose.

Aside from the fact that Creeper is a downright creep, it was a bit interesting to see Joker targeted by another maniac. His constant giggling and chattiness reminds me of Freakazoid, though less charming. His look is rather goofy, but I suppose it befits the character and was true to his comic book counterpart. I would have preferred to see him remain focused on getting back at Joker than turning into some horn-ball for Harley. I think a better avenue for the episode would have been Creeper trying to use Harley to get at Joker, only to come to find Joker doesn’t actually value Harley thus ruining his plan. That would put Harley in the victim role again, but at least it would force her to again confront that Joker doesn’t care about her and she needs to remove him from her life, which would be a good place to leave the character as it would at least give her some hope.

“Beware the Creeper” is an entertaining episode, though one that perhaps reveals a bit too much about the men working on the show. It’s hard to watch this and not feel slightly dirty with how Harley is portrayed since the camera practically humps her in several scenes. It was fun seeing Joker’s origin reenacted once again, and the show made it a point to reveal that his old alias of Jack Napier was just that, an alias, which is a bit of a departure from Batman. I like an ambiguous origin for Joker and seeing the show maintain some of that ambiguity was nice. Had the show continued, I don’t know that I would have needed to see Creeper again. It would have been interesting to see if he returned with a Joker plot, or if he would have come back in another capacity. He has some sense of justice to him, so it’s possible he would have just returned as a vigilante that Batman encountered and probably would rather not work beside. An odd couple paring for the two has some comedic potential, but it was apparently never meant to be.


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 – “Legends of the Dark Knight”

legends of the dark knightEpisode Number:  19 (104)

Original Air Date:  October 10, 1998

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Robert Goodman, Bruce Timm

First Appearance:  Carrie

Over the years there has been a lot of Batman and a lot of Batmen. It might seem odd on the surface as to why there would be numerous versions of Batman, but one only needs to think about it briefly to realize why. Batman is a cultural touchstone, a character owned by DC and Warner Bros. but one that essentially belongs to all. Anyone who is tasked with writing and drawing an official Batman story inherits quite a responsibility, and since this character is so popular and so special they’re also limited in some capacity. Batman, for instance, is far too profitable to ever die. Sure, it can be teased here and there and made to even seem happen, but it’s not something that will ever stick. The same is basically true of any popular comic book character and is why characters like Superman and Captain America never stay dead. You don’t kill the golden goose.

As a way to work around those limitations, many writers over the years have done stories outside the normal Batman continuity. This very show is basically one such version. Sure these characters bare many similarities to what came before, but they also exist in their own bubble. Had Bruce Timm and Paul Dini wished to end the series with the death of Batman and a passing of the torch, they might have been allowed to do so (spoiler alert, that’s not the direction they’ll go). The movies basically all exist on their own, which is why Christopher Nolan was able to end his Batman movie trilogy with what is essentially Batman’s retirement.

Of all the stories in the comic books though to essentially feature an alternate universe Batman, by far the most popular is The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller. That Batman was one of the main influences for Tim Burton’s take on the character and was hugely popular in the 1980s. He was a violent, no compromises, sort of take on the character who after decades of doing things mostly by the book has had enough. It wouldn’t make sense for that sort of character to appear in this show, but “Legends of the Dark Knight” is going to try.

the three kids

Meet our story tellers for today’s episode: Nick, Carrie, and Matt.

This episode is essentially a love letter to Batman in all of his forms. It’s basically an anthology episode with the framing device being children sharing tales about their perception of Batman. And since Batman is a mysterious individual, their takes are going to exaggerate the character which is how we’ll get a taste of other versions of Batman from throughout history. It’s a fun concept for an episode, but what of the execution?

The episode begins on a newspaper kiosk. It seems there’s an arsonist on the loose in Gotham, which can only mean one suspect. Three kids approach the kiosk and take note that Batman is barely visible in the image on the front page shooting across the sky. This excites them as Batman isn’t as photogenic as Spider-Man. They appear to be a trio of Bat-enthusiasts, which I guess explains why they’re out and about at night which doesn’t seem like the safest of activities for kids their age. Nick (Jeremy Foley) is thrilled by the image and starts fantasizing about what Batman is really like, hypothesizing he’s more beast than man. The perhaps leader of this trio, Carrie (Anndi McAfee), sees Batman as just a really tough guy. Our third kid, Matt (Ryan O’Donohue), claims to have a secondhand account of what Batman is really like.

50s joker

Michael McKean gets to provide his take on a golden age Joker and knocks it out of the park.

Matt’s story takes us to the 1950s when his uncle was a security guard at some music exhibit for really large instruments. The guard (Charles Rocket) is seated at his desk when a voice comes over a loudspeaker which belongs to the Joker (Michael McKean in a brilliant piece of casting). The art design, dialogue, and even delivery of the lines are all very 1950s. The blue of the guard’s suit is especially reminiscent of the shade found in old comics and pulp magazines. Nick and Carrie even call Matt out on the corny dialogue he attributes to the characters, but he just claims that’s how his uncle tells the story.

A Joker-in-the-box is soon deposited at the feet of the guard which explodes with knock-out gas. The Joker then saunters in with two henchman and he looks like a spot-on interpretation of Dick Sprang’s version of the character. He makes corny jokes as he walks around the exhibit, pausing to glare at his henchmen when they don’t react favorably to his jokes forcing them to laugh and clap. Before long, Batman (Gary Owens) and Robin (Brianne Siddall) arrive and they too look ripped from a 1950s comic, or even the opening title of Batman the TV show. Batman is barrel-chested and sporting his blue, gray, and yellow ensemble while Robin has his classic threads on as well. They have that halted, dramatic, delivery to their lines like they did on old episodes of Superfriends and they immediately go after the Joker’s henchmen.

piano trap

A dastardly trap is laid, how will the Dynamic Duo escape this time?!

As the Dynamic Duo tangle with Joker’s lackeys, Robin is especially prone to puns which really is not all that different from the show’s regular depiction of Robin and Nightwing. As the bad guys get beat up, Joker cowers in relative safety reacting physically to the pain being inflicted upon his men. Eventually, Robin is undone by his own hubris as Joker is able to drop an oversized French horn on him. Batman goes to help him, but gets walloped from behind by Joker’s goon with a massive tuning fork. This sets up Joker to address the camera directly with another pun, a nice way to head to commercial.

When we return, Batman and Robin are bound to the chords of a giant grand piano. This is also quite in-line with comics of the era as these oversized contraptions were a popular gimmick of Batman co-creator Bill Finger, who along with Sprang and Frank Miller received an acknowledgement in the opening credits for the episode. With Batman and Robin tied down, this allows Joker to jump on the keys causing the giant hammers inside to strike a chord. Once he hits the right key, Batman and Robin will receive one hell of a headache. As Joker takes his sweet time playing a happy tune, Batman works on his restraints with what looks like a tiny chainsaw. Eventually, Joker finishes his melody and an off sounding note seems to herald the end of Batman and Robin. He takes a bow, but the unmistakable sound of skull on Batarang causes him to turn around in shock as his lackeys flee. Batman and Robin stand triumphantly from atop the piano, fists on hips. After another well-placed pun, they jump from above knocking the key-cover on top of Joker.

old chums

Old chums, now and forever.

