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The Batman TAS Episode Ranking – Part 3

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

59 – Paging the Crime Doctor

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

FearofVictory58 – Fear of Victory

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

57 – It’s Never Too Late

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

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Captain Clown, we hardly knew ye.

56 – The Last Laugh

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

55 – Double Talk

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

54 – Baby-Doll

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

cross blades53 – The Demon’s Quest: Part II

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

52 – The Mechanic

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

30-251 – Appointment in Crime Alley

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

50 – Bane

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

offbalance49 – Off Balance

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

48 – Mad as a Hatter

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

smilingtwoface147 – Two-Face: Part II

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

46 – A Bullet for Bullock

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

45 – What is Reality?

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

HS_II_41_-_Batman

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

44 – Heart of Steel: Part 2

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

43 – Dreams in Darkness

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

calendar girl revealed42 – Mean Seasons

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

41 – Judgement Day

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

joker limo40 – Joker’s Millions

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


The New Batman Adventures – “Never Fear”

never fearEpisode Number:  6 (91)

Original Air Date:  November 1, 1997

Directed by:  Kenji Hachizaki

Written by:  Stan Berkowitz

First Appearance:  None

If you’re at all familiar with Batman: The Animated Series then one look at the title of this episode will tip you off to who the villain of the day is. The Scarecrow is back with a new look and a new voice actor. Pretty much every villain from the prior series received a redesign for this one, but The Scarecrow’s is one of the most extreme and memorable. It’s interesting because he was also the villain to receive the most severe redesign during the original series, moving from a tear-drop shaped mask in his debut to a much more hideous and frightening one in his subsequent appearances. For The New Batman Adventures, his redesign reads like a change in philosophy. He now resembles an undead preacher and the noose around his neck implies the manner of execution was a hanging. He wears a duster jacket and hat and wields a stick to complete the ensemble. We’re left to assume that underneath the new costume is still Dr. Jonathan Crane, though since he’s now voiced by Jeffrey Combs (replacing Henry Polic II) I suppose that could lead some to question if this is an all new villain. Combs portrays Scarecrow with a much softer and quiet voice, a lethal whisper, so to speak. It makes this version of the character similar to The Phantasm, minus the smoke effects.

new scarecrow

Behold the new Scarecrow!

Also returning is Scarecrow’s fear-based methods aided by his various serums and toxins. Both Batman and Robin have had to deal with Scarecrow’s fear-inducing methods previously and have overcome them, so how can the show change things up this time? The answer is by swinging in the total opposite direction. Where Scarecrow’s old gas once induced a debilitating terror in his victims, his new weapon now removes all traces of fear making the victims reckless and uncaring about consequences. It’s an interesting approach, but does it work?

The episode opens at night with a crowd of onlookers watching a man swinging around the buildings of Gotham. Only this man isn’t Batman, it’s just some paunchy guy (voiced by Efrem Zimbalist, Jr.) awkwardly swinging around. Batman and Robin spot him and make the determination that this activity appears quite unsafe. They swing after the guy, who just seems to keep going almost like the end of his rope is attached to a helicopter or something. The guy is having a good time, until he smashes into a neon sign causing him to lose his grip. The man apparently possesses great upper body strength, as well as finger strength, as he grabs a ledge on the way down saving himself. Batman and Robin have to take care of the debris from the sign so it doesn’t injure any of the onlookers, but soon turn their attention to their odd thrill-seeker.

acrophobic man

Just some guy out for an evening swing.

They eventually get to him and Batman asks him what he’s doing and advises against it. The man seems almost euphoric. He explains he has no fear, and apparently he sees no reason for the crime-fighting duo to put an end to his fun. He playfully shoulder tackles Batman off the ledge, forcing Batman to use his grapple-gun to save himself and grab ahold of the lunatic, who also had fallen. The crowd cheers as this little episode comes to a close.

