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The New Batman Adventures – “The Demon Within”

the demon withinEpisode Number:  18 (103)

Original Air Date:  May 9, 1998

Directed by:  Atsuko Tanaka

Written by:  Stan Berkowitz

First Appearance:  Etrigan the Demon, Jason Blood, Klarion

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

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

klarion with cat

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

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

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

jason blood auction

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

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

teekl transforms

The kitty has a surprise in store for Bruce.

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

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

demon removed

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

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

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

klarion in control

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

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

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

many batmen

When one Batman isn’t enough…

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

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

klarion eerie

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

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

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

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

jason victorious

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

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

teekl

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

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

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


The New Batman Adventures – “Over the Edge”

over the edgeEpisode Number:  12 (97)

Original Air Date:  May 23, 1998

Directed by:  Yuichiro Yano

Written by:  Paul Dini

First Appearance:  None

I have not encountered anyone who is willing argue that The New Batman Adventures is superior to the first two seasons of Batman: The Animated Series, but almost everyone agrees that “Over the Edge” is one of the best episodes of Batman ever produced. Coincidentally airing just over a week before the WWF event of the same name, “Over the Edge” is one of the most infamous episodes in the show’s history because of its subject matter and the visceral scenes it presents. A character falls from the sky and comes crashing down on a car and dies and the camera is not particularly shy about showing any of it. It was downright shocking the first time I saw it, and this is an episode with a twist ending. And because of that, I want to encourage anyone reading this right now who has not seen the episode to stop what you’re doing, bookmark the page, and come back to it after you’ve seen the episode. The twist isn’t completely without surprise given the advances in the plot, but it’s still worth it to not spoil it. These posts are one part synopsis and one part review, so spoilers ahead. You have been warned.

“Over the Edge” lives up to its name right from the start as it begins in the midst of some uncomfortable action. Commissioner Gordon (Bob Hastings) and the Gotham PD have stormed the Batcave in pursuit of Batman and Robin. Almost immediately, Gordon shouts out to Batman and refers to him as Bruce Wayne, letting you know something really big has happened offscreen and we have some serious catching up to do. Before that can happen though, Batman and Robin need to make their escape from the Batcave. As they run and dodge fire they first make a run for the Batmobile, but Gordon orders a cop with a rocket launcher to take it out. They aren’t messing around.

batman robin flee

Batman has been at the end of many a barrel, but seldom has it been attached to a Gotham PD firearm.

In order to create a diversion, Batman makes use of an old friend:  the giant penny from “Almost Got ‘Im.” As Robin and Batman run deeper into the Batcave, they’re confronted by Renee Montoya (Liane Schirmir) and a bunch of cops. Appearing to be cornered, Batman grabs Robin and the two jump off the ledge they were standing on. As they fall Robin rather sincerely makes the observation “We’re gonna die,” before Batman deploys a grapple gun to slow their descent towards the Batboat. As they run for it, Gordon tries to line Batman up in his sights (an impossible shot considering they’re several hundred yards away), but Alfred makes the save by tackling Gordon. He implores Bruce to run, who takes a look and utters a sad “Alfred,” before jumping in the boat.

batman penny

I knew he saved that penny for a reason.

As the Batboat fires out of the Batcave, a police boat is waiting to greet it. The boat is far more restrained than the forces inside the Batcave as it gives Batman a chance to surrender, which he obviously does not entertain. As the boat lines up the Batboat in its sights, Nightwing enters the fray riding on a jet ski, which seems really dangerous given all of the gunfire going on. Nightwing is able to distract the police and maneuver through its fire while also shooting off some torpedoes of his own. He successfully incapacitates the police boat allowing he and the others to seek shelter in another nearby cave.

It’s in this cave where we finally get a chance to breath. Batman takes a seat and appears to be in a sullen and despondent mood. Nightwing is in shock and he’s the first to mention the name Barbara. Where is Batgirl in all of this? Time to find out as Batman welcomes us to story-time.

batgirl falls

Usually this ends with the blast of a grapple gun. Usually.