The heroes are able to corral the fleeing lackeys when Robin hops onto a giant violin bow that Batman fires like an arrow. Why Robin decided to ride it, I don’t know, as it strikes and pins the goons to the wall. Joker uses this time to run, but Batman gives chase. Utilizing a giant saxophone, he captures Joker and then blows on the instrument to send the clown crashing into a giant harp in which he becomes entangled in the strings. Batman informs the security guard he can call the proper authorities for a pick-up and then turning to Robin he congratulates him on a job well done while mixing in an “old chum,” for good measure.

Nick and Carrie find this depiction of Batman by their friend Matt preposterous. They refuse to believe he’d speak in such a fashion or would come across like such a stiff. This prompts Carrie to tell her own story. While she doesn’t have a first or secondhand account to reference, this does allow her some dramatic license weave her own tale. And if you’re familiar with The Dark Knight Returns, then you’ve likely noticed that Carrie is the only one of our three kids modeled after an existing character from the comics which is a dead giveaway how her story will go.

carrie robin

Carrie takes some obvious creative liberties with her story.

For starters, Carrie informs her friends that Batman is actually much older than they perceive, in his 50s she assumes. Robin is also not a Boy Wonder, but a girl, and in her story Robin is clearly her in disguise (though I don’t think this is to be construed as her trying to claim she’s Robin to her friends). The art style once again changes as we go to a very dark place. The sky is an even brighter shade of red than we’re accustomed to seeing, and almost all of the setting and characters are done in black. Robin is after some mutants, and Batman drops in to help. He’s now voiced by Michael Ironside, another delightful bit of casting, and is depicted as much bigger than before. He’s a dead-ringer for Frank Miller’s take on the character, and he wants information from the guy he just pounced on.

The setting shifts to the wastelands where the leader of the mutants (Kevin Michael Richardson) is riling up his followers. The mutants cheering him on are all black save for the red goggles they wear. Two mutants providing some comic relief have their names in white on their shirt, Rob (Charles Rocket) and Don (Mark Rolston, doing a Tommy Chong impression by the sound of it) and those two will provide some occasional commentary. The mutant leader seems to think only Batman can prevent him from taking over Gotham, or what’s left of it, and he’s eager for a showdown.

batman tank

The interior of Batman’s tank is quite red.

Not one to disappoint, Batman arrives in style. He’s more than prepared for an army of mutants as he rolls in with a tank. Robin is with him, and as he rolls along he opens fire on the mutants. They drop like flies, and if you think this level of violence is inappropriate for such a cartoon then apparently you’re in agreement with the censors at The WB. Batman remarks to Robin that they’re rubber bullets, but he then odds an, “Honestly,” which sounds a bit sarcastic leaving his words open to interpretation, a nice little way to skirt around the censors. Robin leaves the confines of the tank to adorably go after the mutants herself armed with a slingshot. It’s a rather ridiculous course of action, but she’s also the one telling the story.

img_0236

Batman’s foe: Old Pointy Nips.

Batman eventually leaves the safety of the tank himself when challenged by the mutant leader. Batman is so damn huge that he’s the size of this mutated being he’s standing across from. The two grapple, and the mutant leader eventually gains the upper hand as they stumble into a pit of mud. The leader gets Batman under the mud and appears to suffocate him. Robin, seeing her mentor in trouble, fires off some ball-bearings from her slingshot which agitate the mutant leader. He turns to identify the source of the projectiles, which allows Batman to rise from the mud like he’s the Undertaker. He soon gains the upper hand on his foe, and delivers this little gem, “This isn’t a trash heap. It’s an operating table. And I’m the surgeon!” The camera pans to the sky briefly so we can hear the snapping of bones, before returning to a satisfied Robin.

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Batman is not one to cower in a tank.

Carrie’s friends are pretty captivated by her story and she has a look of smug satisfaction on her face. They then see something streak across the sky. It looks like Batman, but the being was clearly flying. They chase after it and wind up in a dilapidated looking theater. There they see a figure on the stage setting up something and it’s pretty clear this isn’t Batman. He steps into the light and the kids recognize him as the villain Firefly (Rolston). He’s clearly setting up for another arson job and the kids try to summon Batman with Matt’s store-bought Bat Signal flashlight. There’s a sizable hole on the roof of this building for such a tactic, but unfortunately for the kids the batteries die almost immediately. Worse, their chatter alerts Firefly to their presence and he tosses a flash grenade in their general direction for confirmation.

img_0239.jpg

The real villain of the episode.

Firefly clearly doesn’t feel threatened by kids and simply remarks “Tough break,” as he sets off the explosives he’s planted around the place. As the building goes up in flame, he flies out of the hole in the roof. This is when Batman makes his entrance as he knocks Firefly to the stage below. He then starts monologuing, explaining Firefly’s plan to him and seemingly for the benefit of his audience. Firefly is obviously agitated, and the two begin their dance. Wanting to hasten things along, Firefly pulls out his flame-saber, but Batman extinguishes it with a little can that’s basically just a fire extinguisher. He quickly takes the clown out, and then notices the kids. As they try to flee, fire blocks their way so Batman tosses an explosive Batarang at the wall to create a new exit. He orders the kids out, and they do as they’re told, with only Nick pausing to watch as Batman scoops up Firefly and leaves via the ceiling.

img_0241

Not one of Batman’s most exciting gadgets, but effective nonetheless.

Outside the burning building, the Gotham Police arrive and Detective Bullock takes note of the “present” Batman left behind – a dangling Firefly. He ponders who phoned in the 911, but apparently doesn’t care enough to turn around and see three kids standing beside a pay phone. As the trio walk off, they discuss with excitement what they just witnessed. Basically, all three are convinced what they just saw confirms their own belief of what Batman is with Matt seeing the gadgets as confirmation for his uncle’s account, Carrie focusing on the way he took out Firefly as proof of hers, and Nick thinks he simply flew away thus confirming he’s not human. The camera pans to the sky as their chattering continues to usher in the credits.

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So what if the place is burning, it’s not every day you get to see Batman in action. Sometimes the risks are worth taking.

This is a clever way to celebrate different aspects of Batman from the ages. It’s so good that I wish it had been a one-off television special so it could have been a little longer as it feels like it’s one act short. Supposedly, the showrunners wanted to include an homage to the 70s Batman popularized by Neal Adams and Denny O’Neil, but it just couldn’t happen. Settling on the 50s Batman popularized by Dick Sprang and Bill Finger was a wise move. And while I liked Gary Owens in the role as Batman for that segment, I do wish they could have brought Adam West back. The closing with the two shaking hands is an obvious tribute to the opening title sequence of the 66 television show. Mark Hamill will likely always be my favorite Joker, but bringing in Michael McKean to do a different take was a most excellent choice. His laugh is a perfect depiction of Joker from this era. The segment could be described as parody, but it’s so earnest in its portrayal of these golden age characters that it works on a celebratory level as opposed to a mocking one.

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The kids get to walk away from this one satisfied, a sentiment I can s

The Dark Knight Returns portion is also equally amusing. There’s some dry humor on display via Batman as this version is capable of puns as well and it’s interesting to see that the kids all seem to universally expect Batman to possess at least some form of a sense of humor. Right from the start, Carrie was clearly a dead-ringer for the Robin from that tale so it was no surprise to see where her story went. And even though this is essentially a kid’s show, the writers and artists did a really admirable job of adapting Miller’s work for this format, right down to the mutant leader’s pointy nipples.