Nearby, a man in a white suit looks on and seems a touch displeased. He heads inside to an auditorium and there we’re introduced to this new version of The Scarecrow. Scarecrow is angry with this gentleman, who goes by the name of Guru (Charles Rocket), for losing control over the crazy man we just saw swinging around Gotham. Apparently this guy was a test subject for Scarecrow’s new drug and he was supposed to be guarded closely.

The next day, Bruce Wayne is heading to his office. His secretary informs him that someone has been trying to get ahold of him all morning, while another person waits in his office for him. With a “Let me guess,” Bruce enters his spacious office to find Tim playing in his office chair. When he questions why the boy isn’t at school he points out it’s summer vacation. Tim wants to know if Bruce has any more info on the guy from last night. Bruce tells him he does, as the police learned an interesting fact about he him – he has acrophobia, a fear of heights. Before their conversation can continue, they’re interrupted by Seymour Grey (Ken Berry), a dissatisfied employee of Wayne’s and likely the one who has been calling all morning. He rants about being ignored for 18 years and claims to have a bunch of wonderful ideas, but he’s not here to share them. He just wants to yell finally tossing a bunch of papers in Wayne’s direction before declaring that he quits. On the way out, he takes a rather lurid peek at Wayne’s secretary and then grabs her and places a kiss on her. She does not take that well, and Bruce surprisingly doesn’t deck the jerk as security comes in to remove him. As Mr. Grey is taken away, Bruce notices he dropped his wallet and inside it is a business card for a company called Never Fear.

bruces bad disguise

He just doesn’t put the same effort into his disguises as he used to.

Bruce finds an address on the business card and heads to the location in perhaps his worst disguise yet. He just looks like Bruce Wayne, but with a really thin, fake mustache which is even less convincing than Superman’s alter ego. Nonetheless, no one appears to recognize him as he attends what turns out to be a self-help seminar hosted by the Guru. Not surprisingly, the seminar is all about letting go of fear and as Guru goes on and on Bruce slips away. He ducks into an office and starts nosing around. He picks the lock on a drawer and finds a bunch of canisters inside. Before he can figure out what it is, a shadowy figure emerges behind him and blasts him in the back of the head with a club. As Bruce crumbles to the floor, the camera pans up to reveal the Scarecrow as the assailant.

Bruce wakes up to find himself in a zoo. He’s just outside a crocodile exhibit and as he looks around he’s soon alerted by the presence of The Scarecrow. He wants to know what Bruce was doing in the office, and he too is apparently unaware of who Bruce is. Wayne plays dumb and says he was just scrounging around for cash which Scarecrow seems to buy. That doesn’t mean he’s going to let him off the hook though. He shoots Wayne with a gas gun and then dares him to approach. Scarecrow is positioned behind the crocodile enclosure, so Bruce opts to go through it. In a bit of a confusing scene, Wayne hops the fence and is in ankle deep water, but the crocs emerge from underneath it. They’re massive, and they drag Bruce under water, which is now apparently several feet deep. As the water turns cloudy with blood, a satisfied Scarecrow departs with a rather amusing taunt of “Welcome to the food chain.” We’ve seen Batman tangle with massive reptiles before though, and soon just the back of a croc breeches the surface limply as Bruce emerges, seemingly unscathed.

scarecrow meets wayne

This Scarecrow is surprisingly playful.

Alfred and Tim are just hanging around Wayne Manor when Bruce comes storming in soaking wet. Before they can even ask what happened he orders Tim to suit up and get in the plane. The Dynamic Duo then take off and Batman fills Robin in on what he saw. He explains that Scarecrow is behind a new gas that removes people’s sense of fear. Robin takes note of how recklessly Batman is operating the Batwing prompting him to ask if he was exposed to this new toxin. Batman confirms that he was, but curtly informs his young sidekick that he can handle it. Robin seems unconvinced of that as Batman continues to fly in an irresponsible manner.

guru

Nice chin, Guru.