The Scarecrow (who does not speak a line but does laugh at one point, which was performed by Jeff Glen Bennett in an uncredited role) had City Hall under hostage. The mayor and a bunch of others are tied up, but Batman, Robin, and Batgirl are there to dispense with the justice. As they wail on Scarecrow’s many goons, the big villain makes an escape and Batgirl goes after him. She chases him out onto the roof and there she spies the villain with his back towards her. She creeps in and then goes for a tackle only to find out what she thought was Scarecrow was actually a duster jacket draped over an antenna. As she turns around, the real Scarecrow is there (still in his coat, so apparently he carries a spare) to smack her with his stick. Robin arrives just in time to see Batgirl fall off the building.

Down below, Gordon and Detective Bullock (Robert Costanzo) are heading to the scene when they’re rudely interrupted. From inside the car, we see Batgirl strike the windshield causing Bullock to jerk the car to the right and come to an abrupt stop. The two jump out of the car and Gordon races to Batgirl’s side. It’s not a pretty situation, and Bullock points that out matter-of-factly, but with a hint of sadness in his voice. As Gordon orders him to call an ambulance, he notices Batgirl stir. He kneels down beside her as she calls out to him, “Daddy.” Shocked, Gordon removes the cowl to see his daughter’s face staring back at him. Immediately he begins to panic as Barbara tries to choke out something, but she dies there in his arms.

gordon's pain

It’s hard to think of a more honest depiction of death and grief in an American kid’s show.

Batman and Robin watched from above, and as Scarecrow laughs Batman very angrily punches him as hard as he can in the face. Gordon then cradles the body of his daughter in his arms as Batman arrives. He approaches cautiously, and obviously not knowing what to say, he can only utter a “Jim.” Gordon can only respond with a “How could you?” He’s hurt that the two could work so close together all of these years, and yet Batman never once told him his daughter was working alongside him. Before Batman can explain we hear a gun cock, and Bullock orders him to put his hands up referring to him as a murderer. Batman just looks at him and Bullock lets go a warning shot at his feet. From above, Robin strikes Bullock with a projectile and then beckons Batman to come with him. Batman does so as a bunch of cops arrive on the scene. He drops a smoke bomb to mask their escape. When Bullock starts shouting out orders for choppers and search parties Gordon calls him off. He concedes they’ll never catch him, not like that. When Bullock asks what they should do then, he simply says “Something I should have done a long time ago.”

We cut to Wayne Manor where Bruce is seated behind his desk while Alfred and Tim mope about. The phone rings and it’s Gordon, who curtly informs Bruce it’s over. The implication of his meeting with Bullock seemed to suggest that Gordon had a suspicion regarding Batman’s identity, but he explains he learned the truth after looking at Barbara’s computer. Bruce tries to explain referencing the loss of his parents. When he says taking the law into his hands was the only way he knew to keep his sanity, Gordon replies with a “Now we’re even.” The cops then arrive at the mansion, and the three flee to the Batcave. Before Bruce departs, he takes one last look at the image of his parents and apologizes. And it’s at this point that I must point out that Bruce is a terrible father figure as he should have made Tim stay behind (and Alfred should have been in agreement, for that matter) as he’s a minor and likely had little to fear. Instead, he’s being put in harm’s way as a fugitive.

The story ends there. The three inhabitants of the cave seem pretty down and when Robin asks what’s next Batman just gestures to the ground. Nightwing says they’ll need supplies and volunteers to return to his loft. Batman thinks it’s a bad idea, but Nightwing seems to think the cops won’t find it and I have no idea why he would think that unless he rents or owns the place under an alias.

nightwing arrested

Nightwing’s plan turned out the way I thought it would.

We then go to Dick’s loft where Nightwing is making a quiet entrance. Predictably, he finds an army of cops waiting for him with Montoya in command. She starts reading him his Miranda Rights at gunpoint, but he politely waives them. As he flips around, the Gotham PD once more demonstrates that it’s collectively a terrible shot. Nightwing flees to the roof, only to be met by a helicopter. As it opens fire, it looks like the worst is about to happen.

it's over tim

It’s time for Tim to go his own way.