Throughout the episode, there are also numerous Easter eggs further adding to the celebratory nature of the episode. In between stories, a kid named Joel (Phillip Van Dyke) pops in briefly to claim Batman wears a rubber suit and drives up walls. He’s standing outside a shoe store called Shoemaker, an obvious nod to Joel Schumacher and his version of Batman from Batman Forever and Batman & Robin. Is this reference mocking? Perhaps, though it feels like it’s in good fun. The music exhibit Joker hits in the 50s segment is named The Walker Music Center which is clearly named after series composer Shirley Walker. And the framing for this story is also quite similar to Batman #250 where Bruce Wayne takes some kids camping who all share stories about their perception of Batman (Bruce Timm claims this was coincidence though). Even Kevin Michael Richardson, brought on to voice the mutant leader, was a huge fan of The Dark Knight Returns and it’s no surprise the show would seek out fans of Batman for such an episode.

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The animators really nail the visual styles they were seeking to emulate.

Visually, this is one of the most interesting and fun episodes of the series to watch. It’s a Dong Yang production, and the studio should be commended for adapting the different art styles for each segment. It couldn’t have been easy, and further credit should go to James Tucker who handled the story boards for the episode. The 50s segment in particular is done so well that one could likely show a still from it to someone and convince them it’s from a different show.

“Legends of the Dark Knight” ends up being one of the more fun episodes of The New Batman Adventures and even Batman: The Animated Series. As a more kid-focused episode, it’s much better than the more juvenile “I’ve Got Batman in my Basement” from season one. It’s a clever way to explore the character of Batman, enough so that it was basically done before and has been done since. It’s a strong enough concept that it could easily be adapted for film as DC’s version of Into the Spider-Verse for Batman. I don’t think such a thing is likely, but it’s worth exploring. Especially because so many other versions of Batman are worth exploring. Even if such a production never does take place, at least we’ll always have this one.


The New Batman Adventures – “The Demon Within”

the demon withinEpisode Number:  18 (103)

Original Air Date:  May 9, 1998

Directed by:  Atsuko Tanaka

Written by:  Stan Berkowitz

First Appearance:  Etrigan the Demon, Jason Blood, Klarion

Don’t get too excited by that title, this isn’t the reintroduction of Ras al Ghul you may be anticipating (and if you are, you’re just setting yourself up for disappointment). The demon in this title actually refers to the character Etrigan the Demon who was created by famed comic artist Jack Kirby in the 1970s. He’s been a semi-popular character in the books for his frequent team-ups with Batman as he canonically lived in Gotham City for much of his fictional existence. I assume he’s included because there’s enough support for the character from the comic fanbase, because if he’s included as a tribute to Kirby then it’s an odd choice. Kirby created the character for DC basically because the publisher insisted. He wasn’t really into it and reportedly he was annoyed when the character was well received because it meant he had to do a series of books based around Etrigan.

As someone who largely consumes Batman media outside of comics, Etrigan was not known to me when I first saw this episode. What I know of him is what is presented here and on various wiki sites out there. This episode is somewhat notable because it was moved up to air as part of broadcast season one, despite being 18th in production order. That was probably easy to do because it was one of the handful done by TMS Entertainment, which may have delivered the episode early. It’s the last TMS episode we’re going to have the pleasure of covering for this series, so even if you’re not particularly thrilled by Etrigan’s presence, at least enjoy this one for the visuals.

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Klarion, who would appreciate it if you ignored his ridiculous horned hair.

The episode opens with Bruce Wayne and Tim Drake visiting an auction house. On the docket – a branding iron once owned by the apparently not fictional Morgan Le Fay. It doesn’t seem too interesting, but appearances can be deceiving. Tim runs into a young boy carrying a cat in a rather sinister manner. The boy is named Klarion (Stephen Wolfe Smith) and the cat (let’s be honest, you’re more interested in the cat) is Teekl. The kid’s hair is pointed like devil horns and the cat takes a swipe, so obviously this odd child is a villain. When the auction begins, Klarion makes a big for one-hundred grand, but he’s soon topped by another man. His name is Jason Blood (Billy Zane) and he has interesting hair of his own – black and red with a white lightning bolt down the middle.

Bruce Wayne can’t sit by and let a bidding war pass without him having his say. Despite only being there to keep Tim away from video games for one night, Bruce ends up winning the iron with a bid of one million dollars, far surpassing the bids of Klarion and Blood. After the item is won and paid for, Tim asks Bruce what interest he has in that thing and Bruce remarks it’s for a friend. Klarion then approaches to issue a warning to Bruce, but is soon interrupted by “uncle” Jason. He’s not surprised to see Klarion’s interest in the item, and Klarion departs by suggesting they’ll meet again soon and next time it will be on purpose. It’s then revealed that Bruce and Jason are friends, and he won the item to help out Jason. Jason also tells them that Klarion isn’t really related to him and refers to him as a witch boy. He also tosses in the fact that he turned his own parents into mice in case we weren’t weirded out by the kid enough.

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Jason Blood, who has some weird hair of his own.

Jason invites Time and Bruce to his apartment which is full of occult-like objects. He there tells Bruce he can pay him back for the iron, though it will take some time. Bruce basically tells him that won’t be necessary, rubbing his richness in our faces once again. Tim then takes note of a freaky looking bust that Jason informs him is of a demon once owned by Merlin himself. Tim turns the bust around to regard the other side which depicts a man who looks exactly like Jason. Jason acts flattered when Tim points out the likeness, but before the ruse can continue they’re interrupted by the cat, Teekl.

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The kitty has a surprise in store for Bruce.

Teekl was able to enter the apartment via an open window and quickly grabbed the branding iron between its jaws. As it tried to leave, the iron knocked over an object on Blood’s desk and the three spring into action to try and prevent the cat from making off with the million dollar item. The cat then displays why TMS was likely handed this episode as it transforms into a human-cat hybrid. Teekl’s new form is reminiscent of Catwoman’s from the episode “Tiger Tiger.” She’s quite formidable and Bruce basically gets his clock cleaned by the beast. This forces Jason into action as he quickly transforms into Etrigan the Demon. He engages with Teekl and forces the cat to lose her grip on the iron. Bruce reaches out and grabs it, but Teekl turns her attention to him. She quickly retrieves it and is able to set the apartment on fire around Bruce and Tim. Etrigan issues her a warning that a reckoning will be coming, as he turns his attention towards his friends allowing Teekl to escape with the iron.

Klarion is shown seated in a darkened room as Teekl approaches. She gifts him the branding iron and returns to her cat form. A delighted Klarion begins an incantation that will likely have dire consequences. At Jason’s apartment, Tim is seated in a chair and Jason is tending to some minor cuts or burns he sustained in the scuffle. He uses magic to heal Tim, but soon is felled by Klarion’s spell. He displays an anguished face as Etrigan is forcefully removed from his body. The demon at first appears ghost-like, but then takes on a solid state. He leaves the apartment informing the onlookers it has a new master now. When Bruce tries to stop him he’s tossed aside and the demon leaves.

