Episode Number: 18
Original Air Date: November 4, 1992
Directed by: Boyd Kirkland
Written by: Dennis O’Flaherty, Tom Ruegger
First Appearance(s): The Gray Ghost, The Mad Bomber
I’m on record as saying “Heart of Ice” is the best episode of Batman: The Animated Series, but “Beware the Gray Ghost” is its most charming. It was presumably a lot of fun to write and produce this one and it’s definitely a ton of fun to watch. Before Tim Burton and before this series, most people knew Batman through syndicated runs of the 1960s television series, Batman. That show, and it’s accompanying movie, is how many fans fell in love with the character and presumably how a lot of the folks who worked on this show fell in love with Batman. This episode is all about meeting your caped crusader idol, and for most people watching in 1992 that was Adam West who returns to the Batman franchise for this episode as the voice of Simon Trent, better known as the Gray Ghost.
When Bruce Wayne was a kid, his favorite show was The Gray Ghost. The Gray Ghost was a vigilante character who resembled The Shadow, and naturally Batman shares a lot in common with him as well. We see young Bruce watching an episode unfold on television while his father looks on. Quick cuts jump us to the present where Batman is watching a bombing take place, the action and setup for each shot mirroring that of the episode of The Gray Ghost taking place in the past. It’s a fun piece of editing and the setup for the episode.
Several bombings have taken place in and around Gotham lately, and before each one a tell-tale buzzing noise can be heard. Batman recognizes it, but he’s not sure where from. Eventually he realizes it’s from an episode of his beloved Gray Ghost program, and it just so happens the actor who used to play that role, Simon Trent, lives in Gotham. Unfortunately for Trent, playing the Gray Ghost lead to decades of type-casting following the show’s cancellation. He’s broke and can’t find work as a result and has resorted to selling off anything related to the show he once owned to a local toy and collectible shop run by a fellow named Ted Dymer (voiced by and drawn to resemble Bruce Timm). As Bruce Wayne, Batman is unable to locate any old tapes of The Gray Ghost and turns to Trent for help. He visits Trent as Batman, which naturally freaks him out. He wants nothing to do with the character or Batman, but he gives him a film reel of the episode in question which Batman happily takes home and enjoys.
Batman is able to see how the bombings are being carried out by watching the show: tiny RC cars armed with explosives drive into the target and detonate. Trent, having sold all of his merchandise, doesn’t want to help further, but Batman is seemingly reluctant to let his image of the Gray Ghost as a hero vanish completely and he goes so far as to re-purchase the old costume (among other things he sold off) and gift it to Trent. It’s enough to inspire him to put the old costume back on and he joins Batman on a stake-out of the next bombing target, which The Mad Bomber was happy to share with both Batman and the Gotham PD.
Through the Batman and Gray Ghost team-up, we learn almost everything associated with Batman was inspired by the Gray Ghost. Even the layout of the Batcave is supposedly the same as the lair of the Gray Ghost that was depicted on television. Trent is amazed to see it all, and Batman is more than willing to show it off like a proud child bringing home an A+ report card to his father. They’re also able to foil the bombing and even capture one of the cars. Batman analyzes it for prints and finds the only ones on it belong to Simon Trent. When it looks like Batman is going to have to arrest his hero, Trent realizes who the real bomber must be.
The episode wraps rather predictably with Batman and the Gray Ghost saving the day. The mystery of the bomber is not at all hard to figure out, but I’ll withhold it nonetheless for anyone who has yet to see this episode. The final scene of the episode is also great and even a little touching. Trent is seemingly back on his feet after the real-life exploits of the Gray Ghost made the character popular once more and is signing copies of his new autobiography in costume. Bruce attends the signing and tells Trent how the Gray Ghost was his hero and that he used to watch it with his dad all of the time. The words he uses are the exact same he used as Batman when he told the same story to the Gray Ghost. Trent gives a little knowing smile, and the episode comes to a close.
Having Adam West gust star on Batman: The Animated Series is a true delight. It was a lot of fun for me as a child because I actually picked up on who the guest star was. I would often hear my parents remark that a character sounded like a certain actor, always noticing before I ever made the connection. To me, the voice simply belonged to the character onscreen. Not so with Simon Trent though as Adam West was a big part of my childhood as Batman and his voice was unmistakable. His little arc through-out the episode is fun, and even a bit emotional. It in some way mirrored the real-life struggles of West and other actors typecast following a big role like Batman and I wonder if it was cathartic in a way for West to play the part. He’s great as Trent, so he’s not just a novelty here, and brings a lot to the character. As a kid I always wanted to see more of the Gray Ghost in a future episode, but I think as an adult I’m happy he was a one and done thing. This episode is a love letter to the old Batman show and a big “thank you” to West and the other actors, writers, and directors who made that show so memorable. In a time when people were starting to thumb their nose at the old, campy show it was nice to be gifted an episode like this one. Batman can be a lot of things to a lot of people, but throughout every age he’s always a hero.
R.I.P. Adam West (1928-2017)