Instead, we cut to Nightwing being taken into custody as part of a news broadcast. His suit is torn up, but he looks no worse for ware. I don’t know how he survived, but whatever. Tim Drake is in the crowd, and he soon reports back to Batman on what happened. It’s then Batman finally realizes that maybe the best place for Tim isn’t at his side. He tells the boy it’s over, who doesn’t really protest with the tears streaming down his cheeks indicating he’s accepted this. When he asks Batman what he’ll do, he responds with an “I don’t know.”

talk show villains

A brief moment of comedy in an otherwise heavy episode.

Gordon is being confronted in his office by the mayor (Lloyd Bochner). He informs Gordon that this whole situation has made them look bad since Batman was basically allowed to operate outside the law with the Commissioner’s daughter as an accomplice. He tells him there will be an investigation, and that most view Gordon as unfit to lead the police department. Outside his office, Bullock and Montoya are watching a talk show featuring some familiar faces:  Harley Quinn, The Mad Hatter, The Riddler, and The Ventriloquist. Since Bruce Wayne has been outted as Batman, the rogues now see this as an opportunity for money and announce they intend to sue Wayne. The Johnny Cochran lawyer then makes his second appearance with another variation on that whole “You must acquit,” line. Did we really think Cochran parodies were this funny in 1998?

With Gordon apparently unable to get his revenge through legal means, we see him turning to possible illegal means. He makes a trip to Stonegate where he’s meeting with a very large inmate. The inmate says nothing and is kept in the shadows to preserve his identity, but Gordon indicates he can pull a few strings to get him released. A lame duck commissioner can do that? Okay, if it will advance the plot.

At Barbara’s funeral, Gordon is shown as one of the paul bearers. Batman is watching from above, and Gordon is shown to be wearing an earpiece. One of his cops tells him there’s no sign of Batman, but Gordon insists they keep looking because he will show up. The cops then spy him and Gordon orders them to take him out. Once again, Gotham police officers prove they can’t hit shit as they miss Batman who is just standing still. Gordon abandons his daughter’s casket to pursue Batman giving us a window into how important catching Batman is to him.

new bane vs batman

Bane’s back with a sexy new look.

As Batman flees, he’s met by a very large man in a gimp mask with a red tube coming out of his head. If the audience couldn’t figure out who this guy is, Batman clues them in by saying his name:  Bane. Bane (Henry Silva) goes after Batman and is quite eager to get his revenge following their last encounter. As he knocks Batman around he refers to him as a child murderer. Batman is able to hit him with a mace-like substance to gain some separation. As Bane smashes the concrete around them, Batman catches a bunch of the debris in his cape and uses that as a sack full of rocks to pummel the behemoth. He ends up knocking Bane off the building where he falls a very long distance to another rooftop below.

Batman swings down after him and Bane, showing no ill effects from such a fall, springs into action knocking him down. Gordon then appears on the rooftop shining the Bat Signal in Batman’s face, so apparently we’re on the Gotham Police Department. Bane wants Batman dead, but Gordon indicates he wants him taken alive so he can live out the rest of his years in Arkham with the freaks he’s created. Bane disagrees, and when Gordon gives him that old line “I thought we had a deal,” Bane just shrugs it off. He kicks the old man and surprisingly Gordon doesn’t break in half. He does, however, end up dangling from the edge of the roof for Bane to mock. He tells him to say hi to Barbara for him, but before he can stomp Gordon’s fingers, Batman makes the save. Bane gets him in a sleeper hold though and tells Batman it’s time for him to die, Batman gives him a “You first,” and then uses a knife to cut Bane’s hose and sever his supply of Venom. He smashes him into the Bat Signal, and then turns his attention to Gordon.

gordon bat signal

(In 1960s announcer voice) Is this the end for our caped crusader?!