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Apparently, having a demon ripped out of your body after 1,500 years hurts quite a bit.

Etrigan returns to Klarion, and Klarion seems to delight in the fact that the demon hates him but is powerless to resist him. As was probably assumed by this point, the branding iron gives Klarion control of the demon and while in control the demon has an “M” brand on its forehead. He orders the demon to open his door for him as they’re heading out for some fun. In perhaps a small act of defiance, Etrigan doesn’t open the door conventionally, but instead smashes it down.

At Jason’s apartment, Blood informs Bruce and Tim what happened. He also drops the detail that with Etrigan and he split apart he will soon begin rapidly aging to make up for the 1,500 years or so he’s gone without aging. He’s also lost the red stripe in his hair – a pity. Bruce volunteers to go after Klarion and Tim wants to go too, but Bruce wants him to stay with Jason. Tim argues he should go with since he’s a kid and it might take a kid to find Klarion. Jason informs him that probably won’t be necessary as he has a suspicion Klarion will be quite easy to find.

klarion in control

Klarion is looking to have some fun with his new demon buddy.

Klarion is then shown exiting a movie with Etrigan as the other patrons run away screaming. The film appears to be a Terminator parody called Devastator 3 starring Donald Shaltenpepper. Klarion declares he hates sequels and has Etrigan set fire to the theater’s marque with some impressive laser eyes. Klarion is then alerted to the sounds of the rare ice cream patrolling the streets in the dead of night. Etrigan stops the truck forcefully and dumps the ice cream at its master’s feet, but is dismayed to inform Klarion that no strawberry remain. Declaring that nothing is better than strawberry, Klarion then turns his attention to a cake shop. Kirby Cake Company, an obvious nod to Etrigan’s creator, is smashed in by Etrigan and Klarion gleefully scoops up handfuls of cake to devour. He’s then irritated by the noise of a passing train, so he has Etrigan knock it off its rails. He then declares an abandoned building to be ugly, so Etrigan knocks it down. It would seem Jason was right about Klarion being easy to find.

Batman finally shows up to put a stop to this destructive and childish rampage. He begins by talking down to Klarion, apparently forgetting this kid is some kind of witch with a powerful demon and cat monster under his control. Klarion doesn’t even need Etrigan or Teekl’s help when Batman is just standing in front of him demanding he cease his devilish ways, he simply uses his own magic to make thorns burst out of Batman’s body. Jason and Tim watch from the apartment via a crystal ball and when Tim declares they have to do something Jason calmly begins a spell. The thorns soon vanish, somewhat alarming both Klarion and Batman, and Klarion turns to yet another spell that turns Batman into a tree-like being. He has a good laugh at Batman’s expense, until he gets swatted by Batman’s branch-arm. Jason, now looking considerably older, undoes this spell and Klarion then calls in Etrigan.

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When one Batman isn’t enough…

Batman is really no match for the demon in a one on one fight, so Jason conjures up many Batmen to aid him. The dummy Batmen make it hard for Etrigan to target the proper one, and the Batmen start circling Etrigan. This is apparently all a feint as the real Batman is off to the side. Klarion notices him as he takes off and orders Etrigan after him, but the illusion Batmen get in his way. Batman winds up ducking into an alley that appears to be a dead end. By now Jason’s body is failing him, but he has enough magic left to make Batman turn invisible and he blends in with the brick wall.

Thinking Batman has escaped, Klarion decides it would be best to remove his uncle’s influence over the fight. He orders Etrigan to kill Jason and sends the beast away. Jason, looking withered and near death, orders Tim to spread a blue powder around them in a circle. The stupid kid wastes time expressing a disbelief in such a tactic, but ends up doing as he’s told. The circle, along with some help from Jason, creates a forcefield around the two as Etrigan comes barging in. The demon can’t get through it, but Klarion apparently seeing through Etrigan’s eyes, orders his demon to not be discouraged. Etrigan starts blasting the field with its laser eyes while Jason tries to remain focused inside. He soon slumps over, succumbing to the rapid onset of age, as Etrigan breaks through.

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Klarion doesn’t necessarily need a demon to win a fight.

With Jason apparently nearing his end, Klarion allows himself to savor the moment despite the protests of Teekl. Batman closes in and knocks the kid down retrieving the branding iron in the process. Teekl takes on her human form and goes after the Dark Knight, but Batman is able to stamp her head with the branding iron gaining control over her. He uses his dominance over the beast to return her to her less fearsome feline form. Klarion then apparently forgets he’s a witch boy as he just runs at Batman and tries to retrieve the iron, but he’s much too short. Batman utters some spell that makes Etrigan and Jason whole once again, and not a moment too soon as the demon was about to finish the job.

With his plan foiled, Klarion apparently remembers he’s pretty damn powerful on his own. He starts blasting Batman with green, glowing, orbs that Batman really has no answer for. If he was counting on Etrigan to save him then he placed his faith in the right person…demon, as Etrigan shows up, alongside Robin, to make the save. He blasts Klarion into some nearby crates, then utters an incantation of his own. When Batman asks what the spell will do, Etrigan replies that he’s sending Klarion to his room.

With the crisis averted, Etrigan takes his leave. Robin is then left to ask Batman just what went down tonight, but Batman rebukes him with a “Don’t ask.” Klarion is then shown from behind seated in a chair with his shoulders slumped. The camera pans back to reveal he’s been imprisoned in Jason Blood’s crystal ball and placed on a shelf in Blood’s apartment. He apparently poses little threat there, as Jason is shown nearby casually reading a newspaper.

jason victorious

Jason appears to lead a rather mundane life when Klarion isn’t on the loose.

“The Demon Within” is obviously an atypical episode of Batman as it deals with a lot of mysticism and magic mumbo jumbo. I like fantasy as much as the next person, maybe even more so, but I’ve never liked it when it crosses paths with Batman. It’s why I’m not that into the Ras al Ghul stuff and I like it even less here. This episode feels like a backdoor pilot for an Etrigan series, and if that was the aim well then it failed as no series came to pass. The demon would make a future appearance in an episode of Justice League, but that’s all.

teekl

We can probably thank Teekl and Etrigan’s transformation powers for the presence of TMS on this one.

The animation and vibrant colors of this episode can certainly be appreciated by anyone, even in spite of the silly plot material. The transformation animations are likely why TMS was chosen to handle this one, and while they’re neat, they don’t come close to matching what the studio did with Clayface. Etrigan himself has never appealed to me though from a visual standpoint. He’s big, and kind of menacing to behold, but he wears a rather conventional super hero costume of red spandex and blue cape. He looks like a bulgy Under Dog, and his fingers are shaped like rectangles with rectangular claws in several shots. He also has this weird thing going on with his feet where he apparently has a large middle toe or his shoes just have extra material that makes them look like elf stockings. Basically everything below his neck is rather dumb looking.

What it comes down to is this is an episode you’ll probably enjoy if you’re a fan of the Etrigan character from the comics. I would imagine seeing him would have been exciting for such a fan, just like the Jonah Hex episode from the last season. If you don’t care about Etrigan though, or if you don’t like him, then unlike the Hex episode this one probably won’t do anything for you. Klarion is a bit amusing in a bratty kid who gets his comeuppance always is kind of way, but beyond that there isn’t much happening here. Even the great TMS can’t really make this one a must see episode strictly from a visual standpoint. And with so few episodes remaining, this one just feels like a waste of precious space.