The two return to Scarecrow’s hideout. They return to the office where Batman found the canisters as Bruce Wayne only to find they’re gone. The Guru then shows up with some armed men in tow. Batman charges at them and is more than fortunate to not get shot. Robin’s approach is more professional as he uses batarangs to disarm the thugs allowing Batman to bash them into oblivion. He sets his sights on Guru, but the sharply dressed man isn’t talking. Batman ropes him up and tosses him over a balcony. Guru is now frightened, but it isn’t until Batman starts slicing the rope and musing about how little he cares if Guru falls does he start talking. He tells them that Scarecrow took the gas to the subway where he plans to unleash it on the city. Batman, having received what he wanted, remarks that his plan is just in time for rush hour (I guess he’s referring to the morning rush hour) and simply turns his back on the man and heads for the Batwing. The rope snaps, forcing Robin to make the save as Guru screams and passes out from the experience. Robin, despite being about a third of the size of Guru, manages to haul him up.

On the rooftop, Batman is heading for the Batwing when his own rope is used against him. He falls to the ground in a bind with Robin standing over him. He’s incensed and demands to be untied, but Robin tells him he’s in no condition for this. He once again insists that he can handle the toxin, but Robin tells him to sit this one out and removes his utility belt. As Robin walks away, Batman softens his tone and tells him he’s right. Telling Robin that he’ll be in charge on this mission, he once again asks him to untie him. Robin approaches, but stops short, telling Batman he almost fooled him. Batman then again returns to a state of heightened agitation with a “Why you little…!” but he at least stops short of swearing at the kid who leaves him on the roof top.

robins stand

Robin does what must be done.

Robin enters the subway system to confront Scarecrow and whatever help he brought with him. He enters a train that Scarecrow has apparently commandeered. There he finds Scarecrow in the midst of recording a ransom video intended for the mayor. When he flashes an inhaler indicating it’s the antidote, Robin nails it with a batarang and barges in. As he prepares to handcuff the Scarecrow, one of his men creeps up behind Robin and clubs him with both hands knocking him out. They cuff him, and apparently they’re content to just let him hang around until the job is done.

Meanwhile, Batman has escaped from his restraints and made his way to the same subway train. He boards it, apparently retrieving his belt at some point (or Tim just left it on the rooftop), and thunders through the cars. He grabs Scarecrow’s men and tosses them from the moving train. He moves right past Robin and takes Scarecrow from behind in the control room. He manages to get his hands around Scarecrow’s neck and he looks intent on finishing the job. During the fracas, the controls are damaged and the car is now out of control. This also seems like a good time to point out that this is by far the weirdest subway tunnel I’ve ever seen, resembling more of a mine train setting than a subway.

batman v scarecrow

Batman in full-blown murder mode.

Robin is able to free himself of his own bonds and jumps on Batman’s back. He tries to talk Batman down, but he has no success. He then spies the inhaler on the ground that contains the antidote to Scarecrow’s gas. He gives Batman a good blast in the face with it, and he quickly snaps back into sanity. Batman recognizes the dire situation, and orders Robin to evacuate. Robin hesitates, but Batman insists he’s fine now and that he’ll get he and Scarecrow out of there. Robin does as he’s told, and Batman grabs Scarecrow and bails before the subway train plunges into a ravine.

As Batman, dragging Scarecrow, and Robin walk out of the tunnel, Robin tries to apologize for what he did, but Batman tells him it was the right thing to do adding that a little fear is a good thing. The only thing missing from this ending is a sweet hug.

“Never Fear” is an episode that quickly abandons its premise. We’re shown how removing someone’s sense of fear could change him through the acrophobic individual at the beginning and the Wayne employee Mr. Grey. It’s easy to understand why someone who had a fear of heights would want to do something daring after suddenly having the fear removed. Similarly, Mr. Grey was likely a meek employee afraid to speak up for himself for years and now finally has the courage to do so which explains his actions in Wayne’s office.

robins bravery

Batman is pretty awful in this one, so much so that it almost seems implausible that Robin could just brush it off as the effects of some drug.