Gordon looks up to see Batman, who extends a hand. He tells him to take it for Barbara, and Gordon looks down sullenly as if he intends to drop. It was just a fake-out though, and he grabs Batman’s hand. As he does so, Bane comes to and with his last ounce of strength he rips the Bat Signal from its mooring and rolls it at Batman. Batman pulls Gordon up, and then turns to see the massive steel wheel come barreling down on them. As it strikes he and Gordon, we hear a woman shout “No!” As the two fall off the building to their apparent demise, the voice continues to shout “No!” until we finally see who’s making all that noise.

img_0018

More falling without a grappling hook.

Barbara wakes up in an apparent hospital bed in shock. We soon see the bed is in the Batcave, and Batman, Robin, and Alfred are there to calm her down. She then hugs Batman, and gives everyone the cliff notes version of what she just saw in her dreams. Batman lets her know that The Scarecrow hit her with his fear toxin before she passed out and what she just witnessed was her greatest fear. She says she has to rectify this fear, indicating she intends to tell her father about her alter ego. Batman lets that hang a moment, before curtly letting her know that he understands.

We’re then taken to Barbra’s apartment and Jim Gordon is rising from the table indicating his daughter just fed him a pretty wonderful meal. Before he can depart though, Barbara takes him by the hand and tells him she has something to tell him. She takes him over to a window and sits him down on a window seat. She then sits beside him and tells him that she needs to tell him about a new job she recently took. Before she can continue, Gordon stops her. Taking her by the hand, he explains himself and it wouldn’t make sense for me to summarize it, so here’s the exchange:

img_0019

Barbara has a confession that’s been a long time coming.

Gordon:  Sweetheart, you’re capable of making your own decisions. You don’t need me to approve or even acknowledge them. And in this case, I can’t. All you need to know is I love you. All of you. (he kisses her forehead) And that is all I have to say on the subject.

Barbara:  Daddy! (they embrace)

The episode then ends as the camera pans to the full moon over Gotham. It’s a really sweet and revealing scene. Anyone who ever questioned how Gordon could possibly not know his own daughter was under that mask has their suspicions confirmed. The only gray area I see with Gordon’s statement is the sentence, “All of you.” When I first saw the episode, I though that referred to the rest of the team indicating Gordon knew who was under the masks of everyone. In watching it again, I think he’s just referring to Barbara and her two sides:  Barbara his daughter, and Batgirl. On the commentary for the episode, Paul Dini makes it a point to clarify that Gordon does indeed know that Barbara is Batgirl, but he doesn’t mention the others, leading me to believe my current interpretation is the proper one.

img_0020

The suspenseful and often uncomfortable episode ends on a sweet moment.

That’s a hell of an episode. What a roller coaster. After the flashback concludes I always think the episode is almost over, but it’s really only about halfway there. It’s impossible to overstate how shocking this one is on a first viewing. Gordon going after Batman, Batgirl’s death, and the fallout. The only reason to believe it’s a dream is due to how the episode basically writes itself into a corner. How could the show continue like this? Even so, Batman saving Gordon feels like it could be an out and maybe the show will just take a different turn from here on out. And considering the fate of Barbara in the comics, paralyzed by Joker, it makes her initial accident believable as well. Of course, that’s not the case and it’s probably the right call. Even with the old “Dusty finish” on this one, I’ve never felt cheated by this episode. It’s a great ride while it’s happening, and it’s actually so unbelievable and uncomfortable to see Batman at odds with Gordon that the reveal comes with a sigh of relief.

Bob Hastings really gets a chance to shine in this one as Jim Gordon. He has to be angry, sad, outraged, and cheerful. He hasn’t had much to work with during this season, so it’s nice to see one of the star members of the incredible voice cast get something meaty to chew on. Kevin Conroy also gets to do more with Batman here. This season has distilled Batman into a simpler character which has meant less room to work for Conroy. He’s the best to ever play the character, so it’s nice to see him get to work here.