The New Batman Adventures – “Old Wounds”

old woundsEpisode Number:  17 (102)

Original Air Date:  October 3, 1998

Directed by:  Curt Geda

Written by:  Rich Fogel

First Appearance:  None

Have you wondered what caused the rift between Dick Grayson and Bruce Wayne? Of course you have, but The New Batman Adventures has decided to make you wait a while to find out. Well past the half way point of the series is “Old Wounds,” a mostly flashback episode detailing the fallout between Batman and the original Boy Wonder. It’s even going to touch on how Batgirl was truly brought into the fold as well, which really makes this one feel like it’s been a long time coming. Maybe it would have made sense to run this one earlier, but I suppose it’s not that big of a deal. Either way, these are questions that needed answers and at least we’ll finally have them.

The episode begins with some hoodlums making trouble in Gotham, which is what hoodlums do. Robin drops in to put a stop to them and have a little fun at their expense as well. Surprisingly, he appears to be all alone and without the aid of Batman which seems like an unwise thing to do, but Batman isn’t exactly known for his parenting skills. Robin looks like he’s going to make my fretting all for naught as he seems capable of taking care of these guys, but one drops a barrel over his head and suddenly things start to look a bit grim for the little guy. Luckily for him, someone is indeed looking out for him, only it’s not Batman, but Nightwing.

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At least someone is looking out for the kid tonight.

With Nightwing’s help, the two take out the goons. When the dust settles it’s time for Nightwing to give Robin a bit of the old tough love routine, which causes Robin to draw a comparison between Batman and Nightwing. Nightwing resents the comparison causing Robin to just finally ask what went down between the two so long ago. Nightwing tells him simply that “things change” and then tells Robin he should be asking Batman. Robin tells him he did, and he told him the exact same thing Nightwing just did.

That was apparently all Nightwing needed to hear to open up. He and Robin head to the docks, and while Nightwing skips stones he starts to tell Robin about what happened between he and Batman.

It all started when Dick graduated from college. He received the highest honors in his class, but who do you think missed his graduation ceremony? Oddly, it was held at night rather than during the afternoon and Batman had somewhere to be. Barbara was there with Alfred, and she remarks to the trusty butler that Dick will be crushed if Bruce misses this. Alfred suggests that maybe Bruce had car trouble and the scene is spliced with images of Batman foiling a robbery. In a humorous exchange, Batman is riding on the crook’s hood and he orders him to stop warning someone is going to get hurt. The crook agrees, and pulls out a gun and attempts to shoot Batman in the face. Of course he misses and he is indeed the one who gets hurt, but I enjoyed the man’s misplaced confidence.

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Did they slip wine past the censors? Maybe we’re supposed to assume it’s just juice.

After the ceremony, an apparently not-crushed Dick is having dinner with Barbara at a nice looking restaurant. They’re sipping wine or champagne as Barbara asks what’s next for Dick. He tells her he’s done living off of Bruce’s dime and informs her he has a trust compliments of the circus. It seems he received an insurance settlement following the death of his parents, which actually doesn’t make much sense since they were murdered though maybe it was never ruled a homicide. A beeping noise reminds us that this was made in the 90s as Dick pulls out a pager. He excuses himself to return the call and naturally it’s from Batman. It seems he’s going to need some help tonight. When Dick tells him that now is not a good time, Batman replies curtly that he doesn’t make schedules. Dick surrenders and returns to Barbara and comes up with a rather terrible excuse that he has to leave to help clean out the fridge back at his dorm. He bails leaving Barbara standing there in disbelief.

Robin, in his old green and red threads, drops in on Batman who has a warehouse staked out. Batman immediately informs him he’s late, a fairly typical Batman observation. Thankfully, Dick was pulled away from his night of celebration for a good reason as it’s revealed the villain of the hour is the clown prince of crime himself – the Joker (Mark Hamill)! Joker has himself a trio of henchmen this time, the returning twin lugs named Rocco (Townsend Coleman) and Henshaw (Neil Ross) and a new guy named Connor (Ian Buchanan).

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Joker introducing himself to the new guy.

Joker and his gang make their way inside, and soon Batman and Robin drop in on them through a skylight. Joker is able to match my mood as he ponders why the two would want to smash through a skylight in place of something less messy (“Either you’ve never heard of a door or you just like pulling glass out of your shorts.”). Joker has some sort of rocket ready to go that he blasts at the two and actually connects. Joker even remarks it was easier than expected dealing with the two as he and the others make their exit. Robin is the first to emerge from the rubble and he goes to help Batman who barks at him to go after them instead.

Robin does as he’s told and sees Joker make his escape in a getaway van with some sort of equipment. He’s also left Connor behind though and Robin follows him through the various alleys of Gotham right to what he probably hoped was a hideout. Instead, Connor actually leads him to his apartment, and he runs inside and orders his family to run via the fire escape. His wife, Geena (Pamela Hayden), is clearly alarmed, but his young son is too consumed with playing space ranger or something to take his dad seriously.

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Robin is a bit too good at the “Good Cop” role.

Robin enters and confronts Connor, but is alarmed to see his surroundings. The little boy takes aim at Robin with a toy gun and Robin seems like he’s unsure of what to do. Batman then comes smashing through a window and slams Connor up against a wall. He demands to know what the Joker is up to and where he’s hiding, while Connor seems almost paralyzed with fear. Robin looks at the woman and child cowering in terror and somewhat quietly urges Batman not to do this in front of them. Batman tells him he’ll stop as soon as Connor gives up the Joker. This angers Robin, who informs Batman he’ll have no part in this and takes off leaving Batman stunned.

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Barbara is very understanding for someone who was just rudely awakened.

Later that night, at 3:14 AM to be exact, Barbara is woken up by knocking on her door. She gets out of bed and tosses a robe on and opens the door of her modest studio apartment to find Dick. He rambles about being sick of “him” as he paces around the room. Barbara tries to get him to calm down and talk to her, but he sounds more like a mad man. He decides this was a bad idea and apologizes for coming over. He tells her he’ll call her tomorrow and then leaves as quickly as he arrived.

The next day, Barbara pays Bruce a visit at home to tell him about Dick’s visit. She wants to know what’s happened between the two of them, but Bruce is his usual stoic self. He declares that she really cares about him, and then beckons her to follow. He takes her over to the grandfather clock, the entrance to the Batcave, and opens it. As he descends the stairs down, Barbara seems understandably wary. A billionaire playboy just opened up his weird, creepy, sex dungeon to an attractive young woman and told her to enter – I’d think about running if I were her!

barbara bat cave

This is probably scarier than it looks.