For Batman though, this new drug goes well beyond removing fear. Batman is a murderous psychopath when on this drug. Not only is he no longer afraid of consequences, the drug has seemingly removed any sense of value he once placed on the lives of Gotham’s criminals. Is the episode implying that it’s simply the law that prevents Batman from murdering his foes? Essentially, I feel like the episode began with a premise, and then the staff realized that a fearless Batman just wasn’t enough so they needed the drug to just turn him into a rampaging beast. For that reason, I’m not sure if they intend for us to draw any further conclusions from Batman’s actions. Even so, this Batman is very unlikable and as a viewer I can’t just forgive and forget, which makes the ending feel unearned because that’s exactly what Robin does. I feel like that drug peeled back some layers on Batman’s character, and what has been seen cannot be unseen.

This episode is one of the few not animated by the tandem of Dong Yang and Koko Ltd. It’s the work of the much acclaimed Tokyo Movie Shinsha, or simply TMS, and was directed in-house by Kenji Hachizaki. This marks a new turn as TMS previously animated episodes back in season one, but directing responsibilities were still performed onshore. Of course, with animation arrangements like this sometimes the credited director isn’t always the one doing the most directing so the real credit should almost always go to multiple parties. Still, it’s a nice honor for Hachizaki which reflects the standing of TMS in 1997. The studio will animate a handful of other episodes in this run and most of them are among the show’s most memorable. TMS is perhaps the best 2D animators on the planet during the 90s, and the quality is easy to spot in anything the studio works on. Though with this more streamlined design, the differences in animation quality are far less obvious than they were before. Or maybe that’s just a complement to the likes of Dong Yang which really improved noticeably during the life of BTAS.

This is also the Batman debut for writer Stan Berkowitz. He had previously worked on Fox’s Spider-Man as well as a bunch of live-action stuff before joining the staff of Batman. Berkowitz will contribute to more episodes in this season as well as many episodes of Superman. He’ll transition to Batman Beyond where he wrote a number of episodes, including the pilot. He’s basically hung around the DCAU ever since and should be a familiar name if you’ve kept up with those properties.

shadowy scarecrow

One thing seemingly not up for debate is that this version of The Scarecrow is superior to the previous one.

As for The Scarecrow, this new take on the character is easily the greatest success in terms of character design for The New Batman Adventures. No other redesign works as well as this one to improve what came before. It’s also nice to see the character returned to a more prominent role as he had been reduced to comedic relief in the final episodes of BTAS. Unfortunately, he doesn’t get much exposure in this new series making that neat design feel almost wasted. He will return one more time in a role that features minimal screen time, but the effects of which result in what is probably the show’s finest episode. As for “Never Fear,” it’s a good debut for this new twist on the villain even if I have some issues with the tone and direction the episode took. I suppose if you’re more willing to forgive and forget the actions of Batman in this episode then you may feel it’s a great deal better than I think it is, and maybe one of the best. For me, it’s almost too uncomfortable and it’s hard for me to at least partially not associate The New Batman Adventures version of Batman with the character we saw here.


Batman: The Animated Series – “Lock-Up”

Lock-Up-Title_CardEpisode Number:  82

Original Air Date:  November 19, 1994

Directed by:  Dan Riba

Written by:  Paul Dini, Marty Isenberg, Robert N. Skir

First Appearance(s):  Lock-Up

Even with four episodes left, there’s still room for new villains. And in today’s episode, that new villain is Lock-Up, a villain made for the series and not taken from the comic book world. Lock-Up is essentially an extreme take on Batman, a fellow vigilante who doesn’t just stop at taking the law into his own hands, but also the punishment. He thinks Gotham is full of enablers, be it the police, media, the doctors at Arkham Asylum, and even Batman himself. And in true nut-job fashion, only Lock-Up has the answers.

scared scarecrow

Who scared The Scarecrow?

