Episode Number: 8 (93)
Original Air Date: February 28, 1998
Directed by: Atsuko Tanaka
Written by: Paul Dini and Robert Goodman
First Appearance: Annie
“Growing Pains” is the first episode of this new series to make me actually happy there are no title cards this time around. I largely miss them for their artwork, but one thing I don’t miss them for is their tendency to spoil parts of the story. There have been a few episodes where the villain of the episode is a mystery, but only if you happened to miss the title card. This is another such episode, but the absence of a title card actually preserves the mystery for much of the episode. The only way to know the identity of today’s bad guy is to recognize the voice, and since guests sometimes do multiple characters there’s still some mystery even in that scenario. If you’ve never seen this episode, and you don’t want it spoiled, maybe skip this entry until you do.
This episode opens in Gotham at night under that ominous red sky. A young girl is running through a run-down area and she seems quite scared. She’s decked out in a long red coat and she has black hair cut at an even length. She reminds me of Coraline. Some bikers see her and immediately start giving her a hard time. They surround her, and I guess they’re just bad guys as she doesn’t look like someone who would be in possession of any valuables, though I suppose if you’re open to kidnapping then any kid has some value.
Fear not, for this young lady has someone looking out for her. Unfortunately though, she apparently drew the short straw tonight because it’s Robin, and only Robin, who comes to her aid. The bikers aren’t impressed with Robin’s threats, but he makes them regret their hubris in style. Some lumber was just laying around, and Robin knocks one biker off his mount with a javelin-like toss of the wood. The others make a hasty retreat as Robin checks on the girl. She (Francesca Marie Smith) is in a real panic and seemingly can’t remember who she is or where she’s from. The only thing she knows is that she has to keep moving. Robin wants to help, but the girl takes off on him. Up in the sky, the Bat Signal flies high and Robin is forced to let the girl go to tend to his other responsibility. As she runs off, so too does Robin in the opposite direction. The real drag of being an actual boy wonder off on his own means the only mode of transportation he has are his feet.
Batman and Robin convene in Gordon’s office to view some surveillance footage of a violent robbery. A very large man can be seen on camera and Gordon suspects the guy has acquired some super strength via chemical means. Batman doesn’t recognize him, but both key-in on his wild looking gaze. His eyes appear to be all white, which is sort of interesting of them to acknowledge since it seems like a fairly common thing for comic book villains (and heroes) to possess which almost always goes unnoticed. As the two discuss what they see, Batman notices Robin is staring off into space. When he asks him about it he mentions the girl he ran into earlier. Gordon remarks “teenagers…” and then makes a comment about being glad daughter Barbara is past those “wild” days which causes Batman to give him an odd look. As the two leave, Robin talks about the girl and wanting to help her, but Batman cold as ever, tells him they can’t help her. He needs him to focus on the task at hand which is finding this big dude while also passing on some Batman tough love.
The next day, Tim complains to Alfred while he’s being chauffeured around Gotham that Bruce always treats him like a kid (a line that really needs to go away). Alfred points out that he is a kid and Tim gets bent out of shape about him taking Bruce’s side. He then spots the girl from the previous night, and tells Alfred there’s been a change in plans. Alfred tells him he was told to bring him straight home, but that smart-ass just gives him the whole “Tim’s not here,” thing as he gets into costume. Alfred then lets him out of the car in his Robin attire. He doesn’t even pull off into an alley or anything, he just stops and lets him out in the middle of the city. He then gives old Master Bruce a call who’s currently at work.
Robin races off into what looks like a bus terminal, a very large bus terminal, and catches up with the girl. The girl cries and collapses into his arms, which was probably the reaction Robin dreamed about. They have a nice little chat where she reiterates that she remembers nothing of her past, even her name. Robin decides to arbitrarily give her a name. Spying a girl holding a Raggedy Ann knock-off, he decides to call her Annie and the girl seems to like it. She goes on to explain that she’s running from someone. She doesn’t know who the person is, but he’s a man and she can sense his presence. She then jumps and points at a shadowy area declaring the man is there!
Robin looks and from the darkness emerges the burly fellow from the surveillance tape. His eyes look pretty normal, but he is indeed a very large individual. He starts yelling at Annie and demands she come home. Robin puts himself between the two and demands the man identify himself. He ignores the request and Robin is forced into action. He jumps at him and rains blows upon him, but they’re not very effective. The bad guy gets his mitts around Robin and lifts him over his head, but then Batman comes swooping in.