Barbara follows though and steps into the Batcave. She’s wide-eyed as she looks around and then Alfred walks in. He’s alarmed to see Barbara, and then does what any loyal servant would do – confesses that he is indeed the Batman. Before Barbara can laugh, Bruce informs him that it’s all right. He then informs Batgirl that he’s aware of her secret as well, and Alfred informs them they should turn on the news. When they do they find Joker up to his old tricks. He’s broadcast his ransom to Gotham and by doing so has unveiled what he was up to the night before. It would seem he’s stolen some radar jamming equipment that will make it impossible for aircraft to operate over Gotham. This could cause unsuspecting aircraft to suddenly crash and that’s obviously not a good thing. To make sure this doesn’t happen, Joker is demanding 40 million dollars. Bruce tells Alfred to contact Dick, and he’s told he’s already tried, but can’t get ahold of him. Barbara volunteers to help, and the two leave in the Batmobile.

After those two leave, Dick predictably shows up. He comes into the Batcave wondering where Barbara is as he noticed her car parked outside. Alfred tells him that she left with Master Bruce and they had some “errands” to take care of. Dick’s eyes take note of the missing Batmobile, which tells him all he needs to know.

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Joker, always dressed for the occasion.

Batman and Batgirl, in her normal attire and not throwback grays, arrive on the scene where Joker is sending out his radar jamming signal. They’ll need to head to the top of a rather large building, and to help him out Batman has brought along that nifty jetpack we’ve seen him use from time to time. He swoops in and takes Joker and his men by surprise, but they surprisingly have little trouble shooting him out of the sky. Batgirl then arrives and it’s apparent this is her first confrontation with Joker, who seems a bit taken by the new sidekick. Not that it means he’ll not try to kill her, as he and his men go to work.

Robin arrives via motorcycle and looks up to see the silhouette of Batgirl battling Joker’s henchmen. It’s obvious he’s surprised so apparently he’s not as perceptive as Batman and was in the dark about his girlfriend’s alter ego. Joker whacks a piece of equipment into Batgirl, causing her to fall off the roof. As she plummets towards her demise, Robin stares up in horror. He then shows off a new trick as the housing for the handles on his bike blast off like some mini jetpack or ejector seat. He closes the gap between he and Batgirl and is able to catch her and stop their descent with a trusty grapple gun blast. As the two land safely, Robin apparently wants to talk, but Batgirl informs him now is not the time and that “he” needs their help.

On the roof, Batman is getting reacquainted with Bud and Lou, the hyenas. He regains his footing as Batgirl and Robin arrive and the three take out Joker’s henchmen forcing Joker to declare he’ll have to do this himself. He grabs a machinegun and opens fire on the three. As an airplane approaches, things get a bit dire. Batgirl decides to go for it and flips her way towards the device sending the radar signal. Joker, in his attempt to shoot her, hits the radar dish and immediately regrets it. As sparks shoot out, Batman dives over and grabs Batgirl and the device explodes allowing the aircraft to pass by safely. Batman and Batgirl were able to avoid the explosion by hanging on the side of the building, while Joker wasn’t quite so fortunate. He makes a crack about Houston having a problem before passing out, leaving the three heroes to settle up.

robins right

Robin packs quite the right hook.

Robin immediately accuses Batgirl of keeping secrets from him, which is amazingly dense even for him. He’s hurt that she would tell Bruce, but she corrects him by saying he figured out her identity. Batman then adds it wasn’t his place to tell him. Robin is still angry with Batman though as he questions why he’d put her in danger. Batgirl tells him that he didn’t and she volunteered, but Robin tells her she’s wrong. He’s a manipulator, she only thinks she volunteered. Fed up with the whole situation, Robin informs Batman he’s had enough – he quits. Batman reaches out to try and stop him from storming off, but Robin turns around and decks him. Batman falls to the ground as Batgirl looks on with shock. Robin then removes his cape and mask and leaves it at Batman’s feet and storms off.

mask off

The dramatic discarding of the mask.

That’s where the flashback ends. Nightwing informs the new Robin that he never wore the costume again after that night. Robin still seems to think it’s silly the two never reconciled, but he’s obviously used to dealing with the both of them at this point. Nightwing then notices a wallet on the ground. The goons from earlier must have stolen it and he opens it up and is surprised to see who it belongs to.

nightwing wallet

Maybe his trust fund isn’t doing so well if he’s got to pick pockets.

The scene then shifts to a building owned by Wayne. A security guard is returning to his office when Nightwing and Robin drop in on him with his wallet. He’s alarmed for a moment, then is relieved to see it isn’t Batman. He then tells the two he had a run-in with Batman once before, which caused him to change his ways. It’s now obvious that this man is Connor from the flashback. After his encounter with Batman in front of his wife and kid, he decided to go straight. Bruce Wayne gave him a job and now knows him by name. He’s quite pleased to relay that Bruce asks about his son from time to time and Nightwing responds by adding that Bruce Wayne is a good man.

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Connor is here to conveniently tell Nightwing what he needs to hear about his old friend.

Nightwing and Robin take their leave. Robin is a bit surprised, but also a bit proud to point out to Nightwing that Bruce has a heart after all. Nightwing is quietly pleased. The Bat-Signal then flashes across the sky, and Robin remarks it’s time to go to work. He fires off a grappling hook, then turns to Nightwing and asks if he’s coming. Nightwing smiles in return and suggests it’s about time. The two then swing off into the blood-red sky towards the Bat-Signal as the Nightwing theme thunders in the background.

There you have it. Questions answered, for the most part, about what happened in between the first two seasons and this revamped third one. We still don’t know what ultimately drove Barbara and Dick apart. It could be that there is nothing more to tell of their story, as maybe when Robin left the two that night he left the both of them assuming Batgirl had made her choice to work with Batman. I believe we’ll learn a bit more in a future episode though, as things got a little heated between Batgirl and Batman eventually, which makes sense since they both share a gimmick. We also don’t know how long Dick went in between roles as Robin and Nightwing. It can be assumed he used his circus money to finance his loft and crime-fighting gig, though if he has a day job that’s still unclear.

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Nightwing – forever in Batman’s shadow.

As for the story itself, it’s mostly satisfying. It’s easy to assume that years of working with Batman would cause tension. He seems like a tough boss, and the two have had their differences before. Batman is more obsessive than Robin, and his actions in front of Connor’s family are somewhat understandable, though I can’t help but feel this isn’t how the Batman of the first two seasons would act. He would be far more sensitive to the presence of a child, which makes me feel like there’s still something missing. This version of Batman is harder than that one, and it feels like something should have happened to explain that which we have not seen, and never will. This Batman only exists as part of a revision of the character against his peers. He needs to act this way to better distinguish him from Robin, Batgirl, and Nightwing. It’s why this show has a different feel from the Batman: The Animated Series and it’s why I still tend to think of it as a different beast all together, despite how it’s marketed. The use of Connor is suitable for showing how Batman can leave a lasting, positive, mark on someone. Though it’s a bit muddled as his presence in the end feels like a justification for Batman’s erratic behavior from the flashback. This show has a tendency to “both sides” Batman and in the process it sometimes fails to really make a statement of any kind.

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Joker in a rare supporting role in this one, though he still finds time to hijack Gotham’s airwaves once more.

The presence of Joker in this one initially surprised me. He’s not needed to add weight to the action, and it’s unusual to see him featured in an episode where he’s not the focal point. In viewing this one though I think that’s the point. Joker needs no introduction nor does he need any moments to himself to explain his character to the audience. Rather, he can just be in the background making jokes and acting wicked and do just fine. He’s genuinely amusing for much of this one, and I suppose it’s a nice little treat to see Batgirl’s first encounter with him.