Curiously, this episode begins in almost exactly the same situation as the previous one. Batman and Robin are, once again, returning The Scarecrow (Henry Polic II) to Arkham. He’s apparently quite good at escaping, but not at avoiding capture. The difference this time is that Scarecrow is not arrogantly defiant, but rather terrified at returning to Arkham. He’s afraid of someone, and for the self-declared Master of Fear to feel terror is pretty significant. There to greet him is apparently the one he fears:  Lyle Bolton (Bruce Weitz). He thanks Batman for his assistance, and assures him that Professor Crane won’t be an issue going forward now that he’s in charge. Batman seems to regard Bolton suspiciously, before taking his leave. As he and Robin leave, Robin acknowledges that Bolton is creepy, but he’s impressed with his dedication. Batman isn’t as complimentative and seems to think Bolton’s methods may be going too far.

enter bolton

Lyle Bolton knows how to make an entrance.

Some time later, a hearing is convened. Bruce Wayne is apparently responsible for it as he’s seated off to the side with Commissioner Gordon and Mayor Hill (Lloyd Bochner). Wayne explains that it was his company that created the position that Bolton is in and recommended him for the job and he wants to make sure everything is going smooth. Dr. Bartholomew (Richard Dysart) overhears this hearing and Harley Quinn (Arleen Sorkin) is brought in to offer testimony about Bolton’s methods. She takes one look at him and quickly says she has no problems, obviously intimidated by Bolton’s presence. Other inmates are given a chance to testify, including The Ventriloquist (George Dzundza) who has a handy new Scarface puppet, and Scarecrow. The Ventriloquist is the only one who appears ready to say something, but Scarface shuts him up. Even Scarecrow refuses to say anything bad about Bolton. Bolton, for his part, is cooperative and appears receptive to criticism, but since none is offered, Wayne has little choice but to declare he’s satisfied with the results of the hearing and proposes extending Bolton’s contract by another 18 months.

scarface lockup

Some familiar faces are asked to provide testimony for or against Bolton.

That declaration gets the inmates talking. Harley is the first to crack and others follow suit. They claim mistreatment at the hands of Bolton, who punishes them sometimes for no reason. The likely PG nature of the show prevents them from really going into graphic detail, but the accusations cause Bolton to lose his cool. He declares they’re all scum, and suggests they should be beaten to death. Dr. Bartholomew has seen and heard enough and fires Bolton on the spot. He responds by placing the blame for Gotham’s ills on all of the enablers in his presence:  the soft-hearted police, pandering doctors, and gutless bureaucrats, as he refers to them. He vows revenge on all as he’s dragged out of the room. We then cut to what appears to be Bolton’s home as he watches coverage of himself on the news which is delivered by Gotham’s favorite reporter, Summer Gleeson (Mari Devon). He then adds the liberal media to his list of enemies, completing his transformation into the drunk uncle at every family gathering.

bolton vs liberal media

Lyle Bolton owning the libs by smashing his own TV.

Six months pass and Bruce Wayne and Summer Gleeson are concluding a dinner together. Summer thanks Bruce for the meal and seems a bit flirtatious as Bruce walks her out. Before he can capitalize, a man with the restaurant steps outside to tell Bruce he has a phone call. He departs while Summer gets into her car, only she finds out it won’t start. She’s locked in, and an armored truck pulls up behind her and begins abducting her, car and all. A large man in a costume of black and blue with steel and chain accents emerges, and it’s clearly Bolton.

batman meets lockup

Batman meets his newest foe:  Lock-Up.

Bruce sees what’s going and tries to race outside to Summer’s aid. Bolton fires some locking mechanism which prevents Bruce from operating the revolving door. He then gets a bit Get Smart and opens up his briefcase and activates a smoke bomb. As the area fills with smoke, Bruce pulls out his Batman costume and changes quicker than Clark Kent. He busts through the door (seems like it would still be pretty easy to figure out what happened there, smoke or not) and confronts Bolton, who is now calling himself Lock-Up. He’s at first happy to see Batman and tells him that he can catch the bad guys, and he’ll do the rest. Batman is not amenable to this arrangement and the two are forced to fight. Lock-Up actually gets the better of Batman, and when a police squad car comes onto the scene Lock-Up tosses his baton at it causing it to crash. When Batman checks on the nameless cop and Bullock (Robert Costanzo) in the car, Lock-Up takes off with Gleeson. Bullock, to no one’s surprise, is not amused to find another “freak in a Halloween costume” has shown up in Gotham while Batman retrieves the lock Bolton had shot onto the revolving door.

