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Batman: The Animated Series – “Robin’s Reckoning: Part II”

Robin's_Reckoning_Part_IIEpisode Number:  33

Original Air Date:  February 14, 1993

Directed by:  Dick Sebast

Written by:  Randy Rogel

First Appearance(s):  None

When we left off with “Robin’s Reckoning” last week, Batman was out trying to track down Tony Zucco (Thomas F. Wilson), he who murdered Robin’s parents. He was doing this while trying to keep Robin in the dark and on the sidelines, for what reason we’re not entirely sure. Robin wasn’t having any of it though, and once he realized what was going down he immediately chastised Batman over the radio and jumped on a Batcycle to go join in the manhunt. Even though it was not the first appearance of Robin in the series, “Robin’s Reckoning” was kind of a proper introduction to the Robin character. We see how his youthful enthusiasm contrasts with Batman’s more serious demeanor and we also learned why he’s a crime fighter as his origin is pretty much the same as Batman’s. We got to see how the two met in a very flashback heavy episode and the episode setup a pretty compelling story for this episode to continue.

The episode begins with Robin using a tracking device that’s in the Batcycle that is capable of homing in on the Batmobile. It would make sense for the two pieces of equipment to be able to communicate with each other in case Batman were to not come home one night due to an unfortunate accident or something. Unfortunately for Robin, the Batmobile alerts Batman that the tracking system has been engaged and he’s able to shut it down. This infuriates Robin, but he doesn’t dwell on the slight and instead vows to track down Zucco on his own like he did so many years ago. Cue the flashback!

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Alfred, you might want to get in here.

Yes, it’s another flashback. Perhaps you thought we were done with them after the prior episode. After all, the flashbacks there ended with Zucco getting away and Bruce being convinced that he needs to spend more time with Dick and less time trying to track down Zucco because it’s what Dick really needs most. That could have been enough to justify how Zucco was able to elude Batman all these years – when Batman halted his pursuit Tony cut town and never came back. Instead, we’re going to find out that it was a little more complicated than that.

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A young hero, a brutal pimp, and a hooker with a heart of gold.

The flashback begins with Bruce and Dick fencing with each other. Dick is impulsive and unable to land a strike on Bruce who tries to give him pointers. It’s a microcosm of their approach to crime fighting. Just before the two get into some real uncomfortable horseplay, Alfred interrupts to let Bruce know that Commissioner Gordon is here to see him. Bruce excuses himself to speak with Gordon and, naturally, Dick is able to slip away and eavesdrop. Turns out, Gordon has info on Zucco and says they’re closing in thanks to having the really brilliant idea of posting wanted fliers around the city. Unfortunately, there’s bad news too as they have intel suggesting he plans to skip town tonight and if he gets away they may never find him. This seems to suggest that either Gotham PD doesn’t get along with surrounding police forces for help or that Gordon has a low opinion of the FBI. At any rate, it’s no surprise so much crime occurs in Gotham if all you have to do to escape justice is simply leave town.

Armed with this new information, Bruce sets out as Batman that night to try and nab Zucco once and for all. Also slipping out is young Dick armed with a nifty hat and the picture from one of the wanted posters. He heads to the rough part of town and starts looking for Zucco the old fashioned way. No one is really interested in helping him out, but he does stumble upon what appears to be a disagreement between a prostitute and her pimp. The pimp is dressed like basically every bad guy in this show in a three-piece tan suit and not garish traditional pimp attire. The two don’t say anything that confirms their situation, but he’s demanding she hand over some more money because he thinks she’s holding out on him. If she’s not a prostitute then I don’t know what their arrangement could possibly be. Dick isn’t going to stand for this though and he jumps to the woman’s defense. He’s able to dispatch of the slime ball and the two flee to a diner where the woman presumably pays for his meal. It’s there he gets a tip from the waitress who recognizes Zucco as some jerk who appears to be living around the wharf.

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Dick, furious with Batman for saving him and letting Zucco get away.