There’s little to discuss in terms of shortcomings with this one. The Gotham PD is comically inept when it comes to hitting a target, and not just moving targets but even stationary ones. That’s nothing knew though as the good guys in this show are often impossible to hit. Some plot points are glossed over a bit,  but there’s also a lot packed into this one so some of that is by necessity. I really wish that dated Johnny Cochran joke wasn’t in here, as it wasn’t even particularly funny in 1998.

batman hits hard

One of the best shots of the episode is Batman here really reaching back for a punishing haymaker.

This is another TMS episode and it’s arguably the best yet for this young series. The gray of Batman’s costume has a really cool tone to it, almost as if there’s a hint of blue in it. It works with the morose sentiment of the episode. The little scene of the other villains on TV is also interesting because it includes our first look at redesigns for Mad Hatter and Riddler. Riddler basically has the old Frank Gorshin costume now, while Mad Hatter looks like a little, old, elf or something. I don’t care for it, but I’ll say more when we get to his episode. As for Bane, he’s ditched the lucha libre gimmick for more of an S&M one. I think he looks kind of stupid, but not offensively so. This is actually his only appearance in the show, though he’ll show up in the film Mystery of the Batwoman. There’s some great action on the part of TMS, in particular Batman’s fight with Bane. The shot of Batgirl striking the police cruiser is also incredible and so raw. The images couple with the sound design add tremendous to impact to the scene that makes me wince every time I view it.

As for the fallout, well, there isn’t really any. And that’s okay. Gordon makes it clear he can’t even acknowledge his daughter’s role as Batgirl, so he doesn’t. For Scarecrow, he actually never returns which isn’t surprising considering there aren’t that many episodes remaining. Needless to say, this one doesn’t need any big, lasting, acknowledgements by future episodes. It’s probably the best episode of this new version of Batman and it rivals anything the prior iteration did. If you have somehow been a fan of Batman this whole time and slept on this one, do yourself a favor and change that as soon as possible.


The New Batman Adventures – “Growing Pains”

growing pains titleEpisode 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.

annie

A mysterious young girl is the star of today’s episode.

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.

robin places to be

It’s not everyday you get cock-blocked by a fancy light bulb.

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.

batmans tough love

Batman dishing out some life lessons on love and the battlefield.

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 vs big guy

Robin has his hands full with this guy.

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.

annie kiss

Annie is a lot happier to see Robin this time.

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 revealed

There’s that face we all know and love!

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.

robin smash

Robin seems unimpressed by this clay guy.

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.”

goodbye annie

Goodbye, Annie.

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.

clayface blade

He may look a little different, but Clayface still has the same old tricks up his sleeve.

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.

robin sad

There’s more Robin in this one than we’re used to, but it’s actually a good thing here.

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.


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 – “The Demon’s Quest – Part I”

Demons_Quest_TitleEpisode Number:  60

Original Air Date:  May 3, 1993

Directed by:  Kevin Altieri

Written by:  Dennis O’Neil

First Appearance(s):  Ubu, The Lazarus Pit

We have reached what feels like a seminal piece of Batman:  The Animated Series:  “The Demon’s Quest” and the true debut of Ra’s al Ghul. There’s no denying that the biggest break-out star from this show was Harley Quinn, a character created for the program who has gone on to become a rather popular part of DC. She was an original star, and if we were to pick a break-out from the list of pre-existing characters from Batman’s past it would come down to two villains:  Mr. Freeze and Ra’s al Ghul. Freeze was already fairly well-known to fans of Batman, both casual and hardcore. His presence in the 60’s television show is largely responsible for that, and even though his portrayals are rather lame in comparison to what this show did for him, he didn’t experience the same boost that Ra’s did, for he was only known to the hardcore fan base. Without this series, does he get featured-villain treatment in Batman Begins? Probably not. And while he debuted in “Off Balance,” this episode is essentially his real unveiling and where the audience gets to learn just who this guy is.

Robin_Attacked

Well, Robin, at least you don’t have to do any homework.