At the Bat Cave, Batman is checking out the lock and identifies it as a device created by Bolton. Apparently Lock-Up isn’t just a clever name as he’s also quite good with locks. Robin makes a joke about Bruce’s company yet again creating a super villain which Batman doesn’t seem to find amusing. He turns to his computer, old reliable, to retrieve Bolton’s last known address and instructs Robin to check it out.

Robin scopes out Bolton’s apartment, while Batman heads to Arkham. There he finds the security guard bound and gagged at his desk. Rather than free him, Batman books it down the hall to Dr. Bartholomew’s office. He finds it empty, but spots the Bat-Signal in the Gotham sky. He heads over to the police HQ, but is surprised to find it was Bullock who turned on the signal. He’s also been handcuffed to the building, and informs Batman that Lock-Up kidnapped the commissioner. Batman removes the cuffs and tells Bullock he has a pretty good idea of where Lock-Up will strike next.

Bullock is then shown in the home of Mayor Hill with some other cops. Hill thinks the security measures taken by his usual guards is sufficient, but Batman and Robin sneak in to prove he’s mistaken. They warn the mayor about Lock-Up, but before the conversation can move along gas fills the room, and soon the mayor is gone too. When Batman and Robin head for the Batmobile, they find a boot has been placed on it. It’s a wonder other villains haven’t thought of the same. It’s not a total loss though, as Lock-Up left behind a cargo locker and the serial number on it contains an important clue about his hideout.

The clue leads Batman and Robin to a decommissioned naval vessel off the coast of Stonegate Penitentiary. Sometime ago, Stonegate was remodeled and the ship was used as a temporary holding place for inmates and Bolton was the chief of security during that time. Batman and Robin infiltrate the ship, and Bolton sees them on his various monitors. He sicks traps upon them, but Batman is able to reach him while Robin is able to get to Bolton’s computer and deactivate the security measures

lockup gets batman

Lock-Up proves to be more than a match for Batman.

Bolton and Batman engage in some fisticuffs, while the ship becomes unmoored and sails right into some rocks. The hull is breeched as a result and water starts pouring in, which proves to be quite a problem for the captives locked up below deck. Robin is forced to go after them and undo their restraints while the water level rises. Up on deck, Batman and Lock-Up battle as the rain begins to fall. Once again, Lock-Up is proving to be a pretty fair match-up for Batman, and as the ship teeters Batman is knocked from the deck. It’s a long way down, but Batman manages to land on a rudder. As he gathers himself, Lock-Up drops down on-top of him. As the rudder tilts towards the whirling propellers, Batman throws mud in Lock-Up’s face to gain the upper hand. They both tumble off the rudder and disappear into the rocky waters below as Robin and the others emerge just in time to see the two fall. They stare down at the dark waters until a grappling hook comes rocketing out. Batman emerges, with an unconscious Lock-Up in-hand.

Bolton is then seen being paraded through Arkham. Apparently he’s been declared insane, and the other inmates are hooting and hollering to see him. They seem delighted, especially Scarecrow, at this turn of events, but so does Bolton. As he’s placed in his cell he sports a smile. In what feels like a nod to Rorschach from Watchmen, Bolton declares he’s not locked up with them, they’re locked up with him!

lock-up defeated

The unsatisfying conclusion to the big fight.

“Lock-Up” is a bit of an easy write for such a show. It takes the Batman premise, and just ups the intensity. Batman walks a fine line between justice and outlaw vigilante, and it’s not hard to imagine someone in his position taking things further. This sort of makes Lock-Up like Casey Jones from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It’s a simple premise, but the character of Lyle Bolton is presented well-enough that the episode turns out entertaining. He’s ruthless, and it’s nice to see someone who can actually go toe-to-toe with Batman in a fight. Though, it’s disappointing to see how that final confrontation is resolved essentially offscreen with both characters underwater. It’s not a satisfying conclusion, but maybe things were pressed for time.

bolton locked up

In the end, Lock-Up ends up locked up. Oh, the irony!