Dick hastily leaves the diner to go check out the building the waitress pointed out and, sure enough, he finds Zucco who’s stuffing his belongings into a suitcase. Before he can call the cops though, Zucco spots him and recognizes him immediately as the boy from the circus. Things look bleak for poor Dick, but thankfully Batman was also hard at work this evening tracking Zucco down and arrives just in time. He tosses Zucco aside sparing Dick, but Dick can’t control himself and runs at Zucco pounding on him. Zucco shoves him aside, and Dick strikes a guardrail that gives way and he plunges into a fast moving river. Batman is forced to choose between Zucco and Dick, and of course he’s going to go after Dick. Perhaps I’m more ruthless than Batman, but I wouldn’t have just left Zucco there – I would have tossed him in too. As Batman leaves, Zucco adjusts his suit and remarks, in a very Biff Tannen-like way, “That takes care of The Bat and The Brat.” He’s going to bring the schtick in this episode.

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“Don’t you feel like an idiot now, Dick?”

Batman saves Dick, because obviously if he did not then we wouldn’t have a Robin today, and brings him back to the Batcave. It’s there he reveals his identity, and Dick can only smile sheepishly. It’s presumed at that point Dick’s Robin training must have started, but we don’t know for sure since the flashback ends at roughly the episode’s halfway point. Robin then heads to Dolan’s house, he being the guy Batman and Robin caught earlier in the night who gave them the name Billy Marin, an alias used by Tony Zucco. He uses Dolan’s phone and hits redial, and sure enough, Zucco picks up. Robin has this neat little gadget that’s able to do a caller ID kind of trick when he does this that even gives him the number’s address. I don’t know if such a device ever existed, but it’s certainly not the most far-fetched thing we’ve seen in the series.

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The years have been unkind to Tony.

Batman, presumably by virtue of his offscreen interrogation of Dolan in the prior episode, already knows where Zucco is and arrives well before Robin. An older Zucco is ranting to his hired help and comes across as paranoid about Batman. It’s at this point if you didn’t realize that the voice actor for Zucco, Thomas Wilson, was Biff in the Back to the Future trilogy then you probably would now. He’s in total Biff mode and it’s kind of amusing to see him basically go nuts and fire his gun at noises. Turns out, he wasn’t being overly paranoid since by blasting out the ceiling of their hideout he forces Batman to come crashing in. He wrenches his knee during the fall, and Zucco takes notice immediately. Batman is forced to use a smoke bomb to escape, but as Zucco points out, he won’t be able to get far with such a limp.

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All right, this is pretty bad ass.

Batman is able to fashion a crude splint and starts methodically taking out Zucco’s goons, but eventually he finds himself cornered by the fiend. Fear not, for Robin is there to swoop in on his bike and grab Zucco by the collar. He drags him down the docks from his bike before eventually letting go. He tosses him around a few times, remarking menacingly how he’s waiting a long time for this. Zucco is both confused and frightened, and just when it seems like Robin is going to cross a line he’s called off by Batman. Appearing slightly embarrassed, Robin relents as the police arrive.

After things are cleaned up, Batman and Robin have a moment. Robin apologizes saying Batman was right the whole time and knew he wouldn’t be able to control himself. Batman says that wasn’t his fear. Tony Zucco had taken so much from Robin, he was afraid he might take Robin too. The two get all chummy and the episode ends kind of abruptly on what is supposed to be a tender moment.

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I’m not sure that fall would kill him, but maybe the censors wouldn’t let them get away with more.

Supposed to be? Yeah, I didn’t really buy it when I first watched it and I still don’t. The entire last act of this episode has a lot of problems. First of all, the way Robin ambushes Zucco and lets him know he’s been looking forward to this basically gives away his identity. Zucco isn’t the brightest bulb, but he’s not so dumb that he shouldn’t be able to figure out that Robin is the circus boy. If he didn’t in the moment then he surely would after this since he’d be put on trial for the murder of the Graysons and Dick would be called to testify as the chief witness. Which inevitably would lead Zucco to conclude that not only is Dick Robin, but that Bruce Wayne is most likely Batman. Robin basically needed to kill Zucco to protect himself and Batman, but he’s left as a loose end that the show has no intention of ever addressing.

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We do get a glimpse of Robin’s dark side in this episode, but it’s nothing that the show ever returns to.