The episode leaves us in a more hopeful place where it concerns Batman and Nightwing, though I’m not sure we needed to be. It’s why I think it may have made more sense to air this one much earlier. We’ve already seen Batman and Nightwing working together. They’re not exactly old chums when they do, but they’re more than capable. They were even able to put together an elaborate trap for Catwoman and worked rather closely in busting the Mad Hatter. Dick even dropped in on them at Bruce’s home at the conclusion of the second episode, so it’s not like he was above a casual visit. This episode seems to want us to think there’s more conflict than has been presented. It works fine as a stand-alone episode in that respect, but when looked at in broader context it’s a bit less rewarding. I’m still glad they decided to tackle the subject, and despite my criticism I’d still say this is one of the better episodes of the season so far.

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This marks the last costumed appearance of Dick Grayson. We learned a little more about him, but sadly we’ll never learn the origin of his fabulous mullet.

The ending is hopeful, indicating that Batman and Nightwing are on the verge of a reconciliation that will perhaps lead to a better working relationship. At least, that’s the implication, but in actuality this is the final appearance of Nightwing in the series. It’s surprising, considering we still have several episodes left, but I guess the staff just felt like there were no further stories to tell with the character. Maybe they envisioned a spin-off for him now that he’s made his peace with Batman, but that obviously wouldn’t happen. We don’t yet have to say goodbye to Loren Lester and Dick Grayson, who has one future appearance left, but it does feel like the end of an era considering how long Robin has been a part of the show. He’s never been a favorite of mine, in any medium, but at least this show did some good with the character.


The New Batman Adventures – “Animal Act”

animal actEpisode Number:  16 (101)

Original Air Date:  September 26, 1998

Directed by:  Curt Geda

Written by:  Hilary J. Bader

First Appearance:  None

“Animal Act” reintroduces the audience to a part of Dick Grayson’s life it may have forgotten:  the circus life. A string of robberies will put Batman and the gang in touch with the old act and give Dick a chance to take a stroll down memory lane. It will also reintroduce, officially, a villain from the previous iteration of the show that had yet to have an episode all to their own. The reveal of the villain is intended to be a surprise, and for this show, it’s actually kept under wraps pretty well. There’s no obvious giveaway in the title and the reveal is saved for the final act. The only real tell is the reintroduction of that villain’s theme, but if you had forgotten it then you’d be kept in the dark even longer. For that reason, I should put out a general warning that if you like experiencing these reveals on your own then maybe store this one away until you’ve seen the episode yourself.

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Just three dudes hanging out in their costumes on a roof at night.

The episode begins with Batman and Robin watching a suspicious character from a rooftop. The rather large looking man is on a nearby rooftop and heading for an antenna tower. Nightwing drops in on the two and he and Batman have their usual frosty disposition towards each other with Batman lecturing Nightwing to work on his stealth. They then turn their attention to the perp who has begun scaling the tower and looks to have its eyes on some control near the top.

Batman springs into action with quite possibly his most absurd act of stealth we’ve seen up to this point. As the suspect’s hand reaches for a device on the tower, Batman’s hand clamps down on its wrist. Batman basically went from one rooftop to a steel tower roughly one-hundred yards away and managed to land on the same tower as the perp and grab its hand all without being seen. That’s some damn fine stealth-work.

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Now angrily glare at the fleeing ape.

The perp immediately swats Batman away and he falls off the tower but is able to grab onto another one. The perp then tries to make a run for it, but gets ambushed by Robin and Nightwing. At this point it’s obvious that this isn’t a man for its arms are massive and it runs like a gorilla. When Robin tries to stop it with a bollo the creature breaks out and takes off again punching Robin as it goes by. Nightwing stops to check on the Boy Wonder before giving chase with his dorky little wingsuit. He catches up to the creature and is able to confirm that it is indeed a gorilla in human clothing. Furthermore, Nightwing knows this gorilla as Peaches. The surprise helps the gorilla to get away from Nightwing and escape the others.

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Dick recalling better days when he had parents and no pony tail.

The next day, Dick and Tim make a stop at the circus. It’s well before opening and the circus members are all milling about and getting ready for that night’s performance. As the two stroll through, the cast members all recognize Dick and make small talk as Tim takes it all in. He gets setup by Dick for embarrassment at the hands of a mime clown and marvels at the strong man and axe-tossers. Dick is really here though to check on Peaches and the two find her right where she’s supposed to be in her cage. She seems like a rather ordinary gorilla and Tim is skeptical that this could be the same as the one from the night before.

Dick’s reunion with Peaches is interrupted by her trainer, Miranda Kane (Jane Wiedlin). Miranda looks the part of a stereotypical animal trainer and even has a boa draped over her shoulders and coiled around her leg. She at first mistakes Dick for someone just snooping around and messing with her animals, but he tells her who he is and she soon remembers. It would seem she was a kid with the circus at the same time as “Dicky,” with her family being animal trainers. Her parents have retired to Sarasota (amusing to me for I knew a lot of old people who did the same around 98) and left the animals in her care. She seems some-what happy to see Dick again, though also a tad resentful of the life he ended up living as ward of the wealthy Bruce Wayne, though his name is never mentioned. She tells him he can’t touch the animals, for liability reasons, and eventually asks the two to leave as she has a lot of work to do.

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Miranda Kane is yet another character obviously named after Batman co-creator Bob Kane. Given what we now know about Kane, it’s unlikely many characters are being named after him these days.

Dick is then shown back at his loft flipping through an old photo album. He’s looking at pictures of his family-life from his days in the circus, until a familiar shadow crosses the page. Batman is there to inquire about his trip to the circus, and Dick tells him he doesn’t think Miranda had anything to do with the robbery from the night before. Batman counters by saying he checked all of the cities the circus had hit recently and all featured a nearby unexplained robbery. This leads to a stare-down between Dick and Batman that is kind of tense, until a pager on Batman’s belt forces him to look away. He growls an angry “What?!” into a communicator and it’s Robin on the other end informing him of a silent alarm that was just tripped at an auto manufacturing plant. Batman heads for the window, but calls back to Dick to ask if he’s coming. Dick grabs his suit and the pair take off.

Batman and Nightwing arrive at the factory and find an unconscious security guard in the parking lot. Batman checks his vitals, and confirming he’s all right, they turn their attention to a commotion coming from inside. As they slip in, the camera lingers on a keypad by the door which suggests that whoever gained entry did so legitimately, as in they entered the correct passcode. The duo creeps in and find a rather large, hairy, creature rummaging through a big container of components. It pops it’s head out of the container to regale the two and reveals itself to be a very large brown bear. Before the two can really react a second bear swats them from behind.

hose the bear

Batman seems to fight enough animals that he should probably just carry tranquilizers at this point.

Nightwing and Batman recover and square-off against the two bears. Nightwing makes a lot of bad jokes and puns all throughout. He kicks some barrels at his bear, and the bear demonstrates it’s been trained by hopping on the barrel and riding it while standing on its hind legs. Batman is able to avoid the bear he pairs off with and ends up leading it towards a hydraulic lift for an automobile. With Batman on top of the lift and at the controls, he lowers it on top of the bear pinning it to the floor. Nightwing has considerably less luck with his opponent. He seems to think this bear behaves like a character from Punch Out!! as he searches for a soft spot to punch at. This goes about as well as expected and Batman is forced to make the save with a fire hose. Still, that only irritates the bear, but it allows Batman to get its attention long enough for Nightwing to return with a forklift. He’s able to pin the bear against the wall between itself and the forklift, but not before first comically driving around with the creature stuck on the front.