This episode is another solid effort from Dong Yang. It’s animated well, and night scenes in the rain are also fun to look at. Bullock has this weird curl thing going on with his ears that I never noticed before, but otherwise things look rather tidy. The visual trick of Bruce covering up his transformation into Batman with the gas briefcase is more clever than effective. It’s the type of thing that probably looked good on a storyboard or in print, but in the episode itself it’s rather ridiculous. A puff of smoke goes up around Wayne and only Batman emerges? Come on!

Like a few other characters from this show, Lock-Up would make the jump to the comics. There he hasn’t had the same impact as Harley Quinn or Renee Montoya, but it’s still another feather in the cap of Paul Dini and the show. As a villain, he’s fine and this serves as a pretty entertaining filler episode. Perhaps it’s a bit disappointing to see him featured instead of having a proper Scarecrow or Penguin episode in season two, but at least it’s a solid episode so it isn’t as if those characters were ignored for a bad one. This is also his only appearance in this series and the sequel series, so hopefully you didn’t like Lock-Up too much.  Not surprisingly, this is also the final appearance for Harley, Scarecrow, The Ventriloquist and Scarface. All three will return in the next series, though this is the last performance for Henry Polic II as Scarecrow. He’ll receive a drastic redesign in the new series which also included a new voice. It will be interesting to revisit that episode when the time comes as I really enjoy Polic’s work, but also really like the new Scarecrow’s look. Regardless of how the new Scarecrow is received, Polic’s contribution to the series should not go unnoticed. He will be missed.

 

 

 


Batman: The Animated Series – “Fear of Victory”

Fear_of_Victory-Title_CardEpisode Number:  24

Original Air Date:  September 29, 1992

Directed by:  Dick Sebast

Written by:  Samuel Warren Joseph

First Appearance(s):  None

It’s been awhile, but making just his second appearance of the series (and first since episode two) is Robin, coming back to play a fairly large role in this week’s episode “Fear of Victory.” This episode was actually the television debut of Robin, since his first appearance came in the Christmas episode which was held back to air closer to the holiday. As a kid, I remember seeing the preview for this episode which featured Robin and getting all excited about it. I really don’t know why since I’ve always much preferred Batman to Robin, maybe it was just because it was something different? Plus, Robin had yet to appear in anything Batman related in quite some time, outside of the comics, so it had been a long while since I had interacted with The Boy Wonder.

As you can probably guess from the title, our villain for this episode is The Scarecrow. Making also his second appearance, Scarecrow has a re-design that makes him look far more fearsome than how he did in “Nothing to Fear.” His face is more interesting to behold and features a crooked mouth full of oddly shaped teeth. In some respects he reminds me of Clayface, and the animators take some liberties with his mask to make him look more fearsome when they want to. He also now has a mass of straw hair under his hat, further adding to the whole scarecrow thing he has going on. Over all, definitely an improvement over that eggplant shaped head he had going on previously. This episode is also noteworthy since it tries to show us how Batman’s enemies might go about getting money for their nefarious schemes. Scarecrow isn’t trying to exact revenge or take over Gotham or anything crazy, he’s just trying to scam bookies by rigging sporting events using his fear toxin. Since he was fired from his university post, he likely needs some funds to get a good lab up and running to further his experiments, though the lack of which apparently didn’t prevent him from creating what he needed for this episode.

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Robin starts freaking out pretty early in the episode – way to make a good first impression, Boy Blunder.