The episode opens unconventionally as it jumps right from the opening credits into the action without a title card. Robin is returning from a night out and is sneaking back into his dormitory. The interior of his room is dark when he climbs in through the window, but we can see he keeps a framed picture of Bruce on his dresser which is just adorable. We wouldn’t be seeing this though if something important wasn’t about to happen, and Robin is confronted in his room by some shadowy men. They tranquillize him, and as he falls to the floor the camera pans up on a darkened figure and a flash of lightning gives us a look at this green-cloaked figure with a horned mask.

robin kidnapped

Batman has a new frenemy in Ra’s al Ghul.

The title of the episode is then introduced, but over a “live” shot as Batman enters the Batcave on one of his motorcycles. Alfred is there to greet him and ask if there’s any word, to which Batman responds there is no sign of Robin or Dick Grayson anywhere in the city. Alfred is clearly distressed and hands Batman some mail that arrived for him as he heads upstairs to wait by the phone in case Dick calls. Batman opens the envelope and is angered to see it contains a photo of a bound Robin with a crooked dagger being pointed at his face. His anger is further fueled when a voice from the dark calls to him and a figure walks into the light.

Demanding how the man got in, Batman rushes at him only to have a dagger strike the ground in front of him. A second, much larger, man emerges as well and the first, soft-spoken figure apologizes for his overzealous protector. The man is Ra’s al Ghul (David Warner) and his attendant is Ubu (Manu Tupou). The viewer saw Ra’s in the closing moments of “Off Balance,” but this is Batman’s first time meeting what he refers to as The Demon’s Head. It would seem Ra’s has a reputation. He reveals that, via a second photo, that his beloved daughter Talia (Helen Slater) was abducted the same night as Robin and he wants Batman’s help in rescuing them. Batman, after seeing the weapon and rope in the image, knows them to be of Indian origin and the preferred weapon of a mercenary cult there. An impressed al Ghul declares they should then head to India aboard his aircraft.

ubu and batman

Batman and Ubu are going to have some problems.

As they depart the Batcave, Batman makes the mistake of walking in front of Ra’s al Ghul causing Ubu to toss him aside. Ra’s apologizes and asks Batman to consider it a case of overzealousness, but Batman instead refers to it as strike one. Aboard the aircraft, Ra’s explains how he figured out Batman’s identity and also alludes to how old he is by referencing a conversation he once had with Napoleon.

ras unhealthy

Aboard the airplane, Batman gets a sense of how unwell Ra’s is.

On the streets of India, Batman notes a building of interest thought to be connected with the mercenary group they’re looking for, and once again makes the mistake of passing in front of al Ghul leading to strike two. Once inside the building, the trio are attacked by ninja-like assassins. Ubu ushers Ra’s out of the way and the two seem content to watch Batman at work. He neutralizes their attackers, but leaves one conscious for interrogation. The frightened mercenary (Frank Welker) says the others have left and taken the hostages with them. They’re heading for Malaysia.

The group heads for Malaysia, though this time via automobile. As they drive through a rain forest, Ra’s al Ghul reveals more of himself. He condemns those who prioritize profits over the environment and rattles off statistics about the rain forest’s rapid destruction. Batman attempts to defend the good name of Bruce Wayne by mentioning how much money he donates to environmental causes, but Ra’s is unimpressed. It will take force to fix what is wrong with the world, not capital, and Batman asks if Ra’s is the one who will wield such force, but he’s non-committal citing his advanced age.

nice kitty

Not the sort of foe Batman is accustomed to dealing with.

At the temple the merc instructed them to check out, Batman races ahead and finds himself trapped. A black panther emerges to do battle, and Batman is forced to suffocate it, but not kill it, with his cape. As he replaces his cape, Ubu smashes in a giant steel door that had slammed shut behind Batman and he and Ra’s enter. They seem dismayed to see little of value in the room, save for a map. Batman notes there’s a scratch on the map likely left by a fingernail and determines that it likely represents someone tracing a route on the map. It starts at the temple, and leads into the Himalayas. Ra’s says he’s familiar with the area and knows where they could land an aircraft and the three set out. This time, Batman beckons Ra’s to go first with a polite bow and smirk for Ubu, who nods approvingly.