Batman’s explanation of fearing Zucco would murder Robin also feels like a cop-out. Batman Forever, of all things, would end up better addressing how Batman feared Robin would betray his morals and murder his parents’ killer to exact revenge. Perhaps the show runners here felt like they couldn’t tackle such a subject on a kid’s show, but they did so well in presenting the murder of the Graysons just an episode earlier that it blows my mind they couldn’t have found a way to do something more artful here. Now, perhaps you want to play wordsmith and suggest Batman didn’t literally fear Zucco killing Robin, but feared losing the Robin he knew by virtue of him taking Zucco out. Unfortunately, Robin basically suggests that to Batman as the reason why he wasn’t including him in the hunt for Zucco and he’s quick to say, “No.” I think he’s speaking plainly here and his fear of losing Robin just doesn’t carry much weight. They’ve tangled with far worse than Tony Zucco, so Batman’s fear would be pretty irrational by comparison and Batman is, above all, a pretty rational kind of guy.

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“So, umm, buds again?”

Unfortunately, “Robin’s Reckoning” suffers from the same Part II malaise that the other two-parters fell victim to, save for maybe “Clayface.” The writers and directors for this show have demonstrated they know how to utilize the full 22 minutes of an episode to craft an exceptional setup for a part two, but haven’t demonstrated an ability to truly capitalize on it. They’ll have other chances, but it is a little frustrating as a viewer. Part One of “Robin’s Reckoning” is really one of the show’s best episodes, while part two is just kind of ho-hum. The flashback is fine, though a bit long, and the climax just can’t deliver. That is due in part to Standards and Practices as Robin can’t just start wailing on Zucco in a kid’s show, instead he can only judo toss him a couple of times (though dragging him from a motorcycle is pretty violent, even though he shows no real injury from it) and act like a tough guy. Robin also accepts Batman’s explanation and views him as being in the right this whole time, seemingly brushing aside this conflict the episode was hinging on between Batman and Robin. There’s no lasting damage done to the relationship meaning we get sort of the classic sitcom reset by episode’s end which feels like a missed opportunity. In the end we did get some nice insight into how Robin came to be, but it would have been nice to build onto that with further character development. Oh well, perhaps I’m just asking too much of this show and being unfair, but I don’t want to dumb down my expectations just because this is a kid’s show.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Robin’s Reckoning: Part I”

Robins_Reckoning-Title_CardEpisode Number:  32

Original Air Date:  February 7, 1993

Directed by:  Dick Sebast

Written by:  Randy Rogel

First Appearance(s):  Tony Zucco, The Flying Graysons

 

Up until now we’ve seen very little of the sidekick formerly known as The Boy Wonder – Robin. He’s only appeared in a couple of episodes and hasn’t really brought much to the table. For episode 32, we’re going to finally find out how this Robin came to be via the flashback heavy episode – “Robin’s Reckoning.” Fox held onto this one for a long time. It’s production order episode 32, but it’s air date episode 51 and the first episode we’re covering the was held over into 1993. Fox knew it had a pretty good tale on its hands, and since the episode is a bit heavy, the network chose to premier it in prime time on February 7th with Part II following the next week on Valentine’s Day. It would air in reruns during the regular afternoon and Saturday morning time slots so there wasn’t an issue with the content, but of the several episodes of this show to be shown-off in a prime time slot, this one is arguably the most deserving.

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Robin, getting some of that action he was craving.

The episode opens with Batman and Robin in the midst of a stake-out. Some crooks are expected to show-up at a construction yard where the steel beams of a future skyscraper have already been erected. They’re saboteurs and intend to take the thing down or compromise the building’s integrity through explosive means. When we join in with our heroes we learn through Robin’s complaining that they’ve already been waiting for over four hours. Robin is especially child-like in this brief sequence and let’s out a “wahoo!” when the crooks finally show. For whatever reason, we’re going to see more kid Robin in terms of his behavior during this episode than we’re accustomed to. He’ll even address Alfred as “Man,” injecting a little Bart Simpson into his vernacular. I assume it’s to highlight the difference in character between he and Batman, but it sounds rather forced.

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I love “menacing” Batman.