Later that night, Miranda is unloading the bears from a police van back into their cage and Detective Bullock (Robert Costanzo) is on hand to supervise. He’s his usual grumpy self and warns the woman that he’ll be back to file a police report (why isn’t he doing it now?) and she better come up with a better reason for how those bears got out than “I don’t know.” As he makes his way towards his car, the clown-mime that got Tim earlier is lounging on the hood of the cruiser. Bullock is not amused by the clown’s mime routine and threateningly pulls out his handcuffs. The clown persists with his act and Bullock lunges for him, but misses and ends up eating dirt. The clown then waves goodbye and mimes opening a door while Bullock growls about hating clowns. He seems like the type that would.

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Bullock seems like the type of mark a clown relishes to go after.

Miranda angrily heads into her trailer and is confronted by Dick when she does. He claims she left the door open, but that doesn’t diffuse the situation much. Miranda insists someone has been messing with her animals, and Dick seems to believe her. Later, Dick returns to his loft and finds Batman waiting for him. He muses about getting an alarm, apparently failing to see the irony in Batman doing to him what he just did to Miranda. Batman is there to show him the security tapes from the factory the night before. As the two watch, they observe the bears enter the building, turn off the lights, and enter in the passcode on the door. Dick remarks that they’re smart bears, while Batman adds “Too smart.”

Back at the circus, the previously silent clown is approaching the bears in their cages and congratulating them on a job well done. He removes some circuit boards from their fur, but is soon confronted by Miranda. She demands to know what he’s doing to her animals, and he’s more than happy to explain that he’s no humble clown, but the man formally known as Jervis Tetch, better known as The Mad Hatter (Roddy McDowall). He appears to be completely unafraid of what Miranda may do to him now that she’s discovered his secret, and that’s with good reason. Her boa soon constricts around her trapping her as the Mad Hatter looks on approvingly.

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Old Mr. Big Hat is at it again.

Batman and Nightwing arrive in the Batmobile. As Nightwing begins leading Batman to Miranda’s trailer, a scream alerts them that maybe they should head elsewhere. They race over towards the scream and find Miranda locked in a cage with a pair of lions. The heroes break in and Nightwing brandishes a whip to corral the beasts. He yells out to them by name, and I expected to see Miranda give him a look or something, but none comes. They’re able to get the male lion bound up, and Batman instructs Nightwing to get Miranda out of there. As the lion breaks through the ropes, Batman does the old school lion tamer routine of wielding a whip and a chair as he backs out of the cage and slams it shut behind him.

Miranda immediately starts into a tale about The Mad Hatter, but Nightwing cuts her off with a “We’re way ahead of you.” They head for the big tent and find their old foe back in his usual attire. Usual in that it’s clearly inspired by Alice in Wonderland, but like most of the villains old Jervis has received a rather drastic redesign. He’s apparently aged horribly since we last saw him as he’s small and shriveled, but still mostly lacking a chin. His once blond hair is now white and he’s considerably shorter than before. His green suit makes him look more like a leprechaun than the character we’re used to, and his ears are pointed which just makes that comparison even more apt.

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A crushing end for Jervis.

The Mad Hatter goes into a boastful routine about how he’s mastered the art of controlling animals, but explains that controlling humans still requires he be nearby. That’s the cue for Miranda and the other performers to become zombie-like creatures at the control of The Mad Hatter. They turn on the heroes and since they lack fear and don’t experience pain, they’re pretty formidable. Batman and Nightwing really have their hands full and it takes an errant blast of fire from the fire eater which strikes The Mad Hatter’s mind control hat to break the spell. The Mad Hatter, seeing his pawns suddenly free, takes off and slides under the tent. He ends up at the gorilla cage and it looks like he’s going to try and take control of Peaches again. Batman and Nightwing show up and Nightwing destroys the Mad Hatter’s hat with a whip-strike. The Mad Hatter still isn’t without a trick, as he pulls out a pistol to hold the good guys at bay. He starts monologuing once again, sort of apologizing for resorting to such a weapon, which lasts long enough for Batman to nail it with a batarang and Peaches to emerge from her cage and take him out.

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Not the resolution Tim wanted.

The next day, Dick and Bruce are shown strolling through the circus grounds. Dick tells Bruce that Tim expressed interest in the circus and he got him a job working with Miranda. Bruce seems to think this entails working with the animals, but Dick corrects him. Miranda is then shown telling Tim there’s a lot of work to get done as Tim is shown cleaning the gorilla cage. The episode ends with Dick making a crack about missing show business as the camera lingers on Tim literally shoveling shit into a bucket.

“Animal Act” is a touch unconventional given it pits Batman and Co. against circus animals, but it also fits the classic mold of an episode of Batman given its act structure. I like the save for the reveal on Mad Hatter and the clown character he portrays is not a dead give-away since he’s not voiced and the character’s redesign makes him look quite different from before. It’s an episode I want to dislike when I read the premise, but in action it’s actually fairly entertaining.

It’s not all sunshine though. The Nightwing character is a bit too much for my taste as his numerous quips and puns just aren’t funny – they’re tiresome. Even Batman has some bad lines, in particular when he explains the situation of the brainwashing of Miranda to Nightwing. It’s possibly Kevin Conroy’s worst line-read in the series, but I don’t place the blame at his feet as much as I do on the script. Batman is a character that works best when his speech is simple and direct, he talks too much throughout that fight and basically all of his lines are completely unnecessary.

Mad Hatter, on the other hand, can’t say enough. His lines are delightful and also wickedly playful too. His motivations for these crimes are perhaps not well explained. It seems he just needs microchips and circuit boards for his mind control tech, but he’s also insane which is perhaps all the explanation one needs. I don’t care for his new look, which was previously shown briefly in “Over the Edge,” but his actual character is about as good as it’s ever been.

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RIP and thanks to Roddy McDowall for his contribution to the series as The Mad Hatter.

This episode is the final appearance of The Mad Hatter. That’s partly due to there only being a handful of episodes after it, but also due to the passing of voice actor Roddy McDowall just a few days after the original airing of this episode. McDowall was terrific in the role and terrific in this particular episode so it’s not at all surprising that the character was not recast and brought back in one of the other DC Animated Universe shows. He did appear in the Superman episode “Knight Time,” which aired exactly one week after his death.

In researching this episode for this post I was surprised to find out that Bruce Timm considers it one of the worst episodes of the series. I certainly think the script left something to be desired, but the episode as a whole seems fine to me. I much prefer it to “Critters” and I can think of several episodes I’d rank behind this one (a feature for another day). As a Mad Hatter episode it’s appropriate and introduces a new wrinkle to that villain’s schemes. It brings back a piece of Dick Grayson’s past and doesn’t have any weird production inconsistencies or anything like that. Sure, there are better episodes out there, but I don’t think this is one the production staff should be embarrassed by.


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