Seeing Batman seems to frighten the big guy, and he decides to turn tail and run. Robin tells Annie to stay put as he and Batman give chase. They wind up chasing him through a parking garage or something and into a tunnel. Batman enters from one side while Robin swings around and enters from the other. When the two meet up in the middle, there’s no sign of the big guy. Batman looks around, but the only way out he can find is a grate. Robin tries removing it, but it’s sealed shut. Without any additional clues they return to Annie, only to find out she’s gone too. As Robin wonders where she could have gone, Batman scrapes some mud off the ground that came off the guy’s shoe. He tells Robin they’re done here and that they’re going back. Robin gets angry, saying he doesn’t want to wait around while Batman looks at some mud. He defiantly shouts “No,” when told to return to the Batcave and Batman looks surprised. Robin then takes off to go after Annie and Batman doesn’t stop him.
Robin winds up in a part of town full of homeless folks. As he walks around he pauses to look at a family of four sleeping on the ground. He looks a bit sad, but it’s hard to tell given the mask and all. He eventually finds Annie, or maybe it’s better to say Annie finds him. She tells him he shouldn’t be trying to help her, but Robin insists he can handle the guy that’s after her and likens him to his own father. Annie seems touched by Robin’s sincerity, and even plants a kiss on his cheek. As the two stand there, she notices some lights in the sky. She says they look familiar to her, only the light she’s trying to recall was higher and atop a tower of some kind. Robin smiles and seems to know what she could be talking about and tells her to come with him.
Robin leads Annie to the coastal shore and points out a lighthouse. Annie does indeed recognize it and she gets a bit excited. As they explore the area she takes note of some pipes spilling who knows what into the ocean. They’re connected to a chemical plant, something Gotham has no shortage of, and she and Robin head inside.
At the Batcave, Batman is doing his thing and having his computer check out that mud. Alfred joins him to inquire about Tim, but Batman assures him he’s keeping an eye on the boy. Alfred then remarks that he still has a tracer in his utility belt and confirms to Batman that he does indeed treat Robin like a child. Batman makes a sour face at this revelation as the computer dings that it’s done analyzing the sample. For the third time in this series, Batman drops an “Oh my God,” on us when he gets the results. He explains only that he knows who the assailant is and that Robin is in danger. He jumps into the Batmobile and rockets away leaving Alfred to look on with worry.
In the underbelly of this assumed chemical plant, Robin and Annie are walking in near darkness. Robin is too distracted by the girl and fails to notice an opening in the floor. They both fall down a pipe even further down into the plant. They’re fine, but there’s now only way to go and that way is soon blocked by the big mean guy. He seems to be in a better mood at least, and remarks to Annie that he’s glad to see she came home. Robin is ready to attack as the man approaches, but then his body starts to shift and change revealing his true identity: Clayface!
Clayface (Ron Perlman) moves in on the boy and reaches for Annie, but Robin slaps his hand away. They run, and Clayface does his extending arm trick which curls into a steel fence blocking their escape forcing Robin to smash through it. They run deeper into the plant to get away from the monster and as they regroup Annie notices that some of the clay splattered on her when Robin chopped at Clayface. Her body starts to absorb it and she seems horrified at first, but then a knowing calm settles over her. She shows Robin, then explains to him what happened.
After the events of “Mudslide” Clayface could barely hold himself together. As he drifted through the water he arrived at this plant, and specifically, those pipes. Whatever chemical it was they were dumping into the ocean had an affect on Clayface’s makeup and it helped him to pull himself back together. He crawled into the pipes, too weak to do much else. Not wanting to be kept in the dark, he created a scout with a piece of his body That scout is Annie, and she was to explore the area surrounding the plant and then return to Clayface, only once she left his side her memory vanished and became lost. There’s no attempt to put a timeframe on any of this so who knows how long this girl was wandering around.
Robin is confused, and he probably should be, but undaunted. Annie has a different perspective, and tells Robin that he shouldn’t protect her because she isn’t real. Robin insists otherwise. He tells her to run as Clayface closes in and she obeys. Robin can only keep him away so long though, and Clayface gets agitated with the diminutive hero. He had been telling him to get out of here, but now he’s mad and grabs ahold of him. With Clayface seemingly intending to kill him, Annie can’t let that happen and throws herself at Clayface. He drops Robin, but that’s because he has her now and she is soon absorbed back into her “father.”