Robin goes in first and Batman follows. They tangle with the crooks, a trio of typical gangster types, that contains some fun action pieces since they’re fighting in a pretty dangerous environment. One guy even gets a hold of a rail gun that nearly takes off Robin’s fingers. Another unfortunate fool ends up dangling from a girder, and when the other two attempt to escape Batman instructs Robin to let them go since Mr. About-To-Fall-To-His-Messy-Death is the only guy they need to find out who’s hiring these guys. In an amusing exchange, the crook refuses to talk so Batman and Robin walk away. He shouts after them that the cops wouldn’t leave him in this state and Batman is quick to remind him that they’re not the cops. I like this ruthless side of Batman and it makes me kind of wish the guy did fall so we could see if Batman truly would have stood aside. My guess is he probably would not, but it’s fun to think he might not have. Anyways, the crook eventually talks and says he’s working for a guy named Billy Marin. As the name is spoken Batman reacts with surprise and the sound of a bell chime can be heard, as in, the name rings a bell. This is easily the most hack thing this show has done and I really wish it wasn’t part of an otherwise excellent episode. It’s literally an audible cue as there is nothing in the scene responsible for the sound – so lame. When Robin pounces on him for info Batman abruptly cuts him off and orders him to get the Batmobile. Confused and hurt, Robin slinks away leaving Batman alone with his prey. He growls about wanting answers and the scene ends.

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Robin’s been a pretty cheerful guy up until now, but we’re in for a lot of Angry Robin from here on out.

At the Batcave, Robin is distressed about being brought home suddenly. He apologizes for his behavior at the construction yard, but Batman won’t explain why he’s bringing Robin back. Citing some old rules they apparently agreed to long ago, he justifies his needs for privacy and takes off. Robin has now gone from upset to downright angry. Alfred is there to hear him out, and bring him some supper (it kind of bothers me that Alfred first shows up in his pajamas, then is seen serving Dick in his tux. I’d like to think Alfred doesn’t need to get dressed in the middle of the night just to serve food) while Robin rants about how selfish Batman is. Finally it dawns on him to just look up Billy Marin on Batman’s gigantic computer, and he finds out Marin is an alias for one Tony Zucco. Robin repeats the name menacingly as the screen fades to black – it’s flashback time!

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Sid the Squid, listed as another alias here for Zucco, will come up again in a later episode.

Tony Zucco (Thomas F. Wilson) is apparently a small time extortionist who once tried to get a circus owner to hire him for “protection.” This circus also happened to be the home of The Flying Graysons consisting of young Dick Grayson along with his mother and father. Dick, aged 10, witnessed his boss tossing Zucco out of his trailer ordering him to get lost. Zucco then issued a threat which foolishly included the tired old line of “You’ll remember the name of Tony Zucco!” or something to that effect. The next night, as the Graysons are preparing to take center stage for their trapeze act, Dick witnesses Zucco exiting the tent. He tries to warn his parents, but it’s their cue and they are performers, after all. Dick’s father heads out onto the trapeze rope with Dick to follow. They do their routine before Dick returns to the podium so his mother can take his place. As she swings off Dick notices the rope for the trapeze has been tampered with. We see the silhouette of his parents swinging against the tent backdrop. They swing out of picture, then just the rope swings back into it accompanied by a gasping sound from the audience.

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The Flying Graysons.

The episode doesn’t linger too long on the actual accident, instead jumping to the aftermath of Dick telling a young Commissioner Gordon what he saw and that he thinks this Zucco character is to blame. Bruce Wayne, who was in attendance, has waited around to ask about the boy since obviously he’s experienced something similar. Gordon mentions he’s worried Zucco might come for him, so Wayne offers to help. The next day, Dick bids a tearful goodbye to his friends at the circus before getting into a car with Gordon who takes him to Wayne Manor. There he’s given a bedroom larger than my house and time to settle in. We get a quick cut back to an angry Robin, before joining Batman in the Batmobile who’s now making it obvious he knows that Billy Marin and Tony Zucco are one in the same and we go back to the flashback (one that’s apparently now more from Batman’s point of view).

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I get a very Lupin the 3rd vibe from this guy.

During this flashback we see how Batman made it a mission of his own to find Zucco to make him pay for what he did to Dick’s family. This includes a younger Batman (in a costume that reminds me of Year One and a bit of The Dark Knight Returns with a softer blue and a fat, all black logo and a belt with many pouches) going undercover to dig up dirt on Zucco, finding out he’s hiding out with his uncle Arnold Stromwell (Eugene Roche). We first met a current version of Stromwell in the episode “It’s Never Too Late” and now we get to see him as a slightly younger version of himself living the good life. Batman pays him a threatening kind of visit, in which Stromwell claims to not know the whereabouts of his bum nephew. Batman leaves, but not before tapping the residence which allows him to listen in on Zucco congratulating his uncle for getting ride of “The Bat.” Stromwell, on the other hand, is not in a congratulatory mood and kicks his nephew out of the family for bringing Batman upon his empire. The episode says little about Stromwell, but we know from his other appearance that his empire is built on illegal drugs. Zucco is able to make an escape, but it leaves Batman feeling like he’s close. Upon returning home though, Alfred reminds him that he really needs to take the time to mentor Dick and help him through what he’s dealing with. At first, Bruce is taken aback by Alfred’s comments pointing out what he’s doing is all for Dick, but quickly realizes that justice isn’t exactly what Dick needs right in this moment and he elects to spend more time with him. We get a nice scene where Bruce tries to cheer up Dick, and in doing so lets him know that he went through something similar. The hurt won’t go away, but it will get better.