High above the mountains, Batman is preparing to parachute to the base of the mountain while Ra’s and Ubu will land closer to the summit. Batman doesn’t seem thrilled about having to trudge through the harsh, winter, conditions while the other two get to fly, but Ra’s insists it’s needed so Batman can gather intel. Dressed in a warm looking parka, Batman jumps and begins his descent down. A flash catches his eye and soon a rocket zooms past him and strikes the chopper causing it to burst into flames and crash below. Before Batman can even be allowed to wonder if the other two escaped, machine gun fire starts heading his way forcing him to ditch the parachute.

A pair of mercenaries on skis arrive at the wreckage and see what appears to be Batman face-down in the snow. They open fire, but it turns out Batman had simply ditched his parka as it bounces around from the gunfire. He emerges from the snow behind the mercenaries and takes them out. Looking rather cold and miserable, Batman follows the trail left in the snow from their skis to their origin.

There he finds a cave which leads into a fairly large temple. Robin is there bound to a chair and Batman races over to check on him. Robin is quite glad to see Batman, and Batman lets him know he’ll have him free in a second.

clapping

Batman has a receptive audience in the form of Anubis, it would seem.

Famous last words? Knives and spears immediately come flying in from the darkness at Batman who deftly dodges them only to be met by a rush of masked men wielding giant axes. Batman tangles with them, while we’re left to mostly experience the fight through Robin’s expressions as he marvels at his mentor’s abilities. Once all of the men have been dealt with, Batman frees Robin and also reveals he know who kidnapped him. Before he can explain, some clapping can be heard as the shadowy man with the horned mask enters the room. Batman rushes him, removing the mask, and revealing the man behind it:  Ra’s al Ghul.

she likes me

“Whoa! She…loves me?”

Batman is obviously rather irritated at this whole sideshow, but he does go into detail how he figured out it was Ra’s all along. Ra’s seems impressed, and when Batman demands to know why he orchestrated this whole thing Ra’s reveals his intentions. He’s old, and nearing the end of his already well-extended life, and he needs someone to take up his mantle. He has his own view of justice, of which we were privy to some of that during their conversation on the rain forest, and he thinks Batman is the man for the job. Not only is he a worthy warrior and detective (the name Ra’s uses for Batman throughout the episode), but he has also captured the heart of his beloved daughter, Talia. She also enters the picture showing off far more skin than before, and Batman’s eyes turn into that half-circle shape when Ra’s mentions that she loves him. She gives him an inviting gaze and for a second it seems like Batman might be for this (who could blame him?), but his cutely shaped eyes turn back into narrow slits and he refuses.

freaky ras

The Lazarus Pit can do some weird stuff.

Batman then takes his leave with Robin at his side. Ubu runs up to him and reminds him that his master did not give him permission to leave. When Batman says he didn’t ask, Ubu takes a swing. Batman catches his fist and holds it in place. As we hear the bones in Ubu’s hand crack, Batman declares that this is strike 3 and dumps Ubu on his back. Ubu, who was apparently strong enough to smash in a steel door earlier, can’t match Batman’s strength nor can he withstand a simple arm-drag. At this point, Ra’s is irate, and as the sweat beads on his forehead he declares that they shall now be enemies. A fit of coughing overtakes him and he crumbles to the floor. Talia begs for help, but Batman insists he isn’t playing any more of their games. Talia insists this is no game and that her father is dying. Batman checks his pulse and determines there’s no faking that, and Talia tells him they must take her father to the Lazarus Pit in this mountain.

ras emerges

Talia pauses to admire the posterior of the Batman.

Batman carries Ra’s as the others follow and Talia leads the way. They come to a cliff-face inside the mountain with a gurney on a pulley. At the bottom of the cliff is a pit of green, boiling, liquid. Robin thinks it’s crazy to put Ra’s in there, but Talia insists it’s the only way. Batman declares that it will have to do, as Ra’s has stopped breathing. They place his body on the gurney and lower him in. As the two heroes look on in wonder, Talia stands there smiling. Down below, the liquid swirls and the outline of Ra’s al Ghul appears in the water with fiendishly glowing red eyes. The liquid bursts forth in a water spout and Ra’s lands back on the cliff looking strong, and fit. He begins to laugh maniacally as Talia rushes in to embrace him. He looks completely crazy, and he grabs Talia around the waist and continues to laugh in her face in this demented fashion. He then hoists her above his head, prompting Batman to demand he let her go. He rushes al Ghul, only to be kicked and sent flying backwards. As Batman continues to demand he release Talia, Ra’s al Ghul’s laughter continues as the episode ends.