Robin is enraged by this development and demands that Clayface bring her back. He tells him he can’t and she’s gone. Robin starts throwing batarangs in his direction. At first, they seem like mild annoyances, but Robin strikes some containers full of solvent. They start emptying their contents and Clayface seems to find the substance quite painful. It’s causing him to fall apart, and as he backs away Robin targets more of the tanks full of the stuff forcing Clayface down a catwalk and into a dead end. Batman arrives and tries to stop Robin as he’s going to kill Clayface. As the two grapple, Clayface tries to kill them himself with his old blade hand trick. He misses and the metal causes a spark which ignites this solvent that’s all over the place. Batman grabs Robin and uses a grapple gun to get out of the area as it goes up in one big explosion.
The police are now on scene and Clayface is shown being loaded onto a truck. He’s in a tank of some kind full of water or some other liquid and appears to be unconscious. As Robin looks on, Batman walks up and attempts to console him. He’s not very good at it, and basically can only muster up a line about there not always being a happy ending. Robin says nothing, but overhears a cop going over a list of charges with Gordon concerning Clayface. Robin adds “murder” to the list before turning his back on the scene and walking off sullenly. The camera pans up towards the sky as he does to rest on the light from the lighthouse streaking across the sky.
“Growing Pains” is an episode that is quite a bit of fun for longtime viewers of Batman. It reintroduces fan favorite Clayface, and even ties up the loose end of how he’s still alive following his appearance in “Mudslide.” I wish he had not appeared in “Holiday Knights,” but at least he now looks better. And that’s because this is another TMS episode. The famed Japanese studio handled Clayface’s original appearance, so it’s only fitting they do his true return for this series. He’s been redesigned somewhat with a more rocky appearance. He’s also a darker shade of brown and the shape of his head has been altered some. He looks pretty great though, and the effects of his shape-shifting powers are quite spectacular. While it’s not as amazing as “Feat of Clay Part II,” it’s still mighty impressive. It’s also nice to see the studio get to extend itself a bit with the Clayface character, as the previous TMS episode “Never Fear” didn’t really allow for the usual flourish one associates with the studio.
And it’s not just Clayface that looks great. Some extra care was definitely put into Robin during his fight with the villain at the end. He makes some expressions we’re not accustomed to seeing, and overall just looks really intense. This is the first episode to really sell the audience on what Robin is capable of. He’s definitely been the least heard from hero, and it’s nice to see that when given a bigger role the character ends up shining rather than being an annoyance.
The plot of the episode is more than a little bonkers. As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, this one manages to keep the villain a secret for quite awhile. Ron Perlman voices him throughout the episode, and that’s basically the sole clue for much of the episode. I think most viewers probably at least figured it out when Batman started scraping mud, but it was still handled well. I have no idea what to make of Clayface suddenly being able to create life. It’s a pretty wacky power, but it does at least lend itself well to creating some drama here. I felt pretty bad for Robin in the end, but Annie took the news pretty well. Maybe she could have reacted differently and played up the sympathy angle, but it was interesting in its own way to see Annie just sort of accept the reality of her existence.
The other underlying plot device is Batman’s treatment of Robin. The whole “He treats me like a kid,” thing is way overplayed in cartoons, so I don’t really find it very interesting. I’m also not sure if I should expect there to be some payoff of this down the road, and I don’t remember if there is. I suppose I could look ahead, but I’d rather take advantage of my faulty memory and hope to be surprised. My thought is there isn’t a payoff though, so there may be no surprise to come.
As for Clayface, I’m afraid this is goodbye. If you wanted to know more about where this life-creating power came from you’ll just have to look elsewhere I suppose. Clayface will stay gone this time, presumably imprisoned somewhere. He was one of the show’s best villains and certainly the character benefited from the show as prior to it I had never heard of Clayface. His debut episode was the first episode of this show I happened to see, so there is a touch of nostalgic affection on my part for the character. Even without that though I’m pretty sure he’d still be one of my favorites. It would have been fun to see him again, but TMS probably doesn’t come cheap and I don’t ever want to see the character done cheap again like he was in “Holiday Knights.” Clayface, you will be missed.