The episode jumps back to the present with Robin scolding Batman over the radio for not letting him be a part of this. Batman won’t budge though and shuts down communication. Robin doesn’t respond in the way Batman probably hoped he would as he angrily jumps onto a Batcycle vowing to not sit this one out and even slipping in some ominous threats for the future about no longer staying on the sidelines (something this series will never readdress but its sequel series will). Alfred can only watch as Robin speeds off out of the Batcave leaving us, the viewers, to wait until next week to see how this all gets sorted out.

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The smaller moments shared between Bruce and Dick work so well that I wish there were more.

Really, aside from that one really lame sound cue, this episode is exceptional story-telling for a children’s program. That sounds like a back-handed compliment, but it’s not intended to be. Children’s shows have to work around emotion sometimes. People can get mad, but they can only do so much to show it. They can also be sad, but rarely are they allowed to grieve for something as long-lasting and impactful as the murder of one’s parents. This episode does a great job of artfully telling its story in a way that pleased the censors. The death of the Graysons was especially artful with everything happening offscreen without just doing a “yada yada” thing. It’s there, and we experience it in the moment, we just don’t actually see the pair fall to their untimely deaths. And I also appreciate the small moments. The episode doesn’t put the camera on Young Dick for any real length of time to focus on his grief, but it illustrates his grief in smaller ways. When Bruce walks in on him at the end of the episode we see him wiping tears from his eyes letting us know that he’s probably just been sitting around in a state of distress. It’s possible he’s spent every day since the incident doing just that. We get enough of his sorrow to feel it without letting it become the focus of the episode.

What is kind of lost is the the focus of the episode is an opening of an old wound for our present day Robin and the potential start of a rift between he and Batman. Director Dick Sebast does as well as he can with the 22 minute runtime to balance things out between flashback and the present day anger of Robin. While his boyish antics early in the episode aren’t very convincing, his anger is. Voice actor Loren Lester does a great job in making us believe angry Robin is a force to be reckoned with. His anger at Zucco for what he did years ago and his anger directed at Batman for keeping vengeance from him is palpable. It’s a good a setup for Part II. The only other victim of the short runtime is perhaps Alfred. I get the sense the episode wants us to feel as if Alfred is being put in the middle, and he’s supposed to be a stand-in for the audience as well. We want to like and root for both Batman and Robin, as Alfred obviously does as well. We understand Robin’s anger, but we also know that Batman is only looking out for him. At least, that’s the understanding I have in regards to Batman’s motives, but that may be because he better explains that in the follow-up and I’m inadvertently recalling that tidbit of information as I watch this episode again. As a kid, there’s a good chance I felt Batman was being a jerk.

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The episode succeeds in giving us insight into the Robin character thereby justifying his existence in this cartoon, which before now, he kind of felt like he didn’t belong.

“Robin’s Reckoning” is justifiably a favorite episode of many and I’m happy to say it holds up well. I love Robin’s origin because it both ties him to Batman in their shared tragedy and because it provides a plausible reason for why Robin is so agile and graceful as an adult able to keep up with Batman. In re-watching it now I do see how the show really relies on the audience having an established relationship with the Robin character since this is only his third appearance and we’re kind of asked to take his side in his conflict with Batman, the character we’ve been spending every week day with. I suppose it’s simply an advantage to working with iconic characters like Batman and Robin who really need no introduction, though still a little surprising since how small a role Robin had played in the film franchise. I’ve always been on the fence about Robin as a character, the fact that Batman would let a kid play super hero is rather absurd. And I have a cynical opinion of him that he’s just around to give kids someone to relate to, which they really don’t need. Kids aren’t that dumb. This episode does help to justify his existence and thankfully it’s not the start of Batman no longer being a mostly solo hero.


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