“The Demon’s Quest” is an effective and exciting way to introduce Ra’s al Ghul. He was already mysterious and interesting after his first appearance, and this episode illustrates just what makes him special. His apparent immortality makes him a more supernatural foe in a series that’s fairly grounded for a cartoon. He also has an almost supernatural ability to acquire information and setup elaborate traps to ensnare Batman. And at the same time, he’s dangerously relatable. Who didn’t identify with Ra’s al Ghul’s thoughts on the rain forest devastation in 1993? It was a hot topic and kids especially would have been expected to take his side in that argument. His motivations are still mysterious and we don’t really know just what he does that makes him a villain. He has ideals and principles, and very clearly is not afraid to operate above or outside the law as he’s willing to stage a kidnapping just to test Batman. And then there’s the madness of the character at the episode’s conclusion. Is that his true nature or a side effect of the Lazarus Pit? His behaviour there makes him a more natural villain, especially as he seems prepared to harm his daughter, which perhaps is a way to make sure the viewers don’t move fully to his side.

ras laugh talia

The maniacal laughter of Ra’s al Ghul is more than a little creepy.

The reappearance of Talia is also welcomed. She and Batman have unfinished business stemming from her first appearance, and it was rewarding to see that followed-up on. There’s still a lot of questions surrounding her. She and Batman seemed to hit it off in “Off Balance,” but how much of that was just she playing him? Even here, Ra’s claims that Batman has captured his daughter’s heart, but we don’t know how much of that is true and how much is deceit. She’s obviously well-trained so anything is possible. It’s also clear she’s devoted to her father, so Batman better watch out. As a child viewer, I think I wanted to see Batman go for it with Talia, but as a more mature viewer now I must say I think he was trying to do the right thing in just walking away from that hot mess.

Dennis O’Neil wrote this episode and he was responsible for the works from which it originates, Batman #232 and Batman #244. Other episodes of the show were based on his comic stories, but this is the only one he was either asked to write for the show or the only one he chose to write. And interestingly, he’s just a co-writer on Part II as he shared duties with Len Wein. Wein is credited as handling the teleplay which leads me to think he may have only received credit for the original work, while Wein handled the translation of comic to screen. At any rate, if you’re only going to write one episode of the show this (and the conclusion, Part II) is a pretty good one.

In addition to the fascinating villain of the episode is also the presentation. Robin working his way through a stormy night at the episode’s open is an attention-grabber. The scene itself isn’t thrilling from the start, but just the way it decides to forego the title card is enough to make it unsettling. It feels like an important episode from act one. It also looks fabulous and that’s largely due to the animation of Tokyo Movie Shinsha (TMS). TMS works on some of the most elaborate and expensive animation in Japan so every episode of this show they handle feels extra special. While this doesn’t top the fantastic work the studio did for “Feat of Clay – Part II” it’s certainly not a slouch in the animation department. If I had one piece of criticism though it’s that they may have gotten a bit too horny with Talia. Her bust is massive and dominating and, at times, oddly shaped as if they were paying way too much attention to making her sexy. It’s all the more stark since Part II was animated far more tastefully. I’m not against her being sexy, as seduction is one of her weapons, it’s just a bit over-the-top.

“The Demon’s Quest – Part I” sets up what should be a rather interesting conclusion. With Ra’s gone mad and Batman and Robin stranded in the Himalayas, it would seem they’ll need to get rather resourceful if they want to get home. In terms of setup, it might not be quite as exciting as some of the others, but the possibility of a worthy pay-off seems just as likely.


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