The episode opens on a sports highlight package that displays various performers collapsing in fear during their respective games. Dick Grayson is watching the program from his dorm when his roommate receives a telegram from a skinny, red-headed courier. I’ve got a pretty good memory, so I know who that guy is immediately (and the title card is a total give-away anyways). The telegram is from “a fan” and cautions Brian, Dick’s roommate and quarterback for the school’s football team, not to take fear lightly. When Robin is out on patrol with Batman he fills him in on the odd telegram, and they wonder if it has any connection to the odd things they’ve been seeing in the sports world, including his own roommate getting freaked out on the field. They fire off the first appearance of the crappy version of the grapple guns, the ones that just end in metal Batman logos and stab into the ledges. When Robin has a panic attack while confronting some goons, it tips off Batman that someone is poisoning the athletes and causing them to experience fear.

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Scarecrow’s new look is appropriate.

Some testing back at the lab confirms Batman’s hypothesis and naturally leads him to suspect The Scarecrow. They pay Arkham Asylum a visit where we get some cameos from the likes of Joker and Poison Ivy. Oddly enough, they’re all depicted in their regular villain attire instead of inmate jumpsuits. Batman arrives just as Dr. Crane’s food is being served and he witnesses an orderly tossing it in the garbage rather than delivering it to the appropriate inmate. Batman decides to check out Scarecrow’s cell, which the orderly really doesn’t want him to do, and he finds there’s a scarecrow there in his place. My guess is the writers/story boarders came up with this first and thus were pigeon-holed into putting the other villains in their regular attire as a result. All so they could have a scarecrow in place of The Scarecrow.

Fear_of_Victory

When Brian hallucinates the animators get to have fun with some face-morphing animation to depict his fear.

Figuring out who is behind everything is obviously elementary. Dr. Crane is shown throughout the episode delivering the telegram and also collecting his winnings and each time he’s in disguise. This isn’t to hide the fact that it’s The Scarecrow from the viewer, but to seemingly hide his redesign which pays off when he scares his bookie’s hired muscle. We get an extreme closeup of his face where liberties are taken to add sharp, piranha like teeth to his mask and really make him look kind of freaky, at least I remember it being that way to me as a kid. And the guy he is scaring in that scene is voiced by Tim Curry, who was supposed to be The Joker before it was decided to go with Mark Hamill. They must have had him record some ancillary characters (Hamill voices the orderly in this episode) that they elected to keep. The real tension, I suppose, of the episode is Robin trying to overcome the fear toxin he was exposed to via his roommate’s telegram. He has a panic attack early that almost costs Batman dearly, and Batman has to kind of keep him at arm’s length for the confrontation with Scarecrow. Batman basically gives him tough love as there’s no cure for the toxin, you just need to power through until its effects ware off.

The Dynamic Duo figures out that Scarecrow is targeting the big Gotham Knights game. In a bit of hack story-telling, Batman and Robin’s “fight” with The Scarecrow is cut in sync with the actions of the football game, including Scarecrow’s vial being dropped cut with a fumble in the game. It’s stupid and the type of thing director’s can’t seem to resist when football pops into an action series (I remember contemporary series Rugrats doing something similar). There’s also a really long pass at one point in the game that’s animated to look more like a punt, making me wonder if the animators had ever seen American football (probably not). Since Scarecrow isn’t much of a physical threat, he’s caught rather easily once his threat to poison the entire arena is rendered toothless by Robin overcoming his fear and collecting the vial. Scarecrow suggests his one vial could have infected the whole stadium, which seems ludicrous. I guess since he was cornered in some scaffolding with no way out he could have just been lying in a desperate bid to escape, Batman seems to buy it though.

FearofVictory

Okay, now I’m scared.

“Fear of Victory” is an okay episode of Batman: The Animated Series. I like The Scarecrow and I like his new look, which he’ll hang onto until The New Batman Adventures. The little side story with Robin is fine and it makes sense since we’ve already seen Batman have to deal with the toxin, so why not Robin? It gives him some credibility since he does overcome it in the end, and since Batman doesn’t just tell him to stay home, it does tell us that Batman must value him as a sidekick. What is never really explained is just what drives Robin to actually accompany Batman on his various outings. Because his roommate got scared playing football? Okay. He’ll just kind of show up for no reason from time to time until season two. I prefer Batman as a solo act, so I’m fine with this arrangement and I’m fine with this episode.


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